World War Two: North Africa (3-12); Seizure of Oran

The second day’s operations promised to be more difficult. Resistance such as that encountered by Combat Team 18 at St. Cloud and Combat Team 26 at Ferme Combier could be expected at other points selected by the French defenders. French opposition was likely to stiffen with a view to delaying the attack until reinforcements from the interior could intervene. Enemy counterattacks were a possibility, and the roads, particularly that from the Foreign Legion’s center at Sidi bel Abbes, were being closely watched for the approach of French columns. American ground units were widely scattered, with small reserves and restricted mobility, and with less armored and artillery support than would have been the case had unloadings kept to the scheduled volume. On the other hand, American land-based aircraft units were prepared to reinforce the carrier-borne aviation in order to increase the margin of Allied air superiority, and naval gunfire support was ready.

The attack planned for 0400, 9 November, toward Oran had to be suspended until St. Cloud was taken. Late on D Day, General Allen issued orders for the investment of St. Cloud from all sides. Combat Team 16 (less the 1st Battalion) was instructed to bar reinforcement of St. Cloud from the Oran side.2 The 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, relieved the 3rd Battalion in Fleurus, and the 3rd Battalion then shifted to high ground west and northwest of St. Cloud, on the road between it and Arcole, where it was to interpose between St. Cloud and an army barracks as best it could without supporting artillery. The 18th Infantry, reinforced by two batteries of the 32nd Field Artillery and by elements of the 16th Infantry, was to attack St. Cloud, after an artillery preparation of fifteen minutes, from the north, east, and south. Support by Twelfth Air Force Spitfires was at first ordered then canceled until the planned drive on Oran. Task Force RED could furnish no armored support in view of the missions to which it was already committed and the incompleteness of its unloading.

The French Counterattack on the Eastern Flank

The French counterattacks expected on D plus 1 seemed before daylight to be impending at Y Beach, and later were reported at the eastern flank of Z beachhead and near Tafaraoui airfield. The enemy was reported to have infiltrated along Djebel Murdjadjo south of El Ancor for a drive northward toward the beachhead of Combat Team 26.

At the easternmost wing of the Center Task Force, reinforcements from the 2nd Algerian Infantry Regiment at Mostaganem were believed to have strengthened the troops that had been driven out by the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, as it occupied La Macta on D-Day afternoon. At daylight, moreover, air reconnaissance revealed that light armored and motorized forces were advancing in column from Sidi bel Addes toward Tafaraoui. Planes strafed and bombed these elements and thereafter watched the highway for the main column of which, presumably, they were the advance elements. The threat which developed on the eastern flank near La Macta was disturbing to the whole plan of operations on D plus 1.

About one battalion of the enemy infantry forded the La Macta river south of the highway bridge, crossed a swamp during the night, and got into the rear of 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry. They approached from the same direction that a reinforcing company of the 1st Ranger Battalion had been expected, and they attacked northeastward toward the coast. Center Task Force sent a company of the 1st Battalion, 19th Engineers, as reinforcements in response to a first report which had been sent back circuitously and which had become garbled in transmission.

The rest of the engineer regiment was alerted for possible movement. Before they could arrive, naval bombardment was also requested by the naval gunfire officer with the force at La Macta who described the situation as “horrible.” With the troops entirely surrounded, he expected a “big attack” shortly after noon by greatly superior forces. The Center Task Force felt compelled to divert forces from other missions to quell this threat to Z Beach.

Signal communications with La Macta were almost nil. Reserves were insufficient, and lacked transport. By voice radio General Rooks directed the Commanding General, Combat Command B, at St. Leu to send to La Macta whatever armored reinforcements could be found, even by recalling a column which was en route to Ste. Barbedu-Tlelat to help Colonel Waters’ force oppose a French armored threat from Sidi bel Abbes. Since the column contained two medium tanks, the only mediums ashore, it promised to provide substantial support to the eastern flank of the Center Task Force. Three Albacore dive bombers, escorted by four Seafires, took off from the Furious at 1241 to silence French artillery reported in action at a point east of La Macta. They returned at 1441, claiming a successful strike at the designated point, but they had observed no clear evidence that the enemy battery was there. The troops in the mean-time were encouraged to hold on. “Help coming: tanks, engineers, bombers, Spitfires,” they were assured. The cruiser H.M.S. Jamaica moved into position during the air attack to join H.M.S. Farndale in naval gunfire support when called. The situation ashore was saved by the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, which drove the French troops away by fire and maneuver. The naval bombardment was held in readiness but not required. The first armored reinforcements plus Company D, 6th Armored Infantry, were used in a reconnaissance and demonstration to the east and southeast.

The situation at La Macta cleared up before arrival of the armored column with the medium tanks. The column was accordingly stopped a second time and ordered to resume progress toward Tafaraoui airfield in time to join Task Force RED for the third day’s operations. General Oliver’s headquarters platoon of light tanks at La Macta was replaced by another platoon which remained near La Macta during the night.

The engineer company was placed in the gap between La Macta and En Nekala, the marshland through which the morning attack had been launched. Arrangements were made to relieve the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, after dark with the 1st Battalion, 19th Combat Engineers, from corps reserve and with two batteries of the 7th Field Artillery Battalion. The infantry would thus be freed for operations next morning with the remainder of Combat Team 16 as the attack closed on Oran from the east. The enemy threat to the beachhead at Les Andalouses which had been reported before dawn turned out to be a minor danger which was readily controlled by General Roosevelt’s own forces. The American attack there, somewhat like that at Mehdia Port-Lyautey during this same morning, was imperiled by a shortage of ammunition and by the suspension of beach landings. At noon, one landing party was brought by determined and skillful navigation through the heavy swell with ammunition already loaded on its own motor transport. Combat Team 26 continued its attack subject to shelling from Cap Falcon and other batteries, and in the face of resistance from about 600 men of the 2nd Regiment of Zouaves on the heights west of Mers el Kebir. Combat Team 26 was making very slow progress over terrain advantageous for defense, against heavier shelling than that to which other attacks ashore were being subjected.

French Armored Counterattack Near Tafaraoui

A third French counterattack was launched by an armored force upon elements of Combat Command B in the vicinity of St. Lucien, seven miles east of Tafaraoui airfield. The initial effect of this threat was to stop the northward movement from Tafaraoui by most of the RED flying column which had just started its march to La Senia. French artillery fire from the hills west of Tafaraoui had already delayed these troops at a road junction directly north of the airdrome when they received word of the approaching French armored force. One reinforced tank company continued to La Senia despite the artillery fire, but the remainder turned back to defend the airfield, for protection of the Twelfth Air Force fighter base so recently established at Tafaraoui was essential. Reinforcements consisting of a platoon of light tanks, another of tank destroyers, two medium tanks, an antiaircraft artillery battery, and a convoy of air force ground troops were reported en route at 1015, but the armor was later diverted toward La Macta, as indicated above.

The French armored force assembled in the vicinity of St. Lucien while the Americans organized an attack to drive it off. The reconnaissance platoon of the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment (Lieutenant William Beckett, commanding), established contact with the French between Ste. Barbe-du-Tlelat and St. Lucien, while Company B, 1st Armored Regiment (Captain William R. Tuck, commanding), and a platoon of tank destroyers moved from Tafaraoui airfield early in the afternoon and launched an attack. The tank destroyers laid down a base of fire from a hill about 800 yards from St. Lucien while the tanks advanced with two platoons abreast and a third 500 yards behind them. The French force was driven from the field leaving fourteen ruined E-35 tanks behind. Captain Tuck’s force, which had lost one man, one tank, and one half-track, held St. Lucien until relieved that night by Company E, 6th Armored Infantry. Thus French armored intervention had failed to regain Tafaraoui airfield, but by catching the Americans without reserves, had upset the advance on La Senia airfield and Oran from the south.

La Senia airfield was not seized until 1000, 9 November, after many airplanes had already flown off, presumably to French Morocco. A few remained dispersed on the ground or in the hangars. Some of the defending troops retired toward Oran. The first American elements to reach the airfield were a few light tanks and self-propelled guns under the command of Colonel Todd, a portion of the flying column of Task Force GREEN. They reached their objective via the highway north of the Sebkra d’Oran and around the French barrier at Misserrhin, arriving on the southern part of the airdrome soon after sunrise. Resistance by the garrison was nominal. The GREEN flying column at first reported taking 60 airplanes and over 300 prisoners, a figure eventually reduced to 159 prisoners with 61 rifles and 4 machine guns, all captured without losses. If the airfield was easily taken, its possession was soon rendered precarious by aggressive artillery bombardment from two batteries of French 75-mm. guns near Valmy which outranged the tank guns. The party was pinned down, waiting for reinforcements from either Colonel Waters of the RED column or Colonel Robinett’s GREEN force. Each of them had his own pressing problems, but Company A, 1st Armored Regiment, with a platoon from Company E, 6th Armored Infantry, the advance section of Task Force RED, arrived by afternoon. When the enemy’s 75’s at Valmy began shelling the airfield heavily, a detachment of Colonel Todd’s force attacked and drove the crews out of their positions. The detachment did not hold the ground but returned to the airfield that night, after destroying three enemy guns. All French planes left in the hangars were destroyed.

Misserrhin Is Bypassed by the GREEN Flying Column 9-10 November Task Force GREEN approached La Senia in two sections. While Colonel Todd’s advance party was pressing along the highway, Colonel Robinett had, as noted above, strengthened the protection of the western flank and started eastward. His command grew constantly through the addition of detachments and disabled vehicles left behind by Colonel Todd’s advance party, and through the arrival of a few elements from the rear. Signal communications by radio with the beachhead and between advancing elements of the Center Task Force were seriously inadequate and remained so until the morning of 10 November. The flying column was not heard from for many hours. 22 On 9 November, the main body of Task Force GREEN expected to reach La Senia, and if early enough in the day, to turn toward Oran itself.

The defenders of Oran developed one of the principal bastions of their outer ring at Misserrhin, eight miles from Oran and seven miles along a branching road from La Senia. There the lofty mass of Djebel Murdjadjo loomed high above the narrow strip of level ground adjoining the great salt flats of the Sebkra d’Oran. The sebkra was considered impassable by heavy vehicles. The highway from the west entered a village of stone and concrete structures well adapted to defense. Its other features of strength were supplemented by a battery of 75’s emplaced on a bold height and protected by bunkers occupied by machine gunners and riflemen. Some armored cars were also available.

Colonel Todd’s depleted flying column had slipped past Misserrhin after nightfall on D Day and had continued early on D + 1 along the edge of the sebkra to La Senia airfield. By the time Colonel Robinett’s Headquarters, Task Force GREEN, reinforced, arrived at the Misserrhin bottleneck, the enemy had strengthened the garrison there and was ready for a protracted engagement. Neither a frontal attack down the road by tanks at 1030, supported by artillery fire, nor an arduous attempt at noon to move to the northern flank succeeded.

One tank was knocked out on the road, thereafter forming a partial roadblock. Task Force GREEN’S lack of infantry hampered its operations severely. At 1615, after more armor and artillery had come up, Colonel Robinett decided that, rather than wait to bring up infantry and resume the fight for the village, he would continue after dark along the sebkra’s rim, bringing to Todd’s advance force on the airfield the reinforcements, ammunition, and gasoline which he reported to be greatly needed.

At dusk, Robinett’s column swung to the south and began what proved to be a difficult but successful night march to join Todd on the airfield. The column was soon by error traversing the muddy basin but discovered that it could keep going. Word from the beach was brought by Lieutenant Bremner (RN), who then took back a series of messages from Colonel Robinett, the most important of which was that all possible reinforcements and in particular Colonel Kern’s infantry should use the same route and reach the airfield by daylight. In total darkness, the column reached a point south of its goal, turned north, found a way onto firm ground, and about 0100 joined the small force already there. Task Force GREEN prepared to attack the Valmy area first and then, perhaps in conjunction with Task Force RED from Tafaraoui, to advance against Oran. Early in the morning, when Kern’s infantry units arrived, along with a company of tanks and with trucks of gasoline and ammunition, Colonel Robinett had under his command a composite force. St. Cloud Is Finally Bypassed The attack on St. Cloud by the 18th Infantry, reinforced, which began about 0700, 9 November, bogged down by noon in the face of persistent and heavy French fire when the troops were only part way through the village. Casualties were considerable.

The regiment then planned to pull the infantry back, reorganize it for a converging attack by all three battalions, smash the town with massed artillery preparations for half an hour, and then send the infantry in once more. When General Allen was informed of these plans, he visited the regiment’s forward command post, checked the situation with Colonel Greer, and directed that the proposed operation be suspended and that there be no further artillery bombardment of St. Cloud. With General Fredendall’s concurrence, he ordered instead that the village be contained with one reinforced battalion; the others were to go westward immediately after nightfall to participate in an attack on Oran. The general situation permitted such an action, while the Allied policy of holding to a minimum all destruction of civilian life and property was much better served by bypassing St. Cloud than by pulverizing it.

[NOTE NA-122C: Troops defending St. Cloud has been identified as the 16th Tunisian Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion of the Foreign Legion, an armored unit, a battalion of 75-mm. guns, and a battery of 155-mm. guns. CTF G-2 Rpt 2, 2400, 8 Nov 42.]

The Approach to Gran From the East and South

The situation late on 9 November permitted planning for a final attack on Oran next morning. At General Allen’s command post at Renan, Colonel Claude B. Ferenbaugh, operations officer of the Center Task Force, General Allen, General Oliver, and some of their staffs developed such a plan. The counterattacks of the French had all been repelled. In that process, their only available armored force had been overwhelmed.

The French had lost all their airfields near Oran. French infantry and artillery were defending organized islands of resistance at St. Cloud, Valmy, and Misserrhin, and might similarly offer resistance on the edge of Oran. American forces for the attack would include five battalions of the 1st Infantry Division from the east, to be supported by most of the 1st Infantry Division’s artillery, under Brigadier General Clift Andrus, and three battalions from the northwest, to be supported by the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion, and aided by naval gunfire against the French coastal batteries impeding General Roosevelt’s advance. The tanks, tank destroyers, armored infantry, and supporting units of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, were strung out from Arzew to Tafaraoui airfield, and then to La Senia airfield and Misserrhin; but General Oliver could hurry Task Force RED toward La Senia, bypassing Valmy, and might establish contact with Task Force GREEN in time to bring it into the concerted attack after detouring around Misserrhin. From the south, then, one or more armored columns could be sent into the heart of Oran. Written orders were drafted while the preparations began.

The night marches which the 16th and 18th Infantry, reinforced, had to make in order to arrive at the designated sectors of the line of departure had already begun, but they required successful and energetic action by troops who were nearing exhaustion. After weeks on shipboard, they had been on the alert or in motion for forty-eight hours. Exact directions had to be sent forward to the leading elements. In the case of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, the orders directed that it return to the 16th Infantry’s zone by shifting southward over a lateral route connecting the road between Arcole and Oran with that between Fleurus and Oran.

The 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, had already succeeded in slipping past the French forces in Arcole without arousing more than an outpost near a farm along the route, despite the hampering effect of a considerable number of French prisoners. The unit had actually arrived at the city limits and was preparing, in the absence of any opposition, for missions within Oran when an officer from division headquarters arrived with the formal orders directing it to shift to the south and there go into regimental reserve. Colonel Cheadle had to follow an instruction which involved forfeiting advantages already in hand. The battalion (Major Frederick W. Gibb) was compelled to pull back and march down a road actually nearer the city than that envisaged in the field order. In consequence, the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, soon found itself squarely between the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, and a sizable French force just as a sharp fire fight broke out. It was pinned down as most of the crossfire passed overhead.

The 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry (Major Joseph B. Crawford), had come along the Fleurus-Oran road after overcoming slight resistance at two points, but in the vicinity of St. Eugene it ran against a strongpoint maned by the 1st Battalion, 2nd Zouaves, and the 68th Regiment of African Artillery. The fighting at that obstacle persisted for several hours before the French were obliged to surrender. While these operations were in progress, the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, was being brought by truck from La Macta to join the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, in the assault scheduled for 0715 hours, 10 November.

The two battalions of the 18th Infantry, which had been released from the investment of St. Cloud in order to make parallel advances along the coastal road and the road through Arcole to reach the northerly section of the line of departure, could not meet the schedule. The 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry, with the 32nd Field Artillery Battalion in support, was engaged in capturing the coastal battery on Pointe Canastel and other French positions in that area throughout the morning. It could not get to Oran itself until about 1350, 10 November. The 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, which followed the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, on the road through Arcole hours later, was less fortunate than Lieutenant Colonel Frederick W. Gibb’s force, for it found the defenders at Arcole aroused and stubborn. The French artillery included some 155-mm. guns of the 66th Regiment of African Artillery in positions defended by the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Zouaves. Although the attacking force overcame the main resistance in a lively engagement, it could not get to the edge of the city before 1100 hours.

Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, undertook in preparation for the attack to concentrate its two task forces near La Senia airfield. The area through which these forces expected to attack at daylight was level and cultivated, and crossed by several almost parallel roads running north-northwesterly into Oran. A branch railroad embankment crossed these roads between La Senia airfield and La Senia village and joined the main line from Ste. Barbedu-TWat through Valmy to Oran. At La Senia village, almost three miles south of Oran, and at Valmy, about four miles farther south-southeast, the French had assembled forces which had to be reckoned with. Task Force GREEN, reinforced by infantry and other units from X Beach just before daylight, organized for an attack on Valmy in total darkness and still in ignorance of the Center Task Force’s final plan of attack. At Tafaraoui airfield Task Force RED prepared to start at daybreak in order to reach, if not a juncture, at least a position for close parallel action by both parts of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, in attacking Oran without stopping to seize either Valmy or La Senia villages.

General Oliver gathered what supplementary elements he could spare from the roadblocks in the area east of Tafaraoui to strengthen his attacking force, and at 0604 resumed radio communication with Colonel Robinett, transmitting orders to prepare to attack Oran. Robinett had intended to employ Task Force GREEN against the French force near Valmy before swinging toward Oran, but General Oliver could not approve any action which would delay the jump-off beyond the 0715 H Hour set in the Center Task Force’s plan. Accordingly, Robinett canceled the operation against the Valmy batteries and the plan of operations was reorganized hurriedly, although to meet the designated H Hour was out of the question even if La Senia village, like Valmy, were to be bypassed.

By daybreak, 10 November, Oran was completely enveloped by forces which, although at varying distances from the city’s limits, were closing in for concentric attack. All sides of the city seemed likely to be penetrated before the end of the day. If the defenders could hold out long enough, a relief force might break through the surrounding cordon, but otherwise the city was bound to capitulate. The ring of encircling American troops had not succeeded in attaining positions for the simultaneous attack at 0715 as planned on the previous evening, but they would be ready later in the day.

The Final Attack on Gran, 10 November The Rodney, Jamaica, and Aurora stood ready to furnish naval gunfire support, and Force H, the Royal Navy’s covering force, had come near enough during the night to furnish, if called for, a dive-bombing attack on the battery at Fort du Santon. General Roosevelt’s force was expected to persevere in conformity with its original orders until improved communications made it possible for General Allen to supplement them with direct instructions. A Twelfth Air Force Spitfire acting as courier dropped a message near the command post at Bou Sfer before 0900 directing General Roosevelt to “shoot the works on F. O. No.1 at once.” Earlier, as elements of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, organized for the attack, the French guns near Valmy began shelling them and drew counterbattery fire for about half an hour. Many French shells exploded near the troops, particularly those in Colonel Robinett’s command, but miraculously they caused no casualties.

General Oliver’s very small advance force was less fortunate in this respect, for its progress was barred by the steep embankment of the railroad and blocked at two underpasses by heaps of disabled vehicles and empty oil drums. While these barriers were being cleared away, shells from guns near Valmy and from heavier coastal guns directed inland struck with destructive effect on some of Oliver’s vehicles and personnel. A few of the Valmy 75’s were disposed of by fire from Battery C, 27th Armored Field Artillery (with Colonel Robinett), while some well-concealed gun positions east of Valmy were overrun by Company C, 1st Armored Regiment (Captain Rudolph Barlow), on its way up from Tafaraoui. The coastal guns were neutralized by naval gunfire. Not until after 0900 were elements of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, almost ready to start into Oran.

From Task Force GREEN, Colonel Robinett sent a composite column under Colonel Todd to the French Military Headquarters in the Chateau Neuf and to the adjacent port. The column consisted of two and one-half companies of light tanks, one company of armored infantry, a tank destroyer section, and some supporting weapons attached to the tank units. On the high ground south of La Senia he held a small reserve force.

A little later, Colonel Waters accompanied the first section of Company B, 1st Armored Regiment (Captain William R. Tuck), into the city along a parallel road less than a mile to the east. Clouds of brick-red dust rose behind the vehicles as they crossed the open plain under scattered fire of large caliber guns which caused no casualties. No sounds of battle could be heard on the La Senia airfield once the roadblocks at the city’s edge had been blasted by gunfire. The two columns shortly after 1015 entered a city silent except for snipers, the only group which remained actively hostile. The public buildings were barricaded but not the streets. Todd’s column went straight to General Boissau’s headquarters and to the port beyond it. The infantry took measures to prevent further destruction of the invaluable port facilities. Colonel Kern went to Camp St. Philippe and procured the release of its Allied prisoners, totaling about 500. Colonel Waters sent one section of Tuck’s company cruising about the city while with another he turned eastward toward the area about to be attacked by the 1st Infantry Division. Some of his tanks ran out of gasoline and had to be refueled within the city, but others demonstrated to General Allen that he would not need the artillery preparation and air strafing attacks which had been rescheduled for noon. His infantry were able to march unopposed to occupy those key points of the city which had been assigned to them, while Colonel Waters gave General Fredendall a ride into Oran in his tank. Meanwhile La Senia village surrendered without resistance to a small tank detachment from Colonel Robinett’s reserves.

General Boissau and a representative of Admiral Rioult accepted the terms of a provisional armistice covering French forces, including coastal batteries, pending agreement on formal terms of surrender. A ceasefire order was issued at 1215. The French tricolor flag was to be flown with the white flag of truce. General Fredendall was asked to confer upon the terms of surrender.

At about 1230, Admiral Rioult and General Boissau met General Fredendall, Colonel Ferenbaugh, Major Russell F. Akers, Jr., and others, including a representative of Commodore Troubridge, to negotiate the terms of capitulation. It was agreed that the French tricolor should continue to fly, with the white flag beneath it, that French forces should be confined to quarters but retain their arms, while American troops were to occupy key positions near sea coast defenses, that harbors, airfields, and other facilities needed by the Center Task Force should be made freely available. General Boissau was to retain his command and to police the city of Oran. All Allied and French prisoners were to be released at once. When Captain Peters, commander of the RESERVIST Force, had been released, the Commanding General, Center Task Force, and his party withdrew. At 0945 next day, Headquarters, Center Task Force, was transferred from the Largs to the Grand Hotel in Oran.

The suddenness with which the armored force penetrated Oran, after most of its defenders had been drawn to its outer defenses, brought about surrender there before parallel action could be forced on all the French military installations and units in the field. Combat Team 26, for example, was still struggling to get the guns of Fort du Santon suppressed by air or naval bombardment, and naval shells were still falling there when, at 1330, orders were sent out to the H.M.S. Rodney to suspend firing and thus permit the surrender of the battery. The armistice found the 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry, in possession of Ain et Turk, the 1st Battalion on the heights of Djebel Murdjadjo, from which a force of thirsty, hungry, and dispirited Zouaves had been driven, and the 3rd Battalion, which had been relieved on the heights by the 1st Battalion, on its way down the road into Oran. At St. Cloud, the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, reinforced, had been ordered to attack the village on the morning of 10 November. All its attacks were repulsed, and St. Cloud was still in French hands, but the defenders were negotiating for a surrender when they received General Boissau’s orders to cease fire. The surrender of St. Cloud yielded some 400 prisoners and fourteen 75-mm. guns, eight heavy and fifteen light machine guns, four 37-mm. guns, and four 60-mm. mortars. With the end of the fighting at St. Cloud, organized resistance in the Oran area ended. What remained was enough sniping to keep the occupying troops on edge for several days.

Aftermath of Victory

Although a few isolated French units were still shooting at Allied planes, sniping at American troops, and defiantly postponing acceptance of defeat on 11 November, occupation and organization of the area by the Allied forces proceeded speedily. The beaches at Mersa bou Zedjar, Les Andalouses, and near St. Leu were abandoned.

The personnel, and such transports as had not already been unloaded and sent back via Gibraltar, were shifted from transport areas into the ports. Arzew, Mers el Kebir, and the outer section of Oran’s harbor were available without delay. The inner harbor of Oran could not be used until after a blocking ship had been removed from its entrance channel, and it could be fully used only after other hulks had been pulled from the berths at dockside. During the evening of 10 November, two truck convoys brought naval parties from Arzew to Oran where energetic action brought that port into partial use in a surprisingly short time. Salvage was carried out by U.S. Navy elements, reinforced by a British vessel and its complement.

Antisubmarine protection was furnished with materiel supplied by the Royal Navy. French authorities placed all available tugs, salvage equipment lighters, port facilities, and local pilots at the disposal of Rear Admiral Andrew C. Bennett (USN), who, as Commander, U.S. Naval Operating Bases, Oran Area, became responsible for the functioning of the ports. The ports of Nemours, west of Oran, and Mostaganem to the east were surveyed but were found limited to shallow-draft vessels and open to submarine attack. General Fredendall stationed the ground forces under his command near the airfields and in control of the road net leading to Oran. The outlying French communities were inspected, with official visits to the principal military and civil authorities. The paratroopers were ferried eastward for new missions, and the Twelfth Air Force elements labored to organize the fields at Tafaraoui and La Senia for maintenance and efficient control of air operations. The first follow-up convoy could be expected on 13 November.

F or the problems of a political nature which would confront the Center Task Force once hostilities were suspended, General Fredendall had been furnished with a political adviser, Mr. Leland L. Rounds. He was a civilian who had been in Oran for the preceding year and a half, until shortly before the expedition left the United Kingdom, as one of the consular representatives of the United States. He was also deputy civil administrator under Mr. Robert Murphy of General Eisenhower’s headquarters.

The nearness of Oran to Spanish Morocco and to the Spanish mainland made necessary, as the planners of Operation TORCH had well recognized, that the Allied foothold in the area be firmly established. The French civil administration was controlled by adherents of the government at Vichy. For several months, the fascistic Service d’Ordre Legionaire and similar organizations had been molesting those suspected of anti-Vichy or pro-de Gaulle sentiments. A number of German and Italian armistice commissioners had been working with a network of pro-Axis sympathizers in Oran. Mr. Rounds and Colonel Bentley, who had been released earlier that same day, and a party of four enlisted men on 10 November gathered up a suitcase full of documents at the villa which had been hurriedly vacated by the German commissioners and turned them over to Colonel Edwin B. Howard, G-2, Center Task Force.

Identifying and restraining Axis sympathizers in the Oran area proved unwelcome to General Fredendall. He adopted the policy of “very mild arrangements” and of permitting civil officials to retain their positions undisturbed. The inevitable hostility which existed between such officials and the pro-American Frenchmen who had risked their lives or personal freedom before the landings in order to prevent a useless battle encouraged the administrative authorities to make reprisals on them. The relative unconcern of the American military leadership made it necessary for the Americans with whom they had co-operated before the invasion to protect these anti-Axis French. For both the Frenchmen who had taken such risks and those Americans who were concerned with their misfortunes after the victory, the events of the ensuing weeks were deeply disillusioning. The fact that Allied military policy in these matters was never put to the test by an Axis counterattack in the vicinity may have been fortunate. The seizure of Oran was accomplished in less than three days by military means alone.

Of the three great task forces, the Center Task Force was the only one which could subsequently claim to have won a decision wholly by force of arms. Success at Oran resulted from a series of circumstances, some fortuitous and some the result of imaginative planning or energetic improvisation. Well-calculated measures got the convoys to their destinations without enemy interference.

Surprise got them ashore without significant French opposition. Determination got them inland and at their main objective rapidly. As General Fredendall radioed to General Eisenhower, they “went to town.” No arm or service, except perhaps the airborne group, was superflous to the victory of the Center Task Force and each performed outstanding feats, but none was more clearly responsible for the swiftness of the French collapse than the armored force. In little more than forty-eight hours after being brought offshore, one portion of that force had arrived in the heart of Oran and another had demonstrated its invulnerability to French armor. Casualties had been below expectations, and fell most severely on the ill-considered Royal Navy project for storming Oran harbor by direct assault from the two small cutters. About half of those engaged were killed and only about 10 percent emerged unscathed. They were the preponderant portion of the 1st Armored Division’s losses, of 191 killed, 105 wounded, and 9 missing, a casualty figure in comparison with which the losses incurred by Task Forces GREEN and RED were negligible. The 1st Infantry Division’s casualties-85 killed, 221 wounded, and 7 missing-reflected the hard fighting in which the division was engaged at various points and the fact that it had faced so large a proportion of the enemy. Other units, including the Parachute Task Force, sustained but minor losses. The enemy’s casualties were less than those of the attacking force, and considerably less than among French units defending Casablanca, Port-Lyautey, and Safi.

With Oran in Allied hands, the Center Task Force prepared to establish contact with the Western Task Force through the Taza gap, and with the Eastern Task Force in the vicinity of Orleansville, killed at Casablanca as 475, at Oran 165, and at Algiers, 11. At Casablanca the wounded were even more numerous.

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 (3-13); Occupation of Algiers

World War Two: North Africa (3-11); First Day’s Operations Against Oran


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