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76 years ago: Remembering medical support for Operation Torch

  • Published
  • By Kevin M. Hymel
  • Air Force Medical Service History Office
Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, hit the beaches 76 years ago on Nov. 8, 1942, including an American force led by Maj. Gen. George S. Patton that invaded the French protectorate in Morocco. With Patton was Lt. Samuel T. Moore, a flight surgeon with the 81st Fighter Group, who kept a diary of his actions.

“Our warships were shelling the enemy fortifications incessantly,” wrote Moore. “The horizon was lit up by what appeared to be sheets of lightning, only they were the flashes of 75-mm coastal guns shooting at us.”

Moore landed on Morocco’s Mehdia Beach that night aboard a landing craft with 22 enlisted men and another officer. Two days later Moore and the rest of his medical crew moved to the recently-captured airstrip at Point Lyautey, where Army Air Forces’ Curtis P-40 Warhawks had already landed.

“Broken and burned aircraft are everywhere,” he reported.

The next day, November 11, Vichy French forces in Morocco surrendered. Operation Torch was a success.

The fighting may have stopped, but Moore continued to treat Soldiers and airmen. He debrided wounds, performed spinal taps and appendectomies, treated burns, severe cases of insect bites, and, later, malaria. Outside the clinic, he helped create some semi-permanent latrines and lectured on sexually transmitted diseases.

“Fleas seem to be our biggest health problem now,” he wrote.

With the war raging in Tunisia, Moore transferred there on Jan. 23, 1943. He arrived at Kelty Field, which he described as “little more than a flat spot in the middle of an arid valley.”

He set up his clinic in an excavation pit. As a flight line doctor, Moore performed amputations, picked shrapnel and glass out of pilots, interviewed those suffering from anxiety neurosis and recommended sending them home.

Moore also dealt with the cold reality of losing pilots in his care.

“We lost ‘Doc’ Graves over enemy territory,” he reported on February 11, “Capt. Sullivan saw him blow up in the air and crash in flames from a direct hit by antiaircraft fire. He left a wife who is expecting a baby this spring… These pilots all seem like ‘my’ boys.”

The Germans in North Africa finally surrendered on May 13, 1943, ending the six-month campaign. A week after their surrender Moore received his Flight Surgeon wings.

“The wings are the same as those a pilot wears,” he wrote, “except for a caduceus in the center, and they’re gold instead of silver.”

Operation Torch was a critical step toward defeating the Axis Powers in World War II. During the campaign, Army Air Forces flight surgeons like Moore kept the pilots flying, providing air cover for American ground troops. Much like today, those flight surgeons continue that legacy of going above and beyond to improve the lives of the Airmen and other service members in their care.