It was shortly after midnight that the landings at Oran and Algiers began in earnest. Over six hours during the early morning on November 8, 1942, more than 50,000 Americans and nearly half that number of British Soldiers (most wearing American uniforms) began streaming ashore.
Confusion and mechanical problems delayed many elements, but resistance was light allowing the bulk of the invasion force to occupy their beachheads with minimal resistance. The order by General Mast to his French forces not to fire on the arriving Americans certainly had an impact on the low casualty rates. That toll might have skyrocketed if the landing had been met with the full force of the Vichy military forces in Algiers.
Nonetheless, the landing American force did engage areas of resistance that took their toll of casualties on both sides. This was due in great measure to a level of confusion among the French in Algeria that even exceeded perhaps, the confusion that hampered the landing forces of the Americans. General Louis-Marie Koeltz, commander of the 19th Military District and senior to General Mast, issued orders to his soldiers, "Resist any invasion by foreign troops with all means at your disposal." He also fired General Mast from his command of the Algiers Division and ordered the arrest on sight of the pro-American general.
In the field some French units received Mast's orders to cooperate, and their positions were often taken without bloodshed. French troops that received General Koeltz's contradictory directive to resist, often found themselves fighting heated skirmishes that were deadly to both sides. Some French commands received BOTH contradictory orders, leaving the French soldiers to struggle indecisively to determine which to follow.
Admiral Jean-Francois Darlan, commander-in-chief of all Vichy France forces where ever stationed, happened to be visiting in Algiers as Operation Torch was unfolding. Upon learning news of the American incursion from Daniel Murphy, he exploded. "I have known for a long time that the British are stupid," he shouted at the American diplomat, "but I'd have believed the Americans were more intelligent. Apparently you have the same genius as the British for making massive blunders."
An order from Admiral Darlan could have almost immediately halted all fighting between the Torch forces and the French defenders, all the way from Algeria to Morocco. Instead Darlan informed Murphy, "For the last two years I have preached to my men in the Navy and to the nation, unity behind the marshal (Petain). I cannot now deny my oath."
Three days of see-saw fighting followed in Algeria, not only Americans vs. French, but the French among themselves. Pro-Allied rebel forces assisted landing American forces by taking key seats of Vichy power and capturing pro-Axis or loyal Vichy leaders. The loyal Vichy in turn, responded by arresting a number of their own commanders who had "committed acts of treason against the Vichy regime," among them General Mast. At Gibraltar the stubborn and uncooperative General Giraud, whose order might have solved the problem once and for all, slept soundly through the opening hours of the operation.
The Road to Morocco
The Central and Eastern Task Forces that landed in Algeria faced some serious and deadly resistance. Still, there was no doubt that General Mark Clark's clandestine meeting with pro-Allied leadership in Algeria three weeks before the invasion had been instrumental in lessening that resistance, and had garnered some important allegiances for the Allied effort. No such mission had been mounted to seek cooperation from pro-Allied French leadership in Morocco, and it was there that the soldiers of Torch met some of their heaviest resistance.
Shortly after midnight Major General Emile Bethouart, commander of the Casablanca Division, advised his troops of the impending American invasion and ordered them to remain in their barracks. He then drove the 50-mile distance to Rabat to enlist cooperation from the battalion of Moroccan infantry guarding the capitol "in the name of General Henri Giraud." Invocation of the esteemed French hero's name garnered quick acquiescence from the infantry commander. Major General Louis Lahouelle, commander of the French air forces, agreed that his pilots would likewise not resist if the French Navy also cooperated with the landing. He placed a call to Vice Admiral Francois Michelier back in Casablanca.
"(General) Bethouart is a stupid and naïve victim of an elaborate Allied hoax," Michelier advised Lahouelle. "There is no American armada lying offshore. The weather is bad, the surf is high, and my coastal and submarine patrols have not spotted any ships offshore."
Admiral Michelier ordered the arrest of General Bethouart. Having just denounced the invasion as a hoax, he never-the-less issued orders to all troops throughout Morocco: "Resist any invaders with every means at your disposal."
Meanwhile American forces of the Western Task Force were moving in on the important docks at the port of Safi. Shortly after midnight the submarine USS Barb surfaced only a few miles from the port to unload rafts containing scouts from the 47th Infantry. Their job was to light the harbor entrance for the USS Cole and USS Bernadou. Unfortunately, the scouts became lost in the darkness and then skirmished briefly with a French patrol. At sea confusion reigned when troop transports had troubles unloading. These unforeseen troubles pushed the landing schedule back four hours. Not until 4 a.m. were the Cole and Bernadou able to steam into the harbor to unload. They were met by a hail of enemy fire from numerous coastal guns and a 155mm battery just south of the city.
Further out to sea the signal "Play Ball" was given, authorizing the battleship New York to begin shelling the French positions. By dawn Major General Ernest Harmon paced confidently up and down the docks in the small port city while his tanks began unloading. His men of the 45th Regiment, 9th Infantry Division dispersed through the city in a house-to-house running battle that soon saw them in control of the rail yard, the post office, and the police station. Though fighting would continue in outlying areas for days, when the sun rose over Morocco on the morning of November 8, it was to reflect off the Stars and Strips waving proudly over the important port city of Safi.
Far more resistance was expected at the landing sites near Fedala, a four-mile beachhead at the resort city 16 miles north of Casablanca and just south of the Moroccan capitol of Rabat. It had been selected because it was not as heavily defended as was Casablanca, and Allied hopes were to take Casablanca with a minimum of destruction to the important port. Rabat had been ruled out as a landing site out of fear that an assault on the capitol would be counter-productive to the desired perception of the landings being a liberating army, not an invading army.
Joining the first wave of 3rd Infantry soldiers under Major General Jonathan Anderson was Colonel William Hale Wilbur. A West Point Infantry officer from the class of 1912, Wilbur had volunteered to go ashore to seek cooperation from the French. In the pre-dawn darkness, illuminated only by the exploding shells and tracers that greeted the first soldiers to reach the shoreline, Colonel Wilbur commandeered a jeep when his own failed to start and headed into the muzzles of the French. So heavy was the resistance that between the shelling and the heavy surf, 62 of the landing party's 116 assault boats were sunken or wrecked.
While desperate young American boys struggled ashore behind him, Wilbur charged through the French line of resistance to find an officer. He advised that he was carrying a message from General Patton to the French commander in Morocco, and was afforded passage south, traveling across 16 miles of hostile beach in his own desperate mission.
In Casablanca Colonel Wilbur learned for the first time that the American-friendly General Bethouart had been arrested. His replacement, General Raymond Desre, refused to accept the letter from Patton. Frustrated, Wilbur found a French officer who offered to drive him to meet with Admiral Michelier. They arrived even as American shells began falling from off-shore battleships. The man who had dodged enemy fire all morning to deliver this important message found himself now threatened by friendly fire. Heedless of the danger, and despite the fact that he was alone in the headquarters of the enemy, Wilbur demanded to see the Admiral. "Get the hell out of here," an irate officer responded, pointing towards the door. Realizing the futility of his mission, Wilbur began the 16-mile jeep trip back to the beachhead where the infantrymen of Patton's Brushwood force were struggling for survival.
As he neared the forward lines of the American advance Colonel Wilbur could see a hostile French battery that was dropping deadly charges on the American ships at sea. Working his way to a platoon of nearby American tanks, he took charge to personally lead them against the enemy position. Wilbur rode the lead M3 Stuart Tank through the barbed wire perimeter while a nearby American infantry platoon laid down covering fire. In the face of this attack, the enemy commander soon sent word to Wilbur that he was ready to surrender his position to American control. Within an hour the Stars and Strips were hoisted over that fire-control center while the French soldiers looked on as prisoners.
For his heroic actions from Fedalia to Casablanca and then back to the beachhead again, Colonel William Wilbur was later awarded the Medal of Honor. It was the first to be awarded for action in the European theater in World War II. Before the morning was finished, two American Army Air Force officers would join him in that distinction.
The mouth of the Sebou River that leads inland to Morocco's second largest port at Lyautey. The city and its nearby airport was defended by 3,000 French Legionaires and Moroccan Tirailleurs. These forces were supported by heavy artillery, armored cars, and a few tanks. Port defenses included the formidably armed garrison at at the old Kasbah Fortress near the beach, just north of Mehdia.
Though General Truscott's Operation Goalpost force of 9,000 soldiers, including three battalions of the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, outnumbered the defenders, the landing would leave them completely exposed to enemy guns and highly vulnerable. Allied planners had noted that, "It would be hard to pick out a more difficult place to assault in all of West Africa (than the beach area along the mouth of the Sebou)."
These concerns were were compounded shortly after midnight when communications between the troop transports carrying the Goalpost forces broke down, and Truscott lost contact with his men. In the darkness the commander spent three hours moving across the dark waters in a small boat to board and issue orders on each of his five troop transports. This pushed H-Hour back to 4:30 a.m. Moments before that critical hour arrived, five fully-lit French cargo vessels steamed out of the mouth of the Sebou. Upon encountering the American ships one of them flashed the message: "Be warned. They are alert on shore! Alert for 0500".
Indeed the French forces ashore were prepared when the first landing craft made their way through the surf along the coast of the resort village of Mehdia. Further north, the flat-bottomed landing craft bearing Colonel Craw and Major Hamilton was meanwhile entering the channel of the Sebou River. Suddenly the first shells started to fall. Explosions rent the stillness of the early morning, brilliant flashes illuminated desperate American infantrymen as they waded ashore, and geysers of water spouted upwards around the landing craft.
Eager to thwart any attempt by the Americans to send ships up the river, the French heavily shelled the mouth of the Sebou, forcing Craw and Hamilton's barge to pull in close to the stone jetty that sheltered the opening from the sea. As the first rays of dawn reflected off the river, upstream the Americans noted the floating buoys of an anti-submarine net. They could travel no further by boat. When there came a brief respite in the shelling, the barge slipped back out to sea far enough to skirt the jetty and land its cargo on the beach south of the river.
Private Correy started the jeep as the launch moved into shallow water, and as soon as the ramp dropped in the surf he was driving across the soft sand towards the beach. Behind him, Major Hamilton was scooping up the three flags that had rolled off the jeep when it bounced down the ramp. He was wading ashore in knee-deep water. It took the major little time to rejoin the vehicle, which had sunk up to its axels in a marsh a few hundred feet from the shoreline. Correy rocked the vehicle while the two officers stood in the mire in their dress uniforms to try and push it out of the hole, heedless of the shells that continued to burst around them.
Dawn was breaking as they struggled to free the jeep, and from high overhead came the whine of a French airplane diving on their position. The three men scrambled for the protection of a nearby sand dune just as a line of machinegun bullets stitched the mud where they had stood a moment before. That first plane was followed by others. Craw, Hamilton, and Correy returned between strafing runs to try and free their vehicle. It was futile and their mission might well have ended there, but for Army engineers that had come ashore on the beach to their south. Upon noting the stranded lone jeep between them and the river, the engineers sent a bulldozer to tow it out of the muck.
Minutes later the jeep was on the solid surface of the highway that skirted the shoreline and then curved inward at the Sebou River. While Private Correy removed the water-proofing attachments to the engine and exhaust system, Major Hamilton unfurled the three flags the men had brought. When Correy completed his own tasks and returned to the driver's seat, Colonel Craw was seated next to him holding an American and French Flag. Major Hamilton seated himself in the rear with a white flag of truce. Beside him Hamilton carefully guarded the briefcase containing the ribbon-wrapped message to the French commander at Port Lyautey.
Private Correy kicked the jeep into gear while shells continued to explode around it. Sitting just below the Kasbah fortress, the three Americans were in the center of a crossfire between both sides, the Allied battleships at sea having learned that the landings were being opposed and getting the pre-arranged "Play Ball!" signal to unleash their big guns. While Correy drove determinedly through the hail of fire Colonel Craw contacted General Truscott. "Damn it, we're being shelled by both you and the French!" he shouted into his radio above the din of battle. It was the last message Truscott would hear from his emissaries for more than 48 hours.
The road led directly through the perimeter of the large stone Kasbah fortress, and Private Correy gritted his teeth as the three men proceeded inland. Amazingly, though Allied shells were striking all around to pulverize ancient stone walls, and though hundreds of French guns within the fortress rained death on the nearby beach where other Americans continued to wade ashore, the jeep passed through unchallenged. Emerging on the far side of the fort, the three Americans found themselves surrounded by two columns of French troops marching towards the beach. Again unchallenged, the jeep bearing a flag of truce passed through the column, occasionally to a courteous wave of the hand from soldiers marching west to kill other encroaching Americans.
The jeep continued on, cresting a small hill to pass between a battery of French artillery. Two 75mm guns on either side were firing deadly orbs to kill American soldiers on the distant beach. Correy halted the jeep and Major Hamilton jumped to the ground to ask a nearby officer in perfect French, "Where will I find the commanding officer of this area?"
While his guns continued to fire on the beaches, the French officer advised Hamilton that he could find his commander at Port Lyautey. "Will you give us an escort to show us the way to him?" Hamilton asked.
"I'm sorry, Colonel," the Frenchman replied courteously, "I can not. You can see, we are already short-handed here."
It was a surreal situation, three Americans alone in enemy territory asking directions to a nearby city from a French officer who apologetically declined an escort because it would further deplete his small force that was busy trying to kill the comrades of the three men before him. He did volunteer directions, advising the men to remain on the highway past a nearby left-turning fork that lead to the airport. Beyond that fork in the road was a small incline, with Port Lyautey on the downhill side.
When Hamilton was back in the jeep Private Correy kicked it in gear and the three men continued on. They passed an ammunition dump to the left, and then were at the fork that went left to the airport and right to Port Lyautey. Private Correy followed the French officer's direction, staying to the right and gearing down as the jeep began its climb of a small hill. The two-mile jaunt since leaving the artillery position had been relatively peaceful.
The jeep was nearing the crest of the hill when suddenly, without warning, a machinegun spit a stream of deadly missiles to shatter the windshield. The flags dropped to the ground as Colonel Craw slumped towards the driver. Private Correy slammed on the brakes while Hamilton rolled to the ground, dragging Craw out of the jeep with him. Blood covered the colonel's dress uniform and it was quickly obvious that the indestructible adventurer who had escaped more prickly situations than any man should face in a lifetime, had finally ran out of luck. The enemy machine gun had caught Craw full in the chest, killing him instantly. Miraculously, despite their close proximity to Colonel Craw in the cramped jeep,neither Private Correy or Major Hamilton had been even scratched.
Major Hamilton pulled himself to his feet and strode directly to the enemy gun emplacement, quickly picking out the officer in charge and letting him know in no uncertain terms what he thought of someone who would fire on a flag of truce. There was no mistaking Hamilton's rage or his words, for he summarily dressed down the French officer in his own language. The officer, in turn, ordered his men to disarm both Hamilton and Correy and then he attempted to take the briefcase. Hamilton refused to give the breiefcase over to the officer, and demanded to be escorted to the headquarters of the French commander in Port Lyautey. A vehicle was called forward and the two Americans were roughly loaded in it for the ride to Port Lyautey. They departed not as emissaries on a mission of piece, but as prisoners. Left behind on the hillside overlooking the Sebou River was their jeep and the body of Colonel Nick Craw.
In Port Lyautey Major Hamilton was taken to the headquarters of Colonel Charles Petit, the local French Commander. Petit received the American with mixed emotions while expressing his own sincere regret at the death of Colonel Craw. Hamilton, determined to push his advantage, presented the letter from General Truscott requesting a cessation of hostilities. Colonel Petit responded by advising Hamilton that, though he was not eager to fight with the Americans, he did not have the authority to issue a "cease-fire" order. He further stated that, without permission from his own commanders, he was obligated to continue leading the resistance in his sector. He did agree to pass on General Truscott's message to his own commander, Major General Mathenet at Mekness, sixty miles inland.
Colonel Petit further refused Hamilton's request that he and Private Correy be allowed to return to their own front lines. This may have been motivated in large part by a desire avoid word reaching the American forces that the French near Port Lyautey had fired on, and killed, an American officer under a flag of truce. Such news, in addition to reflecting poorly on the Colonel's own honor, would certainly inflame the Americans and motivate extreme efforts at vengeance. Hamilton and Correy were instead held informally as prisoners of war. They were assigned quarters and placed under constant guard. They were further denied any communications with their own forces, and separated from all other American prisoners.
Over the next 48 hours American forces continued to move inland while the French forces continued their resistance to the invasion. Men on both sides died while the French tried to determine where their loyalties should lay. In the end, the fates would turn so many unusual directions that it became a story beyond the imagination of the most creative writer of fiction.
D-Day - Sunday, November 8, 1942
Though French resistance to the invasion in Algeria and Morocco was generally light, virtually nowhere did American forces land without some violent opposition. The French navy in particular, fought viciously. They were successful in turning back the bold plan called Operation Reservist that had been designed to take the docks in Oran Harbor and the nearby sheltering French forts. Attacks on the HMS Hartland, transporting Colonel George F. Marshall's invasion force, resulted in the sinking of the ship and the death of 189 of the battalion's 393 men.
In Morocco, seven French destroyers quickly left the harbor at Casablanca to engage the American fleet. Meanwhile the unfinished Jean Bart opened up with its guns from its moorage. The naval battle was engaged within sight of the shore, where French and Moroccan children and mothers were spectators to the futile efforts and sudden death of their fathers and husbands.
Some of the fiercest ground fighting was at Fedalia or near the Kasbah fortress where untested American boys faced their first taste of combat...and death. At Fedalia, General George Patton came ashore shortly after noon and strode confidently among frightened soldiers to inspire them forward.
Near the Kasbah fortress fear and confusion reigned, but the green American soldiers respond to the determined leadership of their own officers and NCOs. After a hasty retreat under fire during an attack on the lighthouse at Mehdia that was later called the bug-out, Major John Dilley rallied his men for a second attack that resulted in 12 prisoners and Allied control of the objective. In the late afternoon General Truscott himself waded ashore to personally command the ground forces.
By nightfall the difficult General Giraud consented to fly to Algeria as an ally to the American forces, that only after Eisenhower agreed to make him Supreme Commander of all French Forces. Ironically, that same evening a message arrived at Gibraltar from Admiral Darlan indicating that the French naval commander was ready to engage in talks. It raised a new quandary as to which of the two men was most critical, especially in view of Winston Churchill's earlier admonition: "Kiss Darlan's stern if you have to, but get the French navy."
D-Day+1 - Monday, November 9, 1942
Despite the improved relations with General Giraud and the earlier message from Admiral Darlan, combat continued throughout Algeria and Morocco as the American forces sought to secure their beachheads and move inland. At Fedalia General Patton was unhappy with the disorganization of his landing forces and furious at French resistance. He later wrote, "The beach was a mess and the officers were doing nothing." He recalled finding one frightened soldier sobbing on the beach and literally kicking him in the behind--"Somewhat to boost (his) morale."
A man of action, Patton had initially preferred to make a direct assault on Casablanca rather than taking the city the long way around while the political machinations moved in efforts to bring a less violent conclusion. As the day wore on, and as more soldiers died, his frustration only increased.
At Mehdia General Truscott's forces were still under the guns of the Kasbah fortress when a French lieutenant stumbled into the American lines with word the fortress commander was ready to surrender. Truscott sent the officer back to the fort with details for a meeting but the French commander failed to arrive at the appointed time. Puzzled, Truscott composed a letter to the Kasbah commander reminding him that the Americans and French had been allies since the American Revolution, and that he was willing to meet any time during daylight to discuss the surrender. To his astonishment, the two officers he dispatched under a flag of truce to deliver this letter, were fired on from the fortress and forced to retreat. Thereafter he learned that the French officer who had initially brought the news of surrender, had actually stumbled unexpectedly into Allied lines and concocted the story to insure his own safe return to the fortress. For yet another day the French and the Americans were destined shoot at, and kill, each other.
At Port Lyautey Major Hamilton remained under house arrest He fumed angrily at the lack of progress. He was also concerned that General Mathenet had not yet agreed to give the order to end French resistance.
At Gibraltar General Eisenhower was struggling with the strange politics of the equally strange war. In Algeria Admiral Darlan refused to negotiate with Robert Murphy. He insited instead that a man of his position should negotiate directly with an Allied flag officer of equal rank, preferably Eisenhower himself. General Giraud was scheduled to fly to Algeria the following day, but the two French commanders had no respect each for the other. In his headquarters Eisenhower wrote to General Walter Bedell Smith in London, advising:
"I've promised Giraud to make him the big shot, while I've got to use every kind of cajolery, bribe, threat and all else to get Darlan's active cooperation. All of these Frogs have a single thought - 'ME.' It isn't this operation that's wearing me down - it's the petty intrigue and the necessity of dealing with little, selfish, conceited worms that call them selves men. Oh well - by the time this thing is over I'll probably be as crooked as any of them."
As the hours of the clock turned to signal the beginning of the third day of Operation Torch, General Mark Clark prepared to go to bed for the first time since the mission began. Turning to one of his aides he remarked: "What a mess! Why do soldiers have to get mixed up in things like this (political infighting) when there is a war to be fought?"
D-Day+2 - Tuesday, November 10, 1942
At sea a few miles off the coast of Mehdia the USS Dallas prepared for what would be the most unusual mission of the aging destroyer's service to the U.S. Navy. Aboard the Dallas were 75 raiders, all prepared to land with dawn to capture the Port Lyautey air port. Shortly after midnight the old destroyer entered the mouth of the Sebou River. At 2:30 a.m. the netting just inside the jetties were cut and, despite a hail of enemy fire, the old four-pipe destroyer began wending its way carefully inland. At the helm was a civilian pilot, a Frenchman named Rene Malavergne, who had been the Chief Pilot of Port Lyautey before the OSS had slipped him out to England for this mission.
Malavergne's knowledge of the channel served him well, enabling him to slip past the wreckage of two scuttled steamers. He was also able to free the Dallas each time the river bottom reached up to snare its hull. Supported by the ship's big guns and two seaplanes from the Savannah, by 7:30 a.m. the Dallas was unloading the raiders to spread out across the air field. The important enemy position quickly fell. Today, veterans of the USS Dallas recall their destroyer as "The Ship that Captured an Airport". For his own role in the mission Rene Malavergne became the first civilian of World War II to be awarded the Navy Cross.
Meanwhile General Truscott threw everything he had against the Kasbah fortress in a desperate early-morning assault. Nearly 200 Americans were wounded in the first assault, forcing Truscott to turn his engineers, cooks and clerks into infantrymen. These prepared for the second assault while Navy SDB Dauntless dive-bombers struck with daylight. By 8:00 a.m. American forces had seized control of the old fortress and most of the nearby airfield. Before noon the first American P-40s began landing on the damaged but still usable runways. Nearby General Truscott's men continued on towards Port Lyautey, fighting their way through hills and dunes amid continuing sniper fire and pockets of resistance.
Meanwhile General Patton's forces were converging on Casablanca from Safi in the south and Fedalia in the north. American planes from the task force's carriers, and shells from its destroyers, dropped on the port city throughout the day. On the outskirts of the city the ground resistance mounted in desperation. The third day of fighting was some of the most deadly with 36 men from Operation Brushwood killed, 113 wounded. Patton's patience with diplomacy was reaching its end and, with his forces poised for a hammer-and-anvil crushing blow to the city, and with newly arrived air power, he determined to assault the city the following day, November 11. Ironically, it was the anniversary of the Armistice ending the first world war.
The one man who was capable of halting the showdown that would result in thousands of casualties on both sides was the man who was in command at Port Lyautey. Ironically that man was no longer Colonel Charles Petit. By the strangest twist of fate imaginable, the man in charge at Port Lyautey was now U.S. Army Air Force Major Pierpont M. Hamilton.
In the early morning hours of that third fateful day Colonel Petit and one of his orderlies had driven into the night to check the rear command posts. Meanwhile, the USS Dallas was moving up the river for its dawn attack on the airport from the river, while Company A, 60th Infantry Regiment was moving in on the airport from the south. In the darkness Colonel Petit's jeep rounded a corner to a surprised reception, speeding along too fast to stop. It was surrounded by the American infantrymen. The French commander dismounted his vehicle, stepped into its headlights, and advised the American commander, "I am now your prisoner."
It was 4:30 a.m. and the American commander's first concern was his objective at the air field. He did not want to be bothered with a prisoner, especially a high ranking one. In the dialogue that followed Colonel Petit made mention of his own prisoner back at Port Lyautey, Major Hamilton. The infantry commander saw in this a solution to his own dilemma. "I'll put you on your parole," he advised Petit. "Give me your word that you will not take any further armed action against our Army, and then go back to Port Lyautey and surrender to Major Hamilton."
Colonel Petit offered his vow and within hours was back in Major Hamilton's room in Port Lyautey. There, he announced that he was now his own prisoner's, prisoner. "In a way," Hamilton later recalled, "this put me in command of the town of Port Lyautey, but with no means of communicating that fact to the American forces!"
In his new role, however, Major Hamilton did have one line of communications--a direct line to General Mathenet in Meekness. While American forces continued to battle their way into the city, Hamilton placed a call to the General asking him to issue an order ending the needless loss of life that was continuing. At 10:30 that night General Methenet called French headquarters in Port Lyautey and asked to speak with Major Hamilton. "Bring General Truscott to Port Lyautey," he advised, "and we will discuss the terms of a cease fire."
"No way!" Major Hamilton responded, now feeling full in control of the situation. "I brought my colonel here three days ago and your men killed him beneath a flag of truce. I'll not risk my general to the same kind of treachery. All YOU need to do right now is to give the order for your men to quit fighting. When they quit, our soldiers will quit, and men from both sides will be spared. THEN, we can set up a meeting with General Truscott."
After a moment of silence Hamilton heard a sigh of resignation from the other end of the phone line. "Okay," General Mathenet said. "Put Colonel Petit on the line." Minutes later the official cease-fire order had been issued. All that remained was to transmit that order to the soldiers of both sides, men now engaging in scattered battles over a six mile stretch of land between Port Lyautey and the coast line.
Rather than wait for daylight and risk additional lives to night battles, Major Hamilton requested a vehicle. For the next several hours Private Correy drove through the hostile sand dunes, headlights ablaze, while a French bugler sounded "Cease Fire". Joining Major Hamilton was Petit's executive officer, Colonel Leon LeBeau. Unfortunately, the French signal was similar to the U.S. Army's old Cavalry "Charge". While nearing the airport the four men on a mission of peace were nearly killed as attackers.
Major Hamilton dismounted, walking in front of the jeep's headlights towards the American defenders. It turned out to be six tanks from the 70th Tank Battalion, and one of the officers knew and recognized the American air officer. Hamilton radioed news of the cease-fire to Colonel Semmes near the beachhead, then rode through the night on the same tank to American headquarters to meet personally with General Truscott.
Truscott was deeply saddened to learn of Nick Craw's death, but thrilled after going for three days with no communications, to see that Hamilton was still alive. "Are you absolutely certain that the French have ordered their troops to cease fire?" he pressed Hamilton.
"I'm positive," the major replied, explaining the events of the day including Colonel Petit's surrender and his phone conversation with General Mathenet. "You see, I'm kind of in charge here now," he added.
General Truscott smiled at the unusual tale he had just heard, nodded his head in Colonel LeBeau's direction and quipped: "Then what's the reason for bringing HIM along? If you're in charge, come yourself and arrange the details of the armistice." Both men laughed heartily.