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Battle of Wadi Akarit

battle of wadi akarit
 United Kingdom

  •  British India

 New Zealand

 Greece  Germany
 ItalyCommanders and leaders Bernard Montgomery Giovanni MesseStrength 3 divisions 24,500 estimatedCasualties and losses 1,289 killed, wounded or missing
32 tanks 7,000 prisoners

The Battle of Wadi Akarit Operation Scipio was an Allied attack from 6–7 April 1943, to dislodge Axis forces from positions along the Wadi Akarit in Tunisia during the Tunisia Campaign of the Second World War The Gabès Gap, north of the towns of Gabès and El Hamma, is a passage between the sea and impassable salt marshes The 51st Highland Infantry Division breached the defences and held a bridgehead, allowing the passage of their main force to roll up the Axis defences After several determined counter-attacks, the Axis forces withdrew and the Eighth Army, under General Bernard Montgomery, pursued toward Tunis, until reaching Axis defensive positions at Enfidaville

Contents

  • 1 Background
  • 2 Prelude
  • 3 Battle
    • 31 1st Italian Army counterattack
    • 32 Axis retreat
  • 4 Aftermath
    • 41 Casualties
    • 42 Subsequent operations
  • 5 Order of battle
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 Footnotes
  • 8 Bibliography
  • 9 Further reading
  • 10 External links

Background

After the Mareth Line in southern Tunisia had been outflanked in Operation Supercharge II, through the Tebaga Gap, Axis forces had withdrawn to the Wadi Akarit, north of Gabès This position had been identified long before by Erwin Rommel as a good defensive position with secure flanks and a short supply route to Sicily Rommel had wanted to withdraw there after the Second Battle of El Alamein, as it was the best place to resist the Eighth Army and prolong the Axis presence in Africa With the British held at Wadi Akarit, all available troops in Tunisia could repulse the First Army nominally British but with American and French units under command to the west, before dealing a similar blow to Montgomery[1] The Gabès Gap was the last readily defensible position before the Eighth Army reached Sfax and formed a continuous front with the First Army advancing from the west[2]

Prelude

Wadi Akarit lay on an east–west line, from the Mediterranean Sea in the east and the impassable salt marshes at Sebkret el Hamma the east end of the Chott el Djerid to the west There were no flanks to turn as there had been at the Tebaga Gap and no opportunity to disperse the defenders by attacking at several points, as at the Second Battle of El Alamein; a frontal attack on prepared defences was unavoidable[3] From the coast, the defence line followed Wadi Akarit for 5 miles 80 km, which was impassable to armour and then a wider section of dry wadi, backed by a long hill, Djebel er Roumana, the last of a line of high ground that forms the northern boundary of the Chott The approaches to Djebel er Roumana were obstructed by an anti-tank ditch and there were more defence works to the west, although the broken ground was a significant obstacle[4]

Battle

Chott el Djerid area

Allied advance units had advanced through Oudref and reached the Wadi Akarit on 30 March but limited their activity to patrols and probing the Axis defences Three divisions were chosen for the initial assault: 51st Highland Infantry Division on the right, 50th Northumbrian Infantry Division in the centre and the 4th Indian Infantry Division on the left[5] In the week before the battle, British and American bombers began round-the-clock attacks on the defenders[6]

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Eighth Army had spent the previous week regrouping ready for the assault whilst the enemy was pounded almost continually by British and American air forces

— Ford[6]

Instead of attacking between Jebel Fatnassa, a steep 800-foot 240 m hill and the junction with the 50th Northumbrian Division, Major-General Francis Tuker, the 4th Indian Division commander, persuaded General Montgomery to attack Jebel Fatnassa using infantry trained in mountain warfare Jebel Fatnassa was defended by the Italian XXI Corps with troops of the 80th Infantry Division La Spezia, the 101st Motorised Division Trieste and the German 164th Leichte Afrika Division[7] The Fatanassa feature was taken and the 4th 6th Rajputana Rifles advanced as far as the plain behind the hills nearly 5 miles 80 km beyond, taking 2,000 prisoners The 4th Indian Division was not able to exploit the success further, because the British X Corps was held up by German counter-attacks[8]

Men of the Green Howards storming Point 85 during the battle

The 50th Northumbrian Division met determined resistance from Italian marines, well dug in at Wadi Akarit and plentifully supplied with automatic weapons and grenades but the British pressed forward, despite high casualties among the 6th Battalion, Green Howards; two senior officers, six senior NCOs and junior officers and 118 other ranks were killed[9][10]

When we were about ten yards away we had reached the top of the slit trench and we killed any of the survivors It was no time for pussy footing, we were intoxicated with rage and had to kill them to pay for our fallen pal

— Bill Cheall[9]

The Green Howards took Point 85 and held it against counter-attacks The 1/4th Battalion Essex Regiment of the 4th Indian Division made contact with the 50th Northumbrian Division on the right flank and helped them to cross an anti-tank ditch[11]

The 51st Highland Division attacked with the 152nd Brigade and seized the top of Djebel Roumana, then made a gap through the minefield and the anti tank ditch on the left flank The 153rd and 154 brigades attacked the coastal defences and took 2,000 prisoners[12] A battalion of the 101st Motorised Division Trieste was destroyed and prisoners were taken from the 90th Light Afrika Division, one regiment of which counter-attacked at 9:00 am and caused a short delay before being repulsed[13]

1st Italian Army counterattack

Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders storming the heights of Jebel Ramauna at the Wadi Akarit ArtIWMARTLD3404

Messe ordered the 164th Leichte Afrika Division to move from the position in the western hills to the centre and in the afternoon sent the 15th Panzer Division to join with the 90th Light Division and counter-attack the 101st Motorised Division Trieste positions captured by the 51st Highland Division The 15th Panzer Division arrived just before the British tried to exploit their success and counter-attacked The 10th and 21st Panzer divisions, which had been opposite the US II Corps during the Battle of El Guettar were also moved towards the British attack[14]

Three German counter-attacks were made during the afternoon, mainly against the 51st Highland Division on Djebel Roumana, against positions held by the 7th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who repulsed the attacks[15] As dark fell, the Axis position had become untenable, the defenders having been severely depleted Messe reported the situation to Hans-Jürgen von Arnim; Albert Kesselring and the Italian command in Rome urged the army group commander to continue the battle but Arnim ordered a retreat to the Enfidaville position, about 150 miles 240 km to the north[16]

Axis retreat

The 2nd New Zealand Division and 1st Armoured Division began a pursuit across the coastal plain, which changed from semi-desert to olive groves which offered opportunities for ambush There was little resistance until close to Enfidaville and about 6,000 prisoners were taken, sometimes surprised to see Allied troops beyond the supposed front line and large amounts of material including captured American supplies were taken[17]

Aftermath

Casualties

At dawn on 7 April, it was found that the Axis forces had quietly withdrawn The 15th Panzer Division had suffered many losses, the 164th Leichte Afrika Division had lost most of its weapons and vehicles and at least three Italian divisions had to be amalgamated into one unit; the 80th Infantry Division La Spezia was reduced to ​1 1⁄2 infantry companies, the 101st Motorised Division Trieste to three weak battalions and the 16th Motorised Division Pistoia and the 90th Light divisions had many casualties[18] The strength of the 1st Army had been 106,000 men, of whom 7,000 prisoners had been taken[19] The Eighth Army had 1,289 casualties and lost 32 tanks[20]

Subsequent operations

Main article: Battle of El Guettar Sketch map of Tunisia during the 1942–1943 campaign

At El Guettar, the II US Corps operation to cut off Axis forces during the Wadi Akarit attack had been held up but the retirement from Wadi Akarit forced the Italians to withdraw On 7 April, the Americans raced down the El Guettar–Gabès road, where it met advanced troops of the Eighth Army at 5:00 pm[21] Alexander moved the II US Corps to the north, because the Eighth Army was better prepared for the final offensive[22] The pursuit covered 140 miles 230 km north of Wadi Akarit, Sfax and Sousse were captured The Axis troops fell back to defensible positions north and west of Enfidaville, 25 miles 40 km south of Cape Bon The mountains descend to the sea, with a narrow passage to Hammamet The area was held until the Axis surrender in north Africa and Eighth Army units were moved towards Medjez el Bab opposite Tunis, for the final operations of the Tunisian Campaign[23][24]

Order of battle

Notes

  1. ^ The 1st Army included the German Afrikakorps[19]

Footnotes

  1. ^ Lewin 2004, p 192
  2. ^ Playfair et al 2004, pp 357–362
  3. ^ Playfair et al 2004, pp 363–364
  4. ^ Playfair et al 2004, p 362
  5. ^ Murphy 1966, pp 490–492
  6. ^ a b Ford 2012, p 90
  7. ^ Playfair et al 2004, pp 364–366
  8. ^ Playfair et al 2004, pp 369–373
  9. ^ a b Cheall 1994
  10. ^ Playfair et al 2004, pp 364–367, 372–373
  11. ^ Playfair et al 2004, pp 370, 372
  12. ^ Delaforce 2006, pp 88–94
  13. ^ Stevens 1962, pp 262–265
  14. ^ Ford 2012, pp 87–91
  15. ^ Playfair et al 2004, pp 372
  16. ^ Playfair et al 2004, pp 373–374
  17. ^ Hunt 2014, p 172
  18. ^ Playfair et al 2004, p 375
  19. ^ a b Stevens 1962, p 254
  20. ^ Ford 2012, p 91
  21. ^ Playfair et al 2004, pp 357–358, 376
  22. ^ Strawson 2004, p 209
  23. ^ Loughnan 1963, pp 283–288
  24. ^ Lewin 2004, pp 246–247
  25. ^ Playfair et al 2004, p 485
  26. ^ Murphy 1966, pp 491–492
  27. ^ Loughnan 1963, pp 278–285
  28. ^ Playfair et al 2004, p 363

Bibliography

mw-parser-output refbeginmw-parser-output refbegin-hanging-indents>ulmw-parser-output refbegin-hanging-indents>ul>li,mw-parser-output refbegin-hanging-indents>dl>ddmw-parser-output refbegin-100 Books
  • Delaforce, Patrick 2006 Monty's Highlanders: 51st Highland Division in the Second World War Philadelphia, PA: Casemate ISBN 978-1-84415-512-5mw-parser-output citecitationmw-parser-output citation qmw-parser-output id-lock-free a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-free amw-parser-output id-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output id-lock-registration a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-registration amw-parser-output id-lock-subscription a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-subscription amw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registrationmw-parser-output cs1-subscription span,mw-parser-output cs1-registration spanmw-parser-output cs1-ws-icon amw-parser-output codecs1-codemw-parser-output cs1-hidden-errormw-parser-output cs1-visible-errormw-parser-output cs1-maintmw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registration,mw-parser-output cs1-formatmw-parser-output cs1-kern-left,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-leftmw-parser-output cs1-kern-right,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-rightmw-parser-output citation mw-selflink
  • Ford, Ken 2012 The Mareth Line 1943: The End in Africa Osprey Military Campaign Series Oxford: Osprey ISBN 1-78096-093-X
  • Hunt, David 2014 A Don at War 2nd Routledge ed London: William Kimber ISBN 978-1-13522-386-1
  • Lewin, Ronald 2004 Rommel as Military Commander Barnsley: Pen & Sword ISBN 1-84415-040-2
  • Loughnan, R J M 1963 Divisional Cavalry The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945 New Zealand Electronic Text Collection ed Wellington, NZ: Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs OCLC 195420 Retrieved 10 March 2015
  • Murphy, W E 2008 2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945 New Zealand Electronic Text Collection Victoria University of Wellington ed Wellington, NZ: Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs OCLC 460192 Retrieved 10 March 2015
  • Playfair, Major-General I S O; and Molony, Brigadier C J C; with Flynn RN, Captain F C & Gleave, Group Captain T P 2004 Butler, J R M ed The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Destruction of the Axis Forces in Africa History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series IV Naval & Military Press ed London: HMSO ISBN 1-84574-068-8
  • Stevens, Major-General W G 1962 Bardia to Enfidaville The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945 New Zealand Electronic Text Collection ed Wellington, NZ: War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs OCLC 4377202 Retrieved 10 March 2015
  • Strawson, Jon 2004 The Battle for North Africa Barnsley: Pen and Sword ISBN 978-1-47381-898-9
Websites
  • Cheall, Bill May 1994 "The War of a Green Howard, 1939–1945" The Friends of the Green Howards website Archived from the original on 11 October 2007 Retrieved 9 April 2008

Further reading

  • Barnes, B S 2007 Operation Scipio: The 8th Army at the Battle of the Wadi Akarit, 6th April 1943 Market Weighton, N Yorks: Sentinel Press ISBN 0-9534262-2-X
  • Jeffreys, Alan; Rose, Patrick 2012 The Indian Army, 1939–47: Experience and Development Farnham: Ashgate ISBN 978-1-40945-653-7
  • Lewin, Ronald 1979 The Life and Death of the Afrika Korps Corgi ed London: Batsford ISBN 0-552-10921-5
  • Moreman, T R 2007 Desert Rats: British 8th Army in North Africa 1941–43 Battle Orders Oxford: Osprey ISBN 978-1-84603-144-1
  • Porch, Douglas 2005 Hitler's Mediterranean Gamble Cassell Military Paperbacks ed London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 0-304-36705-2
  • Neillands, Robin 2005 The Desert Rats: 7th Armoured Division 1940–45 Aurum ed London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN 1-84513-115-0
  • Neillands, R 2004 Eighth Army: From the Western Desert to the Alps London: John Murray ISBN 0-7195-5647-3

External links

mw-parser-output portalmw-parser-output portaltleftmw-parser-output portaltrightmw-parser-output portal>ulmw-parser-output portal>ul>limw-parser-output portal>ul>li>span:first-childmw-parser-output portal>ul>li>span:last-child
  • World War II portal
  • Bardia to Enfidaville NZ Official History The Attack at Akarit
  • 2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery account
  • Italy's Marines

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