World War Two: North Africa (2-7B); French Reaction Ashore

French resistance to the American landings began, as indicated in a previous chapter, in the belief by those in command that the operation was a minor attack and that General Bethouart had been misled concerning its nature. The standing orders for defense which had been prepared under directives from the Commander in Chief of French Forces in North Africa, General Juin, were put into effect by Admiral Michelier in the Casablanca zone for which he was responsible, by General Martin at Marrakech, and by General Dody at Meknes. Admiral Michelier’s naval forces were alerted for action. General Lahoulle reluctantly sent his air units into action.

General Lascroux, after being tricked into entering protective custody in Meknes, was permitted to return to his headquarters in Rabat, from which he could control the Army’s defensive operations. The Residency there was divested of the cordon which had surrounded it, and General Bethouart and his leading associates submitted to arrest. General Nogues, after a night of hectic activity, slept during the latter part of the morning, and rose to confront a situation not yet very clearly defined. The invaders were coming ashore at several points, but so lacking in strength, apparently, that the weak defenders were able to hold them except at Fedala. Michelier had repudiated the opportunity to arrange a cease fire when Colonel Wilbur visited his headquarters early in the forenoon.

As soon as General Patton landed at Fedala, the French commandant there was brought to him by General Anderson. The commandant urged that envoys be sent to Casablanca to demand surrender, since the French Army did not wish to fight the Americans.

Colonel Gay thereupon rode from Fedala under a flag of truce to the admiralty in Casablanca to try again, as Colonel Wilbur had tried earlier, to persuade the French to stop hostilities. The French Army leaders were eager to have the fighting stopped, and some of them even suggested a course for the Americans to adopt if a surrender of the city had to be gained by force, but the commander, Admiral Michelier again declined even to receive the American emissary.

The suddenness of the American invasion of Morocco had disrupted the French Army’s plans for defense. It became impossible to concentrate all the major units designated for the three mobile reserve groups and, in fact, wholly impossible to establish the light armored brigade. From almost the first hostilities, portions of the other two reserve groups were engaged on the flanks of the defending elements. The American beachhead at Fedala cut off an important portion of the central sector of defense, that from the Nefifikh river to Port-Lyautey, from direct control through Casablanca.

During D-Day afternoon, therefore, General Lascroux in Rabat by oral orders assigned command of all French land forces operating in the coastal zone north of the Nefifikh river as far as Port-Lyautey to General Roger Leyer, commander of the Moroccan Cavalry.

Special steps in both organization and reinforcement were taken for the defense of Rabat from attacks developing either from Fedala or Port-Lyautey. Troops within the Petitjean section of the general reserve under General Maurice Mathenet started toward Port-Lyautey, and troops from the Khemisset section, toward an assembly area near Les Chenes (east of Sale) , where they would be at the disposal of General Leyer. Late on D Day General Mathenet was ordered by telephone from Rabat to proceed to Port-Lyautey and to assume command of all forces there. General Leyer’s mission was thus reduced to defending the coastal zone adjacent to Rabat, including the route to Meknes from the capital.

American penetration south of Port-Lyautey which was in fact intended to prevent reinforcement of Port-Lyautey by units from Rabat was taken as a threat to the latter. French forces north of Rabat were therefore augmented by shifting troops from south of that city.

Naval Action on D Day

Although the battle for the Fedala-Casablanca area opened when the French on Cherqui and Cap de Fedala fired on the landing forces of the Center Attack Group, the Covering and Air Groups off Casablanca were drawn into combat less than an hour later, at daybreak. The Massachusetts, the Wichita, and the Tuscaloosa catapulted nine seaplanes and steamed along the coast at a range of some 20,000 yards from Casablanca harbor. The Ranger and the Suwannee, ten miles farther out, began to launch their planes into a light westerly wind during the last minutes of darkness. Daybreak found six spotting planes of the Covering Group ready should bombardment of Casablanca be ordered.

Circling at a height of 10,000 feet above the port a squadron of eighteen dive bomber’s from the Ranger prepared to attack any French submarines which tried to leave, or to blast antiaircraft batteries which opened fire. One squadron of fighters from the big carrier was in position to attack the airdromes at Rabat and another to hit Cazes airfield adjacent to Casablanca. The Suwannee’s planes protected the vessels off Fedala from air or submarine attack.

A few minutes before 0700 the air and surface naval combat at Casablanca began almost simultaneously. Antiaircraft guns in the harbor opened against one of the observation planes; French fighters started driving other spotting planes out to sea; two French submarines began to leave the port; and a few minutes later the great guns of the Jean Bart and the Batterie El Hank fired at the cruisers of the Covering Group. The American warships replied without delay. In less than twenty minutes the lean Bart’s main battery was silenced by damage heavy enough, it later developed, to keep it out of action for about two days. Other salvos fell on the submarine pens in the harbor and on the coastal defense batteries on Table d’Oukacha and El Hank with less success than against the Jean Bart. Crews of the coastal guns may have been driven from their stations temporarily, but the guns themselves remained serviceable in the absence of direct hits. Firing from them ceased until the American vessels had been lured within closer range and their attention diverted to other targets.

The air units, which were poised to strike as soon as hostile French intentions became clear, attacked their targets without further hesitation. Their strafing and bombing runs over airfields, and their successful dogfights with French airplanes aloft, won air superiority as far north as Port-Lyautey. They freed the observation planes for spotting, participated in the effort to destroy French naval units at Casablanca, and kept a constant watch for submarines. The French Air Force was reduced quickly to irregular strafing flights by low-flying individual planes over the Fedala beachhead and to preparations for bombing attacks on Safi and Fedala, to be made at first light on 9 November.

At Fedala, not only the coastal guns but French warships had to be overcome by the Center Attack Group. The transport area was only twelve nautical miles from the Casablanca naval base. When the Covering Group began exchanging shells with the Jean Bart and the coastal guns on El Hank, the ships began evasive movements offshore which eventually took them well to the west. The French had an opportunity to send their warships from Casablanca hurrying northward along the coast to attack the Fedala transports.

 

At 0827 seven destroyers which had made their way out of port behind a smoke screen, undeterred by attacks from the Ranger’s planes, opened fire on the American vessels nearest to them, the Ludlow and the Wilkes, and on some landing craft bringing company L, 7th Infantry, to YELLOW Beach.

They hit the Ludlow and forced the Wilkes to retire toward the cruisers Augusta and Brooklyn. Then for about half an hour they sought in vain to penetrate the protection afforded to the American transports by those cruisers and by the destroyers Wilkes and Swanson. When the ships of the Covering Group returned to take up the battle the French vessels retired to Casablanca, one of them smoking badly.

At 0935 three of the French destroyers tried the same maneuver again while the Covering Group was engaged against other ships in another sector. Again the Augusta, Brooklyn, Wilkes, and Swanson, aided this time by the Bristol, intercepted and frustrated the effort, but not without some minor hits and many close calls, especially from torpedoes. The French cruiser Primauguet left Casablanca to support the smaller vessels at about 1015, drawing the Covering Group within range of the coast defense batteries. The action was prolonged until after 1100, when three of the attacking ships came within five miles of the transports before being driven off. Salvos from El Hank’s guns, torpedoes from French submarines, and strafing and bombing runs against French ships by American carrier-based planes contributed to the complexity of the morning’s naval battle.

One of the French ships, the “destroyer-leader” Milan, beached off Roches Noires and burned furiously. Others limped back to port about noon for safety. The cruiser Primauguet, badly hit, anchored just outside the entry in the partial shelter of a jetty. To eliminate the vessel, the Ranger’s planes assailed her in a series of attacks early in the afternoon. They started uncontrollable fires, drove her men overboard, and forced her to try to beach. A destroyer near her had the same experience. Both ships smoldered all night, while from the Primauguet’s magazine ammunition explosions could be heard for another day.

Naval combat off Casablanca during the remainder of 8 November eliminated almost all threat by French surface ships to the performance of the transports’ mission. Providential escape from scores of straddling salvos continued to assist the Covering Group, while alert seamanship prevented well-aimed French torpedoes from finding their marks. Naval bombardment had failed, however, to silence for long the coastal batteries of El Hank which were still operating at nightfall.

Unloading at Fedala on D Day

To unload the 15,000 long tons of cargo from the transports strained available facilities beyond capacity, although the task was attempted with persistence and resourcefulness. The transports’ crews were of unequal efficiency.

The Army shore parties included so large a proportion of specialists or combat engineers who turned to other duties during the operation that Navy working parties, which were organized from ships’ crews and sent ashore to handle cargo, in several instances outnumbered Army elements. The same policy that deferred service troops to later convoys in order to increase the number of combat troops for the assault had also given priority to combat vehicles over other types, so that automotive transport was trimmed down severely. The shortage was felt at once in moving materiel inland to dumps. Loss of landing craft drastically reduced total capacity. While the exact number of the boats either temporarily or permanently out of service is not certain, an inspection during the morning of 10 November showed 162 stranded along the bay and 23 others reported farther east. Of these at least 16 were tank lighters.

[NOTE: Two were characterized as “smart, experienced, well-trained” ; five of them, as “fairly well-trained”; three, as “well-converted but totally inexperienced in amphibious operations”; and the remaining five, as “partially and hastily converted, totally inexperienced in amphibious operations.” CTG 34.9 Action Rpt, 30 Nov 42, App. I, Incl C, Ser 003052. .. Leonard Wood, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Carroll, Joseph T. Dickman, Joseph Hewes, and Edward Rutledge had joint shore and beach parties consisting of 170 Army and 46 Navy personnel. The William P. Biddle ~ad a shore party of 45 plus a signal detachment, and a party of 28. Ibid. I> The lowpoint figure seems to be an expenditure of 40 percent of all craft during the whole operation, 137 boats out of 347 used. Morison, U.S. Naval Operations, II, 79n.]

The unloading process was slowed down not only by lack of carrying capacity-but also by emergency requests for materiel which had been lost in the first attempt to land. The resulting interference with the orderly removal from ships’ holds of materiel which had been combat loaded was responsible for retarding the process.

Engineer officers were held on their transports until long after the time when, by reconnaissance of beaches and docks, they could most effectively have organized the engineers’ operations there. To each shore party engineer company, two bulldozers and four amphibian tractors (L VT’s) were allotted. With the former, exits were cleared through sand dunes and other obstructions, and vehicles were towed across terrain too soft for traction. When unloading shifted from the beaches to the port, most of the bulldozers were diverted to towing supplies to dumps, rather than aiding in boat salvage operations. Amphibian tractors proved helpful in getting stranded craft afloat but suffered too often from mechanical failures.'”

The planners of Sub-Task Force BRUSHWOOD estimated Fedala’s port capacity at 800 tons per day, since along the quays at the northern edge of the harbor there was space for only two ships. Except for one anchorage, the remainder of the harbor was too shallow for cargo transports. If calm seas should enable other transport vessels to moor near the harbor entrance and send their cargoes in on small craft, perhaps 1,000 tons per day could be unloaded. Railroad sidings and approaches for trucks were so restricted that, even with additional cranes, it would not be possible to transfer materiel from lighters to vehicles fast enough to meet the situation. The stuff would simply pile up. Warehouse facilities, moreover, were very small.

The materiel brought ashore along the bay during the first morning of the operation was handled under intermittent shelling from Cap de Fedala and recurrent strafing runs by French planes. Small dumps for ammunition, water, rations, and gasoline were established, but stocks accumulated very slowly. In midafternoon, after Cap de Fedala had been occupied, the port was surveyed by the sub-task force supply officer and shore party commander and discovered to be usable at once. The harbor master and two pilots were sent under guard to the Leonard Wood to confer with Captain Emmett concerning the use of the port.

The beachmaster, Commander. J. W. Jamison USN), reconnoitering on foot, found the rising surf pounding most severely on the eastern section of the bay. He attempted to consolidate all beach landings at the most sheltered point during the later part of the afternoon. The absence of lateral communications between the beaches frustrated his attempt. But the transports could move closer in, thus shortening the ship-to-shore round trips and expediting the arrival of units and materiel needed to balance and strengthen the attacking force approaching Casablanca. At 1700 although some 39 percent of all troops (including 90 percent of the four assault battalions and of BL T 3-7 ) went ashore, only 16 percent of the vehicles and merely 1.1 percent of the supplies had been landed. The lack of vehicular transport precluded any systematic resupply of the forward elements. Equally restricting, some pieces of the light artillery batteries, some of the self-propelled 105’s, and the heavy equipment of the cannon companies had not been landed. While the troops and trucks at the beaches prepared to labor during the night to get materiel inland and under cover in anticipation of a dawn attack from the air, General Anderson concluded that the advance of ground troops had to be restrained until a better balance had been achieved.

He directed RLG’s 7 and 15 to stop at a line about two miles west of the Mellah river, a limit almost three miles short of the original D-Day objective. RLG 30 was ordered to continue organizing positions from which to protect the Fedala area after the other two regiments (reinforced) resumed the advance toward Casablanca at 0700 next day. A preliminary outline plan of attack on the final objective was given to the regimental commanders. During the remainder of D Day, while elements of Colonel Monroe’s 15th RLG kept arriving at various beaches, the battalions of Colonel Macon’s 7th RLG took up positions preparatory to the next day’s attack southwestward. Losses reported for the day had been moderate, 20 killed and 128 wounded, of which the 7th Infantry lost 9 killed and 38 wounded; the 15th Infantry, 3 killed and 13 wounded; the 30th Infantry, 8 killed and 23 wounded; and other units, the remainder.

After General Patton had inspected the town and port of Fedala, he authorized a military police unit there, in the rear of Force BRUSHWOOD, composed of both American and French elements, and with a French officer acting as assistant provost marshal. Patton remained for the night at the Hotel Miramar, from which some of the German control commissioners had fled in the morning, in order to keep close track of Force BRUSHWOOD’S operations at this critical stage. The report from General Harmon’s attack at Safi was reassuring. News from Mehdia-Port-Lyautey was not so good. But the most pressing problem appeared to be that of speeding up the inflow of materiel from the transports off Fedala so that General Anderson’s force could expedite its advance on Casablanca.

The Advance on 9 November

The first day’s operations to secure the beachhead were followed on D plus 1 by an attempt to move into positions for a coordinated attack on Casablanca to be made on the third day ashore. The beachhead was protected against a threatened counterattack while the advance toward the outskirts of Casablanca proceeded, unsupported by land-based air, without the Armored Landing Team, and seriously hampered by logistical difficulties.

General Patton, up before daylight on 9 November, went almost at once to check the situation at the beach. He considered it “a mess,” with leadership negligent. He personally ordered a launch sent out to intercept the boats and to direct them into the port instead of letting them ride to the beach through the towering surf. The Army shore parties seemed to him neither energetic nor resourceful in moving the materiel already on the beach. In a state of exasperated frustration over the slackness which he observed and over some cases of fright during a French air attack about 0800, he remained on the beach until after noon. He then returned to the Augusta to see Admiral Hewitt and sent his deputy commander, Major General Geoffrey Keyes, and most of the staff ashore. Advanced Headquarters, Western Task Force, was set up in the Hotel Miramar, and command responsibility for Operation TORCH in Morocco passed by mutual understanding from Admiral Hewitt to General Patton when he returned to shore later that afternoon. Command over operations ashore had been exercised by the general from the very beginning and was to be exercised by Admiral Hewitt over naval operations henceforth, in conformity with the provisions of their directives.

Communication between the Western Task Force and the Allied command post at Gibraltar remained meager. Radio contact with Gibraltar was established on 9 November (by Company C, 829th Signal Service Battalion), but traffic was at first badly confused by a hostile station which posed to each of the authentic stations as the other and, when an effective authenticator system was improvised, interfered effectively by jamming. Communications with Oran were established on 10 November, and some use was made of a new radio station set up at Fedala by the Office of Strategic Services and Special Operations Executive which was operated by a British team in touch with Gibraltar.

Force BRUSHWOOD headquarters ashore shifted to the Fedala schoolhouse in time to open there at 0900, 9 November. The Control from the Augusta over the separate operations at Safi and Port-Lyautey had been severely restricted by the inadequacy of communications facilities on the Augusta for the unexpected volume of Army traffic .

239th Signal Operation Company maned the French telephone switchboard in Fedala and provided commercial circuits to the units approaching Casablanca. No other wire communications were available, for no field wire or related equipment had yet been landed.

At 0700 General Anderson’s force began the second day’s advance on a four-battalion front. The 7th Infantry’s zone was on the right (north) and the 15th Infantry’s zone on the left. From north to south the four BLT’s were BLT’s 3-7 (Major Eugene H. Cloud), 2-7 (Salzmann), 2-15 (Major William H. Billings), and 1-15 (Gardner). BLT 1-7 (Moore), which had been relieved in Fedala at 0600 by the 2nd Battalion, 20th Combat Engineers, moved up behind BL T 2-7 as regimental reserve. BL T 3-15 was in a similar role behind BLT 2-15. The perimeter of the enlarged bridgehead was held on the southeast by BLT 1-30 and on the east and northeast by BLT 2-30 and the reinforced 41st Field Artillery Battalion. (Each of the nineteen antiaircraft platoons operated four half-tracked multiple gun motor carriers, mounting one 37-mm. automatic gun and two .50-caliber fixed machine guns. The 5th Platoon, Battery D, had only two of these (WTF Final Rpt, Annex 7, p. 3). The multiple gun motor carrier were credited with shooting down nine planes in three areas, four of them at Fedala (WTF Final Rpt, Annex 11, p. 3). BLT 3-30, with one platoon of the 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) attached, prepared to move westward from a point near Beach RED 3 during the morning to a new assembly area nearer the front. To aid the main attack in the 7th Infantry’s zone, Companies A and C, 756th Tank Battalion, were also attached. Colonel Macon’s (7th) and Colonel Monroe’s (15th) regimental command posts were moved up to points about a mile east of the line of departure.

The Ranger had aboard three cub observation airplanes for General Campbell’s Force BRUSHWOOD artillery, which were to be sent ashore when the three battalions of field artillery, each reinforced by an extra battery of self-propelled 105’s, had enough weapons ashore, and when a suitable landing field became available. In mid-afternoon of 9 November, when the troops were approaching Casablanca, these aircraft were launched from the carrier’s deck with instructions to land at the Fedala race track.

Their route brought them too near the Center Attack Group so that they became the target of heavy fire from the Brooklyn and from some of the transports. Escaping miraculously from their peril, they crossed the beach under determined fire from friendly antiaircraft batteries. One aircraft was shot down with serious injuries to its pilot; the others landed safely but received no fire control missions prior to the French capitulation.

The movement toward Casablanca by RLG’s 7 and 15, and by BLT 3-30 (BRUSHWOOD reserve), with one platoon of the 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) attached, was lightly resisted, with occasional strafing by low-flying French aircraft. BL T 2-30 held the front along the steep-sided Nefifikh river on the northeastern edge of the beachhead against mounting threats of a counterattack by mobile armored forces from the directions of Rabat or Boulhaut. A French reconnaissance patrol along the Rabat-Casablanca highway was driven off during the morning, and early in the afternoon an armored force of some thirty vehicles atthe intersection of that highway with the Fedala-Boulhaut road was dispersed by a naval air attack. (The vehicles were from the scout car troop, 1st Squadron, 1st Regiment, African Chasseurs, according to WTF Final Rpt, G-2 Annex, Item 11.) Defensive measures at the critical crossing of the Nefifikh included mining the approaches and the bridges, while artillery surveyed and checked concentrations, and planes patrolled the approaching roads. But the defend rs of Rabat actually shifted their major strength on 9 November northward toward Port-Lyautey instead of getting ready for a counterblow toward Fedala.

Although the defenders of Casablanca failed to come out in force on 9 November to meet the invaders approaching from Fedala, the advance was stopped as completely as if by a pitched battle. For General Anderson again had to halt the progress of his assault battalions until they had enough supporting weapons, transportation, and communications equipment. The 7th RLG was fairly well off except for rad105 for the supporting 10th Field Artillery Battalion equipment which had been lost or damaged in landing. The 15th RLG, on the other hand, lacked the weapons of its Cannon Company, the self-propelled 105’s of Battery B, 9th Field Artillery Battalion, the self-propelled 37-mm. antiaircraft guns of the 443rd Coast Artillery (AA), and all the transportation of the 39th Field Artillery Battalion. A jeep was all that had been available to haul one battery of field artillery.

Five more of the little quarter-ton vehicles were the total transport of the 15th RLG as late as 1800 hours. To stop the advance for long, it was believed, might result in forfeiting an early French capitulation which an immediate strong show of force was likely to produce. Advance was resumed, therefore, at midnight, 9-10 November, with transportation furnished to RLG 15 by RLG 30 for moving the 39th Field Artillery Battalion and for resupply of ammunition. Unloading improved for various reasons on 9 November. Four docks and two paved, inclined slips in Fedala port were found to be usable. The slips served as excellent places for disembarking vehicles from ramped lighters. The dock normally used by trawlers in the southeastern corner of the port became the center of greatest activity. A railway ran along the full length of this dock, and the contents of the boats could be transferred directly into freight cars that were found there.

At 1100 the transports moved inshore again, and the Arcturus was piloted into the harbor and moored at the tankers’ dock. By 1430, vehicles of the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, were being swung ashore. At the same time a captured French trawler began taking ashore about 200 men per trip from the Thurston, supplementing the unending activity of the few landing craft and their exhausted crews.

On the trawlers’ dock, a station was organized for evacuating casualties to the transports. Medical personnel from the beach parties concentrated there. From the Army’s collecting station in the Casino, about 400 yards away, they carried the wounded by litter to the dock for removal to the sick bays of the ships off shore. The pace of unloading, which surf conditions had slowed down severely for eighteen hours,” was quickened that afternoon. At 1700 the convoy had discharged 55 percent of the personnel, 31 percent of the vehicles, and 3.3 percent of the supplies which it had brought from the United States. Accelerated operations were in prospect for the next twenty-four hours as a result of salvaging landing craft, the close-in anchorage of the transports, the extra port facilities, and improving sea conditions.

Transport of every sort was being requisitioned and put into service to clear beaches and docks. On the trawlers’ quay, ammunition of many kinds, gasoline in five-gallon cans, TNT demolition charges, Bangalore torpedoes, and other inflammable materiel were piling up. A well-placed bomb could be disastrous. Men and vehicles worked without stint to segregate and disperse the fuel and ammunition, although hampered by continued uncertainty as to the location of the different dumps. Their labors not only improved the security of the port but made possible a renewed attack on Casablanca.

French Countermeasures in Morocco,9-10 November

To contain the Americans at the coast after their occupation of Safi, Port-Lyautey, Fedala, and possibly Casablanca, General Nogues (charged by Admiral Darlan at 1735, 8 November, and by Vichy next day with control of operations in western Algeria as well as Morocco) on 10 November prescribed a defense along certain inland routes rather than along a north-south front.

Small reserve groups of French troops assembled on 9-10 November at Petitjean and Khemisset from Fes and Taza, and others went to Marrakech from the Agadir sector. Orders from General Lascroux’s headquarters placed General Dody, commanding general of the Meknes Division, in charge of defending the inland route to Meknes from Port-Lyautey and, in co-operation with the Fes Division, the route via Petitjean to Fes, while General Leyer had the mission of blocking the route from Rabat to Meknes.

General Nogues moved his command post to Fes on 9 November, and General Lascroux later moved part of his headquarters there but remained himself at a command post in Khemisset. The German Armistice Commissioners had been kept informed of developments by General Nogues through liaison officers after the attack began but had been denied permission to keep a representative at his headquarters. They followed him inland, and concluded that his course of action, although somewhat inconsistent, was primarily intended to discourage German intervention. He flatly opposed the arrival of German aircraft to support the defense of Morocco. He promised the commissioners that they might leave by air if, as conditions then indicated, the Americans gained control from the French. Later, when the Germans violated the armistice by invading southern France, he did allow the commissioners to leave.

The resources of the French Army in northern Morocco were assembled and deployed for resistance either to an American drive to the northeast or to an attack from Spanish Morocco against the northern frontier.

The Attack Near the Coast on 10 November

The 7th RLG started forward again at midnight, 9-10 November, under increased shelling from field guns in the outskirts of Casablanca, still carrying heavy loads of ammunition and weapons, and very weary. Nearest the beach, the reinforced Company L, 7th Infantry, proceeded without interruption, pushing back small French units.

The remainder of BL T 3-7, straddling the coastal road about 1,500 yards inland, reached the suburbs of Casablanca not long after daybreak but was stopped there by French artillery and by small arms which swept the open terrain in front of them. The fighting on 10 November was the hottest experienced by Force BRUSHWOOD.

After two halts for supporting arms to be brought forward, the troops resumed their movement at midnight to get into position for the co-ordinated action scheduled to start at 0700. RLG 7 headed for a line of departure running generally south-southwest from a point on the coast just east of Table d’Oukacha to the Camp de la Jonquiere, and thence southwestward generally following the Route de Grande Ceinture that skirts Casablanca. RLG 15 was to move southwestward to heights on either side of the Casablanca-Marrakech road. The French had organized their defense in a perimeter extending from Table d’Oukacha, including Roches Noires, Camp de la Jonquiere, then following the Route de Grande Ceinture to a point about three miles south of the harbor, and from there in a northwesterly loop at El Hank.

They had strengthened their defenses by an artillery concentration against attacks from the east and south and reinforced their lines with survivors of French warships previously sunk. Outer positions- were located at Ain Sebaa and at the Tit Mellil crossroads. Finally, they had arranged for naval gunfire support of their troops nearest the coast whenever an opportunity to slip lighter naval vessels out of Casablanca harbor presented itself. The 7th RLG, with its designated line of departure for the 0700 attack actually in the rear of the forward French positions, was advancing into a sector that would be warmly defended.

The 15th RLG’s route of approach led through the outpost defenses of Tit Mdlil, which the French had had time to prepare and which were not to be readily taken; it also passed through an area under artillery fire from some of the Casablanca batteries. On the north, closest the shore, platoons from Companies I and K of RLG 7 in their advance north of the coastal road captured a 90-mm. antiaircraft battery about 1,200 yards southeast of Table d’Oukacha during the morning, but the rest of the battalion was immobilized and for some hours out of communication with the regimental command post.

Colonel Salzmann’s BLT 2-7 moved along the Rabat-Casablanca highway as far as the railroad underpass at the edge of Ain Sebaa, and from that point continued along a branch road on the southern side of the railroad embankment. In column of companies, the battalion arrived about half an hour before daylight near its designated portion of the line of departure for the attack which was to begin at 0700, 10 November. Small arms and artillery fire on the area then stopped the advance. The BLT deployed on either side of the road in some confusion. Two company commanders were casualties, some platoons failed to receive orders, and the battalion was split into three parts. Salzmann led the bulk of the unit under fire to the south flank in order to reach higher ground. Several platoons from the three rifle companies and most of the Headquarters Company remained behind. Part of the Headquarters Company and the battalion executive officer first took cover wherever they could find it in nearby buildings and then, when enemy fire let up, pulled back to the eastern outskirts of run Sebaa. Eventually they organized a line of defense for the 10th Field Artillery Battalion, 1,200 yards back of the railroad underpass. Others also straggled back and were put in this line, but the forward elements of the battalion, consisting of two platoons of Company E and one platoon from Company G, stood their ground in contact with the enemy.

They captured one field piece and drove the crews from two others, and even tried to envelop the northern flank of the French line. This attempt was frustrated by the lack of cover. The platoon of Company G which tried it was driven to the shelter of the railroad embankment by artillery and naval gunfire, and during the early afternoon it joined the defensive line organized earlier by the battalion executive officer.

The 10th Field Artillery Battalion, with Battery A, 9th Field Artillery Battalion, attached, outdistanced the infantry advance between midnight and dawn to reach positions previously reconnoitered in Ain Sebaa. The artillerymen got ready for the 0700 attack, but then, almost as soon as their guns opened fire, they came under heavy counterbattery fire from 75-mm. and 90-mm. guns, the latter only 800 yards distant on the north flank. Machine gun fire and hand grenade attacks by enemy infantry harried the gun crews and caused ten casualties, among them Lieutenant Colonel Kermit LeV. Davis, the battalion commanding officer. Between 0930 and 1100, the battalion, lacking infantry protection, dropped hastily back to new positions more than 1,000 yards to the east. It resumed firing about an hour before noon and continued throughout the afternoon, protected by the fragment of BLT 2-7 described above and under direct orders from regimental headquarters, after direct communications with it were restored at noon.

For a short time late in the morning the l00-mm. guns and heavy machine guns of two French corvettes supported the French defensive line near the coast by enfilading fire on BLT 2-7. Moving slowly only a short distance offshore in the vicinity of Table d’Oukacha, they kept firing until an attack by the Augusta and four destroyers drove them back into Casablanca harbor. The episode lured the Augusta within range of the guns of the Jean Bart, which had been repaired after being reported wholly out of action. Unexpected fire subjected the American flagship to a series of very close straddles. The shelling from the corvettes at first had been misinterpreted by the troops as from American ships, and contributed to the decision by some of the retreating units to shift position to the east.

At 1045 Colonel Moore’s BLT 1-7 began moving into the line on regimental order. It was directed to advance with tank and artillery support through the zone of Colonel Salzmann’s battalion to take the French military barracks at Camp de la Jonquiere on the outskirts of Casablanca. The BLT made good progress under persistent artillery fire until, at 1700, it was barely 400 yards east of its objective and about one and one-half miles in advance of BLT 2-7. There it stopped for the night. French prisoners reported that they had received orders to fall back; an armistice was imminent.

Pushing to the Southeastern Edgeof Casablanca, 10 November

Late on 9 November in the zone of Colonel Monroe’s 15th RLG reconnaissance patrols discovered an organized French position of uncertain strength in a village near Tit Mellil. The night march past this position to a line of departure for the 0700 attack was therefore postponed until the French position could be cleared by a daylight attack. Supporting artillery fire was requested.

One battery of the 39th Field Artillery Battalion using a jeep and a French civilian truck came forward to assist the attack at dawn. BLT 1-15 and BLT 2-15 then met heavy rifle and machine gun fire coming from the waiting defenders who occupied several concrete buildings and who appeared to be strongly organized in some depth. Neither the Cannon Company nor the Antitank Company of RLG 15 had yet been landed from the transports, but some 37 -mm. antitank guns were used to good purpose as assault guns, while the heavy machine guns and 81-mm. mortars of all three battalions were also employed effectively. Following an earlier admonition from General Patton, to “grab the enemy by the nose and kick him in the pants,” the regiment enveloped the village from both flanks under covering artillery fire. The French retired to the south and west, and were pushed back from the ridge of Er Refifida by heavy machine gun and 37-mm. high explosive fire. But it was 1700 instead of 0700 hours when the regiment arrived at the line, astride the Casablanca-Marrakech highway and south of BLT 1-7, from which to attack the main objective.

RLG’s 7 and 15 had reached the edge of Casablanca late on 10 November at a cost of 27 killed and 72 wounded in the 7th Infantry, 2 killed and 6 wounded in the 10th Field Artillery Battalion, and 11 wounded in the 15th Infantry. Losses in other unit’s raised the Force BRUSHWOOD total for the day to 36 killed and 113 wounded, chiefly because of French artillery and machine guns. The day’s operations had been as costly as those on D Day. The interloping enemy aircraft of previous days had dwindled to very few indeed, while the support by land-based aircraft from Port-Lyautey was still withheld because of delay in capturing the airfield there. If the reports from Port-Lyautey were not too hopeful, the situation between Fedala and Casablanca had improved in two important respects. The supply situation no longer restrained the advance, for the famine at the port of Fedala had been transformed into a glut by unloading at a rate far in excess of the capacity of the men and available transportation to clear the docks. A substantial number of trucks and the use of the railroad had made possible the stocking of forward dumps.

And even ahead of the trucks, the Armored Landing Team 1-67 (Major Nelson) had been put ashore from the Arcturus and assembled five and a half miles southwest of Fedala, except for one platoon of light tanks of A Company sent forward to the southern flank of the 15th Infantry in the area of the Tit Mellil. General Patton could get little information from either General Truscott or General Harmon, but, urged by General Eisenhower to catch up with the operations at Algiers and Oran, where fighting had already ceased, he determined to proceed without the support of P–40’s from the XII Air Support Command or the medium tanks of Combat Command B, 2nd Armored Division, from Safi. The French forces in Casablanca were believed to outnumber available ground troops, but naval air and naval gunfire could be counted on to offset that advantage. Arrangements for a co-ordinated attack to open with bombardment at 0700 and ground assault at 0730, 11 November, were made during the afternoon and evening. While these plans were maturing, reports were received that General Harmon’s medium tanks were moving northward from Safi and that the airfield at Port-Lyautey had been taken in time to receive some of the Chenango’s P–40’S. General Truscott, who had been asking for reinforcements in the morning, was already planning to send a small armored force southward to get the airfield at Rabat on 11 November.

From four of the transports between 2030 on 10 November and dawn on 11 November, the personnel and heavy guns of two artillery batteries, the personnel and equipment of the 3rd Signal Company, and the signal and medical equipment of some armored units were landed under urgent request. These units were to strengthen RLG 30 to meet an anticipated morning attack against the Fedala beachhead from the northeast.

General Anderson notified his assault units of the attack orders in prospect for the next morning in time for reconnaissance before darkness. Ground advance was to begin at 0730, following preliminary bombardment in which warships, carrier-based planes, and field artillery would join. EI Hank, the water front, and the semicircle of field and antiaircraft guns in the southeastern sector of Casablanca, were the designated targets. RLG 7 on the north, RLG 15 on the east, supported respectively by the 10th and 39th Field Artillery Battalions (reinforced), and the tanks of the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, in RLG IS’s sector, were to attack toward the harbor along converging lines. Movements during the night placed the various components of Sub-Task Force BRUSHWOOD in position for the morning’s attack.

Facing the attacking force, the French ground elements, exclusive of the personnel at the coastal defense batteries which were still in operation, amounted to more than 3,600 infantry, about 90 guns, and miscellaneous provisional naval units of undetermined strength. A troop of some 400 Moroccan Spahis was stationed southwest of the city and south of the Route de Grande Ceinture within striking distance of RLG IS’s left flank and likely to engage the tanks of the 2nd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment.

The measures necessary to overcome such defenses with the means available seemed certain to cause drastic destruction within the city and its harbor, and to do irreparable damage to any prospect of cooperation between Americans and French in defeating the Axis. Would the French resistance persist? Could Nogues be persuaded to order the cessation of hostilities, and if he did, would his orders be obeyed? He had finally recognized that the Western Task Force was formidable-no raiding party-and that even at Mehdia-Port-Lyautey, where the French opposition had been most successful, the triumph of the invaders was in sight.

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 (2-8); Mehdia to Port-Lyautey, Landings

World War Two: North Africa (2-7A); Fedala to Casablanca; Landings

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