Bardia to Enfidaville
The Last Plan
The Last Plan
The move of 2 NZ Division to the left flank of 10 Corps was a minor one in the last stage of the offensive in Tunisia. By 3 May Eighteenth Army Group's final plan was ready, and the directive reads:
The Allied Forces of 18 Army Group will take the offensive to destroy or capture the enemy forces remaining in Tunisia.
First Army will attack and capture Tunis. Eighth Army and 2 US Corps will co-operate by exercising the maximum pressure in order to prevent the enemy transferring troops to oppose the attack of First Army.
[Details of grouping]
After the capture of Tunis, First Army will, in order of priority:—
Exploit rapidly eastwards and south-east from the Tunis area to prevent the enemy establishing himself in the Cap Bon Peninsula.
Eighth Army will co-operate in this phase by pressing forward to the Hammamet area from the south.
Co-operate with 2 US Corps by an advance from the south to capture Bizerta.
General Alexander's fresh plan was to strike an overwhelming blow along the direct road from Medjez el Bab to Tunis on 6 May. This would be done by 9 Corps under Lieutenant-General Horrocks, with four divisions under command. Two divisions, 4 British and 4 Indian, on a front of only 3000 yards, were to breach the enemy defences, and 6 and 7 Armoured Divisions were to breack out through the gap, directed on Tunis. The 1st Armoured Division was held in First Army reserve to reinforce this attack if required.
The plan for 9 Corps was much influenced by that for SUPERCHARGE on 26 March, in that it was to be on a narrow front preceded by an all-out air blitz. Horrocks put into good effect the experience gained from the earlier battle.
After the capture of Tunis, 7 Armoured Division was to turn northwards towards Bizerta, and 6 Armoured Division was to advance east and south across the base of the Cape Bon peninsula towards Hammamet, driving the enemy up against Eighth Army and preventing a last stand in the tip of the peninsula. The Royal Navy was waiting gleefully to deal with any forces attempting to escape by sea.page 358
Fifth British Corps was to pave the way on 5 May by capturing Djebel bou Aoukaz, south of the Medjerda, to remove the threat to the left flank of 9 Corps. Second US Corps had been maintaining pressure throughout, and was to continue towards Bizerta and form the northern jaw of the pincers of which 7 Armoured Division would form the southern.
Army Group Headquarters stressed that Eighth Army was to do all it could to prevent the transfer of enemy troops from the south to the west face, and even before the issue of his directive Alexander asked Montgomery for an outline of local operations and deceptions that could reasonably be carried out. He was anxious that among these there should be some action to hearten 19 French Corps, whose task it was to attack Djebel Zaghouan on 3 May and so open the Pont du Fahs defile. Montgomery replied on 1 May that he would carry out local operations south of Saouaf on the early morning of 4 May, and would increase the pressure on 5 and 6 May. He would begin at once a system of artillery concentrations on known enemy areas and sensitive points, together with active patrolling.
The task of assisting the French became that of 2 NZ Division, which was to mount local attacks south of Saouaf to support the French flank, prevent the enemy from reinforcing his front opposite the French, and stand in readiness to advance should 19 French Corps be successful.
The possibility of this role had been known since 1 May, and the commander of 10 Corps (Lieutenant-General Freyberg) had examined the area with the commander of 4 Light Armoured Brigade, who was responsible for the sector. For a brief time it was intended to use 8 Armoured Brigade for exploitation, but the final plan was for the Division to use only its two infantry brigades supported by 5 Army Group Royal Artillery, consisting of three field regiments and one medium regiment, one light anti-aircraft and one heavy anti-aircraft battery, in addition to 4 and 5 NZ Field Regiments.
Initially the Division would advance north-east through the line occupied by 4 Light Armoured Brigade, and establish itself in the hills parallel to but some 2500 yards short of the road from Enfidaville to Saouaf, but no major operation was to be carried out, and the advance was to be a mixture of penetration during darkness and exploitation by patrolling. The boundaries with 51 (H) Division on the right and 19 French Corps on the left gave a frontage of about five miles.
On 3 May the French duly attacked Djebel Zaghouan and penetrated to a depth of four miles.page 359
The Division moved by road to its new sector on 4 and 5 May in its usual groups. Divisional Cavalry made the first reconnaissance on 4 May, ready to take over the patrol line from 4 Light Armoured Brigade early next morning, followed by 5 Brigade Group. When the leading unit, 21 Battalion, reached Djebibina it was bombed by machines of the USAAF, and one other rank was killed and other damage done. The column was delayed for fifteen minutes, but by 9.50 a.m. the group was dispersed without further incident. The 7th Field Company went to work at once clearing mines, which were thickly sown in the proposed field of operations.
Divisional Headquarters and the artillery, less 6 Field Regiment, moved without incident. The units of 5 AGRA were already in position in the area. The 5th Field Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Glasgow) commenced deployment during the afternoon, but the first battery in action was heavily shelled and was later found to be almost in the very thinly manned FDLs. One battery of 4 Field Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Philp1) was detached to support the French division on the left and was soon in action. The enemy 170-millimetre gun was also used in this area against the crossroads at Pont du Fahs. It ended its active service on this duty.
On 5 May 6 Brigade Group moved and dispersed near Djebibina. It remained in reserve during the operations which followed. Many administrative units did not move at all.
1 Lt-Col W. D. Philp, DSO, ED; Palmerston North; born Christchurch, 5 Apr 1905; PWD foreman; CO 4 Fd Regt Mar–Dec 1943; 6 Fd Regt Aug 1944–Feb 1945; wounded 22 May 1941.