Midnight to 4 a.m.
In Algiers, General Alphonse Juin, commander of the French army forces in North Africa, relaxes at his home, the Villa des Olivieres. Juin, whose right arm is crippled from the Battle of the Marne, has secretly supported the Allies since his release from a German prison. Juin has even prepared undercover plans to fend off a German invasion of Algeria or Tunisia.
After midnight, Admiral d’Escadre Moreau, naval commander in the Algiers area, visits Juin and draws his attention to the approaching Allied armada. Juin considers it worrying, and studies his maps. The best place for an invasion is the beach at Sidi Ferruch, where French troops landed in 1830 to take possession of Algeria. He orders it to be defended.
Juin is right – the Allies are indeed going to land at Sidi Ferruch, but General Charles Mast, the pro-Allied commander of the Algiers Division, has given orders that his troops are not to resist.
The imperious ringing of a telephone at Juin’s side summons the diminutive general. One of Juin’s aides is on the line with an urgent message: US Consul-General in Algiers, Robert Murphy, needs to see Juin immediately. Murphy is the son of a South German mother and Irish railroad worker father, and considered to be one of America’s most competent diplomats over his 20-year career.
Juin summons Murphy to his office. At 12:30 a.m., Senegalese guards usher Murphy and his vice-consul, Kenneth Pendar, through Juin’s courtyard gate. Pendar nervously fingers an automatic pistol in his pocket, but relies on a group of rebels for security. Murphy bangs on the front door, and Juin, in striped pajamas, admits the excitable American.
Murphy wastes no time with formalities. He tells Juin that an enormous American fleet is poised to invade French Northwest Africa in an hour.
"What?" shouts Juin. "You mean that convoy we have seen in the Mediterranean is aimed at us?"
"But you told me yourself," says Juin, "not more than a week ago, the United States would never attack us."
Murphy says that the Americans are not coming to attack, but at the invitation of the French, to collaborate in liberating France.
"Whose invitation?" asks Juin.
"General Giraud’s. He is expected momentarily." Murphy asks Juin – who graduated St. Cyr at the head of a class that included Charles de Gaulle – to support the American invasion.
Juin is enraged. A ferocious fighter and France’s senior military man in North Africa, Juin is eager to return to fighting the Nazis. But he resents the short notice, given his high rank. In addition, Juin has taken a personal oath of allegiance to Petain.
Murphy tries to calm Juin, assuring him that the invasion is at the specific request of Giraud.
"Where is Giraud," Juin demands.
"I don’t know," Murphy says truthfully. Giraud is actually fast asleep in Gibraltar, uninvolved.
Juin ponders the situation. He despises Hitler and Mussolini, but has been required to take a pledge not to fight against the Axis as a condition for his release as a PoW after the fall of France in 1940. He also realizes that world-shaking events are taking place that can release him from a pledge made under duress to the Nazis.
Juin, recovering from his shock and embarrassment, tells Murphy that he can’t officially make his decision until he’s checked with Admiral Jean-Francois Darlan, commander-in-chief of Vichy France’s forces, who happens to be visiting Algiers at that moment, staying at the villa of Admiral Raymond Fenard. No matter what Juin does, his orders can be immediately overruled by Darlan. Juin has no choice under the circumstances but to summon Darlan.
Now it’s Murphy’s turn to be stunned. Darlan is one of the most critical and powerful figures in the bizarre game. He has the power and prestige to order the French armed forces to resist, surrender, or join the Allies – including the powerful French Navy, tied to its piers in Toulon harbor.
"Very well," Murphy says, keeping cool. "Let us talk to Darlan."
Juin phones Darlan immediately. However, if Murphy waited a few more minutes, Darlan would have been unreachable. Murphy’s agents are breaking the phone lines even as he speaks.
Madame Darlan takes the call, who wakes her husband. The admiral is furious. He races through Algiers’s streets, wearing a civilian double-breasted suit, arriving in 20 minutes. He seats himself in the living room, and listens to Murphy’s announcement.
Darlan turns purple and leaps to his feet. "I have known for a long time that the British are stupid," he bellows. "But I’d have believed the Americans were more intelligent. Apparently you have the same genius as the British for making massive blunders."
Darlan paces the floor. He rambles on, saying that if the Americans had only waited a few weeks, they could have received "full cooperation" from France and in Africa. Now he worries about Hitler’s reaction. The Germans might invade Vichy France.
Juin and Darlan both describe their fears that the Allied invasion will be a disaster like the assault on Dieppe.
As Darlan continues, Murphy relaxes, realizing that the admiral’s presence in Algiers is mere coincidence and not the result of a security leak. Murphy calls the invasion in the interest of France and the United States and that Darlan should "seize his golden opportunity."
Darlan replies that he has taken a personal oath to Petain. "For the last two years I have preached to my men in the Navy and to the nation, unity behind the marshal. I cannot now deny my oath."
The diplomat asks if the admiral will cooperate with the Americans if Marshal Petain approves.
"Of course I will," Darlan answers. He calls in an aide and dictates a message to Vichy, saying that an American landing operation involving half a million men was happening in French North Africa. Darlan asks for freedom of action.
Pendar leaves the house to go the French admiralty to have the message encoded and sent. After he’s gone, the Senegalese guards are replaced by 40 French aspirants (officer-candidates) who were alerted by Murphy after hearing the "Franklin arrive" message. Among the aspirants is a 20-year-old man named Fernand Eugene Bonnier de la Chapelle.
The aspirants tell Darlan they have orders not to let anyone out of the villa except Murphy and Pendar. Darlan is furious. He storms back into the villa, and Juin and Murphy cool him down by talking about the French political situation. Darlan has one point for Murphy regarding Giraud: "He is not your man; he is a good divisional commander." Career diplomat Murphy is in no position to debate that analysis.
While they talk, Algerian police show up, arrest the aspirants, surround the building, thus making all inside prisoners.
Meanwhile, the Algerian coup begins. French rebels and their American "vice-consuls" drive to take over the headquarters of 19th Corps, the telephone exchange, and the Police Central Commission. With quick precision, the key targets fall: the post office, Radio Algiers, the telephone censors’ listening center, and the home of Yves Chatel, Governor General of Algiers. Only one problem: His Excellency is not at home. Madame Chatel greets pistol-armed rebels with sang-froid. The moment the rebels turn her backs, she walks out of the building to the front gate. There a guard asks Madame Chatel for a whiskey, and Madame’s stuttered answer gives away the game.
At 2:35 a.m., Guy Cohen, keeping the record book at the Central Commissariat, reports to his colleagues that all objectives have been taken, the rebels are masters of Algiers, without spilling a drop of blood.
At 1 a.m., Maj. Gen. Emile Bethouart, commander of the Casablanca Division, orders his division to stay in barracks. Then he hops into a staff car and races 50 miles through pouring rain to Rabat, capital of Morocco, and its military headquarters. A battalion of Colonial Morocco Infantry is on guard there, to protect him. Bethouart awakens Maj. Gen. Georges Lascroux, and demands that he and the Moroccan forces cooperate with the invading Americans "in the name of General Henri Giraud."
Lascroux is completely bewildered – this kind of thing is tough to handle at 1 a.m. – so Bethouart has him arrested, and takes over Lascroux’s position and signals pad.
Next, Bethouart confronts the commander of the French air forces in Morocco, Maj. Gen. Louis Lahouelle. Lahouelle is equally sleepy, but quicker of mind. He agrees not to resist the invaders if the French Navy will also refrain from opposition.
Lahouelle phones Vice Adm. Francois Michelier, the Morocco naval commander, in Casablanca, to ask for his support.
Unfortunately for Bethouart, Michelier is an anti-Semite, and a die-hard Vichy backer. Described as cold and "approachable only with incontestable facts and precise figures," he indignantly refuses to cooperate with the invaders and in fact, changes Lahouelle’s mind. The air force general says he will fight the Americans. Bethouart arrests him, too, giving French military policemen something interesting to do on an early Sunday morning.
In Casablanca, Col. Eugene Molle, Bethouart’s chief of staff, as part of the coup, arrives at the naval base, as the rain continues to fall steadily. The cruiser Primauguet and a pack of destroyers are parked there, along with the battleship Jean Bart, incomplete and unable to move under her own power, but able to fire four of her 15-inch guns, all mounted in the completed forward turret. The second turret is unfinished.
Molle has a message for Michelier: cooperate with the American landings or else. Michelier is in no mood for ultimatums from a rebellious general. He roars at Molle, saying,
"Bethouart is a stupid and naïve victim of an elaborate Allied hoax. There is no American armada lying offshore. The weather is bad, the surf is high, and my coastal and submarine patrols have not spotted any ships offshore." Ironically, Michelier has received a signal sent earlier by Vichy at 9:15 p.m., warning of a possible Allied landing at Casablanca. However, the message is still being decoded long after the invasion starts.
"You are nothing but children," Michelier continues. "There are no ships at sea. You’ve been duped, most probably by the Gestapo, who want an excuse to occupy Morocco."
But now it’s Michelier’s turn to summon military police, and he locks up Molle, putting more field grade officers behind bars.
Next, Michelier phones Bethouart’s deputy, Brig. Gen. Raymond Desre, and, as Casablanca sector commander, puts Desre in charge of the Casablanca Division, and to move to its planned coastal defense positions and "resist any invaders with every means at your disposal."
Desre doesn’t know what’s going on, but he follows orders. French colonial and African troops bail out of their barracks at 2 a.m., grab their Lebel rifles, and march off into the dark. Staff cars and trucks haul artillery pieces, field kitchens, and other gear through the city’s streets, waking up the American consulate’s staff. They see French troops, Citroen cars, and motorcycles heading in all directions.
The Americans have several consulates in North Africa – thanks to an agreement negotiated with Vichy in 1941. Under this pact, the Americans are supplying food and staples to the Arab population of French North Africa as a humanitarian gesture. However, a clause in the deal allows the Americans to post a dozen vice-consuls as "control officers" to ensure the staples are not passed on to the Germans. In reality, everyone – including the Germans – know the vice-consuls are intelligence agents. The American spies are amateurs. One is a former Marseilles wine merchant, another is a Coca-Cola salesman from Mississippi, and a third is described as "an ornament of Harry’s Bar in Paris." However, two are graduates of St. Cyr and French Foreign Legion veterans.
At his headquarters in Rabat, General Auguste Paul Nogues, resident-general of Morocco (the nation is a kingdom under French protection), is also trying to cope with the coup. He gets a letter at 2:30 a.m. from Bethouart, stating that General Henri Giraud, backed by US troops, ships, and planes, is taking command of all French forces in North Africa. Bethouart is appointed to command all French troops in Morocco.
The letter further tells Nogues that orders are being issued to French forces not to oppose the American landings. The letter asks Nogues to confirm these orders for Morocco, or to simply disappear until the invasion is accomplished. Should Nogues choose the latter, he will be appointed later to a responsible position.
Nogues is both puzzled and a puzzle. He has held his post since 1940. At that time, when France fell, he was eager to continue the battle. At great personal risk, he has concealed troops and war materiel in excess of that allowed by the German Armistice Commission, so as to resume the fight at a later date. But after three years of waiting, Nogues is dispirited and has lost his bellicosity.
Another factor in Nogues’ mind is the knowledge that with the exception of Madagascar, all Allied expeditionary operations have been a failure: Norway, Dakar, Greece, Crete, and Dieppe. He has no confidence in the Allied ability to wage war.
More importantly, Nogues lacks a vital piece of information. Among the mail jamming his "In" box is one delivered by an American vice consul at 12:55 a.m. Inside is stationery headed: "The White House, Washington D.C." This letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt is a handwritten plea for America’s "traditional friends" to help join in the fight against Nazi Germany.
But Nogues has not seen this letter. He phones Michelier and the garrisons at Meknes and Marrakech and finds out that none of them report any signs of an American invasion. Meknes and Marrakech are following Nogues’ orders, not Giraud’s.
Nogues makes up his mind. He orders a general alert throughout Morocco, and then phones Bethouart. By phone, Nogues fires Bethouart as commander of the Casablanca Division, and has him arrested and sent to Meknes on a charge of high treason. More generals go in the clink before dawn.
On Guadalcanal, the Japanese 228th and 230th Infantry Regiments dig in along Gavaga Creek at Tetera, about a mile east of the Metapona. Against them, the 2nd Battalion/164th Infantry pulls out of the line, being replaced by the 7th Marines. In the fighting, Lt. Col. Chesty Puller suffers multiple wounds, but refuses evacuation for some time.
While this fighting rages, Vice Adm. William Halsey, the new C-in-C of the Southwest Pacific, arrives on Guadalcanal. His predecessor, Ghormley, has never set foot on the malarial island, and the fiery Halsey’s visit boosts morale.
Halsey studies situation maps, listens to artillery fire, and talks to as many Marines of all ranks as possible, trying to get the firsthand view of the campaign. While the Marines are cheered by Halsey’s fiery language and tattoos, the admiral is shocked by the Leathernecks’ appearance, what he calls their "gaunt, malaria-ridden bodies (and) their faces lined from what seemed like a nightmare of years."
That evening, Halsey dines on gummy bully beef at Vandegrift’s headquarters, and gives the cook fulsome praise for the stew. The cook is incredulous. Later that night, however, the Tokyo Express appears on the scene at 9:44 in the form of the light cruiser Tenryu and five destroyers. Three American vessels, PT 37, PT 39, and PT 61, intercept. PT 61 is damaged by a 5-inch shell, while the other two boats fire two torpedoes each, which hit the destroyer Mochizuki, and fail to explode.
RAF Bomber Command has a busy night, sending 175 aircraft to bomb Genoa as a diversion from Operation Torch. 85 Lancasters, 45 Halifaxes, 39 Stirlings, 6 Wellingtons, make the strike. Italian flak claims six planes: 4 Halifaxes, 1 Lancaster, 1 Wellington, 3.4 percent of the force. The returning bomber crews claim a successful and concentrated raid on the city, which is confirmed by photographs. No word from Genoa. While this attack rolls on, 36 Wellingtons of 1 Group lay mines across German ports from St. Nazaire to Denmark, losing one bomber.
Adolf Hitler’s train Amerika clatters through the Bavarian night. As the hours roll on, Hitler keeps his staff awake in the dining car with a discussion on the Allied convoys streaming past Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. The Germans have no idea where they’re headed. Hitler, fascinated with the odd and bold maneuver, tries to project himself into Allied deliberations, almost as if he’s a political analyst, not a head of state at war. After awhile, the Fuhrer tells his staff that if he was the Allied commander, he’d occupy Rome immediately.
The train squeals to a halt for a signal, jangling the china teacups. Hitler looks out the window and sees a freight train next to him, jammed with German soldiers wounded at Stalingrad. The landsers stare at their Fuhrer in amazement and awe. Hitler orders the curtains shut, so that he cannot see the human impact of his decisions. Then he resumes his diatribe.
At 1:20 a.m., listeners to short wave radio in French North Africa hear a voice, identified as Eisenhower, supreme commander of American forces, announcing that the Americans are coming to liberate them, and how the French can help. The voice is actually Col. Julius Holmes, the State Department diplomat in uniform who rode HMS Seraph with Gen. Mark Clark. Ike’s French is fractured, at best.
At 3 a.m., another American voice addresses France and North Africa, this time in near-perfect French. Franklin D. Roosevelt says, "Have faith in our words. Help us where you are able. All men who hate tyranny, join with the liberators who at this moment are about to land on your shores. Vive la France eternelle!"
Over Spain, the C-47s of 60th Troop Carrier Group, carrying the 509th Parachute Battalion (as it will be renamed later) are scattered by heavy rain, darkness, and inexperience. As they fly off-course towards Oran and La Senia Airfield, they are expecting a friendly reception there. But signals are going out from HMS Alynbank, off Oran, telling the 509th that Marshal Petain has ordered the French to resist any invasion. 60th Troop Carrier Group doesn’t get the message. They give no answer. At Gibraltar, the Allied command assumes the entire force has been shot down.
Operation Torch, the largest amphibious operation yet attempted – and the furthest night landing on a hostile coast so far from home – begins at the Algerian city of Oran, which has a population of 200,000 people. Its harbor facilities are crucial to the campaign. Oran is no stranger to violence. Originally a Carthaginian city, it was captured by the Romans, who in turn lost it to the Arabs. The Spaniards were next, then the Turks, and finally the French in 1830. In June 1940, British ships shelled the French fleet, sheltering at Mers el Kebir, when it refused to sail to British ports. Now the assaulting ships are all British, but the invading troops are all American. Nonetheless, British invasion techniques are used. Royal Navy submarines stand offshore, using blue lights to mark the landing beaches.
Oran is a tough nut to crack. The city lies at the deepest point of a bay nearly 25 miles across from headland to headland, with rugged cliffs and hills dominating the coastline. The French have deployed numerous searchlights and coastal batteries on these hills. Many of the 13 French batteries can be turned inland to fire on invading troops. In Oran Harbor are two submarines, Ceres and Pallas, and three destroyers, Tramontane, Typhon, and Epervier.
Behind this array of steel is Maj. Gen. Robert Boissau’s Oran Division, with 10,000 men.
The plan to capture Oran is fairly simple. The Americans will land east and west of the city, and cut it off in a sweeping pincer movement, relying on the mobility and speed of the invading 1st Armored Division under Maj. Gen. Orlando Ward, and the 1st Infantry Division, under Maj. Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen. Allen is very pleased that the 1st Infantry, the "Big Red One," which fired America’s first shots of World War I in Europe, will lead the Americans into Europe in World War II.
The other forces include the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 105th Coast Artillery Battalion, and the 106th Separate Coast Artillery Battalion. These two artillery units have been converted from coast defense to mobile anti-aircraft guns. The two flanks of the invasion are 50 miles apart in direct line.
The Eastern flank of the Oran assault, Z Force, are the 18th and 16th Infantry Regiments, and Combat Command B of the 1st Armored Division, as well as something new in America’s arsenal, the 1st Ranger Battalion, under Lt. Col. William O. Darby. Their objective is the small port of Arzew.
13 miles west of Oran, the 26th Infantry Regiment, under Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., is Y Force. They will come ashore at Les Andalouses ("Lots of Louses" to the invaders), thus placing a pincer around Oran.
Commanding the Central Force is Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall, 58, who served as one of Gen. John J. Pershing’s staff assistants. Loud, profane, Anglophobic, Fredendall is neither tactful with others nor tactically skilled. His messages to his troops are couched in stock movie phrases, which are greeted with scorn. Worse, during the entire Oran invasion, he never bothers to leave his flagship. But at this point, those weaknesses are unknown.
To bring Fredendall’s armor ashore, the Allies have converted three Venezuelan 'Lake Maracaibo' oil tankers into Landing Ship Tanks. They have been modified so tanks can drive out their bows. However, they can only handle the M3 Stuart light tanks – M4 Shermans are just too wide to clear the opening.
When the infantry seizes beachheads, the 1st Armored will drive inland and into Oran from the south. Another armored column will assist the paratroopers in taking La Senia and Tafaroui airports, landing at Mersa Bou Zedjar, as Force X, under the command of Col. Paul Robinett, who speaks fluent French.
Once the airbases are taken, the US 12th Air Force will bring in 160 short-range fighters and 13 medium bombers within a week.
Finally, a daring plan, Operation Reservist, is designed to knock out the French forts and docks in Oran Harbor itself. Two former US Coast Guard Cutters, transferred to the Royal Navy in 1941, HMS Walney and HMS Hartland, will dash into Oran Harbor, loaded with 17 officers and 376 men of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, of the 1st Armored Division. Leading this force is Lt. Col. George F. Marshall, who endures endless jokes about sharing the name of the Chief of Staff. Four officers and 22 Navy bluejackets, six US Marines, and 52 Royal Navy officers and tars will also join in this assault. Walney is to dash into the harbor in the dark, ram through the floating boom serving as the harbor’s gate, to the Mole Centre (Middle Pier). There it will discharge its troops, who are to take Fort Lamoune, which covers the head of the harbor. Hartland will tie up at the first pier, Mole du Ravin Blanc, and the troops on board are to climb up the steep cliff behind the pier, and knock out the Ravin Blanc gun battery that observes the entire harbor.
American troops assigned to Reservist regard it as a mix of movie theatrics and the Charge of the Light Brigade. But higher authorities insist that Oran must be captured intact if an advance to Tunisia can be supplied.
Backing up the Oran invasion is Commodore Thomas Troubridge’s Central Naval Task Force of British ships, led by the massive battleship HMS Rodney and her 16-inch guns, and the light cruisers Jamaica and Aurora. Also present is the ancient (1918) aircraft carrier HMS Furious (and the escort carriers HMS Biter and HMS Dasher, and their 57 planes, which include Albacore torpedo bombers (operating as dive bombers) and Sea Hurricane fighters. Troubridge flies his broad pennant from the headquarters ship HMS Largs. Thirteen destroyers, six corvettes, two sloops, eight minesweepers, 15 Landing Ships Infantry, the three converted tankers, eight minesweeping trawlers, 10 motor launches, two cutters, and two anti-aircraft ships make up the rest of the Central Naval Task Force.
As the American and British forces line up for the assault, Oran is fully lit – no blackout. At 12:50 a.m., Lt. Col. Darby’s 1st Rangers enter World War II (although a few were at Dieppe in August) at Arzew, 25 miles east of Oran. The Rangers clutch their rifles and Thompson submachine guns as the silent beach closes in. Their orders are not to fire unless fired upon. The boats run at half speed for silence.
At 12:55, the British landing craft crews open up full speed, and roar in. The French open fire with inaccurate tracer and machine-gun fire. The landing craft reach the Arzew docks and the Rangers leap ashore. They overpower several French sentries and charge through the town’s darkened streets for two blocks, storming into a French army barracks. The Rangers find the entire French garrison asleep in their bunks. The Rangers take the whole lot prisoner.
With Arzew in hand, the rest of 1st Rangers lands and climbs up the cliffs, to seize Fort du Nord and its battery of four 105mm guns that dominate the Golfe d’Arzew. It takes the Rangers two hours to climb the hills and ravines, to reach the Fort’s protective barbed wire. Darby sends his scouts forward with wire cutters to break through, and they come under heavy small arms and automatic fire.
Darby decides that the French are resisting, so he can shoot back. He has his 81mm mortars plaster the fort, ripping holes in the concertina wire. After the barrage, the Rangers charge through. The French, overwhelmed by the shock, speed, and violence of the American assault, are ready to surrender. They don’t even know whom they have been fighting.
At 3:55 a.m., Darby fires a green flare to signal that Fort du Nord has been captured. When the green flare rockets into the sky, combat teams of Royal Navy bluejackets and US Marines and sailors on assault craft race into harbor, and board and seize four French ships moored at the docks.
While Arzew is taken in hand, the 18th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, 7,092 men under Col. Frank U. Greer, heads for the beaches just southwest of the port. The submarine HMS Ursula acts as beacon.
The invading American soldier is very much a beast of burden. Each carries a Tommy gun, carbine or rifle, and most lug along grenades, trench knives, and daggers. They also haul musette bags, gas masks, life preservers, and shelter halves. The GI must also carry extra wool blankets, sun and dust goggles, dust respirators, mosquito bars, head nets, magnifying glasses, black basketball shoes, rubber boats, bed socks, hip boots, stepladders, and bicycles. Some barracks bags weigh as much as 180 pounds. American soldiers are barely able to move, let alone run. Some drown in the surf from the burden. Most react to their burden like all soldiers – they hurl unneeded equipment onto the beach and abandon it there.
In the leading vessels, trained crews with loudspeakers blare out in "Americanized" French: "Ne tirez pas! Ne tirez pas!" (Don’t shoot!)
The French react with machine-gun fire aimed at the loudspeakers. Nobody is sure if the French are being defensive or simply irritated at being awakened after midnight. The loudspeaker teams abandon the psychological warfare program. British coxswains open their throttles and get lost in the darkness, and the first boats are 20 minutes late in reaching shore, scattered across the beach.
Col. Greer wades ashore at 1 a.m. with his command team. A sergeant joins them, carrying a Rube Goldberg-like mortar that is designed to hurl a giant pyrotechnic display in the air. The firework is that of a vast American flag. The idea is to fire the mortar, show the flag, and the image of Old Glory will encourage the French to cease-fire. The sergeant asks Greer for permission to fire the mortar.
"Okay," says Greer, "but take the damned thing somewhere away from here before you shoot it!"
The sergeant and his two companions drag the device 50 yards away, and fire the mortar. With a loud boom, the rocket flies into the air and explodes into a beautiful American flag, 200 feet in the air. It hangs in space for a few seconds. Then the French open fire with everything they have, mortars, rifles, machine guns.
Greer and his HQ Company, fully illuminated, hit the dirt, shoving their noses in the sand, cursing brass-hats angrily.
To Greer’s left, Col. Henry B. Cheadle’s 16th Infantry Regiment of 5,608 men come ashore precisely at H-Hour, finding virtually no opposition. The 16th Infantry moves inland quickly.
West of Oran, the 1st Infantry’s third regiment, the 26th Infantry, prepares to land at Les Andalouses ("Lots of Louses"), from five transports. HMS Aurora covers the assault. Delays begin when the crew of Monarch of Bermuda hurls ladders down the ship’s side. It turns out the rope ladders have rungs two feet apart instead of the normal one-foot space. This setback is a major blow to Anglo-American amity and delays the landing by an hour to 1:20 a.m. The first three landing craft include Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr’s jeep. When the three craft hit a sand bar, the coxswains presume they’ve reached the beach, and unload. Roosevelt’s driver guns the starter. The jeep rolls off the ramp, onto the sandbar and plunges into eight feet of water. The general has to swim ashore. The other landing craft prudently sail around the sandbar, and find no opposition.
Lt. Col. Kenneth Campbell steps ashore at Les Andalouses – in peacetime a resort for Europe’s elite – to find an Arab sleeping on the beach. After the Arab recovers from the shock of his life, he tells Campbell that there are French soldiers in a building atop a nearby hill.
Campbell pulls out his Colt .45 and decides to take care of them personally, leading some of his men. They hike up to the building, which is dark. Campbell pushes open the door and hears loud snores.
Campbell jams his pistol back into his holster, flips on a light, and wakes up the Frenchmen. They are astonished to be awakened so early, and even more by the fact that it’s foreign invaders, not the first sergeant. Campbell passes out a pack of Camel cigarettes, and, in fluent French, tells the men apologetically, "You’re now prisoners of war." The Frenchmen accept their fate with Gallic shrugs.
Down on the beach, American troops fan out, but there’s no reception at all – friendly or enemy. However, the dark, shadows, and foreign terrain unnerve the Americans. "This place gives me the creeps!" one GI tells a buddy. They hiss passwords and countersigns at approaching shadows.
After Roosevelt dries himself off, he fires a white flare and a red flare into the sky, reporting unopposed landing. Terry Allen, on his command ship Reina del Pacifico, sees the flares, and runs jubilantly into a wardroom where officers are preparing to go ashore. "Boys, I thought you’d like to know that our first two waves landed without opposition. I’ve just sent a signal to the French to put in their first team!"
15 miles west of 'Lots of Louses', Col. Paul Robinett’s Task Force Green heads ashore for the dingy village of Mersa bou Zedjar, and its two beaches: X Green, and X White. The group headed for X Green has been delayed by the incident with the French convoy, and the guide launch has to make up for lost time, and gets lost. Another assault boat’s motor catches fire and spills fuel on the water, illuminating the landing and forcing other boats to make detours. The landing craft arrive at X Beach with the second wave preceding the first, at 1:31 a.m.
Nonetheless, the 13th Armored Regiment’s reconnaissance platoon manages to scramble off the beach, while engineers mark assembly areas. Col. William B. Kern reports his beach secured. The Lake Maracaibo tanker Bachaquero, loaded with 20 M3 Stuart tanks, rumbles toward the shore at 3 a.m. The tanks are commanded by Lt. Col. John Waters, who is Maj. Gen. George Patton’s son-in-law. He will later be the central figure in the ill-fated Hammelburg Raid.
At the same time, HMS Walney and HMS Hartland race in towards Oran Harbor and its floating boom, which stretches for 200 yards across the harbor’s mouth to guard against enemy attack. Incredibly, the city is still fully lit. As the old US Coast Guard cutters sweep in, air raid sirens warble across the harbor. The French pull the main plugs, and Oran disappears into blackout.
On HMS Walney’s bridge, Capt. Frederic Peters, a retired Royal Navy officer who volunteered to lead this mission, orders engines to flank speed to hit the boom with full force. The two cutters increase speed – and Peters can see they will miss the harbor gate by more than a quarter mile.
He orders the two cutters to do a 360-degree turn at full speed and charge the boom again head-on. The cutters make huge phosphorescent wakes, revealing their location to French coastal guns.
Atop Ravin Blanc, French gunners spot the two ships, and illuminate Walney with a searchlight. The French cut loose with 105mm guns against the thinly-clad cutters, loaded with American infantrymen. Shells splash all around Walney.
Peters, however, is determined. He’s also baffled by a 15-minute-old message from Fredendall: "Landings going well. Don’t start a fight unless you have to." The line sounds good for a Randolph Scott movie, but is meaningless in this situation. Peters decides to try again. The two cutters make another circle, amid shells and machine-gun fire, and smash through a second barrier of a string of barges, and towards the Mole Centre, the objective.
The cutters reach point-blank range, and all French guns hammer Walney. A searchlight spots Hartland, and the French switch their guns to her. Walney staggers on…400 yards…300 yards…200 yards…and Peters sees the French submarines Ceres and Pallas on his port side, moored to the docks, their guns manned. The British didn’t know the submarines were there. The French open fire. Their guns shred the cutter’s lower decks.
Down below, Sgt. Ralph Gower, 37, from Sacramento, huddles in the darkness with his buddies, amid the roar of gunfire and the screams of wounded and dying men.
Up above, Peters sees a French destroyer (probably Tramontane) to starboard, and he orders a turn to starboard to ram the tincan. The destroyer opens fire at a distance of 200 feet, blasting the bridge, and hurling Peters into the water.
One of the destroyer’s shots explodes near Gower, knocking him on his back and creating an incredible silence. Gower realizes he’s been deafened by the blast. He struggles to a steel ladder and hauls himself onto the weather deck. He sees streams of tracer and bursts of exploding shells, but can’t hear a thing. He staggers down the deck over what he thinks are rumpled barracks bags. They’re actually dead and wounded American soldiers and British sailors.
Col. George F. Marshall, commanding this force, orders his men to return fire on the French destroyers and submarines with rifles and machine-guns, but the bullets ricochet off the armor plate. The ship’s lone 5-inch gun also hurls shells at the French.
Gower collapses on deck, unconscious. He revives moments later, feeling a heavy weight on him. They’re dead bodies. Someone has dragged the unconscious Gower to one side, thinking he was dead, and stacked bodies atop him. Gower pulls himself up from under the pile.
Blazing, Walney struggles along to the Mole Centre. Then a 105mm shell explodes in her boiler room, killing all inside and knocking out power. Ammunition explodes. Another shell hits the 5-inch gun, shredding it and its crew. Walney drifts towards the mole and the two French destroyers moored there…300 feet…200 feet…100 feet. At point-blank range, the French blast the cutter. It collides with the destroyer, and Walney’s survivors abandon ship. Most drown – a few survive to be picked up by French troops.
The cutter shakes with one more explosion, and then capsizes.
HMS Hartland is 600 yards behind HMS Walney. When the latter sinks, the French switch their targets. Hartland misses the hole Walney tore in the floating boom, and runs up onto a sloping jetty, stuck. Lt. Cdr. G.P. Billot, commanding Hartland, orders full astern, but a searchlight picks out the cutter just as she pulls free.
Every gun in the harbor shells Hartland. Billot orders his ship to keep heading forward to the Mole du Ravin Blanc. French guns knock out Hartland’s 5-inch gun. Incredibly, the cutter reaches the mole. At the precise point where it is to unload its troops, Hartland comes under fire from the French destroyer Typhon, hitting Hartland’s boiler room. A wall of flame, Hartland drifts away from the mole. Crewmen below roast in flame, crewmen above are cut down by shells and bullets. Billot orders abandon ship. Soldiers and sailors put lifejackets on, man the liferafts, and shove them overboard.
Abandoned, Hartland drifts and burns for 15 minutes. Then an internal explosion rips her into pieces, which fly around the harbor. Hartland drifts down to the bottom. The French cease-fire and send out rescue launches to pick up oil-covered survivors.
Of the 17 officers and 376 men of Col. Marshall’s battalion, nine officers and 180 men are dead, and five officers and 153 wounded. The US Navy has lost five killed and seven wounded; the Royal Navy 113 killed and 86 wounded. Operation Reservist is a deadly failure, a waste of gallantry and men.
Algiers stands on the western side of a crescent-shaped bay about 10 miles at its widest. The headlands are eight miles apart. The lower slopes of the city’s hill include modern European-style buildings and housing projects. Farther up the hill is the fabled Casbah, a mass of tenements, twisting alleys, and ancient Arab forts and palaces that have fallen to ruin. The residents there sell tourists rugs, jewelry and trinkets in tiny little shops.
The Allies plan to seize Algeria’s capital with three landings, again attacking on the east and west sides of the city and surrounding it. However, the Allies can only land two American regiments in this assault – the third landing must be made by a British brigade.
To preserve the American appearance of the Algiers assault, the Eastern Task Force commander is Maj. Gen. Charles "Doc" Ryder of the 34th Division, a pipe-smoking World War I veteran who earned a battlefield promotion to lieutenant colonel. Ryder’s initial assault force includes the US 39th and 168th Infantry Regiments, the British 11th Infantry Brigade (part of the 78th Division), and the British-American 1st and 6th Commando Battalions. Another British brigade waits as floating reserve. The 39th has been detached from the 9th Infantry Division, which is landing at Casablanca. 45,000 British troops and 10,000 Americans are assigned to Algiers, and beaches Apples, Beer, and Charlie.
The westernmost beach, Apples, is 11th Brigade’s target. They will not actually enter Algiers. They will attack south to seize the airfield at Blida and screen the western flank. Beer Beach is the target for the 168th and part of 1st Commando. Their target is Cap Sidi Ferruch (Juin has guessed right) and they will converge on Algiers from the southwest. 6th Commando will make a separate landing at Point Pescade, just north of Algiers, and seize Fort DuPerre. Finally, the 39th Regiment and the rest of 1st Commando will land at Charlie Beach, east of Algiers. The Americans will move on the city and Maison Blanche airfield, while 1st Commando will knock out Fort D’Estrees and Batterie Lazerett at the mouth of Algiers harbor.
Backing up the invaders is the Royal Navy’s Eastern Naval Task Force under Vice Adm. Harold Burrough, flying his flag on the headquarters ship HMS Bulolo. Burrough’s main punch is the escort carrier HMS Avenger and the ancient (1917) fleet carrier HMS Argus, normally used as an aircraft transport due to its age and slow speed. He also has three light cruisers, HMS Sheffield (of Bismarck chase fame), HMS Scylla, and HMS Charybdis. Escorting them are 13 destroyers (one Polish), three submarines, four corvettes, three sloops, seven minesweepers, eight trawlers, eight motor launches, one monitor, and three anti-aircraft ships. Eleven landing ships infantry, four combat loaders, and 18 transports carry the assault force.
Despite this force, Burrough is short on air support. His two carriers have only 12 Seafires and 12 Sea-Hurricanes between them. The Sea-Hurricanes are merely Hurricanes with tail hooks attached. They lack range, their wings don’t fold, are difficult to land on a flight deck, and sink quickly in a ditching situation. However, they are tough in a fight, and their wooden airframes can take considerable punishment.
The Seafire has a two-hour useful endurance, which forces carrier skippers to turn into the wind constantly to swap out Combat Air Patrol planes. Their light design means they often break up under the stress of carrier landings. More Seafires are lost to landing accidents than in enemy action. However, Seafires are vicious in air combat, as they can outgun, outrun, outclimb, and outdive a Zero or Me 109, and even turn inside a Zero at high speed.
The British Albacore attack planes are biplanes, mild improvements on the Swordfish. Albacores offer their crews slightly more speed, better range, an enclosed cockpit, windshield wipers, and ASV radar. Despite their obsolescence, Albacores and their crews are at the top of their game. Most importantly, British carriers have better radar than the Americans, well-trained operators, and excellent fighter direction. These techniques are so good that the Americans copy them in 1943.
However, the arithmetic remains grim. The two airfields must be taken quickly, to bring in American and British Spitfires from Gibraltar.
French defenses are, on paper, fairly impressive. General Charles Mast disposes 16,000 men in the Algiers Division, and 13 coastal batteries in and around the port. He also has 39 Dewoitine 520 fighters and 52 Leo 451 bombers at Maison Blanche and Blida airfields, as well as 13 Lte. 298 floatplane torpedo bombers. The De 520, France’s best fighter aircraft, is superior to Allied P-39s and Sea-Hurricanes, marginally inferior to P-40s, and somewhat inferior to American and British Spitfires and Seafires. Algiers is also in range of German and Italian bombers based in Sardinia and Sicily.
But the Allies have an advantage in Mast himself. Pro-Allied, pro-Giraud, he was the key man at the Cherchell conference with Maj. Gen. Mark Clark. Deeply committed to Allied victory, he gives an order at midnight to his troops, "Do not oppose but assist the American landings." Then he hops in his staff car with his aides and drives out to Cap Sidi Ferruch to greet the liberators.
However, Mast’s boss, commanding the 19th Military District (Algeria, unlike other European holdings in Africa, is a French Department, and thus part of France), Gen. Louis-Marie Koeltz, countermands Mast’s order, issuing the following: "Resist any invasion by foreign troops with all the means at your disposal." All across Algiers, French troops receive conflicting orders. Some get Mast’s. Some get Koeltz’s. Some get both. Confusion reigns.
Koeltz is also a busy man with his military police as well as his signals pad. He orders Mast arrested for treason and replaces him with Maj. Gen. Pierre Roubertie as commander of the Algiers Division.
Unknowing about all this confusion, Mast arrives at Cap Sidi Ferruch at 12:45 a.m., checking that by his luminous watch. He has 15 minutes to wait before H-Hour.
Across Algiers, French resistance men, working for Robert Murphy, scurry to seize key positions, armed with pistols and grenades. Jean-Louis Jourdan, a black-haired cobbler, leads a group of resistance men into the main Algiers police station, surprising the few Vichy policemen on duty. Jourdan disarms the lot, and shoves them into their own cells. Other police stations are also seized, along with the main telephone exchange. The resistance men hold a little string of key buildings and vantage points, but they can’t withstand a determined assault by Vichy troops. Survival and victory will depend on the speed and strength of Fredendall’s American and British forces.
At precisely 1 a.m., the invasion begins, with the British 11th Infantry Brigade, under Brigadier "Copper" Cass, a double DSO (the second from Norway), landing in the west on beaches Apples Green and Apples White near Castiglione on the coast road to Oran, north of Blida Airfield.
The British are guided to the beach by a beacon from a commando folbot a few hundred yards off Apples Green. The 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment (which left Shanghai in August 1940 to help defend England against invasion), the 5th Battalion, Northampton Regiment, and the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers lead the assault. The Lancashire Fusiliers have a proud history of amphibious assault – on April 25, 1915, during the Gallipoli landing, six Fusiliers earned Victoria Crosses – "Six VCs before breakfast."
However, the Torch landing is far easier than Gallipoli. With no opposition, Brigade HQ is on the beach by 2:30 a.m., and the Tommies move inland. The British are heavily loaded – two days’ rations, consisting of bully beef, sardines, and "compo char," a ready-mix of tea, milk, and sugar.
Six miles up are beaches Beer Green and Beer White. The former is on the Sidi Ferruch headland, and the latter two miles east on the curve of the bay. A portion of British Lt. Col. T. H. Trevor’s mixed Anglo-American 1st Commando Battalion and Col. John "Iron Mike" O’Daniel’s US 168th Infantry Regiment are assigned this sector. In 1830, some 37,000 French soldiers landed there to claim Algeria from its Arab rulers, doing so to avenge a slap in the face given by the local bey to the local French consul. Of such minutiae are major wars begun.
Beyond Cap Sidi Ferruch is Beer Red, assigned to the Anglo-American 6th Commando. Their job is to land at Pointe Pescado, advance on French batteries at Fort Duperre, and seize them from behind, under cover of night.
The two commando battalions are an interesting example of Anglo-American alliance. The British are in command, but are wearing American uniforms, steel helmets, and American flag patches on their sleeves, to maintain the fiction of an all-American assault.
The 1st Commando gets things started by landing on its beach, and scaling heights toward the guns of the old Fort de Sidi Ferruch. Offshore, Troubridge and Ryder, on HMS Bulolo, watch the dark shore through binoculars. When the Commandos and Rangers reach the top, they find the fort’s commander, Col. Alphonse Baril, ready to surrender. Baril fires a single rifle round into the air as a token "act of resistance." Trevor fires off a white flare to signal success. Anglo-American cooperation here, unlike in the movies, is perfect.
6th Commando has a harder time, however, as its men clamber down from the New Zealand transport HMNZS Awatea. The battalion’s landing craft have to motor over to Awatea from another ship, and their inexperienced coxswains get lost in the dark night, and are late in arriving. British and Americans use their helmets to bail the boats. The irritated Commandos and Rangers scramble down the nets, only to find another delay – the assault boats are old and not seaworthy. Their engines break down. Some fill with water and sink, scattering their occupants into the sea.
The invasion here becomes a rescue exercise, and the Commandos waste valuable darkness in just getting ashore and organized. By 4 a.m., the Anglo-American battalion is still not ready to advance off of Beer Red Beach. An irritated commando writes in his pocket diary, "Made a rough landing, losing special equipment. A rocket pierces the bottom of the barge and she sinks. Sailors scream, but we can’t wait, and push on up the cliff. Have landed by a huge Roman bath, all floodlit."
At Cap Sidi Ferruch, as Marshal Juin has guessed, the American 168th Infantry Regiment, under Col. John "Iron Mike" O’Daniel, comes ashore on Beer White and Beer Green Beach. However, their guiding motor launch gets lost, and the 168th Regiment finds itself scattered along 15 miles of coastline, in no particular order, partially tangled with the British 11th Brigade. Among the equipment damaged on landing is the American regiment’s radio gear.
An old gardener, living in the villa of an Algerian senator, hears motor launches chugging ashore, and jumps out of bed. He comes face to face with a group of silhouettes wearing helmets as wide as the German coal scuttle helmet. The Americans have no Arabic or French-speakers in their band, but the gardener recognizes the Stars and Stripes on their sleeves, and leads them inland.
Officers and battalion commanders drive up and down the roads and shoreline. Unit leaders shout into the dark, trying to round up their men. The password is "Hi-yo, Silver!" The countersign is "Away!" Would-be Lone Rangers are heard all over the beach.
Lt. Col. Edward J. Doyle, commanding the 1st/168th, lands on Apples Beach. Unfortunately for him, most of his men land on Beer Green Beach, as planned. Doyle looks for his unit, while one of his officers, Capt. Edward W. Bird, drives off with two British officers to reconnoiter the objective, the fashionable western Algiers suburb of Labiridi.
Bird and his pals come under fire at a French barracks, and the French capture one Englishman. Bird and the others escape into the dark.
Meanwhile, Col. O’Daniel has his problems. He is to land on Beer White at 3 a.m., but his assault craft gets lost, and meanders around in the darkness.
An American company commander notes for his report: "We received no opposition whatsoever from the beach and if we had, in that condition of landing, it would have been a complete failure in my opinion, as the troops in the wallowing boats and those in the water would have been helpless against enemy fire."
However, the resourceful Doyle catches up with his battalion, and takes 25 of his men around Lambiridi to the south and heads for downtown Algiers, where pro-Allied Frenchmen have seized the main gendarmerie.
Back at Beer Beach, General Mast, still unaware that he’s supposed to be arrested on sight, meets Lt. Col. Trevor of 1st Commando. After a round of salutes and handshakes, Mast tells Trevor that the Anglo-American commandos should seize Blida Airfield as soon as possible. Troops loyal to Mast hold the airstrip, and Giraud can land there to take over.
Trevor hesitates. His primary mission – taking Fort de Sidi Ferruch – is accomplished, and the invasion plan does not call for his lightly-armed men to drive inland. But Mast has trucks available, and Trevor is an aggressive commando, so he agrees. British and American commandos mount up in French trucks to head out, in perfect Allied unity.
The final eastern hook of the Algiers encirclement, the 39th Infantry Regiment, under Col. Benjamin F. Caffey Jr., however, has run into trouble. The lead wave was to include the 39th’s 2nd Battalion, but their transport, the Thomas Stone, is immobilized due to a Luftwaffe bomb. Now Caffey has to send in his floating reserve, the 3rd Battalion, in total darkness, hours before H-Hour. It’s a tough chore for experienced troops, and this is the 39th Regiment’s first battle.
The 39th is to land at Cap Matifou, directly under the French Batterie du Lazaret’s heavy coastal guns, which have a range of 14 miles. A detachment of British and American commandos from 1st Commando Battalion is to knock out the guns in best Hollywood fashion.
In the hot seat is US Navy Capt. Campbell Edgar, commanding the assault forces. With time running out, he orders the transports to move in close, and hoists the signal, "Land the landing force." Landing craft start rumbling in to the beach. As the invasion begins, Captain Edgar’s radiomen pick up a bizarre broadcast on short wave from New York City. An announcer says that Washington has just reported landings east of Algiers have been successfully accomplished. Edgar is astounded.
Next, weather interferes with the commandos, as 11 of their landing craft sail into a fogbank and grope around for two hours, before finding Charlie Green Beach.
As the 39th’s transports and landing craft move in, the French defenders illuminate their searchlights. They spot the transports and two British destroyers, HMS Zetland and HMS Cowdray. The French open up on their traditional enemy. The British shoot back and punch out the French searchlights. The French guns, unable to spot targets, fall silent.
The 39th goes ashore, with some boats missing their navigation marker, the Bordelaise Rock, and landing on the rock beach, putting the wrong battalions together. Luckily for the Americans, there is no further resistance on Charlie Beaches Red, Blue, and Green, and the 39th Infantry spends the pre-dawn hours reorganizing. The 3rd/39th, under Maj. Farrar O. Griggs, sets off along the coastal road to Algiers, heading for Fort de l’Eau. The Americans find a detachment of French infantry dug in, backed up by tanks, which stops the advance.
Meanwhile, the 1st/39th, under Lt. Col. A.H. Rosenfeld, loads onto trucks and races across dusty roads in the dark, heading for the key Maison Blanche airfield, 10 miles to the southwest.
The last part of the assault on Algiers involves two British destroyers, HMS Broke and HMS Montcalm, 72 British tars, and 662 American soldiers in another drive to take a central port by coup de main.
At 3 a.m., the two destroyers glide towards the crescent-shaped sea wall that stretches along Algiers Harbor’s 1.5-mile length. Two jetties extend beyond the wall leaving gaps for ships to enter and exit the harbor. Algiers’s defenses include medium guns of the Batterie des Arcades, machine-gun posts, and searchlights. At 4 a.m., the destroyers are ready to attack.
The other half of the giant Allied nutcracker, the British 8th Army, is also pushing its advance, battling rain and a lengthening supply line. Field Marshal Rommel’s forces are in full retreat. Along the Coast Road, the Germans and Italians have created a 25-mile traffic queue. Despite this, the retreating Axis forces are maintaining discipline.
The British advance with 2nd New Zealand Division on the coast road and 7th Armoured on the south side of the escarpment. The 8th Army’s euphoria is dissipating as the advance slows. Communications breakdowns cause chaos. An unconfirmed report says that Matruh has fallen. Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery sends his Chief of Operations Staff, Hugh Mainwaring, and his stepson, Dick Carver, to find a new site for 8th Army’s Tac HQ at Matruh. Instead, both get captured. Worse, Monty is getting no reports from his least capable corps commander, Lt. Gen. Herbert Lumsden, boss of 10th Corps.
While the two British-manned assaults go in on Oran and Algiers, the third element of the attack, the Western Task Force under Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, lines up to attack Casablanca in Morocco, after a three-week voyage.
The only invasion of World War II to combat-load in the United States represents America’s entrance to the European war as a self-contained independent force. All the ships, planes, men and guns are American. The experts believe Patton’s 33,834 men have a one in five chance of getting ashore, because of fast-moving tides and a fearsome wall of surf.
Casablanca, the main port, is well defended, with coastal batteries, and the battleship Jean Bart and her 15-inch guns. The Americans are reluctant to invade the capital, Rabat, because of the political risk of damaging relations with the Arab population. (Ironically, after the battle, American officers will learn that had they invaded Rabat, the French would probably have surrendered immediately.) However, the invasion of Morocco has been whipped together in 64 days, and intelligence on the target is terrible. Most of the American information on Morocco has come from pre-war travel guides.
The remaining ports and beaches are artificial and distant from Casablanca – 200 miles for Agadir and Mogador.
The Americans decide to land their tanks at Safi, 140 miles southwest of Casablanca, where they can bring in their armor, Port Lyautey, 88 miles northeast of Casablanca, for its modern airfield, and Fedala, 18 miles north of Casablanca, for the main infantry assault. Its small fishing and gasoline storage port cannot handle tanks, but its good beaches can unload supplies. The divisions will encircle Casablanca from the rear. Naturally, Patton opposes this, preferring to bombard Casablanca and assault it directly. Ike has vetoed this, citing the need to capture Casablanca’s port facilities intact.
Patton has two infantry divisions under his command, the 3rd Infantry Division and the 9th Infantry Division (except for the 39th Regiment, which has been sent to Algiers). Backing up the infantry is the 2nd Armored Division. Patton also has the 70th and 756th Tank Battalions, 603rd, 609th, and 702nd Tank Destroyer Battalions, and the 36th Combat Engineer Regiment.
Rear Admiral Kent Hewitt commands a powerful and mixed array of ships to land this force. The big stick is the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, America’s first carrier built from the keel up. A fast ship, her main weakness is that the aviators’ ready room is downwind of the head.
Four escort carriers, Santee, Sangamon, Chenango, and Suwanee, back up Ranger. The Chenango carries US Army P-40 fighters that will be flown off to land on captured airfields, for quick air support. Ranger and her pals deploy an air group of US Navy F4F Wildcat fighters, SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bombers, and TBF-1 Avenger torpedo-bombers. The Wildcats are extremely rugged planes that can take a lot of punishment, but are somewhat inferior to the French De 520s. The SBD Dauntless is the superb dive-bomber that sank four carriers at Midway. The TBF Avenger, Grumman’s replacement for the antique Devastator, is a very useful bomber. Both are smaller than the French LeO. 451 bombers.
Hewitt also has three battleships under his command, the elderly World War I veterans Texas and New York, and something new, the immense battleship USS Massachusetts, a sister of the USS South Dakota serving in the Pacific. Massachusetts, the newest capital ship in the entire armada, is to take on the Vichy French dreadnought Jean Bart.
Hewitt flies his flag on the heavy cruiser USS Augusta, which is supported by two more heavy cruisers, USS Wichita, and USS Tuscaloosa. The light cruisers USS Cleveland, USS Philadelphia, USS Savannah ("The Streetwalker of the Atlantic"), and USS Brooklyn are also present to provide gunfire support.
This array of heavy ships is escorted by 41 destroyers, four submarines, eight minesweepers, three minelayers, five tankers, and a seaplane tender. The invading troops are sailing on 23 combat loaders and eight mechanical transports. On the destroyer USS Mayrant, the gunnery officer is Lt. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr.
At 2 a.m., Patton wakes up on his command ship, USS Augusta, and walks out on deck. The bad weather that has haunted the operation is over, and the sea is dead calm. "God is with us," Patton notes. He also sees that the lights of Fedala and Casablanca are blazing.
Patton’s three assault forces are organized into three sub-operations. Operation Blackstone, under Maj. Gen. Ernest Harmon of 2nd Armored Division, will assault Safi with 67th Armored Regiment of 2nd Armored Division and 47th Infantry Regiment of 9th Infantry Division.
Operation Goalpost, under Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott, Jr., a polo champion and direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson, will assault Port Lyautey (now Kenitra), with the 60th Infantry Regiment of 9th Division.
Operation Brushwood, under Maj. Gen. Jonathan Anderson, will use 3rd Infantry Division to seize Fedala. Anderson is unique in Army annals: he is a Naval Academy graduate with an army commission.
Off Safi, "Old Gravel Voice" Harmon, on the bridge of the transport Harris, sees that the town is fully lit, and the sea is mirror-calm – one of 12 days in November that Safi is calm. Waves can reach 12 feet at this time of year. A World War I veteran, Harmon has a great deal of respect for French artillery.
Safi is an ancient town dominated by towering cliffs and a Portuguese-built fort from the Middle Ages. The city’s more modern facilities include a French army barracks and an emergency airfield. Safi’s population is 25,000. Its small artificial harbor is used to export phosphates.
At 3:35, Safi’s chief defender, Captain (Navy) François Deuve, is yanked out of bed by an urgent telephone call putting the whole garrison on alert. Deuve pulls on his uniform and drives to his command post, a building complex above the port called the Front de Mer, just north of town. There he starts issuing orders.
He doesn’t have many to give. Deuve commands only 450 officers and men of the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Regiment. They have 15 light tanks (probably old Somua 35s), five armored cars, a battery of four 75mm howitzers, and another of 155mm mobile guns. The tanks and armored cars are obsolete, and the 75s, while fine pieces, are also elderly. North of the town, at Pointe de la Tour, a battery of 130mm coastal guns with modern range finders and fire control systems commands the bay.
Deuve has help nearby, though – at Marrakesh, 90 miles away, 1,400 cavalrymen, 2,000 infantry, 30 tanks, 10 armored cars, and two battalions of horse-drawn artillery are encamped.
While Deuve sleeps, however, the invasion unfolds. At 12:20 a.m., the submarine USS Barb surfaces two-and-a-half miles from Point de la Tour. A group of scouts from 47th Infantry, wearing camouflage grease and knit commando caps, climb over the submarine’s side and into a rubber boat. Armed with infra-red lamps, their job is to paddle to the end of a long jetty and mark the Safi harbor entrance with the lamps for the incoming destroyers USS Cole and USS Bernadou. These two ships, loaded with 350 men of K Company, 3rd/47th, are to seize the docks before daylight. Cole and Bernadou are ancient World War I "four-pipers," in the same class of 50 tincans that were traded to Britain in the "bases-for-destroyers" deal of 1940. They have been converted, like many other four-pipers, into a destroyer-transport role. Light tanks will follow the infantry. In addition, the destroyers’ superstructures have been modified to make them look like French vessels.
The scouts row ashore into the harbor, and promptly become lost. French troops spot the Americans and open fire. The scouts row to a nearby pier and take cover. While the scouts try to stay invisible, Cole, Bernadou, and the other assault ships line up for action.
That turns into a series of errors. Landing craft can’t find Harris. Troops burdened by 60 lbs. of weapons struggle down nets. The transports are improperly loaded, so heavy vehicles have to be moved aside to find first-wave trucks and artillery in the bottom holds. H-Hour is pushed back from 3:30 a.m. to 4 a.m.
At midnight, the transport Henry T. Allen stands off Port Lyautey. The 47-year-old Lucian Truscott commands the Goalpost task force.
Morocco’s second-largest port is a hard objective. It lies six miles inland, on the Sebou River, which flows north and west in a horseshoe bend from Port Lyautey to the ocean. On the western leg is the Casbah, a citadel guarding the river approach. South of that is the Mehdia Beach resort. Three miles north of Port Lyautey lies the city’s modern airport, the only one in Morocco with concrete runways. It lies just west of the first loop of the Sedou’s horseshoe, below 100-foot bluffs.
Port Lyautey’s defenses consist of six 138.6mm coastal defense guns by the Casbah and several 75mm guns. Farther inland are four 155mm guns. About 3,000 Foreign Legionnaires and Moroccan Tirailleurs garrison the area.
Truscott’s invaders face the Mehdia beach, then a lagoon that runs parallel to the shore for almost four miles. There is only one narrow land corridor, 200 yards wide at points, guarded by six 138mm guns. The French have laced this area with AA guns, trenches, and automatic weapons. Planners say "It would be hard to pick out a more difficult place to assault in all of West Africa."
Nonetheless, Truscott intends to try, with two unorthodox initiatives. One is yet another nautical coup de main, with 75 specially-trained infantrymen aboard the four-piper destroyer USS Dallas. This ship will sail up the Sebou, past artillery and machine guns, to reach the airfield. His more peaceful approach is a letter to the defending French commander, translated into French and ornately hand-lettered on a scroll. Two volunteers are to go in with the first wave, to deliver the appeal.
Truscott’s more orthodox attack, behind that, calls for all three battalions of the 60th Infantry Regiment to go ashore on both sides of the Oued Sabou, with an armored force of 65 light tanks of 66th Armored Regiment to move inland swiftly. 9,000 men, escorted by the battleship Texas, the cruiser Savannah, the escort carrier Sangamon, and nine destroyers move in. Also on hand is the escort carrier Chenango, her flight deck jammed with 76 P-40 fighters to fly ashore to the airfield, when it is taken. The shallow-draft gasoline ship Contessa will unload avgas at the airfield to enable the P-40s to get to work.
Against this the French have an infantry regiment of about 3,000 men with artillery. A few hours’ march away, at Rabat, is a mechanized cavalry unit of 1,200 men and part of a tank battalion with 45 R35 and H35 tanks. Further inland, at Meknes, about 75 road miles, is another half-battalion of tanks.
As Truscott’s force boards its landing craft after midnight, the TBS (talk-between-ships) radios break down, and Truscott loses touch with his men. He boards a small boat and sails among his five transports, asking for information. Arriving at the side of each vessel, Truscott yells out his name and asks to know what’s going on. The ships’ officers, nervous, ignore the man claiming to be Truscott. The general climbs aboard each ship by rope ladder, and gives and receives last-minute updates for his men. Due to the confusion, Truscott postpones H-Hour from 4 a.m. to 4:30 a.m.
The delay doesn’t bother the invaders. Sgt. Jim Webster of the 1st Battalion/540th Engineers, is expecting to be welcomed by brass bands.
At 3:30 a.m., the weary general, amazed to have reached all five transports, staggers back aboard the Allen, hoping he has still has achieved surprise. As Truscott steps over the rail, his aide, Col. Don E. Carlton, dashes up, and says. "Boss, listen to this."
The ship’s short wave radio is playing General Eisenhower’s broadcast to the French people, calling for their cooperation. Truscott says it will be miraculous if the French defenders are not on full alert.
Amazingly, at that moment, five French cargo vessels, all lights burning brightly, steam out of the Sebou, directly into the convoy. One of the steamers, the Lorraine, blinkers in French: "Be warned. They are alert on shore! Alert for 0500." The good Samaritans steam off to Casablanca, paralleling the coastline. Sadly for these samaritans, they run into American destroyers off Fedala, who drive them aground.
The spreading Allied invasion has an impact at Laghouat in Algeria, where Fleet Air Arm aviator Charles Lamb is one of a number of PoWs held by Vichy France as internees. Lamb is asleep when a fellow PoW, Sub-lieutenant Donald Grant, of Birmingham, runs from building to building, announcing that the PoWs are free, according to a pro-Allied broadcast from Algiers. The British start celebrating, irritating their French keepers, who don’t have a radio – and suffer from cut telephone lines. The French demand a written document from their prisoners, stating that the broadcast is accurate. The British provide it – and start packing.
Off Fedala, Anderson’s force and Patton himself, prepare to attack. 19,500 Americans in four columns of transports steam in, and get lost again, battling rain squalls and navigation errors. The ships are as much as six miles out of position. H-hour is postponed from 4 a.m. to 4:45.
To make matters worse, Radio One on Augusta, backbone of Patton’s communications, is overstrained. Twenty-six inexperienced Navy radiomen are operating 11 receivers, three decoding and encoding machines, and assorted other equipment. In a short time, Patton’s message traffic is hopelessly snarled by backlog.
French defenses at Fedala are similar to the rest of Morocco. Pont Blondin battery boasts three 138.6mm coastal defense guns. The port itself disposes three more 100mm coastal defense guns, and two 75mm guns emplaced in the port. Casablanca houses a 6,000-man garrison. Its port is defended by Jean Bart and the El Hank promontory just west of the city, with its 138.6mm coastal defense guns. Four more 100mm coastal guns stand north of Casablanca.
Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander, spends a fitful night, trying to sleep on a cot in his Gibraltar office. At 12:40 a.m., Cdr. Harry Butcher, Ike’s naval aide, goes to Gibraltar’s Government House to listen to radio broadcasts.
Promptly at 1 a.m., Roosevelt and Eisenhower’s broadcasts go on the air. FDR reads his own speeches, but Ike’s voice is that of Col. Julius Holmes, the State Department official in uniform who accompanied Clark to Algiers. The broadcast’s main result is to alert French defenders and annoy American invaders.
At 2:40 a.m., Royal Navy Commodore Royer M. Dick, Butcher, and Admiral Andrew Cunningham (the latter in sweater and suspenders) go into Ike’s office and let him know that the Algiers force is ashore. "Landing successful, A, B, and C Beaches, Eastern Task Force," it reads.
By 3:15, Butcher is back by the radio, listening to more broadcasts. Over Gibraltar, American and British Spitfires are taking off to test guns and instruments before heading for Morocco. At 3:22, Center Task Force reports landings at Y and Z beaches, the latter unopposed. At 3:32, Fredendall reports successful landings at X beach. Ike goes back to sleep in his cot, while Butcher naps under a table.
As Operation Torch unfolds, it begins to spread ripples across North Africa and Europe. At 2 a.m., the US Consul-General in Tunis, Hooker A. Doolittle, drives to the residence of the French Governor-General, Admiral Jean Pierre Esteva.
The white-bearded Esteva greets Doolittle in full uniform – and Arab bedroom slippers. Doolittle presents Roosevelt’s message, and asks for free passage of US forces through Tunisia. Esteva reads it carefully, and says he must refer to his government. Until then, he will execute his orders from Vichy, to defend against all enemies.
Esteva looks up from his papers. "Out of curiosity, where have the landings taken place?"
Doolittle hesitates. "Everywhere: in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia."
"Not in Tunisia," Esteva says. "I would have been informed. The nearest port is Bône. How long will it take your forces to reach here?"
Doolittle doesn’t know. He bluffs. "They may well be on their way, right now."
"In that case, they had better hurry up; because the others will be here within 48 hours."
Doolittle is very well aware that "the others" mean the Germans, and that Tunisia is ready to fight them – if the Americans can win the race for Tunis.
In Washington, D.C., it’s still Saturday, November 7th, and FDR is at a camp built by the Civilian Conservation Corps 75 miles from Washington, awaiting news amid oak cabins, dirt paths, and woods. He has named the place "Shangri-La," but it will become more familiar to the world as Camp David.
FDR’s main retreat is a four-bedroom cabin with two baths, combination living and dining room, and a screened-in stone porch. His guests are close friends and advisers – Eleanor is in England. Most of the aides don’t actually know the invasion is imminent. As the evening wears on, Roosevelt, looking strained and uneasy, works on his stamp collection, and chats with his friends.
Shortly before 9 p.m., the War Department phones, and Roosevelt’s secretary, Grace Tully, takes the call. She passes the phone to FDR’s shaking hand. The War Department reports that the troops are ashore, and the first wave has taken a minimum of losses. "Thank God. Thank God," the president says. "That sounds grand. Congratulations. Casualties are comparatively light – much below your predictions. Thank God." He turns to his audience with a broad smile. "We have landed in North Africa. Casualties are below expectations. We are striking back."
He reaches for a pen and starts preparing a message to the nation announcing the successful landing, which goes out on nationwide radio. Americans learn that they have entered the land war in Europe at last, in the biggest invasion yet attempted.
The news resonates around the country. At Washington Stadium, Kathleen Marshall, the general’s wife, is attending a night football game. When the public address system announces the invasion, the 25,000 fans go wild. "Like the waves of an ocean," she writes later, "the cheers of the people rose and fell, then rose again in a long sustained emotional cry. The football players turned somersaults and handsprings down the center of the field; the crowd went wild…We had struck back."
It is also still November 7th, in Detroit, Michigan, where a 22-year-old plumber’s helper and laborer named Eddie D. Slovik is marrying Antoinette Wisniewski, a bookkeeper for a plumbing company. Both are victims of life. Slovik has served time in Michigan juvenile facilities and jails for pocketing change received over the counter of drug stores, petty theft, and stealing a car while drunk and on parole for the former offenses. Wisniewski is no criminal, but was born with one leg three inches shorter than the other, which was followed up by infantile paralysis, which limits her ability to walk, and epilepsy.
Despite these handicaps, the couple is determined to marry and succeed in life. The wedding is held at Our Saviour of Golgotha Church in Detroit, where services are held in Polish and English. Antoinette’s gown and veil costs her $700, and the bridesmaids are her sisters. Slovik invites his parole officer and prison guards to the wedding, but none are able to attend the 10 a.m. ceremony. All send best wishes.
After the ceremony, all hands go to the Wisniewski home, where cooks and waitresses provide food for what will be a 72-hour-long party. A hired nickelodeon belts out "The Beer Barrel Polka" and other Polish favorites. Everyone dines on kielbasa. Nobody is aware of the invasion of North Africa. It is a very strong possibility that this is the happiest moment of Slovik’s life. Exactly one year later, Slovik – despite his status as an ex-con – will have his draft status uprated to 1-A, and he will be on his way to becoming America’s unique soldier – the only one executed since the American Civil War for desertion in the face of the enemy.
Roosevelt’s announcement has a somewhat different result in Berlin, where the German Foreign Office’s staff is listening to American short wave and BBC broadcasts. FDR’s statements set of a wave of emergency telephone calls to Joachim Von Ribbentrop, the arrogant and flabby foreign minister.
Years later, under interrogation at Nuremberg, Ribbentrop will say that this was the moment that he realized the war became terrible. His interrogator, Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson, will tell his colleagues that Ribbentrop said so because he knew the Germans were starting to lose.
However, on this morning, Ribbentrop’s main concern is alerting the rest of the German government, starting with the Fuhrer.
Adolf Hitler’s train Amerika is rumbling through Bavaria, headed for Munich, where he will deliver the keynote speech at the celebrations of the 19th anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler is sleeping off a series of all-night conferences when the train brakes to a halt at a small station outside of Munich, answering a "stop" signal.
The stationmaster reports an urgent telephone call from the Reich Foreign Ministry in Berlin. Walther Hewel, the Foreign Minister’s liaison to Hitler’s court, takes the message. Nervous Nellie Ribbentrop, too afraid of Hitler to call him directly, always asks to be put through to "my man Hewel."
Ribbentrop reads off a translated BBC bulletin: "An Allied expeditionary force has landed in North Africa. Powerful American and British armies under Lieutenant General Eisenhower, supported by British and American battleships, have already taken Algiers and are advancing on Casablanca and Oran. All is going well. We come as friends. Only token resistance is expected from the French, whom we have come to liberate." Ribbentrop has another suggestion for Hitler: make an approach to Stalin through the Soviet Embassy in Stockholm to seek peace with Russia, enabling the Germans to focus all their energy and firepower on the West.
Hewel is stunned. He dashes across the platform and onto the train, to awaken Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl. The big issue facing Hewel and Jodl is one that will plague Hitler’s courtiers throughout the war: whether or not to awaken the night-owl Fuhrer, who often sleeps until noon. Early wake-up calls often result in Hitler exploding in a rage, bellowing at his flunkies for waking him up to deal with any question. However, Jodl has a knack for dealing with Hitler in these situations.
Jodl awakens Hitler, who does not explode. Instead, the "greatest field-marshal of all time" is merely astonished. Allied deception efforts have succeeded brilliantly. Operation Torch has completely surprised the Germans. It’s one of the first times the Allies have done so. It won’t be the last.
Jodl also mentions Ribbentrop’s suggestion. Hitler dismisses it, saying that a moment of weakness (North Africa) is not the right time for dealing with the enemy.
Back in Berlin, Ribbentrop works his phones. He calls Pétain and Laval in France to assure the Vichy leaders that Germany will defend France.
Then Ribbentrop calls Mussolini’s Foreign Minister, Galeazzo Ciano, at about 5:30 a.m., awakening the shrewd but lazy playboy. Despite the early hour, Ciano realizes the significance of this invasion. The Allies are not outflanking Rommel, they’re launching a concerted effort to crush him. Italy’s economy and morale are collapsing under pressure of the war and poor leadership. Now things will become worse.