4. Operation Torch:
The Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa,
November 1942-- May 1943
The sixty five odd years that now separate us from the Anglo-American landings in North Africa have taken their toll on the collective memory in both the United States and North Africa where two generations reached adulthood, largely unaware of that episode of the Second World War and the implications it had on their respective countries.
On 8 November 1942, the United States and the United Kingdom launched a
combined, amphibious operation against French North Africa, targeting
particularly the French-held territories of Morocco and Algeria. The assault,
code-named “Torch”, was the first and most important offensive action launched
against Germany in the Second World War by the United States. And yet, in
retrospect, it appears as the least remembered campaign in the American
popular consciousness even though it proved to be the turning point in the Allies
war against the Axis forces. With Montgomery’s Eighth Army to the east of
Tunisia and the U.S. troops to the west, Torch allowed the Allies to hem in the
Rommel’s forces and eventually defeat them in the battle of Tunisia during the
spring of 1943. This, in turn, gave a firm foothold across the Mediterranean for
the invasion of Sicily and Italy.
Torch also marked, the largest amphibious operation ever attempted in the history of modern warfare. More importantly, it marked the first major victory of the Allied powers, boosting morale of troops and populations and turning the tide of the war in favour of the Allies.
The possibility of launching an Allied military campaign in northwest Africa was first suggested in January 1942, when Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his Chief of Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke met with President Franklin Roosevelt in Washington to discuss war strategies. The matter was again discussed in June 1942 in relation with Stalin’s pressing calls on the United States and Britain, urging them to open a second front in north-western Europe to alleviate the enormous pressure of Germany’s military forces on the Soviet Union. Important part of Soviet territory had actually been invaded by the Wehrmacht with the Soviet population having suffered severe losses in the course of the German drive towards Moscow.
Roosevelt and Churchill were divided on the question of where to open a second front against Germany. The majority of the American commanders were sceptical about the value of a North African invasion; they favoured a direct cross-Channel invasion of north-western Europe in 1942 or at the latest in the spring of 1943, when their forces would be better trained and equipped to fight the Wehrmacht on the European continent. The British military leaders, on the other hand, had their doubts about the chances of success of an amphibious assault, launched from England even in 1943, and its catastrophic consequences for Britain should the operation fail. They urged therefore the Americans to consider the possibility of a less hazardous landing in the Mediterranean that would clear Axis forces from the shores of North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Sea, and prepare an invasion of southern Europe in 1943.
Differences between American and British members of the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) in London were only settled in July when Roosevelt overrode the counsel of his military advisers and made the decision to support a landing operation in North Africa. The President agreed to send troops to North Africa in late 1942, and the British Prime Minister agreed in return to support a cross-Channel attack in 1943 or 1944. D-day was later set for 8 November 1942. Planning then could start for a joint Anglo-American landing. The operation would be code-named “Torch”. Roosevelt designated Lieutenant General Eisenhower to be Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Force. Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ) for the North African campaign was set up at Norfolk House in London in mid-August, with primary responsibility for planning delegated to Major General Mark Wayne Clark, Eisenhower’s deputy commander.
The plans developed by General Clark and his staff called for simultaneous landings carried out by three separate task forces. U.S. naval units would support operations on the Atlantic coast; British units were to support operations on the Mediterranean coast. The Twelfth U.S. Air Force, under the command of Brig. General James Doolittle was to give necessary air support as soon as airfields were seized and made operational.
There were, however, important military and political considerations involved, since the area was under control of the French Vichy government of Marshal Philippe Pétain, with which the United States, unlike Great Britain, was still maintaining diplomatic relations. The armistice following the surrender of France In June 1940 had provided that three-fifths of the country would be occupied by Germany. The French were allowed to form a new government whose seat was at Vichy, a spa town in the unoccupied part of France. The Vichy government ruled the unoccupied rump of its own country and most of France’s overseas territories including Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. There were no German occupation forces in these countries but most of the French forces stationed there, had remained in their large majority loyal to Marshal Pétain. The potential opposition of these forces, notably the French Navy, which counted several warships, destroyers, and submarines, could pose a serious threat to the success of Operation Torch. The top officers in the Vichy naval service were known to be bitter toward the British Royal Navy after its sinking of the French fleet at Mers el-Kebir, Algeria in 1940 (1).Under the circumstances, it was difficult to predict the reaction of the Vichy regime forces to an Anglo-American landing in North Africa.
The French commander in chief in Morocco, General Charles-Auguste Noguès and his counterpart in Algeria, General Alphonse Juin were subordinate to Admiral Jean-Francois Darlan, the supreme commander of all Vichy’s forces. In order to gain these officers’ collaboration and assess the reaction of the Vichy French forces to an Allied landing in North Africa, Robert Daniel Murphy was appointed as consul to the American consulate in Algeria. But his covert mission was actually to make contact with a number of top brass French officers and find out which of the French generals were likely to defy the Vichy orders and change sides, without divulging too much of the invasion strategy or timing. The officers who were willing to support the Allies, including General Charles Emmanuel Mast, the French commander-in-chief in Algiers asked that a secret conference be held with a senior Allied general in Algeria. Major-General Mark Wayne Clark, one of Eisenhower’s senior commanders, was dispatched to Cherchell in Algeria aboard a British submarine HMS Seraph, and met with these French officers on 21 October 1942 (2).
The Allies also made contact with the anti-Vichy French General Henry Giraud and managed to slip him out of Vichy France aboard the Seraph again, planning to offer him the post of commander in chief of French forces in North Africa after the invasion, an offer which he later declined for not being given the position of commander in chief of all the invading forces. As it turned out, the Allies’ hope that dissident French officers would take control of the levers of power failed. The Vichy military forces decided to oppose the Allied landings, a resistance which was quickly suppressed but which nevertheless took its toll on the first waves of American landing troops.
There were three Naval Task Forces. The Allies had planned a three-pronged
amphibious assault aimed to seize key ports and airports in Morocco and
Algeria, simultaneously targeting Casablanca, Oran and Algiers.
The Western Task Force, which was to storm the beaches on the Atlantic coast of Morocco in the vicinity of Casablanca, was an all-American operation under Major-General George S. Patton. The task force consisted of one armoured division, the U.S. 2nd Armoured Division; two infantry divisions, the U.S. 3rd and 9 th Infantry Divisions, totalling approximately 35,000 troops in all. It sailed for North Africa from the United States under convoy of a U.S. Navy task force of one aircraft carrier, four escort carriers, three battleships, seven cruisers, and 38 destroyers, in addition to troop and cargo transports under Rear Admiral Henry K. Hewitt.
The Centre Task Force, a Royal Navy operation, was to go ashore on the beaches flanking the port city of Oran, some 280 miles east of Gibraltar, inside the Mediterranean. This force included the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the 1 st Infantry Division with the 1st Ranger Battalion attached and Combat Command B of the 1 st Armoured Division, totalling 39, 000 U.S. ground troops. They sailed from Britain and were commanded by U.S. Major-General Lloyd Fredendall. Trained in England, the Centre Task Force was convoyed by a Royal Navy flotilla of one battleship, three aircraft carriers, three cruisers, 13 destroyers, and 43 transports.
The Eastern Task Force, another Royal Navy operation with Algiers as its target, 220 miles farther east, was commanded by British Lieutenant-General Kenneth Anderson. Eastern included the largest British proportion of the total 33, 000 troops. The 10,000 U.S. Army troops consisted of Regimental Combat Team and American units from the 9th and the 34th U.S Infantry Divisions. These American units and all the British Army units came under command of U.S. Major-General Charles W. Ryder. Like the Centre Task Force, the Eastern Task Force sailed from Britain and was escorted to its destination by a Royal Navy task force of three aircraft carriers, four cruisers, one antiaircraft vessel, seven destroyers, and fifteen transports.
Aerial operations were split into eastern and western zones on either side of Cape Ténes, Algeria. The British Air Force was under Air Marshal Sir William Welsh and American forces under Brig. General James Doolittle, under the direct command of General PattonCasablanca
Intelligence reports suggested that an estimated fifty thousand French troops might resist an Allied assault against Casablanca. So, rather than a frontal attack against the strongly-defended port-city, General Patton and Torch planners decided to make three separate landings along a 200 mile stretch of Atlantic coastline on both sides of Casablanca. The armoured force was to land at Safi, 140 miles to the southwest of Casablanca and the best port for tank-bearing boats. The second landing at Mehdia, 80 miles to the north of Casablanca, had the mission of seizing Port-Lyautey airfield to provide Patton with a base for air support. Finally the bulk of Patton’s infantry would land at Fedala, a small port 16 miles to the northeast of Casablanca. The troops were to skirt round the city of Casablanca eastward and in conjunction with the armoured force from the south, and naval gunfire offshore, move westward on the city from the inland. As expected, Patton’s troops faced strong opposition from Vichy forces and had to fight a series of fierce battles before they could achieve their goals.
At Safi, the first waves of landing craft ploughing through dark swells toward beaches code-named from north to south Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow came ashore under fire from French batteries. Darkness and poor sea conditions complicated the operation and caused accidents and delays. In the heavy Atlantic surf, many landing boats drifted away from their assigned beaches. Some crafts crashed against rocky cliffs. Despite these disembarking snags and tough opposition on land, the 6,500 men of the 2 nd Armoured and 9 th Divisions, established their beachheads and began capturing French troops and key points. By daylight of D-Day, Sunday 8 November, port facilities, telecommunication stations, petroleum storage tanks, all roads leading into town were seized and under control of the American troops. By mid-morning, Safi harbour was made sufficiently secure to get the tanks ashore. Outnumbered and outgunned, the French commander surrendered the place by mid-afternoon. Eleven hours after stepping on French Morocco soil, Patton’s troops controlled Safi.
D plus1 saw more actions as French planes from Marrakech destroyed an ammunition dump, causing considerable damage to the port installations. In retaliation, the USS Ranger’s Air Group raided the Marrakech airfield that afternoon, destroying over 40 planes on the ground and strafing two convoys of French reinforcements bound for Safi. The dogfights over the Moroccan coast were fierce, and American pilots found themselves up against experienced French pilots who had seen combat, for many of them, against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of France.
There was more artillery fighting with a French infantry unit at Bou Guedra, which held up the advance of the American troops until the next day, when most of the armoured column could finally move north towards Casablanca.
220 miles up the Moroccan coast, three landing teams were disembarked to take the coastal village of Mehdia, their goal being the airfield of Port-Lyautey. The landings north and south of Mehdia went wrong as a number of craft missed their target beaches, landing miles out of position or sinking in heavy seas. French resistance, much stronger than at Safi, caused more complications and delays. Coastal batteries opened up fire after the first landing waves reached shore. At dawn, French planes strafed and bombed the landing beaches while transports offshore came under strong artillery fire from the Mehdia fortress, forcing them to move out of range. The 2 nd Battalion landing team which had to stop its advance to await naval gunfire support, came then under a strong French counterattack, and was pushed back almost to the beach with heavy losses.
D plus 1 saw the American Sub-Task Force mount a three-pronged assault on the airfield. On the south, the 1st Battalion landing team, with light tanks and naval gunfire support, succeeded in dispersing larger French infantry-armour columns and made good progress toward the airfield. To the north, the 3rd Battalion landing team succeeded in deploying troops and artillery north and east of the airfield but stalled under fire from Port-Lyautey. On the night of the second day’s action, U.S.S. Dallas pushed through artillery fire up the Sebou River with a raider detachment to spearhead the assault on the airfield. The destroyer ran aground at a bend in the river and had to disembark the Commandos. Overcoming opposition from French colonial troops and Foreign Legion units, American troops managed by mid-morning of D plus 2 to control three sides of their objective. Although naval gunfire had silenced its larger batteries earlier, machine gun and rifle fire still continued to come from Mehdia fortress. Navy dive bombers were called in and after just one bombing round, the garrison gave in. The 2nd Battalion landing team could then move on to close the ring around the airport. In the early hours of 11 November, a cease-fire went into effect, leaving Port-Lyautey airfield and Mehdia under American control, but not before 79 Americans among whom a colonel had been killed and many more injured.
The largest of the three Sub-Task Forces were to put ashore 16,500 men from the 3rd Infantry Division and an armoured landing team to take the coastal village of Fedala before moving south on Casablanca.
The landing teams came ashore over beaches strongly defended by coastal batteries. Also, strong currents and navigational errors led to high losses in landing craft which crashed against rocks, drowning men and equipment, and seriously delaying the whole operation. Nearly two-thirds of the landing boats were lost in the assault phase. At first light on D-day, coastal batteries and machine guns began firing on transports offshore and landing boats. U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers returned fire, eventually silencing the batteries and allowing the troops to move inland to envelop Casablanca. In the interval, off the coast of Casablanca, a major naval battle developed. A French cruiser, seven destroyers, and two submarines had tried to sortie out of the harbour, engaging American ships. The naval battle raged for some four hours before the French warships were pushed back into port. The battleship Jean Bart, under construction and immobilized in Casablanca harbour, turned its 15-inch on the American landing forces, inflicting considerable damages on the supporting naval units before the battleship USS Massachusetts put it out of action. It was not until the early afternoon of D-day that Patton could finally step ashore, and organise his headquarters for the assault on Casablanca. By 11 November, he had his units wrapped around the landward side of Casablanca and was poised to attack the city at dawn. An hour before the assault set for 7.30 a.m., French commanding officers in the city ordered a cease fire and surrendered. Patton entered the city without opposition but 36 men had been killed and 113 other wounded in that operation.Oran
On the same night that the leading elements of Western Task Force landed on
the western coast of Morocco, the other two Task Forces moved against their
assigned objectives, hundreds of miles away inside the Mediterranean. Here, the
U.S. Army had to deal with conditions different from the situation on the Atlantic
coast. The Center and Eastern Task Forces involved a large scale of British
participation, and operations were conducted under a joint British-American
command. The Oran landings were directed by Commodore T.H. Troubridge of
the Royal Navy, U.S. Major-Generals Lloyd R. Fredendall and James Doolittle,
commanding the Allied Western Air Command. Part of the Center Task Force’s
missions was the capture of Oran harbour and two airfields in the area.
Fredendall’s troops were to come ashore at three different beaches to the east
and west of Oran, along a fifty-mile stretch of coastline.
The second largest city in French Algeria, Oran had formidable defences including 13 coastal batteries, more than 16,000 troops, about 100 planes, and several destroyers in the harbour.
D-Day for the Center Task Force was 8 November at 01.00, but the schedule was set back by a series of incidents. At Beach code-named X, 28 miles west of Oran, French cargo ships entered the landing zone, getting in the way of minesweepers clearing the path for the first assault groups. Also, coastal sand banks caused damages to the fleet of landing craft. Despite these initial mishaps, the first landing groups assembled a column of 20 tanks with support vehicles and started toward the village of Lourmel (now El Amria), ten miles inland which they reached by noon, almost unopposed. Through the following three days, over 3,000 soldiers came ashore on Beach X with some 450 tanks and trucks.
At Beach code-named Y, fifteen miles west of Oran, the 26th Regimental Combat Team of American 1st Infantry Division, coming ashore in the Andalouses bay experienced the same problems as landing crafts broached on sandbars. At daylight, with most of the 5,000 troops ashore, the French warship La Surprise appeared but it was soon sunk. The American troops pushed inland to clear roads but were stopped by enemy fire from the upper grounds, some 5 miles from their beachhead.
Beach code-named Z, in the vicinity of Arzew, twenty miles east of Oran, received the bulk of General Fredendall’s troops. Heavy artillery dominated the cliffs over the port and bay of Arzew. On the point of the harbour jetty was another gun battery, the “Fort de la Pointe” guarding against any invasion from the sea. There, the 1st Ranger Battalion moved in ahead of the sub-task force and took two coastal batteries. Infantry followed and, after a brief fight, took the town of Arzew, secured the port, and opened the way for the safe landing of troops waiting offshore.
The 16th and the 18th RCTs of the 1st Division and most of Combat Command B were then able to come ashore on three beaches between the villages of Arzew and Saint Leu (now Bethioua). There was no opposition until daylight, by which time the assault units were well on their way to their mission objectives. Combat command B raced some twenty-five miles inland to seize Tafraoui airfield and held it against French counterattacks the following day. French resistance concentrated at three points around Oran: Saint Cloud to the east, Valmy to the south, and Misserghin to the southwest. Moving westward on Oran, the 18th RCT ran against fierce opposition at the village of Saint Cloud (now Gdyel). Two American assaults failed to overcome resistance and battle continued for the rest of D-Day. With American casualties mounting alarmingly, General Allen decided to by-pass the position and press onward towards Oran, leaving only a small unit behind to fix the French in place. Similarly, Task Force Green from Beach X and Task Force Red from Beach Z were held up by tough resistance from French defences at the villages of Misserghin and Valmy before they could push north on Oran. Shortly after these actions, at La Senia airfield, the French flew away most of their planes, leaving only a small defence. American troops took control of the second airfield in the area.
In addition to these three landing operations, the British had planned a frontal assault on the harbour of Oran. In the early hours of D-Day, two British destroyers carrying more than 400 American combat troops, most of them from the 1st Armoured Division tried to force their way into the harbour to infiltrate anti-sabotage commandos and capture the city’s forts and batteries along with the merchant vessels and port’s installations. HMS Walney and Hartland forced the boom at the east end of the port. Steaming into the harbour, Walney was caught by enemy searchlights and met heavy artillery from several French ships. It was pounded until a shell hit her boiler, disabling her and killing most of her crew.
Following behind, Hartland came under ship and shore gunfire. She tried to force her way through but was broadsided by a French destroyer at point -blank range. All surviving men had to abandon the blazing ships which later sank. A total of 189 out of 393 men were killed and 157 others were wounded in the operation. The survivors including Walney’s Captain swam ashore where they were made prisoners by the French troops.
The end of D plus 1 saw the American troops converging on Oran from east, west and south. The next morning, an armoured column pushed through the south side of Oran and made for the port and French forces headquarters. A cease-fire was issued at noon, followed by a surrender of the French units in the Oran area. The fighting for Oran had cost the American force some 600 killed or wounded.Algiers
Algiers was the most important objective of operation Torch. The Allied Force was directed to establish a strong base in French North Africa as a prior step to seizing the easternmost French protectorate, Tunisia. Algiers was to provide a launching pad for the Tunisian phase of the operation. Also, the port, the railway and road network, the nearby airfields of Maison Banche and Blida, as well as the available facilities for housing and offices made the city the ideal location for Allied Force Headquarters when that unit would be moved from London. Military operations at Algiers were actually to lead to an armistice earlier than at Oran or Casablanca, though they were to be followed by two days of negotiations during which the intentions of Marshal Pétain in Vichy remained uncertain.
The Eastern Task Force arrived within reach of the coast of Algiers in the last hours of 7 November. Of the three Torch task forces, Eastern comprised the largest proportion of British troops. Naval and air support was British. In the hope of not aggravating the French who were still smarting from the earlier sinking of the French Fleet by the British at Mers-el-Kébir, U.S. Major General Charles Ryder and his American troops were to lead the first landing assaults on Algiers. The Allied troops were to land at three different beaches, two (A and B) to the west of Algiers and one (C) to the east along a fifty-mile stretch of coast. As in Oran, the mission of the first landing units were to secure the beachheads, take control of roads and villages, capture two airfields in the area and move on Algiers from three sides.
Owing largely to earlier secret contacts with French anti-Vichy groups, and military commanders notably with Admiral Jean-François Darlan, Vichy naval commander, the French forces offered minimal resistance to the Allied forces.
At beach ‘A’, near the coastal village of Castiglione (now, Bou Ismail), landing went according to plan and without any mishaps. By early morning on D-Day, the men of the British 11th Infantry Brigade had moved on inland, and with the help of friendly French officers, secured Blida airfield.
In sector ‘B’, round the bay of Sidi Ferruch, where the bulk of the British First Commando and the U.S. 168th Regiment Combat Team came ashore, strong winds pushed ships and landing boats out of position, complicating the disembarking operations and creating a lot of confusion on the beachhead. In the absence of opposition, the force was nevertheless able to regroup and move inland toward Algiers by daylight, after a Commando unit had received the surrender of the Sidi Ferruch fort without a fight.
The 39th Regimental Combat Team with elements of the British 1st Commando went ashore at beach ‘C’, east of Cap Matifou (now, Bordj el Bahri). Here, transports and approaching landing craft came under fire from the Cap Matifou batteries which were quickly silenced by Navy gunfire. But then heavy seas scattered the 39th Regiment Combat Team boats smashing some against rocks. Once ashore however, the 39th RCT quickly moved eight miles inland without opposition to capture Maison Blanche airfield in the morning of D-Day
The only fighting actually took place within the port of Algiers itself. As at Oran, there was a British master-minded plan for a naval assault on the harbour whose objective was to get a party of American Infantry to enter Algiers harbour on two Royal Navy destroyers, their mission being to prevent French from scuttling ships and to secure port facilities for future use. As the two vessels moved toward the harbour in the night of 7-8 November, the first ship was picked up by searchlights and came under heavy shelling which put it ablaze, making thirty-five casualties. The other ship managed to get through the barrage of fire and disembark part of the assault group. Pounded by defence batteries and field artillery, it was forced to drive back to sea leaving 250 Americans in enemy hands.
Despite a catastrophic start, by the end of D-Day, Algiers was surrounded, its airfields captured, its remaining defences at the mercy of Allied naval guns and bombers. On 10 November, Admiral Jean Louis Darlan, commander in chief of Vichy French Forces, who had been in contact with Robert Murphy, the American diplomatic representative in North Africa since the eve of the landings, recognised that the French position was hopeless. After consultations with Marshal Pétain by radio, and negotiations with General Mark Clark, he agreed to a cease-fire, for the surrender of all Vichy forces in Algeria and Morocco, and their subsequent conversion into Allied units. It was followed by an armistice due to become effective from noon on 11 November to which Hitler retaliated by ordering the occupation of the whole of France (3). Negotiations continued until 13 November, when Eisenhower gave the Vichy French Admiral Darlan political control of French North Africa in return for collaboration with the Allies. Except in Algiers, Vichy forces had vigorously resisted the Anglo-American landings in Algeria and Morocco, inflicting some 1,500 American casualties before quitting.
Darlan was assassinated on 24 December by an anti-Vichy gunman. His U.S. nominated replacement General Henri Giraud began a period of difficult coexistence with General de Gaulle, leader of the small “Free French”, anti-Vichy contingent.The Tunisia Campaign
The Tunisia campaign refers to a series of battles fought between Axis forces and Allied forces in Tunisia during the winter and spring of 1942-43 and which were the very first significant engagements between the American and German forces in the Second World War. The Axis forces consisted primarily of German and Italian Units. The Allied forces involved American, British, and Free French units.
On the same day, talks opened in Algiers between General Clark, deputy to General Eisenhower, Commander in chief of the Allied Forces, and Admiral Darlan, commander in chief of the Vichy government’s military forces, British General Kenneth Anderson took command of the new British 1 st Army and began rapidly pushing east towards Tunisia. The Allied plan for the Tunisian campaign called for the Eastern Task Force to move overland from Algeria and capture the port cities of Tunis and Bizerta. Allied ground forces were mostly British and involved one infantry and one armoured division supported by several American units. Light British forces conducted landings at Bougie (now Béjaia), 100 miles east of Algiers, on 11 November. The following day British paratroops and a seaborne commando group took Bône (now Annaba), 150 miles farther east. Both landings were unopposed. Five days later, the 1 st Army crossed the Tunisian border and progressed within 60 miles of Tunis. This came only days after General Bernard Montgomery’s successful counter-attack in the east, following the Second Battle of El Alamein. Alert to the threat of a two-front war, German and Italian troops were rushed from bases in nearby Sicily and Italy while Axis air forces started to bomb the advancing Allied columns. By mid-November about 15,000 German and 9,000 Italian troops were ferried to Tunisia while five groups of fighters and a group of dive bombers were transferred to Tunisian airfields.
Reorganized as 90th Corps under General Nehring, the German troops counter-attacked at Djedeida, forcing the 1 st Army to withdraw from its advanced positions. While, in the east, Montgomery’s Eighth Army stopped around Tripoli to allow reinforcements to arrive, Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel personally led two Panzer divisions in a strong counteroffensive. Several attempts were made by the U.S. 1st Armoured Division to stop their advance but all its combat units ran up against the blitzkrieg tactic of German tank divisions whose screen of shellfire caused havoc to American tanks and infantry. These battles were the first major engagements between American and German forces in the Second World War. Most of Tunisia fell into German hands, and the north eastern beachheads round Tunis and Bizerta were blocked and strongly defended.
By the end of December 1942, the Allied realized that they had lost the race to Tunis and decided to postpone offensive operations in northern Tunisia. American leaders tried to open a second front further south in the area between Tebessa in Algeria and Kasserine in Tunisia. By mid-January 1943, this redeployment of the Allied forces set the stage for a series of fierce battles which were fought in mid-February around Kasserine, a two-mile wide pass in the Atlas Mountains in west-central Tunisia. The American units involved came mostly from the U.S. 2 nd Corps commanded by General Fredendall. In mid-February, the 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions attacked American positions at Sidi-Bou-Zid in the interior plain of the Atlas Mountains. The battle raged for a day, but the U.S. armoury was outmatched and the infantry, poorly positioned and isolated on three hills was unable to give mutual support and was forced to retreat.
On 19 February, Rommel launched an assault. Within minutes of the fierce tank attack, the U.S. lines were broken with men at all points retreating in disorder and abandoning large numbers of equipment and vehicles which German units captured and deployed for some time after the battle. The light guns and tanks could not hold their own against the heavier German equipment. Panzer IVs, and Tiger tanks proved superior to the M3 Lee and M3 Stuart tanks in firepower and their crews far more experienced. The Germans also achieved air superiority over the battlefield allowing relentless bombing and strafing attacks that neutralized any American attempts at organizing effective defensive artillery fire. By the second day of the offensive, the U.S. troops were pushed back over fifty miles from their positions, having suffered heavy casualties. By the night of 21 February, Rommel’s Divisions controlled the Kasserine pass with the Algerian city of Tébessa, just across the border, and its Allied supply dump dangerously within German reach. Large-scale American reinforcements were needed to stop the German advance. On the morning of 22 February, an intense artillery barrage from the massed Allied guns stopped the attack by the 10th Panzer Division, destroying tanks and vehicles and forcing the German forces to pause and reorganize while Allied reinforcements continued to arrive. Overstretched and undersupplied, Rommel decided to disengage and started to withdraw east. On 23 February, a massive U.S. air attack on the pass hastened the German retreat and within two days the pass was reoccupied.
In the aftermath of the Kasserine battle, important changes were made in the Allied Command. A new headquarters was created under General Sir Harold Alexander to tighten the operational control of the corps and armies of the three Allied nations involved and improve their coordination. British General Harold Alexander arrived in Tunisia in late February to replace British General Kenneth Anderson. Anderson was in overall control of the Allied front in eastern Algeria, commanding British Commonwealth, American and French forces. Fredendall, Commander of the U.S. Army 2 nd Corps, was relieved by General Eisenhower and replaced by Major General George S. Patton who was given the explicit task of improving performance. Major General Omar Bradley (4) was appointed assistant Corps Commander, and eventually commanded the 2 nd Corps. Brigadier General Stafford Leroy Irvin, who had so effectively led the 9th Division’s artillery at Kasserine, became a successful divisional commander.
In March, after the British had driven back a German attack eastwards, at Medenine, the Allies resumed the offensive. American and French forces moved east across the border from Algeria, The U.S. 2 nd Corps, now under the command of Patton, attacked in coordination with an assault, at the south-eastern end by Montgomery’s troops. American and British troops made their junction in the south in early April and started pushing back the Axis forces into the north-eastern tip of the country. The final drive to clear Tunisia began in April. On 7 May, British armoured divisions reached and captured Tunis. On the same day American forces took the nearby port of Bizerta. On 12 May 1943, the last organized Axis forces resistance in Africa was ended with the surrender of more than 250,000 German and Italian troops. The last stage of the North African campaign ended with the victory of the Allied forces but it did not come cheaply. Of 70,000 Allied casualties, the United States Army lost 2,715 dead; 8,978 wounded; and 6,528 missing.
The surrender marked the final defeat of the Axis powers in Northern Africa. As a result of victory in Tunisia, the whole of north-western Africa was denied to the Axis forces. In strategic terms, Operation Torch marked a turning point in the conflict. Valuable ports and airfields, as well as military, naval and antisubmarine bases were secured giving the Allies a launching pad for the invasion of southern Europe. The United States Navy had learned a lot about amphibious operations; later assaults in the European theatre would have been far more hazardous and costly for the lessons learned in Torch. At the same time, the Army gained thousands of seasoned commissioned and non-commissioned officers as well as troops whose real combat experience would prove invaluable in subsequent campaigns. More importantly, North Africa was where the awesome might of the U.S. Armed Forces emerged as its most conspicuous feature. The North African campaign marked America’s first step in becoming a world superpower. As Rick Atkinson wrote in the prologue of his book An Army at Dawn: the War in North Africa, 1942-1943, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for History:
“From a distance of sixty years, we can see that North Africa was a pivot point in American history, the place where the United States began to act like a great power -- militarily, diplomatically, strategically, and tactically. Along with Stalingrad and Midway, North Africa is where the Axis enemy forever lost the initiative in World War II. It is where Great Britain slipped into the role of junior partner in the Anglo-American alliance, and where the United States first emerged as the dominant force it would remain into the next millennium”.
On 15 May 1943, the Allies transferred control of Tunisia to the Free French. The French authorities immediately arrested hundreds of alleged Fascist sympathizers and deposed the reigning Bey as a collaborator. These actions provoked deep resentment among the Tunisian people and prepared the way for the later upsurge of nationalist agitation.Reporting the North African campaigns
The Second World War was the first conflict to be documented on such a huge scale by hundreds of photographers who covered the battlefronts around the world, and who recorded unique collections of pictures which represent today as many historical documents on every theatre and aspects of the war.
The Allied landing in North Africa was no exception. Hundreds of pictures were taken of the different phases of the amphibious operations, mostly by official military photographers. There was no press photographer with the first landing waves on the North African beaches on D-Day, as was the case later with American photographer Robert Capa who was allowed to join the first units, landing on the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944. Most of the black-and-white pictures of the North Africa campaign are U.S. Army photographs which depict the different stages of the amphibious operations and beach scenes in the first hours of the assault.
They were taken by army photographers who were in the Signal Corps and whose double purpose was to get newsreels for showing in the movie theatres back home and to make a permanent pictorial record of the war (5). Their films and pictures of the amphibious assault provide today a wealth of details on the men, their uniform, military equipment, and the variety of army vehicles that they brought ashore. What those documents also highlight is the fact that the larger part of the Second World War’s servicemen were not enlisted soldiers but civilians representing a cross section of the whole nation. Many of these pictures, taken in the early morning light of D-Day, showed soldiers in flat-bottomed landing crafts waiting for the assault. In a striking contrast with today’s U.S. troops in conflict zones, they are all whites and in their early twenties, some of them looking very young and hardly out of high school. The U.S. Army, as it clearly appears from those photos was still segregated. African-American troops participated to the North African landings and to all the following campaigns but in separate units of their own.
In the pre-television era, Americans got their war news from their newspapers, radios or the cinema newsreels. One of the most famous American war correspondents of the Second World War was Ernie Pyle. Born in a small farming community in Indiana, Pyle built an impressive reputation as America’s most popular war reporter. When the war broke out, he went to London and wrote from the streets, homes and bomb shelters of the city during the Blitz. Then he joined the North African campaign in November 1942 and began reporting on the Allied operations there. Except for a couple of months when he returned to the United States in the later half of 1943, he stayed with the American troops in North Africa and followed them in the invasion of Sicily and later into Italy covering Anzio beachhead, where he narrowly escaped death. Pyle covered “Operation Overlord”, the Normandy landing in June 1944 and followed the U.S. infantry into France and into liberated Paris. He returned to the United States in mid-September 1944. After a few months of rest in his last home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Pyle left again for the Pacific Theatre in January 1945. The American campaign against the Japanese on Okinawa still raged there when he stepped ashore on a small Island just west of Okinawa. He was riding in a jeep with a group of infantrymen when they came under Japanese machine-gun fire in which the reporter was hit and killed instantly. By that time, Ernie Pyle had become a national celebrity. News of his death stunned an American nation still in shock and mourning the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt six days earlier.
It was in the North Africa campaign that Pyle established himself as one of the greatest American war correspondents of his generation amongst a host of renowned reporters which included such luminaries as Walter Cronkyte, who began his career as a war correspondent when he came ashore with the amphibious assault on Morocco. Pyle joined actually a group of nine correspondents who sailed from England to North Africa on a British transport ship that was part of the task force due to come ashore at Oran. They were, as he wrote later, Bill Lang, of Time and Life; Red Mueller, of Newsweek; Joe Liebling, of the New Yorker; Ollie Stewart, of the Baltimore Afro-American; Gault Macgowan, of the New York Sun; Sergeant Bob Neville, correspondent of American Army Yank, and Stars and Stripes (6).
Pyle was not attached to a particular company, or battalion as the Pentagon now requires from its “embedded journalists”. He was allowed to move freely around from one unit to the other. And for three years, he followed the U.S. infantry on its battlefronts in North Africa, Italy, France, and finally in the Pacific, typing his correspondences on his old Remington and sending them six times a week to Scripps-Howard newspapers. As his fame increased during the war, other newspapers, including popular weeklies, published his dispatches. Soldiers overseas were great fans of his columns which were reprinted in the Stars and Stripes.
Pyle’s on the spot reports were read by millions of American families who
discovered what war was like for their men on the battlefronts, their day-to-day
life, their fear, their deeds, their sacrifice. Ernie Pyle’s war, as his friend author
John Steinbeck, told a Time magazine reporter after his death was not “the war
of maps, of campaigns, of ballistics, armies, divisions and regiments—that is
General George Marshall’s war.” but “the war of the homesick, weary, funny,
violent, common men who wash their socks in their helmets, complain about the
food, whistle at any girl, and bring themselves through as dirty a business as the
world has ever seen and do it with humour and dignity and courage…”
His columns were about ordinary soldiers -- the G.I s., mechanics, cooks, pilots, nurses -- he met in the fighting zones, often giving their names and address back home, and writing about them “from the ground” in that direct, personal style which became his hallmark.
Pyle arrived in Oran a few days after the landings with the troops reinforcing the first invading forces. He stayed in Oran for a couple of weeks recording the first effects of the invasion on the city and its region before leaving for Algiers from which he sent back home this column dated 1 December 1942.
At the moment our troops are bivouacked for miles around each of the three
large centres of occupation, Casablanca, Oran and Algiers-- They are
consolidating, fitting in replacements, making repairs – spending a few days
taking a deep breath before moving on to the other theatres of action.
They are camped in every conceivable way. In the city of Oran, some are billeted in office buildings, hotels, garages -- Some are camping in parks and big vacant lots on the edge of the town, some are miles away out in the country, living on treeless stretches of prairie – They are in tiny groups and in huge batches --.
Some of the officers live in tents. Others, have been lucky enough to commandeer a farmhouse or a barn, sometimes even a modern villa” (7).
It was in North Africa that Pyle’s close association with the U.S. infantry began. “Now to the infantry, the God-damned infantry, as they like to call it themselves. I love the infantry because they are the underdogs”, he wrote in a despatch from the front lines before Mateur, in Northern Tunisia on 2 May 1943. ”They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can’t be won without”. (8)
For the next five months, Pyle wrote and despatched columns about the Tunisia Campaign. His first-hand account of the battle of Sidi-Bouzid is a good example of his skills as a master of the cinematic narrative, a series of quick observations and images that read like a film script, and that ability he had to get close to the action and show aspects of war and fighting on the front lines that established his reputation as one of the most highly regarded war correspondents in his generation.
We drove a couple of miles east along a highway to a crossroads which was
the very heart center of our troops’ bivouacs. German airmen had been after
this crossroads all morning. They had hit it again just a few minutes before we
got there. In the road was a large crater and a few yards away a tank was off
to one side, burning.
The roads at that point were high and we could see a long way. In every direction was a huge semi-irrigated desert valley. It looked very much like the valley at Phoenix, Arizona – no trees but patches of wild growth, shoulder-high cactus of the prickly-pear variety. In other parts of the valley were spotted cultivated fields and the tiny square stucco houses of the Arab farmers. The whole vast scene was treeless, with slightly rolling big mountains in the distance.
As far as you could see out across the rolling desert, in all four sections of the “pie” formed by the intersecting roads was American equipment – tanks, half-tracks, artillery, infantry – hundreds, yes, thousands of vehicles extending miles and miles and everything standing still. We were in time; the battle had not yet started…
Suddenly out of this siesta-like doze the order came. We didn’t hear it for it came to the tanks over their radios but we knew it quickly for all over the desert tanks began roaring and pouring out blue smoke from the cylinders. Then they started off, kicking up dust and clanking in that peculiar “tank sound” we have all come to know so well.
They poured around us, charging forward. They weren’t close together-probably a couple of hundred yards. There weren’t lines or specific formation. They were just everywhere. They covered the desert to the right and to the left, ahead and behind as far as we could see, trailing their eager dust tails behind. (9)
Although he made sure not to cross the limits of military censorship, Pyle did not gloss over the set backs of the U.S. Armoured Divisions at Sidi-Bouzid and the tactical error of its untested military commanders who had sent the tanks to battle in widely dispersed order as Pyle could observe on the field.
Here is Your War: The Story of G.I. Joe, the book Pyle published in 1943 is a compilation of his newspaper columns from 1942-1943 when he followed U.S. troops in Algeria and Tunisia and told their stories to the folks back home. It was also a personal tribute in which the war correspondent was bearing witness to all those thousands of ordinary soldiers who participated to the first campaign against the enemy in North Africa, and from which so many of them never returned.
In 1944, Pyle’s correspondences for Scripps-Howard Newspapers earned him a Pulitzer Prize. His books, Here is Your War and Brave Men -- which was an edited compilation of his dispatches from the European fronts, from the landing in Sicily in June 1943 to the liberation of Paris in August 1944 – ranked high on the best-seller lists and made Hollywood. William A. Wellman’s film The Story of G.I. Joe, released in 1945, shortly after the surrender of Germany, was based on Here is Your War and Brave Men. The film which accounted for Ernie Pyle’s experiences with the men of Company C of the 18th Infantry and their role in the invasion of Italy was claimed by both critics and war historians as one of the best films ever made about the Second World War. War veterans praised its realistic rendering of combats and accuracy while Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces hailed it as “the greatest war picture I’ve ever seen”.
During the two decades which followed the war, the major American participants to Operation Torch contributed their own memoirs of America’s first engagement in the Mediterranean theatre (10). In their recording of the North African campaigns, the authors of these memoirs were mostly concerned with the military and strategic aspects of the Allied landing and seemed to have failed to perceive the significance of “Torch” as a catalyst for change in the region. A remarkably common characteristic to all these memoirs is that they paid little attention to the native populations whose material conditions they largely ignored. Ernie Pyle himself seems to have suffered from the same blind spot for the “Arabs”. The only exception when he referred to them in one of his early columns is quite revealing of that lack of interest. And yet, the North African poor peasantry had just suffered from consecutive crop failures in addition to three years of severe hardships imposed by wartime shortages. The indigenous populations of the interior of the country lacked everything, particularly food, medicine, and clothing.
When our troops made their first landings in North Africa they went four days
without even blankets, just catching a few hours sleep on the ground.
Everybody either lost or chucked aside some of his equipment. Like most
troops going into battle for the first time, they all carried too much at first.
Gradually they shed it. The boys tossed out personal gear from their musette
bags and filled them with ammunition. The countryside for twenty miles around Oran was strewn with overcoats, field jackets and mess kits as the
soldiers moved on the city.
Arabs will be going around for a whole generation clad in odd pieces of American Army uniforms. (11)
Mostly concerned with the job on their hands, neither the passing U.S. troops nor their commanders did allow the native populations more than a marginal importance.
The local natives and European North African populations, for their part, discovered overnight the riches of the U.S. Army: coffee, cigarettes, blankets, shoes, clothes, soap, everything that had become scarce during the war was obtainable from their PX stores by the American GIs who liberally exchanged these goods against fresh eggs, wine or simply feminine favours. Black market activities soon flourished generating a new class of profiteers and gangsters who dealt with huge quantities of goods stolen straight from the docks or the U.S. supply depots.
The local populations also discovered a highly mechanized U.S. Army which made the French troops look outdated and poorly equipped in comparison. The Willy Jeeps, the Dodge and the GMC trucks that landed or were disembarked on North African shores in huge numbers were emblematic of the superior capacities of the American war industries. On the black market, the U.S. Army boots, the utility jacket and cap, the khaki shirt and Ike jacket, the nylon stockings and all the other luxuries which filled the stores on U.S Army bases were in high demand and made the American “Johnnies” very popular with the locals. Cabaret songs celebrated them; children ran after them in the streets for sweets, chewing gum and chocolate bars which they threw to them from the back of their trucks. Young people were quick to pick up some of their popular songs and the crude expressions of the infantry troops. The local philharmonic societies added the swinging American rhythms to their public performances. Algerian musical groups adopted the American banjo and introduced it in their traditional Arab music (12).
General D. Eisenhower, the commander of the joint Expeditionary Force thought that he would be able to move eastward six weeks after the landings. As events turned out, Allied Forces headquarters grew to over six thousand persons who remained stationed in Algiers for about twenty months. The villas of the French rich settlers were promptly requisitioned to accommodate the Allied headquarters and their subdivisions throughout the country. Eisenhower set up his own headquarters in the “Hotel St. George” on the heights of Algiers. It was there that the figureheads and representatives of the Allied forces met to plan the liberation of Europe. Images of wartime Algiers have been embedded in a number of histories, biographies, and memoirs by some of the main protagonists in the North African war episode.
“Torch” made a powerful impact on the Muslim populations in French North Africa where Moroccans and Algerians discovered the overwhelming force of the American army. The U.S. troops that poured ashore not only brought with them all the material commodities of a great industrial nation but also a display of armed might which made the local French Vichy troops look so run-down and shabby in comparison. In North Africa as in her other colonial territories, France had suffered a significant loss of prestige after the June 1940 defeat. But unlike the latter which had taken place far away from North Africa, the collapse of the Vichy troops had been experienced at close range by the native populations. The Vichy troops’ capitulation after their vain and hopeless resistance tarnished further France’s image which suffered a humiliating blow, this time at the hands of the Anglo-American forces.
While the nationalist movement had reached significant developments in the 1920s and 1930s, it was given a radical impetus by the Allied landing in North Africa against a background of deepening economic and political crisis. The Atlantic Charter signed by Roosevelt and Churchill in August 1941 had underscored the Allies’ commitment to national self-determination, and promised “to respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live”. Although the Atlantic Charter was not actually intended for the colonized people, nationalist leaders wondered why this should not apply to them too. In Algeria, Ferhat Abbas, one of the most prominent Algerian political leaders of the day met with Robert Murphy, Roosevelt’s personal representative in Algiers, to explore the possibility of extending the Atlantic Charter to Algeria. Ferhat Abbas had dismissed the idea of an Algerian nationhood back in 1936, but now, although he still claimed to be firmly rooted in French and Western culture, he was calling for “an autonomous Algerian republic in federation with a new, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist French republic”. In February 1943, he produced the “Manifesto of the Algerian People”, a text which based some of its demands on the principles stated in the Atlantic Charter. The “Manifesto” now marked a clear turning away from Abbas’ previous assimilation demands to an “immediate and effective participation of Muslims in the government and the establishment of a constitution guaranteeing liberty and equality for all Algerians”. During the same period, in Morocco, the first nationalists organized a movement which led to the formation of the Istiqlal, or Independence party in 1944. One year earlier, in January 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill had met for four days in Casablanca to plan the war strategies of the Allies. It was during that conference, in the course of a dinner party hosted by the American President in honour of Sultan Mohammed V and his son Moulay Hassan that Roosevelt promised his support for a self governed Morocco if the Sultan helped Allies in recruiting Moroccan troops for action on the European front (13). On the other hand, nationalist agitation intensified in Tunisia after the new Free French authorities arrested hundreds of Tunisians for German sympathies and deposed the reigning Bey for having compromised himself with the Axis forces. The collaboration charges provided a mere pretext for his defiance of the French and his nationalist leaning.
Nationalism in French North Africa had yet to reach its fighting stage but militant independence movements were already at work, challenging France’s rule in her North African territories. On 1 May 1945, the French police fired on nationalist demonstrators in Oran and Algiers killing twelve people, and on 8 May 1945, the same day that Germany surrendered in World War II, police and some Europeans, upset by the nationalist flag and slogans opened fire and killed hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in Sétif, a market town located to the west of Constantine.
Other demonstrations against the French presence occurred in Guelma, Batna, Biskra, and Kerrata during which 103 Europeans were killed. The harsh repression that followed was massive and disproportionate. The French army, which included Senegalese troops, carried out summary executions. Villages were bombed by French aircraft and the cruiser Duguay-Trouin standing off the the coast, shelled Kerrata. The crackdown lasted several weeks in which the police, colonial troops, armed forces, and European vigilantes killed thousands of Algerians in the north Constantine region. In Sétif, as in a number of demonstrations in the Maghreb and later on in Metropolitan France, the police fired on peaceful demonstrators on the vague pretext of self-defence.
The Sétif and Guelma outbreaks and the repression that followed marked a turning point in the relation between France and the Muslim population. While the north Constantinois killings were largely ignored in metropolitan France, their impact on the Muslim population was traumatic, especially on the large numbers of Algerian soldiers who had participated to the liberation of France and who were returning home from the European battlefields. The Atlantic Charter with its implicit promise of self-determination as a reward for the war effort of the Muslim population had raised expectations which the Sétif riots and their severe repressions definitely shattered. Nine years later a general uprising broke out in Algeria, sparking a long, savage war that led to independence from France in 1962.
The initial U.S. support for independence movements in Africa changed once the war was over. With the advent of the Cold War, the progressive, anti-imperialist principles which inspired the Atlantic Charter were superseded by the Truman Doctrine which provided the framework of the U.S. strategy and foreign policy for nearly a quarter of a century. United States leaders and policy-makers now regarded support to genuine mass-based nationalist movements not only as alienating them from their major European Allies and therefore weakening the Western block, but more importantly as a risk for the spread of communist influence in those newly independent states.
By the time Eisenhower came to the presidency in January 1953, “Third World” issues such as anti-colonialism and non-alignment had become dominant in international relations, with both the United States and the Soviet Union confronting each other over wars of national liberation which were perceived as a threat to Western interests.
(1) The French still smarted over Britain’s sinking of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir to prevent it from falling into German hands.
After France’s defeat by Germany in June 1940, a large part of the French navy sought refuge at Mers-el-Kebir, a naval base near Oran in French Algeria. On July 1, Churchill was finally able to get the backing of the War Cabinet to sink the French warships at the port of Mers-el-Kebir if they would not be surrendered. On July 3, the Royal Navy surrounded the French base and delivered the British ultimatum: the French were offered to sail to Britain, sail to the USA, or scuttle their ships in the next six hours. When the deadline to surrender was reached, the British fleet attacked, bombarding the Algerian port. 1,297 French sailors were killed and three battleships were sunk. One battleship and five destroyers managed to escape. Following that attack, the Vichy regime did not ally itself with the Germans and did not become therefore a formal belligerent. But more than two years after the attack, the Vichy forces, especially members of the naval service, still harboured grudges against the British Royal Navy. An assessment of the standing of the position of the French forces in North Africa was essential, and plans were made to secure their cooperation, rather than opposition. As it turned out, most French forces gave an unpleasant shock to Americans by vigorously resisting their landings in Morocco and Algeria, treating them as invaders rather than liberators, and inflicting heavy casualties on American troops before surrendering.
(2) On 19 October 1942, HMS Seraph, a submarine specialized in top secret
operations took Major Mark Wayne Clark, second-in-command to General
Eisenhower for the North African invasion, and a small party of US officers to
Algeria for discussions with French Major General Mast and to arrange an
alliance with the Vichy French who would fight for the Allies.
The meeting took place on 21 October in a French colonial farm on the coastal area, some 15 miles to the west of Cherchell.
Negotiations with the French, both before and after the landings, are detailed in Robert Murphy, Diplomat among Warriors, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964, pp. 108-43.
(3) The North African armistice was signed in the grand dining room of the “Hotel Saint George”, on the heights of Algiers. General Eisenhower set up the headquarters of the Allied Forces in the hotel.
(4) Omar Nelson Bradley was to become one of the ablest and most popular
U.S. generals of World War II. His forces played a crucial role in the victory in
Tunisia in May 1943 as well as in the capture of Sicily three months later. He
took part in the Normandy invasion in June 1944 and his forces liberated Paris on August 25. His popularity with his troops earned him the nickname of GI’s
His first name, Omar, he owed to his father who was an admirer of Omar Khayyam, also made him very popular with the North African Muslim populations and the North African troops under his command in his European campaigns.
(5) During the war, newsreels devoted a large part to military or naval hostilities or war related activities. Much of the combat footage was shot by Army cameramen who were enlisted professionals. Pyle wrote admiringly, in one of his early columns, of the two army cameramen who had filmed the assault on Oran, detailing the equipment they carried about and telling about the dangers and difficulties of their job on the front.
(6) The Stars and Stripes was a newspaper published for the U.S. military personnel. The newspaper gave American soldiers news of home and the ongoing war.
Although a publication of the military establishment, the paper strove to provide an independent voice while under military control. Most of the work was done by G.I.s, and newspapermen in uniform. Due to the wide dispersal of the U.S. armed forces, different editions were printed in several operating theatres. A North African edition began to be published in Algiers after the Allied landing. The paper later followed the 5th Army in Italy, with further editions being published in major cities.
(7) http://journalism.indiana.edu/resources/erniepyle/wartime-columns/killing-is-all-that-matters, pp. 2-6.
(8) http://journalism.indiana.edu/resources/erniepyle/wartime-columns/the-god-damned-infantry, p. 2-6.
(9) http://journalism.indiania.edu/resources/erniepyle/wartime-columns/thebattle-at-sidi-bou-zid, pp.1-5.
(10) The main contributions on the North African campaigns were, on the
M. Clark, Calculated risk, Harper, New York, 1950.
D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, Heinemann, London, 1948.
R. Murphy, Diplomat among Warriors, Doubleday, New York, 1964.
K. Pendar, Adventure in Diplomacy, Cassell, London, 1966.
And on the British side:
W.S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol.4, Cassell, London, 19
H. Macmillan, War Diaries : Politics and War in The Mediterranean, January 1943-May 1945, Macmillan, London, 1984 and St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1984.
(11) http://journalism.indiana.edu/resources/erniepyle/wartime-columns/killing-is-all-that-matters, p. 2-6.
(12) The banjo was actually a descendent of an African instrument introduced in
the American colonies by African slaves. It was originally made of a tortoise shell
fitted with a wooden neck to which two or three horse hairs strings were fastened
and which vibrated a membrane of animal hide stretched over the shell. That
was the old “gombri” or “guinbri” of the “gnawas”, a North African ethnic group .
References to the banjo are fairly frequent and well documented in early
American colonial writings. The best known is probably Thomas Jefferson’s
Notes on the State of Virginia (1791) in which he referred to it as the “banjar”,
“the instrument proper to [the slaves] , which they brought hither from Africa”.
The banjo in its modern form returned to Africa with the American GIs. It was quickly adopted by Algerian dock workers, living in the nearby Algiers Casbah, and was later introduced by the great master El Hadj Mohamed El Anka who re-invented the “chaabi” musical genre and popular traditional music in Algiers, in the late 1940s.
(13) Moroccan and Algerian troops formed a very substantial portion of the French Free Forces that fought alongside the Allies in Italy and then in France.
Anderson, Charles R. Algeria-French Morocco: 8 November 1942-11 November 1942. The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II, U.S. Army Center of Military History.
_________________. Tunisia: 17 November 1942-13 May 1943 .The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II, U.S. Army Center of Military History.
Atkinson, Rick. An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943. New York: Henry Holt & Co, 2002.
Brewer, William B. Operation Torch: The Allied Gamble to Invade North Africa. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.
Clark, Mark W. Calculated Risk. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950.
Eisenhower, Dwight D. Crusade in Europe. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1948 & London: Heinemann, 1948.
------------------------------. Report on Operation Torch. Unclassified on 21 June
Available at: http://www.american-divisions.com/upload/docs
Funk, Arthur L. The Politics of Torch. The University of Kansas Press, 1974.
Gelb, Norman. Desperate Venture: The Story of Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of North Africa. New York: W. Morrow, 1992.
Howe, George F. Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West.
Washington, D.C.: Office of Military History, 1957. Reprint edition: The Center of
Military History, U.S. Library of Congress, 1991.
Electronic edition: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-MTO-NWA/html
Moorehead, Alan. Desert War: The North African Campaign, 1940-1943. London: Penguin, reprint edition, 2001.
Morison Samuel Eliot. “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, vol. II, Operations in North African Waters, October 1942-June 1943. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950.
Murphy, Robert. Diplomat among Warriors. New York: Doubleday, 1964.
Nichols, David. Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches. New York: Random House, 1986.
Pendar, Kenneth. Adventure in Diplomacy: The Emergence of General de Gaulle in North Africa. London: Cassell, 1966.
Pyle, Ernie. Brave Men. New York: Henry Holt, 1944, reprint edition, Bison Books, 2001.
_________. Here Is Your War: Story of G.I. Joe. New York: Henry Holt, 1943, reprint edition, Bison Books, 2004.
Rolf, David. The Bloody Road to Tunis: Destruction of the Axis Forces in North Africa, November 1942-May 1943. London: Greenhill Books, 2001.
Tobin, James. Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II. New York: Free Press, 1997, reprint editions, Simon & Schuster, 2000 and 2006.Website resources:
Operation Torch – North Africa – 8
Available at: http://www.combinedops.com/Torch.htm
USS Augusta (CA-31) Operation Torch (North Africa Invasion).
Available at: http://www.internet-- esq.com/USaugusta/torch
World War II Multimedia Database. Operation Torch, November, 1942.
Available at: http://www.worldwar2 database.com/html/torch.htm
Eisenhower’s Report of the Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces to the Combined
Chiefs of Staff on Operations in Northwest Africa.
Available at: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/rep/TORCH/DDE-Torch.html
World War II Reels / Motion pictures/ Videos
Cronkite, Walter. Invasion :The Allied Attack. New York: CBS Video Library, 1982.
North Africa Invasion. War Department.
9 th Infantry Division in Morocco after Torch landings.
Casablanca Conference (Churchill / Roosevelt).
Messelmoun (Stigès) farm, near Cherchell, Algeria, today.
Allied convoy moves eastward bound for Casablanca.
Atlantic Ocean, Nov. 1942.
American troops on board a landing craft.
Jeep rolling off LCA (Landing Craft Assault) at Fedala, Morocco during Operation Torch, 8 November, 1942.
Arriving at Fedala to negotiate an armistice.
Troops and equipment coming ashore at Z White Beach. Les Andalouses, Oran.
French prisoners, Oran.
American and British troops landing near Surcouf, Algiers.
British and American soldiers after landing near Algiers.
Aerial view of Axis prisoners near Mateur, Tunisia.
Ernie Pyle in army uniform, wearing his correspondent’s arm band.