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

tile valley, along which runs the largest perennial river in Tunisia, the Medjerda. The headwaters of this river drain part of the Algerian province of Constantine, where it flows through an impressive' gorge along which a railway finds its way with difficulty. At Ghardimou, practically on the border, the valley suddenly opens out, and the ri­ ver meanders across a large plain. At Te- bourga, 20 miles W est of Tunis, the river may flood during the rainy season and cov­ er a large portion of the coastal plain. The region is rich in alluvial soil and cereals are intensively cultivated. DUSTING OF SNOW The largest ranges bordering this river rise to 5,000 feet in the south and 3,000 feet in the north. At these heights they receive during the wet season a fairly heavy rainfall, occasional dustings of snow and frequent hailstorms. The damp encourages vegetation, and in the north superb forests of oak, ash and elm are found. On drier slopes wild olives and maritime pine mingle with holly, ivy, ferns and similar bushes, forming a lux­ uriant undergrowth difficult to force a way through. Communications naturally tend to follow the river valleys and the mountain passes : the most part south-west to north-east and so the principal roads and railways run for their subsidiary connections from north­ west to south-west. South of the Sfax line the country be­ comes more flat, arid and parched — the desert is approaching fast. The Tunisian version of the Libyan Sebcha, called Shotts, makes one reconnaissance-conscious when one learns that they cover about 2,500 square miles. As we go south the desert becomes the real thing — probably it is better interpret­ ed in Southern Tunisia than in Libya ! The oases are miserable and small, the districts are sparsely inhabitated, and, as a bar to westward ventures, the Sahara has spilled some of its overflow on to the south-west ern portion of the country : large, shim­ mering golden dunes which do not encour­ age investigation on wheels — the Algerian “Erg." Amilcar beach from Sidi Bau Said. N ative houses in Medenine in the south. - 4 - View of town and port of Nefta. at E l Djem. Natives at the Oasis of Tozeur. Nefi a, th - Ot'Ma ind town. - 5 - Picture shows the Chenal flowing into the sea near Tunis. T unisia is the most easterly of the three countries formerly known as the “Barbary States,” that part of the North African coast which was notorious for centuries as a strong­ hold of pirates and slave-raiders. It was not until the 1880’s that the French Government occupied Tunisia, on grounds partly economic and partly political. Only then did the tribal raids and general inse­ curity become less violent. In normal times Tunisia now enjoys na­ tive self-government under French direction. Successive French administrators have been careful not to interfere too much in domes­ tic politics. This policy produced sound economic prosperity and kept the Protec­ torate peaceful, rich and free from native unrest. NATIVE QUESTION From the French administrator's point of view the native question in Tunisia has been distinguished from that in the neigh­ bouring states of Algeria and Morocco by certain qualities and peculiarities due to the temperament of the inhabitants and also to the nature of the country. The Tunisian native is politically more mature than his Western neighbours, due largely to a better network of communica­ tions, and his sensitivity to propaganda is higher. His fear however, of Italian Fascist Imperialism, doubly strong in view of the proximity of Libya, has tended to prevent him from agitating for complete indepen­ dence, although French nationality was of­ fered to the Moslems in 1923. Since the 17th century, there has always been a relatively strong colony of Italian traders in Tunisia. In fact, in 1906 there were twice as many Italians as French, due to the immigration system ; but since then the French population has grown the more rapidly. Naturally, Fascist propaganda was very active among the Italians, but as most of the latter came originally from Sicily and Sardinia where Fascism is not popular it is estimated that only about 20% of the community are sincere and active Fascists. PLAYED WITH FIRE Previous to 1938, there was a tendency towards closing the ranks of the French and Italian colonists against the threat of the native population. But the Fascist leaders in Rome and Tripoli never able to resist the temptation to play with fire, poured out a stream of pro-Arab propaganda which culminated in open encouragement to revolt in 1939. This pronouncement coincided with a deterioration of Italo-French rela­ tions. Italians with key positions in Tunisia were dismissed, many arrests were made for arms hiding, and energetic counter-espion­ age steps were taken. Then the war started— ITALY'S LAKE ! The use of the Mediterranean sea, “Ita­ ly’s own lake” is very important to the British Empire as a line of communications to the Middle and Far East. W ith the ex­ ception of the Straits of Gibraltar the clos­ est point on the African coast to the South­ ern extremities of Europe is the north coast of Tunisia. Only 95 miles of sea form the gap between Tunisia and Sicily — about 20 minutes flying by Spitfire ! So the protection of these Sicilian narrows for Mediterranean convoys makes Allied poss­ ession of Tunisia a strategic and imperative necessity if the Mediterranean is to be open once more to our shipping. Roughly half the size of England. Tuni­ sia is a land of geographical and floral con­ trasts. Three quarters of its surface is plain: two-thirds of it are lower than 1,200 feet above sea-level ; and the coastal plain which stretches from Bizerta to Tripolitania rarely exceeds 600 feet. The climate and The forest of olive trees in the neighbourhood of Sfax. Such, then, is the country into which Rommel has shepherded his tattered rem­ nants, and into which Hitler is rushing sup­ plies and men in a desperate attempt to The Temple of Concordia. Dougga. vegetation reveal both Mediterranean and | African influences ; the north is in many, respects almost European, while the south* is essentially Saharan. Tunisia can be divided into halves of almost equal area by a line running east to west through Sfax. The country to the north is largely mountainous, the overflow and termination of great Algerian mountain chains. These features tend to run from south-west to north-east, the two principal ranges being separated by a wide and fer- The Tripolitanian Gebel Nefusa has also reached out its formidable scarps and pla­ teaux into Southern Tunisia, where it final­ ly halts at Matmata. Tunis and Carthage have been in turn the capitals of Eastern Barbary. Tunis, roughly the size of Hull, has a general ad­ vantage of position as the natural inlet and outlet of the country, with easy access to the hinterland by the river valleys. Car­ thage, once mistress of the Mediterranean, was originally on an island, but is now joined to the mainland by a series of low sand dunes. OLIVE GROVES Although greater in population than Tu­ nis, Sousse contains a much larger propor­ tion of natives, who live among the 6,000,000 olive trees arranged in tiers on the gentler lower slopes of the depressions. The prosperous town of Sfax, somewhat smaller than Cardiff, produces large quan­ tities of fruit and olives, and also exports large quantities of phosphates mined in the mountains to the west. Gabes also, the size of Motherwell in Scotland, is at the meeting of the hinter­ land routes and an important junction and port. At the Northern extremity of Tunisia, on the coastal plain, lies Bizerta, which could be compared with Birkenhead. It is too near Tunis to become a large town or flourishing commercial port on its own, but its fine har­ bour and strategic situation have made it an important naval base, which we must have. deny us control of the Sicilian narrows — the narrowest gap East of Gibraltar, the bottleneck through which all Mediterranean convoys must go — the Straits which we need. W e must have Tunisia ! C. G. ‘CRUSADER” presents a Tunisian Travel-lallc ( f c U e u tc d f t o t u / v o pe The author of this article has made a special study of the topography ¦ of French North Africa. He was an 1.0. in Eighth Army at its formation in 1941, and before that he served as a platoon commander with the New Zealand forces in Greece and Crete.
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