Monday, November 07, 2005
The Allies Invade North Africa, November 8, 1942
Today in 1942, British and American forces went ashore in French North Africa. This invasion, called Operation Torch, was the first offensive operation by US forces in Europe. The operation also carried with it many political hazards, for the landing beaches were defended (or not defended, in some cases) by French troops under the command of the Vichy government; that is, the French government formed by the Germans after they invaded France in 1940.
In the fall of 1942, Allied victory in World War Two was far from certain. German forces were still on the offensive in the Soviet Union, prompting Stalin to push Roosevelt and Churchill to open up a front in Western Europe that would relieve the pressure on the Russian forces. War planners in the United States wanted to invade some part of occupied Europe in 1942 or early 1943, an operation they dubbed Sledgehammer. The British, rightly so, we more cautious and warned the American generals that an attempted invasion of France or any other occupied area in Western Europe would end in disaster. After all, the only experienced soldiers in the Armed Forces of the United States were already committed in the Pacific; the Yankees in Europe were all green. Eventually, a compromise was reached: a landing would take place in Morocco and Algeria, both countries under the control of Vichy government. This would place the Allies at the rear of the German Afrika Corps, whom the British were still fighting near Egypt.
The assault consisted of three major amphibious landings at Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. The Western Task Force, commanded by Major General George Patton, was made up entirely of American soldiers who were transported to North Africa directly from the United States, the only time during the war such a long pre-invasion transit would take place. The Central Task Force was also comprised of American soldiers. The Eastern Task Force consisted of a British division and an American division.
The French defense of the invasion beaches was mixed; in some areas it was fierce, while in others it was non-existent with some French officers actually welcoming the Allies ashore. There was a significant French naval presence in the area, but their performance was sporadic at best. Many of the ships were destroyed at their anchorages; one French battleship bravely fought from her dry dock but was hammered by the USS Massachusetts.
All of the major objectives of the invasion had been achieved by November 10th. The allies headed east towards the Germany forces who would put up a fierce defense in order to maintain their grip on North Africa. By the spring of 1943, the Germans were cut off from their supply lines and had a dwindling area of desert under their control. In May, 1943, the Axis forces in Tunisia surrendered.