Patton 360

Season 1 Episode 1

Blood & Guts

Aired Friday 9:00 PM Apr 10, 2009 on The History Channel

Episode Recap

The first showdown between the American army and Hitler's German troops did not take place in Europe but in Tunisia in North Africa in February 1943. The America army is holding Kesserine Pass, a key supply lane for Allied supply bases, and the Germans are looking to attack with armor under the command of renowned Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, known as the Desert Fox known for his aggressiveness.

The pass is one mile wide and guarded by two thousand American troops entrenched in foxholes in the pass floor and hills around it. Behind the troops, thirty six tank destroyers and a few tanks provide support. The German army is bearing down on them with one hundred tanks and eight thousand men. The American's lack of experience shows and as the German armor and rocket launchers close on them, the defense crumbles and the Germans punch through. US troops are soon in full retreat and the American mission to stop Hitler is endangered. Two hundred American soldiers are killed with hundreds more wounded and the disastrous outcome proves a setback for the troops under George Patton, who is not present. Patton is stuck in Morocco after leading the American invasion of North Africa months earlier.

In November 1942, Patton was aboard the cruiser Augusta as part of the US invasion force and tells the troops on board to keep their wits about them. Patton's disdain for passivity was well known as well as his lust for glory. Patton's ancestors were warriors and he wants to go in history as a great leader. As a young officer, he gained notoriety for hunting down Mexican rebels and led one of the first US tank units in World War I.

As the invasion fleet crosses the Atlantic, the direction is northwest Africa as Churchill believes it is relatively lightly guarded compared to other targets and opens southern Europe for future moves. Vichy French troops guard many key areas and puts them at odds with Patton's thirty four thousand troops preparing to invade the coast.

Patton's force is one third of the one hundred thousand American and British force invading North Africa in an operation code named Operation Torch. One force hits the beach near Algiers, one near Oran and one near Casablanca in Morocco and this is Patton's force. Patton decides to split his force into three groups with the largest led by him landing near Fedala. Patton's southern force will attempt to land tanks near Safi, one hundred and forty miles south of Casablanca, and his northern force will look to land near Port Lyautey and attempt to capture a vital airfield.

All of Patton's force are looking to join and take Casablanca as the main target. In the pre dawn hours of November 8th, 1942, Patton's forces are off the coast of Morocco preparing to strike. As the landing craft start to fill, the soldiers wonder what the Vichy French will do in defense. As the craft near the beaches, spotlights light the waters and machine guns start to rake the landing craft with deadly fire.

Patton's nineteen thousand troops look to storm ashore but French naval gunfire starts shelling them from Casablanca. For some, this first action would be their last. As dawn breaks, French naval gunfire zeroes in on Patton's ship and the USS Massachusetts returns fire in short duels. None of the shells hit the Augusta and Patton finally hits the beach and finds a bloody mess. Seeing this, Patton starts barking orders and getting things organized.

Meanwhile, the southern force try to storm and seize Safi to use the port to land tanks needed to take Casablanca. Four hundred infantry land on the docks and quickly overwhelm the defenders though sniping attacks continue. The forces landing on the beach are strafed relentlessly by French aircraft and terrorize the infantry until night falls.

On November 9, French Renault light tanks are on the attack heading towards Port Lyautey to destroy the landing forces there but they are unaware that seven American M5 Stuart tanks sit north in protection of the landing forces. The French tanks draw within range of the American armor and the French force looks to overwhelm the Americans. However, a US naval plane calls in naval gunfire and the resulting shelling turns the tide and the French retreat. By the evening of second day, though, the objectives for the north force remained unobtained with an old fort and steel cable blocking the access needed by the Americans.

On November 10, a raiding force aboard the USS Dallas goes through the cable and up the river between sunken French ships to reach the airfield. The raiding force is aided by naval gunfire and seize control of the airfield. However, the French defenders inside the nearby fort Kasbah still show signs of willing to fight to the death. Despite the odds, an all out attack is called for against the fort but a French machine gun stalls that attack. By mid morning, a heavy M7 Priest howitzer is called in for support but its fire is ineffective even at point blank range. Finally, naval planes are called in and the bombing allows the American infantry to penetrate the walls and capture the fort. The 16th Infantry have casualties of two hundred and sixty dead or missing soldiers in total during the battle.

Patton is happy to hear of the success and prepares for a crushing assault on Casablanca but the French unexpectedly surrender before it takes place. Operation Torch has been a bloody success but Patton is disappointed that he has been unable to show his true strength as a commander though that looks to be coming in the future.
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