Bardia to Enfidaville
The Enemy Prepares
The Enemy Prepares
Meanwhile Rommel continued with his preparations. His new command, Army Group Africa, now comprised 1 Italian Army under Messe, 5 Panzer Army under von Arnim, and a mobile battle group under direct Army Group command of the three panzer divisions (10, 15 and 21) and a group of reconnaissance units. Rommel was running true to form in retaining personal command page 146 of the armoured force. But he decentralised enough to ask Messe to prepare plans for his attack and he accepted a part of Messe's plan affecting the lines of advance. His own idea had been to attack from the north from Mareth to Bou Ghrara; but he listened to Messe and other officers and changed the main line of attack to the south where the going was better for tanks. The thrust lines were then to be:
10 Panzer Division, with 40 tanks and with elements of 164 Light Division under command, from Ksar el Hallouf directed against Metameur. 3 and 33 Reconnaissance Units, plus a small force drawn from the German equivalent of an army headquarters protective unit and known as Kasta,1 all under 10 Panzer Division, were to ‘go large’ farther to the south-east.
21 Panzer Division, with 40 tanks, from Djebel Tebaga (southeast of Toujane, and not to be confused with the hill feature of the same name which 2 NZ Division came up against later in the month)—directed towards Tadjera Kbir, which was recognised as the key of the British defences.
The aim was stated to be the destruction of the enemy troops; but at the most, Rommel really hoped to disrupt Eighth Army's assembly area and so gain more time. For limits were set to exploitation, the farthest objective being Ben Gardane; and the final stage was to be a return to the protection of the Mareth Line. The Axis Headquarters thought that the Eighth Army line was held from north to south by 51 Division, 44 Division, 2 NZ Division and 7 Armoured Division, the last-named being identified south of Medenine. It is probable that 44 Division was identified because 131 Infantry Brigade from that Division was under command of 7 Armoured Division at this time; and the presence of 4 Light Armoured Brigade south of Medenine probably accounted for the identification of 7 Armoured Division, for the brigade frequently formed part of that division.
The German codename for the operation was CAPRI.
1 Kasta is an abbreviation for Kampfstaffel, which was a small mixed force of well under battalion strength, intended originally for Army HQ protective duties, but frequently used for special tasks such as reconnaissance. Basically it consisted of tanks, of which at Medenine it seems to have had nine.