Operation Accomplish (i)

This was a British offensive by General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army in the final stages of the Tunisian campaign (28/29 April 1943).

After the failure of Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg’s New Zealand 2nd Division and Major General F. I. S. Tuker’s Indian 4th Division to develop their ‘Oration’ breakthrough of the Axis forces’ Enfidaville position on 19 April with an advance into the mountain region to the north of Takrouna and the Djebel Garci, Montgomery decided on 21 April that Lieutenant General B. G. Horrocks’s X Corps should advance for about 3 miles (5 km) to the north along the coast road and only then wheel to the west using the Indian 4th Division, the New Zealand 2nd Division, and Major General E. G. Miles’s 56th Division. This last formation had only very recently arrived and lacked combat experience, and currently comprised only Brigadier L. O. Lynne’s 169th Brigade as Brigadier J. C. A. Birch’s 167th Brigade did not reach the forward area until 28 April.

Freyberg and Tuker disliked Montgomery’s plan, the latter pointing out the fact that the Djebel Garci was costly to hold but that, as an observation point, its capture had been worth the cost. He thought that the plan now proposed would split the X Corps, disperse its resources and leave the Djebel Garci isolated. But the alternative involved the defeat of the Axis forces’ positions in the hills on a one-by-one basis until the way was clear to send through the armour.

Horrocks and Montgomery also had reservations about the plan, but Montgomery felt that it was essential for the 8th Army to effect a breakthrough, and on 26 April ordered the X Corps to pierce the Axis positions between the Djebel Chabet el Akam and the sea on 1 May. These orders involved five divisions in three series of reliefs and two attacks. The first attack was to capture a line from the Djebel Tebaga to the coast using the Indian 4th Division on the left to take Tebaga and the 56th Division on the right to take Terhouna during the night of 28/29 April.

Meanwhile the New Zealand 2nd Division and Brigadier J. A. Gascoigne’s 201st Guards Brigade had been making small local attacks to maintain pressure and gain ground. On 23/24 April a battalion of Brigadier G. B. Parkinson’s New Zealand 6th Brigade attacked two features, the Djebel Terhouna and the Djebel es Srafi, which would overlook the flank of the Indian 4th Division’s proposed line of advance on Tebaga. The New Zealanders were unable to take all of these features, which were strongly held by units of Generale di Divisione Nino Sozzani’s 136th Divisione corazzata ‘Giovani Fascisti’, and no one knew exactly where every unit was when, on the night of 26/27 April, the 169th Brigade took over the sector as part of the series of reliefs.

On 28 April Lynne pointed out that the Axis forces held parts of the features and the dangers which thus resulted. Horrocks decided that the 56th Division must take the Djebel Terhouna and the Djebel Srafi during the night of 28/29 April, and the 169th Brigade accomplished this only to be counterattacked on the morning of 29 April, lose the Djebel Srafi, and fall into some disorder. Though unimportant in itself, the incident made Montgomery appreciate that the 56th Division had necessarily to be conditioned as a matter of some urgency to the realities of North African warfare, and that his plan to advance the 8th Army to Cape Bon and Tunis was therefore impractical. He asked General the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander, commanding the Allied 18th Army Group, to visit him, and on 30 April Alexander decided that further large-scale operations by the 8th Army would be very costly in casualties and uncertain of success.

Alexander therefore ordered Montgomery from this time onward to attempt only local operations, mainly to prevent Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen von Arnim, commanding Heeresgruppe ‘Afrika’, from transferring troops from Generale d’Armata Giovanni Messe’s Axis 1st Army westward to General Gustav von Vaerst’s 5th Panzerarmee. He also arranged for the 8th Army to make the immediate transfer to Lieutenant General K. A. N. Anderson’s Allied 1st Army of Major General G. W. E. J. Erskine’s 7th Armoured Division, the Indian 4th Division and the 201st Guards Brigade as reinforcements for Anderson’s final thrust to Tunis.