Eisenhower Explains Operation Torch

American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation 'Torch', November 1942. A 12661 Part of ADMIRALTY OFFICIAL COLLECTION Hudson, F A (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer

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.”



Confusion: The Organization of the German High Command On D-Day



Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces, General Dwight Eisenhower, seen here wearing the five stars of General of the Army, a wartime rank specially authorized by Congress.

There was one person in charge of the Allied invasion of Europe and subsequent campaign to defeat Nazi Germany: General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces. All Allied military forces came under his command with an occasional exception. Most important, Eisenhower was backed by three key men: Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, US President Franklin Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. When he had to flex his muscles to bring subordinates into line, he had a lot of muscle behind him.

The Germans, who have a reputation as organized and efficient, had a command structure resembling a bowl of spaghetti thrown against a wall. In a report written for the Allies after the war and published in a fascinating volume, Fighting the Invasion: the German Army at D-Day, General Günther Blumentritt, who served as Chief of Staff to Herr General Feldmarschal Gerd von Rundstedt, Oberbefehlshaber West or ‘OB West’ (C-in-C West), wrote about the command structure which I have summarized below.

OB West reported to OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or German Armed Forces High Command), which had operational responsibility for war on the Western Front. OKH, or German Army High Command, had responsibility for the war in the east or the Ost Kreig against the Soviets. While co-located at Zossen, twenty kilometers outside of Berlin, neither organization was allowed to communicate with the other. They had completely separate compounds and bunkers and were known as Maybach 1 (OKH) and Maybach 2 (OKW). wikipedia.org/wiki/Maybach_I_and_II

Under the nominal command of OB West were Army Groups B and G which controlled all subordinate German Army forces in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. (The Military Governor of France and the Military Governor of N.France/Belgium, which had their own special units and security troops, reported directly to OKW by-passing OB West and often not even informing OB West of what they were doing).

+ Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel (left)
and Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt

However, there was a caveat here which caused the Germans to react slowly on D-Day and it is this:  only coastal defense units of German troops in France, Belgium and the Netherlands were directly subordinated to OB West.

Only if an actual invasion occurred, would the German Army commanders in Belgium and France become fully subordinated to OB West. The German Army commander in the Netherlands did not come under the authority of OB West in the event of invasion. He reported directly to OKW. However, the majority of front line German Army combat units in Holland came under the command of Army Group B and not the German Army commander in Holland. Got it?

If this wasn’t confusing enough, the Germans had a shortage of troops but not of Field Marshals. Rommel (seen above on right), the not-so-unbeatable Desert Fox, was sitting around in Germany while the unbeatable German Afrika Korps was being beaten – and later surrendered to the British 8th Army. (Eventually, the entire Deutsche Afrika Korps ended up as POWs in the United States.)

So Hitler sent Herr General Feldmarschal Rommel to France to assume command of Army Group B, which already reported to Herr General Feldmarschal von Rundstedt (seen above on left) in his capacity as OB West. So theoretically Rommel was subordinated to von Rundstedt but all German Field Marshals had the right to contact Hitler directly so it wasn’t clear that Rommel really was subordinate to von Rundstedt and both of them gave orders to Army Group B and these orders often conflicted.

A meeting in Paris in December of 1943 between  Generalleutnant (equivalent to Major-General or two star general in US Army) Alfred Gause (who looks to be wearing an AfrikaKorps cuff title), Rommel’s Chief of Staff (at right, pointing at map), with Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel (left) and Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, OB West or Commander-in-Chief, West (center). Oberst (Colonel) Bodo Zimmermann (senior staff officer to von Rundstedt is in the background).

The Luftwaffe’s Third Air Force, responsible for air operations in the West as well as anti-aircraft defense, did not come under the authority of OB West except for matters of coastal defense. Otherwise, they reported to the Luftwaffe commander for France who was in Paris and he reported to OKL (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe in Berlin) which came under the drug-addicated Reichsmarschal Göring who reported, theoretically, to OKW (Armed Forces High Command) but in actuality reported to Hitler.

Even in the event of the actual invasion, Luftwaffe units would not (and did not) come under the command of OB West. That anti-aircraft units came under Luftwaffe command is important to note since these units, often of division strength, were heavily armed with the awesome German 88s as well as all sorts of other heavy weapons. Most of the time, these anti-aircraft units provided direct fire support to German Army troops but this required good relations between local unit commanders since the Luftwaffe didn’t have to take orders from the army or vice-versa.

Marinegruppen Kommando West, (Naval Group West), reported to OKM (Oberkommando der Kreigsmarine), which came under Grand Admiral Dönitz who theoretically reported to OKW (German Armed Forces High Command) but actually reported directly to Hitler. As with the Luftwaffe, Herr General Feldmarschal Gerd von Rundstedt, Oberbefehlshaber West, could only give orders to Naval Group West on matters regarding coastal defense and even in the event of the actual invasion, OB West could not give orders to Naval Group West. What makes this even more screwed up than it looks is that the Kriegsmarine controlled all coastal artillery units since they were part of the navy.



The Waffen SS, which literally translates as ‘Armed SS’, meaning SS combat troops as opposed to SS concentration camp guards and organized murderers, came under the tactical control of local army commands in the event of invasion. Otherwise, they reported to that weak chinned killer, Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. (After the war was over, men who had served in the Waffen SS tried to claim they were simply soldiering and had nothing to do with the death camp guards, those men being in a separate unit. The concentration camp guards and murder squad SS men were in a separate unit but men transferred between these units on a regular basis.)

In the event of an Allied landing, the German strategy was to launch their reserve panzer divisions against the Allied beachhead. But, as you might imagine, the reserve panzer divisions came under the authority of the OKW, not OB West, and could only be released to OB West if he asked – which he did when the invasion began – but he was rebuffed.

Oberquartiermeister West, (Chief of Supply and Logistics), who was responsible for supplying the units which would come under OB West in the event of an invasion, reported simultaneously to three different commands, OB West, the Military Governor of France, and the Generalquartiermeister of OKH (Oberkommando das Heer or German Army High Command), all of whom could – and did – issue orders to him. Since OB West had no transport of its own, it had to borrow transport from subordinate army commands. Incredibly, these supply trucks were driven by hired French civilians who were supposed to keep driving while being attacked by Allied aircraft.

If this seems confusing, it is and it was. Herr General FeldMarschall von Rundstedt, OB West, said he had but the authority to change the guard in front of his headquarters, located in a magnificent chateaux northwest of Paris, later occupied by General Eisenhower as his headquarters.

Curiously, when von Rundstedt was dining with his senior staff officers in his personal mess, they all spoke to each other in French.

Capturing St. Lo: the Terrible Arithmetic of War

Frankreich, St. Lô, Zerstörungen

June 1944: damage to the town of St. Lo in Normandy. By the end of the battle of St Lo in late July of 1944, the town had been completely destroyed.

(Photo courtesy of the German National Archive)

One of the most important Allied objectives in Normandy was the town of St. Lo which sat astride a strategic crossroads which the Allies desperately needed to capture. The Germans just as desperately sought to keep the Allies from capturing the town. After coming ashore, it took many weary days of brutal fighting  until American troops finally captured St. Lo on 18 July 1944.

While one will find many different and usually contradictory figures on the casualties during the campaign, historian Russell F. Weigley, writing in his magisterial work, Eisenhower and His Lieutenants: the Campaigns of France and Germany 1944-1945, says the US Army sustained 40,000 killed or wounded in the campaign. Additionally, more than 10,000 US soldiers suffered from combat fatigue severe enough to cause them to be pulled out of the fighting line. Some recovered, some did not.

According to Weigley, 90% of the casualties from the aforementioned figures were in the front-line rifle companies. In the 90th Division the rifle companies suffered 100% casualties among their infantrymen in the six week battle. More appalling, company grade infantry officers, which includes lieutenants and captains in the 90th suffered a casualty rate of more than 150%.

In real terms, this means that every single rifleman who began the battle was killed or wounded and had to be replaced and that every single company grade infantry officer was killed or wounded and had to be replaced and of those replacements, half were killed or wounded.

Casualties as a percentage among company grade officers such as lieutenants and captains were so high because they moved around a lot more than the men.

Source: Eisenhower and His Lieutenants: the Campaigns of France and Germany 1944-1945 by Russell F. Weigley


American assault troops of the 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division, who stormed Omaha Beach, and although wounded, gained the comparative safety offered by the chalk cliff at their backs. Food and cigarettes were available to lend comfort to the men at Collville-Sur-Mer, Normandy, France. 6/6/44. 

( photo number SC 189910-S courtesy of the US Army Center for Military History)


Saint-Lo : Bombardement de 1944

Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives USA

Famed “Monuments Man” Who Inspired Movie About US Efforts To Save Precious Art in World War Two in Europe Dies


From the New York Times

George Stout

Monuments Man in War, Conservationist in Peace



George L. Stout, left, with other Monuments Men.


(photo courtesy of the New York Times)

article by Carol Kino of the NYT 19 March 2014

“BY now, much of the moviegoing world is familiar with “The Monuments Men,” an art-historical film that sees George Clooney…and other stars swashbuckling around Europe during World War II, trying to save masterpieces (of art)… from bombs and the clutches of German and Russian troops…..

Mr. Clooney’s debonair, mustachioed role was inspired by the real-life exploits of George L. Stout,

the American conservator who dreamed up the idea of sending art experts to war to protect Europe’s cultural treasures, as Robert M. Edsel recounts in the 2009 book on which the film was based. As depicted in the movie, Mr. Stout traveled to the front as part of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section of the Allied military effort, a detachment of eight men who tried to safeguard and repatriate monuments and artworks under fire. But like so many other veterans of the war effort, Mr. Stout rarely tooted his own horn about his wartime feats.”

You can read the rest the article here:




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