The War Illustrated No 153 Vol 6 April 30th 1943

THE BATTLE.FRONTS by Maj.-Gen. Sir Charles Gwynn, K.C.B., B.S.O, ROM M EL’S eviction from the Mareth Line and from Hie Wadi Akarit position marks the end of the first phase of the Battle of Tunisia. The intermediate pursuit phase that followed was of short duration the speed of the Eighth Arm y’s pursuit compelled Rcm mel to abandon any intention he may have had of fighting rearguard ac'ion or of counter-attacking the First Army ’s columns which threatened his lines of retreat. It is not surprising that he has made good his escape in view of his readiness to cut his losses and sacrifice his Italian allies. Opposed by strong flank-guards holding highly defensible positions, the First Army columns operating from Fonduk, even if they had been more experienced troops, had little real chance of intercepting his retreat unless he had attempted to delay the advance of the Eighth Army. By April 15 the stage was set for the second main phase of the battle— the attack on the outer ring of the final Axis position with which by that date the Allies were everywhere in'contact. There maybe a pause inland fighting for re-grouping and preparation before the attack is delivered but meantime the airoffensive continues with a growing intensity which would seem to prohibit any attempt to carryout a “Dunkirk ”evacuation. The final phase of the battle will not, however, be eompleted until Bizert.i is captured, and it must be realized that it is defended by an inner ring of fortifications which may prove .more capable of prolonged defence than the outer ring, strong as the latter undoubtedly is. Now that the winter inoffensive Russia has been brought to a close, I discuss below the events of the last year, and draw deductions from themas they seem to affect tho outlook for the coming summer. Reasonable conclusions may, I bethink, drawn. TUNISIA The battle o f the Wadi un A karit, which was something more than a rearguard action, reduced Rom m el’s power for mischief. It com­pelled him to abandon his apparent inten­tion to strike again at the Americans coming from GEl uettar, and to withdraw the troops opposing them which he had reinforced with his Pan /er reserves. With the Eighth Arm yin hot pursuit and with the net closing round him, he was left with no alternative but again to save what he could o f his army by speed of Hight. The A karit battle that ended on April 6 was therefore not only an outstanding tactical victory but has had major strategical results. It was in many ways perhaps the most remarkable o f the 8th Army ’s achieve­ments under M ontgom ery's leadership. The speed with which the attack was prepared, involving among other things the accumulation o f reserves o f ammunition for a heavy initial bombardment, for the barrage covering the assault and for subsequent pursuit, evidently exceeded Rom m el's ex­ pectations—or otherwise he would not have dared to detach his Panzers to operate against the Americans. That the delivery o f the attack in pitch darkness surprised the enemy is not to be wondered at, for it.was practically without precedent. It has been universally accepted that attacks incomplete darkness should be limited to small enterprises against well-defined objectives, and that large-scale attacks would court confusion and disaster. Montgomery, confident in the quality and experience o f his troops, accepted the risk. The battle has practically brought to a close the operations o f the 8th Arm yin an independent role. It has still heavy tasks ahead, but henceforth it will net as one o f a group o f armies and its actions in timing, direction and scale must be adapted to the general plan-o f the group. RUSSIA Germ any, we know, has carried c through a drastic com b-out o f her man-power. apparently with the object not only o f replacing her heavy casualties, but in order to raise new divisions. Great troop movements towards the Russian front arc also reported. Docs this mean that she intends to launch another great attempt tp deprive Russia o fall offensive power, or can it be otherwise interpreted ?An analysis o f the achievements and failures o f her last year’s offensive shows little to encourage anew major attempt. Last year, although the Reichswehr had suffered heavy casualties and had had desperate experiences o f the rigours o f the Russian winter, yet German man-power had not been seriously affected.’ and there, was no real difficulty, once the effects o f winter hardships had worn off, in'p ro v id gin a striking force o f formidable size and consisting o f well-trained troops. Losses and expenditure o f material, though heavy, cannot have been comparable with those o f the last six months. The Germans had come .very ricar to disaster, but as a whole their army had escaped. Russia in the preceding summer had had even more disastrous experiences, and her new armies were still neither fully ‘trained nor equipped. The prospects for an offensive, after a period for recuperation, were therefore on the whole distinctly favourable and when it was launched it met with immediate success to an encouraging degree. Yet the out­standing fact is that, in spite o f great initial success, the momentum o f the offensive was- lo st/and it was brought to a standstill short o f almost ail its objectives before the Russian counter-offensive turned partial success into disaster. Moreover, it was brought to a stand­still by Russian troops that had suffered heavy initial defeats and without excessive employ­ment o f reserves earmarked for ultimate offensive employment. Mr. Stalin has told us that the Germ ans’ original intention was to force the cross­ing o f the Don on the Voronezh front to reach the Volga and then to wheel north­wards towards Moscow, cutting its com­munications with the east and south. This plan, he holds, was only abandoned, in favour o f the wheel south between the Don and D onetz, in consequence o f the failure a t Voronezh. British unofficial opinion, on the other hand,saw in the?offensive an attempt to secure the Caucasian oilfields and th’ c use o f Caucasia as abase for the development of a great pincer movement against the British in the Middle East. Either o f these interpretations may repre­sent the ultimate indirections which success might have been exploited, but it seems more probable that the primary aim was to defeat decisively the whole left owing f the Russian armies, to reach the Volga in order to reduceR ussia’s offensive potential by cutting her off from her main source o foil supply, and to secure the oilfields o f Northern Caucasia for Germany. The successful Russian defence at Voronezh had certainly far-reaching results, for it made it more difficult to reach the Volga, and left the Russians with lateral railway com­munications from the centre to the south— communications which were essential to the defence o f Stalingrad and to the development o f the ultimate counter-offensive. It is, however, hard to believe that the German ¦CONGRATULATIONS, GENERAL! 1 Striding through the rough stubble of an airfield not far from the Mareth Line, General Eisenhower, Allied C.-in-C. in North Africa, greets General Montgomery, intrepid commander of the Eighth Army. “The record of the Eighth Army is too brilliant to need any praise,” said General Eisenhower on March 31. PAGE 706 >Photo, British Official: Crown Copyright
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