Operation Super Gymnast

This was the Allied final development of ‘Gymnast’, soon superseded by ‘Torch’, as an alternative to ‘Sledgehammer’ against a target in northern Europe (1942).

The concept had originated as the wholly British ‘Acrobat’, and was then developed as the British ‘Gymnast’, which proposed the landing of 55,000 British troops in French Algeria should the British 8th Army make sufficient progress in Cyrenaica to draw off major Axis reserves and make possible a westward drive to the Tunisian frontier. The British were opposed to the US-sponsored ‘Sledgehammer’, which they claimed would put ashore in a dangerous position Allied forces insufficient to defeat the 40 to 44 German divisions in northern France, and thus without strategic purpose.

The Americans nevertheless wished to get their ground forces into action against the Germans during 1942 if possible, and the desirability of such an operation against French North Africa (where large numbers of French troops were stationed and might be expected to join the Allied cause) was agreed at the ‘Arcadia’ conference in Washington during December 1941.

The original ‘Gymnast’ scheme was reworked during January 1942 (after the resolution of Anglo-US difficulties in which the British proposed that 100,000 men should be landed, whereas the Americans wished to use 200,000 men in the initial lodgement, rising to 300,000 men as the Allied forces moved to the east) to produce the Anglo-US ‘Super Gymnast’, which proposed that three British and three US divisions should be landed in French Morocco and French Algeria on 15 April 1942, while three US divisions were shipped across the North Atlantic to Northern Ireland, so freeing three British divisions for operational service.

The target date proved wholly optimistic (especially as the Axis forces forced the British back from Cyrenaica to the Gazala Line, and as Allied amphibious capability was required during this period for other purposes, such as ‘Ironclad’) and as a result ‘Super Gymnast’ was postponed, being revived in July 1942 as a means of easing German pressure on the USSR and getting US forces in contact with the Germans during 1942, and ‘Super Gymnast’ was finally developed into the definitive ‘Torch’ for implementation November 1942.