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"Operation Torch 1942 - Allied invasion French North Africa" Topic


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©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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A sea that raged no more Supporting Member of TMP25 Jun 2017 1:59 a.m. PST

Osprey Publishing is soon to release Operation Torch 1942, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, and a welcome addition to its catalogue it will be.

Operation Torch is described as the largest and most complex amphibious invasion of its time. In November 1942, three landings took place simultaneously across the French North African coast in an ambitious attempt to trap and annihilate the Axis' North African armies.

Given the logistics involved – organising and transport troops and equipment and supplies from the USA and the UK directly to FNA, along coastlines and seas with a deadly enemy intend on destroying it – does this seemingly undervalued campaign deserve to be formally honoured with that title forever, and how does Operation Overlord (Allied invasion of Normandy) compare to it?

Is it a campaign you would game?

Osprey book released September 2017.

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Richard Baber25 Jun 2017 3:25 a.m. PST

We ran three games based on various actions during the two days of fighting around the Torch landings. Fun games with lots of exotic French kit, but the French don`t really have any chance of actually winning. :)

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Tunisia is far more interesting for the wargamer IMHO

Durban Gamer25 Jun 2017 5:49 a.m. PST

Richard, I was inspired by your blog to collect and paint the necessary kit for Torch in 1/300 (about 90% finished, including aircraft). Americans landing vs French certainly makes a change from the usual! And the colourful Vichy aircraft are a must have!

Legion 425 Jun 2017 5:55 a.m. PST

Interestingly some don't realize some US troops, the first enemy they engaged were [Vichy] French. The French did have a some interesting equipment and units.

A sea that raged no more Supporting Member of TMP25 Jun 2017 8:10 a.m. PST

Thanks for your input and links Richard Baber.

I especially like your game based on the Battle of Safi, as you say based on the Rapid Fire rules, a long time favourite of mine.

Richard Baber25 Jun 2017 12:45 p.m. PST

Cheers guys

We have a larger table now, so I may well run Saafi again with more elbow room :)

Craigden30 Jun 2017 4:28 a.m. PST

Hi!
My dads ship, Warwick Castle, was torpedoed and sunk, in the Bay of Biscay returning from Operation Torch.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP30 Jun 2017 4:39 a.m. PST

Often overlooked in the Torch operation were the three 'coup de main' operations in the harbors of Algiers, Oran, and Casablanca. British plans and ships, American troops, Allied disasters.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP11 Jul 2017 12:28 p.m. PST

… the three 'coup de main' operations in the harbors of Algiers, Oran, and Casablanca. British plans and ships, American troops, Allied disasters.

Scott, Scott, Scott …

Fair enough comment about Algiers, but surely you do not suggest that the Casablanca operation was a British plan with British ships?

The Casablanca operation was carried out by TF34, a naval task force of over 100 ships that sailed undetected directly from the U.S. to Morocco. It included no less than 6 aircraft carriers, 3 battleships, 3 heavy and 4 light cruisers, and 38 destroyers under USN Admiral Hewitt. I'm thinking even the mighty RN might have had a little bit of trouble mustering such a force for one-third of an operation in 1942.

And it was not exactly a disaster. 3 landings put troops ashore at Port Lyatuey, Safi and Fedalla. I would certainly not say that everything went successfully as planned, but all three landings were, in the end, successful in putting troops (and tanks) ashore, creating viable bridgheads, and driving inland and taking key objectives by the end of D-Day.

About the only British contribution to the Casablanca operation was a single RN submarine, used to land an American diplomat ashore in the days prior to the invasion in an effort to sway the Vichy forces to the Allies' cause.

BTW I think the naval engagements at Casablanca would make for some very interesting wargaming what-if scenarios. What if Mark Clark's diplomatic mission had contacted not just French army but also French naval command? As it was the French army fought the invasion -- what if they naval forces had been pre-alerted and put to sea? What if Jean Bart had been completed and sortied for the engagement? Maybe even her sister-ship Richelieu, at Dakar, had sortied with a relief force?

It is a what-if scenario that puts some very interesting ships in action. The two most modern French BBs (admittedly not completed IRL by the date) against 3 USN BBs of which one was very modern (Massachussetts) but two were not (Texas and New York). And who could resist a chance to put the French super-destroyer Malin into action? (Of course, Malin participated in more WW2 naval campaigns/actions than just about any ship I can think of, so maybe you don't need a what-if to get a Malin model on the gameboard).

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Jul 2017 9:51 a.m. PST

Mark,

I'm not talking about the general invasion landings. I'm talking about the special assaults where ships loaded with troops were sailed right into the harbors of those cities in hopes of seizing the harbor facilities before the French could do any demolition. In each case about a battalion of US infantry (with no special training!) were put aboard some old tub and escorted in by British naval forces. I'll need to consult my sources, but as I recall all three missions were a disaster with heavy casualties and the survivors forced to surrender.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP18 Jul 2017 12:53 p.m. PST

I'm talking about the special assaults where ships loaded with troops were sailed right into the harbors of those cities in hopes of seizing the harbor facilities before the French could do any demolition. In each case about a battalion of US infantry (with no special training!) were put aboard some old tub and escorted in by British naval forces.

Scott:

Got it.

But still, with regards to the Algeria operations I'm with you. On the Morocco side, I'm still not sure what you are referring to. You said only "Casablanca" with regard to Morocco operations. But there were no landings at Casablanca, which was a major naval port with substantial French fleet elements present. The Morocco operation was intended to encircle Casablanca through landings at Safi, Fedala, and Port Lyautey.

As far as I understand, while there were several "Spy vs. Spy" escapades in the Morocco operations, the only action similar to the "coup de main" efforts in Algeria, involving a naval vessel landing a body of troops to seize a key installation, was the force detailed to seize the airfield at Port Lyautey.

This force was a party of U.S. Army Rangers. I don't know the specifics of their training, but I would hesitate to suggest Rangers were not trained for this type of operation. They were carried in to their landing by the USS Dallas (DD-199), which was certainly not an RN ship. The Dallas sailed several miles up the Sebou river, ramming and cutting through the anchored boom cable barrier and silencing French shore-fire with it's guns, and reached the landing area where it successfully put the Rangers ashore. The Rangers then seized the airfield. While it was not, perhaps, a decisive action, it was certainly successful.

The primary reason I would not characterize it as a decisive action is that it happened so late in the invasion. I am also not sure it qualifies as a "coup de main", as it occurred on D+3, after all defenses were well alerted and engaged in combat with US Army forces working inland from landing beaches to both the south and north of the airfield.

But I don't know what else you might be referring to with regard to the Morocco operations. Was there another action I am not aware of? Wouldn't be the first time that has happened. Sure would like to know if I've missed something in my readings, as I find the Torch landings to be a very interesting subject.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Jul 2017 9:56 a.m. PST

Mark,

I finally got hold of my reference (The US Army official history) and you are correct. I misremembered the operation by the rangers aboard the Dallas.

Somehow I subconsciously lumped that together with the two unmitigated disasters at Oran and Algiers, Operations "Reservist" and "Terminal".

"Terminal" saw two RN destroyers (flying huge US flags) trying to break into the harbor at Algiers. One was damaged and driven off but the other got inside and debarked its troops (from the US 34th Division). They managed to seize the oil storage facility and the electrical generating plant. But then their destroyer was forced to flee and the troops who couldn't get aboard had to surrender. A total of 33 KIA and 76 WIA for "Terminal".

"Reservist" was far, far worse. 393 US troops from the 6th Armored Infantry Regiment (1st Armored Division) were transported into Oran harbor on two Royal Navy cutters, Both ships were shot to pieces and when the smoke cleared 307 men had been killed and 250 wounded from the US troops and Royal Navy crews. All the survivors were captured.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2017 11:19 a.m. PST

Scott:

On further reading there does appear to have been a "coup de main" effort in the Morocco operations that more closely parallels the Algerian efforts.

It was at Safi, the larger port of the 3 targetted by TF34. Safi was actually far distant, about 150 miles south of Casablanca (the objective of the Morocco landings). It was chosen because it was the closest port at which medium tanks could be landed. The US forces in Torch were ready to land light tanks from landing craft over the beaches, but needed a port large enough for the Assault transports to unload at dockside to land medium tanks. So Safi harbor was one of the 3 D-day targets in Morocco.

Two destroyers, USS Bernadou (DD 153)and USS Cole (DD 155), were tasked with the job of landing one company each from the 47th Infantry. As with the Algerian missions you've described the notion here was to sail right into the port and seize it on D-Day. But contrary to the efforts at Algiers and Oran, the Safi effort it actually seems to have proceeded with some measure of success.


The destroyers Bernadou and Cole, which each had aboard 197-raider trained soldiers in addition to their crews, had the unenviable task of landing the troops inside the harbor. The only factors in their favor were, hopefully, surprise and low ship silhouettes that might help them in darkness avoid being seen by the enemy.

In preparation for the mission, the masts had been removed and stacks cut down on both destroyers. As Bernadou entered the narrow harbor mouth at 0428, the 75mm battery at the Front de Mer (sea front), machine gun nests around the harbor, and even a 155mm battery two miles to the southward opened up on her. Unfazed, the destroyer swept the jetty on her starboard side and the dock and phosphate pier with 20mm and 3-inch fire, and with her remaining 3-inch guns took the Old Portuguese fort and Front de Mer under fire. These prompt actions prevented manning of any guns in the fort and silenced the 75mm battery as a raider-operated grenade launcher on board the ship took out a machine gun nest on the jetty. The Bernadou landed the raiders near the harbor head, who after climbing down a landing net onto the rocks at water's edge, were minutes later pursuing the famous French Foreign Legion as they retired.

Cole entered the harbor at 0517, having been temporarily lost in the gloom.

Upon observing guns firing on the beach at 0430, the tug Cherokee had gone to general quarters. Thereafter, from daylight on, the sailors and troops in the harbor area were shot at from the hill slopes to the east. When the Army asked for naval gunfire on the headquarters of the snipers at the Front de Mer, the Cole shot away one corner of the top story with one gun salvo forcing the surrender of those within the building. (For their actions on 8 November, Bernadou and Cole would receive the Presidential Unit Citation the highest award for heroism that a military unit may earn, and the equivalent of the Navy Cross for an individual. Dallas was similarly lionized for her deeds on 10 November. They would be the only American destroyers that served in the African, European, or Mediterranean Theaters thus honored during the war.)

Excerpt from: "We are Sinking, Send Help the USN's Tugs and Salvage Ships in the African, European and Mediterranean Theaters in WW2" by David Bruhn davidbruhn.com

So there was an equivalent "coup de main" effort. But it was not aboard RN ships, and it met with some reasonable success.

I also found some interesting information on the preparations of the USS Dallas (mentioned above) for her anticipated (and realized) mission up the Sebou river. Seems prior to crossing the Altantic, she had additional 3/8" armor added to her bridge, and anti-splinter cloth quilt padding added across a large part of the ship's superstructure. In addition she took on stores of US Army khaki uniforms, steel helmets, Springfield rifles, BARs, Colt M1911 pistols and Thompson SMGs, as well as .30 and .45 cal ammunition, sufficient to equip her entire crew. It seems there was a pretty reasonable expectation that the ship's crew would be sailing up the river, but walking back out after.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Charlie 1221 Jul 2017 6:45 p.m. PST

It is a what-if scenario that puts some very interesting ships in action. The two most modern French BBs (admittedly not completed IRL by the date) against 3 USN BBs of which one was very modern (Massachussetts) but two were not (Texas and New York).

Sorry to say, but neither of the French BBs were in any condition to fight.

Richelieu was down to a speed of 14kts (due to having only 3 of her 4 props mounted. One had to be removed following damage from a RN Swordfish torpedo in July 1940). She also had only 1 main turret functioning (a result of a gun misfiring in her second turret during the July 1940 action with a RN surface force). Finally, she didn't have the correct charges for her 15" guns (she had left France with only 48 charges. Attempts to produce suitable replacements was, at best, a mixed bag. Hence, the misfire that wreaked her second turret).

Jean Bart was even worse off. She left France with only 1 main turret mounted, none of her secondary turrets, no rangefinders or fire control equipment and just half of her steam plant working. During the action against the USN, all the fire was directed by phone from shore batteries inland.

Add in that the 2 years of enforced idleness had not been kind to ship and crew. Richelieu had only put to sea for the first time in May 1940 (just before her dash to North Africa). Neither ship had full crews, supplies or ammo. And no chance to properly train.

Put these 2 up against a fully worked-up, state-of-the-art battleship (and one of the USN's super BBs, at that) with a thoroughly trained crew and the results are predictably grim for the French. Add Texas and New York (they want to have fun, too) and it gets even worse (if possible).

To have half a chance, you'd have to assume that France falls in June of 1941 (and not 1940)…

And I haven't even mentioned Ranger (with her all up air group)…

Legion 422 Jul 2017 3:38 p.m. PST

This force was a party of U.S. Army Rangers. I don't know the specifics of their training, but I would hesitate to suggest Rangers were not trained for this type of operation.

Yes, that is the type of mission the RANGERs were trained for. They basically had a similar function as the UK Commandos. The RANGERS were generally based on them.

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