The Allied and Axis powers each rushed forces into northern Tunisia at the earliest opportunity, assuming grave risks. The first air and ground units sent by the Germans and Italians landed on Tunisian airfields and entered the port of Bizerte in close proximity to thousands of French troops capable of overwhelming them. Lieutenant General Kenneth A. N. Anderson’s task force left its base at Algiers hundreds of miles behind as its units pressed eastward along the coast and overland through a French and Arabic population that was puzzled, indifferent, or hostile. Operations were carried on while the political situation was being explored and before a friendly arrangement with the French could be assured.
Assuming maximum French co-operation, Allied strategists had made plans to employ parachute troops and Commandos for the successive seizure of the airdromes at Bone, Bizerte, and Tunis on 11, 12, and 13 November. Reserves that had not been committed at Algiers would be sent by sea to the Golfe de Bougie for the seizure on 12 November of the port of Bougie and the neighboring airdrome at Djidjelli, thus obtaining a forward base with fighter protection against the Axis bombers capable of striking from Sicilian airfields. But with Commandos and parachutists could not wisely be sent so far ahead of Allied ground troops. Instead, the British 78th Division, under the command of Major General Vyvyan Evelegh, undertook first to occupy Bougie and Djidjelli, and next to rush as many troops as possible overland via Setif and Constantine to a railhead at Souk Ahras in Tunisia, while a second air and seaborne expedition took Bone.
Advance Into Tunisia
The revised plans went into effect on 9 November. Distances were considerable, about 260 airline miles from Algiers to Bone and 120 miles more to Bizerte or Tunis. The country to be crossed was rugged. The long lines of communications would be vulnerable at many points which would have to be left unprotected at first. Risky and difficult the swift advance might be, but speed was fundamental to achieve the main purpose of the entire TORCH Operation.
The Eastern Task Force held in reserve afloat off Algiers a force to be landed at Bougie as soon as possible after D Day. At 1830, 10 November, a fast convoy left Algiers for the objective, almost 100 miles away on the western shore of the Golfe de Bougie. From the airfield at Djidjelli protection could be furnished to an advance assault shipping base at Bougie. Four infantry landing ships of the Royal Navy (Karanja, Marnix, Awatea, and Cathay), carrying the 36th Infantry Brigade Group (Br.), and six escorting warships overtook a slower group of five cargo vessels and ten warships which had started for Bougie at 1600. A covering force to the north added greatly to the number of units protecting the expedition.
The aircraft carrier Argus was scheduled to furnish air cover at Bougie until noon, 11 November, when the Eastern Air Command would assume the responsibility. After the capture of the Djidjelli airstrip fighters flown from Maison Blanche airfield would use fuel brought by the convoy and trucked to the airstrip during the morning.
The convoy arrived off Cap Carbon at 0430, 11 November, and proceeded with landing operations on the assumption that a hostile reception was possible. Troops of the 6th Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment, struggling through heavy surf, came ashore at a point outside the range of the coastal guns. Farther east near Djid jelli, troops who were to take control of the airfield from friendly French and who were to provide fuel and ammunition for Royal Air Force planes which were expected during the day tried to land from the Awatea. Because the surf was too heavy, they had to turn west to go ashore at Bougie. There they joined the remainder of the expedition in using the sheltered bay with the permission of the French officer in command. They were about forty miles from the Djidjelli airstrip, too far to capture it in time to make it available for use if the Royal Air Force planes arrived as planned, or to supply fuel.
The Argus turned to other duties according to the schedule, and was itself bombed nearer Algiers before the end of the day. The land-based fighters of the Eastern Air Command, which had been held back until the airstrip was finally captured, arrived early on 12 November. Even then they were forced to wait until the next night for gasoline to be brought up. In consequence, the ships a Bougie were without active defense by land- or carrier-based aircraft except for brief patrols by planes which had flown nearly 200 miles to reach the area in time for action on the afternoon of 11 November and all day 12 November. The enemy sank the auxiliary antiaircraft ship Tynwald, destroyed the transports Karanja, Cathay, and Awatea, and damaged the monitor Roberts before this operation was completed. Bougie and Djidjelli were occupied, and on 12 November a force consisting of the reinforced 8th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was sent to occupy the town and airfield at Setif.
At dawn, 12 November, the destroyer transports Lamberton and Wheatland, with the guidance of a friendly local pilot, slipped into the port of Bone, 125 miles east of Bougie, and put ashore the 6th Commando (reinforced). The unit was at the eastern limits of Algeria, some 185 miles from Bizerte along the coastal highway. Later that day, 312 men of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Parachute Regiment (Br.), were dropped from transport planes of the 64th Troop Carrier Group (U.S.) on a small airfield near Bone. Both arrivals were unopposed” This airfield and a second somewhat larger field at Duzerville, although about 130 miles west of Tunis, served as a forward air base for the Eastern Air Command. The port of Bone was highly valued by the Allies although within easy bombing range of enemy aircraft from Sardinia and Sicily. Its accommodations for docking at least twenty-two ships, and its railroad connections with La Calle by narrow-gauge track and with Duvivier, on the main Algiers-Tunis line, by standard-gauge electric railway, made it a potentially significant point of transshipment for the heavy stream of supplies and reinforcements to be rushed into Tunisia.
The Eastern Task Force, moving overland, first penetrated Tunisia at two different points, and at the same time sent a third force to the Algerian border on the southern flank. The British 78th Division on 14 November was ordered to send a mobile task force of infantry with supporting armor, artillery, and combat engineers to move rapidly along the coastal highway from Bone to the port of Tabarka or even farther east.
This overland march would be paralleled by two airborne advances next day. The British 1st Parachute Battalion (from AFHQ reserves) was to be sent from Algiers to the railroad center of Souk el Arba. The 2nd Battalion, U.S. 509th Parachute Infantry (Colonel Edson D. Raff) , which had assembled at Maison Blanche after its unfortunate experience at Oran, was to be dropped on the southern flank at Youks-Ies-Bains, near Tebessa. The three operations would therefore place Allied forces within Tunisia at two northern points, each covering a major route from Algeria, and at the Algerian-Tunisian boundary on the southern flank. At each point, plans called for contacts with the French in the vicinity, reconnaissance, and delaying action against enemy attempts to penetrate farther west.
Youks-Ies-Bains airfield was occupied by parachutists of the 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Regiment, who dropped from thirty-three C-47 transports on the morning of 15 November in an improvised operation. The airdrop owed its success to a friendly French reception. The gasoline stocked at the airfield was taken under American protection while the French garrison withdrew to a post about five miles away. Part of Colonel Raff’s force then continued to Tebessa.
[NOTE: A seaborne attack on Sousse mounted in Malta (Operation BREASTPLATE) and to be made simultaneously with the attack from the west was not attempted because of lack of means to seize the port against resistance.]
The airdrop scheduled for Souk el Arba on 15 November had to wait one more day because of weather conditions. By the night of 16 November, Tunisia had been entered at two advanced points, Tabarka and Souk el Arba, where contact was established with General Barre’s command at a point one and a half miles west of Bedja. Meanwhile on the northern axis of advance elements of the British 36th Brigade Group had arrived at Djebel Abiod. The troops had found the French to be helpful and well disposed. Behind this first series of eastward movements by sea, ground, and air, the main body of 78th Division started its overland advance from Algiers on 15 November, using motor transport just landed from one of the follow-up convoys. The stage was set for the first tentative contacts between Allied and Axis ground troops. If matters went reasonably well, the Eastern Task Force would be able to make a general advance into Tunisia one week later.
The Eastern Air Force was overextended by the effort to meet all its responsibilities during the Eastern Task Force’s rapid advance into Tunisia. Convoys at sea as well as ports, airfields, and troop movements in the forward area, all required air protection. For lack of radar ashore, early warning of enemy air attacks could rarely be obtained; therefore daylight fighter patrols had to be continuous. Equipment for improving airfields and maintaining aircraft came eastward haltingly, so that the air effort was carried on within severe limitations.
While assembling the Eastern Task Force in position to launch his attack, General Anderson called for heavy and persistent Allied bombing of the ports and airfields near Bizerte and Tunis to cut down the Axis inflow. He also had to have strong air protection for the vital port of Bone in order to guarantee receipt of all sorts of critically needed materiel. Use of air transport to expedite the build-up contributed to the burden on the facilities of the airdromes near Algiers, where congestion hampered efficient performance. Finally the arrangements to co-ordinate air and ground operations were almost frustrated by the marked deficiency in signal communications. General Evelegh’s Headquarters, 78th Division, included a Royal Air Force “tentacle” or Advanced Air Signal Corps (comparable to an American air support party), while, to maintain liaison with General Anderson’s task force headquarters, the Royal Air Force had provided for a command post headed by Air Commodore G. M. Lawson.
This unit was the nucleus of the future 242nd Group’s staff. Signal communications between these points and the air staff at AFHQ and with the forward airdromes were not working as late as 23 November, when Air Commodore Lawson found the widespread ignorance of organization and the need for energetic rectification most disturbing. The Eastern Air Command had to overcome not only the enemy’s advantages but the drawbacks of its own chaotic condition before Allied air power could make itself fully effective.
The Terrain of Tunisia
In moving against northeastern Tunisia, the Allies were faced with an area of great topographical complexity. Bizerte and Tunis are situated in coastal flatlands fringed by hills which project to the seacoast from high and irregular mountain masses lying to the west. Bizerte’s basin is relatively small and much of it is submerged under the Lac de Bizerte and the marshy Garaet Ichkeul. The plain adjacent to Tunis is separated from that of Bizerte and is bounded on the northwest, west, and south by the eastern extremities of high mountain ridges. Lower hills rim the Tunis plain at the southwest, between the Medjerda and Miliane rivers. Through this more favorable traversable sector ran the main highway and railroad connecting Algeria with Tunis.
The mountainous region north of the Medjerda river and southwest of Bizerte, an area about fifty miles long and extending inland forty miles from the coast, is separated into five segments by four lesser streams: the Sedjenane, Malah, Djoumine, and Tine. The irregular masses rising between these rivers are covered with a dense scrub in the northern belt from the Sedjenane to the sea. Elsewhere their upper portions are rocky and bare, dark gray in color, speckled with shadows, with a trace of green along the brooks nearer the bases.
Conditions were favorable to defense. Certain rocky heights gave observation over a wide expanse. On the rounded shoulders of the hills were innumerable excellent sites for mortars. Potential tank routes were few and readily recognized and mined. Outflanking maneuver over the hills would require extraordinary effort. These characteristics were suspected, perhaps, by the approaching Eastern Task Force, but their full import was to be learned the hard way.
The Medjerda valley extends generally southwest to northeast about 125 miles across Tunisia from headwaters beyond the Algerian border to its outlet north of Tunis. It consists of several alluvial plains connected by gorges, and the river for most of its length has steep-sided banks. After heavy rains the clay soil of the fertile plains turned into some of the softest mud known to soldiers. The countryside between the towns was dotted with many French farms and estates, on which were buildings of white and pink stucco, with somewhat fewer villas in classic style. There were also many small Arab villages of gray, mud-and-straw huts. Between Medjez el Bab and Tebourba, the Medjerda ran close to the base of lofty hills, with a narrow shelf from which a railroad and highway continued across the plain to Tunis. The river was bridged at Djedeida (fifteen miles from Tunis), where the stream turned more sharply northward, and at eight other points farther upstream at intervals of six to ten miles, all within the area in which the Allied troops were to concentrate or to engage the enemy.
Between the Medjerda and Miliane rivers, a highway from Le Kef reached Tunis through Teboursouk, Medjez el Bab, and Massicault. Closer to the Miliane, roads to Tunis from Pont-du-Fahs ran along that stream on either side, and on the southeastern bank near the base of the mountain ridge was also a railroad from Le Kef through Le Sers, Bou Arada, and Pont-du-Fahs to Tunis. It was in the hills north of the Medjerda and along both sides of that valley that the first efforts to reach Tunis and Bizerte were to be made. An Allied thrust along the Medjerda was vulnerable to a southern flank attack delivered from the vicinity of the Miliane. Nevertheless, the Axis defenders of Tunis feared being pinned down while Allied forces pushed to the coast well to the south, and thereby cut the line from Tunis to Tripoli. The topography of central Tunisia gave the defenders more security from such a threat than they perhaps realized. South of the Miliane the topography is dominated by three connected mountain chains which form a vast, inverted Y. The stem extends northeastward to Cap Bon. The fork is found south of Pont-du-Fahs in the vicinity of the bold Djebel Fkirine (988), a peak rising to more than 3,000 feet. For over 125 miles one prong (the Eastern Dorsal) projects southward to Maknassy, while a still longer extension to the southwest (the Grand, or Western, Dorsal) reaches beyond Feriana. Across the wide southern opening of the Y is the east-west chain on either side of the oasis at Gafsa.
Within this great triangular region is an intermediate Tunisian plateau, crossed by a few streams draining the higher ground at the west to the coastal plain at the east. The intermediate plateau is subdivided by several disconnected and curving ridges which are more or less parallel to the Grand Dorsal. They are so scattered within the area as to create a group of wide valleys and basins connected by openings between guardian heights. Most of the region receives less than sixteen inches of rainfall annually, and the bulk of that within the winter months, so that the ground is dry and dusty from March to November, though there is enough moisture for forage and agriculture at many points. Orchards, grain fields, and cultivated cactus patches supported a surprisingly large number of small Arab villages and individual European owned farms.
The coastal plain lies between the Eastern Dorsal and the sea, spreading south of Enfidaville to a width of about seventy miles, narrowing north of Gabes to a bottleneck, and again broadening between the Matmata mountains and the sea, where the coast swings southeasterly to Tripolitania. Shallow lakes and dried-up lake beds are found at numerous points on the coastal plain, while on similarly level terrain extending westward for more than 200 miles from the Gabes gap, salt marshes (chotts) cover about half the surface. Movement north and south on the coastal plain is easy but the narrow gap at Gabes, the neck between Enfidaville and Hammamet farther north, and the defile at Hamman Lif near the base of Cap Bon peninsula, are dominating points of control.
The southern section of barren, undulating desert changed to tableland in the latitudes of Sfax and Sousse and, near Kairouan, could be used with little preparation for airplane landing fields. Water brought by streams and aqueducts from the intermediate plateau was necessary for the agriculture and the townspeople of the coastal plain. Over this area north and south for about 180 miles ran sections of the rail and highway used in November 1942 to connect the Axis Tunisian bridgehead with Tripoli. To reach and cut this Axis line of communications, the Allies had to establish a line of their own reaching southeastward over the mountains of eastern Algeria and central Tunisia. It required the use of port facilities and railroad capacity already being stretched to the full to build up the Eastern Task Force in the Medjerda valley and north of it. The Allied drive on Tunis absorbed almost all available transport and focused their resources on northeastern Tunisia, from Pont-du-Fahs northward.
Because of the rugged topography movement between the interior and the coastal plain is restricted to breaks in the mountain barriers. The intermediate plateau within the flaring arms of the two dorsals can best be reached from the coast through passes in the Eastern Dorsal at Pichon, Fondouk el Aouareb (also known as Fondouk el Okbi), Faid, and Maknassy, or through a defile east of El Guettar and a broader gap at Gafsa. Transit through tbe Western Dorsal is somewhat easier and best achieved at openings near Maktar, Sbiba, Kasserine, and Feriana. East-west movement through the central mountain complex north of the intermediate plateau is most practicable along the finger-like extensions of the coastal plain which project into the hills and extend at intermediate altitudes into the higher plateau and mountain ridges. The Goubellat plain between tbe Medjerda and Miliane rivers, about half way between Medjezel Bab and Pont-du-Fahs, is the most important area thus connected with the coastal zone.
In northern Tunisia the road and railroad routes drew attacking forces along certain well-defined lines of approach. The coastal road from Tabarka to Mateur was the first. That road was linked with the Medjerda valley routes by a north-south link of almost twenty-five miles connecting Djebel Abiod and Bedja. A secondary road from Bedja ran northeasterly to Sidi Nsir, roughly parallel to a section of the railroad linking Bedja with Mateur, and then struck eastward to the Tine river valley where it sent one branch northward to Mateur and another branch still farther east to link with the Mateur-Choulgui pass-Tebourba road.
Thus a second element of the attacking force could move through Sidi Nsir to the Tine valley and then be in position either to cooperate with a coastal road column in attacking Mateur, or to occupy Choulgui pass and even join a third attacking element in seizing Tebourba. A third group would have its choice of the road and railway line along the northern bank of the Medjerda river to Tebourba or south of it from Medjez el Bab through Massicault to Tunis. If it drove against Tebourba with its right flank resting on the Medjerda, defensive measures would be required on the other side of the stream, where hills would enable the enemy to harass anyone on the northern bank, and where the Massicault road would serve for a swift thrust against the key communications center of Medjez el Bab.
Bizerte and Tunis were forty miles apart by the direct highway east of Lac de Bizerte and about fifty miles by road and railroad through Mateur and Djedelda, a route which penetrated the fringe of hills between Mateur and the Tunis plain some ten miles north of Choulgui pass. Possession of Mateur as the hub of radiating roads and railroad lines not only was essential if Bizerte was to be taken from the interior, but it would also be a great advantage in an attack on Tunis. Possession of Djedelda, less than fifteen miles from Tunis, would effectively break the railroad link between Tunis and Bizerte and confine the ground link to the highway through Protville. Indeed, any force which could take and hold Djedelda would be strong enough, presumably, to seize Tunis itself.
Allied Spearheads Engage the Enemy
French troops were located at various points between the forces of the approaching Allies and of the Axis. The latter had been pushing westward into the hills by a series of small encroachments before which General Barre’s Tunisian units withdrew under instructions not to permit a premature clash. The withdrawals were accompanied by equivocal French answers to invitations to join the Axis forces and fight the Allies.
The Axis accepted each equivocation without an ultimatum as long as Axis forces were only a small miscellaneous assortment incapable of enforcing its demands. What General Barre began as a temporizing measure he continued after the basic decisions by the French in Algiers on 13 November, as long as both sides needed to avoid battle. The French completed their regrouping in northern Tunisia on 17 November.
North of these screening French troops, the first Allied ground engagement with the Germans occurred the same day. At Djebel Abiod, a provisional British unit was then guarding the bridge and highway intersection after a march from Tabarka during the previous night. While it organized defensive positions, a German-Italian armored reconnaissance column approached along the twisting road from Bizerte and Mateur. At 1430, the two forces clashed.
Heavy British artillery fire halted the enemy’s advance. The Germans and Italians deployed swiftly and for the next three hours replied with accurate mortar and machine gun fire and with effective shelling from tank guns. At dusk, they retired along the road, having lost one man killed, twenty wounded, and eight tanks knocked out. Allied losses in personnel were considerable.
Furthermore, one field gun was destroyed and four were damaged, most of the antitank guns were knocked out, and many carriers and other vehicles were destroyed or badly damaged. The battle which thus began on 17 November continued at intervals during the next two days, with each side receiving reinforcements but neither being able to dislodge the other.
[NOTE: The British force consisted of: Headquarters and three companies, 6th Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment (6/R WK) ; two troops of the 360th Battery, 138th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery; C Squadron, 56th Reconnaissance Regiment, and Hartforce, a provisional unit comprising B Company, Carrier Platoon, and two detachments of the mortar platoon, of the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment. The Axis column, under Major RudoIf Witzig, commander of the 11th Parachute Engineer Battalion, included about fifteen tanks, two companies of parachute engineers, one battery of 105-mm. gum, and a few Italian armored cars.]
While these elements of the 36th Brigade Group were defending the Djebel Abiod road junction, Hartforce, a mobile fighting and reconnaissance party of about 150 men, carried out a sweeping, independent patrol in the hills south of the Djebel Abiod highway. At 1900 hours, 20 November, the force arrived back on the road between Djebel Abiod and Bedja. A few minor engagements with enemy vehicles and patrols had shown that the Germans were still confined to the roads.
A reconnaissance party sent out by the Germans from Mateur toward Bedja on 18 November in three light reconnaissance and three heavy armored cars ran into an ambush laid by about one company of the 1st Parachute Battalion (Br.) near Sidi Nsir. The fight occurred only thirteen miles southwest of Mateur. The enemy force was completely destroyed or captured, but the British had to leave the captured vehicles behind. They were retrieved by another German reconnaissance patrol on the 20th. Well on the way toward the general area of these contacts by this time was Blade Force, a provisional formation operating under command of the 78th Division as the main striking group. Its components were drawn from the British 6th Armoured Division, and it resembled an American armored combat command. Blade Force had begun its march from Algiers to Souk Ahras late on 15 November, partly by railroad and partly by motor convoy. It bivouacked near Souk Ahras during the night of 17-18 November, preparing to resume its advance next morning to the vicinity of Bedja, Medjez el Bab, and Le Kef. A fragment of Blade Force, including the 175th Field Artillery Battalion (U.S.), reached Medjez el Bab to reinforce the French during the afternoon of 18 November and the following night. Fighting would extend southward from Djebel Abiod and Sidi Nsir to Medjez el Bab in a matter of hours.
[Blade Force was commanded by Colonel R. A. Hull and consisted of: 17/21 Lancers Regiment (one modern unit formed by the merger of two former cavalry units); B Squadron, 1st Derbyshire Yeomanry; C Battery, 12th Royal Horse Artillery (mechanized) ; A Battery, 72nd Antitank Regiment; G Troop, 51st Light Antiaircraft Regiment; one troop, 5th Field Squadron, Royal Engineers; B Company, 10th Rifle Brigade. On 18 November, additional units placed under command were: the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment; the 457th Light Battery, Royal Artillery; the 1st Parachute Battalion; and the American 175th Field Artillery Battalion (twelve 25.pounder guns). On 24 November, the 1st Battalion, U.S. 1st Armored Regiment, after coming east from Oran, joined Blade Force at Bedja. Info supplied by Cabinet Office, London.]
Nehring Takes Command in Tunis
On 17 November, General Nehring, who had arrived the day before, opened his command post as Commanding General, German XC Corps, in the former U.S. consulate in Tunis. No German signal communications had been arranged, and the French telephone system was being used despite the risk of hostile surveillance. Transportation was supplied chiefly by hired French automobiles. No chief of staff was yet on hand. No one could tell Nehring exactly which units had arrived, where they were, or who commanded them.
General Nehring established two separate bridgeheads, one temporarily under Colonel Harlinghausen, the Luftwaffe officer in command at Tunis, and a second under a new commander at Bizerte, Lieutenant Colonel Stolz, each directly responsible to Nehring. “Stolz had replaced Colonel Hans Lederer at Bizcrte on 16 November and on 18 November was himself superseded by Colonel Fritz Freiherr von Broich. Stolz then took command of the troops at Mateur. Colonel Harlinghausen on 18 November was relieved by Lieutenant Colonel Koch, commander of the 5th Parachute Regiment at Tunis, freeing Harlinghausen for his primary air mission. Harlinghausen also retained command of the antiaircraft troops and the units in Sousse, Sfax, and Gabb.
Nehring ordered expansion of the Bizerte bridgehead to the west and reconnaissance as far along the coast as Tabarka; in addition, he accepted Admiral Derrien’s promise to defend Bizerte against Anglo-American attack in a sector to be occupied solely by French troops. All but one company of German infantry and some German and Italian antiaircraft units in Bizerte were thus released for commitment west of the city. On the advice of Dr. Rudolph Rahn, the Nazi diplomatic agent in Tunis, and in the light of his own observations, General Nehring continued to expect no more than passive neutrality from Esteva, Barre, and even Derrien.
On 17 November, Nehring and Rahn recommended that Esteva be immediately relieved of his post as Resident General. He had induced them to consider him well disposed to the Axis, but he proved completely undecided and incapable of making even the simplest decisions in matters of administration and supply. At the same time, they recommended prompt execution of Admiral Platon’s proposed arrangement for sending General Henri F. Dentz to Tunisia as a special representative with extensive powers from Marshal Petain, a step which they believed would contribute to winning over General Barre and his Tunis Division from passive neutrality (for they had persuaded him to revoke orders to his troops to fire on Axis forces) to active collaboration.
The aggressive reconnaissance to the west which Nehring directed Colonel Stolz’s force to undertake was pushed from Mateur toward Tabarka on 17 November, resulting in the engagement at Djebel Abiod already described.
The First Battle at Medjezel Bab, 19-20 November
Allied concentration of in northern Tunisia was observed and in some instances attacked by Axis aircraft, from whose reports it became apparent to Nehring that the test in the Medjerda valley must soon occur. Most pressing was the situation in Medjez el Bab, to which Colonel Guy Le Coulteux de Caumont’s group had retired on the morning of 17 November, closely pursued by about 300 tough German Air Force troops of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Parachute Regiment, under the command of Captain Wilhelm Knoche. The town was at the easternmost projection of a French-held quadrilateral of which Bedja, Teboursouk, and Souk el Arba formed the other points.
The time for the showdown on Barre’s attitude had arrived. By previous arrangement, General Barre came to Medjez el Bab from Souk el Arba at 0400, 19 November, to meet an emissary from Dr. Rahn, who gave him an ultimatum from General Nehring: French troops must withdraw again to the meridian of Tabarka, thus freeing much of Tunisia, or hostilities against them would begin at 0700. Barre’s offer to give his decision at 0700 was recognized at Nehring’s headquarters as an effort to gain more time before openly joining the Allies. Yet the Germans made one more effort to avoid conflict. Another order, direct from Marshal Petain, was transmitted through Admiral Esteva to General Barre, forbidding him to fire against Axis forces.
This renewed directive was obtained from Vichy after three unsuccessful attempts by the Germans on 18-19 November to persuade the general to execute earlier orders of similar purport.” Axis air reconnaissance over the Medjezel Bab area revealed the presence of an Allied force-the observer saw a number of vehicles and was challenged by American antiaircraft fire. German ground troops were therefore ordered to be ready to make a morning attack, in coordination with dive bombers, on the troops defending both the town and its important bridge over the Medjerda river.”
Small forces were at hand for the first battle for Medjez el Bab. Colonel Le Coulteux deferred the actual outbreak of hostilities as long as possible in expectation of strong Allied reinforcements. During the night of 18-19 November he received from Blade Force one American field artillery battalion (the 175th) in addition to small British armored and infantry detachments.
[NOTE: The 175th Field Artillery Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Kelly) with 175 rounds of 25-pounder ammunition for each of its twelve with six days’ rations and with some machine guns mounted on its trucks, was sent east at 0800, 16 November, with the British 78th Division, expecting to support an armored force, either British or American. Colonel R. A. Hull, commanding Blade Force, sent the battalion, operating under the command of Lieutenant Colonel S. I. L. Hill of the 1st Parachute Battalion (BL) to reach Medjez el Bab by early morning, 19 November, to assist the French in holding the bridge. French liaison officers guided the battalion to Medjez … ]
Shortly after 0900, 19 November, the Germans broke off all parleys and their attack became merely a question of time. About 0915, the battle opened with an exchange of small arms, mortar, and artillery fire. Beginning about 1045 the Germans were aided by Stukas, the enemy air formations bombing and strafing the battle area at two-hour intervals. The defenders successfully threw back small-scale infantry assaults after two of these air attacks, but heavy casualties and reduced ammunition stocks threatened to make the town untenable without reinforcements. Reinforcements were not forthcoming, for First Army’s instructions were to avoid frittering away Allied strength and to conserve all possible means for the final push eastward in a few more days. The Germans received only three truckloads of Italian reinforcements during the afternoon, but after darkness sent detachments to swim the stream and to fight on the northern bank. An attack with increasing strength was successfully simulated. The Allies fell back from the bridge, which they left intact.
Shortly before midnight the commander of the 1st Parachute Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel S. I. L. Hill, summoned Colonel Le Coulteux to his command post at Oued Zarga and informed him that a general withdrawal should begin without delay. The troops at Medjez el Bab were ordered to take positions on the high ground some three miles east of Oued Zarga, a strong natural line astride the road to Bedja. The retirement was well advanced before daylight, and by early afternoon the new line was organized. The enemy occupied Medjez el Bab soon after it was evacuated, but did not follow on toward Oued Zarga until more than a day had passed. Enemy air, however, did bomb Bedja most severely on 20 November, inflicting many casualties among both soldiers and civilians. On 22 November, Axis ground troops were stopped east of Oued Zarga and Slourhia by defense forces.
[NOTE: Command of the 3rd Parachute Battalion at Medjez el Bab had passed to a Captain Schirmer, who knew the terrain to the west only by map. MS # D-323 (Knoche)]
The Enemy Attempts To Extend the Bridgehead
While the Allies were concentrating near Bedja in preparation for their major attack, they felt the sting of Axis air strikes and the fire power of probing motorized columns. The enemy tried to delay the progress of the Eastern Task Force by bombing port areas and roads near Bone, La Calle, and Tabarka, and the roads radiating from Bedja. He used every precious day to the utmost in accumulating enough means successfully to defend the Tunisia bridgehead. He organized defensive perimeters around Tunis and Bizerte, and established blocking positions in depth along the routes which led into them. Farther to the west and southwest, Axis reconnaissance forces kept testing Allied local strength.
Although General Nehring’s primary mission was to consolidate his hold on the main bridgehead, he was also responsible for organizing the protection, as far as Gabes, of the long overland line of communications from the bridgehead to Tripoli. The importance of this route to the Axis forces could hardly be exaggerated. Yet Nehring felt he lacked the means to carry out both missions.
He remained apprehensive that while he was holding the northeastern tip of Tunisia, the Allies might outflank him farther south and seize a segment of the coastal corridor. His orders to forestall such an operation were underscored during personal visits to his headquarters by Kesselring on 17 and 20 November, and by Generale di Brigata Antonio Gandin, liaison officer from the Comando Supremo) on 19 November. Mussolini’s deep concern that the line of communications to Rommel’s army should remain unbroken was then stressed.
Small German garrisons occupied Sousse, Sfax, and Gabes on 18 November. On 20 November, Italian troops from Tripoli reached Gabes after an overland march. Other Italians coming by railroad from Tunis, despite delays by sabotage, reached Sfax on 21 November. To impede any Allied thrust toward Gabes or Sfax, demolition teams parachuted at night far to the west along the roads between Gafsa and Tebessa. Armored reconnaissance patrols, followed by small security detachments, entered the intervening area. A German airborne demolition team landed near Gafsa on the evening of 20 November while an Italian armored and motorized force was heading toward Gafsa over the main road from Gabes. The garrison in Gafsa, a French command and a small detachment of Colonel Raff’s 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Regiment, retired to Feriana after being alerted by telephone. On 22 November, somewhat reinforced, it returned to Gafsa, drove out the Germans, and continued toward Gabes. It encountered the Italian motorized column near El Guettar and sent it hurrying back to its base of operations. Another Allied detachment headed toward Sbeitla to check the penetration there of an Axis force from the northeast.
Sbeitla, a community partly ancient and partly modern, was very briefly held by the enemy. An armored German column on 21 November cleared the way for an Italian security detachment to occupy Kairouan, east of the mountains, and next day broke through one of the passes and drove a weaker French garrison out of SbeitIa, But after this German force had started back to Tunis, via Siliana and Pont-du-Fahs, leaving an Italian group in possession of Sbeltla, a detachment of Colonel Raff’s command suddenly struck at midday and turned the tables. It expelled the Italians, a stronger French force took up the defense of Sbeitla, and Raff’s detachment withdrew to Kasserine and Feriana.
The enemy made one unsuccessful attempt on 24 November to regain Sbeitla but thereafter accepted the fact that he lacked the means. These forays and others demonstrated that neither adversary was then prepared to undertake any sustained offensive action in central Tunisia.
The defensibility of the Axis bridgehead in northeastern Tunisia would have been greatly enhanced if it could have been expanded far enough inland to provide room for maneuver. The Commander in Chief, South, urged General Nehring to push westward beyond Medjez el Bab as closely as possible to the area of the current Allied concentration. Nehring, however, sought first to insure that the close-in defenses of Bizerte and Tunis were strong.
On 21 November, he established two sectors in the perimeter around Tunis, assigning responsibility for the southern sector to the Italians and for the northern to Colonel Stolz, whose command in Mateur was taken over by Colonel Walther Barenthin. Djedelda was to be a key point in the perimeter, and its airfield was made ready as a forward base of Axis close air support operations. Mateur remained a base for motorized screening patrols extending toward the area held by the Allies. On 21 November, one such column approached Bedja via Sidi Nsir at the same time that the Axis occupants of Medjez el Bab were feeling out Allied strength in the same general area. The column was stopped short by a French defensive force consisting of the 2nd Battalion, 15th Regiment of Senegalese Infantry, reinforced by one 47-mm. gun and one 25-mm. gun. The larger weapon knocked out four Italian tanks and caused the others to retire, while French counterattacks against one flank of the Italian motorized infantry drove off the rest of the force.
Southwest of Tunis, Axis security detachments had been established in Zarhouan and Pont-du-Fahs as early as 19 November and mobile detachments had been active in the Tebourba-El Bathan and Goubellat Bou Arada areas. On 20 November, while enemy elements were overcoming French resistance in Medjez el Bab, other elements occupied Ksar Tyr. By 23 November, their probing in the region south of the Medjerda reached the vicinity of El Aroussa. There a reconnaissance party from the 5th Parachute Regiment was thrown back by one Allied infantry battalion supported by an estimated nine to twelve British tanks. Stukas struck the Allied troops, but the Axis ground units, like those of the Eastern Task Force, were then under strict orders not to jeopardize their resources in aggressive attacks. They had been directed to husband their tanks and heavy guns in order to remain capable of defending a line which General Nehring would designate later. They withdrew.
By 24 November, the German-Italian forces had enlarged the Axis bridgehead as much as General Nehring believed they could. He thereupon elected to await the expected Allied attack before resuming counterthrusts toward western Tunisia.
Preparations for the First Allied Attack
The Eastern Task Force set 21 or 22 November as the earliest date for the beginning of its general advance. In preparation, Allied ground troops took up forward positions on a general line running southward from Djebel Abiod through Sidi Nsir, Oued Zarga, Testour, and El Aroussa. General Anderson on 21 November doubted the ability of his available forces to reach Tunis against the enemy’s supposed strength. After visiting the forward area, Anderson returned to his Algiers headquarters to appraise the situation, particularly the significance of reported German moves on his southern flank, and to make certain that his attack, once it began, would get off to a good start.
Although Axis strength and dispositions in Tunisia were then imperfectly known at Eastern Task Force headquarters, the rapidity of the Axis build-up and the numbers of armored vehicles and defensive weapons which were believed to be at the enemy’s disposal greatly exceeded the estimates of the pre-invasion planners. In order for the Allies to cope with this increased enemy strength, a change was necessary in the composition of General Anderson’s command, which had been limited to units of the British First Army, supported by squadrons of the Royal Air Force. To strengthen his forces, mobile American units were also drawn into Tunisia.
Artillery, light and medium tanks, tank destroyers, armored infantry, and related elements were sent forward from Algiers and Oran, while fighter and bomber squadrons of the XII Air Support Command were shifted eastward in small numbers. Artillery battalions from the 39th and 168th Regimental Combat Teams at Algiers were the first to arrive.
Elements of Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, started eastward on 15 November by road and railroad with the prospect of piecemeal commitment, but General Oliver, its commander, convinced Generals Clark and Eisenhower that it should all be employed as a balanced armored team even if many of its lighter tracked vehicles had to go 700 miles with the wheeled vehicles by road.
Some elements rode from Algiers to Bone by sea. By 27 November, all units except Company C, 13th Armored Regiment, had left Oran and been attached to the Eastern Task Force, and were coming close to the area of combat. In fact, some were already there. American tank units were included in each of the major elements of the Eastern Task Force when the first attack began, while headquarters and other elements of Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, were on hand during the final phase.
The line of communications to the Eastern Task Force remained in a rudimentary state of organization. Its headquarters under Major General J. G. W. Clark (Br.) opened in Algiers on 17 November, and moved forward to Setif on 28 November.
From a junction point at Souk Ahras, the railway line ran south to Tebessa, supply base for the Tunisian Task Force on the southern flank, and eastward to Souk el Arba, the railhead for the main offensive. Trains made the journey from Algiers to Souk el Arba in from four to six days. Nine trains a day could be accommodated, with one hauling the minimum requirements for civilian supply and two carrying coal to electric generating stations and to locomotive refueling points. The remaining six, hauling military supplies, were supplemented by as much coastal traffic as possible. Despite the hazards of air attack on ships using the port of Bone, and the actual damage to piers and cranes, Bone became the point of transshipment of supplies bound for La Calle (the base for the forces on the extreme northern wing) and of men and materiel en route to Souk el Arba via Duvivier and Souk Ahras. In an effort to unload ships rapidly and send them out to the greater safety of open waters, the port commanders permitted congestion to develop which could be removed only by devoting all available trucks and labor to port clearance.
Motor transport was everywhere far below normal requirements for an assault. Neither the 78th Division nor the elements of the British 6th Armoured Division, therefore, nor the American units which were brought eastward to reinforce them, had the full allowance of organic transportation. What they did have-and this was supplemented by requisitioned French civilian vehicles, “every kind of scrawny vehicle that can run,” as General Eisenhower described them-“was worked to the limit.””
Motor traffic was hampered by the deterioration of the roads under heavy use and by the necessity of one-way movement on some bridges and along narrow stretches between soft shoulders. The Eastern Task Force’s road control system was in operation on 13 November. Gasoline consumption ran ahead of estimates, in part because requirements of the American reinforcements had not been taken into account. A serious shortage was eased by release to the Allies of a French reserve stock of aviation gasoline. The piling up of materiel in the ports had its counterpart at the Souk el Arba railhead after that had been open four or five days. As the offensive was about to begin, carloads of ammunition and other essential materiel had accumulated there and remained neither unloaded, separated, nor organized for issue. Both motor transport and labor were insufficient. The 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, and later, the 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry, were drawn from Algiers to points along the line of communications and employed not only as guards but as service units.
The Allied offensive was prepared during a period of increasing air clashes, and it involved an unexpected commitment of Twelfth Air Force units to operations in Tunisia. The abbreviated conflict of 8-11 November left enough surplus stocks of aviation fuel and ammunition at the ports for a vigorous air effort. Offsetting that advantage was the shortage of vehicles for transporting these stocks to the airfields, the “loss” by ground personnel of servicing equipment during transit, and the fact that there were few and relatively distant airfields in forward areas. General Anderson’s close air support was to be furnished from the fields at Souk el Arba (80 miles from Tunis), Bone (135 miles from Tunis), and Youks-les-Bains (155 miles from Tunis).
While fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons were being brought forward to use these fields, the ports from Algiers to Bone and the Allied air base at Maison Blanche had to be protected from the enemy. On 16 November B-17F heavy bombers of the U.S. 97th Bombardment Group began a series of raids from Maison Blanche on the Sidi Ahmed airfield at Bizerte, the EI Aouina airfield near Tunis, and toward the Elmas airfields near Cagliari in Sardinia.
German and Italian air units confined road movements east of Souk el Arba to the hours of darkness and repeatedly bombed Bedja, Teboursouk, Souk el Khemis, and other forward centers. Enemy bombers struck the Algiers harbor and airfields heavily on the evenings of 20 and 21 November, compelling the B-l7’s to withdraw to Tafaraoui near Oran. Thereafter they had to make roundtrip flights of 1,200 miles to strike Bizerte or Tunis, picking up fighter escort for the flight east of Algiers. Night fighters, aided by radar and a balloon barrage, were brought in to defend. Algiers.
Although the Flying Fortresses were forced back, other units came forward. At Youksles-Bains, a squadron of the U.S. 14th Fighter Group (P-38’s) arrived on 21 November to operate on the southern wing in support of the Tunisian task force and to be available for missions in support of British 78th Division after 27 November. One squadron of light bombers (DB-7’s) came in later.
After the Allied attack began, the Eastern Task Force could expect close support from the two squadrons (thirty-six aircraft) of Royal Air Force Spitfires which were stationed at Souk el Arba, two squadrons of Spitfires and one of Hurribombers at Bone (Duzerville) airfield, and five squadrons of light and medium bombers at Blida airdrome near Algiers or at the intermediate airfields at Setif and Canrobert. Reserves of fighters and light or medium bombers were available at Tafaraoui or Gibraltar. The Twelfth Air Force units at Youks-Ies-Bains could be diverted to the operation along the Medjerda river from missions farther south. Photographic reconnaissance would be negligible. Provision for maintenance would be little better.
The plans for air co-operation on the afternoon of 24 November, and for several days following, called for bombing the ports and airfields at Bizerte and Tunis from all quarters by Royal Air Force units, including those based at Malta, supplemented by others from the XII Bomber Command. All air units actually stationed in the forward fields were to be subject to direct calls for assistance from Headquarters, Eastern Task Force, through Air Marshal Welsh, who would transmit requests for American air missions to Headquarters, Twelfth Air Force (General Doolittle).
The ground forces under General Nehring’s command when the Allies’ attack began on 25 November totaled about 15,575 German and 9,000 Italian troops. They were organized in separate zones around Bizerte and Tunis, and were supplemented by a small reserve held in the Tunis area in readiness for reconnaissance or counterattack. Within the two portions of the bridgehead German troops predominated. Italian troops were assigned to the Tunis South sector and to many small Axis groups in contact with the Allies at forward points between the northern coastal highway and the area of patrolling west of Sfax and Kairouan.
Admiral Derrien’s French naval forces maned the coastal batteries in the Bizerte area and one of the batteries defending Tunis. Italian naval units held the remainder. The French Army detachment which Derrien kept near Bizerte had no separate mission, and remained a source of anxiety. Nehring on 25 November appointed the commander of the 10th Panzer Division, Generalmajor Wolfgang Fischer, who had arrived in Tunis the previous day, as Military Governor (Militaerbefehlshaber) of Bizerte, and directed him to make sure of the loyalty of the French troops. Although Admiral Derrien convinced General Fischer of their reliability, Kesselring remained skeptical, and ordered Nehring to take precautions against French defection.
The German ground elements consisted of two parachute infantry regiments, one with two infantry battalions and one with one infantry and one antitank battalion; a battalion of parachute engineers; an air force guard battalion and three Army field battalions, originally destined as replacements for Rommel’s forces; one tank battalion and part of another; two reconnaissance companies, one with armored cars carrying 75-mm. guns; a motorcycle company; one motorized antitank company; one field artillery battalion; and about two and a half antiaircraft artillery battalions, whose armament included twenty of the new 88-mm. dual-purpose guns.
Italian elements of Nehring’s XC Corps had by 25 November come to include three regiments of infantry; two assault gun and two antitank gun battalions; and various service units amounting to about one fifth of the total Italian forces ultimately designated for Tunisia (47,000 men, 148 guns, 8 assault guns, 2,700 tanks and trucks, 1,500 motorcycles, and 204 prime movers). The first of the Italian divisions in Tunisia was the Superga Division, commanded by Generale di Division Dante Lorenzelli. Elements of the Italian X XX Corps (Generale di Corpo d’ Armata Vittorio Sogno) had also begun to arrive.
The Axis ground troops in Tunisia were supported by five groups of fighters (one Italian), one group of dive bombers, and one squadron of short-range reconnaissance aircraft. These planes were based on the airfields of Bizerte, Tunis, and Djedeida. Bombers used fields in Sicily and Sardinia to strike Tunisian targets.
The XC Corps front extended from northeast of Djebel Abiod to the Mateur defense perimeter, along the Mateur-Djedeida road and railroad to St. Cyprien, La Mohammedia, and a road junction five miles east-southeast of Hammam Lif, with detachments in Sousse, Sfax, and Gabes. By shifting some forces southeastward from the vicinity of Mateur, and pulling others back from advanced positions in Goubellat, El Aroussa, and Medjez el Bab, Nehring had also organized an inner ring of strongpoints protecting Tunis.
Allied Plan of Attack
The Allied offensive was intended to drive back the enemy forces, to separate those near Bizerte from those near Tunis, to capture the latter, and then to hem in the Bizerte bridgehead, hamper its reinforcement, and build up the means to force it to capitulate. With the surrender of Bizerte, Operation TORCH would terminate.
When the Eastern Task Force, alternatively referred to as the British First Army, began its attack it consisted only of the 78th Division with elements of the 6th Armoured Division and miscellaneous other units attached, plus a line of communications. The British 5 Corps headquarters arrived in Algiers with the third fast convoy on 22 November but did not move up and assume its mission until after the first attack had been made. Anderson’s army headquarters in Algiers, with a forward command post at Jemmapes, dealt directly with General Evelegh’s division headquarters at Rhardimaou and on 22-23 November at Souk el Khemis. Principal subordinate elements of the 78th Division were the 36th Infantry Brigade, Blade Force, and 11th Infantry Brigade, commanded, respectively, by Brigadier A. L. Kent-Lemon, Colonel R. A. Hull, and Brigadier E. E. E. Cass. On 23 November General Anderson directed General Evelegh to secure the line Mateur-Tebourba as soon as possible. Next day, the 78th Division issued a plan of attack setting the opening phase for that same night.
General Evelegh’s plan was to move his forces eastward to the objective line in three widely separated columns, two of which would converge in the vicinity of Tebourba. These three columns were to consist of the British 36th Infantry Brigade Grou p on the left (north), Blade Force in the center, and the 11th Infantry Brigade Group on the right, each reinforced by American armored and artillery units. To seize Medjez el Bab and advance along the northwestern bank of the Medjerda river, he designated the 11th Infantry Brigade Group, protected at first by detached elements of Blade Force. The main body of Blade Force, including the 1st Battalion, U.S. 1st Armored Regiment of light tanks, was to thread its way through the mountains past Sidi Nsir into the valley of the upper Tine river and thence via Chouigui pass in the eastern hills onto the plain northwest of Tebourba.
During this advance it would block any hostile blow against the Allied northern flank, and might grasp an opportunity to seize Mateur, but it was expected to seize the bridges over the Medjerda river at El Bathan, south of Tebourba, and at Djedei’da, northeast of it. Subsequently, it would turn over defense of these bridges to the 11th Infantry Brigade Group. Beginning during the night of 24-25 November, the 36th Infantry Brigade Group was to proceed eastward from Djebel Abiod along the twisting road to Mateur and Bizerte.
While it appeared to threaten Mateur, its ultimate objective in exploiting successes was a section of road from a major road junction six miles west-northwest of Mateur to the bridge over the Sed jenane river seven miles farther north, possession of which would block one of the main routes between Bizerte and Mateur. Execution of these missions would complete the first phase of the Allied attack.
On the night of 25-26 November, as the first step of the next phase, the 11th Infantry Brigade Group was expected to leave one reinforced battalion to hold Tebourba, El Bathan, and Djedeida, and to move the main body to an assembly area south of Mateur. Supported by all available artillery, and with Blade Force in 78th Division reserve, the infantry was to attack Mateur on 26 November. During this phase, the southeastern flank would be protected by a mobile armored force (part British and part American) and by French infantry, as a responsibility of General Barre.
Once the Allies held Tebourba and Mateur, with the important river crossings near them, the final attack could be launched from the new base line. The plan for those operations was withheld for later issuance in the light of intervening events. Royal Air Force units were to provide tactical air reconnaissance under 78th Division control, mainly to observe the movements of Axis reserves and, through a control unit with the division, to provide such cover as one fighter squadron could furnish for the daylight advance by Blade Force and its concentration near Choulgui.
This plan had some recognizable weaknesses, attributable partly to postponing selection of the zone of attack in the next phase, and partly to disregarding the relationship of the terrain to the utilization of armored units. Attached to the 36th Infantry Brigade Group in the mountains was a company of medium tanks which it could never use. Blade Force lacked infantry and was consequently unable to cope with some normal tactical situations. If the 36th Infantry Brigade Group had been limited to a holding attack, it could have spared some of its infantry for employment with Blade Force. The mountains which separated Blade Force from the 11th Infantry Brigade Group intervened at least as completely as would the Medjerda river if Blade Force had been sent forward southeast of it while the 11th Infantry Brigade used the road along the northwestern bank. The main road from Medjez el Bab through Furna and Massicault to Tunis, with side roads to various river crossings, ran through terrain on which armored units could maneuver. A blocking detachment near Sidi Nsir might have protected Bedja while releasing forces to make the assault on Tunis with the main effort on the right (southeast). Finally, the plans forfeited any possibility of surprise; Nehring could ascertain the zone of major Allied offensive effort and consolidate his defenses accordingly. No plan could have made better use of the inadequate Allied air support except, perhaps, to husband rather than overextend it.
[NOTE: (2) Company E. U.S. 13th Armored Regiment, was attached to the 36th Brigade; the 1st Battalion, U.S. 1st Armored Regiment, was attached to Blade Force; and the Reconnaissance and Intelligence Platoon and 2nd Battalion (less Company E) of the 13th Armored Regiment, the 175th Field Artillery Battalion, and Company C of the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to the 11th Infantry Brigade.]
Command over French troops was not yielded to General Anderson, but was exercised by General Juin as Commander in Chief of French Forces on the Tunisian Front. A boundary between the area of joint operations of the British First Army and French Tunisian Troops and the operations of the French XIX Corps was specified as the line from Montesquieu on the west through Tadjerouine and Ksour to Maktar. North of it, General Juin was to deal directly with General Barre and to co-ordinate French operations with those of General Anderson’s force. South of the line, where his command would be exercised through General Koeltz of French XIX Corps, co-ordination would be less direct. American troops in these operations were to be under British or French tactical control.
SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)