Africa: Operation Torch
Torch was the code name for the Allied invasion of North Africa.
It was designed to end the German presence on that continent. This
invasion marked the first battle experience as a battalion for the
1st Rangers, as an independent American unit. At this
point there was only one battalion of Rangers. As they moved from
mission, to successful mission in North Africa, it was later
decided to create two more battalions, but that story is yet to
of preparation had gone into getting the Rangers and machines
rehearsed for open the seaports and land-masses to the Allies
to bring in troops, supplies, armor, and planes, thus enabling
them to eventually launch their attack on the European continent.
Africa, the Allies would move north through Sicily, into Italy,
launch the eventual invasion on the shores of Normandy in France,
and on into Germany. The success of the Allies in the European
Theater of war was contingent on the successful execution of
invasion involved a three-stage plan. The first was to get a
strong foothold in North
Africa. The second was moving out and gaining control over North
French Africa. The third was to move east across Libya to attack
the Germans and Italians from the rear, which was already engaged
in a conflict with British troops.
main objective of the initial assault was to capture and secure
control of Oran, a seaport of some 400,000 people. To accomplish
this, the 1st Ranger Battalion was attached to the
Center Task Force under Major General Lloyd Fredendall. The
Rangers were more specifically attached to the 1st
Infantry Division under Terry Allen.
resistance was anticipated to be light, but it was discovered that
German forces were occupying the port town of Arzew (which lay
twenty miles east of Oran). This meant that landing craft carrying
the assault troops could be destroyed if, and when they were
spotted. This is where the Rangers came into play. There were two
coastal batteries at Arzew, and it was decided that a simultaneous
attack of the companies of the 1st Ranger Battalion was
the best way to execute this special operation. Destroying these
coastal batteries was paramount for the safe landing of the troops
and heavy equipment waiting off shore.
artillery dominated the cliffs over the port of Arzew. The port
itself consisted of two concrete jetties running a full mile into
the sea that then joined to form a narrow opening, which could be
closed into the port.
the harbor point was another gun battery named "Ford de La
Pointe". Here guns were aimed seaward to ward off
infiltration by boat. Infiltration into the port of Arzew could
not be accomplished until these gun batteries were secured. This
became the job for the Rangers who were to move in ahead of the
task force (spearhead the invasion as they became famous for doing
in many assault landings to come), secure the gun batteries, and
make way for the troops waiting offshore to land with their heavy
Rangers spearheaded this invasion by executing an amphibious
landing on the North African
shores, then infiltrating behind enemy lines and destroying
artillery aimed on the beach. The Rangers carried out this mission
in two separate landings. One force of companies, led by
Major Dammer, would go directly into the port of Arzew. A second
under Lieutenant Colonel Darby, would attack the high ground. This
would be accomplished by landing on the rocky shores and scaling
the cliff to secure the battery above.
deceptive convoy of ships was sent out into the Mediterranean Sea
to distract attention from the infiltrating Rangers. The convoy
led the Germans to believe the assault was to occur elsewhere. The
plan worked, the Rangers landed, infiltrated behind enemy lines,
secured their objectives by eliminating the gun batteries aimed at
the sea and securing the port, thus enabling the awaiting Allied forces to land and take
Arzew by complete surprise.
1st Battalion rode in their landing craft, the British
LCAs, to reach the port of Arzew
and the surrounding
beaches. The LCAs arrived at Arzew on November 8, 1942 at 0200
hours. The Rangers approaching the main port remained uncertain of several factors. The greatest of these was
whether the the end of the jetties would be open, or closed. But,
as their LCAs approached the port, a British submarine pulled up
beside them and alerted Dammer and his Rangers, that the closure at the
end of the jetties was open and their trip into port would be
these same infiltrating Rangers were relieved to find their
approach on the docks was an easier task than anticipated. From
the aerial shots of the port, the only information the Rangers had
to go on, it was unknown how high the docks would actually be from
the water. Much to their surprise, the docks were very low and
they were able to hop out of their landing craft onto the docks
with ease and move on to their designated missions. Once on the
dock, the Rangers moved in to secure the fort within 15 minutes.
the force under Darby charged the embankment, scaled the steep
rocky cliffs, and seized the gun batteries on the high ground
aimed out to sea. Flares were fired from Dammerís men at the
fort in the harbor, signaling to Darby in the high ground, that
the fort had been secured. Once the Rangers destroyed the
artillery, they signaled the bulk of the troops and navy waiting
offshore, that it was safe to land and secure the area.
is interesting to note here, that ironically enough, the Rangers
had a plan of communication involving a series of designated
colored flares. When Darbyís group approached shore, a boatload
of Rangers was literally dumped into the sea when the landing
apparatus malfunctioned. The flares intended to communicate the success of Darby and
his Rangers in the high ground, sunk to the bottom of the sea in
this mishap. When Darby did indeed secure the batteries on the
high ground, he shot off the flares he had left to communicate his
success to the waiting fleet offshore. The preplanned color scheme
of flares was not available to Darby, as they lay at the bottom of
the sea. Confused by the color of the flares, the troops offshore
waited two hours before actually landing.
Torch gave the Allies many advantages. With General Montgomery and
the British to the east of Tunisia and now the U.S. to the west,
Torch allowed the Allies to sandwich Rommel in Tunisia. This
proved to be vital, because the Allies eventually surrounded and
defeated Rommel in the battle of Tunisia in the summer of 1943.
This in turn gave the Allies a solid base in the ports and
airfields from which they would later launch the invasions of
Sicily and Italy.
also marked, up to that time, the largest amphibious operation in
the history of warfare. More importantly, it marked the first big
success of the war for the Allies, boosting morale and turning the
tide of the war in favor of the Allied powers.
is ironic to note here, that prior to their landing, the Rangers
heard President Roosevelt announce over the airwaves, "Our
valiant and courageous troops are now storming the beaches of
North Africa." The Rangers heard this on the BBC before they
ever boarded their assault crafts to invade Arzew, the very event
that initiated the invasion of North Africa. Before ever executing
the operation, the president announced the assault over
international radio, and in essence alerted the German forces in
North Africa to the invasion.
the capture of Arzew, Ranger companies assisted in a continued
clean-up of operations in nearby towns. The rest were sent down
the beach from the town to set up bivouac. There was a cold wet
storm rolling in and the Rangers found refuge in beach houses that
had been inhabited by luxury vacationers on the shores of the
Mediterranean. Here they stayed, trained, got haircuts and were
re-supplied with personal affects. The houses had hard, cold stone
floors, so although their lodging had been that of luxury to the
occupants preceding them, they were now empty and the Rangers
slept on the stone floors. They were issued mattress covers for
which they had no mattresses. These became novelty items to trade
with the Arab and French civilians of Arzew. They were often
traded for French francs, as the Rangers had not been paid in the
local currency. The locals used the mattress covers for pants and
other various creations, the mere mention of what the civilians
did with these covers elicits chuckles from the Rangers yet today.
References: Rangers in World War II, by Robert W.
Black, 1st Battalion Rangers who were there, photos courtesy U.S.