The basic task of Force GOALPOST in executing its mission was to gain possession of an airfield for the use of P-40’s (brought on the carrier Chenango) and other planes of the XII Air Support Command (to be Hown from Gibraltar).The airfield was to be available by nightfall of D Day for support thereafter of the main American attack on Casablanca. Although the northern force might well accomplish other missions, capture of the airport near Port-Lyautey was primary and overriding. The operations from Mehdia to Port-Lyautey were more complex than those of either of the other two landing forces.
The Sebou river meandels in wide loops as it near the Atlantic coast at Mehdia. Parallel protective moles jut into the sea at its mouth. Nine miles upstream around a great northerly loop, although only five miles airline to the eastward, is Port-Lyautey, on the southern bank of the river. The area within the inverted U made by this loop contains, in its southern portion, the prominent northern nose of a ridge which extends southwestward, roughly parallel to the seacoast.
In the Hat northeastern part of the area is the Port-Lyautey airdrome, its concrete run-ways and hangars lying on low Hats next to the river. It is dominated by the high ground to the southwest and, across the river, directly to the north, by bluffs rising about 100 feet above the water.
It was not feasible for ships to bypass the defenses at the river’s mouth and navigate upstream to the vicinity of the airfield before debarking the troops who were to occupy it. A sandbar at the entrance limited access, even during the highest November tides, to vessels of not more than nineteen feet draft. About one mile from the mouth, a barrier across the channel prevented farther navigation except with the concur renee of guards. Machine guns and artillery were sited to sweep the river adjacent to the barrier. On the shoulder of a mesa south of the stream, the walled Kasba (fortress) in particular dominated the channel. Ships attempting to proceed past these defenses in daylight would be at too severe a disadvantage, while at night their chances of escaping the misfortune of running aground were slight.
If troops started inland from the ocean shore south of the Sebou river, their advance would be impeded by a narrow lagoon almost four miles in length, fringed by scrub pine woods and steep ridges, which paralleled the coast east of the dunes. Movement of vehicles would have to be funneled through a gap of less than one mile between the lagoon’s marshy northern end and the southern bank of the river. This gap, more over, narrowed abruptly to a terrace less than 200 yards wide between the river and a cliff. Troops drawn into this gap would be faced by the strongest concentration of fixed defenses in the area to be attacked. Among them, indeed, were the principal coastal defense guns, which would have to be neutralized or captured before the transports could operate in daylight from positions near the beaches. These batteries were believed to consist of one four-gun and an adjacent two-gun group, each of 138.6-mm. caliber, heavily protected by machine guns, antiaircraft weapons, and a system of trenches linking the area with the Kasba fortress. The older battery of four guns was understood to be mounted without the protection characteristic of newer emplacements, but all had a range of up to 18,000 meters and a traverse which enabled them to cover sea and beach approaches to the Sehou from any likely angle.
Another gap at the southern end of the long lagoon permitted access to the interior where a coastal road turned inland. This defile through the coastal ridges was not more than 200 yards wide and was a position of easy defense against any force approaching Mehdia. The bluffs extending south of this narrow gap for over four miles contained a few exits for roads or trails. Through these draws and across the inland ridges, infantry units could at least approach the airfield from the southwest, passing between Mehdia on the west and Port-Lyautey on the east.
The airfield could be attacked also by a force which landed north of the river mouth. These troops would have to advance for at least 1,500 yards through high sand dunes, over steep shale slopes and ridges, to reach a secondary road along the river’s northern bank. Part of such a force could occupy the bluffs directly north of the airdrome and the remainder could move down a tongue of land within the river’s second loop to the east. The airport could thus be denied to the enemy, but in order to make it available to the Americans, the high ground southwest of it would also have to be held. Supplies, moreover, would have to be brought upstream. Control of the river from its mouth to Port-Lyautey required landings south of the river and inland advance by the few routes permitted by the difficult natural barriers paralleling the coast.
General Truscott and his staff recognized the possibility of making the assault in either of two general ways. All landings could be made to the south away from effective opposition; the attacking force, including a considerable number of guns and tanks, could assemble there and advance northward to the airdrome and the port under cover of naval bombardment. Such a method involved two great risks: slowness in reaching the objective, and interruption by bad weather in landing tanks and guns after the assault infantry was ashore, thus preventing the force from moving northward in good order. It was rejected, therefore, in favor of a landing plan which would make maximum use of a short period when the surf was moderate, and which seemed to combine the advantages of speed, surprise, and flexibility. Landings were to be made at several places as close as possible to the objective and, during the inland advance, success was to be exploited wherever it might be achieved. Numerical superiority over the defenders would not be guaranteed at every point, nor could sufficient reinforcements be committed from one side of the river to the other if needed to turn the tide of battle. The separated units would have to operate with a high degree of initiative and efficiency. The risk that the attack might get out of control was great. But the prospects of speedy success and of insurance against swiftly deteriorating weather were deemed controlling.
Port-Lyautey and the Port-Lyautey airdrome would be defended on D Day, the planners concluded, by one infantry regiment (3,080 men) with supporting artillery. These troops could be reinforced, late on D Day, by 1,200 mechanized cavalry and elements of a tank battalion (forty-five tanks) from Rabat. During the night, about half an additional tank battalion could reach the area from Meknes. Finally, within five days, two regiments (about 6,200 men) could march to Port-Lyautey from Rabat and Meknes. These troops, while not as well equipped as the Americans, would include a substantial proportion of seasoned veterans. To meet the contingencies of D Day, the assaulting units would require antitank weapons and tanks, some of them landing south of the Sebou river to confront French armored units approaching from Rabat.
Limited by the capacities of available transports, and the necessity of conveying ground troops of the XII Air Support Command, the northern landing force would consist of only one regimental combat team, the 60th Regiment (reinforced), and an armored group, the 3rd Armored Landing Team of the 2nd Armored Division. Persistent hopes of having an airborne force dropped near the airfield were denied.
The Plan of Attack
Force GOALPOST was conveyed to the vicinity of Mehdia by the Northern Attack Group of the Western Naval Task Force. Its 525 officers and warrant officers and 8,554 enlisted men 2 (of whom 124 officers and 1,757 enlisted men were ground troops of the XII Air Support Command), with 65 light tanks and 881 vehicles, were loaded in eight transports. They were protected by the battleship Texas, the light cruiser Savannah, the escort carrier Sangamon, and nine destroyers. Two mine sweepers, an oiler, and a seaplane tender were part of the group, and the S.S. Contessa, the special cargo transport, pursued the others across the Atlantic in time to join them off Mehdia on D Day. The Chenango, on which the Army’s seventy-six P–40’s were carried, was prepared to catapult them for emergency strikes followed by landings in the open countryside, should such drastic action be required.
To insure at least a skeleton staff arriving at the destination, General Truscott had divided his staff, placing half abroad the USS Allen and half aboard the USS Clymer. The Staff of the 60th Combat Team was also billeted on the Clymer. The plan of attack provided for five simultaneous landings, two at beaches north of the Sebou’s mouth and three at beaches
south of it. Selection of these particular points for the landings was determined less by hydrographic conditions than by directness of access to separate inland objectives, for the shore offered similar opportunities at any points. About one mile up the river, adjacent to Mehdia, was a sixth beach planned for a later landing, while a seventh was indicated almost nine miles from the river’s mouth, directly east of the Port-Lyautey airdrome. The initial assault landings, however, were to be made through the pounding surf characteristic of the Atlantic shore of Africa. Two battalion landing teams were to use beaches south of the river, a third was to land in two sections on beaches north of the river, and the armored group was to come ashore south of the river at daylight, using whichever beach was then considered most available. The planners hoped that the inside beach (BROWN) on the river’s bank near Mehdia would quickly be made accessible to the tank lighters.
FORCE “Z” (GOALPOST), AS OF 22 OCTOBER 1942
9th Infantry Division; 1st BLT 60th Infantry; 2nd BLT, 60th Infantry; 3rd BLT, 60th Infantry
Other 60th Infantry Troops; Armored Landing Team; 1st Battalion (reinforced) , 66th Armored Regiment
Other Force “Z” Personnel
Detachments, XII Air Support Command; 692nd– 697th Coast Artillery (AA) Batteries
Detachment of: 66th Engineer Company (Topographic); 1st Armored Signal Battalion; 9th Signal Company; 122nd Signal Company (Radio Intelligence); 163rd Signal Company (Photographic); 239th Signal Company (Operational); 56th Medical Battalion; 2nd Broadcasting Station Operation Detachmenl; Counterintelligence Group; Prisoner Interrogation Group
The most northerly landing was to be made by about one third of the 3rd Battalion Landing Team, 60th Regimental Combat Team (approximately 550 men), on Beach RED, situated four and a half miles north of the river’s mouth. This detachment was expected to hasten to the bluffs north of the Port-Lyautey airfield before daylight. From that point, it was to neutralize the field, reconnoiter to the north and east about five miles, and send a detail to block or gain possession of the bridge over the Sebou near Port-Lyautey. Eventually the detachment would cross the river in rubber boats brought from the beach and participate in a co-ordinated attack on the airfield planned for 1100.
While this operation proceeded, the larger section of the 3rd BLT would land at Beach RED 2, less than 1,000 yards north of the river’s mouth. In two hours’ time, this force was to occupy positions on the northern bank of the Sebou opposite Mehdia from which to furnish supporting artillery and mortar fire for the attack on the Kasba. It was then on order to continue along the northern bank to join the other part of the 3rd BL T in the river crossing operation and the attack on the airfield.
The most critical mission was that of the 2nd BLT, 60th Regimental Combat Team, whose 1,268 men would land on GREEN Beach, just south of the river’s mouth and about one mile from Beach RED 2. Picked units equivalent to two rifle companies would attempt to capture the coastal defenses at Mehdia before daylight, that is, before 0600. If the first effort to seize the batteries by bayonet assault should fail, naval and air bombardment was to be delivered on call by General Truscott after 0615, followed by a second ground assault. The 2nd BLT was to establish its beachhead at Mehdia and continue over the ridges to the hill southwest of the airfield for participation in the co-ordinated attack at 1100.
With the 2nd BLT was to be a joint demolition party of Army engineers and Navy personnel, whose objective would be to find and remove the barrier across the Sebou. The channel was thus to be opened for movement upstream by the destroyer-transport, Dallas, carrying a special raider detachment of seventy-five men to a landing at Beach BROWN 2 near the airport, and on the way supporting the advance of the 2nd BL T with gunfire on targets of opportunity.
In somewhat the same manner that the 3rd BLT utilized Beaches RED and RED 2 north of the river, the 1st BLT was to land simultaneously on two beaches, BLUE and YELLOW, from four to five miles south of the Sebou’s mouth. One rifle company was to touch down originally at each beach, and when the defenses and terrain features had been tested the remainder of the BLT would follow to that beach which could be most readily occupied. The mission of the 1st BLT required rapid overland march to block the western exits of Port-Lyautey and to participate at 1100 in the attack on the airdrome. At the same time, detachments were to reconnoiter five miles to the south and southeast and to protect the southwest flank of the sub-task force. Beyond a line which limited this reconnaissance, the supporting air elements would both observe and try to halt French troop movements from Rabat-Sale.
The preferred plan of attack of Mehdia Port-Lyautey was thus to begin with landings at five points along ten miles of Atlantic shore line. They would begin at an H Hour set at 0400 in order to have two hours of darkness for establishing beachheads and capturing by storm coastal defenses and key positions. Then, while four separate groups advanced overland and a fifth progressed by ship up the Sebou, parleys would be sought with the French commander at Port-Lyautey. If the response proved unfriendly, the airfield was to be taken by a co-ordinated attack from three or four sides, from the air, and with the aid of naval gunfire whenever called. Naval aircraft from the Sangamon would assist the morning advance and the attack on the airdrome scheduled for 1100 hours. The armored landing team would also land during the day to protect and support the operations, particularly in the area southwest and south of Port-Lyautey. Before nightfall, if all went well, the airport would be in American hands, either by French consent or by capture, and, on D plus 1, it could be used by the Chenango’s P-40’s and by bombers to be flown in from Gibraltar.
The Enemy Is Alerted
The Northern Attack Group arrived off Mehdia just before midnight, 7-8 November. The lights ashore were shining brightly, and the shore was dearly visible from the transport area, between 15,000 and 16,000 yards out. While the Texas and Savannah took stations to the north and south, the transports sought designated stations in which to begin disembarkation of the assault troops. They began ship-to-shore operations almost an hour later than the time of arrival, which had been set at 2300, 7 November. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd BLT’s were on the transports Henry T. Allen, George Clymer, and Susan B. Anthony, respectively. The 3rd Armored Landing Team was on the John Penn, with thirty-seven of its light tanks on the Electra. Personnel of the XII Air Support Command were on the Florence Nightingale, the Anne Arundel, and the Algorab.
The transports lost formation during the last stage of the approach and never regained it. Since landing craft from five of the ships were first to carry troops from the other three for one or more round trips, much confused searching by boat crews ensued with corresponding delay in forming waves for the actual landings. General Truscott was ferried from transport to transport and agreed to the necessity of postponing H Hour from 0400 to 0430. All the craft which could be dispatched for landings on the revised schedule were then sent in, the others being formed in improvised waves for the follow-up.
Several small French steamers were allowed to pass along the coast through the convoy not long after it came to anchor, and observers on the transport Henry T. Allen saw one of these steamers, the Lorraine, signal by blinker: “Be warned. Alert on shore for 5 A. M.” President Roosevelt’s and General Eisenhower’s messages had been broadcast from London much earlier, and in the Mediterranean the landings were well advanced before those at Mehdia commenced. Surprise seemed out of the question.
Even if the convoy were not visible to watchers ashore, the noise of the winches, the booms, and the motors of landing craft moving among the larger ships should have been audible. It remained to be discovered how (in the absence of fire control radar of later date) darkness might affect the relative strength of attack or defense. Arrangements to sabotage the coastal guns and other defenses had miscarried in consequence of the shift in leadership at Casablanca shortly before the arrival of the expedition:’ When General Truscott held a conference with his staff on the Allen at 0430, it not only seemed certain that surprise had been lost, but also, that the attack would be too late for the bayonet assault in darkness, which he would have preferred. Preparation for a daylight attack by heavy naval bombardment was precluded by Allied policy. The commanding general might have adopted an alternate plan prepared for daylight operations,
but the possibilities of success by following the main plan on a delayed schedule seemed equally good. He therefore made the critical decision to persevere along the lines originally laid down. The defenses at Mehdia were lightly garrisoned. No machine guns and artillery swept the beaches from pillboxes or other emplacements at its upper edge. Naval crews operated two 5-inch guns in protected positions on the tableland above Mehdia village and in the vicinity of the Kasba. Not more than seventy men occupied the fort when the attack started. Two 75-mm. guns were mounted on flat cars on the railroad running beside the river at the base of the bluff on which the Kasba lay.
A second battery of four 75’s was brought forward after the attack began to a position on the high ground along the road from Mehdia to Port-Lyautey. A battery of four 155-mm. rifles (Grandes Puissances Filloux) was emplaced on a hill west of Port-Lyautey and southwest of the airport. The airport was defended by a single antiaircraft battery. The infantry consisted of the 1st Regiment of Moroccan Infantry and the 8th Tabor (battalion) of native Goums.
One group of nine 25-mm. guns withdrawn from other infantry regiments and one battalion of engineers completed the defensive force. Reinforcements were sent to occupy the entrenchments and machine gun positions which covered approaches to the coastal guns and the fort and to occupy defensive positions on the ridges east of the lagoon. The guns were maned and ready for action as soon as targets could be discerned. The boom across the river, somewhat upstream from’ the Kasba, was guarded by machine gunners, riflemen, and artillery. Warning orders brought fighters and twin-engined bombers into the air for attacks at dawn. The Americans were to receive no friendly welcome.
The hostilities soon to begin not only ran counter to the hopes of the Americans, but persisted despite a courageous mission intended to bring them to an early conclusion. Plans had been adjusted while Force GOALPOST was crossing the Atlantic Ocean to include Colonel Demas F. Craw in Major Pierpont M. Hamilton’s mission to go by jeep from an early beach landing near Mehdia to Port-Lyautey to consult the French commander (Colonel Charles Petit). The emissaries were to give him a letter similar in purport to the President’s broadcast. At first light on 8 November, they went ashore as the fire of coastal batteries and warships and strafing French airplanes began. French troops near the Kasba directed them toward Port-Lyautey, but as they neared the town under a flag of truce, a French machine gunner at a road-fork outpost without warning stopped them with a burst of point-blank fire which killed Colonel Craw. Major Hamilton was then conducted to the headquarters of Colonel Petit, where his reception, though amicable, led to no conclusive reply. He was detained in protective custody, was eventually permitted to telephone General Maurice Mathenet at Meknes, and was encouraged to expect ultimately a favorable response. The pervading atmosphere at the French headquarters in Port-Lyautey was one of sympathy toward the Allied cause and distaste for the current fighting. What was lacking was an authorization from Colonel Petit’s superior to stop fighting. Pending receipt of such authorization, the French at Port-Lyautey continued to fight until they were defeated, but with diminishing zeal.
[NOTE K9-1J: (I) Ltr, Brigadier General Pierpont M. Hamilton (USAF) to author, 31 Jan 50. (2) See also the citations for awards of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Major Hamilton and posthumously to Colonel Craw in The Medal of Honor of the United States Army)” p. 232.]
The 2nd BLT Attacks in the Center
In spite of delays and confusion in debarkation, the 2nd BLT’s first three waves started toward GREEN Beach in time to land before 0600. The way in was marked by various beacon lights, one on a scout boat stationed 700 yards out from the river mouth, and others on the beaches themselves.
No resistance was received from shore until the first wave had touched down, possibly as early as 0540. But almost simultaneously with the arrival of this wave at the beach, a searchlight illuminated the scout boat, a red rocket soared from the southern jetty, and coastal guns fired toward the scout boat and toward the destroyers a little farther out. A few salvos from the destroyer Eberle darkened the searchlight and temporarily silenced the guns, but before the landings were far advanced two French airplanes passed up and down the beach strafing boats and personnel, and causing some casualties. The first boat teams (containing sections of the heavy weapons company with parts of rifle companies) hastened up the beach to cover, where with later arrivals they organized for the assault. At the same time, the attempt of the special demolition party to cut the river barrier was frustrated by heavy machine gun and rifle fire. The party left without achieving its mission.
Admiral Kelly signaled “Batter Up” for local offensive fire at 0615, and ordered the Eberle to reply to the French shelling of the landing craft approaching GREEN Beach. At 0710, orders to “Play Ball,” the signal for general naval attack by the whole task force, were received from Admiral Hewitt. The frustrating provisions of the TORCH Plan limited naval bombardment, except when needed by troops ashore, to replies to French fire on offshore targets. In the absence of calls from General Truscott’s troops ashore through the shore fire control parties which were assigned to each BLT, naval fire support therefore continued to be withheld.
The assault troops of the 2nd BLT, 60th Regimental Combat Team, formed on either side of the coastal road where it bent northeasterly through a band of scrub pine woods between the lagoon and the shore. The highway skirted the marshy northern extremities of the lagoon and the ends of two parallel ridges on either side of that water. The western ridge, covered with thick brush, was fairly steep and reached a height of 75 feet, but the slope just east of the lagoon rose abrupdy more than 200 feet to a plateau on which were the principal objectives of the assault. A lighthouse stood on its western shoulder. A thousand yards farther to the northeast was the fortified Kasba, and near the fort, the coastal battery.
About half a mile east of the Kasba, on the gradual downward slope, was a small collection of dwellings which the attackers called the “native village.” The coastal highway, after passing through Mehdia and running for more than 2,000 yards along the river, rose to join a second road, converging from the high ridge, about 1,000 yards northeast of the native village. It continued eastward about three miles farther to Port-Lyautey.
The mission of the 2nd BLT was first to make its way directly eastward from the beach for approximately one mile to the high ridge and next, turning north, to gain control of the batteries, of other prepared defenses, and of the Kasba itself. Then it was to reorganize and push northeasterly across the Mehdia-Port-Lyautey highway and out to the high ground just southwest of the airdrome.
After reorganizing, the BLT advanced toward the ridge for 600 yards or more without interruption, but upon emerging from the brush it suddenly had to reckon with naval shells that screamed overhead and crumped against the ridge a few hundred yards away. The warships, under orders to reply at once to coastal guns firing to seaward, had opened up without advance notice to troops ashore, although with regard for their possible presence in the target area.
The 2nd BL T was thus moving beneath counterbattery fire against the guns near the Kasba, which had attempted to hit the transports and supporting ships offshore, rather than naval gunfire requested by the shore fire control party. The troops, inexperienced in the actual effects of such fire and apparently uncertain of its control, melted back into cover in considerable disorder and waited for it to stop.
Major John H. Dilley, the 2nd Battalion commander, left his naval gunfire liaison officer at the beach and with his artillery officer went toward the forward line. In the vicinity of the lighthouse they could see a few French sailors but no other defenders. Naval bombardment, moreover, ceased. The BLT once more reorganized, again pushed toward the high ridge, and, after a fire fight, gained possession before 0900 of the area near the lighthouse and of trenches leading toward the Kasba. It was now ready to attack the batteries and the fort when naval gunfire again began to fall in the same area, this time causing a hasty retreat. A green flare, the signal to cease fire, was sent up, but although the flare was seen by the naval gunfire liaison officer at the beach and reported by radio to the fire support ship, the USS Roe, respite was brief. Other naval vessels did not receive the order and more shells fell, thwarting the attack for the second time. Although the rate of exchange between the coastal guns and the warships approximated two French shells for thirty American, the latter did not affect complete neutralization of the batteries. Furthermore, the naval gunfire held up the infantry attack at a time when Kasba’s defenders were fewest, and thus inadvertently helped prolong the whole operation.
Accordingly, after the attack was thus suspended, Colonel de Rohan, Commanding Officer, 60th Regimental Combat Team, appeared at the lighthouse and gave orders for its resumption. These orders were misunderstood by Major Dilley as requiring that his battalion bypass the Kasba and push on to the northeast. In spite of much straggling and confusion, of poor contact with the rear echelon of the battalion command post, and in spite of the fact that one company had to be left in trenches near the Kasba, the remainder of the 2nd BLT continued eastward into the native village. There, shortly after 1230, the badly shaken unit came under counterattack. Troops from Port-Lyautey had moved up to stop them. A small force of French infantry approached the village from the east and from the highway north of it, supported by 75’s firing from near the road.
Although the shore fire control party had a telephone line to the front by that time, and had succeeded in bringing naval gunfire and air bombardment on the French artillery, they did not stop the French from receiving reinforcements of several more truckloads of the 1st Regiment of Moroccan Infantry, in addition to two towed guns, at about 1400, and three old-style French tanks at 1530. The men of the 2nd BLT, already much reduced by casualties and considerable straggling, and lacking artillery support until late in the afternoon, fell back in groups.[NOTE N2-F1] The French took a substantial number of prisoners from a detachment covering the withdrawal. Even after two of the tanks were knocked out by grenades and the third withdrew, the BLT troops kept pulling back piecemeal, taking up positions along the ridge near the lighthouse, particularly in the cover south of it.[NOTE N8-F1] There they were at nightfall. The French counteroffensive threatened to continue during the night, and perhaps in greater strength. The situation near Mehdia was precarious.
[NOTE N2-F1: Battery B, 60th Field Artillery, landed about 0700, hauled its guns across the beach to cover while under shellfire, and eventually got into a position described as “about 1000 yards inland” to fire on coastal defense guns and defensive works outside the Kasba rather than against the counterattacking enemy. 1st Battalion 60th FA AAR, 8-11 Nov 42.]
[NOTE N8-F1: The lighthouse was held by 2nd Lieutenant S. W. Sprindis, 60th Infantry antitank officer, by firing a bazooka from different positions along a wall to give the attacking force the impression of an entire battery of 75’s. For this exploit General Patton gave him a battlefield promotion. Patton Diary, 19 Nov 42]
The 1st BLT Attacks on the South Wing
Navigational errors brought most of the 1st Battalion Landing Team, 60th Regimental Combat Team (Major Percy DeW. McCarley, Jr.), to shore from the Henry T. Allen about 2,800 yards north of BLUE Beach instead of on BLUE and YELLOW Beaches, and its second wave landed ahead of the first. Fortunately, the BLT was able to reorganize without enemy interference.After touching down at 0535, its units assembled, made a three-mile detour around the southern end of the lagoon, and sent detachments to establish roadblocks at each of the road junctions for six miles to the south. About five hours after the landings began, it started northeastward along the high ground. Battery A, 60th Field Artillery, set up its 75-mm. pack howitzers in a valley southeast of the lagoon and prepared to support the advance.
Three detachments of Company A defended the roadblocks against enemy probing attacks, at first using machine guns, mortars, and bazookas, and later in the day, 37-mm. antitank guns from the Headquarters Company and the Regimental Antitank Company. The main body of McCarley’s BLT, leaving Company A in reserve and moving slowly toward Port-Lyautey, first met organized resistance about noon on the high ground almost due east of its landing place.
There, well-concealed French machine guns pinned the column down on a ridge until late in the afternoon. Shelling by Battery A, 60th Field Artillery Battalion, finally broke up the French resistance just before nightfall. While the BL T was preparing to continue the advance next morning, it was visited by General Truscott, who ordered Major McCarley to establish contact at once with Major Dilley’s BLT to the north and, at first light, to resume the attack toward the airfield. Responsibility for protecting the southern flank of the beachhead was transferred to Lieutenant Colonel Harry H. Semmes, CO, 3rd Armored Landing Team of the 66th Armored Regiment.
French motorcycle, armored car, and tank units of increasing strength-the advance elements of a substantial column from Rabat-tested the outposts on the southern flank on D Day and drove them back by evening. These blocking actions, however, including use of a bazooka which was mistaken by the enemy for heavy artillery, had delayed the northward march of the main French force long enough to permit the Americans to assemble a very small armored detachment during the night with which to meet the French in that area on D plus I.
The 3rd BLT’s Attack on the North Wing
The 3rd Battalion Landing Team, 60th Infantry (under command of Lieutenant Colonel John J. Toftey, Jr.), experienced perhaps the greatest difficulties of any unit off Mehdia in getting ashore on D Day. Its transport, the Susan B. Anthony, first had to transfer a raider detachment to the Dallas for the move up the Sebou river. Next, the landing craft had to be organized into waves near the control ship, Osprey, which was to guide them to Beaches RED and RED 2. Since none of the vessels was in its prearranged position, operations in the darkness became fumbling and uncertain. Debarkation from the transport was also slowed by other difficulties, and the whole process fell far behind schedule.
It was at least 0500 before the first three assault waves for each beach were in formation near the Osprey. The flotilla then went north for a few miles along the coast and at approximately 0600 turned right and headed eastward to the mist-covered shore. Since the boats had been brought far north of the Sebou and daylight had already arrived, Colonel Toffey, on his own responsibility, decided to follow the alternate plan for a consolidated landing by his entire unit on RED Beach only. As the turn to the beach was in progress, two French planes swept low over the boats, strafing and bombing, and causing the loss of two landing craft but without casualties among their occupants.
The first landings occurred about 0630, along a one-mile front well to the northeast of RED Beach. No fire was received from the desolate shore. The boat teams hurried up the sandy slopes seeking cover from attack by more strafing planes. Machine gun squads of the 692nd Coast Artillery (AA) and of Company M, 60th Infantry, among units in the first waves, swiftly set up their weapons and brought down two of the planes in offshore crashes. Four companies (I, K, M, and Headquarters Company) with their medical detachments, rather than stopping to reorganize, continued as boat teams until they had struggled up the steep escarpment east of the sand dunes to high ground, about 165 feet above the sea. Two hours after the first landings, they had completed the climb, carrying their equipment, and were ready to advance to the bluffs north of the airdrome.
Checking maps, the 3rd BLT discovered that it had not been brought to RED Beach, but instead to a point five miles farther north. What lay ahead therefore was an arduous cross-country march of approximately five miles with the necessity of hand carrying everything over ridges and through scrub growth. The BLT met no resistance and was in position (but without supporting artillery) on Hill 58 by noon. The naval gunfire control party set up rad105 on the bluff above the beach and on Hill 74, about 1,000 yards north-northeast of Hill 58, and strung telephone wire across the intervening area. Thus it could soon adjust fire for the Savannah on a French 155-mm. gun battery observed to be in action southwest of the airfield. Western Morocco’s largest ammunition dump, a collection of detached beehive structures on the eastern slope of the same ridge, was also bombarded by the main 14-inch battery of the Texas at a range of 12,000 yards. Reconnaissance parties found no enemy troops or installations to the northeast but ascertained that the Port-Lyautey bridge over the Sebou was mined and strongly defended. At the beach all available personnel labored to open exits through the dunes and up the escarpment, while along the route to Hill 58 others constructed a road. By 2230, the guns of Battery C, 60th Field Artillery Battalion, had been dragged to emplacements on Hill 74. Later, the rubber boats were sent forward from the beach in half-tracks. The first day’s operations left Colonel Toffey’s BLT with much to do before it could attack the airfield.
Summary of D Day
The attack at Mehdia-Port-Lyautey departed from the basic plan at the outset and never returned to it. In the hope of adhering to the original arrangements, the landing schedule was, as already indicated, delayed a half hour, but this proved insufficient. The delay was actually protracted for almost one and a half hours. Next, the arrangement for simultaneous landings at five coastal points was modified drastically. The 3rd BLT, seeing that its operations ashore were beginning in daylight, shifted to the alternate plan; its two separate landings were consolidated into one for RED Beach, well north of the Sebou river’s mouth: The larger section of the 3rd BL T was to have supported the 2nd BLT’s advance against Mehdia and the Kasba by parallel movement on the opposite side of the river but actually did not do so. And further to complicate the situation, the 3rd BLT was put ashore at a point some five miles north of RED Beach, greatly lengthening the amount of rough terrain over which it had to struggle to reach the bluffs north of the airdrome.
Major McCarley’s 1st BLT was brought to shore 2,800 yards north of BLUE Beach instead of at BLUE and YELLOW Beaches. The resulting situation not only interfered with the landings of Major Dilley’s 2nd BLT on GREEN Beach, but also necessitated a slow detour around the southern end of the coastal lagoon before the 1st BLT could reach the high ground east of it and start toward the airdrome. The 2nd BLT began its landings only twenty minutes before dawn, and its inland advance by daylight met with stronger resistance than its schedule allowed for. The 75-mm. battery attached to each BLT had been of but little use, either because of delays in emplacement and in establishing fire control, or because of doubts as to the location of forward troops. The naval gunfire which had served well on the southern flank and farther inland toward Port-Lyautey had not been well co-ordinated in the zone of attack near the coastal guns and the Kasba, although elsewhere it had been of the greatest value.
The delay and confusion attributable to departures from the plan were increased by French air strafing of the beaches at dawn, French bombardment of the transport area, and defective communications between ship and shore after 0700, when the transports withdrew to a point fifteen miles out to sea.
At 1100 on D Day, instead of being able to launch a co-ordinated attack on the Port-Lyautey airdrome, the main elements of Sub-Task Force GOALPOST were still striving to gain firm footholds and were under imperfect control. The French had not been dislodged from the vitally important Kasba. The barrier to navigation of the river remained in place. The French still controlled the south bank of the river and the nose of the ridge southwest of the airport. Enemy reinforcements from Port-Lyautey had strengthened the resistance to Dilley’s BLT in the Kasba area and had held McCarley’s BL T well south of positions which it was to have occupied before 1100. The 3rd BLT was most nearly in position, for its leading elements were digging in on the bluffs and ridges north of the airfield, waiting for artillery and rubber boats to arrive from the distant landing point, while other detachments were reconnoitering to the northeast and east.
The situation of General Truscott’s whole force at nightfall, 8 November, was insecure and even precarious. He himself had come ashore in the early afternoon after a morning during which, because of inadequate communications, he could gain little exact information and could exercise insufficient control. There he found his battalion and company commanders in similar difficulties with their subordinate units. In a half-track carrying a radio, (SCR-193) he ranged over the beachhead attempting to meet the most immediate problems and to improve co-ordination.
As the afternoon gave way to darkness, the unsatisfactory conditions at the beaches were deteriorating still further. Far fewer heavy weapons had been landed than were required for defense against prospective enemy action. The tank lighters had been too few, and when failure to capture the coastal guns forced the transports to move out of range of possible shelling, the round trip between ship and shore had been lengthened to more than thirty miles. The rare calm prevailing during most of the day disappeared with winds which sprang up at sunset. By night, the surf was rising and before daylight wave crests reached fifteen feet in height. Boats had more and more difficulty in landing and retracting. Stranded crews and misplaced troops roved along the beaches, contributing to the serious confusion. Inland, the enemy threatened to make strong counterattacks, either during the night or at daylight.
General Truscott had by then committed all of his slender reserve. Company L (less detachments), 60th Infantry, was sent forward late in the afternoon to reinforce Major Dilley’s 2nd BLT. During the night, all available men were taken from the shore party at Beach GREEN, organized into provisional units, and put in defense of the ridge line east of the beach. Colonel Semmes’s seven light tanks were held in outpost positions along the beach until well after midnight, when they left to reach positions on the south wing of the beachhead before dawn. Since naval gunfire from the Savannah, under its own air spotting, had proved effective on D Day, it was again requested, this time for support of the tanks at first light, placed under the command of Captain A. O. Chittenden, Coast Artillery Corps, and sent to reinforce the 1st BLT east of the lagoon The French column from Rabat which had driven the outposts of Company A (reinforced), 60th Infantry, back toward the beachhead during the afternoon was expected to attack in force at dawn. A Provisional Assault Group consisting of three rifle and two heavy weapons platoons was organized from shore party personnel. The units of this column were later identified as the staff, scout car troop, and two squadrons of light Renault tanks, of the 1st Regiment, African Chasseurs, 10me motorcycle troops of the Moroccan Guard, and truck-borne infantry believed to be the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 7th Moroccan Tirailleurs. The tanks had 37-mm. guns, light armor, and two man crews,.
The Second Day’s Operations
During the night, while General Mathenet carried out the orders from General Lascroux’s headquarters to shift from Meknes to Port-Lyautey as part of a revised scheme of French defensive operations, more reinforcements went toward Port-Lyautey from Fes and Meknes, though heavily attacked by planes after daylight. (The reinforcements were: Staff, Regimental Company, and 3rd Battalion, Foreign Legion; Staff and 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment of Moroccan Tirailleurs; 6th Motorcycle Troop, Moroccan Guard; 2nd Battalion, 64th Regiment of African Artillery (2 batteries)) Some reached the Kasba area, where a dawn counterattack in strength threatened to drive Major Dilley’s force back to the beach itself. But the impending counterattack on the southern flank by an armored French column and two battalions of infantry was General Truscott’s principal concern. If the French armor broke through the small defending force, it could disrupt the entire attack. The 1st BLT, 60th Regimental Combat Team, could be struck in the rear and scattered, and BLUE Beach might then be wrested from its occupants.
The swell and surf were running too high to unload additional tanks or heavy weapons during the night. General Truscott, obliged to use available armor to repel the counterattack, had to deny to Major McCarley’s BLT the armored support with which it might have succeeded in getting to the airfield that day. He sent Colonel Semmes with his seven light tanks to take up positions blocking the Rabat-Port-Lyautey highway before dawn. The tanks had to be controlled without radio, for this equipment had been put out of order by the long period of disuse while en route by sea. Furthermore, the tankmen had had no opportunity to reset the sights on their 37-mm. guns before contact with the French. Semmes’s tanks took positions astride the highway southeast of the lagoon as the first gray light of a cold morning appeared. What followed was the first tank engagement in Morocco.
As Colonel Semmes’s light tanks moved toward the main highway shortly after 0600, they first drove off with heavy casualties a company of French infantry in positions in the woods and near a farm across the road. About half an hour later, some fourteen to eighteen Renault tanks (armed with 37-mm. guns) and approximately two battalions of infantry came into view. Approaching along the road from Rabat. The American tanks thereupon withdrew behind a slight rise which offered some protection and opened fire on the column.
Frontal armor on Semmes’s seven tanks was too heavy for the answering French fire to pierce. Though most of the American firing was also rendered ineffective by the unadjusted sights of the tanks’ major weapons, it destroyed four French tanks, inflicted severe losses among the French infantry, and stopped the thrust into Force GOALPOST’S southern flank. While the French were held back, gunfire from the Savannah was directed by her spotting planes on the enemy’s tank assembly area in a little woods near the highway and on other French targets. This accurate fire forced the French to break off the attack and to withdraw temporarily.
General Truscott attached ten or more light tanks of Company C, 70th Tank Battalion, and one section of antitank guns from the 60th Regimental Cannon Company to Colonel Semmes’s force in time to help repulse a second French attack at about 0900. Throughout the day, the battle continued on a diminishing scale under a brilliant sky. By the latter part of the afternoon, the threat to the southern flank of the beachhead had so moderated that Company C, 70th Tank Battalion, was released to Major McCarley’s force in the hope that he could thereby push through to the airfield before nightfall. During the night, nine more tanks and the reconnaissance platoon came ashore in time to reinforce the 3rd Armored Landing Team for the third day’s operations.
The tank engagement on the southern flank had just begun on 9 November when the 1st BLT, 60th Regimental Combat Team, reinforced by Captain Chittenden’s Provisional Assault Group and supported by Battery A, 60th Field Artillery Battalion, resumed its advance toward the airfield, some seven miles away. The axis of advance ran diagonally over a series of partly wooded ridges. The first resistance came about 1030 in the form of light and ineffective fire from an unexpected direction-the areas of the lighthouse and the Kasba which had supposedly passed under control of the 2nd BLT, 60th Regimental Combat Team.
No other French opposition seriously impeded the progress of Major McCarley’s force until it arrived at the crest of Mhignat Touama (52) about 1500. By that time, the French had deployed along the highway to the northeast and on a wooded height to the east, and using mortar and heavy machine gun fire soon pinned down the leading American elements. While supporting American artillery, naval gunfire, and tanks were being brought into action, the French, including some cavalry, organized on the east flank for a counterattack. The 105-mm. howitzers of Battery A, 60th Field Artillery Battalion, stopped the flanking fire from the east. This feat, together with the timely arrival of ten light tanks of Company C, 70th Tank Battalion, forestalled the threatened counterattack. Highly effective naval gunfire on the highway area and bombing by seaplane of French machine gun positions ahead of the Ist BLT appeared to be clearing the way for a tank-infantry advance before dark. The BL T therefore organized to resume its push toward the airfield as soon as the naval gunfire should be lifted.
At that juncture, two accidents spoiled the prospects. The BLT’s front was not marked by identification panels during this pause, and a Navy plane dropped two bombs among the troops. Artillery fire from an unidentified source also fell in the area. The disorganization which ensued delayed the preparations until darkness was too near to warrant starting prolonged tank-infantry operations. The tankers prepared to lie up until morning while the infantry attacked alone.
Farther north, Major Dilley’s 2nd BLT, stopped late on D Day by a French counterattack east of the lagoon, was expected to reorganize during the night and to resume the advance against the Kasba. Company L (less detachments), 60th Infantry, which had reinforced the unit late on D Day, remained for the second day’s operation.
Morning arrived before all the scrambled units had been sorted out, and with morning the French attacked again. They had substantially reinforced the Kasba area during the night. Some French troops pushed along the shelf on the southern side of the river as far as Mehdia at the northern end of the beach, overwhelming American outposts on the ridge. Fire from American positions near the lighthouse drove the French from Mehdia temporarily, but they brought up some 75-mm. guns and mortars, in turn forcing the Americans to abandon the lighthouse area, after holding it for more than twenty-four hours. Artillery fire from the 155-mm. battery southwest of the airport pinned them down for the first part of that afternoon (9 November). The rest of the day passed in a sort of deadlock, with the 2nd BLT unable to arrange a successful coordinated attack despite the availability of artillery, naval gunfire, and air support. Thus the second day ended with the Kasba still in French possession.
North of the airfield on the morning of 9 November, the 10S-mm. howitzers of Battery C, 60th Field Artillery, were in position. They caused at least a temporary evacuation of the airdrome barracks and engaged in a counterbattery duel with French guns on the hills southwest of the field. In the early afternoon, rubber boats and assault guns arrived from RED Beach. Orders were issued for two related night operations.
Companies K and M, 60th Infantry, began an approach march at 1630 down the tongue of river flatlands toward the western end of the Port-Lyautey bridge, some three miles away. After dark, Company I crossed the river from the northern bank in the rubber boats, intending to create at least a diversion on the airfield which might aid the force attempting to seize the bridge. On signal, one heavy concentration of artillery was to be fired into the area near the bridge. Then the structure was to be rushed with a sudden assault. Company I’s venture on the airfield was to be assisted by neutralizing salvos from the Kearny on enemy troops in the hills southwest of the airfield.
The Night Attacks, 9-10 November
The two night operations by Colonel Toffey’s BLT were only partly successful. Company I crossed the river in the rubber boats but lost its bearings near the airfield and eventually dug in on the southern river bank near the point of crossing, where it awaited daylight. Companies K and M drove the French defenders from the western end of the Port-Lyautey bridge but were in turn repulsed by artillery fire. A machine gun platoon was left in position to block enemy use of the bridge while the rest of the detachment returned, with its casualties, to Hills.
These night operations in the vicinity of the airdrome had their counterpart in the attempts of Major McCarley’s BL T to move in from the southwest. Companies B, C, and D selected a route of approach before dark and started at 2300 from the Mhignat Touama in column of companies. The sky was deeply overcast and visibility was poor. The column, instead of continuing according to plan past Port-Lyautey, between a low white prison structure on the right and the high ground on the left, and on an axis approximately paralleling an old railroad embankment, swung unintentionally to the east toward Port-Lyautey. At 0100, the leading elements ran into a machine gun outpost. The force split into three parts, with further splintering ensuing as the men sought to evade the hostile fire.
The major part of the 1st BLT, 60th Regimental Combat Team, resumed its progress toward the airport until, at 0430, the men arrived at a blacked-out building which they believed to be the barracks. The structure was stealthily surrounded. Machine guns were placed to control all exit roads and paths. The occupants were then called upon to surrender. They surrendered at once, about seventy-five in all, after setting down their cups and wine glasses, for the building proved to be not a barracks but a cafe. Patrols took about 100 more prisoners in the vicinity.
The French saw no reason to pursue energetically a battle which they expected soon to terminate. When Colonel Petit, with a staff officer of the 1st Regiment of Moroccan Tirailleurs, was captured a little later, he ordered that whole unit to cease firing. The two officers were, at their own suggestion, paroled in the custody of Major Hamilton but at their own headquarters in Port-Lyautey. Since he was being detained there, they returned to him and thus created a novel situation not quite covered by the rules of war. As the morning advanced, the 7th Regiment of Moroccan Tirailleurs was also ordered to quit. The major portion of the 1st BL T then organized positions controlling the highways leading toward Mehdia and Rabat and waited for the cessation of some naval gunfire which temporarily barred their further progress to the airfield.
Major McCarley and part of Company B had moved from the point of dispersion through the darkness and rain, by error, all the way to the south edge of Port-Lyautey. At daylight they found the French troops there quite willing to avoid hostilities, but as they went to rejoin the rest of their unit they were stopped and captured by a more belligerent Foreign Legion infantry battalion.
The third part of the 1st BLT that had been separated during the night from the original column, consisting of a company commander and fifty-five enlisted men, returned from the French outpost to the original line of departure for the night’s march. At daylight, these men started again toward the airport, supported by tanks of Company C, 70th Tank Battalion. The advance persisted in spite of opposition, the tanks accounting for four French antitank guns and twenty-eight machine guns, and the whole force reaching the western edge of the airdrome at 1045 or a little later.
Pressure to gain the airfield was extremely urgent. At the end of operations on D plus 2, not only was it still in French hands but the barrier boom across the Sebou had not even been removed. The night of 9-10 November was stormy and starless and the sea rough. Nevertheless, about 2130 a joint demolition party set out to cut the barrier. The boat made its way from the transport Clymer to the river, and failing to find Colonel Henney, Commanding Officer, 15th Engineers (C), at an expected rendezvous, the group proceeded with its task under Lieutenant M. K. Starkweather (USNR). The cable was cut, and one man, lowered into the water, confirmed that nothing else remained.
The smaller signal wire then broke and the boom parted. As guards ashore opened heavy fire, the boat hurried away in the darkness with eight minor casualties. The men returned to the Clymer at 0430. They believed that they had opened the way for the raider detachment on the Dallas, although an extremely exacting bit of navigation remained if the passage to the airdrome was to be successful.
Closing on the Airdrome, 10 November
Daylight on 10 November, the third day of the attack, found the scattered 1st BLT with one part about 3,000 yards south of the airport, holding over 200 prisoners and determined to press on, and another part determined to advance over the high ground southwest of the airport with a group of light tanks. It found the 2nd BLT under urgent orders to take the Kasba, and strengthened by two self-propelled 105-mm. assault guns. The 3rd BL T at daybreak had put one rifle company in position to attack the airport from the north, supported by artillery. At the mouth of the river, the Dallas was about to attempt to force its way through the newly breached barrier and past the Kasba in order to carry the raider detachment to the airfield. Colonel Semmes’s armored landing team, with fifteen or sixteen light tanks and supporting guns and infantry, stood firmly across the path of whatever strength might be sent from Rabat to reinforce the Port-Lyautey defenders. A request to Western Task Force for reinforcements had been refused; after the 2nd Battalion, 20th Combat Engineers, had been committed at Fedala on D Day, there were no more to send. Offshore, the Texas, the Savannah, the Eberle, Roe, and Kearny cruised slowly into positions from which to furnish fire support, and, well out of sight of land, the Sangamon’s planes awaited an adequate wind for take-offs from the slow, converted tanker. Early air missions had to be refused, but by 0900 planes could be dispatched on reconnaissance as far as Meknes and Rabat, while others rose to circle on air alert, ready to respond when bombing missions were called for.
The destroyer-transport Dallas, carrying the raider detachment, at 0530 began working her way into the mouth of the Sebou against an ebb tide in very rough water, guided by a local river pilot whom the Office of Strategic Services had spirited out of Morocco with just such a mission as this in prospect. The vessel reached the boom in the gray light of dawn only to discover that the buoys were anchored, with the result that the boom had not swung all the way open and would have to be rammed. As the muddy bottom sucked at her hull, and shells from the Kasba began to smack the water near her, the ship steamed up to the boom, knifed through it, and continued up the river. She had survived the worst danger at the outset, but shells still narrowly missed her as long as she was visible from a tall building in Port-Lyautey. Heavy machine gun fire which raked her decks from the hills near the airfield had to be stopped by her own counter-fire, while the Kearny neutralized one 75-mm. battery by prearranged fire.
The persistent immunity of the ship and her passengers was little short of miraculous. At the sharp tum in the river, where the men of Company I had been dug in for several hours, they could hear the sounds of gunfire along the river to the west and, at 0720, could see the masts of the Dallas above the low river bank. A few minutes later, the ship was picking its way past the scuttled French vessel, St. Amiel, and starting southward. Two American seaplanes covered these last movements. At 0737, the Dallas stopped, stranded in shallow water but near the seaplane base on the eastern border of the airdrome. Artillery fire from about 4,000 yards to the east, beyond the bridge, suddenly opened up, only to be silenced with extraordinary speed and efficiency by the vessel’s 3-inch guns and by bombing from a seaplane. The raider detachment quickly debarked in rubber boats.
Attacking toward the west while I Company moved in from the north, the Americans cleared the enemy from the field and held possession by 0800. Soon the aircraft carrier Chenango was preparing to catapult its P–40’s for flight to the airfield. Colonel Toffey, with the forward observer of Battery C, 60th Field Artillery, and a party from Company I, reconnoitered the Port-Lyautey bridge. Observing enemy batteries along the Rabat-Tangier highway northeast of Port-Lyautey, they called fire from Battery C and from the Texas, Eberle, and Kearny on the targets. Dive bombers also participated in silencing these guns before they could deliver interdictory fire on the airdrome, once the airfield was in American use. By noon, although the French blew out three spans of the bridge, patrols with tanks had brought the city of Port-Lvautey and the high ground southwest of the airport under American control. The P–40’s from the Chenango began landing on the shell-pocked field and its slippery runways about 1030.
Taking the Kasba
On 10 November, shortly before the attack on the airdrome, the 2nd BLT, reinforced by self-propelled assault guns, moved out at first light from a line of departure south of the lighthouse against positions organized by the French from its vicinity to that of the Kasba .. The attack seemed to gather strength as it proceeded, and by 0930 had cleared all resistance from entrenchments and machine gun nests outside the walls of the Kasba. Colonel de Rohan himself took charge of the assaults against the gates of the fort. Two 105’s fired at point blank range, but without success. A provisional assault company of 125 engineer troops, consisting of detachments from three companies of the 540th Engineers (Combat), from the 15th Engineers (Combat), and from the 87lst Aviation Engineers, operating under Captain Verle McBride, a company commander of the 540th Engineers (Combat), reinforced the 2nd BLT in these attempts. Twice during the final stage of approach, attacks were thwarted by intense machine gun and rifle fire from within the fort. At this juncture, General Truscott transmitted a call by de Rohan to the carrier-based naval bombers to deliver a supporting strike. Lieutenant D. C. Dressendorfer (USN), the naval air liaison officer, by radio guided a flight of dive bombers to the Kasba, where smoke shells marked the particular target. Within four minutes of the request, the flight began to peel off one at a time to drop bombs in the vicinity of the gates. The assaulting troops waited between 100 and 200 yards from the target, recovered from the shock before the French, and rushed the fort while the smoke and dust were still thick. Surrender by about 250 troops followed quickly. The back of French defense at Mehdia-Port-Lyautey was clearly broken, for the coastal guns near the Kasba had been silenced earlier by bombardments from artillery, by naval gunfire, and by naval air; the 155-mm. battery and other French artillery near the airport had already been neutralized by naval gunfire.
What remained was to secure the area against counterattacks, sniping, and sabatage and thus to guarantee the effective use of the airfield and seaplane base. After the surrender of the Kasba, Major Dilley reorganized his BLT for the last phase of its advance to the nose of the ridge, looming above the airfield. On General Truscott’s orders, an improvised reserve force of headquarters and shore party troops was brought up from GREEN Beach to protect the BL T’s south flank. A French force had been observed there in the woods about two miles southeast of the fort, presumably after infiltrating behind McCarley’s scattered command. On an 800-yard front, with a self-propelled 105-mm. gun on the left wing and a single tank behind Company F on the right, the 2nd BLT moved through the native village, which it had held temporarily on D Day, and continued toward the main highway leading to Port-Lyautey. The artillery and naval gunfire liaison parties were in close touch with the forward situation and able to respond quickly to called fire. By 1430 a hill about 1,500 yards northeast of Mhignat Touama was wrested from French defenders by employing both the 105-mm. assault gun and the tank. The BLT, under renewed orders, completed the last mile of the advance to the nose. About 150 prisoners were taken during the afternoon. All resistance near the airport had ended by 1730.
The Final Phase
While the airfield was being cleared on 10 November, French reinforcements approached Port-Lyautey over the highway in a truck column from the direction of Meknes. Deep supporting naval fire against it was delivered on call by the main battery of the Texas. Between 0842 and 1131, 214 rounds of 14-inch high explosive shells struck intermittently at a range of 17,000 yards. The column halted, then reversed, and eventually dispersed in complete disorganization, its damaged trucks left beside the highway, which was cratered by at least five direct hits.
On the southern flank, near the coast French armored forces from the direction of Rabat made several attempts to counterattack successfully through the area of the preceding day’s failure, each thrust being stopped by American armor and then driven back with losses by naval gunfire and air bombing.
Unloading the transports had been badly hampered by the delay in obtaining access to the lower Sebou river and BROWN Beach. When the surf on GREEN and BLUE Beaches mounted during D plus 1, landing craft either foundered and broke apart at the beach or, once safely in, found retraction impossible. The urgent need for medical supplies, water, and ammunition, and for tanks, could not be met in spite of several attempts. The toll in damaged boats mounted sharply until all ship-to-shore movement was suspended. Salvage efforts proved fruitless until midday of 10 November. When unloading resumed, only a very small number of craft were found to be serviceable.
As soon on 10 November as the Kasba had been captured and BROWN Beach inside the jetties became accessible, the transports moved near the mouth of the river. Almost at once they were ordered back out to sea to escape a submarine which the Roe had detected at 1045. Some three hours later the ships returned to anchorage, and unloading then proceeded faster than the shore parties could handle it. Only 1,500 to 2,000 yards offshore, they were protected by a tight antisubmarine screen as well as by daylight air antisubmarine patrols. One crew of a landing craft, mechanized (LCM), from the Florence Nightingale made over fifty-one round trips.
The resulting congestion at BROWN Beach was relieved to some extent by sending cargoes up the river as far as the airport or even to Port-Lyautey. The Osprey and Raven were diverted from use as mine sweepers to serve as freight lighters. Captured French vessels were also pressed into service. The Contessa, which had been escorted to Mehdia by the destroyer USS Cowie after it overtook the Southern Attack Force on 7 November, started up the Sebou river at 1620 on 10 November. She ran aground soon after passing the Kasba and had to wait until high tide early next morning for enough depth to complete the passage.
The seaplane tender Barnegat made the trip up the river on 11 November with the supply and maintenance requirements of the Navy’s Patrol Squadron 73. The eleven long-range reconnaissance aircraft of this unit began arriving from the United Kingdom two days later. French resistance in Mehdia and Port-Lyautey had dwindled by evening of 10 November to sniping, a practice which the French later attributed to the theft of firearms by Arabs from unguarded American stocks. Dislocated groups and individual soldiers filtered back through Port-Lyautey all day. At 2230, 10 November, General Mathenet telephoned to the Army headquarters there and, in conversation with Major Hamilton, expressed the wish to meet General Truscott to discuss the cessation of hostilities. With Colonel Leon LeBeau, deputy commander, Port-Lyautey, and a French bugler repeatedly blowing the cease-fire call, Major Hamilton went in his jeep to a point on the airfield where troops and tanks of Company C, 70th Tank Battalion, had assembled.
Over the radio in a tank on the airfield, he was able to talk with Colonel Semmes at the southern edge of the beachhead. The latter took his tank along the beach to General Truscott’s command post, and the two officers then found a place at which radio contact with Hamilton could be renewed. While thus arranging for a meeting near the gates of the Kasba at 0800, Major Hamilton also communicated through Navy channels. A blinker on the airfield signaled to the Dallas, anchored off the airport: (Paraphrase) General Mathenet has received instructions approved by Marshal Petain to terminate resistance at once. He requests an interview with you as soon as possible at the time and place which you designate. From the Dallas this message was conveyed via Admiral Kelly. The prolonged and complicated battle of Mehdia-Port-Lyautey thus came to an end at 0400, 11 November 1942.
The formal meeting at the Kasba at 0800 was a brightly colored pageant of varied French and colonial uniforms, Arab costumes, and flags. General Mathenet agreed that the French troops in his sector should remain in barracks with the Americans in possession of what they had won, while ultimate terms were reached at higher levels.
General Mathenet’s readiness to yield the Sale airport without further delay made unnecessary a planned march along the coastal road to Rabat-Sale to seize the airport there, the force to be aided by the fire support of the Texas and the Savannah and some of the destroyers. Late that night Admiral Hewitt signaled to the Northern Attack Force that hostilities had ceased in French Morocco. “Be especially vigilant against Axis submarines,” he warned.
Salvage of the damaged landing craft and scuttled French vessels followed, as did the unloading of the transports, inspection of the French defenses, and analysis of the performance of American weapons. On 14 November the naval elements prepared to leave early next day, either for Casablanca or Safi, and thence for Hampton Roads. Battle damage to the airfield was repaired and all possible steps taken to produce a state of readiness for advance to the northeast to establish contact with General Fredendall’s Center Task Force.
At a cost of seventy-nine killed the capture of Port-Lyautey by Force GOALPOST had won for the Allies a vital airdrome, a seaplane base from which to engage in the critical battle of the Atlantic against Axis submarines, and a focal point of transportation routes through northeastern Morocco to Algeria and Tunisia.
SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)