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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, left, and General Henri Girau meeting in Casablanca. According to Wikipedia, Henri Honoré Giraud (18 January 1879 – 11 March 1949) was a French general who was captured in both World Wars, but escaped both times. After his second escape in 1942, some of the Vichy ministers tried to send him back to Germany and probable execution. However, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower secretly asked him to take command of French troops in North Africa during Operation Torch and direct them to join the Allies. Only after François Darlan’s assassination was he able to attain this post, and he took part in the Casablanca Conference with Charles De Gaulle, Winston Churchill and Roosevelt. He retired in 1944 after continual disagreements with De Gaulle.

By: Phil Kohn. Dedicated to the memory of his father, GM3 Walter Kohn, U.S. Navy Armed Guard, USNR, and all men and women who have answered the country’s call in time of need. Phil can be contacted at ww2remembered@yahoo.com.

Halted before Ordzhonikidse, in the Caucasus, on November 6, 1942, the German 13th Panzer Division is fighting to prevent being cut off by superior Soviet forces attacking its flanks and rear. In a speech to the Congress of Soviet Deputies in Moscow, Joseph Stalin warns the United States and Great Britain that “the absence of a second front against Fascist Germany may end badly for all freedom-loving countries, including the Allies themselves.” He declares that “the aim of the coalition is to save mankind from reversion to savagery and medieval brutality.”

On Papua-New Guinea, the Australian 25th Brigade on November 7 flanks Japanese defenders on the Kokoda track, creating mayhem on their line. From Toulon, France, Gen. Henri Giraud — who had been captured by the Germans in May 1940, escaped in April 1942, and returned to Vichy France, via Switzerland — is spirited out of Vichy France by the British submarine HMS Seraph. Giraud has been persuaded by U.S. Lt. Gen. Eisenhower to command French troops during the “Operation Torch” landings in North Africa.

On November 8, “Operation Torch” begins with 106,000 Anglo-American troops — under the overall command of U.S. Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — landing near Casablanca, in Morocco, and near Algiers and Oran, in Algeria, against minimal Vichy French resistance. German forces are slow to react because the German High Command believes the landings are a feint and that the real invasion will occur on the island of Sardinia, off the west coast of Italy. Hitler makes his 19th annual speech in Munich on the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch (a failed Nazi coup attempt in 1923), and states that Stalingrad is in German hands, with only “a few small pockets of resistance” remaining.

Naval battles off Oran and Casablanca on November 9 leave three French destroyers sunk. German paratroops land in Tunisia without opposition from the French. Outside of Lublin, Poland, the Germans open the Majdanek death camp. In its first day of operation, 4,000 Jews are murdered there.

Oran, Algeria, falls to U.S. troops, and American forces enter Casablanca, Morocco, on November 10. Allied successes in Egypt continue with the capture of Sidi Barrani by New Zealand troops. Upon receiving word of the British victories over Rommel’s forces, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill tells guests at a London event: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.” Adm. Jean François Darlan — Vichy French foreign minister and vice premier, who is in Algiers, Algeria, to visit his polio-stricken son — is offered a “deal” by Gen. Eisenhower, whereby the Allies will recognize Darlan as the commander of all French forces in the area in return for a general cease-fire. The “deal” outrages Gen. Giraud, who had been promised command. However, because Giraud has no official status, French troops in North Africa are ignoring him. Many people in the U.S. and England also vehemently protest the “arrangement” with Darlan, a prominent Nazi collaborator. However, Vichy French forces obey Darlan’s orders and stop fighting the Allies. Once he hears of Darlan’s actions, Vichy France’s Marshal Philippe Pétain strips Darlan of his offices and takes command of all Vichy forces, ordering resistance to continue. He, also, is ignored. In Washington, President Roosevelt announces the severing of diplomatic relations with Vichy France. German U-boats mine the entrance to New York Harbor.

The U.S. on November 11 extends Lend-Lease aid to Free French forces under Gen. Charles de Gaulle. Spurred by Darlan’s capitulation in North Africa, German and Italian troops begin occupying those parts of France controlled by the Vichy government. In a letter to Marshal Pétain, Hitler declares that the purpose of this move is “to protect France” from the Allies. On the same day, French Jews are ordered to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing. Lutheran bishops in Norway send a letter to Minister President Vidkun Quisling protesting the planned deportation of Norwegian Jews to Poland.

The British Eighth Army retakes the border cities of Sollum, Egypt, and Bardia, Libya, as well as Tobruk, Libya, on November 12. Panzer Army Africa continues its withdrawal westward toward Tripoli while being squeezed between two large advancing Allied forces. In the U.S., the age of eligibility for the Selective Service draft is lowered from 20 to 18. President Roosevelt estimates that the armed forces will number ten million personnel by the end of 1943.

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