The Pittsburgh Press (May 13, 1943)
TUNISIAN CONQUEST COMPLETE
Allies seize 13 generals, 160,000 men
Axis stragglers mopped up; Yanks praised by Eisenhower
By Virgil Pinkley, United Press staff writer
Allied HQ, North Africa –
Triumphant Allied armies completed conquest of the Tunisian base for invasion of Southern Europe today with the total seizure of 13 Axis generals, about 160,000 prisoners and vast booty that included more than 1,000 guns and 250 tanks.
A few stragglers were still to be rounded up or crushed, but both German Col. Gen. Jurgen von Arnim, commander-in-chief of Axis ground forces, and Italian Gen. Giovanni Messe, the Fascist commander, were in the net along with their staffs.
Secretary of War Stimson today said he had been informed that 163,000 prisoners were captured in Tunisia – 38,000 by the Americans, 25,000 by the French and 100,000 by the British. He said the War Department had not completed plans for disposing of Axis prisoners.
Attention shifted to the island stepping stone to Italy, where the Sicilian harbor of Marsala was heavily pounded again before dawn yesterday in a growing aerial offensive.
Generals explain victory
The end was a strange one, with deep contrasts of stubborn Prussian resistance and wholesale surrender by demoralized Axis troops. But at Allied headquarters, there was a spirit of enthusiasm and confidence as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gen. Sir Harold Alexander, wearing slacks and suede shoes and with sleeves rolled up for business, explained what had happened.
After disclosing that a sudden, mass shifting of 8th Army troops from the south had enabled Gen. Alexander to fool the Nazi High Command and sweep in behind the enemy, Gen. Eisenhower said:
The American divisions through experience became a very fine corps.
Will profit in future
Gen. Eisenhower also said:
We will profit everywhere in the future by the lessons learned. In short, all things considered, the governments of both of our countries – to say nothing of the French here – can have real reason for encouragement and hope as a result of this campaign.
Gen. Alexander, addressing 500 members of his staff, said that the victory was complete and decisive and one of the most impressive in military history. He said:
We have wiped out an entire army and stand masters of the whole Afrika Korps. I want to thank you and tell you how grateful I am. This victory is of your making and its fame and glory belongs to each of you.
Bedraggled lines of foe
But there were different scenes at the Tunisian front, where the last power and prestige of the Axis African armies was vanishing with the bedraggled lines of enemy soldiers still streaming into barbed-wire prison pens.
Gen. von Arnim, still a haughty Prussian militarist who had done his job with methodical precision, surrendered with his staff without a final fight after radioing Hitler that he had carried out orders to “defend Tunisia to the last cartridge.” Some of the “last cartridges” were fired into the air by the German veterans as they came out of strong mountain positions with their hands in the air and others were abandoned in wrecked camps, but others fought to the end.
Italy’s commander, Gen. Messe, was also trapped in the hills north of Enfidaville, where Allied planes had heavily bombed all Axis forces, but he sent word that he would surrender only to the British 8th Army. Later, he surrendered to Gen. Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, 8th Army commander.
Unconfirmed reports said a son-in-law of King Victor Emmanuel of Italy was with Gen. Messe, but his fate and name were unknown.
The first communiqué issued from Allied headquarters since the end of organized German and Italian resistance was announced yesterday said that mopping up was in progress, that Allied naval forces were keeping a close watch on both sides of the Cap Bon Peninsula to prevent escape of the enemy stragglers by sea, and reviewed the events that led to the enemy’s capitulation.
A strong bombing attack was made in midafternoon on enemy troops surrounded in the coastal sector north of Enfidaville and this prompted the Axis 1st Army to ask for terms. The 6th Armored Division of the British 1st Army pressed down from the north and made a junction with the 8th Army and:
This was the end of all organized resistance.
Nazi boats captured
The communiqué said that small parties of the enemy trying to reach Pantelleria Island, off the Cap Bon coast, in small boats had been captured by naval units in the last two days. Yesterday, 126 Germans and Italians were taken from Zembra Island, 13 miles west of the cape.
Enemy bombers attacked the Algiers area last night and were driven off by anti-aircraft fire and night fighters after dropping a few bombs and causing a few casualties and light damage. Three of the enemy planes were downed.
Four enemy planes were shot down Tuesday night and Allied bombers attacked the harbor of Marsala, Sicily, the same night.
End announced yesterday
The end of organized Axis resistance was announced at Allied headquarters at 8:23 p.m. yesterday (3:23 p.m. ET).
The end of the battle came six months and five days after the Allied landings in French North Africa last Nov. 7. The Tunisian campaign actually took slightly less than six months, however, because the first contact was not established with Axis troops until last Nov. 15.
The last big Allied drive against an estimated 180,000 Axis fighting men in the northwest corner of Tunisia lasted little more than a week and it moved so rapidly that the enemy became a disorganized and disconnected collection of troops that could not escape and had no choice but to give up. The big push began on May 3 when the U.S. II Corps of Gen. Omar N. Bradley took Mateur. The British 1st Army broke through west of Tunis on May 6 and the next day, both Bizerte and Tunis fell.
Enemy cut to ribbons
After that, the Axis forces were cut to ribbons and began surrendering by the thousands.
A special communiqué prepared in the field by the 18th Army Group announced the end of the fighting. It said:
Organized resistance except by isolated pockets of the enemy has ceased. Gen. von Arnim, commander of the Axis forces in Tunisia, has been captured.
It is estimated that the total of prisoners captured since May 5 is about 150,000. Vast quantities of guns and war material of all kinds have been captured, including guns and aircraft in a serviceable condition.
Of the prisoners taken since May 5, about 110,000 are Germans and the rest Italians.
Almost 400,000 Axis prisoners have been taken in the entire African war which began two years and 11 months ago.
The British Press Association estimated the number of prisoners at 600,000.
London, England (UP) –
Deputy Prime Minister Clement R. Attlee formally announced the end of the North African campaign to the House of Commons today.
Maj. Attlee said:
The end has come more swiftly and more completely than could have been anticipated.
Over 150,000 prisoners have been taken with masses of equipment more than 1,000 guns, 250 tanks and many thousands of motor vehicles are in our hands.
Maj. Attlee said that:
The enemy not only was beaten but was completely destroyed.
He asserted that fighting men of the British Empire, the United States and France had shared “the honors of this great triumph.”
Maj. Attlee declared that North Africa was no longer an area for defenses but:
…a forward base from which will be launched at the right moment further attacks against the Axis.
We may well give thanks. An announcement of how we can give an expression of this will be made in due course.
By Richard Mowrer
Allied HQ, North Africa –
U.S. divisions which took part in the Tunisian campaign have been formed into a very fine corps. They have learned much which will profit then immeasurably in future operation, Gen. Eisenhower told war correspondents today.
The occasion was a “kiss this campaign goodbye” press conference at which Gen. Eisenhower handed out compliments to everybody but himself for a successful conclusion. He emphasized Gen. Alexander’s handling of the campaign. Gen. Alexander’s conception and his accurate evaluation of what the enemy’s reaction would be under certain circumstances cannot be excelled, Gen. Eisenhower said.
In a summary of the last phase of the Tunisian campaign, Gen. Eisenhower described the Allies’ “hammer and anvil” strategy. The 8th Army which had become the hammer and chief worry of the German High Command while the 1st Army, stayed put and remained mostly in the defensive suddenly became the anvil and the 1st Army a formidable hammer that finished off the Axis army.
The Germans said Gen. Eisenhower probably constrained to keep many of their best troops in front of the 8th Army, expecting to get the hardest blow from them. Gen. Alexander, Eisenhower pointed out, correctly evaluating the enemy’s strategy, secretly transferred three of the 8th Army divisions to the 1st Army’s front and welded them into the 1st Army hammer.
Gen. Eisenhower pointed out that although the campaign lasted six months, the prolongation of the fighting in Africa had enabled the Allied troops to get much valuable fighting experience. These last six months have also shown that the Allies are capable of working together and coordinating their efforts as are the land, air, and naval forces, he said.
Washington (UP) –
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, rejoicing today over the North African victory, declared that the results in the six-month campaign:
…will have infinitely more effect on the ultimate outcome of the war than if we had won the November race for Tunis.
If we had won that race, the Axis armies would have attributed our victory to the element of surprise. The enemy would have felt that, if given a chance, they could have won.
As the campaign turned out, however, we have beaten the Axis African Armies to their knees despite serious initial disadvantages for us.
The result of this victory will now spread far and wide in the German Reich and the occupied countries.
Mr. Stimson voiced high praise for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Allied commander-in-chief in North Africa, and U.S. and British generals under him. He declared:
The quick victory attained by the leadership of these men was not too costly in casualties for the results gained.