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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The Battle of Medenine

The Battle of Medenine

From the Mareth line Rommel launched his last attack in Africa. He had concentrated his two infantry divisions (90 Light and 164 Light) and the panzer divisions of the Afrika Korps (15 and 21), and 10 Panzer Division had come down from the north. In addition, he had Italian infantry formations which could hold the Mareth defences as a base. It was estimated that he could field a force of about 200 tanks.

Facing these forces were 51 (Highland) Division on the coast, then 7 Armoured Division and 2 NZ Division on the left, with 4 Light Armoured Brigade as a mobile force covering the open southern flank. Their defences were arranged as at Alamein—defence in depth with artillery and anti-tank guns deployed and tanks ready to move to pre-arranged positions when the direction of the attack became clear. The attack was expected as early as 3 March, but it did not come until 6 March and was directed towards the high ground north of the main road between Medenine and Mareth. The area round Medenine is mainly flat, the town itself being slightly elevated with a dip to the north and west. There were infantry and tank clashes, but all along the front as far as Eighth Army was concerned it was fundamentally an artillery battle, and once again the defensive power of an anti-tank gunline, supported by massed artillery, was demonstrated. By the end of the day the enemy had nothing to show for his costly offensive except many dead and wounded and over fifty knocked-out tanks counted on the battlefield. Rommel accepted the reverse, and during the night withdrew his battered forces to the Mareth defences. He is reported to have stated after the battle: ‘This is the beginning of the end in Tunisia for the Axis Forces.’