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In 1942, a US Navy top-secret mission swam in the Sebou river to cut a steel cable

A US top-secret mission landed in Morocco in 1942 to cut a steel cable in the Sebou river. The operation was a crucial step of the North Africa landing carried out by the Allied forces against the Vichy France forces.

U.S. Navy demolition team. / DR
Estimated read time: 2'

In 1942, the Allies of World War II led an invasion of French North Africa, landing in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The secret and abrupt landing dubbed Operation Torch was under the command of American general Dwight D. Eisenhower and targeted vital ports in the three countries, including that of Casablanca.

The main mission was to defeat the Vichy France forces, which had aligned with Nazi Germany. In Morocco, the landing would not have been successful without the U.S. Navy demolition team, a top-secret mission that had a specific yet primordial task to deliver during the Operation Torch.

Created in mid-1942, the demolition team included skilled divers, who «were tasked to cut a steel cable and re­lease a boom blocking the channel in the river. With the cable cut, a U.S. de­stroyer would then be able to proceed upstream, landing 300 troops to storm the Port Lyautey airfield (Kenitra)», wrote Home Newshere in an article dedicated to one of the members of said team.

A risky operation

Trained to perform the risky operation, the team was mainly set out to «cut a cable that prevented shipping from moving up the Wadi Sebou», read the book «Handbook of Naval Combat Underwater Demolition Team Training» (Loose Cannon, 1944).

Although it sounded simple, cutting that cable was no easy task. After crossing the Atlantic on a mine­sweeper converted into a rescue operations ship, they arrived near the coast of North Africa.

The team, which struggled with unexpected resistance and bad weather, set out in a small landing craft in «difficult conditions».

«As the little boat struggled out to sea, the team was treated to an artillery duel between a warship that was acting in support of them and the French coastal artillery», the same book recalled.

The team recovered but they had to act quickly. Their small boat was loaded with «explosives, wire cutters, two inflated rubber boats, two light machine guns and a huge underwater explosive device», the same source added.

Members of the team went into the water, wearing shallow water masks and oxygen masks. «It probably only took us two to four minutes under the water but to us, it was centuries», Frederick Ar­senault, a member of the team, recalled. «I felt sorry for the poor guys who had to stay on deck», he added.

The operation was successful and the divers managed to attach an explosive cutting device to the cable. This meant that the destroyer Dallas was able to transport its cargo of U.S. Rangers to their objective.

The landing went as planned and the Allied forces defeated the Vichy France forces, leading the way for the Casablanca conference, attended by President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

In 1943, one year after the operation, members of the Navy team received the second-highest honor in the Navy.

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