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Bardia to Enfidaville

11 April—Rest and no Rest

11 April—Rest and no Rest

The advance of 30 Corps ended at Sfax, but 4 Indian and 50 Divisions were later ordered north from Akarit to join 10 Corps. The 1st Armoured Division was halted and passed to the direct command of Eighth Army, mainly because 6 Armoured Division page 277 was now on the west flank. Troops of these two divisions made contact during 11 April, and for the first time Eighth and First Armies formed a continuous line. The 6th Armoured Division entered Kairouan about the same time.

The enemy had obviously won the race back to Enfidaville and there was no chance of any spectacular round-up, so a little time could be given to rest and reorganisation. At 5.30 a.m. on 11 April 10 Corps advised 2 NZ Division that the advance on Sousse would not take place until 12 April, and all units were told that there would be rest and maintenance for the next twenty-four hours, except for the patrols in contact with the enemy. To hear the word ‘rest’ doubtless sounded most pleasant, but its hearers must have wondered later if they had heard aright.

The first sign of disenchantment came as early as 11 a.m., when the GOC held a conference, and 8 Armoured Brigade and the gun group learnt that they were to move by road that afternoon as soon as the demolition at La Hencha was filled. For one way and another it appeared that movement on the roads would be slow, and the Division was still 50 miles from Sousse. However, the remainder of the Division would not move until 12 April, and would advance across country.

Meanwhile KDG kept touch with the enemy, although it was late afternoon before actual contact was made with light rearguards south of Sousse. There were demolitions on many roads, including a large one on the main road at Wadi Kerker, 14 miles north of El Djem, necessitating another SOS for engineers.

The 8th Armoured Brigade moved forward in the afternoon, making use of more than one road. Units on the main road managed to bypass the Wadi Kerker ‘blow’ and the brigade laagered north and north-east of this, having for once seen nothing of the enemy. The gun group did not in the end move until after 7 p.m.; 4 Field Regiment went on to Wadi Kerker, but the rest of the group halted just clear of La Hencha.

Divisional Cavalry spent the day in the El Djem area, no doubt admiring, as did all the troops, the magnificent ruins of the Roman amphitheatre there.1 At the landing ground just north of the village the enemy's only attempt to prevent its use was frustrated, for seven fused bombs laid in trenches on the runway were found by engineers and were later blown up. The filling of the La Hencha crater turned out to be a prolonged task, and even by 12.30 p.m. only a single line of traffic could pass, and 6 Field Company had to stand by for continuous maintenance.

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At midday disenchantment was complete when the Division was warned to move. Fifth Infantry Brigade had scant time to wind up all the ‘make and mend’ activities and move by 3 p.m. It bypassed La Hencha, covered 25 miles in just over three hours and halted off the road north-west of El Djem. Sixth Infantry Brigade closed up as far as La Hencha.

The GOC attended a conference at 10 Corps at 3 p.m. to hear of future plans. On 12 April 2 NZ Division was to capture Sousse and close up to the Enfidaville line with 4 Light Armoured Brigade, ‘L’ Force and some heavy tanks on its left. The 4th Indian and 50th Divisions would arrive from Akarit about 15 April with the role of the immediate capture of the enemy's line.

But meanwhile the enemy was moving too fast for the pursuing forces, and early on 11 April had withdrawn from Sousse except for small rearguards. The 90th Light Division retired to high ground about six miles north of Sousse, 164 Light to Sidi bou Ali, and 15 Panzer to the area between Sidi bou Ali and Sebkra Kelbia, with a reconnaissance party on the Enfidaville-Kairouan road at the south-west end of the Sebkra. The enemy was now nearing the end of the forced withdrawal from Akarit, and had behind him a really strong position, where Italian troops had already been working on defences.

1 When the Division returned to Maadi Camp in May, the large concert amphitheatre there, shaped out of a slope in the camp, was named ‘El Djem’.