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

The Two Northern Columns Attack, 25 November The 36th Infantry Brigade Group was not ready for the preliminary attack from Djebel Abiod scheduled for the night of 24-25 November and, When it started forward the following night, soon discovered that the enemy had withdrawn, thus frustrating elaborate plans to pin down and then overrun him. The troops continued a cautious but uncontested advance for two more days before coming to grips with the enemy just west of Djefna. At this rate the 36th Brigade Group could not expect, by drawing enemy forces westward to dispute its advance, to assist the Allied attack on Mateur from the south and southeast unless that attack had also fallen far behind schedule. Contact with the enemy was in fact to occur late on 28 November.

Blade Force’s advance began on 25 November with more promising results. The column left its assembly area northeast of Bedja at 0700 with more than 100 tanks and many other vehicles. By 1300, it had reached the road junction south-southwest of Mateur on the Bedja-Sidi Nsir-Tebourba route. After driving out or capturing the German-Italian detachment in two farms near there, part of the force moved closer to Mateur while the remainder, which included the 1st Battalion, U.S. 1st Armored Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters), continued farther east across the Tine river valley. During the latter part of 25 November and on the following day, this unit matched its strength with enemy ground and air forces in several engagements.

Colonel Waters’ battalion had its Headquarters Company and three other companies of M3 light tanks, an 81-mm. mortar platoon, and an assault gun platoon employing three 75-mm. pack howitzers on half-tracks, but it had no artillery, infantry, or engineers attached, and it had to share the support of a handful of British aircraft with the rest of General Evelegh’s whole command.

The American battalion had been ordered by Colonel R. A. Hull, commanding Blade Force, to help create a “tank-infested area” in the Tine valley southeast of Mateur and to reconnoiter the bridges across the Medjerda river at El Bathan and Djedeida, toward which the 11th Brigade Group would advance as soon as it had occupied Medjez el Bab. The route of reconnaissance led over the hills between the Tine river valley and the coastal plain via Chouigui pass, a three-mile defile about thirty-five miles from Bedja with a good tarmac road and fairly steep grades. In the area of the western approach to Chouigui pass Colonel Waters’ battalion, around noon of 25 November, met a company of the 11th Parachute Engineer Battalion) reinforced by an Italian antitank gun platoon, which had been sent from Mateur that same morning to augment the detachment at Tebourba.

The German force turned back in the face of the advancing American armored battalion and organized a defensive position in a walled French farm about two miles from the northwestern entrance to the pass. Company A (Major Carl Siglin), through lack of infantry, failed in its attempt to dislodge the occupants, and Company B (Major William R. Tuck) took up positions in the pass. During the day further British and American efforts to seize the farm also failed, until after the garrison withdrew to Mateur during the night.

Company C (Major Rudolph Barlow) toiled up the road on its reconnaissance mission. As it emerged on the Tebourba side of Chouigui pass, Barlow’s company overran an enemy outpost and destroyed its vehicles. The tanks then continued over the level plain in a rapid sortie toward El Bathan. Behind the company, enemy aircraft flew over the far side of the hills, where they bombed and strafed the rest of the battalion. Company C bypassed the German garrison in Tebourba and knocked out the enemy security detachment at the El Bathan bridge. Then, remaining on the northwest side of the Medjerda, it swung through the olive orchards which border the stream to observe the crossing at Djedeida.

At this point one of the most bizarre incidents of World War II ensued. The enemy had neglected his own local security, so that the American force arrived at a low ridge sheltering the newly activated Djedeida airfield without being detected. Parked beside the landing strip was a considerable number of Axis planes, perhaps those which had earlier attacked the main body of the tank battalion near Chouigui pass. As soon as the situation was discovered, all seventeen tanks swept onto the airfield and precipitated the rarest of battles, that between armored vehicles and grounded aircraft. In the resulting melee, twenty or more enemy planes were destroyed, while the tanks shot up the buildings, supplies, and defending troops, and then withdrew in the dusk to the west. Losses were two men killed, one tank and its crew missing, and several other tanks damaged. Word of this exploit and a false report received at Nehring’s headquarters a little later that evening that Allied tanks were within nine miles of Tunis caused acute anxiety to assail the German commander.

Actually, Major Barlow’s company had completed its reconnaissance and returned to the battalion in bivouac near Chouigui village. Before daylight, Colonel Waters’ whole command had been brought back through Chouigui pass to the Tine river valley to be in Blade Force reserve on 26 November. During the night, Nehring withdrew the Axis troops from Tebourba to Djedeida, El Bathan, and St. Cyprien. He laid plans to consolidate more of his forces for a close-in defense of the Tunis bridgehead. Kesselring, on the other hand, correctly assured him that the Allied approach to Tunis would continue to be cautious and tentative, justifying the Axis command in adopting aggressive methods of defense.

Early on 26 November, Colonel von Broich sent a small force consisting of a company of the 11th Parachute Engineer Battalion, a company of the 3rd Tunis Field Battalion, and a company of the 190th Panzer Battalion from Mateur toward Tebourba. The German force drew near Chouigui pass after Colonel Waters’ battalion had taken up its positions there for the day. Company C barred the southeastern entrance while the other three companies were on high ground, Company B parallel to the road approaching the northwestern entrance from the north and the others along the road from Sidi Nsir, extending as far west as St. Joseph’s Farm near the Tine river. The enemy force, approaching from the north, included six Mark IV tanks with long 75-mm. high-velocity guns, a type not known to the Americans, and three or more Mark III’s with 50-mm. rifles.

The impending action was the first battle between American and German armor in World War II. The Germans continued southward past Major Tuck’s company, concealed in hull defilade on the reverse slope of a ridge, to meet the challenge of Major Siglin’s company. The latter maneuvered to strike the enemy from the southwest, after a bold preliminary skirmish by the assault gun platoon. While Siglin’s men claimed the enemy’s attention, Tuck’s 37-mm. guns, firing at close range from the east flank and rear, knocked out the six Mark IV’s and one of the Mark Ill’s before the enemy pulled back to the same walled farm he had occupied the previous day. The fight cost the Americans six M3’s and several casualties, including the life of Major Siglin.

Truck-borne infantry elements of the enemy force, arriving later near the walled farm, were driven off or destroyed, and eventually the strongpoint itself was abandoned. Two squadrons of 17/21 Lancers and some British artillery attempted to cut off the enemy’s retreat and shared in smashing at least one more of his Mark Ill’s. One company of the 1st British Parachute Battalion occupied the vacated positions, which it thereafter labeled “Coxen’s Farm.”

The Southern Attack Begins

The 11th Infantry Brigade, reinforced, which was to form the southern column of the three-pronged drive, meanwhile got off to an unpromising start and lagged behind schedule in its effort to take the town of Medjez el Bab. The defenders there consisted of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Parachute Regiment (three companies), an Italian antitank company, two 88-mm. dual-purpose guns, and tanks of the 190th Panzer Battalion. The plan of attack required one reinforced infantry battalion to approach Medjez el Bab from each side of the river while a third element came from the west to seize commanding ground but not to enter the town until it had capitulated. The northern force (the 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers Regiment), as it tried on the night of 24-25 November in bright moonlight to cross the bare and level plain toward Medjez el Bab, was caught by machine gun and mortar fire. The initial burst killed the commanding officer, and additional fire drove the entire force to cover. ‘When artillery began at daylight, it pinned down the troops that had reached or crossed the river bed. During an attempt to withdraw that afternoon under cover of an artillery barrage, a tank-infantry counterattack from the town converted the retirement into a disorganized dispersal. Casualties were heavy.

The second force (the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment with the U.S. 175th Field Artillery Battalion attached), attacking from the south-southwest, gained the heights of Djebel Bou Mouss (250), later known as “Grenadier Hill,” bv, midmorning only to lose them soon afterward when the enemy counterattacked from -Medjez el Bab with tanks. The attack on Medjez el Bab had already taken longer than expected and had failed on both wings. The Germans, like the Allies six days earlier, withdrew from Medjez el Bab during the night of November rather than commit more troops to its defense, a decision by Nehring which Kesselring later condemned. They had severely handled the Allied force, and, on the morning of 26 November, the Luftwaffe took hold where the ground troops had left off. During the day, Djedeida airfield was reoccupied.

Enemy planes gained air superiority and made movement over the open area near Medjez el Bab perilous. The dangers were not wholly from enemy aviation. Eleven P-38 American fighters drove off some Axis planes as the day’s operations opened but then through error turned to subject an Allied column to five low-level strafing runs which, within three minutes, had severely damaged most of the guns and vehicles of Company C, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, and had killed five men and wounded sixteen. Antiaircraft fire had been withheld. By great ingenuity and extraordinary effort, all but two of the guns and most of the vehicles were restored to service during the next two days.

At midday an Allied artillery barrage fell on Medjez el Bab. Tanks of the 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, then led a British infantry battalion in an assault. Resistance was negligible. The troops found the city almost abandoned and one span of its important bridge demolished. The enemy’s withdrawal along the coastal road, south of Mateur, from Chouigui pass, and now down the Medjerda from Medjez el Bab seemed to portend a general withdrawal to thicken his screen around Bizerte and Tunis.

Possession of Medjez el Bab was preliminary to a farther advance to Tebourba by the southern Allied column. Defenses were organized and during the night a Bailey bridge span was erected over the gap in the broken bridge. A force consisting of the 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, and a small artillery group advanced northeastward to the edge of Tebourba by midnight 26-27 November.

A few hours before daylight, 27 November, the village was in Allied possession. Headquarters, 11th Brigade Group, during the day transferred defense of Med jez el Bab and the river crossings southwest of it to French and American units, and sent forward to the Tebourba area the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, and the 2nd Battalion, U.S. 13th Armored Regiment (less Company E): The 1st Battalion, 4th Mixed Regiment of Zouaves and Tirailleurs, and one battery of the 3rd Battalion, 62nd Artillery Regiment, relieved British units at Medjez el Bab during Tebourba, a town of less than 4,000 population, was a critical point in either attacking or defending Tunis. In approaching it from Medjez el Bab, Allied forces proceeded along the narrow shelf next to the Medjerda’s northwestern bank and emerged through a widening gap between the hills and the river onto an open plain. A few miles to the east Tebourba’s low white buildings nestled about a crossroads, surrounded by extensive, geometrically precise olive orchards. The river meandered in wide loops south of Tebourba and was crossed by a substantial bridge at EI Bathan, a suburb somewhat more than a mile to the south.

Equally distant to the east is the Djebel Mai’ana (186), a bare, steep ridge giving unexcelled observation over the area for several miles in all directions. It commands the road to Djedei’da, at the base of its northern slope, as well as the railroad to Tunis, on the narrow strip between the ridge and the river southeast of it. Two lower ridges lie about three miles farther east of Tebourba, between it and Djedeida.

From that village, where a stone-arched bridge sparmed the Medjerda river, the plain, studded by a few low hills near the city, slopes very gently down to Tunis, some twelve miles distant. The river continues northeastward between Tunis and Bizerte to the sea. North and northwest of Tebourba the plain extends to the base of a mountain chain projecting between Tunis and Mateur. The road from Tebourba to Mateur ran through the small village of Chouigui, four miles north of Tebourba, and thence via Chouigui pass, over the low mountains between the coastal plan and the Tine river valley, the afternoon. Batteries of the U.S. 175th Field Artillery Battalion were emplaced at Medjez el Bab, Siourhia, and Testour.

This route was used by Blade Force after Colonel Hull had received orders from 78th Division on 27 November to assemble his armor in the Chouigui area the next day. When the movement was reported to Nehring it confirmed his expectation that the Allied attack was to be concentrated on Tunis. The battles in which the two adversaries were soon engaged in and around Tebourba were to determine the success or failure of the first race for Tunis.

Axis forces had been withdrawn from Tebourba to the other side of the Medjerda. The 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, reinforced, organized a perimeter defense of the town early on 27 November; late in the morning, one of its patrols toward Djedeida was driven back. Shortly afterward two enemy columns of tanks and infantry assailed the northeastern and eastern sectors. One enemy tank succeeded in piercing the Allied screen about Tebourba, but it remained just a brief period. Around the outskirts, however, particularly in the cover of the olive groves, the battle persisted until dusk and became a series of sharp encounters as confused as combat can sometimes become. The enemy was pushed slowly eastward and at darkness broke off action and retired toward Djedeida, taking along a few British prisoners and four damaged tanks, but leaving ten others behind. He had hurt the Allied force severely.
The Battle for Djedeida
The results of the fighting near Tebourba on 27 November left each adversary inclined to begin a new stage in his plan of operations. Nehring was ready for more steps in an aggressive defensive. On 28 November he used troops from both Mateur and Djedeida to seize two of the ridges in the mass of low mountains north of Chouigui pass. These two heights dominated a network of narrow tracks or dirt roads which connected the upper Tine valley with the coastal plain north of Djedeida. Sicily based squadrons began a swiftly rising rate of air support. He planned next day to extend Axis control to key road junctions on the route between Sidi Nsir and Chouigui pass. Evelegh, on the other band, had sent reinforced infantry units to those points during the night of 27-28 November, to assume the defense and release elements of Blade Force for the move of that command through Chouigui pass to an assembly area between Chouigui and Tebourba. On 28 November he regrouped for the next phase of his attack.

The original 78th Division plan to hold the Mateur-Tebourba base line before beginning the next stage of the offensive was now changed. The timetable had been upset both by the delay at Medjez el Bab and the failure to secure the bridges at El Bathan and Djedeida. Efforts to prevent the flow of reinforcements through the ports and airfields of Bizerte and Tunis were not succeeding. The enemy seemed to have decided that time was on his side, and to await attack against his prepared positions. Conditions were ripe for concentrating strength to penetrate the Axis defensive perimeter, with the Allies using not only Blade Force but also the approaching elements and headquarters of Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division (Brigadier General Lunsford E. Oliver, Jr.) as soon as they came up from Souk el Arba. General Evelegh therefore planned to start the attack toward Mateur and that toward Tunis in close sequence.

The attack against Djedeida would be made by the 11th Infantry Brigade Group. When bridge and town were in Allied possession, this force would turn to the northwest and advance on Mateur along the route of the main highway and the adjacent railroad between Djedelda and Mateur. It would at the same time cover the northern flank of the main attack on Tunis. Blade Force would use the captured bridge to strike eastward toward Tunis while Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, crossed the river at EI Bathan, swung through St. Cyprien, and headed toward Tunis from the west-southwest.

Two special operations were prepared which would assist these attacks: (1) the British 2nd Parachute Battalion would drop, 29 November, from American transport aircraft to sabotage an airfield south of Tunis at Oudna and to protect the southern flank of the advance on Tunis, joining up eventually with the armored force near St. Cyprien; (2) the British 1st Commando (including some U.S. troops) was to make an amphibious landing west of Bizerte from which it would penetrate to the south and connect with the 36th Brigade Group on the coastal road.

In spite of Allied bombing of the ports and airfields at Bizerte and Tunis, Axis reinforcements kept arriving. General Nehring’s forces now included four gigantic Mark VI (“Tiger” ) tanks with 88-mm. guns which had been sent to Tunisia for test in combat. Like the newest 88-mm. antiaircraft batteries, they were super-secret weapons in which Hitler took a considerable interest. But more important, possibly, in actual defense of the bridgehead were the newly arrived staff and armored elements of the 10th Panzer Division, commanded by General Fischer. Supplementing the 190th Panzer Battalion, they were ready to take up the challenge of Blade Force before all of General Oliver’s armored command arrived on the scene.

The operations of 28 November did not go well for the Allies, and General Evelegh’s plans were not realized. On the coastal road, the Allied advance guard, 12 carriers and 2 deployed companies of the 8th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, were enticed into ambush in a defile between two hills. From the concealment of scrub-covered Djebel Azag (396, “Green Hill”) and the bare and rocky slopes of Djebel Adjred (556, “Bald Hill”), west of Djefna, Group Witzig [Group Witzig consisted of three companies of paratroops and five Italian self-propelled antitank guns, reinforced on 30 November by an infantry company] opened dense 20-mm. machine gun fire on the hapless leading elements. This blaze of fire destroyed 10 carriers, killed 30 men, led to the taking of 86 Allied prisoners, and drove the remaining Allied troops back with about 50 others wounded. An attempt by the enemy to envelop the Allied northern flank was effectively blocked, but a similar maneuver by the British was likewise successfully parried.

[NOTE: (1) The following units of the 10th Panzer Division had arrived and been unloaded by 29 November: two companies of the 1st Battalion, 7th Panzer Regiment, with 32 Panzer III’s and 2 Panzer IV’s; two companies of the 10th Motorcycle Battalion; and two companies of self-propelled antitank guns of the 90th Tank Destroyer Battalion.]

If this secondary effort failed, the main attack from Tebourba against Djedelda on 28 November fared no better. Djedelda lay on the left bank of the Medjerda river some five miles northeast of Tebourba. The main road skirted the northern end of Djebel Malana, as already noted, and continued over bare and generally flat country for three more miles to a pair of low ridges beyond which lay the airfield and the village. The main railroad line closely followed the northwest bank of the river. Carefully laid-out olive groves and a thin strip of woods along the tracks offered some cover there. The 11th Infantry Brigade Group was reinforced during the night and, after reconnaissance from Djebel Malana, started an attack on Djedelda airfield and village at 1300.

With the support of medium tanks of the 2nd Battalion of the U.S. 13th Armored Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Hyman Bruss), the 5th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment made the assault. From the neighboring ridge the airfield was shelled with considerable damage to newly arrived aircraft, but the attack against the village met heavy fire from concealed antitank guns and field artillery. The enemy positions were well protected by machine guns and infantry, and supported by dive bombers. General Nehring had made Djedelda a special defense sector, and it was effectively organized and resolutely defended.

After losing about five American tanks, the attacking force pulled back to reorganize. The infantry then pushed ahead under covering fire but stopped short of the village. British troops remained in possession of a ridge commanding Djedeida, while the wounded were brought out during the night by the light of burning tanks, but it was clear that to gain the objective stronger Allied forces would be required next day. The capture of Mateur, moreover, could not well be undertaken until the river crossing at Djedeida was controlled by the Allied troops.

Allied artillery reinforcements came up during the night of 28-29 November, including the U.S. 5th Field Artillery Battalion, which had recently arrived in the area after leaving Oran on 20 November. Acting on orders to place his batteries northeast of Djedeida that night, the battalion commander and several battery commanders went forward on reconnaissance. Under the misconception that the British held Djedeida, they drove along the road from Tebourba and ran into an ambush which robbed the battalion of its principal officers before it had even gone into action. After reorganizing next morning, the battalion occupied positions east of Tebourba in support of the 11th Infantry Brigade.

The French aided the build-up near Tebourba by assuming, along with elements of the U.S. 175th Field Artillery Battalion, protection of the Bordj Toum bridge across the Medjerda northeast of Medjez el Bab, and by increasing the French forces at Medjez el Bab, thus relieving the bulk of the the Allied drive toward Tunis reached its climax on 29 November. The 11th Infantry Brigade Group renewed its assault on Djedei: after a half-hour’s artillery preparation of high explosive and smoke shells at dawn, followed by an attack of the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, and a dozen American tanks of the 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment. The enemy leaped to his guns when the barrage lightened and hit the tanks with antitank and heavy machine gun fire as they came over a ridge and rolled down the forward slope. Enemy airplanes were extremely effective.

Tanks which pulled back to defilade found no cover from repeated dive-bombing in the open, rolling countryside. Enemy air attacks, more intense than those of any previous day, also harried the infantry as it broke off the assault. These attacks continued as one portion of the infantry organized a defensive line at the ridge while the remainder withdrew to Tebourba. Although the 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, came up after dark to relieve the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, General Evelegh was permitted to suspend the attack before daylight, 30 November, pending a marked improvement in Allied air strength.

[NOTE: The approaching reinforcements (the 1st 11 (1) On 30 November the following were located in the Medjez el Bab area: staff and two battalions of the 4th Mixed Zouaves and Tirailleurs Regiment; the 3rd Battalion, 62nd Artillery Regiment; a section of motorized engineers; a motorized group of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Guards Regiment; two 47-mm. guns of the 62nd Artillery Regiment; and five American antiaircraft guns. At Bordj Toum the company was from the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Colonial Infantry Regiment. See Station List in CSTT Jnl, 30 Nov 42. (2) 175th FA Bn War Diary, 28-29 Nov 42.]

British Guards Brigade and Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, and the British 6th Armoured Division west of them) would be helpful, but the most compelling necessity was to end enemy command of the air over the battlefield, such as he had enjoyed for the past two days. The Eastern Air Command could do little to remedy the situation. Its medium and heavy bombers kept hitting the airdromes and seaports through which the enemy was receiving his reinforcements, while strikes on the airfields inflicted some damage on the enemy’s air power, but it could not keep enough Allied fighter squadrons in the air, or base them near enough to the area of ground combat. To put an airfield at Medjez el Bab into operation by 2 December offered the only serious hope of bettering Allied air support of the Eastern Task Force.

The northern attack along the coastal highway by the 36th Brigade Group spent its force on 29-30 November in one last courageous effort. Observers could not spot the many camouflaged enemy machine gun positions on Green Hill north of the road even with the aid of low-level air reconnaissance.

A night attack on that hill by the British 6th Commando (-) and on Bald Hill by the 6th Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment (-), put men on the upper slopes, only to have them pinned down in daylight. By nightfall, 30 November, the whole undertaking of the north column was stopped. The 36th Brigade Group withdrew toward Sedjenane, leaving Group Witzig in control.[NOTE 13-1313] Southeast of Mateur continuing the advance from heights north of Chouigui pass, which had been occupied on 28 November, the reinforced battalion of Regiment Barenthin on Nehring’s orders occupied the ridge east of Coxen’s Farm on 29 November and consolidated its hold on the high ground east of the Tine river. Mateur thus remained well guarded, both from the west and southeast.

[NOTE 13-1313 German casualties were fourteen killed, twenty wounded, and one missing. ARR, Group Witzig to Diu. Broich, 30 Nov and I Dec 42, in Diu. Broich, KTB, Nr. 1, 11.xI.-31.XII.42, Anlagenheft II,
Anlage 9, 29, 30 Nov, 1 Dec 42.]

The amphibious landing operation of the 1st Commando on the coast west of Bizerte, which was to assist the advance of the 36th Brigade Group, was executed. Starting from Tabarka at 1800 on 30 November, British and American troops were put ashore during the early hours of 1 December without opposition. They advanced to their designated objectives on the Bizerte-Mateur road, denying its use to the enemy for three days. Running low on supplies, unable to establish radio communications with the brigade headquarters, and harassed by the Germans, they were finally forced to withdraw to Sedjenane where the last elements arrived on 5 December. In this raid the 1st Commando suffered 134 casualties, including 74 American.

General Evelegh’s recommendation on 29 November to postpone the attack was not approved in time to prevent the parachute operation on the southeast flank. At 1450, 29 November, about 500 men of the 2nd Parachute Battalion (Br.) floated to earth near Depienne, about twenty-five miles south of Tunis. They proceeded that night to Oudna airfield but found that it was not in Axis use. Flight upon flight of Stukas and fighters over the troops in Tunisia came from other fields. Paratroopers cut the telephone lines and demolished other installations at the empty airfield, and then hid in the hills until the following night. When they learned by radio that the attack on Tunis had been postponed, they made their way back to Medjez el Bab as best they could, harried by the enemy, hampered by the wounded, and widely scattered during successive night marches. Losses were 19 killed, 4 wounded, and 266 missing.

Axis parachutists were a threat to the highly vulnerable line of communications in the rear of the Eastern Task Force. To protect this line French guards were therefore mounted at bridges, culverts, and tunnels, in response to orders issued on 30 November. Suspension of the Allied attack on Djedei: early on 30 November and at the enemy’s Djefna position at the end of the day was intended to be temporary. The Allied commander in chief, whose command post at Gibraltar had been moved to Algiers on 25 November, returned from a tour of the front on 30 November and in a review of the situation, stated his intentions as follows: My immediate aim is to keep pushing hard, with a first intention of pinning the enemy back in the Fortress of Bizerte and confining him so closely that the danger of a breakout or a heavy counteroffensive will be minimized. Then I expect to put everything we have in the way of air and artillery on him and to pound him so hard that the way for a final and decisive blow can be adequately prepared. While that preparation is going on, we can clean up the territory to the south. In this plan, our greatest concern is to keep the air going efficiently on inadequate, isolated fields.

Axis forces were affected during these critical days by a strong sense of crisis. Allied bombing of the airfields at El Aouina and Sidi Ahmed, aimed at interrupting the flow of enemy reinforcements, was so destructive that continual improvisation and strenuous labor were required to keep these fields in operation. Troops normally engaged in other duties were diverted to repairs and fire control. As a temporary expedient, incoming plane loads of Axis troops were held over for twenty-four hours for such work before being shifted to forward areas. The decisive shipment of tanks and guns which arrived on 27 November was unloaded on 28-29 November and speeded to forward assembly areas and thence to combat. Allied armor posed the most serious threat, for air reconnaissance on 29 November reported approximately 135 Allied tanks between Djedeida airfield and Sidi Nsir. General Nehring was obliged to choose between using the few new-type 88-mm. dual-purpose guns at his disposal to defend the airfields from Allied bombers or to protect the road to Tunis against Allied tanks. He chose the latter alternative. But even while the Allied advance was being stopped, primarily by enemy air supremacy, the Axis was preparing for an aggressive defense. General Evelegh’s decision to pause was almost simultaneous with a decision by General Nehring to strike back at Tebourba.

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 (4-17); Stalemate Before Tunis (pt.1)

World War Two: North Africa (4-15); Drive on Tunis-First Axis Engagements


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