War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

4 Secret Missions

A strange scenario was unfolding along 800 miles of coastline off French Northwest Africa just past midnight on November 8,1942. An Allied radio station aboard a ship in the Mediterranean Sea, using the wavelength of a commercial transmitter ashore, was constantly calling out, "Allô, Maroc!" ("Hello, Morocco!"). In between, "The Star Spangled Banner" and the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise" blared out.

At 1:20 A.M., a voice came over the airwaves speaking in fluent French, identifying itself as that of Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied forces. Actually, the radio-recording voice was that of Colonel Julius Holmes, a staff officer; Eisenhower's French was fractured at best.

In Eisenhower's ( Holmes's) broadcast, he assured the French military commanders that the Americans were coming as friends and liberators, and he urged them not to resist. Hopefully, the invaders would land without bloodshed on either side.

In the blackness, hundreds of Allied ships, one of the largest fleets ever assembled up to that time, were slipping into position at widely separated points--off Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers. On board were thousands of American troops who would storm ashore at dawn to launch Operation Torch, the first major U.S. offensive since the Meuse-Argonne of World War I.

Eisenhower's plea was only partially heeded by the French. When the GIs landed, they were met with tenacious resistance in some locales and welcomed with open arms at others.

Only hours behind the vanguards, while shooting was still taking place at various points, a contingent of Army nurses went ashore with medical units. Their services were urgently needed: In four days and nights of fighting the bloodletting had been heavy. American forces suffered 837 wounded men, along with 556 killed and 41 missing.

Almost before the ink had dried on a cease-fire agreement, General Eisenhower began moving his Torch forces hundreds of miles eastward to Tunisia. The Allied plan was to trap German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps which was being driven westward in the direction of Tunisia by General Bernard L. Montgomery's British Eighth Army. It had gained fame as the Desert Rats.

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