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Bardia to Enfidaville

The Enemy on 29 March

The Enemy on 29 March

It is difficult to clarify the movements of the enemy formations about this time. The general policy was for rearguards from German units to resist strongly while first the Italians and then the Germans went back into the Akarit position. At this moment the fighting value of the Italians was virtually nil, and the defence was left to the German group, 15 and 21 Panzer Divisions, and 90 and 164 Light Divisions. Of these, 164 Light had been almost shattered at Tebaga and all formations were much intermingled. Often the armoured units of 15 and 21 Panzer were on a different sector from the unarmoured.

By daylight on 29 March the four German divisions had rearguards on the El HammaGabes line, in order from west to east 164 Light, 21 Panzer, 90 Light and 15 Panzer, the last-named having taken over the sector previously held by Spezia Division. The transport situation about this time is described by one formation as ‘catastrophic’, and a day later Bayerlein reports quite simply, ‘164 Light Division had to walk as it had no MT’. By midday on 29 March the pressure from Eighth Army—mostly from NZ Corps—was strong enough to force the rearguards to give up this line and go back to the intermediate line through Oudref. Even here there was no respite, for the pressure in the afternoon, from both NZ Corps and 1 Armoured Division, was so strong that the enemy headquarters decided to withdraw all troops forthwith to the Akarit position. But for the advantage of this semi-prepared position on a narrow front with secure flanks, it seems that the enemy might well have been kept on the run, instead of having seven or eight days' respite.