Seventy-one years ago today naval convoys of several nations were sailing on a history-making voyage.

Seventy-one years ago today naval convoys of several nations were sailing on a history-making voyage.  

In two days, on Nov. 8, 1942, American troops would have made one of history’s longest sea voyages preceding an amphibious assault.

They would not be alone.  For the first time in WW II American troops would be in a coalition with other Allied troops in an offensive against German troops.
It was primarily an American operation, so Lt. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was made commander in chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force.  

His deputy was U.S. Maj. Gen. Mark Clark, unknown in November 1942 but destined to become quite well known in a few more months.
The U.S. air commander was the acclaimed Brig. Gen. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, who in April had lifted Allied spirits by leading the first bombing raid over Japan.  In a scant few months he’d gone from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general and been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Three other British generals and admirals were assigned to the staff as many British forces would be involved.

Josef Stalin, leader of besieged Russia, had been demanding for many months that the other Allies invade somewhere to open a “second front” to relieve Nazi pressure on Russia.  For many reasons an invasion at that time of Western Europe was ruled out, as was one in Italy.  

So Joint Chiefs planners picked North Africa, dubbed the mission “Operation Torch,” and on this date in 1942 ships of all types were headed for ports in French Morocco and Algeria.  

The commander of the Western Task Force, Maj. Gen. George Patton, a highly decorated tank officer during WW I, was still relatively unknown but that, too, would change in a few months.  

Eisenhower’s directive from the Combined Chiefs of Staff was to gain complete control of North Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, starting with landings Algeria and French Morocco, and clear North Africa all the way to Libya of Axis forces, no simple task since the Axis forces in the area were commanded by WW I hero and now field marshal Erwin Rommel.

An unknown entity were French forces in the area.  
Would they accept or oppose the invading forces?  
There was some opposition, mostly from French naval forces, but it was quickly overcome.

The initial landings were a success, as was the move inland.  U.S. paratroopers were used for the first time, but due to a myriad of logistical and other problems, they did not make the scheduled jump.
Instead, with pilots lost over the desert, the planes full of eager paratroopers landed in dry wadis and the highly trained and motivated fighting men simply stepped off the aircraft onto the desert.

I had a tie to Operation Torch that I wasn’t aware of until many years later.  A third cousin from Louisiana, Seaman Herbert “Brother” Boudreau, was on a cargo ship that was attacked by Luftwaffe aircraft while unloading cargo and he lost his left arm below the elbow.
He died many years ago without ever telling me details of his role in the history-making invasion.  

The battle for North Africa had many upturns and defeats, but within a few months all Axis forces had surrendered.  
Adolf Hitler did not want to lose his best field commander, so recalled Rommel to Germany to prevent his capture.  

Armies have fought in North Africa almost since there have been armies.
There were major battles there in WW I, and even today relics from early conflicts are turned up all over in strange places.
The lore of U.S. military history continued, 71 years ago Friday.                              

John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.