Operation Torch

Operation Torch by Robert Kennedy

If Chris Tarrant asked the audience on his hit programme ” Who wants to be a Millionaire” ” What was the code name for the Allied Invasion of North Africa on 7/8th November 1942 ?” ……”Was it”?
A) Overlord…………… B) Market Garden………C) Sea lion…….D) Torch…….?
We wonder what percentage would give the correct answer!

General Dwight D Eisenhower

General Dwight D Eisenhower

Following American entry into the Second World War after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbour December 7th 1941, General Dwight D Eisenhower, the future President of the USA ,took command of American forces in Europe. Churchill and Roosevelt drew up plans to give the Nazi’s a taste of their own medicine.

The Germans were too strong and established in Europe while the Allies were unprepared for a frontal assault on the continent….. but the North African Theatre of War gave them the opportunity to strike a blow at Germany where supply lines were stretched to the limit. While General Bernard Law Montgomery engaged the enemy under Desert Fox ‘General Erwin Rommel’……… commencing a massive artillery barrage at dawn on 23rd October 1942 at El Alamein… two giant convoys were sailing from American and British ports packed with troops and equipment……destination top secret…. known only to the commanders…..which was Algeria….Tunisia….Morocco in North Africa.

In overall command was General Eisenhower. The operation was code named TORCH. General Montgomery gave the Allies a much needed boost by defeating the Afrika Korps finally on 5th November 1942 sending Rommel in headlong retreat leaving the invasion beaches of Torch safe for landing…… probably saving the lives of countless British and American soldiers.

The landings commenced on 8/9th November 3 days after the final El Alemein defeat. The planning and co-ordination of Operation Torch was almost perfect. Adolf Hitler had bitten off more than he could chew……………?

Such was the impact of El Alamein and Torch the Germans invaded unoccupied France 3 days later on November 11th …. still ruled by the collaboration Vichy Government….. with the Nazi’s attempting to protect their “soft underbelly” of the Mediterranean………..but too late………for the first time the Allies had a foothold on Hitler’s despotic empire.

Field Marshall Montgomery

Field Marshall Montgomery

The Strathallan was part of the continual build up of troops and supplies into North Africa sailing under great secrecy from UK ports like Greenock and Portsmouth. It was 44 days after the initial Torch Landing’s German submarine U562 was on patrol seeking out convoy ships in the Mediterranean when… in the early hours of 21st December 1942… she sighted SS Strathallan and loosed two torpedo’s one missing but the other striking the doomed ship in the engine room immediately killing the staff on duty and capsizing the following day under tow from Naval tug HMS Restive only several miles from Oran and safety.

There is no record of a single soldier losing his life following the Strathallan disaster while on Operation Torch duties…….. despite survivor reports to the contrary.

Significantly Beatrice McGregor did not hear from her new husband until 1946 when she learned of his dalliance with a German submarine. If nothing else security was water-tight though perhaps not the bulkheads and doors of Strathallan. We were at war…. understandably information that could be helpful to the enemy had to be repressed…… but we will never know how many families received the dreaded telegram……..”
Missing in action…presumed dead” as a result of that torpedo…………. Such is the curse of war where the individual takes second place to the State.

On May 13th 1943 the last remnants of German units surrendered in North Africa. The tide was turning against the might of Germany. Full planning was then put into Operation Overlord the D-Day landings at Normandy
on 6th June 1944 but………….that is another story!!.

General Erwin Rommel

General Erwin Rommel

The game was up for the German despot…. Operation Torch was a huge success which led to the invasions of Sicily….Sardinia…Lampedusa and Italy with National Socialism and despotism in full retreat.
Incidentally Chris Tarrant may have told his audience Sea-Lion was Hitler’s plan to invade Britain which he foolishly abandoned………. and Market Garden was the Airborne Invasion at Arnhem which ended in disaster for the Allies.

Brief P&O Info
P and O Heritage site records…
04.02.1940 – Requisitioned by the Ministry of Shipping (later Ministry of War Transport) for service as a troop transport.

01.11.1942 – Took part in Operation Torch – the first Algerian landings in the North African campaign.

12.12.1942 – Sailed from the Clyde on her second trip to Algeria, as commodore vessel of a convoy bound for Oran. She was carrying 4,000 British and US troops and 250 Queen Alexandra’s nurses.

21.12.1942 – Torpedoed by the German submarine U562 at 0225hrs in bright moonlight and fine weather shortly after passing through the Straits of Gibraltar about 75km (45 miles) off Bougie. She was hit in the engine room on the port side, two engineer officers and two Indian engineroom crew were killed in the explosion, and about a dozen passengers also lost their lives. The nurses and 1,000 troops were picked up by the destroyer HMS Verity and another destroyer, HMS Laforey, took Strathallan in tow. With the help of the salvage tug Restive it was hoped that she might reach Oran, but her list increased and the remainder of the troops were taken off by escorting destroyers. At 1315hrs she caught fire, and once it reached her cargo of rockets and ammunition, the rest of the crew were taken off by Restive.

22.12.1942 – Sank 19km (12 miles) off Oran at 0400hrs