On November 8, 1942, the military forces of the United States and the United Kingdom launched an amphibious operation against French North Africa, in particular the French-held territories of Algeria and Morocco. That landing, code-named 'Torch,' reflected the results of long and contentious arguments between British and American planners about the future course of Allied strategy — arguments that were finally stilled by the intervention of the American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In both a direct and an indirect sense, Torch's impact was enormous on the course of Anglo-American strategy during the remainder of the war. It may have been the most important strategic decision that Allied leaders would make. In fact, this amphibious operation inevitably postponed the landing in France until 1944, but at the same time it allowed the United States to complete mobilization of its immense industrial and manpower resources for the titanic air and ground battles that characterized the Allied campaigns of 1944.
American strategic thinking in early 1942 aimed at defeating Nazi Germany before turning to the problems that a flood of Japanese conquests and victories were raising in the Pacific. General George C. Marshall, the U.S. Army's chief of staff, viewed the strategic problem in simple terms: The United States should concentrate its military might on achieving a successful lodgment on the European continent as soon as possible. In the summer of 1942 the plight of the Soviet Army seemed desperate, as Adolf Hitler's panzer divisions pushed ever onward toward Stalingrad and the Caucasus. Some American military planners believed that it might be necessary to invade northwestern Europe in 1942 to take the heat off the hard-pressed Soviets. But their preferred date was spring 1943, when American ground forces would be better prepared, trained and equipped to fight the Wehrmacht on the European continent. Whatever the difficulties of such an operation, they believed that American know-how and resources could solve them.
British military leaders, led by the formidable chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Alan Brooke, took a very different approach. They were not at all optimistic about a cross-Channel amphibious operation in 1943, and they were completely against launching such an operation in 1942. Part of their opposition lay in the fact that the United Kingdom would have to bear much of the military burden for such an attempt. Moreover, Britain's military leaders had experienced the vicious fighting against the Germans in World War I that had inflicted such heavy casualties on their forces. Most of them had also confronted the Wehrmacht's formidable fighting power during the disastrous 1940 campaign in France, while the experiences of British forces in North Africa and Libya against Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had done nothing to diminish their respect for German military capabilities. After the war, Brooke put the situation in these terms: 'I found Marshall's rigid form of strategy very difficult to cope with. He never fully appreciated what operations in France would mean — the different standard of training of German divisions as opposed to the raw American divisions and to most of our new divisions. He could not appreciate the fact that the Germans could reinforce the point of attack some three to four times faster than we could, nor would he understand that until the Mediterranean was open again we should always suffer from a crippling shortage of sea transport.'
Thus, particularly because they would have supplied the bulk of the invading forces, the British staunchly opposed any amphibious landing in 1942. Instead, they urged the Americans to consider the possibility of intervening in the Mediterranean to clear Axis military power from the shores of North Africa and open up that great inland sea to the movement of Allied convoys. The result was a deadlock — one that led Marshall to consider for a short...
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