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Bardia to Enfidaville

Eighth Army Plans

Eighth Army Plans

The push towards Hammamet was now to be effected in a series of operations, of which the readjustment of the Army line completed on 26–27 April was a preliminary. These operations never got beyond the early stages, and as 2 NZ Division prepared no orders and took no part in those activities which did take place, it is unnecessary to give full details, but the stages were to be as follows:

  • Night 26–27 April: 2 NZ Division to be relieved by 56 (L) and 51 (H) Divisions.

  • Night 28–29 April: 56 (L) Division to complete the capture of Point 130 (on Terhouna) and to capture Point 141. About this time 4 Indian Division was to move north of Enfidaville.

  • Night 29–30 April: 56 (L) Division on the right and 4 Indian Division on the left to capture a line running from the coast to Djebel et Tebaga (Operation CHOLERA).1

  • Night 30 April–1 May: 56 (L) Division to relieve 4 Indian Division and take over the whole operational front; 7 Armoured and 2 NZ Divisions to concentrate for the final phase.

  • Night 1–2 May: 4 Indian Division to capture Djebel Chabet el Akam; 2 NZ Division to break through between this point and Sebkra Sidi Kralifa; 7 Armoured Division to pass through the gap and exploit towards Hammamet. Very heavy air support was to be available.

1 See map on p. 294.

page 352

This culminating operation was known as ACCOMPLISH, which name was sometimes applied to the whole group of operations.

The plans for this series of operations had been in the process of formulation since it became clear that ORATION would not succeed. Unlike ORATION, however, they did not have the support of the generals who were to carry them out. General Horrocks has since written, ‘I always look back on the time when we were planning this operation as probably the most difficult period of the war. I disliked the battle and realised that casualties would be high. Generals Freiburg [sic] and Tewker [sic] also hated it, and I have always felt that it was extremely public-spirited of the former to undertake the main role in this operation. I know that he was under fire as regards New Zealand casualties,1 and these might have been considerable. When Field Marshal Montgomery returned from Cairo (where he had been examining the plan for the invasion of Sicily) I pointed out the difficulties of the forthcoming battle. I said “we will break through but I doubt whether at the end there will be very much left of the 8th Army”.’2

Horrocks also felt certain that Montgomery did not like the operation. Yet Montgomery insisted that ‘the big issues are so vital that we have got to force this through here.’3 But Horrocks believed that the operation was ‘contingent on success in the North’,4 in which case a success by First Army would render redundant a costly victory by Eighth Army. Moreover, when the operation failed, Alexander was able to write in his despatch that this made no difference to the plans that he was making for the final offensive, and, indeed, it was 28 April, the eve of the operation, when Montgomery informed Alexander that it was his intention ‘to establish three divisions and later four divisions in area HammametBou Ficha–Marie du Zit and then to operate as situation demands.’5 Thus it seems inescapable to conclude that Montgomery was still anxious to employ Eighth Army in a role which resources and terrain combined to render impracticable, and which was not in itself essential to the Army Group plan.

That Montgomery was determined that Eighth Army should fight its way through the bottleneck north of Enfidaville, in spite of the objections of his generals, and at the same time give Horrocks the impression that he was not happy about the proposed operation,

1 Freyberg estimated that success would cost the Division 400 casualties, failure 1000.

2 Comments by Lt-Gen Sir Brian Horrocks on War History Branch narrative on Tunisian campaign, 14 Feb 1951. De Guingand (Operation Victory, p. 280) suggests that Montgomery was too unwell on 27 April, after his return from Cairo, to attend a Sicily planning conference in Algiers.

3 GOC's Diary, 26 April.

4 Ibid.

5 UK Narrative, 28 April.

page 353 may well reflect lack of confidence that First Army would be able to achieve decisive results in time to maintain the timetable for the invasion of Sicily. Or it may indicate the continued existence of the earlier divergence in the tactical appreciations of Alexander and Montgomery. Yet this ignores the fact that Alexander included in his Army Group directive the instruction that Eighth Army should advance to Tunis via Hammamet, either on his own or on Montgomery's initiative. A further complication is that Horrocks has recorded the statement that after ORATION Montgomery considered that the best policy would be for Eighth Army to further reinforce First Army, but that this was impossible for administrative reasons.1 In this maze of contradictions the historian might be pardoned if he overlooked the more simple possibility that, although it was probable that a degree of misunderstanding existed between Alexander and Montgomery, the Eighth Army, personified by its commander, did not, after its long and victorious march from Alamein, have any intention of stopping until victory was in its grasp.

For Freyberg this difficult planning period was complicated by his dual responsibilities: to the Army for the operation and to the New Zealand Government for the wise use of the Division. When his objections were met by the repeated assurance that the operation was vital to the Army Group plan, he finally, on 27 April, agreed. As it is not now possible to regard the operation in this light, it is a case for reflection whether the plight of a general officer with Freyberg's high sense of duty, and dual responsibility, could have been avoided.

However, during the week of planning Freyberg carefully explored the tactical implications of the task ahead, and as early as 22 April exhorted his senior officers not to get depressed. He told them the story of the Turk who accepted a large sum of money from the Sultan as a fee for teaching a donkey to talk. The Grand Vizier said to him, ‘You are a rash young man. You know what will happen to you if you fail?’ The young man replied: ‘It will take three years, and a lot may happen in that time. The Sultan may be dead: I may be dead: or the donkey may be dead!’ Although it must have seemed to Freyberg during the period between the 22nd, when he related it, and the 27th, when he finally gave his decision, that the donkey was not going to die, the wisdom of this fable was soon to be proved.

On the night 28–29 April 56 (L) Division duly captured Points 130 and 141, but the enemy recaptured Point 141 in the morning of the 29th. In the ensuing alarm, 2 NZ Divisional Artillery, which

1 Comments on NZ narrative.

page 354 had deployed north of Enfidaville, found it advisable to post all available light machine guns and riflemen round the gun positions, in order to deal with any enemy penetration. Although none occurred, the stand-down was not given for twenty-four hours. At 4.45 p.m. on 29 April, 2 NZ Division was advised by 10 Corps that the operation set down for the coming night would not take place, and at 6 p.m. that all future operations had been postponed. Later in the evening Horrocks phoned Freyberg to say that all plans were to be recast, and that future moves would be known by midday on 30 April.

It transpired that after the check to 56 (L) Division Montgomery had advised Alexander that the division had little fighting value at the moment,1 and that in any case he was not at all happy about the ‘present plan for finishing off this business’. He asked if Alexander could come and see him on 30 April.

1 It must be mentioned again that this operation was the first in which the units of 56 Division were engaged.