On this day in 1942, American Maj. Gen. Mark Clark meets in Algeria with French officials loyal to the Allied cause, as well as Resistance fighters, regarding the launch of Operation Torch, the first Allied amphibious landing of the war.
It was decided as early as Christmas 1941, at the Arcadia Conference in Washington, that an Allied offensive against Rommel and the German army in North Africa would be launched. The details were debated for months, as American government officials objected to an early British operation, nicknamed Gymnast, which was deemed costly and ineffective-and was scrapped. The American chiefs of staff were also anxious to engage the Germans in Europe-not Africa. An ultimatum was even proposed: Unless the British supported an Allied cross-Channel attack, that is, an invasion of France, the United States would turn its attention to the Pacific and maintain only a defensive posture toward Germany. President Roosevelt was unwilling to issue such an ultimatum-and the chiefs of staff were ordered to work out a compromise operation for North Africa.
Operation Torch was that compromise. A secret meeting in Algiers, which was also one of the intended landing targets, was planned by an American diplomat stationed in North Africa. General Clark and members of his staff flew to Gibraltar and were then taken to Algiers via British submarine. Meeting with French army officers and Resistance fighters, Clark laid out the plan for the American landing and opened the discussion for who would be entrusted with leading the French forces. Gen. Charles De Gaulle, so instrumental in the organization of Resistance forces, was ruled out, as he would prove antagonistic to those French soldiers and officers still loyal to Petain and Vichy France, but who might be encouraged to turn on their German masters when supported by a massive Allied operation. It was finally agreed that Gen. Henri Giraud would lead the African French, as he had support in both the Vichy and Free French camps.
The meeting was interrupted at one point by the arrival of French police loyal to the Vichy government. Clark and company had to hide out in a nearby wine cellar. The conference resumed the next day–and plans for bringing the “Torch” of freedom to French North Africa took final shape.