NOVEMBER 1942 - French North African Landings: Operation 'Torch'
By July 1942 the Allies have accepted that a cross-Channel assault on German-occupied Europe is not yet possible, and instead opt to land an expeditionary force in French North Africa. For political reasons the main landing forces will be American.
Casablanca, Morocco - US troops land at three points along a 200-mile stretch of Atlantic coastline. The French put up a fierce resistance for 3 days. By the 10th the Western Task Force has fought a series of actions with Vichy French warships. Battleship "Jean Bart" is seriously damaged and a cruiser and several destroyers and submarines sunk or beached.
Algiers, Algeria - A similar opening attack is mounted old destroyers "Broke" and "Malcolm". The latter is badly damaged but "BROKE" eventually breaks through the boom to land her troops. Hard hit by shore batteries, she gets away but founders next day on the 9th. Algiers is soon in Allied hands and Adm Darlan, C-in-C Vichy French forces is captured. It is not Gen Giraud as originally intended, but Adm Darlan who broadcasts the ceasefire on the 10th.
At the operational level, the Torch landings almost immediately succeeded. The initial Allied hope was that dissident French officers who supported the Allied cause would rise up and seize control of the levers of power. Such hopes, however, proved false. Ironically, the military forces of Vichy France once again, as they had done at Dakar in 1940 and in Syria in 1941, resisted Allied military forces -- something they failed to do against invading German forces in France in November 1942 and in Tunisia that same month.
Fortunately for the fate of the Allied invasion, the Germans had never trusted the Vichy leaders and, as a result, had prevented them from modernizing their military forces in North Africa. The result was that French tanks were obsolete even by 1940 standards, while the defenders possessed insufficient combat aircraft. Nevertheless, the French gave a good account of themselves. In some places it was touch and go, but in the end the French were never in a position to put up sustained resistance against attacking Allied forces.
During the landings at Fedala, the transport Leonard Wood lost 21 of its landing craft in the surf, with heavy loss of life. The transport Thomas Jefferson lost 16 of its 31 landing craft, with three more damaged, in delivering just the first wave of troops. The transport Carroll had the worst experience: She lost 18 of her 25 landing craft in the first wave and five in the second wave, leaving just two operable boats to move troops and supplies to the beachhead. Landings near Mehdia ran into serious opposition from defending French forces. As the official history notes: "The situation of [the landing] force at nightfall, 8 November, was insecure and even precarious."
The landing forces along the Algerian coast, however, ran into stiffer resistance. While the landings at Oran were successful, because of French resistance and the greenness of U.S. troops they soon fell behind schedule. The fact that the French had no air support spared the Americans to some extent. Operations against the port of Algiers represented the most difficult assignment for the attacking Allied forces. Not only did the French have substantial ground forces in the area, they also possessed 52 fighter aircraft and 39 bombers. The port itself was defended by strong coastal artillery positions.
If you want to know more about France during WWII I strongly recommend "The Eye Of Vichy."
It chronicles Frances collaboration with Nazi Germany and documents how Petain (without urging or direction from Germany) created his own facist governement and began a program of anti semetism.
"The Eye of Vichy" is a brilliantly chosen compilation of long forgotten film footage and newsreels produced by the Nazis and French collaborators during World War Two. From the small town of Vichy in central France, Field Marshall Petain's puppet government worked with their nazi overlords in creating pro-Nazi propaganda. Seeking to turn the tide of public emotion against both the Allied Forces and the Jews, they skillfully produced a strange alternative history of the war years that is shocking and grimly fascinating.