Operation Torch: U.S. forces land in North Africa

American troops manning their landing craft assault from a doorway in the side of the liner REINA DEL PACIFICO. Two of the landing craft are numbered LCA 428 and LCA 447.

American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation ‘Torch’, November 1942.

On 8th November 1942 the first U.S. troops entered hostilities in North Africa with the invasion of French Morocco and Algeria. These were French colonies that remained loyal to the French Vichy regime, which had reached an accommodation with the Nazis. It was hoped that this loyalty could be overcome and that there would be sufficient French officers who would not wish to fight the United States. British forces took a less prominent part in the operation, partly in a move to avoid antagonising French sensibilities following the sinking of the French Fleet at Oran in July 1940..

In the event the operation did encounter some significant French opposition but the resistance was quickly overcome. The Allies now had a position in the rear of Rommel’s forces in Libya which were currently falling back from El Alamein.

Lieutenant Freer Roger was with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and was expecting to take part in the landings:


Before dawn we lay off Algiers, the convoy having turned hard a starboard during the night. We could see the twinkling lights of the city straight ahead. Even as the first ALCS left for the shore we heard President Roosevelt’s speech to the French nation. 

As dawn came up we were close in-shore about four miles west of Algiers, and the first troops were ashore, having met with little or no opposition, except a Commando who had landed off a destroyer in Algiers harbour itself and had been fired upon. However, within a very few hours all resistance had ceased and we heard that Admiral Darlan had been captured by the Americans. 

Within six hours our Spitfires were fying from Maison Blanche aerodrome and that evening, when a flight of 15 Ju 88s came over, ten of them were shot down, with no loss to ourselves. 

Meanwhile, 36 Bde. were floating reserve, and that evening our ship docked at Algiers to unload other units who were going ashore. It was an impressive night watching our MT ships unloading. One American ship was unloading ‘Jeeps’ at the rate of one every 37 secs., and were being driven away by their drivers at top speed. 

That evening the Jerries came over again but were met with such a hail of AA that they veered off and dropped their bombs in the sea. We remained at Algiers all the next day without going ashore, and that evening put to sea again. 

This account features in The Words of War: British Forces’ Personal Letters and Diaries During the Second World War, a collection of memoirs from the Imperial War Museum’s archives.

American troops land on the beaches at Surcouf, twenty miles east of Algiers. Operation Torch signalled the American entry into the Mediterranean War.

Troops making their way inland off the beach after landing at Algiers.

The landing at Oran met with particularly stiff resistance as General Eisenhowers’s report makes clear:

Although our ground forces made land safely, our assault on ORAN harbor came to grief. Before dawn, two former United States cutters, now H.M.S. Walney and Hartland, which were flying both the British and United States ensigns and were carrying two companies of American Rangers and special anti-sabotage parties, headed into ORAN harbor.

They were escorted by Motor Launches 480 and 483, and their mission was to prevent blocking of the port and destruction of harbor facilities. Outside the entrance, the little force waited until an announcement in French was made by loudspeaker from the Walney, and then, with Walney in the lead, and with minelayers laying down a smokescreen, they broke the booms and dashed into the harbor. Here they came under an overwhelming fire from shore batteries and from French warcraft.

The companies of Walney and Hartland behaved with extraordinary courage and perseverance, and the two ships reached their objectives, but they were set ablaze and were disabled. Most of both the crews and the troops were casualties, the two Captains had to abandon ship, and the survivors were made prisoners by the French.

From Eisenhower’s report see Commander in Chief Allied Forces report on Operations

The former USCG cutter Sebago that was transferred to the Royal Navy in 1941 and became HMS Walney.
81 of her crew plus a number of US Rangers on board were killed when she received point blank fire from the French shore batteries and ships at Oran.

It was here that the commander of HMS Walney Captain Frederick “Fritz” Peters, a Canadian serving in the Royal Navy, won both the Victoria Cross and the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross. He was the only survivor of a direct hit on the bridge of the Walney which killed the ten men standing beside him and blinded him in one eye. The citation for the DSC states:

Captain Peters distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy during the attack on that post.

He remained on the bridge in command of his ship in spite of the fact that the protective armor thereon had been blown away by enemy shell fire and was thereby exposed personally to the withering cross fire from shore defenses.

He accomplished the berthing of his ship, then went to the forward deck and assisted by one officer secured the forward mooring lines. He then with utter disregard of his own personal safety went to the quarter-deck and assisted in securing the aft mooring lines so that the troops on board could disembark. At that time the engine room was in flames and very shortly thereafter exploded and the ship turned on its side and sank.

Captain Peters, who was 53 at the time of the action, survived to be taken prisoner by the French. After he was liberated he was flown back to Britain but died when the plane he was travelling on crashed in thick fog as attempted to land at Plymouth on 13 November 1942.

Men of the Royal Air Force Regiment marching inland from the Operation TORCH landing area on the coast of Algeria, to take possession of Maison Blanche airfield.

Operation TORCH: Squadron Leader R “Raz” Berry (third from left), the Commanding Officer of No. 81 Squadron RAF, with some of his pilots at Maison Blanche, Algeria, after flying in from Gibraltar to commence operations on the first day of the invasion.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

nettie daubert June 7, 2019 at 8:08 pm

My father landed on the beaches , on Nov 8, 1942….he was involved in Operation Torch, He was in Sicily on July 10, 1942…..Sept 3, 1942 he was in Italy, he was in the 3rd Army, was a tank commander, his name was Bruce E Nichols…..he was a good man, but suffered from many demons resulting from war…never hit his wife or his kids……loved animals…did not drink ….

Karen Fogarty December 31, 2018 at 5:16 pm

My father, Norman H. Boike was on the H.M.S. Hartland. He was one of six Marines, Operation Reservist. The best account of what happened, according to Dad is in Rick Atkinson’s book “An Army at Dawn”. I want to make clear that Capt. Peters did not obey the orders he was given. If the element of surprise was lost he was to go back out to sea. He missed the boom and instead of following his orders, he made a hundred and 80 degree turn and went back into the harbor–it was mass suicide. My Dad relived that experience for the rest of his life and he was full of anger. 350-400 men killed in a horrid way because of Capt. Peters

Brenda November 7, 2018 at 8:54 pm

I am trying to find the Pathe News footage that showed the POW’s taken by the French.
My father’s cousin saw it at the pictures in Stretford and was able to tell the family that my father, Frederick Feather, survived when his ship, HMS Hartland had been torpedoed whilst leading the assault on Oran.
Thanks for reading this.

Virjean Beach October 28, 2018 at 2:01 am

My father was a map make for General Patton’s division from 1941 to 1945 He was in Oran N. in December of 1942. Let us never forget

David Spencer March 26, 2018 at 12:40 am

My wife’s brother, Theone Lorenzo Poulsen, a US Naval seaman was KIA during the allied invasion at Oran, Algeria on November 8, 1942. The circumstances of his death are not know to his family, only that he was MIA and presumed KIA. His body was never recovered. I am trying verify if he was one of the US Navy sailors attached to the HMS Walney or the HMS Hartland. Does any know where I can find a list of either ships company including the US sailors?

Glen James September 18, 2017 at 11:16 pm

My Dad was assigned with the US by the Royal Artillery. He landed with 30 of the 50th Battery of the 17th Light Anti-Aircraft along with the Commandos on I believe Beer Beach, Algiers, the eastern assault. He was attached to US Infantry under General Ryder from what I can work out the 34th, Iowa and Minnesota boys. He went from Algiers to Tunis to Naples to Po Valley and finally an MP in Austria in 1946. According to his diary his Bofors 40mm shot down its first Junkets 88 at Maison Blanche, about November 10 1942. Been trying to find out more of the US troops he was with, especially as I am American myself.

David Scruton December 27, 2016 at 4:21 pm

My father was a survivor of H.M.S walney. I would like to know more about the official naval report

Frank Quick August 9, 2016 at 2:52 am

My father, Carl M. Quick, was a pfc in the 3rd battalion 6th armored infantry and was on the Walney at Oran. He received the Purple Heart for losing his left arm and other wounds received. My family never knew how my dad was wounded until late in his life when he would reluctantly answer direct questions . He did not want to talk about what had happened. I wonder how he survived . He died at the age of 83.

Brenda Moorhouse March 30, 2016 at 9:13 pm

My Dad, Frederick Feather, was, I think, Chief Telegraphist at the time, on HMS Hartland, at the time of Operation Torch.
He said that the ship was a lease-lend from USA .. I know that it went into Liverpool Docks to be armour plated before his mission.
I know that there is Pathe film somewhere of him amongst POW’s after the landing and I am trying to find this and would appreciate any link that could be sent to me because his family heard that he was missing and the Pathe News showed him alive .. drinking tea!

Ron Amonds October 13, 2015 at 3:35 am

My Dad, Charles Amonds, was in the 1st Rangers landing in Oran in November 1942. He was wounded five times made it through the Kasserine Pass battle and on into March of 1943 when General Patton took command. He was wounded the last time in April during the battle of El Guettar when he was struck by a massive German 88 explosion. He was transported to Walter Reid hospital where he recovered. He received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, the CIB and a special award from the government of Egypt, the Arrowhead exclusively for the Rangers. He was permanently disabled but worked all his remaining life, my hero!

ALAN JACKSON August 7, 2015 at 5:17 pm

my father was a 1st class stoker on the hms walney and was killed when the engine room exploded after being on fire I was only 2 years of age so i did not know him we have pictures of my father in his naval gear can anyone tell me what happen to the ship after war was it taken out of oran harbour I do not think my fathers body was ever recovered he name is on the wall in chatham kent

Maria May 29, 2015 at 10:19 pm

I had my uncle’s Donato Lopez Jr., Purple Heart MIA awarded to his father, Donato Lopez Sr. My grandfather died in 1962 and left me the Purple Heart plaque; unfortunately I had a house fire in 1984 and it burned up. Is there any information you can help me with to try to replace the plaque? My uncle’s gravestone states his dob as Aug 1922 in Texas, date of death Nov 8, 1942, Much appreciate whatever you can do, thank you.

Gary white March 9, 2015 at 8:34 pm

My great uncle, Kenneth Brighton was a signalman in the Royal Navy on the bridge of HMS Walney and was killed when the shell hit the bridge leaving only one survivor. After reading articles about the Walney and the Hartland they all deserved medals!!

Douglas Smith October 21, 2014 at 5:18 pm

My father Alfred Thomas Smith a RN Petty Officer, was aboard the HMS Walney when it hit the boom and luckily he was one of the survivors. He was hit by shrapnel in his
back and eye and swam accross Oran Harbour where was captured by Vichy French who removed his eye. He was repatriated by the 7th Calvary and never spoke about
the event although he had nightmares for many years. My parents were presented with a picture of the event drawn by a News of the World artist and is a prized possession of the family.

hariette petersen June 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm

My dad. Paul Hedges, was a man who went back into a burning ship off the coast of Africa to rescue fallen comrades during Operation Torch in World War II. In that crossfire battle, Daddy’s ship of 1200 men came out of the battle with only about 126 survivors. He was one of the POW’s there. He and a handful of men shared a tiny dirt floor cell with a latrine running down the middle of it. They were tossed dogmeat and worm-ladened mush to eat. Daddy and those with him were strong, resilient men. I got to meet one of those men with Daddy when I took him to his house in Indiana in the early 1990’s. It was the first time they saw one another in 50 years. While stationed in Algiers after the war, my dad met the woman who would become my mother.

J Lakewood March 30, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I have a cutting from a london newspaper reporting the death of Acting Able- Seaman Raymond C J Oliver on July 19 1943. He died from shrapnel wounds received while serving in HMS Hartland during the North African landings at Oran. The cutting states that with MMS Walney she rammed the boom at Oran harbour.

David Eaton February 23, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Some years ago I was asked by a friend to research his father’s war record in the RN. He never said anything about his experiences apart from saying that he had seen a lot of dead bodies floating in the water. According to his release papers an 8th Nov 1942 he was a gunner on motor launch ML483 mentioned above which escorted HMS’s Walney and Hartland into Oran. Both ships were sunk with a very heavy loss of life.( I believe in the region of 200 plus) The motor launches afterwards had the job of collecting the bodies from the sea. This is obviously what he was referring to.

peter cannings February 12, 2014 at 9:49 pm

my cousin was raf commando w/op during the opperation torch on the 9th of november,at masion blanch after landing the hurricanes from gibralta and after presumably fueling and arming, later that day 20 or so ju88 were about to bomb around algiers and the hurricanes were scrambled and he mentiones a ginger haired flt commander who was beaten to his aircraft by another pilot and threatening what he would do to them on returning from the battle was proberly forgotten when all 18 ju88s had been destroyed either by them or bofors gun .who was the said commander does anyone know ?and were there 18/20 ju88 downed that day ? ny cousin landed at oran with british commandos and american rangers after sailing from scotland onhe was inno 2 field force in the ship MARON

Tom K November 10, 2013 at 5:10 am

Agree. Little has changed.

Richard Melloh November 8, 2013 at 1:10 pm

If one looks up, Surcouf, Agiers, on Wikapedia, one can see a more current picture taken from almost the exact same place as that in the first landing scene above.

Little has changed.

dolores gorman July 7, 2013 at 2:06 pm

I would like to know more info about the landing at Oran up to Tunesia under General Clark My father was w/103rd AAA guarding the airport against aircraft. Please help direct me to info specific to this landing. Thank you.

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