Algiers to Tunis
1st Battalion - Preparatory Moves
In January 1942, 1 Surreys while stationed in Aldershot attended the Combined Operations Centre at Inverary for a fortnight's course in strenuous and very wet assault landing exercises. During part of the course the Battalion lived on board HMS Ettrick. In early April the Battalion received orders to move by train to Richmond in Yorkshire. From Richmond the Battalion marched a distance of 104 miles to Ecclefechan, about 14 miles to the east of Dumfries. The march was carried out in five days during three of which the Battalion took part in a Divisional exercise. At the end of May, 1 Surreys was again on the move, this time marching to Dunblane. Here it rejoined the remainder of 11 Brigade.
The next move of 1 Surreys was in July when the Battalion marched to Alloa in Clackmannanshire where it was made up to full strength and new equipment and arms arrived. After more hard training, all personnel had forty-eight hours embarkation leave, and stores were packed but no one knew the likely destination. Guesses ranged from Norway to Burma!
On 8th October Lt Col W B S J A E Wilberforce of The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry arrived and assumed command of the Battalion. Six days later at Greenock Battalion Headquarters, Headquarters Company together with A and B Companies embarked in the Infantry Landing Ship Karanja, a P&O liner of 10,300 tons. C and D Companies embarked in the Viceroy of India, 19,468 tons, another ship of the P&O pre-war fleet. Karanja was the only transport in the convoy which was not 'dry' and this was much appreciated by the passengers.
The Battalion strength on embarkation was 35 officers and 761 Other Ranks.
The convoy consisting of forty-nine ships and escorted by the cruiser HMS Sheffield, an aircraft carrier and a number of destroyers, sailed at dawn on 27th October as the spearhead of 'Operation Torch'. After sailing well out into the Atlantic, the convoy joined an American convoy and together entered the Mediterranean. During the voyage troops were kept fit with physical training and marching round the deck. Soon the information was given that the landing was to be in Algeria, then held by the 'Vichy' French and final plans were made.
The object of 'Operation Torch' was to occupy the whole of French North Africa from Morocco to Tunisia and for the main force, the British First Army, to join up with the advance of the Eighth Army from the east and thus get rid of all German and Italian forces from North Africa. The attitude of the 'Vichy' French was unclear although it was known that there was a certain antipathy towards the British. Three landings were planned, those at Casablanca and Gran by the Americans and that at Algiers by an Anglo-American force consisting of the British First Army commanded by Lieutenant-General K A N Anderson, MC., and part of the American 34th Division. The First Army was composed of 78 Division less one Brigade, 1 Parachute Brigade, Commandos and an armoured regimental group of the British 6 Armoured Division, known as 'Blade Force'.
The landing on the beaches west of Algiers was to be made by 11 Brigade. The initial landing was to be made by 1 Surreys and 5 Northamptons, followed closely by 2 Lancashire Fusiliers. To foster the deception that it was an American rather than a British landing, the assault company commanders wore white sleeves and were accompanied by American Officers, the latter were to wave the Stars and Stripes and if fired on were to call out through loud hailers, in authentic American accents, such phrases as :
"Nous. sommes les Americains ... ne tirez pas ... nous sommes vos amis ... cessez Ie feu ... etc"
|Lt Col W B S J A E Wilberforce, DSO|
|Captain W D Caffyn||Captain J F V Brooke Fox|