South Dakota Battalion: North Africa 1942 to Kasserine Pass 1943
by Duke Doering
Just two days ago, on November 8th, American forces entered the European War Theatre with Operation TORCH, which was the invasion of North Africa. This was the United States first contact in the European campaign in World War II. Members of the South Dakota National Guard’s Company C, 109th Engineer Battalion were a part of the opening battle against Italy and Germany in North Africa.
During 1942 Allied combat operations were well underway in North Africa by the British, and by the Americans in the South Pacific against the Japanese, but it was on November 8, 1942 in North Africa that the American soldiers made first contact with the German and Italian armies.
Company C, 109th Engineer Battalion, from Sturgis, SD, was part of this invasion force that were the first Americans to land on the shores of Algiers. Company C was the engineer element of the 168th Infantry, Iowa National Guard. During the November 1942 assault landing on the coast of this French colony, the 109th met little resistance as it seized both the port and the airfield. The colony was controlled by the Vichy French government, a puppet regime under the power of Adolf Hitler. While some French officers tried to lead their men in resisting the American landing, most of their troops decide to join the Allies against the hated Nazis.
In the short, three day battle with the Vichy French the Americans took several casualties, but none of the Sturgis boys were seriously injured. Corporal Richard Behrens from Spearfish said “After a short firefight against the French we thought we were pretty tough. Months later, when we first faced the Germans at Kasserine Pass and Faid Pass in February 1943, we saw what those battle tested German soldiers could do, they were mean and experienced.”