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Bardia to Enfidaville

First Army Front

First Army Front

After the Kasserine fighting in the latter half of February the main task on First Army's front was reorganisation, followed by a defensive phase. The 2nd US Corps after its defeat passed to the direct command of Eighteenth Army Group, so enabling General Alexander to give personal attention to restoring the rather shaken morale of the corps, the troops of which were experiencing their first real fighting. Alexander also began to form a central Army Group Reserve, to be commanded by Headquarters 9 Corps, which had just arrived. The reserve initially was 6 Armoured Division, soon to be joined by 4 Division. This was part of long-term planning; but for the moment the only fully active front was that of Eighth Army.

In order to distract the enemy's attention, and ensure that the enemy troops in the GabesSfax area did not move away to the Mareth front, Alexander now initiated a diversionary attack. The 2nd US Corps, in good heart again, accordingly attacked and captured Gafsa on 17 March, and continued to advance eastwards up to 20 miles. This established a definite threat to the lines of communication of 1 Italian Army at Mareth, and as a result 10 Panzer Division remained in the area north-west of Gabes and was unlikely to move south. A secondary object of the attack was to open up a new line of communication for Eighth Army once it had reached Gabes, and as a first step a dump of petrol was formed at Gafsa.