Bardia to Enfidaville
On 24 March the enemy appreciated that on the main Mareth front the British forces, especially the armoured forces, were being thinned out, and that the main attack would move to ‘the southwest front’. Thus 15 Panzer Division was moved back to Hir Zouitinat (13 miles south-west of Gabes), where it could support either front and where it was later identified by air reconnaissance. Some nervousness was shown over the advance of 4 Indian Division in the centre and the Italian forces in the area were warned about the importance of blocking Hallouf Pass.
The two divisions in the Tebaga line (21 Panzer and 164 Light) reported various NZ Corps activities during the day, including the air attacks. The enemy by now had no illusions about the final outcome of the Tebaga operations, but was determined to impose delay as long as possible. This attitude was apparently shared by von Arnim, who visited the front during the morning, and decided that the time had come to withdraw into the Akarit page 196 position—the Gabes Gap—commencing that night, 24–25 March. Messe pointed out that he did not have enough MT for so fast a move, and would have to delay twenty-four hours, but did not dispute the orders otherwise for there were still bitter memories of the way in which the non-motorised Italian troops had been left stranded at Alamein. However, later in the day Kesselring also visited the front, came to the conclusion that the situation was not really serious, and persuaded Messe to tell von Arnim that he was going to hit back, and did not consider the withdrawal necessary. But von Arnim adhered to his decision, agreeing only to a postponement so that the withdrawal would now start on the night 25–26 March.