History Timeline 1940's

Troops from the United States and other Allied nations land on the beach at Normandy, France in 1944, beginning the western European invasion that would lead to defeat of Nazi Germany.

World War II, Invading Africa

U.S. Timeline - The 1940s

World War II

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  • Timeline

  • 1942 Detail

    November 8, 1942 - North Africa is invaded by the United States and Great Britain.

    World War II, North Africa

    While the focus on the history of United States involvement in World War II seems to point to both the invasion of Europe and the Pacific Theatre against Japan, the first mass invasion of territory would first come in the African theatre. Operation Torch in North Africa would begin in November of 1842, six months prior to the Allied invasion into Sicily and more than one year before the Normandy invasion into France.

    As British and American commanders debated which strategy to take (British favored a French North Africa campaign, thus opening up a second front in Africa, to improve control of the Mediterranean Sea; the United States a direct attack into France), plans were taking shape. When President Roosevelt decided to back Winston Churchill in his approach, Operation Torch was put into action. Allied forces from Great Britain and the United States would battle against forces of the Vichy French (some Vichy French would support the Allies) in Algiers, Tunisia, and Morocco, attacking Axis forces in a pincer movement. It was beneficial to Allied forces in this operation, which were commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, that Germany's attention was on other parts of the war, and despite acknowleding a build up of ships off the coast of Gibraltar, did not think that an invasion was upcoming. This was sufficiently acknowledged by the Axis Foreign Minister of Italy, Galeazzo Ciano, on November 8, when he told of the disarray in the Axis camp, "At five-thirty in the morning [German foreign minister Ulrich Jaochim] von Ribbentrop telephoned to inform me of American landings in Algerian and Moroccan ports. He was rather nervous, and wanted to know what we intended to do. I must confess that, having been caught unawares, I was too sleepy to give a very satisfactory answer."

    There would be three planned attacks: Western Task Force - General Patton with 100 ships and 35,000 troops against Casablanca. Central Task Force - Major General Fredenhall with 18,500 troops against Oran. Eastern Task Force - Lt. General Anderson with 20,000 troops against Algiers.

    Timeline of Operation Torch

    November 8, 1942 - Western Task Force lands before daybreak.
    Encounter French resistence loyal to Germany. Jewish French Resistence fighters stage coup in Algiers for Allies, leading to limited resistence on the Eastern Task Force front and surrender at 6 pm.
    November 9, 1842 - Central Task Force gains surrender of Oran after heavy fire from British warships.
    November 10, 1942 - Casablanca surrenders to Patton's army.

    Who Were the Vichy French?

    The Vichy French was the pro-Axis (German) official government of France from 1940-1944. They were headquartered in Vichy, France, and from 1940-1942, controlled the southern region of France and the North African territories of Algiers, Tunisia, and Morocco. At that time, Germany controlled northern France, and after the Allied invasion of North Africa on November 8, 1942, all of it. The Vichy French government was still in power, but only as a puppet of Germany. During the first two years of the Vichy French regime, two million French soldiers were put into servitude, hostages doing forced labor for Hitler, to ensure Vichy French cooperation. Charles de Gaulle's Free France government in exile, which had been set up in London in 1940, would seize control of their colonies one by one. They would succeed the Vichy French government in June of 1944 after the Allied invasion of France.

    Photo above: British military officers in the North African desert in 1941. Photo courtesy Library of Congress. Source: Ciano quote, Historynet.com.

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