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FDR's 12 Apostles: The Spies Who Paved the Way for the Invasion of North Africa

FDR's 12 Apostles: The Spies Who Paved the Way for the Invasion of North Africa

by Hal Vaughan

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Nineteen months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR sent twelve "vice consuls" to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia on a secret mission. Their objective? To prepare the groundwork for what eventually became Operation TORCH, the Allied invasion of North Africa that repelled the Nazis and also enabled the liberation of Italy. This spy network included an ex-Cartier jewel


Nineteen months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR sent twelve "vice consuls" to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia on a secret mission. Their objective? To prepare the groundwork for what eventually became Operation TORCH, the Allied invasion of North Africa that repelled the Nazis and also enabled the liberation of Italy. This spy network included an ex-Cartier jewel salesman and wine merchant, a madcap Harvard anthropologist, a Parisian playboy who ran with Hemingway, ex-French Foreign Legionnaires and Paris bankers, and a WWI hero. Based on recently declassified foreign records, as well as the memoirs of Ridgeway Brewster Knight (one of the twelve “apostles”), this fast-paced historical account gives the first behind-the-scenes look at FDR’s top-secret plan. .

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A sometimes hilarious, always engrossing look at one of the most extraordinary, muddled but crucial episodes of World War II: the secret, underground operations of U.S. diplomat Robert Murphy and his twelve aides. Vaughan details the mishaps and misunderstandings that led to the one battle in which French and Americans fought each other, despite efforts to have the 1942 Allied landings in North Africa go off unopposed. Ironically, in the light of the extensive American preparations, only the help of a French admiral who would subsequently be reviled by the American and British press saved the Allies and the French from further casualties.Hal Vaughan's well researched and detailed account gives real meaning to the phrase 'the fog of war.'"--Charles L. Robertson, Smith College Professor Emeritus, and author of The International Herald Tribune: The First Hundred Years and International Politics Since World War II: A Short History "FDR's 12 Apostles brings together all the parts of a complicated process into a coherent whole. Historians are generally suspicious of conspiracy theory, but in this case the author cannot avoid coping with the elements of a vast conspiracy involving wartime North Africa: the espionage of the twelve consuls (FDR's 12); Polish intelligence networks; diplomatic and clandestine contacts with Frenchmen at a variety of levels; secret work with the Resistance--all tied in with Anglo-American plans for an occupation of Morocco and Algeria. There have been many books on the landings in North Africa, but no author has had command of so much material or has handled it so well. He has woven the complex story of the North African occupation around the activities of the twelve consuls, but his book is much more, not only a readable coverage of a vast enterprise but also the best presentation currently in print."Arthur Layton Funk,Author, The Politics of Torch, andProfessor Emeritus, University of Florida "FDR's 12 Apostles captures a forgotten chapter of history from sultry Axis spies like "Nikki" to the forgotten exploits of an anthropoligist turned spy who understood culture Arab culture and used it to help turn the tide of the war. This book is timely and relevent in light of the America's involvement in the Middle East. Through America's espionage past we can unlock the secrets and challenges of the present. I highly recommend it." Patrick O'Donnell, Combat Historian and Author of WE WERE ONE: Shoulder to Shoulder With the Marines Who Took Fallujah.""This valuable addition to the literature on World War II espionage is recommended for most collections, especially those specializing in WWII."--Library Journal "What a splendid movie could be made of this book by a competent crew. It has everything: a thrilling slice of history involving espionage and intelligence and a deadly mixture of French collaborators and German and Italian agents."--OSS Newsletter
Publishers Weekly
The November 1942 Allied landings in North Africa (Operation TORCH) represented the first effective counterstrike against the Nazi juggernaut in the West. Vaughan (Doctor to the Resistance) describes the undercover activity of a group of amateur yet dedicated American foreign service officers sent by FDR to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia to make TORCH possible. Led by Robert Murphy at the U.S. consulate in Algeria, these 12 vice consuls worked quietly yet effectively to undermine Nazi and Italian espionage efforts in North Africa while at the same time propping up the precarious Vichy government there. Anyone familiar with the movie Casablanca grasps the wide range of partisans in North Africa including both French and German colonials as well as indigenous Arabs and Berbers all with their own goals and agendas. Prior to the invasion, Murphy negotiated an agreement with Vichy leader Adm. Jean Darlan, commander of the 150,000 French troops in North Africa, promising U.S. aid to the French colony in Algeria and protectorates in Tunisia and Morocco in return for guarantees that the French in North Africa would not resist the Allied landings. From newly available sources, Vaughan adds to the story originally told in Arthur Funk's The Politics of TORCH: The Allied Landings and the Algiers Putsch, 1942. This valuable addition to the literature on World War II espionage is recommended for most collections, especially those specializing in World War II. Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
America's first complicated diplomatic challenge of WW II involved its relations with the Vichy government of French North Africa. Should the United States negotiate at all with Hitler's client? How best to navigate the labyrinth of double- and triple-dealing? Vaughan, a Foreign Service officer turned journalist, uses newly available sources to describe a triumph of amateur diplomacy. After the fall of France in 1940, President Roosevelt bypassed the State Department to appoint a dozen new vice consuls to North Africa. They were quintessential amateurs: "well-mannered gentlemen with outsized personalities" and Ivy League backgrounds, fluent in French and at home in the culture. While ostensibly looking after U.S. interests, North Africa Minister Robert D. Murphy and the "Twelve Apostles" also nurtured opposition to Vichy and the Axis. Developing an embryonic resistance network with flair, they transmitted up-to-date military and political information to woefully uninformed Washington. Their greatest breakthrough came when they prepared the ground for the November 1942 Anglo-American landings in Morocco and Algeria, opening the way for a French change of sides. Negotiations with Vichy commander Jean Darlan were, however, sharply criticized for putting pragmatism above principle-one of many times that charge has been leveled against U.S. diplomacy. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
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FDR's 12 Apostles

The Spies Who Paved the Way for the Invasion of North Africa
By Vaughan, Hal

The Lyons Press

Copyright © 2006 Vaughan, Hal
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781592289165

Prologue: How a Handful of Men Made a Difference

Three days after American and British forces landed on French North African shores, Winston Churchill celebrated Operation TORCH, the first real victory for the allies in World War II. He ventured: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”[i]
TORCH was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “great secret baby.”[ii] and the first joint major British-U.S. operation. The landings and what followed opened the Mediterranean roads leading to Rome and Berlin. For FDR’s “Twelve Apostles” – vice consuls assigned under Robert Murphy to prepare TORCH in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia – the operation was the beginning of a long string of espionage, sabotage, and psychological warfare that the United States would carry out in World War II.
Indeed, some nineteen months before tens of thousands of American and British soldiers were thrown onto Mediterranean shores, FDR agents under Robert Murphy worked secretly among French colonials and Arab and Berber peoples to defeat Vichy and Axis agents in the casbahs and souks of Algiers, Casablanca, Oran, Rabat, Safi, and Tunis. When the Murphy men arrived, North Africa was a mosaic of nations and tribes –French colonials living amid the Babel of French, German, Italian, Arabic, and Berber languages with smatterings of Hebrew, Greek, and other ancient tongues. German and Italian agents, often security police from the Franco-German Armistice Commission installed after the French surrender, had made no significant progress to undermine French colonial rule in North Africa. The Arab peoples wouldn’t swallow Nazi-Fascist philosophy; and Mussolini had made a mess of things in Ethiopia.
Murphy’s original team – the twelve – were mostly well-mannered gentlemen with outsized personalities drawn from upper-class Ivy League gentry. They came from a generation of Americans that sought something greater and grander than they could find at home. All had studied abroad in their youth, five had volunteered to fight in World War I, and three had served in the American Field Service before America entered the Second World War. Two had served in the French Foreign Legion, and four were married. All had the veneer of an Ivy League education and European sophistication, and most could have passed for Frenchmen. Still the twelve were red, white, and blue Americans first and toujours; but they loved France for its culture, food and wine, conviviality and insouciance – an “art of living” that comes only when speaking the language fluently. Most were in France when the country fell to the German invasion and, like those at home, were disgusted and shocked at the capitulation of the French government under Marshal Philippe Pétain. When a chance came to serve in North Africa, they were itching to be actively involved in a war that America had yet to join; ready to seek glory, romance, escape, and a chance to get into the game.
As gifted amateurs, untrained in the clandestine arts, innocents to the world of dirty tricks, and forced to invent ways of psychological warfare, espionage, and sabotage they preceded Wild Bill Donovan’s COI-OSS operations. They were also the first organized U.S. spy team in World War II to operate under diplomatic cover – an avant-garde CIA.
TORCH was boldly conceived and executed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the fall of 1942 massive flotillas embarked from U.S. and British ports, marking the first transoceanic amphibious operation and the first U.S. airborne operation in World War II.[iii] American, British, and French forces suffered heavy casualties during the TORCH fighting and in the events that followed.
With the defeat of Rommel’s desert armies, TORCH opened French North and West Africa to the Atlantic Mediterranean routes and Suez Canal. This led next to the liberation of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica – toppling Mussolini from power and causing Italy to surrender. Rommel’s loss dealt a heavy blow to Hitler’s armies and prepared American troops for the invasion of France at Normandy two years later and the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.[iv]
The courageous acts of FDR’s agents and their compatriots would change the course of the war. But their mistakes would cost dearly as they went about the business of learning the spy trade. Indeed, the TORCH enterprise was an enormous risk and might have ended in disaster. Yet despite the blundering and the errors of omission and commission the men Murphy finally chose to be in on the operation did make a difference and probably guaranteed its success.
Were these men heroes? We shall see. George Plimpton writes in the foreword to Gentlemen Volunteers, a book about WWI ambulance drivers, that “the word ‘volunteer’ is derived loosely from the Latin word voluntarius – namely, one who undertakes an action without external constraint and who thus performs of one’s own free will...a property that one often associates with heroism, especially if the cause is an honorable one.”[v]
Here then, are a handful of Christian gentlemen, eager to taste the exotic life of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia in a Cecil B. de Mille-like adventure film with a cast of colonial Englishmen, refugee Poles, French colons, Arabs, and Berbers and with the production values found only on Mediterranean shores and desert outposts. We shall meet these men one by one.
But first there was Robert Daniel Murphy.[i] Churchill’s words, borrowed from a phrase spoken by Talleyrand in 1812 after the Battle of Borodino, were spoken at the Lord Mayor’s Day Luncheon in London on November 10, 1942. Justin Kaplan, ed., Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Seventeenth Edition (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002), 621.

[ii] Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy (New York: Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 2002), 31.

[iii] Atkinson, 159.

[iv] The TORCH allied assault forces as of November 8, 1941 numbered 107,453 allied troops, 107 ships carrying 9,911 vehicles, and 96,089 long tons of supplies. By December 1, 1941 the strength of allied forces landed in North Africa numbered 253,213 troops. A precise count of allied and French casualties between 8-11 November 1942 in the Algerian-French Moroccan campaign does not exist even today; the best estimate is 526 U.S. killed in action and 939 wounded or missing in action. The British reported allied losses at 2,225, including nearly 1,100 dead. The French may have suffered as many as 3,000 casualties, mostly at sea. George F. Howe, Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1993), 173 and Appendix A; and from VFW Magazine, Anniversary Issue, November 1992, 15.

[v] Arlen Hansen, Gentlemen Volunteers (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1996), jacket copy.


Excerpted from FDR's 12 Apostles by Vaughan, Hal Copyright © 2006 by Vaughan, Hal. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Hal Vaughan has served as a U.S. Ferign Service offer and journalist on assignments in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. His first book was Dotor to the Renaissance: The Heroic True Story of an American Surgeon and His Family in Occupied Paris (Brassey's 2004).

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