Eder Dam on 17 May 1943. German Federal Archives image.
On May 16-17, 1943, No. 617 Squadron RAF (later dubbed the “Dambusters”) targeted dams with the intent of flooding the Ruhr region of Germany. The mission was reported a “limited success” with casualty reports ranging from 1,268 to 1,600 plus (over 1,000 of these were alleged to be Soviets in German labor camps). The initial effects on factories, mines, water production and hydroelectric power were short-lived, but the impact on food production was felt well into the next decade.
Ten of the 19 “Dambusters” returned from the mission. Four of those would not survive the war.
Möhne Dam after the attack. German Federal Archives image.
Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, represented a series of firsts for the Allied crusade against Nazi Germany and her Allies. It was the first amphibious landing undertaken by the US Army in the European theater. It was the first combat operation commanded by Dwight Eisenhower. And it was the first, and quite possibly the only, operation of the war in which the Allied commanders expected their opponents holding the beach to offer no resistance at all.
The landing beaches in Morocco and Algeria were held by Vichy French forces. These troops were loyal to Germany mostly due to a tenuous agreement whereby the Nazis agreed to keep part of France free from German occupation provided the Vichy resisted an Allied invasion. The Allied leadership believed that when the Vichy French saw the Allied armadas approaching the landing beaches, they would immediately join forces with the invaders to liberate North Africa.
Allied commanders also had to contend with the native North African population. Their willingness to aid the Allied cause was questionable at best. The primary hope of the Allied command was that both the French and the native population would willingly and energetically aid the liberators. Barring that, they would have settled for simply allowing the American and British troops to move through Morocco and Algeria quickly so that they could smash Rommel’s Afrika Korps on the anvil of General Bernard Montgomery’s forces advancing westward from Egypt.
In an attempt to sway both the Vichy French and the North African natives to the Allied cause, thousands of leaflets were dropped over North Africa prior to the landings in November 1942. This leaflet was picked up in Oran, Algeria, by Oscar Rich, who landed there as a member of the 1st Quartermaster Battalion, 1st Infantry Division. The leaflet, printed in French on one side and Arabic on the other, reads in part:
Message from the President of the United States:
We come to you to liberate you from your conquerors, whose only desire is to deprive you of your sovereign right to worship freely and your right to live your way of life in peace.
We come to you solely to defeat your enemies – we wish you no harm. We come to you with the assurance that we will leave as soon as the menace of Germany and Italy is dissipated. Help us and the day of universal peace will arrive.
Unfortunately for the Allies, the Vichy French offered stiff resistance to the landings in some sectors, and the day of universal peace was delayed indefinitely.
- French side of US propaganda leaflet dropped over Oran.
- Arabic side of leaflet collected by Oscar Rich.
- Oscar Rich served with the 1st Infantry Division throughout the war.
This post by Curator, Eric Rivet.