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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The Pursuit into Tunisia

The Pursuit into Tunisia

Driven from the Mareth line, the enemy withdrew to a defensive position on the high ground overlooking the Wadi Akarit. It soon became clear that the enemy would fight on this line as a last effort to prevent the British Eighth Army from joining forces with 2 US Corps advancing from Gafsa in the west. The defences of the Akarit line could not be compared with those of Mareth and the enemy was short of reliable troops to hold them, having to rely on Italians. The position, however, was naturally strong, with the sea on one side and impassable salt marshes on the other, and a deep, steep-faced wadi traversing the approach, the bridge over page 435 which had been destroyed. Therefore, a full-scale frontal attack was necessary and three infantry divisions—50 (Northumbrian), 51 (Highland), and 4 Indian—were deployed for the assault. The role of exploiting success once the initial bridgehead was made was given to 2 NZ Division and 1 Armoured Division.

On 6 April the attack was launched. After heavy infantry fighting a bridgehead across the wadi was won and 2 NZ Division, with an armoured spearhead, followed through on 7 April. As soon as there was room to manoeuvre, the pursuit force opened out into desert formation advancing north, harassing and cutting off considerable numbers of the retreating enemy. British armoured cars on the left met American troops advancing on Maknassy, and the junction of Allied forces from east and west which the enemy had fought so long to prevent was effected.

Near Sfax, with more room to manoeuvre, another left hook was planned. The enemy, however, anticipated this danger and retreated fast, leaving valuable installations and stores in the Sfax area intact. Sfax was occupied on 10 April and Sousse on 12 April, the French civilian population giving the troops a great welcome. The pursuit was now through cultivated country rich in olive groves and gay with spring flowers growing in profusion. The retreat took the enemy back to Enfidaville—nearly 200 miles in one week.