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Bardia to Enfidaville

Operation ‘pugilist’ — General Plan of Eighth Army

Operation ‘pugilist
General Plan of Eighth Army



The object of operation ‘PUGILIST’ is to destroy the enemy now opposing Eighth Army in the Mareth position, and to advance and capture Sfax.

General Considerations


Eighth Army has made very good progress during the last week, and this has definitely helped in forcing the Germans to withdraw from the Kasserine Pass and to break off the fight in that area.


Our advance, and the pressure that we have been exerting against the Mareth position, now constitutes a definite threat to the enemy. As he has broken off the fight in Central Tunisia it is quite possible that he will transfer troops quickly to the Mareth front, in order to strengthen that front. He might even consider the possibility of an offensive himself against us, in order to inflict casualties and force us to postpone our own attack—which he must realise is bound to come sooner or later.

From our point of view such an offensive by him in the near future would be exactly what we would like; it would give us a great opportunity to take heavy toll of the enemy as a first step, and then to put in our own heavy attack when he was disorganised as a result of his abortive offensive.


The immediate policy in 30 Corps will therefore be as follows:


To hold on to the positions already gained, and on the left flank to improve these positions in the mountains about Halluf in conjunction with LeClerc's force.


To organise the Corps area for defence, so that any attack by the enemy to interfere with our own preparations for ‘PUGILIST’ will have no possible chance of success.


By patrol and other activity, from firm bases, to press on with preparations for ‘PUGILIST’.

page 134

It will be seen, therefore, that the underlying principles of our action for the next two weeks, as outlined above, are to make quite certain that the enemy gains no success from any offensive he may contemplate; meanwhile we ourselves will quietly get ready for ‘PUGILIST’.

An essential feature of our own policy must be to gain and keep complete ascendancy over the enemy air forces; for this, the selection and preparation of suitable forward air fields is of great importance.

Grouping for ‘PUGILIST’


30 Corps 50 Div

NZ Corps 2 NZ Div

10 Corps 1 Armd Div

  • 7 Armd Div (incl 4 Light Armd Bde, less KDG)

  • FF Flying Column

Operations 30 Corps


Before the date for the main attack, 30 Corps will carry out such preliminary operations as are necessary to ensure that the main attack will be immediately effective and will cause immediate enemy reactions.

The provisions of paras 4 and 5 to be remembered all the time.


The main attack of 30 Corps will be delivered on night 20/21 March against the enemy left or eastern flank.

Object: To break into the Mareth position, to roll it up from the east and north, to destroy the enemy holding troops and prevent their escape, and subsequently to advance and capture Gabes.

Operations NZ Corps


The task of NZ Corps will be to make a turning movement round the enemy western flank, moving via Nalut and Ksar Rhilane.

The Corps will then advance northwards, will break through any enemy troops or switch lines, and will endeavour to establish itself astride the road Gabes-Matmata so as to cut off the enemy and prevent his escape.


The movement of NZ Corps will be so timed that by night 20/21 March it has begun to create a serious threat against the road GabesMatmata.

Operations 10 Corps


10 Corps will be in Army reserve. 7 Armd Div will pass to command 10 Corps in situ at a date and time to be notified later. This date will probably be about 15 Mar.


10 Corps will ensure adequate protection for the left flank and rear of 30 Corps during the period immediately preceding the launching of 30 Corps attack, and during the attack itself.


10 Corps will then be held ready to exploit success, being prepared to operate towards Gabes and Sfax.

page 135

Further Operations


The final objective for operation ‘PUGILIST’ is Sfax. Once operations have begun on night 20/21 March they will be conducted relentlessly until Sfax has been reached.

Administration to be arranged accordingly.


Once Sfax is secured, the Eighth Army will operate north-westwards against the rear of enemy forces in front of the Allied divisions in southern Tunisia, and will ‘drive’ on to Sousse.

Royal Air Force


Operation ‘PUGILIST’ will be supported by the full weight of the Allied Air Forces now supporting Eighth Army, and by the air striking forces in Central Tunisia and in Malta.


An essential feature in the preparatory stages will be the selection and preparation of forward air fields for fighters and light bombers, so that we can dominate the enemy air force and give adequate cover to our own troops while the battle is being built up.


Details of the air action will be notified later.



Tac Army will be with Main 30 Corps

Tac 10 Corps to be established near Tac Army.


Each Divisional Commander will be given one copy of this memorandum.

(Sgd) B. L. Montgomery General,
Eighth Army.

This plan requires few comments. The tenor of paragraphs 4 and 5 shows that the enemy's moves were not to be allowed to upset long-term planning, and that the Army Commander was determined to keep the initiative in the broader field. This intention to adhere to the plan already prepared was later translated into rejecting the immediate advantage of a decided victory over 1 Italian Army.

On the date this plan was issued many of the formations named in paragraph 6 were still back near El Agheila—Headquarters 10 Corps, 50 Division, 4 Indian Division, 201 Guards Brigade and 1 Armoured Division. The Free French Flying Column, which came into existence before the Battle of El Alamein, was composed partly of Foreign Legion and partly of Moroccans, and comprised sub-units of armoured cars, a tank company (Crusaders), some anti-tank guns and some lorried infantry. It should not be confused with Leclerc's force.

It must be emphasised that planning for the next stage, the attack on the Mareth Line, and many preliminary moves and much administrative detail were taking place concurrently with the defensive preparations at Medenine.