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Operation Torch

Operation Torch (from November 8, 1942) was the Anglo-American invasion of north-west Africa in World War II.

The Soviet Union had been putting pressure on the United States and Britain to begin operations in Europe, a Second Front[?], to relieve the pressure on the Russian forces. British prime minister Churchill favoured an attack on northern Africa followed by an invasion of Europe in 1943, while American presdident Roosevelt suspected the Africa operation would rule out an invasion of Europe in 1943 but agreed to support Churchill.

The Anglo-American invasion was planned for northwestern Africa - Morocco and Algeria, territory nominally in the hands of Vichy France. The French had around 60,000 soldiers in Morocco as well as coastal artillery, a handful of tanks and aircraft, with ten or so warships and 11 submarines at Casablanca. It was believed that the French forces would not fight, although there were suspicions that the French navy would bear a grudge over the British action at Mers-el-Kebir[?] (Oran) in 1940. A French General, Henri Giraud[?], was co-opted into the Allied scheme as potential commander of the French troops following invasion. The intention was to advance rapidly eastwards into Tunisia and attack the German forces in the rear. General Dwight Eisenhower was given command of the attack, headquartered in Gibraltar

Table of contents

The Landing

The plan was to capture the key ports from Morocco to Algeria simultaneously. Casablanca, Oran and Algiers were the targets.

Casablanca

The Western Task Force was an all American affair, with Major General George Patton leading the first assault force and Rear Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt[?] heading the naval operations.

The naval support consisted of five aircraft carriers, three battleships, seven cruisers, 38 destroyers, plus transport, support and other vessels. The three intial attack groups were of 7,000, 19,500, and 9,500 soldiers; some of the force shipping directly from America to the battlefield. The assault force departed from Hapton Roads[?] on October 24, meeting the rest of the force mid-Atlantic.

The initial forces landed on November 8, 1942 at Safi, Fedala, and Mehedia-Port Lyautey to sporadic French resistance. Pro-Allied forces had attempted a coup on the night of the 7th but with no success. Safi, to the west, was most easily captured - falling on the first afternoon. There was tougher resistance at Port Lyautey, although the French collapse was sudden on the 10th. The landing at Fedala, nearest to the target of Casablanca was the most potentially risky - a sortie by the French navy could reach the landing sites within minutes, and so most of the Allied naval strength was arrayed against this threat. The initial landings at Fedala were tricky due to the weather while around Casablanca the French batteries were quick to open fire on the US naval vessels and there were dogfights between French and US navy fighters - four French destroyers were sunk or severely damaged as were three submarines. The intial landing at Fedala was not even completed until the 9th and rather than advance the American forces hung back. The Vichy deputy leader Jean-Francois Darlan was present in Casablanca and negotiations were opened with him over a ceasefire. In France Hitler threatened Petain that he would have Vichy invaded if the French did not resist. Darlan agreed to a surrender on November 11 and Vichy France was occupied, most of the French troops in Africa followed Darlan's lead but certain elements instead joined the German forces in Tunisia.

Oran

Center Task Force, Tafaraiu

Algiers

Eastern Task Force, Medjez-el-Bab

After the battle

Darlan was then appointed leader of French North Africa by Eisenhower and with the support of Roosevelt and Churchill, Charles de Gaulle was furious. The problem was resolved when Darlan was assassinated on December 24, 1942 by a local French anti-Nazi, Ferdinand Bonnier de la Chapelle. Henri Giraud, who had been hanging around since November, became the new leader.

After consolidating in French territory the Allies struck into Tunisia, forces under General Kenneth Anderson[?] almost reaching Tunis before a counterattack at Djedeida by German troops under General Walther Nehring[?] thrust them back. In January 1943 retreating German troops from the east under General Erwin Rommel reached Tunisia.

The Allied 8th Army in the east, commanded by General Bernard Montgomery, stopped around Tripoli to allow reinforcements to arrive and build up the Allied advantage. In the west the forces of General Anderson were attacked in February at Faid Pass on the 14th and Kasserine Pass on the 19th. The Allied forces retreated in disarray until heavy Allied reinforcements blunted the German advance on the 22nd.

General Harold Alexander arrived in Tunisia in late February to take command. The Germans attacked again in March, eastwards at Medenine on the 6th but were repulsed. Rommel counselled Hitler to allow a full retreat but was denied and on March 9 Rommel left Tunisia to be replaced by Jurgen von Arnium[?], who had to spread his forces over 100 miles of northern Tunisia.

The Allies were content to wait and build up their forces, relying on massive numerical superiority to overcome the German advantages. By the time the Allies attacked on April 23 they enjoyed a 15:1 advantage in tanks and 6:1 in infantry. Over 300,000 Allied troops under Omar Bradley were involved in the main attack while the 8th Army attacked in diversionary support at Enfidaville. On May 7 the British took Tunis and American forces reached Bizerte, by May 13 the Axis forces in Tunisia had surrendered.



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