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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Allied Landings in French North Africa

8 November 1942

Theatre: North Africa
Location: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia
Players: Allies: General George Patton's Western Task Force (US); General Lloyd Fredendall's (Central) Task Force (US); General Charles Ryder's Eastern Task Force (Anglo US) which was reorganised after the landings as 1st Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson, ultimately including 2nd Corps (US), 5th Corps (British) and 19th Corps (Free French). Germany: General Walther Nehring's 90th Corps; reorganised in December 1942 as General Juergen von Arnim's 5th Panzerarmee; Vichy French colonial forces.
Outcome: The Allied forces achieved dominance of French North Africa and hemmed in the Axis forces in Tunisia.

'Never in history has the Navy landed an Army at the planned time and place. But if you land us anywhere within 50 miles of Fedala and within one week of D-Day, I'll go ahead and win.' - US General George Patton, addressing the crew of the USS Swanson before sailing

While en route to Africa to take part in Operation Torch (the Allied landings in Morocco), enlisted men do their jumping jacks on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS 'Santee'
While en route to Africa to take part in Operation Torch (the Allied landings in Morocco), enlisted men do their jumping jacks on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS 'Santee'©
In 1942, Allied war planners were divided; some (mainly British) believed that Germany could be defeated through economic pressure and aerial bombardment, while others (mainly American) pressed for an invasion by Allied troops.

Both groups agreed on the need to complement the Russian war effort, which was in some difficulty at the time, by opening a second front. American planners initially resisted British proposals to develop the 8th Army's North African campaign into a Mediterranean Second Front, arguing that this would dissipate Allied forces.

Eisenhower was finally persuaded that the Mediterranean option was justified by the medium-term benefits of a successful operation - control of the Mediterranean and the resources of French North Africa - as well as the short-term benefit of tying down German forces. Against this background, American planners agreed to British proposals for a joint landing in North Africa, codenamed Operation Torch.

On 8 November, three separate task forces landed in French North Africa. Patton's Western Task Force, which had sailed from the US, landed on the Atlantic coast of Morocco at Safi, Fedala (near Casablanca) and Mehdia. Fredendall's Centre Task Force, which had sailed from Britain, landed at Arzeu in Algeria, near the key port of Oran. Both American forces faced strong resistance from troops loyal to Vichy France, which was officially a neutral power, and was recognised by the US as the legitimate French government.

The British-commanded Eastern Task Force landed at Algiers, where French forces offered no resistance. Five days later Algiers saw a striking example of wartime political realism, when Eisenhower gave the Vichy French Admiral Jean Darlan political control of French North Africa in return for collaboration with the Allies. Darlan was assassinated on 24 December; his US-nominated replacement, General Henri Giraud, began a period of uneasy coexistence with the British approved leader of the Free French forces, General Charles de Gaulle.

Anderson's 1st Army, meanwhile, pushed east to Tunis. The German garrison in Tunisia was massively reinforced and reorganised as 90th Corps under the command of Nehring, the former commander of the Deutsches Afrika Korps.

By 16 November the 1st Army was over the Tunisian border, 640km (400 miles) from Algiers and 80km (50 miles) from Tunis. There, however, its advance was halted. An Allied attack on 24 November was repulsed, and German counter-offensives on 27 November and 1 December forced a withdrawal to fallback positions.

On 8 December, as Nehring was replaced by Arnim in command of an enlarged 5th Panzerarmee, Anderson ordered the 1st Army to go on the defensive. An unsuccessful offensive on 22-24 December demonstrated the wisdom of this decision. The 1st Army settled into defensive positions and built up its forces, which were expanded by local French troops as well as American reinforcements arriving from the west.

The war in North Africa would only be concluded the following spring, after further British advances from the east.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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