Operation Gymnast

'Gymnast' was the Allied original and much disputed plan for a major amphibious landing in French North-West Africa as a means of getting US forces into action against Germany and Italy as soon as possible, and of breaking the apparent deadlock in North Africa (spring 1942).

Given the pressure being exerted on it by Germany, and the almost total exhaustion of its armed forces, the USSR had pressed and indeed was still pressing the USA and UK as a matter of the greatest urgency to start major land operations in Europe and thus open a second front which would serve to reduce the German pressure on the USSR. While the senior US military leadership favoured 'Sledgehammer' to effect a landing in German-occupied Europe as soon as possible, the British leadership believed that such a course would end in disaster as the Allies currently lacked the amphibious capability to launch and then support an invasion by comparatively minor forces, which would rapidly be checked and destroyed by the Germans unless it could be evacuated.

An attack on French North-West Africa was proposed as a solution acceptable to both the US and British political and military leadership, for this would help to clear the Axis powers from North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Sea, and open the way for an invasion of southern Europe during 1943. President Franklin D. Roosevelt suspected that the North-West African operation would rule out all possibility of an invasion of Europe in 1943, but agreed to support British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in this matter.

The plan exercised Allied planners throughout 1942, and was finally developed via 'Super Gymnast' into the definitive 'Torch'.