In November of 1942 US and British forces invaded Vichy French held areas of North Africa to trap Italian and German forces.
After the jump, a brief look at this early amphibious operation and one aircraft that provided support.
The North African campaign really was hugely important in several ways. It started from the Italian colony of Libya. Mussolini was boasting about a remade Roman Empire, but even more importantly he wanted to seize the oil fields of North Africa and the mid-East. Since British forces based in Egypt were obviously the main obstacle to his vision, it was inevitable that Italian and British forces would come to blows.
From 1941-1943 this would be the main theater where Allied and Axis ground forces fought each other. Initially the British, even though outnumbered, handled the Italians easily. But once the German Afrika Korps under Irwin Rommel was created to help the Italians a ferocious see saw campaign began.
At the small Egyptian rail station of El Alamein, in the summer of 1942, the British stopped the Axis advances once and for all. Then in October, in the Second Battle of El Alamein, the British launched their great offensive to drive the Axis back into Libya. The next month, American and British forces landed at several western points to trap the Germans and Italians in a giant pincer move. There was still much drama and back and forth to the fighting, some of which I’ll get in to with later posts here. But facing strong Allied forces from both East and West, this was clearly the beginning of the end for Axis forces in North Africa.
This Allied invasion, known as Operation Torch, was the first of many such amphibious operations that would culminate in Overlord (AKA “D-Day”) on June 6, 1944. As the first, Torch was the smallest and least well organized. It was a good thing Vichy resistance was half hearted, because there was still so much to learn about carrying out such an operation. American forces in particular had not yet faced the Germans and were green all the way through.
The Naval component of the operation was interesting in its own way. The US Navy was actually more experienced than the Army at this point due to a year of heavy fighting in the Pacific and an on-going operation on Guadalcanal. But Navy commitment to the European theater mostly meant Anti-Submarine operations. The only modern heavy unit used by the Navy in Torch was the new battleship USS Massachusetts.
The airpower component was particularly eclectic. There were four American aircraft carriers; the USS Ranger, USS Suwannee, USS Sangamon and USS Santee (there also was a British and a land based component; but I’ll get to those at another time). The Ranger was the only Fleet carrier of the group, but it was an older ship, the US Navy’s fourth flattop and the first designed from the outset as an aircraft carrier; as such, it was generally considered an unsatisfactory design (too small, and too unstable in heavy seas). It was actually so unsatisfactory it was confined to Atlantic operations, and finished the war as a training unit. It carried three Wildcat squadrons, one Dauntless squadron, and a single TBF Avenger for Commander DB Overfield, the air group commander.
The other three carriers were Escort Carriers with about 30 planes each. All told, the air power would not compare well with any two fleet carriers in the Pacific. Their air groups were biased toward fighters since Pacific operations had shown there were never enough fighters. Aerial opposition would come from the Vichy Air Force, mainly from the groups equipped with Curtiss Hawk 75s. So combat was mostly Grumman Wildcats vs Curtiss Hawks, all using R-1830 engines. The Wildcat’s won the upper hand, but operational attrition was horrible. One of Suwannee‘s squadrons was reduced to only two operational fighters. So a major lesson learned had to do maintenance and supply for sustained operations.
The aircraft shown here is a Dauntless based on the Ranger. They had an active couple days against first beach defenses, then troop concentrations and convoys, and finally naval targets including the French Battleship Jean Bart. The pressure applied by these aircraft was a big part of why Vichy forces could not mount an effective defense. This is the Hasegawa kit with Superscale decals. I was really not happy with this kit. Ordinarily I like Hasegawa a lot, but this one is clearly a lesser kit than the Accurate Miniatures Dauntless. I was particularly disappointed that the perforated dive flaps were represented by shallow dimples. I drilled them out with my Dremel, but was even more disappointed with the result. It is too obvious that I free handed them. If I were to do this kit again I might make a measured template for the holes, or maybe just use a heavy black wash to darken the shading. But really, I think I’ll stick with the Accurate Miniatures Dauntless for all future builds.
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