American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation ‘Torch’, November 1942.
(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, Admiralty Official Collection. Photograph by Lt. F.A. Hudson, Royal Navy official photographer)
Wrote General Eisenhower after the war:
“The situation was vague, the amount of resources unknown, the final objective indeterminate and the only firm factor in the whole business [were] our instructions to attack.”
Everything about Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, was a muddle. The Americans and the British had only a vague idea of what they were doing. Training and rehearsal had been minimal across the board. The Allies had very little experience in amphibious landings and those they had attempted heretofore had not worked.
With only scant training, young sailors found themselves dumped aboard warships for the first time in their lives. Army soldiers had never trained for this type of assault and many had not yet received even the rudiments of combat training. The only trained amphibious force in the US military were the US Marines but they were consumed by the war in the Pacific.
Inter-allied communications were inadequate. Merchant ships carrying important cargo or troops were not adequately protected from air attack which everyone seems to have forgotten about. Few of the merchant ships were combat loaded. Planning was hurried, inadequate and in the classic military phrase, the Allied invasion known as Torch can be characterized as “order, counter-order, disorder.”
The Anglo-American forces prevailed largely because of the actions of the British Royal Navy and US Navy warships. Both navies performed at a high standard given how haphazard the entire affair was. Captains took initiative and closed the beaches to fire at French shore batteries and/or machine guns firing on Allied troops. Heavy ships moved in to provide cover for destroyers being targeted by coastal batteries and undertook the barrages themselves.
(This type of gunfire support from Allied naval ships was also critical during the Normandy landings. On occasion, Allied destroyers were so close they were dueling with German artillery batteries).
General Eisenhower’s postwar summation of Torch is apt: “The situation was vague, the amount of resources unknown, the final objective indeterminate and the only firm factor in the whole business [were] our instructions to attack.”