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Bardia to Enfidaville

The General Situation up to 26 April

The General Situation up to 26 April

It will be remembered that the attack by First Army and 2 US Corps was to commence on 22 April. The enemy knew or deduced enough of the Allied intentions to stage one last spoiling attack, and ‘beat First Army to the draw’ by attacking near Medjez el Bab on the night 20–21 April—the evening that ORATION started. But while there was some slight dislocation, the results of the enemy attack were not great, and the First Army offensive was only slightly delayed.

The Allied attack was in three thrusts—9 British Corps (1 Armoured, 6 Armoured and 46 Infantry Divisions) round the Sebkret el Kourzia salt marshes directed on Tunis: 5 British Corps (1, 4, and 78 Infantry Divisions) astride the Medjerda River east of Medjez: and 2 US Corps (1 and 9 US Divisions) between Beja and Sedjenane directed on Mateur.

All three thrusts were strongly opposed. South of the Medjerda River 9 and 5 Corps were ultimately opposed by the three panzer divisions—10, 15 and 21—in addition to German infantry.

In four days' severe fighting, 9 Corps, employing its three divisions, had advanced to an area north-east of the marshes, but here the enemy stabilised his front for the time being. Fifth Corps attacked with 1 and 4 British Divisions south of the Medjerda and 78 Division to the north. On the south they reached a point just short of Djebel bou Aoukaz, and on the north bank cleared Djebel Ahmera, which as ‘Longstop Hill’ had been a thorn in the flesh since the early days of the campaign.1 But here again the enemy managed to establish a defensive line, and still showed good fighting spirit. The United States Corps had heavy fighting in mountainous country, and had in the end also to employ 34 and 1 US Armoured Divisions, but was gradually working its way towards Mateur.

page 351

Thus none of the thrusts effected a breakthrough, but the enemy was becoming badly stretched, and it was probable that another heavy blow would be decisive. A pause was necessary, however, and on 26 April First Army was ordered to check the offensive. Eighteenth Army Group then began the preparation of its final plan, which was to concentrate for a continued offensive. This would include moving 1 and 6 Armoured Divisions from 9 Corps to 5 Corps in the Medjerda valley, where the main effort would be made. Eighth Army would continue its pressure towards Hammamet, to prevent any more forces moving across to oppose First Army. By this time, however, the last available enemy formation (15 Panzer Division) had gone, and the most that could now be achieved would be to keep the enemy occupied all along the front and never relax the strain on his Higher Command. The enemy had the advantage of working on short interior lines of communication and did, in fact, early in May, move a battalion from 90 Light Division to 5 Panzer Army.

1 See p. 74.