April 15, 1941 :Battle of the Kerkennah Islands
A naval battle that took place off the Tunisian archipelago of Kerkennah.
It was during the day of April 15 that a British plane Maryland spotted an Axis convoy consisting of four German troop modes of transport, Iserlohn, Adana, Aegina and Arta, and the transport of Italian ammunition Sabaudia. This convoy, protected by three Italian destroyers (Tarago, Lampo and Baleno) had sailed from Naples two days earlier and had to deposit in Tripoli 14,400 tons of war materiel for Marshal Erwin Rommel. This equipment included tanks, trucks, and other miscellaneous equipment. At 1400, the convoy is approximately between the island of Pantelleria and the Gulf of Hammamet in Tunisia. Once the convoy was spotted, Admiral Ford, commander of the Malta Maritime Base, ordered the 14th destroyer fleet of Janus, Nubian, Mohawk, and Jervis ships to intercept and sink the convoy. The command of the attack goes to Commodore Philip Mack. The latter provides for an interception off the banks of the Kerkennah archipelago off the Tunisian coast. However, the weather is bad, they can not benefit from the help of aviation and the lack of radar on the ships forces the British to fight on sight.
It was at 6 pm that the flotilla sailed from the port of Malta. It then moves at a speed of 26 knots on Cape Mahdia. In the middle of the night, the watchmen are doubled and equipped with binoculars, the destroyers sailing, of course, all masked fires. At 01:45, as planned, the fleet is at the Kerkennah’s bench, but the enemy fleet is not at the rendezvous. However, the convoy passes six kilometers from the British without being spotted and without spotting them even though the British are in the reflection of the moon. Finally, at 2 o’clock in the morning, a watchman reports a ship 10 kilometers away. At a speed of 30 knots (54 kilometers per hour), the British fleet is heading for its opponent.
At 2:15, the British are two kilometers away from the opposing convoy and Mack then orders to open fire with 120-millimeter guns. The Italians retaliate two minutes later but it is already too late. The Jervis has already hit the deadly Lampo cargo ship to death. At the same time, the Nubian attacks the Baleno who takes a shot on the bridge. All the staff is killed and the burning ship drifts onto the sea. The Mohawk destroyer tries to sink the cargo ship Adana, which manages to avoid it. He is then in front of the last destroyer, the Tarago, led by Commander Pietro Cristofaro. He then pulls all his pieces. Meanwhile, the Sabaudia cargo ship hit in its ammunition bay explodes in a sheaf of flames. There are no survivors. At that moment, all the British ships concentrate their fire on the Tarago which is hit many times. He nevertheless managed to fire three torpedoes, two of which hit the destroyer Mohawk, which will be scuttled by the Jervis. It will deplore 41 dead including the commander. Having not had time to destroy its secret codes, Italian divers will seize it between April and June 1941. But the British victory is however completed by the destruction of the cargo ships Arta, Iserlohn, and Aegina. After recovering the British survivors, as well as some enemy soldiers, the three British destroyers make their way to Malta. The Italians later recovered survivors but the destruction of so much material will delay the Rommel offensive.
At the end of the battle, Malta finally becomes an offensive base, and despite the fact that they can not prevent the passage of the Afrikakorps, submarines, planes, and ships drastically reduce the number of Axis convoys. The direction of North Africa.
February 26-March 4, 1943: Battle of Sejnane
The Battle of Sejnane pits the Allies against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the Second World War for the possession of Sejnane, a town north of Tunisia, on the railway line connecting Mateur to the port of Bizerte. The battle is part of the Tunisia Campaign.
The city becomes a place of strategic importance with the invasion of North Africa by the allies. After the first landings of Operation Torch, the Allied rush to Tunis was stopped by German paratroopers in the hills east of Sejnane in November 1942. The troops of the Eighth Battalion of the Highlanders of Argyll and Sutherland were ambushed on November 29, as they advance down the road through the hills, their Bren Carrier tanks destroyed in the no man’s land become the sinister symbol of the stalemate in which the Allied troops find themselves over the months following from the Tunisian campaign. These hills, known to allies as Green Hill, Baldy, and Sugarloaf, are an obstacle to their advance to the North, until February 1943.
As war correspondent Alan Moorehead writes in his book African Trilogy (published in 1944): Sejenane was a town by the railroad in the damp cork forests on the Mateur road. Whoever held Mator held Bizerte, and who held Green Hill and Baldy outside Sejenane held Mateur.
February 17, 1943 : Battle of Sidi Bouzid
The battle took place near the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. She opposed the 10th and 21st Panzerdivision commanded by Hans-Jürgen von Arnim to the 1st American Armored Division commanded by General Lloyd Fredendall.
The battle of Sidi Bouzid is part of the Tunisian campaign opposing the forces of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (Axis forces) to the Allied forces.
The latter had failed to capture Tunis during Operation Torch in late 1942. The belligerents took advantage of the status quo following this operation to rebuild their forces. Hans-Jürgen von Arnim, commander-in-chief of the Axis forces in Tunisia, chose to maintain the advantage earned the previous year by conducting operations to conceal his intentions. In January 1943, the Afrikakorps forces commanded by Erwin Rommel retreated behind the Mareth Line, a fortification line erected by the French near the Medenine coastal region of southern Tunisia. those of Von Arnim then reinforce Rommel’s forces by. At that time, Rommel’s army was renamed ‘first Italian Army’, and the Italian General Giovanni Messe placed at its head while Rommel took the lead of the combined forces of Von Armin and Messe: the Afrikakorps.
While the majority of Tunisia, then French protectorate, is controlled by German forces, the region of Sidi Bouzid is controlled by the allies2 with the 2nd corps of Lloyd Fredendall for the US Army and the French troops of the 19th. Alphonse’s body in June. In the absence of information on the enemy’s intentions, the allies disperse to cover several contingencies, leaving several units isolated and unable to support each other in the event of a concentrated attack. Fredendall organizes the defensive device without knowing the terrain personally: the American forces are scattered between two hills: Jebel Lessouda and Jebel Ksaira.
Rommel, for his part, had perceived the threat posed by these forces in the event that they decided to proceed with an eastward push, which would have divided the two armies under his command and cut off the first Italian army from its supplies in Tunis. On January 30, Von Arnim sends the 21st Panzerdivision to attack the pass of Faïd held by French troops. Called to the rescue, Fredendall reacted slowly, which does not prevent the troops of Von Arnim to achieve their objective while inflicting heavy losses to the French troops.
February 25, 1943 : Battle of Kasserine
This is actually a series of battles that took place around the Kasserine Pass, a three-kilometer depression across the massive Tunisian Ridge of the Atlas Mountains. The city of Kasserine is located west of Tunisia.
The Axis forces engaged are mainly from the Afrika Korps under Marshal Erwin Rommel and the 5th Panzer Army under the command of Hans-Jürgen von Arnim. The Allied forces depend on the 2nd Corps of the US Army commanded by Major General Lloyd Fredendall.
This battle is the first large-scale encounter of American and German forces during the Second World War. American troops without fire experience are sent to combat clumsily by their command. The consequences are dramatic for them with high losses and a retreat of more than 80 kilometers from their original positions west of Faïd. As a result of these events, the US Army makes a number of changes in unit organization and changes command. A few weeks later, during new battles, US troops are proving much more effective.
The Second World War made Tunisia an unplanned battlefield after the Anglo-American landing in Morocco and Algeria on November 8, 1942, during Operation Torch. The landing came just days after British General Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army breakthrough at the second battle of El Alamein in Egypt. Understanding the danger of a war on two fronts, German and Italian troops are transferred from Sicily to occupy Tunisia, one of the few easily defensible areas of North Africa located just one day sailing from Sicilian bases.
Despite the Allied landing, the defense of the Axis to the west remains a summary. But no special effort by the Allied Air and Naval Forces attempted to prevent the transfer of men and equipment to Tunis at the beginning of the campaign, allowing for a significant influx of German and Italian forces. In addition, the Allied troops progress slowly to contact the Germans as they negotiate the rallying of commanders of French forces loyal to the Vichy regime.
On November 15th, the 1st British Army enters Tunisia. On November 27, his left-wing approached Mateur, on the road to Bizerte, and his right-wing reached Djedeida in the valley of the Medjerda (25 kilometers from Tunis). Central Tunisia is invaded. American paratroopers seize Kasserine and Gafsa. But despite several attempts to take Tunis before the large arrival of Italian-German troops, the defensive advantage of the ground and poor Allied coordination allows the weak German and Italian troops disembarked to resist the Allied advance.
The Germans counter-attack and, from November 29, the Allies are arrested and the offensive blocked. The front stabilizes on a line from Cape Serrat to Gafsa. In December and January, General Von Arnim strengthens his troops as Erwin Rommel slowly retreats from Tripolitania to southern Tunisia, followed by General Bernard Montgomery. The British 8th Army took Tripoli on January 23, 1943, and occupies the main supply base of Rommel. But Rommel had prepared the blow and occupies the southern approaches to Tunisia along the Mareth line built by the French to defend Tunisia against the Italians.
Thanks to their defense lines supported on the Atlas in the west and on the Gulf of Sirte in the east, even a small number of Italian and German soldiers could resist facing the allied forces.
Capture of Faid (January 30-February 3, 1943) and Sbeitla (February 14-17, 1943)
The German situation is precarious. US troops have already crossed the Atlas Mountains and established a bridgehead in Faïd beyond the Tunisian Ridge massif. They are in an excellent position to cut German forces in half. Rommel and Afrika Korp’s risk being separated from the rest of the Wehrmacht forces and supply bases in northern Tunisia. It is obvious that they can not remain motionless in the face of this threat.
Afrika Korps reaches the lines on January 30th. The 21st Panzerdivision defeated the meager French troops defending Faïd without much effort. The US 1st Armored Division tried several times to stop the German advance, but its three brigades suffered the classic Blitzkrieg. Whenever they receive the order to defend a position, it has already fallen into the hands of the enemy and they must suffer the murderous fire of the German defenders.
After three days of fighting, the Americans abandon the game and withdraw their troops in the foothills of the Tunisian ridge. Henceforth, Tunisia is almost entirely in German hands and approaches to the coastal plains blocked. The Americans still control the interior of the hilly massif of the Tunisian ridge, the extension of the Atlas, but this is not a matter of concern for the German command which asks its troops to hold the outlets of the massif to the east. During the next two weeks, Rommel and his commanders discuss the operations to be undertaken, and, given their future actions, this postponement may be costly.
The “desert fox” thinks he can improve his supply and erode the American situation a little more on his side by attacking two US supply bases just west of the western side of the Tunisian dorsal massif in Algeria. Although he has no tactical interest in keeping the plains in the heart of the massif, a quick offensive would improve his situation from the point of view of supply and block any future American action. On February 14th, the 21st Panzerdivision resumed its course towards the west and attacked Sidi Bouzid, some fifteen kilometers from Faid, in the interior plain of the Tunisian ridge. The battle lasts a day but the use of parous armor by Americans leads to their defeat. At the end of the day, Afrika Korps is the master of the field. An American counterattack was easily defeated the next day and the Germans resumed their offensive on February 16 with Sbeïtla as their goal.
No longer having a defensive advantage, US forces retreat and establish new lines on the western part of the mountains at the level of the Kasserine Pass which is easier to defend. At that time, the Americans have already lost 2,546 men, 103 tanks, 280 vehicles, 18 field guns, three anti-tank guns, and an entire anti-aircraft battery.
On February 19, Rommel launched several offensive patrols and found that the Kasserine pass was the best place to contemplate an assault. The next day, he personally led the attack by the newly formed 10th Panzer Division detached by the 5th Panzer Army in the north. He hopes to capture US supply depots as the 21st Panzerdivision continues its northward attack through the Sbiba gap. In a few minutes, the American lines are pierced. Their light weapons and light tanks are no match for the heavier equipment of the Germans. Moreover, their lack of experience in the Armored War does not improve their situation. The German Panzer IV and Tiger lead their attacks without difficulty against American M3 Lee and M3 Stuart tanks having lower firepower and driven by crews much less experienced. To make matters worse, as in previous German offensives, the US command is again overtaken by events. The organization of counter-attacks or barrage of artillery takes too much time and the Germans have already exceeded the positions of the American units which must engage the fight. The scenario of the offensive of early February is repeated and the 1st US Armored Division receives decrees orders.
From the second day of the offensive, two of his three battlegroups are jostled and the third is overall out of action. After crossing the Kasserine Pass, the German forces split into two columns. Erwin Rommel remains with the main group of the 10th Panzerdivision following the road north towards Thala. At the same time, an Italian-German force is heading north-west on a road further south with Haidra as its goal. In order to oppose the southern force of Rommel, composed of Italian and German troops, the remnants of battle group B of the US 1st Armored Division retreats thirty kilometers in order to surprise them the next day (February 20). But battle group B is shaken again and fails to stop the German advance. The morale of American troops began to decline dramatically, and on the evening of February 20, many troops withdrew by abandoning their equipment on the ground. The road is now wide open and the Tébessa supply depots are now at your fingertips. But the relentless resistance of small American groups isolated behind the enemy lines seriously slows the progress of the Axis forces. Thus, on the second day of the offensive, operations to reduce the pockets of resistance mobilize the infantry while the armored spearhead still progresses along the two axes of attack.
On the night of 21 February, elements of the 10th Panzerdivision are posted near Thala, a city with two road links to Tebessa. If Thala falls and the 10th Panzerdivision takes the southernmost route to Tebessa, the 9th US Infantry Division would be cut off from its supply and the 1st Armored Division B Battle Group would be surrounded between the 10th Panzer Division and the troops. Italo-German progress along the road further south.
During this night, small French, British and American units manage to join their lines and reinforce the garrison of Thala. All the artillery of the 9th Infantry Division, 48 pieces, also reinforces the lines during the night after three days of walking. When the battle resumes the next day, the defenders are much stronger. They are composed mainly of British infantry largely supported by American artillery. Due to his stretched lines and lack of refueling, Rommel decides to stop his offensive. Fearing that the 8th British Army of Montgomery could cross the Mareth Line quickly if it is not reinforced, the ‘desert fox’ disengages his troops and retreats to the east. On 23 February, a large-scale US air attack on the Kasserine Pass precipitated the retreat of the Axis troops and the Allies resumed the pass on 25 February.
After this battle, both sides study the results. For Rommel, US troops are of poor quality because of both their equipment and capabilities. It’s not a threat to him. He praised, however, a few units including the second battalion of the 13th American Armored Division of the 1st Armored Division of General Orlando Ward. He describes the defense of Sbeïtla by this ‘intelligent and well-fought’ unit. For a time, the Germans use a large number of captured US vehicles.
On the American side, the study of this first disastrous commitment involves an immediate reaction. The commander of the 2nd American Corps, Lloyd Fredendall, is relieved of his command and will no longer take part in military action until the end of the war. Dwight Eisenhower realizes that General Omar Bradley and other Fredendall’s subordinates have no confidence in his command. This judgment was confirmed by the commander of the first British army, Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson, who described him as incompetent. On March 6, General George Patton took command of the 2nd American Corps with the mission to improve its efficiency. Bradley is appointed assistant commander of the corps.
Several officers are promoted or retired. Thus General Stafford LeRoy Irwin, who commanded the artillery of the 9th Infantry Division during the Battle of Kasserine, became a talented divisional commander. Unit commanders were given more latitude to make quick decisions based on the situation without having to refer to the hierarchy and are encouraged to position their command post near the lines. On the contrary, Fredendall had built a fortified command post far from the front and rarely visited the lines. In addition, Fredendall used to break up his units into smaller groups than the battle groups, which were easily encircled and submerged. Efforts are being made to improve coordination of artillery and air support with ground troops, coordination that was lacking during this episode.
While the use of artillery support became much more flexible, the problem of coordination between ground troops and close American air support was only settled with the Battle of Normandy, sixteen months later. For its part, the 2nd American Corps immediately changed its doctrine of engagement and used its divisions as a great unit and no longer in several smaller groups with separate missions as did Fredendall. During the Sicilian campaign, US forces had greatly increased their combat capabilities.
March 6, 1943 : Operation Capri in Medenine
Operation Capri is the code name given to the German counter-attack that took place in Medenine (Tunisia) during the Tunisian campaign. It aims to disrupt and delay the attack of the British Eighth Army on the front of the line Mareth. The German attack begins on March 6, 1943, but fails and is abandoned the same evening. For the next two days, the German army retreats to the north.
After the defeat of the Axis troops at the Battle of El Alamein, the German commander, Erwin Rommel, makes a withdrawal from Egypt to the east of Libya. This avoids the destruction of his forces. Army Group Africa is formed, with Rommel at his command, including General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim’s 5th Panzer Armee and General Giovanni Messe’s 1st Italian Army.
March 10, 1943 : Battle of Ksar Ghilane
Attacked by German armored vehicles and armored cars belonging to the 15th and 21st Panzer divisions, supported by Stukas, the free French of the Leclerc column win a defensive victory and prevent their opponents from discovering the concentration of New Zealand troops that are about to attack the Mareth line.
A column today commemorates this battle at Ksar Ghilane, with the inscription: Here, from February 23 to March 10, 1943, General Leclerc and Force L, from Chad, victoriously supported the assault of the forces enemies, inflicting severe losses on them.
March 28, 1943 : The Battle of Mareth
The Mareth line is a system of fortifications established by the French between the city of Mareth and the Matmata Mountains (southern Tunisia) before the Second World War. This line plays an important role in the course of operations during the Tunisian campaign, from November 1942 to May 1943. Built between 1936 and 1940, it is designed to defend Tunisia against the expansionist tendencies of Italians since Libya then Italian colony. Baptized ‘Maginot line of the desert’, it runs for 45 kilometers crossing the coastal road. It has forty infantry casemates, eight large artillery casemates, fifteen command posts, and 28 support points.
After the Battle of France, these works are demilitarized by a German-Italian commission. Following the defeat of the latter at the second battle of El Alamein, the works are rearmed by Afrika Korps (November 1942 – March 1943) to delay the advance of the British Eighth Army led by General Bernard Montgomery: 100 kilometers of barbed wire is laid, 100,000 anti-tank mines, 70,000 antipersonnel mines, and shelters are put in place, and anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns reinforce the works. In addition, the Mareth line being judiciously built behind the Zigzaou wadi, this makes it a natural antitank ditch. The battle of Mareth took place from March 16 to 28, 1943. It coincides with the pressure exerted on the Axis forces commanded by General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim in central and northern Tunisia by the Allied forces. At the same time, the Allies are beginning to regain air and sea supremacy in the Mediterranean basin. 160,000 Allies face 76,000 Axis men. The British, helped by the French column of General Leclerc, fail during their frontal attacks. After a failed counter-attack on Medenine (Operation Capri), the line is occupied by the surviving units of the Afrika Korps from Rommel, which became the first Italian army (commanded by General Giovanni Messe). On March 19, 1943, the British Eighth Army assaulted the line (Operation Pugilist). The 50th British Infantry Division successfully managed to penetrate the line near Zarat but its advance was wiped out by a counterattack of the 15th Panzerdivision (March 22). Although the British attack was defeated, Montgomery sent corps, under the direction of Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks, with the second New Zealand division of Bernard Freyberg around the Matmata Hills.
March 23, 1943 : Battle of El Guettar
It opposes General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim’s Afrika Korps and General George Patton’s 2nd US Army Corps in southern Tunisia. This is the first battle in which US forces beat experienced German tank units.
The 2nd US Corps was severely repulsed when it encountered Axis forces in Tunisia during a series of battles, the worst being the Battle of Kasserine in February 1943. Erwin Rommel, very close of complete tactical success, turned away from the fight to retreat behind the line Mareth, defensive line facing east when informed of Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army. Thus, the fight with the American forces remains without conclusion, even if it lost ground and men and that it has little confidence in certain decisive commanders.
The last week of January 1943, despite a massive artillery bombardment, the 14th Battalion of the Italian Bersagliers of the 131st Centaur Army Division retreated near the Jebel Rihana. Harold V. Boyle, an Irish war correspondent, wrote that a second attack was necessary, using grenades and bayonets, to dislodge the Italians.
The US command reacts to its setbacks against German and Italian forces with a series of changes in command, discipline, and tactics. An important change was the adoption of more flexible artillery tactics. In addition, large units were reinforced rather than divided into smaller, defenseless units under the command of Lloyd Fredendall, commander of the 2nd Corps. Close air defense has also been improved but does not reach satisfactory levels before the end of the war.
On March 6, 1943, George Patton took command of the 2nd US Army Corps from Lloyd Fredendall, who had commanded him until then and during the Battle of Kasserine. His first change was to organize the Corps for an offensive by returning to the Tunisian Dorsal. If this offensive resulted then it would threaten the ranks is Axis forces defending the Mareth line facing Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army and eventually making their position untenable. Patton’s style of command was different from that of his predecessor: it is reported that he issued an order to attack a hill that ended in this way: I am waiting to see so many casualties among the officers, especially the staff, to convince me that a real effort has been made to achieve this goal.
On March 17, the 1st US Infantry Division penetrated almost abandoned plains, taking the city of Gafsa and transforming it into a future supply base for future operations. On the 18th, the 1st Ranger Battalion, commanded by Colonel William O. Darby, pushed further and occupied the oasis of El Guettar, again with little resistance. On the contrary, the Italian defenders retreated and took up positions in the hills, blocking the Guettar pass linking the inner plains to the coast. The Rangers swooped down on an Italian position making 200 prisoners the night of March 20, climbing a steep cliff, to be able to get ammunition and equipment.
The Afrika Korps, aware of the American movements in the south, makes the decision to put an end to this deployment. Marshal Erwin Rommel, called to Berlin, gives the command of the new Panzerarmee Afrika to von Arnim. Like Rommel, he considers the American troops as mediocre and thinks that a simple show of force will push the Americans back from their positions in the eastern part of the Tunisian ridge, as was the case at the time. Battle of Kasserine.
At 6 o’clock in the morning, March 23, 1943, fifty tanks of the 10th Panzerdivision debouch in the valley of El Guettar followed by infantry and self-propelled Marder guns. American lines of infantry and artillery positions are easily crossed.
However, the German advance is seriously slowed down when it falls on a minefield. As the sappers begin to clear the area, American artillery and anti-tank guns, including 31 M10 Wolverine tankers just arrived from the United States, are firing. In an hour, 30 tanks of the 10th Panzerdivision out of the fifty engaged were out of action and at 9:00 the Germans withdrew from the valley.
A second attack occurs in the afternoon at 4:45 pm after the infantry has been able to reform. But here again, the American artillery disrupts and breaks the attack, inflicting heavy losses on the German troops. Realizing that other attacks are also doomed to failure, part of the 10th Panzerdivision sets up positions in the hills east of the valley and the rest folds to Gabes.
On March 19th, the 8th British Army launched its attack on the Mareth Line, initially with little success.
During the following week, US forces slowly advanced to capture the rest of the interior plains and establish lines crossing the Tunisian Dorsal. German and Italian defenses were effective and progress was slow and costly. On March 23, the armored division attacked the 1st Battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division of Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. York. German tanks enter the valley. During the action, German tanks and self-propelled guns, as well as German troops carrying vehicles and trucks, drove down the 32nd Field Artillery Battalion and part of the 5th Artillery Battalion. the campaign, and the Italian high command reported that 40 tanks had been destroyed and 170 Allied soldiers had been captured in ‘central and southern Tunisia’. On 26 March, as part of Operation Supercharge II, a British force sent by an internal bypass road attacked the Tebaga Gulf north of the Mareth Line. Their breakthrough left Mareth’s defenses unsustainable. The Axis forces withdrew about 40 miles from the new line established at Wadi Akarit, north of Gabes, at 33 ° 53’3 ‘north latitude and 10 ° 5’33’ east longitude. This made the US position even more valuable, as the road through El Guettar led directly to Gabes. On March 30, US forces were in an offensive position south of El Guettar. In order to start an escape, the two original Italian strengths on the hills 369 34 ° 14’29 ‘N 9 ° 7’16’ E and the hill 772 34 ° 12’7 ‘N 8 ° 59’36’ E had to be taken, one after the other.
The American plan included the first and ninth US infantry divisions and a ‘combat command’ 1/3 of the US 1st Armored Division, collectively known as ‘Benson Force’. This force attacked coast 369 on the afternoon of March 30, but was the victim of mines and anti-tank fire, losing five tanks and a rifle company of Colonel Edwin H. Randle’s 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment. , forced to surrender. The tanks were removed and the 1st and 9th attacked again the next day at 06:00, gaining ground and making several hundred prisoners. However, an Italian counter-attack drove them out of their newly acquired positions and at 12:45 they were back at their starting point with the loss of nine tanks and two tank destroyers. Another attempt the next day, April 1, also failed, having barely begun. Private Emil J. Dedonato recalls that Patton had gone to the command post of the 47th Regiment, unfortunate that the initial attacks had failed:
Patton was ashamed and rushed to see Colonel Randle in his jeep. It was obvious that he was not satisfied with the first results of the night attack. I will never forget Colonel Randle’s instructions during their move to El Guettar: Where we are going, you will not need physics!
At this point, Patton was ordered to launch the attempt on Hill 772, while it was still under Italian control. The 9th was moved to Hill 772, leaving the 1st on Hill 369. On April 3rd, the 1st had finally crossed Hill 369, but the battle on Hill 772 continued. The Italian commander – General Messe – then called for support for the 21st German division, which slowed progress. The pace of operations is slowing down and the lines remain largely static. The 5th Bersaglieri Regiment of Lieutenant Colonel Aldo Raimondi of the Centauro Division, although surpassed in number 14, had shown decisiveness in defense.
On April 6, once again, the British 8th Army stormed the Axis lines at the battle of Wadi Akarit, triggering a complete retreat. On the morning of April 7, Benson Force crossed the positions held by the 1st and 9th divisions and drove on the liberated El Guettar-Gabes axis, where she met the command of the 8th Army at 5 pm. With the Axis’ last line of defense in broken south Tunisia, the remaining forces are striving to join the Axis forces to the north. Tunis fell to the Allies at the beginning of May.
March 27, 1943 : Operation Pugilist
In his initial plan, the British General Bernard Montgomery declares: The object of Operation Pugilist is to destroy the enemy now opposed to the 8th Army at the Mareth line, and to advance to take Sfax .
Pugilist was indecisive and did not allow a decisive breakthrough. It did, however, establish an alternative attack route and thus laid the foundation for Supercharge II, a bypass operation through the Tebaga Pass.
After a failed attempt by Medenine to thwart the Allies’ preparations (Operation Capri), the Axis forces retreat and set up defenses against the Mareth Line. At the same time, Erwin Rommel returns permanently to Europe, the command being entrusted to the Italian General Giovanni Messe, it is the first time that German units are under Italian command, but with a German liaison officer, Major-General Fritz Bayerlein. The command structure, however, is not unified: orders given by Italians are ignored and German units effectively set their own targets. The offensive started on March 16th is a real success, although the Germans of the 164th Infantry Division and the 21st Panzerdivision are strongly resisting the Allies. The Tebaga pass is taken on March 23rd. On the 28th, after the outbreak of Supercharge II, the Axis forces withdraw from the vicinity of the Mareth line. The Allies lost 945 men, 51 tanks, and seven aircraft during the operation.
The battle of El Guettar, conducted jointly with Pugilist, expels the Germans from southern Tunisia. The operation marks the final debacle of the Axis armies on the North African theater. In May 1943, the Germans will be forced to evacuate Tunisia.
May 13, 1943 : Operation Retribution
Operation Retribution is the code name for a naval operation conducted by the United Kingdom and the United States, under the command of Admiral Andrew Cunningham, from May 8 to May 13, 1943, in the Sicilian Canal in the United States. purpose of imposing a blockade on the Tunisian coasts in order to prevent the German-Italian forces from being evacuated by the sea, while the end of the Tunisian campaign was near. It was named in this way to reverse the flow of large losses suffered by the British destroyers during the Battle of Greece and Crete two years earlier.
The operation is a real success. The HMS Nelson and Rodney battleships and the Royal Navy’s Formidable aircraft carrier are deployed near Algiers, ready to engage the enemy if the Italian fleet intervenes. In fact, the Italian fleet did not even leave its ports to try to evacuate the Axis forces. Only two supply vessels will be intercepted and sunk as well as a few boats off Ras Idda and Kelibia. The only threat to allied ships is that of friendly fire by allied planes, so inscriptions will be painted on ships, visible from the air.
A total of 897 enemy soldiers were captured by the Allies, but it is estimated that 653 Germans managed to reach Italy, and others drowned.
North African ports are cleared of mines by the 12th, 13th, and 14th fleets of minesweepers, ready to be used for Sicilian landing operations. Afrika Korps, devoid of logistical support, surrendered on 13 May. The success of this operation also allows the passage of allied convoys between Gibraltar and Alexandria (which had been closed since 1941).