World War Two: North Africa (6-27); From Mareth to Enfidaville – 8th Army

The Approach of the British Eighth Army The main operation undertaken in March by 18 Army Group, aided by Allied aviation, was to bring the British Eighth Army through the constricted passage along the coast in the vicinity of Gabes despite any resistance Army Group Africa could offer.

The attempts to drive the German-Italian forces back from prepared defensive positions in this area were made almost wholly by troops of the British Empire and by associated units of other nationality under General Montgomery’s command. American participation was limited to the air and to independent auxiliary operations by the ground forces of the U.S. II Corps. In Northwest Africa two coalitions tested each other’s capacity in 1942-1943 to make maximum use of a combined total military potential. Although the Eighth Army’s push from Mareth to Enfidaville was a British exploit within an Allied military endeavor, a general account of it is necessary here as background for the description of the concurrent operations by the U.S. II Corps which follows.

The main test of Allied strength and Axis power in March was the battle for the Mareth Position. The British First Army and the Fifth Panzer Army were contending, to be sure, at several points in northern Tunisia, where the aggressiveness of General von Arnim was unremitting, but the basic objective of each army there was simply to pin down opposing troops and to prevent their direct contribution to a victory or a defeat in southern Tunisia. It became the purpose of Fifth Panzer Army to free the defenders of the Mareth Position as much as possible from Allied pressure.

The British First Army, for its part, aimed at holding in the north Axis men and materiel which could otherwise be sent to reinforce the Italian First Army at Mareth. During these preliminaries, the Eighth Army proceeded to the crucial battle with the majestic deliberation of a pachyderm. Its base was shifted westward to Tripoli, where harbor debris and port wreckage resulting from Allied bombing and Axis sabotage was expeditiously removed or repaired. In February Montgomery’s troops accelerated their advance toward Mareth in order to afford relief to the U.S. II Corps beyond Kasserine pass by threatening Rommel’s rear guard near Mareth. But with Rommel’s withdrawal the necessity for the action had actually passed before Eighth Army began pressing. Rommel did not withdraw in response to the Eighth Army’s threat but in his eagerness to win an early, easy victory over only its advanced elements. British Eighth Army’s preparations were thorough partly because of the methodical approach of its commander to any prospective battle and partly because the barrier at Mareth could be broken only by greatly superior strength, after which the enemy had to be pursued with celerity and ample resources.

Permission to pull his army westward into Tunisia, as stated earlier, had been granted to Rommel by Comando Supremo only when such a movement was recognized to be inevitable, and only on a schedule which would permit the completion in Tunisia of new defensive works. The retreat had been expedited in a manner which sorely tried the already shaken confidence of the Italians in Rommel. Although construction work on the defenses could no doubt have gone on indefinitely before those responsible for defending the position would have deemed it complete, the German-Italian Panzer Army arrived in the vicinity considerably ahead of the date thought appropriate by Comando Supremo. The necessary time still remained because General Montgomery believed that it would be sounder military practice to wait until he could attain full preparedness for the attack than to catch the enemy only partly ready for defense. By the time of the battIe, the Axis forces had had about three months in which, with such scanty materials as could be procured, and using labor and replacement troops, to develop the defenses constituting the Mareth barrier.

The Mareth Position

The coastal corridor between Tripoli and Gabes across which the Mareth Line was established south of Gabes, becomes a narrowing bottleneck between the sea and a belt of severely eroded hills, averaging about 1,300 feet and rising to peaks of 2,200 feet, the Matmata chain. The coast line trends from southeast to northwest while the eastern front of the hill mass runs more nearly north and south. The corridor thus converges to make a gap of slightly more than twenty miles from Zarat, near the coast, through Mareth to Toudjane in the hills.

The main road from Tripoli to Tunis passes through Ben Gardane near the Tunisian border, then on through Medenine and Mareth to Gabes. The narrow gap south of Mareth is traversed from southwest to northeast by stream beds, and punctuated by a few scattered low hills, such as the spur running east towards the Zemlet el Lebene which furnished cover for the German approach to Medenine on 5-6 March. Of the stream beds, the Zigzaou wadi is the most considerable, and along it, the French before the war constructed a Tunisian version of the Maginot Line. The resemblance was chiefly in the defensive concept which underlay both projects. For the Mareth Position had been erected to defend the colony from a possible attack by the Italians, and the works were rather primitive. Axis development of the position took account of the obsolescence of the concrete and steel pillboxes and shelters, and of the necessity for establishing defense in depth on the ground in front of the Zigzaou wadi rather than behind it. By the time the British Eighth Army arrived for its attack, the Mareth defensive system had been made formidable although far from invulnerable.

The Mareth Position extended for about twenty-five miles across the corridor southwesterly from the coast along the course of the Zigzaou wadi to high ground in the Matmata hills in the vicinity of Cheguimi south of Toudjane. The wadi was wide and fairly deep, with sheer banks; when the bottom was awash with the runoff of recent rains and the banks muddy from seasonal soakings, the ditch became difficult for tanks to cross and even more difficult for wheeled vehicles. At all times, wet or dry, it could be surmounted by the methods developed in modern warfare unless protected by fire of sufficient force and intensity, in which case it could be an effective element in a system of defense. The Zigzaou wadi was extended and supplemented by excavated tank ditches along which continuous mounds of soft earth and occasional concrete or masonry obstacles had been erected. A line of twenty-six fortified strongpoints stretched from the coast to the hills, thence south along the eastern front of the high mass, ending in a Y, with one prong jutting northwestward to Toudjane, and the other southward along the escarpment east of Cheguimi. Each strongpoint had several concrete dugouts, machine gun emplacements, or shelters, those in the plain being far less substantial than the newer ones in the hills. Two belts of mines had been laid around an irregular zone from four to six miles wide roughly paralleling the Zigzaou wadi on the side toward Medenine and enclosing the village of Arram. Within this advance sector, from the Djebel Sai”kra (302) at the south, to the northwestern edge of some salt marshes near the ocean, the Axis command had placed artillery and machine guns behind bunkers and wire, and planned to hold off attackers at this point as long as possible. Artillery observation could be much better in this advanced area than in the main line near the coast.

The Matmata hills form a belt generally less than ten miles wide but broadening to more than twenty miles west of Mareth, where they enclose an irregular plateau. The tracks through these hills at most points are unfit for wheeled transport. From the plain at Medenine, the roads to the west, such as that through Hallouf pass which the 10th Panzer Division used in the 6 March attack, enter the chain through defiles which could be blocked by mines and by blasting. A road from Medenine to the great oasis at El Hamma, west of Gabes, leads across the southwestern end of the Mareth Position and into the mountains. From Toudjane, a village at the eastern edge of the interior plateau, it continues for thirteen miles farther northwest to Matmata, another Berber community, and after ten miles more of twisting progress, reaches the northern limit of the entire hill mass.

Far to the south, where the hills become more scattered, a road from Foum Tatahouine leads through them to the desert, which stretches away to Algeria. The desert is bounded on the north by vast, shallow, salt-crusted lakes, the great chotts, which extend across the middle of Tunisia from close to the Algerian border to within fifteen miles of the Golfe de Gabes. Ranges of mountains supplement the chotts as a complex barrier to north-south movement. At the eastern end are Gabes and the Chott (or Wadi Akarit) Position. Djebel Tebaga (469) along the southern edge of Chott el Fedjadj leaves a gap of barely 6,000 yards between its ridge and the northwesterly spur of the Matmata hills.

 

The Djebel Halouga (222) and adjacent high ground north of the Matmata hills in effect extend the gap to the oasis of El Hamma. If a force could make its way through the Matmata hills to the desert, and pass along the rim of the desert toward El Hamma, it would still have to penetrate this 6,000-yard opening before it could break out onto the coastal plain. It might swing eastward at once and pass along the northern edge of the Matmata hills, but it would find the going easier if it continued north to El Hamma itself, before turning to the east to reach Gabes. Such a maneuver would, by first winning a victory over natural obstacles and thereafter over defenders in the El Hamma gap, flank the Mareth Position and bring the force onto the coastal plain in the rear of its defenders. The difficulties were deemed insuperable for a substantial force with wheeled vehicles at the time the French were building the Mareth Line, but that view no longer prevailed. Indeed, advice on how to turn the line in this way was submitted from General Catroux to the Allies and transmitted to AFHQ.

Rommel’s Analysis of the Mareth Position

Field Marshal Rommel’s confidence in the Mareth Position was not very firm. The line, he thought, could be enveloped by comparatively strong forces from either the south or the west. The British could be relied upon to attempt such a maneuver. Two passes, Beni Kreddache and Ksar el Hallouf, through which the British could cross the mountain barrier south of the line, would require outlying defensive forces. The deep northwestern flank would have to be protected south of El Hamma with other separate mobile elements. Finally, reserves also had to be in readiness to meet an attack from the direction of Gafsa.

In the main Mareth Line, the Axis because of the limited time available had to adopt the concrete emplacements and pillboxes of the French as the core, but the structures could be used for excellent shelter only, since the ironwork was very badly rusted. Guns would have to be emplaced in field positions between individual pillboxes. The old French line of fortifications was dominated by heights a few miles in front of the main positions. They could thus be brought under observed artillery fire while their own observation was seriously restricted. To retain possession of the heights as long as possible was therefore essential. Moreover, the Italian artillery in the main line, which greatly exceeded that of the German units in number of pieces (340 Italian, 65 German), would be outranged unless set up ahead of the fortification toward the heights. Mines and tank traps would be needed to furnish security for the guns in these forward positions.

The Gabes-Tripoli highway divided the main fortified line into two sectors, with the sector to the northeast on the more vulnerable terrain. The British attack on the forward positions would probably begin there and, after a successful break-in, would be in a position to roll up the forward portion of the southern sector. After gaining possession of all the advanced positions, the attackers could be expected to move along either side of the highway against the Italian XX Corps.

Rommel recommended that the reinforcement and re-equipment of German units be expedited and that the lesson of El Alamein with reference to the expenditure of artillery ammunition be applied. This would require that three units of fire be kept at the firing positions, three more in accessible dumps, and another three in the reserve. He indicated the disposition of mobile troops which seemed to promise the best results, and added: “If the enemy intends an encirclement to the west . . . as is assumed, it is all the more important to defend the Beni Kreddache and Ksar el Hallouf passes and to force him into a time consuming detour as far to the south as possible, at least as far as Foum Tatahouine.”

The Axis could not meet an envelopment against the deep northwest flank by counterattack for lack of forces, and even a firm defense of the flank would drain off the reserves being held either to resist an attack from Gafsa or to support the main front (15th Panzer Division, Panzer Grenadier Regiment Africa, 1st Luftwaffe .Jaeger Brigade, and reinforced 7th Bersaglieri Battalion). But, as Rommel saw it, if the First Italian Army were properly replenished, had time to finish preparations, kept its mobile reserves instead of using them to repel an attack from Gafsa, and received resolute fighting from its Italian divisions, it might at least win a decisive defensive success.

The Gap Leading to El Hamma

From the point of view of Allied forces operating in southern Tunisia, the road through the valley from Gafsa to El Hamrna and Gabes was potentially a protected route for timely intervention from the west in any battle in the coastal corridor. North of the chotts two mountain chains form a valley running east and west. Passage through this valley-fifteen miles at the narrowest point-is further restricted by small salt marshes and several separate prominent hills. The northern chain is broken at the western end of Djebel Orbata (1165) just south of the oasis of Gafsa, but extends eastward for sixty miles from that opening as far as the village of Mezzouna.

The U.S. II Corps east of Tebessa might drive down this valley either to strike at Gabes or to hit the Axis line of communications north of the coastal narrows, compelling Army Group Africa to fight two separate but related battles. The very threat of such action would divert Axis forces from other positions or thin them out where strength already barely met requirements. Thus the Allies could use the Gafsa-Gabes valley in a manner reminiscent of the way the Shenandoah Valley was utilized during the American Civil War. In the developing crisis of March 1943, all routes in southern Tunisia seemed to lead to the focal point near Gabes.

The small reconnaissance teams of the Eighth Army’s Long Range Desert Group which investigated the routes of overland travel west of the Matmata mountains in January and early February got as far as Tozeur, where they made contact with some men from British First Army. They returned to Eighth Army with encouraging reports.

It appeared that no obstacles existed which the Eighth Army could not surmount with the aid of bulldozers and other tracked vehicles. A flanking force of considerable strength could reach the El Hamma gap. On the basis of this information, and what was known of the structure and organization of the Mareth Position, General Montgomery drafted the first tentative plan for his attack on the Mareth Position (Operation PUGILIST GALLOP) .

Plans for Operation PUGILIST GALLOP

The British Eighth Army approached the fight for the Mareth Position in a spirit of strong confidence. The units were battle seasoned. They had driven Rommel’s army from the field in one of the war’s decisive battles. Although they had not brought the enemy to a stand, they had won a long series of subsequent small victories which they had capped by successfully holding their positions against counterattack near Medenine. They thought that Rommel was still commanding the opposing forces, but in view of their triumphs no longer feared him.

The plan of attack was incisively explained to all commanders by General Montgomery himself. The Eighth Army planned to move on 20 March, when the moonlight would for the first time facilitate a night assault after other required preparations had been made. About one fourth of the force would pass through the mountains at a point 60 miles south of the Mareth Line, continue over 140 miles to El Hamma gap by night marches, and, after breaking through there, would swing to the east to disrupt the enemy’s rear. While this long flanking march and ensuing attack were being executed, the main thrust would be made near the coast. The terrain there was marshy; the area for maneuver was somewhat cramped; the Zigzaou wadi was at its widest and deepest; but the belt of advanced defenses was narrow and the strongpoints, with fields of fire restricted by rolling terrain, were therefore less effective than others farther to the southwest. The Italian defenders could probably be thrown back somewhat more easily than their better armed and more determined German associates. Once infantry was through the main barrier and established on the northern side, two armored divisions could cross to exploit to the west and southwest. If both the main and flanking attacks succeeded, the Axis forces would be separated and cut off in such a manner that no firm defense could be made short of Sfax. That city was named as the objective of the operation.

The Eighth Army entered the battle for the Mareth Position organized into two regular and one provisional corps. The enveloping march and attack through El Hamma gap were assigned to a provisional New Zealand Corps under Lieutenant General Sir Bernard C. Freyberg. The force numbered about 27,000 men. It consisted of the 2nd New Zealand Division; the 8th Armoured Brigade; the French L Force (General LeClerc) of 2,000-3,000 Senegalese with French officers; the King’s Dragoon Guards (an armored car regiment) ; one regiment each of field and medium artillery; and the Greek Sacred Squadron, in some 30 jeeps with mounted machine guns. The 120 tanks and 112 field and 172 antitank guns, the hundreds of trucks, cars, and tracked vehicles, after falling back to the road fork at Ben Gardane and turning southwest, would enter the mountains near Foum Tatahouine.

The main attack was to be delivered on a 1,200-yard front close to the seacoast by 30 Corps under General Leese. It would include the British 50th (Northumberland) and 51st (Highland) Divisions, 4th Indian Division, and British 201st Guards Brigade. The third major element of the army, 10 Corps, commanded by General Horrocks, consisted of the 1st and 7th Armoured Divisions and 4th Light Armoured Brigade. It was to be held in reserve at first and then pass through a gap gained by the infantry in order to exploit access to the enemy’s rear areas.

The attack by Eighth Army was to receive the fullest possible assistance from the Allied air forces. In general, plans called for operations on the part of Northwest African Air Forces against Axis aviation which would provide air supremacy in the battle area, permitting the Western Desert Air Force and the American Ninth Air Force to concentrate on the tactical support of Eighth Army. In fulfillment of this program, the Northwest African Tactical Bomber Force and the major part of the Strategic Air Force were committed to strikes on the Axis landing fields in the vicinity of Gabes, Djebel Tebaga Fatnassa (270), and Mezzouna on 20 and 21 March. These operations. along with others by the Tactical Air Force against these fields and in the air, eventually drove Axis air units northward to the Sfax-La Fauconnerie area. The ground battle was fought with extensive assistance by the Western Desert and U.S. Ninth Air Forces.

Defense Plans

For the defense of the Mareth-EI Hamma positions General Messe in mid-March had disposed the forces of his First Italian Army along the fortified line as follows:

( 1) On the coastal plain, from northeast to southwest-the Italian XX Corps under Generale di Divisione Taddeo Orlando, including the 136th (Young Fascists) Division, commanded by Generale di Divisione Nino Sozzani and the 101st (Trieste) Division under Generale di Brigata Francesco La Ferla (the latter’s sector embracing the village of Mareth).

(2) In the center, the German 90th Light Africa Division under Generalmajor Theodor Graf von Sponeck. The seven battalions and six batteries of this unit held a sector through which the heavily mined highway from Medenine to Mareth ran until just south of the village of Arram, where it turned northward into Division Trieste’s sector before again swinging northwestward to Mareth.

( 3) In the western portion, the Italian XXI Corps, commanded by Generale di Corpo d’ Armata Paolo Berardi, consisting of the 80th (La S pezia) Division under Generale di Brigata Gavino Pizzolato, and the 16th (Pistoia ) Motorized Division under Generale di Brigata Giuseppe Falugi (nearest Toud jane) with the German 164th Light Africa Division under Generalmajor Kurt Freiherr von Liebenstein. This German division was in a zone extending across the belt of hills north of Hallouf pass and centering on Matmata. It had been reduced to four battalions and one battery prior to the Mareth battle. Special detachments defended the defiles of Hallouf and Beni Kreddache and the tracks leading westward from them.

Along the line in the coastal zone, the 19th Flak Division (Luftwaffe) under Generalmajor Gothard Frantz had placed sixteen dual-purpose 88-mm. flak batteries and numerous 20-mm. antiaircraft batteries. The hills from Tamezred to Djebel Melab (333) and the narrow gap from there to Djebel Tebaga were in a sector with field works defended by the Saharan Group (Raggruppamento Sahariano), commanded by Generale di Brigata Alberto Mannerini. This force was a miscellaneous aggregation amounting to nine battalions and eleven batteries. In a second defense line to the rear and along the Ez Zerkin wadi were the army reserves. Nearest the coast the 1st Luftwaffe Brigade, by now reduced to the strength of a reinforced battalion, held a narrow sector behind the Young Fascists Division. Next to it was the Panzer Grenadier Regiment Africa covering the Mareth-Gabes road. The 15th Panzer Division covered the gap between the highway and the Matmata mountains.

Farther to the rear, the 21st Panzer Division, instead of making a contemplated swift thrust through Gafsa at French forces in Tozeur, on 17-18 March moved to an assembly area fifteen miles southwest of Gabes and ten miles west of Mareth. From this position it could support either the coastal or the northwestern portions of the Mareth Line. The 10th Panzer Division remained well north of Gabes near Sousse, subject to call. None of these divisions was up to anything like its full strength in men, tanks, or other weapons. Some 50,000 Germans and 35,000 Italians were in the First Italian Army, according to the highest Allied estimate. This was slightly higher than the actual ration strength of that Army which amounted to 77,473 late in February, with only insignificant changes since that date. Eighth Army had 37 infantry battalions in the area to the enemy’s 45 (in his infantry divisions); 1,481 guns to the enemy’s 680; 623 tanks to the enemy’s 150, and air strength of at least two to one.

The defense of the Mareth Position against British Eighth Army’s attack was undertaken in an atmosphere of strained German-Italian relations in the field. This condition, recurrent if not continuous, was rendered much more severe during the week before the attack. The Germans of what was formerly Rommel’s army were unhappy over its fate. Rommel himself was never reconciled to the Italian decision that the stand in Tunisia against the Eighth Army should be made at the Mareth Line rather than just north of Gabes in the Chott Position. The decision at the highest levels against his proposals of 3 March to concentrate all Axis forces in the Enfidaville line until the supply problem had been solved was doubtless disappointing, but he would not take no for an answer. In his visit to Hitler’s headquarters on 10 March he again attempted to gain the Führer’s approval for a withdrawal into the smaller bridgehead. Although Rommel was again rebuffed, Hitler agreed to a redisposition of the forces of the First Italian Army.

Rommel argued that the consequences of a possible Allied break-through at the Mareth Line, coupled with a flanking attack, could be averted only by strengthening the Chott Position at once with all available means. He suggested that two non-mobile Italian divisions, then in the. Mareth Line, be immediately sent to the Chott Position to begin the construction work and that the defense of Mareth Line pass to German mobile units supported by Italian motorized elements on the flanks.

Rommel deemed the combined Italian and German forces in the Mareth Line ample for a subsequent defense of the Chott Position. The 10th, 15th, and 21st Panzer Divisions would then be available to operate under Headquarters, DAK, as Army Group Africa reserve. Such a disposition of forces would, in Rommel’s view, provide for a delaying action in the wider southern approaches to the Gabes corridor and a stronger defense near its northern end.

Hitler agreed with Rommel and Jodl so informed OB SOUTH. Kesselring was to move the Spezia and Pistoia Divisions to the Chott Position. The Centauro Division was to take over the flank protection mission of the 164th Light Africa Division in the Matmata mountains. The latter would then move into the Mareth Line, while the Trieste Division provided security east of Gafsa. The Luftwaffe was to win time for the ground forces to carry out these moves by increasing its activity. Kesselring was determined to seek a change in these orders when he met Hitler and Doenitz at Rastenburg on 14 March to confer about supply. They were not communicated to Comando Supremo. The orders went directly to von Arnim from OB SOUTH only on 14 March, the day Kesselring flew to Rastenburg.

[NOTE 72-74NAT: On 13 and 14 March von Arnim complained to various officers in higher headquarters that Kesselring on the 13th had forbidden him to send tactical reports to OKW, OKH, and Rommel. On 23 March Hitler reaffirmed the right of all higher headquarters to communicate directly with him, sending information copies to their immediate superiors. Msgs, von Arnim (1) to Rommel, OKW /WFSt, and OKH, and (2) others, in EAP 21-x-·14/2.]

On the afternoon of the 14th von Arnim went to the headquarters of the First Italian Army to see to the immediate execution of the orders he had just received. Messe, who was busy carrying out the instructions he had received only a few days earlier to hold to the end in the Mareth Position, was dumfounded. He protested that the change of plans would have a bad effect on the morale of his Army. He regarded the wholesale shift in the disposition of his forces and the complicated movements involved as inadvisable in the face of the Eighth Army’s expected attack. It seemed to him tantamount to the first stage in a withdrawal to the Enfidaville Position, in the guise of an order to create a unified Mareth-Chott defense. He demanded to know if his organization of the Mareth Position, previously directed, was now to be replaced by a withdrawal to the Chott. Von Arnim merely replied that he had received orders that Messe must carry out. The only concession Messe obtained was to be allowed to keep the Trieste and Centauro Divisions in place, while moving the Spezia and Pistoia Divisions.

Meanwhile, Kesselring obtained from Hitler a reversal of the new orders. Notified on 16 March, Messe halted all movements and returned the troops to their former positions. Comando Supremo, until now basking in happy ignorance of moves and countermoves within the German command, was suddenly alerted to the circumvention of its nominal authority and asked for explanations from all concerned, but received little satisfaction.1s Thus on the eve of the Mareth battle, General Messe and his German associates in Tunisia were at odds; the anti-Italian attitude implied in the proposed shifts among the defending troops produced resentment; and the changes in plan gave the Italians further grounds for distrust of German leadership.

The Battle on the Coastal Plain

Ground operations opened on the night of 16-17 March with preliminary attacks by elements of the British 30 Corps. The British 50th and 51st Divisions launched separate assaults with the objective of pressing back enemy outposts in the fore-field of the Mareth Position. Both divisions succeeded in advancing their lines. A third attack, launched in the 10 Corps zone by the 201st Guards Brigade, was directed against a prominent hill, near the Medenine-Mareth highway, which gave the Germans good observation of the British line in this sector. The object of the attack was not only to seize this hill but to induce the defenders to expect the main thrust to be made between the Mareth road and the Matmata mountains. The Germans were ready. They drove the Guards back to their lines with heavy casualties, and retained their observation post.

These preliminary attacks cost the enemy 195 killed or wounded and 69 missing and yielded British intelligence valuable information on Axis dispositions. The enemy was husbanding his artillery ammunition, especially in 100-mm. shells. The First Italian Army had at its immediate disposal 56 tanks: 29 German and 27 Italian. The German Africa Corps, with the 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions, and a total of 94 tanks, was in army group reserve. The 21st Panzer Division, which had been moved toward Mareth on 17-18 March to counterattack if necessary in conjunction with the 15th Panzer Division, was not expected to arrive in its assembly area before the morning of the 19th.

German air reconnaissance observed the movement of the 6,000 vehicles of New Zealand Corps on 18 March. General Messe was led by this movement, along with other Allied preparatory shift, to the conclusion on 19 March that an attack at the El Hamrana gap by one armored division, one infantry division, and one motorized brigade should be expected in three or four days, at the same time that the main blows were being struck against the Mareth Line by at least three Allied infantry divisions, two infantry brigades, two armored divisions, and two armored brigades.

The Western Desert Air Force participated in the operations to break the Mareth barrier with twenty-two squadrons of fighters and fighter bombers (535 aircraft), seven squadrons of bombers (140 aircraft), and almost three reconnaissance squadrons. The full program of preparatory bombing was cut down by inclement weather but on 20 March, the very day of the first major attack, escorted bomber formations flew nine missions against Axis gun positions, transport, and concentrations of troops in the Mareth area. Fighter bombers also hit the area once and the Gabes airfield once. During this operation, PUGILIST GALLOP, the enemy was bombed each night.

The British opened the main attack on the Mareth Line with an extremely heavy artillery preparation by over 300 guns in the evening of 20 March. The enemy estimated that 20,000 rounds fell in the Young Fascists sector, nearest the coast, and about 16,000 rounds in the 90th Light Africa Division’s area farther west.

Eighth Army assigned the attempt to punch through the final line to British 30 Corps. The 30 Corps assigned it to the British 50th Division, which gave the mission to the 151st Brigade and 50th Royal Tank Regiment (fifty-one tanks, of which eight had 6-pounder guns). The British 69th Brigade and a detachment of the 9th Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, were expected to clear a path to the Zigzaou wadi and to set up protection on the southwestern flank for the crossing of that barrier at three points-one for each of two infantry battalions and one for the tanks. Following closely an artillery barrage, and led by “Scorpions” (tanks equipped with flailing chains on revolving drums to detonate enemy mines), the tanks of the armored column would carry fascines, ten feet long and eight feet in diameter, to make the wadi crossing and that of the steep-sided antitank ditch beyond it passable for the heavy vehicles. The infantry and tanks were to fan out on the far side in a bridgehead from which the enemy was to be cleared by battles at numerous strongpoints.

Severe difficulties impeded the first night’s operations. The British force opened the path to the wadi and established the flank protection, but the Scorpions failed and the mines had to be more slowly removed by engineers using detectors. The infantry crossed successfully but the tanks were delayed.

Some of their fascines were ignited and had to be replaced from a stock farther to the rear. Enemy fire was heavy and continuous and, near the wadi’s edge, knocked out several tanks. In the wadi itself, troops removed the mines despite intense fire, but from one bank to the other they found the bottom to be very soft, with the fifty-foot channel for the running stream particularly so. Four tanks got across both the wadi and the antitank ditch, but a fifth settled into soft ground almost up to its turret, and could not be removed with the means at hand. Construction of a route around this obstacle before daylight was impossible. Thus the 151st Brigade, with only these four tanks of the 50th Royal Tank Regiment, reached the far side of the Zigzaou wadi to establish the bridgehead.

During the next day, the 151st Brigade, reinforced, successfully extended its area for about two miles along the wadi and one mile in depth. The Italians, in spite of German efforts to prevent them, surrendered freely as opportunity offered. One battalion of the 90th Light Africa Division, artillery units from the 15th Panzer Division, the Luftwaffe Jaeger Brigade, and the Panzer Grenadier Regiment Africa were committed to reinforce the Young Fascists Division.

British attempts on the second night to get the rest of the tanks across were successful, but a firm road for wheeled vehicles they could not construct, so that antitank guns and field artillery had to support the shallow bridgehead from the Eighth Army’s side of the wadi. During the night, the fine weather came to an end. March 22 opened with low clouds and intermittent but very heavy showers.

At 1300, the 15th Panzer Division counterattacked after organizing near Zarat, placing the British in a difficult position. Launched with almost thirty tanks and two battalions of infantry, the counterattack was impeded but not stopped by the rain soaked ground and was in full course by 1700. The British Valentine tanks were no match for the Mark Ill’s and IV’s. Support by Western Desert Air Force was washed out by the weather just as the enemy’s drive was getting under way. By the time the skies had cleared, the battle had brought British and Axis units so close together that Allied aircraft could not helpfully intervene. Fighting bitterly at various localities, British troops held until darkness, when they began to withdraw across the wadi. About thirty-five British tanks and 200 prisoners were left in enemy hands. The bridgehead no longer existed. All elements on the far side of the wadi were recalled before morning, 24 March.

Following the storms and rain which blighted 30 Corps’ effort to enlarge its bridgehead across the Zigzaou wadi, the weather was brilliantly clear and the nights illuminated by an almost full moon. On the nights of 24-25 and 25-26 March it was possible for the bombers of the Western Desert Air Force to make 322 sorties over the El Hamma area, where they attacked enemy signal and supply and communications. At the same time, the Strategic Air Force hit the port at Sousse and the airfield near Djebel Tebaga Fatnassa, northwest of Gabes.

The Shift to Operation SUPERCHARGE II

Inability to maintain the bridgehead which British 30 Corps had gained during the night of 20-21 March and to use it as a base for a breakout to the rear of the Mareth Position forced General Montgomery to adopt an alternative. Operation PUGILIST GALLOP had gone awry. In trying to make the critical decision whether to try attacking elsewhere on the coastal plain, or in the mountains, or on the northwestern flank beyond the mountains, he had the benefit of an initial success by General Freyberg’s provisional New Zealand Corps. That force arrived south of El Hamma gap, after almost forty-eight hours of arduous and unexpectedly swift marching over the edge of the desert, in mid-afternoon of 21 March. Here the enemy line of mines, tank traps, and gun positions curved southward to cover the fork formed by the junction of tracks from Gabes and El Hamma with the one leading past the southern side of Djebel Tebaga toward Kebili. The approaching force stopped out of artillery range, reconnoitered, deployed, and made surveys to enable the artillery to fire without preliminary registration.

Instead of waiting for the next day, General Freyberg’s command prepared to attack that very night. Much battle experience enabled the New Zealanders to execute such an operation in the bright moonlight, and in particular to drive an enemy force from an outpost on Hill 201, a mesa rising in the middle of the gap about a mile from its southern entrance. Hill 201 dominated the lower adjacent ground. The New Zealanders won it at a cost of 65 casualties and took nearly 850 Italian prisoners. It remained in Allied hands thereafter, despite sturdy counterattacks.

While the New Zealand Corps was completing its approach on 21 March, the 21st Panzer Division started westward to support the Italians in the El Hamma gap and the 164th Light Africa Division withdrew through the hills northwest of Toudjane and Matmata. At 1030, 22 March, the latter division received orders to continue toward the northwestern front, to participate in the counterattack to regain Hill 201, which the 21st Panzer Division had thus far been unable to regain that morning. The 164th Light Africa Division was consequently on the way there on the same afternoon that the 15th Panzer Division off to the east was counterattacking against the northern edge of the 50th Division’s bridgehead and about to wipe it out altogether.

As General von Liebenstein’s division approached, General Freyberg’s forces were not only maintaining their hold on Hill 201 but clearing the hills on either side of the gap, working in general to the northeast. Late on 22 March, having failed to regain the hill, the Axis command accepted the necessity of pulling its line in the El Hamma gap back about three miles from the first location.

By evening of 22 March it had become obvious that the attack of British 30 Corps against the eastern end of the Mareth Position could make no further progress. General Freyberg’s force, on the other hand, had made a successful penetration at El Hamma gap. It was also known that the enemy had now committed all his available reserves. Such was the situation when during the night General Montgomery had to determine the future course of the Eighth Army’s attack.

With the same rapidity and assurance he had employed in meeting the vicissitudes of the Battle of El Alamein, General Montgomery decided to drop Operation PUGILIST GALLOP and to convert his flanking foray into the main effort. His initial problem was to send reinforcements in sufficient strength and speed to retain the Allied advantage already gained in the El Hamma gap and thus to build up even faster than the enemy.

He now shifted all his available reserves and resources to the west in support of General Freyberg’s outflanking maneuver. Instructing 30 Corps to make every effort to tie down Axis reserves in the Mareth Line, Montgomery alerted General Horrocks’ British 10 Corps headquarters with the 1st Armored Division for movement after dark on 23 March over the same route used by the provisional New Zealand Corps. From an assembly area east of Medenine, the 4th Indian Division was sent after darkness of 23 March toward Hallouf pass to open it for a shorter supply route to El Hamma gap, and to follow up the withdrawal to the north by 164th Light Africa Division. The 4th Indian Division was to take Toudjane and gain control of the northeastern section of the Matmata hills. It thus might obtain a route along which the 7th Armoured Division could make a short western hook around the Mareth Line and exploit the area south of Gabes. The enemy forces in the Mareth Position were to be held there by measures designed to look like preparations for a renewed thrust.

General Horrocks arrived at General Freyberg’s command post during the afternoon, 24 March, to find the latter under insistent pressure by General Montgomery to make a full-scale attack, if possible on the very next afternoon. Freyberg had proposed some alternatives, all of which were rejected in favor of speed, and he and Horrocks finally concluded that a blitz attack in the manner of that which broke through at El Alamein, an Operation SUPERCHARGE II, could be attempted at 1600, 26 March. Until then, all fighting would have to remain preliminary to the major battle.

On the enemy side General Mannerini, after canvassing with Generals Hildebrandt and von Liebenstein the prospects for a successful joint counterattack by their divisions to recapture Hill 201, canceled the project. The Allied intention to switch the point of their main attack to the El Hamma gap was correctly interpreted from Allied movements observed late on 23 March and again on 24 March. All that day, heavy movement to the south was reported by observers in the hills. The 15th Panzer Division, which had been pulled back late on 23 March to an area northwest of the village of Mareth, continued during the night toward an area north of the Matmata hills from which it could move either back to the Mareth Line or on into the El Hamma gap; on the night of 24-25 March, the division took up positions southeast of Djebel Halouga. The forward line of enemy defenses from Djebel Tebaga through Djebel Melab and southeast to Tamezred was thereafter covered by German as well as Italian troops. The 164th Light Africa Division took up positions on the northern flank, and agreement was reached that the boundary between the southeastern sector, under Italian XXI Corps, and the northwestern sector, under General von Liebenstein, would be about two miles east of Djebel Melab. Despite the Allied grip on the southern entrance, these enemy measures seemed likely to make Allied progress up the gap toward El Hamma extremely difficult.

Two factors reduced the difficulty. One was the Allied air program for Operation SUPERCHARGE II. General Montgomery accepted Air Vice-Marshal Harry Broadhurst’s proposal for extraordinary action by the Western Desert Air Force at the inception of the attack. The ground assault was to open about 1600, when the sun would be low on the horizon behind the attacking troops. It was to be preceded by a very heavy daylight air assault along El Hamma gap, supplemented by a rolling artillery barrage, both of which would be followed up closely by infantry and tanks.

When the enemy’s line of defenses had been breached, the armor was to pour through the opening and to thrust toward Gabes before daylight on 27 March. This program of co-ordinated attack promised to overcome the substantial advantage of the enemy’s gun positions on high ground on either flank. The second factor contributing to the Eighth Army’s success was perhaps unknown to its command. General Messe had been instructed by von Arnim on the morning of 24 March to withdraw to the Chott Position before being overwhelmed in the Mareth Line.

General von Arnim surveyed the situation with Generals Bayerlein and Liebenstein on the morning of 24 March, when General Montgomery’s new intentions had been confirmed, and in view of the Allied pressure also at El Guettar and Maknassy, decided that the retreat to the Chott Position should be started during the approaching night. Von Arnim told M esse to begin his withdrawal by pulling out his non-motorized Italian infantry at once, while holding present positions with mobile units.

Messe did not agree with von Arnim on the urgency of the need to withdraw to the Chott Position, and protested that for lack of transport he could not begin it until 25 March. When Kesselring arrived on the afternoon of the 24th, he took the same view as Messe and advised him to launch a counterattack by the 15th Panzer Division to improve the situation. General Messe, as a consequence of Kesselring’s visit, informed General von Arnim, next morning, that he preferred a counterattack on the coastal plain to withdrawal from the 1tIareth Line, but was informed that a withdrawal would be necessitated by the situation farther north.

It took British 10 Corps headquarters and the British 1st Armoured Division almost a full day longer to reach the northwestern battle area than it had taken the New Zealand Corps. They barely made the line of departure at the appointed hour on 26 March, but make it they did. The program of air bombardment which was to continue for about twenty-four hours preceding the assault was stopped in the morning by sandstorms on the airfields, but was executed with overwhelming results in the later phases beginning in midafternoon. On the hills beside the gap and to the east, a battle went on all day. Far forward, the 2nd New Zealand Division waited for the attack to jump off. The first to attack was to be the 8th Armoured Brigade. Infantry lay all day concealed near the enemy in holes which had been dug during the preceding night. Over their heads the planes began roaring on their way to bomb and strafe the area to be attacked.

The air attack at 1530 was made by three formations of light and medium bombers, which dropped their bombs in pattern from low altitudes. Fighter bombers followed immediately in continuous low-level attacks. They kept arriving in fifteen-minute relays of about thirty planes which flew continuously over the enemy ahead of the ground troops for the next two and one-half hours. Fighter patrols protected the fighter bombers from enemy intervention, while simultaneous attacks on enemy airfields successfully forestalled opposition by Axis planes. Four hundred and twelve sorties were flown.

With air co-operation to Operation SUPERCHARGE II thus completely undisturbed by the Luftwaffe, losses were limited to eleven pilots missing. Difficulties in co-ordinating the air with the ground action were anticipated and solved by the use of colored smoke and other devices for marking the area to be attacked. The troops started forward at 1600 at a swift rate, as prescribed in the plans, and closely behind the artillery barrage and the falling bombs.

At the designated time the New Zealand infantry rose from their cover, marked the bomb line with orange smoke signals, and behind a swiftly creeping artillery barrage and low-level air attacks swept forward. The two center battalions of the 164th Light Africa Division were overrun.

Through the gap, the British armor then poured toward El Hamma and Gabes, leaving the infantry in heavy engagements behind them on the hills. The tanks penetrated about four miles before dark and, after waiting for the moon to rise, passed through the enemy’s reserve armored elements before daybreak. Dawn on 27 March found them on the edge of El Hamma, where they were stopped by an antitank screen; General von Liebenstein sent reinforcements there to deter them as long as possible.

The Enemy Falls Back to the Chou Position Full exploitation of the Allied breakthrough on 27 March was prevented for two days by determined and resourceful measures south of El Hamma by German armored elements, especially by General Borowiecz’s 15th Panzer Division with about fifty tanks. Group von Liebenstein left its hill positions southeast of Djebel Melab before daylight and took up mobile defense of a line between these hills, Djebel Halouga, and El Hamma. The British 1st Armoured Division was held off at the north and struck by a counterattack, delivered by elements of the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, on its eastern flank. This situation continued through 28 March, while during the night of 26-27 March the last of the non-motorized elements of the Italian XX Corps pulled out of the coastal sector and in one bound shifted to the Chott Position.

XXI Corps and Group von Liebenstein covered the withdrawal in the temporary position El Hamma-Gabes on 27 March. During the night of 28-29 March a British armored force from the south threatened to cut off Group von Liebenstein after pushing in one flank of the 15th Panzer Division and thus gaining access to the area east of Djebel Halouga. During the night the Axis line, under considerable moonlight bombing, was pulled back north of El Hamma and Gabes, and on the following night, pulled back into the Chott Position. The battle of the Mareth Position had been won.

Ahead of the mobile German units, the Italians had been organized on a new defensive line. The 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, and part of the 90th Light Africa Division, went to an area west and southwest of Cekhira as army reserves, and reinforcements were soon going to the aid of the 10th Panzer Division near El Guettar. On 29 March, El Hamma and Gabes were in Allied hands. By the next evening, the most advanced Allied elements were in close proximity to the Chott Position.

[NOTE 89-07NA8: The reinforcements were the Panzer Grenadier Regiment Afrika on 29 March and, from the 21st Panzer Division, first one light and then a heavy artillery battalion and by 31 March the entire 21st Panzer Division. German CoS, First Italian Army, KTB, 26-31 Mar 43.]

British Empire Army took about 7,000 prisoners before winning the Mareth Position. These losses had further sapped the resources of a badly equipped Axis force. Furthermore, the British had driven the enemy farther toward the ultimate constriction in northeastern Tunisia which General Alexander had been planning since he took command of 18 Army Group. But somewhat offsetting these gains for the moment was the fact that once again the defenders of a fixed position had escaped the tentacles of a flanking attack by Eighth Army’s armored elements and had pulled back under orders of the high command. Could they now hold in the Chott Position at the Akarit wadi, the position that Rommel had favored in case the troops were not to shift all the way from Libya to northeastern Tunisia?

The two forces which had just concluded the major battle south and southwest of Gabes now spent a week preparing for a second set battle just north of the town at the Chott Position. Along this portion of the coastal plain, the corridor narrows to a short strip about fifteen miles wide, more than half of which is screened by a semicircle of low hills with precipitous slopes separated by narrow gaps. Across the narrows, the Akarit wadi has worn a trench extending inland about three miles from the sea before becoming so shallow as to constitute a minor dip in the surface. Although shorter than the Zigzaou wadi, in the Mareth Position, the Akarit is for the most part wider and deeper.

Overlapping its western end and extending to the nearest hill, Djebel el Roumana (170), was a tank ditch which the enemy had dug across the plain. Other shorter trenches zigzagged across the entrances to the openings between the various hills in the semicircle. Against tanks which might succeed in pushing through the defile at the southwestern end of Djebel er Roumana and then start along its western side, the enemy, using obstacles, had strengthened a series of parallel wadies to form a dangerous area for the armored vehicles, an area difficult to cross and subject to fire from numerous antitank guns. A large double belt of mines from east to west in front of the Akarit wadi and its western extension was supplemented at other critical points by smaller mine fields.

Comando Supremo’s preference for the Mareth Position had delayed measures to complete an interrelated system of barriers and protecting fire positions. With scarce construction materials sent to Mareth, the Chott Position had been only partly developed.

Although it was strong, and although the enemy used the week after the lIvIareth Line was abandoned to make it even stronger, the position required much more work before full use could be made of its natural advantages. It also lacked depth. The threat of attack from the direction of El Guettar or Maknassy against the rear contributed to its vulnerability.

Axis units were disposed in the Akarit position almost as they had been at Mareth. The only difference was that the 90th Light Africa Division was this time inserted between the Young Fascists Division on the coast and the Trieste Division on the eastern portion of Djebel er Roumana, since the main highway passed nearer the shore than at Mareth. Farther to the west was the Spezia Division. The whole sector from the coast to Djebel Tebaga Fatnassa was under the command of the Italian XX Corps.

Strung out along a much wider sector ranging across the hills as far as Djebel el Stah (318) were the Pistoia Division, covering the vital defile through which passed the road to El Guettar and Gafsa; next to it, from Djebel Haidoudi (285) to the west, the remnants of the 164th Light Africa Division, now completely immobile; and at the extreme west flank, General Mannerini’s Raggruppamento Sahariano. Some five miles to the north, on the boundary between XX and XXI Corps, was the 15th Panzer Division. The 21st Panzer Division, it will be remembered, had been sent to El Guettar in support of the 10th Panzer and Centauro Divisions which were fighting to hold back the U.S. II Corps. General Messe’s troops were supported by nine batteries of 88-mm. dual-purpose guns (19th Flak Division), placed to bolster the rather weak defenses, and execute both air and ground missions. F our more heavy batteries, with air missions, were placed farther north, along the coast.

The enemy was low in artillery ammunition, while his infantry had less than one full unit of fire. The general terrain formation, the nature of the Allied advance up to 4 April, and the area of impact of the Allied artillery, pointed to a main Allied effort against, and on each side of, Djebel el Roumana, despite the barriers of ditches, mines, and obstacles. Night infantry attacks against the heights with simultaneous or subsequent tank thrusts on both sides were to be expected, as well as local attacks against the passes farther west. Division Trieste held the eastern half and the Division Spezia, the western half of this principal hill.

The Enemy Is Driven to Northeastern Tunisia

After ascertaining on 31 March through reconnaissance attacks by British 10 Corps that the wadi could be forced, although at considerable cost, Eighth Army stopped to regroup. The attack was to be made by 30 Corps, using three divisions to gain a bridgehead for the British 10 Corps, with a division employed to feign an attack. Nearly 500 British tanks were put in readiness.

Although the heavy pace of the Allied air attacks on the enemy warned him to expect the attack soon, he realized that it would have to be made at night to avoid observation of even its earliest stages. He therefore expected that it would not begin until after 15 April, when the moon would again be favorable. Actually, General Montgomery had determined not to wait for a moonlit night but to attack in darkness. Montgomery thus attained surprise, for although the enemy had correctly divined the intended zone of British main effort, he had not expected it to come so soon.

The assault began at 0500, 6 April, with the British 51st Division advancing on the right, the British 50th Division in the center, and the 4th Indian Division on the left, all west of the coastal road and through the Trieste, Spezia, and Pistoia Divisions sectors. The scope of the attack was thus west of the deeper part of the Akarit wadi. The troops and vehicles crossed lesser tributary stream beds draining northeasterly under the thunderous cover of about 450 British guns firing on targets directly ahead of them. The main thrusts at first were on Djebel el Roumana and its companion hillock to the northeast (Hill 112), and against high points of a ridge to the southwest (mainly Hill 275). In the center advance by the 50th Division was held up by the antitank ditch which ran squarely across its path, and only during the middle of the day could this division gain its objective.

By that time, with many of the Italians readily surrendering, the attack had spread west along the hills. But counterattacks by the 90th Light Africa Division by noon restored to the Axis control over Djebel el Roumana and most of the ridge dominated by Hill 275. The main body of DAK, Army Group Africa’s only reserve, was still tied down in the battles at EI Guettar. But what little armor remained available to DAK was released to General Messe at 0930, 6 April. Toward noon General von Arnim arrived at the headquarters of the First Italian Army. Concluding that the time for a general withdrawal had not yet arrived, he took immediate steps to improve the Axis situation. From the Fifth Panzer Army sector he ordered the 47th Grenadier Regiment sent to reinforce Bayerlein’s German units. He also directed General Messe to supply transport for the 164th Light Africa Division. now immobilized in positions far to the west of the Allied attack sector, so that the division could be committed where it was needed. The counterattack, then in progress against Hill 275, was to be relentlessly continued to regain the vital defile beyond it. To make General Bayerlein’s authority complete, von Arnim authorized him to issue orders to German troops in the army group commander’s name.

In the afternoon, the 15th Panzer Division counterattacked and contained elements of British 10 Corps which had penetrated deep into the Division Trieste’s sector. Meanwhile the 200th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 90th Light Africa Division which had recaptured most of Djebel el Roumana, was forced into the defense and finally, after running out of ammunition, withdrew from the dominating hill. In the afternoon the German defenders were exhausted by their efforts without having been able to restore the original defensive line. The time for another large-scale withdrawal had come. The next day’s battle thus promised success to Eighth Army in breaking out of its bridgehead in the defensive positions, and in exploiting this break with armor on the plain beyond.

Orders had already specified the separate lines of advance up the coast which the major units were to follow in the pursuit. The Axis command was aware of the prospects. The enemy’s division and artillery commanders reported to First Italian Army as early as 1700,6 April, that they could not hold another day. Generals Messe and Bayerlein both supported this view in reporting to Army Group Africa. Three hours later, the orders to withdraw during the night were received. While the mobile elements rode to their specified stations, large portions of the 90th and 164th Light Africa Divisions were obliged to march on foot.

Eighth Army opened the pursuit at about 1000, 7 April, with 30 Corps to the east and 10 Corps inland. At the same time some 7,000 prisoners were conducted from the battlefield to enclosures. The defensive position, in spite of its many natural advantages, had thus succumbed with startling swiftness to an attack made in superior strength, and with fierce resolution and unremitting pressure. It was a particularly frustrating battle for the Germans, who were inclined to attribute the defeat to their Italian allies, blaming the troops for not fighting and the command for ineffective leadership. But in view of the powerful British attack an impartial observer might well question whether even the best led force could have offered effective resistance with the means then available to the First Italian Army.

Eighth Army pursued the Axis forces up the coastal plain toward Enfidaville, 150 miles away, for the next five days. Its strength in operational tanks (almost 400), guns (600), antitank guns (950), and antiaircraft (490) was overwhelming. The airline distance of the pursuit was greatly extended by continuous maneuvering. The Italian troops went ahead, covered by the German units. The British 30 Corps carried out the pursuit with the 51st Division, 23rd Armoured Brigade, 201st Guards Brigade, and the 7th Armoured Division. The 50th and 4th Indian Divisions were left behind to reorganize the area from El Hamma to the sea. Advancing along the coastal road the 30th Corps found its path barred by the 90th Light Africa Division on the east and the 164th Light African Division in the center, while British 10 Corps (1st Armoured Division, 2nd New Zealand Division, and 8th Armoured Brigade, attached) contended with the 15th Panzer Division, reinforced by a Tiger tank battalion, on the inland flank. At the extreme west, the troops of General Cramer’s German Africa Corps which had been engaged at El Guettar and Maknassy, or were in the hills farther north, pulled out of the battle areas in time to keep ahead of pursuit.

The German troops of First Italian Army were controlled completely and directly by their chief, General Bayerlein, under instructions received from Army Group Africa. General Messe seems to have been generally notified of action already taken rather than presented with matters for his decision. The enemy crossed the Sfax-Faid road shortly after noon, 9 April. While Sfax was still being evacuated, a threat by the British First Army from Fondouk el Aouareb against Kairouan caused General Bayerlein to string out his troops from northwest to southeast throughout the following night.

British troops took Sfax on the morning of 10 April, and maintained light pressure until late in the evening on German troops south and southwest of Sousse. That night, the enemy troops shifted northwest of that port, and late on 11 April, they began arriving at the outlying defenses of the so-called Enfidaville position. British 9 Corps found Kairouan undefended. British 10 Corps shoved aside rear guards to capture Sousse at 0800 on 12 April. At the same time, 10 Corps established contact with the British 6th Armoured Division near Kairouan, and before nightfall on 13 April, forward elements of the 10 Corps had thrust to four miles south-southwest of Enfidaville, where they were stopped by German artillery. By 13 April, then, the Allied line faced an enemy concentrated in northeastern Tunisia. Contact was made at points extending from Enfidaville on the southeast through Pont-du-Fahs and Medjez el Bab to Sed jenane.

The Eighth Army’s operations had seriously cut down the strength of Italian First Army. Ammunition was critically low, the replacement troops could not be furnished with all normal weapons, and morale was naturally shaken. However, the enemy command felt relieved that the Allies had failed to take advantage of the retreat to destroy Messe’s army.

The line to which these troops had been withdrawn consisted at best of rudimentary defensive works. On 10 April, General Messe recommended to General von Arnim that the line be drawn back somewhat into the foothills, but von Arnim refused. General Bayerlein then set forth his own estimate, that the Enfidaville position was such only in name, and that with the supplies of ammunition so limited it simply could not be held. Finally, on 14 April, General von Arnim, after having inspected the positions himself, agreed. He also directed that Italian and German units should be interspersed, and he sustained General Bayerlein in a disagreement with General Messe over which division should have the mission of defending the coastal road to Enfidaville. Accordingly, instead of the Young Fascists Division, the 90th Light Africa Division was committed there. During the next fortnight, the Eighth Army was to engage in some hard fighting but, for the present, the story of its activities must be left in order to consider what had been happening during the past month along the deep western flank and in the Eastern Dorsal.

[NOTE 6-49KT:. First Italian Army was reduced by 10 April 1943 as follows: Division Young Fascists 5 battalions (much depleted) and 27 guns Division Trieste 4 battalions (much depleted) and 29 guns Division Pistoia 2 battalions (being reconstituted) and 31 guns Divisions Centauro and Spezia practically destroyed Corps and army artillery 7 105-mm. and 10 149-mm. guns 90th and 164th Light Africa Divisions together they equal one infantry division (-) 15th Panzer Division equal to a combat team Army artillery a few heavy batteries Heavy antiaircraft 7 batteries (approximately)]

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 (6-28); Gafsa, Maknassy, and El Guettar (17-25 March)

World War Two: North Africa (6-26); Tunisia-Axis Strives To Retain the Initiative

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World War Two: North Africa (6-26); Tunisia-Axis Strives To Retain the Initiative

The Allies were not allowed to regroup, reorganize, and prepare for the mid-March offensive without engaging in some bitter battles. The respite gained in central Tunisia had no parallel in northern Tunisia. Here von Arnim had plans of his own for resuming the offensive. On 22 February Kesselring, after approving Rommel’s decision to break off his attack at Thala and Djebel el Hamra (1112), had authorized von Arnim to prepare an attack that would keep the Allies under pressure in the north while Rommel’s forces were withdrawing to regroup for their attack against Montgomery’s forces in the south. The Fifth Panzer Army operation, timed to facilitate Rommel’s disengagement, was to push back the Allied lines in the north and expand the narrow bridgehead protecting the vital Axis supply bases of Tunis and Bizerte. Von Arnim immediately held a conference with his subordinates to discuss possible plans. He could attack either in Manteuffel’s sector along the coast or in Weber’s zone in the Medjez el Bab area. In either case the commander might hold and firmly defend the newly gained positions or, after a spoiling attack, withdraw to his original lines.

Early in the afternoon of the next day von Arnim decided on a spoiling attack in the Medjez el Bab area. He charged Corps Group Weber with this limited attack which was to jump off on 26 February. Von Arnim chose this solution after it had become painfully evident to him that he lacked the strength for a bigger operation. He picked Medjez el Bab as the objective mainly because to shift major elements to von Manteuffel’s sector would have been too time-consuming.

Von Arnim had already begun to assemble the forces at his disposal. He stopped Group Lang’s perfunctory attack on Maktar on 22 February and ordered these units to assemble farther north. By scraping the barrel, he gathered some six battalions of varied composition and combat effectiveness and designated one Tiger and one panzer battalion to participate in the projected assault. But he lacked the main body of the 10th Panzer Division which continued to be under Rommel’s immediate control.

A Major Effort In the North Is Planned At dawn on 24 February, von Arnim flew to Rome for a conference with Kesselring. He sent his operations officer to Sbeiba to brief Rommel on the limited Medjez el Bab attack on which he had decided the day before. From the Kesselring-von Arnim conference in Rome, however, emerged an entirely different plan, couched in a new direct order to von Arnim-Fifth Panzer Army was to launch a major offensive along its entire front from the coast to the Bou Arada valley with both von Manteuffel’s and Weber’s forces. The main effort, to be executed with the only armored force available, bolstered to 77 tanks by the temporary assignment of 15 Mark IV’s from Rommel’s 21st Panzer Division, was to be directed at Sidi Nsir with Bedja as its objective.

The attack was designed to gain for the Axis the much desired extension of the bridgehead westward to a new main line of resistance running from Djebel Abiod through Bedja to Testour and El Aroussa. This offensive went far beyond the mission so recently assigned to Fifth Panzer Army by Comando Supremo and it required considerable aplomb on Kesselring’s part to explain his authorization to a highly astonished Ambrosio. Kesselring sent his assistant chief of staff, Colonel Westphal, to explain the new situation to Rommel and to request the field marshal to support von Arnim’s drive by keeping 10th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions in positions capable of threatening Le Kef. Rommel was flabbergasted by this “completely unrealistic” concept contrived by what he later called the “nincompoops at Comando Supremo.”

Despite Rommel’s attitude, the Fifth Panzer Army’s attack order was issued on 25 February and the attack began on the next day. (Map 14) It was Kesselring’s and von Arnim’s assumption that available Allied reserves had already been withdrawn from the Fifth Panzer Army front as a result of Rommel’s drive on Thala. To exploit a favorable situation, von Arnim planned a deep thrust toward Bedja. He charged Corps Group Weber with the main effort and Manteuffel with making a secondary attack nearer the coast. Weber’s main objective was to be Bedja. Simultaneously he was to capture Medjez el Bab in a double envelopment operation that would also destroy Allied forces at Bou Arada and gain the Siliana river between EI Aroussa and Testour. Von Manteuffel was ordered to reduce the Allied positions at Djefna and win the Ez Zouara river sector near Djebel Abiod. For his attack von Manteuffel would have to draw chiefly upon the forces already committed in the line or held in reserve.

In addition, he received reinforcement by one Tunis battalion. This brought his entire force to a strength of eight battalions. Weber organized his attack forces in five groups. Armored Group Lang (with 77 tanks including 14 Tiger tanks) had the mission of moving by way of Manteuffel’s sector to break through the Allied position at Sidi Nsir and drive on toward Bedja.

Group Eder (755th Grenadier Regiment, reinforced) was to advance across Djebel el Ang (688), then, turning south, to destroy Allied units in the mountains near Chaouach and Toukabeur and cut the main highway between Bedja and Medjez el Bab east of Oued Zarga. Group AudorfJ (754th Grenadier Regiment [-]), reinforced by a battalion of infantry from the Hermann Gӧring Division, was to launch holding attacks opposite Medjez el Bab and subsequently open the route through the town. South of the Medjerda river Group Schmid (consisting of an armored infantry battalion of 10th Panzer Division, the Parachute Regiment, Hermann Gӧring, and the 756th Mountain Regiment of the 334th Infantry Division, reinforced) was to assist with its northernmost force in the capture of Medjez el Bab by taking Slourhia and turning north to meet Group Audorfe the center force was to isolate Allied units on Djebel Rihane (720) near Bou Arada and subsequently reach the Siliana river sector in conjunction with the mountain regiment. The fifth group, consisting of the 47th Grenadier Regiment (- ) and two additional infantry battalions, was to be held in reserve; Von Arnim’s plan was ambitious indeed, but if any two adjacent attacks succeeded, the Allies would be forced to pull back their lines and yield to the Axis forces a substantial advantage. The north-south road between Djebel Abiod and Bedja, for example, was the first good switch line in the mountains west of Tunis, a prize worth seeking.

Encirclement of Medjez el Bab would give the Axis control of an important communications hub. Possession of EI Aroussa would also gain for the Axis the crossroads east of it at Bou Arada, and in consequence a much greater margin of security for the Axis forces in Pont-du-Fahs. While even partial success could yield benefits of no little value to General von Arnim’s command, the attacks would serve Comando Supero’s original purpose by freeing the troops farther south from Allied interference during the necessary regrouping for Rommel’s next offensive operations.

The Attack on the Northern Flank The British 46th Division (Major General H. A. Freeman-Attwood) held the northern part of the Allied front from the coast to and including Oued Zarga. The Allied radar station on Cap Serrat, with its small security force, used a track branching from the Tabarka-Mateur road at Sedjenane gap. Two French battalions of the Corps Franc d’ Afrique (CFA) protected that trail and elements of the British 139th Brigade, the road junction. Between the enemy’s impregnable position west of Djefna and El Aouana, other elements of the 139th Brigade had taken position. One reinforced battalion was astride the road, about two miles east of El Aouana. A smaller infantry force was near the station and a battalion of infantry was in reserve, near Sedjenane. In support was one regiment of field artillery. The road and railroad ran in close proximity through the same valleys.

At 0630, 26 February, the enemy opened his attack. Three groups of Division von Manteuffel were committed on the north flank. The 10th Bersaglieri Regiment nearest the coast attacked toward Cap Serrat. The unit which had pushed eastward along the road as far as Djebel Abiod in November, the 11th Parachute Engineer Battalion (Witzig), advanced north of the road in order to envelop the French and British at Sed jenane and attack them from the rear in conjunction with elements of Regiment Barenthin which pushed ahead south of the road. If the operation at Sedjenane proceeded successfully, the next objective for Regiment Barenthin would be occupation of Djebel Tabouna (564), southeast of it, from which a considerable adjacent area could be brought under observation. Major Witzig’s battalion hit the French troops hard and cut the connection to Cap Serrat but was stopped about two miles north of Sedjenane. The British held on to the El Aouana position against light attack for more than a day, but, to avoid being cut off there by the enemy success at Sedjenane, pulled back and on 4 March also lost Sedjenane itself.

The radar station had been evacuated on the previous day. The Germans easily occupied Djebel Tabouna. General von Arnim, despite an interest in the operations which brought him during the first days to the forward command post of Division von Manteuffel west of Sedjenane, could not provide the means to exploit the initial success.

For a while the Allies maintained a determined defense of Tamera with reinforcements including the 1st Parachute Brigade, although on 10 March the enemy occupied an adjacent height (Djebel Bel Harch, 419) and went on to capture Tamera. Through rugged terrain, von Manteuffel’s forces advanced to within two and a half miles of Djebel Abiod and by 19 March had fulfilled their mission. But they were too weakened to continue the drive. Thereafter the situation once again became stabilized and was to remain so until one side or the other could commit enough strength to seize a substantial advantage. Djebel Abiod was thus kept under a steady threat. When this phase of the Fifth Panzer Army attack had come to an end, Kesselring reported that 1,600 Allied prisoners, 17 guns, 16 tanks, 13 antitank guns, and 70 vehicles had been taken or destroyed after three weeks of action on this part of the front.

The Attack Via Sidi Nsir

The main attack against the British 46th Division on 26 February came in the sector of the 128th Infantry Brigade (Brigadier M. A. James) along the road from Mateur to Bedja through Sidi Nsir. Here was the area in which the U.S. 1st and 34th Divisions would be engaged during the final attack two months later, and here was the route which the 1st Battalion, U.S. 1st Armored Regiment, as part of Blade Force, had used on 24 November as it rolled eastward toward Chouigui pass, Tebourba, and Djedelda. Sidi Nsir is a small agricultural village nestled in the valley of the Bou Oissa river at the junction of a secondary road to Tunis and the railroad to Mateur. The railroad continues northeast along the gentler grades and twisting course of the Bou Oissa and the Djoumine rivers. The highway climbs almost due eastward over heights which separate Sidi Nsir from the broad Tine river valley. Among the many grass green and gray limestone hills, Djebel Tahent (609) is most prominent.

Over two miles northeast of Sidi Nsir it rises to a broad crest from which Mateur itself is readily seen, and movement over a wide area can be easily observed. A British artillery unit had an observation post on Hill 609 during the days before the attack but it was an air reconnaissance which discovered, late on 25 February, that enemy troop carriers and tanks were moving on Sidi N sir from the east. The position at Sidi Nsir was held by one battalion of infantry and one battery of artillery simply as a forward patrol base. The main line of defense was halfway to Bedja at a long defile, east of Ksar Mezouar, which the British had in November renamed “Hunt’s Gap.” 

Von Arnim committed Kampfgruppe Lang at Sidi Nsir with the mission of taking the village and capturing a road junction ten miles beyond it on the way to Bedja. Colonel Lang’s armored force consisted of Group Lueder (501st Heavy Panzer Battalion, armed with Tiger tanks, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Panzer Regiment, an armored infantry and a reconnaissance battalion). A second force, Kampfgruppe Eder (755th Grenadier Regiment, reinforced, from the 334th Infantry Division), had orders to attack farther south over Djebel el Ang and through Toukabeur and take the heights northeast of Oued Zarga, thus cutting the main road to Medjez el Bab. The 47th Grenadier Regiment was initially held in reserve and later assigned to Lang.

The Germans opened the attack with heavy mortar fire on Hill 609, and enemy infantry took it about 1000, 26 February. A delaying battle near Sidi Nsir then ensued. The enemy worked along the hills on the northwest and southeast of Sidi Nsir until his fire enfiladed the defenders from both flanks. He then made a frontal assault with tanks, led by a Tiger. By 1800, the main British position had been overrun, and shortly afterward, the British abandoned Sidi Nsir. During the night scattered groups began working their way back to the main force at Hunt’s Gap through soaking rain.

The day’s respite was invaluable in allowing time for reinforcements to start toward the 128th Brigade there, reinforcements which enabled the brigade to meet the enemy next day in sufficient strength to keep him from reaching Bed ja. Sections of Kampfgruppe Lang advanced along the road into the defile at Ksar Mezouar, the tanks in platoons of four interspersed with truck-borne infantry and armored cars. Although expert marksmanship knocked out some of the British guns before they could fire, the attacking force entered what amounted to an ambush. The defenders were well emplaced along a main line of commanding ground, with five batteries of field artillery, one battery of antitank guns, and excellent observation. Royal Air Force bombers assisted in halting the enemy armored column on the road, while the guns knocked out tank after tank. The leading section could not turn around, could not leave the road, could not back out. Some of the vehicles, abandoned during what appeared to be a panic, were demolished by British engineers after dark. At least eleven were never recovered by the foe.

Colonel Lang attributed the failure of the attack to the fact that an infantry battalion sent by a circuitous route through the mountains to envelop the British blocking position got lost and did not complete its assigned mission. For the next four days, the battle continued in the vicinity of Ksar Mezouar before the enemy settled down to develop defensive positions in the hills.

The northern wing of the British 78th Division (General Evelegh) in the area north and west of Medjez el Bab was not seriously involved until 28 February. On that day elements of the 755th Grenadier Regiment (Group Eder) pushed along Djebel el Ang to attack Toukabeur. They struck two battalions of the French 3rd Algerian Infantry under Evelegh, on the djebel and south of it near the village of Chaouach. The 1st Battalion fell back next day on Chaouach. Both battalions had suffered severe losses and were withdrawn to Teboursouk during the night of 1-2 March.

The enemy on the opposite side of the river closed in on Medjez el Bab as far as Grich el Oued, but did not accept the hazards of exposure closer to its strong artillery defenses. On 2 March, the enemy broke off action near Medjez el Bab. Two days later the German forces went over to the defensive between the Med jerda river and the Sidi Nsir sector. The enemy now occupied the high ground from T oukabeur to Ksar Mezouar, then north and northwest to Tamera.

The Enemy Fails, South of the Medjerda

General Weber’s attack south of the Medjerda river had been less successful and more costly. The assault was executed by Group Schmid. It had two objectives. One attack, made by the 1st Battalion, 69th Panzer Grenadiers, reinforced by artillery and the only company of tanks in this sector, and directed across the hills toward Slourhia, was part of the attempted encirclement of Medjez el Bab. The second and more complicated enemy effort was an attempt to envelop Bou Arada by co-ordinating his attacks through the hills on either side of the Bou Arada valley (Djebel Rihane, 720, and Djebel Mansour, 678) with an armored drive aimed at Sidi Mahmoud gap (seven miles north of Djebel Rihane). The two prongs of the attack were to meet at El Aroussa on the Siliana river. The northern force was Group Koch (Parachute Regiment, Hermann Gӧring Division [-] and to the south was Group Holzinger (756th Mountain Regiment, reinforced, from the 334th Infantry Division).

The British 11th Infantry Brigade (78th Division) bore the brunt of the thrust aimed at Slourhia while elements of the 38th Brigade (reinforced) of the British Y Division opposed Group Koch’s attack toward Djebel Rihane, Testour, and El Aroussa. The attack of the. 756th Mountain Regiment (Group Holzinger), launched from the heights of Djebel Mansour, with El Aroussa as the ultimate objective, was met by the British 1st Parachute Brigade, also under command of “Y” Division. The first day’s action went to the enemy, but on the second, the Allies stood their ground, and on 28 February counterattacked with the aid of reinforcements. By the end of the day they had restored the position north of Bou Arada. The enemy’s attack, executed with insufficient strength and led by inexperienced officers, failed almost at once and at a high price in casualties and irreplaceable materiel. Von Arnim now withdrew the mountain regiment and shifted it to Colonel Lang’s sector northwest of Medjez el Bab as the action south of the Medjerda faded out and the front was again stabilized along the original lines.

[NOTE: Y Division was a provisional unit organized on 16 February 1943. Its commander was the artillery officer, 6th Armoured Division. It had the southern flank of the British 5 Corps sector while General Keightley’s headquarters controlled armored forces during the withdrawal to the Grand Dorsal and the defense of Sbiba and Thala. Major units of Y Division were the 1st Parachute Brigade, 38th Brigade, and dements of the 17/21 Lancers.]

The Outcome of the 26 February Offensive On 3 March, when it had become evident that the Axis offensive had not fulfilled the hopes of its originators, Fifth Panzer Army summed up its gains and losses. Von Arnim claimed the capture of 2,500 Allied prisoners and the destruction or capture of 16 tanks, 20 guns, 17 antitank guns, 7 planes, and other materiel. At the same time, his forces had suffered over 1,000 casualties and the total loss of 22 tanks. But this report does not give the whole picture. In addition to the 22 enemy tanks which were destroyed, another 49 were disabled, leaving General Weber with only 6 operational tanks on 1 March. This was the reason why the Axis attack in the main effort sector had to be suspended. Reluctantly, the Germans had to admit on the same day that their losses were higher than those inflicted upon the Allies. These tank losses, amounting to almost 90 percent, could hardly be expected to escape Rommel’s scrutiny. In his opinion the armor had been committed in violation of sound tactical principles.

Von Arnim paid the price for a poorly timed and hastily prepared operation. He had sent his tanks into mountainous terrain where they were trapped and knocked out without the possibility of maneuvering. The bulk of the infantry had been wasted in the open tank country of the Bou Arada valley. But above all, the effort had come too late. It might have succeeded if co-ordinated with Rommel’s drive on Thala.

But it was not. Nevertheless, the Axis offensive which began on 26 February in northern Tunisia, though it fell short of complete success at every point, yielded some important results. The enemy had been stopped on the northern road near Tamera, but was in a fairly strong position for a later attempt to reach Djebel Abiod. He was not in possession of the Bedja-Djebel Abiod switch line, to be sure, but, farther to the southeast, he held the dominating heights above the Med jez el Bab-Oued Zarga road and kept Medjez el Bab under constant threat. He would have to be driven out of those hills before the drive on Tunis could be renewed. While making this gain in northern Tunisia, the enemy had also been preparing for an Allied attack on the Mareth Position and had adopted measures intended to meet Allied strategy.

To meet the Axis threat the British, by 7 March, had executed numerous shifts of their forces. The 36th Brigade was withdrawn from the northern wing of the French XIX Corps and inserted opposite Toukabeur to reinforce left of the 138th Brigade. The 1st Parachute Brigade was relieved by the 26th Regimental Combat Team, U.S. 1st Infantry Division, south of Bou Arada, and was moved north to the Tamera position in support of the hard-pressed 139th Brigade. The main body of the 1st Guards Brigade (Brigadier F. A. V. Copland-Griffiths) , which was still in the Kasserine area when von Arnim launched his attack, arrived in El Aroussa on 27 February to relieve the pressure on that town and Testour.

When the danger in this sector had abated, the brigade, on 3 March, moved to the area of Bedja and came under the control of the British 46th Division. Three days later the 1st Guards Brigade was committed at Munchar eight miles east of Bedja. By then the enemy’s attacks had ceased.

American forces had participated only briefly and on the outer fringe of these operations. On 5 March a task force from the U.S. 34th Infantry Division under Colonel Robert W. Ward, commanding officer, 135th Infantry, made a demonstration toward Pichon. Starting from Sbiba and advancing via El Ala the task force made contact with the enemy early in the afternoon. The engagement took place along the road leading from El Ala to Pichon and Fondouk el Aouareb in the area just north of Djebel Trozza (997). The Americans discovered that the Germans were dug in along a well prepared defense line. At 1700 Colonel Ward received orders to withdraw. Hampered by rain and “ice-slick” muddy roads, the task force returned to its original position near Sbiba via a circuitous route that took elements of the command through the enemy outpost line. Casualties had been few.

During the entire period of the enemy’s 26 February offensive, the Allied air effort in northern Tunisia had been more active and more effective than ever before. New Instructions tor Army Group Africa Rommel was to retain command of Army Group Africa for only a short time. But before he withdrew he forced another review of Axis strategic intentions. He thus instigated the issuance on 8 March, the day before his retirement on sick leave, of a new directive for operations in Tunisia.

[NOTE: (1) RAF Middle East Review 2, p. 35. AAF Archives. (2) The German troops holding this sector were part of Group Fullriede, a provisional unit, which had replaced the 47th Grenadier Regiment when the latter was pulled out and moved north in support of von Arnim’s offensive of 26 February. The Germans claimed to have destroyed two American tanks and several vehicles. See Fifth Panze Army, KTB V, 5 Mar. 43.]

On 24 February, shortly after assuming command of the army group, Rommel had called on his two army commanders for estimates of the situation confronting their forces. General von Arnim pointed out that the position of the two Axis armies was such as to expose them to the danger of being separated and defeated if the Allies delivered heavy simultaneous attacks on them from Algeria and Libya. But he did not believe that the Allies needed to launch large offensives to achieve their purpose. He stated that if he were in General Eisenhower’s place he would concentrate on using all the means at his disposal to cut the supply lines and destroy the ports and air forces of the Axis.

If this effort succeeded, the Axis positions in North Africa would fall before July without the possibility of being seriously contested. Any lengthy defenses of them would be possible only if one or the other of the Allied forces were hit hard enough to put it out of action for at least six months. This accomplished, all available Axis forces could be concentrated in an attack on the other front. Less sweeping successes, achieved by Axis sallies from their well-fortified line, could only put off the inevitable decision.

General von Arnim estimated the total Axis strength as 350,000, of which 120,000 were fighting troops. Germans constituted two thirds of these combat troops and one third of the auxiliary forces. The combat elements were so badly strung out along the extended front as to average one company and two guns to each two and one-half miles. The front should, he declared, be shortened to prevent the Allies from separating the two Axis armies.

The Axis supply line by sea should also be improved and secured. The current volume of supplies reaching Tunisia barely sufficed for current operations. For the all-out offensives that he favored von Arnim estimated that a supply backlog of at least one month was necessary. He calculated that at least 140,000 tons a month would be needed to stockpile the material required to meet a large-scale Allied attack. General Messe, in his report, lamented the Allied air superiority in his area, the shortage of men and materiel, and the lack of unity in newly assembled units. He believed it probable that the Allies would launch simultaneous attacks on his position from the southwest, southeast, and the west or northwest. Believing his forces incapable of beating off such a coordinated attack, he recommended preparations to withdraw from the Mareth Position after merely a preliminary battle there rather than remaining until his army became inextricably engaged.

Rommel on 1 March presented a memorandum to Kesselring which raised the issues squarely. He outlined the situation as he saw it: a front of 387 miles, of which 341 were very weakly held, with many vulnerable points and the main defensive effort concentrated to the west and southwest of Tunis and in the Mareth Position; the Allies with 50,000 British, 40,000 American, and 40,000 French troops along the Fifth Panzer Army’s front, armed with 366 tanks, 440 guns, and 600 antitank guns, and eventually to be reinforced by the 2nd Armored Division (U.S.) with 390 tanks; while across from the First Italian Army’s front were the estimated 80,000 troops, 900 tanks, 400 guns, and 550 antitank guns of the British Eighth Army. Such strength would permit the Allies by coordinated and simultaneous action to pierce the Axis line at any selected point. The Axis forces must deliver continuous spoiling attacks to delay a major Allied offensive as long as possible.

Once the Allies were able to mount such an offensive, the weakness of the Axis defenses would make its containment impossible. To achieve a proper degree of strength and depth in defense, the Axis could shorten its line from 387 to 93 miles, by combining the two Axis armies in the area northeast of the current Fifth Panzer Army’s front as far south as Djebel Mansour and thence over the mountains eastward to Enfidaville, at the same time expanding to the west to take in the ridges beyond Medjez eI Bab and Bou Arada.

If such a withdrawal meant that the two Allied armies would be able to establish direct contact, and that airfields would have to be abandoned to them, it also meant that such disadvantages would be offset by a line which could be held for a long time rather than only while awaiting a concentrated Allied attack. It promised to forestall an Allied attempt to separate the two armies and overwhelm them individually. He again called attention to the critically deficient rate of supply. Only if it could be raised to 140,000 tons per month could the Axis accumulate the means of withstanding a large-scale attack and engaging there after in offensive operations. In view of the current situation and the Allied operations expected to begin within the month, Rommel asked what specifically were the high command’s long-range plans for the campaign in Tunisia.

The issues before the Axis leaders were clear. Should the Mareth Position on which so much reliance had been placed be abandoned, or should it be defended to the utmost? Should the two armies be brought into a narrower area in order to thicken the defense of the front? Could lagging logistical support be expedited?

On 3 March Kesselring transmitted the views of Rommel to the OKW with his own comments, which emphasized a point of view natural to an Air Force officer. While admitting that the situation called for a shortening of the front, he insisted that the airfields which would be given up were essential to strong defense. To forfeit them would defeat the very purpose of shortening the line. They should be given up only when the situation became desperate and he did not regard it as such. His proposal was that the current respite from an Allied offensive should be prolonged by a series of attacks in north and central Tunisia, to be made by armored and mobile units. If the planned strike of the First Italian Army from the Mareth Position against Montgomery succeeded, several weeks would be won there.

The time thus gained could be used to strengthen rear positions and to expand the volume of supply and reinforcement to the extent necessary to bring the armored units up to full strength for offensive operations. If the strike failed both the Mareth and Chott Positions must be organized for defense in depth. Summing up, Kesselring took the position that to contract the area held by the two Axis armies would increase the chance of losing Tunisia. He believed that by utilizing fully their advantage of interior lines and holding the Allies off with strikes by reinforced mobile units over a large area, they could gain ground and eventually secure the Axis bridgehead. Hitler was not pleased with the views of his field commanders.

After all the urging earlier by Rommel and others that the Tunisian’ problem could be solved if the southern army were pulled back into the Mareth Position, he found it surprising that, once there, this army should have to be brought still further north. To withdraw the two armies into a limited bridgehead would clearly signify the beginning of the end. Concentrated spoiling attacks with limited objectives must be undertaken, but success could not be achieved by un-coordinated attacks carried out by each army separately, with insufficient means. Hitler refused to accept the length of the present front or the inadequate number of small cargo craft as justifying the failure of the Axis line of supply. He instructed Jodl to remind Kesselring that he had promised a solution of the supply problem as early as the end of 1942. He endorsed Kesselring’s program for limited attacks but with the injunction, fantastically optimistic, that the rate of supply would have to be doubled and later tripled.

The somewhat flurried re-examination of Axis capabilities in Tunisia which Field Marshal Rommel had provoked ended on 8 March with a directive from Comando Supremo which conformed with Hitler’s views. The Commander of Army Group Africa was directed to defend the Mareth Position, to proceed immediately with the preparation of the Chott Position for defense in depth, and to engage in aggressive spoiling attacks on the Allied positions. These instructions were accompanied with the information that Comando Supremo would make the utmost efforts to raise the rate of supply to 120,000 tons monthly. Kesselring had told Comando Supremo that one third of this amount would represent an allowance for expected losses, i. e., that 80,000 tons would probably be the amount delivered.

[NOTE: Rommel had actually urged a withdrawal to the Chott Position north of Gabes and not to the Mareth Position.]

Axis Logistical Preparations

The prospect of imminent Allied attack invited urgent preparatory action by both Axis powers, and subjected to new stresses and strains the somewhat hypothetical Italian control over Axis operations in the Mediterranean theater. Marshal Kesselring returned from an inspection trip to Tunisia on 10-11 March to report somewhat hopefully to OKW the condition of the defenses, despite ammunition shortages, and the low morale of General Messe’s troops. The Mareth attack, he told Mussolini on 11 March, could be expected between 15 and 20 March.

The dispositions were, he thought, well adapted to meet the attack; successful defense depended principally upon overcoming the scarcities of ammunition and fuel. Both the Duce and Kesselring saw the main threat in a possible Allied thrust toward Gabes. Gafsa seemed to be in no danger, despite the assembly of what he called another American army in the Tebessa area, for the approaches were heavily mined and the garrison was strong. In the north, Fifth Panzer Army was about to break off its attack near Djebel Abiod and would either attack Medjez el Bab or set up a reserve made up of the troops which were withdrawn plus the expected reinforcements from Sicily. Thus the situation in Tunisia permitted hope that the whole Gabes position would be successfully defended provided that the supply problem was solved.

The Chief of Supplies and Transportation of Army Group Africa, Colonel Heigl, computed the monthly minimum requirement in supplies at 69,000 tons for all purposes including civilian needs. With an added 25 percent for losses, the total for all kinds became 86,000 tons. At the same time, about 3,000 motor vehicles could be shipped. At the beginning of February, Comando Supremo’s chief transportation officer had calculated that he would be able to transfer from 70,000 to 82,000 tons, which, if subject to the 25-percent-loss rate, would fall below the indispensable minimum.

Actually, the total achieved was much lower, so that in both January and February it was possible only to provision the troops and to replace expended materiel. No accumulation against future demands was possible. Field Marshal Kesselring promised approximately 50,000 tons for the first fortnight of March, an assurance which, if fulfilled, would increase the resources available but would still be at a rate far below the 140,000 tons per month recommended to Field Marshal Rommel by General von Arnim (before the latter succeeded to the command of Army Group Africa) or the 120,000 tons recommended by Kesselring to Ambrosio on 7 March.

The attempt to transport 60,000 tons of materiel in the first two weeks of March fell far short of success. Kesselring estimated the amount convoyed during the first eleven days at 10,000 tons, with about 19,000 tons en route and 3,500 scheduled to leave port on 14 March. Thus the crisis in fuel and ammunition would persist. About 20,000 men were waiting to be transported. To cope with the emergency, Kesselring proposed that captured French destroyers being refitted should be temporarily shifted to the transport of troops, and that, in general, the men be taken on destroyers, the medium and heavy weapons by air, and supplies and vehicles by steamships.

He emphasized, however, that every makeshift which could expedite the transfer of needed men and materiel should also be employed. He urged, for example, that the prohibition on transporting fuel and munitions in the same vessel be temporarily lifted, that slower ships be escorted by German motor-craft carrying antiaircraft guns for protection against Allied torpedo bombers, and that the decks of all escort craft be fully used for cargo. When one of the ships of a convoy, a ship carrying fuel and ammunition, failed to get through on 12 March, he had all the small craft which had been loaded for the crossing that night reloaded and sent with gasoline and munitions only. He also induced the Italian authorities to comb the upper Adriatic for seaworthy motor lighters not in use and to consider diverting to Tunisia those normally used in the Strait of Messina or for transport to Pantelleria.

On 13 March shortly before leaving for a conference with Hitler and Doenitz on the ways and means to increase the shipment of supplies to North Africa, Kesselring saw Mussolini. Mussolini informed Kesselring that he had recently written Hitler a letter regarding the Mediterranean situation and had proposed a conference with him in late March or early April on these matters. He agreed with Hitler’s appraisal of the Tunisian situation and he stressed again the need for more Axis air support.

Conference on 14 March with Doenitz, Keitel, Kesselring, and Jodl was to reiterate the strategic importance of Tunis for the Axis and to point out that the Allies would gain four to five million tons of shipping space monthly if Tunisia fell. Retention of Tunisia was a question of supply, not of 80,000 tons as proposed by the Italians but rather of 150,000 to 200,000 tons. It was impossible to supply armies by air. The necessary supplies could only be brought in by sea. The need for ships was unlimited. To master this problem, organizing ability was needed and this only the German Navy could supply. The Italians would have to be confronted cold-bloodedly with the alternative of making an all-out effort to get supplies to North Africa or of losing Tunisia and with it Italy.

Admiral Doenitz, after meeting some opposition from Italian naval authorities, was supported by Mussolini and arranged for German-Italian naval collaboration on a much extended scale in conformity with the terms of a formal written agreement signed on 17 March. The German Admiral, Rome (Vice Admiral Friedrich Ruge), who had previously been the commander of convoy protection in northwestern waters, would pass, with his staff, under control of the Italian Naval Commander in Chief, Admiral Riccardi, and be integrated into Supermarina to help insure the flow of supplies.

Germans were to be much more extensively used in Italian naval headquarters in the main ports, on the ships, and at antiaircraft training stations. Captured French war ships were to be operated by Germans, while in mixed German-Italian convoys, command would go with seniority.

The Italians undertook to draw on their merchant and fishing fleets for small craft for antisubmarine operations with either Italian or German crews. German position-finding and mine-detecting apparatus would be sent to Italy for operation by German instructors with Italian personnel. Such measures, if energetically carried out, could not fail to improve the Axis logistical situation in the Mediterranean, but to achieve a doubling and tripling of tonnages delivered in Tunisia, the changes would have to be prodigious. Theses contemplated arrangements could hardly be so regarded.

The Battle of Medenine

Field Marshal Rommel was eager to strike the British Eighth Army before it had assembled in full force near the Mareth Position. He fought his last battle in Tunisia northwest of Medenine on 6 March. Rommel’s troops were opposed by Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese’s British 30 Corps. On 26 February, General Montgomery had estimated that 30 Corps would be ready for an enemy attack by 7 March, and that Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks’ 10 Corps, which was still east of Tripoli, would be in Tunisia, prepared to attack from forward positions with air support on 19 March. Montgomery was already planning his attack on the Mareth Position as a prelude to the seizure of Sfax, and expected to make the main effort next to the seacoast.

It was apparent at Medenine that the enemy would attack before 7 March and, on the eve of the assault, that it would be delivered on the morning of 6 March. Surprise had been lost. The situation of General Leese’s corps had by then improved on General Montgomery’s estimate of 26 February. General Leese had the following strength at his disposal for a thirty-mile front: three seasoned divisions, with lesser units equal to a fourth; 300 tanks, 350 guns, and 467 antitank guns; two forward airfields in use by three fighter wings, with double the air strength expected of the Axis forces; and a pattern of control by which to bring this very considerable power into play with maximum effectiveness.

The British zone of defense around the northern and western approaches to Medenine curved like a fine fishing rod at the dramatic moment when, the tip drawn tautly down, the catch is about to be netted. The British 51st Division (with 153rd, 152nd and 154th Brigades in the front line) held a sector about fourteen miles wide from the coast to the Medenine-Mareth highway. To the left was the 7th Armoured Division (with 131st and 201st Guards Brigades in the front line). Its zone extended from a point two miles north of the Zemlet el Lebene hills to the dominating point 270 of the Tadjera Kbir heights.

On the southwestern end of the British defense line was the 2nd New Zealand Division guarding the approaches to Metameur and Medenine with the 5th New Zealand Brigade in the front. Men and guns were well dug in. Antitank guns were part of an organized belt of antitank defenses covering almost every possible approach, and sited in depth. Field artillery was not used in an antitank role but brought under centralized control for massed fires on prearranged squares in response to observers’ calls. Tanks were dispersed behind the infantry lines, ready to move to prearranged assembly areas for counterattack missions. The airfields had ample antiaircraft protection and were organized to meet an armored attack as well.

High ground was strongly held. No doubt the defenses of Medenine could have been improved in detail with more time, but they were formidable on the morning of 6 March. Furthermore, they had apparently been brought to their condition of strength without enemy recognition of what had been done.

The German Africa Corps (DAK) of which Generaleutnant Hans Cramer took command on 5 March, prepared the plan of attack against Medenine. It provided for committing the 10th Panzer, 15th Panzer, and 21st Panzer Divisions and elements of the 90th Light African and Italian Spezia Divisions in coordinated blows from the northwest, west, and southwest, using 160 tanks, 200 guns, and 10,000 infantry. The attack was to be launched from the Mareth defense zone and its extension on the south. The Axis line was held by the Young Fascist, Trieste, 90th Light Africa, La Spezia, Pistoia, and 164th Light Africa Divisions, strung out in that order from the coast to the mountains south of Ksar el Hallouf. The enemy hoped with the benefit of surprise to take the British forces on the southwestern flank, cut through and divide them, and by envelopment to dispose of the bulk of them.

[NOTE: (1) Opn CAPRI, dtd 3 Mar 43, copy in 15th Panzer Diu, KTB Nr. 7, 26.XII.42-11.XIII.43, Anlage 178. (2) General Cramer had come from OKH to Rommel’s Army on 22 January as Acting Commander, Corps for Special Employment, and became Acting Commander, DAK, on 13 February 1943. He commanded the Corps until he was captured on 1 May 1943.]

But the British on March 4 observed the 10th Panzer Division’s southward movement from Gabes through Matmata towards Ksar el Hallouf. They reported a total of sixty tanks plus very heavy antiaircraft armament. Farther west, they also spotted what was believed to be another approaching armored division. The Eighth Army, uncertain only whether the main thrust would be from the southwest or from the north, watched on 5 March for the appearance of the third enemy armored division. While the enemy withheld his attack for another day, the British perfected their well-concealed firing positions. Advance Headquarters, 30 Corps, waited expectantly at Ben Gardane.

The main highway from Mareth to Medenine runs south-southeast over open plain for about twenty-four miles. The Matmata mountain chain west of it curves toward the highway at a distance narrowing from ten miles at the south to five miles at the north. From the mid-point of this chain, a spur ridge cut by several passes projects eastward almost to the highway. The spur, incorporated in the fore field of the Mareth fortifications, offered cover behind which an attacking force could assemble.

Rommel planned to send two of his armored divisions through the passes of this spur while a third rode along the western side of the main mountain chain and cut east through it at Hallouf pass to reach the plain. This division would form the southern wing of the attacking force. The attack would then move northeastward to the initial objective, the Tadjera hills, rising on the far side of the main highway. Elements of the 90th Light Africa and Spezia Divisions would attack on the north and the 10th Panzer Division on the south; in the center would be the 15th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions. The Hallouf river would separate the two center divisions as they made their way along its banks to the gap between Zemlet el Lebene and the Tadjera hills just short of the Mareth-Medenine highway. On the northwestern side of this opening the Zemlet el Lebene was an early objective of the 15th Panzer Division. On the southeastern side, two ridges of the Tadjera hills paralleling the highway which were believed to be occupied by British artillery, were the initial objective of the 21st Panzer Division. The panzer division was to speed toward these ridges at first light and overrun opposing batteries without regard for losses. The 10th Panzer Division’s objective was the dominant Hill 270 of Tadjera Kbir and the village of Metameur. DAK sent a reconnaissance force to Beni Kreddache and beyond to reconnoiter toward the highway leading south from Medenine. This force was to furnish flank protection.

The attack opened at 0600, 6 March, after a rainy night. The use of smoke proved unnecessary since a heavy mist masked the exit of the armored divisions onto the plain. The enemy columns approached Medenine on separate converging trails. The fog rose slowly into an overcast which frustrated the plans for dive bombing and confined both Axis and Allied tactical air support to fighter bombers, in which the Allies had a considerable superiority.

The 10th Panzer Division’s advance group came in contact with the British outposts some four miles west of Metameur at about 0730, a fact which the Germans learned through intercepted British radioed reports. A few minutes later, the spearhead of the 15th Panzer Division on the north side of the Hallouf river came under fire from Zemlet el Lebene which obliged it to stop until its own supporting artillery could come forward. The drive of the armored group of 21st Panzer Division south of the wadi was equally unsuccessful in reaching the Tadjera hills. The German armor was stopped two miles to the west of its objective, Hill 270. Soon the British guns in positions there and on the two Tadjeras, guns which had not been overrun by tanks, struck by bombs, or silenced by counterbattery fire, were saturating the areas occupied by the attacking troops and tanks with an extraordinary volume of adjusted fire.

The Germans experienced unusual difficulty in identifying the exact sources of this shelling which pinned them down and compelled their vehicles to seek such cover as the shallow wadies and low hillocks afforded. By 1000, the attack in the center had been completely halted. A slight German penetration on Zemlet el Lebene was restored to British control by two troops of Sherman tanks. The attack of the 90th Light Africa Division and elements of the Italian Spezia Division was driven back by counterattacks after initial success against the 154th Brigade on the left wing of the 51st Division sector. The original plan had thus utterly miscarried.

Plans to renew the offensive at noon by sending the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions along both sides of the Hallouf river were frustrated by the latter’s inability to reorganize in sufficient strength in time for such an offensive. At 1430, however, preceded by Axis dive bombing against the ridges and by artillery preparations, Rommel’s tanks and infantry lunged forward again.

The 21st Panzer Division attempted to envelop the Tadjera Kbir (held by the 201st Guards Brigade) from the north with the tanks of the 5th Panzer Regiment followed by the infantry of the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Just as this venture began, the troop concentration area and the division command post came under such artillery fire that for half an hour the staff could not direct movement, and indeed had to withdraw to the west out of range. The tanks in this attack got separated from the infantry which was driven to the ground by a curtain of fire after an advance of but a few hundred yards. The 5th Panzer Regiment’s advance was thus stopped almost as soon as it had got under way. The regiment reported its strength reduced to thirty-five tanks fit for combat. New small gains by the 15th Panzer Division against the 131st Infantry Brigade were wiped out before 2000 by a British counterattack. The drive in the center had again been stalled. The attack on the right never even got started.

Late in the day, the 10th Panzer Division was erroneously reported to have entered Metameur and to have gained control of a section of the highway north of the village. Actually it had never got nearer than from one to two miles of its objective. Instead of pressing the costly direct assault in the center, the German Africa Corps now contemplated holding the ground thus far gained until darkness, then shifting the 21st Panzer Division to the defensive while the 15th Panzer Division slipped southward to join the 10th Panzer Division in exploiting its supposed success on the flank. The German armored units pulled back to the mountains, after disengaging in the center with difficulty and with additional losses in tanks, and awaited orders to renew the attack next day in accordance with the revised plan.

But the actual failure of the 10th Panzer Division as well as of the others, and the folly of further depleting the severely weakened armor against obviously stronger forces, compelled Rommel to abandon the attack. Rommel’s last battle in Africa became a costly failure.32 Here, as was to be the case at El Guettar a little later, German armor was stopped by resolute infantry, field artillery, and massed antitank defenses. On 6 and 7 March the German Africa Corps lost 61 Germans killed, 388 wounded, and 32 missing, 33 Italians killed, 122 wounded, and 9 missing, and at least 41 tanks. For the approaching battles General Cramer had only 85 German and 24 Italian tanks, and 3 Italian self-propelled assault guns ready for action. For such expenditure, the German Africa Corps could claim ascertained British losses of 6 tanks, 16 scout cars, 33 motor vehicles, 32 antitank and antiaircraft guns, and 51 prisoners.

The British had committed few of their tanks. They had won the victory over German armor by several hundred antitank and other guns well concealed, firmly protected, and fired with the benefit of good observation. They had been aided in their success by inefficient employment of the German and Italian strength. Indeed, the failure of the 15th Panzer Division to expend more than a small percentage of its normal quota of small arms ammunition and mortar shells was condemned by the commander, who cited it as convincing evidence that his infantry had not fought aggressively. The loss of 24 of his tanks-11 Mark II (special), 9 Mark IV, and 4 Mark III (75-mm. )-could hardly have been consoling.

Rommel Leaves Tunisia

Rommel’s sick leave at Wiener-Neustadt, Austria, interrupted at the time of El ‘Alamein and long overdue, took him from Tunisia on 9 March; he was never to return. He was succeeded on that day as commander of Army Group Africa by General von Arnim, who in turn yielded command of Fifth Panzer Army to General der Panzer Truppen Gustav von Vaerst. General Messe’s command over First Italian Army remained nominal with respect to its German elements, once General Bayerlein took up his duties as the German Chief of Staff with that army. For some time, the German 10th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions were directly controlled by General von Arnim’s headquarters as components of the Army Group Africa reserve. Only the 15th Panzer Division at first went under Messe’s command.

Field Marshal Rommel’s departure from Tunisia was kept secret. He stopped briefly in Rome, then paid his respects to the Führer at the latter’s advanced headquarters at Winniza in the Ukraine on 10 March, and continued to Wiener-Neustadt. The revamping of the command structure in Tunisia and the forthcoming battle on the Mareth Line caused some echoes in his correspondence but he had learned from Hitler that he would not return, and he was now free of African matters. The Allies continued to believe that he was in Tunisia, and for weeks press reports nurtured the popular belief that Rommel’s “Africa Corps” was the only fighting force in Tunisia. In this respect, the Allied public was scarcely less well informed then the Germans, who had to wait for the defeat in May to discover that the much-publicized German commander had not been leading Axis operations in Africa for the past two months.

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 (6-27); From Mareth to Enfidaville – 8th Army

World War Two: North Africa (6-25); Allies regroup, reorganize, reinforce

World War Two: Munda Trail; Offense Stalls

Although enemy resistance had been ineffective, and casualties in TOENAILS were relatively few, the Japanese were not finished. They planned to hold New Georgia. The New Georgia Occupation Force had had difficulties, but greater troubles were in store for it.

Japanese Plans

On 2 July, with the Americans in possession of Rendova, Segi Point, and Viru Harbor, the Japanese altered their command on New Georgia. By mutual agreement Major General Noboru Sasaki, commander of the Southeastern Detachment, took over direction of all Army and Navy forces in New Georgia. This action brought Rear Adm. Minoru Ota’s 8th Combined Special Naval Landing Force under Sasaki, who was under the tactical control of the 8th Fleet. Except for small detachments on Vella Lavella, Gizo, and other islands, the 10,500 men in Sasaki’s joint force were about evenly divided between Kolombangara and Munda. At Kolombangara, under Colonel Satoshi Tomonari, were two battalions of the 13th Infantry, most of the 3rd Battalion, 229th Infantry, the Yokosuka 7th Special Naval Landing Force (less elements), and artillery and engineer units.

Guarding Munda, where Sasaki and Ota maintained their headquarters, were Colonel Genjiro Hirata’s 229th Infantry (less two battalions) and artillery, engineer, communication, and medical units. The main body of the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force was concentrated at Bairoko.

Sasaki was well aware that the Americans would attack Munda. He could see the troops moving from Rendova to the mainland. Munda field was receiving shellfire from the American 155’s. If further proof was needed, Japanese patrols had brushed with the Allies near Zanana on 3 July, and the next day the 229th Infantry reported a clash with about five hundred Americans in the same place.

Immediately after the invasion of Rendova Sasaki had instructed Tomonari to alert his units for possible transfer to Munda and directed that two 140-mm. naval guns and two mountain guns be moved from the Bairoko area to Munda. After receiving the 229th’s report he brought the 3rd Battalion, 229th Infantry, from Kolombangara through Bairoko to Munda to rejoin the regiment on 4 July.

On the same day, Sasaki proposed a counter-landing against Rendova. As their artillery pieces lacked the range to hit Rendova, the Japanese on Munda could not retaliate when shells from American 155’s crashed on Munda field. Sasaki therefore suggested that the main body of the Munda garrison board landing craft, avoid recognition by mingling with American craft, and assault Rendova amid the resulting confusion. This interesting plan might have succeeded and caused a disaster to the Allies. More probably, by removing the Munda troops from their strong defense positions, it would have saved the Americans a lot of fighting. 8th Fleet Headquarters apparently vetoed the proposal.

Also on Independence Day General Imamura and Admiral Kusaka, who wished to hold New Georgia at all costs as a key outpost for Bougainville, considered the problem of holding the island in relation to the general defense of the Southeast Area. They decided to strengthen New Georgia and to hold New Guinea with the troops already there. Imamura agreed to give four thousand more 17th Army troops to Sasaki. These, including additional units from the 13th and 229th Infantry Regiments plus artillerymen, engineers, and medical men, were to be shipped in echelons from Erventa in the Shortlands to Kolombangara. Warships would transport them. It was the first echelon of these troops that Admiral Ainsworth’s task force kept from landing on the night of 4-5 July.

On 5 July the Japanese naval officers’ worries regarding New Georgia were increased by Hester’s build-up at Zanana and Liversedge’s landing at Rice Anchorage. The Japanese assigned ten destroyers to transport the second echelon, which was to be put ashore at Vila in the early morning hours of 6 July.

Informed that Japanese warships were getting ready to sail from the Shortlands, Halsey ordered Ainsworth’s task group to intercept, reinforced by two destroy destroyer Chevalier. Ainsworth, retiring from the Kula Gulf, was in Indispensable Strait when Halsey’s orders reached him. He reversed course and entered Kula Gulf about midnight, a few minutes behind the Japanese destroyers. In the ensuing Battle of Kula Gulf, the veteran cruiser Helena was sunk. The Japanese lost the destroyers Niizuki and Nagatsuki, but put 850 soldiers ashore at Vila. This addition of 850 men enabled Sasaki to send part of another battalion from Kolombangara to Munda that same day.

Admiral Kusaka, who moved his headquarters from Rabaul to Buin “to alter the grave situation and raise the morale of all the forces,” wanted still more troops for New Georgia. On 7 July he asked Imamura for 11,000 more soldiers. The general, who had just approved sending 4,000 men to New Georgia, now stated that he doubted that even Bougainville could be made secure. Although willing to consider sending another division to Bougainville, he refused to provide 11,000 more troops for New Georgia.

It was well for the Americans that Imamura refused the 11,000 men. Blasting the existing garrisons out of Munda and Bairoko was to prove sufficiently difficult and bloody.

Operations of the Northern Landing Group

The March to Dragons Peninsula At 0600 of 5 July, with nearly all his Northern Landing Group ashore and in hand, Colonel Liversedge ordered his troops to move out. The 1st Marine Raider Battalion, the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry, and K and L Companies of the 145th Infantry were to advance southward toward Dragons Peninsula, the piece of land lying between Enogai Inlet and Bairoko Harbour. Once they had reached the head of Enogai Inlet, the Raiders and K and I Companies, 145th, were to swing right to take the west shore of Enogai Inlet prior to assaulting Bairoko, while the 3d Battalion, 148th, advanced southwest to block the Munda-Bairoko trail. M, L, and Headquarters Companies of the 3rd Battalion, 145th Infantry, were ordered to stay and defend Rice Anchorage under Lieutenant Colonel George C. Freer, the battalion commander.

The pre-invasion reconnaissance parties, after examining the ground between Rice Anchorage and Dragons Peninsula to determine whether an overland attack would be practicable, had reported the country generally level with sparse undergrowth. There were no swamps. Enogai Inlet, with a good anchorage, had a mangrove-covered shore line except at its head where firm ground rose steeply to an elevation of about five hundred feet. Dragons Peninsula itself was hilly, swampy, and jungled, but on the inland shore of Leland Lagoon a ridge ran from Enogai to Bairoko village. Bairoko Harbour was deep, and was backed by swamplands.

The advance to Dragons Peninsula began immediately after Liversedge issued his orders. Guided by natives, the troops moved along the three parallel trails—the original track and the two cut by Corrigan’s natives. The 1st Marine Raider Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel B. Griffith, III, commanding, led the way, followed in order by K and L Companies, 145th, under Major Marvin D. Girardeau, and Lieutenant Colonel Delbert E. Schultz’s 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry. The patrols’ reports had implied that the going would be easy, but the march proved difficult. The rough trails, winding over hills and ridges, were obstructed by branches, roots, and coral outcroppings. Rain wet the troops all day. The Raiders, whose heaviest weapon was the 60-mm. mortar, made fairly steady progress, but the soldiers of M Company, 148th Infantry, fell behind as they floundered through the mud with their heavy machine guns, 81-mm. mortars, and ammunition.

At 1300 part of D Company of the Raiders, the advance guard, was sent on ahead to secure a bridgehead on the far bank of the Giza Giza river. Three hours later the Raiders’ main body and the companies of the 145th Infantry arrived at the river and bivouacked there overnight. They had covered five and one-half miles in the day’s march without meeting a single Japanese. Colonel Schultz’s battalion camped for the night about one and one-half miles to the north.

Next morning, 6 July, the Raiders led out again, and D Company pushed ahead to secure a crossing over the Tamakau River. The rains had flooded the river; it was now nine feet deep. Without tools or time to build a proper bridge, the Raiders threw a log over the stream, and improvised rafts from poles and ponchos to ferry over their heavy equipment.

After several rafts had capsized, they gave up and carried everything over on the log. Several men slipped off the log and fell into the swollen river; a few had to be rescued from drowning. The crossing had started before noon, but not until dusk did the last man cross the river. Schultz’s battalion, also delayed by high water, caught up with the Raiders and bivouacked near them for the night.

On the morning of 7 July the Raiders and Girardeau’s companies set out for Enogai, while Schultz’s battalion pushed south toward the Munda-Bairoko trail. The country was rough, the going hard for both forces. The Raiders took five hours to cover the 2,500 yards between their bivouac and the east end of Enogai Inlet. The 3d Battalion, 148th, reached the trail at 1700. In the afternoon the two hundred men who had been landed astray on 5 July caught up with the main body. There had been no opposition from the Japanese; a patrol was observed but kept its distance.

Capture of Enogai Inlet

When the Marine Raiders and Girardeau’s two companies reached Enogai Inlet, one platoon, again from D Company, pushed forward to secure the deserted village called Maranusa. From there a patrol marched toward Triri, another village which was hardly more than a clearing. Up to now the marines had not seen any Japanese, but as the patrol approached Triri its point detected five Japanese ahead. The marines ambushed the party and killed two of its members. They belonged to the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force. The other three fled. When Liversedge heard about this action, which made it obvious that his force had been discovered, he ordered Griffith to secure Triri at once in order to prepare to repel a counterattack.

Griffith dispatched the demolition platoon from battalion Headquarters Company with orders to pass through D Company and seize Triri. On the way up, the platoon ran into a strong enemy patrol which opened fire. The marines retired to a defensive position on the bank of a stream and kept the enemy in place with fire. At this point D Company appeared on the scene, swung to the left, struck the Japanese on their inland (right) flank, and drove them off. Three marines and ten Japanese were killed in this skirmish. One of the dead Japanese had on his person a defense plan which showed the exact location of the heavy guns at Enogai. By 1600 all elements of the Enogai attacking force were installed at Triri.

At dawn the following morning—8 July, the day on which Schultz’s battalion completed its block on the Munda-Bairoko trail—two Raider combat patrols went out of Triri. B Company sent one out to ambush a trail which led northwesterly to Enogai, and a D Company patrol advanced south along a cross-country track leading to Bairoko to lay another ambush. This patrol had advanced a short distance by 0700, when it ran into an enemy force of about company strength. A fire fight broke out, and at 1000 Griffith sent C Company to drive the enemy back a short distance.

In the meantime, the patrol which had advanced toward Enogai reported no contact with the enemy. In order to assemble all companies of the 1st Raider Battalion for the attack against Enogai, Griffith sent K and L Companies of the 145th south to take over from C Company. C Company then disengaged, moved back to Triri, and in the early afternoon the 1st Raider Battalion marched northwest toward Enogai. But the trail led the marines into an impassable mangrove swamp. The battalion therefore retired to Triri, while scouts hunted for a better route to use the next day.

In the south sector, the fight between the Japanese and K and L Companies had continued. The Japanese in repeated assaults struck hard at K Company which was on the right (west). Captain Donald W. Fouse, commanding K Company, was wounded early in the action but stayed with his company until the fight was over. When the Raider battalion retired to Triri, the Demolition Platoon was committed to the line, and when K Company was hard hit a platoon from B Company of the Raiders swung wide around the Japanese left flank and struck them in the rear. This maneuver succeeded. The enemy scattered.

The 1st Raider Battalion resumed its advance against Enogai the next morning, using a good trail, apparently unknown to the Japanese, that led over high ground west of the swamp. K and L Companies remained to hold Triri, the site of Liversedge’s command post. Griffith’s battalion, meeting no opposition, made good time. By 1100 the marines were in sight of Leland Lagoon. They swung slightly to the right toward Enogai Point and at 1500 ran into two Japanese light machine guns which opened fire and halted the advance. Griffith deployed, with A Company on the left, C in the center, B on the right, and D in reserve. The companies then assaulted, but the Japanese defended so resolutely that no further progress was made that day.

Patrols reconnoitered vigorously so that by 0700, 10 July, Griffith had been informed that the Japanese were strongest in front of his center and left, and that there were no Japanese directly in front of B Company. The battalion resumed the attack at 0700. C and A Companies advanced slowly against rifle and machine gun fire. Supported by 60-mm. mortars, B Company drove forward rapidly, cleared the village of Baekineru, and captured two machine guns. Then A Company, strengthened by one platoon from battalion reserve, pushed over Enogai Point to the sea. By 1500 all organized resistance had ended except for a pocket in front of A Company. When D Company started establishing beach defenses, it was troubled by three machine guns from another enemy pocket. Mopping up these two groups of Japanese took until 11 July.

The Raiders had run out of food and water by midafternoon of 10 July, but were succored by L Company, 145th, which brought rations and water up from Triri. These had been dropped, at Liversedge’s urgent request, by C-47’s from Guadalcanal.

By 12 July Enogai was organized for defense against land or seaborne attacks. Estimates of Japanese casualties ranged from 150 to 350. Postwar Japanese accounts assert that Enogai was defended by one platoon of soldiers and 81 men of the Kure 6th Special Naval Landing Force. The marines lost 47 killed, 4 missing, and 74 wounded. They captured 3x.50-caliber antiaircraft machine guns, 4 heavy and 14 light machine guns, a searchlight, rifles, mortars, ammunition, 2 tractors, some stores and documents, and the 4×140-mm. coastal guns that had harassed the landing at Rice Anchorage. The guns were intact except that their breechblocks had been removed. Luckily, a marine digging a foxhole uncovered one, and a hasty search of the area turned up the other three. The marines used these guns to help guard the seaward approaches to the newly won position.

Roadblock North of Munda

While the Raiders were thus engaged, the soldiers of the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry, were deep in the jungle holding their block. The block, completed on 8 July, was set up on a well-used trail some two miles southeast of Enogai Inlet and eight miles north of Munda. I Company, with one M Company platoon attached, faced toward Bairoko; K Company faced Munda. L Company covered the flanks of I and K, and extended its lines back to protect the battalion command post. M Company, with the Antitank Platoon attached, was in a supporting position to the rear. Each rifle company held one platoon in reserve under battalion control. All positions were camouflaged. Colonel Schultz ordered his men to fire at enemy groups larger than four men; smaller parties were to be killed with bayonets.

The battalion held the block from 8 through 17 July. Patrols went out regularly. General Hester had ordered patrols to push far enough to the south to make contact with the 43rd Division’s right flank as it advanced westward against Munda, but this was never done. Schultz was strengthened on 11 July by the addition of I Company, 145th Infantry, after a group of Japanese had overrun part of L Company’s positions in a series of attacks starting 10 July.

Except for this, the Japanese made no effort to dislodge Schultz’s men, whose greatest enemy proved to be hunger. The troops had left Rice Anchorage carrying rations for three days on the assumption that Enogai Inlet would be taken in two days and that American vessels could then land stores there. These could be delivered to the troops after a relatively short overland haul. But Enogai was not secured until 11 July. The 120 native carriers thus had to carry food all the way from Rice Anchorage. Although, according to Colonel Liversedge, the natives “accomplished an almost superhuman task,” they could not carry supplies fast enough to keep the troops fed.

By 9 July the food shortage was serious. Only 2,200 D rations had been delivered. Late that evening, with food for the next day reduced to one ninth of a D and one ninth of a K ration per man, Schultz radioed to Liversedge an urgent request that food be brought in by carrier. He also hoped the natives could carry out two badly wounded men who were being cared for in the battalion aid station. But as there were not enough natives, C-47’s dropped food, as well as ammunition, to the battalion the next afternoon. Much of the food fell far beyond the 3rd Battalion’s lines, and some of the ammunition was defective. Schultz was forced to cut the food allowance for the next twenty-four hours to one twelfth of a K ration. Fortunately Enogai had now fallen, and on 13 July Flight Officer Corrigan’s natives carried in three hundred pounds of rice which the men cooked in their helmets, using salt tablets for seasoning. The next day, though, was another hungry one; one D and one K ration was the allowance for each eighteen men. Thereafter, until the block was abandoned, carrying parties and air drops kept food stocks high enough. During the nine days it held the block, the 3rd Battalion lost 11 men killed and 29 wounded; it estimated it had killed 250 Japanese.

At the time it was believed that the blockers had cut off Munda from reinforcement via Bairoko, and that they held the Japanese Bairoko force in place, prevented Enogai from being reinforced from either Munda or Bairoko, and protected Griffith’s right flank and rear. Knowledge gained after the event indicates that none of these beliefs was warranted.

That Munda was not isolated is demonstrated by the fact that the Japanese reinforcement of Munda was in full swing, and all the reinforcements seem to have reached Munda without much trouble. The enemy obviously stopped using the blocked trail after 8 July and shifted to another one farther west. Meanwhile, reinforcement by water continued.

On 9 July, when 1,200 Japanese from the Shortlands landed on Kolombangara, 1,300 of the 13th Infantry transferred by barge to Bairoko. Three days later, on 12 July, a Japanese ten ship force left Rabaul to carry 1,200 more soldiers to Kolombangara, and Halsey sent Ainsworth’s task force to intercept again. The two forces collided early on 13 July northeast of Kolombangara in a battle named for that island. The Allies lost the destroyer Gwin; the New Zealand light cruiser Leander and the American light cruisers St. Louis and Honolulu suffered damage. The Japanese flagship, the light cruiser Jintsu, was sunk, but 1,200 enemy soldiers were landed on the west coast of Kolombangara.

At Bairoko, during this period, the 13th Infantry made ready to go to Munda. It was part of this regiment which attacked the trail block on 10 July. On 13 July, when the Bairoko garrison was strengthened by the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, and a battery of artillery, the 13th Infantry marched south to the Munda front.

As far as pinning down the Bairoko troops was concerned, the block lay more than two miles from Bairoko, and thus could not have affected the Bairoko garrison very much. And surely, had the Japanese desired to reinforce Enogai from Bairoko, they would have used the direct trail along the shore of Leland Lagoon rather than going over the more roundabout route which was blocked.

In view of the American strength at Rendova and Zanana, the thesis that the Japanese might have sent troops from Munda to Enogai is equally untenable, even if it were not known that the Japanese were reinforcing Munda, not Enogai. Finally, Schultz’s battalion was too far from Griffith’s to render much flank protection in that dense, dark jungle.

It is clear that the trail block failed to achieve results proportionate to the effort expended. So far, the principal effect of the entire Rice Anchorage-Enogai-Bairoko operation had been to employ troops that could have been better used at Munda.

By 11 July, with Enogai secured, Liversedge was five days behind schedule. Casualties, illness, and physical exhaustion had reduced the 1st Raider Battalion to one-half its effective strength. Considering that two fresh battalions could reduce Bairoko in three days, he asked Admiral Turner, with Hester’s approval, for additional troops. There were not two more battalions to be had, Turner replied, but he promised to land the 4th Raider Battalion at Enogai by 18 July, and authorized a delay in the assault against Bairoko until then. Thus short one battalion, Liversedge directed Schultz to abandon his block and march to Triri on 17 July. The 3rd Battalion, 148th, was to join the Raiders and part of the 3rd Battalion, 145th, in the Bairoko attack.

The Northern Landing Group had accomplished the first phase of its mission by capturing Enogai, but was behind schedule. On the Munda front, General Wing’s Southern Landing Group was also behind schedule.

Operations of the Southern Landing Group

From Zanana to the Barike River Once the 169th and 172nd Regiments had landed at Zanana, General Hester had originally planned, the two regiments were to march overland about two and one-half to three miles to a line of departure lying generally along the Barike River, then deploy and attack west to capture Munda airfield. The regiments were directed to reach the line of departure and attack by 7 July, but by the time the two regiments had reached Zanana all operations were postponed one day.

The overland approach to Munda involved a march through the rough, jungled, swampy ground typical of New Georgia. The terrain between Zanana and Munda was rugged, tangled, and patternless. Rocky hills thrust upward from two to three hundred feet above sea level, with valleys, draws, and stream beds in between. The hills and ridges sprawled and bent in all directions. The map used for the operation was a photomap based on air photography. It showed the coast line and Munda airfield clearly, but did not give any accurate indication of ground contour. About all the troops could tell by looking at it was that the ground was covered by jungle.

The difficulty of travel in this rough country was greatly increased by heat, mud, undergrowth, and hills. Visibility was limited to a few yards. There were no roads, but a short distance north of Zanana lay Munda Trail, a narrow foot track that hit the coast at Lambeti Plantation. Engineers were making ready to build a road from Zanana to Munda Trail, and to improve the latter so that it could carry motor traffic.

Having made their way from Zanana to the line of departure on the Barike, the two regiments would, according to Hester’s orders, deliver a co-ordinated attack against Munda airfield, which lay about two and one-half miles westward. The 172d Infantry on the left (south) would be responsible for a front extending inland from the coast. The 169th Infantry’s zone of action lay north of the 172d’s; its right flank would be in the air except for protection given it by South Pacific Scout patrols operating to the north. The attack would be supported by General Barker’s artillery and by air and naval bombardments.

Two days after the beginning of the two-regiment attack, a heavy naval bombardment would prepare the way for an assault landing by the 3rd Battalion, 103nd Infantry, and the 9th Marine Defense Battalion’s Tank Platoon at 0420, 9 July, at the west tip of Munda Point. Hester and Wing did not expect to meet any serious opposition between Zanana and the Barike River, and their expectations must have been confirmed by the experience of the 1st Battalion, 172nd. On 3 July Colonel Ross had ordered this battalion to remain at Zanana, making every effort at concealment. The message was apparently not received, for on 4 July the battalion, accompanied by A Company, 169th Infantry, easily marched to the Barike River, meeting only small Japanese patrols on the way. It was this premature move that helpedto alert Sasaki.

Next morning Captain Sherrer of the G-2 Section led a patrol of six New Zealanders, twelve Americans, and eighteen Fijians from his base camp toward the upper reaches of the Barike River. They intended to set up a patrol base on high ground suitable for good radio transmission and reception. Normally they would have avoided detection by moving off the trails and striking out through the wilderness, but, laden with radio gear, they followed Munda Trail. As they approached a small rise that lay about two miles from Zanana, and about eleven hundred yards east of the line of departure, they met enemy machine gun fire. They replied with small arms, and the fire fight lasted until dusk when Sherrer’s group disengaged and went south to the bivouac of the 1st Battalion, 172nd, near the mouth of the Barike. B Company, 172nd, went out to investigate the situation the next morning and found the Japanese still occupying the high ground, astride the trail. Attacks by B Company and by A Company, 169th, failed to dislodge the Japanese. By afternoon of 6 July, however, the three battalions of the 172nd Infantry were safely in place on the Barike, the 1st and 3rd on the left and right, the 2nd in regimental reserve.

But the 169th Infantry, commanded by Colonel John D. Eason, was not so fortunate.
That regiment’s 3nd Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel William A. Stebbins, set out along the trail from Zanana to the line of departure on the morning of 6 July. Natives guided the battalion as it moved in column of companies, each company in column of platoons, along the narrow trail. The men hacked vines and undergrowth to make their way more easily. Shortly after noon, General Wing ordered Stebbins’ battalion to destroy the point of Japanese resistance that Sherrer had run into.

It was estimated, correctly, that about one platoon was trying to block the trail. General Sasaki, aware of the Allied activity east of him, had ordered part of the 11th Company, 229th Infantry, to reconnoiter the Barike area, clear fire lanes, and establish this trail block with felled trees and barbed wire.

The 3nd Battalion, 169th, apparently did not run into the block on 6 July. It dug in for the night somewhere east of the block, but does not seem to have established the sort of perimeter defense that was necessary in fighting the Japanese in the jungle. Foxholes were more than six feet apart. The battalion laid no barbed wire or trip wire with hanging tin cans that rattled when struck by a man’s foot or leg and warned of the approach of the enemy. Thus, when darkness fell and the Japanese began their night harassing tactics—moving around, shouting, and occasionally firing—the imaginations of the tired and inexperienced American soldiers began to work.

They thought the Japanese were all around them, infiltrating their perimeter with ease. One soldier reported that Japanese troops approached I Company, calling, in English, the code names of the companies of the 3nd Battalion, such stereotypes as “come out and fight,” and references to the Louisiana maneuvers. The men of the battalion, which had landed in the Russells the previous March, must have been familiar with the sights and sounds of a jungle night, but affected by weariness and the presence of the enemy, they apparently forgot. In their minds, the phosphorescence of rotten logs became Japanese signals. The smell of the jungle became poison gas; some men reported that the Japanese were using a gas which when inhaled caused men to jump up in their foxholes.

The slithering of the many land crabs was interpreted as the sound of approaching Japanese. Men of the 169th are reported to have told each other that Japanese nocturnal raiders wore long black robes, and that some came with hooks and ropes to drag Americans from their foxholes. In consequence the men of the battalion spent their nights nervously and sleeplessly, and apparently violated orders by shooting indiscriminately at imaginary targets.

Next day, the shaken 3rd Battalion advanced with I Company leading followed by L, M, Battalion Headquarters, and K Companies. It ran into machine gun fire from the Japanese trail block at 1055. I Company deployed astride Munda Trail, L Company maneuvered to the left, K was initially in reserve. M Company brought up its 81-mm. mortars and heavy machine guns but could not use them profitably at first as banyan trees and undergrowth blocked shells and bullets. The mortar platoon then began clearing fields of fire by cutting down trees. B Company of the 172nd also attacked the block from the south.

I Company launched a series of frontal assaults but was beaten back by machine gun fire. Three platoon leaders were wounded in these attacks. K Company came out of reserve to deliver a frontal assault; its commander was soon killed. Neither it nor any of the other companies made progress. The Japanese were well dug in and camouflaged. Riflemen covered the automatic weapons. Fire lanes had been cut. The enemy weapons had little if any muzzle blast, and the Americans had trouble seeing targets.

Some tried to grenade the enemy but were driven back before they could get close enough to throw accurately. At length the 81-mm. mortars got into action; observers operating thirty yards from the Japanese position brought down fire on it. Some Japanese are reported to have evacuated “Bloody Hill,” as the Americans called it, that afternoon. At 1550 the 3d Battalion withdrew to dig in for the night. After dark the Japanese harassed the 3d Battalion again. According to the 169th Infantry, “a sleepless night was spent by all under continued harassing from enemy patrols speaking English, making horror noises, firing weapons, throwing hand grenades, swinging machetes and jumping into foxholes with knives.”

On 8 July, the 1st Battalion, 169th Infantry, which had been behind the 3nd within supporting distance, was ordered to bypass the 3d and move to the Barike while the 3d Battalion reduced the block. On 7 July General Wing had ordered Colonel Ross to use part of the 172nd against the block, but apparently by the afternoon of 8 July no elements of the 172nd except B Company had gone into action against it. On 8 July the 3rd Battalion, 169th, and B Company, 172nd, struck the block after a mortar preparation and overran it. The 3rd Battalion lost six men killed and thirty wounded, and suffered one case diagnosed as war neurosis, in reducing the block. The trail from Zanana to the Barike was open again, but the attack against Munda had been delayed by another full day.

By late afternoon of 8 July, the 1st Battalion, 169th, had reached the Barike River and made contact on its left with the 3rd Battalion, 172d; A Company, 169th, had been returned to its parent regiment; the 3rd Battalion, 169th, was behind and to the right of the 1st Battalion. With the two regiments on the line of departure, Hester and Wing were ready to start the attack toward Munda early on 9 July. Hester told Wing: “I wish you success.”

The Approach to the Main Defenses By 7 July General Hester, after conferences with General Wing and Colonels Ross and Eason, had abandoned the idea of the amphibious assault against Munda by the 3rd Battalion, 103nd Infantry, and the 9th Marine Defense Battalion’s tank platoon. He was probably influenced in his decision by the strength of the Munda shore defenses.

The plan for the attack on 9 July called for the 169th and 172nd Regiments to advance from the Barike, seize the high ground southwest of the river, and capture the airfield. On the high ground—a complex of ridges that ran from Ilangana on the beach inland in a northwesterly direction for about three thousand yards—were the main Japanese defenses.

The 172nd Infantry was to move out astride the Munda Trail with the 1st and 3d Battalions abreast. Each battalion zone would be three hundred yards wide. Battalions would advance in column of companies; each rifle company would put two platoons in line. The 169th Infantry, maintaining contact on its left with the 3d Battalion, 172d, would advance echeloned to the right rear to protect the divisional right flank. The 1st Battalion was to advance abreast of the 172nd; the 3rd Battalion would move to the right and rear of the 1st. The regimental commanders planned to advance by 200-yard bounds. After each bound, they intended to halt for five minutes, establish contact, and move out again. They hoped to gain from one to two thousand yards before 1600.

The division reserve consisted of the 2nd Battalion, 169th, which was to advance behind the assault units. Antitank companies from the two regiments, plus Marine antiaircraft artillerymen, were defending the Zanana beachhead. In Occupation Force reserve, under Hester, was the 3rd Battalion, 103rd Infantry, on Rendova. H Hour for the attack was set for 0630.

General Barker’s artillery on the offshore islands inaugurated the first major attack against Munda at 0500 of 9 July with a preparation directed against rear areas, lines of communication, and suspected bivouac areas and command posts. After thirty minutes, fire was shifted to suspected centers of resistance near the line of departure. In one hour the 105-mm. howitzers of the 103d and 169th Field Artillery Battalions, the 155-mm. howitzers of the 136th Field Artillery Battalion, and the 155-mm. guns of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion fired over 5,800 rounds of high 15 explosive.

Starting at 0512, four destroyers from Admiral Merrill’s task force, standing offshore in the Solomon Sea, opened fire at the area in the immediate vicinity of the airfield in accordance with plans prepared in consultation with General Barker. Naval authorities had originally wanted to fire at targets close to the line of departure as well, but the 43d Division, fearing that the direction of fire (northeast to east) might bring shells down on its own troops, rejected the proposal. Between 0512 and 0608, the destroyers fired 2,344 5-inch rounds.

At 0608, four minutes before the bombardment was scheduled to end, some Japanese planes dropped bombs and strafed one ship; the destroyers retired. Then Allied planes from Guadalcanal and the Russells took over. Fifty-two torpedo bombers and thirty-six dive bombers dropped seventy tons of high explosive bombs and fragmentation clusters on Munda. Now it was the infantry’s turn.

H Hour, 0630, came and went, but not a great deal happened. The 1st Battalion, 169th Infantry, reported that it was ready to move but could not understand why the 172d Infantry had not advanced. At 0930, General Wing was informed that no unit had yet crossed the line of departure. Several factors seem to have caused the delay. Movement as usual was an ordeal. The Barike was flooded. Soldiers, weighted with weapons, ammunition, and packs, had to wade through waist-to-shoulder-deep water. The river, which had several tributaries, wound and twisted to the sea. It crossed the Munda Trail three times; the spaces between were swampy. The men, sweating in the humid heat, struggled to keep their footing, and pulled their way along by grabbing at roots and undergrowth. Leading platoons had to cut the wrist thick rattan vines.

Although patrols of New Georgians, Fijians, Tongans, New Zealanders, and Americans had reconnoitered the area, their information could not always be put to good use. There was no accurate map on which to record data, nor were there any known landmarks.

In the jungle, orthodox skirmish lines proved impractical. As men dispersed they could not be seen and their leaders lost control. At any rate, movement off the trails was so difficult that most units moved in columns of files, the whole unit bound to one trail. Thus one or two Japanese, by firing on the leading elements, could halt an entire battalion.

The Occupation Force intelligence officer had estimated that the main Japanese defenses lay 1,600 yards from the Barike, anchored on Roviana Lagoon and extending inland to the northwest. This was correct, except that the defense line on the ridges was actually about 2,500 yards from the Barike’s mouth. Beyond the main defenses, the Japanese outposts, using rifles, machine guns, and sometimes mortars and grenade dischargers, were well able to delay the advance.

At 1030 General Barker returned tothe 43rd Division command post from a tour of the front and reported that at 1000 the 172nd Infantry was a hundred yards beyond the Barike, but that the 169th was still east of the river. The only opposition had come from the outpost riflemen that the Americans usually called “snipers.” At the time these were believed, probably erroneously, to be operating in the treetops.

Japanese fighter aircraft appeared over New Georgia during the day; the Allied air power prevented any from getting close enough to strafe the attacking troops.

By 1630, when it dug in for the night, the 172d had gained some eleven hundred yards. The 169th had made no progress to speak of. The 1st Battalion got one hundred yards west of the Barike; the other two apparently remained east of the river.

The 169th was facing about the same obstacles as the 172nd, but it is possible that the 169th was a badly shaken regiment before the attack began. The night before the attack, 8-9 July, the 3rd Battalion was bivouacked near Bloody Hill, and the other two lay to the west. When the Japanese made their presence known to the three battalions, or when the Americans thought there were Japanese within their bivouacs, there was a great deal of confusion, shooting, and stabbing. Some men knifed each other. Men threw grenades blindly in the dark. Some of the grenades hit trees, bounced back, and exploded among the Americans.

Some soldiers fired round after round to little avail. In the morning no trace remained of Japanese dead or wounded. But there were American casualties; some had been stabbed to death, some wounded by knives. Many suffered grenade fragment wounds, and 50 percent of these were caused by fragments from American grenades. These were the men who had been harassed by Japanese nocturnal tactics on the two preceding nights, and there now appeared the first large number of cases diagnosed as neuroses. The regiment was to suffer seven hundred by 31 July. The 43rd Division resumed the attack on 10 July. The 172nd Infantry, reporting only light opposition, advanced a considerable distance. The 169th Infantry, with the 1st Battalion in the lead and the 2nd Battalion to its right rear, advanced successfully until it reached the point where the Munda Trail was intersected by a trail which ran southeast to the beach, then circled to the southwest to the native villages of Laiana and Ilangana.

Reaching this junction about 1330 after crossing a small creek on two felled tree trunks, the leading battalion was halted by machine gun fire. This fire came from rising ground dominating the trail junction, where Captain Bunzo Kojima, commanding the 9th Company, 229th Infantry, had established a camouflaged trail block. He employed one rifle platoon, reinforced by a machine gun section, some 90-mm. mortars, and elements of a 75-mm. mountain artillery battalion. When the 1st Battalion was stopped, Colonel Eason decided to blast the strong point. While the infantry pulled back a hundred yards, the 169th’s mortars and the Occupation Force artillery opened fire.

Barker’s guns fired over four thousand rounds of 105-mm. and 155-mm. high explosive, shattering trees, stripping the vegetation, and digging craters. Coincident with this bombardment, eighty-six Allied bombers (SBD’s and TBF’s) unloaded sixty-seven tons of bombs on Lambeti Plantation and Munda. During the artillery bombardment Kojima’s men lay quiet but when the fire ceased they immediately stood to their guns and halted the American infantrymen when they attacked. At the day’s end, the Japanese were still on the high ground; the 169th Infantry, after advancing about fifteen hundred yards, was forced to bivouac in a low swampy area. The American commanders concluded that they were nearing a main defensive line. They were right. The high ground to their front contained the main Japanese defenses that were to resist them for weeks.

Laiana Beachhead

By 11 July the advancing regiments were still in trouble. Progress had been slowed by the enemy, and also by the supply problems arising from the fact that the troops had landed five miles east of their objective and thus committed themselves to a long march through heavy jungle. Now the regiments, in spite of their slow advance, had out distanced their overextended supply line.

The 118th Engineer Battalion had made good progress in building a jeep trail from Zanana to the Barike River. Using data obtained from native scouts, the engineers had built their trail over high, dry ground, averaging one half to three quarters of a mile per day. There was little need for corduroying with logs, a time-consuming process. When they ran into trees too big to knock down with their light D-3 bulldozers, the engineers blasted them with dynamite.

Lacking heavy road-graders, the 118th could not make a two-lane, amply ditched road, but it managed to clear a one-lane track widened at regular intervals to permit two-way traffic. Near a five-foot-deep, fast-running stream east of the Barike the engineers hit soft mud. To get to ground firm enough to permit construction of footbridges and two thirty-foot trestle bridges, they were forced to swing the road northward parallel to the river for two and one-half miles to get to a firm crossing. The advancing regiments crossed the Barike on 9 July, but several days were to elapse before the bridges were completed.

Thus there was a gap between the end of the road and the front. To bridge the gap, nearly half the combat troops were required to carry forward ammunition, food, water, and other supplies, and to evacuate casualties. Allied cargo planes were used to parachute supplies to the infantry, but there were never enough planes to keep the troops properly supplied.

With fighting strength reduced by the necessity for hand carry, with his right flank virtually exposed, and his extended supply line open to harassment by the enemy, Hester decided, on 10 July, to change his plan of attack in order to shorten the supply line. If a new beachhead could be established at Laiana (a native village about two miles east by south from Munda airfield), some five thousand yards would be cut off the supply line. Patrols, operating overland and in canoes, examined Laiana beach at night and reported that it was narrow but suitable, with a coral base under the sand. Unfavorable aspects included a mangrove swamp back of the beach and the fact that the Japanese main defenses appeared to start at Ilangana, only five hundred yards southwest of Laiana, and arch northwest toward the Munda Trail.

But the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. Hester ordered the 172d Infantry to swing southward to Laiana, seize and hold a beachhead from the land side, then advance on Munda. The 169th Infantry was to continue its attempt to drive along the Munda Trail. Hester ordered the reinforced 3rd Battalion, 103d Infantry, at Rendova, to be prepared to land at Laiana after the 172d had arrived.

At 1000, 11 July, the 172nd Infantry disengaged from the attack, turned south, and started moving toward shore through knee-deep mud. The regiment tried to keep its move a secret, but Japanese patrols quickly observed it, and mortar fire soon began hitting it. The wounded were carried along with the regiment. The advance was halted about midafternoon after a gain of some 450 yards. Both 1st and 3d Battalions (the 2d had remained behind to block the trail and thus cover the rear until the 169th could come up) reported running into pillboxes. Aside from the mortar shelling and some infiltration by patrols between the 172d and the 169th, the Japanese appeared to have stayed fairly
still.

The march was resumed on 12 July with the hope of reaching Laiana before dark, for the regiment had not re ceived any supplies for two days. Colonel Ross reported that the carrying parties equaled the strength of three and one-half rifle companies. Despite this fact, and although food and water were exhausted, the regiment kept moving until late afternoon when leading elements were within five hundred yards of Laiana. There machine gun and mortar fire halted the advance. At this time scouts confirmed the existence of pillboxes, connected by trenches, extending northwest from Ilangana. The pillboxes, which the Americans feared might be made of concrete, housed heavy machine guns, and were supported by light machine guns and mortars.

That night (12-13 July) Japanese mortars registered on the 172nd’s bivouac, and the troops could hear the Japanese felling trees, presumably to clear fields of fire.

His hungry, thirsty regiment was without a line of communications, and Colonel Ross, concerned over the Japanese patrols in his rear, had to get to Laiana on 13 July. With the artillery putting fire ahead, the 172nd started out through mangrove swamp on the last five hundred yards to Laiana. The enemy fire continued. The advance was slow, but late afternoon found the 172nd in possession of Laiana. It organized the area for defense while patrols sought out the Japanese line to the west. That night twelve landing craft left Rendova to carry food and water to Laiana and evacuate the wounded. For some reason the 172nd failed to display any signals.

The landing craft, unable to find the right beach, returned to Rendova. When the 172nd was nearing Laiana on 13 July, General Hester ordered the 3rd Battalion, 103rd Infantry, 43nd Division, to be prepared to land at 0900 the following morning. The Tank Platoon of the 9th Marine Defense Battalion was attached; to help the tanks and to aid in the reduction of fixed positions, engineers (bridge builders, demolitions men, flame thrower operators, and mine detector men) were also attached.

The reinforced battalion, loaded in LCP(R)’s and LCM’s, rendezvoused at daybreak of 14 July in Blanche Channel. When the daily fighter cover arrived from the Russells, the landing craft started for Laiana. With the 172nd already holding the beachhead, the first wave landed peacefully at 0900. Reefs forced some craft to ground in waist-deep water, but the hungry soldiers of the 172nd helped unload them. As the LCM’s neared shore Japanese artillery shells began falling on the water route and on the landing beach. To blind the Japanese observers, the field artillery fired more than five hundred white phosphorous rounds as well as high explosive at suspected Japanese gun positions and observation posts on Munda Point and on the high ground (Bibilo Hill) northeast of Munda field. The Japanese artillery did no damage.

General Sasaki reported that he had repulsed the landing, and that the Americans had lost, of seventy landing craft, thirteen sunk and twenty damaged. Nevertheless, 8th Area Army headquarters appears to have learned that the landing had succeeded.

Once ashore, 43rd Division engineers began building a jeep trail from Laiana north to the 169th Infantry. Supplies came in for the 172nd, and its wounded men were evacuated. Telephone crews laid an underwater cable between Zanana, Laiana, and General Barker’s artillery fire direction center.

The 3d Battalion, 103rd, was still in division reserve, but Colonel Ross was authorized to use it in case of dire need. He committed L Company to fill a gap between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 172nd on the morning of 15 July when the 172nd was making an unsuccessful attack toward Ilangana. Soldiers of the Antitank Platoon of the 3d Battalion, 103rd, disassembled a 37-mm. gun, carried it forward, reassembled it on the front line, and destroyed three pillboxes with direct fire. This was the only success; the day’s end found the 172nd still facing the main enemy defense line.

The Seizure of Reincke Ridge

While the 172d had been driving to Laiana and getting ready to attack westward,
the 169th Infantry was pushing against the high ground to the north. On 10 July, the day before the 172d turned southward, the 169th had been halted. It faced Japanese positions on the high ground which dominated the Munda-Lambeti trail junction. The Munda Trail at this point led up to a draw, with hills to the north (right) and south (left). The Japanese held the draw and the hills.

The regiment renewed the attack on 11 July just before General Hester replaced Colonel Eason with Colonel Temple G. Holland, but made no gains. When Holland took over the regiment, he ordered the advance postponed until the next morning. The exact nature of the Japanese defenses was not yet completely clear, but it was evident that the Japanese had built mutually supporting pillboxes on the hills.

Holland’s plan for 12 July called for the 1st Battalion to deliver the attack from its present position while the 2nd Battalion enveloped the Japanese left (north) flank. The 3rd Battalion, temporarily in division reserve, would be released to the regiment when the trail junction was secure. The 169th attacked as ordered but bogged down at once, partly because it became intermingled with elements of the 172nd, which was starting for Laiana. When the units were disentangled the two battalions attacked again. The 1st Battalion ran head on into Japanese opposition but reported a gain of three hundred yards. The 2nd Battalion received enfilading fire from the northernmost ridge but kept its position.

A second attack, supported by a rolling barrage, was attempted in the afternoon. The infantry, unable to keep pace with the barrage which moved forward at the rate of ten yards a minute, fell behind and halted. At the day’s end, Holland, who reported to Hester that his regiment was badly disorganized, asked General Mulcahy for air support the following day.

Next morning, 13 July, after thirty minutes of artillery fire and a twelve plane dive-bombing attack against the south ridge, the 169th attacked again. All three battalions were committed. The 2nd Battalion, in the center, was to assault frontally up the draw while the 1st Battalion, on the right, and the 3nd Battalion on the left, moved against the north and south ridges with orders to envelop the Japanese.

The 3d Battalion, with I and L Companies in line and M in support, struggled forward for four hours. It pushed four hundred to five hundred yards into the Japanese lines and managed to secure its objective, the south ridge, which it named Reincke Ridge for Lieutenant Colonel Frederick D. Reincke, who had replaced Stebbins in command on 8 July.

The other two battalions were not as successful. The 2nd Battalion, with E and F Companies in line and G in support, met machine gun fire in the draw, halted, was hit by what it believed to be American artillery fire, and pulled back.

The 1st Battalion, attacking the north ridge, found it obstructed by fallen limbs from blasted trees and by shell and bomb craters. The Japanese who had survived the bombardments opened fire from their pillboxes and halted the assaulting companies. The battalion, now operating without artillery or mortar support, tried to assault with rifle and bayonet. Some men started to climb to the ridge crest but were killed or wounded by machine gun fire. B Company lost three of its four officers in the attempt. Japanese artillery and mortar fire cut communication to the rear. The battalion returned to its original position.

The 1st and 2d Battalions took positions on the flanks and rear of the 3d Battalion, which held Reincke Ridge. The Japanese held the north ridge and the draw. To the west they held the higher ground called Horseshoe Hill. To the south was the gap left by the 172nd when it turned south. In spite of the 3rd Battalion’s exposed situation Holland and Reincke decided to hold the hard won position which was the only high ground the 169th possessed. Its possession was obviously vital to the success of an attack against the main enemy defenses.

All that night and all the next day (14 July) the Japanese tried to push the 3d Battalion from Reincke Ridge. I Company was hit hard but held its ground with the loss of two men killed and nineteen wounded. Artillery and mortar shells kept exploding on the ridge top, while Japanese machine guns covered the supply route to the rear. During its first twenty-four hours on the ridge, Reincke’s battalion suffered 101 casualties; L Company consisted of just fifty-one enlisted men by the end of 14 July. During part of the time no medical officer was present, but the battalion medical section under Staff Sergeant Louis Gullitti carried on its duties of first aid and
evacuation.

On the same day Holland reorganized the other two battalions. The regimental Antitank Company had landed at Zanana on 13 July and been assigned the task of carrying supplies forward from the trail’s end. This task had eased, because the engineers finished bridging the Barike on 12 July and by 14 July had extended the trail to within five hundred yards of the 169th’s front lines. Rations, water, and ammunition were parachuted to the regiment on 14 July.

Colonel Holland relieved part of the Antitank Company of its supply duties and assigned sixty of its men to the 2nd Battalion, twenty to the 1st. He also sent patrols south to cover the gap to his left. Late in the afternoon he reported to Hester that morale in his regiment had improved.

Next day the 1st Battalion, 145th Infantry, landed at Zanana and was immediately
attached to the 43rd Division with orders to advance west and relieve part of the 169th on the line. The battalion reached the regiment at 1700. Colonel Holland put it in regimental reserve pending the completion of the operations against the hills in front of him.

Operations against Munda airfield had gone very slowly but by 15 July had achieved some success. Liversedge had captured Enogai and while waiting for another battalion was getting ready to attack Bairoko. The 169th Infantry had some high ground and was in contact with the main enemy defense line. The 172nd Infantry was also in contact with the main Japanese defenses, and the new beachhead at Laiana would soon shorten the supply line.

Casualties

While Hester’s men had been attaining limited tactical successes, unusual medical problems had appeared within his division. Enemy resistance was not great at first. Some 90 men of the 43rd Division were killed up to 17 July; 636 were wounded. Other men had been injured by vehicle collisions, falling trees, accidental explosions, and the like. Disease had put over 1,000 men out of action. Diarrhea and dysentery, ailments helped along by improper field sanitation, were prevalent in early July. They put men on the sick list for several days. Skin fungus infected about one quarter of the men. And there was always malaria. Although malaria control measures seem to have been carried out so conscientiously that few new cases broke out in the Occupation Force, all the troops had been in the Solomons for some time and there were always recurrent cases.

An especially large number of casualties was caused not by wounds or infectious disease but by mental disturbance. Between fifty and a hundred men were leaving the line every day with troubles which were diagnosed as “war neuroses.” Colonel Franklin T. Hallam, surgeon of the XIV Corps, arrived in New Georgia on 14 July when mental troubles were at their height. In Hallam’s opinion, “war neurosis” was a “misnomer in most instances,” because men suffering simply from physical exhaustion “were erroneously directed or gravitated through medical channels along with the true psychoneurotic and those suffering with a temporary mental disturbance currently termed ‘WAR NEUROSIS.’ “

These unfortunate men “who had not changed clothes or had two continuous hours of sleep all had the same expression. Their hair was matted and muddy, and beards were ½ inch in length, eyes were sunk in, dark, and had a strained expression. Gait was plodding and methodical, no spring or bounce. When they stopped walking they fell in their tracks, until it was time to proceed again.” Colonel Hallam’s description is even more graphic: At least 50% of these individuals requiring medical attention or entering medical installations were the picture of utter exhaustion, face expressionless, knees sagging, body bent forward, arms slightly flexed and hanging loosely, hands with palms slightly cupped, marked coarse tremor of fingers . . ., feet dragging, and an over-all appearance of apathy and physical exhaustion. About 20% of the total group were highly excited, crying, wringing their hands, mumbling incoherently, an expression of utter fright or fear, trembling all over, startled at the least sound or unusual commotion, having the appearance of trying to escape impending disaster. Another 15% showed manifestations of the various types of true psychoneurotic complexes. The remaining 15% included the anxiety states, and those with various bizarre somatic disturbances. These were the individuals whose symptoms were of insidious onset, starting with insomnia, vague digestive symptoms, bad dreams, frequency of urination, irritability, diminished ability to concentrate, and a generally reduced efficiency in the performance of assigned duties.

Of about 2,500 men in the New Georgia Occupation Force whose troubles were diagnosed as “war neuroses” between 30 June and 30 September, the 43d Division contributed 62 percent during the period 30 June-31 July. About 1,500 cases came from the three infantry regiments of the 43d Division: 700 from the 169th Infantry, 450 from the 172nd Infantry, and 350 from the 103rd Infantry.

Attempting to explain this mental trouble, Hallam divided the causes into two groups he termed “basic causative factors” and “precipitating causative factors.” Basic causes involved leadership, orientation, discipline, and physical fitness. Units with poor leaders were more apt to have trouble than those in which the standard of leadership was high. In some units there was a direct correlation between the incidence of mental troubles among the leaders and among the led. When soldiers were not adequately oriented—not told what was going on, what their objectives were, and what they were expected to do—they were more apt to become excited by loose talk and wild rumors. The significance of lack of proper discipline and physical fitness in any military organization, but especially in one engaged in battle, is perfectly obvious.

Interestingly enough, however, Hallam noted that men “with borderline physical defects, consisting principally of eye, teeth, joint, weight, and feet defects, did not break, but did some of the best fighting.” Remarkably few men wounded in action became neurosis cases, perhaps because their knowledge that they would be evacuated eased their mental strain.

The basic causes, of course, were present in some units when they came to New Georgia. It was Hallam’s opinion that men affected by any of the basic causes were triggered into mental disturbance by the precipitating factors, which were combat fatigue, enemy action, noise, and mass hysteria. Combat fatigue, the almost unutterable physical and mental weariness that comes from long stress and strain in battle, probably accounted for half the diagnoses of war neuroses. The most effective enemy action was the kind which so seriously disturbed the 169th Infantry—the real, and occasionally the wholly imaginary, nocturnal harassing tactics of the Japanese.

Although aerial bombardment was also effective, the noises to which Hallam referred were not the sounds of guns firing and shells bursting, but the natural sounds of a jungle night, the breezes, branches, birds, and land crabs. These caused great anxiety among men to whom they were unfamiliar. On occasion mass hysteria took over; mental breaks spread like infection among troops.

Most of the mental cases, and especially those caused by fatigue, Hallam believed, could have been cured by a few days in a rest camp in the combat area. Sedatives, sleep, clean clothes, baths, shaves, good food, relief from duties, and recreation would soon have enabled the men to return to their units.

But up to mid-July there were no rest camps, nor even any real hospital facilities, in New Georgia. The 43rd Division, about 30-35 percent understrength in medical officers and enlisted men, had only a 125-bred clearing station to care for casualties. Men requiring more than twenty-four hours of medical treatment were being evacuated, usually by water, to Guadalcanal, with the result that casualties frequently did not reach hospitals until three days after they had been taken out of the line. These medical problems, coupled with the slow progress of ground operations up to mid-July, caused serious concern to all the responsible higher commanders.

Command and Reinforcements

As early as 10 July, Generals Hester and Wing were far from pleased with the performance of all units and commanders. On 10 July Wing, who had visited the command post of the 3rd Battalion, 169th Infantry, on 8 July, directly ordered the regimental commander to relieve the 3d Battalion’s commander and put Colonel Reincke in his place.

Three days prior to this relief, the 145th Infantry Regiment (less the 3rd Battalion, serving under Liversedge) of the 37th Division, which had been standing by on Guadalcanal in area reserve, had been dispatched to Rendova. The first echelon sailed on 7 July, the second two days later. The regimental commander, Colonel Holland, had hardly arrived on Rendova when Hester relieved the commander of the 169th Infantry and ordered Colonel Holland to take over the regiment temporarily. Also relieved were the executive, intelligence, and operations officers of the 169th. Leaving Lieutenant Colonel Theodore L. Parker in command of his old regiment, Holland took his own executive, intelligence, and operations officers and eighteen enlisted men from the 145th to headquarters of the 169th.

Meanwhile problems of higher command for New Georgia had not ceased to concern Admirals Halsey and Turner and especially General Harmon. On 5 July Harmon was on Guadalcanal, as were Turner and General Griswold. After informing Turner and Griswold of his views, he radioed to Halsey a recommendation that the forward echelon of the XIV Corps staff be sent to New Georgia about 8 July to prepare, under Hester, to take over supply, administration, and planning. Once Munda airfield fell, Harmon urged, Griswold should become commander of the New Georgia Occupation Force. This would free Hester to reorganize his main striking force and directly command the attack against Vila in Kolombangara. Such a change was necessary, Harmon explained, because Hester’s small staff was not capable of bearing the responsibilities that would soon be thrust on it.

Admiral Turner was not a man given to avoiding responsibility or yielding authority. Harmon wrote later, in explaining his reasons for urging a change in command, that Turner was “inclined more and more to take active control of land operations.” In his message to Halsey, he did not make this point. The South Pacific commander replied to Harmon the next day, telling him to augment Hester’s 43d Division staff as he saw fit. Halsey wished to discuss with Harmon the recommendations on superseding Hester before reaching a decision. On the same day Halsey directed Turner to prepare plans for Kolombangara in consultation with Hester.

The next day the irascible Turner presented his views to Halsey in very mild terms. Expressing regret over the necessity for disagreeing with Harmon, he strongly urged that Hester retain command of the New Georgia Occupation Force. Griswold and his staff were excellent, Turner agreed, but Hester was conducting operations “in a manner much to be admired.” Superseding him would hamper the operation “by inducing a severe blow to morale.”

At this point Harmon, a peppery, wiry man, grew impatient. He boarded his B-17 and flew to Halsey in Noumea. “. . . before nightfall,” he later related, “Admiral Halsey approved the course of procedure I had recommended.”

Griswold received instructions on 10 July to take six officers from his staff and fly to New Georgia on 11 July in an amphibian plane. The remainder of the XIV Corps staff would follow by water on 12 July. On orders from Halsey, which the admiral expected to issue after the capture of Munda airfield, Griswold would assume command of the New Georgia Occupation Force. Turner’s authority over the Occupation Force would cease, but he was to continue to support the operation. Halsey repeated to Turner his instructions regarding plans for taking Kolombangara, and told him that, if Griswold approved the idea, Hester would command the ground forces in the attack.

Griswold arrived at Rendova on 11 July just as Hester and Wing were changing their plan of attack against Munda and sending the 172nd Infantry to seize the Laiana beachhead. The XIV Corps commander was not long in reaching a judgment regarding operations to date.

General Harmon, at his headquarters in Noumea, wrote an optimistic letter to Washington on the morning of 13 July. He reported that operations in New Georgia seemed to be progressing favorably. He did not send the letter, for later in the morning he received a radiogram from General Griswold, who said, “From an observer point of view things are going badly.” Griswold urged that the 25th Division and the remainder of the 37th Division be sent into the battle at once. Although he reported, “Enemy resistance to date not great,” he did not think the 43rd Division would ever take Munda. It was, he declared, “about to fold up.”

This message had an immediate effect. Halsey met with Harmon and informally appointed him as his deputy. He ordered Harmon to “assume full charge of and responsibility for ground operations in New Georgia,” and “to take whatever steps were deemed necessary to facilitate the capture of the airfield.”

Before leaving for Koli Point on Guadalcanal to be nearer the scene of action, Harmon ordered Griswold to hasten his preparations for assuming command on New Georgia. All ground forces assigned for the operation, he told Griswold, would be available by the time he assumed command. Harmon promised to alert one regimental combat team of the veteran 25th Division for movement, but it would be dispatched to New Georgia only if he specifically approved.

Of the assigned 37th Division forces, the 145th Infantry, like the 136th Field Artillery Battalion, was already on hand in New Georgia, the 1st and 2d Battalions at Rendova and the 3rd Battalion under Liversedge along with 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry. Admiral Turner at once ordered Col. Stuart A. Baxter, commanding the 148th Infantry in the Russell Islands, to alert Headquarters, the 1st and 2d Battalions, and the Antitank Company of his regiment for immediate movement to New Georgia. These movements would put two full infantry regiments of the 37th Division in New Georgia.

On the 16th, Griswold proposed that the 37th Division units operate under control of their division commander, Major General Robert S. Beightler, and that Beightler and his senior staff officers fly to New Georgia for conferences and personal reconnaissance. Harmon agreed, and Beightler left for New Georgia in a PBY on 19 July.

On arriving at Guadalcanal, Harmon ordered Major General J. Lawton Collins, commanding the 25th Division, to get one regimental combat team ready for transfer to New Georgia. Collins, who on Griswold’s departure had become island commander and as such responsible for Guadalcanal’s defense, decided that the 161st Regimental Combat Team could most easily be spared from its defense missions. On 14 July he directed Colonel James L. Dalton II, regimental and combat team commander, to be ready to move on twelve hours’ notice.

The next day Admiral Turner was relieved of his posts of Commander, South Pacific Amphibious Force (III Amphibious Force and Task Force 32), and Commander, New Georgia Attack Force (Task Force 31). This relief apparently had nothing to do with recent events on New Georgia. Admiral Nimitz, then preparing for the great Central Pacific drive that was to start with the invasion of the Gilberts in November 1943, had directed Halsey to send Turner to Hawaii. Turner departed on the 15th, and during the next two years commanded the V Amphibious Force in the invasions of the Gilberts, the Marshalls, the Marianas, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. His posts in the South Pacific were taken over by Admiral Wilkinson, until then Halsey’s deputy commander.

On the day Turner left, Harmon ordered Griswold to assume command of the New Georgia Occupation Force at midnight of 15-16 July, and to seize Munda and join forces with Liversedge as soon as possible. Griswold took over command as ordered. Hester reverted to command of the 43rd Division.

Thus by mid-July Turner and Hester, the two officers most responsible for the execution of the New Georgia tactical plans, had been replaced. With the offensive stalling, General Griswold was facing his first experience in commanding a corps in combat. His problems were formidable, although some progress had been made. Liversedge’s three battalions were behind schedule but had taken Enogai and were preparing to attack Bairoko. On the Munda front the 169th and 172nd Infantry Regiments, also behind their schedule, had laboriously made their way from Zanana across the Barike to Laiana and the vicinity of Reincke Ridge and were in contact with the main Japanese defenses. These forces were obviously not adequate to break through and capture the airfield, but additional regiments were on their way.

Aside from the difficulties presented by the enemy and the terrain, Griswold was confronted by an abnormally high rate of mental illness, and by the need to improve the Occupation Force supply system so that the regiments would be taken care of in the normal manner instead of by emergency air drop. Obviously, it was a case calling for generalship of a high order.
SOURCE: Cartwheel: Reduction of Rabaul; By John Miller Jr. (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Munda Trail (8); Griswold Takes Over

World War Two: Operation Toenails; Landings New Georgia

World War Two: North Africa (6-25); Allies regroup, reorganize, reinforce

Both the Allies and the Axis began regrouping and preparing for the next stage of the Tunisian campaign as soon as Rommel had abandoned the February offensive. The Allies intended to press all Axis forces inside a firmly held cordon in the narrow northeastern corner of Tunisia, isolate them from Europe, and then split them into segments for piecemeal destruction. Operations to constrict the enemy within the limited bridgehead would consist of two major phases. First, the British Eighth Army (General Sir Bernard Montgomery) would push northward along the coast through the Gabes narrows and central Tunisia beyond Sousse. Second, Allied engineers would construct new airfields and reconstruct captured enemy airfields close to the new front so that increasing Allied air power could be used against the enemy with full effect in the final stage of the campaign.

The British Eighth Army’s drive northward would be the main Allied effort in its first phase. The British First Army when it had regrouped was expected to engage only in small holding attacks along the northern front and, of course, to hold onto its avenues of approach to Tunis and Bizerte. The U.S. II Corps in central Tunisia would during this phase also play only an auxiliary role.

While the Eighth Army attacked the Mareth and Chott Positions near Gabes, the II Corps was expected, by carefully timed, well prepared, and suitably controlled attacks, to seize dominating positions along the enemy’s line of communications. These restricted operations would not only absorb enemy reserves which could otherwise be used against the British Eighth Army but would also, in the army group commander’s judgment, advance the training of II Corps, increase its self-confidence, and improve its morale.

He had no intention of employing II Corps to cut the enemy’s line of communications by thrusting beyond the Eastern Dorsal onto the coastal plain, but only to threaten such action and thus attract enemy reserves to engage in defensive measures. The Eighth Army’s attack on the Mareth Position would begin in the middle of March. The auxiliary operations in central Tunisia were adjusted to that schedule.

Reorganizing the Allied Command

When General Alexander arrived in Algiers on 15 February to confer with the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, arrangements for his headquarters at Constantine were completed, his responsibilities defined, and his directive prepared. Headquarters, 18 Army Group, assumed principally those responsibilities previously discharged at AFHQ relating to the control of operations.

By close liaison, special staff visits, and a system of observation (called PHAKTOM) and reporting over direct radio channels from the subordinate units in the field to army group headquarters, it undertook to achieve the necessary co-ordination between ground, air, and sea activities in the Tunisian area. Tactical air support was to be centrally controlled through air commanders with each British army and with II Corps, all under the higher command of the Headquarters, Northwest African Tactical Air Force. A naval liaison officer at 18 Army Group headquarters would furnish advice on naval problems to the ground commanders.

In Algiers, G-3, AFHQ, kept in close communication with General Alexander’s command, and sent liaison officers on frequent visits. Army group controlled and coordinated the collection of intelligence by both the First and Eighth Armies, and by means of its own supplementary efforts was able to make full and accurate estimates of the Axis order of battle.

General summaries and reports of interrogations of prisoners of war went directly to G-2, AFHQ, from forward collection agencies, with army group disseminating the resulting analyses. British troop training fell under its control but that of American troops was reserved for G-3, AFHQ. Logistical support, including transportation, remained outside the army group’s province. Only the control over level of supply and assignment of priorities in delivery was exercised by army group.

Although it was an Allied headquarters with a certain number of American officers, 18 Army Group was predominantly British. At first most of its officers consisted of staff members of General Alexander’s earlier command brought by airplane from Cairo. I t was organized on British staff lines, with a list of about 70 at the outset, and over 100 before the end of March. The preparations for 18 Army Group’s activation involved the removal of Headquarters, British First Army, from Constantine, to Laverdure, about 110 miles farther cast, and closing of the AFHQ advanced command post at Constantine. The 18 Army Group occupied offices and billets thus vacated, and was ready for activation about 12 February, waiting only for the commanding general’s arrival.” His chief of staff was Major General Sir Richard L. McCreery. Brigadier L. C. Holmes was in charge of operations, and an American, Brigadier General William C. Crane, was his deputy.

On 8 March the 18 Army Group began by active direction in the forward areas to supplement the planning and co-ordination which it had hitherto undertaken! Although the regrouping which followed Rommel’s retreat to the Eastern Dorsal had not yet been completed, the pattern was already apparent. The three headquarters directly subordinate to General Alexander were British First Army, U.S. II Corps, and British Eighth Army. The chain of command was to be in the form shown on the accompanying chart. The French XIX Corps’ front was narrowed while most French troops were being rearmed and trained, and General Koeltz remained under General Anderson’s command.

General Alexander’s survey of the Tunisian front and of his principal subordinates resulted in a decision to retain General Anderson, whom he then regarded as a sound soldier. His estimate of the performance by the U.S. II Corps commander during the recent battle was unfavorable, and he welcomed the possibility of a change for the better at that headquarters. The command of II Corps in future weeks had to be exercised by someone in whom Alexander had confidence and who, in turn, could claim the confidence of the American division commanders. Both General Ryder, whose 168th Infantry had been so badly affected by Fredendall’s orders for its employment at Sidi Bou Zid, and General Ward, whose relief General Fredendall had proposed during the battle, lacked confidence in Fredendall’s leadership, which they deemed responsible for assigning tasks and then prescribing both means and methods ill-adapted to their accomplishment; Fredendall, moreover, had precipitated a choice between himself and Ward, if either was to be retained. After an attempt at Headquarters, II Corps, at Djebel Kouif on March to diagnose the state of the U.S. 1st Armored Division had revealed how much life and substance remained, and after General Alexander’s estimate of General Fredendall had been taken into account, General Eisenhower determined to bring in a new corps commander, a conclusion in which he was confirmed by the information that his chief of staff, General Smith, his special representative, Major General Omar N. Bradley, his former deputy chief of staff at the Advance Command Post, AFHQ, General Truscott, and his G-3, General Rooks, were able to furnish.

Major General George S. Patton, Jr., whom General Eisenhower selected, was brought to Tunisia from I Armored Corps in Morocco to participate in operations for which he had been thirsting. He took command of II Corps on 6 March, bringing with him a new chief of staff, Brigadier General Hugh J. Gaffey, and other staff officers in case of need. His service in Tunisia was to be an interruption in his planning and preparation to command the American troops in the forthcoming invasion of Sicily. Most of his I Armored Corps staff officers were not required in Tunisia. General Bradley was designated to succeed him as soon as operations in southern Tunisia were completed, and was made deputy corps commander until Patton’s retirement from Tunisia. This change was the major modification of the chain of command in the Allied Force.

General Eisenhower’s instructions to Patton defined his immediate task as the rehabilitation of the American forces in II Corps with all possible speed in order to make an attack already directed by 18 Army Group. Intensive training, re-equipping, reorganization, and application of all lessons thus far learned, and careful planning of the logistics of the attack, were to come first, along with an effort to instill in American forces a spirit of genuine partnership with the British forces. Patton was advised to train all combat forces, rather than engineers alone, in detection and removal of mines and in the proper use of mines for defensive purposes. He was also advised to demonstrate the fact that the 37-mm. antitank gun could knock out the German Mark IV tank with the latest ammunition. Eisenhower, with Patton’s well-known personal courage in mind, then remarked, “I want you as a Corps commander, not as a casualty.” And, he added: “You must not retain for one instant any man in a responsible position where you have become doubtful of his ability to do the job. . . . This matter frequently calls for more courage than any other thing you will have to do, but I expect you to be perfectly cold-blooded about it . . . I will give you the best available replacement or stand by any arrangement you want to make.”

General Eisenhower’s staff received a new G-2, a position held by a British officer in view of the extensive use of British sources of information in the Mediterranean. The change was prompted by the fact that excessive reliance on one type of intelligence leading to a misinterpretation of the enemy’s intentions had contributed to the setback at Sidi Bou Zid. Brigadier Kenneth D. W. Strong, a former British military attaché in Berlin, was sent from the United Kingdom by General Brooke to relieve Brigadier Eric E. Mockler-Ferryman at Algiers.

Ground Forces Reorganize

The reorganization of Allied ground forces was intended to include the formation of reserves at each level of command. The arrival in Tunisia of British 9 Corps headquarters and troops (Lt. General Sir John Crocker) , to be followed during March and early April by the British 1st and 4th Divisions, would facilitate the creation of reserves. But in the interval before their arrival, the policy was incompatible with current battle requirements and with the principle of keeping divisions intact, and was also hampered in execution by the process of sorting out all units into national sectors. General Alexander ordered the transfer into 18 Army Group reserve of Headquarters, British 9 Corps, British 6th Armoured Division, and British 78th Division.

The scheduled shift was delayed to meet General Anderson’s needs for infantry with which to push the enemy back from the hills north of Medjez el Bab, but by 12 March the reserve was established. General Keightley’s 6th Armoured Division then passed under General Crocker’s command and resumed the process of refitting with Sherman tanks, a process beginning when the enemy attacked at Sidi Bou Zid. First Army was forced to do without substantial reserves for the next six weeks, and required British 5 Corps to dispose its troops subject to a possible need to send reinforcements to the sector of French XIX Corps. Under the plan of 12 February, 18 Army Group had contemplated thinning out the front line in order to obtain reserves. Early in March they expected that the Allied front would be shortened by British Eighth Army’s northward progress, enabling one American division then to be shifted from the extreme southern part of the U.S. II Corps area to the extreme north of British 5 Corps zone. The remainder of the II Corps would sideslip northward perhaps as far as the Pichon- Maktar highway, while the French XIX Corps moved northward as far as the Pont-du-Fahs-Bou Arada road and its immediate approaches from the north.

After the completion of the February battles, the Allied main line of resistance extended from Cap Serrat to El Ma el Abiod, running east of Sidi Nsir, Medjez el Bab, Bou Arada, Djebel Bargou (1266), Djebel Serd j (1357), Kesra, Sbiba gap, Djebel Semmama (1356), and Djebel Chambi (1544). It covered the lateral road from Djebel Abiod to Bedja, a great advantage to British 5 Corps, and the approaches to the plain of Tunis along either side of the Med jerda river. The front covered main gaps in the Western Dorsal from Maktar to Sbiba, and thence to the southwestern extremity of the mountain chain.

The main landing fields in the Med jerda valley, the air landing grounds between Le Kef and Thala, and the airfields near Tebessa were protected, but the Thelepte airfields were left open to the enemy and were to be recaptured, if necessary, as a preliminary step in the forthcoming Allied offensive.

British 5 Corps (46th, 78th, and 6th Armoured Divisions) held the front from Cap Serrat to the mountains north of the Rebaa Oulad Yahia valley, and included within its zone Le Kef and Souk Ahras. French XIX Corps, commanded by General Koeltz with headquarters at Djerissa, defended the next zone to the south. It comprised Divisions Mathenet and Welvert, with eight regiments of French infantry, two groups of Tabors, and the British 36 Brigade (reinforced). Its front extended into the mountains at a point northeast of Sbiba.

The U.S. II Corps held the remainder of the front. The 34th Division, reassigned to II Corps, held the northeast sector and the 1st Infantry Division (after 27 February, the 9th Infantry Division), the southwest sector. Nearer Tebessa, the 1st Armored Division (and beginning 28 February, the 1st Infantry Division) prepared for the forthcoming offensive. Headquarters, II Corps, was at Djebel Kouif.

The American divisions in II Corps required a certain amount of strengthening and reorganization. General Ryder’s 34th Division needed to reorganize and rehabilitate the 168th Infantry, which had lost its commanding officer (Colonel Thomas D. Drake) and much of its strength near Sidi Bou Zid. Colonel Frederic B. Butler, from G-3, II Corps, became its new commander. General Ryder also sought the restitution to the 133rd Infantry of its 2nd Battalion, which was still being used in the AFHQ security detachment at Algiers, and requested thirty-six 105-mm. howitzers to replace the badly worn 25-pounder guns of the division artillery. The 9th Division, which was moving east under command of Major General Manton S. Eddy during the Kasserine battles, lacked one of its regiments, the 39th Infantry. The 39th had been scattered since the Allied landings, doing guard duty along the line of communications, or at the Biskra airdrome, or fighting in Central Tunisia. The division had not yet fought as a unit and remained in need of seasoning.

The 1st Armored Division required replacement of severe losses in men and materiel. Furthermore, General Ward and others deemed this division too large. Its current core six battalions of tanks, three of armored infantry, and three of armored artillery-was sufficiently large to invite endless detachment of units, and perhaps too cumbersome for the most efficient employment. Any such major change on the eve of the Allied attack was considered imprudent, but the problem was eventually met by modifying the table of organization. General Allen’s 1st Infantry Division needed to recover from French XIX Corps the elements of the 26th Infantry still under General Koeltz’s command while the rest of the division was concentrating for its first action as a division in Tunisia.

The new commander of the II Corps attempted to transmit to his entire command the aggressive spirit with which he himself was animated, and to expedite preparations for the forthcoming attack. General Patton drove his principal subordinates and moved with restless energy throughout this area. His regime substituted military decorum for all traces of casualness, and required “spit and polish” as a preventive against carelessness. Some of Patton’s methods to stamp his personal leadership on the entire II Corps seemed trivial to those on whom they were imposed. Changes which some might attribute to Patton’s methods were perhaps also traceable to the lessons learned by troops in combat. The II Corps matured, working at its job, looking ahead more than it looked back, and needing more than anything else successes to boost its morale.

The New Allied Air Command

Almost simultaneously with the activation of 18 Army Group late on 19 February, a new system of control over Allied aviation came into effect. At Algiers, the Mediterranean Air Command under Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder began to function on 18 February, having at its disposal the Twelfth Air Force and Royal Air Force (RAF) Eastern Air Command, the Ninth Air Force, and three RAF commands Middle East, Malta, and Gibraltar. These components were grouped by areas into the Middle East Air Command, Malta Air Command, and Northwest African Air Forces. The last of these was reorganized into functional organizations. General Spaatz, its commander, maintained an administrative echelon of his headquarters in Algiers but kept his operations headquarters at Constantine and made it a combined organization of American and British officers. The Northwest African Strategic Air Forces headquarters under General Doolittle controlled bombers and their fighter escorts from airfields near Constantine.

The U.S. XII Bomber Command and two squadrons of British Wellington bombers continued to furnish the main long-range bombing strength. The Northwest African Tactical Air Force fell under command of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, who assumed control over the Allied Air Support Command (with General Kuter as deputy) a day or two before its re-designation, and established a combined operations headquarters adjacent to the new location of Headquarters, First Army, at Laverdure. There General Alexander set up the advanced command post of 18 Army Group and shared facilities in a way which contributed to the maximum effectiveness of the Tactical Air Force, on the one hand, and the fullest use of First Army’s resources on the other.

Future collaboration between ground and air elements of the Allied Force was to benefit from the proximity of the respective commanders, but its fundamental basis was their past association in the Egyptian-Libyan desert, where they had together tested a successful doctrine of air support. Air Marshal Coningham controlled the U.S. XII Air Support Command and RAF 242nd Group from the first, and resumed control over the Western Desert Air Force after it was transferred on 21 February to Northwest African Air Forces. These air commands were married to the major ground commands: XII Air Support Command with U.S. II Corps, RAF 242nd Group with British First Army, and Western Desert Air Force with Eighth Army, as heretofore. So much for organization. What mattered far more than the fact of marriage was the nature of the marriage contract. The doctrine developed in the Western Desert of close union between air and ground forces had an eloquent and determined practitioner in the new commander of Northwest African Tactical Air Force.

[NOTE 12-09NAAf: (Air Ops;) On 19 February he announced that he had instructed all his command “to cease defensive operations involving cover for troops except in special circumstances and with his approval.” Offensive action to maximum capacity should replace such usc. Msg AI 24, Allied ASC 18 A Gp to First Army et al., 19 Feb 43. AFHQ CofS Cable Log.]

The fundamental premises of the new program to be applied in Tunisia were that ground troops would benefit most from a lasting Allied supremacy over the enemy air force and that, in view of the limited Allied resources in air power, no operational air unit should remain unemployed, or be sent to a minor target. In accordance with these premises, control over tactical air units had to be centralized and missions had to be assigned to them by a commander fully conversant with their capabilities under varying military conditions, and thus able to determine priorities among competing projects.

With such an arrangement, the offensive use of Allied air promised results cumulative in their value for Allied ground and air elements alike. Air umbrellas over ground troops were henceforth to be abandoned in favor of strikes on the bases from which enemy flights originated. The bombers making these strikes would be escorted by the fighter planes which might otherwise have put in hours of protective cover over ground troops without damaging the enemy. To summarize, the reorganization of 19-20 February 1943 was destined, through use of the ground-air doctrines tested in Libya, to promote by painful but inexorable steps the achievement of Allied air supremacy in Tunisia.

In addition to the Northwest African Strategic and Tactical Air Forces, General Spaatz’s command included the Coastal Air Forces (controlled from Algiers in conjunction with the headquarters of the Naval Commander in Chief, Mediterranean), the Training Command, the Air Forces Service Command, and a Photographic Reconnaissance Wing.

The new air organization, particularly the Tactical Air Force, set about preparing airfields at sites appropriate for the expected pattern of ground operations, and establishing a radar warning and control system with which to apply new principles of air support. The mountains seriously impaired the effectiveness of radar, while the lack of telephonic communication between dispersed installations was likewise a handicap. Radio communication had to make up for the deficiencies in wire lines.

By 11 March, an outline plan of air operations in three successive phases was ready. Headquarters, 18 Army Group, and Tactical Air Force were then encamped near Ain Beida, from which they could cooperate during the imminent operations at the Mareth Position. The XII Air Support Command and RAF 242nd Group were expected to make successive shifts onto new or improved airfields nearer the coast. A tactical bomber force of light and medium bombers was assembled and organized in the vicinity of Canrobert, northwest of Ain BeIda. The XII Air Support Command prepared to concentrate at Thelepte, where the existing fields, once reoccupied, would he improved and supplemented, and like that at Youks-les-Bains, would be stocked with enough materiel to provide a surplus for the Western Desert Air Force’s use when it came north. The airfields at Kalaa Djerda and Sbeitla were to be improved, the former for the use of bombers. The Western Desert Air Force was expected to devote itself independently to supporting British Eighth Army in the main action. XII Air Support Command and RAF 242nd Group were to assail the enemy air forces, carry out tactical reconnaissance, and assist night bombing on the line of communications.

Once Gafsa had been taken by the U.S. II Corps, and while the British Eighth Army was closing in on Gabes, a second phase of air operations was envisaged in the air outline plan of 11 March. It would have two aspects. A shift eastward and northeastward by those engaged in airfield construction, radar erection, and supply would be paralleled by interference with the Axis air movement up the coast. In this phase, the operations of XII Air Support Command and Western Desert Air Force would have to be co-ordinated, and the latter would find airfields and supplies ready for it near Gafsa and at Thelepte. Preparations would be completed for the use during the final stage of airfields in the area from Souk el Arba and Souk el Khemis to Le Kef, Le Sers, and Thibar.

Air Marshal Coning ham held a commanders’ conference at Canrobert on 12 March at which it was agreed that once the battle for the Mareth Position had begun, XII Air Support Command and RAF 242nd Group would attempt round-the-clock strikes on enemy airfields near Gabes. Western Desert Air Force might thus retain air supremacy over the battle area with lighter opposition and with greater capacity to engage ground targets in co-ordination with the Army elements. As the day for the initial Allied operations arrived, intermittent bad weather reduced the number of air strikes on enemy landing fields. They were begun on 13 March and taken up from time to time by units of the Strategic Air Force as well as the Tactical Air Force.

Allied Preparations in the Communications Zone

Like the forward area, the rear was reorganized and strengthened for the resumption of the Allied offensive in March. The accumulation of forces preparing for the eventual invasion of Sicily augmented the total number of military personnel with a corresponding increase in the complexity of the agencies which supervised and supported combat troops. Algiers in particular was crowded with American and British personnel in addition to members of the French civil and military establishments.

The process of Allied military build-up in Algiers had begun long before the planning for March. AFHQ filled up the Hotel St. Georges, the Hotel Alexandra, and other buildings which were converted to office space, and spilled over into several other buildings; it also occupied several hundred different officer billets. The troops assigned or attached to the headquarters command, and other units quartered temporarily in the vicinity of Algiers, added to the Allied military traffic. Antiaircraft batteries and smoke projector units, car and truck companies, military police, signal communications, postal and radio censorship units, and the workers engaged in servicing records-all the varied and extensive aspects of the modern great army headquarters contributed to the Allied military population in Algiers in ever-increasing numbers.

The North African Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (NATOUSA), was activated at Algiers on 4 February 1943, to handle the administrative concerns of the growing American Army forces in the area, matters which were not properly a subject for Allied action. At first, like the commanding general, most of its military personnel doubled as both Allied Force and theater officers. Later, when some whole sections of AFHQ were transferred to comparable staff sections of NATOUSA, the total strength of the staffs in Algiers was still unaffected. But in the course of time, largely as a result of a determination to undertake more and more projects, the total grew.

A substantial number of the units of AFHQ were operational rather than supervisory agencies. They pursued their projects with great energy, intent on doing everything possible to make them succeed. By April, AFHQ exceeded 2,000 officers and enlisted men, illustrating how military, like civil administrative establishments, tend to grow and rarely to dwindle.

The supply organization in the communications zone with which to meet the requirements of the March offensive was created during the preceding month. Brigadier General Everett S. Hughes, who had been engaged in ETOUSA on the logistical problems connected with Operation TORCH, arrived on 12 February in Algiers to be deputy theater commander and commanding general of the communications zone. An Eastern Base Section at Constantine to supply the requirements of U.S. II Corps was constituted on 13 February under command of Colonel Arthur W. Pence and opened on 27 February. With the Atlantic Base Section at Casablanca and the Mediterranean Base Section at Oran, the Eastern Base Section came under the direct control of General Larkin as Commanding General, Services of Supply, NATO USA. The flow of materiel to General Patton’s corps was to occur within the broader pattern of Allied buildup for the operations in Tunisia, the campaign being planned for Sicily, and perhaps additional undertakings in the Mediterranean. Supplies for II Corps had to be forwarded in a manner minimizing interference with the British Line of Communication to First Army, which in January had passed to the control of AFHQ from Headquarters, First Army.

Major General J. G. W. Clark (Br.), commanding No. 1 Line of Communications Area from headquarters at Setif, with subareas at Algiers, Bougie, Philippeville, Bone, Constantine, and Souk Ahras, reported to Major General Humfrey Gale (Br.), Chief Administrative Officer, AFHQ. With the three American base sections and the coordinating Headquarters, Services of Supply, NATO USA, reporting to the deputy theater commander while the British Line of Communication reported to the chief administrative officer, and with a separation of American and British maintenance impossible, and indeed in many respects undesirable, the problems were met as they arose by steady co-operation between Generals Hughes and Gale. The disproportionately low ratio of service to combat troops with which the early operations in Northwest Africa had been undertaken was raised during the first four months of 1943.

Allied plans in outline for logistical support were sketched at AFHQ on 27 February in a conference over which the chief administrative officer, General Gale, presided, and at which Major General C. H. Miller (Br.) of 18 Army Group described the prospects. First Army’s supply base would be at Bone, while II Corps would draw on the new Eastern Base Section at Constantine.

Each army would be responsible for deliveries forward of these advanced bases. While First Army would maintain the air elements in its northern area, Line of Communication, Third Area Service Command, near Constantine would supply those in the southern sector and along the Constantine-Tebessa axis. In addition to the motor transport allotted to each army and for AFHQ reserve, a special reserve for British Eighth Army was to be accumulated in the Constantine area on a scale to be determined by 18 Army Group. Participation by British troops and air units in operations to the south would be assisted by stocking gasoline and ammunition at accessible points. The principal maintenance center for tanks was to be at Le Kroub, near Constantine, with facilities at Bone for servicing Churchill tanks.

By March, the expansion of Allied logistical support which had been envisaged since the end of December began to reflect the result of the arrangements then made. The main ports of Casablanca and Oran, and the satellite ports near them, stepped up their operations. The Sixth Port of Embarkation (Mobile) at Casablanca and the Third Port of Embarkation (Mobile) at Oran were reinforced by two and three port and also contracted with French companies to assist in unloading operations. For the Eastern Base Section at Constantine, the port of Philippeville was made available. It was dredged to a twenty-two-foot depth, which permitted four partially loaded Liberty ships and two coasters to discharge cargo simultaneously; the port was equipped with cranes, hoists, and other cargo-handling machinery which expedited the unloading process. On occasion, LST’s could run from Oran to Philippeville with replacement tanks which then went on transporters over the road to the vicinity of Tebessa.

For the operations in April, the deeper port of Bone was also to be shared with the British Line of Communication and was greatly increased in cargo-receiving capacity. But in March, the 91,000 tons which passed through Philippeville in addition to that brought by rail and highway from the west met the requirements of the U.S. II Corps and the XII Air Support Command, and made possible the accumulation of reserves on which the British Eighth Army could shortly draw.

Railroad and highway transportation across French North Africa were both greatly expanded by March through the work of engineers and the Transportation Corps, U.S. Army. A very large requisition for railroad rolling stock which was made when the Allied drive on Tunis failed in December began to be filled in March, by which time managing and operating personnel for this equipment had also arrived. Before the end of April, forty-three training through Constantine toward the combat zone.

Expanded highway transport was essential for the accumulation of materiel for the Allied campaigns of the spring. A special convoy arriving on 6-7 March brought more than 4,500 two-and-one-half-ton trucks into Casablanca and Oran. Other convoys brought more than 2,000 per month. Great assembly plants processed the twin-unit-packed crates of trucks. Companies and battalions of truck drivers to operate them were combed out of various units. One battalion which was formed in the Casablanca area had its trucks loaded with high-priority cargo, and, within a week of arrival, started in convoy to Ouled Rahmoun about 1,000 miles away. The battalion arrived there on 23 March with an excellent record. Road maintenance, traffic control posts and stations, and good organization stepped up highway traffic until, late in March, the average number of vehicles reaching Orleansville daily eastward bound was 600; in the area of the Eastern Base Section, some 1,500 trucks and 4,500 troops were supplementing the railroad.

From Ouled Rahmoun and Bone to Tebessa, the daily transportation then came to 500 tons or more. Clearing the ports and railroad terminals and conveying supplies from depots to dumps required the service of hundreds of trucks in addition to those used in the longer convoys. Including local hauling, the Eastern Base Section recorded movement in April of a total of 51,541 truck loads amounting to almost 84,000 tons.

While the vast bulk of overland traffic was eastward bound, salvaged materiel began to flow back for reconditioning and repair. At Oran and Casablanca, the outward-bound cargo transports were loaded with French North African products such as cork and phosphates, or with scrap iron, until their return loads were almost half as heavy as those which they had brought.

Substantial numbers of the personnel brought to French North Africa in the spring troop convoys came there to prepare for the invasion of Sicily or to join the U.S. Fifth Army. Much of the materiel being unloaded at the ports in March was intended to remain in Morocco and western Algeria, either to be used by troops in the communications zone or to sustain the French and native civilian population. Even so, the volume of supplies which kept arriving at Casablanca, Oran, and the ports near them dwarfed the total which was reaching Tunisia from the northeast to support the Axis forces. It was apparent by the end of March that in Tunisia the Americans alone were being supplied at a higher rate than all the Axis forces there. Before the Allied as In March, 146,000 tons were discharged in Moroccan ports and 220,000 tons in Oran, Arzew, and Mostaganem. Chiefly by reshipment, 91,000 tons came into Philippeville.

Eastern Base Section was 1,000 tons per day by truck alone into Axis importations in March came to less than 29,267 tons. No account is taken in this comparison of what the offensive in March, replacement depots (“repple-depples”) were established near Oran and Casablanca with a total capacity exceeding 11,000.

Preparations by the French

The rearmament of the French under Giraud to which the President had agreed in principle at Anfa, and which had required much subsequent negotiation, began to take form while the Allied forces in Tunisia reorganized. The main problem was that of cargo space and convoying, although other difficulties also had to be overcome. In accordance with a supplementary understanding, a special convoy of fifteen ships loaded with materiel for the French was to be en route from the United States by the time the Allies began their March offensive in southern Tunisia. Ten more ships would be sent later.

The weapons and equipment to arrive in April would, when distributed to French units, make ready two infantry divisions, two armored regiments, three tank destroyer battalions, three reconnaissance battalions, twelve antiaircraft battalions (40-mm.), and ten truck companies. Beginning a little later, American planes would start arriving at the rate of 60 per month until they reached a total exceeding 200 fighters, dive bombers, and transports. Training of aerial gunners could commence in April and of pilots in June, at the rate of 100 for each of the first two months and 50 per month thereafter. Within French North Africa, training in the operation and maintenance of American materiel would begin before these shipments arrived.

This program was considerably slower and smaller than the one Giraud had anticipated after sampling the President’s buoyant encouragement in January at Casablanca. The curtailment actually resulted from the many competing claims upon American munitions and upon Allied shipping, but Giraud was encouraged to believe that by more liberal administrative policies in French North Africa he could expedite the rate at which American arms would be delivered to his forces.

Although Giraud may indeed have suffered some loss in prestige from the dragging pace of French rearmament, his political difficulties arose mainly from his disdain for such questions, his belief both that the fundamental objective of military success over the Axis powers transcended all other considerations, and that any attention which he had to give to politics constituted an intrusion on his concern with more important affairs. He leaned heavily on French political advisers and his political decisions were subjected to their lose scrutiny of the Allied commander in chief, such scrutiny being exercised with the aid of Mr. Robert Murphy and Mr. Harold Macmillan.

The consistent position of the Allied leadership was that conditions of political tranquility conducive to immediate military advantage must be maintained, and that these conditions should, if possible, be made to prevail without forfeiting French unity or general future support by the French when the main Allied effort would be made on the soil of Continental Europe.

Giraud was finally persuaded, after himself sensing political opinion in the French armed forces under his control, that unity on any terms acceptable to General de Gaulle could not best on achieved. He therefore proceeded to revamp his government while reconstructing the French Army with American arms. On 6 February and 14 March 1943, under Allied guidance, he announced the termination of Darlan’s Imperial Council of provincial governors and of all the fictitious ties with Vichy. He himself assumed complete power over all civil and military authorities in French North and French West Africa. He declared that he would be advised by a War Committee in which the former members of the Imperial Council would be joined by other Frenchmen. Political prisoners and refugees were to be released from detention at once.

Organizations of Vichy origin, like the Service d’Ordre Légionnaire, were to be suppressed. Administrative councils representing French and native groups would be formed to advise and assist the governors of all colonies and municipalities. He instigated a trip to London by one of de Gaulle’s leading adherents in Algiers, Professor René Capitant, to furnish the Fighting French leader with a trustworthy, first-hand report of conditions. Giraud became increasingly receptive to liberal advice, including that from M. Jean Monnet, who went from the United States to assist him in Algiers. On the eve of the Allied offensive, he thus had taken a considerable step away from an authoritarian attitude toward French political republicanism, and had also opened negotiations through General Catroux for a merger with the Fighting French in London.

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 (6-26); Tunisia-Axis Strives To Retain the Initiative

World War Two: North Africa (5-24); Kasserine; Rommel Turned Back

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls (20); Consolidating the Victory

With the fighting on Eniwetok Atoll ended, U.S. forces in the Central Pacific were now free to consolidate the gains achieved by the capture of the three key positions in the Marshalls group. Three tasks remained before them. First, a host of undefended and lightly defended atolls and islands in the area had to be occupied. Secondly, air and naval bases had to be constructed to support the continued drive across the Central Pacific. Finally, the bypassed strongholds of Wotje, Mille, Jaluit, Maloelap, and Truk had to be kept under constant aerial bombardment to assure their neutralization.

Mop-up in the Marshalls

The job of occupying the various atolls and islands that the Japanese had chosen not to fortify fell largely to the 22nd Marine Regimental Combat Team, with a slight assist from the 111th Infantry Regiment. First to be occupied were the atolls of Wotho, Ujae, and Lae, lying immediately to the westward of Kwajalein. A detachment of about 350 marines from the 1st Battalion, 22nd Marines, accompanied by eight amphibian tractors, all loaded aboard an LST, landed unopposed on Wotho Atoll on 8 March and subsequently encountered twelve Japanese, the crew of a plane that had recently crash landed on the reef. All twelve committed suicide. Two days later the same force landed without opposition on Ujae, where it discovered six enemy operators of a weather station that had previously been bombed out by American planes. Five of the Japanese committed suicide; the sixth was taken prisoner. On 13 March a landing was made on Lae Atoll. No Japanese were on the island and the natives reported that none had ever been there. The same proved to be true of Lib Island southwest of Lae.

Next to fall under American control were a number of atolls lying southeast of Kwajalein. The job of occupying these was assigned to two groups of about 325 troops each from the 3rd Battalion, 22nd Marines, to which were attached seven amphibian tractors, all loaded on an LST. Both groups of this force proceeded in company to Ailinglapalap Atoll for the first phase of their operation. Before any landing in force was attempted, a native was picked up who revealed that the crews of two Japanese picket boats, numbering about forty men and equipped with four machine guns and numerous rifles, were on the main island of the atoll. On the night of 20 March and the following morning, the entire force of marines, numbering about 650, was landed without opposition. The Japanese were discovered drawn up in a prepared position, which was successfully assaulted. Thirty-seven of the enemy were killed, two taken prisoners and two or three escaped. The marines suffered three wounded. The escaped enemy were pursued around the island for a while, but the hunt was finally abandoned as futile and the marines returned to their LST to proceed to the next objective. One group went on to Namu Atoll, where it landed without opposition on 24 March. There, were found seven Japanese including one woman and four children, all of whom voluntarily surrendered. The second group proceeded to Namorik Atoll and landed on 26 March.

Natives reported one unarmed Japanese on the atoll but after extensive patrolling failed to locate him, the search was finally abandoned as a waste of time.

To a detachment from the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marines, fell the task of securing the group of atolls and islands lying northeast of Kwajalein. Aerial reconnaissance and the interrogation of natives indicated that Ailinginae and Rongerik Atolls were uninhabited, so the marines were ordered not to investigate them unless it should be subsequently discovered that Japanese had fled to these places after other atolls in the northern group had been captured. The first of these to be visited was Bikini, later to become famed as the site of postwar U.S. experiments with the atomic bomb.

It was invaded on 28 March, and the five Japanese located on the atoll committed suicide. Three days later unopposed landings were made on Rongelap Atoll, where eleven Japanese were reported but none discovered. The same day a detachment from the 3rd Battalion, 22nd Marines, landed on Ailuk Atoll and discovered no enemy there. Within a few days the same force had invested the Mejit Islands and Likiep and Utirik Atolls, netting a small bag of enemy stragglers. Finally, late in April, Company I of the 111th Infantry Regiment completed the occupation of the lesser Marshalls by capturing Ujelang Atoll, which lies about 140 nautical miles southwest of Eniwetok. The landing was made without opposition on 22 April and eighteen Japanese were flushed out and killed. Thus ended the American occupation of the Marshall Islands with the exception of Wotje, Mille, Jaluit, and Maloelap, which were left to “wither on the vine” subject to constant harassment by American planes and ships.

Building the Marshalls Bases

Immediately after Majuro Atoll was occupied, naval Seabees went ashore on Dalap Island to commence construction of an airstrip.2 When this was completed in March, it measured 4,800 by 445 feet and was thereafter constantly in use for raids against Mille, Wotje, Maloelap, and Jaluit. A naval base was established on the atoll to support two Marine dive bomber squadrons, half of a Marine patrol squadron, and temporary staging for one Army fighter group flying out of Makin against the bypassed Marshalls. In addition, Majuro provided a fleet anchorage (without shore-based facilities), medical facilities for the fleet, and a loran transmitting station.

Repair ships and submarine and destroyer tenders, together with tankers and supply ships, rode at anchor in the lagoon to supply the needs of whatever elements of the fleet passed through. Majuro, along with Eniwetok and Kwajalein, was to serve as a primary staging base for the American forces when they attacked the Marianas from June through August of 1944.

On Roi-Namur the 121st Naval Construction Battalion went ashore on 5 February, only three days after the island was declared secured. A day later it was joined by the 109th Naval Construction Battalion, and Seabees set to work immediately repairing and enlarging the Japanese airstrip on Roi. Progress was temporarily interrupted on 13 February when a flight of enemy bombers launched a heavy attack against Roi, setting fire to a bomb dump.

Altogether the Seabees suffered 157 personnel casualties, and the 109th Battalion lost 75 percent of its material and 35 percent of its equipment. Nevertheless work continued, and on 15 May the field on Roi was commissioned, with a hundred planes based there. Long before the final commissioning of the field, it was in daily use as a base for strikes against Wotje, Jaluit, and Kusaie, and subsequently it became one of the primary bases for raids against Truk. In March the 74th and 107th Naval Construction Battalions went ashore on Kwajalein Island, where they rebuilt the Japanese runway into a 6,300-foot coral surfaced strip with two 80-foot taxiways and 102 hard stands for heavy bombers.

In addition, water-front facilities were developed to provide for minor fleet repairs, the Japanese pier reaching into the lagoon was restored, a 250-ton pontoon drydock was assembled, and a 2,000-ton floating dock was provided. On nearby Ebeye other Seabees developed a seaplane base, which was completed by April. Kwajalein Island was to become the primary base for Army bombers flying against Truk. On Eniwetok Atoll Seabees began repairs and construction work late in February. By 5 March the airstrip on Engebi was able to accommodate three Army medium bombers (B-25’s), which went into action against enemy shipping at Kusaie five days later.

By 20 March a 6,000-foot airstrip had been completed on Eniwetok Island as well. Parry Island was used as a small-boat repair base and a seaplane base, the ramp and facilities for servicing seaplanes being ready for use early in May. Eniwetok Atoll thereafter served as an advanced fleet anchorage without shore-based facilities, as well as an air base capable of handling two heavy seaplane patrol squadrons, two fighter squadrons, one half of a night fighter squadron, one scout bomber squadron, two heavy bomber squadrons, and one photographic squadron. From May through October 1944, Army squadrons staging through Eniwetok and Navy and Marine squadrons based there flew continuous sorties against Truk and Ponape. In addition, Navy bombers staging through Eniwetok delivered low level bombing and strafing attacks against Wake, and daily reconnaissance of Wake was conducted by seaplanes based on Parry.

Neutralizing the Bypassed Atolls

From February 1944 until the close of the war, that area of the middle Pacific containing the Gilberts, Marshalls, and eastern Caroline’s became virtually an American lake through which ships and troops passed freely with little danger of enemy interception. The reason, of course, was that the capture of key bases in the Marshalls and the establishment of airfields thereon made it possible for the superior American air arm to keep the atolls still remaining in Japanese hands under constant surveillance and bombardment. By the time of the capture of Kwajalein, Japanese aircraft in the eastern Marshalls (Mille, Wotje, Jaluit, and Maloelap) had been either completely destroyed by Army and Navy aircraft or evacuated.

Thereafter, the main effort of American aircraft was to prevent these bases from being reinforced and rehabilitated and to bomb out and starve out the enemy abandoned there. After mid-March, when the base at Majuro was completed, Army medium bombers flew regular flights out of Tarawa and Makin, bombed two of the bypassed islands, landed at Majuro for rearming and refueling, and then bombed the other two targets on the way home. At the same time ten fighter squadrons and two bomber squadrons of the 4th Marine Air Base Defense Wing at Kwajalein flew a steady series of sorties against the same islands. After June 1944, Marine flyers assumed sole responsibility for these targets.

In March two heavy bomber groups of the Seventh Army Air Force moved onto Kwajalein for the primary purpose of conducting bombing raids against Truk. In conjunction with planes of the Thirteenth Army Air Force based in the South Pacific, bombers of the Seventh, flying out of Kwajalein and staging through Eniwetok, kept Truk effectively neutralized from April 1944 until the end of the war.

Tactical and Strategic Consequences of the Marshalls Operation

Writing soon after the capture of the Marshalls, General Holland Smith reported, “Recommendations made and acted upon . . . as a result of the Gilberts offensive proved sound. In the attack of coral atolls, very few recommendations can be made to improve upon the basic techniques previously recommended and utilized in the Marshalls . . .” As a matter of fact, after the capture of Eniwetok it was found unnecessary to seize any more well-defended atolls in the Pacific. Thereafter, all major landing operations were conducted against larger island masses ranging in size from such small volcanic islands as Iwo Jima and Ie Shima to such comparatively large land masses as Luzon and New Guinea.

In the latter phases of the Pacific war, then, many new problems presented themselves on which the experience in either the Gilberts or the Marshalls had no particular bearing. Large bodies of troops of corps and army size had to be maneuvered over relatively vast areas of land. Campaigns were to be measured in months, not days. The burden of supply, transportation, and medical care and evacuation were correspondingly increased. Tactical aviation assumed a new role. On Luzon and again at Okinawa, fighter and bomber planes were to be used extensively in close support of ground troops that had penetrated far inland from their original beachheads.

Fleet tactics, too, underwent considerable revision. Continuous attrition of Japanese naval and air strength plus the mighty build-up of American naval power freed the U.S. Fleet from the cautious hit-and-run tactics it had been compelled to resort to as late as February 1944. For the most part thereafter, the fleets that struck succeeding objectives in conjunction with landing forces came prepared to stay at least until all serious ground resistance had been eliminated. In the Marianas, the Palaus, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and, finally, Okinawa, the U.S. Fleet stayed close offshore of the land targets for prolonged periods of time, ready to render constant support to ground troops as they pressed forward toward their objectives. And this in spite of the growing menaces of the Japanese Kamikaze (suicide) Corps, which mounted steadily from October 1944 to May 1945.

Yet notwithstanding these changes the progress of the war in the Pacific was to bring about, one aspect of most of the subsequent campaigns remained basically unchanged—the technique of the amphibious landing. Insofar as this phase of Pacific warfare was concerned, Holland Smith’s generalization that “very few recommendations can be made to improve upon the basic techniques previously recommended and utilized in the Marshalls” proved quite valid. The techniques that had been perfected in the capture of tiny atolls in the Central Pacific proved applicable, and were in fact applied, with only minor variations in most of the subsequent island landings as U.S. and Allied forces worked their way closer and closer to the heart of the Japanese Empire.

In the Marshalls operations some important innovations were made in the techniques and equipment of American amphibious assault procedure. The amphibious headquarters ship, which had already seen action in the Mediterranean theater, was first introduced into the Pacific at Kwajalein, where it conclusively demonstrated its value. For the first time there also, infantry landing craft were equipped with both 40-mm. guns and rockets and were effectively employed to lay down a last-minute barrage just before the troops landed. Underwater demolition teams demonstrated their ability to swim close to shore into the very teeth of the enemy under the protective cover of naval fire. The DUKW saw its first action on any large scale at Kwajalein and proved its immense value as a cargo and artillery carrier. At Eniwetok naval star shells were for the first time extensively employed to illuminate areas behind friendly lines and thereby impose a serious check on the standard Japanese tactic of night infiltration.

With the conclusion of the Marshalls operation, the standard pattern of American amphibious landings was set and was thereafter followed with a high degree of consistency by U.S. forces whenever they attacked an enemy beachhead in the Pacific. A few new items of equipment and a few new techniques were to be evolved that would improve still further on this pattern, but they introduced no major changes.

After February 1944, standard procedure called for as heavy and as prolonged preliminary naval and aerial bombardment of the beachhead as conditions permitted. Where feasible, this was supplemented by the emplacement of land-based field artillery on islands near the main landing beaches before the principal landings were made. Underwater demolition teams searched the shore line and the shallow water offshore for obstacles and mines and detonated them where necessary. Just before the landings, a last-minute preparatory fire was delivered by shallow-draft vessels of various types firing a variety of missiles from 20-mm. shells up through 4.5-inch rockets. The assault troops, boated insofar as possible in amphibian tractors, landed in waves and pressed the attack forward, followed by waves of tanks, artillery, and supplies and equipment, which were carried in amphibian tractors, amphibian trucks, and landing craft and ships of all sorts and sizes. Naval and land-based aircraft kept the enemy under continuous pressure and naval ships, where possible, supplied close and deep support to the troops as they advanced forward.

Some of these elements of force were omitted in subsequent island landings in the Pacific, especially in the various amphibious operations on the New Guinea coast, where enemy opposition was relatively light and such a preponderant display of power was unnecessary. But most of the techniques were employed in the major landings and all of them were used with brilliant success at Tinian and Okinawa. By the close of the Marshalls campaign, the basic pattern for the Pacific style of amphibious assault was set and any subsequent deviations therefrom were minor.

Strategically speaking, the easy capture of main bases in the Marshalls, coupled with the successful raid on Truk, was of utmost significance in its influence on the course of the future conduct of the war in the Pacific. First, the combined operations against the Marshalls and Truk served to confirm and reinforce the opinions already held by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other strategic planners that the Central Pacific drive offered the most profitable route by which Allied forces could deliver a death blow against the Japanese Empire. Second, the strike against Truk revealed that base to be far weaker than had originally been supposed by most American planners and led to the final decision to bypass it altogether.

Finally, the economy of force with which the Marshalls had been taken and the removal of Truk from the list of prospective targets made available to Admiral Nimitz a large body of trained troops that could now be employed to accelerate the Central Pacific drive to a far greater degree than had originally been planned. In the spring of 1943, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had decided that the main effort in the war against Japan should be made along the Central Pacific axis, with a simultaneous but subsidiary effort to be launched through the South and Southwest Pacific. This decision had been reached in spite of the strong recommendations by General MacArthur that his own theater be given paramount consideration in Pacific planning.

The quick victories in the Marshalls confirmed the original judgment of the Joint Chiefs and strengthened their resolution to continue the main pressure along the Central Pacific axis. Two questions, however, called for immediate solution. The first was whether to launch the next attack in Admiral Nimitz’s theater against the Marianas. The second was whether or not to bypass Truk, keeping it neutralized from the newly acquired bases in the Marshalls and letting it “wither on the vine.”

The feasibility of an attack against the Marianas had long been discussed and debated among members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, their subordinate committees, andtheater staffs in the Southwest and Central Pacific. Admiral King had firmly declared that the capture of the Marianas was the “key to success” in the Pacific war, and he was supported in that opinion by the Army Air Forces representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry H. Arnold, who wanted the Marianas as bases for B-29 raids against the Japanese homeland.

In the meetings of the Combined Chiefs of Staff held in Cairo in November and December 1943, the King-Arnold argument was accepted by the Allied strategic planners. The advance westward through the Central Pacific, through the mandated islands to the Palaus, and north to the Marianas was approved. Again, it was stated that Central Pacific operations were to have priority over those of the Southwest Pacific.

On the basis of the Combined Chiefs’ decision, Admiral Nimitz had issued a tentative plan of operations on 13 January 1944, designated GRANITE. Initial landings in the Marshalls were to be undertaken on 31 January. Late in March a carrier strike against Truk was to be executed, and in May amphibious landings were to be made in the western Marshalls. Landings on Truk and Mortlock in the Caroline’s would be initiated on 1 August. If Truk were bypassed, the Palaus would be invaded instead on approximately the same date. Amphibious operations against the Marianas were to begin about 1 November.

The early successes in the Marshalls operation and the successful carrier raid against Truk of 17-18 February enabled Admiral Nimitz to step up this program considerably. He became more convinced than ever of the feasibility of bypassing Truk and so recommended to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He advocated instead an invasion of the Marianas on 15 June, to be followed by the seizure of Ulithi Atoll, about 360 miles southwest of Guam; the capture of Yap Island, a Japanese air base 100 miles southwest of Ulithi; and the capture or neutralization of the Palaus, about 300 miles still farther to the southwest. Woleai, in the Caroline’s, 360 miles due south of Guam, should also be captured, he recommended, to assure the neutralization of Truk and to protect the lines of communication from the Marianas to Yap and Ulithi.

With these and other recommendations in hand, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued on 12 March a new operational directive for action in the Pacific during 1944. General MacArthur was ordered to cancel the proposed Kavieng operation and complete the neutralization of Rabaul with the minimum of forces. Following the development of Manus Island in the Admiralties as an air and fleet base, he was to occupy Hollandia on or about 15 April and conduct operations along the New Guinea coast preparatory to an invasion of the Palaus and Mindanao, southernmost of the Philippines.

Admiral Nimitz was ordered to cancel his plans for seizing Truk and expedite the neutralization of Truk and other islands in that immediate area. Nimitz was also to conduct carrier strikes against the Marianas, the Palaus, the Caroline’s, and other profitable targets. The Marianas were to be invaded on 15 June 1944, after which Central Pacific forces were to move to the Palaus.

Thus, with the successful conclusion of the campaign in the Marshalls, it became possible to launch the drive against the Marianas at a far earlier date than had originally been anticipated. Truk was to be bypassed and kept neutralized by aircraft operating chiefly out of the newly seized Marshalls bases. These bases were also to be put to good use in staging fleet elements that would later be used not only against the Marianas but also against the Palaus and the Philippines themselves.

Most important, the early and quick capture of the Marshalls released a volume of manpower for early employment against the Marianas. Originally, Admiral Nimitz had allocated the task of seizing Eniwetok to the 2nd Marine Division and two regimental combat teams of the 27th Infantry Division. When it was found possible to employ the reserve force initially assigned to Kwajalein for this task, the 2nd Marine Division and the two regimental combat teams of the 27th Division were immediately set upon the task of training for the forthcoming Marianas campaign. The decision to bypass Truk freed still more ground forces for future operations.

In January 1944, Nimitz had earmarked three Marine divisions, two Army divisions, and an independent Marine regiment for the capture of Truk and adjacent atolls.10 Three of these divisions (the 2nd and 4th Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division) were now free to be trained for employment in the invasion of Saipan. Two others, the 3rd Marine Division and the 77th Infantry Division, as well as the 22nd Marine Regiment, were to be used against Guam. With the quick termination of the capture of the main Japanese bases in the Marshall Islands, the drive of U.S. forces through the Central Pacific against Japan was greatly speeded up. Any previous doubt as to where would lie the “main effort” against the enemy was permanently dispelled. “Thus,” to quote Admiral Nimitz again, “we get on with the war.”

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

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls (19); Seizure of Eniwetok Atoll

World War Two: North Africa (5-24); Kasserine; Rommel Turned Back

The continuation of a successful defense at Sbiba gap on 20 February enabled the Allies, like the enemy, to shift their main weight westward. The enemy tried on this second day at Sbiba to make a two-battalion infantry attack, with artillery support, on the Allied ridge positions, while sending his armor (thirty-three Mark III and six Mark IV tanks) with a battery of field artillery, on a wide sweep around the eastern flank. The armor was to take the Allied ridge positions from the rear, and then envelop Sbiba and cut the road north of it. This plan was beset with difficulties and was executed, moreover, in a manner which seemed to the Allies peculiarly tentative and to the enemy’s higher command distinctly reprehensible.

Fog and rain over the battle area and elsewhere in Tunisia deprived the 21st Panzer Division of preparatory Stuka attacks or promised fighter-bomber support. It did not, on the other hand, prevent Allied artillery observers from adjusting fire with disturbing accuracy on German troops, vehicles, and batteries. The Germans found that the ground to be traversed was extremely difficult, with deep wadies and extensive soft areas, and they discovered that the route of advance designated for the armored force was impassable. The infantry, after being subjected to the artillery shelling, at noon came close enough to the Allied line on the ridge to be hit by small arms and mortar fire. Four enemy tanks penetrated the. U.S. 34th Infantry Division’s line before they were knocked out by antitank weapons. The rest were driven back. Although the enemy casualties were not high, the infantry attack came to a complete standstill, and the armor pulled back in the early afternoon. The whole day’s offensive was ineffective and irresolute, mainly as a consequence of the devastating volume and accuracy of Allied artillery.

Rommel ordered the 21st Panzer Division to send the 580th Reconnaissance Battalion during the night of 20-21 February to Kasserine pass for commitment there. He needed mobile troops. The 10th Panzer Division had not been sent back from the Fondouk-Kairouan area intact. Only somewhat more than one half the division had reached the Kasserine area before nightfall, 20 February. The remainder, even if Rommel insisted on its coming, could not arrive in time for the next day’s operations. At Sbiba, therefore, the 21st Panzer Division was ordered to take up an active defense from a base line running between Kef el Korath (1100) on the north-west and the tip of Djebel Mrhila (1378) on the southeast, at a distance from Sbiba village of five or more miles. Colonel Hildebrandt’s division was to be ready for Allied counterattack. The division had about thirty operational tanks, two battalions of armored infantry, six batteries of field artillery, and two companies of antiaircraft artillery. To strengthen the Allied side, a provisional British tank unit equipped with twenty-five new Churchill tanks came to Sbiba from Le Kef during the night. Already concentrated there by 22 February were eight American and three British infantry battalions, three or more field artillery battalions, and other units.

The Enemy Is Held on the Tebessa Road

The Kasserine battle entered a new phase on the night of 20-21 February, after Rommel’s forces had gained possession of the pass’s northwestern exits. Allied precautionary measures of the previous day were now to be tested in the broader area north and west of the pass. The Allied task was to contain these forces after they had first advanced far enough along the diverging roads to be too widely separated for mutual support.

Rommel did not have sufficient forces for strong attacks along both. The Axis problem was to decide which road to block and which to use in an effort to extend the attack toward a major objective. After taking two days to get through Kasserine pass and after being forced to commit both Kampfgruppe DAK and 10th Panzer Division in the process, Rommel was becoming hesitant, once more showing an attitude of discouragement which was most unusual for him. Should he continue under his directive to push toward Thala, or should he seek permission to employ reinforcements to feint in that direction but actually hit what might be weaker Allied resistance in a drive on the American base at Tebessa, as Kesselring claims to have suggested to him during his visit at Kasserine? Or should he wait to discover in which direction the prospects were brighter? His immediate course on the night of 20-21 February was to prepare for an Allied counterattack and to send out reconnaissance forces along each road.

The Allies sought to establish containing forces on both roads, and to bar not only the gaps at Thala and Djebel el Hamra ( 1112), but even the secondary routes from the Bahiret Foussana valley onto the Bou Chebka plateau. Brigadier Nicholson, who had opened “Nickforce” headquarters at 0600, 21 February, in Thala sent more infantry to the defensive position begun by Brigadier Dunphie south of the village and prepared to employ reinforcements expected to arrive at Thala during the next two or three days. General Robinett’s Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, struggled over a churned-up dirt road leading southward from Haidra to the vicinity of Djebel el Hamra, and behind a light forward screen, reorganized along the eastern face of that ridge and in the passes at its center and northern end.

[NOTE 43-43K: (4) II Corps AAR, 3 May 43. (5) Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, consisted of the following: Reconnaissance Company and the 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, with Companies G and I attached; the 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry; the 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion; the 60lst Tank Destroyer Battalion (less one company) ; the 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion (SP); detachments, the 105th Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion; Company D, 16th Armored Engineer Battalion; Maintenance and Supply Companies, 13th Armored Regiment; detachments, 16th and 49th Medical Battalions; the 68th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, by temporary attachment; the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion; the 7th and 33rd Field Artillery Battalions; elements, 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry; and the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry. Rpt by Lt Col John T. Honeycutt, 21 Feb 43, Entry 164, in II Corps G-3 In.]

Many stragglers from Kasserine pass and from even as far east as Djebel Ksa’ira (560) were assembled at a line along the eastern base of the ridge, given rations and ammunition, and organized in provisional companies to defend the passes there. The 2nd Battalion, U.S. 16th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Joseph B. Crawford), was found waiting at the crossroads east of Djebel el Hamra for commitment. Combat Command B during the early morning sent the battalion to block the routes from the Bahiret Foussana valley up onto the Bou Chebka plateau at a point where they ran through three secondary passes. It found camel trails running through two of these passes and a slippery, steep, dirt road in the most westerly (the Bou Chebka pass). A French Senegalese unit also moved into this area. Energetic preparations around the edges of Bahiret Foussana valley continued throughout the morning of 21 February as each side awaited offensive action by the other.

The unit sent out by Rommel along the Tebessa road, 33rd Reconnaissance Battalion, reinforced by a small number of Italian tanks, some light howitzers, and some engineer troops, struck out to the northwest from Kasserine pass at 0200, 21 February. The force first encountered retiring American units. It then ran up against the Reconnaissance Company, 13th Armored Regiment, of Robinett’s command which barred its progress until after daylight at a point about eight miles from Djebel el Hamra. The enemy then withdrew eastward out of range. A similar force of armored cars and self-propelled guns pushed Allied rear guards northward during the night along the road to Thala until it discovered, after a preliminary engagement in the morning fog, with the 17/21 Lancers, supported by field artillery, that a substantial Allied force was in its path. The attackers knocked out six light Crusader tanks before this preliminary action on the Thala road was terminated.

At 1125, 33rd Reconnaissance Battalion reported that only small American forces had thus far appeared east of Djebel el Hamra. Without waiting for similar reports from air reconnaissance, Rommel therefore decided to resume the offensive. In the absence of an immediate threat from the west, he could at once attack the Allied forces south of Thala with the 7th Panzer Regiment of the 10th Panzer Division, which had been organizing within sight of Allied observers and under harassing artillery fire.

At the same time, Kampfgruppe DAK under General Buelowius could seize the passes at Djebel el Hamra to secure his western flank. Beginning about noon, 21 February, operations began to follow the pattern determined by these decisions. Since General Robinett’s communications with Brigadier Dunphie had been disrupted by the air bombing of the liaison officer’s communications vehicle, the battles of 21-22 February along the two roads although simultaneous were somewhat independent of each other. Brigadier Nicholson was not in touch with Robinett and II Corps was in only intermittent contact. The bulk of General Robinett’s command entered the valley during the morning, and although not completely deployed, was sufficiently well established by the time Buelowius’ force approached to oppose it firmly, and in Rommel’s opinion, “very skillfully.”

The enemy sought the pass at the northern end of Djebel el Hamra, where a road to Haidra connects with a branch leading to Tebessa. Protecting this area were the medium tanks of the 2nd Battalion plus Company I, U.S. 13th Armored Regiment, supported by the 27th and 68th Armored Field Artillery Battalions, the 601st and 894th Tank Destroyer Battalions, and the 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry. Also present in the area were units of the 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion (SP) and the less mobile 105th Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion.

Buelowius’ instruction in the early afternoon to 33rd Reconnaissance Battalion to seize the gap by a sudden raid came too late to be executed. The unit waited between the road and the Hatab river near a slight ridge (Point 732) for the main body of Kampfgruppe DAK to come forward. General Buelowius’ main force left Kasserine pass at 1400. One battalion of infantry came up to the left flank of the reconnaissance unit about 1530, and the tank battalion of Division Centauro followed shortly afterward. At 1630 they started northwestward along the road but almost at once came under increasingly strong artillery fire from un-located American guns on the south flank. A Stuka squadron dive-bombed the 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion with some effect, but itself received fire from the 443rd Coast Artillery’s multiple antiaircraft guns which destroyed at least two planes. The 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion maneuvered to the enemy’s south flank and strengthened the fire from that quarter. The 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, in hull defilade refused to be lured from the cover of American artillery to the potent antitank screen which the enemy habitually organized, and simply held its ground except to head off what looked like an effort to envelop its own northern flank. One tank of Company I, but not its crew, was lost in parrying this attempt. The enemy pulled back to the southeast about 1800, at least temporarily frustrated. At the same time, 580th Reconnaissance Battalion crossed the rough, sharply eroded foothill area north of Djebel Nogueza (1127) along a camel track leading up to the Bou Chebka plateau. It was under orders to swing southeastward at Ain Bou Dries in order to take from the rear the Allied troops guarding the passes northwest of Thelepte and Feriana.

The attack by Kampfgruppe DAK had stopped about four miles short of its objective. Level plain intervened, a flat almost devoid of cover and under ready observation from the scrub-covered hills on three sides. Frontal attack in daylight seemed out of the question and, even at night, would be met by the Allied troops in strength and on terrain well adapted to defense. A direct thrust westward to the base of Djebel el Hamra, followed by a northward march along its eastern ridge would be open to prolonged attack on the flank, and was therefore deemed too risky. The remaining possibility was a night attack on the defile in the middle of Djebel el Hamra, three miles south of the unattainable gap at the mountain’s northern tip. Rommel authorized a wide envelopment to the south during the approaching night.

The number of Allied forces along the southern edge of the Bahiret Foussana valley increased on 21 February but suffered from faulty co-ordination arising from defective communications and confused channels of command. The companies of the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, attached to Combat Command B, were interspersed with some Senegalese troops near Bou Chebka pass. Company G, 16th Infantry, moved north at midnight to protect the new positions of the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion on a low ridge north of that pass. Company E, 16th Infantry, stationed in the upper valley of the Cherchara river, would be in the path of the 580th Reconnaissance Battalion if it continued to Aln Bou Dries. General Robinett also sent the 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, southward toward Bou Chebka pass, where it would be in readiness to move eastward on the right flank of the 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, when the time arrived for a counterattack toward Kasserine pass. During the night, General Allen sent the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, from the Bou Chebka area northward beyond Aln Bou Dries, to a point from which it could reinforce the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, as needed.

The 1st Combat Engineer Battalion he sent northeastward to work along the slopes of Djebel Chambi ( 1544) toward Kasserine pass. The 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, made an elaborate, circuitous march by truck to the western side of Djebel el Hamra which it approached cautiously in attack formation next morning, only to find that Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, had held it securely for more than a day. This event was probably one illustration of the inadequacy of information at Headquarters, II Corps, and the confusion of responsibility which had come about, and which might have been seriously damaging had the enemy been able to take advantage of it.

The enemy’s attack against Combat Command B on 22 February opened at the southwestern corner of the Bahiret Foussana valley against positions held by the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, and 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, with the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion. The enemy, in a column of infantry supported by artillery and tanks, was apparently as surprised as the Allied units to find himself engaged at daylight not near Djebel el Hamra but nearly seven miles to the southeast near the Bou Chebka pass.

His night march had been both delayed and misdirected, while he advanced through difficult terrain and recurrent downpours. The two battalions of Panzer Grenadier Regiment Africa cut off Battery C, 33rd Field Artillery Battalion, and captured intact five 10S-mm. howitzers, three 40-mm. antiaircraft guns, and thirty vehicles. The rest of the American line was able to pull back, leaving the enemy in possession of Hill 812, but pinned down by American artillery fire through which he dared not withdraw over the open plain. The enemy’s artillery and tanks had been far enough in the rear of his attack to pull back, but his infantry could not return to the main axis of attack, that toward the south pass of Djebel el Hamra.

The 5th Bersaglieri Battalion was opposite General Robinett’s line, which he had established about half a mile east of a secondary road connecting the two Djebel el Hamra passes. The line utilized the cover afforded by wadies and low ridges and benefited from superb observation points on the high hills in directing the fire of artillery batteries. The 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (reinforced), of Robinett’s force, was in hull defilade astride the enemy’s path of advance. At about 0930 Buelowius was misled by a reconnaissance report into believing that his right flank, toward Djebel el Adjered (1385), was threatened. Prevented from regrouping his infantry by American artillery fire on his position at Hill 812 he instead reoriented his artillery toward the north. Earlier in the morning he had ordered the 1st Battalion, 8th Panzer Regiment with the assault guns of Division Centauro, to launch an attack against the American positions opposite the 5th Bersaglieri Battalion with the objective of pushing General Robinett’s armor and infantry back into the Djebel el Hamra defiles. The drive seemed necessary because the Italians were showing signs of an impending breakdown in morale. Between 1030 and noon this movement relieved the pressure in their sector, but soon ran into powerful antitank defenses and devastating artillery fire of marked effectiveness.

It was now apparent that the effort to reach the passes of Djebel el Hamra could not succeed. The enemy was never to get any nearer to Tebessa. He was already planning to pull back into Kasserine pass after dark when the situation on the southern edge of the valley boiled over.

Even before 0800, the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, had been ready to begin a counterattack on the left of the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, to restore the situation of the early morning and to prevent any penetration by the enemy between the 1st Infantry Division’s units at Bou Chebka pass and those of Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, to the north. General Terry Allen kept trying all morning to get the counterattack started but without success. Finally by utilizing communications to General Robinett through the command post of Colonel Ringsak’s 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, preparations for the counterattack were co-ordinated; it began at 1600. The 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry, advanced against Hill 812. It was supported by fire from the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, on the right and from the 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, on the left. Aided by a sortie of Company G, 13th Armored Regiment, the battalion drove the enemy off the hill. He abandoned eight American guns and the vehicles which he had captured earlier that morning, all in serviceable condition, and after suffering heavy casualties withdrew in some disorder toward Kasserine pass. Some of his troops retired into the zone of other elements of the 13th Armored Regiment, where they were captured. Near Hill 732, in another action, the 5th Bersaglieri Battalion was overtaken at the end of the day by a few of Robinett’s tanks. They forced the enemy to scatter in headlong retreat, and captured many vehicles and supplies intact.

In Thala Narrowly Escapes Capture The defense of Thala on 21 February pitted the British 26th Armoured Brigade, under “Nickforce,” against thirty tanks, twenty self-propelled guns, and thirty-five half-track carriers of the 10th Panzer Division (-). American participants played no significant part. Brigadier Dunphie, commanding the brigade, had understood at his midnight conference with McNabb and Robinett at Thala that he was to defend Thala at all costs, gaining a day for the 2/5 Leicester’s and others to prepare a main defensive line on the ridge south of the village.

He did not share General Robinett’s understanding that all tanks were to be conserved. Indeed, his tanks were so light and equipped with guns of such short range as to be at severe disadvantage against German Mark III’s and Mark IV’s. They were about to be replaced by American Sherman’s and could be expended. And to gain the necessary time against a determined and aggressive foe without heavy losses was out of the question.

On the road from Kasserine to Thala several ridges extend like widespread fingers eastward from Djebel Bireno (1419) across the road. During 20 February Dunphie, commanding the 26th Armored Brigade, had taken an armored force (17/21 Lancers and 2nd Lothians) to the south of these ridges. On the morning of the 20th, Brigadier Nicholson had ordered the 10th Battalion, Royal Buffs, to move up to this blocking position. The enemy tanks of von Broich’s 7th Panzer Regiment formed up in view but out of effective artillery range.

At about 0930 on 21 February they began to advance. But they were extremely deliberate as they searched for mines along the route of advance. German air reconnaissance revealed the weakness of the opposition on the eastern side of the road, the observers correctly estimating British artillery at only two batteries. The enemy avoided these weapons by a flanking maneuver east of the road. Dunphie’s tanks fell back as slowly as possible and, being outranged and lightly armored, used the shelter of each ridge to fire from cover at close range. The enemy promptly met such tactics by moving to positions from which to enfilade the ridges.

On a ridge about nine miles south of Thala the British, at the cost of fifteen tanks, held up Kampfgruppe, 10th Panzer Division) until 1600. Rommel, well aware that he was in a desperate race against time and disturbed by von Broich’s slow advance, had spent most of the early afternoon with von Broich’s spearhead. Taking command of the situation himself, he ordered the infantry to entruck and follow the tanks until they came up to the British line of defense. On this line a tank battle raged for over an hour.

Then Dunphie ordered his force to fall back to the last ridge south of Thala where the 2/5 Leicester’s were in position on the final line of defense. The British eked out their diminished power of resistance by a skillful use of smoke in a delaying action which permitted all British forces to slip through a gap in the defensive line in front of Thala at about 1900, when Dunphie’s command vehicle followed the others through to supposed security. Enemy tanks followed directly after Dunphie’s through the very center of the infantry positions guarding the ridge, erupting with gunfire only after they had penetrated well within the British lines.

Soon the northern slope of the ridge was a scene of wild confusion. Burning vehicles, flares, pointblank fire from tanks, both German and British, and from the British artillery, provided a tumultuous melee. The enemy adroitly knocked out signal vehicles at the start, thus preventing prompt reports to Thala. Machine gunners following the tanks took positions along the heights and soon completed the job of wrecking the whole line of defense on which so much effort had been expended. At severe disadvantage, the British drew on every resource to hold the enemy, to destroy his tanks, and to throw him back. After three hours, the enemy’s offensive was stopped. He had withdrawn, taking with him about 700 prisoners, but nothing remained with which to check him if he should return at daylight.

During the afternoon, the U.S. 9th Infantry Division’s artillery was approaching from Tebessa, and, in preparation for an arrival during the night, positions for the guns had been selected and surveyed under the direction of Brigadier H. J. Parham, British First Army artillery officer. A tidal flow of supply vehicles away from Thala during the critical battle at the end of the day came under control as the American column approached.

The arrival of Brigadier General S. LeRoy Irwin’s command could not have been more opportune. Summoned when Sbeitla was being evacuated, it had come from the vicinity of Tiemcen in western Algeria in four days, an uninterrupted march of over 800 miles. The twelve 155-mm. howitzers of the 34th Field Artillery Battalion were emplaced during the early hours of 22 February along the road running west from Thala, with the six 75-mm. howitzers of the 47th’s Cannon Company protecting their westernmost flank. The twenty-four 105-mm. howitzers of the 60th and 84th Field Artillery Battalions went into position about 3,000 yards farther south, with six 75-mm. howitzers of the 60th’s Cannon Company on their right. About 2,000 yards still farther south was the new main line of defense, and 1,200 yards south of it, on the dominating ridge, formerly the main defense line, were the Germans.

General Irwin’s arrival with the American artillery at Thala was highly encouraging, but the defending force was very low on infantry, especially after losing so many from 2/5 Leicester’s at the ridge line, and it was deficient in armored fighting vehicles. Those tanks which the 17/21 Lancers and 2nd Lothians had been using arrived, after almost twenty-four hours of continuous operation, in an undependable mechanical condition, thus adding to other vulnerable characteristics. British forces at Sbiba sent one battalion of infantry (2nd Hampshire’s), the 16/5 Lancers, partly equipped with new Shermans, and an artillery regiment, the 152nd, Royal Artillery (-), but these did not reach Thala until well along in the afternoon. Help from Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, was sought. Brigadier Nicholson reported to II Corps that he had about seventy enemy tanks waiting on his front to attack, and First Army supported his request to II Corps for help from Robinett by stating rather incorrectly that Nicholson was bearing the whole weight of enemy armor.

[NOTE 13-13K: The II Corps ordered Robinett “to bring all possible forces to bear in order to assist” Nicholson’s command, but he was doing so already as a matter of course. 13th Armd Regt Opns Jnl, 0845, 22 Feb 43.]

This reinforcement was the most dramatic of several. Thirty-five M4 tanks and crews by rail and seventeen more M4 tanks by sea and rail were sent from Morocco to Tebessa; twenty-five British Churchill tanks were sent to Sbiba; 800 replacement troops per day and the bulk of the 9th Infantry Division were also sent eastward in accordance with plans scheduled before the attack, and later expedited to meet probable needs; other reinforcements were scraped from existing units in the west and sent up to make good the earlier losses which the Axis forces had inflicted. Before the Axis troops were thrown back, two tank destroyer battalions, one tank battalion (separate) with fifty-six more medium tanks, elements of the 17th Field Artillery Regiment and the 13th Field Artillery Brigade, plus a considerable increase in antiaircraft units, were en route to Tunisia.

Nicholson, to offset the severe disadvantage inflicted on him by the loss of the ridge position in front of his artillery, sent some of his remaining tanks on a counterattack just before dawn. The attempt miscarried with the loss of five or more tanks, and the survivors brought back the alarming and incorrect report of enemy strength already mentioned. But the foray actually had a beneficial effect. The aggressive character of the action seemed to von Broich to confirm erroneous intelligence, gained from early reconnaissance and from Arabs, that the Allies in Thala were preparing a substantial counterattack using reinforcements which had been coming in during the night. After himself reconnoitering, Rommel approved von Broich’s decision to postpone any offensive drive on Thala until the expected Allied thrust had been contained at positions favorable for such action, but to lunge forward immediately after stopping the Allied attack. He could then expect to continue through Thala to the north.

The morning passed without an Allied counterattack-only heavy air strikes, artillery exchanges, and what the enemy took to be small probing ground attacks along the front. The lines remained unchanged. Neither side co-ordinated low-level air attacks with efforts at ground advance. Axis air support was primarily devoted to opposing the arrival of Allied reinforcements at Thala by strikes on columns north and northwest of it. Although General von Broich assumed that more Allied reinforcements were to be expected, he might have tried to break through Thala that afternoon, had he not before starting such an attack received orders from Field Marshal Rommel to pass to the defensive. Thus the best opportunity to penetrate the secondary mountain barrier beyond Kasserine pass toward Le Kef was allowed to slip away without being pushed to the limit. By 23 February reinforcements at Thala rendered the Allied position much less vulnerable. The enemy reckoned Allied losses at the end of the action at 571 prisoners, 38 tanks, 12 antitank guns, 1 antiaircraft gun, 16 heavy mortars, 3 self-propelled guns, 9 motor vehicles, and 3 aircraft.

[NOTE: The 9th Division Artillery sustained forty-five casualties, fired 1 ,904 rounds on this and the following day, and had only fifteen minutes of 105-mm. fire left at the end of the battle]

The XII Air Support Command participated in the battle south of Thala and east of Djebel el Hamra under most adverse conditions, but with observable effect. Enemy operations had confined Allied planes to the one airfield at Youks-Ies-Bains, where bad weather limited take-offs to the steel planked airstrip. Low clouds and repeated showers hampered flights, but 114 sorties over the Thala area were completed on 22 February. Fighter-bombers roaring over the enemy at about 1630 caught infantry, guns, and tanks and seemed to produce a perceptible reduction in the volume of enemy fire.

Air co-operation with Combat Command B proved far less satisfactory. American antiaircraft fire on 21 February turned back two friendly missions and damaged five American planes beyond repair. Next day, in spite of the most specific admonition to expect friendly planes to fly straight over American troops at low altitudes, when they would rock their wings, rather than dive or glide in a chandelle as the enemy normally did when striking, and after attention had been called to the dark-painted noses of American aircraft in contrast to the white or yellow of the enemy, antiaircraft fire nonetheless shot up five American P-38’s. It could not be attributed to faulty identification, for their distinctive, double fuselage had no counterpart in the enemy’s air force. In order to remedy this lack of coordination, General Robinett issued a most definite order that troops were not to fire on any aircraft whatever until after it attacked.

On 22 February, at 1415, the command of all Allied troops within II Corps’ area was clarified with the establishment of a boundary along the southern edge of the Bahiret Foussana valley. All troops north of it came under the control of General Ward as Commanding General, U.S. 1st Armored Division; all troops south of it, except units attached to Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, were subordinated to General Allen as Commanding General, U.S. 1st Infantry Division. Ward’s mission was “to hold general line of Djebel- Hamra-Thala and to cover left flank of II Corps, preventing Germans moving to west. Liaison to the British 6th Armoured Division (General Kiethly [sic] now at Sbiba.” He was to undertake such offensive operations as were practicable to recover Kasserine valley, maintaining close liaison with General Allen.

This arrangement straightened out the uncertainties in the southwestern corner of the valley before the end of the day, but it gave General Ward a mission also involving control of Brigadier Nicholson’s command. While General Ward and his operations officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton H. Howze, came forward to check the situation and to prepare a standard field order for further defensive operations, British First Army altered the relationship of “Nickforce” to II Corps, General Anderson placing Headquarters, 6th Armomed Division (General Keightley), at Rohia in command of “Nickforce,” directly under II Corps, effective at 2000.

The Enemy Retires Through Kasserine Pass

Group Rommel on 22 February had enough fuel to cover from 250-300 kilometers, a somewhat low stock of German ammunition augmented by considerable captured stocks of all calibers, and rations for four days. Reserves already accumulated at Sousse, Sfax, and Gabes for the entire southern army consisted of fuel for 150-200 kilometers, more than a day’s supply of ammunition, and rations for more than six days.

Axis reconnaissance along the north Tunisian front on 22 February indicated that the advanced positions of British 5 Corps and French XIX Corps had not been seriously weakened or deprived of local reserves. Air reconnaissance west of the Allied southern flank revealed the fact that reinforcements were approaching Thala from Le Kef and moving from Tebessa toward the Bahiret Foussana plain. With a fairly correct picture of the Allied dispositions, Rommel recognized that his offensive could not succeed. Mud and mountain terrain ill-suited to tank action, rain and fog impeding air support, and the lowered combat strength of the Axis units had all contributed to final failure. To be sure, any Allied intention of cutting through to the sea near Sfax and breaking communications between Rommel’s and von Arnim’s armies had been frustrated for several weeks. But Axis hopes for a successful penetration to Le Kef and beyond were completely extinguished.

Field Marshal Kesselring, accompanied by General Seidemann and others, visited Rommel’s command post northwest of Kasserine again on the afternoon of 22 February. Both commanders agreed that Comando Supremo should be advised that the time had come to withdraw the attacking forces from west central Tunisia. They proposed now a speedy shift to the Mareth area, in order to hit the British Eighth Army assembling there with a sudden attack before it could prepare for offensive operations and become a serious threat. While waiting for a new directive from Comando Supremo, Rommel ordered his troops to begin the retirement into Kasserine pass. General Ambrosio issued his order for retirement shortly before midnight.

To aid Rommel’s withdrawal and regrouping, enemy units began exerting pressure at various points in the British First Army’s line on 22 February. Fifth Panzer Army units attacked across the Ousseltia valley and into the mountain range west of it. A provisional German force (Colonel Lang), of which 47th Grenadier Regiment was the major component, started for Maktar during 22 February skirting the mountains of Kesra. The force was about six miles from Maktar when a radioed order canceled its attack.

Withdrawal by the Axis forces northwest of Kasserine pass into that gap was completed by forenoon of 23 February. While the 10th Panzer Division took over defensive positions, Kampfgruppe DAK in the afternoon started for Feriana-Thelepte and there relieved Division Centauro. Allied and Axis aviation were both extremely active over the area, the former bombing and strafing the roads east of the pass and near Feriana, the latter discouraging Allied pursuit of the retreating troops by bombing and machine gunning the roads near Thala and Djebel el Hamra. One hundred and four Allied planes were counted over the Kasserine area in one period of fifteen minutes. From four to eight Axis fighters engaged in sweeping flights almost steadily from 0840 to 1728. Allied pressure lacked punch and the withdrawal continued in good order.

Direction by II Corps of ground operations against the retreating enemy became extraordinarily hesitant at just the time that the enemy was most vulnerable. General Eisenhower thought late on 22 February that an Allied counterattack should start at once. Rommel’s situation was not recognized, however, by First Army or by II Corps for more than a day after his decision to abandon the attack. In the case of British First Army, the forces defending Sbiba actually drew back near Rohia during the night of 22-23 February in order to be ready for an enemy attack from Thala northeastward toward Rohia and then south toward Sbiba. The 21st Panzer Division might have entered Sbiba village unopposed but instead watched, as its orders required, until the Allies cautiously returned after an absence of about twenty-four hours. At General Fredendall’s headquarters, preparations were made to shift the II Corps front in case of an enemy break-through at Thala, and the total evacuation of Tebessa in consequence seemed a possibility.

Aside from the delay in correctly understanding Rommel’s purpose, the main reason for the faltering direction of operations to hit the enemy as he pulled back, was the shuffling of the command. Fredendall had shifted the 1st Armored Division northeastward and placed its commander in chargeof operations by all units, American, British, and French, west and northwest of Kasserine pass. But he had already proposed to General Eisenhower that General Ward should be replaced. The commander in chief, thinking in terms of the rehabilitation which the U.S. 1st Armored Division might require, was prepared to approve Ward’s relief by Major General Ernest N. Harmon, then Commanding General, 2nd Armored Division, under General Patton in Morocco, until he received conscientious advice to the contrary. While Harmon was flying east, General Eisenhower concluded that any such change was, after all, inexpedient. Harmon accordingly went on from Algiers to the zone of battle in the capacity of “a useful senior assistant” to General Fredendall in the “unusual conditions of the present battle,” for the corps commander to employ as he chose, but not with Eisenhower’s encouragement to relieve Ward of his command.

Just as General Ward was about to issue his first orders to his division, with the British 26th Armored Brigade attached, for operations in the Bahiret Foussana valley, he learned that Harmon was soon to arrive to assume command in the capacity of deputy corps commander. He issued the defense orders but withheld those for counterattack.

He ordered Robinett and Dunphie to continue on unchanged missions, their common boundary being the Kasserine-Hajdra railroad; their outer boundaries were also clearly defined. Combat Command A, 1st Armored Division, under General McQuillin, was to be held east of Haidra in Division Reserve, available for counterattack either through Thala or Djebel el Hamra on Ward’s orders. The 16th Armored Engineer Battalion (less detachments) was to continue working on the torn-up Hajidra-Djebel el Hamra road and to conduct route reconnaissance.

During the night of 22-23 February, General Harmon’s’ long and hurried journey from Morocco brought him to Fredendall’s advance command post at Djebel Kouif. He had made the last part of the trip, from Algiers via Constantine and Tebessa, by automobile. At each of these points he obtained military intelligence which was fragmentary and already out of date. At Fredendall’s headquarters, the situation was still not well enough known to permit issuance of orders for an Allied counterattack. Fredendall gave Harmon written orders placing him in direct command of the U.S. 1st Armored Division and such elements of the British 6th Armored Division as were within the II Corps area. Harmon had no staff, only the aide who had accompanied him from Morocco and an assistant operations officer (Lieutenant Colonel Barksdale Hamlett) from the II Corps Artillery Section. A radio equipped vehicle with driver and radio operator was lent him by II Corps. He drove on during the night to see Ward at Hajdra and Nicholson at Thala, and next morning,

Robinett near Djebel el Hamra, as well as miscellaneous units which he encountered during these strenuous movements. Although not relieving Ward of his status as Commanding General, 1st Armored Division, Harmon did assume Ward’s mission and was given Ward’s staff and command post. Harmon insisted that Hains’s provisional unit of M4 (Sherman) medium tanks with diesel motors and British radios be sent to occupy a defensive position near Thala. He took responsibility for holding at Thala the 9th Division artillery which British First Army had ordered sent back to Le Keel The next day, 23 February, passed without significant Allied pressure on Rommel’s troops. Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, moved gingerly toward the pass.

The weary troops of Brigadier Dunphie’s command also marked time. It became gradually clear that the enemy was not coming out of the pass to attack again but was going to retire through the eastern exit. At 2000, 23 February, “Nickforce” was officially dissolved. General Harmon reconnoitered and prepared for the forthcoming counterattack to clear the enemy from Kasserine pass. After darkness, a heavy air attack on the enemy in the pass was delivered by Royal Air Force night bombers without advance co-ordination with the American ground troops, who missed the opportunity to press forward before the enemy could recover from its effects. It was after mid-night when General Ward received the following orders from General Harmon: Your mission with 16th RCT, attached. You will drive enemy from the valley, destroying as much of him as possible, and re-capture Kasserine Pass. Thereafter you will place 16th RCT in defense of the pass, at which time 16th reverts to [the] control [of] 1st Infantry Division. CG, II Corps

Harmon had also given Robinett similar oral orders. The time set for the Allied counterattack according to what Harmon called “Plan Howze” was 0630, 25 February. The general scheme of maneuver was that which the terrain dictated to any intelligent commander. Two forces must converge

from starting points which were perhaps fifteen miles apart and work along the heights to control Djebel Semmama and Djebel Chambi on either side of the gap, making their main effort on the outer flanks and co-ordinating the action on the inner flanks, especially as they drew closer to the

pass. Harmon strengthened Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, for the attack by the attachment of the 16th Infantry. In effect, this attachment required bringing the regiment back from participation in General Allen’s push eastward over rugged mountain terrain on the 1st Infantry Division’s side of the divisional boundary, after it had gone much of the way to the eastern entrance of the pass, and holding the regiment for a later assault along the edge of the valley. On the other side of the Bahiret Foussana valley, the British 26th Armoured Brigade worked slowly to the gap between Djebel Bireno and Djebel Semmama, lifting quantities of mines, until late on 24 February. On that day the 1st Guards Brigade, reinforced, took over to make the attack southeastward over the heights and across the shoulder of Djebel Semmama as well as along the Thala-Kasserine road.

The Allies attacked against a phantom foe. Since they were so short of reserves, they prepared with appropriate care. But the actual operation turned out to be an unopposed march, impeded only by road demolitions, mines, and booby traps. The 210-mm. mortar shells which had fallen at random during the previous afternoon on the Bahiret Foussana plain were no longer observed by Combat Command B, and were described by the British force across the valley as infrequent. The troops which had barred occupation of Djebel Zebbeus by a provisional American infantry unit late on 24 February had gone by the next morning.

The American artillery preparation drew no response. Both American and British forces moved into the pass as rapidly as routes could be opened. By 1000, General Ward was at the defile on the Tebessa-Kasserine road, where General Roosevelt and Colonel Gardiner soon appeared. On the far side, the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, and a squadron of tanks of 16/5 Lancers, with artillery in support, could be seen along the road, with the 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, on the heights to the north. The pass was free of the enemy, and once the mine fields could be cleared, the Allies would be free to guard it against attack from the east and to prepare for the time when they would regain the initiative in central Tunisia.'”

The New Army Groups

The Allied and Axis coalitions each emerged from the February battles with new army group commands in Tunisia. General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander took command of 18 Army Group late on 19 February. Field Marshal Rommel was designated commander of Army Group Afrika on 23 February. Each commander was occupied at once with the aftermath of the recent battles and the prospect of future offensive operations under his control.

Alexander had toured the Tunisian front during the latter part of the Axis offensive and thus saw the principal commanders and troops of British First Army when they were under strong enemy pressure. The effect of a struggle to overcome defects in organization left from the initial race for Tunis while at the same time meeting the enemy’s unbalancing January jabs was manifest. He found the system of command and responsibility not clear-cut enough, and the provision for control inadequate for successful operations. He took command, moreover, at a time when the performance of American troops was in his opinion clouded by enough disappointing incidents to discredit their actual performance and even to throw doubts on their capacities. A disparaging attitude toward American troops was found by German interrogators of British and French prisoners of war. General Alexander’s unfavorable estimate was destined to linger, encouraging him to depend more heavily upon British units than later circumstances warranted.

His first task was to hold certain vital areas, including the existing line in central Tunisia and the approaches to Tunis which were best adapted to the eventual “final attack.” He directed General Anderson to do what he had in fact, under General Eisenhower’s instructions, been trying to accomplish for more than a month, namely: to regroup his forces in distinct national sectors and to establish a general reserve, chiefly of armored units, with which to meet enemy threats. Meanwhile, Alexander proposed to revise the leadership in order to bring about firm direction and centralized control, and to restore morale. For the latter reason, he directed that the Americans should first receive battlefield experience, guaranteeing them small successes and later, the tests of larger undertakings. In the effort to improve leadership he had to consider both the relief of existing commanders by new ones and the possibilities of producing competent field grade officers more swiftly by special training. In both matters he had to avoid damaging Allied unity of effort by offending national susceptibilities.

General Alexander’s participation in the battles along the Western Dorsal was not extensive. He supported General Anderson’s wish to concentrate British armor at Thala, even though by this step the front farther to the northeast might be subjected to grave risk. In any event the enemy had already decided to abandon the offensive when this decision was made. He tried to expedite the advance of Montgomery’s Eighth Army into southern Tunisia with a view to alleviating Rommel’s pressure near Kasserine pass, but the enemy had started back toward Mareth before Montgomery was prepared to exert any such influence; Rommel’s decision to retire was in no sense made necessary by the Eighth Army’s movements. Alexander arranged with General Juin for French light forces to protect the extreme southern flank of the British First Army, southwest of Gafsa, and to transmit intelligence from the French to First Army.

The Axis had long considered how to organize a central unified command in Tunisia. The organizational preparations had been made and were ready when, on 23 February, Comando Supremo ordered the activation of Army Group Africa. Headquarters, Army Group Africa, was primarily formed from that of the former German-Italian Panzer Army, which had been inactivated on 20 February and replaced by the First Italian Army. One major departure from previous planning was the substitution of Rommel for von Arnim as the first army group commander. As late as the day before, Rommel had expressed to Kesselring an extreme reluctance to accept it. Comanda Supremo endeavored to meet Rommel’s reluctance by asking him to set the time when he would be ready, subject to oral agreement with Field Marshal Kesselring, to turn over the army group to von Arnim. Until Rommel left, von Arnim was to continue as commander of Fifth Panzer Army.

In addition to altering the chain of command in Tunisia, the Camando Supremo directive of 23 February spelled out the conduct of future operations. While complimenting command and troops for the achievements in the Kasserine operation, Comando Supreme acknowledged the fact that Allied strength had so increased that the offensive would have to be broken off immediately. The mobile forces were to withdraw to the original line of departure while at the same time inflicting maximum casualties on the pursuing Allies, and using demolitions to obstruct their movements.

Army Group Africa’s next mission would be to destroy British Eighth Army’s spearheads as they approached the Mareth position. For this mission it was to assemble the 10th Panzer Division in the Sfax area, and the other mobile units, 21st Panzer Division and DAK, near Gabes. Fifth Panzer Army was ordered to plan for an offensive operation on its north wing, while generally improving its positions and disrupting potential Allied offensive preparations by strong local attacks. Comando Supremo promised to ship to von Arnim the Hermann Gӧring Division, specifying that it be held in reserve behind the northern sector of his front. Behind his south sector, he was to assemble a mobile group drawn from available forces.

The Axis naval forces were ordered to abandon the planned Tabarka landings. The Air Force’s missions were reiterated: protection of supply convoys and support of army ground operations.

Balance Sheet of the February Battles

The Axis forces had pursued two objectives in the offensive against Sidi Bou Zid, Gafsa, Sbeitla, Feriana, and through the Western Dorsal. They sought to reduce Allied capabilities of attack by the destruction of men and materiel, and to bring about a westward withdrawal of the British First Army in the north by deeply penetrating its southern flank. The Allied defense had frustrated the second of these intentions, and Allied forces eventually returned to the very ground from which they had been driven, with their capabilities for attack not significantly impaired. The enemy had inflicted substantial losses in men and materiel on the British, Americans, and French. The extent of these losses, in prisoners and in materiel destroyed or captured, is reflected in the incomplete claims made by Group Ziegler for the period 14- 18 February and by Group Rommel for 19- 22 February: 42

Records of the Allies suffer from the conditions of the battle but tend to bear out the losses of materiel, and to indicate also considerable personnel losses unknown to the enemy. Most heavily hit on the Allied side was the U.S. 1st Armored Division, the 1st Armored Regiment of which suffered such losses to its 2nd and 3rd Battalions that they were temporarily combined in a provisional 23rd medium tank battalion, while one company each of the 81st Reconnaissance Battalion, 16th Armored Engineer Battalion, and 91st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, had to be wholly re-equipped. Losses by the 168th Infantry of the 34th Division through the encirclement of Djebel Lessouda (644), Djebel Ksaira ( 560 ), and Djebel Garet Hadid (620) also ran high. The 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery, had to be rebuilt. Yet these casualties were serious rather than devastating. The 1st Armored Division’s withdrawal from Sbeitla had been skillful. Stubborn resistance there and in the Bahiret Foussana valley by Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, was successful against elements of the 21st Panzer Division and Kampfgruppe DAK, both of which had long fought under Rommel.

The U.S. 1st Infantry Division, although it emerged from these operations still disappointed in its hope of fighting as a division instead of in separate components variously attached, retained an abundant capacity for effective action in the immediate future. The eastward movement by U.S. 9th Infantry Division units and by II Corps troops was not much delayed. British losses were chiefly in tanks for which replacements had been planned before the battle. In short, the Axis had achieved a tactical success rather than a major victory influencing the strategy of the campaign.

Why had the enemy not gained more? His initial success in forcing the Allies to withdraw to the Western Dorsal was cheaply won, for the Allied decision to withdraw was made as soon as he took Sidi Bou Zid with what the First Army insisted was only part of his available mobile striking forces.

It was a belated decision which rested on the fact that the Allies were overextended along too great a line and their forces dispersed in combat groups of minor which would have to be committed piecemeal to meet the enemy’s main effort. The Germans had thus been able to bring much stronger forces to bear on the hapless defenders of Sidi Bou Zid on 14 February and on the ill-fated counterattack by Combat Command C, 1st Armored Division, next day. The enemy’s preponderance of force had in effect been increased by the disposition of Allied forces at Sidi Bou Zid, enabling him to isolate substantial elements on the hills, keep them out of the battle on the plain, and then to deal with them separately. The Germans on 14-15 February were not only more strongly equipped and more numerous but also wilier and more skillful than their American adversaries. Subsequent German attacks against a more experienced foe were adroitly parried and obstinately contested.

The enemy broke through Kasserine pass against a defense which seemed haphazard; but he failed in the attempt to exploit the break-through because these defenses actually turned out to be formidable in character. The organization of the pass for defense by adequate means was tardy, in part because of the belief that the enemy’s main effort might be made from Gafsa or Feriana against Tebessa. Since the Allies had to comb the forces with which the pass was defended from other points along the front and put them into action as they arrived, an atmosphere of improvisation was inescapable. But, to repeat, Rommel at least considered the defense stubborn and the performance of the U.S. troops superior.

Obviously, Allied resistance cannot be given all the credit for stopping the Axis advance. To a extent Rommel’s failure may be attributed to an aggregate of Axis mistakes. The most consequential was the lack of unity of command and the indecision demonstrated after the successes gained in the battles near Sidi Bou Zid. The second serious mistake made by the Axis command was the critical weakening of the attack forces just before Angriffsgruppe Nord was assigned its mission. This was compounded by repeated violation of the principle of mass. Twice Rommel divided his force, first by sending the 21st Panzer Division against Sbiba and DAK into Kasserine pass, then sending DAK toward Tebessa and 10th Panzer Division against Thala. Attacking at too many places at the same time, he was too weak to achieve a break-through in anyone sector. In attacking the passes tactical errors were made by Rommel’s subordinates who stubbornly attempted to the defiles in a frontal attack instead of first gaining the shoulders. Finally, adverse weather conditions prevented the Luftwaffe from supporting the attack effectively. Thus Rommel’s last big offensive stopped short of success. The Whole operation from Sidi Bou Zid to the end resembled the actions of a fruit picker in the branches of a tree, reaching to the utmost before moving gingerly out farther along a limb and, in the end, leaving the best prize untouched for fear of falling.

American troops learned a number of lessons about enemy methods from these battles. German tank attacks, they found, were made in the dusk as well as at dawn, and under the light of star shells and Hares were pressed until an American tank force was scattered. The enemy was apparently familiar with American practices, expecting two thirds of a force in the assault and one third in support, and meeting the situation repeatedly by a double envelopment. He continued to lure Americans into such trap.” and into the ambush of antitank guns. German antitank ammunition was incendiary while American armor-piercing shells merely knocked out tanks in a manner permitting repair after salvage from the battlefield.

German tanks crept over the ground at a slow pace intended to avoid creating dust clouds and noises which would attract attention. Often they seemed immobile unless checked with reference to a prominent terrain feature at intervals. Once in battle, if taken under fire, a German tank was likely to stop and to appear to be knocked out. When once its adversary turned to a different opponent, the German would open up with rapid and accurate fire.

The Americans also noted deficiencies in their weapons. They found the 113 light tanks suited only for reconnaissance. The 75-mm. half-track gun carrier turned out to be extremely vulnerable. A soldier, when asked if enemy aircraft bullets went through the half-tracks replied, “No sir, they only come through the wall and then they rattle around.” In Army slang they were known as ” Purple Heart Boxes.” The 37 -mm. antitank gun with standard ammunition was effective only against scout cars and light vehicles except at very close ranges. Longer-range guns with better telescopic sights on tanks and for antitank roles were needed. Training and equipment for the avoidance, detection, and removal of mines, and for the use of mines against the enemy were inadequate.

Finally, air-ground co-ordination was still below expectations. The Axis dominance in the air was so great that training in aircraft identification seemed fruitless. Up front , experienced men were learning never to fire from the ground at an airplane, for fear of drawing attack, unless that airplane fired first. Air reconnaissance had given too little help to the forward elements. Air bombing missions were executed too slowly to influence most current battle situations. Tactical air support was still “in short supply.”

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 (6-25); Allies regroup, reorganize, reinforce

World War Two: North Africa (5-23); Rommel’s Thrust Through Kasserine Pass

Today’s Funny for Feb. 20: Good Advice

Good Advice


Sometimes humor is not direct. Here is a list of serious, non-humorous advice. The humor comes if you don’t follow it, with yourself as the butt of the joke.


  1. Before turning to prayer or magick, use the strengths and abilities within yourself. It’s simpler that way.
  2. Ask for what you want. Say how you are feeling. The results are very often postive.
  3. Always know the deities you are working with.  Don’t ask Eris or Odin for peace.  Get a good mythology reference and use it.
  4. Don’t invoke two or more dieties from different pantheons, especially not when they have different ideas on how to answer your prayer. Remember, Pax doesn’t wish to meet or work with Morrigan.
  5. Be nice to your spirit guides. They will help you if they are pleased with you, hinder you when not.
  6. Never leave anything up to the whims of the gods.  Take the time and effort to be very precise in what you ask for.
  7. Say nice things about your foes in public.
  8. Simple is better.
  9. Believe in magick.  It really does work.
  10. Everything that happens is an answered prayer.  Nothing is random.
  11. Don’t give the gods undeserved credit or blame.
  12. Wash your feet before and after you go barefoot.
  13. When asking for strength, do it standing up, not sitting or lying down.
  14. Always tell the truth, even when it is not pleasant.
  15. When you deliver unwelcome news, do not expect to be welcomed or appreciated.
  16. Read the latest books on spiritual matters.  Some may be nonsense, but it always helps to know the current New Age buzzwords.
  17. Running on Pagan Standard Time is an insult to those who depend on you.
  18. Draw pictures rather then write words.  There is a reason that ancient people used pictures.
  19. Proofread.  This is especially important in Spellcraft.
  20. Always be prepared to provide constructive criticism, but don’t offer it unless asked.
  21. If you gossip about someone, assume they will find out.
  22. Never confuse e-mail with reality.
  23. Find another coven and make friends with its members.
  24. When you leave a group, don’t take parting shots — even if justified.
  25. If you tell a sexist or racist joke, expect to be criticized.
  26. Don’t read from a book aloud to anyone unless they ask.
  27. If you are a leader, groom at least one successor.
  28. Never go anywhere without something to write on and a pen.
  29. Do the hard stuff first.
  30. Build and maintain an address list.  Make sure you have a mundane name, postal address, phone number and e-mail address for each person.
  31. Saying “I told you so,” even if you were right, is never appreciated.
  32. Back-up your computer’s disk often.
  33. Do not expect sympathy when you have a hangover.
  34. Don’t comment or point out someone else’s mistakes until you’ve corrected your own.
  35. A hearty belly-laugh is excellent stress relief.

 

Turok’s Cabana

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Feb. 20: HOW TO GET MOTIVATED | TIPS FOR SELF-MOTIVATION

 

HOW TO GET MOTIVATED | TIPS FOR SELF-MOTIVATION

Lack of motivation can be a pervasive and debilitating problem, but do not despair—there are ways to get yourself motivated! Read on for a few tips on improving self-motivation.

Forever — is composed of Nows —Emily Dickinson

Spring has arrived. The days stretch longer, you’ve (probably) put away the snow shovels, seen the first leaves unfurl, and the first crocus pop up.

But what refuses to pop up? Your self-motivation. Your get-up-and-go.

You have a lot to get up for: a stalled work project, that hour of daily exercise your doctor prescribed, your longstanding writer’s block, the spring housecleaning, quitting smoking.

Maybe you yearn for a quantum change—that bolt from the blue that suddenly enables you to make long-desired changes to your life and make them stick.

But every day, your same old, plodding self arises and finds it impossible to summon the self-motivation.

Whatever you need to do, your inner demons keep finding excuses for avoiding it.

When one of those demons rears its head, instead of saying Just do it! or Just say no!, I suggest proclaiming Just start somewhere, and see where it takes you.

TIPS FOR SELF-MOTIVATION: ‘I’LL START WITH…’

This strategy envisions only starting a dreaded activity, not plotting a timeline of the actions needed to finish.

In her wonderful book, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg offers the best advice I’ve found—not just for writing, but for overcoming almost any sort of internal resistance or social overlay that’s keeping you from getting to your task.

Paraphrasing Goldberg:

  • Set a time. Say 15 minutes. (Get specific.)
  • Pick up your pencil, or put your hands on the keyboard. (Gear up.)
  • Keep your hand(s) moving. Don’t stop. (Just this little bit now.)
  • Don’t cross out (edit yourself).
  • Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, chronological order (doing it right).
  • Lose control. (Don’t plan, think, or ruminate about it.)
  • If nothing meaningful seems to come, don’t be afraid to write nonsense. Don’t stop until the time has passed.

You get the gist. Make a small, concrete commitment that your mind accepts as reasonable. Once you’re into it, your demons may have quieted down enough that it seems reasonable to keep going.

The housework?
“I’ll start with the upper shelf. Remove those books, brush the dust from those books, and scrub down that shelf. I can get to the rest later.”

That long walk?
Say to yourself, “Let’s go. Three telephone poles,” and head out the door. As likely as not, at least for me, I usually find myself saying, “Okay, three poles. Now to the top of the hill…” and finish my intended distance.

Goldberg talks about “being a great warrior” who cuts through the noise, the self-doubt, and the laziness.

STAYING MOTIVATED

A couple of important corollaries: no promises for tomorrow and no self-recrimination when today’s start doesn’t end up with much progress toward the ultimate.

As a motivational strategy, just starting seems light years away from quantum change. And in the moment, they don’t seem connected.

Yet I’ve experienced several moments of quantum change in my life, and I’ve often wondered if long avoidance of a needed change, the brief moments of clarity about what I need to do, and the repeated starts and failures lurk in the recesses of my mind to the point of confluence, so when I wake up some morning, the big change seems ridiculously easy.

Until then, I’ll try to stay with my Just start strategy.

But what do I do if my starts don’t seem to turn into finishes? Stay tuned.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

“Living Naturally” is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that’s good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it’s relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

Published on The Old Farmer’s Almanac

The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Feb. 20: SELF-TRICKERY FOR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING

 

SELF-TRICKERY FOR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING

January 22, 2014

Try self-trickery. It often works for me.

Here’s the dilemma: I know I need to change (something). I’m also aware I don’t want to do the work that seems to be required, or I would have changed already. Escaping an established habit or routine feels uncomfortable, and I’m likely to slip back into the comfortable, well-worn grooves of habit.

The kind of trickery I’m suggesting is entirely intentional and stays intentional throughout the change process–the opposite of magical thinking, self-deception, self-sabotage, delusion, and denial (though self-trickery can easily slip into one of those pits and derail an intention).

Everyone, no matter how smart, rich, beautiful, or well educated, struggles with making  and sustaining changes that protect their own or others’ health and well-being. The tricks are equally available to all and don’t cost anything but a moment of two of mindful attention.

For me, self-trickery has three essential requirements:

  • The initial insight l that I need to change something. Lacking the insight, there’s no motivation to change.
  • The acknowledgment that my mind has a powerful propensity to forget or ignore almost immediately any decision to change.
  • A concrete, intentional act in the direction of the desired change.

I find change especially difficult when it looms as a big change. I’m most likely to move meaningfully in the direction of change when the act is small and immediate. Big changes feel abstract, far off, and impossible. Easy to put off until tomorrow.

So, self-trickery is the strategy. Here are a few of the tactics that work for me:

  • Negotiate. Negotiating between and among my various selves is one of my favorite ways to initiate, and especially to maintain, a change. It’s reliable, and anyone who’s worked with children and/or adolescents already has a sense of the nuances involved. Say I don’t feel like exercising today. I’d hoped to walk three miles. I’ve dressed to go, but I just don’t want to. So, I start the negotiation:“Okay, what about I walk for 10 minutes. Then I’ll I’ll come back, sink down into my armchair, have a snack, and start that delicious novel.” When even 10 minutes seems too long, I’ll knock it back to five, or maybe a specific distance–from here to the sawmill road, or half a dozen telephone poles. Once I’ve set out to fulfill the bargain we’ve all agreed to, I’m generally able keep it going until I meet my original goal of three miles.
  • Do the hard stuff first. This simple tactic is analogous to the trick we play with the-year-olds: Eat your veggies before you get dessert. It’s actually a form of negotiation.
  • Just do it! I love that old Nike slogan. It fits well with my rural Vermont upbringing: just summon the courage, and step up, in the moment. Let’s say I need to apologize for a rude, insensitive, sarcastic, or patronizing remark I made to someone. For my emotional well-being, I need to do it, but I cringe at the thought of it. If I can Just do it! –say I’m sorry. That sarcastic remark was insensitive and hurtful, and I shouldn’t have made it. I’ll feel better. I may be more likely to hesitate the next time one of my inner saboteurs gets ready to sling a caustic remark.
  • Surprise yourself. The element of surprise is a time-honored strategy in war, romance, marketing–and self-transformation. Why? Because it jolts the mind from its grooves of habit, a requirement for change. I’ve written before about how I slept in my clothes–shoes and all–for several weeks the summer I started a regular exercise program. I didn’t trust myself not to get too “busy” to move my bones that day. So I’d pajama up in my exercise clothes, rise with the sun, swing my legs over the bed, gulp a swig or two of coffee, and get right out for my long walk, which later became a run. I eventually outgrew the need to sleep in my shoes, but the whole time I did, I felt a secret thrill of delight at how successful I’d been at tricking myself.
  • Defy yourself. This tactic involves facing down the bullies and naysayers within: It involves summoning the courage to say, “Hey, you’ve pushed me around long enough. I won’t do what you tell me to do. Here’s what I am going to do.” Then quickly perform a small, positive act in the direction of the change you want to make.
  • Stop! That’s right. Just stop. Stop moving. Hold still. Let your gaze rest on whatever lies before your eyes. Don’t think about anything. I find this tactic most useful when my mind is racing around in one of those negative feedback loops, and everything seems impossible. After a short pause, I find it useful to get up and move around vigorously for a few seconds (or minutes). Exercise does wonders to clam the chattering mind.

There are many more such tricks (some of which involve buddying up with others committed to their own self-health). But note that each one of them stops working if repeated too often. So mix, match, combine, and come up with a few of your own.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

“Living Naturally” is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that’s good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, ideas to make your home a healthy and safe haven, and the latest news on health. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it’s relearning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better, healthier lives.

Published on The Old Farmer’s Almanac

Holidays Around The World for Feb. 20: Carnival

Carnival

Cheese Week, Mardi Gras, Maslenitsa, Packzi Day, Pancake Day, Shrovetide

Carnival is a holiday that developed in response to a religious observance, namely the six-week season of Lent. In the Middle Ages Christians endured many trying religious disciplines during Lent. As a result they celebrated the week before Lent began, enjoying one last fling before beginning these hardships.

Carnival celebrations last from several days to over a week and take place in early spring. Many festivals begin in earnest on the Saturday or Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. The Thursday before Ash Wednesday, sometimes called “Fat Thursday,” also once served as a traditional starting date for Carnival. The date of Carnival changes from year to year, as its timing depends on that of Easter (see also Easter, Date of). The festival reaches its peak on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. In some countries people call this day “Fat Tuesday.” Indeed Carnival began as a means of using up rich foods and indulging in lively behavior before the start of Lent with its accompanying fast and other religious disciplines.

Symbols and Customs

Although Carnival celebrations vary from country to country and region to region, they usually include some or all of the following customs and symbols. Most Carnivals offer participants various opportunities to take to the streets in costumes or masks. As people temporarily take on the identity represented by the costume or mask, they engage in a spontaneous kind of play-acting with other costumed participants and onlookers. The fool or clown plays an important role in many Carnival festivals and symbolizes the topsy-turvy nature of the holiday. Many celebrations also feature a mock king and queen, who rule over the kingdom of Carnival during the few days of its duration. Some festivals schedule a symbolic funeral at the end of the week’s festivities. A dummy, or some insignificant item, such as a sardine, is “killed” and buried, and this burial represents the death and laying to rest of Carnival for another year. Often people throw things at one another during Carnival celebrations, whether it be water, flowers, candy, oranges, or party favors, such as confetti or beads. Finally, Carnival customs often encourage people to eat and drink heartily, and may also include some loosening of the usual rules of social conduct.

Origins of the Word “Carnival”

Researchers disagree about the roots of the word “Carnival.” Some say it comes from the Latin phrase caro levare, which means to lift or remove meat. During the Middle Ages this phrase became carne levare, and eventually, carne vale. It passed into English as “Carnival.” In some of the Romance languages that evolved from Latin, the word took on a similar form. In Spanish it’s carnaval, in Italian carnavale, and in Portuguese carnaval. The French call it Mardi Gras, which means “Fat Tuesday.” Other researchers have drawn different conclusions about the origin of the word Carnival. They say it comes from carrus navalis, a boat-shaped cart drawn through the city streets during the ancient Roman winter festival of Saturnalia. Masked and costumed men and women rode in the cart, singing coarse songs.

Origins

Where did Carnival come from? Most researchers agree that it began as a celebration of the last few days before the beginning of Lent. During the Middle Ages, people observed Lent by fasting, refraining from marital relations, reflecting mournfully on their shortcomings, and in some cases performing penance for serious misdeeds (for more on penance, see Repentance; see also Sin). No marriages could be performed during this somber time. Therefore, people celebrated the week before they began this strict regimen by indulging in rich foods, gaiety, and outrageous behavior, in other words, by enjoying all that was soon to be forbidden.

While Carnival as we know it today began in Europe in the Middle Ages, some writers believe that its origins lie in various celebrations that took place in the ancient Mediterranean world. They point to a variety of festivals observed in ancient times which resemble Carnival in certain ways. For example, during Saturnalia people feasted, drank, and reveled in the streets, often in costume. Moreover, social rank temporarily disappeared, as those of high rank served those of low rank, slaves enjoyed a temporary holiday, and people engaged in madcap behavior of all kinds.

The Babylonian and Mesopotamian New Year festivals, rowdy celebrations that took place in mid-spring, also featured street masquerades (for more on a related modern festival, see No Ruz). In biblical times the Jewish people created a spring holiday called Purim. During this holiday, still celebrated today, people hid their identities behind masks, men and women wore each other’s clothing, and people engaged in wild behavior normally considered inappropriate. Another Roman holiday, Lupercalia, which took place in early spring, offered certain young men an opportunity to dress in animal skins and run wild through the streets, flailing whips at young women who crossed their path. According to Roman folk belief, the strokes of these whips bestowed fertility. Finally, Roman devotees of the goddess Cybele observed a joyous spring festival called Hilaria.

Other writers disagree with the argument that Carnival evolved from these ancient celebrations. They point out that, with the exclusion of Purim, the last of these ancient festivals disappeared about five hundred years before 965 A.D., when the first mention of European Carnival celebrations appears in an historical document. This fact leads this group of researchers to conclude that, although Carnival shares some customs with ancient festivals, medieval Europeans invented the observance on their own as a means of letting off steam before beginning the hardships of Lent.

Medieval and Renaissance Carnivals

The earliest mentions of European Carnival celebrations in historical documents call it carnelevare, literally “lift up meat” or “take away meat.” Indeed, judging by these documents, eating meat seems to be the primary custom connected with the season. Carnival rooted itself in the European folk calendar between the years 1000 and 1300 with celebrations focused around feasting in preparation for the fasting soon to come.

The full range of customs that came to characterize European Carnival celebrations developed in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. During these centuries, which coincided with a period of social and intellectual change that historians have dubbed the Renaissance, people adopted new ways of looking at the world. These new perspectives included humanism, a philosophy that emphasized the need to place human interests above other concerns, and naturalism, a doctrine that denied the existence of anything beyond the natural world. These philosophies influenced Carnival celebrations by increasing the value people placed on lighthearted foolishness as a means of counterbalancing the artificial social demands and seriousness required of people in everyday life. During this era Carnival celebrations came to include a greater emphasis on clowns, fools, and social satire, that is, making fun of society and its rules. The famous Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel (c.1525-1530 to 1569) left us a visual description of the Carnival celebrations of this era in his 1559 painting entitled “The Battle of Carnival and Lent.” By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries those populations in which Carnival had taken root observed the festive season with masquerades, rich foods, drink, and rowdy revelry, especially antics that made fun of human folly or reversed social roles and ranks. Custom encouraged people to play pranks on one another, especially to throw water, flour, beans, dirt, or other substances at each other.

Criticism of Carnival

In the mid-fifteenth century Church authorities began to criticize Carnival celebrations for encouraging various kinds of excesses and creating public disorder. These criticisms often compared Carnival to pagan Roman festivals, suggesting that they indeed represented a survival of paganism and therefore should be suppressed. Active repression of Carnival celebrations began in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the year 1748 Pope Benedict XIV instituted a new custom in the Roman Catholic Church. This custom, called the “forty hours of Carnival,” required Roman Catholic churches to hold special services on the evenings of the last three days of Carnival. Churches also left their doors open during these forty hours so that people could enter at any time to seek God’s forgiveness for sins committed during the festival.

Carnival in the Modern Era

In the sixteenth century well-to-do Italians began to host costume balls in celebration of Carnival. This trend eventually spread to other parts of Europe, giving rise to a courtly Carnival. This same trend led to the introduction of elegant floats and magnificent parades, which encouraged a more civil and structured celebration.

In spite of official opposition and unease, Carnival celebrations proved impossible to stamp out in much of southern Europe. In northern Europe, however, Carnival celebrations faded away in some regions where they had once been popular. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries people began to beautify the festival in response to new perspectives introduced by the Romantic movement, which tended to idealize old traditions and folkways. Over time many Europeans discarded some of the dirtier and more aggressive customs associated with the holiday, such as throwing water or oranges at one another, and replaced them with gentler gestures, like tossing confetti and flowers. It became fashionable in some cities to ride in flowercovered carriages, construct elaborate parade floats, and host elegant masked balls. As the parades grew in importance the nature of the festival changed. Previously everyone had participated in the masked hijinks. Now a division grew up between participants and spectators. In the past the spirit of Carnival swept over the entire town. Now it was concentrated along a specific parade route.

From Europe to the Americas

While some of these changes were felt in Spain and Portugal, their rural Carnival celebrations continued in the same rowdy spirit of ages past. People in the street threw oranges, lemons, eggs, flour, mud, straw, corncobs, beans or lupines (a type of flower) at one another, and people on balconies poured dirty water, glue or other obnoxious substances on the crowds below. Those in the streets battled one another with brooms or wooden spoons. Indoors people feasted on rich foods, to which they also treated guests. The wealthier homes might even toss cakes and pastries out windows to passersby. Colonists from these countries exported this version of Carnival, called Entrudo in Portuguese, and Antroido or Entroido in the Galician language of northwestern Spain, to Latin America.

Latin American Carnival celebrations blend European Carnival customs with African and Native American traditions of celebration. African-influenced music and dance, for example, play an especially important role in Carnival celebrations in Brazil and Trinidad (see also Brazil, Carnival in; Trinidad, Carnival in). Meanwhile the French succeeded in transferring their Carnival celebrations to certain of their colonies in North America, namely those centered around the cities of New Orleans and Mobile. These celebrations, known as Mardi Gras, survive today, a regional American expression of an old European seasonal festival.

For more on Carnival, see Brazil, Carnival in; Cheese Week; Germany, Carnival in; Italy, Carnival in; Mardi Gras; Maslenitsa; Paczki Day; Pancake Day; Shrovetide; Switzerland, Carnival in; and Trinidad, Carnival in

Further Reading

Blackburn, Bonnie, and Leofranc Holford-Strevens. The Oxford Companion to the Year. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1999. Goldwasser, Maria Julia. “Carnival.” In Mircea Eliade, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Volume 3. New York: Macmillan, 1987. Griffin, Robert H., and Ann H. Shurgin, eds. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Holidays. Volume 1. Detroit, MI: UXL, 2000. Kinser, Samuel. Carnival American Style. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Lau, Alfred. Carneval International. Bielefeld, Germany: Univers-Verlag, n.d. Orloff, Alexander. Carnival: Myth and Cult. Wörgl, Austria: Perlinger, 1981.