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Bardia to Enfidaville

Eighth Army

Eighth Army

While at Tripoli in January, Montgomery had been told that Eighth Army was to form the British component of the Allied force which would later invade Sicily. This task was now approaching and some thought had to be given to planning for the invasion, and to conserving the troops nominated for it. Montgomery therefore decided to rest Headquarters 30 Corps while 10 Corps conducted the forthcoming attack, and to call forward 56 (London) Division—a newcomer to the theatre—to relieve one of his three forward infantry divisions—50 (Northumbrian), 51 (Highland), or 2 New Zealand, all of which had long experience. The final decision was to relieve 50 (N) Division by 56 (L) Division, and to employ 51 (H) Division only lightly.

The little port of Sfax was in use from 14 April, and Eighth Army was also drawing part of its supplies from the First Army replenishment area at Sbeitla, but the greater part was still coming from Tripoli 300 miles away.

Allied air strength was by now so overwhelming that enemy aircraft seldom appeared over our ground troops, and most of the air activity took place behind the enemy's lines. Our air offensive was steadily increasing in intensity, and the enemy's shipping, air transports, landing grounds, and every kind of activity were being subjected to a relentless attack.

At this time the long-term employment of 2 NZ Division was again under consideration. While the inter-governmental communications,1 as in the previous December,2 had no effect on the immediate activities of the Division, it is of interest to mention them.

page 293

On 14 April Churchill cabled to Fraser in New Zealand giving details of the forces to be used for the invasion of Sicily, saying that Alexander particularly wanted to use 2 NZ Division, and asking if it could be made available.

To this Fraser replied that the future employment of the Division at the end of the Tunisian campaign would have to be discussed in a secret session of parliament, which could not be before 19 May. The problem for him was that New Zealand's whole manpower position required review, as between the demands of the Mediterranean and the Pacific, for the country had over-reached itself in supplying men for the forces. Despite various pressing cables from Churchill, including a suggestion that they should take a gamble on a favourable result of the parliamentary debate, Fraser adhered to his first cable, and said that he must wait for parliament to decide. Time was against further delay, for if the Division was to be used for the invasion of Sicily it would have to be withdrawn from the line almost at once and trained for an amphibious operation. So on 20 April Churchill said that in the circumstances he would tell Alexander that the Division would not be immediately available, but he went on to say that he hoped it could be used later for the follow-up in Europe. There the matter rested, with the result that 2 NZ Division saw out the campaign in Tunisia to the end, and did not take part in the Sicilian campaign.

1 Documents, Vol. II, pp. 182 et seq.

2 See p. 6.