THE SECOND PHASE
Axis Resistance Is Broken
Plans for the Wind up of the Campaign
GENERAL SITUATION ON 2 MAY
THE HARD-WON SUCCESS of the II Corps and the forced retreat of the Germans in its zone came at a welcome moment from the standpoint of the whole Allied operation.
On the right of the Eighteenth Army Group, the British Eighth Army had advanced to Takrouna but was held up by heavily mined defensive positions. In the center, where the most powerful attacking forces had been grouped, the First Army had gained some ground toward Tebourba and Massicault, but no breakthrough had yet been made. On 1 May, First Army orders directed a regrouping of forces for a fresh effort, with reinforcement of the center by an armored division and other units from the Eighth Army. Our victory in the north came at just the right time to give strongest support to the renewed effort in the center. The German retreat east of Mateur strained the whole enemy line of defense. With the II Corps at Mateur, the right flank of the Germans was endangered. From that area our forces not only threatened Bizerte to the north but could move directly against the rear of the German forces defending Tebourba. Our advance put additional stress on the already weakening Axis lines and played an important part in the enemy collapse a few days later.
PLANS OF THE EIGHTEENTH ARMY GROUP
(Map No. 9, facing page 37)
In order to complete the destruction of Axis forces in Tunisia, the Eighteenth Army Group on 3 May instructed the First Army to attack and capture Tunis. On right and left, the Eighth Army and
the II Corps were to exert maximum pressure to prevent the enemy from reinforcing his units facing the First Army. After taking Tunis, the First Army would exploit to the southeast and east in order to cut off the Cap Bon Peninsula while the Eighth Army pressed forward to the Hammamet area from the south.
On 4 May, the First Army instructed the V Corps to attack on a narrow front. The IX Corps was to pass through the V Corps and capture the inner defenses of Tunis. The II Corps would seize the high ground east and west of Chouigui and take Bizerte.
PLANS OF THE II CORPS 2
In the northern zone of its front the II Corps planned to isolate Axis troops in the area of Garaet Achkel-Lac de Bizerte. The task was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division and the 1st Armored Division. To drive the enemy on the west and north sides of Garaet Achkel back toward Bizerte, two regimental combat teams of the 9th Division and the Corps Franc d'Afrique were to operate northwest of the lake. The 1st Armored Division was to push northeast from Mateur to Ferryville, and then east on the south side of Lac de Bizerte in order to cut the Axis line of retreat from Bizerte to Tunis.
South of the Mateur-Tebourba road, the enemy had fallen back east of the Oued Tine to a defensive line in steep hills following the curve of the river. While the 1st Division advanced northeast from Djebel Badjar against the northern end of this line, the 34th Division was to drive to the east against Eddekhila and Chouigui.
Through to Chouigui
(Map No. 10, inside back cover)
The new German line in the southern zone east of the Tine ran from Kef en Nosoura on the north to a cluster of strongpoints be
2. At noon on 30 April the 3d Division (Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.) had been alerted to move to the II Corps zone. Within 7 days after the receipt of its order, the entire division had travelled over 700 miles to its destination. On 8 May the 15th Regimental Combat Team was prepared to assist the 1st Division in attack southeast of Mateur. The rest of the division was ready to move into the Ferryville area and to go on to mop up any remaining resistance in the peninsula east of the Tunis-Bizerte road. By 9 May, however, the efforts of the II Corps were so successful that the 3d Division was not needed. The division was then assigned the mission of guarding 38,000 prisoners of war in a cage west of Mateur and of collecting and guarding captured matériel.
tween Eddekhila and Chouigui, 10 miles to the south. Rising steeply 600 to 1,000 feet above the plain, the hills gave the enemy very strong defensive positions protecting Tebourba. These might be turned, however, from the north along the Mateur-Djedeida road, and, if the attack of the British V Corps succeeded, the enemy on these hills would be cut off from retreat toward Tunis.
HOLDING ATTACK OF THE 1ST DIVISION
In preparation for an assault on the northern end of the German line, the 1st Division on 5 May occupied the high ground west of the Tine facing the hill mass of Djebel Douimiss, held by the Barenthin Regiment. The next day the 18th and 26th Regimental Combat Teams attacked across the Tine into these hills, supported by H Company of the 1st Armored Regiment. The armored unit was held up by minefields and the collapse of a bridge over a deep wadi. By nightfall the 18th Infantry had suffered numerous casualties and was forced to withdraw west of the Tine during the night. This move left the 26th Infantry holding a salient on the right, and its withdrawal was necessary. The division was then ordered to maintain pressure against the enemy and to prevent any westward movement. Our troops held their lines west of the Tine on 7 May, and on the following day the Barenthin Regiment withdrew.
THE 34TH DIVISION CAPTURES EDDEKHILA AND CHOUIGUI
South of the 1st Division, the 34th started from the Djebel Badjar area on 3 May in a drive eastward to Chouigui, the objective. The 168th Infantry led; the 175th Field Artillery Battalion was in support. Patrols of the 168th moved east across the Oued Tine plain without encountering enemy units. The main road leading to Chouigui from the west was patrolled vigorously on 4 May past St. Joseph Farm and up to Eddekhila, again without meeting opposition.
The enemy held the hills south and east of the plain, however, and an attack over the open ground north of Eddekhila would be costly. So, once more, the 34th Division took the hill route. On 5 May, the 168th moved into the rugged country southwest of Eddekhila. The advance over broken ground and steep slopes was slow and difficult, but at the end of the day the 168th Infantry forced the enemy out of Eddekhila.
On 6 May, while the 133d pushed a protective flank south and east of Eddekhila, the 168th turned northward along the hills toward the Chouigui pass. The Germans offered bitter resistance and held up the advance in front of Hill 285. An early morning attack on 7 May carried 285 and the neighboring heights to within a mile of the pass. The Germans then withdrew from Chouigui, and units of the 34th Division occupied the town late in the afternoon. At Chouigui, the 34th Division had reached an ultimate objective assigned to the II Corps in the operational orders of 19 April.
At the same time that the 34th was carrying through to Chouigui, the massive attack of the British V Corps, given tremendous air and artillery support, achieved a decisive breakthrough in the center. Massicault was reached on 6 May, and on 7 May British armor drove through to the city of Tunis. From that time, enemy units were surrendering rapidly in the whole northern Tunisian area, making further movements part of a mopping-up process. While the 168th Infantry operated to end resistance in the Chouigui sector, the 135th Infantry moved on 9 May to clean out positions to the north. The 813th Tank Destroyer Battalion, with Company K of the 135th Infantry and the 34th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop attached, operated east out of Chouigui.
North of the Lakes to Bizerte
(Map No. 11, inside back cover, and Sketch No. 1, page 42)
After the German retreat in the northern sector, the new enemy defense extended from Djebel Cheniti (north of Garaet Achkel) southeast through Ferryville, and then south on the high ground northeast of Mateur. Djebel Achkel, south of the lake, remained a useful but isolated stronghold. The new line barred the roads to Ferryville and Bizerte around the shore of Garaet Achkel, but its stability depended upon control of two groups of commanding hills: those around Djebel Cheniti and those southeast of Garaet Achkel protecting the Ferryville isthmus. If the Axis lost Djebel Cheniti, its troops north of Garaet Achkel would have to fall back on Bizerte or risk being trapped at Ferryville by the 1st Armored Division, driving north from Mateur. Should the 1st Armored succeed in penetrating the strongpoints south of Ferryville, the German forces
to the north would be cut off and those to the south would be outflanked.
The 9th Division and the Corps Franc attacked the German positions north
of Garaet Achkel, where Djebel Cheniti was the center of the German strength.
The tactics against Cheniti were similar to those used earlier to reduce
Jefna. The Corps Franc and the 60th Combat Team delivered a holding attack
against the strongpoints (Hills 207 and 168); the 47th Combat Team outflanked
Cheniti on the north.
Infantry Battalion Approaching Bizerte
On 4 May the Corps Franc occupied three hills west of Djebel Cheniti. A weak enemy counterattack down the western slopes of Cheniti was broken up by our artillery. On 5 May the 47th Infantry moved up from Jefna and began its flanking movement to drive the enemy from hills on the left of the Corps Franc. The 2d Battalion advanced up Djebel Zouitina and turned east to Hill 208, which it took in the afternoon. Continuing the attack, the 2d Battalion had captured Hill 223, and the 3d was on 165 to the northeast by the end of the next day. The 47th Combat Team was now due north of Cheniti and in a position to threaten the Bizerte road.
On 6 May, while the 47th was attacking to the north, the 60th
SKETCH NO. 1
Infantry passed through the Corps Franc and assaulted Hills 168 and 207, key positions on Djebel Cheniti. The 1st Battalion jumped off at 1300 and 3 hours later had driven the enemy from Hill 108. A half mile to the south, on Hill 207, they met stronger resistance. An artillery concentration disorganized the enemy, and our infantry attacked before the Axis troops could recover. By nightfall part of the hill was captured, but the Germans still held out on the southeastern slopes.
On 7 May the 47th and 60th Combat Teams advanced to cut the Bizerte road. The 2d Battalion of the 47th Infantry attacked from Hill 223 and captured Hill 131, 2 miles to the southeast. The 3d Battalion occupied Hill 125, about 2 miles north of 131, and held it against an armored counterattack in the afternoon. The 60th Infantry continued its attack toward the east, cleaned up the south slopes of Djebel Cheniti, and by the end of the morning reached Hill 114, east of the Bizerte road.
These successes against the key hill positions were decisive. By 1400 on 7 May the enemy was in full retreat, and 6 hours later the 47th Infantry began its march to Bizerte. On 8 May all elements of the 47th Combat Team were in position just northwest of the city ready to repel any counterattack by the Germans. The 60th Combat Team had occupied the high ground commanding the Ferryville-Bizerte road. The northern Axis flank had collapsed.
Meanwhile, on 7 May, the 15th Engineer Battalion, following the 3d Battalion of the 60th Infantry, constructed a ford across Oued Douimiss on the Bizerte road. This allowed the 9th Reconnaissance Troop to reconnoiter Route 11 toward Bizerte, and the Reconnaissance Company of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion to reconnoiter Route 57 toward Ferryville. Using this same passage, Company A of the 751st Tank Battalion, supported by two companies of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion, moved up the Bizerte road and entered Bizerte at 1555. The only resistance came from snipers armed with rifles and submachine guns, and from a few light machine guns. The tanks deployed on the streets to seek out and destroy all small-arms fire and machine-gun positions. Some fire was received from artillery south of Bizerte. Seven tanks, placed as counterbattery, knocked out two artillery pieces. When darkness set in, the tank company moved in absolute blackout to bivouac in the central section of the Bizerte airport.
The 9th Reconnaissance Troop had also entered the outskirts of Bizerte during the afternoon. Other units of the 9th Division and the Corps Franc came in the next (lay. Before evacuating Bizerte the Germans left time bombs in the important buildings and scattered booby traps and mines profusely; even cakes of soap were booby-trapped. With an enemy force of undetermined strength held between Goulet du Lac, Lac de Bizerte, and the Mediterranean, the 9th Division prepared to hold Bizerte and mop up minor resistance around the city.
Breakthrough by the 1st Armored Division
(Map No. 11, inside back cover, and Sketch No. 2, page 45)
The 1st Armored Division had not been able to show its full power in the first phase of the operation, although the threat of armored attack down the Tine Valley had undoubtedly been a factor in forcing the German retreat on 2 May. Now, from the Mateur area, the 1st Armored Division was to strike at the center of the new German line, where two roads led into the Tunis plain: one from Mateur through Ferryville to the Tums-Bizerte highway and the other from Mateur to Djedeida.
The enemy defense of these roads depended on holding two hill masses. The first, and by far the more important, comprised a 5-mile belt of hills between the Ferryville and the Mateur-Djedeida roads. In these heights lay the main enemy positions. The second was the imposing Djebel Achkel, just south of the lake and rising more than 1,600 feet above the plain. The 91st Reconnaissance Squadron was to take care of Djebel. Achkel and guard the division's left flank. The primary attack was made by two combat teams, team A operating for a breakthrough at Ferryville and team B aiming for control of the road to Djedeida.
The first move was against this isolated height. Not only did it flank the intended line of our main attack, but from its top the enemy could direct artillery fire on the Mateur plain from batteries as far as 8 miles to the east. The 91st Reconnaissance Squadron, moving to the attack on 4 May, met strong opposition, but by mid-
afternoon of 5 May our troops had advanced about one-third of the way up the mountain and by nightfall had captured the western half, taking more than 80 prisoners.
The remaining enemy forces, only a few hundred strong, put up the stubborn
resistance that characterized German fighting in this
SKETCH NO. 2
campaign. Enemy installations in stone buildings at the base of the mountain held out until blasted by a tank-destroyer unit on 9 May. Fighting on the hill continued until 11 May, when more than 300 officers and men of the Hermann Goering Division surrendered but not until they had verified the report that their general had surrendered on the 9th.
THE DRIVE THROUGH FERRYVILLE TO THE EAST
On 6 May, the 6th Armored Infantry Regiment began the main attack on the hills grouped around Djebel el Messeftine, just southeast of Garaet Achkel. The 1st Battalion of the 13th Armored Regiment protected the left flank of the attack, and artillery support was given by the 91st and 68th Field Artillery Battalions.
Following an artillery concentration, the 6th Armored Infantry moved across the open plain east of the Mateur-Ferryville road and into a hill mass 600 to 700 feet high. Not only was the ground difficult for armored movement, but the heights were defended with strong forces of infantry supported by tanks. On the left, the 2d Battalion reached Hill 273, the highest point on the Messftine [sic] ridge, by 0626. Here the advance was held up. On the right, the 1st Battalion attacked Hill 253 on the southeastern end of the ridge. This objective and Hill 251, a half mile to the north, were taken by 1000. The enemy still held out at 216, less than a half mile east of 253. At noon the 3d Battalion was ordered to move out from its position west of the Mateur-Ferryville road to drive the enemy from Djebel Cheggaga. By 1630, the 3d Battalion had reached its objective and was mopping up.
The Germans, driven back from the ridge of Messeftine, clung stubbornly to a secondary ridge from Hill 265 to 172. In order to drive the enemy from these positions, the 1st Armored Division launched a coordinated attack by infantry and tanks at i700. Two companies of the 13th Armored Regiment moved up from the right flank and passed through the 2d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, on Hill 273. The tanks attacked east and southeast against intense antitank and artillery fire. Light rain had made the rugged terrain slippery, and a platoon leader's tank was destroyed when it slid over a 50-foot cliff. While the tanks were maneuvering southeast of Hill 273, the enemy counterattacked the hill from the northeast. A confused and bitter fight took place as tanks battled in the wadies and our infantry struggled to hold the key heights. The enemy overran Hills 251 and 253 by 1900 and continued to attack 273. All but one platoon of our tanks were ordered to withdraw a half hour later. By 2100, the German counterattack had won back the entire ridge from 273 to 253; but the 3d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, held
onto 216 with the aid of artillery fire. Although the German counterattack against Messeftine was successful on 6 May, the enemy could not hold the position because of the advance of Combat Command B on the south.
Combat Command B, consisting of the 13th Armored Regiment and attached units, was operating against the lower hills near the Mateur-Djedeida road. Here the enemy had many concealed antitank guns, which had to be rooted out one by one. Late in the afternoon, while one battalion supported the attack on Messeftine, the rest of Combat Command B was able to clear Djebel el Assafir and advance toward the road junction 6 miles east of Mateur.
On 7 May, the 1st Armored Division launched a three-pronged attack that completedly [sic] routed the Germans along the Mateur-Ferryville front. At the north end of the German line the 91st Reconnaissance Squadron (with the exception of one troop left on Djebel Achkel) attacked and captured Djebel ez Zarour. The squadron, followed by the 2d Battalion, 39th Infantry, entered Ferryville shortly after noon. In the center, heavy artillery fire chased the enemy from the Messeftine ridge and the 6th Armored Infantry occupied the hills. The 3d Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, advanced from the south and found the enemy in full retreat to the east.
Fresh units were brought up from reserve forces to exploit the opening south of Ferryville. The 3d Battalion of the 1st Armored Regiment, which had followed the infantry into Ferryville, now moved out to the east with the mission of cutting the Tunis-Bizerte road, ii miles away.
South of the Lac de Bizerte, the first objectives of the 3d Battalion and its attached units were the bridge over the Oued ben Hassine and the high ground southeast and south of the bridge, about 4 miles from Ferryville. The battalion deployed on the south side of the road and advanced to the bridge, which was defended by tanks and artillery. While Company G moved south to take the enemy on the flank, the rest of the battalion fired on the high ground east of the stream. Company G gained complete surprise in its flanking movement and drove the enemy onto the flats south of Lac de Bizerte. Darkness prevented complete exploitation of the success, but the bridge was taken intact. The 2d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, arrived at nightfall to assist in defending the position.
Only two enemy strongpoints of consequence still held out in front of the 3d Battalion. One of these was Hill 151, overlooking the road 4 miles east of the captured bridge; the other was Djebel Sidi Mansour, a mile south of Hill 151. When units of the 91st Reconnaissance Squadron advanced east of the bridge on 8 May, enemy fire from Hill 151 and Sidi Mansour threatened to hold up the advance. Company G of the 3d Battalion was ordered to attack Hill 151, with Company I in support. Two platoons of Company G maintained strong frontal fire while the third platoon maneuvered to the south flank and destroyed the enemy.
Meanwhile, Company I, the assault guns, and the 91st Armored Field Artillery Battalion were neutralizing enemy positions on the west side of Sidi Mansour. At 1430, Company I began its move to the western crest of the hill, with the 2d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, following to mop up. After the heavy and sustained "snipe shoot" that preceded the assault, our forces met no real resistance and took 200 prisoners. Beyond the hill to the east, enemy vehicles and personnel were streaming in retreat.
On the last day of the operation, 9 May, the 3d Battalion met practically no opposition. At daylight, Company G moved astride the Tunis-Bizerte road, while Company H advanced toward the village of El Alia. No difficulty was encountered "except that caused by the determination of several thousands of Germans to surrender," according to an official report. When news of the surrender was announced, the 2d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, was in reserve ready to seize the high ground north and east of El Alia. The unit then moved to guard the beaches west of Metline to prevent attempts at escape by sea.
THE DRIVE TO PROTVILLE
While Combat Command A cleared the hills north of the Mateur-Djedeida road on 7 May, Combat Command B moved east on the division's right flank. The 2d Battalion of the 13th Armored Regiment, with attached units, seized the crossroads 6 miles east of Mateur in the morning and then advanced more than 5 miles to the east. On 8 May, this force attacked to the northeast on the north side of the Djebel el Besbessia ridge, while the 81st Reconnaissance Battalion pushed forward to reconnoiter the Tunis-Bizerte road. Advancing
through rugged terrain, the 2d Battalion cut the road early in the afternoon at the east end of Djebel Menzel Roul.
On 8 May, the 1st Battalion of the 1st Armored Regiment moved east from Mateur on the Djedeida road to protect the right flank of Combat Command B. The first serious opposition was encountered 12 miles east of Mateur at Hill 111, where Companies C and B carried the hill but were driven off by artillery and mortar fire. The attack was stopped there by nightfall. German defense, however, was nearing its end. Next morning, 9 May, Hill 111 was occupied without resistance. Units of the 1st Battalion pushed on to Protville, where they met British units west of the town. As the battalion went beyond Protville and turned north on the Bizerte road, it passed thousands of Axis prisoners and quantities of their discarded arms and equipment. In the last 2 days of enemy disintegration, the battalion had covered 40 miles. The 3d Battalion of the 13th Armored turned north on the Bizerte road on 9 May and then advanced northeast to occupy Porto Farina.
The Axis Surrenders
By 7 May it was apparent that the battle for Tunisia was won. For 2 weeks the enemy had contested every hill furiously and had counterattacked incessantly to recover lost positions. Pushed back and dented, his lines had not been broken. But the unrelenting Allied pressure finally told. By the night Of 7 May, the British First Army had driven an armored wedge clear through to Tunis, and the Axis armies were cut in half. At the same moment, U. S. armored units were in Bizerte, and organized resistance by the enemy could not last much longer. In the next 2 days, enemy forces were widely separated and cut off from bases and supplies.
The German units in the II Corps zone were in a particularly hopeless position. The three-pronged eastward drive of the 9th Division and the 1st Armored left only minor enemy groups to be rounded up in the hills. When Combat Command B of the 1st Armored Division met British units at Protville, a main group of German forces, pressed on the west by the 1st and the 34th Divisions, was stranded in the Tebourba area. On 9 May, the Germans in the II Corps area asked for terms. Unconditional surrender was ac-
cepted by Maj. Gen. Fritz Krause at noon; and, as General Bradley's report states, "All organized resistance in Northern Tunisia in front of the II Corps came to an end."
Early in the afternoon, six German generals, now prisoners, arrived
at II Corps Headquarters. Among them were the commanding generals of the
5th Panzer Army, the 15th Panzer Division,
and the Manteuffel Division, the artillery commander of the Afrika Korps, and the commanding general of the Luftwaffe at Bizerte.
Axis resistance in the hill mass southeast of Tunis lasted only a few days longer. On 9 and 10 May, British armor cut off the escape route to the Cap Bon Peninsula. Under pressure by the French on the west and the Eighth Army from the south, the remaining Axis forces surrendered by 13 May.
page created 10 July 2001
Return to the Table of Contents
Return to CMH Online