World War II: Operation Torch

Allied Invasion of North Africa in November 1942

American troops land during Operation Torch, 1942.
Allied troops land near Algiers during Operation Torch, November 1942. (National Archives & Records Administration)

Operation Torch was an invasion strategy by Allied forces into North Africa that took place Nov. 8–10, 1942, during World War II (1939–1945).



  • Admiral Francois Darlan
  • General Alphonse Juin
  • General Charles Nogues
  • 60,000 men


In 1942, having been persuaded of the impracticality of launching an invasion of France as a second front, American commanders agreed to conduct landings in northwest Africa with the goal of clearing the continent of Axis troops and preparing the way for a future attack on southern Europe.

Intending to land in Morocco and Algeria, Allied planners were forced to determine the mentality of the Vichy French forces defending the area. These numbered around 120,000 men, 500 aircraft, and several warships. It was hoped that, as a former member of the Allies, the French would not fire on British and American forces. Conversely, there was concern about French resentment over the British attack on Mers el Kebir in 1940, which had inflicted heavy damage on French naval forces. To aid in assessing local conditions, the American consul in Algiers, Robert Daniel Murphy, was instructed to gather intelligence and reach out to sympathetic members of the Vichy French government.

While Murphy conducted his mission, planning for the landings moved forward under the overall command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The naval force for the operation would be led by Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham.

Initially dubbed Operation Gymnast, it was soon renamed Operation Torch. The operation called for three main landings to take place across North Africa. In planning, Eisenhower preferred the eastern option which provided for landings at Oran, Algiers, and Bône as this would allow for a rapid capture of Tunis and because the swells in the Atlantic made landing in Morocco problematic.

He was ultimately overruled by the Combined Chiefs of Staff who were concerned that should Spain enter the war on the side of the Axis, the Straits of Gibraltar could be closed cutting off the landing force.  As a result, the decision was made to land at Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. This would later prove problematic as it took substantial time to advance troops from Casablanca and the greater distance to Tunis permitted the Germans to enhance their positions in Tunisia.

Contact with the Vichy French

Endeavoring to accomplish his objectives, Murphy provided evidence suggesting the French would not resist and made contact with several officers, including the commander-in-chief of Algiers, General Charles Mast. While these men were willing to aid the Allies, they requested a meeting with a senior Allied commander before committing. Meeting their demands, Eisenhower dispatched Major General Mark Clark aboard the submarine HMS Seraph. Rendezvousing with Mast and others at the Villa Teyssier in Cherchell, Algeria on Oct. 21, 1942, Clark was able to secure their support.

In preparation for Operation Torch, General Henri Giraud was smuggled out of Vichy France with the aid of the resistance.

Though Eisenhower had intended to make Giraud the commander of French forces in North Africa after the invasion, the Frenchman demanded that he be given overall command of the operation. Giraud felt this was necessary to ensure French sovereignty and control over the native Berber and Arab populations of North Africa. His demand was refused and instead, Giraud became a spectator for the duration of the operation. With the groundwork laid with the French, the invasion convoys sailed with the Casablanca force departing the United States and the other two sailing from Britain. Eisenhower coordinated the operation from his headquarters at Gibraltar.


Slated to land on Nov. 8, 1942, the Western Task Force approached Casablanca under the guidance of Major General George S. Patton and Rear Admiral Henry Hewitt.

Consisting of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division as well as the U.S. 3rd and 9th Infantry Divisions, the task force carried 35,000 men. On the night of Nov. 7, pro-Allies General Antoine Béthouart attempted a coup d'etat in Casablanca against the regime of General Charles Noguès. This failed and Noguès was alerted to the impending invasion. Landing to the south of Casablanca at Safi as well as to the north at Fedala and Port Lyautey, the Americans were met with French opposition. In each case, the landings had begun without naval gunfire support, in the hopes that the French would not resist.

Approaching Casablanca, Allied ships were fired upon by French shore batteries. Responding, Hewitt directed aircraft from USS Ranger (CV-4) and USS Suwannee (CVE-27), which had been striking French airfields and other targets, to attack targets in the harbor while other Allied warships, including the battleship USS Massachusetts (BB-59), moved inshore and opened fire. The resulting fighting saw Hewitt's forces sink the unfinished battleship Jean Bart as well as a light cruiser, four destroyers, and five submarines. After weather delays at Fedala, Patton's men, enduring French fire, succeeded in taking their objectives and began moving against Casablanca.

To the north, operational issues caused delays at Port-Lyautey and initially prevented the second wave from landing. As a result, these forces came ashore under artillery fire from French troops in the area.  Supported by aircraft from carriers offshore, the Americans pushed forward and secured their objectives.

  In the south, French forces slowed the landings at Safi and snipers briefly pinned Allied troops down on the beaches. Though the landings fell behind schedule, the French were eventually driven back as naval gunfire support and aviation played an increasing role. Consolidating his men, Major General Ernest J. Harmon turned the 2nd Armored Division north and raced towards Casablanca. On all fronts, the French were eventually overcome and American forces tightened their grip on Casablanca. By Nov. 10, the city was surrounded and seeing no alternative, the French surrendered to Patton.


Departing Britain, the Center Task Force was led by Major General Lloyd Fredendall and Commodore Thomas Troubridge. Tasked with landing the 18,500 men of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division and the U.S. 1st Armored Division on two beaches west of Oran and one to the east, they encountered difficulty due to insufficient reconnaissance. Overcoming shallow waters, the troops went ashore and encountered stubborn French resistance. At Oran, an attempt was made to land troops directly in the harbor in an effort to capture the port facilities intact.  Dubbed Operation Reservist, this saw two Banff-class sloops attempt to run through the harbor defenses.  While it was hoped that the French would not resist, the defenders opened fire on the two ships and inflicted significant casualties.  As a result, both vessels were lost with the entire attack force either killed or captured.

Outside of the city, American forces fought for a full day before the French in the area finally surrendered on Nov.

 9. Fredendall's efforts were supported by the United State's first airborne operation of the war. Flying from Britain, the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion was assigned the mission of capturing the airfields at Tafraoui and La Senia. Due to navigational and endurance issues, the drop was scattered and the bulk of the aircraft forced to land in the desert. Despite these issues, both airfields were captured.


The Eastern Task Force was led by Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson and consisted of the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, two brigades of the British 78th Infantry Division, and two British Commando units. In the hours prior to the landings, resistance teams under Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie and José Aboulker attempted a coup against General Alphonse Juin. Surrounding his house, they made him a prisoner. Murphy attempted to convince Juin to join the Allies and did the same for the overall French commander, Admiral François Darlan when he learned that Darlan was in the city.

While neither was willing to switch sides, the landings began and met with little to no opposition. Leading the charge was Major General Charles W. Ryder's 34th Infantry Division, as it was believed the French would be more receptive to the Americans. As at Oran, an attempt was made to land directly in the harbor using two destroyers.  French fire compelled one to withdraw while the other succeeded in landing 250 men. Though later captured, this force did prevent the destruction of the port. While efforts to land directly in the harbor largely failed, Allied forces quickly surrounded the city and at 6:00 pm on Nov. 8, Juin surrendered.


Operation Torch cost the Allies around 480 killed and 720 wounded. French losses totaled around 1,346 killed and 1,997 wounded. As a result of Operation Torch, Adolf Hitler ordered Operation Anton, which saw German troops occupy Vichy France. Additionally, French sailors in Toulon scuttled many of the French Navy's ships to prevent their capture by the Germans.

In North Africa, the French Armée d’Afrique joined with the Allies as did several French warships. Building up their strength, Allied troops advanced east into Tunisia with the goal of trapping Axis forces as General Bernard Montgomery's 8th Army advanced from their victory at Second El Alamein. Anderson nearly succeeded in taking Tunis but was pushed back by determined enemy counterattacks. American forces encountered German troops for the first time in February when they were defeated at Kasserine Pass. Fighting through the spring, the Allies finally drove the Axis from North Africa in May 1943.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Operation Torch." ThoughtCo, Feb. 28, 2018, Hickman, Kennedy. (2018, February 28). World War II: Operation Torch. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Operation Torch." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2018).