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The Longest Reach


Allies would have preferred the help of an officer actually part of the puppet regime. But attempting to enlist the help of such an officer was deemed too risky. Giraud was a second- best choice.

Many, but not all, of the French officers in North Africa probably would have preferred to join with the Allies in fight- ing the Germans. But this was not an easy decision. Most felt their oath compelled them to obey orders from the French government in Vichy. A few were actually anti-Jewish and pro-German.

The French were also deeply concerned for the welfare of friends and relatives back home. If they aided the Allies, or if they even failed to resist vigorously, they knew German troops would sweep south, completing the jackbooted mili- tary occupation of their homeland. Such a move would put the Germans in position to seize the French fleet in the har- bor at Toulon.

Even those fully prepared to welcome the Allies harbored the fear of what would happen if the “invasion” turned out to be a hit-and-run commando raid like the ill-fated attack on the northern French port of Dieppe in August 1942. They didn’t want to back a loser.

Thus, as troops began moving to staging areas in the United States, Canada, and the British Isles and ships took on loads of ammunition, tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, and aircraft, the Allied generals had to conclude they would have to fight their way ashore, and no one—including the French themselves—knew whether and how much resistance they would face. If the French made a brief show of resistance and then joined the Allied cause, the landing had a good chance of success. If they put up a vigorous defense, the whole enterprise could collapse.

Success in this ambitious undertaking depended heavily on surprise. If the Germans learned of the plans for the in- vasion in time to oppose it, the landings would almost cer- tainly fail. To preserve secrecy, the soldiers weren’t told where they were going, nor were they given any special clothing or equipment they might need for fighting in North Africa. If they knew they were heading for Africa, most of the troops would have imagined a land of sand, palm trees, and hot

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