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Amid calls for a "second front," the Anglo-Americans landed in North Africa Operation Torch, in early November, 1942. Some say that it was a "sideshow," others say that it was a "cross-ruffing" operation, Eisenhower style, because of the upcoming battle at Stalingrad.

During the month of November, the Germans sent over 100,000 men to North Africa (what we call the Torch force).

A few days after the Torch landings, the Soviets encircled the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad. A few weeks later, a rescue column under General Erich von Manstein attempted to break open a lifeline to Stalingrad, an attempt that failed after initially coming close to succeeding.

I'm not going to ask what would have happened if the "Torch" reinforcements had been sent to Manstein (a counterfactual), but I did want to explore the factual bases of this idea through the following:

1) How did the Torch force compare to the Manstein relief column in size and composition (armor vs. infantry divisions, German vs. non German troops)?

2) If you add the Torch force to the actual Manstein relief force, how would the combined force compared to the Soviet forces facing Manstein?

3) Were there any major obstacles to using the Torch Force in reinforcing Manstein, given that one armored division actually joined Manstein from France? (I'm going to assume that the air force would airlift these troops, taking note of the fact that the transport fleet had been "decimated" or almost halved, in North Africa.)

  • At a minimum, it is well documented that the Allies (US, UK, USSR, China) coordinated their operations at a strategic level. But there were also significant theater level cooperation. If nothing else, Torch and Uranus happening so close together very likely had a psychological effect on the German High Command. – sofa general May 21 at 22:18
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Early reinforcements to Tunisia were a German armored division (10 Panzer) and an Italian (Superga) and infantry. Hitler promised more, and the retirement of Afrika Corps to Tunisia in February would add those forces to the mix, but these aren't relevant to Stalingrad Relief.

So it seems that in theory the Axis might have sent 1 German and 1 Italian armored division to partake in the relief, if they could have carried the forces to the far steppes in time, which is questionable. Certainly these forces would have had trouble with the difference in climate between the Mediterranean and USSR. It doesn't seem like this made a lot of difference here.

Also, historically the moves to Tunisia happened before Stalingrad was attacked. So you can't cast it as a choice. And if you don't send those forces to Tunisia, the Afrika corps is lost by January rather than May 1943.

From Wiki

Things were similarly upsetting for the Axis. Nehring, considered by most to be an excellent commander, had continually infuriated his superiors with his outspoken critiques. They decided to "replace" him by upgrading the command to an army and Colonel-General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim arrived in Tunis unannounced on 8 December to assume command of Fifth Panzer Army. The Army consisted of the composite Infantry Division von Broich/von Manteuffel in the Bizerte area, the 10th Panzer Division in the centre before Tunis, and the Italian Superga Division on the southern flank but Hitler, in an interview prior to von Arnim's departure for Tunis, had told him the army would grow to three mechanised and three motorised divisions.[42] The Allies had made strong efforts to prevent the Axis build up, committing substantial air and sea forces to the task. However, Tunis and Bizerta were only 190 km (120 mi) from the ports and airfields of western Sicily, 290 km (180 mi) from Palermo and 480 km (300 mi) from Naples making it very difficult to intercept Axis transports which had the benefit of substantial air cover.[18] From mid-November through January, 243,000 men and 856,000 tons of supplies and equipment arrived in Tunisia by sea and air.

The Relief Operation By the time the German Relief operation got started, it was essentially a 2 Pz division attack. When the Soviets noticed this concentration, they diverted forces earmarked for a further offensive (Operation Saturn) to the area between Kotelnovko and Stalingrad. The offensive, now dubbed "Little Saturn" jumped off right around the time of this counterattack and destroyed the Italian 8th Army, threatening to cut off the relief forces and the forces in the Caucasus by taking Rostov.

When the Germans met this reinforcement, they were stopped cold and quickly the alarming breakthrough of Little Saturn led to an abandonment of the relief. Even with additional force near Stalingrad, this still would have been the case.

So what about Torch?? Torch doomed the Afrika Korps in Cyrenacia, no matter what the result of El Alamein. That's pretty good. It also enticed the Axis to send at least 250,000 additional forces to Tunisia, all of which were eventually captured in by May. It also gave a secure launching pad for the subsequent invasions of Sicily, Italy, and South France. That's a pretty good haul for one operation. It doesn't need Stalingrad added to it.

  • Well, it could be argued that those forces might have been available as an emergency reserve if they hadn't been previously deployed to Tunisia. I wouldn't want to make that claim personally without looking at available unit deployments at the time, but I could hear it being made. – T.E.D. Nov 19 '14 at 19:24
  • I don't know their exact deployment before Tunisia, but it was in the West and not Russia. Presumably this wasn't the only Pz division not in Russia - there were usually some in France refitting. So unless all of those were redeployed to Stalingrad and got there in time to be relevant - within about 30 days - then Torch didn't make a difference as the 1 Pz division it used could be replaced by a different one. – Oldcat Nov 19 '14 at 19:48
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The influence of Torch on the Cyrenaic battle is questionnable, as the Allied Torch forces were getting in contact with Axis force in East Algeria and Tunisia in a low fashion. I mean, because of logistic issues (mainly difficult roads and difficulty to get airstrips usable under the rain), the Allied sent piece by piece their forces from the landing beaches to the French forces in East Algeria in order to help them fighting the German and Italian forces: a few British/US guns, a few British tanks, American infantry, some air raids executed by heavy bombers...

Thus, the Cyrenaic pursuit and the battle of the Mareth line played a great role, strategically speaking, in leading the Kasserine battle to a draw, despite some German tactical victories won by Afrika Korps forces, reinforced by Tigre tanks (for the most renowned parts) from Europe.

Considering Stalingrad now: Notably, on a tactical point of view, some Tiger tanks could have been had to the force. They would probably not have made the difference because of multiples mechanical failures in the winter, but certainly they would have been remembered in testimonies.

A credible add to Manstein's relief force, if a political decision have abandonned the Afrika Korps, would have been air force: Airplanes from Luftwaffe and maybe Regia Aeronautica would have been able to flight fast from South Europe to Russia, and be in operation with the local oil and ammunition stocks (maybe with adding Junkers 52 logistics).

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