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Torch: North Africa and the Allied Path to Victory, by Vincent O'Hara

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015. Pp. x, 274. Illus., maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $49.95. ISBN:1 612518230.

The Most Daring Operation of World War II

Although it was the first Anglo-American offensive operation in the European War, Operation Torch, the invasion of French Morocco and Algeria in northwestern Africa in November of 1942, is surprisingly neglected in the literature, usually treated quickly as a preliminary to the campaign in Tunisia. Not so, in this work by noted naval historian O’Hara, author of On Seas Contested, Struggle for the Middle Sea, and many others.

O’Hara devotes the entire volume to Torch, from its inception, through the landings on November 8, 1942, to the onset of operations against Axis forces arriving in Tunisia little more than a week later. He stresses that Torch was not only hastily planned and carried out on a relative shoe string, but was also an undertaking of considerable daring; it was the only transoceanic amphibious operation of the war, resources were few, the American troops were all green, airborne and amphibious doctrine was rudimentary, the French reaction was uncertain, the U-boot threat was still very real, and control of the Mediterranean was still in dispute.

O’Hara opens with three chapters that set the stage, discussing the political and strategic perspectives not only of the Allies, but also of the Vichyite and Free French, the Germans, Italians, and even the Spanish. He then covers Allied planning and preparations, the French, and the remarkably complex movements of the Allied forces. The landings are dealt with in considerable detail, illustrated by numerous maps, and O’Hara pays particular attention to the disastrous efforts to land troops directly into the harbors at Oran and Algiers and the naval Battle of Casablanca, the only major U.S. Navy surface engagement of the war in the European theatre. He concludes with chapters on the Axis response and on the Allied advance into Tunisia, followed by a summary of the Tunisian campaign through the Axis surrender in May of 1943.

O’Hara weaves into his account a good deal of material on the complex diplomatic and political forces that affected and were affected by these operations, and takes some interesting looks at a number of people, often with telling anecdotes, including France’s Admiral Darlan, who comes off as a rather better man than is usually depicted.

This is an outstanding addition to the literature of the war.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


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