Question: Why did the allies invade Vichy French North Africa?

Operation Torch was the name of the Anglo American Invasion of French North Africa. Both of the American most senior commanders General George Marshal and Admiral Ernest King declined to approve the plan. They believed it was an irrelevant act which would consume resources and not aid in the defeat of the Nazi's. A dangerous waste of men and material. The pro-German Vichy French who controlled the territory were former allies, themselves and were expected not to fight. The United States expected them not to fight in any case issuing orders to their troops, not to fire on the Vichy French unless fired upon. President Roosevelt ordered the invasion to go forward at the earliest opportunity, giving it precedence over a direct channel invasion of Europe. It was 1 of only 2 direct orders FDR made to his senior Commanders in WWII.

Operation Torch
Senior US commanders remained strongly opposed to the landings and after the western Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) met in Washington on 30 July, General George Marshall and Admiral Ernest King declined to approve the plan. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a direct order that Torch was to have precedence over other operations and was to take place at the earliest possible date, one of only two direct orders he gave to military commanders during the war.

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    Perhaps De Gaulle and the hundreds of thousands of French living there at the time had something to do with it? As might the desire to have a foothold to protect Malta? Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 19:51
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    De Gaulle was the leader of the Free French Government in London during Operation Torch where he had escaped to June 1940 he only moved to Algeria, after Operation Torch was successful. May 30 1943 General Charles de Gaulle arrived in Algeria to become, with Henri Giraud, co-Presidents of the French Committee of National Liberation (FCNL) but soon used his superior political skills to become sole leader of the organization. About a 6 months after Operation Torch had concluded.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 20:08
  • @TomasBy A second Front for Stalin, Only Marshal and King's objections to Operation Torch was that it would delay a European Landing. FDR approved Torch in July of 1942, Marshal was arguing for a European landing in 1942 or early 43 at it's latest. Clearly Allies invasion of North Africa took little if any resources from the Eastern Front, and even if they did; A European western front would have accomplished much more, if that were the primary goal.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 20:16
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    IIRC, FDR needed an American military victory, not least for domestic political reasons since 1942 was an election year, and Torch was the only realistic option. In the event, the Democrat majority was slashed & (IIRC again) the President's secretary accused Marshal of almost losing them control of Congress by delaying the invasion. I think there are some details in Marshall's interviews after the war. I'll try to expand this into an answer later if I can. Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 22:00
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    Stalin expressed approval of the African and Mediterranean operations. Torch was the precursor to Sicily and Italy. The German capitulation in Africa lost the Germans approaching as many competent and battle hardened troops as did Stalingrad. | The invasion of the European mainland in 1942 would have been an utter debacle for the Allies. At that stage the US conception of what was involved was severely lacking. Africa provided a very good grounding for the later US competence in Europe. Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 10:01

5 Answers 5


There were a number of factors that led to the Allied invasions in North Africa in November 1942. Most of these factors were military, but the political element also cannot be ignored. 1942 was an election year in the United States.

In the event, for a variety of reasons, the invasion had to be delayed until after the 1942 Congressional elections. To his credit, Roosevelt did not attempt to overrule Marshal's military decision, but Stephen Early, the president's press secretary, is reported to have said to General George C. Marshall

"You almost lost us control of Congress by the delay!"

Once the overall strategy of Europe First had been decided, the options for offensive actions by the Allies against German and Italian forces were limited.

It is worth remembering in this context, that seven strategic objectives had been agreed at the U.S.–British Staff Conference (also known as ABC-1) which had ended in March 1941:

  1. To maintain an economic blockade of the Axis by sea, land, air, and by commodity control through diplomatic and financial means.
  2. To conduct a sustained air offensive to destroy Axis military power.
  3. To effect "early elimination" of Italy as an Axis partner (of which much more, of a less harmonious nature, would be heard in 1943).
  4. To conduct raids and minor offensives.
  5. To support neutrals and underground groups in resisting the Axis.
  6. To build up the necessary forces for the eventual offensive against Germany.
  7. To capture positions from which to launch that offensive.

Despite pressure from some American commanders, there was no realistic prospect of a large-scale cross-Channel invasion taking place in 1942. Operation Jubilee (the reconnaissance-in-force attack on Dieppe by a predominantly Canadian force in August 1942) would highlight many of the problems that would have to be overcome to achieve a successful invasion.

On the other hand, the victory of the British Eighth Army at the Second Battle of El Alamein created the opportunity to trap German and Italian forces in North Africa in a pincer movement, by invading Vichy-controlled French North Africa (the operation was initially code-named 'GYMNAST', and later rechristened 'TORCH').

Roosevelt had also promised Stalin a second front by the end of the year in order to help relieve pressure on the Eastern Front. Operation Gymnast/Torch was the only realistic option to make good on that promise.

Under the circumstances, Roosevelt faced the choice of either abandoning the Europe First strategy, and reneging on his promise to Stalin, or going ahead with Operation Torch.

In addition to the military challenges and other international factors described above, Roosevelt also faced domestic political considerations. As mentioned earlier, 1942 was an election year. On 17 April 1942, George B. Wolf had written to the President and observed that:

"... in a recent Sunday evening broadcast, Pearson and Allen quoted Jim Farley to the effect that the Democrats could lose control of Congress at the coming election, barring a military victory by the United States or the United Nations"

In fact, this was a very real possibility, and could not but have been a factor in Roosevelt's decisions. Roosevelt needed a military victory to bolster morale and ease concerns about his handling of the war. However, when interviewed in 1956, General George C, Marshall summarised events in the following terms:

In defending the president on the 1942 political thing, I can say that when I went to him with TORCH, he put up his hands (General Marshall elevated his hands in an attitude of prayer) and said, "Please make it before Election Day." However, when I found we had to have more time and put it after election, he never said a word about it. Steve Early, who was told only an hour before the attack, blew up about it because it wasn't before election. We just couldn't do it before election. The president was very courageous about that. I said so in my report.

In the event, the Democrats managed to hold onto both houses of Congress in the 1942 elections, although they lost 45 seats in the House of Representatives and 8 seats in the Senate. As mentioned above, Stephen Early, the president's press secretary, was less than impressed by the fact that Operation Torch took place too late to influence the vote.

A 2017 article titled Operation Torch at 75: FDR and the Domestic Politics of the North African Invasion, by Carrie A Lee, then an assistant professor at the U.S. Air War College, offers further detail and sources about the political aspects that underlay Roosevelt's decision to go ahead with Operation Torch. Her summary assessment was that:

"... domestic political priorities shaped — in fact, drove — the American president’s decision-making about military operations in 1942."

While many might argue about whether domestic political priorities actually drove Roosevelt's decision-making, I think it is certain that the importance of those priorities should absolutely not be underestimated.

  • "On the other hand, the victory of the British Eighth Army at the Second Battle of El Alamein created the opportunity to trap German and Italian forces in North Africa in a pincer movement." - weren't they themselves trapped in Egypt until that movement? Why do I have a vague recollection of the actual reason being 'to go save the British'?
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 4:07
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    @Mazura Given the geographic reach of the British Empire in 1942, the Eighth Army were hardly "trapped in Egypt". As to why you have that recollection, I have no idea. For what it's worth, the Wikipedia article on the Western Desert Campaign gives a reasonably detailed overview of events in North Africa up to the Second Battle of El Alamein. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 4:21
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    @Mazura - Brits were not trapped, they defeated Italian forces in Abyssinia before that. Indian Ocean was in British control, including India, South Africa and Australia. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 15:57
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    @Mazura I would like to reinforce sempaiscuba good answer to your comment: after the two (better to say three) El Alamein's battles, the AK started a retreat and this was before Torch's landings Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 17:40
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    Nice answer. A number of lessons needed to be learned about things like "combat loading" for an ambhibious operations. (What has to come off first needed to be loaded last). Center for Army Lessons Learned has stacks of info on that element of the Torch operation. Not sure if you want to mention Guadalcanal in this answer, as it highlighted a few other Operational "things we need to do better" in August of 1942. Might be beyond the scope of this fine answer. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 21:56

I just wanted to add an angle which I didn't see included in sempaiscuba's answer which I voted for and accepted. Sempaiscuba went into the US domestic political motives which contributed to FDR's desire for American forces to see action in the European theater in 1942. But why North Africa on the Nazi's periphery, why not a cross channel invasion as FDR's military advisers were unanimously recommending. As FDR and Churchill had promised Stalin, A second front in Europe in 1942.

Second Front
At Teheran, Joseph Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of a previous promise of landing troops in Western Europe in 1942.

Short Answer:
It was Churchill with unanimous support from the British general staff which refused to support a cross channel invasion in 1942 favored by the US Military. Churchill had been lord of the Admiralty during the disastrous Gallipoli landing which gave him a hyper appreciation for the risks of large scale amphibious landings. One of the primary risks which Churchill and the British General staff were concerned about was the untested American Army. Churchill lobbied for smaller peripheral operations as a way to give the US army experience before he would commit British forces to support a cross channel invasion.

Detailed Answer
All of FDR's joint chiefs of staff, his secretary of defense and his Army and Navy Top Commanders Marshal and King disagreed with Churchill on operation Torch.

General Marshal went so far as to suggest to Roosevelt that the U.S. abandon the Germany-first strategy and take the offensive in the Pacific. Roosevelt "disapproved" the proposal saying it would do nothing to help Russia.

Admiral King and Admiral Leahy the Chief of US Navy Operations and the Chief of Staff to the Commander and Chief respectively, both strongly favored the Europe First strategy "but so long as "it was doubtful when—if ever—the British would consent to a cross-Channel operation they disliked sending to the United Kingdom american men and materiel which were desperately needed in the war with Japan."

George C. Marshall: Organizer of Victory 1943–1945. p. 305. by Forrest C. Pogue (1973)
At the Casablanca Conference, King was accused by Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke of favoring the Pacific war, and the argument became heated. The combative General Joseph Stilwell wrote: "Brooke got nasty, and King got good and sore. King almost climbed over the table at Brooke. God, he was mad. I wished he had socked him."


Rethinking Roosevelt as Commander and Chief
In “The Mantle of Command,” Hamilton details how Roosevelt overruled the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall when they strongly advocated an invasion across the English Channel in 1942 to open up a Second Front.

The US Military was frustrated that all the logistics and troops being prioritized to Europe were being stock piled and were not being used.

The primary opponents to opening up a front in Europe in 1942 was Churchill and his military advisers who convinced FDR to postpone a cross channel landing. Churchill argued for operation Torch a landing in French North West Africa where the Americans could expect little to no opposition. The French soldiers were former allies, and the French generals in charge of those soldiers were eventually negotiated with to cease their opposition after relatively few casualties for an invasion of similar magnitude.. ( about 500 American's died. )

OPERATION TORCH AT 75: FDR AND THE DOMESTIC POLITICS OF THE NORTH AFRICAN INVASION Even as late as June 1942, the decision to land in North Africa was anything but assured. It was one of several potential operations being debated by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, and Roosevelt did not even approve the landings until the end of July. U.S. military planners were almost universally against the North Africa landings, feeling the United States was being drawn into a peripheral war to protect British colonial interests. Instead, they favored the logistically intensive cross-channel invasion plan known as Roundup because it took a direct approach and would be able to draw additional German units away from the Eastern Front. However, Churchill and the British chiefs of staff were unanimous in their refusal to support a cross-channel invasion until American troops had been battle-tested. Despite the apparent impasse, Roosevelt remained adamant that an offensive action occur in 1942, going so far as to promise Soviet leader Joseph Stalin a second front before the new year.

The first time the United States army did come into direct contact with the Nazi's would be Feb of 1943, 4 months after Torch, Kasserine Pass: America's Most Humiliating Defeat of World War II where the US would be routed, inspiring Eisenhower to begin to make changes in leadership, organizational components, and tactics.

As for the FDR's Political Problem

George C. Marshall and the “Europe-First” Strategy, 1939–1951:
Stimson warned Churchill in the summer of 1943 that “only by an intellectual effort” had the American people “been convinced that Germany was their most dangerous enemy and should be disposed of before Japan”; the enemy they “really hated, if they hated anyone,” was the one that had “dealt them a foul blow” at Pearl Harbor.17 Throughout the war, Marshall as well as Roosevelt remained aware of this, and with it the fact that public patience was not limitless: victory over Germany had to come quickly or public pressure, supported by the Navy as well as MacArthur, might force a dramatic shift in U.S. global strategy

FDR did have a political motivation to see American troops involved in 1942, but it wasn't solely the elections of 1942. Every other year is an election year in the United States and FDR had a 60% majority in Congress and a 71% majority in the senate. Even with Operation Torch occurring Nov 8th and election day occurring Nov 3, 1942 the democrats retained a 20 seat majority in the senate, and a narrow majority in congress.

After pearl Harbor the First War Powers act of 1941(Dec 1941) and Second War Powers act(March of 1942) gave the President sweeping authority to conduct the war as he deemed fit. The President's new war powers came at Congress's expense and were legislatively mandated to stay in effect until six months after the war had concluded. Congress's major legislation in 1943-1944 are almost laughable considering the US was a country at war spending hundreds of billions of dollars and dramatically changing all aspect of the citizens lives. Congresses role in this period was largely restricted to planning for soldiers leaving the service.

  • 12/17/1943 Chinese Exclusion Repeal act, Congress agreed to allow immigration from China.
  • 2/3/1944 The Mustering out Payment Act,
  • 6/6/1944 The Serviceman readjustment Act
  • 6/27/1944 The Veterans Preference Act
  • 7/1/1944 Public Health Service Act
  • 12/22/1944 The Flood Containment Act

FDR's political problem was that millions of Americans had volunteered for military service, the US had retooled the entire economy to put it on a war footing, Americans were facing rationing of food, consumer goods, and transportation. A significant portion of that material and most of the men coming out of training was going to Britain. Politically that looked terrible if they weren't to be used. FDR's political problem was thus one of public relations rather than domestic politics alone.

FDR's need to show military progress in 1942, was somewhat satisfied by action in the Pacific War.

  • Doolittle's raid on Tokyo April 1942,
  • Japan's defeat at Coral Sea May of 1942,
  • most especially the Battle of Midway in June 1942, called turning point in the Pacific War,

These events especially Midway, freed up Roosevelt's hand to agree to the UK's insistence on Operation Torch in July of 1942.

There is no doubt Stalin preferred the 1942 cross channel European front he had been promised. Stalin wrote Churchill a letter August 13, 1942 after being briefed on Operation Torch attesting to his preference.

In Retrospect the United States did reevaluate it's Europe first strategy. Today we know that in !942, until dec 1943 the United States sent more men and equipment to the Pacific. It was not until early 1944 when preparation for the Normandy landings, that American forces in Europe surpassed those in the Pacific. And even in 1944 the policy of fighting Germany first was absent as the US pursued major offensives in the Pacific like the Philippines which committed 1 million US forces just 4 months after D-Day. see:

It is true that the US was asked to maintain 3 divisions in Australia in early 1942 at the request of Winston Churchill. However the United States had 95 Divisions in WWII almost all active by the end of 1942. The Three divisions protecting Australia does not explain why the United States had more troops deployed to the Pacific until Dec 1943. And European troops did not exceed Pacific troops until early 1944. At best this troop and logistical deployments demonstrate that the US turned away from Europe first in 1942 and pursued a relatively balanced two front strategy. Just as the US General Staff and Presidential Advisors had told the British they would in leading up to Operation Torch.

US Military Manpower by year 1789-1997

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    @sempaiscuba hope you don't mind me playing devil's advocate a bit. The US alone had the resources to land 107,000 troops in north Africa with British Naval support. Operation Torch Nov 1942, But Canada the UK and the US didn't have the the logistics to land 156,000 troops which participated on D-Day? And remember 3 of the 8 divisions who participated in D-Day were airborne / paratroopers. Not in 42 maybe? perhaps? but claiming not even in 43?
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 20:54
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    @sempaiscuba I think Churchill and the British general staff, made a convincing case against it to Roosevelt, and logistics was just more PC than saying the British were afraid to face the Germans again if they had to rely on untested troops to succeed. Remember the french prior to the beginning of the war were thought to have an even stronger army than the Brits and when they collapsed the Brits were left with no alternative than to retreat. The US with nowhere near the Reputation of the French militarily would have been an existential risk for the British army.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 21:01
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    @JMS It does not support a lack of logistics for a cross channel front. In 1942? Not true. You're just looking at first-wave size, not the followup flow of men and equipment. "By the end of 11 June (D + 5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies. By 30 June (D+24) over 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies. By 4 July one million men had been landed." Those masses of troops and their equipment and supplies simply didn't exist in 1942. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 22:23
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    (cont) For an example of the massive growth in the US arsenal from 1942 until 1944, look at the number of aircraft in just the US Army Air Force: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… At the end of 1942 the US Army Air Force had a total of 1,857 transport aircraft. At the end if 1944? 10,456. The growth in other equipment totals were similar, and nevermind the better quality of the much-more numerous newer equipment: P-51s over P-40s, M4 tanks replaced M3s, etc. The massive forces and logistics behind Overlord simply did not exist in 1942 or even 1943. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 22:32
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    (cont) Per Wikipedia, the invasion fleet for Torch consisted of "350 warships 500 transports". For Overlord: "The invasion fleet, which was drawn from eight different navies, comprised 6,939 vessels: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft of various types, 736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels." Overlord was an order of magnitude more massive than Torch. The depth of the logistics behind Overlord didn't exist before 1944. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 22:42

Contrary to the general statements that the invasion of Africa was of no benefit to Russia - Stalin personally expressed approval of the African and Mediterranean operations. Without the African invasion Italy would have not needed to retain the number of divisions it did - and Field Marshall Kesselring's very capable services could have been used to advantage elsewhere. ['Smiling Albert' served in a major role, usually with reasonable distinction, in more theatres than almost any other major German leader].

Torch was the precursor to Sicily and Italy.
The German capitulation in Africa lost the Germans a large number of competent and battle hardened troops. (As well as losses during battle, about 150,000 German and 100,000 Italian troops surrendered after operation torch and over 100,000 French forces who had not already been "captured" subsequently joined the Allied war effort).

The invasion of the European mainland in 1942 would have been an utter debacle for the Allies. At that stage the US conception of what was involved was severely lacking. Africa provided a very good grounding for the later US competence in Europe.
To quote Wikipedia

  • In the west, the forces of the First Army came under attack at the end of January, being forced back from the Faïd Pass and then suffering a reversal at Sidi Bou Zid on 14–15 February. Axis forces pushed on to Sbeitla and then to the Kasserine Pass on 19 February, where the U.S. II Corps retreated in disarray until heavy Allied reinforcements halted the Axis advance on 22 February. Fredendall was replaced by George Patton.

After that .... :-)

The comments on "what Stalin thought" brought to mind this 'analysis' written immediately after the 1942 Moscow conference.

While jocularly put (in the extreme :-) ) this poem of Wavell's summarises the conclusion of what was concluded at the 1942 Stalin-Churchill conference in Moscow. Written by Wavell in a bomber (used as a transport aircraft) on the return flight. From here

enter image description here

  • We know exactly what Stalin wanted with regards to a second front because he wrote a letter to Winston Churchill Aug 13, 1942 after being briefed on Torch Aug 12th. Stalin complaining about the lack of a second front in "Europe" and reminding Churchill that the second front in "Europe" was already a previously negotiated and agreed to milestone for 1942, Torch meant there would be no second front in Europe for two more years.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 16:39
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    @JMS See added poem re Stalin's thoughts :-) Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 22:40
  • @RussellMcMohon Great Poem. History jumps off the written page when reading such artifacts. I also liked the stories; (1) that Admiral King almost climbed over a table to strangle Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke. (2) Marshal and FDR discussing reprioritizing the Pacific and European theatres due to Churchill's refusal to consider a second front in 42. (3)April of 1942, Harry Hopkins also told the UK that if US Public opinion had anything to do with it the U.S. war effort would be directed instead against Japan if an invasion of mainland Europe was not mounted soon.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 21:38
  • There were a lot of challenges in that WWII alliance.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 21:38
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    @JMS re challenges -> Indeed !!!. Bad enough between Churchill and Roosevelt, and even more so in the triple-alliance with Uncle Joe. || Do you realise that if Harry Hopkins had died Roosevelt would have been president? | :-) - BUT what a role to have, and what power and trust placed in an unelected & informally appointed power broker. One could say the same of Molotov, I guess. But Harry never managed the fame of having an eg "Hopkins Cocktail" named after him. Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 10:34

Roosevelt's Political Imperative
Roosevelt was of the view that US public opinion required immediate successful military activity by US forces before the end of 1942. As others have stated, an election was to be held late in that year, which must have been a factor, but in general ensuring continued public support for the war effort was always an important consideration for the US leadership. The joint decision by the United States and Britain to pursue a 'Germany First' strategy precluded an offensive in the Pacific in Roosevelt's eyes, as he believed this would upset the agreed Allied strategy and run the risk of damaging or wrecking the coalition. Similarly his "promise" to Stalin that a Second Front in Europe would be opened up in 1942 to take pressure off the Soviet defense was also something Roosevelt did not wish to back away from.

Strategic Considerations
With the preferred option of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff of a Pacific offensive off the table, US military leaders were faced with choosing between the only two realistic options available to them in Europe:

  • The 1942 cross-Channel invasion of France code-named SLEDGEHAMMER.
  • The 1942 invasion of French North Africa code-named GYMNAST.

The SLEDGEHAMMER cross-Channel invasion of France was overwhelmingly supported by US military commanders, who felt that GYMNAST was a strategically pointless operation which was motivated by British imperial interests and which would result in a dispersal of effort and most likely cause the 1943 invasion of France, code-named ROUNDUP, to be delayed until 1944, thus providing no immediate relief for the Soviets in 1942 and delaying the actual proposed 1943 Second Front for yet another year.

Roosevelt, on the other hand, supported the British in their belief that the Mediterranean was a vital part of the European theater, and that operations there could achieve meaningful gains against both Germany and Italy. British planners had determined that a 1942 SLEDGEHAMMER invasion of France was possible, but only on a limited scale, and as such would not provide meaningful relief for the Soviet Union, and would have little value in keeping them in the war. As the survival of the Soviet Union was believed to be still in the balance in mid-1942, it was felt to be too great a risk to land forces in France only to have them thrown back into the sea should the Soviets collapse. This would be an unacceptable political disaster for both the British and Americans.

The Decision
The GYMNAST invasion of French North Africa offered the possibility of an easy military victory in 1942, which would secure the North African coast, and create a base from which British and American forces could continue to operate into Europe and the Middle East in the event of a Soviet collapse. The threat to the Atlantic would be significantly reduced, and Allied logistics into Europe and the Middle East placed on a more secure footing. The map below shows clearly the improved situation in the Atlantic resulting from the conquest of North Africa. A key moment of decision seems to have been the agreement between Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, and Churchill, in mid-1942, that GYMNAST would not cause a delay to the 1943 ROUNDUP invasion. With this understanding, Roosevelt gave the order for the invasion of French North Africa, now code-named TORCH, to proceed before the year's end.

The above is sourced from the excellent:

Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, The Grand Alliance, and U.S. Strategy in World War II, by Mark A. Stoler (2000)

Map from Hyperwar enter image description here

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    this answer squares with the variuos readings on this campaign I've read over about 40 years. The map tells an interesting story: Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 21:39
  • This answer ignores the facts. Facts are The US got it's Pacific Offensives in 1942. Battles of Coral Sea and especially Midway were huge American victories. Midway was the turning point in the Pacific war. Likewise if political considerations were Roosevelt's primary considerations, one would think the North African landing would have occured BEFORE the american election. It did not. Finally if ignores the fact that the US changed their focus. After this disagreement more US logistics and men went to the Pacific theater in 1942 and 1943 than to Europe.
    – user27618
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 18:19
  • The US maintained more planes, men and logistic tonnage going to the Pacific in 1942, and 43. and even when European men and logistics passed those going to the Pacific in 1944, It was hardly an true Europe first strategy any more. In 44, the US supported major landings and logics to the Pacific including Saipan (June 1944); Guam (July 1944); Peleliu (September 1944); and the liberation of the Philippines at Leyte in October 1944.
    – user27618
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 18:24
  • @JMS The US did not abandon the Germany first principle at any time. They always saw Germany as the major threat. They never intended to shut down the Pacific Theatre and there were political reasons for keeping it as active as possible. When the 1943 invasion of France was (quickly) seen as not feasible other opportunities opened up. The US found it was capable of doing both Theatres at once. None of your facts contradict anything I've said, and your opinions are just plain wrong. Commented May 6, 2020 at 8:44
  • @AgentOrange, The Europe first strategy, was to fight Germany first as the most existensial threat to the allies. To commit U.S resources to Europe first. Given that definition the US did abandon the strategy after the UK refused to support a cross channel invasion in 1942 and 43. We know this because the US in 1942, and 43 sent more logistics into the Pacific. More men, planes, and war materials. The US logistical commitment to the European theatre did not surpass that of the Pacific theatre until early 1944. See Europe First:Analysis
    – user27618
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 18:24

Your question gives two separate issues for the justifications of the choice of Operation Torch by the Allies:

  • First, why did the Allies attack in North Africa rather than in Europe directly (e.g. Operation Sledgehammer). This was an "intra-Allies" issue, because Americans wanted to attack directly in Europe whereas British preferred "peripheric operations" and wanted to secure the Mediterranean Sea
  • Second, why did they attack in North Africa in a French-hold zone, rather than directly on Axis forces in Libya and Tunisia? Once you answer the first question, you enter this new issue. This is a political issue (should Vichy remain in North Africa?) and a military issue (Were Allies able to land close to Axis forces)?

You should try to get information on those two points to make your question more specific.

EDIT: Details on the different factors

Considering the comments and existing answers, I will detail this answer not on how American officers were forced into "Torch" operation, but on:

  • Why did British want a peripheric operation?
  • Why did Americans were in favour of an head-on operation?
  • Why the location of "Torch" ?

First, the British "peripheric strategy": This is something coming from as old as the Napoleonic Wars. During WW1, the British fought head-on and had a bitter time on the land and in the air. However, on the sea, they applied with success a strategy of containment of German actions in the Atlantic Ocean and Austrian ones in the Mediterranean Sea. They also managed to act successfully against the Ottoman Empire, in the Sinai for example by repelling Ottoman attacks and triggering rebellions with the famous "Arab Lawrence". However, again, head-on attacks against important Ottoman positions were fails (not really defeats, though) at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia.

At the beginning of WW2, one should remember that British Army was beaten nearly everywhere. It is only far from the metropolitan territories of their ennemies (Germany, Italy), with capacities to hamper ennemy logistic lines, that British and the Commonwealth forces succeded in defeating their ennemies: Italians in East Africa for example, Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon, Iraqis rebels.

When USSR went into the fight, they had the opportunity to apply a peripheric strategy "Napoleonic-style", and for that they sent supplies to USSR. They continued to fightthe Kriegsmarine, to defend Egypt, but USSR wanted direct attacks against Germany.

Thus, Britain started bombings on Germany. By night on cities: A very peripheric way to strike German armies, but a way that could reveal efficient. They also tried commando actions: Successes in Norway, far from Germany. Fail at Dieppe, in front of an heavy German defence (though a succes of attrition in the air).

So when Americans come in with their new army, not experienced, and say: let's attack on European coast, the British have good reasons to tell them: "You're foolish, we can't attack either as a raid or as a liberation operation. But come with your planes and ships."

Second: Well, that's an easy point:

  • If you want to win against Germany and Japan, you don't take your time. You have human and hardware potential, you should use them as soon as possible
  • If USSR asks you to do that, or they might conclude separate peace, you're truly in a hurry So Americans wanted at first a direct attack against Germany.

But the point is that they were wrong: their army would have been slaughtered in such an action, either a raid or a true invasion of Europe.

Third: Considering point 1 and 2, the British suggested to help dommed the Axis in Africa, a peripheric success that would lead into an attack against Europe later. Americans accepted because the understood it was better to start cool.

Why did they land in the French zone of Africa? They had no choice and Free French pushed them into such an action.

  • Landing directly in Tunisia is dangerous because of Italian navy, Axis aviation and AfrikaKorps and Messe army in Tunisia
  • Landing in Maghreb gives enough time to constitute a solid army before fighting Axis
  • Free French wanted to impose as the new France: Americans and British still had doubts on a military (De Gaulle) wanting to be the new leader. For Torch, Allies took contact with French and soon realized that it would be a definitive test: Either Vichy in Africa rallies to them or fights them. It apperared in the end to fight briefly, "for honour" somehow. In the end Free France invested successfully the zone and created new army from the population in North Africa, but that's another story.

So to conclude, landing in Maghreb for Torch resulted in:

  • Assess a political situation
  • Achieve a peripheric success against a former dangerous force
  • Prepare for actions against Europe (especially Italy)
  • Make American forces face a true fight and gain in efficiency
  • 4
    Lastly, the US mobliization and equipment would not support an invasion of the continent in 1942. Experiences in the Dieppe raid confirmed this. Also, Rommel was still in North Africa. Churchill needed that flank secured before considering a cross channel invasion. Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 20:39
  • @totalMongot... Libya and Tunisia they are not mentioned in my question. Also your answer doesn't explain either why Churchill held this view or why Roosevelt found it persuasive enough to over-rule his top commanders.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 21:46
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – user27618
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 0:07
  • 1
    @JMS Your question is about why the Allies operated "Torch". The factors for this operation are wider than the simple zone where "Torch" soldiers landed. They landed in order to defeat the Afrika Korps and AK was in Libya and Tunisia, so those parts of Africa does matter So it is not because you did not mention Libya and Tunisia in your question that they magically disappear from military considerations back in 1942:) Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 17:31
  • 1
    @totalMongot - thank you for understanding. I'm sympathetic to the notion that the question could be clarified ; normally that should be done in a comment, but the issues you identify are too long for a comment. No simple answer, which is why I requested that you edit to clarify. Appreciate your help.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 17:44

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