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The Crusader, Eighth Army Weekly, No. 42, Vol 4, February 15th 1943

Review- for iKe Blue The magnitude of the tasks facing the Brit­ ish people now that the Prime Minister has returned from concerting this year's plan of action is widely discussed in the news­ papers at home. The “Manchester Guard­ ian” says : “Again we are on the edge of the action of new offensives. W e need not speculate where, but we can trust Roose­ velt and Churchill to be as alive as the keenest of u s ^ to the strategic necessity of complementing on the west Russia's magnifi­ cent efforts on the east. Churchill comes back to meet a Government ungrudging in its appreciation of his work... but concerned about the weaknesses that still reveal them­ selves. Among these is the submarine dan­ ger.” London newspapers also stress the urg­ ency of grappling with the u-boat problem. The general opinion expressed is that only when this most dangerous of Hitler's wea­ pons has been smashed will he lose the hope of peace or compromise. Admiral Stark, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, on his return to Britain from U.S.A., said he hoped that by the end of 1943, the British and U.S. Navies would have the u-boats where they wanted them. FUNERAL MUSIC After capturing an area of Russia greater than that of Great Britain, the Red Army, at the time “Crusader” went to press, was threatening Rostov, eight miles away ; Kharkov, 38 miles away ; and Kursk, 14 miles away. A 100-miles Russian outflank­ ing movement along the Donetz threatened not only Rostov, but the entire German Donetz defence system. For three days last week every radio sta- tio in Greater Germany played what the announcers called “heroic music." This ranged from the classic funeral marches to “Ich hatte einen Kameraden.” “And thus ’ said Radio Roma "the dead of Stalingrad were laid to rest in their tombs by the en­ tire German people.” In “Das Reich” Gob- bels, inaugurating a reign of gloom, wrote: “Our soldiers had won victory after victory and thus spoiled public opinion... Now be­ fore us we suddenly see the darker side of war.” Even more frank was Lt.-Gen. Dittmar, Berlin Radio's Liddell Hart . “For the first time we Germans feel the full tragedy of a setback ; for the first time we experience what we so often have inflicted on others. A German army has ceased to exist.’ “It is music for a funeral” said a Pole on the B.B.C. “The funeral of Germany's eastern dreams.” (Continued on Page 8) MARETH 1 LINE In the past few weeks most of us have read or heard about the “Ma­ reth Line” as the stiffest hurdle facing Eighth Army since Alamein. And most of us have only the vaguest idea what or where the Mareth Line is. Now in this article experts tell you about it. T he Mareth position now stands between Eighth Army and the Allied Forces in Northern Tunisia. It was built by the French as a stop to the Italians. It is a strange irony that, by being themselves defeated, the Italians are now tak­ ing it over nearly three years after No. 42 Vol. 4 February 15th 1943 they made faces at it from afar before turning East to march on Egypt. The first defences to be built in Southern Tunisia were on the Southern perimeter of the Gabes oasis. At the same time work was started on the Mareth Line, intended to bar the routes from Libya towards Gabes bet­ ween the sea and the very difficult Mat- mata hills at the point where the Wadi Zig- zaou provides a natural obstacle. THREE MAIN STASES By 1939 the Mareth line was complete. It had been built in three main stages. First, localities covering the ways across the Wadi Zigzaou ; second, localities in the gaps between these, making the line con­ tinuous ; third, support localities’ one to two kilometres in rear of the line, covering the forward localities. The forward localities contained concrete pillboxes and emplacements for small arms • and anti-tank guns up to 75 mm. The sup­ port localities were not concreted, although they contained certain concreted battalion and brigade headquarters, and in rear of them were unconcreted artillery positions. .From Sidi Touati, south to the Medenine — Halluf road the defences are on a diffe­ rent system, with no continuous line. Self-supporting localities of about company strength were built into commanding hills, the difficult country acting as an obstacle. From Bir Sultane to Ksar El Halluf a series of positions, largely unconcreted, was cons­ tructed to prevent movement along the Wadi Halluf. Between the Mareth Line and the fron­ tier strong outposts were built to block the foot of the hills. The first is Ben Gardane, a defended village with four concreted com­ pany strongpoints on the main roads north, south, east and south-east ; the second, Foum Tatahouine, where the roads are cov­ ered b y three strong­ points of about com­ pany strength built into commanding features. Medenine. an important road centre, is similarly defended, but was in­ tended mainly to be the base for mobile coun- ter-attack. The French propos­ ed to hold the Mareth Line from the sea to Si­ di Touati, where the Wadi Zigzaou peters out and the hills begin, with two infantry divi­ sions. These manned the pillboxes with post weapons. In the hills there was to be another infantry division, the greater part of which had a counter-attack role, the remainder manning the hill strong- points. The two out­ posts at Ben Gardane and Foum Tata­ houine were each to hold a battalion group. A cavalry division, two-thirds of which would have been operating forward, was to be based on Medenine. In 1939 a battal­ ion was based on El Hamma, presumably to hold the defences in the Gebel Tebaga. In addition to the normal troops des­ ert garrisons guarded the flank. These were irregular formations known as Goums, each of some 220 Arabs under French officers. When they were wanted the local Sheikh was informed, a fire was lighted on the hills and the volunteers poured in. Each man was issued with a little food and eighty cartridges, and they became a tough and easily maintained force. The Mareth Line was based on certain assumptions. First, that the British and French would have command of the sea and that no landings behind the line would be possible. Second, that it would not be possible to outflank it. Third, that the local population would co-operate. HIDDEN IWINE ! Time and the Italian Armistice Commis­ sion have combined with the Italian short­ age of metal to alter the line considerably. In the summer of 1940 all post weapons were .removed. The anti-tank obstacle was flattened, the wire cut, the champ de rails removed, and the dragon’s teeth demolished. The metal was taken away from the prepar­ ed defences and the armour was removed from the pillboxes. The line today, as taken over by the enemy, consists of a series of well-sited but empty pillboxes and emplacements. They may have available the French weapons removed from them and possibly the reserve ammunition from the main dumps. And they will possibly discover, too, the wine which at least one French battalion hid there. \V
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