The Naval Battle of Casablanca was a series of naval engagements fought between American ships covering the invasion of North Africa and Vichy French ships defending the neutrality of French Morocco in accordance with the Second Armistice at Compiègne during World War II. The last stages of the battle consisted of operations by German U-boats which had reached the area the same day the French troops surrendered.[note 1] Allied military planners anticipated an all-American force assigned to seize the Atlantic port city of Casablanca might be greeted as liberators. An invasion task force of 102 American ships carrying 35,000 American soldiers approached the Moroccan coast undetected under cover of darkness. French defenders interpreted the first contacts as a diversionary raid for a major landing in Algeria; and regarded the surrender of six Moroccan divisions to a small commando raiding force as a clear violation of French obligations to defend Moroccan neutrality under the Second Armistice at Compiègne. An escalating series of surprised responses in an atmosphere of mistrust and secrecy caused loss of four U.S. troopships and death of 462 men aboard 24 French ships opposing the invasion.
Morocco was a colony of France at the time of World War II. The French government at Vichy had surrendered to Germany after the Battle of France, signing an Armistice with Nazi Germany. General Charles de Gaulle led French forces opposed to the surrender and to the Vichy government, continuing the war on the side of Great Britain and the Allies. The Vichy regime—which controlled Morocco—was thus officially neutral, but in practical terms the Armistice obliged Vichy to resist any attempt by France′s erstwhile allies to seize French territory or equipment for use against Germany. British forces had attacked the French at Mers-el-Kébir for refusing to surrender to them or join the Allies, leading to much ill-will between France and Britain. The U.S. government had previously recognized the Vichy regime as legitimate. Military planning for Operation Torch in 1942 emphasized American troops in the initial landing forces on the basis of intelligence estimates they would be less vigorously opposed than British soldiers.
Troopship convoy UGF 1 left Chesapeake Bay on 23 October 1942 and was joined on 26 October by a covering force of battleships and cruisers sailing from Casco Bay and on 28 October by the aircraft carriers USS Ranger, Sangamon, Suwannee, Chenango, and Santee sailing from Bermuda. These ships were screened by 38 American destroyers. The resulting Task Force 34 (TF 34) included 102 ships for the invasion of Morocco under the command of Rear Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt aboard the flagship heavy cruiser USS Augusta. As TF 34 sailed, the British submarine HMS Seraph landed Major General Mark W. Clark near Algiers to meet with pro-American French military officers stationed in Algeria. French officers shared information about defensive arrangements; but the Americans did not share critical invasion details of timing, strength and distribution of forces. No information was provided to key French leaders including Armed Forces Commander in Chief Admiral François Darlan, North African Commander in Chief General Alphonse Juin, or Moroccan Resident General Charles Noguès.
In 1942, Casablanca was the principal Vichy-controlled port on the Atlantic (all of France′s Atlantic coast having been occupied by Germany since 1940) and the most important Vichy-controlled naval base after Toulon. Naval gunners manned the El Hank coastal artillery battery of four 7.6 in (190 mm) guns and four 5.3 in (130 mm) guns; and one quadruple 15 in (380 mm) gun turret of the modern battleship Jean Bart was operational, although the battleship remained incomplete following escape from the Saint-Nazaire shipyards during the German invasion of 1940. One light cruiser, two flotilla leaders, seven destroyers (two already damaged by collision), eight sloops, 11 minesweepers, and 11 submarines were in port on the morning of 8 November.
Most French personnel attending General Clark′s pre-invasion meeting were army officers. Information subsequently conveyed in pre-invasion contact with army personnel stationed in Morocco was interpreted as a request for recommendations. No pre-invasion contact has been documented with Vice Admiral Michelier, who commanded naval forces responsible for the defense of Casablanca. Admiral Michelier was not yet in the confidence of North African officers in contact with the Americans, since he had been a member of the Armistice Commission until assuming his Casablanca post less than a month before the invasion.
French defenders were placed on alert status when Algerian invasion convoys were detected passing through the Strait of Gibraltar. Destinations remained unclear, and TF 34 remained undetected as it split into three groups on 7 November. Concealed by darkness, a northern group (six troopships and two cargo ships escorted by the battleship USS Texas, the light cruiser USS Savannah and six destroyers) prepared to land 9,000 troops of the 60th infantry Regiment reinforced with 65 light tanks to seize the Port Lyautey airfield; and a southern group (four troopships and two cargo ships escorted by the battleship USS New York, the light cruiser USS Philadelphia and six destroyers) prepared to land 6,500 troops of the 47th Infantry Regiment reinforced with 90 medium and light tanks near the phosphate port of Safi to cover the southern approaches to Casablanca, while the center group prepared to land the Casablanca occupation force of 19,500 troops of the 3rd Infantry Division reinforced with 79 light tanks near Fedala 15 mi (24 km) northeast of Casablanca. Naval coastal defense batteries flanked both ends of the Fedala landing beach with four 5.3 in (130 mm) guns at Point Blondin to the east and three 4 in (100 mm) and two 2.95 in (75 mm) guns in Fedala on the point sheltering the western end of the beach.
Center group troopships USS William P. Biddle, Leonard Wood, Joseph T. Dickman, Tasker H. Bliss, Hugh L. Scott, Joseph Hewes, Edward Rutledge, Charles Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Ancon, Elizabeth C. Stanton, Thurston, Arcturus, Procyon, and Oberon anchored 8 mi (7.0 nmi; 13 km) off Fedala at midnight. Loaded landing craft rendezvoused and left the line of departure at 06:00.[note 2] Fedala coast defense batteries were alerted by the noise of landing craft engines and illuminated the beach approaches with searchlights but the searchlights were extinguished when the landing craft support boats opened fire with machine guns. Three-thousand-five hundred American troops were ashore by dawn; but early morning mist concealed the size of the invasion force. Fedala coast defense batteries opened fire on the landing craft shortly after 07:00.[note 2] At 07:20,[note 2] Admiral Hewitt authorized four American destroyers supporting the landing craft to open fire on the French shore batteries. French gunners damaged the destroyers USS Ludlow and Murphy, and at 07:25[note 2] the destroyers were defended by the heavier guns of the cruisers Augusta and Brooklyn screening the troopships. Ludlow and Wilkes silenced the Point Blondin battery, while Augusta silenced the Fedala battery. Murphy, Wainwright, and other U.S. vessels engaged two French aircraft just before 07:00 on 8 November, ultimately driving them off.The French submarines Amazone, Antiope, Meduse, Orphee and La Sybille sortied to defensive patrol stations at 07:00. At 07:50,[note 2] French fighters rose to intercept a force of bombers from Ranger and Suwanee. The French fighters were engaged by fighters from Ranger in a dogfight that felled seven French and four or five American planes. Bombs started falling on Casablanca Harbor at 0804.[note 2] Ten civilian freighters and liners were sunk and French submarines Amphitrite. Oreade, and La Psyche were destroyed at their moorings before they could get underway. The American covering force of USS Massachusetts (BB-59), Wichita and Tuscaloosa screened by destroyers Mayrant, Rhind, Wainwright, and Jenkins appeared offshore and Massachusetts′ 16 in (410 mm) guns were added to the bombardment. The El Hank battery observed gunfire from the covering force and straddled Massachusetts with its first salvo. The operational turret aboard the incomplete battleship Jean Bart also opened fire and was targeted by Massachusetts. Her fifth salvo jammed the turret rotating mechanism on Jean Bart. The covering force then targeted El Hank Battery from 08:40 to 09:25.[note 2]
While the covering force engaged El Hank Battery west of Casablanca, seven ships of the French 2nd Light Squadron sortied from Casablanca harbor at 09:00 under cover of a smoke screen to attack the troopships anchored off Fedala to the east. The French destroyer Malin sortied with destroyers Fougueux and Boulonnais. At 09:20, the French squadron was strafed by fighter planes from Ranger. French gunners sank a landing craft and scored hits on Ludlow. Milan beached after being damaged by gunfire from Wilkes, Wichita, and Tuscaloosa. Massachusetts and Tuscaloosa engaged the French destroyers Fougueux at 10:00 and Boulonnais at 10:12. Fougueux sank at 10:40. The French light cruiser Primauguet sortied with flotilla leader destroyer Albatros and destroyers Brestois and Frondeur. Engaged by Massachusetts, the Primauguet force was outgunned; Primauguet had been under refit and was not fully operational but returned fire nonetheless. The French flotilla was also engaged by Augusta and Brooklyn from 11:00 to 11:20. Albatros beached to avoid sinking. The remaining ships returned to Casablanca harbor where Primauguet beached and burnt out and the two destroyers capsized. Forty-five crew members were killed aboard Primauguet, and more than 200 more wounded. The French submarine Amazone missed Brooklyn with a salvo of torpedoes. La Sybille disappeared on a patrol station between Casablanca and Fedala, but the cause of her destruction remains uncertain. Surviving French submarines Sidi Ferruch and Le Conquerant sortied without torpedoes to avoid destruction in the harbor. Le Tonnant managed to load a few torpedoes before leaving.
Augusta sank Boulonnais at noon and the only French destroyer remaining operational was L'Alcyon. Three small French warships emerged from Casablanca harbor in the early afternoon to rescue sailors from the sunken destroyer Fougueux, but the rescue ships were turned back by shellfire from the American covering force.[note 3] Workmen had repaired Jean Bart′s turret by sundown, and El Hank Battery remained operational. Nearly half of the 347 American landing craft had been destroyed, and fewer than 8,000 troops had been landed. Five French submarines still stalked the invasion fleet.
The French mineweepers Commandant Delage and La Gracieuse sortied at 10:00 to open fire on American troops advancing from Fedala to the outskirts of Casablanca. The cruiser Augusta and destroyers Edison and Tillman chased the minesweepers back into Casablanca harbor before being forced to retreat by gunfire from Jean Bart. Nine dive bombers from Ranger hit Jean Bart with two 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs and sank her at 16:00. Jean Bart settled into the harbor mud with decks awash. French submarines Le Tonnant, Meduse and Antiope launched unsuccessful torpedo salvos at Ranger, Massachusetts and Tuscaloosa, respectively. Meduse was crippled by counterattacks and beached off Cape Blanc.
Casablanca surrendered on 11 November. That day German submarines were able to reach the troopships before they completed offloading cargo. In the early evening, U-173 torpedoed the destroyer Hambleton, the oiler Winooski and the troopship Joseph Hewes; around 100 men went down with Joseph Hewes. At this time, Bristol spotted a surfaced submarine and engaged with her deck guns and finally with depth charges, but is not believed to have sunk the French submarine. Sidi Ferruch was sunk by Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers from Suwanee on 11 November.
U-130—under Ernst Kals—torpedoed the troopships Tasker H. Bliss, Hugh L. Scott, and Edward Rutledge on the afternoon of 12 November, killing 74 additional American service men. All four troopships sank, but the oiler and destroyer were repaired. French submarines Amazone and Antiope reached Dakar, and Orphee returned to Casablanca after the city surrendered. Le Conquerant was sunk on 13 November by two VP-92 PBY Catalina flying boats off Villa Cisneros. Le Tonnant was scuttled off Cadiz on 15 November. On 16 November, U-173 was sunk off Casablanca by American destroyers.
Order of battleEdit
French 2nd Light SquadronEdit
American covering forceEdit