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The Longest Reach


hastily welded in place. There were small tankers from a Venezuelan lake that had been converted for landing tanks across beaches—and were to serve as the model for the thou- sands of tank landing ships to be produced during the war. There were even ferryboats snatched from their routes within the British Isles. They were ordered to fly large American flags as part of the effort to project the image of an all-American operation.

In late October, less than three months after the decision was made to land in North Africa, the ships involved in what was then the largest amphibious operation in history set sail from ports in the United States, Bermuda, and the British Isles. Altogether, there were about 220 ships carrying 107,305 men making their way across the Atlantic, all seeking to ar- rive off the shores of North Africa at the same moment, pre- pared to make landings at three points in the Casablanca area, seven—including the first American paratroop drop of the war—in the Oran area, and three at Algiers.

Maj. Gen. George S. Patton commanded the army forces slated to take Casablanca. He was well known within the army for his flamboyant ways and his mystical belief that he was destined to lead vast armies to victory on the battlefield. His picture had appeared on the cover of Time and he was becoming familiar to the American public as a dashing armor commander, even though his combat experience was limited to a brief period on the front lines during World War I.

Patton had his doubts, however, about the chances for success in the landings. At a meeting in Norfolk, Virginia, just before the convoys sailed, he gave one of his familiar colorful pep talks: “Never in history has the Navy landed an army at the planned time and place. If you land us anywhere within fifty miles of Fedala [near Casablanca] and within one week of D-Day, I’ll go ahead and win . . . ”

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