OPERATION TORCH ~
NORTH AFRICA - 8th to 12th Nov 1942
- the invasion of North Africa. Churchill and his military advisers were
concerned to remove the Vichy French authorities from the territories they
controlled on the North African coast before they fell into German hands. Torch
was an American led operation under Eisenhower with substantial UK support.
The Allies decided to occupy Vichy French
controlled North Africa thus denying the territory to the Axis forces. Churchill
and his Combined Operations planners were closely involved with the Americans in
working out the details of Operation Torch. There were many differences of
opinion about timing, landing locations and the perceived reaction of the Vichy
French forces to American as opposed to British forces. Churchill, however,
accepted that TORCH was an American run project and he telegraphed President
Roosevelt; 'In the whole of TORCH, military and political, I certainly consider
myself your lieutenant, asking only to put my viewpoint plainly before you.'
The Main Players
On 1st November 1942, the Naval Commander-in-Chief, the Allied Expeditionary
Force, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Bart, GCB, reached the fortress of Gibraltar in the cruiser Scylla. Fours days later, Cunningham was
joined by his Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had flown from England in a B-17 bomber through fog and rain. The
Expeditionary Force headquarters, complete with joint Navy/Air Force operations room, were located in the old tunnels built into the Rock itself.
They were airless, dank and dripping but completely immune to any bombardment. Only three days remained until the Allies launched the largest
combined amphibious operation in the history of the warfare. Eisenhower considered the operation to be 'an undertaking of a quite
After he left the Mediterranean Fleet Cunningham proved himself at the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington. He
handled himself well and won the respect of Admiral Ernest King, probably one of the rudest commanders in the whole war. King was an Anglophobic,
an attitude that was prevalent in the United States in the early 1920s.
Cunningham was asked privately by Eisenhower's Chief of Staff if he would be willing to serve as
Naval C-in-C. Not wishing to put himself forward for the post he reported this to the First Sea Lord and said he 'would be most willing
to serve.' In fact Cunningham had had enough of the committees and cocktail parties of Washington and he yearned to get back to fighting the war. He
persuaded The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, that the proposed three separate Naval C-in-Cs for (1) the battle-fleet (2) the expeditionary
force and (3) Gibraltar was unworkable and convinced him
to support a single overall Naval C-in-C. It was a key contribution to Eisenhower's novel design for an integrated Allied command structure.
On August 14 Cunningham was formally appointed Allied Naval Commander, Expeditionary Force (ANCXF) with Vice-Admiral Sir
Bertram Ramsay as his Deputy. His Chief of Staff was Commodore R.M. Dick.
Eisenhower himself had never before commanded a major operation of war and was about to receive a baptism of
fire. Apart from all the usual operational hazards there were other considerations for him to deal with. Would the Vichy French, whose territories the Allied
force would invade, co-operate or resist?.... and what of the neutral Spain immediately north of Gibraltar? If it sided with Germany it could
unleash its fury against the exposed airstrip and crowded anchorage at Gibraltar. These were major uncertainties but Eisenhower drew strength from the unflaggingly
optimistic Naval C-in-C, Cunningham.
Ramsay had been responsible for the naval side of
contingency planning for 'Sledgehammer,' the 1942 plan for limited re-entry to Continental Europe, and he had participated in a two-day tri-service study period on the operational problems of a large-scale
opposed landing on the Cotentin peninsula (Normandy). It was Ramsay who took up the awesome responsibility of
organising and running the vast naval
movements required for TORCH. Cunningham did not finally return from Washington until mid-October apart from a twelve-day visit to England in
This time the Navy got it right. Ramsay planned everything while Cunningham gave him direction and the authority required to get things done.
Certain prerequisites were laid down. Only troops trained in landings would go ashore. Only sailors trained in operating landing craft would
carry the troops and their equipment ashore and only craft suitable for the purpose would be used. The
Allies had the equipment, techniques and training to rehearse for the eventual invasion of Europe but this was, for the moment, a distant
prospect. Most of the issues had been addressed prior to the war, spurred on by the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. The agency responsible for most of this
endeavour was disbanded at the outbreak of the war and, in the haste and muddle of Norway,
the rules and operations carefully laid down by the I.S.T.D.C. (Inter-Service Training and Development Centre) were completely ignored and would be again
at Dakar. They would however be fully implemented for the first time in TORCH.
In January 1941 a Combined Training Centre was created under Captain J. Hughes-Hallett at Inveraray, Argyll,
Scotland and another
at Kabrit in Egypt in the canal zone. By February, no fewer than 5000 officers and ratings had been assigned to the manning of landing craft.
This new role for the Royal Navy was somewhat disdained by the sea-going Navy who saw it as an undesirable diversion in their traditional career
were desperate to get back to sea duty. The initial training was hard, rigorous and realistic since it was essential that the landing craft crews
were thoroughly proficient before they worked with soldiers on joint exercises. This was essential if the Army was to retain its traditional unquestioning faith in the
Royal Navy's seamanship. The naval beach parties were selected and trained particularly carefully for theirs was the job of going ashore with the first
assault wave and organizing the orderly flow of men and stores into the beachhead.
In October 1941 Roger Keyes was replaced as the head of Combined Operations by Commodore Lord Louis Mountbatten. By the spring of
1942 Combined Operations had
a virtual monopoly in the skills of amphibious command and this, together with Mountbatten's proven ability and diplomatic approach, led to his
promotion to Vice-Admiral and to his appointment to the Chiefs
of Staff Committee. These changes finally gave the command a seat at the very centre of power. Throughout 1942 the command's resources swelled under a
massive expansion programme in preparation for the eventual invasion of Europe. In the spring of that year Mountbatten put into operation the conversion of an
Armed Merchant Cruiser to act as a Headquarters ship for the landings. The Bulolo was the first, soon followed by the Largs, a former
French Liner. Most of these developments were paralleled in the Untied States. The American's would employ them in both the Pacific and European
conflicts although the they did not recognise the need for a headquarters ship until Torch had proved the accuracy of I.S.T.D.C.'s predictions on
Throughout the first three years of the war Britain learned many painful lessons about amphibious landings notably from Dieppe. The plan for the invasion of North Africa identified the first three assault locations as Philippeville and Bone, Casablanca, and Oran and Algiers. However,
limited resources and the Americans' inability to supply sufficient ships for the landings, threatened to restrict the
assault to Philippeville and Bone in the east of Algeria. Washington however took the view that the landings in Morocco should go ahead at the cost of all others,
except Oran. This effectively removed the option of capturing Tunis with the aim of denying it to the Axis forces. Tunis was vital in restricting the
Axis supply lines. If it fell to Rommel, the Axis forces would soon out-supply and outgun the Allies on both fronts. On the 5th of September 1941
the final compromise was reached
after much negotiation for three landings at Casablanca, Algiers and Oran.
Command Structure and Resources
The landing forces were divided into:
Western Assault Force: Major-General George .S. Patton,
35000 American troops. Objective Casablanca in French Morocco.
Central Task Force: Major-General Lloyd R. Fredendall, 18500
American troops building up to 39000. Objective Oran.
Eastern Task Force: Lieutenant-General K.A.N. Anderson, 20000 troops in
the first wave, half American and half British. Objective Algiers.
All these commanders reported directly to Eisenhower.
The Naval Task forces were:
Western Naval Task Force: All United States Navy vessels. 3 battleships, 5
carriers, 7 cruisers, 38 destroyers, 8 fleet minesweepers, five tankers commanded by Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt with an accompanying
Assault Force of 91 vessels including 23 'combat loaders' same as LSIs.
Central Naval Task Force: Under Commodore T
H Troubridge with the Largs, 2 carriers, 2 cruisers, 2 anti-aircraft ships, thirteen destroyers, six corvettes, eight minesweepers and
various ancillary craft as well as the landing force.
Eastern Task Force: Under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Burrough with the Bulolo, 2 aircraft carriers, 3 cruisers, 3 anti-aircraft ships, a gun monitor, 13 destroyers, 3 submarines, 3 sloops,
seven minesweepers and seven corvettes. As well as the landing forces..
All three Naval Task Forces were under the direct command of Admiral Cunningham.
The Air operations were divided into two areas:
Eastern Air Command: Everything east of Cape
Tenez in Algeria, with British aircraft commanded by Air Marshal Sir William Welsh operating under the air and naval liaison system.
Air Command: Everything west of Cape Tenez in Algeria. All American aircraft under Major-General James Doolittle. Under direct command
of General Patton.
Final operational orders were issued between the 3rd and 20th October 1942 in eight parts
for the naval operation
Ton 1 - issued 3rd October. Outlined the strategic plan.
Ton 2 - issued 8th October, detailed
the routing and scheduling of convoys, escort an task forces outwards from Britain and the forward assembly area on the Bay of Algiers.
- issued 8th October, detailed the tactical instructions for the landings.
Ton 4 - issued 8th October, detailed
submarine screens to cover the landings.
Ton 5 -8, were issued over the remaining period and dealt with various redeployments and convoy
arrangements to follow once the initial lodgements had been won.
To ensure the ships arrived on time in the assembly area at Gibraltar Admiral Ramsay, the author of
the plan, issued Ton 2 with carefully calculated tables of convoy routes complete with lettered routing positions.
The first convoys left the Clyde on 2nd October. The first troop convoy left on 22nd
October with others following on 26th October and 1st November. The last convoy was due in Gibraltar on
the 4th November. The covering warships left their respective bases between the 20th and 30th October.
The concern over U boat attacks didn't materialise
in the early stages since their command in Germany failed to realise the
significance of the convoys despite spotting two leaving their bases. At this
critical time in the Mediterranean U-Boats were engaging a convoy en route from
Sierra Leone to Britain... so they too missed the naval build-up. However, on
her third trip from the UK to North Africa luck ran out for troop ship
HMS Strathallan (P&O heritage link) when she was sunk by U562 on the
night of 21/12/42.
As some 340 ships converged on Gibraltar the Allies had one last vain attempt to persuade the Vichy
French to join the Allies or at least not interfere with the landings. On the 5th November the whole operation hung in the balance as
the entire force passed through the Straits of Gibraltar in just 33 hours. This involved the smaller vessels diverting to Gibraltar and
refuelling which demanded a flexible and fast refuelling programme.
On 7th November R.A.F. reconnaissance patrols commenced along a line between the east
coast of Spain and the Bonifacio Strait (Between Sardinia and Corsica) in order to detect any threatening moves by the Italian fleet; and north and west of
Dakar in French West Africa to give early warning of any northward move towards Admiral Hewitt's task force by French warships. All the while
Coastal Command aircraft were flying anti-U-boat operations and reconnaissance sorties over Italian and French naval bases.
The Torch landings were opposed by Vichy French forces numbering 120,000 in French North Africa. They were mostly native
rank and file with French Officers supported by 500 aircraft and a sizeable Naval fleet at Toulon. Their army and air force both suffered from obsolete
equipment but the Navy posed a great threat in the collective mind of the Allied commanders. Its firepower could wreak havoc on any landing it
chose to oppose. The Italian
fleet also presented a threat but it suffered from low morale, irresolute leadership and a lack of fuel oil. Finally there was the Luftwaffe in
Italy and North Africa which had the potential to inflict serious damage. Up to the 7th
November the German Naval High Command still believed the TORCH armada was a Malta-bound convoy.
The Allied convoys came together at prearranged locations guided by infra-red signal beams from Royal Navy
At Algiers, Burrough put ashore the American 34th Infantry Division under Major-General Charles
W. Ryder, one brigade of the British 78th Infantry Division, and No 1
and 6 Commandos. A second brigade of
78th Division acted as a floating reserve. The landing operations were directed jointly by Burrough, Ryder and Air Commodore G.M. Evelegh from the headquarters ship Bulolo. The Invasion plan was staged as two landings (A and B) west of Algiers, and one (C) to the
east. (Photo courtesy of 'Mac' McCurdy shows
a group of Americans attached to No 6 Commando. It was taken in North Africa
probably in November or December of ’42. Four of them were volunteers from L Co of the 133rd regiment of the 34th
“Red Bull” Infantry Division.)
In the last hour of 7th November, the landing forces were launched from their mother ships, in a
moderate swell, a new moon and a westward current of about 4 knots. There were three sectors;
The 'A' sector landing went according to plan with 7230
soldiers of the British 11th Infantry Brigade (78th Division) and a reconnaissance squadron. There was no French
The 'B' sector landing
consisted of Regimental Combat Teams of the American 34th Infantry
Division and the British No1 and No 6
Commandos, 5420 strong in all, landing on five separate beaches. Some ships were pushed out of position by a force 3 breeze resulting in modification
to the disembarkation procedure. Some landings went in on the wrong beaches but there
were no repercussions since there was no French resistance; in fact the French commander openly welcomed the invading forces. Fleet Air Arm aircraft secured the Blida airfields surrender at 0930 hours.
'C' sector fared the worst. There was fog over the beaches as 6000 soldiers of the 39th Regimental Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division and five troops of
Commandos landed. Thankfully there was no resistance apart from a few rounds fired from a coastal defence battery which was quickly silenced
by the Commandos.
The only fighting took place within the port of Algiers itself when two destroyers attempted to put ashore a party of
American infantry to prevent the French from scuttling ships and sabotaging the dock installations. Heavy shells badly damaged one destroyer but
the second got through and disembarked her landing party. This destroyer was pounded severely by coastal defence batteries and field artillery
for four hours before she was compelled to put to sea leaving 250 Americans on shore. She was sunk the next day under tow. From daylight on
the 8th November the four carriers provided air cover over the invasion area while reinforcements swelled the lodgements. The
spearheads quickly thrust inland despite resistance by a handful of forts and coastal defence batteries. At 1100 R.A.F. Hurricanes from Gibraltar flew
into Maison Blanche airfield after its capture by the Americans. In the afternoon of the 8th General Ryder agreed a local cease-fire with General
Juin who represented the absent Admiral Darlan who was in Algiers visiting a sick son.
The Eastern Sector was secured by the end of the day just as German bombers arrived to attack the
shipping off the coast.
badge, together with the Stars and Stripes of the USA was worn by RAF Servicing
Commando Unit 3201 when
part of Operation Torch near Algiers in North Africa. The American flag, about 3
inches by 5 inches, was worn by British forces to appease the French. The
Combined Ops badge was about 2 and a half inches in diameter.
The Oran landings were directed by Commodore T. H. Troubridge, R.N., Major-General Llyod R. Fredenhall and
Major-General James Doolittle (Commanding the Allied Western Air Command) on the Largs. The landings were supported by a battleship, three
carriers, an anti-aircraft ship and nine destroyers acting as a covering force in the event of Italian Navy interference.
In the early hours of 8th November the weather at Oran was calm with good visibility.
However, the westerly winds were having a disconcerting effect on the landings.
X Sector, some 30 miles west of Oran was delayed by a French
convoy getting in the way of the minesweepers clearing the path for the landing forces of Task Force Green comprising 2250 soldiers, plus tanks and trucks
of the American 1st Armoured Division with a navy escort. The landings began half an hour late because of the French convoy and went
in at 0130 hours. The unexpected shallowness of the beaches resulted in damage to ten of the thirteen assault wave
landing craft which left only three operational. Through the same 50 yard wide stretch of sandy cove over 3000 soldiers came through over the
next three days along with 458 tanks and trucks.
Y Sector was 20 miles closer to Oran. 5262 soldiers of the 26th Regimental Combat
Team of the American 1st Infantry Division were put ashore by landing craft in the bay of Les Abdalouses. Delays were experienced
caused by problems with the disembarkation landers on the Monarch of Bermuda and a sandbank which damaged the landing crafts' rudders and propellers as they
bludgeoned their way through it. A northerly swell caused grief as many craft broached on top of the bar. Most of these delays
could have been avoided if Headquarters had allowed beach reconnaissance parties instead of submarine periscope observations.
East of Oran was Z
Sector. The landings here comprised 10,472 soldiers of the 1st US Ranger Battalion, the 16th and 18th Regimental Combat
Teams of the 1st Infantry Division and the Western Column of Combat Command B of the 1st Armoured Division. The assault
wave went ashore at 0016 hours from 68 landing craft on beaches Green, White and Red south of Arzeu, a little port beneath a rocky headland and
overlooked by the Fort de le Pointe.
Here, as at Algiers, the landings were bloodily repulsed at the centre when HMS Walney and Heartland,
flying under dual flags, attempted to land US Rangers in the harbour at Algiers. They broke through the harbour boom at 0310, but the Walney
was reduced to a flaming hulk by a French sloop and crossfire from other vessels. She later sank. Heartland was shattered at point-blank range by
a French destroyer after which three French destroyers put to sea in an attempt to engage the powerful covering force near the landings. Two of
them quickly succumbed to the accurate fire of HMS Aurora. The sloop responsible for the sinking of HMS Walney, attacked the shipping off
Y Sector but was sunk by HMS Brilliant. The remaining destroyer sortied out the following day with a second destroyer and were both
driven ashore after being engaged by the Aurora and Jamaica.
Throughout the 9th November the French and Allied forces lobbed fire between the taskforce and the
coast while French troops stoutly defended the approached to Oran. Aircraft from HMS Furious consisting of Seafires, Albacores and Sea
Hurricanes, attacked two airfields destroying 70 aircraft. At noon that day Task Force Red from the Z sector beaches took Tafaraoui and 28 British and American Spitfires
flew in shortly afterwards. The French Air Force attacked the
last four aircraft with Dewoitine DW 250 fighters, shooting down one Spitfire for the loss of three aircraft. It was not until 1600 that the
armour of Task Force Green from X Sector beaches fought through to take the second airfield at La Senia. Meanwhile, the American 1st
Infantry was slowed by tough resistance at St Cloud on the road from Arzeu to Oran. It took a bombardment of the coastal batteries by Rodney,
Aurora and Jamaica to bring about the final surrender of Oran to the Allies.
The other landings on the coast of Morocco were complicated by heavy Atlantic swells
and fierce but short-lived fighting against the French Navy and Army. Casablanca fell early on 11th November. It is important to note
that because of the lack of a headquarters ship at Casablanca, General Patton was helplessly carried away because the warship he was on was
needed to repel a French naval attack just as he was about to go ashore.
Following the Allied capture of French North Africa a deal was struck with the highly influential Admiral
Darlan who was recognized as High Commissioner for North Africa. All French North African territories (except Tunisia) aligned themselves to the Allied side, which included the French Naval base at Dakar and the powerful French Naval squadron stationed there. The
terms were criticized in the House of Commons as having truck with a collaborator and thereby betraying the United Nations cause. However Eisenhower saw it
only as a secure base to his rear relieving him of the need to provide precious troops for a full occupation of French North Africa.
This defection prompted Hitler to order German troops into the unoccupied zone of France. On 27th
November the Germans attempted to seize the French fleet at Toulon, but as Darlan had promised in 1940, the fleet scuttled itself. In all one battleship, two
battle-cruisers, four heavy and three light cruisers, 24 destroyers and sixteen submarines were placed beyond use.
The entire campaign to capture primary targets only took three days and was swiftly
followed by the dispersal of the Allied fleet as the Royal Navy stripped its assets and redeployed them to the hard-pressed Atlantic convoy
Bone was occupied on the 12th November in a joint operation by the British 3rd Parachute
Battalion and the 6th Commando from two destroyers. By this time the Luftwaffe in Tunisia had reached a total of 81
fighters and 28 dive-bombers and there were a handful of parachute troops and panzer-grenadiers on the ground. Shortly afterwards JU-52s
began landing troops at the rate of 750 a day and at sea armaments poured in including the formidable Tigers, the dreaded '88' anti-aircraft/anti-tank gun, field
artillery and transport poured in despite interference from the Maltese based British aircraft and submarines.
On the 16th November, General Nehring arrived to command the defence of Tunisia. With logistics
problems choking the Allied army, under the British General Kenneth Anderson, the Germans gained valuable time. By the 22nd November, Anderson's 1st Army was ready to launch a major assault on
Tunis but by then the German/Italian forces were strong enough to defeat it. December rains turned the roads and tracks into a quagmire forcing
the postponement of a planned renewed Allied offensive. There was stalemate. On the 8th December General von Arnim
but both sides failed to break the stalemate.
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Mk1 and MK2 Landing Craft
(known at the time as 'Lighters' formed the Western Desert Lighter Force
operating from the days of Wavell to Operation Torch, along the coast of North
Africa as well as elsewhere in the Eastern end of the Mediterranean. A website
written by Alan Impey who served on the craft.
HMS Walney and HMS Hartland a bold attack on the boom defences at Oran.
Commandos 1940 - 1946 by Charles
Messenger. Published by W Kimber, London 1985. ISBN 0 7183 0553 1
The Watery Maze by Bernard Fergusson published 1961 by Collins.
If you have any information or book
recommendations about Operation Torch please contact