U-boats sink three U.S. transports at Fedala; Hambleton, Winooski damaged.
French Navy's Jean Bart, cruisers & destroyers resist to the end. V-mail came before E-mail
Copyright 2012 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
Patton's troops landed there so French warships head for Fedala to choke them off.
When we left our account of the action at Fedala on the evening of D-day, there were 9,000 troops ashore out of the planned 20,000. There was more work to do. The actions at Casablanca sorted out to a relatively short Fedala phase, and a full three day Casablanca phase, with French Navy sorties from Casablanca first being made to to resist landings at Fedala. An extra phase then occurred as the result of activities by the main adversary, Nazi Germany.
Let me recap the forces available to Captain R.R. Emmet of the Center Attack Group. He had 15 transports and an oiler in his convoy, with destroyer protection from Bristol, Woolsey, Edison, Tillman, Boyle and Rowan. For control and fire support there were destroyers Wilkes, Swanson, Ludlow and Murphy. Defending batteries would likely find these four destroyers first. The carriers Ranger and Suwannee were screened by destroyers Elllyson, Forrest, Fitch, Corry and Hobson. The cruisers Brooklyn, Cleveland and Augusta were screened by destroyers Wainright, Mayrant, Rhind and Jenkins. Setting a pattern for many landings to come, U.S. minesweepers came in ahead of the transport group and the fire support destroyers.
Although there was no sea-launched commando penetration effort as at Safi and Mehedia, an incident did occur during the approach to Fedala late on the evening of the 7th. A two ship convoy, a French coastal steamer and its escort, a 600 ton corvette, came around Cape Fedala heading directly for our transport area. U.S. destroyer-minesweeper Hogan intercepted. A French Lieutenant, skipper of the corvette, was not to be deterred and changed course to ram the Hogan. Machine guns from the Hogan killed the Lieutenant and nine crew members on the corvette, which went dead in the water. U.S. minesweeper Auk put a prize crew on board the corvette and Hogan returned to her duties.
At just after 0600, batteries at Chergui and Fedala targeted the lane guide, fire support destroyers. Division Commander E.R. Durgin on Wilkes ordered the four destroyers to take up their fire support roles. Wilkes and Swanson guns retorted to the Fedala batteries while Murphy and Ludlow responded to the heavier Blondin battery at Chergui. Commander Durgin radioed, "Batter up!" At 0620, a "Play Ball" was Captain Emmet's response, which was passed throughout all US sea forces at Casablanca.
In the first minute after Play Ball, the Murphy announced she was being straddled and asked for help from cruiser Brooklyn. By 0645, With Brooklyn and Swanson now firing on the Blondin battery, Murphy took a shell hit in her after engine room. Three were dead and seven wounded. The Engineer Officer, LCDR R.W. Curtis entered the space and with steam jets spouting, turned off the generator and stopped the arcing on the switchboard. He then made a search to assure himself that he had an accounting for all assigned personnel below.
Blondin was finally silenced but it took Brooklyn, Swanson, Ludlow and Murphy to do it. Brooklyn came all the way into the Joseph Dickman's boat lanes to fire at the Blondin battery. Augusta, with 8" guns, came into 12,000 yards range and silenced Batterie du Port, behind the Cape about 25 minutes after 7 a.m. Battery fire on the beaches picked up again at 0830. Boyle, Edison, Ludlow, Bristol and Wilkes responded to gunfire from Fedala's guns during this period.
At 0825, two French destroyer leaders and five French destroyers sortieed from Casablanca heading along the coast toward the transport area at Fedala. While engaged with them, Ludlow was hit forward by a 6.1 inch armor piercing shell. With four wounded and on fire, Ludlow retired toward the transport screen to mend. Wilkes, Swanson, Brooklyn and Augusta began a concentrated firing period on the French ships with the longer range shells of Brooklyn and Augusta forcing the French to turn back. In evasive maneuvers on their return, the French ran into our Covering Group. We will return to this French Navy effort shortly, from the vantage point of the US Covering Group.
Just a few minutes past 1000, Batterie du Port reopened harassing fire on the Fedala beaches. Swanson and Edison responded until ordered to cease fire, on the erroneous information that our destroyers had fired on our own troops. ComDesRon 13, Captain John Heffernan, protested that he could see the guns of Batterie du Port firing on our men on the beaches and asked, "May I fire?" With a "Yes!" response, Heffernan ordered Wilkes, then on the most favorable bearing, to re-open fire on this battery. Wilkes followed with a high rate of fire and the battery shut down once more after four salvoes. But, again at 1035, the battery came to life once more. Bristol opened fire on it from 7,000 yards, and it was at 1130, at the US Army's request, that firing ceased in this sector. In examining the damage later, it was discovered that one of the naval shore guns was disabled, and the fire control system demolished, but the other three guns, with plenty of ammunition still available, could fire in local control. Our forces had resisted firing on two fixed 75mm guns, in a gun pit among oil tanks, because of an interest in saving and using the oil. Located on the point of the Cape, these had been the hardest to find and subdue. Destroyer fire had completely disabled these guns by 1100. Later, the tanks were found to be empty.
The 1130 cease fire spelled the end of ground resistance at Fedala. Except for the naval gun batteries, Fedala had been lightly defended by about 200 French troops. French aircraft strafed Blue Beach at 1100, at noon, and again in the afternoon. At noon, the US minelayer Miantonomah laid a minefield to the east of Cape Fedala as protection to our transport anchorage. The transports moved in closer in mid-afternoon, to an anchorage marking the original line of assault boat departure. It was not over for them. In the Fedala landing phase, 45% of the assault landing boats had been wrecked, or holed by strafing.
With the surf rising, the Fedala beachmaster, CDR J.W. Jamison, did his utmost to re-direct boats to the harbor itself or to Beach Red. His message took too many hours to reach all concerned and our forces continued to lose boats. Navy and Coast Guardsmen would need more training and they would get it, in exercises or in subsequent Mediterranean or Normandy actions. They improved their landing technique, not just in major assaults but in repeated leapfrog landings after major assaults. Author Morison later met some Fedala veterans fresh from landings at Saipan in the Pacific. They told him that Fedala landings were the toughest of all because of darkness and surf. In addition to experience of the crews, doctrine would change. Softening up the defenders, and waiting until at least early light for the assault waves to hit the beach, would be changes in doctrine.
Just before noon on the 8th, US Army forces ashore at Fedala called for a cease fire from the naval gunnery. (By the afternoon of the 8th, nearly 17,000 troops were ashore, with full equipment, and fighting for Fedala was over. The destruction of landing craft had severely upset the rate at which we were able to to put troops ashore, but thankfully, the Army ashore made do with less.)
The Air Group
The Air Group offshore, US cruisers Cleveland, carriers Ranger and Suwannee, and destroyers Ellyson, Corry and Hobson had had little to do on D-day directly in support of assault waves at Fedala. Ranger launched F4F Wildcats at 0615 which headed for the Rabat and Rabat-Sale airdromes, headquarters for French air forces in Morocco. Encountering AA fire, they destroyed 21 planes on the ground at the two fields. The second flight shot down a plane and the third destroyed more planes on the ground at Port Lyautey. One US pilot was lost. Later flights went after batteries and French naval ships at Casablanca. Another fighter squadron from Ranger encountered 16 French planes airborne at Le Cazes airfield at Casablanca and lost four of its own planes as it shot down 8 French aircraft and destroyed 14 on the ground. This squadron also strafed the first group of French destroyers coming out of Casablanca. Ranger's SBD Dauntless dive bombers reached 10,000 feet over Casablanca at 0700 in the 8th and bombed the sub basin in the harbor. Suwannee's planes maintained ASW and combat air patrol. With 18 knots maximum speed these converted tanker/carriers needed a fresh breeze to launch planes and at Casablanca on Nov. 8 ,1942, often had to head for water where the chop indicated wind. We lost 44 planes, all causes, but many of our pilots and crewman were recovered.
The Covering Group - Heavier Stuff
At Casablanca harbor, the US Covering Group objective was to hold the French warships in check while supporting the Fedala landings as needed. This group consisted of battleship Massachusetts, just six months in commission, the cruisers Tuscaloosa and Wichita and destroyers Wainwright, Mayrant, Rhind and Jenkins. On a gun for gun basis, the battleship's role was to target a coastal battery at Point El Hank and neutralize the Jean Bart. The latter, immobilized at dockside, had two available turrets, four 15" guns in all, pointed to seaward. The French were noted for good optics and fire control. (In later evaluations, while the French fire control with their land-based naval batteries worked fine, it was usually the fire control part of their systems that were knocked out first by our fire, while the guns themselves remained in firing condition.) Tuscaloosa and Wichita, US heavy cruisers with 8" guns, were to target other Casablanca shore batteries and make sure, along with Massachusetts, that no French subs, cruisers or destroyers got to sea. Covering Group's destroyers were an ASW and AA screen.
The French at Casablanca opened the D-day action there at daylight. At 0610, nine US planes were catapulted for spotting and ASW. These US reconnaissance planes were fired on by AA guns and by French aircraft. The Covering Group's first targets were the French planes. Point El Hank and the Jean Bart commenced firing at the ships at sea at a ten mile range. Shell splashes appeared ahead of Massachusetts and she responded with her big guns shortly after 0700 on the 8th. Tuscaloosa began firing at El Hank and at the submarine pens in the harbor. The firing from El Hank and Jean Bart intensified, as more splashes moved closer to Massachusetts. US destroyers in the Covering Group screen were outranged and held fire. At 0815, with large caliber gun firing from Casablanca at its height, that sortie of French destroyer leaders Milan and Albatross, with destroyers Frondeur, Fougueux. Brestois and Boulonnais toward the Fedala transport area took place.
(With carrier aircraft available, in retrospect, it has to be marked as almost a matter of pride that our battleship and heavy cruisers would enter into a maneuver, controlled by the wind direction, to catapult nine, almost defenseless, float planes for reconnaissance and spotting. During the 1930s these elegant triumphs of coordination between aircraft pilot and ship skipper had been perfected. The pilots surely wanted to do their part. The compromises to freedom of ship action, especially in the retrieval of these planes, would no longer be deemed acceptable as experience was gained in later actions of the US Navy. Casablanca was one of the last hurrahs for this option. In the fast carrier task forces in the Pacific, carrier airmen became skilled in the duties of the "float" planes of Casablanca.)
Directly after launching their planes, Massachusetts, Wichita and Tuscaloosa unfurled battle ensigns (oversize US flags), and increased battle formation speed to 25 knots. Massachusetts led the column, followed by the cruisers at 1000-yard distances. Four destroyers screened at 3000 yards ahead of the battleship. The fifteen mile track of these ships roughly matched and paralleled the northeast to southwest line between Fedala and Casablanca Author Morison's account in Volume II, Operations in North African Waters is detailed:
"At 0640, when the formation had reached a position bearing about west northwest from Casablanca, distant 18,000 yards from Batterie El Hank and 20,000 yards from battleship Jean Bart's berth in the harbor, it began an easterly run, holding the same range. Ten minutes later, one of the flagship's spotting planes reported two submarines standing out of Casablanca Harbor, and at 0651 radioed: `There's an anti-aircraft battery opening up on me from the beach. One burst came within twelve feet. Batter up!' Another spotting plane encountered `bandits' at 0652 and signaled, `Am coming in on starboard bow with couple hostile aircraft on my tail. Pick `em off - I am the one in front!' The big ships opened up on these planes with their 5" batteries at 0701, and shot one down. The other retired; and almost simultaneously battleship Jean Bart and El Hank commenced firing. The coast defense guns straddled Massachusetts with their first salvo, and five or six splashes from Jean Bart fell about 600 yards ahead of her starboard bow. Admiral Giffen (directly in charge of this group) lost no time in giving his group the `Play Ball'. Massachusetts let go her first 16-inch salvo at 0704."
El Hank's 4-gun battery of 194 mm guns was located just west of the harbor. This battery was modern and accurate. Another four-gun 138 mm battery nearby looked eastward. A smaller, older battery at Table d'Aoukasha looked toward Fedala. Jean Bart's 15" guns and fire control were operative, though the ship was still being outfitted. The harbor and its approaches were covered well by gun batteries ashore.
Massachusetts and Tuscaloosa concentrated on Jean Bart while Wichita took El Hank under fire, using her own float plane to spot. Jean Bart took some heavy metal. Massachusetts unloaded 9 salvos, some with six guns firing some with all nine firing. (depends on the bearing; not unusual for a maneuvering ship to have a turret unable to fire because the firing cutout cams are protecting the ship itself) According to Morison's account, one shell exploded in an empty jean Bart magazine, one wrecked her after control station and opened up a hole below the waterline. Two armor piercing shells hit but did not meet enough resistance to explode, and a fifth shell hit a glancing blow on the forward turret, causing the turret to lock up in train (no movement possible in the horizontal plane) and putting her entire available battery out for 48 hours. As a factor during the landings at Fedala and for the central period at Casablanca, with an ability to reach the transport area at extreme range, the big guns on Jean Bart were silenced in 16 minutes on the morning of the 8th.
Tuscaloosa concentrated on the submarine berths at Casablanca, and then shifted to the Table d'Aoukasha battery. Wichita silenced El Hank temporarily with her 9-gun salvoes of 8" shells and then worked the submarine area over. This took the action to about half past seven in the morning and the Covering Group executed a course change to due west at a range of just over 25,000 yards. Firing was then resumed on all the harbor ships and targets. The Jean Bart appeared to be silenced. Three subs were sunk at anchor. But eight French submarines had managed to get out and the shore batteries were still operational. No hits were made on the Covering Group. By the end of this first phase of their firing at half past eight, the group were 16 miles northwest of Casablanca and 25 miles from the transport area. With the heavy guns of the US ships now at a safe distance, the French Admiral Michelier ordered his destroyer squadrons to break up the landing area at Fedala. Their sortie actually began shortly after 8 a.m.
First out were destroyer leaders Milan and Albatross, of 2500 tons, 423 feet at the waterline, with five 5.5" guns and four torpedo tubes, capable of 36 knots. Then came destroyers L'Alcyon, Brestois, Boulonnais, Fougueux and Frondeur. These were 1400 tonners, 331 feet long, with four 5.1 " guns, 6 torpedo tubes, also capable of 36 knots. Their Admiral was Gervais de Lafond in cruiser Primauguet which did not depart the port until 1000. The segmentation of French resistance politics was so great that this Admiral did not know the nationality of the forces opposing him when he sortieed. A French general, Bethouart, who supported the US and did know who was there, had been jailed for his truce-making efforts during the morning.
Some reports spoke of anxious moments for the transports with this bold move of the French destroyers, but I doubt if the transports and the assault boat crews were making such distinctions that morning. They, as one might say today, "had their own problems." The French destroyers took beach Yellow, west of Cape Fedala, under fire first. This was not an assault wave beach but was designated for later waves and some boats were already there. Wilkes and Ludlow were also taken under fire by the French. A Ludlow salvo started a fire on Milan, but in turning at high speed Ludlow herself was hit, as described earlier, and was absent the action for repairs for about three hours. In leaving the scene Ludlow was straddled out to 24,000 yards. Admiral Hewitt ordered Augusta, Brooklyn, Wilkes and Swanson to intercept the French ships. With the two destroyers leading Augusta, Brooklyn made a high speed 300 degree turn to fall in astern of Augusta, and all four US ships were firing at once. With the French down to just 8,000 yards from the transports, the ship to ship gunnery began at 18,000 yards. The French scored many misses and no more hits and broke off at 0900. This is when Hewitt ordered Radm Giffen and the Covering Group in to intercept the French. This group closed at 27 knots, opened fire at 19,000 yards about 0915, and closed to 12,000 yards firing all the while.
A Second Go
The French ships used coordinated turns, smoke generation, and speed to cut the effectiveness of our optical range finders and allow their destroyer leaders to dart out and take a few shots and then hide once again behind destroyer-laid smoke. At 1000, Primaguet, 7300 tons, 600 feet long, eight 6" guns and twelve torpedo tubes joined the action. Two French destroyers moved north to make a torpedo attack on the Covering Group. In the lead, Fougueux, was hit by Massachusetts and Tuscaloosa from 22,000 yards, blew up and sank almost 7 miles north of the Casablanca breakwater. El Hank hit Massachusetts on the main deck forward but damage was light. Just minutes later torpedoes were sighted on the port bow of Massachusetts and she turned in time to slide between the wakes of #3 and #4 of the spread. Four more torpedoes missed Tuscaloosa and as late as 1020, a torpedo passed 100 yards from Massachusetts. These were later assessed to be from the subs which successfully left Casablanca earlier in the morning.
The Covering Group was now in another run to the west and three French destroyers turned back toward the transport group. Admiral Hewitt ordered Brooklyn, Augusta and three destroyers to intercept. Recounting, up to this point, the French sea forces had been loose for quite awhile, had faced many aircraft attacks and some heavy shelling, and had lost just one of its nimble ships.
Brooklyn, to the east of Fedala at this point, steered directly toward the French surface forces and luckily threaded a spread of five torpedoes from the French sub, Amazone. Augusta was fueling one of her recovered float planes and was preparing to load General Patton into a boat for his landing ashore. She cut the boat's line to herself and moved over toward Brooklyn. The latter was taken under fire by a French destroyer abut 1010. Augusta got into action 10 minutes later, for this second morning engagement on the 8th of November. Wilkes, Swanson and Bristol screened the cruisers and were pitted against light cruiser Primaguet, destroyer leaders Milan and Albatross and four French destroyers.
Our cruisers changed course at will and more or less independently of each other. This gave our screening destroyers quite a challenge and sometimes they were not screening at all and this was through no fault of their own. I was not yet a full fledged conning officer and at battle stations would not likely be the conning officer. Later at Salerno, I was the conning officer in these conditions. It will be an item then to relate how these maneuvers effect a destroyer with two duties to perform, one to defend against aircraft, and one to screen against submarines. The Casablanca waters were full of splashes, but they were also full of torpedoes and destroyers escorting our heavier gunned warships had a complicated task.
This time Brooklyn was in the lead. She had fifteen 6" guns. Her gunnery tactic was to use one or two gun ranging salvos, to spot the effect, and then go to one or two minutes of rapid fire. By then, the French had turned northwest and were using smoke. At eight to nine miles range, the French ships seemed like small targets emerging from smoke then retiring into it. Brooklyn was hit by a 5" dud shell at 1045. The tenseness of this chase heightened when the masts of three ships appeared on the western horizon. It became clear that these ships were firing, and large geysers of shell splashes appeared on Brooklyn's bow. At Dakar, the French had a battleship and two cruisers. Had they anticipated D-day at Casablanca and departed Dakar in time to participate in this action? No! The juxtaposition of splashes and masts was a coincidence. El Hank was the source of the shell splashes and our own Covering Group was re-entering the fray from her western swing. Massachusetts scored a direct hit on Boulonnais which rolled, suspended her roll, and then completely rolled over and sank.
Leaving Massachusetts to count what shells remained in her magazines (60% depleted), Tuscaloosa, now leading Wichita, and destroyer Rhind, closed the French to 14,000 yards, Brooklyn and Augusta were still pursuing from the east. Primaguet was holed five times below the waterline from Augusta and Brooklyn, and had an 8" shell on her #3 turret. She retired about 11 a.m. and anchored off shore. Milan had taken five hits, mostly 8" shells. Milan retired and anchored. Brestois was hit by Augusta and this destroyer made her harbor, but after strafing from Ranger's planes, later sank. The three French warships outside the harbor still underway were destroyer leader Albatros, and destroyers Frondeur and L'Alcyon. These ships organized for one more torpedo foray at 1115. Tuscaloosa and Wichita reduced their effort to zig zags behind a smoke screen. Under continuous fire from El Hank, Wichita was hit about 1130 with light damage and 14 men wounded. Wichita then was missed by a three-torpedo spread from a French submarine. Tuscaloosa and Wichita hit Frondeur. Down by the stern she made it back into port only to succumb to aircraft strafing. Shells hit Albatros twice at 1130 and she fought on with three guns, zigzagging in the smoke. One of Ranger's dive bombers scored with two bombs which penetrated a fire room and an engineroom. A hit from Augusta took out the other engineroom. Albatros lost all way. Only L'Alcyon got back in unscathed.
Fedala conferences were being held, Casablanca conferences were being held, surrenders were sweeping up the road from Fedala, but Admiral Michelier kept his own counsel and had more fight in the forces left to him.
A Third Effort by French Fighting Ships on D-day
By noon, Brooklyn and Augusta had returned to their transport assignment. General Patton had been put ashore. The Covering Group was moving westward again to run down a false report of an unidentified cruiser. At shortly before one in the afternoon, La Grandiere, a 2000 ton ship with three 5.5" guns left harbor at Casablanca with two minesweepers as escort. Again, the track was toward the transports. Two destroyers, Tempete and Simoun, which had not yet been in the open sea action, milled around the harbor entrance. In the face of shelling from Augusta and Brooklyn and screen, La Grandiere, slightly damaged by our aircraft returned with her escort to port. A tug attempting to tow Albatros was also bombed and strafed and finally helped beach Albatros near Primauguet and Milan. Primaguet came under almost continuous bombing attack in her exposed position with no shore AA guns to help out. A hit on the bridge killed 9 officers, including her skipper.
Later in the afternoon, Massachusetts signaled that she had seven loaded 16" guns, and would make one more firing pass at El Hank. But, by the end of the 8th, El Hank stood firm. Massachusetts had only armor piercing shells for her main battery, according to the Morison account. With no High Capacity (HC) point detonating ammo, only a direct hit on thick metal would do any real harm. Morison's comment at the close of the first day at Casablanca included the following exchange:
The officer manning the engine room telephone on the destroyer Wilkes heard loud reports, then calls for more speed. "What is going on up there, he inquired?" "Enemy cruiser chasing us," was the reply. Before long he was thrown off his feet by a sudden change of course and even more speed was called for. "What's going on now?", he asked. "We're chasing the enemy cruiser!"
There had been 11 French submarines in Casablanca when action began. Three were sunk in the harbor and eight got out. We have covered most of the action accounts of those that got to sea. We will summarize what we learned from later assessments. Meduse was bombed by a Philadelphia plane and beached. Orphee made it back into Casablanca and survived. Le Tonnant made it to Cadiz and was scuttled there by her crew. Amazone and Antiope made it to Dakar. Three have never been fully accounted for. They were Sidi-Ferruch, Conquerant, and Sybille. According to Author Morison's Volume II, one of these three was depth-charged and bombed by US destroyers and aircraft. What the sortieed French submarines accomplished in several torpedo attacks against our most important warships could have spelled disaster. Hindsight tells us that they should never have gotten out. The uncertainties about French resistance and little last minute reconnaissance information on the harbor sent our first air strikes off with tentative objectives.
Troop Progress at Fedala
On the ninth, in a visit to Patton's newly established command post at Hotel Miramar in Fedala, Admiral Hewitt transferred command of all troops ashore to General Patton. Although a good percentage of our troops had made it to shore by the evening of the 8th, only a fraction of the cargo from the transports had been unloaded. Three of the Center Group's smaller cargo ships were moved right into Fedala harbor by the end of D-day. Ferrying cargo to shore in landing boats proceeded on through the night of 8-9 November. One or two single French aircraft sorties dropped a few bombs, without effect. The swell, unusually low for the 8th, increased to normal on the 9th. All remaining transports in the roadstead were moved in so that the closest was just 4,000 yards from the harbor. Bristol had captured a French trawler on the 8th, and with a prize crew aboard, ferried 200 soldiers per trip for two days and two nights. This made available a greater percentage of the surviving landing craft to use for moving supplies ashore. The beachmaster concentrated on Fedala harbor or beach Red in the rising surf. Even then, tank lighters foundered in the surf.
Personnel with inadequate skills training, exacerbated by poor planning of the way material had been loaded aboard ship, were factors which delayed the movement of men and materiel to the beach. The job got done. But, it would never be done this way again. With the wrong supplies at the wrong place, competition for specific needs made matters worse. Trucks were needed to move material away from the docks, but Patton needed the same trucks for his advance toward Casablanca. Transports Stanton and Thurston, and soon-to-be communications ship Ancon, got their complex signal and medical equipment ashore. Boat crews were exhausted with no time off from the night of the 7th until the morning of the 10th when all troops had made it ashore.
Aircraft duels occupied much of the 9th, with Ranger planes shooting down French Dewoitine aircraft and an ME-109 which had strafed the beaches at Fedala. Thereafter, Port Lyautey airfield and columns of French reenforcements moving toward Casablanca, occupied the attention of our air group. The beaches and transport area were not further bothered from the air. By the 10th, Lyautey airfield and the Kasba to the north were in US hands and Safe had fallen. Battleship New York was ordered back to the Center Group and General Harmon's tanks started north toward Mazagan from Safe on the road to Casablanca. The Army intended to assault Casablanca on the 11th.
Admiral Michelier improvised. Crews from his disabled ships joined a Senegalese battalion and formed a perimeter on the 10th. US troops advancing west were met by naval gunfire from the Jean Bart's secondary batteries and the Ainsaba AA battery. Two French corvettes advanced along the coast firing into US troops with 100 mm guns and machine guns. Augusta, Edison, Boyle, Tillman and Rowan moved toward the corvettes, with Edison opening fire at 1130 on the lead corvette and Tillman on the other. Ten minutes later Augusta fired several salvos at a range of 18,000 yards. Using smoke, the corvettes retreated into the harbor.
Michelier's defense was soon split. Augusta then noticed splashes ahead. Jean Bart had repaired the 15 inch battery azimuth jam, but had left the guns in the disabled position until ready to fire. Reversing course, Augusta was straddled closely three times from Jean Bart's ten two-gun salvos as she opened the range to Jean Bart from 19,000 to 29,000 yards. Edison was with Augusta on that retirement. Our guns were outranged. From being ahead of Augusta on the inbound course, we were left behind her as she swept outbound, so we had a very close look at one tight straddle of Augusta's fantail. Ranger divebombers with 1000 pound bombs scored three direct hits on Jean Bart in retaliation.
Though now put out of action for the Casablanca engagement, the resilient Jean Bart was shortly floated, escorted to New York with the help of one of Edison's officers, Jake Boyd. In the US she was refitted, and fought again, this time for the Allies.
By the night of the 10th, US troops converged in a 180 degree arc around Casablanca awaiting only the Sherman tanks from Safe. A final attack was set for early on the 11th. By 0600, Augusta, New York , cruiser Cleveland several destroyers, all with plenty of ammunition took up firing positions. Before 0700, the French sent a flag of truce and by 0700 the attack was called off. The French communication chain went from Darlan at Algiers, to General Nogues to Admiral Michelier and covered the entire TORCH objective. The fighting ashore for Morocco and Algeria was over. There may have been exceptions, but the French in North Africa immediately began cooperating in the effort to defeat Germany.
U-Boats Find U.S. Anchored U.S.Transports Sitting Ducks. Joseph Hewes, Edward Rutledge, Tasker Bliss and Hugh Scott were a heavy price to pay.
Success in almost all other respects of the Western Task Group's responsibility ended with a dark blot on the record. By the 10th, Ranger had reported a spread of four torpedoes which missed, her lookouts had seen a conning tower, and one of her screening destroyers, Ellyson had seen a periscope. On the 11th, Suwannee sank a shore-hugging sub with depth charges. That submarine was later assessed to be one of the three French subs not accounted for after leaving Casablanca. By afternoon, dispatches told the Task Force gathered around Fedala that Atlantic U-boat concentrations had moved toward the Casablanca area. A warning to this effect went to all ships. Most of the Center Attack Group transports were still anchored off Fedala. Author Morison's Volume II, Operations in North African Waters, details important discussions about moving all transports into Casablanca. It was agreed to move Bliss, Scott, Hewes and Rutledge which were at the beginning of their unloading. After a strong endorsement of the move by Captain Emmet, Admiral Hewitt decided against it because a D-day plus 5 convoy was just entering the area and would need all available space in Casablanca harbor. Most of the discussions centered on whether to move into port or stay at anchor off Fedala.
The decision not to move some transports behind the Casablanca breakwater was made about half past six on the 11th, and an hour later, the Joseph Hewes, the tanker Winooski and the destroyer Hambleton, waiting at anchor to fuel from Winooski were torpedoed. Hewes went down quickly, taking her skipper and many of her crew, and almost all of her load. Winooski was hit in a fuel tank that had salt water ballast in it, the hole being about 25 feet on a side. Hambleton lost 20 men, but the survivors kept her afloat and she was towed into Casablanca and months later made it to the US under her own power. According to Morison's account, the skipper of the Hambleton was bitter about the order he received to anchor to await fueling from a ship whose personnel had told him that they only fueled ships during certain hours. Later assessments confirmed that these torpedoings had been a U-boat job, possibly one which had made it through the defensive minefield we had laid. It was almost as if this sub had a representative present at the meeting after which it was decided the transports would not move.
Let me reset the transport scene. They were anchored in a rectangle, almost North-South and East-West just north of Fedala. Our mine field was to the northeast. The inner screen was Bristol patrolling east-west to the north, and Murphy patrolling north-south to the west. A series of screening ships made up layers of inverted Ls, moving north to open sea and west toward Casablanca. The screen was five deep, with Edison covering the north-south line the furthest west. Bristol sighted the U-173 (later assessment confirmed the specific identification) retiring to the north, but resorted to use of a searchlight to first make sure it was not a landing craft, got off one shot, and then made two depth charge attacks after the sub submerged. It escaped, for the moment.
By the next day (12 November), Casablanca Harbor was ready to take 12 ships but Admiral Hewitt, according to author Samuel Eliot Morison, again declined to move transports into port. We do not know if he made a declaration to that effect, or if he was asked again, and said "no." Captain Emmet had authority to get the transports underway and had his own screening destroyers assigned. I believe that Admirals Hewitt's decision not to move transports into Casablanca on the 11th stifled discussion and other options were not raised, leading to the "question never asked" situation.
On the 12th, Ranger with Suwannee and Chenango and a force including Brooklyn and six destroyers was attacked by an aggressive submarine. Brooklyn's scout planes could see shapes under the water, and periscopes were sighted. Three destroyers reported aggressive torpedo activity on the afternoon of the 12th. U-130 approached the transports from the east, and got shoreward of the minefield and into attack position. At about 6 p.m. local time, she fired a spread of six from the forward tubes and two from the aft tubes. Edward Rutledge, Tasker Bliss and Hugh Scott received two hits each. The time of these torpedoings was just under 24 hours after USS Hambleton was hit, as she lay anchored near the Winooski when both were hit.
In this second episode, Edison was actually alongside the Winooski, with lines attached to her, and with a fueling hose connected in which oil flowed from the tanker to us. I had just mentioned to a Winooski sailor that the impact of the torpedo explosion the night before must have been great since I saw bandages on the foreheads of many Winooski seamen. He responded, "Oh no, we hardly felt the impact. We knew something had happened. We were all at the movie in total darkness with hard hats on. In the confusion, we butted each other with the hard hats and that is the reason for the bandages." Moments after my interchange with the Winooski crewmember, the explosions resounded as the three transports were hit; Edison cast off hurriedly from the Winooski, leaving oil flowing out of a dangling hose.
Until I read Historian Morison's account 55 years later, I was not able to put the Hambleton's skipper's upset at the Winooski's refusal to fuel him, for the reason that it was past the time of day that they performed this service, in context. Perhaps the fueling of the Hambleton late in the afternoon of the 11th would have interfered with movie time on Winooski. In terms of damage, had Hambleton been alongside, the torpedo hit on Winooski could have been far worse. Or, the Hambleton might have been spared altogether.
Bliss burned and sank after midnight on the 13th with heavy loss of life. Rutledge and Scott went down earlier. U-130 retired northeast and Captain Emmet used the option not exercised a day earlier, he got the remaining ships underway. Later on the 15th, the USS Electra, enroute without escort from its service with the Northern Task Group to Casablanca, was torpedoed 17 miles off Fedala.. With the Navy tug Cherokee pulling, and minesweepers Raven and Stansbury pumping, and with some screening of this operation by Edison, the assist got Electra to where she could be beached temporarily. She made it back to the States and was repaired for future operations.
U-173 sank Hewes and reported in to the German Admiralty. She probably also hit the Electra but likely had not had time to get this report in to the German Admiralty. About noon on the 16th, destroyer Woolsey got a very good sound contact and assisted by Swanson and Quick, forced the presumed submarine to the bottom. Woolsey repeatedly caused oil and bubbles to the surface with her depth charging. This was off the entrance to Casablanca and this was an action that U-173 definitely did not report to its Admiralty. Woolsey proved very adept as sub finding as we shall see in a later chapter.
If the argument about Casablanca dock space versus keeping the transports at anchorage had not absorbed the decision makers, one speculates if someone present would have been encouraged to offer a third alternative, get the transports underway. This is what Captain Emmet did on his own authority after the second attack. Destroyers screening symmetrically anchored transports can do little to help, but there were plenty of destroyers to screen underway transports and at this, they had experience. The subs were bold, but almost any firing angle was going to find some cargo ship in those circumstances.
A persistent set of the current to the northeast drove Fedala Scout Boats and control destroyers off position and contributed to the heavy loss of precious landing craft, supplies, and even some troops. An SG radar fix earlier in the evening of the 7th corrected the Dead Reckoning (DR) position of the lead transports and provided course change information to get to the correct initial point. With some delay caused by this last minute change, the rest of the transports wheeled into their correct positions late. It could be argued that the DR position error was an accumulation of errors but in retrospect, it was a local current whose effect had not been entered into the original DR solution; this current remained to push the landing craft and the control destroyers out of position as they closed the beaches. In the darkness there were many unknowns to the Scout Boats. Not realizing where they were was just one of the more aggravating unknowns. Continued use of an SG radar for more precise local navigation close to shore would have helped the entire operation. But it has been confirmed by a careful historian, Admiral Morison, that there was at least one SG radar on some naval ship at Casablanca. Perhaps there were more.
It was a rumor in destroyer circles just after TORCH that there was an SG radar on one of the screening ships. With the visual sightings of conning towers and periscopes, and sound contacts, one speculates that SG radar contacts on submarines would have been a real possibility at Casablanca. A richly populated area of anchored transports and three days to find out that something was going on off Casablanca, would draw the attention of the German U-boat fleet. The only conclusions I can make are: (1) there was no SG radar on a screen destroyer, or (2) there was an SG radar and no one realized what a tool it could be, or (3) there was an SG radar, contacts were reported, and disbelieved.
US destroyers came out of TORCH with few casualties and with a lot of experience. Edison served well enough to be promoted to fire support in the next fleet landing operations at Sicily. SG radar was coming to the Edison.
Although the French submarines from Casablanca did not sink any of our ships, they did give an account of themselves and only some extraordinary vigilance and maneuvering aboard our warships prevented the French torpedoes from creating extensive damage. The French did not have the experience of over two years at sea as the U-boat fleet had. The French, at Casablanca, were pressing attacks home on major US warships, not largely unarmed merchantmen.
The U-boats were called in from the Atlantic. Morocco has an extensive, open, coast. Approach conditions were ideal for the U-boats and their orders were to defeat us by sinking our shipping. At Casablanca, that mission did not change. With their open sea experience, and with daring and aggressiveness, they did extensive damage at Casablanca to our supply train.
While the two most aggressive U-boat skippers involved in Casablanca attacks paid with the loss of their vessels, they extracted more than they gave up. In today's terms, their risk/reward ratio was good. The overall message for submarine warfare is that the sub was not defeated in World War II, it was out produced. If a so-called conventional war occurred again, say one of the two regional conflicts we plan to be prepared for gets out of hand and involves submarines and mines, the advantage of those undersea weapons' systems would cause the US embarrassment again in the early going.
The Trip Home
Here is what we thought about.
Here is how we communicated.
In case the picture is not clear, that is V-mail, a photographically reduced size letter on photo paper, replete with censor's stamp in the upper left corner.
(At this point, we resume the log that Lt. (Jg) Meier has provided.)
The 17th. Got underway from the outer Casablanca harbor at 8:00 this morning and by 2:00 in the afternoon the convoy had formed up and was ready to put to sea. It is now midnight and I have just returned from watch on the bridge. The weather is delightful and the moon very bright. Temperatures in the evening range thru the 60's and low 70's. This type of weather is bad submarine weather, however, and we're all hoping for the best. In this connection, we received word today that a submarine was sunk in our mine field last night. This makes 3 or 4 sunk or damaged around Casablanca. The score isn't even with them yet, however.
The 18th. Nothing at all happened today. Stood my usual watches and played a couple of games of chess with Jake Boyd. We are all hoping that we will drop these transports off at Norfolk and then head for New York or Boston at 25 knots. The Commodore on the Bristol (ComDesRon 13) finds it very inconvenient to be in Norfolk so there is a good possibility of leaving there.
(A comment. My wife grew up in Portsmouth and in the Ocean View area of Norfolk, Virginia. She has told me that the Navy people off the ships never liked it there. My guess is that there were just too many of them and the entertainment prospects compared with New York or Boston were not appealing. The Commodore in November of 1942 was Captain John B. Heffernan. After the war, as Radm, he became Director of Naval History. Finally, Jake Boyd from the Naval Academy class of 1938 was the games expert in the wardroom. I did not dare play chess against him but would try bridge, hearts, or cribbage. He always emphasized in cribbage that it was not who was ahead, but who had the last play. Jake was also a wonderful person, expert at everything he did, and willing to teach a younger officer.)
The 19th. Today was a beautiful, warm day and everything went along smoothly. Had a routine battle station drill this morning, the first since before the assault on Casablanca. The sea is very calm -- all the difference in the world from the North Atlantic.
The 20th. Nothing of importance happened today. The weather continues warm and pleasant but had a severe thunderstorm in the late afternoon.
The 21st. Refueled today while underway at 10 knots. It is a delicate maneuver and must be executed with precision. The barometer started to drop this morning and the storm which was expected came late in the afternoon.
(During General Quarters, the Deck Divisions largely melt away. Most of the men have assignments at some ordnance station. During fueling at sea, the deck divisions come into their own. On the bridge, the conning officer, helmsman and skipper are in tight communication with the engineroom. No fishtailing! The rudder is critical. On the main deck, the bosun is in charge. The two principal connections with the tanker are the oil hose, and a tether to the tanker. Edison rides on the tether from the tanker, with just a turn or two on Edison's own engines lower than turns needed to exactly pace the tanker. So, Edison is being towed just slightly on the tanker's power. Ride the rope and not the oil hose. The bosun has created a complex rig, and in addition to a smooth "ride" slightly at the expense of the tanker, his rig is designed to provide for a smooth disconnect or a quick disconnect. The latter is not often required but when it is, it is done almost from the eye movement of the skipper directly to the bosun. The tool that accomplishes the quick disconnect is a simple axe. The bosun must have created the rig properly, then he must swing that axe accurately. Once, our tanks were full and we could not get the tanker to stop pumping. With oil all over the deck and flowing down the hatches, the bosun not only exercised the quick disconnect but he also had to throw the oil hose into the sea. Below, the bosun. His name was Francis Ducharme, and at the time of the picture was Boatswain's Mate First Class. He later made Chief.)
The 22nd. Boy, what a storm we had last night and all day today. The barometer dropped rapidly to 28.08 and the mountainous waves washed right over the ship. It was just as bad as those North Atlantic storms last winter. The moon came out clear and bright tonight and rain in the distance made a rainbow or rather a moonglow. It's the first time I have ever seen a phenomenon like that.
(That barometer reading refers to 28.08 inches of Mercury in a glass tube. By coincidence, I am transposing Ed Meier's notes on September 12, 1997 and just three days ago on 9/9/97, our East Coast USA weather forecaster told us that hurricane Erika had turned northeast and would miss Bermuda to the east. He reported that the eye of the hurricane had a pressure of 28.08 and the winds were then at 125 mph, a Class 3 hurricane. On the trip home from North Africa, and in flying Liberators and Privateers later on in the Navy, I have been in the "eye" of hurricanes about three or four times.. One East Coast hurricane in the late 1980s passed right over my home in Massachusetts. What Ed Meier experienced in mid-Atlantic on November 22, 1942 was the "eye" of the hurricane, in those days without a name. I might also note that the Convoy Commodore on the way home felt "bilious" in that storm and turned command temporarily over to his #2. Ships that fueled later on the 21st had much more difficulty. In a later transit of the Atlantic, a cruiser skipper was quite finicky about going alongside the tanker in the pitching seas, and made a number of "passes" without hooking up. The TF commander relieved him on the spot and the cruiser's Executive Officer was put in command.)
The 23rd. The storm is beginning to abate altho it is still plenty rough. By noon the barometer rose to 28.50. News from all battle fronts seems to be excellent and it looks as though next year (1943) will be a big one for the Allies. With Rommel pushed out of Africa, which I believe will happen within the winter, the Allies should be able to knock Italy out of the war by early spring or early summer. And from there on, it will be an all out offensive against Germany. And with Germany on the run, Japan will not present much of a problem. I am extremely optimistic over the prospects of the war being pretty nearly over by this time next year.
The 24th. Nothing of importance occurred today. The storm has to a great extent spent itself and we can again enjoy a meal without spilling part of the food on the table.
(This concludes the summary of Lt. (Jg) Meier's recollections about the North African invasion in November 1942. I am grateful that he shared his memory with me. I must again note how aware he was of the events in which he was participating. )
Operations, December 1942 to June 1943
Edison made Norfolk, on the return from Casablanca on December 1, 1942, and did get ordered to New York. She went back to Norfolk to pick up a single ship to convoy to Port Arthur, Texas, where Edison spent Christmas eve, 1942. Texas did not permit liquor to be sold in bars. One had to go to a state liquor store and buy a bottle and then go to a bottle club. Which we did. We were enjoying this freedom. There was really no entertainment as such. At the next table, a Texaco oil man and a Gulf oil man got into a big argument. By the time we were fully aware of their anger, the two were brandishing liquor bottles with the heads knocked off. Ensign Dick Hofer and I went out into a lumber yard next door and hid while the shore patrol and local police restored order. The trip in and out of the channel to Port Arthur, with a pilot aboard, was made in pitch darkness, a heavy layer of fog and dense clouds of bugs. I marked it as not a place to live.
On Christmas Day we left for New York, arriving there on 2 January, 1943. We left with a convoy for Casablanca on 14 January, arriving without incident on 25 January. We patrolled outside the harbor. We also moored inside the sea wall, an experience where the ship is perpendicular to the sea wall, stern lines are attached to the sea wall, and an anchor is dropped off the bow. The swells cause the largest lines to fray and break, and the anchor to drag even though inside the sea wall. This can get on one's nerves. It kept the skipper and exec at full alert. We returned to New York on 13 February. Went to Casco Bay on 25 February for type (destroyer) training, then left for New York on 2 March and joined a convoy for Casablanca on 5 March, arriving on the 18th. Sailed on 6 April with convoy for New York and made repairs in Brooklyn Navy Yard on 18 April, and left for Norfolk on 19 April.
After exercises in the Chesapeake, including emergency drills and gunnery, sailed for New York on 4 June and a rendezvous with a convoy to Mers El Kebir, Algeria. Full convoy underway by 10 June and made Mers El Kebir harbor on 21 June. This commenced a new phase of Edison's life, with a Mediterranean base at Mers El Kebir, Algeria and support when needed from repair ship, USS Vulcan, AR5. I was still living day-to-day. So, again, I failed to recognize at the time that we were entering an entirely new phase in the life of the USS Edison, but one she was surely designed for. The rest of my tour on Edison would find Edison a principal fire support ship for amphibious landings, with some ASW convoy duty, usually when we got low on ammo or needed repairs. By early winter of 1943, we had had a yard availability period during which the SG radar was installed. The balance of power with the U-boats shifted back a little toward our side.