As they rode in bobbing landing crafts toward the coasts of French Morocco and Algeria in 1942, American G.I.s didn’t know what to expect. Would the French soldiers, who guarded the North African ports the Americans wanted to capture, actually fight? They were now under German command, and they’d be ordered to repel the American soldiers who’d soon be swarming up their beaches.
But would they really fight their old ally from the last world war, particularly since the U.S. was fighting to liberate their homeland from German occupation? Hoping that the French wouldn’t resist, the Americans had not bombed the area in preparation of the amphibious assault.
Like everyone else, Robert Wallace, Ensign, USNR, was wondering what the French would do as his landing craft approached the port of Safi in the early morning of November 8, 1942.
In his Post article, “Africa, We Took It and Liked It,” he described the moment when the French and Americans met.
His firsthand report is a lively, colorful recounting of the battle, filled with the sort of detail that history books often miss, like this account of action against a French anti-aircraft battery that had shot down an American bomber. The crew all parachuted to safety but, as he writes, the other Navy pilots were out for revenge.
On the next trip back to Green Beach, I noticed about ten planes circling over the spot where our dive bomber had been shot down. They’d swoop low and then spiral slowly up, daring the antiaircraft gunners to fire. But the Frenchmen weren’t having any. They realize those dive bombers didn’t know just where they were. If they fired on a plane now, the others would be in to plaster them before the smoke of the first shell had cleared away. That ack-ack crew, having proved it could hit something, promptly lost interest in the war. When our jeeps finally located them, the men were calmly playing cards and waiting to surrender.
Featured image: Darby’s Rangers in Northwest Africa, November 1942-March 1943 (U.S. Army Photograph)