Operation Flagpole

'Flagpole' was the British naval delivery of a No. 2 Special Boat Section party and senior Allied personnel onto the coast of Algeria (21 October/5 November 1942).

The submarine Seraph landed a party including three US officers to a meeting with a French delegation to test the possible reaction of the local Vichy French forces to the forthcoming 'Torch' landings.

The French asked that Général d’Armée Henri Giraud, who had escaped from German captivity, be collected from southern France and conveyed to Gibraltar, a request with which the Allies complied in 'Minerva'.

The object of 'Flagpole' was a top secret high-level meeting between Major General Mark W. Clark, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force Mediterranean and now representing the Allies, and Général de Brigade Charles Emmanuel Mast, the leader of a group of pro-Allied Vichy France officers in French North Africa, to secure the latter’s co-operation with the invasion.

On 16 October 1942, a meeting at the headquarters of the 'Torch' staff at Norfolk House in London involved a number of US officers: Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied commander for 'Torch'; Clark, the recently appointed deputy commander for 'Torch'; Brigadier General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, the head of the Allied force planning section for 'Torch'; Colonel Archelaus L. Hamblen, the staff expert on shipping and supply; Colonel Julius C. Holmes, head of civil affairs branch for 'Torch'; Rear Admiral Bernard H. Bieri, the senior US Navy representative; and Captain Jerauld Wright, the liaison officer with the Royal Navy. Eisenhower informed the meeting that the US War Department had forwarded an urgent cable from the diplomat Robert D. Murphy of the US consulate in Algeria requesting the immediate despatch of a group to meet Mast, the military commander of Algiers and the leader of a group of pro-Allied officials in French North Africa.

The objective of this 'Flagpole' secret mission was to reach an agreement through Mast and his colleagues to arrange for Général d’Armée Henri Giraud, a key anti-German army officer, to assume command of French military forces in North Africa, and then to arrange a ceasefire with the Allied invasion force. Other French officers, such as Amiral de la Flotte François Darlan and Général de Brigade Charles de Gaulle, had been rejected by the British and US governments for a variety of political reasons.

Clark was to be Eisenhower’s personal representative, with Lemnitzer, Hamblen and, as translater, Holmes. Wright was to serve as the liaison representative with the French navy with the specific objective of convincing the French to have their fleet units based in Toulon join the Allied cause.

The group flew in two Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress four-engined bombers to Gibraltar, which was the operational headquarters for the invasion, and on 19 October the group boarded the British submarine Seraph, which was carrying collapsible canoes, sub-machine guns, walkie-talkie radios and other supplies, as well as three British SBS commandos.

Seraph delivered Clark’s party to the small fishing village of Cherchell, about 80 miles (130 km) to the west of Algiers where, after 00.00 on the night of 21/22 October, the submarine surfaced and put Clark’s mission ashore to meet with Mast and Murphy. Wright met with Capitaine de vaisseau Jean Barjot and learned that the French navy was opposed to any US entry into North Africa, although the army and air force supported it. As a result of the meetings, Clark secured the agreement of the French.

On 24 October Clark’s mission returned to Seraph after some inadvertent delays, and later met a seaplane which flew it back to Gibraltar and thence London, where the US team arrived on 25 October.