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Bardia to Enfidaville

Operation torch

Operation torch

At the Washington Conference in June 1942, attended by President Roosevelt and Mr Churchill and their advisers, it was decided that an Anglo-American army would land in French North Africa, and in conjunction with the Eighth Army, would clear the North African coast and open the Mediterranean to Allied shipping. The codename chosen for the operation was TORCH. In accordance with this plan Allied forces landed on 8 November (when the pursuit from Alamein was at its height) at Casablanca on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and at Oran and Algiers on the Mediterranean coast of Algeria. The United States was still on speaking terms with Vichy France, unlike the United Kingdom, and the forces were given an all-American complexion, with an American commander—General Dwight D. Eisenhower. This operation was thus the first venture into true partnership between the forces of the United States and those of the British Commonwealth.

The forces landing at Casablanca, all American, were brought direct from the United States, and so commenced their involvement in the European theatre of operations with an opposed landing at the end of a long ocean voyage; those landing at Oran, also all American, came the shorter distance from England. The Algiers landing was mainly a British one. The Allied forces as a page 13 whole comprised parts of seven divisions—five American and two British.

French resistance to the landings ceased after three days, following orders issued by Admiral Darlan, the Vichy commander of the French armed forces, who was there by chance. Morocco and Algeria thus became Allied territory pro tem., and the Allied forces were freed to go into action against Axis forces wherever found. A considerable body of French troops, some two or three divisions, now joined the Allies.

The arrangement with Darlan had included Tunisia also; but immediately the Allied landings took place the Axis began landing troops in Tunisia at a fast rate, helped by the short sea-crossing from Sicily. The French Resident-General in Tunis was a helpless spectator of this build-up, and could not offer any resistance, so that in a short time there was a considerable German-Italian army in Tunisia, under command of a German general, von Arnim.

British forces from Algiers, consisting of most of 78 Division and a small part of 6 Armoured Division, began a thrust on Tunis on 15 November, and on 28 November were only 12 miles from the city, after an advance of some 450 miles over most difficult country; but the enemy was already strong enough to block the foremost troops and, indeed, to force them back. Great efforts were made by the Allies to reinforce the British spearhead—now constituted as 5 Corps of First Army—and American combat units, and ad boc supply and transport echelons came forward. The intention was to make another attempt to reach Tunis about the middle of December.

At the beginning of December the Allied army in Tunisia and Eighth Army in Libya were still some 1100 miles apart. The time had not yet come for close co-operation in the tactical field; but it was always in the minds of the Allied Chiefs of Staff that at some point the efforts of the two forces would be centrally controlled.