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Bardia to Enfidaville

Plans Reviewed

Plans Reviewed

These plans, together, reflected the combined intentions of Generals Alexander and Montgomery. As already outlined, Alexander's instructions to Montgomery had been enlarged to include an advance along the coast to Hammamet, the initial axis for which was the final objective of Operation ORATION. Montgomery's influence in bringing about this expanded role may or may not have been considerable—the point is irrelevant here. What is of importance is that the role was accepted, and that Montgomery's corps and divisional commanders prepared their plans without dissent. Moreover, the primary role of Eighth Army remained that of launching an attack which would, at the least, pin down all enemy forces on its front and, if possible, draw enemy troops away from First Army which was to make the major thrust. Such an attack, to be effective, had necessarily to be on an ambitious scale, but it may well be that a more closely defined attack on any of the commanding ground between Zaghouan and the coast would have had better results.

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However, the Army plan did make it necessary for 4 Indian and 2 New Zealand Divisions to seek objectives which now seem quite unrealistic. These two divisions were to break into country that was more mountainous than Mareth and Akarit, and of much greater defensive depth, but in both these operations the attacking strength was nearly twice that thought necessary here. An operation such as ORATION could have been planned only in an atmosphere of unlimited optimism. It is difficult to make a case for the influence of the misappreciation of the enemy positions on these plans, for if Ogla, Takrouna and Garci were believed to be outpost positions, from which the enemy would withdraw in face of spirited attack, how much more unrealistic it now appears that one Indian brigade should be used to capture Djebel Mdeker, and that one New Zealand battalion was to capture Djebel Froukr, both believed to be in the heart of the main position? The conviction that the enemy would withdraw to Cape Bon must have been very strong indeed.

An optimistic army plan inevitably results in an optimistic divisional plan. The New Zealand Division proposed to tackle its part by delivering a modified SUPERCHARGE. It was to be an attack similar to that at Tebaga, but without the close air support and in country which ruled armoured support virtually out of the question. But the area was divided into sectors, the infantry was to crash through behind a creeping barrage, and emphasis was placed on maintaining momentum to the final objective without becoming over-concerned with pockets of resistance. It is here that the conflict between the methods so successfully employed in the desert and the requirements of a changed topography become so evident.

Perhaps the brigade plans bring this point out more clearly. The 6 Brigade plan was simple and straightforward, there were no really difficult geographic features in the sector, and the two battalions committed were confidently expected to deal with an unknown degree of opposition. But the 5 Brigade plan made virtually no allowance for the formidable and essentially defensible features in its sector. The right-hand battalion was to burst through the valley between Bir and Takrouna to reach the road, the start line for the battalion attacking the second objective. Bir and Takrouna were to be cleared up after the road had been reached, and although stiff opposition was expected from the summit of Takrouna, only one company was assigned to this feature. There was no allowance for the type of delay that was experienced at Tebaga on both flanks, in broken but easier country, and all companies were committed. There was no reserve.