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Bardia to Enfidaville

The Terrain

The Terrain

The position now confronting Eighth Army was known to both sides as the ‘Akarit Line’, but was sometimes described by one or the other as Wadi Akarit, the Gabes Line, the Gabes Gap, or the Chotts. Had Rommel had his way, it would have been prepared when the Battle of El Alamein was seen to be decisive and the Allies had landed in Algeria, and there would have been only delaying action between Egypt and Akarit during the withdrawal. Rommel was reinforced in this opinion after inspecting the Mareth Line in January and confirming that it could be outflanked. The outstanding virtue of the Akarit Line from the German standpoint was that it rested on the sea to the east and the Chotts to the west page 253 and could not be outflanked. The western end rested on Sebkret el Hamma (the eastern end of Chott el Fedjadj), which was virtually impassable.

Wadi Akarit itself ends at the coast about ten miles north of Oudref, trends towards its source just south of west for about four miles, and then bends to the south-west for another four miles, at which point it disappears in the low watershed between the coastal slope and the inland descent to Sebkret el Hamma. The wadi banks in the lower reaches are steep. There is a gap of only about one mile between the western end (the source) of Wadi Akarit and the eastern end of Wadi Telman, which drains into the Sebkret. Both wadis are normally dry.

Behind Wadi Akarit and Wadi Telman is a line of hill features, the eastern end of a range north of the Chotts. Starting from the west these are (a) Djebel Zemlet el Beida; (b) Djebel Tebaga Fatnassa, a much higher feature with three separate peaks named from south to north Rass oued ez Zouai, Djebel Mesreb el Alig, and Djebel Tebaga Fatnassa itself, together with a fourth peak to the east of the last-named called Djebel el Meida; and (c), three miles farther east across a marked col, Djebel er Roumana, often known as Point 170. These features completely overlook the country south of Wadi Akarit.1

In the approaches to the Wadi Akarit position the going was difficult off the roads owing to frequent small wadis, marshes, and patches of soft sand.

The enemy made use of Wadi Akarit itself for his main defence line for the first five miles from the sea. From there an anti-tank ditch carried on south of west for a mile and a half and then ran north for half a mile and west for two miles, this last stretch covering the gap between Djebel er Roumana and Djebel el Meida. It was covered by a minefield throughout. Farther west the enemy relied on the naturally broken ground of Djebel Tebaga Fatnassa and Zemlet el Beida, strengthened by some defensive works. There was a second anti-tank ditch resting on the rear (northern) end of Djebel Roumana and running thence south-east to Wadi Akarit. Both sides of all these ditches were staked, and over the whole length of the line there were well dug-in positions. An attempt had been made latterly to dig an anti-tank ditch between the rear slopes of Zemlet el Beida and Sebkret en Noual to the north-west, probably as a precaution against another left hook.

1 See map on p. 262.