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Bardia to Enfidaville

The Right Flank on 23 March

The Right Flank on 23 March

‘L’ Force of the French Group had in the meantime been patrolling in the northern foothills of Zemlet el Madjel, often in co-operation with KDG. The ground was very broken and hilly, page 191 and any advance could only be slow, but as mentioned earlier, the enemy was unusually sensitive about a debouchment northwards from Djebel Melab, and the activities of ‘L’ Force had engaged his attention.

The force had been working westwards towards the right of 26 Battalion, but the GOC now intended that it should turn more to the north towards Points 242 and 209, helped by KDG and accompanied by FOOs from 6 Field Regiment. This meant that ‘L’ Force would be finally committed to an advance, and its earlier task of flank protection to the lines of communication would no longer be possible. The FFF Column was still on this duty, and for the time being came directly under Rear Headquarters NZ Corps, commanded by Colonel Crump,1 the CRASC. In the view of the GOC this was too light a force for the duty, as he considered the lines of communication might still be attacked. He therefore asked Eighth Army for an additional armoured car regiment.

This again was over-insurance, for by this time the whereabouts of the panzer divisions was known—15 Panzer at Mareth, 21 Panzer at Tebaga, and 10 Panzer to the north-west of Gabes—and the move of 164 Light Division out of the Mareth Line had also been noted. This last move left Pistoia Division on the right of the line, and it was most unlikely that Pistoia should suddenly burst out to the south across the Matmata Hills. The truth was not that the right flank had become more vulnerable, but that the ‘inching ahead’ tactics were swallowing up ‘L’ Force, KDG and Divisional Cavalry, once used as flank guards. These tactics were proving as absorptive of troops as would have one concentrated attack.

However, the request was still-born, for at 4 a.m. on the morning of 23 March General Montgomery sent a message to General Freyberg that was in effect an answer:

Most Secret personal for General Freyberg from Army Comd. 30 Corps thrust meeting increased resistance and have decided hold tightly there for the present. Instead will reinforce your thrust with 1 Armd Div and this increased strength should enable you to push on and reach Gabes. 15 Pz Div closely engaged on my front. 10 Pz Div engaged in Gafsa area. Troops available to oppose you are 21 Pz Div and have reason to believe certain elements of this div have gone to Gafsa front. Must also expect more of 164 Div to oppose you. For maintenance and other reasons essential have Corps HQ on your flank and am sending Horrocks to take charge. Am sure you will understand. You and he will work well together and should achieve decisive results. Horrocks and recce parties should reach you tomorrow about 12 noon. 10 Corps to take over when 1 Armd Div have arrived probably afternoon 25 March.

1 Brig S. H. Crump, CBE, DSO, m.i.d., Bronze Star (US); Lower Hutt; born Wellington, 25 Jan 1889; Regular soldier; NZASC 1915–19; Commander NZASC, 2 NZ Div, 1940–45; comd 2 NZEF (Japan), Jun–Sep 1947; on staff HQ BCOF and NZ representative on Disposals Board in Japan, 1948–49.