World War Two: North Africa (5-18); New Situation: Allied Reaction

The failure of the final phase of Operation TORCH required a major revision of Allied strategy in Africa and considerable modification in the Allied chain of command. The pressure for an early capture of Tunisia was intensified by an Allied decision in January at highest levels to seize Sicily. To meet their timetable, the Allies had to win Tunisia by early spring. Furthermore, they had to prepare for a Sicilian attack at the same time that they built up strength, improved efficiency, and made a final successful drive. A full-scale offensive in northern Tunisia could not be resumed until after the winter rains were over, normally about the end of March.

One of the aims in the original concept of operation in Northwest Africa-trapping Rommel’s rump army in Tripolitania between a British force in Tunisia and the westward-moving Eighth Army-had to be jettisoned. It was now apparent that Rommel would have to be driven back into Tunisia, and that the Eighth Army should itself continue west of Tripoli. The final stage of operations in Tunisia would thus become a struggle between two pairs of armies. Each adversary would be faced with hard problems in co-ordinating tactical operations and in meeting the logistical requirements of these forces. By the middle of January, decisions made at the Casablanca Conference had determined the new strategy in Africa and the changes in Allied command structure. Before those decisions were made, the Allied Force had reviewed and agreed on appropriate tactical readjustments to be executed forthwith in the form of offensive operations in central Tunisia.

Central Tunisia: The Terrain

Although some attention was paid to the terrain of central Tunisia in Chapter XV, it will be helpful at this point to look more closely at some of its features. Central Tunisia lies between latitudes 36° north and 34° 30′ north. Sousse on the coast, about ninety miles south of Tunis, and Kairouan, about thirty-six miles inland from Sousse, are near its northeastern corner. Mahares at the southeast and Gafsa at the southwest are at the border between central and southern Tunisia, closely linked with each. Djebel Zarhouan (1295), at the yoke of the inverted Y from which the Eastern and Western Dorsals flare to the south and southwest, is well within northern Tunisia, as is Le Kef near the Algerian border. The mountain chains, the intermediate plateaus between them, and the lesser hills which divide these plateaus into a series of valleys, were to be the scene of many actions before the major campaigning returned to northern Tunisia in April.

On the coastal plain, Kairouan and Sfax began serving the Axis powers as early as November as bases for defense forces which operated toward the west. Detachments were installed at vantage points in the Eastern Dorsal; beyond them in the interior, mobile patrols and a few outposts ranged the sparsely settled, semiarid region. Kairouan, a holy city and the goal of perennial Moslem pilgrimages, was the hub of many roads and tracks across the coastal plain.

The city was connected with the interior by two main roads, the most northerly of which was a route over the saddle between Djebel HaIfa (572) and Djebel Ousselat (887) to the valley and village of Ousseltia. The other road forked southwest of Kairouan, one branch climbing over Djebel ech Cherichera (462) to Pichon, the other rising more gradually to penetrate the mountain chain through Fondouk el Aouareb gap on the way to Hadjeb el Aioun. Sfax was connected with the interior by a good road through Fald pass, seventy-five miles inland.

The road branched after reaching the interior plain, one fork running northwestward to connect with Sbeltla and the other southwesterly through the village of Sidi Bou Zid and Bir el Hafey to Gafsa. Mahares, on the coast south of Sfax, was connected both by road and railroad with Maknassy and Gafsa. Few of the towns and villages were of any great size, the largest, Sfax, with about 45,000 in 1942, having almost twice the population of Kairouan, and about nine times that of Gafsa, while all the others were smaller.

The plateau immediately west of the Eastern Dorsal is generally lower than the one along the base of the Western Dorsal. It is subdivided, moreover, into four major sections, of which the northernmost is the Ousseltia valley at the apex of the triangular area between the two mountain chains. That valley is separated from the Pichon basin by higher ground which extends westward toward Maktar from Djebel Ousselat.

To the south is the area adjacent to Pichon, drained toward Kairouan by the Marguellil river and its tributaries. This section is rimmed with hills and high ground except at the southeastern corner, where the river flows near the base of the precipitous Djebel Trouzza (997) and out through Fondouk el Aouareb gap. Far more extensive is that portion of the eastern plateau which starts to widen south of Djebel Trozza, and which extends as far south as Djebel Meloussi (622) beyond Sidi Bou Zid. The fourth area of the lower plateau lies between the ridges of which Djebel Meloussi forms a part and the corner at which the Eastern Dorsal swings to the southwest toward Gafsa. Sbei’tla and Bir el Hafey are near the irregular limit between the eastern and western plateau. Sbiba, Kasserine, and Feriana lie at the other edge of the upper level, near the base of the Western Dorsal.

Five main routes through the Western Dorsal connected the interior plateaus with the mountainous area between the Western Dorsal and the Algerian border: (1) into northern Tunisia north of Djebel Bargou ( 1266) to the Rebaa Oulad Yahia valley and thence to Siliana and on to Le Kef; (2) via Maktar, northwest of Pichon, across a high basin ringed by higher hills; (3) through Sbiba and Ksour; (4) by the defile northwest of Kasserine into the Bahiret Foussana valley, and thence through the Monts de Tebessa to Tebessa, or by skirting them at the north, through Thala; and (5) by one of the gaps in Djebel Dernala (1204), northwest of Fcriana, to Tebessa. Tebessa, near the center of a high plain at the eastern edge of Algeria, was linked with Souk Ahras, seventy-five miles north-northwest by road and railroad, which continued to Bone on the coast, sixty-five miles farther.

Central Tunisia’s hills and mountains are in general barer, sharper in contour, and more varied in color than those of northern Tunisia. The plateaus and valleys are much eroded and are covered with bunch grass, with cultivated cactus patches on which the Arabs feed their animals, and with scrub growth along some of the streams. Water draining from the higher slopes across the intermediate plateaus has been impounded and since Roman times drawn to the coastal towns by aqueducts. Farms are fewer in central Tunisia than farther north, for the rainfall through much of the year is as light as, from December to March, it is plentiful.

In the wet season the powdery top soil becomes slushy mud, and the many dry stream beds fill with water and justify the bridges which at other times seem superfluous. Many ancient ruins have survived for nearly twenty centuries. Sousse has its extensive Christian catacombs; Maktar, Sbeitla, and Kasserine, their Roman triumphal arches; Sbiba, Sbei:tla, and Kasserine and innumerable other places, the remnants of many a mausoleum, Roman bath, or temple. Near Siliana is the site of the decisive Battle of Zama of the Second Punic War. In earlier centuries, the soil of central Tunisia apparently sustained a large population and was dotted at many points with olive orchards and other cultivation which no longer can be maintained. Here in this wide area of camel tracks and tarmac roads, dry fords and steel bridges, palm-fringed oases and treeless plains, the war in Tunisia was to be fought.

Operation SATIN and Related Problems At AFHQ operations possible in January and February were under study at the same time that the final winter drive down the Medjerda valley was coming to a halt. Among the moves considered likely were subsidiary attacks in northern Tunisia to pin down enemy forces and take advantage of local situations, since the Fifth Panzer Army there would be protected against a major Allied offensive for many weeks by the weather. But if the British Eighth Army adhered to the schedule reported to General Eisenhower by General Alexander from Cairo on 27 December, Rommel’s army would be pursued into southern Tunisia late in January. Allied Force operations to weaken or destroy the German-Italian Panzer Army would be in order, and central Tunisia would be the likely scene.

What form should the operations in central Tunisia take? Should a mobile American armored force attempt to disrupt Rommel’s line of supply? Although success in such a venture was likely to bring a large reward, certain hazards were involved. The Fifth Panzer Army’s line in the north might be thinned without enabling General Anderson to punch through to Tunis.

General von Arnim might be able to gather enough armored strength for an attack southwestward through the French sector to strike the American force on a vulnerable northern flank. Whether the Fifth Panzer Army did so or not, the German-Italian Panzer Army would certainly move quickly to protect its line of communications, the nature of its counterblows depending upon how much freedom of maneuver the pursuing British Eighth Army allowed. Rommel’s force might be substantial, in which case it could strike effectively either independently, or in conjunction with a force from General von Arnim’s command. The Americans would then be opposed by experienced German armored units, whose prestige at that stage of the war it would be difficult to exaggerate. Furthermore, the Americans would then find themselves engaged in a hard all-out fight against battle-seasoned veterans instead of gradually supplementing their training by small and successful actions—a method more conducive to full combat efficiency. But in spite of these hazards, Operation SATIN, for understandable reasons, remained one of the projects favored by the Americans. An outline plan for such an attack toward Sfax was approved at AFHQ on 28 December.

General Eisenhower believed that the British First Army had worked hard and “fought well,” and he intended that it should eventually “deliver the decisive blow.” This role might justify General Anderson in curtailing First Army’s local attacks in the next few weeks, thus enabling it to husband its resources rather than use them up in supporting the proposed attack farther south. After all, which would be the main effort-that toward Sfax or that toward Tunis? It might be better to abandon the American project and to concentrate American armor in a mobile force-in being on the southern flank of First Army, thus deterring Rommel’s possible aggressive inclination in that area. Despite such considerations the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, concluded that the immediate Allied objective was not the capture of Tunis and Bizerte but the destruction of Rommel’s army. He tentatively approved planning for the risky thrust to the coast. General Anderson then agreed to make the subsidiary attacks intended to aid Operation SATIN but proposed to retain Combat Team 18 of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division for the purpose. He was allowed to keep that unit until infantry of the British 46th Division (Major General H. A. Freeman-Attwood) should have arrived in the forward area to relieve it.

The Allied situation not only required a revision in theater strategy and some appropriate tactical adjustments but presented interrelated problems of command. General Giraud, it will be remembered, had proposed on 17 December that he be appointed Eisenhower’s tactical commander in chief over the whole Tunisian front. Giraud would not accept a relationship which put British First Army in command of French forces. For a time, a union of French and American forces under an American commander was considered.

Such a solution was affected by the fact that the American pre-invasion plans provided for eventual organization of American units in an American Fifth Army to be commanded by General Clark. An American Fifth Army controlling American and French troops in a zone south of British First Army would not have provided unity of command along the whole Allied line and would have created a rather exalted headquarters for an American force of the proportions contemplated.

On 30 December, while the plan was pending, General Clark and Major General Carl Spaatz (USAAF), surveyed the prospective battle area and considered the steps necessary to achieve genuinely effective co-ordination, between ground and air units. But with a decision against an American command in Tunisia of Army grade, General Clark soon went to Oujda, west of Oran, to activate the American Fifth Army there, while the American force in Tunisia was designated an army corps. General Marshall was prepared to arrange the promotion of either Patton or Fredendall to a lieutenant generalcy at once, if such action would help to meet the problem of unifying command over French-held sections of the front. In the end, General Eisenhower picked Fredendall to command the II Corps in central Tunisia and the Tebessa area, and the French remained independent. The British 139th Brigade was in the forward area by 19 January after landing at Algiers. The remainder of the 46th Division came on the next convoy and reached the forward area by 3 February.

On 1 January 1943 the Eastern Task Force was renamed British First Army and the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, assumed direct command of military operations on the entire front. He exercised that control through an advanced command post ( FAIRFIELD) at Constantine. In charge of that station as Deputy Chief of Staff, Allied Force, would be Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. Between U.S. II Corps and British First Army, the Detachment of the French Army would be commanded from a forward post by General Juin, who would control two zones, that of General Barres Tunisian Troop Command at the north and that of XIX Army Corps under General Koeltz at the south. In due course, all units of the three nationalities found in areas assigned to control by the others would be sorted out and concentrated with forces of their own nationality, but during the intervening period some units would be attached to the major command of whatever zone they happened to be in. The XIX Army Corps was to turn over to II Corps the Constantine Division (General Welvert) . The Tunisian Troop Command was to make five battalions of French infantry available to British First Army and to leave one entire groupement (Colonel Bergeron) in the British zone. French units thus placed under the tactical orders of an American or British commander were to remain under control of headquarters of either XIX Corps or Tunisian Troop Command in all other respects (supply, administration, discipline).

All other French units stationed in the American or British zones were to remain entirely under the command of Generals Barre or Koeltz. In case of an unexpected inroad by the enemy, the various French or Allied Force elements in any zone would, within the intent of their missions, obey orders of the local headquarters regardless of nationality.

Headquarters, U.S. II Corps, began moving to Constantine from Oran on 4 January. One week later, its main section was operating there near Headquarters, British First Army, while an advance command post under Brigadier General Ray E. Porter opened in Tebessa. Eventually General Fredendall’s headquarters moved southeast of Tebessa to a wooded hillside in which underground corridors were constructed while the advance command post went to Gafsa. While plans for Operation SATIN were being prepared, the troops to be under Fredendall’s command shifted from northern Tunisia or came eastward from Morocco and Algeria.

Three alternative schemes for this operation were recognized. Plan A prescribed the seizure of Sfax, with the subsequent possibility of a northward advance along the coast toward Sousse; Plan B called for an initial attack farther south, at Gabes, followed perhaps by a northward move against Sfax; Plan C specified the capture of Kairouan, continuation to Sousse, wrecking its usefulness to the Axis, and withdrawing when that became necessary. Whichever the plan adopted by the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, the force to execute it was to operate directly under AFHQ, with a tentative D Day of 22 January.

Generals Eisenhower, Anderson, Juin, and Fredendall, conferring on II January at Constantine, reached final decisions on Operation SATIN. The Commander in Chief defined the mission as acting aggressively against the enemy line of communications in the direction of Sfax, interrupting its use as much as possible, and he assigned the undertaking to General Fredendall’s U.S. II Corps. The force was to be comprised of the following: the U.S. 1st Armored Division (Major General Orlando Ward); the U.S. 26th Combat Team (Colonel Alexander N. Stark, Jr.) ; the British 1st Parachute Brigade, less one battalion (Brigadier J. W. C. Flavell); the French Constantine Division (Major General Joseph Edouard Welvert). The British Middle East Command was to load ships which it would hold at Malta and send into Sfax when II Corps specified, thus supplementing the attenuated line of supply throughrebessa from Algiers. Generals Anderson, Juin, and Fredendall by further agreements at the conference clarified other points necessary for good inter-allied co-operation along the wide front.

General Fredendall planned to station a mobile force in the area between Hadjeb el Aioun and Sbeitla for the immediate support of the French should the enemy counterattack from Kairouan but to attack with the bulk of his command from Gafsa to Gabes and thence north along the coast to Sfax. This plan received General Eisenhower’s tentative approval. Detailed planning for the operation soon diverged considerably from AFHQ’s outline of 28 December.

A force at first set at 20,000 to 25,000 men rose to be more than 38,000. The axis of attack adopted by General Fredendall threatened to lengthen the line of supply to such an extent and to delay the acquisition of Sfax for so long, that a daily draught on reserve supplies accumulated at Tebessa might be necessary. AFHQ did not supervise the detailed planning closely enough to discover these deviations and attendant problems until they emerged during commanders’ conferences from 10 to 14 January, when the specter of logistical overextension raised its head.

After the Allied Force thus had worked out problems of reorganization and unified command and had formulated a plan of action to which he had given tentative approval, Eisenhower on 15 January flew to Casablanca to report to his superiors at the second conference of Anglo-American military and political leaders (SYMBOL) . The suburban community of Anfa, adjacent to the great Moroccan city, had been requisitioned for the first full-scale gather of these men in more than six months. The hotel and neighboring villas were requisitioned, a barbed wire barrier thrown

around the area, and the site officially termed the “Anfa Camp.” From 13 to 23 January 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff met formally at fifteen meetings, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the British Chiefs of Staff Committee, the two groups which made up the Combined Chiefs, met separately at other times. On three occasions during the conference, the Combined Chiefs of Staff met with the President and the Prime Minister to consider the agenda, to discuss the matters at issue, and to arrive at a final report of decisions taken.

The relatively sunny comfort which prevailed and the general atmosphere of buoyant confidence which surrounded the President and the Prime Minister contrasted sharply with conditions east of Algiers.”) The site, the fact that the security and “home-keeping” arrangements for the conference were responsibilities of the Allied Force, and the fact that some of the deliberations were connected with current operations in Africa, associated the Anfa Conference with the campaigns of Northwest Africa. Yet its major purpose was to determine the Allied objectives for 1943 in all theaters, to establish priorities among them, and to reach decisions on the preparation and allocation of means to attain them. These and other conclusions overshadowed arrangements concerned with the forthcoming battles in Tunisia.

Before a meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, and then at the first plenary session of the Casablanca Conference, General Eisenhower reported on the current and prospective operations in Tunisia. General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the British Imperial General Staff, quickly questioned the justification for such risks as those he recognized in the projected Operation SATIN.

General Alexander, newly arrived from Cairo, indicated that the British Eighth Army would reach Tripoli before the end of January, perhaps just as the scheduled attack on Sfax was starting. No assurance could be given that Rommel’s forces would then be pinned down by the Eighth Army’s pressure and thus unable to intervene at Sfax. General Montgomery’s command might well be temporarily immobilized. Fuel and supplies would certainly be low while the port of Tripoli was being cleared and restored to service.

It was apparent that if the attack on Sfax was begun by 23 January, it might well provoke a counterthrust which the American force would have to withstand unassisted. But if it were made at a later date, Eighth Army would then have moved into Tunisia on Rommel’s heels and would be a factor limiting his action at Sfax. After a further conversation with General Alexander, therefore, General Eisenhower agreed that the attack should be canceled for the time being, and that if undertaken later it would be carefully co-ordinated with the operations of the British Eighth Army. He returned to Algiers on 16 January with the American portion of his command held on a very short leash.

On 18 January General Eisenhower prescribed at a commanders’ conference in Constantine that operations on the southern flank must be defensive and that as much as possible of II Corps, particularly the 1st Armored Division, was to be held in mobile reserve. He issued a directive to this effect at noon, 20 January.

[NOTE 515-43: (2) Anfa 1st Mtg, plenary session, 18 Jan 43, Official Casablanca Conference Book. (3) Rommel’s army was estimated by General Alexander to be reduced to less than 60 tanks and 20,000 German combat effectives, plus 30,000 German and 30,000 Italian troops from whom aggressive fighting could not be expected. (4) On 30 January, II Corps reported that 213 medium and III light tanks were “operational.” First Army Sitrp, 31 Jan 43.]

The New Chain of Allied Command The Combined Chiefs of Staff at Anfa adopted a new system of command for the Mediterranean theater, one affecting each of the three major arms. The changes would go into effect in February. They agreed that a boundary should be drawn, extending from that between Tunisia and Tripolitania to Corfu, to separate the military area under the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, from that of the British Commander in Chief, Middle East. After General Montgomery’s Eighth Army had crossed this boundary, it would pass to General Eisenhower’s control, although continuing to draw its supplies from Egypt. At the same time, General Alexander would leave Cairo to assume command over a newly formed headquarters (18 Army Group) and to succeed General Clark as Deputy Commander in Chief, Allied Force.

Allied naval forces also underwent an adjustment aimed at better direction of future operations in the Mediterranean. Admiral Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham was to change his designation from Commander in Chief, Naval Expeditionary Force, to the traditional Royal Navy title of Commander in Chief, Mediterranean, while Admiral Sir Henry Harwood, in the eastern district of the Mediterranean, became Commander in Chief, Levant. Admiral Cunningham was to retain important powers over the employment of all Royal Navy units in both parts of the Mediterranean.” The basis was laid also for creation of an American naval command in the western Mediterranean subordinate to the Allied Naval Commander in Chief, Mediterranean (Admiral Cunningham). Designated U.S. Naval Forces, Northwest African Waters, it was organized in February 1943. The U.S. Eighth Fleet under Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt began operations in March looking in particular toward the invasion of Sicily.” Allied air strength in the Mediterranean was placed under one air commander in chief directly under General Eisenhower.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder received that designation. His principal subordinates were to be General Spaatz, as Commander of the Northwest African Air Forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas as Air Officer Commander in Chief, Middle East, and the Air Officer Commanding, Malta. General Spaatz’s command was subdivided along functional lines. Pressing need to co-ordinate the air resources of the U.S. Army Air Forces and Royal Air Force in eastern Algeria and Tunisia without waiting for a more permanent arrangement brought into temporary existence on 4 January the Allied Air Forces.

General Eisenhower, with the approval of the British Chiefs of Staff, placed this force under command of General Spaatz, who had for the preceding month been the principal Allied Force staff officer for air while retraining his status as Air Officer, ETOUSA. His chief of staff at Algiers was Air Vice-Marshal J. M. Robb. The two existing major headquarters, Twelfth Air Force (U.S.) and Eastern Air Command (Bf. ), were preserved, but their responsibilities were modified in order to leave, with a single major exception, one subordinate headquarters in charge of each major type of air operations. Strategic bombing was the job of XII Bomber Command. Offshore reconnaissance, convoy protection, and the defenses of ports fell to the coastal segment of the Eastern Air Command. The exception was that support of ground operations was divided: Royal Air Force 242nd Group continued to support the British First Army while the XII Air Support Command moved eastward from Morocco to take over (on 10 January) the control of air co-operation with the U.S. II Corps.

Giraud Replaces Darlan

A flare-up of political problems bearing on the future of the whole Allied war effort in Europe came at the end of Operation TORCH. This situation was precipitated seven weeks after the landings by the assassination in Algiers on 24 December of the French High Commissioner, Admiral DarIan. The resulting emergency required General Eisenhower’s abrupt return from the Tunisian front, where he and General Anderson had been making critical decisions in connection with plans for the final try for Tunis. The new regime in Algiers, vital as it was to the Allied cause in Northwest Africa for other reasons, was even more significant as an opportunity to promote unification of all anti-Axis Frenchmen able to take up arms. Darlan’s administration rested upon a military agreement with the Allied commander in chief which had brought aid to the Allies but only after first involving the American and British governments in a torrent of adverse criticism and in the problems of French factionalism. The opprobrium with which this military arrangement was greeted began later to moderate, and as time went on some hope appeared for a working relationship between Darlan’s anti-German following and the anti-German and anti-Vichy Frenchmen in General de Gaulle’s growing organization. Darlan had begun to speak, shortly before he was murdered, of retiring from political leadership.

Up until the last moment, the Fighting French nonetheless continued to fear that the admiral would make permanent the temporary arrangements for his control over civil administration in Northwest Africa and elsewhere. At the very outset, he took the title of High Commissioner, established an Imperial Council, communicated with the diplomatic representatives of Vichy France in several countries, and sought ties with the civil governors of some French overseas territories.

Apparently he wished to make Algiers the actual center of government instead of Vichy. In the opinion of de Gaulle’s followers, Darlan’s actions were hardly consonant with a temporary military expedient; to them it seemed, moreover, that after its eventual liberation, France would be delivered to the exponents of French fascism. This was perhaps the most troublesome repercussion of what was labeled at the outset and repeatedly denounced thereafter as the “Darlan deal.”

Attempts through intermediaries to establish a basis of co-operation between the Fighting French and the pro-Allied Frenchmen in Africa began in December. General Georges Catroux, one of the outstanding military figures to join the Fighting French, on 12 December met at Gibraltar a former member of his staff then serving with Admiral Darlan. General Catroux was reliably informed that, contrary to his previous beliefs, the French in North Africa were actually mobilized and actively engaged against the Axis forces in Tunisia; he was also advised that Admiral Darlan was greatly preferred in North Africa, especially among the armed forces, to General de Gaulle and his associates. The suggestion that General de Gaulle, General Catroux, and others should soon replace Admiral Darlan in Algiers was described as certain to produce internal disturbances, annulment of the agreement by which French West Africa was being joined to French North Africa, and adverse consequences elsewhere. On 20 December, General François d’Astier de la Vigerie arrived at Algiers for discussions looking toward amalgamation of the Fighting French of London with the French fighting in Northwest Africa, but found his mission was premature.

The government in French North Africa in 1940-1942 had followed the example of Vichy in establishing press censorship, political imprisonments, and repressive treatment of native Jews. Communist delegates of the French Chamber of Deputies had been incarcerated in French North Africa on charges of hindering the war effort during the period when Stalin was allied with Hitler. Outspoken Gaullist sympathizers were assembled in concentration camps. As a further complication, the proverbial anti-Semitism of the Moslems in French North Africa intruded in the situation. Some 25,000,000 Mohammedans in the three major territories treated the 350,000 Jews with deep and inveterate hostility. Fascistic organizations of war veterans and others adopted methods of terrorism towards Jews, Communists, or Gaullists of a sort with which the world was distressingly familiar. Darlan, in his administration of French North Africa, had to deal with these kinetic facts in such a way as to allow the fighting in Tunisia to be carried on without hindrance.

Complaints that Vichy’s policies in French North Africa were kept in force under Darlan soon reached disturbing proportions. The admiral’s administration met an Allied request for information with a memorandum, “Notes on the reforms undertaken by the High Commissioner in French Africa,” which General Eisenhower forwarded to General Marshall on 13 December 1942. The commander in chief believed that Darlan, in a month’s time, had made a sincere effort to go as far as local conditions would permit in the way of reforms. The pace was deliberate in an attempt to avoid offending Arab susceptibilities, for Admiral Darlan was under pressure from Arab leaders to improve the position of their people.

Admiral Darlan assassinated

On the day preceding Christmas, Darlan explained to Murphy what changes had taken place or could be expected, after which the two men discussed at considerable length French individuals outside areas of Axis occupation who might have the talent and ability necessary to succeed Darlan if he should retire. That noon, at a luncheon, he dwelt again on the theme of his prospective retirement. In mid-afternoon, DarIan was shot down at his office in the Palais d’Ete and died at a hospital soon afterward.

General Giraud was informed of the assassination when he arrived at a French command post in Le Kef that evening to supervise the forthcoming French attack. The death of Darlan brought an end to the arrangement which had freed Giraud from political matters, and permitted complete attention to the conduct of military operations and the rebuilding of a French Army. He started back to Algiers that night, arriving on Christmas afternoon. There, as military commander in chief, he ordered an immediate court-martial of the assassin. He was condemned to death and executed early next morning.

Generals Clark and Smith, with the cooperation of Darlan’s deputy, General Bergeret, were able to cope with the situation in Algiers until General Eisenhower returned. News of the assassination was suppressed until preparations had been taken to forestall possible disorders, planned or spontaneous. American troops in Algeria and Morocco were held ready to meet any new hostilities. Members of Darlan’s Imperial Council were summoned. They met the crisis on 27 December by swiftly agreeing on General Giraud as High Commissioner.

Whatever claims might have been made for General Nogues, he showed no eagerness for the place and proposed the selection of General Giraud. The others Boisson, Chatel, and Bergeret-overcame Giraud’s objections to the post. The choice was known to be welcome to the Allied commander in chief and was probably acceptable to many Frenchmen in North Africa and West Africa who had been opposed to Giraud on 8 November.

The death of Darlan in many respects relieved the Allies of a burden in their relations outside French Africa-his co-operation with the Allies had not been able to extinguish his record as a collaborator with the Nazis. But in the theater of war, he had become, as General Eisenhower described him somewhat earlier, “the source of all our practical help. . . . All the others including Giraud await his lead and will do nothing definite until he speaks. So far he has refused us nothing. If he is playing a crooked game with us locally it is so deep that he can afford to give away initial advantages of every kind, even those upon which our existence depends in our present attenuated conditions.” Although he had caused difficulties outside French North Africa, he had kept his promises to the Allies most effectively.

At the time of Darlan’s death, another political storm was in the making because of an Allied agreement, upon Darlan’s request, to recall to Algeria the experienced colonial administrator, Marcel Peyrouton, former Resident General of Tunisia. Frenchmen equal to the tasks of governing Algeria were rare. Peyrouton had the qualifications. But he had once been directly involved in some of the most unsavory acts of the Vichy government, and although he had finally withdrawn because of his implacable opposition to Laval’s pro-German policies, he could not be put in a position of power without reviving deep antipathies and sharp distrust. His return was arranged, despite admonitions from the Department of State, on the ground of military necessity, a factor which that department later agreed was controlling.

In the bewilderingly complex role of administering territories populated by such discordant elements, both native and European, General Giraud proved less competent than his predecessor. He was not only less competent but less interested, for as indicated earlier, his paramount concern was with military measures; political problems were for him a dragging nuisance. Moreover, sensitive over the subordinate position of the French, he requested that they be treated as an ally in accordance with the promises stated to General Mast at Cherchel, repeated in Mr. Murphy’s letters to Giraud just before he consented to leave southern France, and embodied in the “North African Agreement” negotiated by General Clark with Admiral Darlan. While the Allied commander in chief was well aware of this obligation, President Roosevel held a different view. He thought that General Eisenhower should have put the Imperial Council’s selection of Giraud in the light of a nomination rather than a choice, and that he should have impressed on General Giraud that his position depended directly upon his capacity to provide the kind of government required by the Allies to support the war effort. “This misconception General Eisenhower firmly challenged in a letter to General Marshall, and it was not allowed to animate subsequent relations with Giraud in Africa.” Giraud succeeded Darlan as a leader of the French who accepted a voluntary association with the Anglo-Americans in Northwest Africa. Unlike the latter, he did not claim to be giving effect to Marshal Petain’s secret thought. Nor could he hold the Allies to promises which had once been made to him in return for undertaking leadership since Darlan, and not he, had actually filled that role. The North African Agreement remained in force and regulated the relations between the Allied Force and the French North African civil and military administration.

French Factionalism Persists Giraud had been in office less than one month when another crisis occurred in Anglo-American relations with the French. This crisis arose from the fact that the Allies still maintained separate relations both with the French in Algiers and with de Gaulle’s organization in London, despite the manifest desirability of unifying all anti-Axis French forces. Efforts in this direction were under way. Darlan’s death had stopped de Gaulle on the very brink of departure for a conference in Washington with President Roosevelt. The meeting was postponed by the President until after the conference of Allied leaders near Casablanca. In the meantime de Gaulle made overtures to Giraud looking toward a merger of the French empire in a single organization for the achievement of victory. He proposed that they meet on French soil to discuss the problem. Giraud, although well disposed toward the idea, parried de Gaulle’s proposal by asking him to wait until the military situation in French North Africa had become less demanding and political conditions less disturbed. Both men were invited to Casablanca by the Allies. Giraud accepted at once and arrived on 18 January. De Gaulle refused, then came there under some duress on 22 January.

The basic contrast in their positions promptly became evident. The Fighting French were addicted to recrimination; they wished to sweep from office high officials who had accepted Marshal Petain’s authority, and they regarded as traitors those who had resisted or injured the Gaullists. Even Giraud was expected by de Gaulle to defend his patriotism. In contrast with such views, Giraud believed in rallying any kind of Frenchmen who could contribute to liberation, postponing accountability for earlier actions until France had been freed. It seemed likely that most of the French nation could be unified behind de Gaulle only at the cost of rigorous and even unfair measures against much of the population, while they could follow Giraud only at the risk of internal strife. It had already been shown that Giraud’s personal capacity to aid the Allies was much less than Admiral Darlan’s.

As the two French leaders discussed a basis of unification at Casablanca, they indicated that it would be impossible for either to accept subordination to the other. Giraud at one time had had de Gaulle under his command in the French Army. He was by far the senior in age and grade. De Gaulle had been the first to rally the French against the Germans after other leaders had accepted military defeat, and while Giraud remained a prisoner. Each man led organizations combining civilian and military elements which exercised control over large parts of the French empire. The Fighting French held Syria, Equatorial Africa, French Somaliland, Madagascar, French India, and insular territories (such as New Caledonia) in the Pacific. Giraud headed the High Commission governing the much more populous French North Africa and French West Africa. Neither organization was accepted by the French admirals of squadrons harbored in Martinique and Alexandria, Egypt. Gaullist units were already fighting with the British Eighth Army in Libya, and more were crossing the Sahara to join Montgomery in southern Tunisia.

Giraud’s forces fighting the Axis troops in Tunisia were perhaps three times as large as de Gaulle’s, and the men in training were even more numerous. Resistance organizations in metropolitan France were not yet unequivocally committed in the main to either leader. Each man had reason to know that his name was honored in France among patriots. Which should have accepted a secondary role?

If a single organization were created, its character could be expected to influence strongly the character of the postwar government of France. The two Allied governments refrained on this account from trying to prescribe a form of political settlement but left such arrangements to be determined by the French themselves. Yet patriotic Frenchmen everywhere for years had been divided on political and economic issues, and the weakness arising from their divisions, so fatal in 1940, was still a factor with which to reckon. Giraud was known as a man of somewhat aristocratic, conservative views. De Gaulle’s adherents represented many shades of political opinion and included a large segment with leftist principles.

If it was true that all wished to unite in 1943 to throw the Nazis out of France, it was also true that none wished to see France free of the Germans only to be controlled by Frenchmen of objectionable political views. The union so desirable for military ends was gravely impeded by its political implications. Ultimately, Giraud and de Gaulle decided at Anfa to continue their separate ways, maintaining liaison through representatives in Algiers and London, and perhaps one day achieving the basis for unity. Giraud remained the French military leader accepted by the Anglo-American Allies in the Mediterranean area. De Gaulle continued in a parallel capacity for other areas where Anglo-American military operations required co-operation with the French.

The outcome of their conversations was a serious misfortune for the Allies. A French Army to be strong not only had to be well armed but well disciplined. Political factionalism threatened discipline. The two major Allies could not permit themselves to fall completely into a situation in which each had its own protege. If support was withheld from either French organization, Allied interests would suffer. The future promised a situation in which dual French leadership would persist, in which jockeying for position could be expected, and in which each Allied government might be tempted to play one side against the other, and thus threaten their own collaborative unity.

Rearming the French

The Allies, as already pointed out, promised Giraud, Mast, and other Frenchmen who had dared work for unopposed Allied landings in North Africa, that arms would be furnished to modernize a French Army and thus again enable the French to take the field against the Axis. Preliminary steps to this end had already been taken by the Allies in December. To expedite redemption of that promise Giraud sent representatives to Washington. Furthermore, at Casablanca, he sketched French capabilities to the Combined Chiefs of Staff and discussed the problems of meeting French armament requirements with Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell, Commanding General, Services of Supply (later Army Service Forces), U.S. Army.

Giraud, in a somewhat offhand manner, received from President Roosevelt on 24 January a signed “Agreement in Principle” to deliver the materiel required for three armored and eight infantry divisions, as well as 1,000 first-line airplanes. French naval vessels were to be reconditioned in American shipyards. The franc in French North Africa was to be exchanged henceforth at the new and more favorable rate of fifty to the dollar.

These agreements were supplemented by a redefinition of the Allied position concerning a government of France. France was declared to have no government. The promises of American aid in liberating the nation made during the negotiations between Mr. Robert Murphy and General Giraud prior to the landings of 8 November were confirmed. Giraud, as the French Commander in Chief, was recognized as rightfully acting for the French people to preserve all their interests-military, economic, financial, and moral. To the extent that such a document signed by the President but not the Prime Minister could do so, the Allies had committed themselves henceforth to support General Giraud. These decisions, on the literal interpretation and swift execution of which Giraud placed great trust, greatly cheered him as he returned to Algiers.

President Roosevelt’s acceptance in principle of the schedule of rearmament submitted by Giraud after his appearance before the Combined Chiefs of Staff soon produced a tangle of interrelated difficulties. The President considered it a tentative agreement rather than a detailed contract. For him it apparently defined the maximum French hopes but left the United States free to “do the right thing” after weighing other demands upon American production. Token shipments, training and replacement materiel, and as much more as possible were sent. But the shipping situation grew troublesome in the extreme, and the program lagged seriously behind what Giraud considered vital for the maintenance of his prestige.

The French put into the Allied pool vessels totaling initially 165,000 ship tons and before the end of the war 420,000 tons. They claimed a lien on enough of this French tonnage to meet civilian and French military requirements. Their claim to a separate right to tonnage was denied. The Anglo-American Allies allotted 25,000 tons per convoy from the United States for the French armed services! Anything in excess would be available only if the limit of forty-five ships per convoy could be increased to forty-eight. Eventually General Giraud had to include the Gaullist units in his eleven-division program. As they passed under his control, they ceased to receive equipment through British General Headquarters, Mideast, and like all other French forces drew equipment from AFHQ.

General Eisenhower, in December 1942, established a Joint Rearmament Committee at AFHQ on which the French were represented. Since the assignment of shipping priorities involved tactical considerations, such assignment was determined in the theater. Contributions toward the needs outlined by General Mast prior to 8 November and revived by General Giraud at Anfa in January tended to grow as time passed but their estimates were never fully realized.

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 (5-19); New Situation: Axis Reaction

World War Two: North Africa (4-17B); Stalemate Before Tunis (pt.2)


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