Stalin’s Russia had been pressing the Allies to start a new front against the Germans in the western sector of the war in Europe. At the time of the Torch landings the British did not feel strong enough to attack Germany via France. But the victory at El Alamein was a great stimulus to the Allies to attack the Axis forces in North Africa.
The final plan was an ambitious one. The western Allies would transport 65,000 men, commanded by Lt. Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower, from ports in the United States and England, and invade French North African possessions at Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. The Allied move against French North Africa benefited enormously from the fact that the attention of Axis political and military leaders remained focused elsewhere. The Germans were involved in their struggle for Stalingrad and the Caucasus. The situation in Egypt was growing grim as the British built up their forces for a renewed offensive against Rommel’s Afrika Korps.
On the coast of Morocco, the French failed to put up effective opposition against most of the American landings, but the heavy Atlantic surf more than made up for the weak resistance. The key target for Patton was the capture of Casablanca. This he achieved when he took the city unopposed, just two days after landing.
One problem faced at Oran was the fact that the beach had not been suitably investigated by those who wished to land 18,500 men on it and a sizeable amount of equipment. The landing crafts found that the water was unusually shallow and damage was caused to some of the landing craft. US Major General Lloyd Fredendall commanded the Center Task Force, which was tasked to invade Oran. British Commodore Thomas Troubridge acted as the naval commander. The transports of the task force carried one infantry division, one armored division, and one paratrooper regiment.
The third target of Operation Torch was Algiers, which fell under the responsibility of British Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson's Eastern Task Force. British Vice Admiral Sir Harold Burrough served under him as the naval commander of the fleet of 650 ships, while US Major General Charles Ryder was to be placed in command for the amphibious operation. The 20,000 men sailing with this invasion force were of a mix of British and American servicemen. Above, British aircraft under the command of Air Marshal Sir William Welsh supported the ground and naval operations.
Although the Torch landings caught the Germans by surprise, they reacted with the utmost swiftness. Although Hitler and OKH had previously regarded the campaign in the Western Desert as little more than a side show, their attitudes changed dramatically after Torch. Hitler was determined that North Africa must be held at all costs. German reinforcements were rushed to Tunisia as the
advance guard of the Fifth Panzer Army, to be commanded by Colonel General Hans von Arnim. As a result, the Allied push on Tunis was thwarted by the arrival of German troops in Tunisia.
As chance would have it, the number two man in the Vichy French hierarchy, Admiral FranÇois Darlan, happened to be in North Africa visiting his sick son. Despite his sorry record of collaboration with the Germans, Darlan soon recognized that the Vichy government was in a hopeless situation and that further fighting against the British and Americans would do nothing to advance the long-range interests of France. Moreover, German forces were clearly gathering on the frontiers of Vichy France to occupy the remainder of the country. Darlan proceeded to cut a deal with the Allies that stopped the fighting throughout Algeria and Morocco.
While the Allies fought to suppress French defenses, the FÜhrer and his advisers made one of the most disastrous strategic decisions of World War II, further committing forces in North Africa. When the landings took place, the FÜhrer was on a train headed from East Prussia to Munich to give his annual ”Beer Hall” speech, commemorating the failed Nazi putsch of 1923.