Operation Olivenernte

olive crop

This was a German unrealised portion of ‘Ochsenkopf’ (i) for the capture of Medjez el Bab in Tunisia by Generalleutnant Friedrich Weber’s Korpsgruppe ‘Weber’ of Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen von Arnim’s (from 28 February General Gustav von Vaerst’s) 5th Panzerarmee before the exploitation phase toward Béja, Téboursouk and Gafour (26 February/5 March 1943).

Medjez el Bab was held by Brigadier G. P. Harding’s 138th Brigade of Major General H. A. Freeman-Attwood’s 46th Division, but temporarily under the command of Major General V. Evelegh’s 78th Division, and the German operation was designed to outflank Medjez el Bab from the north and south. Elements of Generalmajor Fritz Krause’s 334th Division were to attack through the mountains to take Oued Zarga and thus cut the road from Medjez el Bab to Béja. Generalleutnant Friedrich Freiherr von Broich’s 10th Panzerdivision was to capture Testour and Slourhia just below Medjez el Bab on the Medjerda river, and the 5th Fallschirmjägerregiment was to take Djebel Rihane and shield the Germans' southern flank along a blocking position to the due west of the djebel.

von Arnim assigned the operation to the Korpsgruppe ‘Fischer’, named for Generalleutnant Wolfgang Fischer who had been killed on 1 February while commander of the 10th Panzerdivision, after receiving the order of Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the Oberbefehlshaber ‘Süd’, of 2 January to capture Medjez el Bab, but the operation’s execution was postponed for about two weeks as a result of continued bad weather and the chronic shortage of artillery and transport.

During this time two limited French offensives, on 27/30 December 1942 and 12/15 January 1943, gained important positions in the Dorsale Orientale on each side of the Karachoum gap and Kairouan pass, which are defiles leading from the Ousseltia river valley onto the coastal plain and thence southern-east to Kairouan.

Although German reinforcements, sent to bolster Generale di Divisione Fernando Conte Gelich’s Italian 1st Divisione fanteria da montagna ‘Superga’ in this sector, were able to check any tendency of the French to carry the attack beyond the mountains, von Arnim decided on 13 January to eliminate the developing threat to this part of the Tunisian bridgehead. Troops for such an operation, if the attack was to be timely, had to be drawn largely from the 334th Division and 10th Panzerdivision, so ‘Olivenernte’ had to be abandoned.