A Terrain of Hill Fortresses
(Map No. 2, facing page 9)
THE II CORPS, holding a front of about 40 miles from Cap Serrat to the Medjerda Valley, was to attack highly organized enemy positions in terrain as difficult as can be found in the whole battle area. A belt of rugged hill country, 15 to 20 miles in depth, lay between the American lines and Mateur, a center of enemy communications and key to the Bizerte area. The map suggests a main ridge pattern running from southwest to northeast-roughly, the direction planned for the II Corps attack. In detail, however, the hills and ridges form a jumbled maze, providing no broad corridors for an advance. The high ground averages 500 to 1,000 feet above the narrow valleys.
In the bare country south of the Sidi Nsir-Mateur road, where trees and brush are scarce, the rocky slopes steepen at times into cliffs. The valleys offered little or no cover, and, as one officer remarked, "The enemy on his hill positions was constantly looking right down your throat." In the sector north of Sidi Nsir to the coast, the problem of cover ran to the opposite extreme. Here, in equally rugged country, the valleys and lower slopes are covered with dense scrub. Movement of any sort was difficult; paths for guns or supplies had to be hacked out by hand.
Four small rivers flow through the hills toward Mateur and Garaet (Lake) Achkel, but none of these streams opens up an easy route for an attack to follow. The Sedjenane, Melah, and Djoumine wind in deep and narrow valleys dominated by steep hills. The most southern of the four, the Oued (River) Tine, has a valley -sometimes 2 or 3 miles wide, but still too narrow for easy passage
The Melah Valley from the Southwest
Photographed from terrain model prepared by Camouflage Branch, Engineer Board, Fort Belvoir, Virginia
if the adjacent heights are held by the enemy. Only two hard-surfaced roads cross the hills to Mateur: the highway from Sedjenane, following the Melah Valley, and the Beja road in the Djoumine Valley. These roads were of more importance to the II Corps operations as lines of rear supply than as routes of access to Mateur. For the rest, mere trails and paths connect the scattered Arab villages and farms.
The rugged country facing the II Corps had two disadvantages for our men. It was naturally suited to defensive fighting, and was very familiar to the enemy. Skilled in all the arts of defensive warfare, the Germans had organized strong positions during the months they had held the area. The narrow valleys, followed by streams and roads, were blocked in depth by minefields. Machine-gun and mortar posts on the hills, and artillery directed from excellent observation posts, controlled the natural corridors of approach.
Advance through country of this sort had to be made the hard way. The valleys had to be cleared of mines and the enemy driven from the high ground, but the fight for the high ground was no simple matter of taking a few key heights. Although a hill like 6091 dominated the country for miles around, it was flanked on all sides by smaller but still difficult hills which must be taken in order to approach the main enemy position. Again and again the attack encountered a group of mutually supporting positions, and an advance of a mile or two might demand the capture of half a dozen hills on a narrow front. The II Corps was in for hill-to-hill fighting, with each main hill a fortress.
Plan of Attack in the Southern Zone
(Map No. 3, inside back cover)
In the southern part of the II Corps zone, the 1st Division (Maj. Gen. Terry Allen), the 34th Division (Maj. Gen. Charles W. Ryder), and the 1st Armored Division (Maj. Gen. Ernest N. Harmon) were to make the main attack on a front of 13 miles. Through the area facing the American troops ran two chief routes to Mateur: the Djourmine Valley, followed by a highway and railroad, and the
1. Hill numbers designate height in meters above sea level; 609 meters=1998 feet.
Oued Tine Valley. The narrow Djoumine Valley was completely controlled by steep hill positions. The broader Oued Tine Valley seemed to offer the one main corridor to the northeast for an armored striking force. General Bradley realized, however, that such an attack might run into a natural "mousetrap." The valley, heavily mined, was flanked by ridges and hills on both sides and narrowed as it ran east. The advance of armored units depended on control of the hills.
The opening attack was, therefore, made into the hills which dominate the upper Tine Valley. The 1st Division, organized in three regimental combat teams, was to clear the hills north of the Oued Tine; the 6th Armored Infantry of the 1st Armored Division was to attack the hills on the southern rim of the valley. The flank north of the Beja-Mateur road was to be covered by a combat team of the 34th Division, which was just coming into that zone. The rest of the 34th Division and units of the 1st Armored were in support.
The 1st Division Push to Djebel Sidi Meftah (23-27 April)
The 1st Division jumped off on a 6-mile front, extending from the hills just south of Sidi Nsir to the Tine Valley. The direction of the attack led into a belt of hills 7 miles deep from Kef el Goraa (Hill 575) to the eastern end of Djebel (Hill) Sidi Meftah (Map No. 4, inside back cover). Three strongpoints turned out to be the keys of German defense, and the story of the first days centers on the fighting for Hills 575, 400, and 407. These heights fell in the zones of attack of the 26th, 16th, and 18th Regimental Combat Teams.
THE 26TH REGIMENTAL COMBAT TEAM
The enemy facing the 26th Regimental Combat Team was advantageously established, especially on Kef el Goraa (Hill 575). The approaches to his strongpoints, through smooth and round-topped hills, offered little concealment except for occasional patches of short wheat. The enemy positions were strongly prepared and well camouflaged. Rocky hide-outs offered excellent protection against the air bursts of our artillery. During the attack on Hill
Djebel Sidi Meftah Area from the Southwest
Photographed from terrain model prepared by Camouflage Branch, Engineer Board, Fort Belvoir, Virginia
575, the infantry and detachments of the 1st Engineers cleared 1,800 mines from the area, particularly from the wheatfields.
The attack of the 26th Infantry jumped off before dawn on 23 April behind a concentration by the 33d Field Artillery Battalion and part of the Corps Artillery. The 1st Battalion captured Hill 565 at 0355 against light opposition. When the advance continued across the valley, heavy enemy fire caused many casualties, and the attack stalled 300 yards short of the main objective. Meanwhile, the 2d Battalion, in support of the 1st, had moved up to Hill 565, and its forward elements reached a point 1,000 yards south of 575 in a flanking movement. Enemy troops on the forward slopes of the hill forced them back with heavy fire. Having failed to capture their objective, the two battalions withdrew to Hill 565.
On 24 April, our artillery intermittently shelled enemy positions on Hill 575. The 3d Battalion of the 26th, having been relieved on the left by units of the 34th Division, moved up to support a renewed attack planned for 25 April. By this time the 16th Infantry had outflanked Hill 575 by capturing three important hills to the southeast. According to a prisoner-of-war report, the enemy had pulled out of Hill 575 at 0200, the hour when our attack jumped off, leaving only a rear guard. The 2d Battalion occupied the hill at 0350, and a few hours later the 1st Battalion had possession of Hill 533 to the north. The 3d Battalion advanced northeast of 575 and continued along the ridge toward Djebel Touta (Hill 444), which was occupied in the afternoon. As the 1st Division pushed forward, the 2d Battalion of the 168th Infantry (34th Division) moved southeast from Hill 344 and took over Hills 533 and 575.
THE 16TH REGIMENTAL COMBAT TEAM
Early on 23 April, while the 26th Combat Team was making its initial attack on 575, the 16th Infantry advanced into the hills to the southeast and by the end of the morning had taken Hills 415 and 374. The enemy fought stubbornly, subjecting our troops to mortar and artillery fire from the slopes of Hill 407. Hill 400 saw the hardest fighting and changed hands three times before it was finally taken, shortly before noon. On the next day, with Hill 400 in its possession, the 16th Infantry was able to capture three more heights: Hills 491 and 469, to the north, and 394, midway between 400 and
407. During the night of 24-25 April, the Germans withdrew on the whole division front. The 16th Combat Team had played an important part in forcing this retirement. In the follow-up of the enemy movement, the 16th occupied Hill 342 as division reserve.
THE 18TH REGIMENTAL COMBAT TEAM
To clean out enemy positions on the division's right the 2d Battalion of the 18th Regimental Combat Team, with the 1st battalion, 13th Armored Infantry attached, advanced on 23 April against Hill 350 on the west side of the main Tine Valley. The early stages of the attack were successful, but counterattacks by elements of the 10th Panzer Division from Hill 407 pushed the 2d Battalion off the high ground by 0730. To protect the flank toward 407, the 2d Battalion moved with tank support through minefields around the north side of Hill 350 to attack Hill 306. After 5 hours of stiff fighting, marked by numerous counterattacks, the 18th Combat Team had captured both Hill 35o and Hill 306. In spite of heavy casualties, particularly in E Company, it went on to strike at 407, a mile to the northwest.
The main attack on 407 jumped off early the next morning, 24 April, against initial stubborn resistance and heavy fire of all weapons. Nevertheless, the hill fortress was in our hands by 0400. There was much evidence that its power to resist had been weakened by poundings from our artillery, and especially by a heavy concentration laid down for an hour before the attack.
Threatened with the loss of all commanding ground in this area, the enemy continued to keep Hill 407 under heavy fire and counterattacked Hill 306 about 0900. Despite success at Hill 306, there were signs that the enemy was preparing to pull out to the east, and by the morning of 25 April a German withdrawal was under way. The 18th Combat Team was thus enabled to move several miles forward; and by 1400 on the 25th, leading elements reached the western end of the long Djebel Sidi Meftah ridge (point 347), occupying Hill 340 on the way. Part of the heights at the entrance to the main Tine Valley had been conquered.
The Attack is Widened
(Map No. 5, inside back cover)
By 26 April the 1st Division had attained its initial objectives and controlled all the high ground south of a line from Hill 575 to Hill 347 (Djebel Sidi Meftah). However, the division now had a long flank on the left, exposed to enemy counterattack from strong positions on high ground. Corps Headquarters saw that any further progress eastward would increase the danger to this flank.
The next moves, therefore, were coordinated blows by the 34th and 1st Divisions. The 34th was to attack into the hills east and west of Sidi Nsir, with Hill 609 (Djebel Tahent) as a key objective. Supported on its flank by this attack, the 1st Division was to carry on its offensive eastward and complete the opening of the Tine Valley.
The ground facing the 34th Division was as hard to fight through as the area just won by the 1st Division. The German right flank was anchored on Djebel el Hara, west of Sidi Nsir and dominating the highway and railroad from Beja to Mateur. To the east, the enemy held Hills 435, 490, and 609. From these heights, as a result of the retirement forced by the 1st Division, the enemy line now ran slightly south of east to the eastern end of Djebel Sidi Meftah.
THE ADVANCE TO HILL 609
The attack on the 34th Division was aimed at one of the strongest defensive areas in the German line. The enemy had held this ground for months and had used this time to organize a whole series of positions protecting the valley to Mateur and the road from Sidi Nsir to the Tine Valley. Outstanding in height, Hill 609 was the key fortress in this area, and its approaches were defended by supporting positions on hills almost as difficult.
Two of the more important outlying defenses of Hill 609 were the ridge of Djebel el Hara and Hill 375. The key features of the ridges were two high points (407 and 473). Across a wadi to the northeast, Hill 375 was a supporting position. Our capture of these strongly fortified hills would compel the Germans to fall back east of Sidi Nsir.
The enemy held on through 3 days of artillery fire and infantry attacks. On 25 April, the 175th Field Artillery Battalion and several
Hill Positions in the Line of the Advance to Hill 609 from the West
Photographed from terrain model prepared by Camouflage Branch, Engineer Board, Fort Belvoir, Virginia
battalions of Corps Artillery laid down a heavy fire on Djebel el Hara. The 1st and 3d Battalions of the 168th Regimental Combat Team then began their assault, but enemy machine-gun and mortar fire halted the advance after slight progress. On 25-26 April, the artillery fired numerous concentrations on Hills 407 and 473 to soften enemy positions. On 27 April, after renewed heavy shelling by the artillery, the infantry again attacked. The 2d Battalion moved up from the southeast and obtained a foothold on the southern slopes of Djebel el Hara. On the next day, while the 2d Battalion mopped up Hills 473 and 407, the 1st Battalion went on to capture Hill 375.
While this success was being achieved on the left, the 135th Regimental Combat Team was finding harder going toward Hill 609. Its first effort was directed at Hill 490, which protected the approach to 609. In the opinion of the men who finally captured it, Hill 490 was "tough." When the attack jumped off at 0430 on 27 April, the 3d Battalion had to cross a stream bed to get to the 600-foot hill, and the enemy, firmly entrenched, was ready for the doughboys. Nearing the base of the hill, the 3d Battalion was under fire from machine guns, mortars, and artillery. At 1600, after hours of hard fighting, the 3d had troops on 490, but they were forced to withdraw. In a night attack, K Company gained an advantage which was decisive, and by morning Of 28 April the hill was occupied. Enemy artillery started shelling with air bursts, causing heavy casualties. In the afternoon the Germans made four counterattacks, two of them rather weak, which were subdued by rifle fire, and two desperate attempts which were only repulsed by artillery. Hill 490 was ours.
THE 34TH DIVISION CAPTURES HILL 609
Hill 609 was now accessible but promised no easy conquest. With wall-like cliffs at several points, this flat-topped fortress dominated the open country on all sides. Plans for the capture of 609 included the taking of two supporting strongpoints, Hill 461 by the 2d Battalion of the 135th, and Hill 531 by the 1st Battalion. From these hills, the 1st and 2d Battalions were to attack 609 from the southeast and northwest, respectively, while the 3d Battalion made a feint at the southwestern end and carried out a holding action. The 2d Battalion of the 168th was to operate against the enemy to the north of Hill 609.
Hill 609 (Djebel Tahent) from the Southwest
American artillery fire, strong and incessant, had pounded away all day on 28 April. The valley resounded with the rumble of shells and the splitting of rock. At 0500 on the 29th the attack began. The 3d Battalion of the 135th moved across the valley from Hill 490 to take a position at the base of Hill 609 near its southwest approach. Owing to enemy resistance at 531 and 461, the 1st and 2d Battalions were unable to move as planned against Hill 609. The holding action of the 3d Battalion then became, in fact, an unsupported frontal attack on a formidable hill fortress.
During the morning the battalion had worked its way to three rocky knolls at the base. There they met a shower of mortar shells, and intermittent artillery fire, which chipped off great chunks of rock but caused few casualties. The battalion withdrew a short distance and reorganized. By 1100 one unit reached the Arab village under the cliffs on the south side of the hill. Again the enemy machinegun and mortar fire was heavy. In bitter, tricky fighting, our troops snaked their way in and out among the rocks. By dusk the 3d Battalion had made a half-mile advance up the southern slopes.
The attack was renewed at about 0500 the next morning. The 3d Battalion of the 135th Infantry and the 1st Battalion of the 133d Infantry, led by Company I (medium tanks) of the 1st Armored Regiment, advanced rapidly under a heavy fire which knocked out two tanks. Tanks and infantry moved with excellent coordination and cooperation; one report states that the infantry "grabbed and held onto the tails of their tanks." The 2d Battalion of the 168th moved at the same time to attack the northern nose of 609. There they were later joined by the 1st Battalion of the 133d. After cleaning out the foothills and machine-gun nests beyond them, our infantry gained the northern slopes and by nightfall controlled most of the summit. Some units then gave assistance to the 1st Battalion, fighting on 531. The 3d Platoon of the tank company, which had undergone heavy antitank fire, returned under cover of the 2d Platoon to the assembly area behind 490. Enemy artillery fire kept up during the day and during the afternoon was very intense.
But the battle for 609 was not over. On the night of 30 April the 2d Battalion of the 168th Infantry took over from the 135th Infantry. Still holding positions on the northeastern slopes, the enemy counterattacked at dawn, supported by machine-gun and
heavy mortar fire. The attacking force was spotted early, and a platoon of Company F shifted its position, let the Germans get within 200 yards, and by devastating surprise fire repulsed the effort. This was one of the outstanding actions which established our hold on 609. Following their counterattack, the Germans withdrew but continued to dive-bomb the hill and place artillery fire on it during the day. Tersely summarizing these operations, General Bradley wrote: "A strong enemy attack was repulsed. Fighting all day was intense and bloody. The enemy was engaged with bayonet and grenade, and there were many cases of outstanding bravery."
The great effort made by the enemy to hold and then to recapture Hill 609 is evidence of its importance in the battle for this whole hill area. The success here of the 34th Division went far to safeguard and assist the advance which the 1st Division was making in the hills farther to the east.
THE 1ST DIVISION REACHES THE EDGE OF THE HILLS
The 1st Division, with the 34th Division swinging into action on its left flank, had resumed its attack to the northeast. Progress in this direction would outflank Hill 609 and would still further clear the way for advance down the Tine Valley. Djebel el Anz and Djebel Badjar were the immediate objectives of this drive; beyond them, the Germans would have little commanding ground for continued defense of the approaches to Mateur and the Chouigui hills.
On the 1st Division's left and under fire from the enemy on Hill 609, the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 16th Infantry advanced on Hill 531. This position, supporting Hill 609 and about a half mile south, was partially occupied on 28 April, but the enemy still held the reverse slopes. On the next day the enemy counterattacked against Hill 531, but I Company held the position.
Another strategic position was Hill 523, lying east of Hill 609. The 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry, attacked this strongpoint on 29 April with artillery support, but made little headway. On 30 April the 1st Battalion joined in the attack, and the hill fell to a bayonet charge before 0300. The attack carried on northeast about a half mile to take Hill 545. The enemy counterattacked furiously and recovered both positions, which were vital to his defense of Hill 609.
While the enemy counterattack was in progress, Company H of
the 1st Armored Regiment was moving up from its bivouac near Beja to support the 16th Infantry. The enemy had succeeded in recovering both Hill 545 and Hill 523 before the tanks arrived. When the tank platoons of Company H moved into the valley before 523, our infantry was pinned down by enemy machine-gun and rifle fire. The 1st Platoon took up a defiladed position behind a steep cliff in the middle of the area while the 2d Platoon attempted to move down the valley. Enemy 47-mm guns knocked out three tanks, including that of the company commander. The rest of the 2d Platoon then joined the 1st Platoon in its defiladed position, and the tanks, once more moving down the valley, destroyed two 47-mm guns and a machine-gun nest. The difficult terrain, however, prevented the tanks from advancing to their objective, and the infantry was still pinned down by rifle fire.
The fall of 609 made Hill 523 of no further importance to the enemy. The reconnaissance section of a tank destroyer battalion, attached to the 34th Division, established an observation post on 523 prior to daylight on 1 May. On the next morning our troops moved in, skirting the minefield left by the Germans at the base of the hill.
On the center of the 1st Division front, the 26th Regimental Combat Team struck toward Djebel el Anz. The enemy began a withdrawal from points east of Djebel Touta late in the afternoon on 27 April. The 26th Combat Team followed the withdrawal, and its patrols reached Djebel el Anz, north of a track to Tebourba. On the next day, 28 April, a stiff contest developed for possession of Djebel el Anz and its surrounding heights. The 26th Infantry held part of the key hill before 0700 and during the afternoon was compelled to fight off 2 counterattacks in which the enemy took heavy losses, especially from our devastating artillery fire. The 7th Company of the German 755th Regiment lost all but 30 or 40 of its men, according to a prisoner-of-war report. As night fell, the enemy was very active on Hill 286 northeast of Djebel el Anz. While our troops consolidated their positions during the next day, the enemy regrouped his forces for counterattack. Five times on 30 April the Germans tried to recapture Djebel el Anz, but every attempt was repulsed.
On the long ridge bordering the Tine Valley, the 18th Regimental Combat Team encountered relatively less opposition and made the
farthest advance to the cast. On the morning of 28 April, the 18th Infantry occupied Djebel Sidi Meftah without opposition as far as point 281 and then felt out enemy positions on the north and south sides of Djebel Badjar. An enemy counterattack, which developed between Djebel el Anz and Djebel Badjar shortly before noon, was broken up by concentrated artillery fire. Advance elements of the 18th Infantry reached point 216, on the eastern end of Djebel Sidi Meftah, in the face of artillery fire from the east. For the next 3 days the front was relatively quiet, and the enemy maintained his positions on and around Djebel Badjar. But On 2 May heavy motor traffic indicated that the Germans were withdrawing to the north and cast. The fall of Djebel el Anz and the enemy's failure to recapture it made his position on Djebel Badjar untenable.
From 23 April to 1 May the 1st Division accomplished a 10-mile advance which gained for it the full control of the hills north of the Tine Valley. On the other side of the "Mousetrap" units of the 1st Armored Division were matching this progress.
The 1st Armored Division South of the Tine
(23 April-2 May)
At the start of the II Corps action, most of the 1st Armored Division was held in corps reserve. Before armor could play its full part, the Tine Valley must be opened up. The 1st Armored made its contribution to this effort by use of the 6th Armored Infantry (Map No. 6, inside back cover).
Attached to the 1st Division, which was attacking the hills on the north side of the valley, the 6th Armored Infantry had a parallel assignment on the southern edge. Here again the enemy had to be driven out of hills from which his artillery fire could control movement along the valley. These hills were on the western flank of a long irregular belt of rugged ground dominated by Djebel el Ang (Hill 668) and separating the zones of the II Corps and the First Army. Action by the 6th Armored Infantry had to be coordinated with the British fight for Heidous and for control of the eastern side
of this belt. In effect, the 6th Armored Infantry was securing both the right flank of the main effort of the II Corps and the left flank of a difficult and important operation by the British.
When the battle began, the 1st and 3d Battalions of the 6th Armored Infantry were occupying positions on a line southwest from Djebel Bech Chekaoui. On 23 April the 3d Battalion was to attack eastward at 0330 against Hill 526; then proceed a mile northeast to attack Hills 420 and 481, and Hill 485 a half mile to the south. (This drive was described in a field order as being a "right hook" delivered generally along the division's right boundary.) The 1st Battalion was to drive north from Djebel Bech Chekaoui and seize Hills 493 and 395. As the 3d Battalion progressed in its attack, the 1st was to swing east in support. Assault guns and mortars were to support the 3d Battalion, with the 68th Field Artillery Battalion in direct support.
The attack by the 3d Battalion jumped off as scheduled on 23 April after a 20-Minute concentration by the 68th Field Artillery Battalion. Hill 526 was taken without opposition. Company G then started toward Hill 485 but was driven back by mortar fire from the west edge of Hill 420. While Company H organized Hill 526, Company I assembled in a wadi behind the hill and at 0845 began a drive around the west side of Hill 347 to attack Hill 420. By afternoon advanced elements were on the end of the ridge but could not consolidate their position. Although Hill 485 was occupied by 1800, a night attack failed to clean up Hill 420, and the enemy held on to 420 and 481 through the next day.
The 1st Battalion, after occupying 493 and 395, had turned northeast and found the enemy strongly established on Hill 388. Company B gained a part of the crest in a night attack but was dislodged early on 24 April by a strong German counterattack. The 1st Battalion prepared a new effort. Our artillery dropped a very effective 15-minute concentration of high explosive on Hill 388 in the afternoon, and by 2300 Company C captured the position. Company B moved up to aid in holding against possible counterattacks.
Patrols sent out on 25 April reported no enemy for 1,000 yards around Hill 388, and prisoners stated that the Germans were withdrawing to positions 5 miles to the east. Again the prisoners testified to the accuracy of our artillery, which had prevented food and
ammunition from being brought up. Other factors were instrumental in causing the withdrawal. While the 6th Armored was penetrating the hills bordering the Tine, the British on the right flank were making headway and had seized Heidous. The Germans now gave up a whole series of strongly organized positions north of Djebel el Ang, and fell back to a second line of defense in the hills on the edge of the Tine Valley east of the Bed Farm.
At 2200, on 26 April, the 1st Armored Division took over the Tine Valley zone. The main effort on 27 April was to be made east of the Tine by Combat Command A, which included the 6th Armored Infantry and the 81st Armorized [i.e., Armored] Reconnaissance Battalion. Combat Command B moved into position at the south end of the "Mousetrap" and prepared to counter any enemy thrust up the valley.
Carrying on its mission of opening the Tine Valley and covering the British advance on the right, the 6th Armored attacked Hills 299 and 315, key positions in the new German barrier, and less than a mile apart. On 27 April, the 3d Battalion was to move north from 312 against 315 while the 1st Battalion drove northeast from 293 against Hill 299. When the 3d Battalion made its effort early in the morning, it was stopped by a German counterattack that carried through to Hill 312, driving Companies H and I off that hill. The 3d Battalion recovered the hill at 1400, after artillery smashed the German counterattack. Meantime, the 1st Battalion had been unable to advance. The 2d Battalion, released from Combat Command B, moved up during the night of 27 April to relieve the 3d Battalion on Hill 312.
On 28 April the 1st Battalion prepared to renew its assault against Hill 299 while the 2d Battalion advanced against Hill 315. The Germans again counterattacked the 2d Battalion on Hill 312, and again artillery drove them back. At 1600 both battalions moved forward. The 2d Battalion captured Hill 315 at 1800 and began to organize for defense. The 1st Battalion reached Hill 299 and slowly worked forward against strong opposition. The fight continued through the night, the 2d Battalion aiding with fire from 315. Most of Hill 299 was occupied by 1055 on 29 April, but booby traps, mines, and 4 active German machine guns slowed progress. During the night, German troops worked in between Hills 299 and Y5 to fire on both positions. The 1st Battalion had suffered heavy casualties
and was holding Hill 299 with only 80 men. Because of this reduced strength, the 3d Battalion was ordered to take over the defense of the hill and relieve the 1st Battalion at 2200 on 30 April. A few enemy infantry clung to the north slope of Hill 299 until about 1800 on 1 May, but the main position was ours. The 6th Armored was ordered to hold on in a defensive line on 2 May.
In some of the heaviest fighting of the campaign, the 1st Armored Division had accomplished its mission and had done its part to spring the "Mousetrap." While the 6th Armored Infantry forced the hills south of the Oued Tine, the 81st Reconnaissance Battalion had been clearing the minefields in the valley, and the tanks of the 1st Armored Division were preparing for a drive north to Mateur.
The 9th Division in the Northern Zone
PLAN OF ATTACK
In the northern part of the II Corps zone, the 9th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. M. S. Eddy) and the Corps Franc d'Afrique (Col., now Brig. Gen., P. J. Magnan) were conducting an offensive which, however "secondary" in the scheme of operations, was achieving very useful results. This action took place so far from the Sidi Nsir-Tine Valley area as to constitute in effect a separate battle, but one which had its place in the Corps' plans and the Corps' success.
On 23 April, the 9th Infantry Division and the Corps Franc d'Afrique held a 28-mile front extending from the sea to a point 5 miles west of Sidi Nsir. (Map No. 2, facing page 9.) The II Corps plan provided that the 9th Division would seize the Ainchouna-Jefna area, where the Germans held hill fortresses dominating the approach to Mateur through the Sedjenane Valley. In executing this mission, the 9th Division had to meet difficulties imposed both by terrain and by the very broad front involved.
The 91st Reconnaissance Squadron and the 34th Reconnaissance Troop were assigned to patrol vigorously in the 9-mile gap between the 9th and 34th Divisions. No attempt was made to send large units through this area, which gave no access to better routes. Furthermore, it was cut up by small streams, had few trails, and led into rough terrain dominated by flanking ridges. The 47th Regi-
Objectives of the 9th Division from the West
Photographed from terrain model prepared by Camouflage Branch, Engineer Board, Fort Belvoir, Virginia
mental Combat Team was assigned to make a holding attack against the Jefna position. The 39th Regimental Combat Team was to strike at the Djebel Ainchouna strongpoints north of Jefna. The 60th Regimental Combat Team and the Corps Franc d'Afrique were to drive eastward against the more lightly held positions on both sides of the Sedjenane River. The main German positions around Jefna were to be outflanked through the bills to the north.
JEFNA IS OUTFLANKED
(Map No. 7, inside back cover)
The Jefna position, one of the strongest German defenses in all northern Tunisia, included two heavily fortified hills lying a mile and a half west of Jefna Station and commanding the Mateur road: Djebel el Azzag (Green Hill) on the north of the road and Djebel el Ajred (Bald Hill) on the south.
The 47th Regimental Combat Team, relieving the British 138th Brigade on 13 April, took up positions 5 miles from Jefna Station on both sides of the road and prepared to exert pressure toward Jefna. Bald and Green Hills were subjected to air bombardment and heavy artillery fire. On 23 April, from positions near Hill 398 (Djebel ez Zeboudj), the 3d Battalion moved toward Jefna against relatively light opposition and occupied two hills about a mile to the east. These positions were held with only slight changes until 3 May, while strong patrols operated as far east as Green Hill. Meanwhile the 1st Battalion on the south of the road jumped off from Hill 610 (Djebel el Mehachem) and advanced in 4 days through a series of hills to within a mile of Bald Hill. Hill 605 (Kef Maksour) was occupied on the first day (23 April). After strong artillery preparation on 25 April, Hills 598 and 502 were captured. Further advances were made on 26 April, and Hill 501 was occupied during the day, after artillery fire had cleared the hill of enemy troops.
From 29 April to 2 May, while the 39th Regimental Combat Team was outflanking Jefna on the north, the 47th Infantry maintained pressure on the main German positions at Bald and Green Hills. Patrolling was very active, and artillery fire constantly harassed the enemy. Nevertheless, the Germans held tenaciously to their well-prepared fox holes and emplacements on the forward slopes of
Terrain of the Attack on the Ainchouna-Jefna Positions from the West
Photographed from terrain model prepared by Camouflage Branch, Engineer Board, Fort Belvoir, Virginia
Green and Bald Hills. Prisoners captured on 2 May stated that they had been ordered to withdraw toward Bizerte. Patrols confirmed this enemy movement; on 3 May the 47th occupied Bald and Green Hills, and reconnaissance of the Jefna-Mateur road showed it to be free of enemy troops. The withdrawal of the enemy from the very strong Jefna position can be explained only in terms of the successful flanking maneuver in progress to the north.
The 39th Regimental Combat Team had moved onto the spur of high ground south of the Oued Sedjenane on 14-15 April to relieve the British 1st Parachute Brigade. The three battalions then occupied a triangular area made by Djebel Guerba, Djebel Rachtouil, and Djebel el Oumela. Four miles east of the center of this area lay Djebel Ainchouna, a series of peaks and ridges about 4 miles long. Minefields guarded the approaches to this high ground, and the enemy positions afforded excellent observation and good fields of fire. Enemy artillery, wherever weak, could be supplemented by tanks employed as mobile artillery. To make an attack, our troops were compelled to struggle through scrub and high underbrush and up rough, steep slopes.
Between 20 April and the morning of the attack, the 39th Combat Team moved forward to the base of Hill 432, without encountering opposition. The attack against Hill 438, the dominating height on Djebel Ainchouna, jumped off at about 0600 on the 23d, with the 1st and 3d Battalions on the line and the 2d Battalion in reserve. The enemy fought stubbornly with rifle, mortar, and machine-gun fire and grenades. As the fight continued on 24 April, the 1st Battalion suffered numerous casualties, including the battalion commander, the executive officer, the intelligence officer, and the Heavy Weapons Company commander. On 25 April, Hill 438 was finally captured by the 1st and 3d Battalions.
During the remainder of the first phase of the campaign, the 39th Combat Team zigzagged from hill to hill, driving the enemy back toward the Mateur plain. On 26 April the 2d Battalion captured Hill 498, a mile southeast of Ainchouna, and Hill 513, a half mile northeast of 498. While the 3d Battalion took over Hill 498, the 2d Battalion pushed on to the east, and on 27 April occupied the south slopes of Hill 382.
The 2d Battalion met strong opposition at Hill 382, which resisted
for 4 days, but the other two battalions were able to move rapidly. At daybreak on 28 April the 1st Battalion drove the enemy from Hill 164, 2 miles north of Ainchouna, and then turned southeast to take Hills 336 and 377, located about 2 miles north of 382.
On 30 April the combat team concentrated its attacks to wipe out the enemy positions in the 382 area. The 1st Battalion attacked Hill V6, less than a mile northwest of Hill 299, captured it before 1000, and then aided the 3d Battalion in a successful drive over Hill 299. At daybreak the 2d Battalion, supported by the Cannon Company and Divisional Artillery, launched an attack against Hill 382 that swept the entire strongpoint.
The 39th Combat Team was now able to exert the strongest pressure on the Jefna position. After the capture of Hills 299 and 382, our infantry held the high ground and had the advantage of dominant observation. German supply routes, dumps, and installations supporting the Jefna defenses were brought under heavy artillery fire. In one day the 26th Field Artillery Battalion fired more than 4,000 rounds with devastating effect. On 1 May the Germans began their withdrawal to the northeast, and when patrols pushed forward the next day they found quantities of abandoned enemy equipment. The 39th Combat Team was then only 3 miles west of the eastern edge of the hill mass and had completely outflanked the Green Hill-Bald Hill positions.
ACTION NORTH OF THE SEDJENANE (24-27 APRIL)
The 9th Division put its main effort into the successful flanking attack on Jefna. Farther to the north, the 60th Combat Team and the Corps Franc carried out an operation which extended the flanking movement all the way to the coast and insured that no part of the Axis line would escape pressure (Map No. 8, inside back cover).
This operation took place in the scrub-covered mountains north of the Sedjenane Valley. A road to Bizerte winds through the region, but communications were even more difficult than in the zone farther to the south.
A member of the 60th Combat Team has described the terrain as a continuous challenge to the ingenuity, perseverance, and fortitude of our troops. Supplies, weapons, and ammunition had to be carried by burros, which were often hard to obtain. Numerous patches
Supply Line in the Sedjenane Zone
of dense scrub, almost impenetrable, hindered advancing troops and required the use of a trail-breaker. The few roads in the area were mined, but the barely distinguishable trails were practically free of mines and booby traps. Because of liaison difficulties and the speed of the advance, attacking units frequently lost contact with their artillery support.
German positions were sometimes defended by a single barbed wire strung so as to break a rush. Frontal attacks were highly impractical because the enemy had the advantage in well-placed machine guns and mortars. Consequently, as in other areas captured by the II Corps, our tactics in this zone were built around flanking maneuvers by small units. Because of the excellent opportunity offered for concealment, retreating enemy troops frequently fell back into the scrub, waiting for nightfall and a chance to infiltrate by patrols.
Starting from Djebels Mergueb and Msid on the 23d, the 60th Combat Team had occupied Hills 165 and 253 (Djebel Oum el Adame) and Hill 294 (Djebel Dardyss) about 4 miles north of Ainchouna, on 24-25 April. Djebel Dardyss was shelled heavily by the Germans at about 1000 on 25 April, but our troops held on.
While the Corps Franc pushed toward Bizerte on the northern flank, the 60th Combat Team assaulted hill positions on both sides of the Sedjenane Valley. On the north, the 2d Battalion moved northeast from Djebel Dardyss-Djebel Oum el Adame toward Hill 299 (Kraim Lerhmed), which was occupied on 28 April. The next day the battalion advanced northeast about 2 miles to Djebel Hazemat (Hill 273) and remained there for 3 days patrolling positions to the front. South of the valley, the 1st Battalion moved northeast from Hill 2o8 toward Kef Sahan (Hills 337 and 299). One platoon occupied Hill 337 on 28 April, and the rest of the battalion came up the next day. On 30 April, the 1st Battalion continued southeast to occupy Djebel Guermach (Hill 490).
By 29 April the 3d Battalion had advanced northeast about 2 miles to Kef el Zrabin (Hill 230). In this area the enemy held out strongly at Kef en Nsour (Points 412 and 523), lying 2 miles northeast of Djebel Guermach. Two positions in front of Kef en Nsour were taken on 30 April and 1 May. With the assistance of one company of the 1st Battalion, the 3d Battalion captured Kef en
Nsour the next day. Our units had driven to the edge of the hill belt overlooking the Mateur plain and Garaet Achkel, and here again the Germans were fighting on the eastern rim of the best defensive ground.
By 2 May, in the northern sector, the enemy faced the fact that his strongest positions were lost or outflanked. The 9th Division had helped to make inevitable the German retreat to the east.
The German Retreat and the Capture of Mateur
At every point where the II Corps attacked, the enemy had offered bitter and stubborn resistance, marked by frequent counterattacks to recover lost ground. Despite all their efforts, by 1 May the Germans were in a critical situation in the whole II Corps zone. (For the line showing the German position at this date, turn to Map No. 2, facing page 9).
The II Corps advance had dislodged the enemy from his best defensive positions in two areas. In the south, our main effort had fully opened the corridor to Mateur down the Tine Valley. By his failure to retake Djebel el Anz and Hill 609, the enemy was left fighting on the edge of the high ground, with lower rolling country behind him to Mateur. In this country there was no such series of naturally strong positions as the II Corps had just conquered. Full use of our armor was now possible, and a successful American attack north from Djebel Badjar might easily become a breakthrough, cutting off German units still in the hills to the northwest.
The maneuvers of the 9th Division had rendered the enemy's Jefna strongpoints untenable. The flanking columns of the 9th Division had pushed so far northeast of Jefna that the Germans here also were hanging on to the edges of the last high ground protecting the Mateur plain.
To avoid disaster, the enemy facing the II Corps undertook a general retreat on the night of 1-2 May and the next day. His forces in the southern sector withdrew eastward, to positions located from Ferryville south toward Chouigui and Eddekhila. Here, on a north-south belt of hills, the Axis forces might still hope to protect Te-
American Infantry on the Road to Mateur
bourba and the Tunis Plain. North of Garaet Achkel the Axis pulled back to the hills bordering that lake and prepared a last-ditch stand on the main road to Bizerte.
The enemy retreat was followed up at once by a powerful striking force. General Harmon, commanding the 1st Armored Division, ordered Combat Command B to move north from the Tine Valley to Mateur. At about 1100 on 3 May the 81st Reconnaissance Battalion entered Mateur, quickly followed by other units. This prompt and aggressive action undoubtedly interfered with the enemy's plan for withdrawal and hampered his organization of defensive positions between Mateur and Ferryville. That this move upset the enemy was shown by his desperate efforts to hold the 1st Armored Division at Mateur. Infantry, armor, artillery, and planes were rushed into the breach from other parts of the front. ME-109's bombed Mateur heavily from 3 to 5 May, trying to knock out rebuilt bridges. Dive bombers and artillery attacked our troops fiercely in an attempt to halt the advance.
The capture of Mateur meant that the main system of German defense in the north was broken. The pressure thus put on the enemy prevented him from effective concentration to meet the British drive in the Medjerda Valley. The II Corps had taken the first major prize of the Allied attack.
page created 10 July 2001
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