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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Battle of Mareth Line

11 March to 13 May 1943

Theatre: North Africa
Location: Eastern Tunisia
Players: Allies: General Bernard Montgomery's 8th Army's 50th and 1st Armoured Divisions, New Zealand Corps. Axis: The Italian 1st Army, formerly known as the Panzer Army Africa.
Outcome: The defeated Axis troops fall back to prepare for the final battles for Tunisia.

The Mareth Line in eastern Tunisia was a natural defensive position comparable to El Alamein; a front 35km (22 miles) long extended from the coast to the mountains inland.

On the night of 20 March 1943, Montgomery attacked the line with 30th Corps while making a flanking attack to the south, around the German right flank, with New Zealand and Free French troops. When 30th Corps was thrown back, Montgomery reinforced the flanking attack, which eventually - on 26 March - forced a German withdrawal.

The next German fallback position, at Wadi Akarit north of Mareth, was stormed by 30th Corps on the moonless night of 5 April. Again, German forces made an orderly withdrawal, perhaps assisted by Montgomery's deliberate approach. Arnim now fell back to a defensive line covering Tunis.

On 10 April, Anderson's 1st Army and Montgomery's 8th Army met south of Tunis and joined forces. The final assault on Tunis was led by the 1st Army, heavily reinforced and supplemented by several 8th Army units. The decisive attack, carried out by 5th and 9th Corps, began on 6 May with a massive artillery bombardment. Meeting little resistance from an exhausted Armeegruppe Afrika, the British Army entered Tunis on 7 May.

Arnim surrendered on 12 May; 190,000 German and Italian troops were taken prisoner. Two years after the first clash between British and Italian forces in Egypt, North Africa had been liberated from the Axis. Europe now lay ahead.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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