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Operation Torch

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Operation Torch was the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa in World War II during the North African Campaign, started November 8 1942.

The Soviet Union had been putting pressure on the United States and Britain to begin operations in Europe, a second front to relieve the pressure on the Russian forces. While the American commanders favoured landings in France as soon as possible, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill favoured an attack on northern Africa followed by an invasion of Europe in 1943. American president Roosevelt suspected the African operation would rule out an invasion of Europe in 1943 but agreed to support Churchill.

The Allies planned an Anglo-American invasion of northwestern Africa — Morocco and Algeria, territory nominally in the hands of Vichy France. The French had around 60,000 soldiers in Morocco as well as coastal artillery, a handful of tanks and aircraft, with ten or so warships and 11 submarines at Casablanca. The Allies believed that the French forces would not fight, although they harboured suspicions that the French navy would bear a grudge over the British action at Mers-el-Kebir (near Oran) in 1940. The Allies co-opted a French General, Henri Giraud, into their force as a potential commander of the French troops following invasion. The Allies intended to advance rapidly eastwards into Tunisia and attack the German forces in the rear. General Dwight Eisenhower was given command of the operation, and set up his headquarters in Gibraltar.

Contents

The Landings

The Allies planned to capture the key ports from Morocco to Algeria simultaneously, targeting Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. The Western Task Force (aimed at Casablanca) comprised all-American units, with Major-General George Patton in command and Rear Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt heading the naval operations. It consisted of the 2nd Armored Division, and the 3rd and 9th Divisions - 35000 troops in all. They were transported directly from the United States. The Central Task Force, aimed at Oran, comprised part of the 82nd Airborne and the US 1st Armored Division: 18500 troops. It was transshipped from Britain and was commanded by Major-General Lloyd Fredendall, the naval forces being commanded by Commodore T.H. Troubridge. Western Task force, aimed at Algiers, was commanded by Lieutenant-General K.A.N. Anderson and consisted of the British 78th and the American 34th Divisions - 20000 troops. Naval forces were commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Burrough.

Casablanca

The initial forces landed on November 8, 1942 at three points: Safi (Operation Blackstone), Fedala (Operation Brushwood), and Mehedia-Port Lyautey (Operation Goalpost). Landings commenced before daybreak. Because it was hoped that the French would not resist, there was no preliminary bombardment.

At Safi the landings were mostly successful. The landings were initially conducted without covering fire, hoping that the French might not resist at all. When the transports were fired on by coastal batteries the supporting ships returned fire. When commanding General Harmon arrived French snipers had pinned the assault troops (most of whom were in combat for the first time) on the beaches. Most of the landings occurred behind schedule; air support from the carriers destroyed a French convoy of trucks intended to reinforce the defenses. Safi surrendered on the afternoon of November 8th. By November 10th the remaining defenders were pinned down and the bulk of Harmon's forces raced to join the siege of Casablanca.

Around Lyautey the landing troops were uncertain of their position, and the second wave was delayed. This gave the defenders time to organise resistance, and the remaining landings were conducted under artillery bombardment. With the assistance of air support from the carriers the troops pushed ahead and the objectives were captured.

Around Fedala (the largest landings with 19,000 men) weather disrupted the landings. The landing beaches again came under fire after daybreak. General Patton landed at 8am and the beachheads were secured by later in the day. The Americans surrounded the port of Casablanca by November 10th, and the city surrendered an hour before the final assulat was due to take place. Patton entered the city unopposed.

In general French resistancein Morocco, apart from the coastal batteries, was sporadic. The French Navy, which was present in strength at Casablanca and only minutes from the landings, stayed in its port and was put out of action by shelling.

Oran

The landing forces were split between three beaches, two west of Oran and one east. Landings at the westernmost beach were delayed because of a French convoy, which appeared while the minesweepers were clearing a path. Some delay and confusion, and damage to landing ships, was caused by the unexpected shallowness of water and sandbars; no reconaissence parties had been landed on the beaches, only periscope observations from submarines (this would change in later invasions).

An attempt to land US Rangers at the harbour directly, in order to prevent desctruction of the port facilities and scuttling of ships, failed as the two destroyers were shattered by crossfire from the French vessels there. The French Navy broke from the harbour and attacked the Allied invasion fleet, but were sunk or driven ashore.

French batteries and the invasion fleet exchanged fire throughout the 8th and 9th November, with French troops defending Oran and the surrounding area stubbornly. Heavy fire from the British battleships brought about the surrender on the 9th.

Algiers

In the early hours of November 8 a group of 400 French rebels, supported by American 'vice-consuls' staged a coup in the city of Algiers. Key targets were seized, including the telephone exchange, radio station, governor's house and the headquarters of 19th Corps.

The invasion was led by the US 34th Infantry with one brigade of the British 78th, the other acting as reserve. General Ryder, commander of the 34th, was given explicit command of the first wave, since it was believed that the French would react more favourably to an American commander than a British one. The landings were split between three beaches - two west of Algiers and one east. Some landings went to the wrong beaches, but this was immaterial since there was no French resistance apart from a few rounds from a coastal battery, quickly silenced by British commandos. One French commander openly welcomed the Allies.

The only fighting took place in the port of Algiers intself, where two British destroyers attempted to land a party of US Rangers directly onto the dock, in order to prevent the French destorying port facilities and scuttling ships. Heavy artillery fire prevented one from landing, and drove the other from the docks after a few hours, leaving 250 of the infantry behind.

The landing troops pushed quickly inland, and by the afternoon a local cease-fire was agreed with the local commander, General Juin.

After the battle

Political results

Eisenhower, with the support of Roosevelt and Churchill, made agreements with Admiral François Darlan as the leader of French North Africa, where he maintained the Vichy regime, with hitlerian laws and internment camps for democrats. Charles de Gaulle of the Free French responded with fury. The problem did not vanish when a local French anti-Nazi, Ferdinand Bonnier de la Chapelle, murdered Darlan on December 24, 1942: general Henri Giraud, who had been hanging around since November, was himself a provichyist opposed to any democratic reform.

Nevertheless, in spite of the temporary maintenance in Algiers of a Vichyist capacity under American protectorate, the Resistance putsch of 8 November 1942, had not only generated a purely military success: it had capital political consequences.

The Darlan-Giraud authority, initially resolutely Vichyist, was gradually forced to lead the war effort against Nazi Germany; to democratize; to eliminate its principal head vichyist rulers; and to eventually amalgamate with the French national Committee of London. After which the "Comité Français de la Libération Nationale" (CFLN), born from this fusion, despite Roosevelt opposition, passed in a few months under the authority of General de Gaulle, and became the true and independent government of France in war.

When Adolf Hitler found out what Admiral Darlan had done, he immediately ordered Case Anton put into effect and to reinforce Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps in order to combat the invaders.

More details about the unfolding of the putsch of 8 November 1942 in the two French Wikipédia articles on the Torch operation.

Military consequences

Between November the 8th and 10th French Tunisian forces under the command of general Barré left the whole country open to the Germans, withdrawning to the Algerian border. The general was receiving since November the 14th Juin's orders to resist, but waited until the 18th to begin fighting against the Germans. Then the Tunisian army fought courageously, despite its lack of equipment. The French were quickly helped by British forces.

After consolidating in French territory the Allies struck into Tunisia. Forces in the British 1st Army under Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson almost reached Tunis before a counterattack at Djedeida by German troops under General Walther Nehring thrust them back. In January 1943 German troops under General Erwin Rommel retreating westwards from Libya reached Tunisia.

The British 8th Army in the East, commanded by General Bernard Montgomery, stopped around Tripoli to allow reinforcements to arrive and build up the Allied advantage. In the West the forces of General Anderson came under attack in February at Faid Pass on the 14th and at Kasserine Pass on the 19th. The Allied forces retreated in disarray until heavy Allied reinforcements blunted the German advance on the 22nd.

General Harold Alexander arrived in Tunisia in late February to take command. The Germans attacked again in March, eastwards at Medenine on the 6th but were repulsed. Rommel counselled Hitler to allow a full retreat but was denied and on 9 March Rommel left Tunisia to be replaced by Jürgen von Arnim, who had to spread his forces over 100 miles of northern Tunisia.

These setbacks forced the Allies to consolidate their forces and develop their lines of communication and administration so that they could support a major attack. The 1st Army and the 8th Army then attacked the Germans. Hard fighting followed, but the Allies cut off the Germans from support by naval and air forces between Tunisia and Sicily. On 6 May-7 the British took Tunis and American forces reached Bizerte, by 13 May the Axis forces in Tunisia had surrendered.

Basic bibliography

War Official reports

  • Les Cahiers Français, La part de la Résistance Française dans les évènements d'Afrique du Nord (Official reports of French Resistance Group leaders who seized Algiers on 8 November 1942, to allow allied landing), Commissariat à l%u2019Information of Free French Comité National, London, Aug. 1943.

War correspondent report

  • Melvin K. Whiteleather, Main street's new neighbors, J.B. Lippincott Co. Philadelphy, 1945.

Academic works about these events

  • George F. Howe, North West Africa: Seizing the initiative in the West, Center of Military History, U.S Army, Library of Congress, 1991.
  • Arthur L. Funck, The politics of Torch, University Press of Kansas, 1974.
  • Professeur Yves Maxime Danan, La vie politique à Alger de 1940 à 1944, Paris, L.G.D.J., 1963.
  • Henri Michel, Darlan, Hachette, Paris, 1993
  • Christine Levisse-Touzet, L'Afrique du Nord dans la guerre, 1939-1945, Paris, Albin Michel, 1998.
  • Professeur José Aboulker et Christine Levisse-Touzet, 8 novembre 1942 : Les armées américaine et anglaise prennent Alger en quinze heures, Paris, Espoir, n° 133, 2002.

External links

de:Operation Torch fr:Opération Torch he:מבצע לפיד ja:トーチ作戦 nl:Operatie toorts pl:Operacja Torch sv:Operation Torch

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