Bardia to Enfidaville
9 April—to the Sfax-Faid Road
This advance penetrated into a gap between the right flank of 1 Italian Army (as represented by the German rearguards) and 10 and 21 Panzer Divisions, now collecting themselves after their withdrawal from Maknassy and El Guettar. It took the enemy by page 273 surprise, disrupted his line occupied only the evening before, so that he still had troops wandering about south and east of Toual ech Cheikh.
At first light it had been intended that 28 Battalion should consolidate on the feature, but while Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett was on reconnaissance Brigadier Harvey passed word that the enemy was moving northwards and 8 Armoured Brigade was already pushing on. The 28th Battalion therefore reverted to the command of 5 Infantry Brigade, and rejoined the column.
King's Dragoon Guards went into the lead, covering the whole front, moved rapidly, and were on the road from Sfax to Faid by 11 a.m., although they could not block it firmly at this time. The 8th Armoured Brigade followed up to the northern slopes of Djebel et Telil, and was on a line from there to the north end of Sebkret Mecheguigue. Tactical Headquarters 2 NZ Division was at this time (midday) just south of Telil. For a while the GOC considered sending part of KDG with extra artillery round the west side of the Sebkret to outflank enemy tanks which could be seen to the north, but about this time 2 Armoured Brigade came up the east side of the Sebkret and prolonged 8 Armoured Brigade's line to the west.
The gun group—4 Field Regiment and 64 Medium Regiment—was then called forward and deployed on the south and east slopes of Telil, and was there joined by 111 Field Regiment from 8 Armoured Brigade. The gun area was protected by 31 Anti-Tank Battery on both the front and flanks, A Troop being on the left.
About 2 p.m., just as the portées of A Troop had unloaded and were driving away, some thirteen tanks appeared at very short range from a depression to the west, heading straight for the gun positions. For a moment it was thought they were American, but they opened fire on the portées and A Troop went into action. One gun stopped a Mark IV Special before it was put out of action, and the No. 1 of another gun, Bombardier Keating,1 despite casualties to his gun crew, got his gun firing and accounted for two and possibly three tanks, even though for part of the time he had to do all the loading, laying and firing himself. Staffs Yeomanry then appeared and forced the enemy to withdraw. The 4th Field Regiment had adopted ‘tank control’ and was ready to repel boarders, but in the end the enemy did not come close enough. One quad of 111 Field Regiment was destroyed, and damage caused to guns of 31 Anti-Tank Battery. In addition to the tanks knocked out by A Troop, 64 Medium Regiment destroyed two by shellfire, and page 274 Staffs Yeomanry another two. The 2nd Armoured Brigade on the left joined in and helped to drive the enemy away to the north.
Despite all reconnaissance, it appears that the enemy tanks had been bypassed, and had waited until a good target offered. They came either from 21 Panzer Division or from an extra tank battalion with the division. The whole force appears to have had about thirty-seven tanks, of which twenty-five attacked 2 NZ Division, while twelve were on the front of 2 Armoured Brigade. But good anti-tank defence had foiled the attack.
Meanwhile Divisional Cavalry was watching odd enemy vehicles, including tanks, in the area south-east of Telil, some miles behind the 2 NZ Division spearhead. As the day wore on these enemy forces became an embarrassment, and finally 26 Battalion was ordered to send out a mobile patrol of carriers, mortars, anti-tank guns and machine guns. This patrol in the end surprised two enemy tanks, destroyed one and drove the other away, and by this time it was dark.
By last light the enemy was still on the Sfax–Faid road, but his tanks had all moved off to the north. The enemy had now heard the alarming news that First Army had broken through towards Kairouan, so threatening the rear of all his forces facing Eighth Army. Orders were at once given by Army Group Headquarters for 1 Italian Army to go straight back to a line north of Sousse, but a combination of a shortage of petrol and a desire to have a little longer to remove ammunition stocks from Sfax led Bayerlein to lay down a withdrawal to a line running east from Sebkret mta el Rherra, leaving rearguards to cover Sfax. Bayerlein's words on this date are, ‘The troops (some of them tired out, some of them separated from their units) disengaged from the enemy with great difficulty, and retired to the new line, followed up closely by the enemy.’
Towards last light 2 Armoured Brigade took over from 8 Armoured Brigade on Djebel et Telil, and the latter side-slipped a few miles to the east, with KDG in company and Divisional Cavalry just behind, all in preparation for another night move to the Djebel bou Thadi. The infantry of the Division was by this time well stretched out beyond Djebel Toual ech Cheikh, with 26 Battalion from 6 Brigade slightly displaced to the east as a safety precaution. Practically the whole day's advance had been through crop lands and olive groves, and the going was heavy.
Poor visibility had limited the operations of the air force, and in any case targets were becoming rare. The enemy made a few raids on 2 NZ Division, but casualties and damage were slight.