The Buzz

FACT: America and France Fought Each Other during World War II

Following an unopposed assault on beaches south of the Sebou, Major John H. Dilley’s 2nd Battalion Landing Team (BLT) advanced to capture the Kasbah and its attendant coast artillery. The sound of shells passing overhead from Roe and Savannah disordered Dilley’s inexperienced battalion, however, and it sat paralyzed until those guns checked fire. French forces took this opportunity to rush reinforcements in from Port Lyautey; later that morning a Vichy counterattack led by three ancient Renault FT tanks almost drove the 2nd BLT into the ocean before it was blunted by Colonel de Rohan’s last infantry reserves.

There would be no help from the 3rd BLT, commanded by Lt. Col. John J. Toffey, landing to the north. This battalion was badly delivered five miles away from its designated beach and spent the entire day laboriously slogging over sand dunes while trying to gain proper positions. The raiding party aboard Dallas  remained offshore as Vichy machine guns earlier drove off a scout boat whose mission was to cut an antishipping boom across the Sebou.

The men of Major P. DeWitt McCarley’s 1st BLT also landed far from their intended beaches. They made an exhausting foot march around the lagoon’s southern end, dropping off several platoons of Company A (accompanied by 37mm cannons of the battalion antitank platoon) to picket the coastal road. The remainder of McCarley’s outfit then maneuvered overland toward the airfield against stiffening opposition. Automatic weapons fire halted the 1st BLT at dusk, several miles from its objective.

The guns and matériel needed to overcome this unexpectedly fierce resistance were not getting ashore. As the day wore on the seas grew rougher. Dozens of landing craft foundered in the surf, too badly damaged for harried shore parties to repair. After enemy shells straddled his transport ships, Admiral Kelly had no choice but to move them out to a safer area 15 miles offshore—“halfway to Norfolk,” Truscott grumbled. The surviving barges now faced a 30-mile round-trip journey, further slowing the delivery of equipment and supplies.

Worse, the transports were now out of radio range. General Truscott had to find out what was going on, so at 1500 hours he went ashore. His jeep, like so many other vehicles on the beach, immediately became mired in heavy sand; Truscott was forced to borrow a half-track for his first tour around the battlefield. What he saw greatly discouraged him: infantry pinned down by a few machine guns, stragglers everywhere, supplies piled up on the beach with no apparent organization, and few leaders pushing their men forward.

Toward nightfall, dazed riflemen from McCarley’s Company A began filtering back with tales of strong enemy attacks along Goalpost’s southern flank. Earlier in the day, two U.S. infantry platoons had marched out to establish blocking positions along the coast road. Nothing had been heard from them since midafternoon, and now Company A’s commander was reported missing as well.

The advance guard of French chasseurs driving north from Rabat had swallowed these American outposts whole. Truck-borne infantry and armor overwhelmed a U.S. platoon at Sidi Bou Knadle, eight miles south of Mehdia, and then turned their weapons on 2nd Lt. Jesse Scott’s roadblock set up one mile away. Well-trained Moroccan riflemen supported by tanks made short work of Scott and his soldiers. Vichy forces then pushed against Company A’s main battle position, knocking out a 37mm antitank gun and capturing 2nd Lt. John Allers, the company commander. The French counterattack halted almost within sight of the beach, called off due to darkness and a line of American guns—dragged to the crest of a hill —that disabled two Renault tanks.

In the meantime, determined boat crews had managed to deliver seven M5 light tanks of Harry Semmes’ 3rd Armored Landing Team before rising surf closed the beaches. Semmes collected his tanks and before dawn moved out to a ridgeline marking Goalpost’s southern flank. Here he learned the radios and telescopic sights on all his Stuarts had come out of alignment during the journey overseas. Semmes’ tankers would have to fight much like their fathers did in World War I, using hand and arm signals while firing only at point-blank range.

On foot, Semmes guided his tanks into position along the ridge. A pair of M5s, commanded by Lieutenant John Mauney, covered the Rabat road from the west while the remaining five Stuarts, under Semmes’ control, sited themselves on the east side of the coast road. The American tankmen waited anxiously for daylight, certain a French attack was imminent.

The first streaks of dawn on November 9 revealed two battalions of Vichy infantry advancing from a white farmhouse a half mile away. Mauney’s tank section rode out to engage them. Deadly antipersonnel rounds and machine-gun fire from his two M5s nearly annihilated the lead company and so demoralized the rest that they never again offered serious resistance that day. But a bigger threat soon emerged from the edge of a cork forest to the east.

There, 14 two-man Renault R-35 tanks could be seen crawling forward against Semmes’ tiny force, firing armor-piercing rounds from their 37mm Puteaux cannons. Shell after shell struck Semmes’ Stuart. “I noticed there would be a shower of sparks when the front armor plate was hit,” he recalled. But, according to Semmes, instead of exploding “the white-hot hard steel core of the French shells ricocheted off … high into the air.”