World War Two: North Africa (1-2); Strategic Planning; Operation TORCH

A period of uncertainty followed President Roosevelt’s decision that Operation TORCH should immediately be made a paramount undertaking to be launched at the earliest possible moment. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were not convinced of the finality of this decision until 30 July. Although they informed the British Chiefs of Staff of it the next day, an official communication to the Prime Minister was delayed for a week during Joint Chiefs’ studies to ascertain the actual earliest possible date for the attack.

Choice of a commander in chief was therefore retarded. The agreement reached by the Combined Chiefs of Staff in London on 25 July had provided for one American supreme commander over both ROUNDUP and TORCH, pending the decision to mount the latter, and for an American to be supreme commander of TORCH but a temporary vacancy to prevail in the supreme command of ROUNDUP, after such a decision. The British proposal that General Marshall be named supreme commander and that Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower be his deputy was never discussed with General Marshall by the President. Instead, the President approved the designation of General Eisenhower to be Allied supreme commander of TORCH. That he would do so was indicated on 31 July, but official action awaited an exchange of messages with the Prime Minister on 6 August. Both leaders then also agreed that the invasion should occur as early in October as might prove feasible, rather than on 30 October, as estimated by the military planners.

A directive from the Combined Chiefs of Staff to General Eisenhower was not approved until 13 August, almost three weeks after the decision to launch the invasion. Meanwhile, General Eisenhower assumed the leadership on a provisional basis in formulating an outline plan acceptable to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. But the organization of a staff, selection of major commanders, elaboration of operational plans and orders, arrangements for specialized training, and provision of materiel and transportation went forward rapidly only after the uncertainty surrounding the supreme command had been terminated.

General Eisenhower’s Directive

A strategic (or outline) plan for Operation TORCH was in preparation for six weeks before Allied agreement was reached on 5 September. Once again, the President and the Prime Minister had to intervene to resolve a wide divergence in the views of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. General Eisenhower’s directive of 13 August described his mission as gaining, in conjunction with Allied Forces in the Middle East, complete control of northern Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea.

The first stage would be to establish firm, mutually supported lodgments in the Oran-Algiers-Tunis area on the north coast, and in the Casablanca area on the northwest coast, in order to have readily available good bases for continued and intensified air, ground, and sea operations. A second stage was to extend control over the entire area of French Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and in case of hostile action by the Spanish, over Spanish Morocco also. The Allies would thus create conditions favorable for further offensive operations through Libya against the rear of the Axis forces in the Western Desert. The ultimate objective would be “complete annihilation of Axis forces now opposing the British forces in the Western Desert and intensification of air and sea operations against the Axis on the European Continent.”

The Objective

Northwest Africa’s three major political divisions-Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia-were all under European control. Most of the region was within the empire of France, but Morocco was divided into three separate sections of which only one was French. It was much the largest. About 5 percent of Morocco was dominated by Spain. The third section, a very small zone adjacent to the port of Tangier, was legally under international guardianship, but since June 1940 was in the military possession of Spain. Between Morocco and Tunisia lay Algeria. It was the most nearly French. Its maritime border section comprised three of the departments of the Third French Republic sending representatives to the prewar legislative assemblies in Paris. Native or naturalized French citizens formed over 10 percent of its population. A Governor General and a French military administration governed directly its southern provinces.

Morocco and Tunisia were nominally ruled by the absolute authority, civil and religious, of native rulers, the Sultan of Morocco and the Bey of Tunis. Actually, in the capital of each, the French maintained a Resident General who conducted all foreign relations and supervised, by means of a French staff, the civil administration by native officials.

The population of the three colonies totaled approximately 16,700,000, of which all but 1,500,000 were either Berber or Arabic Moslems. Only 175,000 of the 6,500,000 inhabitants of French Morocco were French by birth or naturalization; a mere 110,000 of the 2,700,000 in Tunisia could be so classified. Between the Moslems and the native Jews, relations were always discordant; anti-Semitism was not a Fascist importation. In addition to the numbers given here in round figures, military personnel and refugees from Europe added an increment of undeterminable size.

The ring of territories adjacent to the desert was kept at all times directly under military control, stemming from the headquarters of the Commander in Chief of all French Army forces in North Africa, at Algiers.

In November 1942 this officer was General Alphonse Juin. In 1940, beginning with the arrival of General Maxime Weygand as Commissioner-General under Marshal Petain, and again in 1942, at the instigation of Admiral Jean Francois Darlan, high officers of the Army or Navy replaced civilians in almost all the leading administrative positions. The Resident General for Morocco at Rabat was General Auguste Paul Nogucs, and for Tunisia at Tunis, Vice Admiral Jean-Pierre Esteva. While the Governor General of Algeria was a civilian, M. Yves Chatel, his cabinet was headed by Vice Admiral Raymond Fenard.

The Combined Planning Staff in London had to develop an outline plan for TORCH which was adapted to a large and complex area comprising more than 1,000,000 square miles (1,074,238). The distances were considerable. From Casablanca to Tunis, for example, is 1,274 miles by motor road and over 1,000 miles by airline. Safi, a south Moroccan port, lies near the thirty-second parallel, north latitude, corresponding to that of San Diego, California, while Algiers, Bizerte, and Tunis are near the thirty-seventh parallel, the latitude of San Francisco and St. Louis.

Because of unfavorable geographical conditions, the population is concentrated in a small part of the total area, principally at the ports. The coast of Morocco on the Atlantic side is fairly Rat and open, but on the Mediterranean side, from a point opposite Gibraltar to another about 150 miles to the east, the crescent-shaped mass of the lofty Er Rif mountains effectively bars access to the interior. Thence eastward as far as Tunisia, coastal ranges, occasionally interrupted by plains and narrow river valleys, drop sharply into the Mediterranean. In Algeria and Tunisia, this belt of rugged terrain forms the northern portion of the Region du Tell (maritime Atlas mountain area), a group of parallel bands of mountains and valleys between the sea and the region of high plateaus.

Rising near the ocean in southern Morocco and stretching northeastward for more than a thousand miles are the masses and high crests of the Atlas Mountains. At one point they approach so closely the Er Rif mountains of Spanish Morocco that only a limited defile, the Taza gap, permits access from the plains of French Morocco to the Algerian Region du Tell.

Northwest of the Atlas Mountains, within French Morocco, are two main regions. Along the coast is a level plain crossed by meandering streams, a plain which extends inland most irregularly and lies below Morocco’s rugged counterpart of Algeria’s high plateaus. This second region is severely eroded, with large areas of bare rock, of steep-sided valleys, and of thin-soiled hills. The terrain is so difficult that for centuries, travelers between northern and southern Morocco have skirted along its coastal rim.

The Atlantic coast of Morocco has few capes or headlands and no natural harbors. Strong winds and extremely heavy swell and surf prevail. Artificial ports, protected by breakwaters and dredged to suitable depths, were constructed by the French, especially during the regime of Marshal Louis Lyautey after World War I. Their location was determined not by coastal features but by the nature of the adjacent hinterland. Casablanca surpassed all other ports in area, depth, loading facilities, and storage capacity. It handled almost 90 percent of Morocco’s prewar traffic and served as the gateway for overseas shipments to all northwestern Africa. Lesser ports were Safi, Rabat Sale, Mehdia, and Port-Lyautey, the last of which was several miles up the shallow Sebou river from its mouth at Mehdia.

None of Morocco’s rivers are navigable for a substantial distance. The railroad system which linked these ports with the hinterland and with Algeria and Tunisia had as its main line a standard-gauge, partly electrified route which ran from Marrakech through Casablanca, Rabat-Sale, and Port-Lyautey to Oujda. One branch ran to Safi, a second to Tangier, and others to interior communities. Invading forces of any size would need to control the ports of Safi, Casablanca, and Port-Lyautey.

The Algerian coast faces the Mediterranean Sea with many headlands but no deep indentations. At the few points at which plains or valleys lead inland from the wide bays, artificial port<; have been constructed or natural harbors improved. The best unloading facilities and railroad connections, the planners recognized, were at Oran, AIgiers, Bougie, Philippeville, and Bone. The main line of railroad ran eastward from Oujda, near the Moroccan boundary, through Tlemcen to Oran, thence through interior valleys some twenty miles south of the coast to Algiers, Set if, and Souk Ahras, from which it crossed northern Tunisia through Bedja to Bizerte and through Medjez eI Bab to Tunis. Branch lines of one-meter gauge connected lesser ports, such as Nemours, Beni Saf, Anew, Mostaganem, and Cherchel with the main line.

In Tunisia almost all the railroads were narrow gauge. Such a line followed the coast from Tunis southward through Sousse and Sfax to Gabes, with branches westward from Sousse to Kasserine, from Sfax to Gafsa and Tozeur, and from Tunis by a great southerly loop to Tebessa and Constantine in Algeria. From this loop ran several short branches. Thus all the major ports, Bizerte, Tunis, Sousse, and Sfax, were linked with the main system from Morocco and with communities situated in the valleys of central and western Tunisia. For forces invading Tunisia overland from the west, they furnished meager assistance to any large-scale movement. It was clear to the planners that the sea approach must be used as far as possible and that the limited railroads would require supplementing by maximum use of the highways.

The main highways system consisted of one east-west coastal route and one interior and roughly parallel route, the two being linked by numerous interconnections. Surfaced with bitumen, with the bridges capable of at least twenty-five-ton traffic, these roads were used by an active autobus system and could support two-way traffic at most points. But they did have bottlenecks-one way bridges, tunnels just large enough for one bus, and sharp turns high on the sides of precipitous mountain gorges. From Souk et Tnine northeast to Djidjelli on the coastal route, the road ran in a notch excavated in the side of a cliff for nearly thirty miles.

High passes were subject to snow blockades in the winter months. Alternative stream crossings, in case of the failure of any highway bridges, involved steep-sided river beds which could be forded only in dry summer weather, or deep gorges which might best be spanned by adapting railroad bridges to motor traffic also.

In addition to these roads of the main system, a highway ran from Constantine to Tebessa in eastern Algeria, and thence to the Tunisian coast at Galles via Gafsa, or at Sfax or Sousse via Sbeitla. Much of this particular route was newly widened, graded, and surfaced as a military road. The secondary roads in general lacked surfacing or drainage which would keep them passable in wet weather under heavy motor transport; even in dry weather, they were incapable of relieving much of the pressure on the main system.

Northwest Africa’s highways therefore would be adequate only if favorable weather prevailed for the very heavy traffic to be expected in the drive eastward into Tunisia. But those facilities were further limited by the restriction to two main routes, and counterbalanced also by the great distances involved. From Algiers to Tunis the distance was over 540 miles, and from Philippeville to Tunis more than 240 miles. Oran was 270 miles west of Algiers, and Casablanca, 458 miles farther still. An occupying force seeking to bring Tunisia under control by moving overland from Algeria and Morocco must bring with it an impressive volume of vehicles and be well prepared for highway maintenance.

Of the airdromes in French Morocco five were considered to be first class, those at Marrakech and Meknes, about seventy to eighty miles inland, and at Cazes (near Casablanca), Rabat-Sale, and Port-Lyautey on the coast. The field at Port-Lyautey was the only installation with concrete runways, but all five were large enough for bombers and in dry weather would be usable.

The first-class airdromes were accessible by railroad and highway. Five other large fields in French Morocco were classed as secondary for lack of equipment, inaccessibility by land, or obstructions to ready approach by air. At most of the ports were seaplane anchorages, and at Port-Lyautey such a station had once been heavily used by the French.

The three primary airdromes in Algeria were at La Senia (near Oran), at Maison Blanche (near Algiers), and at Les Salines (near Bone). Somewhat less usable were the inland airfields at Blida (25 miles from Algiers) and Setif (about 30 miles from the Golfe de Bougie). Secondary fields capable of extension and development included those at Tafaraoui (16 miles southeast of Oran), Constantine, and Tebessa. Seaplane stations had been developed at Oran, Arzew, Algiers, and Bone.

Tunisia’s air facilities included primary airdromes at Sidi Ahmed (near Bizerte) and EI Aouina (near Tunis), secondary airdromes at Kairouan and Gabes, and seaplane stations at Bizerte. Tunis, and Sousse. On the flat coastal plain were many operational fields and landing grounds capable of extension and development.

French forces for the defense of North Africa had been restricted by the terms of the armistice with Germany in 1940 and were understood in 1942 to include an army of 120,000 men. Of these troops, 55,000 were believed to be in Morocco, 50,000 in Algeria, and 15,000 in Tunisia when the basic planning began in London. Twelve units of motorized field artillery had been allowed but almost no medium and no heavy artillery. Mechanized cavalry had at its disposal between 120 and 160 obsolete tanks and 80 armored cars in Morocco, about 110 such tanks and 60 armored cars in Algeria, and only 20 armored cars in Tunisia. In each of the three colonies, one regiment of antiaircraft artillery was dispersed, although at the ports supplementary batteries were maned by naval personnel.

Estimates of French air strength varies, but most of it was understood to be concentrated at the Moroccan airdromes. From 155 to 170 combat planes could be expected at the first contact, and within two hours after the alarm, from 166 to 207 additional aircraft from stations inland. Of these, almost half were thought to be Dewoitine 520 fighters, superior in maneuverability to carrier-borne Navy fighters. Approximately the same number were believed to be twin-engine bombers. All French combat planes would be maned by able pilots.

[NOTE: The Dewoitine fighter was a low wing, all-metal monoplane which had a reputed range of 500 miles, a speed of 340 miles per hour, and a ceiling 32,500 feet.]

If German planes should also respond to an early warning issued from an intercepting submarine or from a long-range air patrol a few days before the convoys completed the approach, and should the Germans use Spanish and Spanish Moroccan airdromes for their concentrations, their air superiority over Morocco could be overwhelming during the attack. The margin of that superiority would be limited only by the size of the stocks of aviation fuel and bombs available to several hundred aircraft.

Political Considerations

The nature of the Allied objective in Northwest Africa prescribed an expedition which had to operate initially at widely separated points located in three distinct political units, all subject to the authority of the French government at Vichy. All three had to be brought under control either by substituting Allied for French authority as a result of a victory in arms or by enlisting the French in the war against the Axis powers without disturbing their control over the restless native populations. To achieve control by a victory in arms would manifestly require a large force at the outset and then a rapid build-up.

Plans for French North Africa had to take into account political conditions throughout the whole French empire. The French people had not been unified by the disaster to their nation. Even before the defeat of 1940 factionalism arising from the revolutionary social currents of the times was rife, and a proud and patriotic people was tom by mutual distrust. These attitudes prevailed in defeat. The situation was aggravated after defeat by conflicting views over the best way to serve French interests while the country was partly occupied by an enemy still engaged in war against a former ally.

Differences over these issues engendered bitter hatreds. The Allies in planning for Operation TORCH sought to collaborate with friendly segments of the armed forces, of the public administration, and of various civilian organizations in French North Africa. Among the available French leaders through whom they might effect this collaboration, General Charles de Gaulle was bound to be considered.

Just before the Germans completed their conquest of France, General de Gaulle escaped to England, where he laid plans for the liberation of his country by organizing into a fighting force all Frenchmen willing and able to bear arms against the Germans. On 18 June 1940 he made a now-famous appeal to his countrymen by radio. As hostilities in France were being concluded, and while Petain, after the Franco-German armistice, was setting up a government at Vichy in that part of France not occupied by the Germans, de Gaulle’s group in England was also taking form. The General was recognized by the British Government as “Chief of all the Free French, wherever they may be, who may join you to defend the Allied cause” (7 August 1940). The Free French, however, considered themselves more than a voluntary association opposed to the Axis j they assumed that their leaders headed the true, legally constituted government of France.

The Vichy government they denounced as part of the Fascist-revolutionary movement in Europe and without legal foundation. Their own establishment, organized in September 1941 as the French National Committee and formally recognized by most of the Allied governments, was represented as the continuation of the legitimate government of which M. Paul Reynaud had been the Premier until his resignation. In the United Kingdom, the Fighting French, as they thereafter preferred to be termed, were supported by the British and, indirectly, through lend-lease channels by the United States. At various points in the French empire, colonial governors adhering to General de Gaulle made local resources available for the Allied effort to defeat the Axis powers.

The U.S. Government established channels of communication with General de Gaulle purely as a military leader for the discussion of matters having military significance. Responsibility for the liaison was placed upon Admiral Harold Stark, chief of the United States Naval Mission in the United Kingdom. Conversations with General de Gaulle and with members of his organization during the months preceding the invasion of French North Africa yielded information of considerable value to the Allies.

The Vichy government led by Marshal Petain was accepted by the United States as the successor in fact to Reynaud’s government under the Third Republic. Diplomatic representation was maintained at Vichy, both before and after Pearl Harbor. A settled purpose of American diplomacy was to maintain pressure upon Petain’s government to uphold the terms of the armistice, to deny the Axis powers any assistance and any privileges not pledged in that document, and to insist that the Axis powers confine themselves to only those concessions granted as a condition for laying down French arms.

The objective central to all American policy was to prevent Axis use of French colonial territories and of the French fleet. An important secondary consideration was to obtain through French governmental channels in Vichy all possible information concerning Axis plans and activities. The Marshal’s government countenanced the Economic Accord of March 1941, negotiated by Mr. Robert Murphy, U.S. envoy, and General Weygand, Vichy’s proconsul at Algiers. It arranged for the importation into French North Africa of limited quantities of consumption goods for local use.

Twelve economic vice-consuls, supervising the distribution of such imports to see that none passed into Axis possession, reinforced the regular consular establishment in providing a staff of propaganda and intelligence agents. With the secret operatives of Allied governments, they could participate in subversive operations as well as espionage. They established valuable ties with resistance organizations. They thus could supply data for planning and agents for executing the plans.

Devotion to the Marshal was particularly strong in the armed forces of Vichy France in both the unoccupied portion of Metropolitan France and in the colonies of French West Africa and French North Africa. According to the prevailing opinion, de Gaulle and his following were engaged in dividing and weakening France, undermining its proper leadership, and compromising its ability to contribute effectively to its own liberation. The anti-Fascist aims of the resistance organizations undoubtedly attracted recruits but at the expense of antagonizing French authoritarians. Yet the government of a country at war with the Axis was obliged, in calculating how to overcome the Axis, to retain every possible advantage, to enlist all possible allies. For the United Nations, in 1942, to renounce the aid obtainable through friendly relations with the government at Vichy and to espouse the cause of Fighting France alone seemed quixotic. To scorn the limited but substantial contribution by de Gaulle’s movement toward eventual victory would have been imprudent. In making war, what seemed fitting was to make use of what each side could contribute and to break with Vichy, if at all, only at the last possible moment.

The British Chiefs of Staff proposed and the Americans agreed that the Fighting French should not be apprised of the forthcoming operation until it had begun. This policy was adopted to avoid leakage of intelligence to the enemy, but it was further warranted by the complexion of French political opinion in French North Africa. There, as elsewhere in the French empire, anti-Axis Frenchmen were divided. The monarchists were there, for example. Their claimant to the throne of France, the Comte de Paris, kept a residence in Spanish Morocco. The left wing was there. Both factions furnished recruits to a movement to terminate Marshal Petain’s fascistic revolution.

Included in these two groups were some of de Gaulle’s adherents, but the bulk of the French in North Africa were opposed to him in 1942. De Gaulle’s followers had fought with the British against other Frenchmen at Dakar and in Syria, and that was held against him. If many opposed the Fighting French for their actions as renegades and rebels, much the greater number did so because of their profound faith in Petain. The old Marshal was admired on the one hand because of his authoritarian reforms and on the other because of his policies toward the Axis, policies which were regarded as very shrewd.

Petain, they believed, was only yielding to the storm of necessity, bending only as far as he was pressed; and he was expected to straighten up as the pressure relaxed. His supporters were convinced that he, Weygand, and Darlan had held the Germans rather closely to the armistice terms, that he was able to dissemble his anti-Nazi feelings, and that he had France’s best interests at heart. In the early autumn of 1942 the loyalty of most French inhabitants of the colonies in North Africa, including the most anti-German among them, was toward the government at Vichy.

During the planning for Operation SUPER-GYMNAST (one of the early plans for the invasion of North Africa) immediately after Pearl Harbor, the twelve economic vice-consuls in French North Africa were reinforced by agents of the American Office of Coordinator of Information, men who were sent to establish confidential relations with leaders among the natives and with resistance groups among the French. Coordination of secret intelligence and special operations by American and British agents was achieved through Lieutenant Colonel William A. Eddy (Marine Corps), American naval attaché at Tangier. He kept in steady communication with a British counterpart in Gibraltar.

The initial purpose of the resistance organizations had been to oppose occupation of French North Africa by Axis forces, particularly by airborne elements. This goal was revised during the first four months of 1942 when an Allied expedition was in prospect. Their new mission was to assist Allied landings and, during them, to control pro-Axis segments of the North African population.

Had the operation been undertaken in May 1942 the Allies might have found there a group of friendly French who were numerous, eager, and energetic. When the operation was postponed, Allied relations with these resistance groups and American operations under the Economic Accord both suffered a relapse. Connections remained; nonetheless, which could be revived after the planning of Allied Force Headquarters for TORCH began.

In French North Africa, the Allies hoped for weak French military resistance to TORCH which could be reduced further by ( 1) the intervention of friendly French resistance groups to sabotage the execution of French military defense plans, or (2) the enlistment of the French authorities in a common endeavor. The wide expanse of the area to be brought under control and the complex character of its non-European population made highly desirable the recruitment of the French North African territories as active allies.

Strategic Decisions

Allied strategic planning for TORCH began in London on 31 July, when a group of British and American officers constituting the Combined Planning Staff first met under the leadership of Brigadier General Alfred M. Gruenther. They prepared an exploratory plan which amounted to a modification of what the British planners had already sketched. It called for the seizure of two large and two small ports within the Mediterranean and a subsequent seizure of Casablanca.

Four divisions were to be employed in the assault. Later convoys were to bring from six to eight more divisions The planners were convinced that insufficient naval escort ships for simultaneous landings on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts made it necessary to postpone the Casablanca assault to a second phase. The Joint Chiefs of Staff immediately scrutinized the findings of the London planners, for they were obliged to find the earliest possible date for Operation TORCH consonant with a sound concept of the operation. The directive from the Combined Chiefs of Staff to the commander in chief had not yet been formulated, so that the mission was not yet firmly defined.

On 31 July, planners in Washington expressed serious doubt about abandoning simultaneous assault landings on the western coast as well as inside the Mediterranean, but at the same time noted that some plan was essential in case unfavorable weather forced all landings to be made inside the Mediterranean. In this very first exchange of ideas, the four interrelated key issues thus arose: (1) the date for D Day; (2) the desirability of making all landings inside the Mediterranean; (3) the feasibility of making any outside landings on the Atlantic coast of Morocco; and (4) the amount of available naval escort, carrier-borne aircraft, and fire support.

The earlier the operation could begin, the more likely that it would achieve some degree of surprise and, at the same time, benefit from the enemy’s involvement with operations on the Eastern Front. After the middle of October, German air units might be expected to transfer from the campaign in Russia to the Mediterranean basin. Unless the Allies struck in French North Africa by then, the Nazis’ pressure on the government of Spain would be stronger, and the inclination of the Soviet Union to drop out of the war might become greater. If some of the President’s associates wished the operation to begin in time to affect the American Congressional elections in November, he himself seems to have left the decision to be controlled by military considerations.

But he did not accept the advice of General Marshall and Admiral King that the earliest practicable date would be 7 November without careful analysis of the reasons offered for it. The governing factor in this estimate was the length of time required to convert ocean liners to combat loaders (assault transports). For several more weeks Allied strategists sought persistently to have an earlier D Day through plans which would not require the use of these particular ships.

The operation might have begun earlier if the landings near Casablanca could have been either entirely dispensed with or postponed to a second phase of the attack, when it could be executed with some of the same shipping used in the first landings. The pressure for such a solution was strong, particularly in an early phase of the planning.

The preliminary outline of 31 July proposed a deferred Casablanca landing, while the plan submitted to the Combined Chiefs of Staff with the date 21 August dropped the Casablanca landing altogether. The War Department planners insisted on including an attack to capture Casablanca, in order to insure a line of communications to the United States. They also insisted on its being simultaneous with the operations inside the Mediterranean, in order to make the maximum impression upon the French and Spanish authorities by such a show of force. In London, particularly among the British planners, the hazards to Allied control of the Strait of Gibraltar and of Gibraltar itself were deemed less substantial than they appeared to be in the thinking at Washington.

In London they were aware, moreover, that the landings near Casablanca might well be thwarted by the incidence of unfavorable weather with high swell and tumultuous surf, and that the attempt to safeguard the Gibraltar area by such an expedition might thus be frustrated.

The basic problem in this connection was to determine where the Axis powers would resist the Allied expedition. Would they appropriate airfields in Spain and neutralize Gibraltar by air attack? Would the Spanish assist them in a ground attack on Gibraltar, as Hitler had once expected, and perhaps by hostile action from Spanish Morocco as well? Or would the Germans and Italians focus their resistance in the Sicilian straits and northeastern Tunisia? The British concluded that the Spanish would do nothing and that the enemy’s main opposition would come in Tunisia. The Americans were far less confident that the Spanish Government would actually remain neutral if the Germans wished to use Spanish territory, and far less certain that the German Air Force would not interfere with the vital activities planned at Gibraltar.

The Allied planners also differed over the degree of haste necessary in entering Tunisia. In order to establish Allied military control over all North Africa, the Allied Force had to gain possession of Tunisia. British planners were convinced that if Axis occupation of Tunisia were not forestalled by elements of the Allied Force in the first assault, and with the support of the first follow-up convoys, the enemy would become too strong to dislodge without a protracted struggle. Landings as far to the east as Bone, near the border between Algeria and Tunisia, were therefore urged by them despite the likelihood of enemy air attacks. The Axis line of communication to Tunisia would be very short. The Axis rate of build-up could be much swifter. Time would be on the enemy’s side. Against this view, the President and his military advisers believed that the enemy could land nothing of consequence in Tunisia except by air for the first two weeks.

The first product of the Combined Planning Staff after the wholly tentative and incomplete sketch of 31 July was a Draft Outline Plan (Partial), Operation TORCH, of 9 August. It prescribed a D Day of 5 November in order to make possible simultaneous landings both inside and outside the Mediterranean, at Bone, Algiers, Oran, and Casablanca. Two weeks of critical analysis, counterproposals, and revision followed, after which the Combined Chiefs of Staff received the full Outline Plan of 21 August accompanied by General Eisenhower’s comments. These comments pointed out how tentative were some of the important provisions of the plan. They expressed his judgment that the forces provided by the two Allied governments were too small to carry out the mission stated in his directive. Landings near Casablanca had been abandoned in this plan in favor of but three attacks, all within the Mediterranean, at Oran, Algiers, and Bone.

D Day was set at 15 October, the latest date holding promise of any beneficial consequences for the Soviet forces fighting the Eastern Front. Another main factor affecting planning at this point was the grave shortage of naval components available for the Allied Force. When Eisenhower met in London with U.S. Navy representatives on 11 August, the Combined Planning Staff had not received an allocation of either Royal Navy or U.S. Navy units. The Commander in Chief, Allied Force, was then told that the difficulties facing the U.S. Navy in fulfilling existing missions and in furnishing a task force for the Casablanca attack would preclude its participation in any naval operations within the Mediterranean.

At most, the U.S. Navy contemplated enabling one or two battleships from the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow to see action in the Mediterranean with other elements of the Royal Navy by temporarily substituting American battleships for them at Scapa Flow. Apparently detecting an air of hesitation and of undue independence, Eisenhower emphasized that the U.S. Army and Navy were both under the President’s explicit orders making TORCH an operation of the highest priority, that the British armed services were in a parallel position, and that the Combined Chiefs of Staff would require that the navies of both countries overcome all obstacles in executing the operation.

Two days later, when a British aircraft carrier was sunk in the Mediterranean, the British Chiefs of Staff in London, with the American naval representatives concurring, concluded that escort vessels, fire support vessels, and aircraft carriers would not be available in sufficient strength for two major landings on the Mediterranean coast simultaneous with an attack outside on the Atlantic coast.

The inescapable choice confronting the planners lay between canceling any assault landings at Bone, or even Algiers, on the one hand, and omitting such landings near Casablanca, on the other. In the first formal complete Outline Plan (dated 21 August) the decision to seize Casablanca from the sea was abandoned, and the plan to land at Bone retained. An American task force was to sail for Oran from the United States, and the largest task force (American and British) was to sail for Algiers from the United Kingdom.

Planners also had to take into account one other consideration. Intelligence reports indicated that British forces would be vigorously resisted by the French. It was therefore deemed advisable to maintain, as far as possible, an American character for any Allied assault. General Eisenhower was so dissatisfied with the draft plan that he requested a revised directive reducing his mission to proportions consistent with the resources made available to him. His strictures produced different responses in London and in Washington.

The British Chiefs of Staff abandoned their insistence on an early D Day, accepted the simultaneous landings near Casablanca which General Eisenhower had declared so necessary, and proposed a fifth, small-scale landing at Philippeville, between Algiers and Bone. These recommendations were contingent on the contribution of additional American naval forces. The Joint Chiefs of Staff contemplated an all-American landing force attack at two points, Casablanca and Oran only. The American Chiefs were also prepared to adjust the commander in chief’s directive, for the U.S. Navy could not meet the expanded requirements of the changes proposed by the British. Discussion of the plan had reached an impasse, culminating in a long and perhaps at times acrimonious session of the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 28 August, when the President and the Prime Minister intervened.

The Prime Minister returned to London late on 24 August from a visit to Marshal Joseph Stalin in Moscow. He had borne the brunt of the Russian dictator’s invective over the Allied decision to occupy French North Africa rather than to open the promised “second front” in western France in 1942. He had enlisted Stalin’s approbation of Operation TORCH by putting it in the best possible light. He found in London that the planning had swung toward a date much later than he deemed wise and a concept of the operation which overtaxed the resources thus far made available. In the employment of the actual means at hand, the Allied planners were in disagreement. His discussions with General Eisenhower and Major General Mark Wayne Clark, and the impetus which he was able to give to the effort to find additional British naval resources accelerated the process of decision.

Soon he and the President were engaged in a daily exchange of cables which moved swiftly toward an Allied agreement. Mr. Churchill agreed that the British would accede to an American wish for an all-American assault, with British forces arriving after French acquiescence had been obtained, but at the same time he tried to make such a solution of the impasse among professional military chiefs unnecessary.

On 4 September, the U.S. Navy reported the naval units which it could furnish. At the same time, the President and Prime Minister were reaching an agreement upon three landing forces, mainly American, with a reduction of some 5,000 men each in those proposed for Casablanca and for Oran, thus providing the American element for the force to be landed near Algiers. Each would have an American commander. No landings would be made east of Algiers until it had capitulated, after which British troops would be carried to eastern Algerian ports and continue into Tunisia. The troops would be carried to the inside landings in British shipping, except for American vessels already in the United Kingdom and those in which one regimental combat team would be sent from the United States to Algiers via the United Kingdom. The outside landing would be made from an American convoy. The Royal Navy would furnish escort and support within the Mediterranean, as the U.S. Navy representatives had thought necessary since early August, while the outside landings would be escorted and protected by American warships. One major point remained to be determined-the date of D Day. The Combined Chiefs of Staff finally gave responsibility for that choice to the Commander in Chief, Allied Force. The culminating Anglo-American executive agreement was formulated in a provisional outline plan at once, and eventually submitted on 20 September for official action by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. Some fundamental questions remained to be settled, but the decisions of 5 September enabled the agencies of the two governments to proceed with operational and logistical planning and preparations on a firm basis after six weeks of delay and shifting uncertainty.

The concept of the operation and a general allocation of ground, sea, and air elements to the expeditionary force were now determined. The planned pattern of the assault cut down to the narrowest of margins the possibility of occupying Tunisia within a brief period of Allied superiority over the Axis forces likely to be sent there. If the initial attempt should fail, the operation would be protracted in proportion to the strength which the Axis powers chose to commit.

Under the most favorable circumstances, advance forces would be established in northern Tunisia by mid-December, with a moderate number of aircraft operating against Axis supply lines into Tripoli and against Tripoli itself. These forces might consolidate the occupation of central and southern Tunisia as far as Gabes by the middle of January 1943. A corps of two British divisions could then be ready to move into Tripolitania at the beginning of March.

The British Eighth Army, attacking westward, might by the most hopeful estimate arrive at Tripoli in mid-January. Military control of northern Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea would by such a schedule be achieved at the earliest by March, and might take considerably longer, with a corresponding drain on Allied military resources.

Strategic decisions which remained for determination until near the end of the planning period included those governing relations with the French. The initial contacts between armed forces defending French North Africa and those of the Allies were bound to produce problems of a most delicate character. What would Allied policy be toward French airplanes or submarines met at sea? How should French merchant ships be treated? Should French warships be fired upon before they opened hostilities? If the Allied convoys were too passive, damaging blows might be struck before they could hit back; but if they acted aggressively, they might promote a battle which neither side desired.

[NOTE: (1) AFHQ G-3 Outline Plan C (Provisional) for Opn TORCH, 5 Sep 42. Copy in OPD ABC 381 (7-2;42), Sec 4-Aj (2) CCS 103/3, 26 Sep 42, sub: Outline Plan Opn TORCH. CCS 103/6,4 Oct 42, replacing CCS 103/5 on the same subject, was approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staffs and the President and forwarded to the British Chiefs of Staffs in London and the Prime Minister, 5 October 1942, to be transmitted by them to General Eisenhower if they approved. (2) Msg, AGW AR to USFOR, 5 Oct 42, CM-OUT 1578. ]

The directive covering the treatment of the French armed forces during initial contact was drafted finally on 5 October. No offensive action was to be taken against them by the Allies unless in reply to definitely hostile action. French warships, therefore, were to be allowed to pass undeterred through the Strait of Gibraltar and even north of the thirty-sixth parallel, north latitude, and to move past Allied convoys without interruption if they kept clear after being so warned. Should they fail to keep clear, they were then to be destroyed but Allied ships were to avoid, as far as possible, firing the first shot. Unescorted submarines outside territorial waters and darkened ships which withheld identification would be treated as hostile. French airplanes would be treated as hostile when approaching Allied ships or Gibraltar prior to the landings.

Once the landings began, airplanes, merchant ships, and naval vessels which were preparing to get under way, or which disregarded orders from an Allied commander; any ship which attempted to scuttle itself, or which failed to identify itself properly if encountered at night; and any shore battery or other defensive installation or moored vessel on which activity indicated hostile intentions-all were at once to be treated as hostile. No action against French air bases would be taken before the assault, but Gibraltar would be defended against air attack at all times.

Once it was deemed necessary to engage in offensive action in a certain area the action was to be opened with maximum intensity and pressed with the utmost vigor until all active resistance was terminated. Commanders were empowered to interpret the hostile action of one unit in an area as an indication of similar intent on the part of all other units in that area if attendant circumstances seemed to justify such an interpretation. When the resistance ceased, offensive action was also to be suspended until its resumption clearly became necessary. Unnecessary damage to ships and harbor installations was to be avoided by every possible precaution.

A rather detailed set of rules covering the treatment of Vichy French merchant shipping was drafted at Allied Force Headquarters, but later these were rejected by the Joint Chiefs as unnecessarily restrictive upon the commander in chief; the accepted principles of international law were to be followed by him, and need not be spelled out.

The ultimate status of the French colonies and of the government at Vichy was a question of high policy for decision by the President and the Prime Minister. Were the Allies going to bring into existence an independent French government in French North Africa, rivaling that of Vichy, or were they even to promote the disruption of the government at Vichy? The President, when faced with this issue, finally asserted that he had no policy to acknowledge other than that of defeating the Axis powers and of preserving French administration in the French colonies. The propaganda plans were adjusted to bring them into full conformity with this policy, submitted to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, and the resulting directive was issued by Allied Force Headquarters as its General Order 4.

The occupation of French North Africa was, in accordance with the strategic decisions reached during the planning phase, to be executed by forces of both the United States and Great Britain, and directed by an Allied commander in chief aided by a combined staff of both nationalities. The three major objectives of the assault landings were Algiers, Oran, and Casablanca, each to be taken by a force under an American ground commander. The Eastern Assault Force attacking Algiers would contain British and American troops, landing from British and American transports, protected by British naval elements, and supported by British air units, initially carrier-borne and later land-based. The Center Task Force attacking Oran was to consist of American ground troops, conveyed and supported by the Royal Navy, and aided by British carrier-borne and American land-based aviation.

The Western Task Force attacking Casablanca was to be American in all three components. Allied leaders hoped that the French forces in North Africa would at first either welcome the invasion or at most furnish but nominal resistance, and that in the end they would join the Allies in military operations for the liberation of France. The Allies would therefore approach French North Africa prepared to fight but preferring an amicable association in arms.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World war Two: North Africa (3A); Tactical Plans and Political Preparations

World War Two: North Africa (1); Setting the Stage; The Axis 1940-42


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