Twelve Desperate Miles

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Brady

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Brady, Tim, 1955–
Twelve desperate miles : the epic WWII voyage of the Contessa / Tim Brady.—1st ed.
p. cm.
1. World War, 1939–1945—Riverine operations—Morocco. 2. World War, 1939–1945—Riverine operations, American. 3. World War, 1939–1945—Campaigns—Africa, North. 4. Operation Torch, 1942. 5. Contessa (Steamer) I. Title.

D766.99.M6B73 2012
940.54′234—dc23       2011026090

eISBN: 978-0-307-59039-8

Maps by David Lindroth, Inc.
Jacket design by Whitney Cookman
Jacket photography: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS (top); Bettman/CORBIS (bottom)

v3.1

To Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Wallace A. Brady, U.S.N.
,
Navy Cross, 1945, at Iwo Jima

CONTENTS

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

(in order of appearance)

René Malevergne (aka “The Shark,” “Monsieur Prechak”)
—River pilot of the French Moroccan Port Lyautey. When France fell to Hitler’s army in the summer of 1940, he joined the French “underground” forces in Morocco, subverting the Vichy regime in Africa. He was ultimately tapped by Allied forces for a special mission. Husband to Germaine; father to Claude and René.

Paolantonacci, Brunin, Ravel, Brabancon, and Rocca
—Colleagues of Malevergne in Port Lyautey.

Captain William Henry John
—Welsh-born master of the SS
Contessa
, veteran of the British Royal Navy in World War I, for more than twenty years a resident of New Orleans, and longtime employee of the Standard Fruit Company. He and his ship were called to duty by the U.S. War Shipping Administration in the spring of 1942 and began transporting U.S. troops and supplies from New York to North Ireland that summer. Husband to Bessie; father to Peggy and Betts.

Rear Admiral Karl Doenitz
—Leader of Germany’s U-boat campaign. He would also briefly succeed Adolf Hitler as the last führer of the Third Reich in the waning days of the war.

General George Patton
—Appointed commander of the I Armored Corps in July 1942, Major General George Patton received another command come August, when he was tapped by Eisenhower to head the Western Task Force of Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa.

General George Marshall
—Appointed Army Chief of Staff by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in September 1939. He would remain in that post, based in Washington, throughout the war. In 1944, Marshall became the first five-star general in the U.S. Army in World War II.

General Dwight David Eisenhower
—In late May 1942, General Dwight David Eisenhower flew to London, where he assumed command of the European Theater of Operations (ETOUSA). From offices there, he would oversee the pending invasion of North Africa.

General Lucian Truscott
—Newly promoted Brigadier General Lucian Truscott was in England, charged with the development of an Army Ranger unit patterned after British commando forces, as the invasion of North Africa evolved.

Captain Harry Butcher
—Naval aide to General Eisenhower in London. Butcher was ordered by his commander to keep a diary of the activities of Eisenhower’s office. Butcher published
My Three Years with Eisenhower
after the war.

General Alan Brooke
—Chief of the Imperial General Staff; essentially, head of the British army; Marshall’s counterpart in initial discussions on where to attack the Axis. Brooke argued strenuously against Operation Roundup, the American plan to invade France in 1942.

Vice Admiral Wion de Malpas Egerton
and
Commodore Lennon Goldsmith
—Royal Navy commanders of the first and second convoys in which the
Contessa
sailed.

Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt
—A thirty-five-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. Admiral Hewitt commanded the Atlantic Fleet amphibious forces in the summer of 1942. He would soon butt heads with General George Patton as they planned together (and separately) the combined navy and army operations of the Western Task Force of Operation Torch.

The Apostles
—Nickname given to the OSS operatives who arrived in North Africa in the wake of the February 1941 Murphy-Weygand Agreement, which allowed for trade between the United States and Vichy North Africa. These spies slipped into North Africa in the guise of U.S. customs agents charged with making sure American goods were not shipped to Germany.

Colonel William “Bill” Eddy
—World War I vet, scholar, and expert on Middle Eastern affairs, Eddy was sent to Tangier in 1941 to serve, nominally, as a naval attaché. His actual duties were to gather intelligence for the OSS and serve as the overseer of the Apostles in northwest Africa.

Robert Murphy
—American consul in Paris in the 1930s. Murphy became FDR’s man in North Africa—liaison to the Vichy government and collector of information at the onset of the war.

David King
—Having served in the French Foreign Legion and the U.S. Army during World War I, King came to Casablanca as an OSS operative in 1941.

Gordon Browne
—An archaeologist by trade, Browne was a relatively new OSS recruit stationed in Tangier. He and Franklin Holcomb happened to be in Casablanca at a propitious moment for René Malevergne and the future of Operation Torch in September 1942.

Franklin Holcomb
—Son of Marine Corps Commandant Thomas Holcomb. Franklin worked out of Tangier as assistant naval attaché to William Eddy. He was on assignment with Browne on a tour of the interior of Morocco when the pair came to Casablanca.

Hal Wallis
—Chief of production at Warner Brothers Studios in Hollywood, Wallis was overseeing the editing and promotional campaign of a new film called
Casablanca
in the late summer of 1942. He was completely unaware of any Allied plans involving North Africa.

General Alfred Gruenther
—Called over to London in August 1942 from a station in San Antonio, Texas, to assume the post of chief of staff for Eisenhower, Mark Clark, and the North African campaign, Gruenther had a steep learning curve in order to catch up to fast-developing plans.

Major General Mark Clark
—Appointed by Eisenhower as overall deputy commander in chief of Allied forces in North Africa.

Carl Clopet
—Casablanca hydrographer exfiltrated from Morocco to London in order to aid Allied planning for the invasion of Africa.

Goalpost planning team
—Included British members of Louis Lord Mountbatten’s staff and American officers serving under General Lucian Truscott. Both were brought together in Washington in mid-September 1942 to help coordinate the Port Lyautey attack force in the invasion of Morocco. British members were Commanders Dick Costabadie and John Homer and Major Robert Henriques. American members of Truscott’s planning team included Majors Ted Conway and Pierpont Morgan Hamilton. Hamilton was the grandson of the famed financier J. P. Morgan and the great-great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton.

Western Task Force Transportation group
—Army Services of Supplies was headed by Lieutenant General Brehon Somervell, who would hold the position for the duration of the war. Somervell’s chief duties in the fall of 1942 were to supply the needs of the first major operation of the Allied command, Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. Serving as chief of transportation in the Army Service Forces, directly beneath Somervell, was General Charles P. Gross, whose principal task that fall was to fulfill the shipping needs for the army’s invasion. Gross commanded Brigadier General John R. Kilpatrick, who headed the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation in Virginia. Colonel Cyrus J. Wilder was the executive officer of the Port of Hampton Roads.

Lieutenant Colonel Frederick de Rohan
—Commander of the 60th Infantry Regimental Combat Team of the 9th Infantry Division, Truscott’s principal infantry fighting in the Goalpost operation.

Lieutenant Colonel Jack Toffey
—Commander of the Third Battalion of the 60th Infantry Regimental Combat team. His troops landed north of the River Sebou on D-day with the goal of aiding in the assault of the Port Lyautey airfield and taking the bridge north of the port.

Colonel Demas “Nick” Craw
—Army Air Force liaison to General Lucian Truscott’s command. He was slated to command the Port Lyautey airfield once it was in Allied hands.

Colonel Harry Semmes
—Semmes served with distinction as a captain in Colonel George Patton’s newly created tank corps during the First World War. After establishing himself as a patent attorney between the wars, Semmes reenlisted at the start of World War II and soon found himself serving once again in an armored division under Patton.

Lieutenant Commander Robert Brodie Jr
.—Brodie was captain of the U.S. destroyer
Dallas
, which was picked to open the River Sebou for the SS
Contessa
.