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Bardia to Enfidaville

Eighth Army Plan

Eighth Army Plan

There was still a chance—or perhaps it would be better to say a hope—that 10 Corps might secure the Akarit line without a formal attack. Pressure by 2 NZ Division might enable 1 Armoured Division to pass through. This possibility was discussed by Montgomery with Horrocks and Freyberg at a conference south of Gabes on 30 March, the outcome being that Horrocks was to consider whether or not this was practicable. In the meantime 30 Corps would prepare a plan for a set-piece attack.

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The New Zealand Division continued to test the defences on 30 and 31 March, after which Horrocks reported that the line was firmly held, and that 2 NZ Division could not get through without heavy fighting, and resultant heavy losses. This was contrary to Montgomery's wishes. First, he did not want to incur heavy casualties at a time when the end in North Africa was seen to be inevitable, and when he himself knew that Eighth Army was to be the British component of the Allied forces to invade Sicily. Secondly, he wished to use 2 NZ Division in the exploitation beyond Akarit.

Thus the burden fell on 30 Corps. A first plan was produced in which 51 (Highland) Division would relieve 2 NZ Division and keep up the pressure with a view to attacking later, but only if necessary, for the hope that set-piece action could be avoided still continued. Part of the reason for this lay in the results that would ensue from a successful offensive by 2 US Corps, which at the best would reduce Eighth Army's part to a follow-up; but this hope proved illusory.

The final decision, therefore, was to launch an attack with three divisions, to open a gap for 2 NZ Division, for 1 Armoured Division to follow through, and for 10 Corps to take up the pursuit with these two divisions. Codename for the operation was SCIPIO, to be launched on 6 April. Montgomery could not wait for the next moon, and this time the attack was to be in the dark, an hour or so before daylight.

There were good reasons for these changes of plan, but the outcome was a rather bewildering number of Army and Corps operation orders and instructions giving many alternatives, changes in responsibility for sectors, and transfers of formations during the battle from one corps to another. The result, however, was a brilliant success, and further evidence that Eighth Army could take such troubles in its stride.