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Operation ‘pugilist’ — General Plan of Eighth Army…
General Plan of Eighth Army
Eighth Army has made very good progress during the last week, and this has definitely helped in forcing the Germans to withdraw from the Kasserine Pass and to break off the fight in that area.
Our advance, and the pressure that we have been exerting against the Mareth position, now constitutes a definite threat to the enemy. As he has broken off the fight in Central Tunisia it is quite possible that he will transfer troops quickly to the Mareth front, in order to strengthen that front. He might even consider the possibility of an offensive himself against us, in order to inflict casualties and force us to postpone our own attack—which he must realise is bound to come sooner or later.
From our point of view such an offensive by him in the near future would be exactly what we would like; it would give us a great opportunity to take heavy toll of the enemy as a first step, and then to put in our own heavy attack when he was disorganised as a result of his abortive offensive.
The immediate policy in 30 Corps will therefore be as follows:
It will be seen, therefore, that the underlying principles of our action for the next two weeks, as outlined above, are to make quite certain that the enemy gains no success from any offensive he may contemplate; meanwhile we ourselves will quietly get ready for ‘PUGILIST’.
An essential feature of our own policy must be to gain and keep complete ascendancy over the enemy air forces; for this, the selection and preparation of suitable forward air fields is of great importance.
Grouping for ‘PUGILIST’
30 Corps 50 Div
Operations 30 Corps
Before the date for the main attack, 30 Corps will carry out such preliminary operations as are necessary to ensure that the main attack will be immediately effective and will cause immediate enemy reactions.
The provisions of paras 4 and 5 to be remembered all the time.
The main attack of 30 Corps will be delivered on night 20/21 March against the enemy left or eastern flank.
Operations NZ Corps
The Corps will then advance northwards, will break through any enemy troops or switch lines, and will endeavour to establish itself astride the road Gabes-Matmata so as to cut off the enemy and prevent his escape.
Operations 10 Corps
Administration to be arranged accordingly.
An essential feature in the preparatory stages will be the selection and preparation of forward air fields for fighters and light bombers, so that we can dominate the enemy air force and give adequate cover to our own troops while the battle is being built up.
Details of the air action will be notified later.
Tac Army will be with Main 30 Corps
Tac 10 Corps to be established near Tac Army.
Each Divisional Commander will be given one copy of this memorandum.
(Sgd) B. L. Montgomery General,
This plan requires few comments. The tenor of paragraphs 4 and 5 shows that the enemy's moves were not to be allowed to upset long-term planning, and that the Army Commander was determined to keep the initiative in the broader field. This intention to adhere to the plan already prepared was later translated into rejecting the immediate advantage of a decided victory over 1 Italian Army.
On the date this plan was issued many of the formations named in paragraph 6 were still back near El Agheila—Headquarters 10 Corps, 50 Division, 4 Indian Division, 201 Guards Brigade and 1 Armoured Division. The Free French Flying Column, which came into existence before the Battle of El Alamein, was composed partly of Foreign Legion and partly of Moroccans, and comprised sub-units of armoured cars, a tank company (Crusaders), some anti-tank guns and some lorried infantry. It should not be confused with Leclerc's force.
It must be emphasised that planning for the next stage, the attack on the Mareth Line, and many preliminary moves and much administrative detail were taking place concurrently with the defensive preparations at Medenine.