WW II letters home – Operation Torch (November 1942)

Operation Torch

Soon after the events at Pearl Harbor and the U.S. official entry into the war, military leaders had settled on the primary strategy of defeating Axis efforts in Europe before focusing on the Pacific threat.  

So in July 1942, while Kenney trained off Main’s coast with his new shipmates aboard the recently commissioned U.S.S. Massachusetts, the Allied forces were finalizing plans for the first significant offensive involving fresh U.S. resources.  But, U.S. Army chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, came to a deadlock with British Field Mashal, Alan Brooke, on when and where to focus a concerted attack.  Ultimately, President Roosevelt understood the inevitability of U.S. participation in Europe and preferred to stick with the primary “Germany First” strategy.  He intervened in the deadlock and issued direct orders to General Marshall to support the British plans on North Africa.  It is said that the operation was named “Torch” to reflect the heated debate between General Marshall and Field Marshal Brook.

Three targets were selected, Oran, Algiers, and Casablanca.   A fourth target was identified at Tunis, Tunisia but would not be moved against until the first three were secure due to a German airfield’s close proximity.  Allied leaders sought and gained support from high-ranking French military leaders in Algeria in the hope they would help weaken Axis strength in French-controlled North Africa and affect surrender to Allied forces.  Lt. General Dwight D. Eisenhower would lead 65,000 Allied western troops from U.S. and British ports.  

Accessed November 28 at Wikipedia

The U.S.S. Massachusetts left the U.S. Atlantic coast on 24 October 1942 as the flagship for Task Group 34.1.  Her task group included two heavy cruisers and four destroyers.  On 28 October, her task group met up with the rest of the invasion fleet and set out for North Africa.  Task Group 34.1 was assigned the western invasion point of Casablanca and began landing operations at daybreak on 8 November.  After launching ground troops, Big Mamie took a cover fire position at Port-Lyautey against coastal guns, submarines, and the incomplete French battleship, Jean Bart.  The French allies failed their coup, and French Axis leaning military leaders took defensive actions.  Despite being unfinished, the Jean Bart did have one operational battery and opened fire on the U.S.S. Massachusetts shortly after 7:04 A.M.  Big Mamie returned fire at 7:40 A.M. and took out Jean Bart’s battery with her 16-inch caliber gun, the first heavy-caliber shell fired by the U.S. Navy in World War II.  The French called for a cease-fire on 11 November.

The U.S.S. Massachusetts set out for home on 12 November to begin preparations for operations in the Pacific.

Massachusetts state seal

Envelope postdated November 23, 1942.  Envelope stamped: Passed by Naval Censor.”  Letter is written in ink on United States Ship Massachusetts letterhead; the emblem is the seal for Massachusetts. It took the fleet 10 days to traverse the Pacific, so if the U.S.S. Massachusetts left Casablanca on 12 November, they would have arrived home by 22 November and Kenney’s shore leave was back on U.S. soil. This also means, he didn’t get his mail until arriving back in the U.S.

Written on the back of the envelope: I shoot a shell into the air.  It falls to earth, I know not where.  I hope it soars across the map.  And shoots the pants right off a Jap.

Kenney Rhoades
U.S.S. Mass. Div P
c/o P.M.N.Y

Mr. & Mrs. K.W. Rhoades
4011 North 30 Street
Omaha, Nebraska

November 22, 1942, 9 P.M.

Dear Folks,

Hi all, hope you aren’t to worried about your offspring, but I just haven’t been able to write.  [I] think you understand alright, however I am fine and hope you are all the same. 

Had a pleasant surprise yesterday.  We got our mail and I had three letters from mom, one each from dad and Dick, also a couple of sugar reports [good news letters from home to lift spirits, often times from another young person].  Doing pretty good, aren’t I?  

Have a few days leave coming up pretty soon.  If it is possible [I] will try to make it home.  Maybe only be able to stay a day or two.  [Spoiler: it is some time before he gets to go home again, but I won’t tell you how long.]

Well, Dick, it looks as though Uncle Sam may be grabbing you pretty soon.  Take some dope from an old dope.  If you decide to come in the Navy, try to come in as a feather merchant (reserve) for the duration.  By then you will know if you want to stay, if not you can go out.  Also try to get a rate [I think Kenney’s meaning “to rate” was to negotiate for a higher pay grade than a standard recruit. Yes, it is possible to negotiate, to a degree, with the military. I negotiated for my desired occupation with my dads help. I think Kenney is implying that Dick may be able to negotiate an E-4 pay rate due to prior work experience, though his jargon is foreign to an Army vet like me, so I struggle with his meaning].  You might as well get the money as someone else.  Working as you are for the U.P., you shouldn’t have much trouble getting yeoman second-class as that’s right in your line.  It is a good rate to, you have a regular white-collar job although lots of hours.  You may have ideas of your own, if so, use your own judgment.  [Richard did go into the Navy and my family jokes that he rarely wrote home or talked about what he did later in life. I believe he was a radioman or some form of communication, which would explain it all.]

Thanks for the newspaper with the dope about Dewey and the others, dad.   I had often wondered what had happened to him.  [Many of Kenney’s friends from Omaha went into the Army. At least one wrote to Ken Sr. while convalescing. I assume there was a story in the Omaha newspaper about local boys in the war, but without a surname for Dewey, I can’t track down the article]

Christmas is drawing near, there isn’t anything I really need and as things are so uncertain I think it better if you don’t try to send a box as you did last year.  Not that it wouldn’t be appreciated, however as things are somewhat cool I could use a black leather jacket.  However, it is not a necessity.  

Well, as far as I cam concerned there isn’t much change, I haven’t gained or lost weight, am physically well as can be expected.  I am just growing older as the days roll by, or should I say drag by.  Well as I am tired after a hard day, also liberty last night, guess I will close and retire to my fart sack.  

Love to all,

U.S.S. Massachusetts crew members of the engine room.

There isn’t another letter from Kenney in the collection until August 1943. When he got home, he did type up a chronology of the U.S.S. Massachusetts activities, or he received a copy from someone. Stay tuned, though, as I will try to paint a picture of his adventures through news articles, historical records, and imagination.