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NZ Corps Operation Order No. 1
NZ Corps Operation Order No. 1
On 16 March NZ Corps issued Operation Order No. 1. This gave briefly the Eighth Army plan—and the ‘Intention’ paragraph which reads: ‘NZ Corps will capture the airfields West of SFAX destroying any enemy forces encountered.’page 164
The groupings and order of march were:
2 NZ Divisional Cavalry, less B Echelon transport
KDG plus one troop artillery
8 Armoured Brigade Group, less B2 Echelon transport
Gun Group (4 NZ Field Regiment, 64 Medium Regiment, and those anti-tank and light anti-aircraft units not with other groups)
6 Brigade Group—normal, plus an extra anti-tank battery and machine-gun company
B Echelon Group
NZ Corps Headquarters and Signals
Reserve Group—portions of 27 (MG) Battalion and other subunits not allocated elsewhere
5 Brigade Group—normal, but with 1 NZ Ammunition Company under command for the march
Administrative Group, including NZASC units not with other groups
The advance would be in three stages. Stage I was a march of some 20 to 30 miles, on the night 19–20 March, commencing at 7 p.m. This would bring the leading elements of the Corps just short of Wadi bel Krecheb.
Stage II, a further advance of 40 miles, was to be carried out on 20–21 March with the same timings, but less Administrative Group, which would not move. The B Echelon Group would move as part of 6 Brigade Group in order to have protection with the closer approach to the enemy. At the end of this stage the head of the column would be some ten miles short of Tebaga Gap.
Prior to Stage II the French Group would capture El Outid and Bir Soltane, and maintain active patrolling to the north and northeast, while KDG provided flank protection along the right flank. There are one or two references in the order to the need for watching this flank, which was a long one.
All vehicles were to refuel at Stage II and be prepared to move forward at first light on 21 March for Stage III, ‘with the object of penetrating the Eastern flank of the enemy defences … and capturing the objective PLUM’, which was the entrance to the Tebaga Gap. If this was not captured immediately it would be taken as soon after first light as possible. Divisional Cavalry and 8 Armoured Brigade were entrusted with the initial penetration of PLUM.1
After the capture of PLUM the Corps was to advance on El Hamma (PEACH) and finally to a line of hills overlooking the coast road just north-west of Gabes (GRAPE). In addition, Montgomery page 165 and Freyberg agreed on a possible alternative advance from PLUM which turned more to the east and bypassed El Hamma well to the south, thereafter heading towards Gabes. This alternative would be acted upon on receipt of its codename, SIDEWINDOWS, from Montgomery. (It will be remembered that 30 Corps was to break in through the Mareth Line and advance along the main road and capture Gabes.)
After securing GRAPE, NZ Corps' next objective was the landing grounds west of Sfax, an operation not assigned to the Corps in the Army outline plan, but which the GOC explained at his conference would be carried out by continuing the outflanking move, with the French giving flank protection and 10 Corps, with two armoured divisions, driving on Sfax itself.
This plan, resulting from many discussions subsequent to the issue of the Eighth Army general plan on 26 February 1943, set the tasks awaiting NZ Corps.
The order contained instructions about wireless silence and recognition of ‘own troops', and laid down ‘ground to air’ and ‘target marking’ signals, pointing out that the operation would be closely supported by the Desert Air Force.
The part to be played by NZ Corps, within the Eighth Army plan, was that by the night 20–21 March, the night of the 30 Corps attack on the main Mareth position, the Corps would have bumped the enemy at the Tebaga switch line, made evident the seriousness of the threat from this flank and so have attracted the uncommitted German reserve, and by further vigorous activity would prevent a counter-attack against the 30 Corps break in the line. Thirtieth Corps, protected on its open flank by 10 Corps, which was to begin operations in the Matmata Hills, would then start ‘rolling up’ the Mareth position from east to west. Continuing its advance, NZ Corps would establish itself on the objective northwest of Gabes, commanding the coastal road, which by then would have become the only withdrawal route for the Axis forces not already destroyed or escaped. Tenth Corps, supported by NZ Corps, would then exploit through Gabes to Sfax, for it was hoped that the complete defeat of the enemy, followed by rapid exploitation, would prevent a delay at Wadi Akarit. In the terms of Montgomery's general plan published on 26 February, the final objective for PUGILIST was Sfax. ‘Once operations have begun on night 20–21 March they will be conducted relentlessly until Sfax has been reached.’page 166