World war Two: North Africa (1-3A); Tactical Plans and Political Preparations

At the same time that major strategy decisions were being made, command organization, tactical planning, and preparation for political activity were also going forward at lower military levels. For the planning to proceed with the greatest efficiency, directives to the various task force commanders should first have been formulated. Then, as indicated by subsequent World War II experience, from three to five months would have been required to complete tactical plans and mount the expedition.

The Army commanders would have selected the beaches to fit schemes of inland maneuver, subject to their suitability for naval operations, and once that major problem was solved, correlated joint decisions would have established: the time of landing (H Hour), detailed requirements, assignment of assault shipping, plans for general naval bombardment, and specific organization by tasks, including the furnishing of naval gunfire, air support, transportation, supply, medical service, administration, and communications.

In planning for Operation TORCH, there was no time for this orderly sequence. The pressure after the first decision in July to have tactical plans ready for the earliest possible D Day made impossible any waiting for directives or fundamental decisions concerning the general outline plan. Tactical and logistical planning began almost at once. Efforts to keep abreast of the shifting concept of the operation prior to 5 September produced a dizzying confusion which was accentuated by the dispersal of the planning staffs at several points on either side of the Atlantic.

Organizing the Chain of Command of the Allied Force

General Eisenhower’s command was officially designated by the Combined Chiefs of Staff to be that of Commander in Chief, Allied Expeditionary Force. For security reasons, he altered the title to Commander in Chief, Allied Force. The original plan to have a deputy commander in chief from the British Army was dropped on British initiative in favor of an American, one able to retain the American character of the expedition in case General Eisenhower was prevented from exercising his command by disability. General Clark (U.S.) was then appointed Deputy Commander in Chief, Allied Force, and took charge of the details of planning.

Headquarters was established at Norfolk House on St. James’s Square, London, somewhat apart from General Eisenhower’s offices as Commanding General, European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (ETOUSA). There the staff was gradually assembled, the American personnel being diverted in large measure from other assignments which had brought them to the United Kingdom. British personnel, was obtained through the War Office from headquarters, offices, and units at home.

Official activation did not occur until 12 September, when in General Order I, the command announced its own birth, gave itself a birth certificate, and officially took the name of Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ). It was then one month old. The staff was organized on the principle of balanced national participation. Divisions and procedures were typical of the U.S. Army rather than of the British Army.

Operating sections of the general and special staffs were integrated; that is, they were maned by nationals of both countries in equal numbers but without duplications of function. If the chief of a section was of one nationality, the deputy chief was of the other, and their subordinates were each matched by “opposite numbers.” Administrative and supply sections, on the other hand, were normally divided into separate segments concerned with the forces of each nationality, because of differences in organization, procedure, and channels of communication.

General Eisenhower procured the assignment as chief of staff of Brigadier General Walter Bedell Smith (U.S.) upon his release from the secretariat of the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington.

The two The Allies faced a complex problem of command structure in trying, as General Eisenhower desired, to fuse into one integrated force the ground, sea, and air elements of the two national military establishments. The principle of unity of command required that the task force attacking each major area should operate under a single commander and that the entire Allied Expeditionary Force under the supreme commander should avoid subdivisions along either national or service lines which seriously impaired the tactical flexibility. Normal national susceptibilities made desirable the retention of American or of British elements in the largest feasible units under their own commanders, and efficient performance made such action mandatory.

Completing a chain of command for Operation TORCH took several weeks. In the end, the American Commander in Chief, Allied Expeditionary Force, exercised direct command over the commanding generals of the task forces, indirect command through a British Naval Commander in Chief, Expeditionary Force, over the senior naval commanders of both nationalities, and direct command over land-based aviation through British and American air force commanders. The task forces, after being reinforced by increments from later convoys to the captured ports, were expected to extend their control ashore and to be consolidated into an American Fifth Army and a British First Army. The naval task forces would eventually disperse, but subsequent naval operations by other units were to be under the control of the supreme commander through his naval commander in chief.

The initial selection of task force commanders was made in the expectation that there would be but two, one American and one British, Major General George S. Patton, Jr. (U.S.) and General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander (Br.). In quick sequence, the British found it necessary to substitute Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Montgomery (Br.) for General Alexander, and then Lieutenant General Kenneth A. N. Anderson (Br.) for General Montgomery, in order to transfer them to missions of higher priority.

[NOTE 1X1: Msg, AGWAR to USFOR, 31 Jul42, CM OUT 9255. (2) Butcher, My Three Years With Eisenhower, pp. 43, 45-46. (3) Fifty-six years old, General Patton had been a cavalryman prominent in the newer Armored force since his World War I service in France. At the time of his summons to Washington at the end of July 1942, he was commanding the I Armored Corps at the Desert Training Center in California, with corps maneuvers imminent. (4) General Anderson had entered the British Army in 1911. After serving through World War I, he rose to command the 11th Infantry Brigade in 1930 and the 3rd Division in 1940 in France. He had also been the commander of British troops in Palestine in 1930-1932. When he assumed command of the Eastern Task Force he was in his fifty-fifth year.]

When the plans prescribed a third task force, to be drawn from American resources, the U.S. II Army Corps, which was then in the United Kingdom preparing for the cross-Channel invasion of France, was given the new assignment. General Clark, who had commanded the II Corps in England since June, eventually forfeited the command of this task force because he recognized that his responsibilities as Deputy Commander in Chief, Allied Force, were incompatible with those of the task force commander. III General Marshall selected Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall (U.S.) to command the Center Task Force.

The Eastern Task Force which General Anderson was to command was not expected to participate as such in the amphibious phase of the assault on Algiers. It was to be preceded by a smaller force, with as high a proportion of American troops as possible, under an American commanding general, and known as the Eastern Assault Force. Its actual commander was Major General Charles W. Ryder (U.S.), since June the Commanding General, 34th U. S. Infantry Division, which was in training in the United Kingdom, presumably for the projected invasion of Continental France.

[NOTE 1V1: General Fredendall, fifty-eight years old, with much experience in Army training, had succeeded Major General Joseph Stilwell (U.S.) as the prospective commander of an American force in Operation GYMNAST, had worked at plans until that project was dropped, and had previously commanded the II Corps. General Marshall proposed him for task force commander, if needed, on 24 August 1942 (CM-OUT 7500). General Eisenhower requested him on 1 October 1942 (CM-IN 0 176). Fredendall arrived in London on 9 October 1942. General Ryder was fifty years old, with a record of distinguished service in France in World War I, occupation duty in Germany, four years in China, and previous assignment as Chief of Staff, VI Corps. during 1941 maneuvers.]

These four troop commanders–Patton, Fredendall, Ryder, and Anderson-were directly subordinated to General Eisenhower. His control over British ground forces was defined in directives from the British War Office to General Anderson and to a few other British Army officers: The First Army has been placed under the Supreme Command of the Allied Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, United States Army. In the exercise of his command, the national forces at his disposal will be used towards the benefit of the United Nations and in pursuit of the common object. You will carry out any orders issued by him.

In the unlikely event of your receiving an order which, in your view, will give rise to a grave and exceptional situation, you have the right to appeal to the War Office, provided that by so doing an opportunity is not lost, nor any part of the Allied Force endangered. You will, however, first inform the Allied Commander-in-Chief that you intend so to appeal, and you will give him your reasons.

A naval task force was to land each of the three attacking forces at its objective and support it with naval gunfire and aviation. For the Western Naval Task Force Rear Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt (U .S.) was designated as commander. He was at that time the Commander, Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, with headquarters at Ocean Beach, Virginia, charged with planning, training, and conducting amphibious operations. He remained in that capacity pending the departure of his naval task force from the United States. The other two naval task forces (Center and Eastern) were drawn almost completely from the resources of the Royal Navy. The Center was under command of Commodore Thomas H. Troubridge (Br.) and the Eastern under Rear Admiral Sir H. M. Burrough (Br.).

General Eisenhower exercised command over the naval portion of the Allied Force through Admiral Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham (Br.), Naval Commander in Chief, Expeditionary Force, subject to the limitation that control over the Western Naval Task Force and subsequent convoys from the United States was retained by the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, until they arrived at a “chop point” on the fortieth meridian, west longitude. Admiral Cunningham became responsible for sea security and amphibious operations to the supreme commander, but for other wholly British naval operations in either the western Mediterranean or the north Atlantic he reported directly to the British Admiralty.

[NOTE 2ND1: Admiral Burrough, whose service in World War I included the Battle of Jutland, had already seen some bitter fighting in World War II off the Norwegian coast, on the hazardous Murmansk run, and in an August dash through the gantlet to Malta which persevered against extremely heavy Axis opposition. Commodore Troubridge had participated in Royal Navy operations in Norwegian waters in 1940 and in the expedition which seized Madagascar from the Vichy French in May 1942, an operation which had benefited materially from the success of a special raiding party of Royal Marines taken by destroyer directly into the port of Diego-Suarez. See Churchill, The Hinge of Fate, pp.233-34.]

The land-based aviation in the Allied Force was first organized in two portions corresponding to the initial arrangement of task forces and to the prospective consolidation into British First and American Fifth Armies. The Eastern Air Command consisted of Royal Air Force units under the command of Air Marshal Sir William L. Welsh (Br.). A Western Air Command from the U.S. Army Air Forces (a new Twelfth Air Force) was put under Brigadier General James H. Doolittle (U.S.). Each was to report directly to General Eisenhower.

The decision to employ a third task force necessitated a division of the Western Air Command, that portion assigned to the Center Task Force to be commanded during the assault by General Doolittle’s operations officer, Colonel Lauris Norstad (U.S.), and that with the Western Task Force under command of Brigadier General John K. Cannon (U .S. ), each responsible directly to his task force commanding general. General Doolittle was expected to command the Twelfth Air Force from Gibraltar during the first phase of Operation TORCH. In the subsequent phase, its mission would be determined by contingencies for each of which it had to be prepared. It might have to support Allied operations against Spanish Morocco or Spain, and it might have to support ground operations in Tunisia before subjecting Italy and Rommel’s supply lines in Africa to bombing attack. The Eastern Air Command was expected to work with, General Anderson in winning the race with the enemy for Tunisia.

Directives for Joint Action by the U.S. Army and Navy

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, successor after February 1942 to the Army-Navy Joint Board, directed such joint operations as those of the Western Task Force and Western Naval Task Force. Late in the planning, it validated arrangements already made, and formulated others, in a Joint Army-Navy Plan for Participation in Operation TORCH to which the short title, ROOFTREE, was given.

American military and naval support of Operation TORCH was itemized as follows:(1) A Joint Expeditionary Force, including the Western Task Force and naval supporting units to seize and occupy the Atlantic coast of French Morocco;

(2) U.S. forces required in conjunction with British forces to seize and occupy the Mediterranean coast of French North Africa; (3) Additional Army forces as required to complete the occupation of Northwest Africa; ( 4) Naval local defense forces and sea frontier forces for the Atlantic coast of French Morocco and naval personnel for naval base maintenance and harbor control in the sector of the Center Task Force (Oran area) ; (5) Logistic support for all United States forces.

Army forces placed under command of the Allied commander in chief were to be assigned directly by the War Department; and naval forces, by the Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet. The latter was to provide and to control the naval forces necessary for supporting Operation TORCH in the western Atlantic and for protecting the follow-up convoys between the United States and the North African theater. As soon as U.S. naval units completed their tasks they were to be released by the Commander in Chief, Allied Force.

The directive provided most clearly for command as follows: (a) The Commander in Chief Allied Force will command all forces assigned to Operation TORCH, under the principle of unity of command.(b) The Western Naval Task Force will pass to the command of the commander. Chief Allied Force, upon crossing the meridian of 400 West Longitude. This command may be exercised either directly by the Commander in Chief or through the Naval Commander, Allied Force. (Prior to that time these forces will remain under the command of the Commander in Chief, United States Atlantic Fleet, who will arrange their movements so that they will meet the schedule of the Commander in Chief, Allied Force.) (c) Command relations of Subordinate Task Forces are initially set up as given 10 sub-paragraphs (d), (e), (f), and (g). They are subject to change as found necessary by the Commander in Chief, Allied Force. (d) The command of those units of the Western Task Force which are embarked in the Western Naval Task Force, will vest in the Commander, Western Naval Task Force, until such time as the Commanding General, Western Task Force, has established his headquarters on shore and states he is ready to assume command. (e) When the Commanding General, Western Task Force, assumes command on shore, the naval forces designated to give further support to the occupation of FRENCH MOROCCO will pass to his control, acting through the Commander, Western Naval Task Force.(f) Following the assault operations and when and as released by Commander in Chief, Allied Force, the United States naval forces assigned thereto will revert to the command of the Commander in Chief, United States Atlantic Fleet. (g) The United States naval forces assigned for the operation of ports and for naval local and sea frontier defenses-Sea Frontier Forces Western Task Force, and the Naval Operating Base, Center Task Force:-will be under the command of the respective commanding generals of those task forces, under the principle of unity of command. (h) The Commander in Chief, United States Atlantic Fleet, will exercise command over all forces employed for the cover and ocean escort in the ATLANTIC of follow-up convoys between the UNITED STATES and NORTH AFRICA.

Planning responsibilities were likewise classified as follows: (a) The Commander in. Chief, Allied Force, will designate the tactical and logistic plans to be prepared by the task force commanders. (b) The Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, will be responsible for planning for the organization of United States Naval Task Forces to be assigned to the Commander in Chief Allied Force, for the operations of the Atlantic Fleet (less the elements assigned to Commander in Chief, Allied Force) in support of Operation TORCH, and for subsequent covering operations and convoy escorts in support thereof (c) The Army will be responsible for planning for the logistic support and requirements of the Army Forces assigned to Operation TORCH. (d) The Commander in Chief, United States Atlantic Fleet, will be responsible for planning for the logistic support and requirements of the United States Naval Forces assigned to Operation TORCH.

Transportation responsibilities were specified for both services. The Navy would furnish available troop transports, both combat unit loaded and organizational unit loaded, and converted cargo vessels, landing boats, tank lighters, and gear for unloading on beaches. It would also arrange for tankers to carry bulk petroleum products.

The Army was to arrange for all other shipping which its forces required, to provide gear for unloading at docks, and to allot such shipping space in later convoys for the requirements of continuing naval support in the theater, as might later be agreed. Vessels’ carrying Army troops, equipment, and supplies were to be loaded by the Army at ports designated by the Army, while sailing and routing of convoys would be controlled by the Navy in conformity with the convoy schedule issued by the Allied Commander in Chief. The Navy was responsible for unloading over beaches and the Army for unloading at docks.

Many of these decisions which were so carefully organized and formulated in Plan ROOFTREE in October had been made earlier by the Chiefs of Staff and by an Army-Navy TORCH Committee during the course of the planning and preparations. The committee was an instrument for coordinating the planning within the two departments in conformity with decisions reached by the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, or by the Army and Navy task force commanders.

The provisions for control of the Joint Expeditionary Force in accordance with the principle of unity of command, including arrangement for eventual transfer of command from Admiral Hewitt to General Patton, were finally set forth as an annex to the Navy’s orders of 7 October 1942 from Admiral King to Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet. On 10 October, Admiral Ingersoll transmitted them to Admiral Hewitt, as prospective commander of Task Force 34, Atlantic Fleet (the Navy’s numerical designation for the Western Naval Task issuance of this annex did not receive a formal concurrence by the War Department but its substance was considered sound, and its incorporation in Plan ROOFTREE followed almost at once.

If General Eisenhower had had changes to urge, Patton would also have proposed revisions to make more precise the time for the shift of command from Hewitt to himself, and clearly authorizing him to release Navy forces in the event that communications between him and General Eisenhower should fail.

In most of the joint amphibious exercises preceding World War II, the principle of unity of command in amphibious operations had not yet supplanted that of mutual cooperation. The doctrine on amphibious operations officially accepted in Joint Action of the Army and Navy was silent on this vital matter. Operation TORCH was to provide an important test of a moot feature of amphibious operations, the transfer of command during the critical establishment of the beachhead.

Western Task Force Planning

On 30 July, immediately after General Marshall returned to Washington from the decisive conferences in London, General Patton was summoned to the War Department to take charge of organizing the Western Task Force and of planning for its operations, and other officers summoned from the I Armored Corps, established a headquarters in the Munitions Building and devised a preliminary plan to capture Casablanca.

Patton met there for the first time his prospective associate commander, Admiral Hewitt. With Colonel Kent C. Lambert, who was to be his operations officer, he flew to England for participation in the planning at AFHQ. The effort to arrive at a satisfactory strategic plan had not succeeded when on 20 August he returned to Washington.

He carried with him a directive to prepare an attack against Oran instead of Casablanca, in conformity with a provisional outline plan then being submitted to the Combined Chiefs of Staff by General Eisenhower. That directive was promptly superseded by another from the War Department, but not until the executive agreement of 5 September was the objective of the Western Task Force firmly established. The Western Task Force’s mission was to secure the port at Casablanca and adjacent airfields and, in conjunction with the Center Task Force at Oran, to establish and maintain communications between Casablanca and Oran. It was also to build up land and air striking forces capable of securing Spanish Morocco, if that action should become necessary.

French ground forces in Morocco were estimated to number from 55,000 to 60,000 troops, stationed along the border of Spanish Morocco, near the coast, and at inland stations such as Marrakech, Meknes, and Fes. French naval forces maned coastal defense guns and at Casablanca, as well as farther south at Dakar, had naval bases in which some powerful warships were moored. The partly completed Jean Bart, with radar and a battery of four powerful 15-inch guns, lay beside a dock in Casablanca Harbor. The damaged battleship Richelieu was based at Dakar. Each warship had a wide cruising range and sufficient power to be a serious threat to any offshore naval expedition. Several French submarines also lurked in Casablanca Harbor and might emerge for strikes against an invader. The French first-line aircraft in Morocco were estimated in September as 13 reconnaissance, 74 fighter, and 81 long-range bomber planes, based for the most part at Marrakech, Casablanca-Cazes, and Rabat-Sale.

The great port and city of Casablanca was so strongly defended that direct frontal assault would have been extremely costly. The objective had to be attacked from the rear by forces landing near enough to reach it before the defenders could organize effective resistance. If the attacking forces used medium or heavy tanks in an overland approach to Casablanca, they would need a port, since landing craft for armored vehicles of those weights were not then available. Also, if they counted on land-based aircraft to support the attack, they had to have an airfield that could be captured quickly.

In trying to find a suitable port for the Western Task Force’s medium tanks, the planners had few from which to choose. The Moroccan coast is exposed, with the only good harbors protected by jetties. All the ports near Casablanca are small, shallow, and inadequate. Safi, the most likely possibility of three ports along the coastal roads to the southwest, is 140 miles from Casablanca. The other two, Agadir and Mogador, are more than 200 miles away.

Rabat, capital of French Morocco, is 53 miles northeast of Casablanca, and Port-Lyautey 25 miles farther by road. Both Rabat and Port-Lyautey were under consideration for some time before the latter was chosen. The small fishing and petroleum storage port at Fedala, on the wide Baie de Fedala, is only 18 miles overland from Casablanca, and seemed suited to serve the main infantry attack but not to receive the heavier armored vehicles. The beaches on the Baie de Fedala could accommodate the bulk of the invading force. Most of the coast line elsewhere is flanked by bluffs so near the shore that the beaches are shallow and the exits difficult. East of the Baie de Fedala, a broad shelf with only a few low sand hills extends inland for less than a mile before rising by rounded slopes to a plateau some two hundred feet above sea level. At this point, between two rivers, a considerable force might come ashore on a wide front and have room to maneuver while the small port was used to expedite the landing of heavy equipment. The medium tanks, however, would have to be landed far to the south at Safi.

The most accessible of the good airfields were on the edges of Casablanca and Rabat, but the former was too well defended and the latter was therefore initially preferred, although it necessitated an operation with certain doubtful features. Rabat, the habitual site of the Sultan’s palace, also served as the headquarters of the French Resident General. There too was the post of the commanding general of Moroccan troops. A battle for its capture might have brought injury to the Sultan with serious repercussions among the Moslem population throughout the Mediterranean. Its shallow port was below standard.

It was likely to be defended more strongly than the harbor and airdrome just north of Rabat, at Mehdia-Port-Lyautey. The airfield at Port-Lyautey had concrete runways; the adjacent Sebou river had been developed as a seaplane base; the mouth of the river was flanked by excellent beaches; and any possible resistance to inland advance seemed likely to yield quickly to combined operations by parachute troops, saboteurs, carrier-borne aviation, and an amphibious landing force.

The original sketch of a plan which General Patton took to AFHQ contemplated landings at Agadir, Mogador, and Safi, supplemented by airborne infantry and fighter aircraft flown from the United Kingdom via Gibraltar. The main weight of the attack would have been delivered well south of Casablanca. This conception was changed early in September. The whole attack was shifted northward, with the main effort to be at Fedala and the tanks to be landed in the port of Safi. The airfield at Rabat-Sale was to be the objective of a third force.

General Patton was eventually induced to approve the substitution of Mehdia-Port-Lyautey for Rabat as the third objective of the Western Task Force. He assigned the command of the sub-task force (GOALPOST) which would make that attack to Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., who had been in the United Kingdom at Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Headquarters. [NOTE 3A1]General Truscott returned to the United States on 19 September to organize and prepare for his part of the operation. The armored elements to land at Safi were included in a second sub-task force (BLACKSTONE) placed under command of Major General Ernest N. Harmon, Commanding General, 2nd U.S. Armored Division. The main attack at Fedala (by Sub-Task Force BRUSHWOOD) was to be under the command of [NOTE 3B2] Major General Jonathan W. Anderson, who at that time was Commanding General, Amphibious Corps, Atlantic Fleet, under Admiral Hewitt, and had been long identified with Army troop training for amphibious operations. Major General Geoffrey Keyes was designated as Deputy Commanding General, Western Task Force.

[NOTE 3A1: Truscott, who was then forty-seven yean old, had entered the Army in 1917 as a cavalry officer, was one of the Army’s well-known polo players, and had experience with the 13th Armored Regiment and as plans and training officer of IX Corps at Fort Lewis, Washington, before going to the European Theater. He was to rise to command successively the VI Corps, Fifth Army, and Third Army… Harmon, then forty-eight yean old, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1917, was commissioned in the Cavalry, served in France in 1918, studied or taught in various schools in the next decade, and graduated from the Army War College in 1934. He was to rise to command the XXII Corps in 1945 and to organize and command the U.S. Constabulary in Germany in 1946 before retiring to become president of Norwich University in 1950.]

 [NOTE 3B2: Anderson, then fifty-two, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1911, was commissioned in Field Artillery in 1912, and rose to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel in France during World War I. After graduating from the Army War College in 1930, he remained as an instructor and later taught for four years at West Point, and attended the Naval War College. He was assigned to the War Plans Division before going to the 3rd Infantry Division and was later to command successively the X, III, and XXXVI Corps and the Field Artillery Replacement Training Center at Fort Sill… General Keyes, then fifty-four, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1913, saw service with the Pershing Expedition and elsewhere as a cavalry officer, attended the D’cole Superieure de Guerre in Paris, 1931-1933, and the Army War College, 1936-1937, before commanding a mechanized cavalry unit at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He had become Commanding General, 9th Armored Division, before becoming Patton’s deputy commander, and was later to command II Corps in Italy and an Army in Germany during the occupation]

The major elements of the Western Task Force were transferred to General Patton’s command from that of the Commanding Generals, Army Ground Forces and Services of Supply, at the end of 10 September.

These units were the 3rd and the 9th Infantry Divisions (less the 39th Infantry Combat Team, which was sent to the Eastern Assault Force at Algiers), the 2nd Armored Division, the 70th and 756th Tank Battalions, the 603rd, 609th, and 702nd Tank Destroyer Battalions, the 71st and 72nd Signal Companies, and the 36th Combat Engineer Regiment. The 3rd Infantry Division was an early Army unit to be trained for amphibious operations while the 9th Infantry Division had already been partly trained, as had Combat Command B, 2nd Armored Division. By 24 September, after prolonged uncertainty about the available troop transport, General Patton had assigned his units to the three sub-task forces in the form which would remain effective, in most respects, in the operation.

The Navy had readily agreed to furnish destroyer-transports to convey into Safi harbor before daylight two special landing teams of infantry for the immediate seizure of key positions in the port, and to forestall sabotage. The Army Air Forces had assigned the XII Ground-Air Support Command under General Cannon to the Western Task Force and planned to send its ground personnel from the United States to meet the flight personnel at the captured airfields.

[NOTE 1K2: On 1 October 1942 the XII Ground-Air Support Command was re-designated the XII Air Support Command.]

[NOTE 4C3: General Cannon, then fifty, entered the Army in 1917 from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, trained as a pilot in 1921, served in the Hawaiian Islands and Argentina, graduated from Command and General Staff College in 1937, and was Commanding General, I Interceptor Command, in 1942. He was later to command the Twelfth Air Force, 1943-1945.]

Naval planning depended upon a settled scheme of maneuver by the landing force, a plan in conformity with which the combat loading, naval support, and naval air arrangements could be prepared. If the beaches which were best suited to the inland deployment of the troops were feasible for landing operations, the naval planning could proceed without delay. But when doubts arose concerning the character of any beach, more information had to be obtained. Photographic reconnaissance by British aircraft during the planning period clarified some doubts. At least one beach, south of Safi, had to be studied from an American submarine. Alternate plans were therefore prepared to use that beach or another, depending upon the report.

Landing operations were subject to two hazards affecting the operation of all boats on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. The long fetch across the Atlantic makes a high surf and swell normal on that shore and, by November, limits the days when boats can possibly be navigated to perhaps one in five.

The tide would be ebbing on 8 November during the early morning hours of darkness, so that, even with smooth water, landing craft would have to be speedily unloaded and retracted to avoid becoming stranded or even broached. To escape the latter difficulty, Admiral Hewitt recommended, somewhat to General Patton’s dismay, that the operation be deferred one week. The proposal was discussed at higher Navy levels, rejected, partly because the moonlight on the later date would make surprise less likely, partly because of the narrowing likelihood of good weather, but mainly because delay would be generally inadvisable.

The availability of troops and cargo transports was sufficiently uncertain to delay firm decisions. Interrelated with the transport problem was that of the troop list, which was subject to a stream of minor modifications up to the time of departure. A tentative troop list of 6 September was made the basis for a provisional assignment to transports with an estimated capacity of 2,679 officers and 42,090 enlisted men. Some of these transports were still being converted from passenger liners to combat loaders, and would become available barely in time to load and depart with inexperienced crews.

The seatrain New Jersey solved the problem of medium tank transport, but one other special transportation problem remained unanswered until a few days before the Joint Expeditionary Force was scheduled to sail. That question was how to deliver aviation gasoline speedily to the Port-Lyautey airdrome for the land-based planes. These American aircraft were either to be flown from Gibraltar or, as actually developed later, to land after being catapulted from an auxiliary aircraft carrier at sea. The answer appeared to be to run a shallow-draft cargo vessel up the Sebou river to the docks near the airfield. Search for such a ship was successful; the Contessa, a fruit carrier normally plying between the Caribbean and the United Kingdom, was chartered, although it could not be brought to the port of embarkation until the day the convoy was finally loaded.

Admiral Hewitt received an official letter of instruction dated 10 October 1942 designating him as commander of the Western Naval Task Force (Task Force 34, U.S. Atlantic Fleet) and indicating the ships which would be transferred to his command. To expedite necessary action by subordinate commanders, his operations plans had already been issued the day before. The Western Naval Task Force, besides its Southern, Center, and Northern Attack Groups, was to contain a covering group and an air group. Standard operations annexes were included. But two major matters which had been under discussion ever since a conference of American and British naval officers in Washington on 16 September remained to be firmed up. What would be done if the weather made the scheduled landings impossible? How should French forces be treated in case they resisted?

Alternative plans were necessary in case bad weather prevented the troops from being landed near Casablanca. The ships would soon have to refuel. Submarine attack would become much more likely during any prolonged waiting offshore. Of four possible alternatives, serious faults could be found with all; those most favored provided for landings inside the Mediterranean between Oran and Spanish Morocco, or in Spanish Morocco and southern Spain if the Spanish Government opposed the Allied operations.

General Patton, after the subject had been thoroughly reviewed, concluded that the only tenable plan was “a direct naval attack on the moles at Casablanca and Port Lyautey …. We should plan either to conquer or be destroyed at Casablanca,” he wrote. He was so concerned lest the naval task force commander, during a failure of communications with General Eisenhower’s command post at Gibraltar, insist on diverting the convoy from the primary objective that he sought a secret authorization from the Allied commander in chief to require the admiral to bombard Casablanca. The request was met with the advice that no bombardment should occur without reference to General Eisenhower, but in the unlikely event of a complete failure of signal communications, he should use his own discretion…to destroy Casablanca would have been entirely contrary to Allied policy, for the harbor was scheduled to serve as a major Allied base, and any destruction would have had an adverse effect upon relations with the French.

Such an interference with the command relations prescribed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (in Plan ROOFTREE) could have had many regrettable consequences. But in view of the confidence which developed between General Patton and Admiral Hewitt during the approach voyage, and Admiral Hewitt’s own determination to wait offshore until forced to leave, it is doubtful that such an authorization would have been used even if it had been issued. The existence of approved outline plans for alternative operations was not known to Admiral Hewitt’s planning staff or to General Patton’s sub-task force commanders until the eve of departure, a fact which made hard work at drafting operations plans necessary during the voyage.

If the French decide to fight

How should French forces be treated in case of resistance? The previously mentioned directive of 5 October to the Allied Force laid down three general principles: (1) the French must be permitted to take the first hostile action, (2) a hostile act by an isolated unit should not necessarily be interpreted as indication that all units in that area had hostile intent, and (3) once resistance in any particular area ceased, Allied forces should abandon hostilities unless the French resumed their opposition.

The difficulty of this position was manifest. General Patton denounced the idea that his forces should wait for the French to fire. It would be tantamount, he said, to giving an opponent the draw in a gunfight. Many believed that the risks to naval units from enemy aircraft and coastal batteries were disproportionately high. But the entire force ought not to be precipitated into general attack by purely local resistance. Western Naval Task Force plans, as revised during the approach voyage, recognized the unmistakable directive to let the French start any fighting and instituted two signals “Batter Up” and “Play Ball”-to govern American response.

Anyone about to return French fire could signal “Batter Up,” while the task force and task group commanders would have discretionary authority to signal “Play Ball.” The former indicated a local encounter; the latter, general American offensive action. One was a report; the other, an order.

General Patton interpreted the policy to his subordinate commanders as making necessary attempts to capture alive any foreign troops who did not resist but at the same time to avoid all unnecessary risk. “We must do our best to avoid combat,” he said, “but not to the extent of endangering the lives of our troops.” Enemy batteries or machine gun nests were, if merely trained on American troops, to be attacked unless the crews indicated a desire to parley. Use of antiaircraft weapons against the planes of the Western Air Command would be the signal for attack either on airfields or troop columns.

General Patton’s Outline Plan for the Western Task Force was ready for distribution on 16 October 1942. It provided for simultaneous landings on beaches in the vicinity of Safi, Fedala, and Mehdia (west of Port-Lyautey). Subsequently, the Fedala force was to attack Casablanca from the east, reinforced by armored elements of the Safi force. Other elements of that force would prevent the enemy garrison at Marrakech from reinforcing the defenders at Casablanca.

The Mehdia force was expected first to seize the airport at Port-Lyautey in time for its use as a base for aircraft not later than noon on D Day, and next to capture and occupy the airport at Sale, while protecting the northern flank of the entire operation. Five regimental combat teams, three armored landing teams totaling nine companies of tanks, and a reserve consisting of one battalion of combat engineers, one company of military police, and an antiaircraft battalion made up the three sub-task forces. They were to be carried in twenty-two combat-loaded transports, six cargo transports, and one seatrain.

The outline air plans for the Western Air Command provided for 160 short-range fighters, 13 fighter-observation aircraft, and 15 light bombers to be operating in the Casablanca area by D plus 6, beginning on D plus 2 and growing by daily flights from Gibraltar. When the French Air Force in Western Morocco ceased to be a threat, 80 of the fighters were to be shifted to the Oran area.

Protection and regulation of coastal shipping after the occupation became a responsibility undertaken by the British for the Mediterranean and by the Americans for the Atlantic coast of French Morocco. The Sea Frontier Forces, Western Task Force, commanded by Rear Admiral John Leslie Han, Jr., were established for the latter task, with a planned strength of two seaplane patrol wings, over forty patrol craft, mine sweepers, tugs, and salvage vessels, and approximately 5,600 officers and men. Admiral Hall’s command was to maintain antisubmarine patrols, control harbors, operate base facilities at Port-Lyautey, Fedala, Casablanca, and Safi, and assist in local defense at each of them.

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 (3B); Tactical Plans and Political Preparations

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


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