The history of initial actions in a war contains lessons of special value for the professional soldier and for all students of military problems. Northwest Africa abounds in such lessons, for it covers the first massive commitments of American forces in World War II. The continent of Africa became a gigantic testing ground of tactics, weapons, and training evolved through years of peace.

The invasion stretched American resources to the limit. Simultaneously the country was trying to maintain a line of communications to Australia, to conduct a campaign at Guadalcanal, to support China in the war against Japan, to arm and supply Russiaís hard-pressed armies on the Eastern Front, to overcome the U-boat menace in the Atlantic, to fulfill lend-lease commitments, and to accumulate the means to penetrate the heart of the German and Japanese homelands. The Anglo-American allies could carry out the occupation of Northwest Africa only by making sacrifices all along the line.

Two campaigns occurred there: Operation TORCH which swiftly liberated French North Africa from Vichy French control, followed by a longer Allied effort to destroy all the military forces of the Axis powers in Africa. The latter concentrated in Tunisia, where the front at one time extended more than 375 miles, and fighting progressed from scattered meeting engagements to the final concentric thrust of American, British, and French ground and air forces against two German and Italian armies massed in the vicinity of Bizerte and Tunis.

The planning, preparation, and conduct of the Allied operations in Northwest Africa tested and strengthened the Anglo-American alliance. Under General Dwight D. Eisenhower a novel form of command evolved which proved superior to adversities and capable of overwhelming the enemy.

Washington, D.C.
19 December 1956
Maj. Gen., U.S.A.
Chief of Military History


The Author

The author, a graduate of the University of Vermont, received the Ph. D. degree in History from Harvard University in 1930. He was a member of the faculty of the University of Cincinnati from 1926 to 1945. In 1932ñ33 he studied and traveled in England, France, and the Mediterranean area as a Fellow of the Social Science Research Council.

In 1945 he became a staff member of the Historical Branch, Gñ2, War Department. Until 1952 he was writing the present volume as a member of the Mediterranean Theater Section, Office of the Chief of Military History. He then became Defense Historian, Department of the Interior. He is now Historian with the Department of Defense. Dr. Howe is the author of a biography of Chester Alan Arthur, of a General History of the United States Since 1865, and of The Battle History of the First Armored Division.



Certain considerations which attracted the author to the subject of this volume also governed its original plan. Campaigning in Northwest Africa was, for the U.S. Army, a school of coalition warfare and a graduate school of Axis tactics. Operation TORCH with its political overtones, was the first great expeditionary assault in the West and by far the largest in history at that time. The historical evidence, even if oppressively bulky, was rich in variety. Captured documents and German officers provided the means of recovering ìthe enemy side,î at least sufficiently to clarify most tactical situations of any consequence. Other materials made it possible to construct a history of the operations by the U.S. Army in context, that is, with due regard for the activities of the other Military Services and of the British and French allies.

During the five years from 1947 to 1952, significant changes in concept caused the original plan to be modified. It became apparent that, if full use were made of Axis materials coming to the Office of the Chief of Military History, the functioning of the Axis at all levels of command as a military coalition could be portrayed more effectively in this setting than in any likely alternative. The plan was therefore adjusted to make this narrative a history of two opposing coalitions by tracing the parallel strategic and tactical decisions from the heads of governments along the chains of command to execution in combat zones. During this process it was kept in mind that interest in the record of the U.S. Army must not be submerged by all that is implied in the phrase, in World War II.

That Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West is a product of co-operation, collaboration, and co-ordination is apparent from the notes. Co-operation took the form chiefly of making records available and of providing authentic recollections which illuminated the documents. Critics of a first draft in 1951 gave the author invaluable guide lines for a second stage of preparation. It then received the principal attention of collaborators--editing, cartography, pictorial illustration, and further application of evidence on the enemy side. These processes terminated in the latter part of 1956.

The author would enjoy acknowledging by name his sense of debt to the many persons who co-operated, collaborated, and even co-ordinated in such a way as to make this book better than he alone could have made it. Among the co-operators, Forrest Pogue, Marcel Vigneras, Alice Miller, and Clyde Hillyer


Christian were particularly helpful, and assistance came in two instances which call for special mention. The author cherishes the recollection of sitting at the desk and in the chair of the President of Columbia University for many hours examining the manuscript diary of the Commander-in-Chief, Allied Force, a privilege which he owed to General Eisenhower and Kevin McCann. He holds in the greatest respect the scrupulous effort of Maj. Gen. Orlando Ward, while he was Chief of Military History, to avoid influencing in any way the bookís description of General Wardís part in the events in Northwest Africa.

Among the collaborators, the authorís indebtedness is greatest to the Chief Historian of the Army, Kent Roberts Greenfield; his contribution was far above and beyond the call of anything but his own broad concept of duty. The book benefited from the help of colleagues of the Mediterranean Theater Section of the Armyís Office of Military History, Howard McGaw Smyth and Sidney T. Mathews, of Mrs. Jeanne Smith Cahill as research assistant, and David Jaffé as principal editor. During research, special aid came from (then) Maj. John C. Hatlem, USAF, an incomparable photographer of battle terrain, and Wsevolod Aglaimoff, the most analytical and discerning of cartographers. Subsequently, the book has prospered from the attentions of Maj. James F. Holly, cartographer, and Margaret Tackley, Chief of the Photographic Branch.

Two other collaborators invite the authorís special acknowledgment, Detmar Finke and Charles von Luttichau. Their work in establishing full and precise detail, particularly with reference to the enemy side, was performed with a cheerful thoroughness which could hardly be exaggerated.

Certain persons who have lived vicariously with the fluctuations of this prolonged project with extraordinary forbearance are also hereby thanked.

Washington, D.C.
8 November 1956


Table of Contents ** Next Chapter (1)

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation