Friday, August 7, 2009

Operation Torch

Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, was launched in November under the command of the unknown U.S. Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Allies tried to ensure French co-operation, and in the event resistance was patchy in quality and quantity. Fortuitously, Admiral Darlan, Marshal Petain's deputy, was visiting his sick son in Algiers, and was persuaded to order a ceasefire. The Germans swiftly sent troops to Tunisia, and the Allied advance bogged down with the rains of early winter.

Although the Vichy government repudiated Darlan's ceasefire, Hitler was furious and invaded the Unoccupied Zone of France. A German force had orders to seize the French fleet at Toulon, but the French activated a well-prepared plan and the fleet was scuttled by its crews in the nick of time. Here damaged and sunk cruisers and destroyers can be seen (above) through the smoke of burning heavy cruisers.

American troops, part of the Central Task Force, on their way ashore by landing craft at Oran. It was thought that the French would be less likely to engage the Americans than the British, still mistrusted because of the attack on Mers-el-Kebir and the fighting in the Levant.

With Allied convoys at sea, sailors could be told their destination. Here Rear Admiral Sir Harold Burrough explains forthcoming operations to officers and men aboard his flagship.