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World War II: Operation Torch

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World War II: Operation Torch

Allied troops lands near Algiers during Operation Torch, November 1942

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Operation Torch: Conflict & Dates:

Operation Torch took place November 8-10, 1942, during World War II (1939-1945).

Armies & Commanders:

Allies

Axis

  • Admiral Francois Darlan
  • General Alphonse Juin
  • General Charles Nogues
  • 60,000 men

Operation Torch - Planning:

In 1942, having been persuaded of the impracticality of launching an invasion of France as a second front, American commanders agreed to conduct landings in northwest Africa with the goal of clearing the continent of Axis troops and preparing the way for a future attack on southern Europe. Intending to land in Morocco and Algeria, Allied planners were forced to determine the mentality of the Vichy French forces defending the area. These numbered around 120,000 men, 500 aircraft, and several warships. It was hoped that as a former member of the Allies, the French would not fire on British and American forces.

To aid in assessing local conditions, the American consul in Algiers, Robert Daniel Murphy, was instructed to gather intelligence and reach out to sympathetic members of the Vichy French government. While Murphy conducted his mission, planning for the landings moved forward under the overall command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The naval force for the operation would be led by Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham. Initially dubbed Operation Gymnast, it was soon renamed Operation Torch. The operation called for three main landings to take place at Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers.

Endeavoring to accomplish his objectives, Murphy provided evidence suggesting the French would not resist and made contact with several officers, including the commander-in-chief of Algiers, General Charles Mast. While these men were willing to aid the Allies, they requested a meeting with senior Allied commander before committing. Meeting their demands, Eisenhower dispatched Major General Mark Clark aboard the submarine HMS Seraph. Rendezvousing with Mast and others at Cherchell, Algeria on October 21, 1942, Clark was able to secure their support.

In preparation for Operation Torch, General Henri Giraud was smuggled out of Vichy France with the aid of the resistance. Though Eisenhower had intended to make Giraud the commander of French forces in North Africa after the invasion, the Frenchman demanded that he be given overall command of the operation. This was refused and Giraud became a spectator. With the groundwork laid with the French, the invasion convoys sailed with the Casablanca force departing the United States and the other two sailing from Britain. Eisenhower coordinated the operation from his headquarters at Gibraltar.

Operation Torch - Casablanca:

Slated to land on November 8, 1942, the Western Task Force approached Casablanca under the guidance of Major General George S. Patton and Rear Admiral Henry K. Hewitt. Consisting of the US 2nd Armored Division as well as the US 3rd and 9th Infantry Divisions, the task force carried 35,000 men. On the night of November 7, pro-Allies General Antoine Béthouart attempted a coup d'etat in Casablanca against the regime of General Charles Noguès. This failed and Noguès was alerted to the impending invasion. Landing at Safi, Fedala, and Port Lyautey, the Americans were met with French opposition.

Allied ships returned fire on French coastal batteries and aircraft struck a variety of targets. After weather delays at Fedala, Patton's men succeeded in taking their objectives and began moving against Casablanca. Operational issues caused delays at Port-Lyautey, while French forces delayed the landings at Safi. On all fronts, the French were overcome and American forces tightened their grip on Casablanca. By November 10, the city was surrounded and seeing no alternative, the French surrendered to Patton.

Operation Torch - Oran:

Departing Britain, the Center Task Force was led by Major General Lloyd Fredendall and Commodore Thomas Troubridge. Tasked with landing the 18,500 men of the US 1st Infantry Division and the US 1st Armored Division on two beaches west of Oran and one to the east, they encountered difficulty due to insufficient reconnaissance. Overcoming shallow waters, the troops went ashore and encountered stubborn French resistance. Efforts to land troops directly in the harbor failed due to heavy French fire. Fighting for a full day, the French finally surrendered on November 9.

Fredendall's efforts were supported by the United State's first airborne operation of the war. Flying from Britain, the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion was assigned the mission of capturing the airfields at Tafraoui and La Senia. Due to navigational and endurance issues, the drop was scattered and the bulk of the aircraft forced to land in the desert. Despite these issues, both airfields were captured.

Operation Torch - Algiers

The Eastern Task Force was led by Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson and consisted of the US 34th Infantry Division, two brigades of the British 78th Infantry Division, and two British Commando units. In the hours prior to the landings, resistance teams under Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie and José Aboulker attempted a coup against General Alphonse Juin. Surrounding his house, they made him a prisoner. Murphy attempted to convince Juin to join the Allies and did the same when he learned that the overall French commander, Admiral François Darlan, was in the city.

While neither was willing to switch sides, the landings began and met with little to no opposition. Leading the charge was Major General Charles W. Ryder's 34th Infantry Division as it was believed the French would be more receptive to the Americans. While efforts to land directly in the harbor failed, Allied forces quickly surrounded the city and Juin surrendered at 6:00 PM on November 8.

Operation Torch - Aftermath

Operation Torch cost the Allies around 480 killed and 720 wounded. French losses totaled around 1,346 killed and 1,997 wounded. As a result of Operation Torch, Adolf Hitler ordered Operation Anton which saw German troops occupy Vichy France. In North Africa, the French Armée d’Afrique joined with the Allies as did several French warships. Building up their strength, Allied troops advanced east into Tunisia with the goal of trapping Axis forces as General Bernard Montgomery's Eighth Army advanced from their victory at Second El Alamein. Anderson nearly succeeded in taking Tunis but was pushed back by determined enemy counterattacks. American forces encountered German troops for the first time in February when they were defeated at Kasserine Pass. Fighting through the spring, the Allies finally drove the Axis from North Africa in May 1943.

Selected Sources

 

 

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