|Of uncertain origin, as ambiguous as it was ubiquitous, the phrase would follow them to the heart of Germany two years later. It read: "Kilroy was here."|
The above quote was taken from page 517 of the Rick Atkinson book An Army At Dawn: The war in North Africa 1942-1943, the first book in his Liberation Trilogy. The "Kilroy was here" graffiti that was being seen by Allied troops on the walls of North African towns was puzzling and to this day no one knows for sure who started it.
The book traces the Allied planning of the invasion of North Africa and the events that followed. There was much debate about where to strike next. American planners wanted to invade the European mainland through Western France as early as 1943- which would have ended in another Dunkirk, but on a much larger scale. There was added pressure on the American and British governments by the Russians to have a second front in Europe opened up. In the end, the decision to invade North Africa was made.
Algeria and Morocco were under the control of the Vichy French government. One of the burning questions leading up to Operation Torch was whether or not the French forces would fight to push the invaders back into the sea. The French Navy, as expected, fought hard. The results on land were mixed but there were a lot of casualties on both sides.
Reading the book I didn't realize how difficult of a time the allies had in landing and trying to unload cargo and get troops into the fight. Units were sent piecemeal into combat instead of being used as whole divisions. American and British radios weren't compatible, ships were loaded poorly with much needed equipment buried in the bowels of many ships. Tanks and other armored vehicles weren't being off-loaded, the rail system in North Africa couldn't handle the larger Sherman tanks that needed to be sent 200 miles from Morocco to the Tunisian front.
There was also disdain from many in the British high command towards American troops who were seen as "lacking a will to fight." In a sense this was true. American troops had yet to meet the Germans in combat, when they eventually did they had their butts handed to them by a more experienced, superior foe. Outside of Montgomery's success against Rommel at El Alamein, British successes were also lacking. The Allied armies had to learn how to fight together. The Americans had to learn how to use infantry, artillery, air and tanks together in mutually supporting roles.
Even though it was a defeat, the end of the Battle of Kasserine Pass marked a turning point for the US Army. A change began to take place in the soldiers, they began to hate "The Hun" but lessons still had to be learned and put into practice. Changes in command were made. By the time the Allies defeated the Germans in North Africa the American Army was beginning to turn into the fighting force that eventually would help sweep across Western Europe and into the heart of Germany. The commander-in-chief of Allied forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower said of the US 1st Infantry Division, the famed Big Red One, "The Hun will soon learn to dislike that outfit." His words rang true. For the duration of the war the Germans soldiers would say that whenever they were engaged in battle against the 1st Division they knew they were in for a very tough fight.
I found this book to be an fast read and it provided a wonderful insight into one of the theaters of WWII that I didn't know much about. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to read about military history, especially WWII. I read the second book in the series before this one: "The Day of Battle", which is about the war in Sicily and Italy. The third installment has yet to be published.
**Two thumbs up**