THE stars had once again eaten from Kent Hewitt’s hand. Four thousand miles from Hampton Roads, Task Force 34 approached the Moroccan coast on the night of November 7 with celestial precision, eight minutes ahead of schedule.
More than 100 ships in nine columns had steamed across the Atlantic in a box measuring twenty miles by thirty, zigzagging so vigorously that each wake was said to resemble the path “of a reeling drunk in the snow.” Following a sharp rebuke from Admiral Hewitt for radio chatter that sounded “more like a Chinese laundry at New Year’s than a fleet going to war,” the convoy had fallen silent for two weeks; expertly tossed semaphore signals now flew from one side of the armada to the other in ten minutes. Sailors still scraped the painted bulkheads to bare metal. Hundreds of new soldiers had been virtually press-ganged for the invasion; sergeants taught them how to load, aim, and fire a rifle from the fantail. Other troops broke out the newfangled bazookas. After pondering the stovepipe design, a volunteer clad in an asbestos firefighter’s suit squeezed the trigger and launched a round into a wave. The roaring back blast flung hot debris to the rear, and the wounded whitecap swept on. But troops at the rail cheered as though a dragon had been slain.
A gale born south of Iceland had struck the fleet on November 4 near Madeira, with seas so foul that even heavy cruisers rolled thirty degrees. Battalion surgeons treating the seasick exhausted their stocks of belladonna and phenobarbital. The captain of the transport Charles Carroll studied his clinometer and, with a dispassion that terrified every land-lubber in earshot, mused, “I can’t believe a ship can roll so far without turning over.” The four top-heavy escort carriers, known collectively as the Old Indispensables, wallowed so grievously that during each perilous yaw sailors took bets on whether the ships would recover.
For Hewitt, the storm posed the greatest challenge of his naval career. Surf higher than five feet was considered lethal to amphibious landings; seas up to eighteen feet now pounded the Moroccan coast. For weeks, meteorologists had repeatedly flown from Gibraltar to the Azores, taking measurements and jotting cabalistic symbols in their notebooks in an effort to better understand weather patterns in the eastern Atlantic. Reconnaissance pilots had photographed the Moroccan surf so often they could now report that waves averaged ten feet in height, even without a northeaster blowing, and broke in thirty-second sets of seven. A radio transmission from the War Department included a forecast of landing conditions on November 8: “Very poor.”
Hewitt paced Augusta’s heaving bridge, studying the forecast and similarly disheartening messages from the Navy Department and the British Admiralty. The lives of 34,000 soldiers weighed heavily in his musings; history had often punished invaders who disregarded the weather. But a decision was required by dawn on November 7, to allow time for the fleet to split and take station off the three landing sites along the Moroccan coast. American troops were to seize an all-weather airfield at Port Lyautey in the north and, through landings above and below Casablanca, envelop the city and capture her port. Hewitt reduced his problem thus: he could wait for surer seas, but with fuel supplies dwindling, U-boats threatening, and the French surely alert at their guns; he could divert into the Mediterranean in search of a shoreline that was more benign yet far from the crucial port at Casablanca; or he could launch the landing craft as planned and hope for the best. Lord Louis Mountbatten, commander of British amphibious forces, had been reading the same grim weather forecasts in London. “I hope to God,” Mountbatten said, “Admiral Hewitt will have the guts to go through with it.”
The choice was Hewitt’s, but Patton, who would assume command of the expedition once the troops were ashore, urged him forward. Patton had spent the long passage reading the Koran, exercising in his cabin by holding the dresser and running in place—480 steps, he calculated, made a quarter-mile—and issuing proclamations.
“We are to be congratulated because we have been chosen,” he told his troops. “You must succeed, for to retreat is as cowardly as it is fatal. Americans do not surrender.” Soldiers should prepare for battle with “daily calisthentics of as violent a nature as the facilities of the ship permit.” He briefly terrorized his staff upon discovering that propaganda leaflets prepared by the War Department were written in bad French. The accent grave in fidèle, for example, was missing. “Some goddam fool in the States forgot to put the accents in this thing,” Patton told his intelligence officer. “Get a bunch of your men and put them to work. Let them put the accents where they belong, or none of these goddam leaflets will be dropped. Or do you expect me to land on French soil introduced by such illiterate calling cards?” Thousands of leaflets had been restored to literacy by a platoon of soldiers with pencils.
Despite their early antipathy, Patton and Hewitt had grown closer during the voyage, and their partnership now verged on real friendship. Yet Patton still suspected the Navy would avoid a fight if possible. “War is the only place where a man really lives,” he liked to say; the thought of flinching from combat was excruciating. Before leaving Norfolk, Patton had asked Eisenhower for secret authority to force Hewitt to bombard Casablanca if the admiral showed weakness in the knees. Eisenhower promptly replied that “no, repeat no, bombardment will be executed without prior authority from me…. In the unlikely event of a complete failure in signal communications, you will use your own discretion as to the action to be taken.” Thus shackled, Patton blithely dismissed the danger that landing craft would capsize in high surf: “You know what happens when things get overturned. They get washed ashore. If that happens, the men will get washed ashore, and then they’ll be there ready to fight.”
In the smallest hours of November 7, Hewitt was dozing on a cot in his command post on Augusta’s flag bridge when his aerologist woke him. Lieutenant Commander R. C. Steere carried a smudged weather map and a flashlight. Steere had concluded that the War Department and Navy forecasts were wrong. The storm would abate. He handed Hewitt a typed sheet of paper with his own prediction: “Swell and surf will be much reduced by offshore winds. Saturday night waves will be of the order of two to four feet.”
Hewitt studied Steere’s report and barometric charts. High seas would likely return on Monday, November 9, giving the invaders a day to gain a beachhead. One of Kent Hewitt’s favorite concepts was that of “velvet,” a sufficient margin of safety to allow for unexpected reverses. Divine Providence, he now believed, had given him some velvet. Without betraying the turmoil churning within him, Hewitt issued his orders: “Gentlemen, we will execute Plan One, as scheduled. Be prepared to make that signal to the task force at first daylight.” In London, Mountbatten judged this “one of the most important decisions of the war…a brave decision, the decision of a commander.”
At dawn on November 7, twenty-six ships carrying 6,000 assault troops peeled away from the convoy and headed toward Safi, in southern Morocco. Eight hours later, twenty-seven other ships with 9,000 soldiers veered north toward Mehdia, a coastal village near Port Lyautey. Hewitt’s main force, with almost 20,000 troops under Patton’s oversight, continued on toward Fedala, just north of Casablanca. A solitary banana boat spotted on the western horizon proved to be the intrepid Contessa; rolling deep in the water from her cargo of bombs and high-octane aviation fuel, she had crossed alone. Wary of being gunned down by trigger-happy American sailors, the jailhouse crew hoisted the Honduran flag and a vivid assortment of signals, including “I am a straggler.” Hewitt dispatched a destroyer to escort Contessa to Mehdia, and bluntly warned the explosive scow to keep her distance from the rest of the fleet.
With new urgency, soldiers studied the coastline recognition silhouettes painted on wardroom bulkheads. Medical officers believed that clean soldiers had a better chance of surviving wounds and infections, and they ordered every man going ashore to shower. The troop holds “resembled a fraternity house before a big dance,” one sailor reported. “All hands were scrubbing down.” No one told the men that the Army had secretly projected first-day battle casualties in Morocco of 1,700 killed or drowned, and 4,000 wounded. Sailors tested their winches, regreased the blocks and running gear, and shifted deck cargo off the hatch covers. Others wetted down wooden decks and manila lines to make them less combustible. Many soldiers were puzzled at the notion of combat against the French. “Come on, boys,” a gunner’s mate suggested, “let’s pretend they’re Japs.”
Commanders with an impulse to declaim offered the men the solace of their rhetoric. The skipper of Massachusetts uttered the Latin motto of the state for which his battleship was named: “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem,” which every swab no doubt could translate as “With the sword she seeks peace under liberty.” Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen, who commanded the warship escorts under Hewitt, declared, “Hit hard and break clean. There is glory enough for us all.” Brooklyn’s captain summoned the ship’s chaplain and confided, “I’m not a praying man myself, but here’s the sentiment I want to put into language appropriate for the Almighty: ‘O, Lord, gangway for a fighting ship.’”
Patton napped briefly before appearing on Augusta’s bridge in the early hours of November 8. His own final words had included sound advice for the infantry: “Get off that damned beach as fast as you can.” He was still leery of orders, passed from Marshall to Eisenhower to Allied commanders, to “avoid firing the first shot.” Patton had told his commanders, “Do not risk the lives of thirty thousand men trying to decide who wants to surrender and who doesn’t…. If they show white flags, don’t attack. But I doubt if you can see the white flags.” American soldiers “must have a superiority complex,” he insisted, and letting the French shoot first did not contribute to that elevated mentality.
On the darkened bridge Patton’s temper flared anew at the sound of Roosevelt’s voice over the ship’s public address system. The president’s appeal to the Vichy government, secretly recorded at the White House in English and French, was being broadcast every half hour by the BBC. “We come among you solely to destroy your enemies and not to harm you,” Roosevelt proclaimed. “Do not obstruct, I beg of you, this great purpose.” Patton had pleaded in vain with Eisenhower to forestall this broadcast, since the Moroccan invasion would begin several hours after those in Algeria. (The delay was intended to prevent Moroccan defenders from spotting Hewitt’s ships before nightfall on November 7.) “Vive la France eternelle!” Roosevelt concluded. Men listening onAugusta and other ships were aghast. Not a single landing craft had yet been launched. Patton paced the bridge, mimicking Roosevelt’s stringy French: “Mes amis…Mes amis.”
He paused in his fuming to study the sea. The wind had died and the swell was flattening. Aerologist Steere had been right. By dawn the Atlantic would be calm as a millpond. “I guess,” Patton said, “I must be God’s most favorite person.”
Down the length of Morocco, the French slept unawares. Fuel shortages had long grounded Vichy coastal air patrols, and no one monitored the BBC, which was disdained as mere propaganda. Roosevelt’s appeal went unheard, Hewitt’s ships undetected, Patton’s pique unsuspected.
Only rebels were afoot. For more than two years, British and American agents had tried to organize a fifth column in Morocco. The results had been mixed. A scheme by Moroccan Jews to blow up 5,000 tons of rubber on the Casablanca docks came to naught; but the insertion of an eavesdropping microphone at the German armistice commission succeeded admirably. The Apostles had formed several cells of secret agents with exotic noms de guerre (Mr. Fish, Sea Slug, Leroy the Badger) and imaginative covers (a onetime Foreign Legionnaire known as Pinkeye ostensibly worked as a black-market macaroni salesman). Leading the insurrectionists was “Black Beast,” Major General Émile Béthouart. The commander of the Casablanca division and a hero of the Franco-Polish expeditionary force that fought in Norway in 1940, Béthouart had been enlisted as a conspirator by Robert Murphy and General Mast. At eight P.M. on November 7, he informed ten trusted officers of the imminent Allied landing and dispatched them to secure various garrisons and landing fields. They rushed off, Béthouart later recalled, “with almost a juvenile enthusiasm.” Six hours later he awoke the sleeping resident-general of Morocco, General Auguste Paul Noguès, in Rabat, and informed him that the country was being delivered to the Allies. He also arrested the chief of Vichy air forces in Morocco, urging him, “Have a seat in a good arm chair.”
After that, nothing went right. Noguès was a slippery equivocator known to the Allies as “No-Yes” he barricaded himself in his palace and declined to believe that a hundred American ships could sneak up on his country undiscovered. On a secret phone line that he had just installed between the palace and the Admiralty in Casablanca, Noguès called his naval chief and told him of the putsch. Vice Admiral François Michelier peered seaward, then assured the resident-general that no Allied fleet lurked offshore and that such an expedition was “not technically possible.” Michelier phoned back to confirm this assessment at three A.M., four A.M., and five A.M. Gathering the fortitude needed to assure his own preservation, Noguès accused Béthouart of being duped by a “group of idiots” and ordered a general alert. Béthouart lost heart and surrendered; he was promptly jailed, consoled only by the two bottles of champagne smuggled into his cell by a prison doctor.
In Casablanca, squads of Senegalese soldiers set up their machine guns with languid gestures. Platoons of spahi cavalrymen in heavy capes cantered from their barracks. Sleepy naval officers hurried toward the port and coastal batteries by Citroën, motor scooter, and bicycle. Allied agents kindled their codebooks. Apart from kidnapping the commander of the Fez garrison out of his mistress’s bed, the insurrectionists had achieved nothing but to give Vichy authorities several hours’ advance warning of possible trouble.
“The sky is dark,” a young Army lieutenant scribbled in a hasty letter before heading to the boat deck, “and everything looks perfect.”
The lieutenant was deceived. Not only was trouble brewing ashore but Hewitt’s ships had thoroughly deranged themselves. Two weeks of flawless navigation collapsed almost within sight of land. Even before half the force peeled off for Safi to the south and Mehdia to the north, disagreement erupted among the captains over the convoy’s precise position. One plot showed that the fleet had actually sailed into the Moroccan hills. The dispute persisted through the early evening of November 7, even though the sky was clear enough to shoot the stars and even after the great lighthouse beacon at El Hank was spotted. The lights of Casablanca burned so brilliantly that one submarine captain likened surfacing seven miles from the city to coming up “in the center of Times Square.”
Despite this irrefutable evidence that land was near, commanders in the main convoy bound for Fedala failed to make the course corrections needed to prevent straggling and align the transports. Just before 11:30 P.M., the fleet tried to set itself right with a 45-degree turn to starboard, followed by another sharp turn fifteen minutes later. On this moonless night, many of the red and green lights used to order these maneuvers went unseen. Whistle signals were unheard or miscounted. El Hank and other shore lights abruptly winked out “as though one switch had been pulled.” By the time the drop-anchor whistle sounded, not a single transport could be found in the right location, and some were 10,000 yards—six miles—out of position. “To be perfectly honest,” one naval officer confessed, “I am not right sure exactly where we are.”
Destroyers tacked back and forth to seaward, sniffing for enemy submarines. A light offshore wind carried the loamy scent of land. Above the patchy clouds, Cassiopeia set and the Great Bear rose on his tail. The relentless throb of ships’ engines died away, bringing a silence not heard since Norfolk. Then the metallic rattle of anchor chains broke the spell. Crewmen peeled back the hatch covers, and wheezing donkey engines began to winch cargo from the holds. Bells clanged and clanged again to no purpose discernible to landsmen. In the packed troop compartments, blue cigarette smoke curled around the dim battle lights. Soldiers in green herringbone twill shifted their creaky rucksacks and awaited orders.
Orders came. Men shuffled onto the boat decks. Color-coded cargo nets now draped the sides like spiderwebs. A loadmaster with a bullhorn called to a landing craft sputtering below, “Personnel boat come alongside Red!” Coxswains in yellow oilskin coats and capacious pantaloons eased close, squinting to distinguish red from blue and trying not to foul their propellers in the nets. Officers climbed over the sides, their tommy guns and map cases banging against them all the way down. On some transports, after countless rehearsed departures from the starboard rail, the men were inexplicably ordered over the port side. Chaos attended. Others were told to fix bayonets—until the first man on the net impaled his thigh and was hoisted back on deck as a casualty. The feeble, obscene strains of “4-F Charley” sounded from troops waiting their turn. A veteran of the Great War revived a line often uttered before going over the top: “Don’t harass the shock troops.”
Then the loadmasters bellowed, “Shove off!” Coxswains gunned their engines and sheered away in a green blaze of phosphorescence, studying the heavens with a faint hope that Polaris or Sirius would tell them where to find land.
At Fedala, the first wave of twenty-six landing craft headed vaguely east just after five A.M. Misguided boats missed the beach and struck a reef with, as an official account later lamented, “indescribable confusion.” Men from the 30th Infantry Regiment struggled toward shore in water chin deep, their hands and legs a fretwork of coral cuts. Dead-weighted with entrenching tools, rifles, grenades, wire cutters, gas masks, ammo magazines, and K rations, those knocked from their feet by the modest waves rarely rose again. The coxswain of a fifty-foot lighter strayed too far in front of a breaker; the bow caught the seafloor 200 yards from the beach and the boat cartwheeled, flinging men, guns, and a jeep into the surf. Only six soldiers emerged alive. Troops flopped onto the sand, shooting wildly at searchlights from the coastal battery at Cherqui while Arabs on spavined donkeys trotted along the water’s edge, scavenging life jackets and canteens. The task force challenge and countersign soon echoed through the dune grass like a taunt: “George!” and “Patton!”
Eighty miles north, at Mehdia, troops from eight transports were to push six miles inland to capture the Port Lyautey airfield. Brigadier General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., climbed down a cargo net on the Henry T. Allen and motored from transport to transport, trying to convince suspicious sailors that he was indeed commander of the Mehdia force. A ragged flotilla of landing craft eventually made for shore with American flags snapping from each stern “like a yacht race.” The crack of gunfire carried across the water, once, twice, then twice more: four soldiers were wounded accidentally by comrades loading their rifles in the boats. Several landing craft snagged on sandbars or capsized as soldiers rolled over the gunwales in their haste to reach land. Sodden bodies washed ashore, facedown in a tangle of rifle slings and uninflated lifebelts. But at 5:40 A.M., 100 minutes late, the first troops from the 60th Infantry Regiment scrambled unopposed across Green Beach, eyeing the sixteenth-century Portuguese fort that blocked their path to the airfield.
The third and final frontal assault against a defended port in Operation TORCH was planned for Safi, 140 miles south of Casablanca. A Portuguese trading post in the age of Columbus, Safi had once earned fame for horse breeding and then as the world’s largest sardine fishery. Now it was an unlovely phosphate-exporting town of 25,000, famous for nothing. Much of the American battle planning was based on a yellowed 1906 French nautical chart, as well as on picture postcards from the Navy’s hoard of tourist snapshots and other memorabilia showing various ocean frontages. Jew’s Cliff, a sheltered beach outside Safi, had been identified through just such a faded postcard; renamed Yellow Beach, it was designated as a prime landing site.
To seize Safi port itself, the Navy chose a pair of ancient destroyers, the U.S.S. Cole, which in 1921 had been the world’s fastest ship, capable of forty-two knots, and the U.S.S. Bernadou. A secret refitting in Bermuda intended to lighten the vessels and lower their profiles by amputating all masts and funnels had left them “sawed-off and hammered-down.” Each destroyer would carry 200 assault troops from the 47th Infantry Regiment, who received American flag armbands and two cartons of cigarettes apiece with which to buy French amity. Capturing the little harbor would allow Patton to land a battalion of fifty-four Sherman tanks, which could then outflank Casablanca from the south without exposure to the city’s formidable coastal guns.
The Safi assault, known as BLACKSTONE, differed in key details from the port attacks at Oran and Algiers. Safi’s defenses were less sturdy than those in the Algerian cities, and American warships stood ready to pulverize any resistance. Also, to avoid alerting the defenders, the attack would slightly precede the beach landings. Commanding the 47th Infantry was Colonel Edwin H. Randle, an Indiana native with slicked hair and a wolfish mustache. “Violent, rapid, ruthless combat is the only way to win,” Randle told his men. “Fire low—richochets may kill the enemy and they certainly will scare him…. Make it tough and make it violent.”
The usual muddle obtained during disembarkation, delaying the attack for half an hour. Loadmasters finally stretched a huge net at an angle from the transport Lyon to the destroyers’ decks and rolled the troops down into their comrades’ waiting arms. Only one soldier tumbled into the Atlantic, never to be seen again. At 3:50 A.M., Bernadou headed for shore, with Cole trailing. As the lead destroyer glided toward the granite breakwater, a sharp-eyed French sentry challenged her by flashing two Morse letters: “VH.”Bernadou’s captain answered by semaphore with precisely the same signal. The ruse befuddled the defenders for eighteen minutes until Bernadou rounded the bell buoy and announced her presence in the harbor at 4:28 A.M. by firing a pyrotechnic gadget designed to unfurl an illuminated American flag. The stubborn flag stayed furled, and the French opened fire.
Machine-gun rounds cracked overhead and 75mm shells whistled into the water with a smoky hiss. Bernadou answered, sweeping the jetties with cannon and mortar fire, then ran aground so hard that her bow lurched thirty feet onto the fish wharf. The assault troops in Company K were flung to the deck.
At sea, two radio messages ran through the American fleet. “Batter up” announced French resistance. “Play ball,” at 4:38 A.M., authorized retaliatory fire. With a tremendous roar, the battleship New York and cruiser Philadelphia complied, aiming at muzzle flashes nine miles away. Mesmerized soldiers and sailors watched the glowing crimson shells arc across the sky before smashing into the shore batteries north of Safi. One of New York’s fourteen-inch shells caught the lip of the three hundred-foot cliff at Pointe de la Tour, dug a furrow twenty feet long, then richocheted up through the fire control tower at Batterie la Railleuse, killing everyone inside. Scraps of scalp and the battery commander’s shredded uniform painted the shattered walls.
Unsettled, the troops on Bernadou were slow to leave her. They flopped back to the deck with each new shell burst until rousted by their officers and shoved toward the single scrambling net now draped over the bow. Canteens and cigarette cartons snagged in the webbing, leaving soldiers caught like seined fish. The men finally found their valor on solid ground. French troops clattered down a jetty with a small field gun pulled by a donkey; sheets of American bullets sent them fleeing. The Cole managed to berth at the phosphate quay at five A.M. Company L swarmed ashore, chasing Foreign Legionnaires from the docks and seizing the railroad station, post office, and Shell Oil depot.
Three more waves of infantrymen landed, remarkably, where they were supposed to land. White-robed Arabs crowded balconies above the harbor to watch. An American major later reported to the War Department:
A soldier would snake his way painfully through rocks and rubble to set up a light machine gun, raise his head cautiously to aim, and find a dozen natives clustered solemnly around him. Street intersections were crowded with head-turning natives, like a tennis gallery, following the whining flight of bullets over their heads.
By early afternoon, the invaders held a beachhead five miles wide and half a mile deep. American sharpshooters knocked out three Renault tanks with rifle grenades, then turned the tank guns on a French barracks. Three hundred colonial troops surrendered. A solitary Vichy bomber made a feeble pass at the port; American anti-aircraft gunners, with zeal far eclipsing their marksmanship, shot up warehouse roofs and their own deck booms so vigorously that richocheting .50-caliber tracers resembled “someone trying to cut the cranes with a welder’s torch.”
It was all too much for the French garrison commander. American troops stormed his headquarters at Front de Mer, capturing him and seven staff officers without a struggle. Their combined arsenal consisted of two revolvers. Except for a few snipers, Safi had fallen. U.S. casualties totaled four dead and twenty-five wounded.
Eisenhower had trusted in his luck, and so far his luck had held. Only by the clock on his office wall in the Gibraltar tunnel did the commander-in-chief know that dawn had come on November 8. He neither heard the church bells in Gibraltar town on this balmy Sunday morning nor saw the Spitfires lift from the runway to patrol the approaches from Spain and Italy. Eisenhower rose from his cot and padded down to the lavatory for a cold-water shave. To Marshall, he reported:
Everything appears to be going ahead about as anticipated…. Information directly from task forces is meager, but I do not care to worry commanders at this stage by demanding reports. But I’d give a month’s pay for an accurate report this minute from each sector. We do know that we are fairly solidly ashore at eastern and central points, and that western attack began as scheduled.
Besides that, he knew very little. The message center at Gibraltar had fallen hours behind in decoding the dispatches pouring in from Algeria and Morocco, as well as from Washington and London. Sketchy reports from Algiers and Oran indicated troops were ashore at all six Algerian landing sites. As for Task Force 34, almost nothing was known beyond a brief message from Hewitt reporting that he was proceeding apace. Eavesdroppers had picked up radio broadcasts of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the “Marseillaise” from Patton’s propaganda station aboard the Texas, but not a word had been heard from Patton himself.
“When you get to high places in the Army,” Eisenhower had recently written to his son, John, a cadet at West Point, “this business of warfare is no longer just a question of getting out and teaching the soldiers how to shoot or how to crawl up a ravine or dig a foxhole—it is partly politics, partly public-speaking, partly essay-writing, partly social contact…. A fellow wishes he could just get into a hammock under a nice shade tree and read a few wild west magazines!”
“This business of warfare” was also partly about waiting. As the hours ticked by, a few more dispatches dribbled in, including vague accounts of “trouble in Algiers harbor” and resistance at the Oran port. By nine A.M., one airfield outside Algiers was supposedly in Allied hands, but except for reports that three transport aircraft from Operation VILLAIN had been forced down, nothing was heard regarding the airborne operation. Eisenhower’s naval aide and confidant, a former CBS executive named Harry C. Butcher, wrote in his diary, “What becomes of thirty-six paratroop planes?” Another garbled dispatch indicated that at one Moroccan beach, Patton was re-embarking the landing craft under a truce flag. “That I do not believe,” Eisenhower wrote to his chief of staff, Major General Walter B. Smith, who was still in London. “Unless my opinion of Georgie is 100 percent wrong, he wouldn’t re-embark anything, including himself.”
Lighting another Camel, Eisenhower retreated into his tiny office. He had agreed to another negotiating session with Giraud in an hour. That unpleasant prospect now was complicated by perplexing reports that Admiral Darlan was in Algiers talking to Robert Murphy. Eisenhower remembered Churchill’s advice: “Kiss Darlan’s stern if you have to, but get the French navy.” But what about Giraud?
He uncapped a fountain pen and in his tight cursive wrote at the top of a sheet of notepaper: “Worries of a Commander.” Beginning with “Spain is so ominously quiet,” he listed ten anxieties. Number three: “Defensive fighting, which seemed halfhearted and spiritless this morning, has blazed up, and in many places resistance is stubborn.” Number six: “Giraud is difficult to deal with—wants much in power, equipment, etc., but seems little disposed to do his part to stop fighting.” Number nine: “We don’t know whereabouts or conditions of airborne force.” And number ten: “We cannot find out anything.”
Having unburdened himself, he capped the pen and reviewed the message traffic once again. Casualties seemed modest, pending further word on RESERVIST, TERMINAL, and VILLAIN. It was tragic that France felt compelled to fight, but the defenders had displayed remarkable lassitude in failing to lay mines, conduct reconnaissance, or to sortie Vichy submarine and air fleets.
Yet if politically ambivalent and militarily inert, the French had not capitulated. Vichy resistance near Casablanca and Mehdia appeared to be stiffening. Darlan’s intentions remained opaque. Giraud was brooding somewhere in this Gibraltar grotto. Murphy apparently was under arrest. Many French rebels were in irons. German and Italian forces would not likely remain quiescent for long. And Tunisia—the reason for launching the most ambitious seaborne invasion in history—remained far, far away.
Sometimes a fellow just wished he could crawl in a hammock and read a few wild west magazines.