Before the invasion, the Allied war planners were looking for a collaborator — someone possibly within the Vichy government, friendly to the Allies, who could administer North Africa after the battle or even stop the French from resisting Operation Torch entirely. The Allies thought they found the man for the job, General Henri Giraud, but Giraud (to his own surprise as well) was not able to deliver on his promises.

When Giraud fell through, the Americans were forced to look for alternatives, and lucky enough, the French Commander-in-Chief Admiral (Jean) François Darlan had unexpectedly arrived in Algiers just before the invasion. Negotiations took place over four days and on November 11th, Darlan had agreed to an armistice to end the fighting in Morocco and Algeria. This deal was immediately controversial at home, but it did bring the Allies a much needed victory at a time when Germany and the Axis appeared unstoppable.

A black and white portrait of the French admiral Jean Francois Darlan in his dress uniform.

Breaking News

During Operation Torch, Battleship Texas carried a young correspondent with United Press named Walter Cronkite. Today, Cronkite is best known for his work on CBS in the 60s and 70s, but Operation Torch was a pivotal moment in his career. On November 15th, Battleship Texas left the coast of Morocco for Norfolk, Virginia. At first, Cronkite was disappointed and believed he had missed out on bigger stories by not staying in Africa. But Cronkite found a silver lining; he would be the first correspondent to return home, so he would be the first to publish uncensored stories from Operation Torch.

There was one big problem though, USS Massachusetts was also on her way home and carrying a rival reporter, International News Service's John Henry. Massachusetts was much faster and would beat Texas home without a doubt. All hope seemed lost until Cronkite spoke to one of the pilots, Lt. Fredrick Dally. Dally was due to fly off the ship early and on November 26th, Cronkite and Dally were catapulted off Battleship Texas together in a desperate attempt to beat John Henry home.

Cronkite went straight to work and wrote thirteen stories that night, and those stories went out for publication the following morning. This "scoop" proved to be a major boost for his career, but he later found out he owed that success in part to INS's John Henry. Massachusetts had beaten Texas back to the US by a week, but Henry took the week off for Thanksgiving, giving Cronkite the time he needed.

Learning from Operation Torch

The Torch landings were successful, setting the stage for the invasion of Italy in 1943 and liberation of France in 1944. Battleship Texas supported the landings at Port Lyautey and would go on to play key roles on D-Day at Omaha Beach and in more amphibious landings in the Pacific. By 1943 more than a million and a half Americans were serving in uniform around the world. But the war would last two more years, and Torch's controversies did not go away. Torch might be easy to overlook in comparison with D-Day or the Pacific, but it highlighted tensions between Britain, America, and France, about how to fight the war and what the world should be like afterwards. To show these contradictions, the French battleship Richelieu was repaired in the United States after she and her sister ship Jean Bart had been fired upon by British and American ships. Richelieu later joined other Allied ships in the Pacific, helping to drive the Japanese from Indochina but thereby sowing the seeds of the Vietnam War.

A page of The War Illustrated showing a French general marching past American soldiers at attention. The general is conducting an inspection and the American flag is being presented by a color guard.
× A newspaper article showing a portrait of Admiral Jean (François) Darlan in uniform on the right, a map of the Western Mediterranean Sea showing potential attack routes from North Africa to Italy and Southern France in the center, and text on the left and right.

The Deal with Darlan

The "Deal with Darlan", as it came to be known in American and British press, was controversial at the time. Darlan was considered a Fascist by the general public in the US and Britain, due to his role in the Vichy government. The armistice deal had made Darlan the High Commissioner of France in Africa, the political leader of French Africa, a high position for someone who had been cooperating with the Axis until this point.

This article highlights the mixed reception of the armistice that concluded Operation Torch. Securing the cooperation of French North Africa had opened many potential lines of attack against the Axis, particularly Italy, and ended the battle with less bloodshed than a protracted campaign across Morocco and Algeria. But Darlan's participation in the Vichy government and collaboration with the Nazi regime was still difficult for the public to accept.

The controversy surrounding Darlan was cut short the following month. Darlan was assassinated by a French man and former resistance fighter on December 24th, 1942. The assassination was apparently in retaliation for his participation in the Vichy government and failure to overturn many of its policies in North Africa after the armistice. With Darlan gone, Giraud - who had been chosen as Commander-in-Chief after the cease fire on November 11th - succeeded him as the political leader of French Africa.

A transcript of the shown newspaper article follows. Keep in mind that the claims in this article are based on information available in November 1942. Not all reporting at this time was accurate due to wartime secrecy surrounding these events but did reflect some common public views from the time period.

Darlan Hard to Accept Even as War Expedient

By Joseph Reed

NOTWITHSTANDING President Roosevelt's statement that the arrangement between Admiral Jean Darlan and General Dwight Eisenhower was only temporary and predicated upon military expediency, there is still a feeling among the Fighting French and the British that this arrangement should be terminated with all possible speed.

To be sure, the President asserted that no one in the army of the United States now serving in French Africa has "the authority to discuss the future government of France and the French empire." Yet inasmuch as Darlan is allowed to exercise authority over French forces in Africa this power gives him a valuable place in the French colonial administrations. He can use it to Allied advantage or to their disadvantage.

While it is true that Darlan gave the order to cease resistance, he did not order the French fleet at Toulon to move to an Allied-held port in North Africa, although he then had the authority to do so, but he merely "suggested" that the respective commanders take that step. Moreover, Darlan failed to bring Dakar into the Allied camp while he had the power to do so. In all probabilities, Dakar will have to be taken by force. It is too vital to remain in Vichy French hands. Possibly, Darlan was ashamed to reveal the presence of German armed strength there. Until Dakar is invested by Allied troops, there is a danger that Hitler will seize it.

Now that Darlan has been removed completely from the Vichy government and no longer is the heir presumptive of Marshal Petain, he has no status as a French official except that given him by the French colonial administration at the behest of General Eisenhower.

One member of the House of Commons, in discussing the rapprochement with Darlan, quipped:

"The prive (in the North African campaign) was the French fleet, the capitulation of the French armed forces and government of the French in North Africa. We landed not the prize but Darlan."

Who is this Darlan, the now ranking French leader in North Africa?

It will be recalled that at the so-called "Montoire Conference" (Oct. 24, 1940), Hitler extracted from Marshal Petain a promise to pursue a program of collaboration exchange for Hitler's permission to exclude Pierre Laval from the Vichy government. This was a personal victory for Admiral Darlan, who had worked hard Laval's removal. Petain than [sic] made Darlan vice-premier, naval minister, foreign minister and his successor as chief of state. Darlan, therefore, became the top exponent of Nazi collaboration.

WHEN Winston Churchill said the United States occupation of French North Africa exposed "the soft underbelly of the Axis" to attack, it was a conservative and well-judged estimate of Allied gains.

General "Ike" Eisenhower's brilliantly executed coup hands the Allied strategists a wide choice of offensive possibilities. The Axis is vulnerable anywhere from the toe of the Italian boot northward along the north Mediterranean coast to the Spanish border of France.

It is 750 air-line miles from Perpignan to the Straits of Messina. As the coast meanders, it gives Hitler 1,200 miles more to add to the vast defense lines he must man and supply. The "military idiots" he scored in his alibi speech have added the most serious headache yet concocted to the Fuehrer's burgeoning troubles.

That the American offensive bares the most vulnerable Axis flank to attack is attested by the speed with which Hitler junked the French armistice agreement and scurried down to garrison the French Mediterranean coast.

It is unlikely, however, that fortifications begun at this late date can ever match the defensive effectiveness of the emplacements Hitler has been laboriously constructing on the French Atlantic and Norwegian coasts since June, 1940.


Clipping from the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), November 22nd, 1942, page 55.

Thanks for reading!

This exhibit has been produced in cooperation with Professor Jonathan Rayner of the University of Sheffield, UK. Thank you to The University of Sheffield Library Special Collections, National Archives & Records Administration, Naval History & Heritage Command, and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department for providing most of the images for this exhibit.

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