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Advanced Landing Ground No 1 (ALG 1) - Operation Torch 1942

An introduction by Bill Brown.

This is the story of a very small Royal Air Force Unit and its part in Operation Torch, the successful invasion of French North Africa in November 1942. The contribution made by this unit was out of all proportion to it’s numerical strength and they subsequently moved into Tunisia to witness the final overthrow of German influence in North Africa.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese Air Force caught the United States completely off guard. They were totally unprepared by such a blow. The event also had a potentially lethal effect on Great Britain and its Allies fighting in Europe. We had relied on the good will and ability of the United States to supply us with the materials of war. Arms and food were sent across ‘The Pond’ in our Merchant ships, crewed by some of the most brave men, largely not recognised and rewarded as they should have been.

With America now suddenly precipitated into a global war and with a large proportion of their Navy destroyed at Pearl Harbour, they would have to concentrate arms production for their own requirements for survival.

This situation was further aggravated by the ever increasing successes of the hunter-killer packs of German U-boats operating in the North Atlantic, inflicting terrible losses on the convoys; some suffering as much as fifty percent losses of their ships and crews. In addition to all this, the Russians were calling out to us to open a second front, which in the prevailing conditions, we were quite unable to mount. The war in the Middle East was not going as well as it should and, despite some very spectacular advances by the 8th Army under General Ritchie, invariably we were forced to retire due to our inability to provide sufficient supplies to hold and maintain the ground we had gained. Pearl Harbour would only add to these problems. At one time Rommel was almost at the gates of Alexandria. On the home front we were facing the ever-present threat of invasion, tying up a large proportion of our forces and suffering the almost continuous bombing of our cities and towns. All this had a knock-on effect on our Far Eastern garrisons and the Japanese were quick to seize the opportunity to exploit this weak link.

Such was the situation as 1941 breathed its last and 1942 broke upon the World. Something had to be done. The war had to be taken to the enemy but the question was, could that be done now that America was committed to the war effort and had to provide for its own safety?

The enemy had fortunately completely misjudged the phenomenal productive capacity of the United States. During the early months of 1942 there were considerable comings and goings of military chiefs and heads of government and by mid-summer tangible results were to be seen. Notices on notice boards of all service establishments were calling for volunteers for various specialised trades and professions. On seeing such a notice at my base, I immediately put my name down for ‘Special Signals Duties Under Training’. I wondered how long I would have to wait. Not long. Within two weeks I was on my way to Scotland to join a Royal Navy ship, HMS Dundonald, apparently somewhere near Troon, at least according to my travel warrant’s destination.

To say that I was intrigued was to put it mildly. A Royal Air Force Officer posted to a Royal Naval ship somewhere in Scotland, certainly fuelled my curiosity. I duly arrived at HMS Dundonald, which turned out to be a shore-based Royal Navy Establishment located at an Army camp, Auchengate Camp near Troon. It was a training base for all three Services within one Command, Combined Operations, a new part of the services I had not yet come across and the brain child, so I was led to believe, of Winston Churchill.

The following is the story of our training aboard HMS Dundonald, of our specialist duties and our eventual sailing from Scotland. We navigated the deadly waters of the North Atlantic, infested with killer packs of U-boats, into and through the Straits of Gibraltar and on through the Mediterranean to our battle landfall on the beaches of Algeria some 15 miles east of the city of Algiers at Surcouf. Our landing was opposed by enemy troops composed of French army, French Foreign Legion, some German resident troops on the ground, the French Navy from shore establishments, Italian Air Force bombers and torpedo planes, and the French Air Force in limited numbers.

After establishing a beach head for the main troops to land with their equipment and heavy weaponry, we subsequently moved across North Africa to fight in Tunisia and, with the 8th Army, to finally clear the African continent of the scourge of the Nazis.

I am proud to have had the honour and the privilege of leading this small unit, ALG 1, a magnificent team of 22 men who carried out their duties under appalling conditions and at a very high price. There were some thirty percent casualties: three men would never return to their homes and the others were maimed for life. I can never speak too highly of them.

Bill Brown’s wartime memoir runs to thirty four chapters. In due course, extracts from his remarkable story will appear in future editions of the Newsletter.

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