November 8th, 1942: When the 9th Infantry Division entered War

Context

On 8 November 1942, the first American ground troops started the fight against Nazism in the European-Middle Eastern Theater of Operation. A large scale landing is planned to happen on the coasts of North Africa, from the western coast of Morocco to the eastern part of Algeria. This coordinated operation has never been tempted before, on such a large scale. Approximately 2,000 km separate the most distant points, and three task forces are to assault defended beaches on five different points: from west to east, Safi, Casablanca, Port Lyautey, Oran and Algiers. The allied forces are composed out of three task forces: Western, Central and Eastern (see Chart).

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The 9th Infantry Division, led by General Eddy, saw its forces divided into two task forces. The 60th and 47th Infantry Regiments are to assault the western beaches of Morocco, while the 39th Infantry Regiment is to land near Algiers.

Objectives

The scope of the objectives which were assigned to the Eastern Task Force included much more than the city of Algiers. After the initial landings, it was the plan to funnel the embryo British First Army and American divisions through the area, eventually capturing all of Tunisia. Algiers was an important prize mainly because of its airfield facilities, which could form an advance base for the combined operations of the AAF and RAF.

algiersAbove: Algiers, looking north. (Photograph taken May 1943.)

The mission assigned to the Western Task Force was to attack western Morocco, seize and secure the port of Casablanca as a base for future operations to the north and northeast, eliminate or cripple the enemy air force and secure by dark of D-Day at least one airfield as a base for land-based planes. To carry out these orders, General Patton desired to effect landings and capture three primary objectives: Safi, Port Lyautey and Fedala.

For the 47th Combat Team, it was to be Safi, in French Morocco. Their landing would begin with one of the finest pieces of naval deception of the war; it would end with a smashing victory. Colonel Edwin H. Randle, regimental commander at that time, recalls:

“The Southern Attack Group consisting of the men of 47th Regimental Combat Team and on Combat Command of 2nd Armored Division, supported by the Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier Santee, the battleship New York, the cruiser Philadelphia and three destroyers, was to land at Safi, 130 miles south of Casablanca, establish a beachhead under cover of which the medium tanks could be unloaded at the docks, and prevent the French garrison at Marrakech from reinforcing Casablanca. General Harmon (2nd Armored Division) was to move north with his armor and assist in the capture of Casablanca by attacking it from the south, leaving the 47th R.C.T. to hold Safi.”

safiAbove: Safi harbor (looking west), afternoon of D Day. Photograph taken from the tableland above harbor mouth.

The 60th Combat Team has as objective the coastal town of Port Lyautey, supported by a tank battalion of 2nd Armored Division. Port Lyautey was an ancient fort (called a “kasba”). It was the second most important anchorage of French Morocco, lies about six miles inland, on the river Sebou. The city is approximately 80 miles northeast to Casablanca. Slightly north of the city is an excellent airport, which is the primary objective of the landing force.

portlyautey_airfieldAbove: Port-Lyautey airfield, within the “U” made by the wide loop of the Sebou river.

Operations

39th R.C.T.

In the early morning of the 8 November 1942, the 39th R.C.T. headed the beaches. At 0130hrs, the 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. A. H. Rosenfeld) disembarked and raced ashore into the blackness. They landed at Ain-Taya, about 15 miles east of Algiers. Fifteen minutes later, the 3rd Battalion landed in the vicinity of Fort Jean Bart. Assisting the men of the 39th Infantry was on battalion of British Commandos.

The 1st Battalion pushed inland and within five hours after their landing, the unit had walked 12 miles thru a hostile terrain at dark and arrived at the key “Maison Blanche” where a short battle happened against the Vichy French Forces. Although the French were using tanks, the 1st Battalion overcame all resistance by 0830hrs.

Meanwhile, the 3rd Battalion moved inland to Fort de l’Eau. Here too, opposition quickly was overcome. Following the rapid victory at “Maison Blanche” and vicinity came a well remembered sight. British aircraft were dropping out of the sky and landing upon the newly captured airstrip. This signified that one of the major missions of the eastern invasion group had been accomplished.

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The 39th’s objective had been seizure of the airfield, which was accomplished by 0615hrs.

47th R.C.T.

The attack on Safi plan was conceived as a deception operation. This deception of the Safi landing was gained from the use of two destroyers, which were disguised to resemble French vessels. Initially, 20 men and 2 officers from K Co. and a similar number from L. Co. were aboard these warships, the Bernadou and the COle. On November 7 at 1400hrs, the remaining members of the two companies boarded the destroyers at sea. That evening, with first combat just hours away, every preparation was rushed to completion. The last meals were served – steak, chicken, turkey.

Disembarkation rendezvous was reached at 2330hrs. The convoy was just eight miles off the shore of Safi. All mins now turned to one though: Invasion. Battel-equipped GIs began streaming up the passageways and onto the main deck. Here they stood… awaiting the command to go over the side, down the nets and into landing craft. On their left arms, below the Ninth Division insignia was an armband bearing a replica of the American flag. Each man carried two canteens of water and a full day’s rations. Armament variations consisted of a Springfield or M1 Rifle, plus grenades, ammunition, entrenching tools, combat knives, bayonets, and the new M1 Helmet.

safibeachesAbove: Safi Harbor (looking east), 10 November 1942. The ships, left to right, are USS Dix, Calvert, Harris, Lyon, and Housatonic

It is now 8 November, 0030hrs. The landing boats quickly became loaded. In Safi, a reception party was preparing to meet the 47th R.C.T. with loaded arms. The Safi garrison had been warned to action by its parent organization the division at Marrakech. About 450 men were getting into position as the landings occurred. In addition, shore batteries made ready to render the harbor uncomfortable for any invader.

At 0428hrs, the two warships nosed into the port entrance. As they entered, machine guns and rifle fire opened up on them. On the cliffs overlooking the harbor gate were two 75-mm harbor guns, which blasted out a challenge to determine the nationality of the vessels. But deception again played an important role, and the French, temporarily confused, allowed the American ships to get inside the line of fire.

A single rope net was slung over the bow of the Bernadou. One by one, the men filed on deck and made their way forward. The soldiers streamed onto the beach and out of sight. The time was 0435hrs on Sunday, 8 November 1942, and K Co. began its landing, while L. Co. start its invasion ten minutes later.

Company K. quickly cleared the waterfront area of the enemy and turned its efforts southward, establishing a roadblock on the highway to Mogado. Company L., having disembarked from the Cole, too charge of the harbor vicinity, protecting the docks against sabotage. Acting under previous plans, Captain Thomas Wilson dispatched one platoon to capture the Shell Oil Company installation which was taken under heavy machine gun fire. All during this time rifle fire had been coming from the jetty and mixed weapons were blasting out death from the hills.

Below: M5 Stuart of the 70th Tank Battalion clearing the streets of Casablanca, on 18 November 1942
m5stuart70tkbnatcasablanca18nov42When the initial firing had commenced, four 130-mm guns of the coastal batteries on Pointe-de-la-Tour had opened fire on the transports. Heavy guns of the battleships replied with their convincing power. LCVP followed the destroyers ashore and at 0500hrs, elements of 70th Tank Battalion (1st Platoon, Co. B) and the 47th Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon hit the beach near the grounded Bernadou. On-half of the I&R unit moved southward into Safi, seizing the telephone and telegraph exchanges and taking care of the French 25-mm antitank gun and crew across the street from the Post Office building. A platoon of B/47th Inf. worked its way up the north hill and occupied the battery guns which were put out of action by the New York ship. The Americans capped their seizure with the hoisting of the Star and Stripes.

70thtkbndiDistinctive Unit Insignia of the 70th Tank Battalion
pointedelatour_safi Above: Men of B/47th Infantry occuying the battery at Pointe-de-la-Tour

The first assault waves ashore brought the 1st Battalion (Major Frederick C. Feil). They pushed on, capturing, destroying or driving out all semblance of resistance. The 2nd Battalion (Major Louis Gershenow) landed at daybreak and, despite an explosion and fire at sea, the battalion was putting ashore at Yellow Beach (8 miles south of Safi) by 0930hrs. As this unit was turning north, other elements of 47th R.C.T. were completing their landings. The 3rd Battalion (Major John B. Evans), minus K and L Co., wad debarking near the center of the town, and the 84th Field Artillery Battalion was rolling onto land as well.

60th R.C.T.

The 60th R.C.T. was dispatched in eight transports an one destroyer. The weather was excellent. New timing are given to the men: the assault is to take place at 0530hrs rather than 0400hrs. Before the ‘Go’, President Roosevelt addressed in French via the radio, to the people of North Africa:

“My friends, we have come among you to repulse the cruel invaders. Have faith in our words. Help us where you are able. Vive la France éternelle !”

troopsoptorchAbove: Tense GIs heading for their first combat

It was then slightly after 0430hrs and the first three wave of infantrymen were clambering over the sides of their transports, down the landing nets and into thin-shelled and uncomfortable LCVP’s. When the first waves were about 700 yards distant, searchlights from the beach picked up one of the Navy scout boats and a warning red flare burst above the mouth of Sebou, signaling the invasion has begun. Then a raring thunder of shellfire broke loose from the coastal batteries, aimed at the warships and their brood of landing craft. Salvos from the destroyer Roe silenced the French guns, and other warships joined in shelling the coast.

American feet began hitting the shore when the 2nd Battalion (Major John H. Dilley) came in at 0540hrs. “There was no initial resistance, then French aircraft suddenly swooped down to strafe the beach. Men began to fall, the 60th Infantry’s first casualties. To the south, doughboys of the 1st Battalion (Major Percy D. McCarley, Jr) rode in on the surf and landed 2,800 yards north of their assigned beach. Inexperienced coxswains, confusion and shelling had altered their course. But there were no casualties for the 1st and it moved quickly on toward the lagoon.

aerialkasbaportlyauteyAbove: Aerial view of the Port Lyautey Kasba (Citadel)

Further north more coxswains had overshot their mark, and the rd Battalion (Lt. Col. John J. Toffey, Jr) was on the spot. Troops might not make the safety of land if time were wasted. Already, two of the battalion’s landing boats had been upset by nea-misses of aerial bombs. The Battalion commander ordered his men put ashore immediately, believing this wiser than to risk retracing the shoreline to their assigned beach, which was five miles south. At 0630hrs, the 3rd Bn piled ashore. Four French planes now appeared upon the scene, strafing. But the pilots met accurate fire from the 692nd CAAA Bn, which knocked two aircraft out of the sky and chased the others.

Daylight and French armor found the 1st Battalion reorganizing in the low ground west of the lagoon. During the noon hour four light tanks and two motorcycles attacked Able company. Thus began a day of tank sorties and clashes with French Foreign Legion cavalry, which was active along the edge of picturesque Mamora Cork Forest. These lows were beaten off with 37-mm antitank guns, grenades, bazookas and a steady hail of lead from the machine guns of company Dog.

portlyauteyAbove: Operations of the 60th R.C.T. around Port Lyautey

At daybreak, French coastal batteries had begun hammering at the transports off Mehdia Plage. Of all units affected by this shortage, hardest hit was the 2nd Battalion Landing Team. No allied unit met stiffer opposition than that which the 2nd Battalion encountered near the Kasba Mehdia area. Artillery was not available to counter the French 75’s, which bombarded the attackers during much of the day. Renault tanks added their bit toward making the positions untenable. Company Easy was destined to lose five of its six officers, several of whom were awarded posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.

It all began during the early hours of morning. The 2nd Battalion had worked its way around the lagoon by a diverse route, a movement necessitated by American naval fire which was falling upon the more logical route of advance. Part of Company Fox crossed the lagoon on rubber boats after clearing Mehdia Plage. Then, the lighthouse became an objective, as it was a strong position and stopped the battalion in its tracks. Heroic action was needed and it come from Company E. 2nd Lieutenant Charles D. Dushane, Corporal Frank L. Czar, Pfc Theodore R. Bratkowitz and an unidentified private stormed the position. Crossing barbed wire entranglements under heavy fire the four men charged the lighthouse and got inside. Shots rang out, then all was silent. A moment’s wait… out walked the brave four with twelve prisoners. Fr this actions, they are awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

charles-duke-dushaneAbove: The 2nd Lieutenant Charles D. Dushane was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions along with three other members of Company E.

Lieutenant Dushane’s DSC Citation:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant (Infantry) Charles Duke Dushane United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 8 November 1942, in North Africa.
With help of three enlisted men, Second Lieutenant Dushane entered the lighthouse on the Kasba-Mehdia after crossing enemy barbed wire entanglements while under heavy enemy small arms fire and captured 12 hostile troops who were using machine guns and rifles. This enabled our troops to take the strategic position commanded by the lighthouse.
He later demonstrated coolness and bravery beyond the call of duty when upon the withdrawal of our troops from the native village, he and Corporal Frank L. Czar manned an enemy anti-tank gun in full view of the enemy. Part of the breech of the gun had been removed and he was able to fire the gun only by firing bullets from his sub-machine gun into the base of the anti-tank shell. Meanwhile Corporal Czar aimed the gun. In this manner he destroyed one enemy tank and delayed the enemy attack.
It was while operating this gun that Second Lieutenant Dushane lost his life. Second Lieutenant Dushane’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 9th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

The French retreated from the lighthouse and companies E and F teamed up to clear the trench system which connected this strong point and the Kasba. Fifty prisoners already had been captured and many casualties inflicted. But the forces of the 2nd Battalion were a thinly spread line, dodging shells from both the foe and the Navy.

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Sources: Eight Stars to Victory