In the spring of 1943, the buildup for a cross-Channel attack, code-named Bolero, was far from completion. The majority of U.S. forces had not yet seen combat, and the British Army still had not transitioned to the kind of large-scale operations that a wholesale Allied invasion would require. One of Eisenhower’s biographers, Stephen Ambrose, wrote, “In his first combat experience, Eisenhower was unsure of himself, hesitant, … [and] liable to make snap judgments…. Nineteen months later, he had improved dramatically. So had his superiors and subordinates. The team that invaded France in June 1944 was vastly superior to the team that invaded French North Africa in November 1942.”
As it was originally conceived, Operation Roundup was, at the very least, naive and overly ambitious. In focusing almost exclusively on the assault landing, little thought was given to subsequent Allied operations on the beachhead and beyond. Roundup, as the name implies, was designed as a “mopping-up” operation and assumed the German Army to be demoralized, on the run, and capable of only token resistance. In 1943, however, the Germans remained a formidable enemy, capable of quickly counterattacking in force, as they demonstrated many times later in the war. If there was a weakness to be found in the Allied strategy, it was that a comprehensive and realistic net assessment of Nazi strengths and weaknesses was never successfully completed, even prior to the Overlord invasion.
In retrospect, Operation Torch was an ideal combined training ground for both the British and Americans. Given their collective experience in working together, Torch may have been the only way either country could have effectively conducted offensive operations at such an early stage in the war. Both the Mediterranean and African campaigns successfully diverted German forces from French coastal defenses and provided the Soviets with some relief on the Eastern Front.
It is also useful to consider what would have ensued if the Allies had not conducted Torch. In his book, Strategy and Compromise, Samuel Eliot Morison argues, “If we hadn’t taken the offensive in the Mediterranean, the Germans could have assumed the offensive in the area as Rommel was begging Hitler to do; they might have captured Malta, overrun the Middle East, perhaps dragged Turkey into the war against us, and even knocked Russia out of the war…. Russia had a soft underbelly, in the Black Sea.”
Today, it is difficult to imagine how a 1943 invasion could have been mounted with any real hope for success. Although plans for an emergency Allied invasion were in place as early as 1942, the requisite skill, power, and political support did not exist for an endeavor of this magnitude until June 1944. In 1944, although Germany’s armed forces were weakened by an extended Allied onslaught, Germany remained a formidable opponent. When American intransigence could have split the Allies asunder, it was President Roosevelt’s ability to hammer out a compromise that ultimately preserved the coalition for the duration of the war. This, more than any other single decision, is most responsible for the success at Normandy and for the Allied victory in Europe.
Lieutenant Colonel John Fenzel is currently serving as a military assistant on the personal staff of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Most recently, he served as the commander of the Special Forces Training Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Originally Published January 3, 2019.
This article by Lt. Col. John Fenzel III originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.
Image: Wikimedia Commons