The pace of preparations for Operation TORCH accelerated in October, when decisions already made at higher levels had their greatest effect on those engaged in training troops, loading convoys, and arranging for reinforcement and subsequent logistical support. A dramatic change was impending in the Mediterranean theater of war. The carefully prepared offensive of the British Eighth Army in Egypt was scheduled to begin on 23 October in the hope that a victory over Field Marshal Rommel’s forces would be clearly won a few days before the Allied landings in French North Africa.
While the convoys were putting out to sea, decisive negotiations linked the Allied Force with elements of the French armed forces there. These matters were the major aspects of the last period of planning, preparation, and overseas approach to the objective.
Training for the Assault
Although under his Army directive all training of the Western Task Force was General Patton’s responsibility as its commander, his units were actually to be trained in the methods of amphibious warfare while assigned to the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet. Rear Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt assumed command of that new agency on 28 April, about six weeks after its activation under the direction of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had an Army section in his force headquarters, an Army as well as a Navy chief of staff, and parallel staff sections under each, organized in conformity with Army practice. He was eventually to have warships, transports, and troops in a forward echelon for overseas operations, while a rear echelon gave logistical support and continued training and intelligence activities whenever the forward echelon was at sea.
A training center which took form during the summer and autumn of 1942 in the Norfolk area included schools for commanders and staffs, and for the various specialists that had been found indispensable to successful amphibious operations. There, under instructors from both the Army and Navy, men were trained to serve as transport quartermasters, as members of shore fire control parties, as members of shore and beach parties, as boat wave commanders, boat operating crews, or amphibious scouts or raiders.
The complex requirements of successful landings on hostile shores had for several years been studied in a series of exercises employing elements of the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Army. Joint training forces, uniting the 1st Infantry Division with the 1st Marine Division on the Atlantic coast and the 3rd Infantry Division with the 2nd Marine Division on the Pacific coast, provided in 1941 some advanced training for units of two Army divisions which were later to participate in Operation TORCH.
An elaborate full-scale exercise at New River, North Carolina, with air and naval support had been planned for December 1941. The U-boat menace caused it to be abruptly transferred to the southern shores of Chesapeake Bay, where the many deficiencies revealed by the exercise made apparent the necessity of improved and amplified training. The 9th Infantry Division began amphibious training early in 1942, taking the place formerly held by the 1st Infantry Division, which soon afterward moved to the United Kingdom.
One of the weaknesses shown in various exercises in 1941 was the inability of the shore and beach parties to unload landing craft swiftly; as long as these boats were unable to retract through the surf for a return trip to a transport, they blocked access to the beach for subsequent boat waves.
The Navy tentatively assigned responsibility for unloading to elements of the landing force rather than to teams formed from ships’ personnel, for the latter were needed for duties afloat. The Marine Corps inserted a Pioneer Battalion in its divisions to unload boats, and the Army seems to have accepted the responsibility in principle, but to have delayed making sufficient provision in its shore parties for actual performance of the task.
Throughout the summer and autumn of 1942 the troops of the Western Task Force completed unit training. The 3rd Infantry Division remained on the west coast until just before the final phase, while the 9th Infantry and 2nd Armored Division’s elements, with supporting units, trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and elsewhere on the east coast. Amphibious training was to reach its climax in a rehearsal in Chesapeake Bay from the very transports, partly loaded, on which the landing teams would be conveyed to Morocco. The 3rd Infantry Division arrived at Camp Pickett, Virginia, in mid-September, a few days before this rehearsal began.
The troops received insufficient training in air-ground co-operation, for the U.S. Army Air Forces, in the midst of a Herculean effort to expand swiftly, could not spare enough aircraft and personnel for effective training with ground troops. Moreover, the Air Forces differed from the Ground Forces in their conception of proper battlefield support and were disposed to concentrate heavily on strategic bombing.
Sub-task force commanders prepared schemes of maneuver for forces limited by the maximum transport which could be allotted to them, assigning tasks to elements of their commands in a manner which will be described later.8 Training exercises simulated the actual conditions likely to be met ashore. The program of training in the fall of 1942 was hampered by incessant withdrawal of men for assignment to officer candidate schools or to cadres of new Army units. Successive replacements filled out the units with men whose training was necessarily very uneven. The period of planning and preparations came to a close in the latter part of October in an atmosphere of unrelieved improvisation and haste, an unavoidable consequence of the determination to undertake an operation which stretched resources to the limit.
The Center and Eastern Task Forces were trained and rehearsed in ship-to-shore landings at various points in the United Kingdom. The 39th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was shipped, partly trained, from the United States to reach the United Kingdom on 7-8 October. It had received a considerable amount of battalion and a little regimental ship-to-shore training. Its transports were combat loaded, carried sixty days’ supplies and ten units of fire for all weapons, and vehicles which, unfortunately, had to be waterproofed and re-stowed after reaching the United Kingdom in order to be in the correct tactical order for a night landing. After the voyage the troops spent a few days ashore getting reconditioned and then participated in a rehearsal exercise starting on 17 October from Tail of the Bank, River Clyde. The 168th RCT, from the 34th Infantry Division, had come overseas with normal equipment and maintenance, but depended upon stocks in the United Kingdom for signal, engineer, ordnance, and quartermaster supplies and for ammunition.
[NOTE: The unit of fire (U/F) is a standardized quantity of ammunition for each weapon in service, varying for each type of weapon and, during World War II, in each theater of operation.]
The 1st Engineer Amphibian Brigade (Colonel Henry C. Wolfe, commanding) arrived in the Glasgow area on 17 August 1942 after a headlong embarkation on very short notice, and a voyage of eleven days. The unit was expected, at the time of its departure, to complete training with the 1st Infantry Division in the United Kingdom and to provide the additional specialized units necessary for the Division’s assault landing operations. While it was at sea, a revised Army-Navy agreement concerning landing craft crews and amphibious training went into effect. The brigade was broken up soon after its arrival. The advance headquarters of the U.S. Navy, Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, was then being established at Rosneath, under Admiral Bennett. Colonel Wolfe was assigned to the admiral’s staff and made responsible for shore party training.
Not far from Rosneath, at Inverary, was the Combined Operations Training Center (British), at the time greatly hampered by the lack of adequate boat maintenance facilities. The 561st Boat Maintenance Company, fully and freshly provided with the requisite equipment, salvaged over 100 landing craft at Inverary. At Toward, the beaches were better for practice exercises than those at Rosneath or Inverary, but the camp site was unsatisfactory. At all three places deepwater anchorages permitted the instruction of troops in combat loading and disembarkation from ships to small boats.
A fourth site, at Gales, some forty-five miles southwest of Glasgow near Irvine, was better in all respects save its exposure to southwest winds, which on occasion forced the suspension of all small-boat operations. But at the rocky beaches of the four training sites, the small boats had to approach the shore with caution to avoid broaching, instead of moving rapidly as if under fire.
The training schedule in the United Kingdom for the Center Task Force assault units was arranged on 25 August 1942, at a meeting between General Clark (U.S. ) , General Anderson (Br.), Commodore John Hughes-Hallett (Br.), and Major General J. C. Haydon (Br.). It was settled that from 31 August to 12 September, one RCT of the 34th Division and a detachment from an RCT of the 1st Division would train at Inverary, to be followed by an RCT of the 1st Division from 14 to 26 September. The next two weeks were allotted to ship loadings.
From 8 to 18 October, rehearsals and the topping off of ships would occur. At Rosneath and Toward facilities would then be available also for boat training of a second RCT from the 1st Division, but no ships could be provided. From 22 September to 5 October, the craft used during training were to be put in condition for the operation itself.
The 16th RCT held landing exercises at Inverchaolain Peninsula (near Dunoon) during the night of 27-28 September, while the 26th RCT engaged in a second such practice operation at Inverary about twenty-four hours later. The 18th RCT and 168th RCT had left these stations about a week earlier, and were completing their training in new areas at that time. Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, trained in Northern Ireland while the other amphibious assault elements were in Scotland, and while much of the staff were engaged in planning and preparations in London.
The British First Army was activated on 6 July 1942 around the elements of an expeditionary force which had been training in western Scotland for several months. It consisted, at its inception, of 5 Corps (4th and 78th Divisions), 6th Armoured Division, and 22nd Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade.
During the first week of August, the requirements for staging and executing a largescale amphibious landing against opposition had been tested by the British First Army in Exercise DRYS HOD. The tests indicated that the 78th Division, from which troops for the Eastern Assault Force were to be drawn, like the boat crews of the British transports, was then capable of only the sort of weakly resisted operation anticipated near Algiers. The 11th and 36th Brigade Groups and two Commando units (partly maned by volunteers from the U.S. 34th Infantry Division) were scheduled to engage in the amphibious assault.
Training for the amphibious operations in French North Africa, and in some respects for the subsequent phase of TORCH, fell short of what was desired and perhaps below the requirements of victory over a well-armed and determined foe. Whatever misgivings those preparing the expeditionary forces in the United States and the United Kingdom may have felt, they were attempting to do the best thing possible within the limitations imposed by inexperience, uncertainty, and shortness of time, rather than trying to tum out a force completely ready.
Plans for Logistical Support
The logistical planning for Operation TORCH was designed to support an American troop basis of seven divisions, with two more in reserve, and a tenth perhaps available if the military situation elsewhere permitted, plus a British “war establishment” of four divisions, with part of an airborne and a whole small Royal Marine division in force reserve. Two British divisions which were at first included in the schedule for Operation TORCH were retained for the defense of the British Isles, but subject to employment in a special Northern Task Force (Lieutenant General Frederick E. Morgan, commanding) to gain full control of the southern shores at the Strait of Gibraltar if Spain became hostile to the Allies. The initial and early following convoys were expected to bring to Northwest Africa within one month a total of over 200,000 American ground troops, including the ground echelons of Army Air Forces units, and a somewhat smaller total of British troops.
[NOTE 3-10: Ltr, CinC AF to Gen Ismay, II Oct 42. AFHQ AG 3S1.95, Micro Job 24, Reel SID.,. Actual totals in round figures: U.S. troops from the United States, 65,600 and from the United Kingdom, 105,000; British troops from the United Kingdom, 144,000. Control Div US Trans Corps, Monthly Progress Rpt, 31 May 43. OCT HB. If General Eisenhower requested an over-all directive from Combined Chiefs in a telegram (CMIN 3664), 9 October 1942. As prepared by the Combined Staff Planners, the directive was CCSO, 19 October 1942.]
Large increments were to be brought during the next four months. In view of the Allied character of the expeditionary force, a clear division of supply responsibility was sought. The supplies for the force in the Algiers area, whether British or American, were to be transported from the United Kingdom in British shipping.
Those items normally issued to United States but not to British forces were to be transferred in the United Kingdom by Services of Supply (SOS), ETOUSA, for delivery by the British First Army to American elements of the Eastern Task Force and of AFHQ. Necessary supplies not normally issued to American personnel would be provided by the British. Materiel from the United States required by American forces in the Oran and Algiers areas in the early phase of the operation was estimated at 260,000 ship tons by D plus 5, 84,000 more by D plus 26, and on the latter date also, 11,000 tons of petrol, oil, and lubricants by tankers.
[NOTE 3-CKL: This arrangement meant that Class I (rations), Class III (petrol, oil, and lubricants), and most of Class IV (heavy engineering materials) were to be of British issue; the rest of Class IV, Class II (clothing, weapons, vehicles), and Class V (ammunition of all kinds) would be American supplies. Memo, Colonel George A. Lincoln for CofS SOS ETOUSA, 7 Nov 42, sub: Sum of supply problem for TORCH. Kansas City Reds Ctr, Env 27, x-14567.]
Some items to fill out shortages went by the “first available shipping from the New York Port of Embarkation to the United Kingdom, but supplies in other categories crossed in more than twenty-five complete and balanced shiploads to the United Kingdom, to be convoyed to North Africa without being unloaded.”
The levels of supply in North Africa proposed by AFHQ were fourteen days’ for the total force on D plus 30, thirty days’ for the total force on D plus 60, and forty-five days’ for the total force on D plus 90 and thereafter, with ammunition reserves held at twelve units of fire. A supplementary reserve in the United Kingdom on which to draw was proposed in the event of shipping losses in the convoys from the United States or of other emergencies, to consist of sixty days’ supplies and three units of fire. To reach quickly a moderate reserve level in North Africa of forty-five days’ supplies would, it was discovered, require a shift to the Center and Eastern Task Forces of some sixteen cargoes previously planned for the Western Task Force. It would also compel either a limitation of the Western Task Force to a total strength of 100,000 men on D plus 90, or, if more men were transported, then a reduction in the tonnage for transporting organizational and maintenance equipment to one-half of the normal allowances.
Command decisions made by General Clark on 28 September in Washington, in a conference with General Patton, Brigadier General Arthur R. Wilson, and Brigadier General LeRoy Lutes, fixed the level of supplies for the Western Task Force at forty-five days and ten units of fire, and cut the organic equipment to 50 percent of the normal ship tonnage required. The Western Task Force was to be short of equipment, particularly of vehicles, and of service troops for at least three months in order to meet even more pressing requirements. The supply convoys might reduce this interval only by being enlarged to more than forty-five ships, once North African port facilities permitted.
Each task force was to organize its own service of supply, including base sections to become operative in the ports as soon after the assault as proved feasible. After the 5 September decision, General Wilson was named to command SOS, Western Task Force, and eventually, the Atlantic Base Section at Casablanca. Brigadier General Thomas B. Larkin of SOS, ETOUSA, was to take command of SOS, Center Task Force, and later, the Mediterranean Base Section at Oran. It was expected that these two bases would soon come directly under AFHQ, and that after the merger of the two task forces the two SOS headquarters would be reorganized. In the United States, General Patton planned to leave behind a rear echelon of the Provisional Corps Headquarters, Task Force “A,” commanded by Major General Manton S. Eddy, to supervise the shipment of troops in accordance with the plans for reinforcements and replacements devised before the Western Task Force departed.
Late in the period of planning and preparation, the SOS, War Department, after operating under a series of specific agreements between General Eisenhower’s headquarters and agencies in the War Department concerning supply, requested from AFHQ a “complete plan.” A draft of such a plan, furnished on 27 October 1942, remained the subject of discussion for several more weeks.
The task forces could not establish adequate inventory controls and requisitioning General Eddy, Commanding General, 9th Infantry Division, had had his division split up, Combat Team 39 going to General Ryder’s Eastern Assault Force, Combat Team 47 to General Harmon’s Force BLACKSTONE, and Combat Team 60 to General Truscott, Force GOALPOST, procedures until the base sections should become operative. For the first two months, automatic supply of Class II, IV, and V items was planned in conformity with estimates reached by the chiefs of services or the SOS, War Department. Limited requisition was then to begin. The ports of embarkation, under the standard program for the supply of overseas departments, theaters, and bases adopted by the SOS, War Department, were established as the agencies for controlling the outward flow of supplies.
Almost one month after the Operation TORCH began, on 4 December, the approved supply plan for TORCH, was announced. The Western Task Force was to be supplied directly from the United States on requisitions sent to the New York Port of Embarkation, copies of which would be sent to ETOUSA via AFHQ. The Center Task Force was to be supplied directly from the New York Port of Embarkation, except for supplementary cargoes at the rate of some five ships per month which would go via the United Kingdom, but its requisitions would be routed through AFHQ and SOS, ETOUSA, to the Overseas Supply Division, New York Port of Embarkation.
A ninety days’ level of reserve supplies in North Africa was accepted as a goal. The level in the United Kingdom was set at thirty days of Class I and Class II, and of grease and oil in cans and drums, and two units of fire, but no reserve of Class IV supplies in general. Requisitions might be submitted for a reserve of particular items.
In these terms the supply plan was settled without permitting. the overseas theater organization either to control directly the maintenance of all American contingents of the Allied Force or to operate on too slender a margin of security. Yet the painful pressure of logistical requirements was apparent in the long period allowed for build-up. Faced with choices between men and materiel, and in tum between various kinds of materiel, the planners arrived at compromises and adjustments determined by their expectations concerning the nature of the forthcoming operation.
Departure of the Western Task Force
Except for the seatrain New Jersey, which took on the 39th Combat Team at the New York Port of Embarkation, all combat loaded ships from the United States departed from the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation. An admirable plan provided for loading the transports there in two flights, the second taking on cargo and troops while the first went up the Chesapeake on its rehearsal of ship-to-shore debarkation, each troop unit on the transport which would convey it to the hostile shore.
The second group would then have its rehearsal while the first ships were being topped off. This plan could only be approximated, for the Hamptons Roads Port of Embarkation was not yet the experienced organization which it later became, nor had it then the benefit of a completed staging area or of a holding and re-consignment point system to facilitate the orderliness of such a large and complex loading operation. Adjustments and improvisations had to be continuous. The transport Harry C. Lee, for example, came back from the landing rehearsal with engine trouble which could not be repaired in time for its departure with the assault convoy. What had previously taken several days to load for combat requirements had therefore to be taken out and laboriously re-stowed in the Calvert.
Despite fresh paint and the change of crews, the task was completed in thirty-five hours and the ship joined the main convoy at sea. The Contessa provided an agitated postscript, for she appeared at Norfolk as the convoy was about to sail and in a leaking condition which required that she be dry-docked. Many of her crew left town while repairs expected to take several days were begun. Extraordinary measures got the Contessa afloat, loaded her with gasoline and ammunition, and filled out her crew in time to sail without escort toward Mehdia-Port-Lyautey. Despite these and other deviations from the loading program, the Western Naval Task Force was ready for departure on 23-24 October 1942.
Admiral Hewitt’s command consisted of five major divisions: the Covering Group (Task Group 34.1), the Air Group (Task Group 34.2), and the Southern, Center, and Northern Attack Groups (Task Groups 10, 9, and 8). Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen’s Covering Group of seven warships and a tanker was intended to furnish a protective barrier between the Center Attack Group off Fedala and the French naval units based at Casablanca. The Air Group, commanded by Rear Admiral Ernest D. McWhorter, consisted of the fleet carrier Ranger, the escort carriers Santee, Suwannee, and Sangamon, and a screen of one light cruiser and nine destroyers.
Each of the three attack groups comprised a division of transports, a group of warships for fire support, one of the auxiliary aircraft carriers, destroyer screens for the transport, fire support, and carrier units, and one or more mine sweepers, mine layers, tankers, beacon submarines (which had been sent ahead), and service ships. The Center Attack Group was approximately twice the strength of either the Southern or Northern Attack Group. The cruiser Augusta served as one of the fire support vessels of Center Attack Group and as the task force headquarters ship. The fire support section of the Center Attack Group was to be in position to assist the Covering Group in containing the French naval threat from Casablanca against the transports off Fedala as well as to aid the landing force near Fedala. This arrangement subjected the Augusta to three somewhat incompatible demands upon her batteries and communications facilities.
The entire task force of more than 100 ships was too large to be sent from anyone port in the United States without attracting undesired attention. It therefore assembled at sea after a series of departures at various times and places, seemingly for different destinations.
First to leave were four reconnoitering submarines which were to assist the attacking groups in finding their exact destinations, and a fifth which was sent to keep watch over the port of Dakar. These submarines had been at sea several days when the first section of the transports and warships emerged from Hampton Roads on the afternoon of 23 October. The Air Group was then ostensibly engaged in maneuvers in Bermuda waters. The troopships and their protectors headed in that direction. Next morning, the second half of the troop transports with screening warships, including the cruiser Augusta with Admiral Hewitt and General Patton aboard, left Hampton Roads and took a northeasterly course as though bound for the United Kingdom.
From Casco Bay, Maine, the Covering Group sortied in time to take its place at the front of the formation on 27 October, while the transports and warships, which had left Hampton Roads in two sections, were reuniting. On 28 October, the Air Group fell in behind the others. The convoy was then complete with two minor exceptions. The seaplane tender Barnegat joined the formation on 6 November after a voyage from Iceland. The Contessa overtook the Southern Attack Group on 7 November and continued under escort by the destroyer Cowie to its proper position off Mehdia among the ships of the Northern Attack Group.
The task force continued in formation from 28 October to 7 November, refueling en route, maintaining radio silence, and avoiding as much as possible all contacts with other ships. One Portuguese and one Spanish vessel were encountered and boarded but then allowed to continue. Detection by the enemy seems to have been prevented. From 4 to 6 November, the weather deteriorated severely, thus confining radioed weather forecasts of adverse conditions at the time and place set for the landings. Offsetting these forecasts was the more hopeful interpretation of Admiral Hewitt’s weather officer that the fast moving storm would have the effect of temporarily abating the high swell and surf at the landing points, perhaps long enough to establish firm beachheads, or to negotiate a surrender by the French. Instead of keeping this force together to cruise well out to sea until the general forecasts indicated feasible landing conditions, Admiral Hewitt decided to accept the risk of dividing it according to plan and to proceed to the three coastal objectives without delay.
At daybreak on 7 November, the Southern Attack Group commanded by Rear Admiral Lyal A. Davidson split from the main formation and headed toward Safi. During the afternoon, the Northern Attack Group under command of Rear Admiral Monroe Kelly also diverged to take a course toward Mehdia. The other three groups, separating slightly, approached the Fedala-Casablanca area, remaining until dark as far offshore as possible while still permitting the transports to reach the debarkation area at midnight.
For the troops, the entire three weeks at sea had been a combination of activity and discomfort, for they were jammed into every available place on the transports, were fed in seemingly endless lines, and suffered sea sickness, particularly during the days of rough weather. Yet they were brought up on deck for periods of exercise and engaged in detailed study or received general instruction on matters hitherto not touched upon in training.
On the approach voyage, there was much to be done in every echelon. General instruction was given to all officers and enlisted men regarding the customs of the Moroccan inhabitants. “The local population will respect strong, quiet men who live up to their promises,’” said a circular issued to the men. “Do not boast nor brag, and keep any agreement you make.” A directive from General Patton to the officers admonished them that “there is not the least doubt but that we are better in all respects than our enemies, but to win, the men must KNOW this. It must be their absolute belief. WE MUST HAVE A SUPERIORITY COMPLEX!”
Departure of the Center and Eastern Task Forces
The assault ships loading in the United Kingdom near Liverpool and Glasgow received their troop units late in September after most of the cargo had been stowed. The movement of troops to ports of embarkation was organized and controlled by the appropriate branch of the War Office, aided by members of the U.S. Transportation Corps. In spite of tendencies to be overly secretive or to reject orders received from a British agency, American ground and air units followed the complex schedule. Equipment, supplies, vehicles, and troops poured into the ports according to a carefully prepared program and, once aboard ship, were taken to the Firth of Clyde.
On 17 October, the entire expedition, both Center Task Force and Eastern Assault Force, began to assemble there. The assault transports proceeded north to the vicinity of Loch Linnhe to hold a final rehearsal just before daylight, 19 October, then returned to the Clyde next day. Except for command post exercises ashore by a small portion of the men, all waited aboard until time to depart. Then the great troop convoy sailed for Africa.
The first convoy, a group of 46 cargo vessels with 18 escorting warships, had already left port on 22 October on a schedule which would permit it to be overtaken by the second. The troop convoy, 39 vessels with 12 escorting warships, comprised the combat-loaded transports of the Eastern Assault Force and Center Task Force. Commanding the consolidated armada was Rear Admiral Sir Harold Burrough (Br.), in the specially designed command ship Bulala. With him were Generals Ryder (U.S.) and Evelegh (Br.), and Air Commodore G. M. Lawson (Br.) .
Second in command of the convoy was Commodore Thomas H. Troubridge (Br.) in another headquarters ship, the Largs. With him were Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall (U.S. ) , Colonel Lauris Norstad (Assistant Commander, U.S. Twelfth Air Force), and Mr. Leland L. Rounds, who had recently been brought out from Oran, where he was an American Vice-Consul, to furnish liaison with friendly French elements ashore and to provide political intelligence to General Fredendall. The escorts and most of the transports were British vessels, but the 39th Regimental Combat Team continued to Algiers in the combat-loaded transports which had brought it across the North Atlantic. Some Polish and Dutch ships were included.
The men and materiel from the United Kingdom reached North Africa by voyages organized in an extremely complicated pattern. One problem of safe transit was solved by sending in advance as far as Gibraltar a number of slow colliers, tankers, tugs, and other auxiliary craft, as well as the three Maracaibo tankers which had been converted into tank landing ships. For the major convoys of troops and materiel, the Strait of Gibraltar was in effect a bottleneck.
Transit into the Mediterranean during the darkness of two successive nights was scheduled for all except one small group of ships, which would enter in daylight. Before nearing the strait, both the slow convoy which had left the Clyde on 22 October and the fast convoy which departed on 26 October were to separate into sections destined for Algiers and Oran. Preceded by a screen of warships (Force H, Royal Navy), the Algiers sections of the slow and fast convoys were to enter the Mediterranean Sea during the night of 5-6 November. During daylight, 6 November, the Oran section of the slow convoy was to follow, and in darkness, 6-7 November, the Oran section of the fast convoy was at last to pass through the narrow waterway. Inside the Mediterranean, the separate sections were to consolidate in the Eastern and Center Naval Task Forces, the process being somewhat further complicated by the successive refueling of some ships in Gibraltar harbor, and by later supply from tankers at an advanced position in the Mediterranean. Two additional convoys from the United Kingdom were to be well along the way to the Algiers and Oran areas by the time the assaulting forces arrived off the landing beaches.
Moving such a large armada in accordance with this pattern required a masterly organization which might have suffered from its unavoidable complexities as well as from enemy attack. Actually, the plan was executed with extraordinary success. Between the Clyde and Gibraltar, no submarine sighted the ships although they passed through an area near which more than a score of Axis submarines were believed to be operating. One submarine, which was sighted at a distance of twenty-five miles from the convoy by a naval air patrol, was kept submerged long enough to permit the ships to pass unreported.
On 4 November, the Algiers and Oran sections of the convoys separated without the benefit of protective, long-range, antisubmarine air patrols. The seaplanes equipped for such missions had all become inoperable and the weather conditions at Gibraltar prevented land-based craft from undertaking the task.
In mid-afternoon, the Oran portion of the fast convoy steamed to the west while its destroyer screen made several aggressive attacks on submarines detected by warning apparatus. No results were observed, but the transports remained unscathed. After an interval of twenty-one and a half hours, the Oran-bound ships reversed course and approached the strait after nightfall, 6 November. Thirty hours remained before the assault landings would begin.
Axis Situation in the Mediterranean on the Eve of the Attack
The convoys were approaching an area in which serious changes had occurred since the Allied decision in July to undertake an operation against French North Africa. At that time, it will be remembered, the British Eighth Army had been driven far into Egypt and had taken its stand on what was known as the EI ‘Alamein line. The British and the Axis forces had then withstood each other’s probing attacks and had prepared for a return to the offensive. Rommel organized a single strong defensive position with considerable depth from which he intended to attack as soon as possible. The Axis leaders had calculated that the relative situation of the two adversaries would be best for the Panzer Army Africa late in August, for thereafter the British ability, in spite of lengthy supply lines, to deliver reinforcements and materiel in great quantities would enable the Eighth Army to acquire an ever-increasing margin of superiority in numbers, weapons, and battlefield resupply.
The Prime Minister devoted close personal attention to the situation and revised the command by installing General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander as Commander in Chief, Middle East, and Lieutenant General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery as Commanding General, Eighth Army. Preparations were made by these leaders to execute exactly the tactics which the enemy would have preferred to adopt himself, that is, to await an offensive, meet it in prepared defensive positions, and, after getting everything in readiness, counterattack.
One major change in the Mediterranean theater had taken place with the revival of Malta as a base for British attacks against the Axis line of sea communications to Tripoli. The use of aircraft carriers from Gibraltar to ferry planes within flying distance of Malta enabled the Royal Air Force to resume powerful attacks from Malta airfields on Axis shipping. Submarines from Malta also claimed many a victim. The enemy resorted to coastal traffic from Tripoli eastward to Bengasi and Derna in small, shallow-draft vessels. Hitler recognized in mid-September that Malta must again be neutralized. The Luftwaffe’s resources were unequal to this added demand, while German and Italian troops that had once been designated to seize the island (the canceled Operation HERKULES) were committed in Libya, a move which left insufficient ground forces. Among the Italian military leaders, daily review of the situation in the Mediterranean brought them back to the same themes, “Malta e nafta” (Malta and fuel) .
That Hitler recognized the danger of an attack by the Allies in 1942 was shown in certain defensive measures which he ordered that summer. Several armored divisions were withdrawn to western France from the Eastern Front; this step deprived his commanders of the means of exploiting the initial successes on the southern section of that front. Hitler acknowledged his concern when Grossadmiral Erich Raeder in August warned that the Allies might be preparing to enter French North Africa with the connivance of the French and thus to inflict a very serious blow to the Axis coalition. He became alarmed lest the Allied reinforcements in the Middle East presage the seizure of Crete rather than an attack against Rommel’s strong defensive position, and he ordered that that island’s garrison be increased to repel seaborne and airborne attacks. To insure that the complicated process of resisting an amphibious attack should be conducted with unity of command, he charged Kesselring, directly under himself, with the defense of all the coasts in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas which were held by German troops, excepting those in “Rommel’s sector.”
The threat of an Allied invasion in the western Mediterranean was met in conformity with German, rather than with Italian, views of appropriate action despite the fiction that the Mediterranean was Mussolini’s theater of war.
German policy from 1940 to 1942 was to refrain from moving into unoccupied France in order to prevent creation of a French government in North Africa opposed to the Axis powers. Comando Supremo professed in October to have much less concern with plans and preparations for seizing unoccupied France than with countermeasures against Allied invasion of French North Africa and West Africa. Moreover, Rommel’s line of supply could, Comando Supremo believed, be much improved if the Axis made full use of Tunisia’s ports and airfields rather than limiting itself as it had thus far in 1942. Two Italian divisions were held in reserve in western Tripolitania at points from which they could speedily enter Tunisia.
Both of the Axis partners recognized that an incursion into Tunisia would arouse French hostility. The Germans, presumably, did not desire a repetition of the Greek fiasco of 1940 and in spite of the Italian attitude decided to continue to adhere to the policy of friendly relations with the Vichy government. The Germans believed that any other course might precipitate a French attachment to the Anglo-American Allies. Axis policy therefore remained, in response to German insistence, that of waiting in readiness to send forces into Tunisia in the role of friendly protectors acceptable to the French government at Vichy. Rommel would have to get along without the Tunisian ports.
In mid-October neither Italian nor German intelligence deemed an Allied invasion of the Mediterranean area to be imminent. No operation was expected until spring. The place where the attack would then come was a matter of disagreement.
When indications of an earlier Allied operation were noted at Gibraltar, the Italians still considered an attack on French Morocco most likely. If unopposed by Axis forces, the Allies would reach Bizerte in about one month and, from that point, were expected to hit the Italian mainland, an operation which it was feared would have a disastrous effect on the Egyptian campaign and the whole Italian war effort.
The Germans were inclined to expect an attack to seize Dakar and thereafter, if the Mediterranean area were invaded at all, most of them thought the Allies would bypass French North Africa to close on Rommel’s rear area or to gain a bridgehead on the other side of the Mediterranean. Actually, both Axis partners were much surprised when the attacking force did in fact appear in the Strait of Gibraltar.
The last opportunity for the Axis forces to attack the British Eighth Army on anything like equal terms came at the end of August. Reserves of fuel and other supplies had been accumulated so slowly that no attack could be undertaken before that date, and, even then, the most careful estimates indicated that the operation would require 400 to 500 cubic meters more of gasoline than was on hand. Kesselring, upon learning that this deficiency alone stood in the path of an attack, undertook to furnish the required amount from Luftwaffe reserves. Thus on 30-31 August, depending upon tankers at sea for fuel which would be needed to continue operations in case of an initial success, the Panzer Army Africa moved to an attack. The battle of ‘Alam el Haifa followed.
[NOTE: The headquarters of the German Armistice Commission was in Wiesbaden, Germany]
The battle was won by the Eighth Army not only because of the scanty resources with which the offensive was begun but also because the British had correctly foreseen the plan of attack and had adopted appropriate countermeasures. To open the gaps in the mine fields through which the Axis armor was expected to pass by moonlight in order to make an early morning assault against Montgomery’s deep southern flank proved much more difficult than the Germans had anticipated. The deep soft sand into which many Axis vehicles were lured slowed progress and used up fuel.
Sandstorms which deterred the Allied air units from maximum effectiveness during the first day ceased to give that protection after nightfall. Parachute flares by night and clear weather by day thereafter enabled bombers to inflict severe injury on Rommel’s forces, supplementing the heavy artillery fire which fell on his units concentrated in the mine-field passages. The attack lost momentum as it neared the main British lines on ‘Alam el Haifa ridge, about 15 miles southeast of El ‘Alamein, and was broken off in failure on 3-5 September. Axis troops were forced to reoccupy their former defensive positions. They maintained contact, but no resumption of the attack could be foreseen. Axis losses in this battle were recorded as 570 killed, 1,800 wounded, and 570 prisoners of the Allies, as well as 50 tanks, 400 trucks, 15 field pieces, and 35 antitank guns.
The British Eighth Army spent the next seven weeks reinforcing its units and replenishing stocks, arriving at an ample margin of superiority not only in troops but in tanks, guns, aviation, and mobility. Its morale was excellent. The plan of battle was well calculated to overcome the enemy’s capabilities and meet his disposition of forces. The attack began on 23 October with a thundering artillery preparation such as the Western Desert had never before experienced.
Panzer Army Africa had remained in defensive positions near El ‘Alamein to receive the British attack. It might have fallen back nearer Tobruk, developing successive positions into which to retire. It might have stationed the major elements in intermediate positions behind a forward screen which simulated a major defense, and have counterattacked when the attacking forces had been somewhat disorganized by the initial operations. But it did neither. Rommel himself departed to take a rest leave on the Continent, turning over command to his deputy, General der Panzertruppen Georg Stumme. General der Panzertruppen Walther Nehring, commander of the German Africa Corps, had been wounded in the battle just concluded, and left Africa to convalesce near Berlin.
Allied planners chose 23 October as D Day to launch the attack of the British Eighth Army in deference to tactical requirements, not to any timetable of high-level strategy. The victory was won barely in time for its impact to be felt by men faced with crucial decisions concerning the Mediterranean.
On 2 November, after ten days of severe combat had worn both armies down, Rommel, who had been recalled from leave and arrived in Africa on 25 October, warned the Axis leadership to expect a serious disaster. His forces were exhausted, quite unable to withstand the armored thrusts which the enemy might be expected to deliver within twenty-four hours. Orderly withdrawal by his non-motorized Italian and German units would not be possible. In this situation “the gradual annihilation of this Army must be expected . . .” were his concluding words. A little later he reported the German Africa Corps down to twenty-four tanks and gave indications of drastic losses, both Italian and German. Hitler replied that no other course could be considered except stubborn resistance.
“The troops,” he declared, “can be led only to victory or to death.” M Mussolini’s orders through Comando Supremo were to hold the front in Egypt at any price. The situation on the battlefield deteriorated further on 3 November as these impossible orders were being drafted so far away, and when Kesselring arrived next day by air from Crete to consult with Rommel he was soon persuaded that the commander must have discretionary authority to conduct his battle as the circumstances might dictate. He joined that noon in such a request, which later was conceded by Hitler and Mussolini. It was too late to save thousands of men. Some Italian units had been forced to withdraw even earlier to avoid being cut off, and Rommel intended that all his mobile elements should pull back fighting to the next feasible line of defense. The rest would be left behind. Comando Supremo sent reinforcements toward the Salum-Halfaya area, farther west, while Rommel’s Army was either driven from the battlefield or captured. The prevailing confusion left the extent of his defeat for later computation.
The Allies could look back a few months later to the Battle of EI ‘Alamein and recognize that the tide in the Mediterranean had then turned definitely. This victory was the first of a long series of almost uninterrupted triumphs over Axis forces which ended in the Po River valley. In a sense it was the Gettysburg of the African campaign. The fact that Rommel flew back from Germany to assume the command of his Army shortly after General Stumme died in action, while executing Rommel’s plans, is a circumstance which permitted later analysis of the battle as an encounter between two of the ablest field commanders of the war, and which will no doubt encourage its study for years to come.
The battle of El ‘Alamein yielded certain results distinctly beneficial to the Allies. Axis military prestige suffered most opportunely. Collapse of the Axis advance toward the Nile subjected the German-Italian partnership to the undermining influence of mutual recrimination. Rommel’s position as an Axis field commander suffered an eclipse, partial among Germans and total among Italians. The latter henceforth distrusted Rommel. Some Germans blamed him for disregarding obvious logistical restrictions. Hitler concluded that Rommel needed a rest but postponed replacing him. When the Allies arrived off the African coast, the opposing coalition was already beginning to weaken. That the Allied system of command would function as well during operations as for planning remained to be seen, but it was already apparent that the Axis command structure was defective in both areas.
No unified Axis Mediterranean theater existed. Major operational decisions were ostensibly made either by Mussolini himself, or in his name by the Comando Supremo; but actually they were made in collaboration with the Germans, whose counsel often took the form of completely drawn up orders which the Italians passed on to their troops intact. Each of the German armed services had a headquarters in Rome. That of the German Air Force’s OB SUED was under the senior German officer in the Mediterranean area, Field Marshal Kesselring. He outranked but had not yet superseded the German General, Rome, Enno von Rintelen, as a channel for conveying German views to the Italian high command. This confusing situation was made even more difficult as a result of the fact that Kesselring held the mission of facilitating by sea and air, partly by command and partly by co-ordination, German and Italian support of operations in Africa and the Balkans and defense of the coasts.
Rommel’s operations were not subject to Kesselring’s control. Rommel looked to others, not to Kesselring, for supplies. Although this tangle was eventually simplified, the Allied coalition in the Mediterranean began with a system of command superior to that of the Axis and was, in fact, to retain that superiority to the war’s end.
Finding a French Leader
All other measures taken by the Allies to minimize resistance by the French were subordinate to an understanding with a suitable French leader, one who could rally the armed forces of French North Africa in renewed war against the Axis powers. Such a man must be a personage, a man holding a position of unmistakable patriotism and endowed with such superlative qualities of leadership that he could persuade loyal officers of the French armed forces to seize the opportunity to liberate France. All French officers were bound to Marshal Petain by oaths which they would have to violate, an action which could be expected only in disciplined response to orders from their immediate superiors. Thus the actual problem was to find a new leader to whom the higher command in French North Africa would adhere, and in support of whom it would issue appropriate orders to the lower echelons.
Could such a leader be found in the existing structure of Vichy’s military establishment? Admiral Darlan, next in succession to Marshal Petain, and commander in chief of all the armed forces of his government, had confided to the U.S. Ambassador, Admiral Leahy, late in 1941 that he might be ready to dissociate himself from the policy of collaboration and lead his countrymen to the side of the Allies if he were supported by sufficient American aircraft, tanks, and effective troops. His conduct left doubts whether he was motivated more by ambition or by patriotism. If he were apprised of Allied intentions, would he assist or would he betray the project?
General Alphonse Juin, senior military officer in French North Africa and commander in chief of the French Army there, had been released from prison by the Germans after Weygand’s recall from Algiers late in 1941, but was no collaborationist. He was under orders to defend the French territories against invasion by any forces whatsoever, and he included in his preparations elaborate plans to resist an attack into Tunisia and eastern Algeria which could only come from the Axis countries. He intended to execute his orders, even against the Germans, and believed that he would be supported in such action by Admiral Darlan, if not by all at Vichy. The Allies could not have chosen an associate better able to assist them but more unwilling to take the initiative in defiance of his instructions from above.
General of Morocco, had shown marked zeal in 1940 in organizing and preparing for eventual resumption by the French Army of hostilities against the Axis powers, especially by concealing from the armistice commissioners both troops and materiel in excess of the permitted amounts. But by 1942 he seemed to Mr. Murphy to have become dispirited by the long delay. His intentions as late as 6 October 1942 were to resist any Allied invasion not strong enough to repel probable countermeasures by the Axis forces, and it could be doubted, despite his antagonism toward the Germans and their cordial distrust of him, that he would assume the burden of breaking with Marshal Petain’s authority.
Lieutenant General Louis-Marie Koeltz, commanding the 19th Region Militaire in Algiers, or Major General Georges Barre, commanding the Tunis Division, each the principal troop commander in his territory, and Vice Admiral Raymond Fenard, Secretary-General of French North Africa, or Vice Admiral Jean-Pierre Esteva, Resident General of Tunisia, each a protégé of Admiral Darlan high in the civil administration of French North African territories, had considerable prestige but could not be expected to lead a break with the government at Vichy.
Although a leader taken from Marshal Petain’s military establishment might well provide the greatest immediate advantages to the Allies, those benefits could be gained only at severe risk. The political consequences would be bad wherever, outside French North Africa, the Vichy government was believed to be wholly collaborationist and was an object of distrust or hatred.
But equally important from the strictly military point of view, the vital element of surprise would have to be forfeited as far as the French were concerned and, perhaps, the Axis enemies as well. Axis countermeasures during the approach, the landings, and the advance into Tunisia might be prepared in time to inflict severe injuries. Had the Allies been able to take into their confidence the right Vichy French leaders, the inner core of the resistance organization in the French armed forces might have arranged for only a nominal show of opposition intended to delay Axis retaliation, but the betrayal of such a confidence would have brought disaster. The risk seemed too great.
Could the Allies find an eminent person outside the Vichy establishment able to assume French civil and military leadership in French North Africa, some high-ranking officer who would accept a role of dissidence for reasons of higher patriotism? They would have to take their chances on his ability to win over the higher military commanders in French North Africa. Such a candidate appeared in the person of General Giraud.
Giraud, then in his early sixties, had achieved considerable distinction in a military career which involved many years of service in Morocco; combat, capture, and escape in both World Wars; instruction for three years at L’Ecole Superieure de Guerre in Paris, membership on Le Conseil Superieure de la Guerre, and four-star rank as commander of the French Seventh Army in 1940. His escape from the Koenigstein prison in Saxony through Switzerland to unoccupied France in April 1942 had attracted wide attention. He had undertaken to support Marshal Petain’s authority and had been permitted to retire into southern France, near Lyon. There he wrote a long analyst of the causes of France’s downfall in 1940 and planned for a day when Frenchmen might again fight for their freedom.
Mr. Robert Murphy returned to Algiers from his visits to London and New York in September with instructions to establish communications between Giraud and Eisenhower. He had just reached Algiers when he was approached by a representative of Admiral Darlan, who revealed that Darlan was being rapidly driven toward a choice between far closer collaboration with the Germans and coming over to the side of the United States, bringing with him the French fleet. To adopt the latter alternative, he required guarantees of ample American aid to offset French deficiencies in military equipment. Here was a situation which required not only a choice by Darlan but another choice, more pressing than he realized, by the Allies. Murphy recommended that his government attempt to bring about a co-operative relationship between Giraud and Darlan.
Although General Giraud’s residence in southern France was kept under surveillance, he had established communication with French patriots in Algiers and through them with others in the major centers of French North Africa, as well as with demobilized officers in France, and looked ahead with eagerness to the spring of 1943 when he hoped, with American aid, to bring about a successful return to arms in unoccupied France. His plans and communications were necessarily subject to the utmost secrecy. His principal representative in Algiers was Major General Charles E. Mast, commander of the Algiers Division since September 1942.
In Casablanca, the commander of the Casablanca Division, Major General Emile Bethouart, veteran of Narvik, was also an adherent of Giraud. Other officers of the French Army and various civilians were prepared to uphold Giraud in overthrowing the authority of the government at Vichy if necessary in order to resume the war against the Axis powers. He had channels of communication with the Allied leaders through his friends in Algiers and through the U.S. Military Attaché at Bern, Switzerland, and perhaps for a short time through the American embassy at Vichy.
While Giraud’s willingness to cooperate with the Allies was being ascertained, Mast assured Murphy that Giraud would prefer to act apart from Darlan and that Giraud could alone rally the French Army in North Africa, gain the adherence of the French Navy there, and make it possible for the Allies to “gain entry practically without firing a shot.” Mast was confident that the time had arrived not only to reach an agreement with Giraud but to discuss specific military plans in staff talks; therefore he proposed via Murphy a rendezvous near Cherchel, about ninety miles west of Algiers, on the night of 21 October. Five days’ notice was very short indeed.
Murphy’s reports produced intense concern and lively activity in London and Washington. Generals Eisenhower and Clark, the Prime Minister, and the British Chiefs of Staff concluded that Giraud should be recognized as “our principal collaborator on the French side” and as Governor General of all French North Africa, responsible for civil and military affairs, and as such should receive Allied support and protection.
At the same time, they approved General Eisenhower’s further proposal that Giraud be requested to negotiate with Darlan and to accept him in a military role which would be mutually agreeable. In effect, they agreed that one friendly French leader would be good but that two would be better, especially when one controlled the French fleet at Toulon. General Eisenhower then had in mind the early activation of the American Fifth Army under General Clark and the elevation of the French commander in chief to succeed Clark as deputy commander in chief. The British Chiefs of Staff, however, believed that no civil and military governor general could properly also serve as the Allied deputy commander in chief, so that the latter position would be available only to Darlan. All agreed that, because of insufficient ships, escorts, and ports, it would be impracticable to meet Giraud’s wish for simultaneous assistance to the French Army in southern France during the invasion of French North Africa. As Giraud was thinking of an invasion in the spring, and could not yet be informed of the actual Allied plans, the most that could be told him at this juncture was that the aid he desired would be hastened by an easy occupation of northwestern Africa.
Preparations in London to send a delegation for the projected staff talks at Cherchel on 21 October went forward while in Washington the draft instructions concerning association with Giraud and Darlan were under consideration.
The men selected for the hazardous mission were: General Clark, Brigadier General Lyman L. Lemnitzer (head of the AFHQ G-3 Section) , Colonel Archelaus L. Hamblen (AFHQ G-4), Captain Jerauld Wright, USN (AFHQ liaison officer with the U.S. Navy), and Colonel Julius Holmes (of AFHQ G-1), who had been supervising a civil affairs section and who was able to act as interpreter. Clark’s instructions, which were drafted after the President’s views on this critical matter were reported, covered various aspects of the projected relationship.
Darlan must not be mentioned; to propose him as a future French commander in chief might well disrupt the negotiations. Clark was to declare that selection of a French commander for French forces was “a matter to be handled by the French themselves.” This principle would be joined with the parallel guarantee that the Americans would not interfere with French civil government.
To dispel any fears of a future British hold on French colonial territory, Clark was also to emphasize the American control of the operation. Finally, Clark was authorized to indicate to the French that only under such conditions as General Eisenhower had envisaged in his talks with Murphy near London would a French commander in chief over all North Africa eventually be accepted; in the interim, the Americans would equip and supply French troops engaged in fighting the Axis powers.
The meeting near Cherchel later became one of the better-known exploits of the war. While the Allied commander in chief went to Scotland on a scheduled inspection of final amphibious rehearsals by some of his assault units, General Clark’s group started by air and submarine for a point on the African coast fifteen miles west of Cherchel.
The submarine voyage from Gibraltar to the vicinity of the rendezvous was completed too late to land before daylight of 21 October, so the party remained submerged most of the day. Those waiting at the villa, discouraged by their fruitless vigil, drove back at dawn to Algiers, expecting to make a second try two nights later. A radio sent from the submarine to Gibraltar and relayed to Algiers over the Office of Strategic Services secret radio chain, brought Mr. Murphy, Vice-Consul Ridgeway B. Knight, and some of the French back to the scene at midnight, 21-22 October, while General Mast and his staff appeared shortly before 0500. The meeting was held in a seaside villa loaned by a sympathetic owner.
[NOTE 5-10K: ( 1) Accounts of this submarine trip by several of the participants have been published. The narrative above is based primarily on the unpublished official report by General Clark to General Eisenhower, dated 30 October 1942, augmented by Clark’s memoir, Calculated Risk, pp. 67-89. (2) See also Ridgeway B. Knight, “General Clark’s Secret Mission to Algeria on October 21, 1942,”]
An initial special conference brought together Generals Clark, Lemnitzer, and Mast, Lieutenant Colonel Louis G. M. Jousse, and Mr. Murphy. General Mast was told that the Allies had decided to send to North Africa a large American force, supported in the air and on the sea by British units. He in tum advised the Americans to prepare for the swiftest possible movement into Tunisia to counterbalance the Axis capacity to begin sending in troops by air within thirty-six hours of the first American landings. He also urged the necessity of retaining the bridgehead in southern France by simultaneous aid to French forces waiting there.
The discussion shifted to the role to be played by General Giraud. It was agreed, first, that he should receive directly from the Allies a letter setting forth their intentions and, second, that if Giraud consented to come to North Africa he should be brought out by an American submarine. A draft letter was prepared, subject to approval by General Eisenhower, which proposed: first, the restoration of France to its 1939 boundaries; second, acceptance of France as an ally; and third, assumption of the supreme command in North Africa by the French “at the appropriate time” following the landings, the establishment of bases, and the rearming of French troops.
In a general conference among all the officers, much precise intelligence was furnished by the French and the fact was emphasized that the Blida airdrome at Algiers and the garrison and airdrome at Bone were controlled by adherents of General Giraud.
After barely eluding French police by hiding in an empty wine cellar while the villa was searched, and after braving high surf and rough seas to return in frail landing craft to the submarine, the party set out for Gibraltar, and from there radioed to London a report of its achievement. On 25 October in two B-17’s, they reached England.
[NOTE12-12NA: ( 1) Before approving the letter to General Giraud, General Eisenhower felt compelled to clarify the conditions for transferring command to the French; these conditions called for delay, and even at the time of transfer provided that the American commander would continue controlling French North Africa as a base for operations against the Axis. Only defense would be “turned over to French command.” (2) General Mast estimated the French forces which could be rearmed as: eight infantry and two armored divisions, plus separate tank, artillery and service units-all ready within one month. Msg, London to AGWAR, 29 Oct 42, CM-IN 12,809.]
The Western Task Force had by then already commenced its voyage to the landing beaches. The other task forces were about to sail. Additional intelligence was radioed to Hewitt and Patton on the Augusta and turned to account also in Eastern Task Force plans. The participants scattered to their respective tasks, the French still unaware that the operation was so near, and that part of the expeditionary forces were actually on the way.
The terms of association with Giraud remained to be established. His general position, as he wrote to a fellow countryman, was: “We don’t want the Americans to free us; we want them to help us free ourselves, which is not quite the same.” Preliminary negotiations elicited a provisional draft embodying his views of the Allied proposals, but official proffer of support by the Allies awaited adjustments concerning the matter of command that would meet General Eisenhower’s views. At some point in his negotiations with the Allies, if not through Mr. Murphy, he listed four conditions governing his acceptance, of which one was that he should be commander in chief of Allied troops on French soil where ever French troops were fighting. On a memorandum naming the conditions, which has survived in his handwriting, is written in the lower left comer, “0. K. Roosevelt.”
[NOTE 5-AT: (I) Giraud, Un seul but: la victoire, p. 335. (2) Albert Kammerer, Du dlbarquement Africain au meurtre de Darlan (Paris, 1949), pp. 112-14. .. Search in the records of the President at the White House and Hyde Park, New York, of the Department of State, and the U.S. Army, and inquiries to Mr. Murphy, Miss Constance Harvey (then U.S. Vice-Consul at Lyons), Admiral William D. Leahy (then Ambassador at Vichy), Mr. Douglas MacArthur III, and Mr. S. Pinkney Tuck (then on the embassy staff at Vichy) have failed to elicit a trace of any communication between Giraud and President Roosevelt which could have received the President’s written “O.K.” A photo-static copy of the document in Giraud’s own papers shows it to be a copy of a telegram in his own handwriting rather than the original, if such there be.]
The authenticity of this document cannot be established, but Giraud’s expectations that this condition would be met came as a great surprise to the Allied Commander in chief later, “for the negotiations conducted through Murphy in Algiers with Giraud in southern France had remained inconclusive on the matter of command.”
Giraud had made clear on 27 October that he believed the American command over the landings should be transformed after some forty-eight hours into an inter-Allied command ashore, and that in French North Africa he should be the Allied commander in chief. Murphy stated the three central features of Allied policy: (1) France would be fully restored to her prewar boundaries and sovereign independence; (2) purely French national matters would be left for determination by the French without American interference; ( 3) “the government of the United States regards the French nation as an ally and will deal with it as such.” As to the inter-Allied command, he suggested that the transfer of command from American to French hands might follow the rearmament of French forces in French North Africa with American materiel, but left the decision to be reached directly between Eisenhower and Giraud.
These proposals, officially presented in informal letters dated 2 November, were in Giraud’s possession when he was summoned to leave his retreat and thus catapulted into the situation to which the proposals applied. He had a hard choice, for a decision to cooperate with the Americans required him to advance the date for rallying the French several months; it also meant that simultaneous military action in southern France, which he considered vital to effective liberation of all France, must be abandoned.
He decided to co-operate, but if he answered the letters of 2 November, his reply was not received before he himself appeared to state his views. Thus a friendly French military leader was found by the Allies at the very last minute, and in circumstances certain to produce much subsequent difficulty.
The Climax of the Preparations
The first transports bound for Algiers entered the Mediterranean on the night of 5-6 November and, fully visible, slipped silently past Gibraltar, from which the operation was to be directed. Deep within the Rock, in damp and limited quarters excavated during the previous year, General Eisenhower, Commander in Chief, Allied Force, and his principal staff, who flew from the United Kingdom to Gibraltar on 5 and 6 November in B-17’s, set up an advanced command post. With General Eisenhower were his deputy commander in chief, General Clark (U.S.), his naval commander in chief, Admiral Cunningham (Br.), his air officer, Air Commodore A. P. Sanders (Br. ), the commanders of the two major air elements, General Doolittle (U.S.), and Air Marshal Welsh (Br.), the commanding general of the force which would push eastward from Algeria into Tunisia, General Anderson (Br.), and others. General Eisenhower was nominally in command of Gibraltar’s fortress.
Material which British and Canadian tunneller’s had excavated from the Rock had been used to extend the landing strip on Gibraltar’s airfield into the Bay of Algeria’s. Aircraft which in recent weeks had been brought in crates and assembled now stood wing to wing cramming the field. Gibraltar’s harbor gave temporary refuge to oilers, tugs, refueling warships, and other varied craft.
Such unusual activity did not pass unobserved by the Axis agents on Spanish soil adjacent to airfield and harbor. But where and in what strength the Allies were preparing to strike, and just when the operation would begin, they could only surmise. In the Rock, also, was the signal communications center for the imminent operation. The advanced headquarters was linked with London and Washington, with Tangier and a secret American radio network in French North Africa, and with the vessels of the great naval task forces and their protecting groups. Once the ships could terminate their radio silence, a cascade of messages would be added to the stream already inundating the center of Gibraltar.
Important developments were taking place elsewhere. En route to Gibraltar from southern France, in a British submarine which had been put temporarily under American command, and which was out of communication with Gibraltar for over twenty-four hours because of a defective radio transmitter, was General Giraud. In Algiers, General Mast’s organization was sending warnings to Oran and Casablanca and preparing for its own local operations.
Mr. Robert Murphy was reporting a conference with General Juin to which he had been invited earlier that day. The French commander in chief had discussed the possibility of Allied aid against the threatening Axis initiative in Tunisia. He had warned Murphy that a recent visit to French North and West Africa by Admiral Darlan had brought about no change in the standing defense instructions: if the Allies should invade before the Axis forces did, Juin would be compelled to order that they be opposed; if the Allies would only wait, they could be welcomed and assisted.
[NOTE-4-TT: Reports of the submarine journey, Operation MINERVA, appear in the following sources: (I) Br. Battle Sum 38, Opn “Torch,” App. B3. (2) Memo, Captain Jerauld Wright, for Comdr USN Forces in Europe, 7 Dec 42, sub: Rpt on Opn MINERVA. AFHQ AG 370.2-53, Micro Job 24, Reel 79D. The three companions of General Giraud were Captain Andre Beaufre, Lieutenant de Vaisseau Hubert Vi ret, and Aspirant Bernard Giraud, the general’s son.]
The Allies’ leadership had just been somewhat flustered by the sudden insistence of General Mast’s group, through Murphy, that the Allied landings be postponed for three weeks to permit them to make adequate preparations. The proposal had been rejected as wholly impracticable. Now General Juin’s counsel of delay also had to be ignored. The assaulting force was mounted and moving on an inexorable, predetermined course. The months of planning and preparing were almost at an end.
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 (2-5); French decide to fight
World War Two: North Africa (1-3B); Tactical Plans and Political Preparations