Who's Who

Operation Torch: The North Africa Landings, 70 Years On

Colin Smith recounts the Allied invasion of French North Africa, which commenced on November 8th, 1942.

 Allied troops hit the beaches near Algiers, behind a large American flag (left).Capitaine de frégate Paul Laurin, commander of the destroyer Epervier, was puzzled. He had heard the firing started by the heavy artillery at Fort Laumone, then the guns on their sister ship the Typhon join in but what on earth were they shooting at? To add to his confusion, lazy blobs of red tracer from the kind of heavy machine-guns used as anti-aircraft weapons were floating low across the night sky

 At first he assumed that the vessel drifting silently towards them, engines off in the dark and tugged by the slight current that ran through Oran harbour, must be another French ship.  Surely it was too close, too well into the harbour to be anything else?  But once she got close enough for Laurin to better discern its low and unfamiliar outline, he decided to break the general blackout ordered only a few minutes before and asked the searchlight crew on his bridge to give him a better look at her. What he saw was a small, listing vessel about half the size of the Epervier with a wrecked and smouldering superstructure. It was then that he realised that the guns at Laumone had probably also knocked her engines out. She was flying a huge stars and stripes with, immediately beneath it, the smaller white ensign of Britain’s Royal Navy. Even as he yelled for their light to be doused the intruder was trying to do it for them with long bursts of tracer.

‘We replied with the starboard Hotchkiss,’ Laurin would recall in his logbook entry on the action. Then he ordered his big 138mm guns, a slightly larger calibre than those on the Typhon, to open up. ‘But we were short of crews and the order was not immediately executed. The navigating officer rushed to the little 37mm gun and the gunnery officer to the 138mm guns. He loaded gun No.5 and fired at the enemy ship that was now about 50 metres from us.’

To Laurin's amazement most of the stuff coming back at them was badly aimed small-arms fire and what he later realised were rifle grenades. It was not long before dawn on Sunday November 8th, 1942 and the last time French sailors had exchanged fire at this range was during the Napoleonic wars.  

Their target was indeed the old enemy. Almost alongside them was HMS Walney, a former US Coast Guard cutter designed with nothing more lethal in mind than intercepting Prohibition bootleggers across the Great Lakes. Together with her sister ship, HMS Hartland, she had been one of Roosevelt's Lend-Lease handouts at the beginning of the Battle of the Atlantic, when the Royal Navy took anything that could drop a depth charge or sweep a mine.

But tonight most of the people on the Walney were not British. The crew were far out numbered by their US passengers, as were the sailors on its identical twin, Hartland, which was facing similar point-blank broadsides from the Typhon. Crammed onto the main decks of these single funnel cutters were some 400 helmeted US infantry. Their task was to prevent the Vichy French from destroying Oran’s docks by holding them until they were relieved by much larger forces being landed on the beaches on either side of the town.

  Five hundred kilometres to the east, a similar attempt was being made to capture the port facilities at Algiers. This time the GI’s were in two old British destroyers, which were bigger and better armed than the cutters, and had their bows filled with cement to cut through the harbour booms. But this did not make the slightest difference.  French coastal batteries inflicted so much damage on one of the destroyers it had to limp back to the main invasion fleet and repeated hits on the other eventually sank it though not before some of its Americans did get ashore and held out for a couple of hours. Then the French brought up their tanks and, since they were without any effective anti-tank weapons, the Americans surrendered.

Both attempts to capture these ports were costly and humiliating failures.  Oran, where the two cutters sank in flames, was a massacre with casualties in dead and injured totalling just over 90 per cent of all those taking part. One hundred and ninety American soldiers were killed and another 157 were wounded. Well over 100 British sailors also died, 82 of them on the Walney.  Vichy casualties were negligible. On the Epervier Laurin had one of his men killed and four wounded.

It had been believed that the French would be much less inclined to open fire on the Americans than the British with whom many people, including senior officers, thought they had blood debts.  In July 1940, a few days after France's surrender, the Royal Navy had at Oran’s neighbouring port of Mers el-Kebir killed almost 1,300 sailors trapped on warships London feared Germany might acquire. More recently there had been calls for a national day of mourning after the RAF bombed the Billancourt Renault factory, which was making trucks for the Wehrmacht and killed almost 400 workers living in nearby apartment buildings. ‘We shall never forgive them,’ promised Admiral François Darlan, Pétain’s heir apparent and Vichy’s military supremo, in a hand-written note to Admiral Daniel Leahy, the US ambassador in Vichy, who had been appointed for his compatibility with a fellow sailor.

The British had convinced the Americans they could somehow bluff their way through, but they got it wrong. Among the dead on the Walney was Lieutenant Paul Duncan, a bilingual half-French Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officer who had worked as a sub-editor on The Times.  Duncan died while dressed in a US uniform and shouting through a bullhorn in what he hoped sounded like American accented French: ‘Ne tiray pas! Noo sarmes vos amis. Noo sarmes Americaine. Ne tirary pas! Noo sarmes Americaine …’

But if anybody heard they were certainly not listening.

By the autumn of 1942, ten months after Pearl Harbor, the United States had yet to do much in the European war. Most of its blood and treasure had been spent in the Pacific, where its ships had won the battle of Midway and, at Milne Bay in New Guinea, where they supported Australian troops inflicting the Allies’ first decisive defeat on the Imperial Japanese Army.

The closest the Americans had got to participating in the land war against Nazi Germany was to allow 50 of its Rangers to accompany the Commandos they had been training with in Scotland on August’s disastrous Dieppe raid. A more successful British venture was their stand on the El Alamein defensive line in Egypt’s Western Desert, where Rommel was wearing out his dozen or so Italian and German divisions trying to break through and control the Suez Canal.

 But most of the German army was in Russia and the Soviets, who appeared to be on the verge of defeat, were pleading with the Anglo-Americans to take the pressure off them and open a second front. The most obvious place to do this was where Hitler’s westward expansion had ended at lucky England's moat and the Americans were happy to oblige. At the very least they wanted to establish a bridgehead in a deep-water French Channel port then break out of it the following Spring.

In Britain too there was a growing lobby to save Russia. ‘Second front now!’ chanted the Red Army’s growing band of admirers at a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. But for once the normally adventurous Churchill was cautious and the Dieppe fiasco had only confirmed his resolve not to make a proper attempt to breach Hitler’s Atlantic Wall until they were ready. His war cabinet agreed. ‘A premature Western Front could only result in the most appalling shambles,’ General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, noted in his diary.

Churchill was, of course, all for striking the Axis elsewhere. But when he suggested to Washington that they threaten Rommel’s rear by jointly seizing French North Africa it was not at first greeted with much enthusiasm. The US army was on the same side as Trafalgar Square. Their slogan was Berlin or Bust. It was less than 600 miles from the French coast to the German capital and flattish most of the way. This did not seem all that far for an American, but since any such attack would have to be launched from Britain with mainly British forces, Roosevelt knew that, for the moment, his ally had the last word. By the end of July the president had agreed. It was to be called Operation Torch and it was to be mounted in autumn.

The Americans had already almost accidentally laid down the foundations for Torch. Roosevelt’s decision to maintain diplomatic relations with Vichy France had long irritated most of the American press whose commentators wanted America to back de Gaulle. Now it looked like Roosevelt’s stubbornness might pay dividends. For the last 18 months the diplomat Robert Murphy, US minister to French North Africa, who worked out of Algiers, had been building up an extensive network of Allied sympathisers. Some were serving senior officers, others influential civilians, and between them they had the makings of the kind of fifth column that suggested Torch might turn out to be an almost a bloodless affair.

But Murphy’s conspirators, while united by a desire to liberate France, were often very different people. Many had convinced themselves that theirs was the true Pétainist creed and they were only doing what the maréchal secretly desired. Others were royalists who dreamed of restoring the Count of Paris to his rightful throne. A growing number were Communists inspired by the undefeated Soviet proletariat. By necessity they were almost all vaguely for the Americans but only a few admitted to being pro-Gaullist.

De Gaulle was seen as Churchill's creation and generally the British were much more disliked in North Africa than they were in France itself. At Mers el-Kebir rusting wrecks and a regiment of graves were a constant reminder of what happened when French sailors defied a Royal Navy ultimatum to either scuttle or sail to a place beyond German reach. And since then there had been bitter campaigns to wrest Lebanon, Syria and most recently in Madagascar from Vichy control.

 Perhaps the one other thing most of Murphy’s contacts had in common was their desire to see that French North Africa remained French. Among them was Alain Darlan, the admiral’s only child. Alain, a reserve naval lieutenant working for a company importing foodstuffs, made frequent business trips to Algiers and Murphy considered him to be ‘ardently pro-Allies’.  Broad hints that his Anglophobic father, described in a recent issue of Life magazine as ‘one of France’s leading traitors’, was of a similar persuasion did not particularly surprise Murphy. He knew that Darlan had once told Ambassador Leahy that if the Americans arrived in North Africa in sufficient force to hold it against the Germans he would not oppose them. But Leahy regarded Darlan as ‘a complete opportunist’, an ambitious and dangerous man who thought he could walk a tightrope between the warring powers.

Easily Murphy’s biggest catch was General Charles Mast, the chief-of-staff of Vichy’s 19th Corps based in Algiers and, more importantly, the man who would become the go-between for the Americans and his fellow Alsatian General Henri-Honoré Giraud. In the summer of 1940 Giraud had been the commander of France’s7th Army when, in the third week of the Blitzkrieg, his headquarters was overrun and he became Germany’s most high ranking French prisoner. Giraud was detained in the old Saxon fortress of Königstein on the Elbe, where he was shortly joined by other senior officers including Mast with whom, in the 1920s, he had campaigned against the Moroccan Berbers.

They planned to escape together. Then in September 1940 the French garrison of the West African port of Dakar demonstrated its loyalty to Vichy by repulsing a determined Anglo-Gaullist assault on it. The Germans were delighted and Mast was among those officers released and sent to French Algeria to meet a Vichy request for reinforcements in case the British had any other mischief in mind. Meanwhile, Giraud was determined to get away. He had done it in 1914 when he was captured badly wounded and, although 63-years-old and slightly lame from shrapnel, saw no reason why he should not do it again. On April 16th, 1942 he lowered himself down the steep walls of the ancient fortress on 30 metres of untested, prisoner-plaited rope.

Ten days later, having passed through Switzerland, he was lunching with Pétain in Vichy. Some of the regime’s ministers, notably Pierre Laval, wanted him to give himself up to the Germans. Darlan, Laval’s closest rival for German patronage, also made it plain he was unimpressed. The old maréchal would hear none of it. Giraud had sanctuary.

It might seem odd that the general even put himself in this position. Once in neutral Switzerland he only had to walk into the British embassy to be in London in a matter of days, but this was not where Giraud wanted to be. He shared the views of all those loyal Pétainists who blamed France’s defeat on the British failure to make a proper military commitment to its ally almost as much as they did the moral decay wrought by Léon Blum’s Godless Popular Front government with its support for Republican Spain and its 40-hour weeks and paid holidays for the workers. Only in one respect did he differ from the majority of the officers who welcomed him at Vichy.  He had an unwavering belief that Germany would lose the war and France must make a pact with the Americans and renew hostilities.

It was not difficult to make Washington aware of this. Although Germany had been at war with the United States for the last five months Ambassador Leahy’s embassy was still open for business in Vichy, though Leahy would shortly be leaving and his mission downgraded to a consulate. The Americans were delighted. Here was the very man they needed to rally all the Vichy forces in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to their side. They gave him the codename Kingpin.

It took another six months of negotiations and painstaking planning to extract Kingpin from France. Communications were difficult to say the least. German agents were looking for Giraud and he had to stay under cover. Couriers brought messages to Mast in Algiers, who then passed them on to Murphy, who got them back to Washington and London. Then on the very eve of Torch – which was set for Sunday  November 8th – he was at last delivered to the advance headquarters of Lieutenant-General Dwight Eisenhower, the operation’s supreme commander, who was closeted with his Anglo-American staff in the labyrinth of tunnels the British had bored into their Rock of Gibraltar.

About 24 hours before Giraud and four officers, one of them his son, had been on the Côte d’Azur waiting to be picked up by submarine. Kingpin had insisted that it must be a US and not a British submarine.  Since there were no US subs in the Mediterranean at the time his condition was met by putting a US naval officer, who knew nothing of submarines, in nominal command of HMS Seraph, whose crew were beginning to specialise in this sort thing.

 On October 20th Commandos in canoes launched from Seraph had put Eisenhower's lanky deputy General Mark Clark and some aides ashore about 100 kilometres west of Algiers at the little coastal town of Cherchell.  They were there for a day-s meeting in a cliff-top villa with General Mast, Murphy’s star agent, who was accompanied by Murphy himself plus several junior officers who had joined the conspiracy. Mast’s main concern was to establish the strength of the forces the Americans proposed to land. When the war started in 1939 the US army was 19th in size in the world: a little bigger than Bulgaria’s. Roosevelt was expanding it as fast as he could but it was still nothing like as strong as it was to be. German propaganda had built up Dieppe as a failed attempt at a bridgehead on continental Europe rather than a raid. Going to the assistance of anything as feeble as that would see them all hanged. Would the Americans arrive in the kind of strength that would make any opposition futile?

Clark did not hesitate. ‘I tried to keep a poker face while saying that half a million Allied troops would come in and we would put 2,000 planes in the air as well. Mast was pretty impressed. The one thing I couldn’t tell him, and had to be careful not to reveal by any slip of the tongue, was that Torch had gotten well beyond the planning stage for the leading elements of our armada were already at sea.’

About 700 ships were poised to land 70,000 troops divided into three task forces: Western, Eastern and Central. Western task force, which was bound for three landing places on the Moroccan coast, one of them close to Casablanca, was under US Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt. Seventy of his 102 vessels were warships including one aircraft carrier and the new battleship USS Massachusetts. The rest were crowded troop transports carrying elements of two infantry and one armoured division, about 35,000 men in all. Their commander was a major-general whose habitual foul-mouthed truculence masked a capacity to charm and a certain erudition. Visitors to George S.Patton’s Junior’s cabin observed, as perhaps they were meant to, that along with the ivory-handled pistols and the kind of thrillers most officers read was an English translation of the Koran.

Centre and Eastern task forces, which were heading for beaches around Oran and Algiers respectively, had sailed directly from the UK and these were British fleets under British command. About one third of the troops they carried were also British though these were mostly in the Eastern task force bound for Algiers. They were commanded by Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson. While the Americans organised a benign occupation, behind them Anderson  was expected to lead a predominantly British sortie east into Tunisia and on to Rommel’s rear echelons on the Libyan border. It was anticipated that this would become a race against Axis attempts to do the same thing from Sicily, which was much closer to Tunisia than Algiers. The role of the resident French garrison there would be crucial. If they rallied to the Allied cause they might be able to delay the Germans until Anderson arrived. Meanwhile, a certain French general was running well behind schedule.

In order to speed things up, and at some risk to both plane and submarine, Seraph had rendezvoused with a Catalina flying boat and Giraud had eventually arrived at Gibraltar courtesy of the RAF, though Kingpin could console himself that at least the aircraft was US made.  Zero hour for Torch was eight hours away. By now Giraud should have been smuggled into Algiers and be poised to emerge at the head of Mast’s joyful résistants, a commanding and heroic figure calling for a return to arms against Germany. This would be Washington’s superlative answer to London’s controversial de Gaulle.

Instead Giraud's arrivalwould have to wait until they captured an airfield. A battalion of American paratroopers that were flying directly from Cornwall was earmarked for this very task. Meanwhile, all he could do was have a short statement to French North Africa broadcast by the BBC in London urging French troops to co-operate with the Allies

Since time was of the essence, Eisenhower and Clark had taken the liberty of writing it for him. All he had to do was sign it. An interpreter read the translation. The gist of it was that the United States, in order to pre-empt an Axis plan to seize Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, were acting first and called on L’Armee d’Afrique du Nord to join them in the fight against their common enemy. Of his own role in all this, Kingpin was scripted to say no more than: ‘I resume my place of combat among you.’

Immensely tall, magnificently moustached and, if not always all that bright, Giraud was a man of unquestionable gallantry and integrity. He sometimes reminded British officers of Conan Doyle’s second best known character, Brigadier Gerard, the Napoleonic Hussar. As Eisenhower proffered him a pen, he drew a deep breath and said: ‘Let's get it clear as to my part. As I understand it, when I land in North Africa, I am to assume command of all Allied forces and become Supreme Allied Commander in North Africa?’

‘I think there must have been some misunderstanding,’ said Ike quietly. Clark describes his tone as cautious.

In Algiers Robert Murphy was listening to the BBC’s French service tell him exactly what he wanted to hear. It came just after midnight in the ‘personal messages’ delivered after the news summary, each enunciated twice. ‘Allo Robert,’ said London. ‘Franklin est arrivé.’

This oddly transparent message on behalf of Franklin D. Roosevelt was the signal that Operation Torch was about to begin. If everything went on schedule US troops would be in the city in two hours. In the interim Murphy’s first task was to see that Mast’s insurgents had been alerted and had taken over the key positions that would ease the Americans’ passage into the city. His second was to make an unannounced call on General Alphonse Juin, Commander-in-Chief North Africa. This was not the way it was supposed to happen. According to the script he was supposed to have accompanied Giraud to Juin’s house as living proof of Franco-American collusion. But Giraud was missing and there was no message from Eisenhower explaining why.

A sleepy looking Juin wearing pink-striped pyjamas received Murphy in his drawing room. He was a pied-noir born in Bone and effectively without a right arm since 1915. This war he had been captured at Lille during the French stand that bought time for the Dunkirk evacuation then released from Königstein with Mast.  Like others Juin had sometimes hinted that, when the time was right, he would welcome the presence of the Americans and Murphy had always assured him that they would only come by invitation.  Now he told him – ‘as calmly as I could’ – that an American expeditionary force of half a million men was about to step ashore. ‘According to my instructions I multiplied the size and made no mention of the British components.’

‘But you told me only a week ago that the United States would not attack us,’ protested Juin.

‘We're here by invitation.

'From whom?'

‘Giraud.’

‘Is he here in Algiers?’

‘We expect him momentarily,’ murmured Murphy.

Then Juin came up with his trump card. ‘If the matter was entirely in my hands I would be with you,’ he said. ‘But as you know Darlan is here visiting his son. He outranks me and could immediately overrule me.’

‘Very well,’ said the American taking a deep breath. ‘Let us talk with Darlan.’

Juin telephoned Darlan who told him to stay put. He would go to them.

The man in charge of all the navy, army and air force Germany had allowed France to keep had been due to fly back to Vichy in a few hours time. Four days before, having just completed a ten-day tour of all Vichy’s African possessions, a family crisis had compelled him to rush back. For almost a month his son Alain had been in Algiers’' Maillot hospital struck down by poliomyelitis and now there were fears he was dying. Both parents had been at his bedside. Since then there had been a remarkable recovery and Alain declared out of danger though there were fears he might not walk again.

Darlan arrived at Juin’s villa in a red-faced fury. ‘I have known for long time that the British are stupid,’ he informed Murphy. ‘But I always believed Americans were more intelligent. Apparently you have the same genius for making massive blunders.’

Puffing at his pipe and unusually hatless, for he loathed revealing his baldness, the small man paced up and down the marble floor of Juin’s main reception salon. Alongside him the tall, broad-shouldered Murphy did his best to keep in step, making various soothing noises reminding him how he once told Ambassador Leahy that if the Americans ever came in force he would welcome them.

‘And now that moment has arrived!’ declared Murphy with all the fervour of a revivalist preacher. But even as he said it a glance at his watch showed it was well after 2.30am. American troops should have reached him at least half an hour ago.  He found himself wondering whether by some ghastly mistake he had got the date wrong or some unimaginable calamity had befallen the entire enterprise.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Admittedly the attempts to seize the ports at Oran and Algiers had been bloodily repulsed. But these were unnecessary sideshows dreamed up by the British because they had got away with something similar at Diego Suarez in Madagascar.  The American plan to capture airfields by flying almost 600 paratroopers in 39 different aircraft directly from England to a dropping zone over 1,500 kilometres away was a more farcical disaster though not without losses. Most of them had been taken prisoner after their aircraft were scattered by heavy winds and made forced landing all over Algeria and Morocco.

Nonetheless, by and large Operation Torch had been an overwhelming success. Resistance had been at the most disjointed and often, thanks to Mast’s conspirators, nonexistent. ‘Gentlemen, you are late,’ Major Pierre Baril greeted the Iowans of the 168th Regiment when they came ashore in the same place the French started their conquest of Algeria in 1830.  Over 60,000 men were coming ashore on nine different beaches, 35,000 of them around Algiers though not always where they should have been. The Royal Navy had delivered the units scheduled to be with Murphy about five miles off target.

The diplomat had endured a very long day. At one point a platoon of Mast’s résistants disarmed the Senegalese guards and announced that Juin and Darlan were their prisoners. Then shortly after dawn they in turn had been chased away by about 50 Gardes Mobiles, well armed paramilitary police led by Juin’s outraged chief of staff Major Dorange. Murphy, and an assistant who had joined him, were bundled at gunpoint into the villa’s sentry box but later permitted to return to the drawing room. Darlan and Juin then drove off to army headquarters at Fort L’Empereur, where the full extent of the landings was confirmed.

At about 3pm Darlan returned to the villa and told Murphy he would provide him with Juin’s car and driver to go and find Major-General Charles Ryder, the senior American officer in the Algiers sector, and bring him to Fort L'Empereur to discuss the terms of a local ceasefire. They knew Ryder’s name from the signed leaflets British navy pilots have been dropping announcing that the Americans came as friends. They believed he could be found on a beach about ten miles west of the city.

By now the neighbourhood was getting dangerous. White civilians belonging to the Service d’ordre legionnaire, the militia of the Paris-based French fascist Joseph Darnand, had joined in the fighting. There was what Murphy called ‘a volume of brisk small arms fire’ around the house as the US infantry advanced through the suburban streets hugging any available cover. One of their battalion commanders, a lieutenant-colonel, was killed. A French ambulance toured the streets, picking up wounded from both sides. Groups of colons were watching the proceedings from their balconies still dressed in their Sunday best.

 A US  lieutenant gave Murphy a man to guide his driver to the right beach. One of the first people he met there, wearing a US Ranger uniform, was Captain Randolph Churchill, the prime minister’s only son who was serving as an intelligence officer in a commando brigade that was probably the most composite Anglo-American unit in Torch. Murphy was delighted to discover that he knew all about him and Churchill introduced him to Ryder who got into Juin’s car. The ceasefire in the city of Algiers started at 8pm.

Elsewhere fighting continued on land, sea and air. Almost all the remaining French ships in North African ports were lost when they were ordered, against hopeless odds, to try to rejoin the Vichy fleet in Toulon. At least 500 French sailors died off Casablanca, where the US Admiral Hewitt's ships and planes picked them off with impunity. After a short engagement with British cruisers outside Oran Laurin beached Epervier with 21 of his crew killed and 31 wounded.

It took just over 48 hours for Darlan to bow to Allied pressure and expand this local truce into a general ceasefire across all French North Africa. While men died in a singularly useless conflict the admiral stalled until the Germans, as he knew they must, tore up the 1940 Armistice agreement and sent troops into unoccupied France to defend its coast against this new Allied threat in North Africa. This happened in the early hours of November 11th, the 24th anniversary of Germany's surrender in 1918.

 Darlan promptly declared that Pétain must now be considered a prisoner. As his deputy he was entitled to endorse the ceasefire in his name, dismissing all attempts by Vichy to question his authority. ‘In fact, if Admiral Darlan had to shoot Marshal Pétain he would no doubt do so in Marshal Pétain's name,’ a delighted Churchill explained to the House of Commons.

Much to de Gaulle’s disgust Darlan's sophistry seemed to pay off. The Allies allowed him to become high commissioner of French North and West Africa and under him Giraud felt he could now agree to the original American proposition that he should become commander of French forces and nothing more. But domestic criticism in both Britain and America, where Darlan had so long been portrayed as an arch collaborator, was fierce and both London and Washington were soon finding him a painful political embarrassment.

 Furthermore he had failed to deliver on two important things. He did not persuade the French troops in Tunisia to block the arrival of a German expeditionary force that ultimately prolonged the North African campaign until May 1943. Nor was the man who regarded himself as the founder of the modern French fleet able to get the warships in Toulon to join the Allies.  Instead, when on November 27th the Germans tried to seize the ships their crews scuttled them.

Less than a month later, on Christmas Eve, he was assassinated in his office by the 20-year-old Bonnier de la Chapelle, a young man with a British gun and royalist connections, who was executed by firing squad within 48 hours. ‘Darlan’s murder,’ admitted Churchill, ‘relieved the Allies of their embarrassment for working with him and left them with all the advantages he had been able to bestow.’

 The admiral never properly recovered consciousness, even less the ability to speak but Vichy Radio evidently thought it wasteful not to provide him some last words. ‘Nothing more can be done for me,’ it reported Darlan as saying. ‘England has attained her goal.’

Colin Smith is the author of England's Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-1942

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