Academic journal article Naval War College Review

FORTUITOUS ENDEAVOR: Intelligence and Deception in Operation TORCH

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

FORTUITOUS ENDEAVOR: Intelligence and Deception in Operation TORCH

Article excerpt

In the European theater of World War II, 1942 marked the nadir of Allied fortunes. German forces in the Soviet Union had reached Stalingrad and threatened the oil fields of the Caucasus; Axis forces in Africa seemed on the verge of pushing the British out of Egypt; and German U-boat wolf packs preyed on Allied shipping with relative impunity. Late in 1942, however, two significant Allied successes served to turn the tide against the Axis powers. At El Alamein, a British offensive defeated General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, while almost simultaneously a huge Anglo-American force landed in North Africa to contest Axis control. These two actions led to a final thrust toward Italy through Sicily in 1943, greatly facilitating the eventual Allied victory. The North African and Mediterranean Allied campaign, however, was also significant for different, very secret reasons that have only come to light in full detail in recent decades.

This article will demonstrate that the Anglo-American TORCH effort was a hallmark of effective combined operational planning and execution-facilitated by military deception informed by proven intelligence. Specifically, examining TORCH through the new historical lens provided by decrypts of German signals intelligence (SIGINT) cements the contemporary principle that intelligence preparation of the environment, if done artfully, not only provides enemy order of battle intelligence but reveals exploitable adversary perceptions. In this case, SIGINT not only assisted in the unmolested Atlantic and Mediterranean passage of immense convoys but effectively gauged Axis capabilities and intentions, as well as the reactions to Allied deception measures, prior to and during the operation. Thus, the Allies effected the largest-scale combined joint undertaking in the history of warfare by 1942 virtually unopposed, due largely to consistent "reading of the enemy's mail."1

A brief introduction of Allied signals intelligence in World War II, a TORCH overview, and a detailed look at SIGINT sources help place the operation in context. Then, an analysis of the threat-assessment process illustrates how insights into German perceptions helped shape the operational plan. Next, recently declassified decrypts fill in historical gaps to show how the Allies used focused intelligence efforts to conceal force movements for the operation and gauge the efficacy of the deception stratagem. These decrypts also reveal the Axis response as the landings occurred and help explain Allied countermoves. The role of "all-source intelligence fusion" in the strategic deception effort is then related. Finally a discussion of TORCH as a model for intelligence and deception in operational planning and execution offers lessons for contemporary maritime planners, warfighters, and intelligence leaders.


Allied signals intelligence dramatically expanded during Torch planning. Breakthroughs earlier in the war by British cryptanalysts at the Government Code and Cipher School (GCCS) at Bletchley Park led to the breaking of high-grade German ciphers, based on the Enigma machine, and in turn a new source of intelligence information known as ULTRA. Moreover, similar American cryptanalytic efforts led to several significant additions to the many British special-intelligence sources. The North African and Mediterranean campaign of 1942 under General Dwight D. Eisenhower's Armed Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) represents the first actual, operational use of ULTRA and other special intelligence in the planning and execution of large-scale campaigns and the first instance of Allied collaborative strategic deception. Indeed, Torch represents a vehicle for the practical application of signals intelligence to an Allied campaign that became the model for future operations, such as Husky in Sicily and OVERLORD on the beaches of Normandy.

The Allies formed AFHQ in August 1942, after a July Anglo-American decision that the invasion of northwest Africa should be made before any attempt to execute a cross-channel offensive against German-occupied France. …

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