First Blood in North Africa
Operation Torch and the U.S. Campaign in Africa in WWII
Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, 2017, 216 pages
Book Review published on: September 21, 2018
Jon Diamond has written over a dozen books about different World War II leaders and military campaigns in Europe, the Pacific, and the China-Burma-India theaters of operation. The author clearly has a deep interest in the Second World War. This book is one of a series of Stackpole Military Photo Series books. There are only twenty-seven written pages in the book, but there are hundreds of archival photographs covering 175 pages. Each photograph has at least one sentence and, in most cases, a paragraph as a caption providing carefully researched information about the picture.
The book is divided into six chapters with a few written pages introducing each major section of the book. The author makes the most of these few pages to set the stage for each chapter, which is then followed by twenty to thirty pages with normally two or three pictures with captions per page. The author also provides maps that provide the reader with the necessary visual understanding of the geography, terrain, and the large distances of the campaign.
Chapter 1 provides the “Strategic Overview and the War in North Africa” from 1940 until the amphibious landings of November 1942 in Morocco and Algeria. Chapter 2 covers “Geography, Terrain, and the Invasion.” Rough seas and weather had a huge impact on the invasion, and the reader learns how that drove the schedule of the plan for the month of November. “Commanders and Combatants” is the title of the third chapter. We learn that many of the Vichy French forces quickly surrendered and then joined the Allies. The author also details the eighty thousand German and thirty thousand Italian personnel along with over four hundred tanks and seven hundred artillery pieces that were sent to North Africa in response to the landings. This chapter also has an excellent section of color pictures of the various weapons of the different belligerents.
Chapter 4 focuses on “The Amphibious Landings” and provides basic information on the three main task forces. Chapter 5 was the most interesting because it describes the “race to Tunis” in November and December of 1942 and then describes how the Allies culminated within twenty to thirty miles of Bizerte and Tunis. This included a failed British airborne assault to capture the airfield south of Tunis on 5 December 1942. The author then covers the stunning counterattacks by the reinforced Axis forces around Faid and Kasserine in February 1943. Finally, he covers the successful combined Allied assaults from March to May 1943 that resulted in the surrender of 275,000 Axis personnel. The pictures in this chapter of Allied and Axis equipment used during the campaign are extremely interesting.
Chapter 6, the “Epilogue,” describes the sobering lessons the Allies learned about fighting Axis forces during this campaign. At the same time, the author also outlines the huge losses suffered by the Axis forces at both Stalingrad and Tunis, where large armies were forced to surrender in the first half of 1943. This chapter has pictures of numerous celebratory parades by Allied personnel but quite appropriately ends with two pictures of ships and landing craft departing Bizerte to invade Sicily in July 1943.
First Blood in North Africa is a great introductory book to the U.S. campaign in North Africa. It is not intended to introduce any new information or breakthroughs. Instead, it is meant to provide basic background and information on a campaign conducted over a seven month period. Over 85 percent of the book is archival pictures, and the author only references fourteen sources. There is no appendix, which signifies that this book is not designed to be heavily used as a resource book. The target audience is students or young history buffs with little knowledge of this particular campaign. It is really a perfect little book for its intended audience.
Anyone interested in a fun and quick read filled with many pictorial gems will find the book of great value. Just do not expect it to be more than that. The vast array of pictures and captions makes this book a real joy for readers looking to get a visual understanding of the various leaders, personnel, weapons, terrain, naval actions, and diplomatic efforts across hundreds of miles of North Africa covering the period from November 1942 to May 1943.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Wesley L. Girvin, U.S. Army, Fort Belvoir, Virginia