Operation Torch and the Anfa Conference: Morocco at the Heart of the World War II

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On September 1st 1939, one of the deadliest wars in the history of mankind began. This war pitted Axis forces on the one hand against the Allies on the other. Despite its Protectorate status, Morocco was invited to participate in the conflict by opposing the Vichy regime. The Moroccan Goumiers will join the Free French forces under the command of General de Gaulle.

At the height of the domination of the Axis countries, Morocco would host one of the operations that would turn the tide of the war, this being Operation Torch.

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Also known as the “Three Day War”, the operation began on July 24th 1942 when the Allies decided to open a front against Germany in North Africa, de facto under the influence of the Vichy regime. The combined Anglo-American General Staff therefore decided to land simultaneously in Morocco as well as in Algeria. These territories, once liberated, were destined to serve as bases to counterattack the Third Reich in the Mediterranean. As for the Nazi officers, they were convinced of the importance of seizing the Strait of Gibraltar in order to lock it down and land more easily in the Sultanate.

On November 8th 1942, Allied operations began in North Africa. The Americans landed at the ports of Casablanca, Safi, Fedala (Mohammedia) and Mehdia in Morocco, but also in Algiers and Oran. These will displace from Norfolk and Casco Bay the largest naval force launched into the oceans, with five aircraft carriers and more than 102 naval vessels, crossing more than 8000 kilometers on waters infested with German submarines.

American ground forces in Morocco will include 35,000 soldiers on 9 regiments, 41 destroyers, 4 submarines, 8 minesweepers and 23 landing ships for the infantry. The air forces will be composed of fighters F4F Wildcat, bombers SBD Dauntless and torpedo boats TBF-1 Avenger.

To fool the Axis' fleet, the American Navy made it seem like the convoy was heading for Dakar and that the course was going to be returned to Morocco. But when the counter-orders reached the Axis submarines, American soldiers were already on the Moroccan coast.

9,000 men and 65 tanks of American forces landed in Mehdia to occupy the Port-Lyautey air base (Kenitra). This was followed by the landing of 19000 men and 65 tanks in Fedala and 6500 men and 109 tanks in Safi. The 172 planes embarked during the landing provided air support in order to occupy the city of Casablanca from the north and south. Mehdia, Fedala and Safi easily fell in the face of the Allied forces. This was not the case for Casablanca, in which an important battle would rage over three days.

Its port was ruined, with fires abound and shipwreck cemeteries numbering in the thousands. The battle kept raging on and a large death and injured toll was counted both among the Allies and among the soldiers of the General Noguès and Admiral Michelier, leaders of the Vichyste resistance in Morocco.

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Because of the refusal of Noguès and Michelier to surrender, General Patton, commander of Operation Torch, decided to surround the city of Casablanca and ordered the following day a naval and aerial bombardment of the White City. By midnight, all preparations had been completed within the Allied forces. Almost 4 hours later, his intelligence officer told him that the Vichyste resistance was preparing to surrender. Patton refused to cancel the bombing until General Nogues capitulated. The latter therefore ordered an immediate ceasefire.

Casablanca's garrison agreed to confine its troops to their barracks and to surrender their arms. The end of hostilities was welcomed by demonstrations of joy all over the city while throughout the battle, the Americans were designated as enemies by the Vichyists.
67 days after the disembarkment, Casablanca will host the Anfa Conference (code named SYMBOL) where the Allies will come up with a plan of action against Nazi Germany. In addition to rallying Morocco to the Allied camp, this event will be a crucial step towards the independence of the Charifian Kingdom.

This conference will see the participation of the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, by General de Gaulle and the late King Mohammed V. The rally will end with the following agreements:

  • Require the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers
  • Invade Italy from Sicily once the fighting in Tunisia is over
  • Support the Soviet Union more against the Third Reich, especially on the Stalingrad front
  • Support of the Moroccan Goumiers to the Free French forces under the command of General de Gaulle

A message from American President Roosevelt was distributed to the inhabitants of the city of Casablanca, dispelling the hostility of the last Vichyists. Published in Arabic and French, it advocated for the neutrality of the population vis-à-vis the Allied soldiers, the protection of the rights and sovereignty of the Moroccan and French people, and finally, for better days and world peace in collaboration with the United States.

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