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- Alexander Dall
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- 26 November 2003
In March 1943 the Eighth Army's pursuit of the Afrika Korps had halted at the combined obstacles of Wadi Akarit and the refurbished Mareth Line.Monty met this situation by having 30 Corps maintain pressure on the Line,while sending first the New Zealand Division, and then the 1st. Armoured on a wide-swinging 200-mile "hook" around these obstacles. This operation was under the command of General Horrocks.
Our Signals squadron had been under attack by Stukas near Medenine for several nights, and we were relieved to receive our movement order.
I was one of four operators working in the ACV
(Armoured Command Vehicle)whose staff officers, under the command of General Briggs, controlled the hour by hour tactical conduct of the battle. Ours were regarded as the hottest seats in the squadron.
Our route had been hastily reconnoitered by the Long Range Desert Group, and was very rough in places. About 3a.m. on the last night's travel, we made a sudden stop. The door opened, and a young 12th.Lancers officer entered, put up a magnificent salute to the General, and said, "I have the honour to report, Sir, that we are surrounded on four and a half sides." In the darkness, our leading tanks had unwittingly broken into a column of mixed German tanks and transport on their way to reinforce the Mareth Line. Almost immediately this turned into a very confused battle, in which we fortunately had the greater numbers and fire power.
We halted later to allow fuel supplies to catch us up, and when I climbed out of the ACV I found we were in the middle of an empty German camp. The former occupants had been caught napping, shot out of their blankets and gone, leaving everything except the the vehicles they escaped in. Tents, equipment of all kinds, a marvellous field kitchen (which we retained) - even warm bread in the oven. A blackboard had figures showing the number of loaves to be baked, and there was yeast in the scales, and even a lump dropped by the sprinting baker.
The left hook operation had the desired effect, in that the forces holding the Mareth Line, realising they were now in danger of being trapped between us and the sea, had to beat a hasty retreat northwards. Thus began the final stages of the Tunisian campaign.
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