World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls(15A); Kwajalein: Push Inland: First Day

There was one main highway on Kwajalein Island, which completely circled it, paralleling the shore line for most of its length and inland from the beach about a hundred yards. The northern (lagoon) section of the highway was known as Will Road; the southern (ocean) section, as Wallace Road. At the western end of the island, the loop ran somewhat farther inland, but there, and at various points along the ocean shore, secondary roads branched from the highway to installations nearer the water. Approximately twenty cross-island roads short circuited the main loop. In the narrow, northeastern end of the island among the various buildings, these cross-island roads were near enough together to seem like streets of a village. Air photographs showed that the small airfield near the center of the island was still under construction just before the landings. It consisted of a single runway paralleled on the north by a narrower strip used for dispersal. Between the dispersal strip and the runway, wooded areas had been separated by two transverse clearings and further divided by straight narrow road’s that ran almost all the way across the island from ocean to lagoon. Less than one eighth of the runway had been paved in concrete.

Construction materials for the Japanese installations on Kwajalein were delivered to the lagoon at wooden docks directly north of the center of the airfield and at a long coral-filled pier nearer the northeastern end of the island. The docks, referred to in the operation maps as Center Pier, were shaped like a wide capital H, and were accessible to boats of shallow draft only. The long pier, designated Nob Pier, almost a mile farther northeast along the lagoon shore, projected westward across the reef for some five hundred yards to reach deep water. It was shaped much like a hocky stick with a wide blade projecting at an angle from its long slender causeway.

Just west of the airfield and lying within the western loop of the island highway was a depressed area of land, largely cleared except for some brush, designated Wart Area on operation maps. It stretched from Will Road on the north to a fringe of trees near Wallace Road on the south, a distance of 450 yards; the distance from the highway loop on the west to a semicircle of trees ringing the eastern edge of this clearing was about 500 yards. In this area the Japanese had set up a radio direction finder with auxiliary radio installations in four buildings. About 1,500 yards farther east, at the eastern end of the runway, another clearing, approximately 300 yards by 600 yards, extended along the ocean shore. It was crossed by Wallace Road, by two cross-island roads (Cox and Carl Roads), and by an antitank ditch. Commencing near the base of Center Pier and extending along the lagoon side of the island to the northeastern tip, the Japanese had constructed most of their buildings. North of the base of Nob Pier these structures filled most of the area within the loop of the highway.

The Advance From the Beaches

The beachhead line lay about 250 yards inland, along the western loop of the main island highway, which there ran north and south roughly parallel to the two Red Beaches. The shore rose just behind the beaches to an island rim a few yards wide and about ten feet above sea level. East of this higher ground as far as the beachhead line were marshy dips covered with thick underbrush. Vegetation was thickest behind Red Beach 2, in the line of the 32nd Regiment advance. The northern zone, which was drier, having been shaded only by tall coconut palms more widely spaced, contained several buildings strung along an additional loop of secondary road that linked the northwest point and the highway.

From the shell-pocked reef and torn-up terrain along the beach itself, the advance had to be made through debris and soft ground, both of which presented great difficulty to tanks and other vehicles. The northern boundary of the 32nd Regiment’s zone ran a little north of the middle of the island, from Red Beach 2 to a road junction at the western edge of Wart Area.

The ocean shore on the regiment’s right curved southeast, widening the area from about 275 yards at the beach to about 400 yards at the beachhead line. Within the 32nd’s zone the enemy defenses, referred to as Wet Strong Point, were expected to consist of pillboxes and antiaircraft gun positions, directly back of Red Beach 2, and a closely associated network of installations along the ocean shore.

As the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry, advanced after landing on Red Beach 2, it discovered the enemy defenses surprisingly weak. Although several log shelters not indicated on the operations map were met, the group of prepared firing positions at Wet Strong Point was found to be nonexistent. Moreover, very few dead Japanese were counted by the 1st Battalion as it moved toward the beachhead line with Company A on the right, Company B in the inner zone at the left, and part of Company C following in reserve. The battalion reported only light, scattered enemy resistance to its advance. No large pillboxes remained to be demolished.

Only a few of the enemy were discovered in small underground shelters. Japanese riflemen usually preferred to let the line pass, withholding fire until more profitable targets appeared. The advance platoons were at the north-south portion of Wallace Road within an hour after the landing. The rest came up more slowly, but at 1130 the battalion was at the western edge of the Wart Area clearing.

In the northern zone, the 3rd Battalion, 184th Infantry, experienced more resistance during this phase of the battle than was met in the southern zone. Except for twenty-two men from Company K who had been carried by a disabled LVT to Red Beach 2, and twenty-one men transferred from another damaged tractor to one in the fourth wave, the first two waves of the 3rd Battalion on Red Beach 1 contained all the troops of Companies K, I, and L, plus the 3rd Platoon, Company C, 13th Engineer Battalion.

Ahead of them lay a network of several pillboxes, which still contained live Japanese in spite of the heavy preliminary bombardment. These were silenced in short order in a series of almost simultaneous actions in which many varieties of weapons were used. Typical of the action at this juncture was the experience of two infantrymen of Company K, Private Parvee Rasberry and Private First Class Paul Roper. The two men had landed near the left of Red Beach 1 and had run about twenty-five yards inland when they came under fire from one of the pillboxes in the area.

Quickly taking shelter in a shell hole, they started lobbing grenades at the enemy position about fifteen yards ahead. The Japanese merely threw the grenades back and the volley kept up until a flame thrower was brought forward. That, too, proved ineffective; the flames only hit the box and bounced back. Finally, Private Rasberry got out of his foxhole, crawled to within about five yards of the pillbox and threw in a white phosphorus smoke grenade. This flushed several Japanese from their cover into open positions where they could be taken under rifle fire. Those who weren’t hit ran back to the pillbox. Rasberry threw white phosphorous grenades until he had none left, by which time about eight of the enemy had been killed. At this juncture, T. Sergeant Graydon Kickul of Company L was able to crawl up to the pillbox and on top of it. He emptied his M1 rifle into it, killing the remainder of the Japanese inside. To make doubly certain that the job was done, an amphibian tank was then brought forward to fire both its flame thrower and its 37-mm. gun into the aperture.

In much the same manner, all of the pillboxes were taken out or sufficiently neutralized to permit bypassing. When the work was completed, the assault Companies L and I passed through the first landing wave and continued on up the island. Company K now went into battalion reserve and, to the rear of the assault wave, continued to mop up positions that were bypassed as the attack progressed.4 Company I on the right and Company L on the left moved rapidly forward under protection of artillery from Carlson Island. The 184th Infantry was receiving direct support from the 57th Field Artillery, which at 0947 had already established communications with its forward observers in the 3rd Battalion’s front lines.

Meanwhile, the 49th Field Artillery was furnishing direct support to the 32nd Infantry and at 0949 had its forward observers for Battery A reporting at a point 150 yards inland from Red Beach 2. The remaining three battalions of divisional artillery continued general support by dropping barrages successively farther inland. During the initial phase neither battalion had effective support from tanks, and the LVT(A)’s were left behind near the beaches. In the southern sector the swampy terrain held up the tanks until the infantrymen and engineers were well beyond the beachhead line. In the northern sector the two medium tanks that had not foundered on the reef or at the approach to the beach joined the 3rd Battalion, 184th Infantry, just before it reached the beachhead line.

Enemy dead, estimated at 250, lay scattered among the desolate ruins and tangled wreckage of the coconut grove or in the rubble and debris of shattered buildings behind Red Beach 1. Although for over half an hour hidden Japanese stragglers fired on the beach and harassed the advancing troops, both advance companies of the 184th reported insignificant opposition. By 1135 they had come up to the north-south sector of Wallace Road and had reorganized for the next stage of the advance.

The Second Phase

The next objective of the two assault battalions was the line of Wilma Road, a north-south road that ran east of Wart Area and west of the landing strips, connecting Will Road on the north with the ocean-shore stretch of Wallace Road. The zone ahead of the 32nd Infantry included the southern part of Wart Area at the left and at the right some 550 yards of the shore stretch of Wallace Road, together with a band of wooded ground between that road and the ocean. The shore defenses in this section were grouped in two organized systems, designated Whistler Strong Point and Wheeler Strong Point. Each was thought to consist of machine gun and antiaircraft gun positions fronting the ocean, and a line of rifle pits and connecting trench just inland.

After halting at the beachhead line, Company B furnished covering fire over Wart Area while Company A continued to advance, with Company C behind it, along the wooded ground that stretched from the clearing to the ocean shore. The forward company was out of communication with the battalion for over half an hour. At 1220 it was reported to be progressing against rifle and machine gun fire only, and to have pushed to a point 250 yards west of Wilma Road. Whistler Strong Point had proved to be unoccupied.

Moving on toward Wheeler Strong Point, Company A encountered its first organized resistance of the day from pillboxes along the ocean shore and suffered ten or eleven casualties. At 1330 steps were taken to shift the burden of the assault from the 32nd Regiment’s 1st Battalion to its 2nd, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Glen A. Nelson. Company C, which had been following behind Company A, was sent northeastward to clean up the dispersal area east of Wilma Road. Companies A and B were to be relieved by the 2nd Battalion.

As the latter came abreast of Wheeler Strong Point, it was fired upon from three pillboxes that Company A had failed to mop up completely. These were attacked and wiped out by infantrymen with the assistance of a platoon of medium tanks that had moved ahead to support the 2nd Battalion.

Meanwhile, to the north, the 3rd Battalion, 184th, was finding the resistance somewhat tougher, as it had earlier in the morning. Before jumping off for the second phase of the attack, the battalion reorganized. Company K took up the right half of the battalion line along the north-south segment of Wallace Road to furnish covering fire over Wart Area, and Company I shifted to the rear of Company L, supporting its advance at a distance of about two hundred yards. Jumping off at noon, Company L fought for twenty minutes to reduce a bunker of reinforced concrete that had an extension constructed of logs and sand. Halfway between Will Road and the lagoon shore, it had been spotted as a pillbox but proved instead to be a very large shelter. Flame throwers proved ineffective, and the occupants emerged one at a time only after high-explosive and white phosphorus charges were used.

Rifle fire and thick underbrush along Will Road north of the direction finder site, as well as machine gun and small arms fire, slowed Company L’s progress. By 1310, nevertheless, it had come to the positions defending Wilma Road, and at 1450 reported that the road in its zone was secured. Company I pushed southeastward through the wreckage of a group of buildings to establish contact along Wilma Road with the left-hand elements of the 32nd Regiment. Some difficulty in achieving contact arose from the fact that Company C of the 32nd had continued beyond Wilma Road into the dispersal area of the airfield, which was actually within the

Seizure of the Airfield Begins The area east of Wilma Road contained the airfield. Two bands of wooded ground, studded with fortified positions and laced with trenches, lay along and back of the lagoon and ocean beaches on either side of the airfield. In the center of the field, between the airstrips, stretched a third wooded area about a hundred yards wide. The rest of the sector had been cleared of trees by the Japanese. Immediately east of Wilma Road was a major dispersal area, shaped much like a fishhook, curving away from the line of advance at the right to a barbed point on the regimental boundary, and broadening at the left into the western terminus of the airstrips. This terminus was a single clearing, 300 yards from north to south and 75 yards from west to east.

The two airstrips—one a runway strip and the other a dispersal strip—extended eastward about 1,200 yards to another unbroken cleared area. The northern (dispersal) strip was about 50, and the southern over 100 yards wide. The boundary between the zones of the 184th and 32nd Regiments had been set along the southern (runway) strip, about one fourth of the distance from its northern edge. Bombardment had shattered most of the trees not previously cleared by the Japanese from the wide area extending from Will Road on the north to Wallace Road on the south.

Except for a jumble of trunks, branches, and fronds in the area between the airstrips and between the southern strip and Wallace Road, the island seemed to have become one broad clearing between coastal fringes of vegetation. Some of the enemy held out at the western end of the field as the advance battalions continued the attack and the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, moved forward to pass through the 1st Battalion. No firm defensive position commanding the entire width of the island had been established, however. The bulk of the defenders had simply retired eastward.

Three coastal defense positions were anticipated on the ocean side along the shore. They were labeled on the operations map Worden, Canary, and Cat Strong Points. Worden Strong Point was believed to contain a covered artillery position for a field piece, a heavy antiaircraft gun, four machine gun emplacements, a network of rifle trenches, and some unidentified buildings. Canary Strong Point was thought to include two groups of positions, each similar to Worden and separated by over a hundred yards of brush-covered ground, in which the presence of pillboxes and connecting trenches was suspected but not definitely established. Worden was 200 yards beyond the Wilma Road line, and Canary about 800 yards farther. Four hundred and fifty yards beyond Canary was Cat Strong Point, extending along some three hundred yards of ocean shore south of the airfield’s eastern end. The troops of the 32nd Infantry would not reach it until the next day.

The attack eastward began to move into the airfield area as early as 1440. An air attack on the defenses at Canary Strong Point, south of the middle of the airfield, was not thought safe because of the presence of American troops within 500 yards of the target. Artillery fire, however, was heavy; 300 rounds of 105-mm. and 155-mm. artillery fire from Carlson Island was delivered between 1405 and 1425. Company A, 32nd Infantry, remained temporarily near the south end of Wilma Road, mopping up enemy positions, while Company B pushed forward about 100 yards beyond the road. Company C, after passing through the western dispersal area, continued eastward into the wooded area between the airstrips, well into the zone of the 184th Regiment.

The progress of the 1st Battalion, 32nd, from Wilma Road along the ocean side of the island continued to be somewhat more rapid than that of the 3rd Battalion, 184th, in its zone. Company B, 32nd Infantry, met only scattered resistance during its first two hundred yards of advance, while Companies L and I, 184th, ran at once upon large underground shelters and defenses as well as rifle fire. Moreover, a fuel dump that had been ignited by artillery fire from Carlson Island exploded and temporarily barred the 184th’s advance.

Any attempt of the enemy to reinforce his troops already in the wooded strip between the lagoon and Will Road was prevented by a creeping barrage along Will Road and by a concentration from 155-mm. howitzers upon an assembly of Japanese troops observed near the northeastern end of the island. Organized enemy resistance to the 3rd Battalion, 184th, was also forestalled by sixty rounds from the 57th Field Artillery Battalion, dropped on a nearer concentration of the enemy forces between the airfield and the lagoon.

At 1525, Company L, 184th Infantry, was reported to be two hundred yards east of Wilma Road, while Company I of the same regiment was at the northwestern corner of the airfield. On the right, Company C, 32nd Infantry, had moved into the wooded panel between the airstrips, pursuing a few of the withdrawing enemy. Company B, 32nd Infantry, pushed through the ruined concrete-mixing plant and the other debris at Worden Strong Point, leaving the mopping up of all bunkers to Company A. Company B then moved forward against Canary Strong Point, preceded by an artillery preparation that commenced at 1515. By 1540 friendly troops were so close to the target that artillery fire had to be discontinued.

At 1525 Company B, 32nd Infantry, was ordered to hold while Company E of the 2nd Battalion passed through and commenced reducing the defensive positions in the western section of Canary Strong Point. Some of these positions, which extended along each side of Wallace Road, were defended by Japanese who ducked and crawled through rubble heaps and bunkers in such a way that Lieutenant John L. Young, commanding Company E, became convinced that they were using connecting tunnels. For an hour the fighting persisted, but not more than ten enemy dead could be counted above ground.

Company E continued through a litter of small works, moving so slowly that it was necessary to commit Company F, which undertook a flanking movement at the left. The maneuver was intended to cut the strong point off, but the company promptly ran into fire that slowed its advance to about fifty yards in thirty minutes. It then became clear that the whole movement had been stopped. The attack was consequently broken off at 1800 and defensive positions were organized for the night. At 1820 the 32nd Regimental Combat Team casualties were reported at seven dead and twenty-three wounded.

In the 184th Regiment’s zone, the attack stopped at 1700, when Company L arrived at the western edge of a group of ruined storage buildings that extended as far as the H Docks (Center Pier). Defensive perimeters were prepared. The day’s casualties in the 184th’s 3rd Battalion were reported to be ten killed and thirteen wounded.

The enemy losses on Kwajalein at the close of the day’s fighting were estimated at five hundred killed and eleven captured. Approximately 450 of the dead Japanese counted were in the zone of the 184th, and this regiment also was responsible for the capture of ten of the eleven prisoners taken.

Of course, a large share of the enemy casualties must be attributed to the heavy bombardment from ships and aircraft and from artillery based on Carlson. Estimates made by assault troops and by others, including doctors following the assault, indicated that the preparatory bombardment caused from 50 to 75 percent of all Japanese casualties on Kwajalein Island. These estimates probably run high, but there can be no doubt that the preliminary fire, especially from ships’ guns and shore based artillery, was exceptionally effective.

The first day’s field artillery operations, however, were not without cost to the American units involved. When Battery C, 145th Field Artillery, fired its first round, one gun had a premature burst of a fuzed projectile, causing two casualties. A few minutes later, a muzzle burst in Battery A occurred, seriously wounding five men. Not long afterward, just after 1000, the principal air observer, Captain George W. Tysen, USN, and his pilot, Ensign William J. Sayers, USNR, in a spotting plane from Minneapolis flew below the safety level into a curtain of artillery shells from Carlson Island. The plane was struck and destroyed in mid-air.

The two forward battalions established defensive perimeters that crossed the terrain on each side of the airfield but then looped westward along its edges and joined in the dispersal area near Wilma Road. In the northern zone Companies L and I, 184th Infantry, shared the most advanced position, with Company L on the left. Company K, except for one platoon sent to support Company L, extended along Will Road and linked the two forward companies with those of the 2nd Battalion, 184th, east of Wilma Road. In the southern zone, Company F, 32nd Infantry, alone held the forward line from the ocean beach to the southern edge of the landing strip.

The remainder of 2nd Battalion, 32nd, took up positions west and northwest of Company F. Three antitank guns were set up at equal intervals, interspersed with machine guns, in Company F’s easterly line. The men were well dug in, two or three men to a foxhole.

Between the southernmost position of Company I, 184th Infantry, and the northernmost position of Company F, 32nd Infantry, the width of the landing strip intervened; moreover, Company F’s line lay about 250 yards farther east than that of Company I. The wide gap was devoid of cover for either defending or attacking troops, but to guard against the possibility of infiltration, Company C was again sent forward early in the morning of 2 February to guard the area.

The First Night on Kwajalein Island When darkness fell on Kwajalein Island after the first day of battle, the front lines crossed the island at points more than one fourth of the distance from the landing beaches to the northeastern tip. Six infantry battalions were ashore, supported by four tank companies (forty-four medium and eighteen light tanks were operative), five self-propelled 75-mm. guns, and two platoons of 4.2-inch chemical mortars. The two Red Beaches had been fully organized, cleared of enemy explosives, graded by bulldozers, and linked with the island’s road system. Shell holes in the highways had been filled, debris removed, and supply points established. Command posts were established in each battalion area, and regimental command posts were set up about fifty yards inland, near the northern limits of each of the two beaches. The 13th Engineer Battalion had its command post near that of the 184th Infantry, while the 767th Tank Battalion’s was a hundred yards east of Red Beach 2.

[NOTE: Kwajalein and Eniwetok Operations, 14 Mar 44 (hereafter cited as Roberts Report), pp. 34ff. The Roberts Mission was sent to the Marshalls to evaluate the effect of both U.S. and enemy weapons and report its findings to General Richardson.]

In the lagoon, the destroyer Sigsbee was stationed to furnish searchlight illumination of a zone crossing the island at the eastern end of the airfield. It was scheduled to light the area during the first half of each hour. Provision was made for harassing fire to be delivered into the areas east and north of the illuminated zone from the divisional artillery on Carlson Island, the regimental Cannon Companies, and the twelve mortars of the 91st Chemical Company.

While the men were being soaked by a chill rain in the perimeter foxholes and in bivouac areas nearer the landing beaches, plans for the next day’s operations were reviewed at the regimental command post. Intelligence from prisoners and from enemy documents indicated that about 1,500 Japanese remained alive on Kwajalein Island. Contrary to an earlier estimate that only small arms and light machine guns remained, the enemy was known to be able still to use some artillery, although his heavier 5-inch guns had been destroyed.

Despite a hard day, the divisional artillery batteries on Carlson prepared for the night’s action. During the day they had fired 20,949 rounds of 105-mm. and 759 rounds of 155-mm. shells, most of them during the artillery preparation from 0800 to 1200.40 A strong wind had swept the smoke and dust away from the guns and cooled the crews as they maintained a rate of fire of from three to four rounds per minute. Cooks, clerks, and drivers participated as ammunition handlers, while the guns were manned by teams of eight, permitting rest periods for three or four men at a time. The crews broke open pallets and passed tons of ammunition. “The men can stand more than the guns,” said Lieutenant Colonel George D. Preston, commanding the 145th Field Artillery.

The 49th and 57th Field Artillery Battalions prepared to deliver night barrages east of the battalions that they were supporting. The 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, had reached an area dangerously near that on which the guns of the 57th Field Artillery had registered in front of the 184th less than an hour earlier, and that artillery battalion had to swing its fire closer to the lagoon and farther from the 184th’s night perimeter. The 32nd’s late advance also delayed, until twilight, the registration of the 49th. The first shells from the 49th Field Artillery’s preparatory fire fell among troops of the 32nd Infantry. After the 49th’s range had been corrected, however, later barrages were repeatedly requested during the night. A total of 4,556 rounds was expended by the unit between 1800 and 0600.

Naval gunfire on 1 February totaled 6,574 rounds of which 1,342 were 14-inch shells from four battleships, 397 rounds were 8-inch projectiles from three cruisers, and 4,835 rounds were 5-inch shells fired from battleships, cruisers, and five destroyers. In addition to the fire preparatory to landing, naval guns were repeatedly employed in close support of the infantry advance as it moved up Kwajalein Island. As the day’s advance had entered the last stage, General Corlett and the rear echelon of his staff moved ashore to the command post on Carlson Island previously held by the advance party under General Ready. General Holland Smith, commanding the V Amphibious Corps, remained aboard the flagship Rocky Mount with Admiral Turner.

During the day’s operations the enemy had fought primarily from underground shelters and pillboxes. A few large bunkers and interconnected positions had delayed the advance until details “peeled off’ to dispose of them while the remainder of the American line continued forward. Certain positions thought to have been wiped out by grenades, flame throwers, and high-explosive charges or projectiles remained quiet for hours, only to have surviving occupants recover and resume the battle by any means remaining to them. Those Japanese who fired rifles from trees or underbrush were relatively few and scattered. The organized resistance that occasionally developed in the open had provided a series of skirmishes for small details working with the tanks but had resulted in no large-scale encounters.

After dark, however, a large number of the enemy emerged from bunkers and air raid shelters and tried to disrupt the invading force by a series of counterattacks upon the forward perimeters. Individual enemy riflemen and machine gun squads sought to infiltrate along the flanks of the American line or between the two regiments. To the men in the foxholes it was a long night full of action and confusion.

At the northern tip of the island, three enemy dual-purpose guns continued in action, dropping shells at various points near the Red Beaches. Japanese mortars, which had registered along the northern end of Will Road late in the afternoon, struck repeatedly during the night. The enemy directed an antiaircraft gun, mounted on Nob Pier, against the destroyer Sigsbee to suppress the searchlight illumination it was furnishing. When the destroyer succeeded in silencing the gun, another was brought to bear from the same position, and when that was knocked out, enemy artillery on Burton Island tried unsuccessfully to hit Sigsbee. Though it seemed to annoy the Japanese, illumination by searchlight did not serve the needs of the infantry as well as did flares and star shells closer to their front lines.

Naval gunfire from the lagoon, and the division and regimental artillery deprived the Japanese of any opportunity to deliver blows with great force. Nevertheless, they were able to mount a series of counterattacks covered in part by their own sporadic artillery and mortar fire. A number of these were broken up by American artillery while still in the preparatory stages, but several had to be repulsed by the infantry in close-range fighting.

In addition to concerted attacks, the Japanese tried persistently to infiltrate in small groups. In the 32nd Regiment’s zone, flares over the ground in front of Company F revealed the enemy to the Americans, but enough got through to justify a warning order to the 1st Battalion, 32nd, to be ready to come to the support of the 2nd Battalion. From the panel between the airstrips, intermittent enemy machine gun fire from the flank passed over the forward troops, most of it too high to do any damage. Similar tactics in the 184th’s zone brought Japanese riflemen deep within the American lines. One Japanese was killed by a sentry as far west as the message center on Wolf Point, near the northern end of Red Beach 1.

One attack almost attained the proportions of a successful break-through in the American defenses but was not exploited by the enemy, either because of ignorance of his opportunity or because of insufficient strength. This attack was launched against the 3rd Battalion, 184th Infantry, and started at about 0130. During a heavy rain squall in the last hour before midnight, the Japanese had moved back into positions that they had vacated in the afternoon. They had located Company L’s machine guns in the course of an earlier assault, and proceeded to lay down a dense concentration of light mortar fire on the portion of Company L’s line nearest to the lagoon. Three mortar shells fell directly on the heavy machine gun position, wounding several men and killing one. A light machine gun went out of operation nearby, and the remainder of the 1st Platoon, Company L, was forced into a temporary, hasty withdrawal. While some of the enemy infiltrated through this gap and struck the left of the 2nd Platoon, the heavy machine gun in the center of that part of Company L’s line was swung to the left and fired over the previous location of the 1st Platoon. By this fire on the Japanese flank, a machine gun was silenced and Will Road was closed to the enemy.

While the 1st Platoon withdrew, a call for reinforcements and a resupply of ammunition had been sent to the regimental command post. Company C, 184th Infantry, was sent forward but the thin lines were restored even before the reinforcements had arrived. The two machine gun sections of Company C were placed at the extremities of the 1st Platoon line with the rifle platoons in supporting positions. From division artillery heavy fire was sent into the area directly in front of Company L, starting at 0158, and the immediate threat of a break-through in this area was forestalled.

During the early hours of morning, enemy offensive action dwindled to occasional harassing fire. Just before dawn, mortar fire hit one of the machine gun crews that had come forward as reinforcement to Company L, 184th Infantry, causing six casualties. About 0600 steps were being taken for the day’s attack by the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, when another shell fell squarely beneath one of the antitank guns in Company F’s line killing two, wounding one, and disabling the gun. The 3rd Battalion, 184th, was to be relieved at the end of this first dismal night on Kwajalein. It had sustained casualties of 14 killed and 54 wounded for the entire period of its fighting on the island. The 2nd Battalion of the same regiment was ordered to move through the 3rd’s forward positions and take up the attack. In the 32nd regimental zone, the 2nd Battalion was to continue in the line. Fresh troops would relieve that unit later in the morning.

SOURCE: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls: BY; Philip A. Crowl, & Edmund G. Love (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshall (14); Invasion of Southern Kwajalein

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World War Two: North Africa (5-19); New Situation: Axis Reaction

Revision of Axis Plans: In January the Axis powers like the Allies were obliged to revise their operational objectives in Northwest Africa. Earlier Axis decisions, it will be remembered, were to maintain two armies there by reinforcing Rommel’s command while establishing in Tunisia the Fifth Panzer Army of four or more divisions. General von Arnim assumed command of this army on 9 December with the prospect of an aggressive campaign before him. Rommel was authorized to retire from Marsa el Brega to Buerat el Hsun if necessary to avoid being cut off, but he was expected to bold at Buerat el Hsun indefinitely while his losses were made good and his army was restored as an instrument of offensive power. To the commanders in the field it soon became evident that such plans could not be carried out without reinforcements, a radical improvement in transportation, and the provision of more equipment and supplies.

General von Arnim within a week of assuming command of the Fifth Panzer Army, reported to Commander-in-Chief, South. that the current rate of supply was far below African requirements. He estimated the volume at 12,000 tons per month for his army and an equal amount for Rommel’s. Since only half his army was then in Tunisia, shipping to transport the remainder must also be found. The opportunity to complete the building up of the Fifth Panzer Army and reach the 24,OOO-ton-per-month level of resupply for the two armies was expected to last only six to eight weeks longer, this being the period during which prevailing rains would prevent the Allies from renewing their attack. Yet at the existing rate, the concentration of Axis forces scheduled to come under his command would take several months.

Rommel at the same time was facing a critical shortage of supply and therefore, on 17 December, the very day on which he had got his army into position at Buerat el Hsun, urgently renewed his recommendation of 30 November that he be authorized to pull back into Tunisia, only to have his proposal again rejected.

When Hitler, to establish the foundations of further operations, called a conference with Italian representatives at his Rastenburg headquarters on 18-22 December, he was presented by Kesselring’s headquarters with a survey of Allied capabilities and a plan for providing the North African bridgehead with supplies and equipment. Hitler then reaffirmed his position that North Africa must be held in order to check the increasing power of the Allies, and concluded also that it was an Italian theater which would remain under Italian command.

He would send reinforcements into Tunisia, including some of his best troops, bringing the German strength there up to 130,000-140,000 men, and take measures that would insure air superiority over the line of communications from Italy. He painted an optimistic picture. But it was one which recognized the critical nature of the logistical contest.

Before the end of the year, a second factor which Hitler was bound to recognize forced adjustments in the Axis program for Northwest Africa. The battle for Stalingrad began absorbing the reserves at the disposal of OKW, taking away to an operation of the highest priority the German divisions with which Hitler might have redeemed his earlier promises to Mussolini. The only opportunity to gain the preponderance of force necessary for aggressive action in Tunisia seemed likely to take place during the few weeks intervening between the arrival of Rommel’s army and that of the pursuing British Eighth Army. Mussolini therefore issued a directive, which Marshal Bastico delivered to Rommel on 31 December at Misurata, authorizing his conditional withdrawal into Tunisia. The German-Italian Panzer Army was to move to the Mareth Position south of Gabes in several stages and at a rate which would consume at least two months. This much time would be needed to develop the Mareth Position. It was stipulated that Rommel must have the approval of Marshal Bastico for the timing of each step in the withdrawal. This restraint was a precaution against the loss of Italian foot soldiers to motorized enveloping attacks. When Rommel protested that the duration and staging of his withdrawal would have to take account of Allied maneuver, Comando Supremo, with Hitler’s concurrence, gave him freedom of action for six weeks, the length of time regarded as necessary for him to reach a position just east of Tripoli.

On 2 January, Rommel began sending back part of his non-motorized force from Buerat el Hsun. By mid-January the rest of Rommel’s forces, less the 21st Panzer Division, had been forced back to the Tarhuna-Homs position. The rate of retirement which was to have kept Tripoli in Axis possession until the middle of February was suddenly accelerated by a British maneuver which Rommel accepted as a genuine threat of envelopment at Tarhuna Homs. On the night of 19-20 January, he ordered movement to start still farther west; this step began the last stage of retreat to the next defensible position, that in southern Tunisia! Rommel sent his rear area commander to Sfax on 19 January to open a headquarters from which to regulate traffic southward through Gabcs to the retreating army. The stage was therefore set in Tunisia for the union of the Axis forces. Since early January Comando Supremo had feared an Allied offensive from the Tebessa-Gafsa area intended to prevent the junction of the two Axis armies. Retaining all of the present bridgehead and keeping open the connection to Rommel’s army was naturally the first preoccupation of the Axis.

OKW therefore concurred in Comando Supremo’s proposal to seize Gafsa to counter the Allied threat. To carry out this plan the depleted 21st Panzer Division was ordered to the Sfax area to be re-equipped and used to make the attack on Gafsa. Kesselring, more than ever anxious about the adequacy of the forces in his African theater, pointed out that the shifting of units from one of the armies to the other could not be regarded as reinforcement and requested two motorized divisions in addition to the units that had been promised him. Though he carried his views up to Hitler himself on 12 January, he could get nothing more than permission to send the Hermann Gӧring Division into Tunisia immediately.

While the seizure of Gafsa was being planned, the possibility of more far-reaching operations was kept in view. Preparations to wrest control of the Tebessa area from the Allied force by an attack through Gafsa and Sbeltla were ordered, and the possibility of driving all the way to Bone and Constantine was contemplated. It was recognized that such ambitious operations would require at least three mobile divisions, one of which would have to come from Rommel’s army, and that they would be possible only when the Fifth Panzer and German-Italian Panzer Armies had been combined and only as long as the improved Mareth Position could be counted on to protect the southern flank. The immediate decision, made in early February, was to break up the Allied concentrations at Sidi bou Zid and Gafsa.

The Axis Logistical Problem

The enemy’s capacity for offensive operations remained conditioned by the ability of the Axis to improve the logistical support of the forces defending the Tunisian bridgehead. The arrival of Rommel’s German-Italian Panzer Army in southern Tunisia on the turn of January-February did nothing to reduce the problems facing the Axis command. On 12 January Kesselring discussed the supply situation with Hitler and his staff. The combined armies in Tunisia, it was now estimated, would need 60,000 tons of supply a month. The Commander-in-Chief, South, optimistically assured Hitler that with additional shipping, which was becoming available from ports in Southern France, these increased demands could be met. Kesselring had misgivings as to surface protection for the convoys but felt that the ports of Bizerte and Tunis could handle the flow. Although abandonment of the line to Tripoli permitted a concentration of effort and a considerable reduction of mileage over the highways, to meet the new schedules the sea and air transportation systems would have to be revolutionized.

The flow of men and materiel from Europe to Tunisia ran through Italy and Sicily overseas to the ports and airfields at Bizerte and Tunis. Railroad and highway connections with these terminals permitted speedy distribution to depots at various points along the coastal plain. The shallow ports of Sousse and Sf ax were used by smaller cargo craft, but most traffic to Tunisia passed through Bizerte and Tunis. The channels into the harbors of Tunis, Bizerte, and Sfax were partially blocked by wrecks. Power cranes at the piers of Bizerte, and to a lesser degree at Tunis were damaged by Allied bombers and had to be replaced by cranes shipped from Toulon, Marseille, and after the first shipment was sunk on the way, from Germany. Meanwhile unloading was slow and cumbersome.

The transport vessels were not fitted out with heavy-lift equipment, and were forced to use their own cargo gear and improvise as best they could. The labor in the ports was not wholly reliable. Arabs fled rather than risk being caught in air raids. For the same reason few of the Tunisian Italians promised to Nehring for stevedore service ever appeared. German labor troops and Hamburg stevedores were finally imported. The turn-around rate for ships in Tunisian ports, unloading at piers from one side only, was approximately one day per 1,500 metric tons, which meant that the larger vessels remained long enough to experience one or more raids.

Transport to Tunisia by air had begun on 9 November 1942 and continued until 11 May 1943. At the peak of the operation, the daily flight consisted of an average of 200 Junkers-52 aircraft, which carried 1.8 metric tons of useful load, and 15 of the gigantic six-motored Messerschmidt 323 planes, which carried 10 tons of useful load. Since part of the Junkers-52 elements made two trips a day from Sicily to Tunisia, the average total each day in this maximum period reached 585 metric tons. The volume dropped rapidly in April, as a consequence of successful Allied countermeasures, sinking to a daily average of less than 190 tons.

These totals were achieved only by revising the emergency improvisations of November and establishing a routine intended to continue for a prolonged period. In December, Generalleutnant Ulrich Buchholz became the Air Transport Commander in the Mediterranean (LufttransportFührer Mittelmeer-LTFM) and instituted a system whereby planes were concentrated at relatively few airdromes, with dispersion to numerous airfields occurring only in temporary emergencies.

For the long pull in the Tunisian campaign, the German air transport service was organized under a central headquarters at Rome. Wing staffs were located at Capodichino near Naples and Trapani, Sicily, with control officers at the Tunisian airports of Sidi Ahmed (Bizerte) and El Aouina (Tunis), and at some of the fields in the Sicily-Calabria and Naples areas. One round trip from Naples and two from Sicily were made each day. The first Sicilian flight came in before 0700 and the second, late in the afternoon. Formations of from 80 to 120 planes each (Pulks) skimmed over the water at elevations of about 150 feet as they headed for Tunisia. Detection by radar or other means of observation was thus minimized, while attacks from below, against which the transports were defenseless, were avoided. The formations from Naples were escorted by fighters from Trapani during the crossing of the Sicilian narrows and by others based in Africa during the period of landing, unloading, reloading, and return. When these flights arrived off the Golfe de Tunis, they separated into sections for Bizerte or Tunis-sections scheduled to arrive during the normal noon lunch period for the Allied air forces-a time when hostile interference was found to be relatively unlikely.

[The principal airfields were, in the Naples area, Pomigliano, and Capua, and in the Sicily-Calabria region, Trapani, Palermo, Reggio di Calabria, and Vibo Valentia.]

The Northwest African Air Force eventually perfected the means of detecting and surprising Pulks approaching the African coast. German fighter escort was small and the speed was controlled by the slower planes, sometimes at a rate which rendered the heavy Messerschmidt 323’s so unstable that the formations had to string out. But not until April did Allied depredations pass the point of bearable loss. Meanwhile, suspension of the railroad ferry service across the Strait of Messina, or breakdown in the movement of trains on the Italian peninsula, required temporary modifications.

For supply by sea, Axis forces in North Africa could initially draw on a shipping pool of Italian and German merchant vessels with a combined tonnage of approximately 150,000 tons. The fleet consisted mostly of small merchantmen which had been used on short passages in the Mediterranean.

In November when conditions were still favorable, the Axis command was able to use 37 merchant ships. This tonnage was supplemented by employing 20 ferries (Naval ferries with 80 tons capacity and Siebel ferries with 40 tons capacity) and 14 submarines. By an agreement with Vichy France the Germans were able to utilize about 100,000 tons of French merchant shipping found suitable for providing transportation to North Africa. As a result of Allied bombings the capacity of Italian shipyards was so reduced that only a fifth of the tonnage theoretically available was actually operational at anyone time. To an even larger extent Allied sinking’s curtailed Axis tonnage. Out of 95 ships of all categories which made the passage to Africa in November, thirteen were sunk. In December, 26 ships were sunk and 9 damaged out of a total of 127.

The Italian Navy was unable to protect the lines of supply. The Luftwaffe’s effort to provide air cover proved equally inadequate. When, late in December, thirteen destroyers were diverted from escort duty to transporting- 300 to 350 troops at a time in swift passages at intervals of about three days, the practice exposed the freighters to an accelerated rate of depletion. As losses at sea and in port continued to mount, the Axis stock of cargo vessels, oil tankers, and troop transports fell so low that frantic efforts were undertaken to ship everything on small ferries.

In January the number of such craft rose to ninety, but it was estimated that to be sufficient the fleet of ferries would have to be more than quadrupled. An increasing number of small coastal vessels and barges, some culled from France’s interior waterways, were requisitioned but their total capacity was insignificant. Even before the period when almost half of all shipments to Tunisia by sea were lost en route (during the month of April) it became gradually and painfully clear to the Axis Command that adequate sea transport was an unattainable goal. Resourceful ingenuity could not outstrip Allied power.

Despite staggering losses the Axis managed to ship to Northwest Africa a surprising amount of troops and supplies. During the period from November 1942 through January 1943,81,222 Germans and 30,735 Italians, a total of 111,957 troops, arrived there. Supplies brought in by air and sea during the same period amounted to 100,594 tons.

Axis Reorganization in January

The presence in Tunisia of both Axis armies required a major alteration of the Axis command structure. Hitler, when warned in early December that the Italians would probably seek to command the Axis forces in Tunisia, declared his determination to retain effective control in German hands. He believed that the Italians would acquiesce, in view of the preponderance of German forces on which offensive action would depend, and because the Germans would be supplying most of the materiel and the supplementary (French) vessels to transport it to Africa. His expectation was not fulfilled. As a result of the conference at Rastenburg the Germans had to concede that the conduct of operations in Tunisia as in Libya would be the responsibility of Comando Supremo. OB SOUTH would become commander of all German forces in the central Mediterranean and, although relieved of responsibility for ground operations in the Balkans, would control German air forces in the entire Mediterranean. Close eo-operation in Tunisia between the Axis partners, it was agreed, would be sought by attaching a German operations staff to Comando Supremo for the purpose. Hitler accepted this arrangement. He also agreed to meet Cavallero’s proposal that when Rommel’s army had retired to Tunisia, it would be re-designated the First Italian Army, and Rommel would be replaced by an Italian commander.

The Italians and Germans agreed that the retreat of Panzer Army Africa into Tunisia would make necessary a superior authority in the field to co-ordinate the two armies. The German military authorities wanted this to be an army group (Army Group Africa) with a German commander, reporting to a German armed forces headquarters, commanded by Kesselring. Hitler rejected this plan as politically inopportune and decided that Comando Supremo should exercise direct command of both armies.

The reorganization of command could not be fully carried out until Rommel had withdrawn into Tunisia. In the meantime, the first concrete result of the discussions and maneuvers for position that went on throughout December and January was Kesselring’s reorganization of his headquarters at Frascati to carry out his new duties. During January, Kesselring reorganized his headquarters from an Air Force into an armed forces staff with operations, quartermaster, and transport sections. The first two had Army, Navy, and Air Force groups, and the last included sea, air, and administrative groups, with a general officer on special assignment as deputy transport officer. A separate staff was formed to control the Second Air Force.

As for the Tunisian theater, Kesselring, in addition to being Commander-in-Chief of the German forces, was to convey to the supreme Italian command the views of the Führer and of OKW on the conduct of operations in that theater. To implement this relationship Kesselring in late January, as previously agreed, installed the whole of his operations staff except one officer in Comando Supremo. This move further strained the relationship between the Germans and Italians and endangered Hitler’s policy of mollifying the susceptibilities of his anxious Italian partners. Marshal Ambrosio, who replaced Cavallero as Chief of Comando Supremo on 2 February, protested to Kesselring against the size of this contingent which outnumbered the whole operations staff of Comando Supremo, but he had to be content with the assurance that German influence on operations in Tunisia would be confined to recommendations and requests.

To summarize Kesselring’s position, he now had under his command:

1. The Second Air Force.

  1. The German Air Force General at Headquarters of the Italian Armed Forces.
  2. The Commander of the German Naval Forces, Italy, under the restriction that basic operational directives would be issued by the Navy High Command.
  3. The German General at Headquarters, Italian Armed Forces (Comando Supremo), under the restriction that, in his capacity as liaison officer between OKW and Comando Supremo and in his missions outside of the Central Mediterranean, he was subject to direct control of OKW. The directives issued by Hitler on 28 January indicates the complexity of on SOUTH’s responsibilities and powers.

Kesselring was to have the following tasks:

  1. Represent the Führer’s concepts of the conduct of operations in the Central Mediterranean in negotiations with the Duce and Comando Supremo.
  2. Assure German influence on the unified command of the panzer armies in North Africa which are placed under Comando Supremo’s control.
  3. Within the range of these powers, be the superior officer of thc German Commander in Chid of the central headquarters for the two armies in Tunisia.
  4. Control German Air Force and Navy operations in the Central Mediterranean, in conformity with directives from the Commanders-in-Chief of those services, as in the past.
  5. Directing the entire system of supply to German troops and the Central Mediterranean through his Chief of Supply and Administration and the Armed Forces Transportation Section under his control. Submit requests and recommendations on matters of organization, including those of Coman do Supremo, to OKW /WFSt or the High Commands of the several services. To carry out the agreements rearranging the system of command in the Tunisian theater, on 23 January Mussolini designated General Giovanni Messe to assume command of the new First Italian Army when its organization had been effected. On 26 January the Fifth Panzer Army was put under direct operational control of Comando Supremo. Until the activation of Headquarters, Army Group Africa, the conduct of operations in Tunisia was, initially, to be co-ordinated by von Arnim.

Axis air strength in Tunsia was consolidated in a single tactical air headquarters, Fliegerkorps Tunis, under Brigadier General Hans Seidemann, with headquarters at La Fauconnerie, northwest of Sfax, and with subordinate headquarters at This and Gabes. Seven principal airdromes from Bizerte to Kairouan, six near Gabes, and others at Mezzouna, Sfax, and La Fauconnerie were to be linked for maximum performance by the 53rd and 77th Fighter Wings. The Luftwaffe had expended 201 aircrews and 340 aircraft out of a total of 877 in stopping the Allied advance toward Tunis but could expect a period of at least temporary preponderance in fighters and fighter-bombers in northern and central Tunisia.”

Rommel’s relief, which he was informed on 26 January would be given him for reasons of health, was postponed for more than a month beyond the time when his army entered Tunisia in early February. This action, according to the Axis plan, was to have been the signal for transfer of command to an Italian. The plan was amended first on 22 January to defer Rommel’s departure until the army was firmly established in the Mareth Position, and’ a second time on 18 February to enable Rommel to command certain offensive operations before retiring. The commander designate of the First Italian Army, General Messe, was meanwhile familiarizing himself with the duties of his new command, and the Italian leaders waited with some impatience for Rommel’s departure.

The Axis Forces-Strength and Disposition

The strength of the Axis forces in Tunisia rose during January until it reached a total of approximately 100,000, of which 74,000 were Germans, and 26,000 Italian troops. During the transition month of January the Fifth Panzer Army was responsible for the defense of the Tunisian front sector from the sea to the thirty-fourth parallel, the February the boundary was shifted northward to run from a point on the coast ten miles northeast of Sfax through Mezzouna and Station de Sened to the Kbir river northwest of Gafsa. Initially Fifth Panzer Army’s headquarters continued operating with minimum staff and without a German corps staff intervening until von Arnim organized the provisional Headquarters, Korpsgruppe Fischer on 4 January. One reason for the activation of this headquarters was the arrival, late in December, of elements of the 334th Infantry Division (Colonel Friedrich Veber) which was inserted between Division von Broich in the north and the JOt h Panzer Division (reinforced by the 5th Parachute Regiment) in the Medjerda Valley and as far south as Pont-du-Fahs.

The Italian 1st (Superga) Division continued operating directly under Fifth Panzer Army in its sector which extended to Djebel Bou Dabouss (816) . Headquarters, Italian XXX Corps, on 12 January, assumed command over the portion of the Fifth Panzer Army front south of the Superga Division, with Group Benigni, the 47th Grenadier Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Buse), and 50th Special Brigade (General Giovanni Imperiali). The 190th Panzer Battalion was held in reserve, to be committed only on von Arnim’s orders.

Rommel’s German units when they arrived in southern Tunisia were down to about half strength. They had approximately one third of their full tank strength (129 tanks, of which less than half were operational), one third of their complement of armored personnel carriers, about one fourth of their antitank guns, and one German forces brought back by Rommel consisted of the German 15th and 21st Panzer, 90th and 164th Light Africa Divisions, supplemented by the 1st Luftwaffe Jaeger Brigade, corps troops and reconnaissance units with a combat effective strength of almost 30,000. The Italian divisions were the 131st (Centauro) Armored, 16th (Pistoia) , 80th (La Spezia) , 101st (Trieste), 13th (Young Fascists) Divisions and the Saharan Group. Italian troops numbered about 48,000.”: Of these units Rommel was about to lose the Centauro Division (temporarily) as it moved to positions guarding the El Guettar defile, and the 21st Panzer Division (on 20 January) when it passed to the direct control of Fifth Panzer Army to be rehabilitated in the area of Sfax and simultaneously serve as army reserve.

[NOTE: Fifth Panzer Army, KTB, Bands 2, 4,12 Jan 43. sixth of their artillery strength. Wheeled transport was down to roughly one third. Only in the truck category was the picture somewhat brighter. Here the Germans had managed to preserve 60 per cent of their allotted total.]

[NOTE: Panzer Army Africa, KTB, Band 2, 20 Jan 43. The main body of the panzer division crossed the Tunisian border on 20 January. The division left its tanks and most of its heavy weapons with Rommel]

None of these divisions was anywhere near full combat strength. Kampfgruppen continued to undertake operations adapted to the requirements of particular missions rather than by divisions or standard subdivisions of larger units. No new divisions could be sent to Tunisia after mid-January. Not even the normal process of replacement by allocating troops from replacement battalions to fill up depleted units could be carried out. Instead, it became a practice to fill out regiments by assigning to them Tunis Field and Africa Replacement Battalions, units numbering about 900 men each, with their full complement of officers and light weapons.

In the seven weeks which followed the suspension of the drive on Tunis, during which the operational objectives of the two coalitions were modified and their forces were reorganized for action in central Tunisia, the new situation in Tunisia had thus developed several significant aspects. The Allies had temporarily lost the advantage of numbers; they retained the advantage of position, although lacking enough forward, all-weather airfields. Neither adversary could be dislodged readily from existing positions, although the French were somewhat vulnerable because of their lack of antitank defenses. The stalemate before Tunis and the conditions of weather and terrain encouraged both sides to extend southward, and each to attempt balancing the other’s build-up along the Eastern Dorsal. Both the British First Army and the Fifth Panzer Army anticipated early reinforcement by second armies from Tripolitania, and each prepared plans and reorganized commands in order to guarantee well co-ordinated operations when the four armies faced each other at various points along the very broad front. Each coalition struggled with logistical problems, recognizing that the degree of success in this effort would control future operations. The Allies in this period confidently adopted a course of action for the next major operation in the Mediterranean, that in Sicily, for which French North Africa was to be a base, and to which the Allied Force engaged in liberating Tunisia would contribute much of the means.

The tactical initiative in Tunisia, which the Axis forces had seized near Tebourba, remained with them throughout these transitional weeks except for minor offensives by elements of British First Army and a limited success by the French.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (5-18); New Situation: Allied Reaction

World War Two: North Africa (5-18); New Situation: Allied Reaction

The failure of the final phase of Operation TORCH required a major revision of Allied strategy in Africa and considerable modification in the Allied chain of command. The pressure for an early capture of Tunisia was intensified by an Allied decision in January at highest levels to seize Sicily. To meet their timetable, the Allies had to win Tunisia by early spring. Furthermore, they had to prepare for a Sicilian attack at the same time that they built up strength, improved efficiency, and made a final successful drive. A full-scale offensive in northern Tunisia could not be resumed until after the winter rains were over, normally about the end of March.

One of the aims in the original concept of operation in Northwest Africa-trapping Rommel’s rump army in Tripolitania between a British force in Tunisia and the westward-moving Eighth Army-had to be jettisoned. It was now apparent that Rommel would have to be driven back into Tunisia, and that the Eighth Army should itself continue west of Tripoli. The final stage of operations in Tunisia would thus become a struggle between two pairs of armies. Each adversary would be faced with hard problems in co-ordinating tactical operations and in meeting the logistical requirements of these forces. By the middle of January, decisions made at the Casablanca Conference had determined the new strategy in Africa and the changes in Allied command structure. Before those decisions were made, the Allied Force had reviewed and agreed on appropriate tactical readjustments to be executed forthwith in the form of offensive operations in central Tunisia.

Central Tunisia: The Terrain

Although some attention was paid to the terrain of central Tunisia in Chapter XV, it will be helpful at this point to look more closely at some of its features. Central Tunisia lies between latitudes 36° north and 34° 30′ north. Sousse on the coast, about ninety miles south of Tunis, and Kairouan, about thirty-six miles inland from Sousse, are near its northeastern corner. Mahares at the southeast and Gafsa at the southwest are at the border between central and southern Tunisia, closely linked with each. Djebel Zarhouan (1295), at the yoke of the inverted Y from which the Eastern and Western Dorsals flare to the south and southwest, is well within northern Tunisia, as is Le Kef near the Algerian border. The mountain chains, the intermediate plateaus between them, and the lesser hills which divide these plateaus into a series of valleys, were to be the scene of many actions before the major campaigning returned to northern Tunisia in April.

On the coastal plain, Kairouan and Sfax began serving the Axis powers as early as November as bases for defense forces which operated toward the west. Detachments were installed at vantage points in the Eastern Dorsal; beyond them in the interior, mobile patrols and a few outposts ranged the sparsely settled, semiarid region. Kairouan, a holy city and the goal of perennial Moslem pilgrimages, was the hub of many roads and tracks across the coastal plain.

The city was connected with the interior by two main roads, the most northerly of which was a route over the saddle between Djebel HaIfa (572) and Djebel Ousselat (887) to the valley and village of Ousseltia. The other road forked southwest of Kairouan, one branch climbing over Djebel ech Cherichera (462) to Pichon, the other rising more gradually to penetrate the mountain chain through Fondouk el Aouareb gap on the way to Hadjeb el Aioun. Sfax was connected with the interior by a good road through Fald pass, seventy-five miles inland.

The road branched after reaching the interior plain, one fork running northwestward to connect with Sbeltla and the other southwesterly through the village of Sidi Bou Zid and Bir el Hafey to Gafsa. Mahares, on the coast south of Sfax, was connected both by road and railroad with Maknassy and Gafsa. Few of the towns and villages were of any great size, the largest, Sfax, with about 45,000 in 1942, having almost twice the population of Kairouan, and about nine times that of Gafsa, while all the others were smaller.

The plateau immediately west of the Eastern Dorsal is generally lower than the one along the base of the Western Dorsal. It is subdivided, moreover, into four major sections, of which the northernmost is the Ousseltia valley at the apex of the triangular area between the two mountain chains. That valley is separated from the Pichon basin by higher ground which extends westward toward Maktar from Djebel Ousselat.

To the south is the area adjacent to Pichon, drained toward Kairouan by the Marguellil river and its tributaries. This section is rimmed with hills and high ground except at the southeastern corner, where the river flows near the base of the precipitous Djebel Trouzza (997) and out through Fondouk el Aouareb gap. Far more extensive is that portion of the eastern plateau which starts to widen south of Djebel Trozza, and which extends as far south as Djebel Meloussi (622) beyond Sidi Bou Zid. The fourth area of the lower plateau lies between the ridges of which Djebel Meloussi forms a part and the corner at which the Eastern Dorsal swings to the southwest toward Gafsa. Sbei’tla and Bir el Hafey are near the irregular limit between the eastern and western plateau. Sbiba, Kasserine, and Feriana lie at the other edge of the upper level, near the base of the Western Dorsal.

Five main routes through the Western Dorsal connected the interior plateaus with the mountainous area between the Western Dorsal and the Algerian border: (1) into northern Tunisia north of Djebel Bargou ( 1266) to the Rebaa Oulad Yahia valley and thence to Siliana and on to Le Kef; (2) via Maktar, northwest of Pichon, across a high basin ringed by higher hills; (3) through Sbiba and Ksour; (4) by the defile northwest of Kasserine into the Bahiret Foussana valley, and thence through the Monts de Tebessa to Tebessa, or by skirting them at the north, through Thala; and (5) by one of the gaps in Djebel Dernala (1204), northwest of Fcriana, to Tebessa. Tebessa, near the center of a high plain at the eastern edge of Algeria, was linked with Souk Ahras, seventy-five miles north-northwest by road and railroad, which continued to Bone on the coast, sixty-five miles farther.

Central Tunisia’s hills and mountains are in general barer, sharper in contour, and more varied in color than those of northern Tunisia. The plateaus and valleys are much eroded and are covered with bunch grass, with cultivated cactus patches on which the Arabs feed their animals, and with scrub growth along some of the streams. Water draining from the higher slopes across the intermediate plateaus has been impounded and since Roman times drawn to the coastal towns by aqueducts. Farms are fewer in central Tunisia than farther north, for the rainfall through much of the year is as light as, from December to March, it is plentiful.

In the wet season the powdery top soil becomes slushy mud, and the many dry stream beds fill with water and justify the bridges which at other times seem superfluous. Many ancient ruins have survived for nearly twenty centuries. Sousse has its extensive Christian catacombs; Maktar, Sbeitla, and Kasserine, their Roman triumphal arches; Sbiba, Sbei:tla, and Kasserine and innumerable other places, the remnants of many a mausoleum, Roman bath, or temple. Near Siliana is the site of the decisive Battle of Zama of the Second Punic War. In earlier centuries, the soil of central Tunisia apparently sustained a large population and was dotted at many points with olive orchards and other cultivation which no longer can be maintained. Here in this wide area of camel tracks and tarmac roads, dry fords and steel bridges, palm-fringed oases and treeless plains, the war in Tunisia was to be fought.

Operation SATIN and Related Problems At AFHQ operations possible in January and February were under study at the same time that the final winter drive down the Medjerda valley was coming to a halt. Among the moves considered likely were subsidiary attacks in northern Tunisia to pin down enemy forces and take advantage of local situations, since the Fifth Panzer Army there would be protected against a major Allied offensive for many weeks by the weather. But if the British Eighth Army adhered to the schedule reported to General Eisenhower by General Alexander from Cairo on 27 December, Rommel’s army would be pursued into southern Tunisia late in January. Allied Force operations to weaken or destroy the German-Italian Panzer Army would be in order, and central Tunisia would be the likely scene.

What form should the operations in central Tunisia take? Should a mobile American armored force attempt to disrupt Rommel’s line of supply? Although success in such a venture was likely to bring a large reward, certain hazards were involved. The Fifth Panzer Army’s line in the north might be thinned without enabling General Anderson to punch through to Tunis.

General von Arnim might be able to gather enough armored strength for an attack southwestward through the French sector to strike the American force on a vulnerable northern flank. Whether the Fifth Panzer Army did so or not, the German-Italian Panzer Army would certainly move quickly to protect its line of communications, the nature of its counterblows depending upon how much freedom of maneuver the pursuing British Eighth Army allowed. Rommel’s force might be substantial, in which case it could strike effectively either independently, or in conjunction with a force from General von Arnim’s command. The Americans would then be opposed by experienced German armored units, whose prestige at that stage of the war it would be difficult to exaggerate. Furthermore, the Americans would then find themselves engaged in a hard all-out fight against battle-seasoned veterans instead of gradually supplementing their training by small and successful actions—a method more conducive to full combat efficiency. But in spite of these hazards, Operation SATIN, for understandable reasons, remained one of the projects favored by the Americans. An outline plan for such an attack toward Sfax was approved at AFHQ on 28 December.

General Eisenhower believed that the British First Army had worked hard and “fought well,” and he intended that it should eventually “deliver the decisive blow.” This role might justify General Anderson in curtailing First Army’s local attacks in the next few weeks, thus enabling it to husband its resources rather than use them up in supporting the proposed attack farther south. After all, which would be the main effort-that toward Sfax or that toward Tunis? It might be better to abandon the American project and to concentrate American armor in a mobile force-in being on the southern flank of First Army, thus deterring Rommel’s possible aggressive inclination in that area. Despite such considerations the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, concluded that the immediate Allied objective was not the capture of Tunis and Bizerte but the destruction of Rommel’s army. He tentatively approved planning for the risky thrust to the coast. General Anderson then agreed to make the subsidiary attacks intended to aid Operation SATIN but proposed to retain Combat Team 18 of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division for the purpose. He was allowed to keep that unit until infantry of the British 46th Division (Major General H. A. Freeman-Attwood) should have arrived in the forward area to relieve it.

The Allied situation not only required a revision in theater strategy and some appropriate tactical adjustments but presented interrelated problems of command. General Giraud, it will be remembered, had proposed on 17 December that he be appointed Eisenhower’s tactical commander in chief over the whole Tunisian front. Giraud would not accept a relationship which put British First Army in command of French forces. For a time, a union of French and American forces under an American commander was considered.

Such a solution was affected by the fact that the American pre-invasion plans provided for eventual organization of American units in an American Fifth Army to be commanded by General Clark. An American Fifth Army controlling American and French troops in a zone south of British First Army would not have provided unity of command along the whole Allied line and would have created a rather exalted headquarters for an American force of the proportions contemplated.

On 30 December, while the plan was pending, General Clark and Major General Carl Spaatz (USAAF), surveyed the prospective battle area and considered the steps necessary to achieve genuinely effective co-ordination, between ground and air units. But with a decision against an American command in Tunisia of Army grade, General Clark soon went to Oujda, west of Oran, to activate the American Fifth Army there, while the American force in Tunisia was designated an army corps. General Marshall was prepared to arrange the promotion of either Patton or Fredendall to a lieutenant generalcy at once, if such action would help to meet the problem of unifying command over French-held sections of the front. In the end, General Eisenhower picked Fredendall to command the II Corps in central Tunisia and the Tebessa area, and the French remained independent. The British 139th Brigade was in the forward area by 19 January after landing at Algiers. The remainder of the 46th Division came on the next convoy and reached the forward area by 3 February.

On 1 January 1943 the Eastern Task Force was renamed British First Army and the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, assumed direct command of military operations on the entire front. He exercised that control through an advanced command post ( FAIRFIELD) at Constantine. In charge of that station as Deputy Chief of Staff, Allied Force, would be Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. Between U.S. II Corps and British First Army, the Detachment of the French Army would be commanded from a forward post by General Juin, who would control two zones, that of General Barres Tunisian Troop Command at the north and that of XIX Army Corps under General Koeltz at the south. In due course, all units of the three nationalities found in areas assigned to control by the others would be sorted out and concentrated with forces of their own nationality, but during the intervening period some units would be attached to the major command of whatever zone they happened to be in. The XIX Army Corps was to turn over to II Corps the Constantine Division (General Welvert) . The Tunisian Troop Command was to make five battalions of French infantry available to British First Army and to leave one entire groupement (Colonel Bergeron) in the British zone. French units thus placed under the tactical orders of an American or British commander were to remain under control of headquarters of either XIX Corps or Tunisian Troop Command in all other respects (supply, administration, discipline).

All other French units stationed in the American or British zones were to remain entirely under the command of Generals Barre or Koeltz. In case of an unexpected inroad by the enemy, the various French or Allied Force elements in any zone would, within the intent of their missions, obey orders of the local headquarters regardless of nationality.

Headquarters, U.S. II Corps, began moving to Constantine from Oran on 4 January. One week later, its main section was operating there near Headquarters, British First Army, while an advance command post under Brigadier General Ray E. Porter opened in Tebessa. Eventually General Fredendall’s headquarters moved southeast of Tebessa to a wooded hillside in which underground corridors were constructed while the advance command post went to Gafsa. While plans for Operation SATIN were being prepared, the troops to be under Fredendall’s command shifted from northern Tunisia or came eastward from Morocco and Algeria.

Three alternative schemes for this operation were recognized. Plan A prescribed the seizure of Sfax, with the subsequent possibility of a northward advance along the coast toward Sousse; Plan B called for an initial attack farther south, at Gabes, followed perhaps by a northward move against Sfax; Plan C specified the capture of Kairouan, continuation to Sousse, wrecking its usefulness to the Axis, and withdrawing when that became necessary. Whichever the plan adopted by the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, the force to execute it was to operate directly under AFHQ, with a tentative D Day of 22 January.

Generals Eisenhower, Anderson, Juin, and Fredendall, conferring on II January at Constantine, reached final decisions on Operation SATIN. The Commander in Chief defined the mission as acting aggressively against the enemy line of communications in the direction of Sfax, interrupting its use as much as possible, and he assigned the undertaking to General Fredendall’s U.S. II Corps. The force was to be comprised of the following: the U.S. 1st Armored Division (Major General Orlando Ward); the U.S. 26th Combat Team (Colonel Alexander N. Stark, Jr.) ; the British 1st Parachute Brigade, less one battalion (Brigadier J. W. C. Flavell); the French Constantine Division (Major General Joseph Edouard Welvert). The British Middle East Command was to load ships which it would hold at Malta and send into Sfax when II Corps specified, thus supplementing the attenuated line of supply throughrebessa from Algiers. Generals Anderson, Juin, and Fredendall by further agreements at the conference clarified other points necessary for good inter-allied co-operation along the wide front.

General Fredendall planned to station a mobile force in the area between Hadjeb el Aioun and Sbeitla for the immediate support of the French should the enemy counterattack from Kairouan but to attack with the bulk of his command from Gafsa to Gabes and thence north along the coast to Sfax. This plan received General Eisenhower’s tentative approval. Detailed planning for the operation soon diverged considerably from AFHQ’s outline of 28 December.

A force at first set at 20,000 to 25,000 men rose to be more than 38,000. The axis of attack adopted by General Fredendall threatened to lengthen the line of supply to such an extent and to delay the acquisition of Sfax for so long, that a daily draught on reserve supplies accumulated at Tebessa might be necessary. AFHQ did not supervise the detailed planning closely enough to discover these deviations and attendant problems until they emerged during commanders’ conferences from 10 to 14 January, when the specter of logistical overextension raised its head.

After the Allied Force thus had worked out problems of reorganization and unified command and had formulated a plan of action to which he had given tentative approval, Eisenhower on 15 January flew to Casablanca to report to his superiors at the second conference of Anglo-American military and political leaders (SYMBOL) . The suburban community of Anfa, adjacent to the great Moroccan city, had been requisitioned for the first full-scale gather of these men in more than six months. The hotel and neighboring villas were requisitioned, a barbed wire barrier thrown

around the area, and the site officially termed the “Anfa Camp.” From 13 to 23 January 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff met formally at fifteen meetings, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the British Chiefs of Staff Committee, the two groups which made up the Combined Chiefs, met separately at other times. On three occasions during the conference, the Combined Chiefs of Staff met with the President and the Prime Minister to consider the agenda, to discuss the matters at issue, and to arrive at a final report of decisions taken.

The relatively sunny comfort which prevailed and the general atmosphere of buoyant confidence which surrounded the President and the Prime Minister contrasted sharply with conditions east of Algiers.”) The site, the fact that the security and “home-keeping” arrangements for the conference were responsibilities of the Allied Force, and the fact that some of the deliberations were connected with current operations in Africa, associated the Anfa Conference with the campaigns of Northwest Africa. Yet its major purpose was to determine the Allied objectives for 1943 in all theaters, to establish priorities among them, and to reach decisions on the preparation and allocation of means to attain them. These and other conclusions overshadowed arrangements concerned with the forthcoming battles in Tunisia.

Before a meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, and then at the first plenary session of the Casablanca Conference, General Eisenhower reported on the current and prospective operations in Tunisia. General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the British Imperial General Staff, quickly questioned the justification for such risks as those he recognized in the projected Operation SATIN.

General Alexander, newly arrived from Cairo, indicated that the British Eighth Army would reach Tripoli before the end of January, perhaps just as the scheduled attack on Sfax was starting. No assurance could be given that Rommel’s forces would then be pinned down by the Eighth Army’s pressure and thus unable to intervene at Sfax. General Montgomery’s command might well be temporarily immobilized. Fuel and supplies would certainly be low while the port of Tripoli was being cleared and restored to service.

It was apparent that if the attack on Sfax was begun by 23 January, it might well provoke a counterthrust which the American force would have to withstand unassisted. But if it were made at a later date, Eighth Army would then have moved into Tunisia on Rommel’s heels and would be a factor limiting his action at Sfax. After a further conversation with General Alexander, therefore, General Eisenhower agreed that the attack should be canceled for the time being, and that if undertaken later it would be carefully co-ordinated with the operations of the British Eighth Army. He returned to Algiers on 16 January with the American portion of his command held on a very short leash.

On 18 January General Eisenhower prescribed at a commanders’ conference in Constantine that operations on the southern flank must be defensive and that as much as possible of II Corps, particularly the 1st Armored Division, was to be held in mobile reserve. He issued a directive to this effect at noon, 20 January.

[NOTE 515-43: (2) Anfa 1st Mtg, plenary session, 18 Jan 43, Official Casablanca Conference Book. (3) Rommel’s army was estimated by General Alexander to be reduced to less than 60 tanks and 20,000 German combat effectives, plus 30,000 German and 30,000 Italian troops from whom aggressive fighting could not be expected. (4) On 30 January, II Corps reported that 213 medium and III light tanks were “operational.” First Army Sitrp, 31 Jan 43.]

The New Chain of Allied Command The Combined Chiefs of Staff at Anfa adopted a new system of command for the Mediterranean theater, one affecting each of the three major arms. The changes would go into effect in February. They agreed that a boundary should be drawn, extending from that between Tunisia and Tripolitania to Corfu, to separate the military area under the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, from that of the British Commander in Chief, Middle East. After General Montgomery’s Eighth Army had crossed this boundary, it would pass to General Eisenhower’s control, although continuing to draw its supplies from Egypt. At the same time, General Alexander would leave Cairo to assume command over a newly formed headquarters (18 Army Group) and to succeed General Clark as Deputy Commander in Chief, Allied Force.

Allied naval forces also underwent an adjustment aimed at better direction of future operations in the Mediterranean. Admiral Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham was to change his designation from Commander in Chief, Naval Expeditionary Force, to the traditional Royal Navy title of Commander in Chief, Mediterranean, while Admiral Sir Henry Harwood, in the eastern district of the Mediterranean, became Commander in Chief, Levant. Admiral Cunningham was to retain important powers over the employment of all Royal Navy units in both parts of the Mediterranean.” The basis was laid also for creation of an American naval command in the western Mediterranean subordinate to the Allied Naval Commander in Chief, Mediterranean (Admiral Cunningham). Designated U.S. Naval Forces, Northwest African Waters, it was organized in February 1943. The U.S. Eighth Fleet under Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt began operations in March looking in particular toward the invasion of Sicily.” Allied air strength in the Mediterranean was placed under one air commander in chief directly under General Eisenhower.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder received that designation. His principal subordinates were to be General Spaatz, as Commander of the Northwest African Air Forces, Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas as Air Officer Commander in Chief, Middle East, and the Air Officer Commanding, Malta. General Spaatz’s command was subdivided along functional lines. Pressing need to co-ordinate the air resources of the U.S. Army Air Forces and Royal Air Force in eastern Algeria and Tunisia without waiting for a more permanent arrangement brought into temporary existence on 4 January the Allied Air Forces.

General Eisenhower, with the approval of the British Chiefs of Staff, placed this force under command of General Spaatz, who had for the preceding month been the principal Allied Force staff officer for air while retraining his status as Air Officer, ETOUSA. His chief of staff at Algiers was Air Vice-Marshal J. M. Robb. The two existing major headquarters, Twelfth Air Force (U.S.) and Eastern Air Command (Bf. ), were preserved, but their responsibilities were modified in order to leave, with a single major exception, one subordinate headquarters in charge of each major type of air operations. Strategic bombing was the job of XII Bomber Command. Offshore reconnaissance, convoy protection, and the defenses of ports fell to the coastal segment of the Eastern Air Command. The exception was that support of ground operations was divided: Royal Air Force 242nd Group continued to support the British First Army while the XII Air Support Command moved eastward from Morocco to take over (on 10 January) the control of air co-operation with the U.S. II Corps.

Giraud Replaces Darlan

A flare-up of political problems bearing on the future of the whole Allied war effort in Europe came at the end of Operation TORCH. This situation was precipitated seven weeks after the landings by the assassination in Algiers on 24 December of the French High Commissioner, Admiral DarIan. The resulting emergency required General Eisenhower’s abrupt return from the Tunisian front, where he and General Anderson had been making critical decisions in connection with plans for the final try for Tunis. The new regime in Algiers, vital as it was to the Allied cause in Northwest Africa for other reasons, was even more significant as an opportunity to promote unification of all anti-Axis Frenchmen able to take up arms. Darlan’s administration rested upon a military agreement with the Allied commander in chief which had brought aid to the Allies but only after first involving the American and British governments in a torrent of adverse criticism and in the problems of French factionalism. The opprobrium with which this military arrangement was greeted began later to moderate, and as time went on some hope appeared for a working relationship between Darlan’s anti-German following and the anti-German and anti-Vichy Frenchmen in General de Gaulle’s growing organization. Darlan had begun to speak, shortly before he was murdered, of retiring from political leadership.

Up until the last moment, the Fighting French nonetheless continued to fear that the admiral would make permanent the temporary arrangements for his control over civil administration in Northwest Africa and elsewhere. At the very outset, he took the title of High Commissioner, established an Imperial Council, communicated with the diplomatic representatives of Vichy France in several countries, and sought ties with the civil governors of some French overseas territories.

Apparently he wished to make Algiers the actual center of government instead of Vichy. In the opinion of de Gaulle’s followers, Darlan’s actions were hardly consonant with a temporary military expedient; to them it seemed, moreover, that after its eventual liberation, France would be delivered to the exponents of French fascism. This was perhaps the most troublesome repercussion of what was labeled at the outset and repeatedly denounced thereafter as the “Darlan deal.”

Attempts through intermediaries to establish a basis of co-operation between the Fighting French and the pro-Allied Frenchmen in Africa began in December. General Georges Catroux, one of the outstanding military figures to join the Fighting French, on 12 December met at Gibraltar a former member of his staff then serving with Admiral Darlan. General Catroux was reliably informed that, contrary to his previous beliefs, the French in North Africa were actually mobilized and actively engaged against the Axis forces in Tunisia; he was also advised that Admiral Darlan was greatly preferred in North Africa, especially among the armed forces, to General de Gaulle and his associates. The suggestion that General de Gaulle, General Catroux, and others should soon replace Admiral Darlan in Algiers was described as certain to produce internal disturbances, annulment of the agreement by which French West Africa was being joined to French North Africa, and adverse consequences elsewhere. On 20 December, General François d’Astier de la Vigerie arrived at Algiers for discussions looking toward amalgamation of the Fighting French of London with the French fighting in Northwest Africa, but found his mission was premature.

The government in French North Africa in 1940-1942 had followed the example of Vichy in establishing press censorship, political imprisonments, and repressive treatment of native Jews. Communist delegates of the French Chamber of Deputies had been incarcerated in French North Africa on charges of hindering the war effort during the period when Stalin was allied with Hitler. Outspoken Gaullist sympathizers were assembled in concentration camps. As a further complication, the proverbial anti-Semitism of the Moslems in French North Africa intruded in the situation. Some 25,000,000 Mohammedans in the three major territories treated the 350,000 Jews with deep and inveterate hostility. Fascistic organizations of war veterans and others adopted methods of terrorism towards Jews, Communists, or Gaullists of a sort with which the world was distressingly familiar. Darlan, in his administration of French North Africa, had to deal with these kinetic facts in such a way as to allow the fighting in Tunisia to be carried on without hindrance.

Complaints that Vichy’s policies in French North Africa were kept in force under Darlan soon reached disturbing proportions. The admiral’s administration met an Allied request for information with a memorandum, “Notes on the reforms undertaken by the High Commissioner in French Africa,” which General Eisenhower forwarded to General Marshall on 13 December 1942. The commander in chief believed that Darlan, in a month’s time, had made a sincere effort to go as far as local conditions would permit in the way of reforms. The pace was deliberate in an attempt to avoid offending Arab susceptibilities, for Admiral Darlan was under pressure from Arab leaders to improve the position of their people.

Admiral Darlan assassinated

On the day preceding Christmas, Darlan explained to Murphy what changes had taken place or could be expected, after which the two men discussed at considerable length French individuals outside areas of Axis occupation who might have the talent and ability necessary to succeed Darlan if he should retire. That noon, at a luncheon, he dwelt again on the theme of his prospective retirement. In mid-afternoon, DarIan was shot down at his office in the Palais d’Ete and died at a hospital soon afterward.

General Giraud was informed of the assassination when he arrived at a French command post in Le Kef that evening to supervise the forthcoming French attack. The death of Darlan brought an end to the arrangement which had freed Giraud from political matters, and permitted complete attention to the conduct of military operations and the rebuilding of a French Army. He started back to Algiers that night, arriving on Christmas afternoon. There, as military commander in chief, he ordered an immediate court-martial of the assassin. He was condemned to death and executed early next morning.

Generals Clark and Smith, with the cooperation of Darlan’s deputy, General Bergeret, were able to cope with the situation in Algiers until General Eisenhower returned. News of the assassination was suppressed until preparations had been taken to forestall possible disorders, planned or spontaneous. American troops in Algeria and Morocco were held ready to meet any new hostilities. Members of Darlan’s Imperial Council were summoned. They met the crisis on 27 December by swiftly agreeing on General Giraud as High Commissioner.

Whatever claims might have been made for General Nogues, he showed no eagerness for the place and proposed the selection of General Giraud. The others Boisson, Chatel, and Bergeret-overcame Giraud’s objections to the post. The choice was known to be welcome to the Allied commander in chief and was probably acceptable to many Frenchmen in North Africa and West Africa who had been opposed to Giraud on 8 November.

The death of Darlan in many respects relieved the Allies of a burden in their relations outside French Africa-his co-operation with the Allies had not been able to extinguish his record as a collaborator with the Nazis. But in the theater of war, he had become, as General Eisenhower described him somewhat earlier, “the source of all our practical help. . . . All the others including Giraud await his lead and will do nothing definite until he speaks. So far he has refused us nothing. If he is playing a crooked game with us locally it is so deep that he can afford to give away initial advantages of every kind, even those upon which our existence depends in our present attenuated conditions.” Although he had caused difficulties outside French North Africa, he had kept his promises to the Allies most effectively.

At the time of Darlan’s death, another political storm was in the making because of an Allied agreement, upon Darlan’s request, to recall to Algeria the experienced colonial administrator, Marcel Peyrouton, former Resident General of Tunisia. Frenchmen equal to the tasks of governing Algeria were rare. Peyrouton had the qualifications. But he had once been directly involved in some of the most unsavory acts of the Vichy government, and although he had finally withdrawn because of his implacable opposition to Laval’s pro-German policies, he could not be put in a position of power without reviving deep antipathies and sharp distrust. His return was arranged, despite admonitions from the Department of State, on the ground of military necessity, a factor which that department later agreed was controlling.

In the bewilderingly complex role of administering territories populated by such discordant elements, both native and European, General Giraud proved less competent than his predecessor. He was not only less competent but less interested, for as indicated earlier, his paramount concern was with military measures; political problems were for him a dragging nuisance. Moreover, sensitive over the subordinate position of the French, he requested that they be treated as an ally in accordance with the promises stated to General Mast at Cherchel, repeated in Mr. Murphy’s letters to Giraud just before he consented to leave southern France, and embodied in the “North African Agreement” negotiated by General Clark with Admiral Darlan. While the Allied commander in chief was well aware of this obligation, President Roosevel held a different view. He thought that General Eisenhower should have put the Imperial Council’s selection of Giraud in the light of a nomination rather than a choice, and that he should have impressed on General Giraud that his position depended directly upon his capacity to provide the kind of government required by the Allies to support the war effort. “This misconception General Eisenhower firmly challenged in a letter to General Marshall, and it was not allowed to animate subsequent relations with Giraud in Africa.” Giraud succeeded Darlan as a leader of the French who accepted a voluntary association with the Anglo-Americans in Northwest Africa. Unlike the latter, he did not claim to be giving effect to Marshal Petain’s secret thought. Nor could he hold the Allies to promises which had once been made to him in return for undertaking leadership since Darlan, and not he, had actually filled that role. The North African Agreement remained in force and regulated the relations between the Allied Force and the French North African civil and military administration.

French Factionalism Persists Giraud had been in office less than one month when another crisis occurred in Anglo-American relations with the French. This crisis arose from the fact that the Allies still maintained separate relations both with the French in Algiers and with de Gaulle’s organization in London, despite the manifest desirability of unifying all anti-Axis French forces. Efforts in this direction were under way. Darlan’s death had stopped de Gaulle on the very brink of departure for a conference in Washington with President Roosevelt. The meeting was postponed by the President until after the conference of Allied leaders near Casablanca. In the meantime de Gaulle made overtures to Giraud looking toward a merger of the French empire in a single organization for the achievement of victory. He proposed that they meet on French soil to discuss the problem. Giraud, although well disposed toward the idea, parried de Gaulle’s proposal by asking him to wait until the military situation in French North Africa had become less demanding and political conditions less disturbed. Both men were invited to Casablanca by the Allies. Giraud accepted at once and arrived on 18 January. De Gaulle refused, then came there under some duress on 22 January.

The basic contrast in their positions promptly became evident. The Fighting French were addicted to recrimination; they wished to sweep from office high officials who had accepted Marshal Petain’s authority, and they regarded as traitors those who had resisted or injured the Gaullists. Even Giraud was expected by de Gaulle to defend his patriotism. In contrast with such views, Giraud believed in rallying any kind of Frenchmen who could contribute to liberation, postponing accountability for earlier actions until France had been freed. It seemed likely that most of the French nation could be unified behind de Gaulle only at the cost of rigorous and even unfair measures against much of the population, while they could follow Giraud only at the risk of internal strife. It had already been shown that Giraud’s personal capacity to aid the Allies was much less than Admiral Darlan’s.

As the two French leaders discussed a basis of unification at Casablanca, they indicated that it would be impossible for either to accept subordination to the other. Giraud at one time had had de Gaulle under his command in the French Army. He was by far the senior in age and grade. De Gaulle had been the first to rally the French against the Germans after other leaders had accepted military defeat, and while Giraud remained a prisoner. Each man led organizations combining civilian and military elements which exercised control over large parts of the French empire. The Fighting French held Syria, Equatorial Africa, French Somaliland, Madagascar, French India, and insular territories (such as New Caledonia) in the Pacific. Giraud headed the High Commission governing the much more populous French North Africa and French West Africa. Neither organization was accepted by the French admirals of squadrons harbored in Martinique and Alexandria, Egypt. Gaullist units were already fighting with the British Eighth Army in Libya, and more were crossing the Sahara to join Montgomery in southern Tunisia.

Giraud’s forces fighting the Axis troops in Tunisia were perhaps three times as large as de Gaulle’s, and the men in training were even more numerous. Resistance organizations in metropolitan France were not yet unequivocally committed in the main to either leader. Each man had reason to know that his name was honored in France among patriots. Which should have accepted a secondary role?

If a single organization were created, its character could be expected to influence strongly the character of the postwar government of France. The two Allied governments refrained on this account from trying to prescribe a form of political settlement but left such arrangements to be determined by the French themselves. Yet patriotic Frenchmen everywhere for years had been divided on political and economic issues, and the weakness arising from their divisions, so fatal in 1940, was still a factor with which to reckon. Giraud was known as a man of somewhat aristocratic, conservative views. De Gaulle’s adherents represented many shades of political opinion and included a large segment with leftist principles.

If it was true that all wished to unite in 1943 to throw the Nazis out of France, it was also true that none wished to see France free of the Germans only to be controlled by Frenchmen of objectionable political views. The union so desirable for military ends was gravely impeded by its political implications. Ultimately, Giraud and de Gaulle decided at Anfa to continue their separate ways, maintaining liaison through representatives in Algiers and London, and perhaps one day achieving the basis for unity. Giraud remained the French military leader accepted by the Anglo-American Allies in the Mediterranean area. De Gaulle continued in a parallel capacity for other areas where Anglo-American military operations required co-operation with the French.

The outcome of their conversations was a serious misfortune for the Allies. A French Army to be strong not only had to be well armed but well disciplined. Political factionalism threatened discipline. The two major Allies could not permit themselves to fall completely into a situation in which each had its own protege. If support was withheld from either French organization, Allied interests would suffer. The future promised a situation in which dual French leadership would persist, in which jockeying for position could be expected, and in which each Allied government might be tempted to play one side against the other, and thus threaten their own collaborative unity.

Rearming the French

The Allies, as already pointed out, promised Giraud, Mast, and other Frenchmen who had dared work for unopposed Allied landings in North Africa, that arms would be furnished to modernize a French Army and thus again enable the French to take the field against the Axis. Preliminary steps to this end had already been taken by the Allies in December. To expedite redemption of that promise Giraud sent representatives to Washington. Furthermore, at Casablanca, he sketched French capabilities to the Combined Chiefs of Staff and discussed the problems of meeting French armament requirements with Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell, Commanding General, Services of Supply (later Army Service Forces), U.S. Army.

Giraud, in a somewhat offhand manner, received from President Roosevelt on 24 January a signed “Agreement in Principle” to deliver the materiel required for three armored and eight infantry divisions, as well as 1,000 first-line airplanes. French naval vessels were to be reconditioned in American shipyards. The franc in French North Africa was to be exchanged henceforth at the new and more favorable rate of fifty to the dollar.

These agreements were supplemented by a redefinition of the Allied position concerning a government of France. France was declared to have no government. The promises of American aid in liberating the nation made during the negotiations between Mr. Robert Murphy and General Giraud prior to the landings of 8 November were confirmed. Giraud, as the French Commander in Chief, was recognized as rightfully acting for the French people to preserve all their interests-military, economic, financial, and moral. To the extent that such a document signed by the President but not the Prime Minister could do so, the Allies had committed themselves henceforth to support General Giraud. These decisions, on the literal interpretation and swift execution of which Giraud placed great trust, greatly cheered him as he returned to Algiers.

President Roosevelt’s acceptance in principle of the schedule of rearmament submitted by Giraud after his appearance before the Combined Chiefs of Staff soon produced a tangle of interrelated difficulties. The President considered it a tentative agreement rather than a detailed contract. For him it apparently defined the maximum French hopes but left the United States free to “do the right thing” after weighing other demands upon American production. Token shipments, training and replacement materiel, and as much more as possible were sent. But the shipping situation grew troublesome in the extreme, and the program lagged seriously behind what Giraud considered vital for the maintenance of his prestige.

The French put into the Allied pool vessels totaling initially 165,000 ship tons and before the end of the war 420,000 tons. They claimed a lien on enough of this French tonnage to meet civilian and French military requirements. Their claim to a separate right to tonnage was denied. The Anglo-American Allies allotted 25,000 tons per convoy from the United States for the French armed services! Anything in excess would be available only if the limit of forty-five ships per convoy could be increased to forty-eight. Eventually General Giraud had to include the Gaullist units in his eleven-division program. As they passed under his control, they ceased to receive equipment through British General Headquarters, Mideast, and like all other French forces drew equipment from AFHQ.

General Eisenhower, in December 1942, established a Joint Rearmament Committee at AFHQ on which the French were represented. Since the assignment of shipping priorities involved tactical considerations, such assignment was determined in the theater. Contributions toward the needs outlined by General Mast prior to 8 November and revived by General Giraud at Anfa in January tended to grow as time passed but their estimates were never fully realized.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (5-19); New Situation: Axis Reaction

World War Two: North Africa (4-17B); Stalemate Before Tunis (pt.2)

United Socialist Nations-aka-U. N.

Finally we see the gathering of a supportive group of socialist nations in the U. N. to degrade and promote dissention against the United States. It seems Maduro of Venezuela , with his tutors from Russia and China, and a sprinkling of Cuban ear whispering , has devised a plan to segregate the United States from the world community. Some may wonder why the propaganda that they are spouting about the solidity of their own countries, doesn’t correspond to the massive exit of immigrations, From these countries. If they are, (and socialism works so well) so concerned about human rights and their own people , then why don’t they have an immigration problem of an influx of people striving to enter their countries instead of fleeing? They feel emboldened with the in-house troubles of the United States, an embattled President, a rebellious segment of the population spurred on by a resistant Political party, seeking any means to topple the government. Did I miss anything?

Watching the biased media narratives of how despised this President is by the populace, they have bought into the dysfunction of this government. Watching our own socialist movement gaining ground not only in supposed popularity, but by ranting in the peoples house, and the latest revelation of a judicial coup plot, just coming to light from the inside.

National division breeds foreign encouragement, the Russians and Chinese have always tried to separate the southern hemisphere from the northern, why else would the old soviet union have trained the guerrilla armies in that region? The saddest part is that Venezuela was a thriving prosperous democratic nation, until it elected a socialist. Now it has sunk into the depths of despair and like Cuba reached out to the only nations that share a deep hatred of the United States.

Why is that hatred so rampant, only because the United States along with the Democratic nations of the world , do not tolerate , despots or dictators. Or the subjugation of the people under their control, and say so LOUDLY.

I admit that Americans of the 60’s generation have for the most part grow soft in their own comfort and greed of wealth. The generations of the 70’s-2000 as it seems where taught that the United States was the cause of all the great evils in the world starting with that first bit of apple, that the government by the people for the people was foolish and obsolete. The true future to achieve the equality of man was that every one should be rich or poor, no one should own anything, i.e there is nothing to own.

But they don’t understand the American Dream isn’t that the government will guarantee you everything, but that it offers you a chance to achieve anything.

Those who do not understand that there is still a world filled with ideologies that wish the downfall of the United States, and that once that has been achieved, all that they enjoy with in the protection of the United States, will simply vanish. And the world as we shall see coming from the U.N. has patients and a plan, great nations do not fall over night, they crumble steadily from within.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Eddy Toorall

(P.S. I ask of all the foreign shores that America’s youth shed their blood in the defense of liberty and freedom, did the United States keep as it’s own? How many of the free nations of the world owe their freedom to the U.S, whether pass enemies or allies? How many of the Socialist nations can lay the same claim, of providing independence to an enemy nation? Then offering them the protect of their power.)

Enough of the talk about Illegals

The answer to the illegal non-citizens in the United States is very simple, make a Federal law requiring Citizens of the United States to register and carry a Federal Citizens Identification Card. Binding in all states of the union, with the proviso that any person or persons found within the borders of the United States found to be not registered, subject to detention for a period of 72 hours, allowing them to provide certification as to their status as being a citizen of the union, by certificates required by law as proof of citizenship. Failure to do so, then be held indefinably until their nationality can be determined and then deported to such nation. Once a citizen has provided proof of citizen, using the same procedure as under the Obama Affordable Care Act, a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 for failure to comply to a federal law.

Said federal act would encompass all citizens of the union with out exception. This act would be no different that those already in place or soon to be emplaced to comply with the Real ID Act ( would only require an addendum to this act), required by the Homeland Security Dept. will that will be needed to travel by air (if the socialist still allow such travel). But this would require every citizen to register. Thus those that do not have this ID card, or a permit to be in the country are by de facto illegal. Problem solved. And if any of you wonder about this form of ID , its almost universally accepted as a national requirement in most foreign nations.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Eddy Toorall

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls (14); Invasion of Southern Kwajalein

The Landings on D Day: Occupation of Carter and Cecil Islands: As the Southern Attack Force approached its transport and fire support areas located six to ten miles southwest of Kwajalein, the APD’s Overton and Manley slipped ahead in the early morning of 31 January toward the two channel islets that were the first points to be seized by the invading troops. Carter (Gea) Island lay about nine miles northwest of Kwajalein Island. A half mile farther, on the opposite side of the channel, was Cecil (Ninni). Each of the two APD’s was carrying 155 men organized into a provisional unit, in part from the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop and in part from Company B, 111th Infantry. Troop A, on Overton, consisted of the headquarters platoon of the reconnaissance troop plus sixty-one officers and men of the infantry company, all under command of Captain Paul B. Gritta. In Troop B, transported on Manley and commanded by 1st Lieutenant Emmett L. Tiner, the 1st and 3rd Platoons of the reconnaissance troop were supplemented by ninety-three infantry officers and men. Both units were attached for the forthcoming operation to the 17th Regimental Combat Team, under Colonel Wayne C. Zimmerman.

Troop A was to take Cecil Island and Troop B, Carter Island. The islets were tiny, without known defenses, and were assumed to have but small garrisons. Once the two islands were under control, the four platoons of the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop were to be reunited and taken aboard Overton to their next mission, which was tentatively set as the reconnoitering of Chauncey (Gehh) Island, about one mile northwest of Cecil. The infantry elements of the two provisional units would remain as garrison and defense forces on the channel islands.

In the darkness of the moonless night, the islands could not be seen from the ships. The sea was running high as the high-speed transports, about 2,600 yards out, each dispatched one motor launch and a number of rubber boats filled with reconnaissance troops followed by the infantry carried in Higgins boats. The plan for landing on each island required that the rubber boats be towed by a launch to within 800 yards of the shore and then be paddled to a rendezvous halfway in. There they were to wait until two men went forward on an electric-powered raft, made a beach reconnaissance, and set up directional lights marking the best landing spot.

The rest of the men in the rubber boats were to follow them ashore and, while establishing a beach defense, guide the Higgins boats in with red lights. Leaving the infantry to defend the beach, the two reconnaissance platoons were first to occupy the side of the island nearest the channel and then to reconnoiter and make secure the remainder of the island. At the outset some delay was encountered in dispatching Troop B from Manley because of the difficulty in finding Carter Island. Then the lead boat mistook Cecil for Carter and by the time this confusion righted itself it was almost daylight. Hence, plans for a preliminary beach reconnaissance were abandoned, and the rubber boats were paddled to shore at the southern end of Carter at 0620. No resistance was met on the beach. Defenses were set up and the infantry boats guided in while a reconnoitering patrol struck through the fringe of brush at the edge of the beach and entered the heavy tropical undergrowth beyond.

The patrol returned without discovering any enemy, and the reconnaissance platoons, with an infantry platoon providing flank and rear protection, pushed off toward an observation tower at the northwest corner of the island. The area around the tower was soon discovered to be unoccupied except for one Japanese soldier, who was killed. The first reconnaissance platoon then turned around to comb back down the island again, concentrating this time on the ocean side. As the skirmish line pushed back into the tangle of undergrowth again, it was suddenly taken under fire from Japanese concealed in a shell crater and surrounding trees. The platoon leader, 2nd Lieutenant Claude V. Hornbacher, ordered a machine gun set up in the crotch of a tree, and with it in position a covering fire was laid down on the whole area. Under protection of this fire, Sergeant Leonard C. Brink took personal charge of the situation. In ten or fifteen minutes he hurled grenade after grenade into the crater while the machine gun fired over his head. The Japanese replied in kind. Finally, after enemy resistance seemed to have dwindled, Sergeant Brink and other members of the platoon crawled forward and jumped into the hole with knives and bayonets. Within seconds the skirmish was over and nineteen Japanese soldiers were dead at the cost of one American wounded. The island again fell silent. A few more Japanese were flushed from their hiding places near the ocean shore, and by 0930 the capture of Carter Island was completed. Intelligence materials were gathered up and sent to Admiral Turner’s flagship, Rocky Mount, and at 1000 responsibility for controlling the island was transferred to the infantry elements. The southeast side of the channel was secured.

At the same time that Troop B was seizing Carter, Troop A was engaged in a parallel mission. At 0430 Troop A started from Overton toward what was supposed to be Cecil Island. The craft moved against a strong current and an offshore wind. Although the rubber boats were cast loose too soon and had to be rounded up and again taken in tow until brought within paddling distance of the shore, they made an unopposed landing at 0545, thirty-five minutes earlier than Troop B’s on Carter. Guide lights were placed and the infantry’s landing craft came in just at daybreak, while the beachhead defense was being established. After a brief reconnaissance during which four enemy were killed and two captured, Captain Gritta, commanding Troop A, came to the conclusion that he was on the wrong island. He suspected that his party had been landed at Chauncey, the small island next northwest of Cecil. This was confirmed by General Corlett, who at 0810 ordered Troop A to “forget about Chauncey; proceed on regular mission.”

Leaving a small party of infantrymen to stand guard over a Japanese tugboat stranded near the beach, Captain Gritta embarked the remainder of his troop in rubber boats and proceeded along the reef to Cecil. That island was found to be unoccupied and by 1235 was reported secured. The pass into the lagoon could now be swept in preparation for the entry of ships to provide fire support for the landings planned the next day.

Back on Chauncey, Captain Gilbert Drexel and his men of Company B, 111th Infantry, kept the stranded tugboat under surveillance and started to comb the woods and underbrush thoroughly. An enemy force estimated at 100, which had escaped the initial reconnaissance, engaged the infantry near the center of the island. Others appeared on the tugboat, fired on strafing planes and on the American detail left to guard the tugboat, and were in turn taken under fire by Overton. Under orders to move to Cecil, the company broke off the engagement in the woods, which had cost them two deaths in return for an estimated forty-five enemy killed. The infantrymen set up a defensive perimeter for the night and waited for boats to transfer them to Cecil the following day. Chauncey was left for a later date to be cleared of the remaining enemy on it. Only one squad of infantrymen reinforced by members of Overton’s crew were left to guard the stranded tug. On 1 February they were reinforced by a platoon and ordered to set up a perimeter defense at the beach until more troops could be landed to clean out the remnant of Japanese still on the island.

Carlson and Carlos

The seizure of Carlson and Carlos Islands on D Day was assigned to the 17th Regimental Combat Team. Carlson was to be used for the emplacement of divisional artillery and Carlos for supply dumps and repair stations. The capture of Carlson was considered the most important D-Day mission for the Southern Landing Force because of its proximity to Kwajalein Island and its importance as a site for the forty-eight 105-mm. and twelve 155-mm. howitzers that were to provide artillery support for the main landing the next day. Carlos and Carlson Islands extended along the reef northwest of Kwajalein.

Both islands were long and narrow. Carlson was about two-thirds of a mile in length and under 300 yards in width; Carlos about a mile long and 300 yards wide. Between the two lay a gap of approximately 4,300 yards, but the water over the connecting reef was never deep enough to float even small boats. Reconnaissance flights had revealed on Carlson the presence of radio towers and other installations including a 100-yard finger pier on the lagoon side. It was estimated that a force of from 250 to 300 was stationed on the island to defend it and maintain defense communications there. Carlos Island, it was believed, would contain a much smaller garrison, if any.

The 17th Regimental Combat Team’s plan called for simultaneous attacks of battalion strength on the northwestern tip of each island. The 1st Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Albert V. Hart commanding, was to attack Carlos; the 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Edward P. Smith and supported by one platoon of Company A, 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion, was to land on Carlson. The 3rd Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Lee Wallace commanding, was to remain afloat in landing craft at the line of departure and be available for either island as needed. Two light tanks were designated for the fourth wave of those landing on Carlos and four were allocated to the fourth landing wave for Carlson. The tanks were provided by Company D, 767th Tank Battalion. Company C of the tank battalion was to stand by to provide support missions if called on.

The transports carrying the three battalion landing teams arrived in the transport area six miles to seaward of Carlson at 0544 on 31 January. Five LST’s carrying four amphibian tractor groups had already arrived in an assigned area westward from Carlos Island, and on order they moved through the pitch darkness to the transport area to take aboard the assault troops of the first four waves. The men were to disembark from the transports into Higgins boats, move about 600 yards to their assigned LST’s, and then distribute themselves among the amphibian tractors at the rate of fifteen men per vehicle. On order, the LST’s were then to move close in to the line of departure and disgorge their amphibian tractors through their open bow doors.

This complicated maneuver, carried out as it was in total darkness, inevitably resulted in confusion. The LST’s were unable to find the transports until the latter turned on identification lights. This caused delay and Admiral Turner found it necessary to postpone H Hour from 0830 to 0910.

As the LST’s left the transport area, one pair carried the LVT group taking the 1st Battalion to Carlos, and another pair carried the LVT group conveying the 2nd to Carlson. Other craft followed, including six tank lighters, twelve LCI(G)’s equipped with 40-mm, guns and rockets, and an additional LST carrying the fifteen amphibian tanks of Company A, 708th Amphibious Tank Battalion.

Preparatory naval bombardment opened at 0618 when Pennsylvania and Mississippi commenced firing on the western end of Kwajalein Island. As daylight revealed three enemy merchant ships in the lagoon, these also received fire from the destroyer Ringgold and the cruiser San Francisco. In spite of squally showers and a low ceiling, the first of the carrier planes reported on station at 0840 to commence the first of many strafing and bombing runs on Kwajalein Island. Observation planes later spotted fire for the battleships and cruisers. At 0810 the scheduled plotted bombardment began with shells from four battleships (New Mexico, Mississippi, Idaho, and Pennsylvania), three cruisers (Minneapolis, San Francisco, and New Orleans) and four destroyers (Stevens, McKee, Ringgold, and Sigsbee) systematically striking Carlos, Carlson, Kwajalein, Burton, and Beverly Islands.

The line of departure for the landing on Carlos lay about 3,000 yards west of the island’s northwestern tip, Harvey Point. The plan called for the first four waves of the 1st Battalion Landing Team to start for the shore in thirty-two LVT’s manned by seven officers and 140 enlisted men. Each of the first two waves was to consist of eight amphtracks in staggered rows of four, the two waves to be spaced three minutes apart. The third wave was to contain five armored LVT’s in the first row and four in the second. Wave four consisted of more LVT’s in a similar formation; wave five, LCM’s carrying tanks and self-propelled mounts (75-mm. howitzers); and wave six, standard landing craft carrying one heavy machine gun platoon, battalion headquarters elements, advance personnel of the battalion aid station, and a squad of engineers.

The ship-to-shore movement proceeded in general according to plan, and the first troops, two infantry platoons and part of the 1st Platoon, Company A, 13th Engineers, reached shore at 0910. They came into a wide, shallow cove near the northwestern end of the island, which seemed wild and uninhabited. On the left, on Harvey Point, and to the right, tall palms could be seen in small groves, but waist high underbrush interspersed with small patches of bare sand extended across the island directly back of the beachhead line. Vegetation had been only slightly disturbed by the preliminary bombardment.

Behind the first two waves of infantrymen were landed a platoon of heavy machine guns, the communications section of the beach and shore parties, forward observers for the mortars, advance elements of the Signal Corps detachment, infantry reserves, light tanks, self-propelled mounts, battalion headquarters elements, and medical personnel. By 1040, the first five waves were ashore. The landings were unopposed.

The occupation of Carlos was easily accomplished. Company A, which landed on the right, pushed southward along the ocean side of the island; Company C, on the left, made its way across to the lagoon side and then proceeded in a southerly direction. Near the pier on the lagoon shore, men of Company C encountered their first enemy—three unarmed Japanese, whom they promptly killed. Five others in this area were found to have committed suicide. Company A captured seven or eight prisoners in their southward march. When the front had advanced two thirds of the way down the island, Company C halted and Company A took over the entire line. About two hundred yards from the southern point of the island, Company A met a group of nine Japanese, who were cut down by rifle fire as they tried to rush the Americans. The southern point of the island was reached by 1400. The force found an observation tower and sheds with a radio in working order. At 1615 the 1st Battalion reported the island secured. No casualties were reported. No prepared defenses had been found.

Resistance on Carlson Island was expected to be considerably stronger than that on Carlos or any of the other islands occupied on D Day. The first four assault waves of the 2nd Battalion Landing Team were carried ashore in amphibian tractors. The later waves approached the reef in LCVP’s from which they were obliged to wade in for the last seventy-five yards. The wave formations were similar to those at Carlos, and the support from destroyers and LCI(G)’s was the same.

The first wave hit the sandy beach at the northwestern corner of Carlson at 0912. The beach was about 300 yards wide with a treeless sand spit at the left and a thin growth of coconut palms behind a shoulder in the coast line at the right. The amphibians crawled up the beach, meeting no resistance. Company E came in on the left and Company F on the right, while Company G was kept in floating reserve, prepared to land at a point near the middle of the island if the tactical situation so required. In the first wave with the rifle squads were rocket grenadiers, demolition engineers, flame thrower operators, and wire-cutting specialists, all of the 13th Engineers. The second wave landed at 0920, and the third was ashore ten minutes later. LCI gunboats continued their fire until the third wave had landed. Carrier planes strafed and bombed the island, moving to the southeastern extremity by 0938.

Company F on the right pushed straight across the island to the lagoon, and at 0941 swung southeastward for the push along the length of the island. Company E on the left mopped up the northern end before starting down the ocean side, somewhat behind Company F. At 0958 enemy artillery fire from Kwajalein was reported, but by 1120 naval gunfire and an air attack had put a stop to all Japanese shelling from that quarter.

Meanwhile, a section of the shore party in two amphibian tractors had reconnoitered the reef during the initial landings and selected a route ashore for the four light tanks and four self-propelled 75-mm. howitzers, which came in by 1010. The tanks disembarked from their LCM’s on the reef and made their way to the shore, minus one vehicle that broke its final drive and remained incapacitated for the rest of the operation. Once ashore, the tanks found passage through the thick underbrush and coral extremely difficult and a second tank was temporarily disabled.

The infantrymen accompanied by combat engineers continued southeastward toward the communications center, which was almost in the middle of the island, arriving there at 1105. The preliminary bombardment had knocked down one radio tower and weakened another as well as smashing the major buildings, even those constructed of reinforced concrete.

The enemy fled, offering no resistance as Company F searched the area. Company E on the ocean side discovered three sets of dummy emplacements but only light enemy resistance. Small arms fire fell briefly among the infantrymen as the two companies moved in line abreast southeastward from the radio tower. Only one man was wounded, however. No further opposition was met. By noon the southeastern tip of the island was reached, and at 1210 the battalion reported the island secured. Twenty-one Korean prisoners were captured. No live Japanese were found on the island, although the battalion commander reported, somewhat ambiguously, that “it is believed that some of the Koreans were part Japanese.”

Development of Positions

The unexpected ease with which Carlson was occupied led to an early landing of the divisional artillery—even before the island was officially declared secured. At 1125 General Corlett sent orders to the 7th Division artillery group to begin getting its pieces ashore. This group, commanded by General Arnold, consisted of four battalions of 105-mm. howitzers (31st, 48th, 49th, and 57th Field Artillery), and one battalion of 155-mm. howitzers (145th Field Artillery), plus headquarters, medical, communications, and special troops. The 105-mm. howitzer battalions were loaded mostly on LST’s. The 145th Field Artillery with its 155-mm. pieces had to be loaded on two larger transports—the AKA Virgo and the APA President Polk. Liaison and forward observation parties were on the transports with the infantry to which they were attached; the five air observers were on three cruisers of the attack force; and the division artillery command party was on Rocky Mount with General Corlett.

The 155-mm. howitzers with their tractors, equipment, and ammunition were loaded onto LCM’s. These craft grounded in three feet of water offshore but the howitzers were hauled to the beach and dragged to their designated areas, where some were ready for registration fire by 1525. However, the last were not emplaced until long after dark.

The 105-mm. howitzers were, on the other hand, more expeditiously unloaded. Their DUKW’s moved with relative ease from their mother LST’s about 1,000 yards offshore to the positions where the batteries were to be emplaced. Certain DUKW’s, especially equipped with A-frame hoists mounted in the rear, took their places near the battery positions. The other vehicles with guns aboard were driven one at a time at right angles across the rear ends of the A-frame DUKW’s and halted under the hoists. There, each piece was lifted clear of the DUKW that had transported it, lowered to the ground, hooked to the pintle of the same vehicle and pulled into position. Under the most favorable conditions, a whole battalion could be brought into position in seven minutes.

The 31st Field Artillery Battalion was the first to commence unloading its howitzers. Its DUKW’s proceeded from the beach across the island and along the lagoon shore to a spot opposite the battalion area. Then, with the aid of a bulldozer and much tree cutting, they hauled the pieces to a thick coconut grove, unloaded them, and returned to the beach to pick up ammunition. Shortly after 1500 the 105’s commenced registration fire on a Kwajalein Island check point, using smoke shells to distinguish their fire from that of the naval vessels, which were concurrently bombarding that island. Observation posts were later established in the radio tower, on the end of the pier, and in an LVT out in the lagoon, while registration was accomplished with the help of an observation plane launched from one of the cruisers.

The 48th, 49th, and 57th Field Artillery Battalions followed a similar pattern, occupying areas in the center and on the southern half of Carlson Island. At nightfall the last registration fire was being delivered on a check point on Kwajalein Island by the 49th Battalion. Ammunition was being rapidly loaded into DUKW’s from beached LST’s, and before dawn a large supply of shells was on hand to support the main attack on Kwajalein.

The divisional artillery was concentrated within an unusually limited area. The twelve batteries of 105’s were crowded together in an area only 900 yards long by 150 yards wide. The guns of the 49th Battalion were at the southeastern end of the island; those of the 57th Battalion in the adjacent area to the northwest on the ocean side of the island; those of the 31st in a zone west of the pier line on the ocean side; and those of the 48th Battalion closely grouped south of the radio tower. The 155-mm. howitzers of the 145th Battalion were emplaced farthest from Kwajalein Island between two roads near the middle of Carlson. Following registration, the batteries prepared for an irregular schedule of harassing fire on both Kwajalein and Burton Islands so that the enemy would be prevented, if possible, from repairing and reorganizing his defenses.

The night of D Day on southern Kwajalein found the Southern Attack Force, despite the unfinished business on Chauncey Island, with all its scheduled objectives attained. The channel islands were secured; the channel itself and an anchorage in the lagoon had been swept for mines; and a part of the invading force had entered the lagoon to take stations there. On Carlos and Carlson the Americans were in full possession.

During the early afternoon, the 3rd Battalion Landing Team of the 17th Infantry and one platoon of the 31st Field Hospital had been brought ashore on Carlos. By 1200 men of Company A of the 7th Medical Battalion were ashore and operating a collecting station at the beach. The 1st Battalion had returned to the northwest section of Carlos and the 3rd Battalion, the reserve force, occupied the southeastern half.

Supply sections of the 7th Division, which had been separated during the journey to the island, had assembled ashore, co-ordinated their work, arranged their communications, and were beginning to build dumps. At 1800, on the northern tip of Carlos, a detachment of the 707th Ordnance Company had set up the LVT maintenance shop capable of handling heavy repairs. At the southern end of the island a consolidated ammunition dump was prepared during the night and was ready for use by 0800 on 1 February.

Carlson Island was the scene of even greater night activity. As planned, the 7th Division’s headquarters, rear section, had remained on board Admiral Turner’s flagship, Rocky Mount, together with that of the V Amphibious Corps, but during the afternoon the command posts and headquarters had been set up on Carlson by the 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry, by the division artillery, and by the 7th Division forward echelon, the latter commanded by Brigadier General Joseph L. Ready. At 1645 General Corlett, having observed the early landing of the division artillery, ordered harassing fire placed on Kwajalein Island throughout the night. As a result, there was a much longer preliminary artillery bombardment than the one-hour preparation indicated in the plans as a minimum. During the night both Kwajalein and Burton Islands were treated to a continuing harassing fire by the artillery emplaced on Carlson.

After dark, naval support vessels joined with the artillery to keep a constant harassing fire over Kwajalein and Burton. The larger island was shelled by San Francisco, Idaho, New Mexico, and their screening destroyers, while Burton was covered by the destroyer Hall. Troops of the 32nd and 184th Regimental Combat Teams had moved during the afternoon from their transports to LST’s, which were spending the night either west of Kwajalein Island or in the lagoon with orders to return to the transport area at 0530. The remaining vessels of the Southern Attack Force operated in waters southwest, south, and southeast of Kwajalein Island with orders to be in the transport area at 0600.

One of the novel experiments of the Marshalls operation had also been carried out on D Day with successful, although in a sense inconclusive, results. This was the employment for the first time in the Pacific of an underwater demolition team, composed in this instance of both Army and Navy personnel, whose duties were to conduct close reconnaissance of the beaches at the western end of Kwajalein Island and, if necessary, detonate any underwater obstacles found there. At high tide on the morning of 31 January, shortly after 1000, and again at low tide at approximately 1600, this detachment worked its way to points within 300 yards of the beach. Fire from the battleships Pennsylvania and Mississippi covered these intrepid individuals as they ranged over the approaches to the main landing beaches in rubber boats.

Having ascertained that surf and reef conditions were satisfactory and that no underwater obstacles or anti-boat mines were located off the beaches, they returned without casualty. Since there were no underwater obstacles present, no opportunity was allowed the team to test its detonation equipment technique under combat conditions. Nevertheless, the team performed valuable service later in the operation in the demolition of wrecks, coral heads, and other underwater obstructions along the lagoon shore of the island.

With all the conditions for a successful landing deemed favorable, Admiral Turner issued the order at 1622 on 31 January that the main assault on the western beaches of Kwajalein Island should proceed the following day. The scheduled time of landing, H Hour, was set at 0930. The attack would be carried out according to the original plan.

The Landings on Kwajalein Island

Long before sunrise on the morning of 1 February 1944 the Southern Attack Force at Kwajalein Atoll moved from its night cruising dispositions to the positions assigned for the day’s operations against Kwajalein Island. The eight LST’s on which the leading wave of assault troops had spent the night were the first to approach their rendezvous, at 0530, and within half an hour the larger transports and the warships that were to provide fire support were taking stations. At 0618 Mississippi and Pennsylvania took up the harassing fire, which had been maintained during the night by other ships and by the artillery on Carlson. Squalls, frequent rain showers, and scudding clouds lowered visibility. They threatened to hamper the attack but not to compel either its postponement or the adoption of the alternative plan for a complicated landing from the lagoon. The assault was to be made from the ocean against the western end of Kwajalein Island.

As the sun rose at 0712, Mississippi moved to a range of about 1,500 yards to fire broadsides on visible targets. The other support vessels closed to about the same range when the systematic preparatory fire was begun at 0745. At that time Mississippi switched her salvos to Burton, northeast of Kwajalein, and Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and San Francisco, screened by eight destroyers, directed their main batteries at the western end of Kwajalein Island in direct preparation for the landings. The destroyers Ringgold and Sigsbee entered the lagoon and prepared to prevent interisland movement by the enemy.

The preparatory bombardment of Kwajalein Island was unprecedented in the Pacific in both volume and effectiveness. During one period two shells per second were hitting specific targets or areas in the path of the assault troops. The 14-inch naval shells of the battleships were most effective in piercing and destroying reinforced concrete structures. From the cruisers and destroyers, 8-inch and 5-inch shells ploughed into bunkers and tore up the thick growth of pandanus and palm trees. All together on 1 February, almost 7,000 14-inch, 8-inch, and 5-inch shells were fired by supporting naval vessels at Kwajalein Island alone, and the bulk of these were expended against the main beaches before the landing. The field artillery on Carlson also joined in the preparatory fire. Its total ammunition expenditure on 1 February against Kwajalein was about 29,000 rounds. Finally, aerial bombardment added its bit to the pulverization of Kwajalein’s defenses. At 0810 six Liberators (B-24’s) of the 392nd Bombardment Squadron based on Apamama reported on station. Between 0830 and 0910 they flew above the trajectory of the naval and artillery shells and dropped fifteen 1,000-pound and 2,000-pound bombs on the blockhouse and dual-purpose twin-mount guns at the northwestern end of Kwajalein Island.

This was followed almost immediately by bombing and strafing attacks carried out by carrier-based aircraft. From the carriers Enterprise, Yorktown, Belleau Wood, Manila Bay, Corregidor, and Coral Sea eighteen dive bombers and fifteen torpedo bombers struck the western part of Kwajalein Island while as many fighters strafed the area with machine guns and rockets. All together ninety-six sorties were flown from the carriers in support of the troop landing on Kwajalein Island.

The results of all this expenditure of explosives were devastating. The damage was so intensive that it is impossible to determine the relative effectiveness of the three types of bombardment—naval, artillery, and air. The area inland of Red Beaches was reduced almost completely to rubble. Concrete emplacements were shattered, coconut trees smashed and flattened, the ground pock-marked with large craters, coral ripped to splinters. As one observer reported, “The entire island looked as if it had been picked up to 20,000 feet and then dropped.”

The Assault Landings

The first touchdowns were to occur at 0930. As the time for departure approached, ships, amphibian vehicles, and landing craft began to take their assigned places. The line of departure was 5,000 yards northwest of Kwajalein Island, south of the center of Carlson Island, and the transport area was about 3,000 yards southwest of the line. Control over the landing waves was vested in the commanding officers of the 184th and 32nd Regimental Combat Teams, who were located on the control ship, a subchaser (SC 539). The LST’s carrying the amphibian tractors went into position about 1,000 yards west of the line of departure, lowered their ramps, and launched their amphtracks with the troops loaded. The tractors began to circle slowly in a column of waves, waiting the signal to move into line. The LSD’s Lindenwald, Belle Grove, and Ashland in an area west of the LST’s launched the LCM’s containing the medium tanks of Companies A, B, C, and part of D of the 767th Tank Battalion.

Two small control boats, assigned to keep the landing craft moving toward the shore at proper intervals, took stations just seaward of the line of departure. Near the ends of the line the amphibian tanks of Company A, 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion, circled after being released from their mother LST, waiting to take their wing positions with the first waves to go ashore. Farther back in the transport area, the landing craft on the transports were swung out from the decks and launched. They were to carry the supporting waves with extra ammunition and equipment. Two LST’s with high priority supplies and the DUKW groups waited to move near enough to the beaches to send in supplies quickly.

The northern (left) part of the 500-yard western shore line had been designated Red Beach 1, and the southern (right) part was Red Beach 2. Preliminary reconnaissance had indicated the existence of the stronger fortifications along the ocean side, and for that reason the combat seasoned 32nd Regimental Combat Team, under Colonel Marc J. Logie, was assigned the landing on Red Beach 2. The 184th Regimental Combat Team, under Colonel Curtis D. O’Sullivan, was to land on Red Beach 1 at the same time. The two combat teams were to make their assaults in columns of battalions, led by the 1st Battalion of the 32nd, containing 84 officers and 1,628 enlisted men, and the 3rd Battalion of the 184th, consisting of 73 officers and 1,489 enlisted men. Of the three companies of the 767th Tank Battalion, Company B would support the landing of the 184th on Red Beach 1 and Company A that of the 32nd on Red Beach 2, while Company C would be held in reserve under division control.

The enemy offered some resistance to the gathering attack in spite of the overwhelming preparatory fire that had already wrecked most of their guns on the western end of Kwajalein Island. A few antiaircraft shells fell among the assembling landing craft, one of them striking an LVT, injuring two men and knocking the vehicle out of action. The rest of the amphibian tractors, separated by about twenty yards between vehicles and about 100 yards between waves, continued to circle under excellent control. Nevertheless, one accidental collision between two amphibians occurred, damaging one of them and interfering slightly with the landing schedule.

The first waves of the 3rd Battalion, 184th, commanded by Lieutenat Colonel William P. Walker, and of the 1st Battalion, 32nd, under Lieutenant Colonel Ernest H. Bearss, started for the shore precisely on time at 0900 after receiving the signal from the control boat. The LVT’s mounted at least two, sometimes three, machine guns each, and, in addition, twenty of them had specially mounted infantry-type flame throwers that could be operated from the assistant driver’s seat. At each outside wing and in the center between the first two waves, platoons of amphibian tanks were echeloned. From their turrets, 37-mm. guns protruded. Behind the first wave came three succeeding waves of infantry at two-minute intervals.

As the tractors set out for their thirty minute run from the line of departure to the shore, Navy aircraft strafed the beaches in a last-minute blow. At 0905 artillery and naval ships resumed fire against the beaches and kept it up until 0928, two minutes before the touchdown, after which they moved their fire inland. LCI gunboats added the final touch. Firing from outside the lanes of approach at the northern and southern extremities of the landing area, they let go their 4.5-inch rockets at 1,100 yards from the shore line and again at 800 yards and fired their 20-mm. and 40-mm. guns at still closer ranges. The seventeen amphibian tanks on the wings and in the center, and the tractors in between them also rode in firing. Small arms and mortar fire from the Japanese inflicted few injuries among the incoming troops, and for the most part the waves preserved their formation.

There was, however, some shifting to the right (south). The steering mechanism of the LVT that had been damaged in the collision caused it to veer from its position and move to the right among the tractors of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Regiment. All the landing vehicles inclined slightly to the right toward the southern boundaries of the boat lanes, and after they crossed the reef the current took them still farther in that direction. The result was some crowding on the south, but not enough to interfere seriously with the landing.

Artillery fire from Carlson was still falling on the beaches as the LVT’s reached positions only thirty-five yards offshore. Thereupon it was shifted to a zone 200 yards inland. Although most of the defensive positions immediately inland of the shore line had been obliterated, shell craters and piles of debris everywhere remained to deter the invaders. The first wave landed on schedule at 0930. In the zone of the 32nd Regimental Combat Team enough of the enemy survived in their underground shelters or filtered back through the curtain of artillery and naval gunfire to greet the attackers with small arms fire and grenades. From a few undestroyed pillboxes inland of the beaches, the Japanese opened up with light mortar and automatic fire—fire heavy enough to cause a few casualties among the first waves. As the first troops dropped down from the high sides of the amphtracks into the shallow water or onto the beach itself, most of them ran over the dune and sought shelter behind the wreckage of a sea wall until the artillery and naval fire lifted inland.

On Red Beach 1, where the sea wall was almost at the water’s edge, the LVT’s were tilted up enough to obtain a fair field of fire inland. On Red Beach 2 the amphibians stopped at the water line, their fire sweeping barely above the men of the 1st Battalion. For about two minutes the men of the first wave on Red Beach 2 waited in the shelter of the sea wall while LVT’s poured fire over their heads. Then, while a detail demolished one remaining pillbox on the beach itself, the rest of the men moved forward rapidly to seek out the enemy just beyond the beach. On the left, the two assault companies (Companies I and K) of the 3rd Battalion, 184th Infantry, were also making progress. By 1122 both assault battalions were reported to have advanced 150 yards inland against only slight resistance.

Combat engineers carrying demolition charges and wire cutters were distributed among the first wave of infantrymen and were prepared to clear the way for the second and subsequent waves to move inland. The preparatory fire, however, had been so effective that further demolition work was unnecessary. Both engineers and covering infantry were therefore able to advance inland with the second wave.

The amphibian tanks of the first line of attack were expected to proceed inland, striking targets found within a hundred yards of the shore. The LVT’s in the second and third waves were to move to the flanks and circle back to the ships to bring in the men of the later waves who were embarked in landing craft too deep-drafted to get over the reef. All vehicles met serious difficulties on the beaches. Some found the undestroyed portions of the sea wall too high to cross; others fell into shell holes or got hung up on high stumps. Most of the tractors, after landing their troops, found lateral movement along the beaches so impeded by the litter left by the first wave of infantrymen and engineers that, instead of adhering to the original plan of moving to the flanks before returning seaward, they turned around on the beach or backed into the water. This caused considerable congestion and slowed the fourth wave’s approach to the shore. Troops in this wave either waded in or waited for the beach to be cleared. In spite of these difficulties, the first four waves of both battalion landing teams were ashore within fifteen minutes after the designated H Hour.

Build-up of the Assault

While some elements of the first four waves pressed forward in the wake of the artillery barrage and others organized the beaches, additional infantry and units of supporting arms and services continued to come ashore throughout the day. The 32nd Regiment’s forward command party landed at 0950 and set up a command post a few yards inland in the center of Red Beach 2. The 184th’s advance command post was established on Red Beach 1 at 1235.

The light tanks, carried in LCM’s, approached the beach in the fifth wave. Stopped on the reef at 0947, the tank lighters discharged their tanks, which then tried to make shore under their own power. Three light tanks were stranded on the reef. All six of the medium tanks of the sixth wave assigned to Red Beach 2 got ashore, but two destined for Red Beach 1 were held up by the reef and an underwater shell hole. After drying out motors and radios, those tanks that had landed struggled inland across the crowded, shell torn beach and over the sea wall. Most of the tanks succeeded in pushing on, but the marshy land behind Red Beach 2 held four up.

At 1205 the 2nd and 3rd Platoons, Company A, 767th Tank Battalion, were ordered into shore and, with one casualty on the reef, proceeded inland via Blue Beach 1, which was located on the southwest corner of the island to the right of Red Beach 2. The 2nd Platoon was sent forward and the 3rd Platoon remained on the beach in reserve. The 2nd Platoon of Company B reached Red Beach 1 at 1400. It landed without mishap, being guided ashore by four stranded medium tank crewmen of the 1st Platoon who stood on the reef in water up to their armpits and directed the tanks around the underwater hazards. The tanks went forward to support the infantry without delay, using a new route from the beach that had been cleared by bulldozers.

The 1st Platoon, Company B, and the 2nd Platoon, Company C, brought their twelve mediums in at 1600 while the 1st Battalion, 184th, was still being landed. One medium tank was disabled on the reef; the others went into bivouac. When the 1st and 3rd Platoons, Company C, were sent to Red Beach 2 by error between 1630 and 1700, they were kept ashore overnight and re-embarked late the next day to participate with the 17th Infantry Regiment in the forthcoming operations on Burton Island.

Combat engineers found their problems fewer than had been anticipated. Without much difficulty they cleared the beach of enemy explosives, set up demolition dumps, and replenished forward ammunition supplies. They later joined the shore party engineers in smoothing out the rough passage from the beach to the western section of the island highway (Wallace Road) with bulldozers and in repairing that section of the highway. The first of the supply DUKW’s came ashore just before noon. Seven were sent forward over the new route with grenades, 75-mm. shells, and other ammunition. The materiel dropped from the LVT’s was gathered by engineers and put in a dump about fifty yards inland. Regimental supply personnel arrived at Red Beach 2 about 1115. They later established a supply point well inland in the wake of the assault forces.

One platoon of the 184th Regiment’s 81-mm. mortars erroneously landed at 1025 on Red Beach 2, but was quickly moved to Red Beach 1 to support the regiment’s attack.71 Late in the afternoon the 1st Platoon of the 91st Chemical Company, which was attached to the 32nd Regiment, was emplaced near the southern limit of Red Beach 2, having been landed during the morning and early afternoon.

Extra ammunition with which to fire night missions, however, was unavailable until early the next morning. The 2nd Platoon, 91st Chemical Company, landed at 1630 on Red Beach 1 in support of the 184th. After having been afloat in landing craft for seven hours, it came ashore in four crowded amphtracks with its mortars unassembled. The weapons were assembled near the lagoon shore about 150 yards from Red Beach 1, and a fire direction center was established near the mortars.

The Cannon Companies of the two regimental combat teams landed one platoon at a time with each battalion. Some of the 75-mm. howitzers were packed ashore, while others were waterproofed and towed over the reef from landing craft. The howitzers of the 32nd Regiment were emplaced by 1700 in the southwest corner of a natural clearing just beyond the beachhead line, which lay about 250 yards inland. As early as 1330 one section of the 184th’s Cannon Company was firing from a position on the lagoon shore line; about three hours later three more pieces were in battery formation with it. The remaining platoon landed about 1900 and went into bivouac.

Each of the nine battalion landing teams at southern Kwajalein was assigned a collecting platoon of the 7th Medical Battalion. The first to land was the 1st Platoon, Company B, which came in at Red Beach 2 with the 1st Battalion, 32nd Regiment, at 1130. An hour later the 3rd Platoon, Company C, landed on Red Beach 1 with the 3rd Battalion, 184th. Each platoon set up a collecting station on the beach and evacuated casualties by LVT’s to the transport.

When the shore party medical sections were ready on the beaches, evacuation of casualties was turned over to them, and the collecting platoons, each now reinforced by a second, moved inland from the beaches to set up two collecting stations. Before night, all collecting platoons and headquarters of each medical company were ashore. Evacuation of the injured along the highway to the beaches was swift. Because of the small number of casualties, only one platoon was needed to operate a collecting station in each regimental zone. Men of the other two platoons were sent forward to act as litter bearers, thus accelerating the medical service.

About 1530 the 7th Infantry Division Medical Battalion headquarters and headquarters detachment established the battalion command post about 200 yards inland, midway between the two beaches. The 1st Platoon, Company D, 7th Infantry Division Medical Battalion, landed some three hours later and was held in reserve near the command post pending the establishment of a clearing station, which was not put into operation until the morning of 4 February.

On Red Beach 1 a switchboard set up by the 75th JASCO and wire laid by 7th Infantry Division Signal Company elements connected the two regimental command posts with each other and with that of the 7th Division on Carlson Island, and also linked the six battalions with the division artillery batteries. Amphibian tractors laid 4,500 yards of submarine cable along the atoll reef between the two islands. Later, the ebb and flow of the sea dragged the cable over the sharp coral and broke it from time to time, but cable laying details continually repaired the damage.

The 2nd Battalion, 32nd Regiment, was available for support from the moment the landings began; its four assault waves had embarked in amphibian tractors and its four supporting waves in landing craft shortly after sunrise. They were ordered ashore at 1035. After the first waves had landed, the LVT’s returned to pick up the troops of the four supporting waves at the edge of the reef. Early in the afternoon they reorganized near the beach and started eastward in column of companies. The 3rd Battalion, 32nd, spent most of the day at sea, coming ashore in the afternoon.

This battalion, the regimental reserve, was not committed until the next day. The 2nd Battalion, 184th Regiment, the support battalion, landed on Red Beach 1 between 1330 and 1630, formed a column of companies to mop up the area behind the 3rd Battalion, and later established a defensive perimeter for the night. The 1st Battalion, in reserve, landed between 1800 and 1930 and crowded into the limited bivouac area near the lagoon. Throughout 1 February the Southern Landing Force thus built up its assault and support elements on the western end of Kwajalein Island as rapidly as reef and beaches could be crossed. Their task was relatively easy because of the light opposition encountered on the beaches. The confusion that had marked the landing of assault and support units at Tarawa was nowhere apparent at Kwajalein. Naval, artillery, and aerial bombardment had done their work well. The troops had been carried ashore on schedule and in sufficient number to sustain the assault. The ship-to-shore movement was an eminent success.

SOURCE: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls: BY; Philip A. Crowl, & Edmund G. Love (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls(15A); Kwajalein: Push Inland: First Day

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls (13); Japanese Defenses Marshalls

World War Two: North Africa (4-17B); Stalemate Before Tunis (pt.2)

The Action at Djebel el Guessa, 6 December: General Eisenhower would not accept as final the initial failure to penetrate beyond Djedeida; General Anderson, although far from sanguine, continued therefore to plan for a renewed offensive against Tunis and Mateur. Preparations for such operations were to be made while holding a line which ran along the eastern edge of Djebel Lanserine (569) from Chouigui pass through Tebourba gap and across the Medjerda river to Djebel el Guessa (145), southwest of EI Bathan. The main body of Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, was deployed under General Oliver’s command on the southeastern side of the river with the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, now released from Blade Force and back with its parent unit. Rankled by the recent setbacks at the hands of the German armored forces, the Americans hoped now to fight as a team in conformity with their own doctrine. More British units kept arriving in Tunisia in conformity with pre-invasion plans. The 1st Guards Brigade (Brigadier F. A. V. Copland-Griffith) reached Bedja on 6 December while elements of the British 6th Armoured Division (Major General Sir Charles F. Keightley) began to assemble in the area near Souk el Khemis, Thibar, and T eboursouk for eventual employment south of the Medjerda. Blade Force returned to the 6th Armoured Division.

The French assisted in holding a line east of Medjez el Bab and in preparing for the renewed attack on Tunis. General Juin insisted that Goubellat be held to cover Medjez el Bab from the south. To lighten the load on General Anderson’s troops, he gave General Barre responsibility for defending the sector north of Bedja, bringing forward French units from Le Kef and replacing those units by others which General Giraud had planned to send to the Tebessa area. French troops took up positions on the southerly slopes of Djebel el Ang (668), north of Medjez el Bab. In central Tunisia, where Giraud had directed that an advance be made to a line extending northeastward from Gafsa to Sbeltla and thence through Kesra to Maktar, the French 7th Algerian Infantry with a battalion of 75-mm. guns and elements of the Tunisian Task Force on 3 December seized Fald pass in the Eastern Dorsal. French forces next occupied Fondouk el Aouareb on 8 December and Pichon on 19 December. Plans were laid to advance toward Pont-du-Fahs and Zarhouan, and even to strike at Kairouan.

Thus the French threatened the Axis southern flank and prepared to participate in a renewed Allied offensive. The pressure for troops to protect the long line of communications against forays by enemy parachutists and other saboteurs at the time of the Axis counteroffensive in early December was severe. The Allied Force command would have preferred to use more French troops in such duties in order to get the maximum numbers of Anglo-Americans, who were better armed, into the advanced zone. The entire ten companies of the Territorial Division of Constantine, plus 300 native customs guards (douaniers), and two companies of regulars were used on guard duty at Bone and Constantine, and at bridges and tunnels along the routes across Algeria. The U.S. 39th Infantry Regiment was similarly employed. Throughout December French commitments in advance sectors ran counter to the preferences of the Allied command for French guard troops.

If the Allies intended to resume their offensive, so also did the German XC Corps. General Nehring found the means, while holding at other points, to press beyond Tebourba up the Medjerda river valley. Part of General Fischer’s command was shifted to the southeastern side of the river to the vicinity of EI Bathan and Massicault. The projected attack was to strike along both sides of the Medjerda and to include a wide swing through Furna to approach Medjez el Bab from the southeast. But first, Allied troops had to be driven from Djebel el Guessa, a cluster of hills and ravines which rose abruptly from the flat farm land southwest of El Bathan. Its heights gave perfect observation over an area extending from Tebourba gap to the north to the El Bathan-Massicault road to the cast and a broad area to the south. Fire from its bare northern slopes upon the narrow shelf of Tebourba gap could interdict the road there. To clear the Allies from Djebel el Guessa, Fischer planned a major flanking move through Massicault to the northwest and at the same time, a secondary push westward from the area south of El Bathan.

The Allied line was held by the 2nd Battalion, 6th U.S. Armored Infantry, and the 8th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment (8/ ASH), at Tebourba gap, and the 1st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, and part of the 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, strung out thinly along the crests of Djebel el Guessa. Enemy preparations were observed on the afternoon of 5 December. An attack was recognized as imminent.

After a night in which German flares kept the area lighted for observation, the attack struck on 6 December at about 0700. Two waves of dive bombers softened up the American defense; then parachute infantry, with machine guns and mortars, began their approach to the northern flank. Soon, supported not only by renewed air strikes but also by other infantry, reinforced by tanks attacking to the west and toward Djebel el Guessa’s Hill 145, they began to infiltrate through the saddles of the ridge line to cut off the troops in the northern section of that line. Simultaneously, on the southern flank, the enemy committed an armored force, of the 7th Panzer Regiment, with some twenty tanks and truck-borne infantry, headed for Hill 148 and thence to Djebel el Guessa.

This armored force, after being held up for a while, threatened to penetrate between the Americans on Djebel el Guessa and their line of withdrawal. Its attack caused them to retire hastily with severe losses. Company C, 6th Armored Infantry, became completely disorganized. Battery C, 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, firing in support, drew the enemy armored force against its own positions. It was forced back into a natural cul-de-sac, and although aided by Battery B, of the same unit, in the end its five old-style half-tracks were destroyed and its survivors were captured. But it had won considerable time and claimed to have knocked out at least eight Mark IV German tanks with its 105-mm. howitzers.

To relieve the exposed force at Djebel el Guessa General Oliver dispatched Colonel Bruss’s half-strength 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (mediums), later sending in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, from the north side of the river, and the light tanks of 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (-) from its assembly area south of Djebel el Asoud (214).

Colonel Bruss’s force was so late in getting started that the battle around Djebel el Guessa was almost over. General Oliver still hoped to inflict severe damage on the enemy’s forces, which ceased advancing and waited southwest of Djebel el Guessa for the counterattack. Bruss divided his battalion into two groups, sending E Company, reinforced, along a narrow strip between the river and Djebel Bou Aoukaz (226) and D Company around the eastern side of that hill mass, while the enemy took cover. When the group nearest the river emerged from the shelter of the hill, antitank shells swiftly knocked out several tanks, stopping the attack; when the other column appeared later, it too was repulsed. Colonel Todd’s 1st Battalion, meanwhile, made a sortie but arrived too late to be of assistance to Bruss’s force. After this serious setback, the counterattack was broken off, but General Fischer’s forces also pulled back to the northeast without attempting to push farther toward Medjez el Bab. Instead, elements were sent to support the disarming of General Derrien’s French forces near Bizerte on 8 December.

The Allies might have reoccupied Djebel el Guessa but did not. The day’s battle had been damaging to both adversaries and especially galling to the Allies. The enemy had been able to send a strong battle group against part of a force deployed on both sides of a river and, after overwhelming the exposed forward elements, to meet a counterattack under conditions highly favorable to him. These results were probably all the more satisfactory to the enemy because of American tactical errors. Once again tanks had sallied forth to contend with tanks rather than attacking with mutually supporting weapons, as the situation had demanded.

Again they ran into a curtain of antitank fire. But the resulting situation was hardly as unfavorable as the interpretation placed upon it at British 5 Corps headquarters, which ordered the British 11th Brigade Group to withdraw its remaining elements from Tebourba gap along the other side of the river to a new line at “Longstop Gap,” the next conspicuously narrow neck between mountains and river southwest of Tebourba gap. On the night of 6-7 December, retirement to this position by General Evelegh’s troops made pointless an occupation of Djebel el Guessa. Combat Command B therefore took up new stations at Djebel Bou Aoukaz and Djebel el Asoud, a complicated hill mass east of the Bordj Toum bridge. The Allies were now obliged, in view of General Fischer’s initial success, to reappraise the situation.

[NOTE: The name “Longstop Gap” was derived from Longstop Hill, the British designation for Djebel el Ahmera, east of which the Allies were not again to pass for a long period.]

The Allies Fall Back to a New Line General Allfrey believed the Allies would be incapable of successfully attacking Tunis for a considerable period. Rather than squander resources to defend territory, he believed that economies should be practiced and the accumulation of reserves expedited by taking safer positions farther west. On 7 December Allfrey proposed falling back to a line extending south from Djebel Abiod through Oued Zarga and Testour to Bou Arada. This meant abandoning Medjez el Bab. Such a step was resisted by General Juin in a conference with General Allfrey at Barre’s headquarters and, when recommended to General Eisenhower by British First Army, was also protested by General Giraud. The Allied commander in chief ordered the defense of a line which ran somewhat farther east and which protected Medjez el Bab.

The Commander in Chief, Allied Force, was by no means unaware of the risks. “I think the best way to describe our operations to date,” he wrote at the time, “is that they have violated every recognized principle of war, are in conflict with all operational and logistic methods laid down in textbooks, and will be condemned in their entirety by all Leavenworth and War College classes for the next twenty-five years.”

He accepted the French views and approved defense by General Anderson’s force of a line which ran east of Medjez el Bab, from Tamera on the north through Sidi Nsir, Djebel el Ang, Goubellat, and Bou Arada. From the new base line, the attack was to be resumed when the build-up and the weather made it possible. French troops of General Barre’s command were ordered by Giraud to extend the line south of Medjez el Bab through Goubellat, Bou Arada, and Barrage de l’Oued Kebir, and to cover the Medjerda valley, on a line facing south, through Slourhia, Testour, Teboursouk, and Le Kef: In the complex redistribution of forces, the 1st Guards Brigade (-) was to move to Medjez el Bab the night of 10-11 December and hold there. The 11th Brigade and Combat Command B were meanwhile to withdraw through Med jez el Bab and by 0600, 11 December to take up positions farther west. General Anderson’s advanced command post at Ain Seynour, just west of Souk Ahras, moved back to Constantine, to which Headquarters, British First Army, had already moved from Algiers. Preparations were made during two days of persistent rain. But before the Allies could begin their withdrawal, the enemy struck.

Early on 10 December, the 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, as part of the Fifth Panzer Army’s effort to expand the bridgehead, started a two-pronged offensive along both sides of the river, each prong supported by a company of tanks. The 7th Panzer Regiment began a southerly loop through Massicault, Furna, and Sidi Mediene (later known as “Peter’s Corner”) to attack Medjez el Bab from the southeast.

This regiment (less its 2nd Battalion) was reinforced by elements of the 501st Panzer Battalion, whose armament included Mark VI (“Tiger”) tanks, an antitank company, and a battery of 100-mm. guns.[Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, reported 62 light and 22 medium tanks plus 21 Sherman tanks of a detachment of the 2nd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, at the end of 9 December]. Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, was caught at Djebel Bou Aoukaz in an exposed position. The closest supporting positions were those of British units six to ten miles farther to the west. It was in danger of being cut off on the southeastern side of the river if enemy forces attacking from Tebourba gap got control of the Bordj Toum bridge at the same time that the enveloping sweep of 7th Panzer Regiment blocked access to the bridge at Medjez el Bab. The American armored unit fought throughout the day on rain-soaked ground which offered serious hazard to vehicular movement except by road.

An encounter took place at the Allied roadblock on the northwest bank near the railroad station of Bordj Toum, protected by mines laid by the U.S. 16th Combat Engineers and by antitank guns. These were supported by medium tanks of the 2nd Battalion, U.S. 13th Armored Regiment, and by 105-mm. howitzers of Battery B, 27th Field Artillery Battalion, firing across the river, as well as by Battery A, 175th Field Artillery Battalion, and the Headquarters Platoon, 13th Armored Regiment, on the northwest side. The engagement stopped the Germans and protected the bridgehead but left it under fire and subject to threat of renewed attack at nightfall On the east bank, the second prong of the German attack was held back by skillful defense and by soft ground, which limited maneuver. But the attack by the third enemy column, after overrunning elements of the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, reached a roadblock about two miles east of Medjez el Bab. Elements of the 4th Mixed Zouaves and Tirailleurs Regiment (4 MZI) plus the 3rd Battalion, French 62nd Artillery Regiment, and another French battery firing from the far side of the Medjerda river held up the advanced section of the enemy column about t 400, after knocking out four tanks and causing other losses.

Combat Command B tried to intercept the main enemy column with a flank attack, using elements of the 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, and of Company C, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion. The Germans turned back to meet this threat. The American light tanks were outgunned by the enemy and mired when they maneuvered off the road; nineteen were lost. The tank destroyers claimed ten German medium tanks knocked out before being put out of action themselves. The enemy had successfully run the gantlet until stopped by the French roadblock and the American counterattack. He then pulled back to Massicault leaving a small blocking detachment at Sidi Mediene. He had suffered only moderate losses, but at the end of the day, both the bridge at Med jez el Bab and that at Bordj Toum remained in Allied possession.

At dusk, the plans for Combat Command B’s withdrawal behind the approved line from the southeast side of the Medjerda were arranged in a roadside conference west of Medjez el Bab by Generals Allfrey, Evelegh, Oliver, and Robinett and by visits to other British commanders. British units were to cover Combat B’s route, including the vital Bordj Toum bridge. Two platoons of infantry, operating as a patrol, were designated for this mission.

The withdrawal began after darkness. One after another, the units pulled out of position on Djebel Bou Aoukaz and Djebel el Asoud and fell into column on a lateral road leading to Bordj Toum and the supposed roadblock. Tanks, half-tracks, trucks, guns, and other vehicles were soon closely bunched on a virtual causeway across a treacherous sea of mud, and remained so as they approached the river. Ahead of them, Company D, 13th Armored Regiment (Captain Philip St. G. Cocke), with some infantry, crossed at 1745 to strengthen the defense of the bridgehead until the withdrawal was complete. They found no evidence of the covering force and turned toward the railroad station of Bordj Toum and the supposed roadblock. A light engagement with a small German force ensued, the sounds of which started rumors back at the bridge that a German attack was imminent. Occasional shells fell near the bridge. The rumors spread from the head of the column to those in command. They made the position of the withdrawing force seem critical.

Rather than stop to reconnoiter, Lieutenant Colonel John R. McGinness, the officer in command, hurriedly ordered the vehicles to reverse and instead of crossing by the Bordj Toum bridge to turn off onto a narrow dirt track which ran near the southeastern bank of the river through Grich el Oued to Medjez cl Bab. It was a disastrous error of judgment. The leading vehicles kept going but behind them they left an increasingly churned-up ribbon of mud in which most of the remainder were completely mired. The crews were ordered to abandon them and continue into Medjez el Bab on foot. Under the circumstances, despite the fact that the tanks and half-tracks had already been brought close to the point of requiring overhaul by hard use and insufficient maintenance, the loss was equivalent to a serious defeat at the enemy’s hands.

It was particularly injurious to morale as it became a celebrated instance of frustrated logistical effort. 16 Vehicles could be replaced only by stripping some other unit. The 1st Battalion, 18th Armored Regiment, relinquished its materiel and some of its personnel and went back to the Oran area to await a new shipment. The 2nd Armored Division in Morocco sent 26 mediums by rail. A few of the mired vehicles were later extricated by determined crews before the enemy closed in. The Germans claimed to have destroyed 36 American tanks, 4 armored reconnaissance cars, 2 antitank guns, 3 armored prime movers, and an undetermined number of guns on 10 December, and during a subsequent mop-up of the battlefield on 11 December, 80 guns, vehicles, and armored personnel carriers.

The Allies could not resume their drive on Tunis until further preparations for a sustained attack had been completed. For some ten days after the Allied withdrawal of 10-11 December, combat was confined to patrolling by ground and air, and to bombing raids by each side. The enemy consolidated his position, moved security elements into dominating heights along the routes northeast of that town, and set up his main line of resistance from Bordj Toum to the road between Furna and Massicault and thence southward to the hills.

Meanwhile the Allies built up supplies at the railhead in Souk el Arba, got the railroad between Tabarka and Sedjenane into limited service, and strengthened antiaircraft defenses. Allied forces, American, British, and French, were regrouped for another major thrust above the Medjerda river and for support to the north and south of it.

The Allied retirement to the west and the continued arrival of Axis reinforcements in Tunisia permitted General von Arnim to expand the two perimeters protecting Bizerte and Tunis into a general bridgehead. His line became a series of interconnected defense outposts which he endeavored to consolidate. As of 13 December the northwestern part of his front started on the coast about twenty-five miles west of Bizerte, crossed the hills to the south as far as the Djefna position, then bore southeast to cross the Tine river valley; about five miles southwest of Chouigui pass the line surmounted Djebel Lanserine and near Bordj Toum leapt the Medjerda river. Continuing in a southeasterly direction and passing east of Ksar Tyr, it continued towards the southeast to Zarhouan and the area of Enfidaville.

This front was divided into three sectors held in turn by Division von Broich from the north coast to the area of the Tine river valley, by 10th Panzer Division to a point ten miles west of Zarhouan, and by the Superga Division in the south and east. The extreme southern flank, beginning at a point southwest of Enfidaville, was under command of General Giovanni Imperiali of the Italian 50th Special Brigade. Defense of the coast to the north was divided between General Neuffer at Bizerte and the German commandant of Tunis.

On 15 December the Fifth Panzer Army ordered a considerable southward movement to begin next day. The 10th Panzer Division’s sector was extended to include Ksar Tyr and Pont-du-Fahs, the southern edge of good “tank country” in northern Tunisia. General von Arnin directed the Superga Division, Italian 50th Special Brigade, the 47th Grenadier Regiment, and the 190th Reconnaissance Battalion (directly under Fifth Panzer Army headquarters) to occupy stations along the coast and in the mountain passes of the Eastern Dorsal. They were to occupy and defend the defiles through the mountain chain from Pont-du-Fahs to Maknassy and thence to El Guettar and Kebili in southern Tunisia. They were to recover the pass near Faid and the other key points at which French troops were installed. On 16 December the 10th Panzer and Superga Divisions advanced their main line of resistance while the 190th Reconnaissance Battalion completed its mission as Ordered.

Allied aviation, whose overstrained condition had made necessary an interlude before a second drive toward Tunis, was improved and organized for better co-operation. A new Allied offensive required more fighter support of the ground troops, which in turn depended upon preparing forward airfields, bringing up steel matting for runways, obtaining fuel and other supplies, and establishing a rapid flow of replacement aircraft. The air arm of the Allied Force was faced with a monumental task. The number of planes at the forward airfields increased. Intermediate fields at Telergma and Canrobert, southwest and southeast of Constantine, began operations. At Biskra, on the edge of the desert, another field permitted American heavy bombers to operate without plunging into mud whenever they overran a runway. B-17’s (Flying Fortresses) and Wellington heavy bombers equipped for night operations used the all-weather field at Maison Blanche and the one paved runway at Blida. Light and medium bombers from Morocco came to Youks-les-Bains. The headquarters of various air commands were scattered and linked by primitive signal facilities. During the forthcoming offensive, control over both British and American tactical air units would be maintained by the principal air officer on General Anderson’s staff.

Reducing the enemy’s rate of reinforcement to stop him from successfully counterbalancing each increment of the Eastern Task Force was a major objective for Allied aviation. Royal Air Force units based on Malta sank or crippled seven small merchant vessels, including oil tankers, in December, and bombed airfields in Sicily.

American and British aircraft of the Eastern Air Command struck repeatedly at the Tunisian terminals of the airlift and at the ports of Bizerte and Tunis. The enemy’s improved antiaircraft defenses and numerous intercepting fighters, as well as the network of accessible airfields at his disposal, enabled him to take a high toll of Allied fighter escort. Allied fighter units were worked to the limit to meet the demands for escort missions and sweeps against enemy dive bombers.

The Plans for the Final Attack

AFHQ estimated the effective Allied combat troops at 20,000 British, 11,800, Americans, and 7,000 French, while the opposing Axis forces were set at about 25,000 combat and 10,000 service troops, most of them in the Tunis bridgehead. The enemy was credited with eighty German tanks. The Allies were stronger in long-range artillery, although the enemy’s 88-mm. gun was deeply respected. The Allied tanks, though weaker, were somewhat more numerous. It was recognized that Axis aviation would be superior to that of the Allies.

After postponements caused both by adverse weather and by the rate of build-up, General Anderson, under General Eisenhower’s prodding, concluded on 16 December that D Day must be set at 23-24 December in order to take advantage of a full moon for night infantry attacks. He intended to concentrate maximum strength on a relatively narrow front for a direct push toward Tunis. This arrangement would make the most of his artillery and antitank resources. He would reduce flank protection to the minimum consistent with safety. He proposed to keep the British 6th Armoured and 78th Divisions in close co-operation and to hold Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division (which he estimated at half-strength), in corps reserve. The attack could be maintained, he believed, for from seven to ten days only.

Headquarters, British 5 Corps, prepared the plan. The attack was again to be along the Medjerda river, but this time with the main effort on the southeastern side. In November, the stream had been a protection for the Allied south flank as the attacking force converged on Djedeida with the intention of crossing there. In the December attempt, the river was to be a protection for the north (left) flank, and except for a small force using the bridge at El Bathan, the Allied forces would cross it from the northwest at Medjez el Bab and even farther upstream. The two British divisions, 6th Armoured and 78th, with the American 18th Combat Team (1st Infantry Division) attached to the latter, were expected to approach Tunis via Massicault from the southwest.

Two artillery groups were organized to support the attack by massed fires. Their employment necessitated maneuver off the roads, which became more feasible as the rains abated for a few days. The Allied center, near Sidi Nsir, was to be held by a mixed force of French and British infantry and American artillery. On the north flank, Brigadier Kent-Lemon’s 36th Brigade Group was to threaten Mateur, but Anderson considered his strength sufficient only to contain, not to capture, that town. No parachute or Commando operations in the rear of the enemy were scheduled.

Preliminary to the advance south of the Medjerda river, the Allies had to gain its northwestern bank as far as Tebourba, beginning with the capture of Djebel el Ahmera (290, Longstop Hill), about seven miles northeast of Med jez el Bab. That hill dominated the highway and railroad routes prospective condition of First Army on 22 December in between Medjez el Bab and Tebourba, and furnished unimpeded observation over a wide area from its long, knobby crest. The Axis commander had less than a battalion of infantry in positions on the mountain and along the base, particularly at the small railroad station (Halte d ‘el Heri) near the eastern end of Longstop Hill.

Although the main Allied attack on Tunis was scheduled for 24-25 December, preliminary operations by the 78th Division were planned for each of the two preceding nights to gain the approaches to the Tebourba-Djedei’da area. On 22-23 December, British troops were to seize the village of Grich el Oued on the southeast bank of the Medjerda, a few miles northeast of Medjez el Bab, while a battalion of the Coldstream Guards, followed by the 1st Battalion, U.S. 18th Infantry Regiment, was to occupy Longstop Hill. Next day the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, on a march through the mountains toward Tebourba gap, would pass through the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Algerian Infantry Regiment, and that night further advances were scheduled which would regain for Allied troops possession of Bordj Toum bridge, Djebel el Guessa, and Tebourba gap. On 25 December, when the main offensive began, the left flank of the main thrust at EI Bathan-Tebourba-Djedeida would be held by the British 11th Infantry Brigade.

The main Allied attack was prefaced by operations which the French Army undertook on the southern flank, a drive to gain possession of the commanding heights at the juncture of the Eastern and Western Dorsals. The objective was the high ground from Djebel Fkirine (988), to Djebel Zarhouan (1295), south and east of Pont-du-Fahs.

Rebaa Oulad Yahia was occupied on 16 December, but during the next four days, while Colonel Marcel Carpentier’s reinforced 7th Moroccan Infantry Regiment continued northeastward, the Superga Division also strengthened its outposts with armor, self-propelled guns, and air support. The first lunge of the French was stopped on 22 December after two days’ fighting had gained the Barrage de rOued Kebir at considerable cost. A second attempt in greater strength, directed by General Maurice Mathenet and supported by small Allied units of armor, antitank guns, and aviation, was made on 27 December, also without success. These operations were co-ordinated with others by the Eastern Task Force, but a unified command over the whole Allied front was not yet in existence.

[NOTE NA-45G: (1) French losses, 20-22 December, were 14 killed, 95 wounded, and 58 missing. They captured 10 German and 26 Italian soldiers. CSTT Jnl, 20-22 Dec 42. French losses in the 27-29 December attack were 37 killed, 156 wounded, and 188 missing. They also lost 9 American-made tanks and 9 guns. Captured were 7 German and 122 Italian prisoners. CSTT Jnl, 27-29 Dec 42. (2) Msg, CinC AF to CCS, 17 Dec 43, NAF 43.]

General Giraud proposed to General Eisenhower on 17 December that the supreme command in Tunis should now pass to him, in general agreement with a formula indicated in the discussions at Gibraltar, when he was ready to become the French leader in Northwest Africa. He reminded the Allied commander in chief that an estimated 40,000 French troops were in the forward area. The proposal required some satisfactory accommodation of Giraud’s claims, for the French troops, though ill equipped, were essential both to cover the southern flank of the Eastern Task Force and to deliver aggressive pressure at selected points. General Giraud was not willing to put French units under General Anderson’s command. Despite the need for unified control, its exercise by Giraud could not be reconciled with military and political realities.

The Allied commander in chief later resolved the problem by creating an advance command post at Constantine through which he himself would co-ordinate the parallel operations of French, British, and American commands; however, long before the activation of the post in January, Giraud had been diverted by other problems of great urgency.

During the night of 16-17 December a small raid on Maknassy was carried out by eighty selected men from Company L, U.S. 26th Infantry, under Lieutenant Colonel John W. Bowen. They struck the town from the flank and rear with complete surprise to the much larger garrison. They took twenty-one Italian prisoners from the Ariete Division, men who had survived EI ‘Alamein and arrived at Gabes on 10 December as members of the Italian 50th Special Brigade, but who were now, within a week, taken out of combat.

In preparing for a possible Allied offensive, Kesselring chose to strengthen von Arnim’s command in Tunisia rather than meet Rommel’s insistent requirements for the means of making a stand at Buerat el Hsun. On 17 December, when Rommel argued the futility of keeping his army there in view of the failure of the supply line and the inadequacy of the men and materiel he had been receiving, Kesselring assured von Arnim in Tunis that both men and materiel would soon be on the way to him. Three regiments of infantry and the truck transport with which to motorize the reserves would come to Tunisia. Stevedores and cranes from Italy would speed up port operations. Air support would take the form which von Arnim requested-strikes on the concentration areas and close support during future engagements. The Axis command also called for an extensive program of sabotage by parachutists and glider-borne troops intended to disrupt Allied supply traffic between the ports and the front, and to delay Allied advance to the coast in the vicinity of Sfax and Gabes. This attempt (Operation RIGA) was frustrated for the most part by Allied countermeasures.

The Engagement at Longstop Hill The second Allied attempt to take Tunis, it will be recalled, was to be preceded during the night of 22-23 December by the seizure of Grich el Oued by a reinforced company of the 3rd Grenadier Guards and the capture of Longstop Hill by the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards. After Longstop had been secured, the Coldstreams were to hand it over before dawn to the 1st Battalion, U.S. 18th Infantry, and return to Medjez el Bab in order to participate in the main phase of the attack on Tunis. Longstop Hill, the objective of this initial phase of the attack, is not quite seven miles to the northeast of Med jez el Bab.

The mountain, rising to more than nine hundred feet, is separated from the higher ground to the west by a saddle, to the north by a small basin that widens into the plain of Toungar. Between the eastern slopes and a loop in the Medjerda river is a gap, less than half a mile wide, where a railroad station, Halte d ‘el Heri, is located. The dominating ridge stretches for almost two miles in an east-northeasterly direction and is marked by a succession of knolls, the highest being Point 290, near the center of the crest. At the far end, separated by a ravine from the main feature, rises another somewhat lower hill, Djebel el Rhar (243). The tactical significance of this hill, even its existence, had not been discovered during the reconnaissance for the attack.

Combat Team 18 of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division moved up from Oran with elements of the U.S. 36th Field Artillery Regiment (155-mm. guns) for the final attack. Although Djebel el Rhar has been described as masked during reconnaissance and not shown on the map used by the Guards battalion, it is clearly shown on Sheet 19 (Tebourba) of the 1:50,000 map published by the British War Office in 1942 and attached to the 78th Division’s attack orders held by Combat Team 18.

The battalion plan was to capture Longstop Hill by advancing with two companies on the left, via Chassart Teffaha, to take the col with one of them and secure the crest with the other. Meanwhile a third company, proceeding along the main road, was to take Halte d’el Heri. The reserve company, following the same route, would be assembled at the southern base of the hill close to the battalion headquarters.

On the German side, the 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment with attached elements of the newly arrived 754th Infantry Regiment, both under the command of Colonel Lang, held the line north of the Medjerda, the boundary between Lang’s sector and the one held by the adjoining 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, south of the river. During the night of 21-22 December elements of the crack 69th Panzer Grenadiers who had occupied positions on the hill and at the railroad station had been relieved by two companies of the hastily organized 754th Infantry Regiment. To speed up their commitment the men had been shipped to Tunisia with hand weapons only. They occupied the line without special equipment, lacked organic transport, and consequently had been unable to carry their full basic load of ammunition.

The German main line of resistance ran through Point 290, Djebel el Rhar, and Halte d’el Heri. The latter position was well protected by mine fields, some of which were not known to the Allies. As early as 21 December enemy artillery observers on Longstop Hill had recognized substantial Allied movements in the vicinity of Medjez el Bab. Patrols had reported Chassart Teffaha and Smidia reoccupied by the Allies. At noon, the next day, German air confirmed these reports. When the attack started, it lacked the element of surprise.

The British troops who engaged in the preliminary attack advanced through heavy rains which began late in the afternoon, 22 December, and continued throughout the night. Grieh el Oued was taken without opposition and held until 26 December, but vehicles had to be sent back lest they be trapped in the mire. The company of the 3rd Grenadier Guards (3/GG) relied henceforth on mules for transport.

North of the river the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards (2/CG), executed the initial phase of its assault according to plan. It secured Longstop Hill as far as Point 290; it also reached the railroad station. The green troops of the 754th Infantry Regiment, disheartened by the powerful Allied artillery preparation, soon exhausted their ammunition, and after a valiant effort to defend their position, with bayonets only, some elements withdrew. Things appeared to be going well for the Allies. But then the Germans counterattacked at the railroad station and drove the Coldstream Guards back. A reserve platoon which the Guards committed in an attempt to stabilize the situation ran into an antipersonnel mine field. The British commander, under the mistaken impression that he held all of Longstop Hill, abandoned the attack and left the Germans in control of HaIte d’el Heri.

The 1st Battalion, U.S. 18th Infantry, had meanwhile begun its advance from Medjez el Bab, but had fallen somewhat behind schedule. The British commander expected two of the U.S. rifle companies to take the route via Chassart Teffaha and the others including the battalion headquarters to follow the main road. The Americans, however, were disposed to take the left road with three companies, including the heavy weapons company and battalion headquarters, while sending only Company A and the battalion antitank platoon to Halte d’el Heri. The guides left by the Coldstream Guards to lead the several units into position either missed them in the dark rainy night, or did not know where to take them. The resulting confusion made orderly relief quite impossible. While the two commanding officers finally managed to meet at the British command post, their headquarters never did link up. At 0430 the 1st Guards Brigade ordered the Coldstream back to Medjez el Bab. The battalion, under the impression that only a handful of the enemy remained to be mopped up, left the hill before all positions previously held by them were reached by the Americans. The existence of Djebel el Rhar had gone unnoticed.

In the morning of 23 December the Americans realized that they held little more than half of Longstop Hill. Company A, reinforced by tanks, struck again for the railroad station, advancing between the road and Longstop Hill’s eastern slopes. In the gap a reinforced panzer grenadier company successfully enveloped most of the company, capturing or killing all but one officer and thirteen men. Meantime the 1st Battalion, 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, had counterattacked the Americans dug in on the hill. Strong German elements circled the northwestern base of the Longstop massif and drove the Americans off Point 290. By 1500 Colonel Lang reported all positions of his former main line of resistance recaptured. An hour later the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, supported by British artillery, launched a co-ordinated counterattack against Point 290. In the face of determined German resistance the attack failed. By 1800 the U.S. battalion had to take up defensive positions to the west and south. B Company was now in an advance position on the knob closest to Point 290 with C and D Companies in support. Communications were exceedingly difficult. Wire lines were frequently cut; the rad105 got soaked in the heavy rain and failed. Those still operational were handicapped by the screening effect of the hills.

After the first setbacks the commanding officer of the 18th Infantry, Colonel Frank U. Greer, requested reinforcements, lest the whole mountain be lost. The Coldstream, back at Med jez el Bab since 1030, were the only reserve available. The 1st Guards Brigade now ordered them back. One company returned during the afternoon to the scene of its night battle, but it was not until late at night that the rest of the battalion was assembled at the entrance to the Colonel In the drenching rain all roads beyond Chassart Teffaha had become impassable. There were no mules to take the place of motor vehicles.

As both sides brought up additional forces, the battle for Longstop Hill came to a temporary halt. The enemy had watched the battle with deep concern. General von Arnim, his chief of staff, and General Fischer came forward during the day to Colonel Lang’s command post near the hill. Early in the morning von Arnim had sent elements of the 7th Panzer Regiment and an organic 88-mm. flak battery of the 10th Panzer Division to Toungar. The 2nd Battalion, 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, was rushed to Tebourba gap. Additional elements of the 754th Infantry Regiment were also brought up and attached to Colonel Lang’s command.

In accordance with the Allied plan the 5th Northamptons, during the night of 22-23 December, had embarked on the highly difficult mission of advancing through the mountains from Toukabeur via Heidous and Sidi Ahmed to Tebourba gap. At noon (1235), meanwhile, 5 Corps had decided to postpone the main Allied attack, continuing only the battle for Longstop Hill. Desperate efforts were immediately undertaken to reach the Northamptons and order them back, but planes sent out were unable to locate the battalion in the cloud-covered mountains. The Germans, however, had been warned by Arabs. Patrols sent out confirmed the threat to Colonel Lang’s right flank. In the afternoon two companies of the 754th Infantry Regiment were dispatched to drive the British off Hill 466, some four miles north of Longstop Hill. In a bitter night engagement the Germans succeeded, but before this reassuring news could reach the German command the panzer grenadiers on Longstop had been almost driven off the mountain.

By 0600, on 24 December, the Coldstream Guards had again assembled in the Colonel This time the battalion planned to pass one company through B Company, 18th Infantry, still clinging to the hill opposite 290. The Guards company was to clear the ridge all the way to the east. It would thus be in a position to dominate the gap. Another British company would follow in support, while one reserve company would be held in the Colonel The fourth company was organized into carrying parties. At 1700, two hours before dark, the attack went off. Following closely behind a rolling barrage, the Coldstream again drove the Germans off the crest, “but when No.4 [Company] reached the final peak they saw in the failing light what had never been appreciated Djebel el Rhar staring at them across a gully. They thereupon inclined to the left and gallantly attempted to deal with this new objective. It was found, however, to be strongly held and to be a much larger area than anyone company could possibly cope with.”

Nevertheless the Coldstream temporarily reached Djebel el Rhar’s highest peak, Point 243, but in the darkness evidently never realized it. From the north slope the Germans continued to subject the companies to accurate and devastating mortar fire, while the men were struggling to dig in on the rocky crest as best they could. For the German command Christmas Eve had brought a serious crisis. Colonel Lang’s forces were still fighting to eliminate the threat to their right flank. The units on Longstop Hill had been driven off the massif and were regrouping in the eastern reentrants. Losses had been painful, though considerably below those of the Allies.

Faced with this situation Lang decided to counterattack the next morning. A small group in the center of the German line was able to regain Point 243 on Djebel el Rhar during the night. This unit was ordered to hold down the Allies with strong frontal fire. Armored elements of the 7th Panzer Regiment, swinging around the northern slopes of Longstop Hill, were to advance to the saddle, destroy the Allied troops there, and exploit by pushing toward the southern entrance of the pass. The main attack would round Longstop Hill’s base from the east with the objective of completing the double envelopment.

On Christmas Day, 0700, the enemy struck his final blow. In the col a company of French native troops without any antitank weapons was quickly dispersed by the German armored thrust. When the French withdrew they exposed the Allied left flank.

 

The enemy’s main-effort group, personally led by Colonel Lang, caught the Americans from the rear. The Coldstream Guards were thus isolated in their position on top of Longstop Hill. The Allied situation soon became untenable and when the Germans retook 290 by 0900, General Allfrey ordered his troops to withdraw. Against stubborn resistance the Germans took all of the remaining knobs of the hill, but when they sortied toward Chassart Taffaha they were stopped by mine fields and the 3rd Grenadier Guards who had been committed on the high ground to the east of the village. The enemy remained on Longstop Hill, and for understandable reasons called it thereafter “Christmas Hill.” Losses during the four-day engagement had been heavy. American casualties amounted to nine officers and three hundred and forty-seven men; the Coldstream Guards lost one hundred and seventy-eight officers and men.

Obviously a number of mistakes had been made in the planning and execution of the attack. Insufficient reconnaissance contributed to the fact that Longstop Hill was never completely captured. Requiring one battalion to secure the objective and perfect the transfer in the same night was asking the impossible. The Allied troops also lacked air support, largely owing to the weather conditions. During the decisive German counterattack on Christmas Day artillery support was highly unsatisfactory because the forward observers had been withdrawn the night before and were unable to return.

On 24 December, at V Corps headquarters, General Eisenhower and General Anderson had reached the conclusion that the weather dictated an indefinite deferment of the second Allied offensive aimed at capturing Tunis. After all troops which had moved east of the 11 December line had returned during the night of 25-26 December it was evident that not even the preliminary phase of the Allied attack, with the objective of gaining the approaches of the Tebourba-Djedelda area, had been realized. With the greatest reluctance, General Anderson and General Eisenhower in Constantine concluded that the race with the Axis forces had been lost. Tunisia would have to be taken by a prolonged struggle and with a strategy substantially revised. In his periodic review for the Combined Chiefs of Staff, General Eisenhower indicated that the initial, opportunistic phase of operations would now be followed by initiative in another quarter while the vast supplies and reinforcements needed to capture Tunis and Bizerte were slowly being accumulated.

The Allied Force would begin reorganizing immediately. Weather would not permit resumption of the attack in northern Tunisia for about two months. Acknowledging that abandonment of the attempt to capture Tunis was a severe disappointment, the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, deemed the evidence conclusive that any attempt to make a major attack in northern Tunisia under existing conditions would be to court disaster.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (5-18); New Situation: Allied Reaction

World War Two: North Africa (4-17); Stalemate Before Tunis (pt.1)

Show us the way; Progressive California

California you could now become the leader of the Green New Deal, and prove that you are the prime mover for the truly New Order for the United States. Shut down all of the carbon emitter’s in your state, stop air traffic across your region, ban all internal combustion engines on your road ways, (I would love to see the rich with their chauffeured  two-seater bicycle), immediately shut down all coal and oil fired power plants, show us how we can just as easily depend on solar, hydro and wind powered energy, put an end to all those diesel electric trains that flow back and forth across your pristine landscape, supporting that most famous economy you always brag about, and close all those plastic production and dependent plants, even those in the Silicon Valley (which could not provide a product with out plastic, i.e phones, note pads, ect.). The new Governor of your superior  intelligent state, can do all this with the stroke of pen, or maybe a pencil, as a ink pen contains the no-no plastic. Show us the way California, be the progressive I know you can be, and once you lead the rest shall follow, and the world will be saved, and the populace richer, if not in monetary means at least in the spiritual satisfaction that we did save the planet, even if the Chinese  smog blanketed the Pacific west coast.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Eddy Toorall

World War Two: North Africa (4-17); Stalemate Before Tunis (pt.1)

Field Marshal Kesselring directed General Nehring, commanding the German forces defending Tunis, to enlarge the area they were holding. During a visit to Tunis on 28 November he found much to criticize. He believed that Medjez el Bab should have been defended rather than abandoned. The unloadings of cargo at Bizerte had been much too slow, limiting operations against the Allies and retarding the schedule of sea transport. He found Nehring’s attitude too cautious and defensive. Since another infantry regiment was soon to arrive, he urged that the situation be faced with confident determination rather than in a mood of desperation. Finally, he ordered Nehring to regain lost ground up to a line running from Tebourba gap to Massicault. Nehring placed the operation under command of the recently arrived commanding general of the 10th Panzer Division, General Wolfgang Fischer, and scheduled it for not later than 1 December.

[NOTE: General Fischer was relieved as Military Governor of Bizerte by Generalmajor Georg Neuffer, commanding general of the 20th Flak Division.]

The Allied forces were then widely dispersed in the Tebourba area. The most advanced elements were at the ridge line near Djedeida. Two miles west of them a company held Djebel Maiana ( 186) and made full use of its dominating position for observation of the plain below. Close to Tebourba village were various units, including the 2nd Battalion, U.S. 13th Armored Regiment, and the U.S. 5th Field Artillery Battalion. Other units were at El Bathan, on the southeastern bank of the Medjerda river south of Tebourba. The remainder of the Allied troops held a triangular area whose points, about four miles apart, were at Tebourba village (5th Northamptons), Chouigui village ( Blade Force less 17/21 Lancers), and Tebourba gap (Headquarters, 11th Brigade, 17/21 Lancers, and artillery and antitank units.

Tebourba gap is a narrow belt of level ground between Djebel Lanserine (569) and the Medjerda river through which a highway and railroad run to Medjez el Bab. Along the western edge of the triangle are the serried shoulders of Djebel Lanserine, rising from the edge of the rolling plain. Between Tebourba gap and Tebourba is a low ridge, while between Tebourba and Chouigui are dips and wadies and a few clumps of trees.

Since 29 November Blade Force had been assembled in the area of Chouigui and in a position to protect the left (northern) flank of Brigadier E. E. Cass’s 11 th Infantry Brigade, at the same barring time access to Chouigui pass from the east From this assembly area the 17/21 Lancers ( 17/21 L) had moved early in the morning of 1 December to Tebourba gap, leaving the 1st Battalion, U.S. 1st Armored Regiment, and other elements of Blade Force behind. This was the setting for General Fischer’s counterattack, which opened a little later that morning.

The Axis Counterattack Begins

To carry out his orders Fischer was assigned the forces in the Tunis North sector, 190th Panzer Battalion, and those elements of the 10th Panzer Division that had arrived in Tunisia. The Tunis North sector forces maned a perimeter, divided into two subsectors-that under Colonel Guensch running from Protville to Djedeida and that under Lt. Colonel Koch from Djedeida through St. Cyprien to La Mohammedia. Group Lueder (elements of 190th Panzer Battalion), which had helped close the gap between Mateur and Djedelda on 28 November by its advance from Sidi Athman, stood three miles north of Chouigui pass, and the elements of the 10th Panzer Division under Captain Hudel were assembling in the area around Protville. From the Mateur area Fischer recalled on 30 November a small tank unit which had been with Group Witzig opposing Brigadier A. L. Kent-Lemon’s 36th Brigade Group. General Fischer expected to have at his disposal for his attack approximately forty tanks, mostly Mark III’s, and about fifteen 75-mm. antitank guns and he was expecting additional reinforcements daily.

Late on 30 November he took command of the Tunis North sector from Colonel Stolz and issued orders for his counterattack from headquarters at Le Bardo, on the edge of Tunis. The only radio available to his staff was that in Tunis at Headquarters, XC Corps. Some of the forces to be committed would pass out of radio contact at the first hostilities and could be reached thereafter only by courier. Accepting this handicap, he assigned and scheduled objectives that would take a considerable period of time, and prepared to exercise direct command at various points on the battlefield, trusting otherwise to the discretion of his principal subordinate commanders.

The operation was to open with a holding attack on the southern flank and an armored thrust against the northern flank delivered at the triangle south of Chouigui village. Four separate groups were organized. At the outset, three would be in motion while the fourth waited in reserve. At the south, Group Koch (seven companies of parachute infantry, three companies of regular infantry, one German and one Italian antitank company, two field artillery pieces, and platoons of engineers and bicyclists) was to tie down the Allies by attacking EI Bathan.

 

Northwest of Chouigui village, Group Lueder (one company of tanks, one field artillery battery of three guns, one company of dismounted motorcycle troops) was to exit from a valley near Hill 258 and attack toward the south, while also blocking the road through Chouigui pass. Group Hudel (two companies of tanks, two companies of antitank guns, and a company of dismounted motorcycle troops) was to attack from Sidi Athman, eight miles north of Djedelda, and destroy the Allied armored force at Chouigui, and then, in conjunction with Group Lueder, to drive through Chouigui and attack Tebourba from the west. If the Allies were already falling back from the town by the time the groups reached the area west of Tebourba, the mission of Croups Lueder and Hudel would be to block the Tebourba gap.

Ready at Djedelda, a fourth group (Group Djedeida ) would pursue the Allies if they pulled back during the tank operations north of Tebourba but otherwise would await General Fischer’s specific order to attack. Group Djedeida included one company of parachute infantry, two companies of regular i:ifantry, two antiaircraft companies, eighteen 20-mm. guns, a motorcycle engineer platoon, elements of a tank destroyer company ( three 55-mm. guns ), two Mark III tanks and the two untried Tiger tanks which had successfully made the overland trip from port to battle front. Several of the new 88-mm. flak guns were diverted from the defense of Bizerte to be converted to use as antitank weapons of surprising power.

The German counterattack began at 0745, 1 December. It had substantial success from the start. Allied troops saw the two armored columns converging on Chouigui, elements of Blade Force in the vicinity first observing Group Lueder. Northwest of the village, they engaged in a relatively brief artillery exchange which cost each side light losses. The attacking group in two extended V-shaped lines continued south toward Chouigui. The supply and service units of Blade Force, screened by 1st Battalion, U.S. 1st Armored Regiment, and Squadron B, 1st Derbyshire Yeomanry, fell back east toward Tebourba to avoid being enveloped.

Then Group Hudel, accompanied by General Fischer, delivered the main blow against Chouigui from the north. Blade Force was thus attacked from two directions, and before noon had been largely overrun, its headquarters dispersed, and the remainder driven back on Tebourba. An attempt to assist the armor at Chouigui by sending 17/21 Lancers back from Tebourba gap to Blade Force’s western flank proved ineffectual.

When the Lancers moved out of the cover of an olive grove and approached their objective across open ground, five of their Crusader tanks were knocked out by the enemy’s longer-ranged guns, concealed in the trees south of Chouigui. The remainder pulled back to a strong position on a knoll northwest of Tebourba in support of the 11th Brigade Group. When the units of Blade Force which had not been destroyed at Chouigui later withdrew to Tebourba, they were attached to 17/21 Lancers for further employment.

The German armor continued southward from Chouigui in a careful pursuit which was slowed even further by the delaying action of a British armored car unit, covering the somewhat hasty withdrawal into Tebourba gap of Allied trains, artillery, and other units. The congestion of vehicles converging there was increased when enemy rifle and machine gun fire from Hill 104 near the southern bank of the river temporarily stopped movement along the northern bank. Allied artillery emplaced on high ground at Tebourba gap was weakly protected against possible ground attack with close air support, but the afternoon passed without execution of such a threat although enemy air attacks were frequent. At the same time, these batteries continued successfully to slow the southward advance of the Germans despite persistent counterbattery and heavy machine gun fire on their positions. Groups Lueder and Hudel were finally stopped just north of the main road between Tebourba gap and Tebourba, although they succeeded in denying use of that road to the Allies despite one Allied air bombing and persistent Allied artillery fire. During the afternoon, the defenders did not fall back westward from Tebourba but, reinforced by the arrival of elements of Blade Force, held their positions. Under Fischer’s plan, German armor was expected to attack Tebourba next, but instead it was held northwest of the village while Group Djedeida attacked.

Group Djedeida attacked early in the afternoon against the Allied line at the ridge west of Djedeida, marking the climax of Allied progress toward Tunis. General Fischer had left Group Hudel, around noon after Chouigui had fallen, to lead Group Djedeida’s attack personally. Its troops were inferior in skill and morale, and it lacked reserves. The two supporting Tiger tanks were helpful, but the stubborn resistance offered by the 2nd Hampshires (2/H) held the attackers far short of their objective. During the course of the day the elements of Group Koch designated for the attack on the German left (south) flank advanced to points south and east of El Bathan.

The Allied situation at nightfall, 1 December, was not good, although the battle had not reached a decisive stage. Enemy maneuvers had exposed the 11th Brigade Group’s northern flank and had reduced the zone between Tebourba and Tebourba gap to a narrowing strip close to the Medjerda.

Enemy air attacks upon Allied units moving in daylight had increased in tempo. Blade Force was divided. Its effectiveness as a tactical unit had been destroyed. The 11th Brigade Group was strung out from Tebourba gap on the west to the vicinity of Djedeida on the east and was grouped in four principal sections: (1) the 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, at the ridge near Djedeida, with one company of the 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, on Djebel Maiana west of it, protecting the observation post, and miscellaneous units, including elements of the 2nd Battalion, U.S. 13th Armored Regiment, near Tebourba; (2) a southern force, the 1st Surreys (-), holding El Bathan on the southern side of the river with two companies supported by heavy artillery and antitank guns; (3) a western force, chiefly artillery, on the hills north of Tebourba gap; and (4) the remnants of Blade Force, mainly the 17/21 Lancers, harboring south of Tebourba village. These Allied troops improved their situation during the night by shifts and reinforcements.

Most of the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment (5INH), after blunting the German armored thrust, was able to move onto the ridges north of Tebourba gap to protect the hitherto exposed artillery positions there, while remnants of Blade Force continued to rally in that area. Substantial reinforcements from Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, approached from Medjez el Bab and brought to Tebourba gap by daylight of 2 December the light tanks of the 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (less Company C), the mediums of Company E, 13th Armored Regiment, which had been recalled from attachment to the 36th Brigade Group, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 6th Armored Infantry, and a battery of four self-propelled 105-mm. howitzers of the 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. A truck convoy loaded with ammunition, gasoline, and rations got through to Tebourba where replenishment was badly needed. Partially offsetting these gains, the southern force defending El Bathan lost the support of the U.S. 5th Field Artillery Battalion’s 155-mm. howitzers by its failure to receive ammunition resupply. Without authorization by the commander of the British artillery unit to which it was attached, the battalion withdrew during the night rather than uselessly expose its weapons.

The Second Day

General Evelegh had forfeited the initiative but intended, if possible, to relieve Blade Force with Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, under command of General Oliver, and to counterattack the enemy’s armored forces northwest of Tebourba while the 11th Brigade Group held its positions. The enemy for his part intended to draw tighter the German ring encircling Tebourba by sending the two armored groups and Group Djedeida against it in the morning while Group Koch prevented any withdrawal to the south through El Bathan and also reconnoitered against the possibility of Allied reinforcements approaching from the southwest. During the night, General Fischer sent an armored detachment to gain control of Tebourba gap, through which Allied reinforcements were correctly reported to be moving northeastward, but his force was driven away toward Chouigui.

The enemy’s prospects of early success were dimmed by the low quality of his infantry units. The Tunis Replacement Battalions, casual infantry which had been brought to XC Corps, were seriously deficient In important respects. General Fischer reported to General Nehring of their 1 December’s action:… not the slightest interest existed, no aggressive spirit, no readiness for action, so that I was forced to lead some companies, platoons, even squads, and to assign them a sector on the battlefield. I consider it my duty to point out this critical condition as it is impossible to fight successfully with such troops. It is also true that their command is inadequate. I have warned one captain who failed several times to execute his missions that in case of a repetition I would have him relieved. I had another officer relieved on the spot and demanded that he be court-martialed because he and his men lurked under cover for hours ….

The enemy nevertheless expanded his first day’s gains during 2 December. He did not occupy much new ground but he further weakened the Allies. The 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, by bitter fighting at the easternmost ridge line, held Group Djedeida, except for a penetration along the Medjerda river, but at heavy cost. At midnight the depleted British force had to withdraw about two miles to a new line which ran south from Djebel Malana to the river, the left (northern) flank being protected by A Company, 1st Surreys.

The southern defending force, two companies of the 1st Surreys in El Bathan, for a time supported by a detachment of 17/21 Lancers in forays against enemy mortar and machine gun emplacements, was worn down by persistent attack from Group Koch. It was threatened with partial encirclement after enemy machine gunners had infiltrated across the river into the olive groves on the Tebourba side. Because of the need to reinforce the troops at Tebourba village, Brigadier Cass authorized withdrawal of the infantry to positions nearer Tebourba, leaving the bridge at El Bathan covered only by antitank guns in exposed forward positions.

On the plain northwest of Tebourba, enemy armor almost completed its attempt to encircle the village. Brigadier Cass had four separate elements with which to oppose the German tanks. One consisted of tanks from the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, which had formed a part of Blade Force. They had been driven back to the cover to Tebourba’s olive orchards on the previous afternoon, and had later slipped northward from Tebourba to a wadi nearer Chouigui to escape being trapped. In the early morning, after scooting westward to the base of the hills and then continuing southward toward Tebourba gap, most of them reached the cover of British artillery and there rejoined the main Allied force.

Another element available was the 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (less Company E), which had been defending Tebourba village from close-in positions. It was in danger of being cut off at Tebourba and out of communication with Colonel Bruss, its commander. The newly arrived elements of Combat Command B formed a third armored element. The British antitank units attached to the 11th Brigade Group formed the fourth and vital part of the total Allied strength.

The situation on the morning of 2 December called for a well co-ordinated employment of these troops in tactics adapted to certain advantages held by each side. The Germans had pronounced air superiority. Their tanks were individually stronger than the American tanks, and some of their antitank guns were greatly superior to anything the Allies possessed. The Allies had larger numbers of tanks and antitank guns, and could also count on well-placed field artillery, aided by superb observation. The enemy’s well-knit armored groups were obliged to operate in a limited zone between Tebourba and Tebourba gap, where they were necessarily exposed much of the time to fire from the flanks and, if they turned against either area, to fire and counterattack from the rear. Instead of taking advantage of this situation, the Allies frittered away some of their armored strength in an attempt to pit tanks against tanks without even seeking to benefit from greater numbers.

Brigadier Cass was unable, moreover, to make effective use of all Allied strength for lack of radio communications with important elements of his command. General Oliver, as commander of Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, was expected to assume command of all armored units upon the relief of Blade Force, and at 1150, 2 December, he sent forward from Medjez el Bab Brigadier General Paul M. Robinett, commander of the 13th Armored Regiment, to bring about co-ordination from an advanced command post nearer Tebourba.

Robinett’s party arrived after a sortie of over thirty light tanks-made by 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, against German Mark IV’s without benefit of artillery support-had been driven back with heavy losses, and as Colonel Bruss was sending medium tanks of Company E, 13th Armored Regiment, toward Tebourba with a view to reinforcing and extricating the remainder of the 2nd Battalion of that regiment, west of the village. This ill-conceived attempt subjected the American vehicles to antitank fire which destroyed eight of the Shermans, cost several lives, and despite heroic conduct brought no benefits to the Allied side. Cass and Robinett agreed that the situation required defensive tactics until British and American forces could be strengthened and co-ordinated. Another attack by 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, was canceled.

Neither Group Lueder nor Group Hudel could punch its way as far as the river to cut off completely the Allies in and near Tebourba. The Allied artillery in the olive groves west of the town joined the guns on high ground above the gap, catching the armored units from two directions, holding them back and inflicting substantial losses. Although the Germans dominated the main road between the gap and the village, they still left available to the Allies an unimproved track running close to the river’s bank and screened by trees.

The fighting of 2 December thus left the Germans still holding the initiative, still bringing up reinforcements, with much more yet to accomplish before the battle could be said to be theirs. The successive defeats of both British and American armor were ominous for the Allies, for they suggested that, even if the battle for Tebourba ended with a German withdrawal, Allied offensive power would be below requirements for a successful final assault on Tunis. At the same time, Axis air activity showed no sign of abatement. Under these conditions the next day’s battle, even if won by the Allies, might determine merely how far they could get in their December drive toward Tunis with no likelihood of leading to ultimate victory.

The Climax of the Counterattack, 3 December

On 2 December, two companies of the 10th Panzer Division’s 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment were flown from Italy to Tunisia and thence to reinforce Group Djedeida in the next day’s assault. The main effort was to be made by this group along the railroad, immediately after a heavy dive-bombing attack and with the support of tanks. Hill 186 was its objective. Group Lueder was ordered to stop traffic moving westward from Tebourba by pushing all the way to the river. Group Rudel, while supporting Group Lueder’s operation, was required to bar withdrawal from Tebourba to the northwest and north. Group Koch, besides strengthening the close-in protection of Tunis against a possible attack from the southwest, was to bar retreat over the EI Bathan bridge and to harass Allied traffic through the Tebourba gap by fire from hills opposite it on the southeastern bank of the river.

The third day’s fighting brought favorable results to the Axis forces. Quickly the two German armored groups, by taking two hills west of the town, narrowed the opening along the river’s northerly side through which the Allies to the west might keep in communication with those in Tebourba. Although El Bathan was mistakenly left undefended by Group Koch for part of the morning, leaving open a way for possible Allied withdrawal from Tebourba, the Allies had pulled back from El Bathan and were much too engrossed in resisting the seizure of Hill 186 (Djebel Maiana) to grasp the opportunity.

Group Djedeida waited until 1000 for a scheduled preparatory dive-bombing attack and then attacked without it. In a two-pronged thrust the Germans struck for Djebel Maiana. The right group gained the northern end of the ridge, secured it, then pressed southward until they controlled the entire hill. The loss of Hill 186 with its superlative observation post in the end proved decisive. Valiant counterattacks launched during the afternoon by the 2nd Hampshires were tantalizingly half-successful. The German left (south) prong of the Djedeida group, reinforced by tanks and supported by air strikes, broke through the British line just north of the river and by 1630 had succeeded in temporarily isolating the 2nd Hampshires in the orchards east of Tebourba. After a last attempt by the 1st Surreys to regain Hill 186 had failed, and under a very heavy dive-bombing attack on Tebourba, the remnants of the 2nd Hampshires prepared at 1800, together with remnants of other units, to evacuate Tebourba village.

The route of the withdrawal, begun after dark, was southward to the track along the river bank and thence westward through Tebourba gap. The enemy subjected the area to heavy artillery and machine gun fire.

As the column of vehicles thickened, some near its head were hit and set on fire; movement stopped, bombardment was intensified, part of the track close to the river gave way; progress became impossible, and extrication of the vehicles all but impossible.

They were therefore abandoned-field guns, tractors, and motor transport, along with much ammunition. The troops infiltrated across the countryside in small groups to Tebourba gap. The enemy had fortunately been cleared from the hills south of the river by Company C, U.S. 6th Armored Infantry, supported by Battery A, 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, in a sharp, short action on the previous morning. The way from Tebourba gap up the Medjerda valley was thus cleared of harassing fire at this critical time.

At 1100, 4 December, attacks from both east and west broke swiftly into Tebourba and, about an hour later, yielded the town to Groups Lueder and Djedeida. Group Koch then advanced northward from El Bathan and established contact with the other Axis units. The Allies had been stopped and turned back. They had withdrawn what they could, but the losses inflicted upon them by General Fischer’s command in four days were estimated by him to total: 55 tanks, 4 armored cars, 4-antitank guns, 6 100-mm. guns and 6 120-mm. guns, 13 smaller guns, 38 machine guns, 40 mortars, 300 motor vehicles, 1,000 to 1,100 Allied prisoners, and quantities of ammunition of many kinds. It was an unmistakable victory for Fischer and Nehring.

The general situation in Tunisia was reported to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 3 December by General Eisenhower as follows:

1. We have gone beyond the sustainable limit of air capabilities In supporting ground forces in a pell-mell race for Tunisia. Consequently, although our air forces have been working at maximum pace without even minimum repair, supply and maintenance facilities, the scale of possible support is insufficient to keep down the hostile strafing and dive-bombing which is so largely responsible for breaking up all attempted advances by ground forces.

2. The Air Commanders report that from 2 days to 1 week more of present scale air operation, under existing conditions, will leave them near or at complete breakdown, yet this scale of air support is not sufficient; provide reasonable conditions for air operation’s we must arrange at once for:

(a) Advanced operating airfields.

(b) Air maintenance troops well forward.

(c) Stocks of spare parts and supplies in advanced dromes.

(d) Warning services and Ack Ack.

To do these things we need a breathing space and proper air cover over land and sea routes of communication in the rear areas.

3. We will curtail air operations in forward areas to bomber attacks on ports and hostile lines of communication with occasional fighter attacks against existing airfields. Our ground operations will be reduced to consolidating

principal gains. . . . All our ground forces in Tunisia, except a portion of the “Blade” force brought out for refitting, arc in contact. No reserves are present in that area.

4. Seven days or even more of delay would not be particularly serious in view of tremendous distances we have advanced ahead of schedule, provided we could stop Axis ground reinforcement, something that to date we have not been able to do. Even with some opportunity to improve our general supply situation east of Algiers, there is a definite limit to our rate of build up and the strength of forces we can sustain in Tunisia ….

5 …. We hope, by reducing the number of aircraft in the forward areas during the next 5 days, to cut down plane losses . . .and build up reserve supplies … for a sustained effort of several days. During the same period we will have an opportunity to straighten out the congested condition on our railway line between Constantine and the forward areas and get supplies moving to the proper places. Because of the shortage of motor transport, sidings have become crowded and supplies immobilized. To move supplies will require not only the use of whatever troops and trucks the French may be able to give us . . . but the use of our own tactical vehicles.

6. Should these calculations and anticipations work out, we will resume the advance as soon as possible. The present target date is December 9th. The principal objective will be the capture of Tunis, to throw the enemy back into the Bizerte stronghold. There we will try to confine him closely while bringing up additional means for the final kill.

7. Success of this plan depends also upon weather, because if protracted rain should set in, every field we have becomes unusable except the tiny one at Bone and the one at Maison Blanche. Bad weather would, of course, also facilitate Axis reinforcement in that our bombing operations would not be effective.

December Decisions on Axis Strategy The aggressive defense of Tunis which the enemy undertook on 1 December was in conformity with the decision reached earlier at higher levels of Axis command to adhere to an ambitious strategy in northwestern Africa. The Germans abandoned the fiction that they were supporting French interests against the depredations of the Allies. They sought to seize control of the French warships at Toulon, an attempt which on 27 November led to the scuttling of these ships in harbor. Hitler on 30 November ordered Kesselring to disarm the French forces in Tunisia.

On 8 December General Gause, sent from Rome to conduct this operation, obliged Admiral Derrien to surrender the elements of his command at Bizerte, thus obtaining in good order and without resistance all the coastal batteries, an arsenal, three torpedo boats, nine submarines, two dispatch boats, some artillery, and the weapons of 7,000 Senegalese and 3,000 others. The troops were eventually removed from Tunisia. The Axis command at the same time began abortive preparations to recruit an Arab legion in Tunisia and to cultivate leaders of the Destourian movement for Arab independence.”

Admiral Canaris of the German Abwehr and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem were scheduled to go to Tunis in December to organize sabotage by pro-Axis Arabs. The new measures toward the French reflected a modification of the original considerations which prompted the Axis occupation of Tunis and Bizerte. The bridgehead in Tunisia and Rommel’s position in Libya were inextricably related. The decision to occupy Tunisia had been made when Rommel’s defeat was new, when his army needed a supplementary line of communications, and when warnings of Allied Italian negotiations in Lisbon cast suspicion on Italian determination to continue the war on the side of the Axis. On both military and political grounds, the creation of the bridgehead had then seemed necessary to prevent the Axis position in the Mediterranean from deteriorating. The speed and vigor with which Axis forces-air, ground, and naval-occupied key positions in Tunisia could not be matched by equally effective command decisions concerning the ultimate exploitation of their bridgehead. Those decisions depended upon the future course of Rommel’s army, and what that course should be was a subject of recurrent strategic discussions among the Axis commanders.

Beginning while the race for Tunis was new, their arguments over Axis strategy in Africa extended into January 1943. Should Rommel’s weakened army retire all the way across Libya into Tunisia? Once there, should his command be consolidated with the other Axis forces in order to resume aggressive operations? If an offensive was then begun, should it lead farther westward in French North Africa or should it head eastward once more across Libya to Egypt? On the other hand, if aggressive measures could be sustained only on a scale unlikely to achieve important successes, should not all Axis forces which could be salvaged for the defense of Sicily and Italy be brought back across the Mediterranean? The answers to these questions depended at bottom upon what military resources the Axis powers could commit to operations in Africa. If sufficient organized units could be found, would it be possible to furnish sufficient logistic support?

The Axis high command, except for its temporary frustration on the eve of Allied landings in French North Africa, had a fairly reliable concept of what the Allies would attempt and of the means at their disposal. Its knowledge was not exact but it was generally correct. Kesselring’s instructions to Nehring, for example, showed that he had a good grasp of what General Anderson would probably attempt. Rommel had also shown amazing, though fluctuating, success in anticipating the tactics of his adversaries in the desert fighting. The major problem for the Axis high command was to weigh the capabilities of its combat forces and its logistics organization. The estimates submitted by field commanders and emissaries of OKW caused successive conferences and eventual modifications of Axis strategic decisions. Ultimately, each of these plans affected the nature of the enemy’s effort in Tunisia; Rommel’s withdrawal across Libya to Tunisia became part of the history of Allied operations in Northwest Africa.

On 17 November 1942, on the eve of the first small clashes between Allied and Axis troops in northern Tunisia, Rommel’s much depleted German-Italian Panzer Army was consolidating after retreating from El Alamein as far as the area of Marsa el Brega, near the southeast corner of the Gulf of Sidra. Rommel was then trying to induce his superiors to face the facts of the military situation which resulted from his retreat after failure of the drive into Egypt. Those facts led, in his judgment, to but one conclusion: his army should start retiring by stages without delay at least as far as southern Tunisia and perhaps all the way to northeastern Tunisia. He was trying to prevent orders to stand at the line of Marsa el Brega and to hold it, as the phrase goes, “at all costs.” He therefore submitted to the Comando Supremo a strong argument for immediate authorization to pull his forces back to Buerat el Hsun, at the western edge of the Gulf of Sidra, and ultimate approval of his making a stand in what he termed the “Gabes Position.” That site was a narrows in the coastal plain north of the port of Gabes, where passage was blocked partly by hills and partly by the steep-sided stream bed of the Akarit, with great salt marshes (chotts) on the western flank and the sea on the other.

Rommel’s Italian military superiors did not accept these proposals. Aside from the basic question of whether there was to be a retreat at all, two major points were at issue: the timing of Rommel’s retreat and the area in Tunisia, if he was to fall back that far, where his army should make its stand.

The Italians wanted the maximum amount of time in which to increase Axis strength in Tunisia and to develop there a fortified, un-flankable line. They preferred the “Mareth Position,” south of Gabes, a fortified zone which the French had designed and which extended between the Matmata hills and the seacoast. Rommel preferred the “Chott Position,” farther north. He wished to be free to move his army back when necessary to escape being outflanked at any position in Libya or to avoid being so deeply engaged that extrication of his whole command would not be possible. Contrary to his recommendations, Rommel was ordered to stand at the Marsa el Brega line while added strength was promised to him there, enough to guarantee his hold until he was again ready for the offensive.

Rommel’s estimate of the reinforcements and replacements of materiel needed to execute those orders was very large. His realization that the orders were ill conceived led him to make a vain effort on 21 November 1942 to get them changed. But the Italians had gained Hitler’s explicit approval and had gotten him to direct Rommel, through Field Marshal Keitel, that he must hold the position at Marsa el Brega. Moreover, the Comando Supremo put Rommel under the orders of its representative in Libya, Marshal Ettore Bastico.

Hitler assured Mussolini, and indirectly informed Rommel, that new German tanks, antitank and antiaircraft weapons, and supporting air strength would be sent to Tripolitania. But actually, Hitler was so preoccupied with the Eastern Front, so insistent on treating the Mediterranean as an Italian theater of war, and so unwilling to accept unpleasant truth about conditions and prospects there that his decisions and assurances were correspondingly unreliable.

Almost immediately after this decision had been reached, the Axis high command began to reconsider it, and kept it under review for the rest of the month of November. The principal Axis commanders in the Mediterranean conferred at Arco del Fileni, Libya, on 24 November 1942 to weigh once more the factors affecting Axis strategy. Kesselring pointed out that if Rommel’s army fell back as far as Buerat el Hsun, Allied air bases could be constructed so near to Tripoli that their bombers would soon terminate its value to the Axis as a port. Despite this probability, Kesselring and Cavallero felt compelled to acquiesce in Rommel’s judgment that he could be outflanked at Marsa el Brega and therefore had no real choice but to pull back as soon as the British Eighth Army began trying energetically either to pin down his front or to envelop his southern flank. Kesselring concluded that this maneuver would not be long delayed.

Mussolini became reconciled to an eventual loss of Tripolitania as he contemplated the alternative prospect of occupying Tunisia, which had long been an object of Italian imperial claims. He believed that, in order to retain Tunisia, as much time as possible for defensive preparations there must be won by delaying tactics in Libya. He therefore ordered that Rommel counterattack the leading British elements and withdraw only with Bastico’s express authorization. Despite those orders, Kesselring was willing to consider decreasing Rommel’s force in order to use part of it to check a possible Allied advance from the west against Gabes or even farther, against Tripoli. To put an end to the intolerable contrast between the mission assigned to him and the means provided for its accomplishment, Rommel early on 28 November flew to consult Hitler face to face at his headquarters in East Prussia.

Rommel’s venture did not go well. Hitler gave him no opportunity to pass from his proposal of an alternative concept of Axis operations to his reasons for objecting to the strategy being pursued. At the word “withdrawal” he cut him off and insisted vehemently that Rommel’s orders were in conformity with the requirements of Axis high strategy and must be carried out. If Rommel needed more men and munitions, he should have them. Hitler therefore quickly arranged for conferences in Rome to consider how the system of supply should be reformed, and for Reichsmarschall Gӧring, as the Führer’s personal representative, to go there with Rommel by special train.”

During the train journey, the plan which Rommel had not been allowed to present for Hitler’s consideration, that the Axis forces be consolidated in Tunisia to strike at the Allies before they could match the combined Axis strength, and then drive eastward against the British Eighth Army, was outlined to Gӧring. The early union of the Axis forces in Tunisia could be treated, he was told, for propaganda purposes as a preconceived maneuver responsible for the retreat from EI ‘Alamein. Victories in Tunisia would galvanize Italian morale as the prospect of a slow bleeding to death in the Tripolitanian desert would not. The Sicilian straits would remain under Axis control and would thus deny passage to the Allies from the western Mediterranean to the rest of that sea. Kesselring came to the train at Rome for a conference preceding the first meeting with Mussolini and his principal military advisers, and neither he nor Gӧring was wholly favorable to Rommel’s proposal. They agreed that there was no longer time enough to convey to Marsa el Brega sufficient means for Rommel to hold there but they decided that retirement west of Buerat el Hsun should not occur. The final decision, as Hitler saw it, would be one for Mussolini to make.

The Italians, it was soon discovered, were now ready to adopt Rommel’s earlier plan for retirement to the Gabes area. They were induced by German arguments to revise that position and to accept the plan to hold resolutely at Buerat el Hsun, after postponing until the last possible hour withdrawal from Marsa el Brega. Mussolini prescribed that Rommel must avoid the loss by capture of large numbers of non-motorized Italian troop units, as at El ‘Alamein, and that the time for retirement must be determined by Marshal Bastico. After six days, the Axis leadership had arrived again at approximately the same course of action as that which the Arco dei Fileni conference had approved. The new element was the attention now given to the main difficulty in carrying out that decision, the necessary degree of logistic support.

Since the one army which Rommel commanded had received inadequate logistical support even before El ‘Alamein, it could hardly be rehabilitated unless the line of supply through Tripoli were drastically improved. To bring about such a change while at the same time trying to win a race with the Allies for the possession of Tunisia meant that the logistical support of northern Africa would in effect have to be revolutionized.

Gӧring presided at a meeting on this problem on 2 December, directing the discussion in a forceful manner without much regard for Italian susceptibilities. [NOTE: Present were Cavallero, Riccardo, Fougier, Gandin, Kesselring, Rommel, Gause, Weichold, Pohl, and Reich Commissioner Kaufmann. (1 ) Cavallero, Comando Supremo, pp. 404-05 (1 Dec 42).] He successively brought up certain specific measures by which the transport system from Italy to Africa could be improved. These measures involved vigorous efforts to increase the efficiency of operations and the protection from air attacks at the ports. A double screen of antisubmarine mines could be laid across the Sicilian narrows to Tunisia to insure a safe channel resembling that which the English had established along the coast from the mouth of the Thames River to Scotland. Germany could supply the mines; Italy must lay them. German radar could be installed to help protect the convoys. Materiel for Rommel’s army could be forwarded from Tunis to Tripoli on barges and ferries moving along the coast under air cover. Italian submarines could take over fuel and ammunition. The cargo shipping seized by the Germans in southern French ports which was suitable for the supply lines to Africa must come into service without further delay attributable to questions of jurisdiction between the new Reich Commissioner for Sea Transport, Gauleiter Kaufmann, and the principal German Naval Commander, Admiral Weichold.

[NOTE: Ltr, Hitler to Mussolini, 20 Nov 42, in von Rohden Collection, OCMH, 4376-53, explained that Kaufmann’s mission was to regulate the disposition of these French ships and the small-boat traffic for Libya, Crete, and the Black Sea.]

Gӧring’s effort to improve the system of supply, while accepting the fact that control over transport would remain Italian, was based on belief that the Italians could be persuaded or pushed into more efficient use of the resources available. He remained in Italy long enough to visit Naples and Sicily and to report his findings to a second Axis conference in Rome on 5 December 1942.

In the interval, Rommel had returned, early on 2 December, to Tripolitania, having discovered that munitions bound for his army were being diverted to Tunisia, where Allied pressure seemed even more critical. There had not been enough supplies for the urgent needs of both Axis commands in Africa. What reason was there to believe that in the future this deficiency could be overcome?

By 17 December 1942, Rommel had withdrawn his army to the Buerat el Hsun area, as authorized. He had observed so insignificant a change in the miserable trickle of supplies and munitions coming over the shortened line of communications that he could not expect to achieve any substantial build-up there. At a conference on that day with Bastico and others, he therefore renewed the argument in favor of making a fighting withdrawal from Tripoli and concentrating in Tunisia for a stroke towards Algiers. Holding Buerat el Hsun was becoming impossible and defending Tripoli seemed to be pointless. The Axis leadership was again obliged to review a strategic decision only a short time after its adoption.

If Rommel’s proposal to withdraw his army to Tunisia for aggressive operations to the west was not accepted on 17 December, it was not for lack of intention to strike offensively toward Algeria. To meet the requirements of just such a purpose, Hitler had recently sent to Tunisia a new commander, Generaloberst Juergen von Arnim, and elevated the headquarters of the Axis forces there to that of the Fifth Panzer Army. A competent deputy commander, Generalleutnant Heinz Ziegler, was also designated. Hitler himself had a conference with each of these commanders on the way to their new stations at Tunis, at which both arrived via Rome on 8 December. The transfer from Nehring to von Arnim took place next day.

[NOTE: (1) General von Arnim had been Commanding General, XXXIX Panzer Corps, on the Russian, Front. MS #C065a (Greiner), 4 Dec. 42. Both von Arnim and Ziegler were promoted on 4 December 1942 before leaving for Tunisia. (2) MS # C-090 (Warlimont), (3) MS # C-098, Erinnerungen an Tunesien (Generaloberst Juergen von Arnim).]

The strategy of the Axis powers was to operate as aggressively in Tunisia as the means allowed, and their intention in December was to deliver to General von Arnim enough forces and logistical support to strike out boldly into French North Africa.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History

World War Two: North Africa (4-17B); Stalemate Before Tunis (pt.2)

World War Two: North Africa (4-16); Attack toward Tunis

Today’s Extra for Feb. 13: Best Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for Someone Based on Their Love Language

Best Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for Someone Based on Their Love Language

Valentine’s Day. Love it or hate it, it’s almost upon us. (I know, wasn’t it just Christmas?) A lot of people think it’s just another excuse for retailers to get us to part with our moolah. But done right, it can actually be really special.

Rather than yet another heart-covered Snoopy card or stuffed animal (yawn), let’s put some thought into celebrating the day of romance this year. Let’s gift our significant other with something that speaks their love language.

THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES

If you’re wondering how on earth you’re supposed to figure out your partner’s love language, not to worry. Gary Chapman wrote a book called The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.

When the initial head-over-heels-ness of a new relationship wears off and life resumes a sense of normality, we forget to do the small things that let our spouse know we care.

Oftentimes, when we do remember, our efforts fall short of the mark. Not because we didn’t try, but because we used the wrong language. When we learn to express love in our partner’s language, our efforts will almost always be appreciated.

Helpfully, discovering your love language is as simple as taking a quick online assessment. Based on your responses, it then identifies your primary love language, explains what it means and helps you use it to connect more intimately with your person.

Your love language essentially sums up what you value most in a relationship. For some people it’s receiving a gift or token of appreciation, for others it’s spending quality time with a loved one. When you know your partner’s love language it’s suddenly a lot easier to understand why your last gift wasn’t a hit with them.

Words of Affirmation

As it implies, this language uses words to affirm other people. Whether you express your love verbally, via text message or in an old school letter, doesn’t matter. The important thing is to choose your words thoughtfully.

Gift idea: Grab a sheet of paper or open a new Word doc and get writing. Don’t worry about being a literary genius or anything. Just focus on saying how you feel in an honest and heartfelt way. List the things you love most about them, big and small. Let them know you notice these things even if you don’t always say as much.

Then, roll it up, tie it with ribbon and add a wax stamp. You could also wrap it in tissue paper or put it in an envelope covered in geeky stickers. You can give it to them as is, but going the extra mile with the presentation will knock your home run right out of the ball park.

Acts of Service

For these people, actions speak louder than words. There’s no point buying them roses or telling them how much they mean to you, they want you to show them. Something as simple as taking on the lion’s share of the housework when they’re stressed at work will mean the world to them.

Gift idea: Make a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for the two of you. If you can’t cook, make something basic. The fact that you made the effort is what counts here. Also, and this is important, make sure you do the washing up afterwards.

Not feeling your inner-Nigella? What about making them a ‘Get Out of Housework’ free voucher to be used at their discretion? The fact that you’re willing to risk having to vacuum  and wash dishes at a moment’s notice is going to score you a bunch of points.

Receiving Gifts

For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift. The trick is to give them something that shows how much you care. Take the time to make or buy a gift that’s personal, speaks to their tastes and shows you put a lot of thought into it.

Gift idea: Anyone can go to the store and buy a box of chocolates. You need to raise the bar a little higher than that. If hand making chocolate is too much of a stretch, then at least visit a quality chocolatier and put together a collection of their favorite flavors.

If you’re married to an earth-warrior, then make sure your gift is eco-friendly and if your spouse is vegan be sure to give them something that’s vegan friendly. A little effort and forethought goes a long way, is all I’m saying.

Quality Time

This language is all about giving the other person your undivided attention. They love the idea of the two of you hanging out together with no chance of being interrupted. The simple act of putting your phone away when you’re together will speak volumes.

Gift idea: Send the kids to grandma and have a romantic picnic in the lounge. Put on some music and just enjoy each other’s company. Without being too show-offy about it, make a point of letting them know your phone is not only on silent, but in another room entirely. It’s the little things.

Physical Touch

To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch. Getting physical means the world to them. Sex is great, but so is holding hands, hugging and scooching up close on the couch to watch a movie.

Gift idea: Give your love a Valentine’s Day to remember with a massage that shows exactly how you feel. Set the scene with scented candles, soft music and romantic essential oils. Remember, it’s about touch more than technique. Take your time and really get into the experience. Whatever you do, don’t cop out and give them a massage voucher for some fancy spa. That’s not the point.

Care2.com