Operation Kingpin

This was the Allied undertaking designed to secure the services of Général d’Armée Henri Honoré Giraud, a very senior French military leader evacuated from Vichy France in 'Minerva', during the period leading to the 'Torch' invasion of French North Africa (October/November 1942).

This was an element of the Allies' approach to 'Torch', and was successor to 'Flagpole', in which a secret meeting between two US persons (Major General Mark W. Clark and diplomat Robert Murphy) representing the Allies, and Général de Brigade Charles Mast, the leader of a group of pro-Allied Vichy French officers in French North Africa, was arranged to secure their co-operation with the invasion. In 'Kingpin', Giraud was released from Vichy French detention in unoccupied France and brought to Gibraltar to meet Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US officer commanding 'Torch', and Clark, his deputy, in order to secure his co-operation with the invasion.

After escaping from German captivity, Giraud was under house arrest on the orders of the Vichy French government at Toulon on the south coast of France for his anti-German leanings. Giraud was already planning for the day when US troops landed in France, and had also agreed to support an Allied landing in French North Africa, provided that only US troops were used and that he or another French officer was the commander of the operation. He considered this latter condition essential to maintaining French sovereignty and authority over the Arab and Berber populations of North Africa.

Giraud had designated Mast as his representative in Algeria, and at the 'Flagpole' secret meeting of 23 October the invasion was agreed, but the Americans promised only that Giraud would be in command 'as soon as possible'. Giraud demanded a written commitment that he would be commander within 48 hours of the landing, and for landings in France as well as North Africa. Giraud also insisted that he could not leave France before 20 November, but was then persuaded that he had to leave before this.

On 26 October, Captain Jerauld Wright of the US Navy was ordered to take part in 'Kingpin', as part of which Giraud was to be extracted from Vichy France in 'Minerva'. As Giraud refused to deal with the British, and there were no US submarines within many thousands of miles, Prime Minister Winston Churchill devised a subterfuge to appease Giraud. The British submarine Seraph, commanded by Lieutenant Norman Jewell, briefly became a US boat flying the US Navy ensign. The boat was nominally under Wright’s command, although Jewell actually commanded operations. In the spirit of things the British crew affected what they believed to be American accents. This fooled no one including Giraud, whom Wright had informed of the deception.

On 27 October Seraph was ordered to approach the south coast of France for a secret rendezvous, and to patrol along the coast until receiving a signal giving her the name of the port from which the was to collect its passengers. The submarine arrived at a location some 20 miles (32 km) to the east of Toulon on 30 October, and on 5 November the boat took onboard Giraud, his son and three staff officers. Two days later, these passengers were transferred to a Consolidated Catalina flying boat which had been despatched from Gibraltar to search for the submarine after contact had been lost as a result of a radio problem. The Catalina flew to Gibraltar, where the 'Torch' headquarters had been established, for a meeting with Eisenhower and Clark.

At this meeting, Eisenhower asked Giraud to take command of the French troops in North Africa during 'Torch' and order them to join the Allies. Giraud had expected to command the whole operation, however, but this responsibility had been given to Eisenhower, and Giraud refused to participate on any other basis. By the next morning, however, Giraud had changed his mind but, refusing to leave immediately for Algiers, remained at Gibraltar until 9 November.

Pro-Allied elements in Algeria had agreed to support the Allied landings, and in fact seized Algiers on the night of 7/8 November, and the city was then occupied by Allied troops. Resistance continued at Oran and Casablanca. Giraud flew to Algiers on 9 November, but his attempt to assume command of the French forces was rebuffed, and his broadcast ordering the French troops to cease resistance and join the Allies was ignored.

The actuality of the local situation was that Amiral de la Flotte François Darlan, who happened to be in Algiers, was the officer who possessed the real authority, and even Giraud realised this. Despite the fact that Darlan was to all intents the prime minister of Vichy France, the Allies recognised him as head of French forces, and it was Darlan who on 10 November ordered the French to cease fire and join the Allies.

On 11 November German forces occupied southern France in 'Anton'. Inter-Allied negotiations continued in Algiers, and by 13 November Darlan had been recognised as high commissioner of French North and West Africa, and Giraud had been appointed as the commander of all the French forces under Darlan. All this took place without reference to the Free French organisation of Général de Brigade Charles de Gaulle, which had claimed to be the legitimate government-in-exile of France.