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Bardia to Enfidaville

The Enemy

The Enemy

It will be remembered that one of Montgomery's reasons for changing his plan was that the enemy had committed his reserve (15 Panzer Division) to the Mareth front. By 24 March, however, 15 Panzer was withdrawn to a central position ready to reinforce either front, and was watching closely the situation at Tebaga. Tenth Corps was now moved to the Tebaga front and SUPERCHARGE was launched before 15 Panzer moved a second time. Despite the check at Mareth Montgomery kept the initiative.

During 25 March the enemy formations at Tebaga reported no special activity, except the Allied mastery of the air and vast superiority in ammunition. They comment ruefully that bombers were over their lines without a break all night. The 21st Panzer Division seems to have been disconcerted by the attack on Point 184, and soon decided that all it could do was to seal off the penetration.

The front opposite NZ Corps was still divided between 164 Light Division and 21 Panzer Division, with the dividing line the road running through the gap to El Hamma, but with tanks from 21 Division across the whole front. The 164th Division's sector included the slopes of Djebel Tebaga, while 21 Panzer Division had its left flank on Djebel Melab. There were odd Italian groups of men—one can hardly call them units—interspersed along the front. The Germans merely mention ‘remnants of Mannerini Group’.

German documents record that on 25 March 21 Panzer Division had forty-four tanks, and 15 Panzer Division twenty-nine. But the number of tanks with these two divisions fluctuated widely from day to day. Twenty-four hours later 21 Panzer had only twenty-five tanks effective after our offensive, and on 27 March 15 Panzer had only nineteen. A report of 30 March shows 21 Panzer with thirteen runners and forty-five in workshops, while 15 Panzer had ten runners and twenty-five in workshops. The German repair system was good, and low numbers on one day did not mean that the numbers would not be high the next. All that can be said by way of generalisation is that the two divisions together did not have as page 216 many tanks as 8 Armoured Brigade, which left 2 Armoured Brigade of 1 Armoured Division as clear profit—a very substantial profit of 67 Shermans, 11 Grants, and 60 Crusaders.

The enemy's appreciation of Allied intentions was quite firm. The move of 10 Corps from Mareth had been observed late on 23 March, and continued movement was reported on the following day. His immediate reactions have been related,1 and although no orders appear to have been issued to units before the attack was launched, the probability of early withdrawal may have had some effect on dispositions, particularly those of 15 Panzer Division.

1 See pp. 1956.