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The Longest Reach


One did not have to be a born pessimist to realize such a fate could befall those attempting a North African landing. The hazards were formidable.

If Roosevelt’s demand that Americans confront Germans in 1942 was to be satisfied, ships would have to be assem- bled, soldiers equipped and trained, Army pilots taught how to be catapulted from ships, and preparations made to sup- port a large army by ships traveling through seas thick with German submarines—and all of this in less than five months.

The forces slated to land inside the Mediterranean at Oran and Algiers would have to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar and confront the same hazards of attack from the air and under the sea faced by the Malta convoys.

Nature also seemed to be in opposition. The surf along the Atlantic coast near Casablanca was notoriously rough— so rough, in fact, that a landing might prove impossible.

Even successful landings would be no guarantee of ulti- mate victory. The real prize in North Africa was Tunisia, which offered bomber bases within reach of Italy and por- tions of Germany, and a staging area for landings in Sicily, the Italian Peninsula, or southern France. But Tunisia was nearly 500 miles from the closest landing point in Algiers. Planners concluded reluctantly that an attempt to land far- ther east, even in Bizerte or Tunis itself, would rule out a landing in Casablanca: There simply weren’t enough ships to do both.

While Allied planners focused on preparing for the land- ings, they could not avoid looking over their shoulders. If Franco permitted German forces to use Spanish bases, Ger- many could, within hours, fly in enough aircraft to overwhelm the relatively small number of planes that would accompany the invasion fleet. Or the Spanish themselves could decide to join the war, taking Gibraltar and launching attacks against the Allies from their colony in Morocco.

The Allies faced more remote dangers as well. One big worry was what might happen in the east. German armies were deep in the Soviet Union. If Josef Stalin, the Soviet leader, sought peace, Hitler could turn his entire strength toward crushing the Allied beachhead in North Africa. Gath- ering the forces for the North African operation would also

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