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Operation Torch

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

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. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill favoured an attack on northern Africa followed by an invasion of Europe in 1943, while American president Roosevelt suspected the Africa 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 gained command of the attack, with headquarters in Gibraltar


The Landings

The Allies planned to capture the key ports from Morocco to Algeria simultaneously, targeting Casablanca, Oran and Algiers.


The Western Task Force comprised all-American units, with Major General George Patton leading the first assault force and Rear Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt heading the naval operations.

The naval support consisted of five aircraft carriers, three battleships, seven cruisers, 38 destroyers, plus transport, support and other vessels. The three initial attack groups numbered 7,000, 19,500, and 9,500 soldiers; some of the force shipping directly from America to the battlefield. The assault force departed from Hampton Roads on October 24, meeting the rest of the force mid-Atlantic.

The initial forces landed on November 8, 1942 at Safi, Fedala , and Mehedia -Port Lyautey to sporadic French resistance. Pro-Allied forces had attempted a coup on the night of the 7th, but with no success. Safi, to the west, fell the most easily - on the first afternoon. The Americans met tougher resistance at Port Lyautey. The landing at Fedala, nearest to the target of Casablanca, formed potentially the most risky part of the operation - a sortie by the French navy could reach the landing sites within minutes, and so most of the Allied naval strength stood arrayed against this threat. Weather made the initial landings at Fedala tricky, while around Casablanca the French batteries soon opened fire on the US naval vessels and dogfights between French and US navy fighters occurred - the Allies sank or severely damaged four French destroyers and three submarines. The initial landing at Fedala did not even finish until the 9th, and rather than advance, the American forces hung back, pending the outcome of negotiations for the French to cease armed resistance.

The Vichy leader in Algiers, Admiral François Darlan had already begun talks with the US before the landings, and agreed that French forces would cease armed resistance next day, November 10, providing he remained head of a French administration. Hitler retaliated by ordering German forces to occupy the so-called Unoccupied Zone of Central and Southern France. Most French troops in Africa followed Darlan's lead but certain elements joined the German forces in Tunisia.


Center Task Force, Tafaraiu


Eastern Task Force, Medjez-el-Bab

After the battle

Eisenhower, with the support of Roosevelt and Churchill, appointed Darlan as the leader of French North Africa. Charles de Gaulle of the Free French responded with fury. The problem vanished when a local French anti-Nazi, Ferdinand Bonnier de la Chapelle, assassinated Darlan on December 24, 1942. Henri Giraud, who had been hanging around since November, became the new leader.

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 March 9 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 May 7 the British took Tunis and American forces reached Bizerte, by May 13 the Axis forces in Tunisia had surrendered.

Last updated: 11-10-2004 16:21:48