Operation Battle of Sedjenane

The 'Battle of Sedjenane' was fought in two phases between Allied and Axis forces in the 'Tunisia Campaign' for control of the northern Tunisian town of Sedjenane, on the railway line to Mateur and the port of Bizerte (February/May 1943).

The '1st Battle of Sedjenane', which was fought in February and March 1943, came about as the town was of strategic importance during the eastward drive on Tunis after the Allied 'Torch' invasion of North Africa. The Allied run for Tunis was halted by German airborne forces, operating in the ground role, in the hills to the east of the town in November 1942. British troops of the 8/Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, part of Brigadier B. Howlett’s 36th Brigade of Major General V. Evelegh’s British 78th Division, were ambushed as they advanced on the road through the hills on 29 November 1942, and their wrecked Universal Carriers in no man’s land became a symbol of the ensuing stalemate to Allied troops over the following several months of the 'Tunisia Campaign'. These dominant hills, known to the Allies as 'Green Hill', 'Baldy' and 'Sugarloaf', were a barrier to further Allied advances in the north through to February 1943, and it has been aptly states that 'Sejenane was a wayside railway town in the wet cork forests on the way to Mateur. Whoever held Mateur held Bizerte, and whoever held Green and Bald Hills outside Sedjenane held Mateur.'

On 26 February 1943, the Germans broke the stalemate with their 'Ochsenkopf' offensive, a complementary blow to the Kasserine Pass offensive earlier that month. In a subsidiary operation, 'Ausladung', the Axis forces attempted to outflank the British troops in Sedjenane and on the high ground opposite 'Green Hill' with an attack on the hilly coastal strip to the north between the town and Cap Serrat, which was only lightly held by poorly equipped French troops of the Corps Francs d’Afrique.

The German advance, led by Oberst Rudolf Witzig’s Fallschirmpionierbataillon, was held by a series of counterattacks by the 16/Durham Light Infantry of Brigadier R. C. J. Chichester-Constable’s 139th Brigade within Major General H. A. Freeman-Attwood’s British 46th Division, and two troops of No. 1 Commando on 27 February with the support of the 70th Field and 5th Medium Regiments, Royal Artillery. The 16/Durham Light Infantry mounted another, but disastrous, counterattack at dawn on 2 March, in which it suffered severe casualties. That afternoon, the Germans also successfully advanced from the east toward Sedjenane and broke through the ranks of the 5/Sherwood Foresters, also of the 139th Brigade. An Italian infantry battalion of the 10o Reggimento Bersaglieri, supported by 30 tanks, counterattacked in the British sector on 3 March, but lost half its strength killed by machine gun fire.

The 6/Lincolnshire Regiment of Brigadier G. P. Harding’s 138th Brigade of the 46th Division, several Churchill tanks of the North Irish Horse of Brigadier R. H. Maxwell’s 25th Army Tank Brigade, as well as elements of No. 1 Commando and the 16/Durham Light Infantry were involved in the defence of the town, which finally fell to the Germans and Italians on 4 March.

In the '2nd Battle of Sedjenane', the town was retaken by the Allies on 1 April. The several Allied counterattacks through March, first to stem the German advance and then to retake Sedjenane, represented the first time that British and German airborne troops had fought each other. US forces took over the positions in the Sedjenane area and in front of 'Green Hill' on 12 April and held them through to the end of the 'Tunisia Campaign' in May 1943.