A DIFFERENT WAR: Marines in Europe and North Africa
by Lieutenant Colonel Harry W. Edwards, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)
A part of the high-level planning conducted by the
American and British governments called for the formation of a military
ring around Germany to be tightened as the war progressed. The
occupation of French North Africa was seen as a first step in that
process. It also would open the Mediterranean to Allied supply convoys
and save the long haul around the Cape of Good Hope.
Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt became the Commander of
Amphibious Forces, Atlantic Fleet (ComPhibLant) in April 1942, and the
planning for the North African operation, to be known as Operation
Torch, was begun in earnest.
During the planning, PhibLant expanded from a force
of three transports to one of 28 transports, in anticipation of
transporting 37,000 Army troops and 250 tanks, plus their combat
equipment and supplies.
The operation called for U.S. forces to establish
firm and mutually supporting lodgements in the Casablanca area of French
Morocco, on the Atlantic coast of Africa, and simultaneously, with a
combined American-British landing force, to seize the Oran-Algiers-Tunis
area in the Mediterranean.
The objectives would be to seize control of the
entire area of French Morocco, Algeria, and possibly Tunisia; to be
prepared to take action against Spanish Morocco; and to facilitate air
and ground operations against Axis forces in the western desert.
There were important political considerations
involved, since this area was under control of the Vichy French
Government. It's president, Marshal Henri Petain, according to the terms
of the French surrender, had agreed to collaborate with the Germans. It
was known that the French Navy, represented by Admiral Jean Darlan, was
intensely loyal to Petain and, under the watchful eyes of the Axis
powers, would probably oppose the landing.
The Vichy French, especially members of the naval
service, were known to be bitter toward the British Royal Navy, and
hostile toward the activities of the Free French, represented by General
Charles de Gaulle. Under these circumstances, it was impossible to
predict the kind of reception the task forces could expect in French
There was a slight American presence in North Africa
during the period, working among the French in an effort to ease the way
for the landing force. The two most prominent individuals were Robert
Murphy, U.S. counselor accredited to the Vichy Government, and his
principal military assistant, Marine Colonel William A. Eddy, who had
been assigned to the American Legation in Tangier, Algeria, as an
assistant naval attache for air in April 1942. Their diplomatic efforts
helped to modify the resistance to the eventual landing operations.
Eddy's assistant, Marine Lieutenant Franklin Holcomb, contributed to the
cause by locating and smuggling out of Morocco two boatmen from
Casablanca who were familiar with the complex hydrographic problems in
the area. They helped to pilot the landing force.
Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower established
his headquarters in London as Commander-in-Chief, Allied Expeditionary
Forces (CinCAEF) on 14 August, in time to get involved with the planning
for Operation Torch. Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham was given overall
command of the operation. Colonel Eddy traveled from Morocco to brief
Eisenhower and his staff on the operation. Eddy went on to Washington to
brief the service chiefs and President Roosevelt. Eisenhower, favorably
impressed, appointed Colonel Eddy to be the senior military attache for
William T. Clement, who narrowly escaped capture by the Japanese at
Corregidor in Manila Bay, was assigned to work on the plans for the
cross-channel invasion of France on D-Day, 6 June 1944. At the end of
this duty, he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned as
assistant division commander of the 6th Marine Division, then on
Guadalcanal preparing for Okinawa. Department of Defense Photo (USMC)
Meanwhile, it was determined that weapons training
was needed for U.S. Navy boat crewmen who would be involved in the
Algerian portion of the landing as part of the Eastern Task Force. In
September 1942, Marine Corps instructors were brought in from
Londonderry and London to establish a three-week training camp at the
naval base in Rosneath, Scotland.
From Londonderry, Lieutenant Colonel Louis C. Plain
and Captain William E. Davis led a detail of 25 enlisted Marines. The
London Detachment sent First Lieutenant Fenton J. Mee and 15 enlisted
men. At the end of the training period these three officers and 30 of
the enlisted group were divided up into six teams and assigned to six
different ships as a part of the landing force; the remaining 10
enlisted men returned to their base in Londonderry.
On 31 October 1942, the Marine Detachment in London
was disbanded and most of the unit transferred to Rosneath to establish
a Marine Barracks there. Captain Thomas J. Myers, formerly a company
commander with the unit in London, was placed in command. He was
assisted by Lieutenants Frank R. Wilkinson, Horton J. Greene, Truman J.
Lyford, and Alexander D. Cereghino. Lieutenant Weldon James was also
present as a public affairs officer. Lieutenant Colonels Walter I.
Jordan and John B. Hill visited Rosneath briefly before being reassigned
to the States in November. Some key enlisted personnel remained in
London on detached duty, to carry on their original assignments at
Command of the Western Naval Task Force (TF 34), for
the landing in Morocco, was given to Rear Admiral Hewitt. It was
comprised entirely of U.S. forces. Two of his key staff members were
Marine officers Lieutenant Colonel Homer L. Litzenberg, as
assistant operations officer, and Major Francis Millet Rogers as
assistant intelligence officer.
Major General George S. Patton's Western Task Force
provided the troops for the Morocco landings. Ships of the task force
left from various east coast ports in late October 1942 and, once
assembled in convoy, formed an armada of 100 ships, dispersed over the
ocean in an area of some 20 by 30 miles. Yet it was said "that a flag
hoist on Admiral Hewitt's ship, Augusta (CA 31), could reach the
entire fleet in ten minutes."
Then-LtCol Homer L. Litzenberg served on the staff of
Task Force 34 commander, RAdm H. Kent Hewitt, in Operation Torch, the
invasion of North Africa. He later served with the 4th Marine Division
in the Pacific War and retired after the Korean War as a lieutenant
general. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A31943
The task force was heavy on fire power to counter the
threat from the French capital ships Richelieu and Jean
Bart (with 15-inch guns), and the possible intervention of German
warships. Included were the new battleship Massachusetts (BB 59)
(with nine 16-inch guns); the Texas (BB 35) and New York
(BB 34) (each with ten 14-inch guns); the carrier Ranger (CV 4)
and four escort carriers; heavy cruisers Wichita (CA 45),
Tuscaloosa (CA 37) and Augusta; light cruisers
Savannah (CL 42), Brooklyn (CL 40), Philadelphia
(CL 41), and Cleveland (CL 55); 38 destroyers; four submarines;
and many lesser ships. Marine ship's detachments were on board all of
the capital ships and the carrier.
Unlike the French army, the French navy had not been
hammered by the Axis and was still full of fight and prepared to resist.
In France, the navy was responsible for coastal defense in the broadest
sense, including coast artillery and offshore aerial reconnaissance.
These activities were under the command of Vice Admiral Francois
The convoy crossed 4,000 miles through
submarine-infested waters at an average speed of 14 knots, in order to
fulfill a scheduled D-Day of 8 November 1942. The principal operation
plan called for a main landing at Fedala, 14 miles north of Casablanca,
with secondary landings at Port Lyautey, 65 miles north, and at Safi,
125 miles south, of Casablanca.
H-hour was 0400 but there was confusion in the dark
of night, so the first wave landed more than an hour late. Naval shore
batteries supplied the principal opposition to the landing, supplemented
later by strafing attacks by French aircraft. Many ships of the French
navy were involved. Some were sunk by U.S. ships, others escaped.
Several U.S. task force ships were lost to shore battery fire and German
submarine torpedoes. However, fighting on shore in the Fedala area was
over in a matter of hours. Colonel Litzenberg went ashore in this area
and remained for a few days with General Patton's headquarters. By 11
November U.S. soldiers were in position to attack Casablanca, but since
the French defenders declared an armistice, that attack was
Major Rogers, who was fluent in French and Arabic,
went ashore at Fedala with the mission of arranging the berthing in
Casablanca of Admiral Hewitt's flagship, Augusta. On D-Day,
Rogers went into hostile territory to seek out French Vice Admiral
Francois Michelier, to try to negotiate the surrender of all French
military personnel in Morocco. He was subsequently used as an
interpreter for peace negotiations with French officials and was awarded
a Silver Star Medal for his courageous efforts. Rogers remained on
Hewitt's staff throughout all of his subsequent amphibious operations in
the Mediterranean area .
Major General Homer L. Litzenberg, USMC
As a major, Homer L. Litzenberg was assigned to
Headquarters, Commander-in- Chief, U.S. Fleet, and served in England
during combined planning with the British on the conduct of the war. He
also participated in the amphibious assault of Casablanca, French
Morocco, in November 1942.
General Litzenberg was born in 1903 and began his
service in the Marine Corps as an enlisted man. In 37 years of service
he proved himself to be a leader in combat with the award of the Navy
Cross, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, three Silver Star Medals,
and the Legion of Merit.
He served with the 24th Marines in the Marshall
Islands and the V Amphibious Corps in the Saipan and Tinian
As commander of the 7th Marines, he went to Korea on
1 September 1950, and led that unit in the Inchon landing and the Chosin
Reservoir campaign that followed.
Subsequently, Litzenberg served as the base commander
of Camp Lejeune, and then as Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruit
Depot, Parris Island; senior member of the Military Armistice Commission
in Korea; and Inspector General of the Marine Corps, before his
retirement on 31 May 1959.
He died on 27 June 1963.
The landings in the Port Lyautey area were
successful, but stiff resistance was later encountered and the shore
batteries were not silenced until the following day. The town was taken
on the 9th and the airfield the following day. An armistice was declared
on the 11th.