Throughout the early 1940s, the British and Commonwealth’s primary front lied in the deserts of North Africa and the Mediterranean. Successes against the Italian army during Operation Compass, as well as further Allied victories in Greece, convinced Germany to re-enforce their Italian allies in the region to prevent a complete collapse of the front. Under Rommel, the Afrika Korps went some way in turning the tide of the desert war and pushed the British back into Egypt. Consequently, by 1942 the desert war remained undecided.
However, two things tipped the balance in Britain’s favor. The first was that the United States had now emerged as allies. As a result, the Americans were preparing to re-enforce the British either by opening a new front in Europe or in Africa. Britain remained weary of Allied landings in Europe, and preferred to re-enforce and clear North Africa of the Axis. Secondly, their victory at the Battle of El Alamein had left the Afrika Korps in retreat.
As such, the Allies drafted Operation Torch in 1942 as a joint U.S. & British landing in French North Africa. As France was a former ally, it was hoped that the French would remain neutral in the event of Allied landings along the coast of Algeria and French Morocco. Senior U.S. Generals met with French military officers at Algiers to neutralize French troops in North Africa.
The operation outlined three points for Allied troops to land at. Three task forces in the west, center and north would land along the West African coastline. The more specific landing points were Casablanca, Oran and Algiers.Credit: Image licensed under public domain on Wiki Commons.
In November of 1942, the Allies landed their troops at these locations along the coast of Africa. Casablanca became a primary target for the Allies, and involved the largest number of troops. However, as Allied troops landed at Casablanca and Oran the French defenders opened fire. In addition to this, there were naval skirmishes between French and U.S. ships. Despite this, Casablanca still fell to the Allies.
Elsewhere, in Algiers French resistance troops attempted a coup to convince the French defenders to join with Allies. However, the Allies could not convince the French military attaché to join their side. A compromise was reached whereby the Vichy regime would remain in place in French North Africa in return that they joined the Allied side.
Overall, Operation Torch met its primary objectives as Allied troops advanced into French North Africa. The French defenders had provided only a marginal defense of their colonies. With these reinforcements in Africa the defeat of the Afrika Korps had become increasingly inevitable as the Allies advanced into Tunisia. As such, by 1943 the remaining Axis troops surrendered to the Allies during the Tunisia Campaign.