Bardia to Enfidaville
The Enemy Withdraws
The Enemy Withdraws
Movement of enemy vehicles, enough to presage a renewal of the attack, was heard during the night 6–7 March, but at first light only small groups of transport were seen moving off to the north and, fired on by our artillery, were quickly out of range. Dawn patrols of carriers from 5 Brigade progressively reached points page 150 farther from the FDLs, until at 1 p.m. a patrol from 23 Battalion skirted the foothills without making any contact. The enemy force on the Foum Tatahouine road was slower to disengage, and still had troops there in the mid-afternoon.
From noon onwards on 7 March a steady stream of traffic was seen converging on the passes leading to Ksar el Hallouf and Toujane. On the main road from Medenine to Toujane vehicles were moving nose to tail, all out of artillery range. This traffic into the hills continued all day, thinning out towards evening, and although the air forces did their best to intervene, low clouds made it difficult for them. By last light 10 Panzer Division had been located near Ksar el Hallouf, and 15 Panzer Division north-east of Toujane. For the moment 21 Panzer Division was unlocated; but the enemy's offensive was obviously over.
The enemy air force was active in covering the withdrawal but the Desert Air Force prevented serious interference over 30 Corps. However, at 10.15 a.m. 6 Infantry Brigade was bombed by nine aircraft, one man being killed and eight wounded.
Towards midday plans were made at Divisional Headquarters to form a special force known as ‘Currie Force’, after the commander of 4 Light Armoured Brigade. It consisted of one squadron of Divisional Cavalry, 4 Field Regiment less one battery, 34 Anti-Tank Battery and two squadrons of Staffs Yeomanry, and had a separate flank guard of one squadron Staffs Yeomanry, one squadron Divisional Cavalry and 26 Field Battery, all under command of Brigadier Currie. Its task was to operate southwards from Medenine for about eight miles, well clear of the FDLs, and then to work north-westwards across the front of 5 Brigade, sweeping up any enemy troops still remaining.
The flank guard soon made contact with the FFF Column, but found that the enemy had at last gone. Later 26 Battery engaged transport towing guns in the foothills near Ksar el Ababsa, but the enemy was soon out of range. At 5.30 p.m. a single 88-millimetre gun fired twenty-odd rounds at the main column but caused no damage or casualties. The force laagered for the night 7–8 March seven miles south-west of Medenine. At dawn it was again fired on by an 88-millimetre gun and had seven casualties. Later in the morning it was recalled and broken up, as there was obviously no further point in retaining it.
During 8 March Divisional Cavalry took over from the Royals the patrol line along the foothills south-east of Ksar el Hallouf, and was in contact with the enemy, taking two prisoners. The forward companies of 21 Battalion were shelled at long range in the morning, but otherwise there was little enemy shelling. The page 151 flash-spotting troop extended its base with little result, for the hilly country gave the enemy ample shelter from observation. Had the sound-ranging troop been available it might have had better luck.
All divisions maintained patrols during the following night, as the enemy armoured divisions seemed to have halted temporarily. Bad visibility on 9 March hampered air observation, but by the end of the day all the indications were that 15 Panzer Division was resuming its role of close support to the Mareth Line, while 10 and 21 Divisions were going back to the Gabes area. Divisional Cavalry, which kept up observation along the foothills, saw some enemy movement on the escarpment and drew fire from one point. Even on 10 March it was found that all the heights were picketed and any attempt to penetrate drew fire; but enemy offensive action was confined to the everlasting long-range gun, which spasmodically shelled the Medenine area and Hazbub landing ground.
On 10 March the FFF Column left 4 Light Armoured Brigade and moved to join Leclerc's force at Ksar Rhilane. By this time the task of 2 NZ Division had finished, although Divisional Cavalry continued to patrol along the foothills until 14 March. Fifth Infantry Brigade was relieved by British troops in the afternoon of 11 March, and next day moved to a staging area for the next operation, to which by this time all efforts were being directed. The 4th Light Armoured Brigade was transferred to the command of 10 Corps at this time.