Oran and the Provisional Ordnance Group

Tactical Plans

When the assault convoy of the Center Task Force headed into the cold Atlantic on 26 October 1942, many of the men aboard thought they were bound for the USSR or Norway or Iceland. A few thought they were returning to the United States. Then the great armada turned south. On the fifth day out, after the ships had come into calm seas and sunshine, the men were told that they were going to North Africa. Throughout the convoy, officers were summoned to the lounges of converted liners and the wardrooms of merchantmen and warships, and the briefings began. The Center Task Force would go ashore at three beaches in the vicinity of Oran on 8 November at 0100, the exact hour when the Western Task Force coming from the United States was to land at Casablanca and the Eastern Assault Force, mostly British, was to touch down at Algiers.1

The purpose of the landings at Oran, Casablanca, and Algiers was to secure bases on the coast of North Africa. After the bases were secured, there would be rapid exploitation to acquire complete control of French Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and extend offensive operations against the rear of Axis forces to the east. The next object was the complete annihilation of the Axis forces opposing the British forces in the Western Desert. At El 'Alamein Montgomery had launched his attack against Rommel three days before the TORCH convoy sailed from England. Undoubtedly Hitler would try to reinforce Rommel through Bizerte and Tunis, the best ports available to the Germans in Africa; therefore, the speedy capture of northern Tunisia was the main strategic purpose of the Allied invasion of North Africa. However, the Allied forces could not ignore the danger of German intervention through Spain, which would cut the Mediterranean supply line. For this reason the Americans at Casablanca and Oran were to protect the rear in Morocco while the British at Algiers rushed forward to Tunisia.2 (Map 4)


Map 4:  Lines of Communication in French North Africa


During the Center Task Force briefings on shipboard, pointers moving over large detailed maps showed where the Oran landings were to take place. The most important was in the Gulf of Arzew, twenty-five miles east of the city, where there were two coastal batteries and a French garrison. A company of Rangers was to spearhead the assault, followed by the 16th and 18th Regimental Combat Teams (RCT's) of the 1st Infantry Division and most of the tanks of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division. Simultaneously with the landing at Arzew, the 26th Regimental Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, was to go ashore at Baie des Anda-


Map 4:  Lines of Communication in French North Africa

louses, twelve miles west of Oran and, with the 16th and 18th RCT's from Arzew, form a pincers movement on Oran. The remaining tanks of Combat Command B were to land fifteen miles west of Andalouses at Mersa Bou Zedjar. The two mobile columns, consisting of light tanks, armored infantry, engineers, and tank destroyers were to strike inland and capture airfields, which were to be held by parachutists until the aircraft of the Twelfth Air Force could arrive.3

The flying columns had the bulk of the Ordnance support of the Oran landings— two companies of the 123d Ordnance Maintenance Battalion, which was organic to the 1st Armored Division. These com-


panics, a few air units, and a small detachment with the 168th Regimental Combat Team of the Eastern Assault Force, were the only Ordnance troops in the Mediterranean assault convoys.4 Some 2,000 additional Ordnance troops were due in the second convoy from England, expected on D plus 3, and the following convoys, coming in at regular intervals through December, would bring in other units that would swell the total number of Ordnance troops (to support base as well as combat operations) to nearly 9,000.5

Ordnance Service: The Group Concept

Aboard the Orbita in the assault convoy, Colonel Niblo had been taking advantage of shipboard freedom from routine to develop his final plan for Ordnance service to II Corps. The plan, set forth in essence as a standing operating procedure in the last frantic weeks before the departure from England, assembled Ordnance battalions—the maintenance battalion authorized for a normal corps, plus as many additional battalions as were needed for a reinforced corps such as II Corps—under an Ordnance group headquarters.6

In planning for the reorganization of the Army after Pearl Harbor, General McNair recommended that regimental organization be abolished in all branches except infantry and cavalry regiments of divisions and that its place be taken by group headquarters, a small, non administrative unit for the training and tactical handling of about four battalions. The group concept provided a flexibility that was impossible in large organic units such as the regiment, because battalions were not assigned to the group organically, but were attached to it and detached from it as circumstances required. The application of this principle to service units followed naturally as a means of providing support for widely dispersed combat units and was strongly advocated for Ordnance units by General McNair's Ordnance officer, Col. Robert W. Daniels, especially after Ordnance received greatly increased responsibilities in the transfer of motor vehicle supply and maintenance in the summer of 1942.7

Meanwhile, the planning at the Office, Chief of Ordnance, was directed toward the older regimental organization for Ordnance troops. It had been initiated by Brig. Gen. James K. Grain, chief planner for Ordnance field service at the beginning


Photo:  Colonel Niblo.  (Photograph taken after his promotion to brigadier general.)

COLONEL NIBLO. (Photograph taken after his
promotion to brigadier general.)

of World War II, and grew out of his experience in World War I. At that time the largest Ordnance organization with the combat troops consisted of a maintenance company with each division, attached to the division ammunition train, without equipment or supplies, and commanded by the colonel commanding the train, who sometimes, Grain observed, put the Ordnance men to such tasks as kitchen police duty or washing trucks. Grain, then Ordnance officer of Second Army, concluded that Ordnance units ought to have their own housekeeping facilities, because otherwise they were shackled to the unit that fed them; that they ought to be concentrated for more efficient service; and that they ought to be under Ordnance command, or if that was not possible, under Ordnance technical supervision. The answer was battalion organization, which he learned about from the French at Rheims in February 1918. By 1940 he had succeeded in establishing an Ordnance battalion in the U.S. Army at corps level. In the formative 1940—42 period, he went further and made much more ambitious plans, which envisioned placing under the Ordnance officer at army level an Ordnance brigade consisting of an ammunition regiment and a maintenance and supply regiment.8

During 1942 approval could not be obtained either for group or regimental organization for Ordnance troops in the combat zone, though the General Staff did approve regimental organization for Ordnance overseas base maintenance units. Niblo, who had been refused authority to expand the II Corps Ordnance Section to a size large enough to enable him to exercise properly command control over his Ordnance battalions—ultimately five—favored the group type of organization. With authorization from the II Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Lloyd R. Fredendall, he was able to organize a group headquarters provisionally in the theater. There was not time to wait for authorization from Washington, which might have delayed the formation of the group interminably.9 On the surface, five battalions, totaling nearly 5,000 men, seemed a rather large and "top-heavy" Ordnance organization for a single reinforced corps; but men who served with it later in Tunisia considered it "very nearly correct."10


The II Corps Provisional Ordnance Group (POG) in the planning stage consisted of two battalions, one composed chiefly of heavy maintenance automotive companies, the other of medium maintenance and ammunition companies. Niblo intended to command the group himself, with Lt. Col. Russell A. Rose as his executive, setting up his headquarters according to the table of organization provided on 1 April 1942 for an Ordnance base regiment. He planned to operate the Ordnance Zone of Communications (SOS) facilities, which would be his responsibility temporarily, with an Ordnance base regiment coming from the United States, one of the new base shop organizations that were now ready to be sent overseas.11

The Landing at Oran

As the convoy passed through Gibraltar on the evening of 6 November, one question uppermost in everybody's mind was the attitude of the French. At Oran, ill will toward the British might be expected, for it was there that the Royal Navy had attacked the French Fleet, but the Americans hoped to be received as friends. The first landing craft to go ashore at Arzew were equipped with loudspeakers through which men especially chosen for their American-accented French were to shout "Ne tirez pas! Vive la France!" To emphasize dramatically that the landing was American, the 18th Regimental Combat Team carried a mortar that would shoot an egg-shaped bomb about two hundred feet into the air, where it would burst into a magnificent pyrotechnic display of the American flag in color. There were four such sets of fireworks, each capable of flinging the star-spangled banner a hundred feet across the sky.12

On the evening of 7 November the convoys of the Center and Eastern forces separated off Oran. The Eastern Assault Force proceeded to Algiers and the Center Task Force turned south. One group of transports stood into the Gulf of Arzew, two others made contact with British beacon submarines that guided them to their beaches west of Oran.

In the Gulf of Arzew the landings began about 0030 on 8 November. The Rangers landed without much opposition and were followed by infantrymen of the 1st Division. The French were taken by surprise. They seemed to have no inclination to regard the invaders as friends and liberators, but their fire was sporadic and uncertain since the landing craft were well concealed by smoke screens laid down by the Royal Navy and the dispersed landings confused and disorganized the defenders. The only 1st Division unit that encountered any firm resistance was the 18th Regimental Combat Team, advancing northwest of Arzew, and that was triggered by a sergeant's impatience to "shoot the flag." About 0300, a column of flame shot upward near the 18th Regimental Combat


Photo:  Jeep headed inland over steel matting near Les Andalouses


Team's command post, emitting sparks that hung in the sky for a moment and then burst into the American flag in full color. At last the French had a good target. Mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire converged on the new target and the men at the command post had to scatter.13

The personnel ships carrying Colonel Niblo and other staff officers entered the Gulf of Arzew at sunrise. As the sun dispelled the early morning fog that hung over the water and struck the slopes of the mountains beyond the beaches, the men at the rails of their ships could see the assault columns fighting their way to the crest of the heights above Arzew and later the small groups of prisoners descending the slopes to the town. They could see also the operation of the flat-bottomed, ungainly Maracaibos, forerunners of the LST's (landing ships, tank). These shallow-draft oil tankers, designed to sail Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, and converted by the British into tank-landing vessels, had a bow landing ramp, closed while under way with a pair of huge doors, that could be extended with a ponton bridge section to cover the span between ship and shoal water. The bow openings were too narrow for medium M3 tanks but could easily take light tanks.14


The Maracaibos Misoa and Tasajera, loaded to capacity with the light tanks, half-tracks, towed guns, jeeps, and other vehicles of Combat Command B, grounded off the beach at Arzew about 0400. It took nearly two hours to emplace the ponton bridging, but in another two hours all the vehicles had rumbled over the bridge, splashed through the few feet of water, and driven across steel matting laid on the sand to their assembly area for dewaterproofmg, which was done by the tankers' own mechanics. The Maracaibos might not have worked if the sea had not been calm, the slope of the beach steep, and opposition nonexistent, but fortune had favored the landing. At 0820 the reconnaissance elements moved off, followed fifteen minutes later by the flying column. The Ordnance officers were gratified to observe that the waterproofing had succeeded and could be removed without difficulty.15

The Orbita was ten hours in the harbor before the British naval officers, who were short of landing craft, allowed anyone to disembark. Late in the afternoon the sea sprang up, and vehicles and supplies could no longer be ferried onto the beaches but had to be unloaded on the docks, which were soon clogged. When Maj. George L. Artamonoff, Niblo's operations officer, got ashore on the evening of D-day he saw that the quays were blocked with equipment and that there had been no adequate provision for carrying it away. The unloading of motor vehicles seemed inordinately slow.16

Fortunately, railway facilities at Arzew were usable. The 1st Division's Quartermaster battalion commandeered a locomotive and five cars and with the help of a native crew and an Engineer brigade shuttled stores around docks and from beaches to the Arzew railway station, which served as a distribution point. A Transportation Corps officer by distributing C rations to a French crew persuaded it to run a trainload of ammunition from Arzew to the 18th RCT, then fighting its way to Oran. The next day the Quartermaster battalion organized an ammunition, ration, and water supply dump in a bivouac area a few miles inland.17

While the mobile columns of tanks mopped up the airfields and the 1st Division combat teams pressed toward Oran, staff officers remained in Arzew, sleeping on the stone floor of a schoolhouse the night of D-day. Late on the second day, word came from General Fredendall, still aboard his ship, that the combat teams were moving too slowly and that it was imperative that Oran be taken the next day, 10 November. Maj. Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen, commanding the 1st Infantry Division, thereupon ordered the attack for 0715. Colonel Niblo sent Major Artamonoff forward at once so that he could enter the city as soon as possible after its capture to reconnoiter sites for Ordnance


depots and dumps. Artamonoff started off in a driving, sleety rain on the evening of 9 November and, in spite of the blackout and unfamiliar terrain, late that night caught up with the most advanced elements of the 16th RCT. He spent the rest of the night at Ferme St. Jean de Baptiste, on the eastern outskirts of Oran. There at noon the next day he saw a blue flag raised over the city, the pre-arranged signal that Oran had surrendered.18

The city's wide, palm-lined streets, bordered with modern office buildings and sidewalk cafes, offered interesting contrasts. Most of the people were French and Spanish, but there were Arabs in ragged sheets, and gaunt dogs shared the streets with horse-drawn carts. The few automobiles burned alcohol, and the odor pervaded the city, The beautiful harbor was littered with wreckage, for the attempt on D-day by the British cutters Hartland and Walney to capture the batteries and wharves and prevent sabotage had been a costly failure. The quays were piled with merchandise, including thousands of barrels of wine destined for export to Germany and Italy.19

Soon after the Americans entered Oran they learned that the landing of the Eastern Assault Force at Algiers had been successful. That of Western Task Force at Casablanca had met stiff opposition, but by 12 November Morocco was safely in American hands. Of the three task forces, Center was the only one, according to the official history of TORCH, that "could subsequently claim to have won a decision wholly by force of arms."20 Elsewhere, political considerations entered in. Nowhere did the French seem very much disposed to regard the Allies as liberators. Except for a few scattered bursts of enthusiasm, the people lined up along the streets of Oran were not friendly. The French were cool and many of the Arabs, who had been good subjects for Axis indoctrination, were actively hostile and continued sniping for some time.21

Major Artamonoff, who was in Oran well ahead of Quartermaster and other supply officers, and who had another advantage in being able to speak French fluently, obtained good depot space at Nouvelle Halle, the local market. On a tip from French newspapermen, he found comfortable quarters for Colonel Niblo and the Ordnance staff at a villa just vacated by the Italian naval delegation to the German-Italian Armistice Commission. Called Villa Charpentier, located on Lotissement Saint Hubert, it was about two miles from the center of town, behind the Oran Tennis Club. Offices and a mess were set up at the tennis club when Colonel Niblo and the staff arrived next day, 11 November.22

On the same day the first important follow-up convoy from England arrived, bringing a large contingent of Ordnance troops and the rest of the staff. Disembarking at Mers-el-Kébir, the troops were met by Major Artamonoff and taken to camps in the countryside around Oran. They found the sunny African climate a welcome change from the cold English autumn. The


Photo:  Oran Harbor


arrivals included four "old Ordnance" companies: the 14th Medium Maintenance, the 53d and 66th Ammunition, and the 30th Heavy Maintenance (Tank); and two automotive maintenance battalions, the 87th Medium Maintenance and the 1st Battalion of the 55th Heavy Maintenance Regiment (Q), a unit that still carried its old Quartermaster designation.23

The Provisional Ordnance Group

Colonel Niblo lost no time in organizing his Provisional Ordnance Group. For the 1st Battalion of the group he took the 1st Battalion of the 55th Heavy Maintenance Regiment (Q) and added the "old Ordnance" maintenance companies and one company of the 87th Medium Maintenance Automotive Battalion. For the sd Battalion of the group he took the 87th Medium Maintenance Battalion (Q) (less one company) and added the two ammunition companies. The mission of the 1st Battalion was to furnish Ordnance service (other than ammunition supply) for all U.S. Army units within the geographical limits of the towns of Oran and Arzew, including the ports of those towns, and to support the 2d Battalion with fourth echelon work. The 2d Battalion was to furnish


Ordnance service—except fourth echelon repair—to all U.S. Army organizations outside Oran and Arzew. For the time being this meant the Ste. Barbe-du-Tlelat area south of Oran, where most of the troops of the 1st Division and Combat Command B were stationed.24 Since the units were more or less static, the maintenance work at first consisted of inspecting vehicles, seeing that waterproofing had been removed and salt water damage repaired, training drivers in preventive maintenance, and reporting shortages of vehicles, tools, and parts.25

The group's first and most important job—and this fell to the 1st Battalion— was to supply the trucks that were so badly needed everywhere. The decision to send on wheels only 60 percent of the vehicles called for by tables of equipment, to save shipping space, and to send the rest unassembled in crates had worked great hardship. Ordnance planners had counted on local vehicles to help in the emergency. Major Artamonoff had orders to buy all he could find, and was given $5,000 in silver for the purpose.26 The French trucks had been converted to charcoal or alcohol and many were in poor shape. Some dated from World War I, some had been driven from Central Africa. Tires were worn and batteries were a constant problem. Still, the French trucks were very useful in the days following the first landings and local transport was so badly needed that even horse-drawn wagons were pressed into service within the port area. Therefore it was important to get the American vehicles unloaded and operating as quickly as possible.27

At Oran and Arzew the 1st Battalion rendered "Driveaway Motor Service." It set up assembly plants and maintenance sections near the docks, assembled the crated vehicles, and serviced the wheeled vehicles, removing all waterproofing. After this was done the men picked up a pay load, preferably Ordnance Glass II supplies or Ordnance organization equipment, delivered it, and then turned the vehicles in to the 1st Battalion Motor Depot at Nouvelle Halle in Oran for issue to Center Task Force units. The trucks were so much in demand that many of them were put into service without being given a thorough road test.28 Some could not be assembled or put into service at all because of shortages. Some of the twin unit pack crates containing 2 1/2-ton trucks arrived without brake fluid and


shock absorber fluid. Electrolyte for batteries was sometimes missing. French laborers, who along with Arabs were used in great numbers in the motor vehicle operation, made unpredictable mistakes in servicing the trucks. One day they were found filling dry automobile batteries with wine from the casks on the docks.29

Arab labor, as well as French, had its drawbacks. The Arabs stole weapons and ammunition; one newspaper correspondent reported that a whole native village near Oran had armed itself and was contemplating raiding a neighboring village for booty and women. And they were avid for cloth or anything to make clothing. They cut the canvas tops out of jeeps parked in the streets. At ammunition dumps they stole rope grommets from the 155's to make shoes and opened small arms boxes to steal the bandoleers. On occasion they blew themselves up in their eagerness to examine boxes of grenades. Many laborers were young or so weak physically that they could hardly lift heavy loads; and their disinclination to work in the rain played havoc with schedules once the rainy season set in. Nevertheless, in the early days after the Oran landings, Niblo made good use of native workers.30

The Provisional Ordnance Group was expanded when the second follow-up convoy arrived from England on 28 November. The convoy brought the headquarters and headquarters detachment of the 6sd Ammunition Battalion, which made possible the formation of the 3d Battalion of the group, to which the two ammunition companies were shifted. It also brought two medium maintenance and one depot company. These were added to the group's 2d Battalion, which was now given responsibility for all local maintenance, leaving the 1st Battalion free to concentrate on assembling crated vehicles. The 3d Battalion operated three ammunition dumps.31

The flexibility of the Provisional Ordnance Group was to be tested again very soon. Just as the organization for the support of the base and the troops around Oran was taking shape, it had to be dismantled to furnish Ordnance service to the battlefront in northern Tunisia. Under Gen. Sir Kenneth A. N. Anderson, the British First Army, which was actually only a skeleton outfit consisting of two infantry brigades and one tank regiment, had lost the race to capture Tunis and Bizerte and was meeting heavy resistance from the Germans who were pouring in from Italy. To help the British, General Eisenhower on 23 November, the day he arrived in Algiers from Gibraltar, sent from Oran Combat Command B of the 1st Armored Division, and during late November and


early December he also sent forward elements of the 1st Infantry Division.32

The Move to Northern Tunisia

For the first Ordnance move forward, Colonel Niblo selected his 1st Battalion, Provisional Ordnance Group, and reorganized it. Under the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 55th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Regiment (Q), he placed the 53d Ammunition Company, the 14th Medium Maintenance Company, Company D of the 87th Medium Automotive Maintenance Battalion, and the 78th Depot Company. Colonel Rose was the commander of the new battalion. Niblo ordered the unit to proceed to Souk el Arba in northern Tunisia, the most forward airfield and supply base, about 750 miles from Oran. On arrival at l'Arba, a town near Algiers, the battalion was to come under the control of Colonel Ford, Ordnance officer of Allied Force Headquarters, who had just arrived in Algiers by air from England.33

The move had to be made by truck, for the railroad east of Algiers was being used to its limited capacity by the British, and transportation by sea to the small ports of Bône and Philippeville was too dependent on weather, availability of shipping, and freedom from enemy air attack. Above all, trucks were needed within the combat zone to make the Ordnance units completely mobile. The advance elements of the 715-man 1st Battalion headed east under cover of darkness on the evening of 30 November and all its 183 trucks were on the road, escorted by fighter planes, by 10 December.34

Two days later orders came from Allied Force Headquarters to send the 30th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank) forward immediately with all the replacement tanks, wreckers, and parts it could transport. On the night of 10-11 December during the withdrawal from Medjez el Bab, the focal point of enemy attack, scores of combat vehicles—tanks, half-tracks, and tank destroyers—had bogged down in the mud and had to be abandoned. The tanks were so badly mired that the Germans themselves could not extricate them. It was a crippling loss. In its brief experience in action, Combat Command B had lost 32 medium and 46 light tanks. The combat vehicles that remained were in poor condition. Because of limitations on shipment by railroad or by sea, most had made at least part of the journey to the front on their own tracks, which were already worn from maneuvers in Ireland, for there had not been time to replace them before sailing for Africa. Once in Africa, some of the vehicles had gone overland all the way


to the front since there had been no way to carry them over the highways. A tractor-trailer for transporting tanks had been developed by the United States in 1941 at the request of the British, who wanted them to rush tanks to danger points if the Germans invaded England. The British Eighth Army in Egypt was equipped with the tractor-trailers and had a tank delivery regiment to carry combat vehicles from bases to the front. II Corps had only ten tank transporters because the U.S. Army had not foreseen the need for them. This need was one of the earliest lessons learned in Tunisia.35

When the 30th Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank) left Oran for Souk el Arba on the morning of 14 December, it took, in addition to its 25 shop trucks, 13 cargo trucks, miscellaneous light trucks, trailers, and jeeps, 4 40-ton tank transporters, each carrying a light tank (medium tanks could not be unloaded from ships in time), and 2 10-ton wreckers. The 3Oth also took all the spare parts that were available in Oran and additional supplies for the rest of the 1st Battalion, POG.36

The Ordnance convoys leaving Oran between 30 November and 14 December went east over a hard-surfaced, two-lane road that presented few problems until they got to the mountainous country beyond Algiers, where steep inclines slowed the heavily loaded trucks and corkscrew turns all but defeated the heavy wreckers. The depot company almost lost a van over a cliff when a tire blew out, but there were no major disasters.37 After the four-day trip the convoys came down from the Atlas Mountains into a flat valley and encamped in the neighborhood of Souk el Arba. For the first few days, until the winter rains set in, the position was constantly attacked by German dive-bombers, which were stationed on concrete runways at Tunis and Bizerte, whereas Allied aircraft were bogged down in the mud far behind the lines.

This early Ordnance effort to support the British First Army was short but strenuous. The ammunition men, camouflaging their dump with the only vegetation they could find, some scrubby growth resembling tumbleweed, sent detachments to Bône, where most of the ammunition came in from Oran by sea, and to the railheads at Duvivier and Souk Ahras, to direct shipments by truck to Souk el Arba. The maintenance men ranged up and down the front in small contact parties, sometimes consisting of a single vehicle and a handful of men, visiting tankers, infantry units, and widely dispersed antiaircraft units at the railhead and in the small ports along the coast.


One detachment, on orders from AFHQ, was sent south to central Tunisia to support a small U.S. parachute detachment under the command of Col. Edson D. Raff that was helping the French 19th Corps on raiding and reconnaissance missions. All contact parties were in constant danger from German aircraft. By the end of December, the II Corps Ordnance officer was asking Center Task Force to equip every Ordnance technical vehicle and truck with a machine gun for defense.38

The men in Colonel Rose's battalion were the first American supporting troops at the front. Moreover, thanks to Colonel Niblo's "top-heavy" organization, Ordnance was the only supply service able to send troops to Tunisia with the combat troops during November and December 1942. The 78th Ordnance Depot Company also handled Signal Corps supplies and acted as middleman in obtaining clothing, bedding, tools, and other articles from the British and then issuing them to all arms. There was an enormous demand for Ordnance supplies. In the first week after its arrival the depot company made enough issues to free six of its nine huge vans for trips back to Oran for restocking.39

To put an end to the "constant daily shipping of piecemeal equipment, all of which appears to be too little and too late," Colonel Niblo urged Colonel Ford to turn over the Ordnance job in northern Tunisia to the whole Provisional Ordnance Group. This would enable Niblo to send more maintenance men and also would allow him to set up a general supply depot and large ammunition dump east of Algiers. Colonel Ford agreed that a depot and shop should be established nearer the front. The two officers in late December made a reconnaissance trip to locate space in Constantine, the Algerian city where the British First Army headquarters was located, but before they could make arrangements a momentous decision changed all plans.40

Planning for Central Tunisia

On Christmas Eve, General Eisenhower returned to Algiers from a reconnaissance of the front in northern Tunisia convinced that the torrential rains, deep mud, and stiffening enemy resistance had effectively stopped General Anderson's advance and that the best course was to go on the defensive for the time being, holding the airfields at Souk el Arba in the north and Thélepte and Youks-les-Bains in the south and protecting the flank on the south by moving II Corps forward to Tébessa, the Algerian border city that was the gateway to central Tunisia. There the weather would be better and, when sufficient reinforcements had been brought up, General Fredendall could move east to the coast at Sfax or Gabès and prevent Rommel's


Afrika Korps, then making a rapid strategic withdrawal to Tunisia from Tripolitania, from joining Generaloberst Hans-Juergen von Arnim's forces in the Tunis-Bizerte area. An outline plan for an attack toward Sfax, called SATIN, was approved at AFHQ on 28 December.41

By 14 January 1943 final decisions on Operation SATIN had been made in conferences between General Eisenhower, General Anderson, General Alphonse Juin, and General Fredendall at Allied Force Headquarters in Constantine. The next day Eisenhower flew to Casablanca to report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, who were attending an international strategic conference there. SATIN provided that Fredendall would first attack Gabès and then proceed north up the coast to Sfax, with a tentative D-day of 22 January. Operating directly under AFHQ, II Corps would consist of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, the U.S. 26th Regimental Combat Team, the British 1st Parachute Brigade less one battalion, and the French Constantine Division. Over the protests of AFHQ logistics staffs, who during the conferences at Constantine between 10-14 January "wailed that our miserable communications could not maintain more than an armored division and one additional regiment,"42 Eisenhower firmly intended to assign to II Corps three infantry divisions as soon as they could be brought forward: the 1st, the 9th (less the 39th Regimental Combat Team), and the 34th.43

A Long, Weak, Supply Line

The logistics staffs had reason for their wails. The supply line was very long and very weak. The distance from Constantine—itself from 100 to 300 miles from the front—to the nearest big port, Oran, was 445 miles; Casablanca was 440 miles west of Oran. Base sections had been planned early for both ports, but on Christmas Eve, when Eisenhower decided upon the movement to central Tunisia, the Mediterranean Base Section (MBS) at Oran had been in existence only about three weeks, and the first echelon of the Atlantic Base Section at Casablanca was just arriving. Eventually there was to be an Eastern Base Section (EBS) at Constantine, nearer the front, but it did not come into being until late February 1943.44 (See Map 4.)

For most of the campaign in the spring of 1943 supplies had to be brought 500 to 1,200 miles from ports of entry; moreover, the base sections at the ports were just learning, as men had learned in Australia, how hard it was to operate in a strange country far from home. Colonel Heiss, the Ordnance officer of the Mediterranean Base Section, who, like other rear area officers lacked depot equipment such as record cards, bins, and lift trucks and had to get along with a small inexperienced staff and untrained labor, found that it took about eight months to establish complete base facilities. In the meantime, before he could build up his


stocks he had to supply troops who arrived in the theater without all the weapons that their tables of basic allowances called for. The system that then existed for equipping overseas forces provided that when a unit in the United States received orders to go overseas it packed its own equipment, addressed it to itself, and shipped it to the port for delivery overseas. The equipment might arrive long after the troops, or at a different port.45

The bases themselves were at the end of a long overwater supply line. It usually took about three months to get supplies from the United States to the theater, often much longer to obtain complete items. Supply officers came to regard delivery by ship as "probably the most unsatisfactory method of supply that the Devil could have invented."46 Sometimes the chassis of a truck would be on one ship, the cab on another; projectiles would arrive without their powder charges, which were on another ship. This situation was especially serious in the early days, when part of a convoy might be sunk or have to be diverted to a different port. The failure to load ships with complete items was "the most severe and general criticism of supply coming from the United States. There were many other complaints from base sections of thoughtless editing of requisitions, poor marking and packing, and "just plain negligence."47

The new theater had not yet established its own organization. It was under Allied Force Headquarters, a part of the European Theater of Operations, until 4 February 1943, when the North African Theater of Operations, United States Army (NATOUSA), under General Eisenhower was organized. On 12 February a Communications Zone, NATOUSA, under Brig. Gen. Everett S. Hughes, Deputy Theater Commander, NATOUSA, was established; and a few days later Services of Supply, NATOUSA, assumed responsibility for supply and the administration of the base sections. It took time for all these relationships to be straightened out and confusion during the first few months of operation was inevitable.48

The problems for Ordnance were especially complicated because the thousands of trucks used in the long haul to the battlefront had to be furnished and maintained by Ordnance. The responsibility was new, and Ordnance was discovering the burden it imposed. When General Hughes took over the job as theater deputy, he selected Ordnance's Colonel Ford as his chief of staff because he realized that about 60 percent of his job was ordnance supply and maintenance; he felt "if we could lick the ordnance job, we could lick anything easier than that.49



Chart 3:  Organization of the Ordnance Section, AFHQ, November 1942


AFHQ Ordnance

In the first and most trying months of the campaign in Tunisia, Ordnance crises at the front had to be referred to the small Ordnance Section at AFHQ. On 25 November Colonel Ford had brought to Algiers a staff consisting only of his executive officer, Maj. John G. Detwiler, and one sergeant. His maintenance and supply officer, Colonel Crawford, his ammunition officer, Lt. Col. Russell R. Klanderman, and the rest of the staff— two captains and three technical sergeants—left England on the fifth large convoy, aboard the British troopship Strathallan, which was torpedoed off Oran on 21 December. All aboard were picked up by British destroyers and landed safely, but it was Christmas Day before the AFHQ Ordnance office was officially organized.50

Like other staff sections of AFHQ, the Ordnance Section followed the principle called "balanced personnel," that is, the section was composed of Americans and British in approximately equal strength— nine Americans and eight British. Each nationality, however, was organized along different lines because of different connotations of ordnance. The British branch included—in addition to sections devoted to ammunition, weapons and other "warlike stores," vehicles, and tanks—sections that handled clothing and signal and engineer stores. Another difference was that the British branch did not perform technical intelligence, which the British assigned to their AFHQ G-2 (Combat Intelligence) Section. (Chart 3) On the American side, technical intelligence was an important function. Soon after his arrival in Algiers, Colonel Crawford, who was to succeed Colonel Ford as U.S. Ordnance officer of AFHQ when Ford went to NATOUSA with Hughes, was sent by plane to Egypt to study British Eighth Army equipment.51

American and British staffs of the AFHQ Ordnance office were housed together in a building that had been a school for girls, Ecole Sainte Genevieve. Colonel Crawford was amused to find over the door to Colonel Ford's office a reminder of the former tenants—a sign, "Les Violettes." The sign was the more incongruous because inside, along with the office equipment, were stacked rifles and hand grenades used to arm men of the French resistance movement. The French were trained in demolition work by Major Artamonoff (who had arrived in Algiers in late December to represent U.S. Ordnance on the French Rearmament Commission), and then dropped behind enemy lines disguised as Arabs.52

It was thus in an atmosphere of change and confusion that the Ordnance effort to support II Corps in Tunisia began. Notwithstanding the forebodings of the logistics staff, nobody could yet tell how hard it was to be.


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