World War Two: North Africa (7-34) End in Tunisia: Plans To Take Tunis

The enemy’s withdrawal in the north on the nights of 1-2 and 2-3 May took place while Allied preparations were being made farther south to renew in greater strength the drive on Tunis. Here the first attempt had been stalled well short of its goal. The enemy, apparently aware that the British Eighth Army lacked the power to penetrate the mountainous line which faced it, had been able to shift forces to meet the British 5 Corps by a vigorous counterattack on 28 and 29 April.

North of Enfidaville’s olive orchards, the hills bordering the coastal plain had to be brought under control before General Montgomery could renew his attack, which was scheduled for 29 April, over the lower ground. The 2nd New Zealand Division and the 201st Guards Brigade protected his western flank. On 29 April, the British 51st Division was given the mission of holding on the western portion of the front while the 4th Indian and 2nd New Zealand Divisions, and the untried British 56th Division, opened the way for possible exploitation by armor toward Hammamet. But this attack got off to an unsatisfactory start. General Montgomery, faced with a possible failure, obtained General Alexander’s authorization to abandon his attempt to reach Hammamet, and to convert the Eighth Army’s role to that of holding the enemy by purely local offensive measures, in conjunction with the northeasterly drive of French XIX Corps.

The 18 Army Group next undertook to split the enemy by overwhelming force rather than further to construct his bridgehead. Although the attacks by II Corps on the north beginning on 27 April and by French XIX Corps on the southwest on 28 April increased in scale, General Alexander decided to make a lightning attack through Massicault at the earliest opportunity. On 30 April, he ordered General Montgomery to send to British First Army as additional reinforcements the best units which could be spared. In response, Montgomery released the most experienced of his divisions, the 7th Armoured and 4th Indian, as well as the 201st Guards Brigade, thus arranging for participation in the final Allied drive by the oldest units of the Eighth Army.

The 18 Army Group issued a formal order for the final attack on 3 May. First Army was expected to attack and take Tunis while the U.S. II Corps co-operated by preventing the enemy from shifting troops to defend it. After taking Tunis, the British First Army was to exploit rapidly to the east and southeast in order, with the aid of the British Eighth Army, to prevent the enemy from falling back on Cap Bon peninsula. This accomplished, General Anderson was to turn his attack northward against Bizerte in co-operation with the U.S. II Corps.

The main thrust by British First Army through Massicault was intended to benefit if possible from surprise. General Anderson tried to create the appearance of a powerful concentration of forces by assembling groups of dummy tanks and other vehicles behind the British 1st Armoured Division in the area northwest of Pont-du-Fahs. The French XIX Corps was encouraged to renew its attacks across the road between Pont-du-Fahs and Saouf, on either 3 or 4 May. Troop columns passing through Djebibina to a point adjacent to the flank of the Eighth Army on 4 May suggested to the enemy that the Allies were planning to strengthen the attack there against the center and southern flank of German Africa Corps. While these efforts to draw enemy units to the southern part of the Axis bridgehead were in progress, the British 9 Corps was actually to assemble within the British 5 Corps zone for a powerful lunge northeastward on a 3,000-yard front. After a saturation bombardment by artillery and air, infantry would be expected to open a gap in the manner characteristic of British Eighth Army, and armored elements would grind through the opening at once. By this operation the troops were to reach Tunis with but one night intervening, forging ahead through a narrow corridor. The attack on the flanks was to be made either by 9 Corps after Tunis had fallen, or by 5 Corps while Tunis was being taken.

Regrouping and other preparations for the main attack could not be completed before 5 May, so the attack was to open with a French offensive on 4 May, then continue with seizure by British 5 Corps of Djebel Bou Aoukaz (226) southwest of Tebourba late on 5 May, and reach its climax in the combined air-ground assault on Massicault at dawn of 6 May. At the time these plans were formulated, it was hoped that, by 6 May, the U.S. II Corps would be nearing Mateur. For a time, 18 Army Group contemplated an amphibious operation against the Cap Bon peninsula, where, the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department had concluded, the enemy could be expected to concentrate, possibly for “a Bataan-like defense” in a series of positions. During this defense, intelligence officers reasoned, the enemy would evacuate as many troops as possible to protect Sicily from seizure.

The fact of the matter was that, as the Italians had been informed in the Schloss Klessheim conference on 8 April, the enemy’s high command had made its decision to fight on with no regard for evacuation or the possibility of defeat. On 1 May when the Italians through naval channels tried once more to get a hearing at Berlin for their view that there was no hope for saving Tunisia and that the Italian fleet should be thrown into an effort to secure Sardinia and Sicily, they were sharply rebuffed, and told that reinforcement of Tunisia was the only alternative to surrender of the Axis ground forces in the Tunisian bridgehead.

The reduced scale of the attacks on 26 April aroused some hopes of a longer lull in the Allied offensive, but Field Marshal Kesselring was even then convinced that the attacks would shortly pick up, and that the problem of reinforcement was critical. Almost all of General von Arnim’s mobile reserves had already been committed. The troops were becoming exhausted. ” Perhaps the present positions could be held with several battalions,” Kesselring said to General Ambrosio, “but the present rate of transportation is too slow to bring the necessary reinforcements in time.” He suggested the diversion to Tunisia of small ships then being used to convoy materiel to Sardinia, and in Hitler’s name again proposed the temporary employment of a convoy of ships of the Italian Navy to carry up to one division from the backlog of German troops awaiting shipment to Tunisia. He repeatedly urged the use of Italian destroyers even for carrying supplies, since everything was needed at once-fuel, munitions, and men.

In spite of British deception measures, the enemy expected the main attack by First Army in the general area where it was launched. He had intercepted Allied radio messages revealing the shift of major forces away from Montgomery’s army to the British First Army. But knowing where to expect the main Allied thrust, even if it did cost the British the benefit of surprise, could be of little consolation to von Arnim at a time when his capacity to counteract was subject to the severest strain. Nevertheless, Army Group Africa proceeded to implement the plan, first projected on 24 April, to mass all available mobile reserves in the threatened sector between the Medjerda river and the area northwest of Pont-du-Fahs.

Concurrently with the general shortening of the lines of the Fifth Panzer Army, effected on 1-3 May, the Axis forces in the sector north of the Medjerda plain were reorganized. General von Vaerst assigned the sector from the coast to the north, western comer of the Garaet Ichkeul to the Bizerte Defense Command (BDC) under General Kurt Bassenge. There a conglomeration of German, Italian, Navy, and Luftwaffe units maned the last defense line ahead of Bizerte. The harbor defenses could be of no value to them since these faced toward the sea. To form the back bone of an improvised line, 88-mm. Flak guns were hauled out of harbor defense positions. To the south of the salt lake, Division von Manteuffel (now commanded by General Buelowius) anchored its right wing on the bald eminence of Djebel Ichkeul (508).

From there the line extended east and then south along the lesser ridges fringing the Tine river valley as far as a point in the hills northwest of Choui·gui pass. The greatly reduced 334th Infantry Division (now under the command of General Fritz Krause) was next in the line which ended on the bank of the Medjerda river, north of the much contested Djebel Bou Aoukaz. From here to the MassicauIt-Tunis highway stood Group Irkens. Von Arnim, moving what reinforcements he could still comb from Italian First Army short of risking a collapse of its front, assigned to this most threatened sector the remaining elements of the 15th Panzer Division (consisting mainly of the 115 Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the 33rd Antitank Battalion). Although additional reinforcements were planned-such as antiaircraft battalions from the 19th Flak Division and battle-tested units of the 10th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions still with German Africa Corps-they could not be brought in for lack of transportation and fuel.

By 4 May, when these shifts had been accomplished, General Willibald Borowietz, Commanding General, 15th Panzer Division, assumed personal command of this defense zone. The Africa Corps and First Italian Army sectors remained unchanged. In the Medjerda plain, nearer Tunis, Fifth Panzer Army organized a second blocking position and maned it with the remaining 88-mm. dual-purpose guns of the 20th Flak Division (General Neuffer) and the 10th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion. After two days of costly seesaw battle at Djebel Bou Aoukaz, Fifth Panzer Army’s remaining armor totaled some 60 to 70 operational tanks and was assembled near Massicault. As the last substantial supply shipments reached Tunisia on 4 May they brought a desperately needed, though short-lived relief. Small vessels and ferries brought 1,100 tons of ammunition and 110 tons of fuel; transport planes landed 70 tons of fuel and another 30 tons of special types of ammunition.

In view of the possibility that an Allied armored thrust might achieve a breakthrough to Tunis and separate the Axis forces, enemy military leaders reached the agreement that troops found south of an Allied corridor, wherever it lay, would pass to the control of General Messe while those north of it would remain under command of General von Vaerst.8 Enemy airfields in Tunisia were cleared of almost all aircraft, including more than 400 single- and twin-engine fighters in operating condition, which were then crowded on the airdromes of Sicily. There they provided a vulnerable target for Allied bombers.

The Liberation of Tunis

Allied bombing missions in preparation for the main 6 May attack through Massicault toward Tunis struck a series of targets: Protville, the area southwest of Tunis, the Cap Bon peninsula, and, on the night of 5-6 May, intermediate strongpoints between Tunis and its outer defenses. On that night, as the attack began, Wellington bombers from Misurata joined the Tactical Bomber Force in hitting areas near La Sebala and El Aouina, Djedeida, Tebourba, and Cheylus. During the preceding two days, the British 1st Infantry Division of the British 5 Corps had seized, and held against counterattacks, the heights of Djebel Bou Aoukaz, on the southern side of the Medjerda river.

Massed artillery that night dropped a dense pattern of shells on the selected zone of advance of British 9 Corps southeast of the mountain. General Crocker’s 4th Indian Division on the left and the British 4th Division on the right of the Medjez el Bab-Massicault-Tunis highway prepared to attack at 0330. Fires then shifted to a rolling barrage. As the mists of dawn rolled away, the Allied air units launched the most intensive air attack thus far exhibited in Africa, deepening the area of bombardment in a zone three and one-half miles wide and four miles long. Within it, the area of Massicault and St. Cyprien received marked attention.

The infantry swept open a channel for the armor, and shortly after 1100, the British 6th and 7th Armoured Divisions with four battalions of Churchill tanks began rolling toward Massicault in great clouds of dust on a front of about 3,000 yards. Some of the antitank weapons which the enemy had so laboriously set up were demolished before they were fired. The attack overran the two battalions of the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and pushed back the remainder of the 15th Panzer Division to Massicault. The British occupied Massicault in the latter part of the afternoon, completing the first stage of the Allied push. The attack was a success in spite of the fact that traffic had been dense, with units becoming intermingled as a result of insufficient signposts.

General Borowietz’s battered units strove during the night to establish a new line from Djedeida to St. Cyprien, but their mobility was poor, and the fall of Tunis next day became certain. Indeed, General von Arnim wondered why the attack had stopped at all in view of the flimsy resistance remammg after Massicault had been taken. General Crocker’s 9 Corps resumed the offensive with his two armored divisions, while the British 4th and Indian 4th Infantry Divisions reverted to 5 Corps after nightfall. The armor proceeded to bypass St. Cyprien with the intention of taking it from the rear.

Next morning, the British 6th Armoured Division engaged the bulk of the German armored elements southeast of the village and drove them back toward the Sebkret es Sedjoumi. This success facilitated the operations of the British 7th Armoured Division at St. Cyprien. That division speedily overcame the defenders. Farther to the northwest the enemy abandoned Tebourba, while British tanks and armored cars of the 7th Armoured Division entered Le Bardo, a suburb of Tunis. Grinding past Le Bardo’s grain elevator and railroad yards, and delayed only briefly by a brisk skirmish at the main highway junction west of the city, and by light sniping elsewhere, the foremost elements of the 22nd Armoured Brigade were inside Tunis itself by midafternoon. The 1st Derbyshire Yeomanry and 11th Hussars mopped up during the night. Axis troops there were relatively few. Many had been sent up to the crumbling defense lines and others had withdrawn southward. The rapidity with which the British seized Tunis permitted the city to escape the general destruction inherent in a last-ditch defense, if indeed the Germans ever contemplated such a defense. Stalingrad, which Hitler had cited to Mussolini with unintentional irony as an example to be followed in Tunisia, was fortunately in no sense a model for what happened.

When the attack toward Tunis began, Allied aircraft spotted an Italian steamer waiting outside the harbor for naval escort and drove it back to shallow water near La Goulette, where it rested on the bottom on an even keel and sustained a series of air attacks. At the time of these attacks the ship was evacuating nearly 500 Allied prisoners, including men of the 1st Battalion, U.S. 16th Infantry, who had been captured on Hill 523, near Hill 609, earlier in the week. Although one man was killed and three were wounded, the remainder succeeded in getting ashore and returning to Tunis, from which the enemy was trying to escape. Some of the enemy readily surrendered to the Americans who had so recently themselves been in captivity.

The enthusiasm of the populace for the arriving British units was dwarfed by the fervor of the greeting extended next morning to Generals Barre and Bergeron, and later in the day, to General Juin, the new Resident General of Tunisia. Six months previously, the Allied Force had landed in Algeria and Morocco and the first of the Axis emissaries had landed in Tunisia. The week of uncertainty which followed these first landings was to have no counterpart in May, for the fighting of the next few days in Tunisia could have but one outcome. To the rumble and smoke of battle from Hammam Lif, observable in Tunis, the city’s population celebrated its deliverance. The 4th Zouaves and units of the 4th African Chasseurs on 9 May brought back to Tunis some of the troops of General Giraud’s army.

As the British attack rolled into Tunis the anticipated split of Axis forces took place. Fifth Panzer Army was confined to the area north of the Medjerda and east of the Tine rivers. The remnants of the 15th Panzer Division with attached elements of the 10th Panzer and 334th Infantry Divisions withdrew to the north of the Medjerda. The 334th Infantry Division was immobilized in the mountains around Eddekhila and Chouigui pass and for lack of fuel was forced to fight to the end wherever they happened to stand, as were von Manteuffel’s forces.

General von Vaerst moved his command post to El Alia, east of Lac de Bizerte, and on 9 May passed out of communication with Headquarters, Army Group Africa. Von Arnim was left with the German Africa Corps and First Italian Army and attempted to build up a new defense line across the base of the Cap Bon peninsula from Hammam Lif through the mountains to Zarhouan and Enfidaville. He assigned the Hermann Gӧring Division to General Cramer’s German Africa Corps. Threatened with encirclement from the north, the division was ordered to fall back to the Hammam Lif position where a Flak regiment of General Frantz’s 19th Flak Division and a parachute battalion were building up a powerful blocking position.

During the night of 8-9 May, Army Group Africa rushed the two battalions of Panzer Grenadier Regiment Africa and an artillery battalion to the same position. After the Hermann Gӧring Division had extricated its units it was inserted to the south of that defense line. The remainder of the Africa Corps’ new front was held by elements of the 10th Panzer Division which had withdrawn into the mountains east of Cheylus. Next, the 21st Panzer Division (-), Division Superga, and Kampfgruppe Schmidt (at the end commanded by Colonel Pfeiffer) fought their way back to the area of Zarhouan and north of the town.

Bizerte Falls to the U.S. II Corps

When an enemy counterattack failed to materialize after the fall of Mateur, it was apparent that the II Corps needed only to complete its regrouping and reconnaissance before renewing the assault. General Bradley advanced his command post from the vicinity of Bed ja to that of Sidi Nsir. Eastern Base Section took over some of II Corps’ supply points in the Djebel Abiod and Bedja areas, and established new dumps along the two major roads leading toward Mateur and Chouigui pass, while the Americans bridged the streams near Mateur at several points. Northeast of Mateur, a reconnaissance in force by Combat Command B on 5 May drew enough antitank and artillery fire to demonstrate the enemy’s defensive positions.

The II Corps planned to resume its general attack on 6 May in conformity with the plans of 18 Army Group. The 9th Infantry Division was to drive against the hills, north of Caract Ichkeul and eventually to overcome the fortified positions which the enemy had occupi ed in anticipation of attack on Bizerte. Combat Command A, 1st Armored Division, was to seize Ferryville, east of the Garaet Ichkeul on Lac de Bizerte, and to cover the southern side of the lake, while Combat Command B cleared the route from Mateur toward Djedelda. The 1st Infantry Division on the north and the 34th Infantry Division on the south would at the same time attack the enemy in the hills east of the Tine river, including the heights abutting Cholligui pass.

The enemy was making extensive use of the pass. Such dispositions reflected the exchange of zones earlier planned for the 1st and 34th Infantry Divisions, since the 1st Infantry Division had continued generally northeastward while the 34th Infantry Division sideslipped southward from the vicinity of Hill 609 and then drove eastward along the Sidi NsirChouigui road. Both divisions, moreover, crossed the route of advance of the 1st Armored Division, although after 4-5 May, the bulk of that armored unit had already reached the vicinity of Mateur. With the corps antiaircraft and engineer units as well as the various elements of these divisions shifting into place, traffic became unavoidably congested at the road fork eleven miles south of Mateur and only skillful regulation of movement and Allied air superiority enabled the next attack to be mounted on schedule and without risk of disaster.

Before daylight on 6 May, from north of the Garaet Ichkeul to Pont-du-Fahs, the Allied forces were once more on the offensive. The II Corps made satisfactory progress on 6-7 May against an enemy who manifested no diminution in his will to resist. The northern wing of the attack, which was already in motion on 5 May, had to press past Djebel Cheniti (209), a dominating height about fifteen miles from Bizerte just north of the Garaet Ichkeul, and to traverse a narrowing shelf with but one road along the salt lake.

The 1st and 3rd Battalions, 60th Infantry, relieving the battered Corps Franc d’Afrique, acquired Djebel Cheniti on 6-7 May after the preliminary seizure of adjacent ridges to the north by the 47th Infantry. The crossing of the Douimis river proved less difficult than had been anticipated. Before noon on 7 May, Company A, 751st Tank Battalion (medium tanks), and the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion were on the eastern side of it, hunting for enemy units along the northern flank. The 9th Reconnaissance Troop approached Bizerte along the road to the east with the imminent prospect of reaching the city’s outer limits at midday. Early seizure to forestall sabotage of the port was of vital importance. General Bradley accordingly ordered General Eddy to rush an occupying force to the city.

Reconnaissance elements of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion reported their entry into Bizerte at 1615, 7 May. They had followed the 9th Reconnaissance Troop as it cleared mines along the road from the west, and close behind them came the first two tanks of Company A, 751st Tank Battalion.

Troops comprising the spearhead of the 9th Infantry Division’s attack quickly verified earlier reports from prisoners and from the 9th Reconnaissance Troop that the enemy had pulled back through Bizerte, had abandoned the city, and was now in position along the far side of the ship channel to Lac de Bizerte. Indeed, enemy guns fired on American troops, from points southwest of the city, while in the city itself movement was subject to sniping, to mines, and to booby traps. Extensive demolition was attributable to recent bombing and enemy sabotage. Units of the 15th and 20th Engineers cleared away wreckage and removed mines and booby traps in the city during the night. Official entry was to come with the arrival of elements of the Corps Franc d’ Afrique on 8 May.

On orders received early in the evening, 7 May, the 47th Infantry with elements of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion in support started on a march of 8-10 miles to a sector only two and a half miles southwest of Bizerte. The 2nd Battalion was put in positions of defense along the shore of the ship channel while the other two battalions occupied heights overlooking the lake and the city. In Bizerte, the Cannon Company’s forward observer, 2nd Lieutenant Orion C. Shockley, had taken up an observation post on the roof of the Hotel de la Marine. From this vantage point he was able at daylight to direct counterbattery fire across the channel against positions from which the enemy had been shelling the 47th Infantry during the night. This fire silenced some eight artillery pieces and other lighter weapons.

Very early on 8 May, the 47th Infantry entered Bizerte, then withdrew while French troops completed the mopping up. When the regiment returned on 11 May, fewer than a dozen natives were on the sidewalks to observe the procession through the battered streets.

U.S. II Corps Pushes Beyond Mateur

Following the occupation of Mateur on 3 May, the U.S. 1st Armored Division established contact with the 9th Infantry Division southwest of the Garaet Ichkeul and, while preparing to defend its possession of Mateur, reconnoitered for subsequent operations to gain control of the routes leading from the town to the north or the east. The incentive to begin the next stage of the attack at once, before the enemy could consolidate his defensive positions in the heights along these building behind tank.

routes, was strong but General Harmon and his principal unit commanders were reluctant to attack until the division was able to construct ample bridges near Mateur to replace those destroyed by the enemy, to reconnoiter, and to strike an overwhelming blow. Thus the main offensive beyond Mateur opened only on 6 May, after a reconnaissance in force had ascertained the enemy’s strength and dispositions. The enemy had to be ready to meet attacks along either or both routes. He concealed his antitank gun positions until some Sherman tanks of Company H, 13th Armored Regiment, drew fire. These tanks had been committed on 5 May to the east of Mateur and north of the Mateur-Tunis highway, in what may have seemed like the beginning of the main Allied attack. The recent multiplication of American armor in the II Corp’s assault was met in part by a transfer of enemy dual-purpose 88-mm. guns from locations in which they had been defending various targets against air attack to sites on the ridges from which to stop the tanks.

American operations near Mateur were subject to enemy observation and resistance from the bold cone of Djebel Ichkeul, the steep-sided hill just south of Garaet Ichkeul, and from a line of antiaircraft gun positions running along the belt of hills and ridges south of Lac de Bizerte. Djebel Ichkeul was brought under partial control by the 91st Reconnaissance Squadron on 4-5 May, although several hundred men of the Reconnaissance Battalion, Hermann Gӧring Division and their French captives continued to hold out in its coves and other strong positions for another week.

The 1st Armored Division attacked on 6 May with Combat Command A under Colonel Lambert driving along the route to Ferryville and Combat Command B under Colonel Clarence C. Benson pushing into the hills north of the Mateur-Djedelda road. At 0445, before dawn, both operations began. Combat Command A occupied hills about seven miles southwest of Ferryville against light resistance, but a series of enemy counterattacks by tank-supported infantry regained some of the heights. That night the Americans won back these losses. Early on the morning of 7 May, Combat Command A started northward toward Ferryville in what became a running fight past the extremely narrow point four miles southwest of that place. It is at this point that the hills and the Garaet Ichkeul are closest. The force occupied the town that afternoon and prepared to drive to the east on 8 May. Combat Command B’s part of the attack on 6 May had as its major objective a road junction about six miles east of Mateur.

Combat Command A, 1st Armored Division, then consisted of the following: Headquarters, Combat Command A; 6th Armored Infantry (less the 1st Battalion); 3rd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment; 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment; 58th and 91st Field Artillery Battalions; and elements of 81st Reconnaissance Battalion and 91st Reconnaissance Squadron. It was reinforced during the day by the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry (attached from the 9th Infantry Division).

Both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 13th Armored Regiment, and elements of the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion opened the attack just as a brilliant sun broke above the horizon behind the enemy, completely masking his positions. The 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Gardiner), ran at once into strong opposition which stopped its attack with a loss of seven tanks. Colonel Gardiner was wounded and remained missing until after dark. Command of the 2nd Battalion passed to the regimental executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton H. Howze. The 3rd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Ben Crosby), was driven back. To pierce the enemy barrier, a stronger force and much heavier artillery preparation seemed to be required. While the enemy was kept under persistent American artillery fire the 2nd Battalion prepared another attack for late afternoon. Most of Crosby’s battalion tried to strike the enemy’s north flank from the Ferryville road without success. The heaviest available artillery concentration (fifty-four guns) blanketed the area of attack and laid smoke on the southern flank, where the antitank guns appeared to be the most plentiful.

While the German gunners kept under cover, the tanks and tank destroyers started over the crest and across the valley in the formation of a hollow trapezoid, followed by a second wave of six tanks and nine tank destroyers. They overran the strongpoints and despite heavy antitank fire, reached the top of the next rise, hesitated there for a few critical minutes, and then proceeded for some two miles before darkness required organization in place for the night. The battalion shifted position just before dawn to escape being caught in daylight within a ring of antitank guns, and continued carefully eastward on 7 May past the road junction against moderate resistance. Combat Command B’s losses on 6 May were approximately 60 men and 12 tanks, plus 15 tanks briefly knocked out. Behind the 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, the Reconnaissance Company of that unit mopped up 135 prisoners and 2 47-mm. guns. On 7 May, Ferryville was cut off and the enemy south of Lac de Bizerte were near encirclement. Casualties that day were lighter, and about twice as many prisoners were captured.

The 1st Infantry Division’s depleted units on 6 May made an aggressive attack against troops of the Luftwaffe Regiment Barenthin in the hills just east of the Tine river, where, in a narrow valley, it flows north beside the Mateur-Chouigui road. General Bradley at this point expected the division merely to keep the enemy under pressure but General Allen felt that he should resume the drive of 23 April-1 May. The 18th Infantry, after crossing on two newly prepared bridges, was ordered to attack eastward against a Djebel about seven miles southwest of Mateur, with the 26th Infantry on its southern flank. Company H, 1st Armored Regiment, furnished support. The attack opened auspiciously at 0300, but soon ran into difficulties. The 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry, on the left diverged to the northeast from its planned route of approach and lost contact with the 1st Battalion. It was caught on the open plain at daylight near the base of an enemy-occupied hill and subjected to the devastating crossfire of machine guns and mortars. The 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, was next driven off a hill into the shelter of a wadi where it seemed likely to be cut off. Only four of the tanks which were to furnish support got across the Tine river before the bridge collapsed, forcing the remainder to confine their participation to direct fire. The division’s attack became an effort chiefly to extricate the pinned-down elements of the 18th Infantry while avoiding exposure of the 26th Infantry’s northern flank, and to hold the enemy where he was. The 26th Infantry pushed two battalions onto foothills, and broke up an enemy counterattack against its 3rd Battalion with the aid of the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion.

General Allen alerted the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 16th Infantry, for action in aid of the 18th Infantry, but did not use them, confining the 1st Infantry Division’s commitments to troops already in contact with the enemy. In order to protect the division’s north flank, he had the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, echeloned to the west of the 18th Infantry for greater depth in defense. Darkness permitted the 18th Infantry to pull back. This move in turn necessitated withdrawal by the 26th Infantry. Except for patrols, the 1st Infantry Division broke contact with the enemy and occupied positions on the western bank of the Tine river.

The first elements of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division (less 7th Regimental Combat Team) came forward for possible commitment. The last elements of the division left Ain M’lilla on 7 May in time to reach their concentration area before morning, while the leading unit, Combat Team 15, assembled in the rear of the 1st Infantry Division’s positions. General Truscott expected the 15th and 30th Combat Teams to pass the division on the night of 10 May to complete mopping up in the eastern extremities of the II Corps zone. Before it could be put into effect, this plan was altered by the sudden collapse of enemy resistance.

Operations on the extreme southern flank of II Corps in the final phase of the attack passed to the 34th Infantry Division. General Ryder gave his unit commanders oral orders on 4 May. His division had the mission of seizing Chouigui pass, the high ground north and south of it, and Chouigui village held by the 334th Infantry Division. Before the general attack of the corps on 6 May, the 34th Infantry Division began an attempt to occupy the village of Eddekhila in the southeastern corner of the Tine valley. Patrols on the afternoon of 4 May made no contact with the enemy when they went to Eddekhila and the adjacent hills. But by this time well aware of the enemy’s habitual care to avoid revealing his presence except to the main body of an attacking force, the Americans carefully prepared a reconnaissance in force for the next morning.

The route, moreover, was to be along the foothills at the southern edge of the valley rather than on the more exposed, if smoother, ground nearer the stream. The 168th Infantry, supported by the 175th Field Artillery Battalion, led the advance on 5 May in column of battalions, with a reconnaissance platoon and the Antitank Company protecting the left flank. West of Eddekhila the head of this column ran into resistance too strong to be overcome in daylight without disproportionate losses. Artillery fire from the left and front, mortar and long-range machine gun fire from the right and right rear, and unfavorable rising ground ahead without sufficient cover, made it inadvisable to rush forward. Instead, a night attack by two battalions a breast, each advancing on a I,000-yard front behind a swift rolling barrage from four battalions of light and two battalions of medium artillery, was scheduled. A third battalion was to push over the hills to the south, protecting that flank and tying in with the British. In this way, the 34th Infantry Division was to participate on 6 May in the general offensive throughout the II Corps zone.

The infantry assault on 6 May got past Eddekhila and into the heights east of it but when the supporting artillery barrage was lifted, the enemy returned to his machine gun and mortar positions, and severely hurt two infantry battalions while they tried to reorganize for a second advance.

Throughout the day, the three battalions of the 168th Infantry and the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 133rd Infantry, pushed into the hills south and east of Eddekhila toward the area in which Generals Nehring and Fischer had thrown back the first Allied attempt to reach Tunis in November 1942. Progress was slow and the Americans gained no dominating height. On 7 May, when they resumed the attack at 0500, they continued to advance northeastward over several crests hut were stopped just short of the pass. They continued their pressure on the defenders until, just before dawn the next day, the enemy hurriedly withdrew.

The II Corps’ participation in the last great offensive by the Allies had by darkness on 7 May arrived at it’s final phase. Advance elements of the V.S. 9th Infantry Division held Bizerte, from which the enemy had withdrawn. The V.S. 1st Armored Division had cut the road and railway connections between Bizerte and Tunis via Ferryville or Mateur at several places. It had driven the enemy back from his prepared line of defense at some points and had pierced that line east of Mateur and FerryviIle.

The fighting elements of General von Vaerst’s Fifth Panzer Army facing the II Corps had been driven into three separate segments in the hills around the Lac de Bizerte, east of the Tine river, and northwest of Tunis. The numbers of Germans readily surrendering had suddenly swelled. Shortages of fuel and of all types of ammunition rendered the enemy’s final line a brittle crust more likely to shatter than to sag. For General Bradley’s command, the remaining operations were to consist of a number of deep thrusts to the water’s edge at the extreme eastern limit of the II Corps zone, thrusts meant to divide the enemy’s forces into smaller, disorganized fragments.

Total Surrender in the North

Early on 8 May, a Royal Navy motor torpedo unit tried to enter Bizerte harbor but was driven off by shore batteries near it. It was evident that the defenders along the coast would have to be cleared out by ground attack from the rear. For this part of the final attack near Bizerte, Combat Command A, U.S. 1st Armored Division, established two task forces to move from Ferryville around the southern and eastern rim of Lac de Bizerte.

The first, consisting of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Lydon B. Cole), and the 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, late on 7 May moved out to seize a crossing over the Ben Koceine river, about four miles southeast of Ferryville, and was ready next morning to work along the right (south) flank, while the second, consisting of the 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Frank F. Carr), and the 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, advanced along a route nearest the lake. The enemy had emplaced numerous antitank guns and self-propelled artillery pieces in the hills that commanded the flat shore, and near Bizerte had a battery of 105-mm. dual-purpose antiaircraft guns equipped with radar. These guns were able to reach targets near El Alib, toward which Colonel Carr’s task force was heading. Supported by the 91st Reconnaissance Squadron (less Troop A) , and the 58th and 918t Armored Field Artillery Battalions, the attack progressed along the hills during the forenoon toward the southeastern sector of the lake shore.

That afternoon, Carr’s force swung northward to seize El Azib. In a narrow corridor between the lake and a ridge to the southeast, the battalion sent two companies of light tanks with directions to “drive like hell, pray, and rally in a wooded area a mile south of El Azib.” At 25-30 miles an hour, the tanks roared northward, exposed for about eight minutes before they reached the cover of trees. Six tanks remained behind, knocked out along the way. The others, soon reinforced by part of the 91st Reconnaissance Squadron, overcame all local resistance. By nightfall, the enemy forces which had abandoned Bizerte were cut off from retreat at Menzel on the highway, and next morning, American units reached the coast to the north.

From its night positions of 8-9 May controlling a road junction six miles southeast of EI Azib, the 3rd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, pressed east between Carr’s force on its left and Howze’s force advancing on its right. Hundreds of prisoners began pouring in at daylight, and were collected at a point about one mile south of the road junction. The enemy in front of Combat Command B on the southeast, in spite of continued resistance, was driven back into the path of Colonel Coe’s right company.

By midmorning, from the vicinity of EI Alia, the 3rd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, was preparing a drive on Metline to the north when it received word of the surrender of all the enemy facing II Corps, and new orders which turned the force toward the coast west of Metline. The first resistance it received, which came from a group of ten German tanks after the surrender, was abruptly terminated when the enemy learned of the situation, ignited his own tanks, and hastened off toward the north.

Colonel Benson on 8 May ordered Colonel Howze, with reinforcements, [NOTE: They were the following: the 1st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry (less one company) ; Company A, 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion; Company B, 81st Reconnaissance Battalion; Battery A, 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (self-propelled 105-mm. howitzers); a platoon, 16th Armored Engineer Battalion.] to cut the Bizerte-Tunis highway, a mission which required him to approach by either an exposed route at the northern edge of the Garaet el Mabtouha, west of Protville, or over the hills five miles farther to the north. The dangers of the mountain crossing were great but the prospect of thus surprising the enemy was alluring. If the tanks could be forced over the mountains, at the risk of ignominious failure, their success would be all the more complete. Colonel Howze chose the mountain route and, starting at 1230, led his column of tanks, tank destroyers, and infantry over the craggy slopes, deep gullies, and rugged shoulders, terrain that at several points was seemingly impassable. Late on 8 May they arrived at the final slope, above the main highway near Douar Gournata, where a road to Porto Farina branches off the main highway, and near an enemy airfield. They were greeted by 88-mm. shelling, but the appearance of their forty tanks in such a totally unexpected quarter doubtless contributed to the enemy’s awareness of defeat.

Colonel Howze deferred the descent of his force to the plain until daylight, but all during the night, saw hundreds of burning enemy vehicles dotting the plain while tracer ammunition, being expended before an imminent collapse, laced the sky. At sunrise on 9 May, and throughout the day, the enemy surrendered in droves while this mobile force continued to the northeast, out along the coastal road, as far as Rass el Djebel. On the right of Task Force Howze, the 3rd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, now under Lieutenant Colonel Bogardus S. Cairns, drove toward Protville and cut the road between Tunis and Bizerte during the night of 8-9 May. Next day on Colonel Benson’s orders the unit pushed northeastward to Rass Sidi Ali el Mekki (then known as Cap Farina), where it prevented enemy evacuation in small barges.

Part of the 1st Armored Regiment-the Reconnaissance Company and 3rd Battalion-had participated in operations northeast of Bedja ever since 23 April, as already pointed out, while the remainder of the regiment was held in II Corps reserve. During 6–7 May, Colonel Hains’s command was brought to the vicinity of Mateur, and on 8 May, after the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, had been attached to Combat Command B, and the 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry, and reinforced 68th Armored Field Artillery Battalion had been placed under Hains’s control, the force moved eastward to take up defensive positions near the edge of Garaet el Mabtouha. The 1st Battalion, moving ahead of this force, got about twelve miles along the same Mateur-Djedelda road before being stopped by an enemy group. On the morning of 9 May, it continued its sweep around the southern limits of the salt marsh, turning eastward at Sidi Athman along a road link leading to the main Tunis-Bizerte highway. Near ProtviIle, where the II Corps boundary ran along the northwestern bank of the Niedjerda river, troops of the British 7th Armoured Division were found to be already in control. Swinging northward toward Bizerte, and branching northeastward to Porto Farina, the armored column pushed along the corps boundary. By nightfall, enemy forces along the lower section of the Medjerda river had been completely destroyed. Wholesale surrenders were making the process of mopping up more tedious than risky.

The 34th Infantry Division had taken the heights on the southern side of Chouigui pass during the first two days of the last offensive, and on the night of 7-8 May were preparing to attack the hills on the northern side at daylight. After the success of the attacks on Tunis and Bizerte, and the evacuation of Tebourba and Djedeida on 7 May, continued operations to seize the hills seemed unnecessary. Indeed, daylight revealed that the pass was defended by only a few riflemen, either stragglers or an expendable rear guard. By 0800, 8 May, the division not only held the dominating heights adjacent to the pass but had a patrol in Chouigui village, east of it. The fighting elements of the 334th Infantry Division were attempting to reach a line beyond the Mateur-Djedeida road. In midmorning, a British patrol from the Tebourba area appeared at Chouigui. What remained was to corral the thousands upon thousands of the enemy who sought the opportunity to surrender, and to mop up the encircled areas.

The opportunity to exploit the situation by continuing across the coastal plain, perhaps to Tunis, was tempting to General Ryder’s men, who had struggled through the hills since 24 April. But the boundary between U.S. II Corps and British V Corps had been carefully defined, and the Americans were under the most explicit admonitions to remain northwest of the Medjerda river. The 34th Division reassembled its battalions, sent patrols to Djedeida, out-posted the hills near Eddekhila, investigated the food resources of its area, and mopped Up.

By the afternoon of 8 May, the Axis forces under Fifth Panzer Army had been isolated in two major pockets. The northern group, consisting mainly of Fifth Panzer Army headquarters and the remainder of Division von Manteuffel and 15th Panzer Division (with elements of the 10th Panzer Division) fought under the personal command of General von Vaerst in the hills north of Garaet el Mabtouha and EI Alia, preparing to make their last stand in EI Alia and the hills to the northeast. After having lost contact with the south, the very considerable enemy force trapped near Bizerte might have tried to re-cross the ship channel to make a last stand in the streets and buildings of the city, but any such desperate endeavor was forestalled by the prompt organization of a provisional American force along the northwestern side of the channel with antitank, automatic, and artillery weapons.

In the other pocket to the southwest, beyond some twenty miles of Allied-held ground and the impassable salt marshes, the 334th Infantry Division and small groups of other units were encircled in the hills between Mateur and Tebourba. The hope that these troops could fight their way out of the pocket and join the main group to the northeast had to be abandoned early on 8 May. On the eastern half of the solitary peak of Djebel Ichkeul, making good use of caves dug into the mountainside, was a group of less than 300 men of the Reconnaissance Battalion Hermann Gӧring, defying surrender until 10 May.

At 0930 in the morning of 9 May General von Vaerst sent his last situation report to von Arnim:“Our armor and artillery have been destroyed; without ammunition and fuel; we shall fight to the last.” At 1000 his emissaries reached General Harmon’s headquarters to request an armistice while the surrender of all troops north of Tunis was being arranged. General Bradley’s headquarters, when apprised of this development, transmitted instructions in the formula decreed at Casablanca: “The terms of surrender are unconditional.” By noon, these terms had been accepted. At 1250, General Harmon reported the surrender of the 10th Panzer and 15th Panzer Divisions.

Eventually, the number of enemy prisoners reached the surprising total of almost 40,000. Generals Gustav von Vaerst, Fritz Krause, Karl Buelowius, and Willibald Borowietz of the German Army, and Generals Kurt Bassenge and Georg Neuffer of the German Air Force, spent 9-10 May in custody at Headquarters, II Corps, near Mateur, and were then transferred to Headquarters, British First Army. Another prisoner taken at this time was Major Hans Baier, the somewhat legendary commander of the Regiment Barenthin.

The Fighting Ends in the South The end of operations north of the Allied corridor to Tunis which the British First Army’s attack of 6-7 May had created, came sooner than it did to the south. A considerably larger proportion of the enemy’s forces remained on that side, where they were enclosed by the British 5 and 9 Corps, the French XIX Corps, and the British Eighth Army, but were in an area better adapted to prolonged defense. The first objective of the Allies was to cut them off from the sea and from Cap Bon peninsula, where enemy troops might have held out for an extended period.

The British 6th Armoured Division, followed by British 4th Division, went southward along the TunisHammamet-Enfidaville road to block retirement into a peninsular redoubt. The British 1st Armoured Division, now under 9 Corps, cut across eastward from the Goubell at area to reinforce them. The British armored column reached Hamman Lif defile, a gap of 300 yards between cliff and surf, only to find it strongly defended by Kampfgruppe Frantz armed with antitank guns and other artillery (see p. 651 above). Here was a Tunisian Thermopylae. For approximately two days the defenders successfully repulsed all attacks of the 6th Armoured Division, later reinforced by the 1st Armoured Division, and defied all stratagems. Then a tank force, risking immobilization and destruction, succeeded in navigating a course over the firm wet sand at the very edge of the surf. The tanks broke into the enemy’s positions, and cleared the way for an accelerated rush to Hammamet by the entire column.

On 10 May, as the French celebrated the liberation of Tunis, the campaign was being brought to a close farther south. British 26th Armoured Brigade of the 6th Armoured Division captured Soliman about 1400. Three hours later, the 2nd Armoured Brigade of the same division had advanced as far as Grombalia, almost half way across the base of Cap Bon peninsula, and was pushing on to the southeast. Elements of the brigade penetrated the area west of Grombalia between the Tunis-Enfidaville highway and the El Hamma river. Patrols of the 12th Royal Lancers linked up with the French XIX Corps in the vicinity of Zarhouan. Pockets of enemy resistance still held out in Zarhouan, and the enemy counterattacked unsuccessfully at a point five miles west of that town. Army Group Africa’s headquarters moved from the northern side of Cap Bon peninsula to the mountains between Zarhouan and Hammamet and joined there headquarters of the German Africa Corps.

Elaborate naval and air plans to prevent enemy withdrawal from Tunisia to Italian territory were ready in what was designated, perhaps with Norway and Dunkerque in mind, as Operation RETRIBUTION. It was supposed that the Axis high command would first extricate specialists needed for the defense of Italy, at least, and in a second phase would attempt an unselective transfer of as many men as possible. The overwhelming naval and air superiority of the Allies permitted plans to employ enough warships and airplanes to thwart such Axis withdrawals.

Actually, only a very limited effort was made to salvage German specialists and none at all to bring back to Sicily the troop units so necessary for its defense. The enemy’s means of transportation and escort were so far below requirement as to condemn such an attempt to failure from the start. The strength of the concentration of British naval vessels at Malta, Bone, and Algiers was not tested. From the sea the British shelled possible points of exit from the surrender. Behind him on the left is Major General Hans Cramer, the Cap Bon peninsula on 10-11 May, and eventually intercepted enough small craft to yield a total of some 77 prisoners from them, while 126 were taken from the Ile Zembra off the coast.

[NOTE: The Italian Navy was credited with 5 battleships, 6 cruisers, 25 Serviceable destroyers and 80 craft, and 25 submarines. Twelve German submarines were considered available to the enemy. Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, was prepared to use 3 battleships, 8 cruisers, 40 destroyers, 23 mine sweepers and trawlers, and 14 flotillas of smaller motor craft. Allied aircraft were estimated at 744 bombers, not including torpedo bombers, compared to 640 Axis bombers based in Sicily and Sardinia, and Allied fight(‘fs at almost 1,000, greatly exceeding those available to the Axis in the southern half of the Sicilian strait. Appendixes II, III,Cine, Mt:’d No. 00235/22, 13 Apr 43.]

The enemy was caught before he could affect any major withdrawal even onto the Cap Bon peninsula. He remained, therefore, to be surrounded in the hilly area south and southwest of Grombalia by the enveloping tentacles of British First Army and Eighth Army.

The British 10th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Division on 11 May made the circuit of Cap Bon peninsula along the coastal road, meeting the 12th Brigade of this division along the southeastern side near Menzel el Heurr, while the 26th Armored Brigade and one battalion of the 1st Guards Brigade pressed through all opposition to take Bou Ficha at 1800. At that point, about twelve miles north of Enfidaville, a strong antitank screen stopped the progress of the tanks, on many of which the infantry hitherto had been taken boldly up to any opposition encountered. At nightfall on 11 May, the British 4th Division controlled the peninsula while the 6th Armoured Division held the road from Hammamet to Bou Ficha.

At the same time, General Boissau’s Oran Division had driven well north of Zarhouan and General Mathenet had received the surrender of Kampfgruppe Pfeiffer’s 10,000 men of the German Africa Corps with all equipment. Southeast of Zarhouan, in the hills between that town and Enfidaville, the First Italian Army held out, its XXI and XX Corps and the troops of its remaining units interspersed among the Germans of the 90th and 164th Light Africa Divisions and the 21st Panzer Division. General Graf von Sponeck, commanding the 90th Light Africa Division, declined an invitation from the 2nd New Zealand Division to surrender until his resources were exhausted.

The collapse in the south on 12 May was all but complete at nightfall. In front of British Eighth Army, the only serious resistance was that encountered by the Free French elements in the center of the army line. All enemy resistance, from Saouf to Zarhouan, in front of the French XIX Corps had ended in capitulation. General von Arnim surrendered towards noon north of Ste. Marie-du-Zit. With Allied troops closing in and surrender imminent, he prepared for the end of his command, sending a final report to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, taking leave of his principal staff officers, and committing to flames by his own hand the command post trailer which Rommel had turned over to him two months earlier. A few hours later, General Graf von Sponeck also surrendered. The prisoners poured into custody.

Only the Trieste and 164th Light Africa Divisions remained of the larger enemy units which had not yet succumbed. First and Eighth Armies established contact south of Bou Ficha. Air patrols swept the Cap Bon peninsula in search of groups of the enemy and watched the coast for escaping boats. Allied aircraft bombed enemy positions north of Enfidaville, but the chaotic conditions made air support generally impractical. There could be no bomb line. At the end of the day, the Allies held more prisoners than they could count and far more than had been anticipated. Included among them were most of the principal Axis commanders.

The last step in the enemy’s capitulation was not taken until the commander of the First Italian Army surrendered on 13 May. Through General Mancinelli, Messe arranged to make his surrender to the British Eighth Army rather than to the First Army, the French elements of which had been his direct opponents for the last few days. His troops were ordered to turn themselves over to the nearest Allied unit, to destroy no more materiel, and to furnish plans of any mine fields in their sectors. He himself, after radio communication with the headquarters of General Freyberg, British 10 Corps commander, surrendered in the grade of field marshal, to which he had been promoted that very morning. Thus ended hostilities in Tunisia.

Allied Reorganization

The weeks which followed the enemy’s collapse in Tunisia were a period of swift transition to the next Allied overseas invasion. The Allies celebrated their victory but gave much more attention to the near future than to the recent past. Throngs of Axis prisoners of war moved slowly westward toward the ports from which eventually they would be shipped to camps in North America. Columns of Allied units in Tunisia shifted to other parts of Northwest Africa where they began getting ready for their next important missions. Lessons learned in combat in Tunisia were recorded and distilled for the benefit of those yet to be sent against the enemy. Military activities proceeded in an atmosphere of strong political tension, while the separate elements of the actively belligerent French moved toward a long-postponed political and military unification. From Morocco to Tunisia, Northwest Africa witnessed intense and varied Allied preparations for the next great venture, which would bring Allied forces to the European side of the Mediterranean.

The last week of the fighting had brought about 275,000 prisoners into Allied custody, a flood which all but swamped the victors. The prisoners poured into detention areas in long columns either on foot, riding on miscellaneous vehicles, or even sometimes astride burros. The compounds repeatedly had to be enlarged. Enemy morale was generally good, for if some were stolidly sad or deeply dejected, more were resigned or even cheerful, and all were submissive. They needed guides to the prison compounds more than guards. The Allies had been mistaken in expecting an attempt at mass evacuation.

Hitler and Mussolini, intending to hold Tunisia as long as possible, were unwilling to risk the effect on morale which preparations for a withdrawal would inflict. Hitler had refused to permit the evacuation of German military specialists of the types so badly needed at other fronts, and only at the very end did he authorize withdrawal of a specified list of individuals.

The collapse had come with startling suddenness. An attempt at prolonged defense on Cap Bon peninsula had been prevented by the extreme shortage of fuel and ammunition. Indeed, General von Arnim’s Army Group Africa headquarters there had been able to return from the peninsula eventually to join General Cramer’s command post north of Ste. Marie-du-Zit only by the providential discovery of a drum of aviation gasoline among the flotsam on a nearby beach. The shortage made any considerable withdrawal of troops onto the peninsula impossible. All flight by sea in small craft was unorganized and insignificant, and Allied offshore patrols found little to do. Guarding and moving the prisoners became a protracted operation.

General Alexander’s headquarters left Tunisia, disbanded at Algiers at the end of 15 May, and became Headquarters, 15th Army Group, in charge of ground force preparations for Sicily. General Anderson’s First Army headquarters settled in Carthage, at the edge of the sea some ten miles northeast of Tunis, while on 16 May, General Montgomery withdrew Eighth Army Headquarters to Tripoli, leaving all British troops in Tunisia under Anderson’s control.. In conformity with First Army orders Issued 4 May, Tunisia was divided into four subordinate sectors along the coast, each defended by a garrison of one division. Air defense of northern Tunisia was undertaken by the 242nd Group, RAF, with its operational center at Djedeida airfield. Antiaircraft defense at airdromes and ports was assumed by the British 22nd and 52nd Antiaircraft Brigades. Internal security became a responsibility of the French, exercised through General Barre’s 9,0 00 troops, mainly by the 4th Zouaves and 15th Senegalese Infantry. The French and the British shared the task of coastal defense.

General Bradley left for Algiers on 13 May with part of his staff for conferences on the Sicilian plans, and then went to a new II Corps headquarters at Relizane in the Oran area. The Eastern Base Section, which held temporary control of an area adjacent to Mateur and Bizerte, soon released that control to First Army, and before long, only the U.S. 34th Infantry Division of the former units of U.S. II Corps remained as a garrison force in northeastern Tunisia. The 1st Armored Division moved all the way across French North Africa to Morocco in the zone of the U.S. Fifth Army. The 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions went as far west as the Oran area. The 3rd Infantry Division shifted to eastern Algeria. The 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions, scheduled to make assault landings in Sicily, became involved in amphibian and mountain training and planning with little opportunity for rest.

British Eighth Army, like U.S. II Corps, had been nominated for a role in the seizure of Sicily, and while its scattered elements prepared for that undertaking, British First Army completed its service by supervising the reorganization of Allied control in Tunisia. The command was to be disbanded, a fact not made known to General Anderson in Tunis until the day of the official celebration of the Tunisian victory.

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 (7-35) Fruits of Victory

World War Two: North Africa (7-33) Allied Advance To Mateur


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