A DIFFERENT WAR: Marines in Europe and North Africa
by Lieutenant Colonel Harry W. Edwards, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)
Operation Torch (continued)
The Safi landing found little resistance, except from
shore batteries, and the Army tank units were ashore by the 11th, ready
for their move on Casablanca. A party from the Marine detachment of the
USS Philadelphia, operating under command of the Army 47th
Infantry, landed at the Port of Safi on 10 November and proceeded to the
airport to guard that facility until relieved the following day.
Colonel Francis M. Rogers, USMC
As a captain in the Marine Reserve, Francis Millet
Rogers left his position as a Harvard University professor of foreign
languages and civilizations to come onto active duty in World War
He was a student of western Europe an languages and
was particularly fluent in French and Portuguese. In 1941, he was
assigned to the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet (PhibLant) and
established at Quantico what was possibly the first armed forces foreign
language school on the east coast. When Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt was
given command of the PhibLant in late 1941, Rogers joined his staff as
an intelligence officer.
In this capacity he performed distinguished service
in three landing operations in the North African theater of operations.
These were: Operation Torch in Morocco, Operation Husky in Sicily, and
Operation Avalanche in Salerno. In the Morocco landing on 8 November,
Major General George S. Patton, Jr., as the landing force commander,
awarded a Silver Star Medal to Major Rogers for his service in
negotiations with French Vice Admiral Francois Michelier, which led to
the surrender of Vichy French naval forces to the Allies.
After his return from overseas, Rogers was assigned
to duty with the staff of Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J.
King in Washington, D.C., until 19 October 1945 when he was released
from active duty and returned to the Harvard faculty.
Colonel Rogers died on 15 August 1989.
The Eastern Naval Task Force of Operation Torch was
scheduled for a simultaneous landing over Algerian beaches in the
Mediterranean. This force was assembled in the United Kingdom and
consisted primarily of Royal Navy warships and Allied merchant marine
transports. Unlike the U.S. Navy, there were no troop transports in the
Royal Navy. The British simply leased merchant ships as needed and
converted them to troop transports. The landing force consisted of
23,000 British Army and 10,000 American Army troops. Because of their
perceived hostility towards the British, it was hoped that the Vichy
French would view this as an American operation and, therefore, offer
less resistance. The Eastern Task Force, including the Marines from
Rosneath, sailed from the United Kingdom on 25 October, bound for
Algeria. The Center Task Force which had the mission of seizing and
securing the Oran area of Western Algeria, had planned night landings at
0100 on 8 November in three localities: one southeast and north of Arzeu
(20 miles east of Oran), a second 14 miles west of Oran, and the third
about 27 miles west of Oran. By H-hour plus 2 there was also to be a
frontal assault on the Port of Oran by two British ships. Their mission
was to breach a harbor boom chain and land onto the dock a commando unit
which would seize French naval vessels in the harbor.
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for an enlargement in a new windwo)
Little opposition was encountered in the three
landing areas, except for some fire from coastal batteries and aircraft
strafing. By the evening of the 9th, the ground troops held three of the
important airfields in the vicinity, had captured 2,000 prisoners and 90
aircraft, and were ready to assault the city when a truce was
The U.S. Marines in the Arzeu landing party were in
three groups: Lieutenant Colonel Plain with 11 enlisted men, Captain
Davis (who spoke French) with six Marines, and Sergeant Arnold Arrowood
with six Marines. Upon landing, they found so many French ships lying at
anchor that not enough officers were available to take them over, so the
job was given to the enlisted Marines, with one man assigned to each
ship, complete with its crew. Some sniper fire was encountered, but they
were able to deal with it and suffered no casualties.
It was quite a different story for the six Marines on
board HMS Hartland, which along with HMS Walney, both
former U.S. Coast Guard cutters, had the mission of opening the Port of
Oran. Running without lights at 0300, they were picked up by
searchlights on shore and engaged by naval gunfire from French ships
inside the harbor, coastal artillery on the bluffs, and machine-gun
cross fire from the jetties. Hartland missed the boom on the
first try and, in backing off for a second attempt, ran the gantlet of
withering fire in an effort to come alongside the dock long enough to
discharge its landing party. Marine Corporal Norman Boike, who was on
board, reported "four-inch shells coming through the cutters sides like
blue flame." Their vessel was soon without power and adrift, and the
dead and wounded were piling up on the deck and in the water. Although
wounded himself, Boike was able to jump overboard with a raft and, along
with First Sergeant Fred Whittacker and other Marines, sailors, and
British commandos, who had initially been trapped below deck, rescue
some of the wounded and make his way to shore. Both vessels sank with
heavy losses, estimated to be 450 out of a total of 600 men who were on
board. Two Marines were lost in this action (Privates First Class James
Earhart, Jr., and Robert F. Horr) and the rest, along with all those who
landed, were taken captive as they came ashore. However, they were
released as soon as the armistice was signed. Horr was listed as missing
in action and Earhart was buried in the American Cemetery which was
established at Oran.
In the Algiers area, the landing took place as
planned at about 0100, unopposed except by coastal forts. Coastal
batteries opened fire on forces afloat and did some damage. The boom at
the harbor was also rammed by two British destroyers, one of which
suffered some damage, but nothing like that at the Oran harbor.
By 8 November, the city of Algiers had surrendered,
and a friendly welcome was extended after all fighting had ceased.
French Admiral Jean Darlan was taken into protective custody and issued
the order to his forces for suspension of all hostilities in Algeria and
Morocco, and urged all elements of the French fleet to join the Allied
General Eisenhower was reportedly infuriated by the
decision of the French to resist. To spare further casualties and speed
the war effort, however, he agreed to negotiate with Darlan, in spite of
the latter's notorious reputation as a Nazi collaborator. Their
agreement permitted Darlan to become governor-general of French North
Africa, in exchange for a promise to have the French Army lay down its
arms. The agreement brought great criticism of Eisenhower.
The U.S. Navy established an operating and supply
base in Oran, which soon became the most important base of its kind in
North Africa. A Marine detachment was established at the base and
Captain Davis and Lieutenant Fenton Mee, along with all of the enlisted
Marines who had participated in the landing, became members of the
detachment. Davis became the security officer and Mee was made
detachment commander. Lieutenant Colonel Plain joined the Naval Force
staff in Oran and remained until his transfer to the States a short time
later. The detachment remained in Oran until 12 March 1943, when it was
disbanded and all personnel returned to the States.
The Marine Detachment, American Embassy, London, was
re-established at ComNavEu on 21 January 1943, and Captain Thomas J.
Myers was placed in command. The Marine Barracks at Rosneath was
disbanded and its personnel transferred either to London or to
The detachment was reduced in size to 30 enlisted
men. Two Marine lieutenants, Paul Cramer and Walter Pickerel, and a
number of enlisted Marines, who had been under instruction at the Royal
Marines Military School in Devon over the previous few weeks, were
detached and returned to the United States.
On 3 February, the Navy established a new command,
U.S. Naval Forces Northwest African Waters at Oran. Hewitt, now promoted
to vice admiral, was placed in command, and as also Eighth Fleet
commander directed to prepare for more landings in the
It was intended that the seizure of Algeria and
Morocco quickly lead also to Allied occupation of Tunisia, opening the
Mediterranean coast for staging to carry the battle northward. However,
the Axis made a strong stand in Tunisia and gave way only grudgingly
against the combined forces of the British Eighth Army and American
forces, led by General Patton and Major General Omar Bradley. German and
Italian forces in Tunisia finally surrendered with some 150,000 men on
13 May. This serious loss for the Axis provided the Allies air and sea
supremacy throughout the southern Mediterranean, and permitted a convoy
route to be opened through to the Suez Canal.
The decision of the Allies at this point was to rule
out an invasion of France in 1943, but they did agree (at the Casablanca
Conference in January 1943) that the next move would be an invasion of
Sicily. This operation would maintain pressure on the enemy. Operation
Husky was set for 10 July.
Brigadier General Richard H. Jeschke, USMC
At the start of World War II, Colonel Richard H.
Jeschke was the commander of the 8th Marines, and he led that unit in
combat in the Guadalcanal operation.
After this action, Jeschke was flown back to
Washington and sent to the Mediterranean in May 1943, to the staff of
the VI Amphibious Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, as Force Marine operations
and training officer. In this capacity he participated in the landings
at Sicily with the Western Naval Task Force. He also participated in the
amphibious assault landing and subsequent operations in Normandy,
France, from 1 June to 1 July 944.
During this period, to keep the Force commander
informed, Colonel Jeschke made frequent liaison visits to front-line
Army combat units ashore, and was subsequently awarded the Legion of
Merit for this service. France awarded him the Croix de Guerre. Colonel
Jeschke retired in 1949 and for having been decorated in combat was
advanced to brigadier general on the retired list. He died on 15
General Eisenhower received his fourth star on 11
February and was designated the Supreme Commander, North African Theater
of Operations, with three British subordinates: General Sir Harold R. L.
G. Alexander (ground forces), Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew B.
Cunningham (sea forces), and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur William Tedder
(air forces). Each had an American subordinate: Lieutenant General
George S. Patton, Jr., U.S. Seventh Army; Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt,
ComNavNAW, and Lieutenant General Carl A. Spaatz, Northwest African Air
Force. Operational forces were divided, with Admiral Hewitt in charge of
the Western Naval Task Force embarking General Patton's Seventh Army,
and British Vice Admiral Sir Bertram H. Ramsey, commanding the Eastern
Naval Task Force, embarking Lieutenant General Sir Bernard L.
Montgomery's Eighth Army.