North Africa, 1940–42

Part of the St Antony’s Series book series


On 8 November 1942 Allied troops under General Dwight D. Eisenhower began Operation ‘Torch’, the invasion of French North Africa, and this event marked America’s first major action in the war. Although its primary objectives were attained, this operation can hardly be termed an unqualified success, and yet the Americans had been preparing it for a very long time. After the fall of France, Roosevelt, that arch but inconsistent anti-imperialist, developed an interest in that region. With the arrival of General Maxime Weygand, who preached a kind of semi-sedition, as Delegate General for North Africa — a post created for him — Roosevelt decided it was time to act. As we have seen, the president hoped that France and the French Empire would play an important role in his attempts to assist the British during the period from June 1940 to December 1941, when the United States was not yet at war. North Africa had major strategic interest because it lay next door to Britain’s most important battlefields, those of Libya and Egypt. The French North African army was estimated to number around 120 000 and thus represented a substantial potential force. If Weygand could be convinced to re-enter the war, the Germans and the Italians would be surrounded. Furthermore, if particular attention were paid to important native figures like the Sultan of Morocco and the Bey of Tunis, it might also further Roosevelt’s aim of decolonisation and result in economic advantages to the United States after the war. Therefore, from 1940 to 1942, America’s French policy — to the detriment of de Gaulle — was concentrated on North Africa.


Press Conference Suez Canal French Authority French People Coup Attempt 
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  1. 1.
    Robert Murphy, Diplomat Among Warriors (Garden City, New York, 1964) 68. In his memoirs Leahy insists that: ‘The idea of an invasion of Africa was not new. Roosevelt had had it in mind for a long time, and, by his direction, some advance preparation had been made before I returned from France.’ Leahy goes on to insist that: ’It has been said that Roosevelt ordered “Operation Torch” in the face of opposition from his senior advisers. I never opposed the North African invasion.’ He claims that only Marshall was really opposed to the idea. Leahy, 111.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (Garden City, 1948) 88.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Entry, 8 Nov 1942, Harry Butcher, My Three Years with Eisenhower (New York, 1946) 178.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Entry, 2 Sept 1942, Robert H. Ferrell (ed.), The Eisenhower Diaries (London, 1981) 76–7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© G. E. Maguire 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Paris XII — Val de MarneFrance

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