The Pittsburgh Press (April 24, 1943)
YANKS DRIVE 6 MILES AFTER LIGHTNING SHIFT
Patton’s army joins push in North Tunisia
Battle rages on 110-mile front; ‘great attack’ begun, Nazis say
By Virgil Pinkley, United Press staff writer
Allied HQ, North Africa –
Thousands of U.S. troops in a secret, lightning shift to the North Tunisian front have struck six miles into the Axis defense lines in a general Allied offensive that rolled the enemy back as much as seven miles toward the beaches of Tunis.
Aided by another record-breaking Allied aerial assault, the British 1st Army, the U.S. II Corps under command of Maj. Gen. George S. Patton Jr., and the Corps francs d’Afrique slugged their way with infantry and tanks into the Axis western flank while the 8th Army fought off desperate counterattacks on the coastal road to Bouficha.
Furious air pounding
The Germans, despite a furious pounding by 1,500 Allied aerial sorties that virtually drove the Luftwaffe from the Tunisian skies, fought desperately on every front against the massed Allied weight and casualties were reported heavy on both sides.
The Americans went into action on the road from Sedjenane to Mateur, 20 miles southwest of Bizerte, after tens of thousands of men and thousands of vehicles had been moved from the southern front near Meknassy with speed and secrecy, that drew warm praise from Gen. Sir Harold Alexander, who coordinated their operations with the British 1st Army attack.
Praised by Alexander
Gen. Alexander said:
The senior British officers have the fullest admiration for the excellent staff work and particularly for the speed and secrecy with which the move was carried out by the II Corps.
The American attack began at dawn Friday in the hills north of the Mateur Road with Jebel Marata and Jebel Aïnchouna, five miles to the south, as the first objectives. The Germans tried to trap the Americans. They apparently believed the Yanks were green troops. All Nazi traps failed. The Americans captured three hills in veteran fashion.
Front dispatches said the II Corps was becoming crafty, and battle-hardened. In this operation, they were given powerful support by U.S. bombers which raided enemy positions, the Mateur railroad junction and enemy truck columns.
U.S. troops scrambled through intense German mortar and artillery fire to capture the two main hill positions and then withstood several sharp enemy counterattacks before they could consolidate their new positions.
Nazi attack fails
South of the Mateur Road, another U.S. infantry outfit assaulted Jebel er Raml, a strongly-entrenched position northeast of Oued Zarga, and captured it quickly. A counterattack by the Germans, supported by artillery, failed to drive off the Americans but fighting continued.
The Allied forces were hitting the enemy today with everything they could bring into action but the great battle along a 110-mile front was still in a confused stage. At headquarters, it was felt that the result was inevitable because of the greatly superior weight of Allied tanks and manpower, but the cost of victory will undoubtedly be high.
A British broadcast today said that the Allied forces were using the Tunisian ports of Sousse and Sfax for supplies.
15 miles from Mateur
The Americans were about 15 miles west of Mateur and perhaps 30 miles southwest of Bizerte.
On other fronts, the British 1st Army captured most of important Longstop Hill, north of Medjez el Bab, and advanced about seven miles on the Bou Arada front south of Medjez, capturing the town of Goubellat and knocking out 16 German tanks in a powerful armored thrust that is still driving eastward north of Sebkhet el Kourzia.
The 1st Army was less than 30 miles west of Tunis, with its northern spearhead fighting to clear the road to the important highway junction of Tebourba.
On the southwestern front, the French were carrying out aggressive patrols between the 1st Army and the British 8th Army, which was hammering at desperate Axis resistance about halfway along the 15-mile road from Enfidaville to Bouficha, on the east coast of Tunisia.
Fortresses attack Sardinia
The Nazi Air Force was driven from the air Friday and Flying Fortresses extended the Allied attacks as far as enemy supply bases in Sardinia. In all, only six Allied planes were lost.
The Allied Air Forces Thursday night and Friday destroyed nine enemy airplanes and set fire to a large merchant vessel 25 miles west of Sicily.
The Americans were in action south of the Mateur Road as well as along the road. They captured a strategic hill known as Hill 575 in a desperate battle.
Farther south, the British 1st Army, after capturing Longstop Hill, six miles north of Medjez el Bab, also took Crich-El-Oued, four miles northeast of Medjez, and pressed east to clear the enemy from the road to Tebourba.
British tanks attack
British tanks were thrown into the battle southeast of Medjez after infantry captured the town of Goubellat. The tank spearhead struck southwest of Goubellat against extremely fierce opposition around Sebkhet el Kourzia, a little salt lake east of the Goubellat-Bou Arada Road. An advance of about seven miles had been made in this area and, at last reports, progress continued at a good rate north of the lake. Opposition was stronger south of the lake.
The British are fighting to enter the valley between Bou Arada and Pont du Fahs, which is flat wheatlands cut by occasional wadis but broad enough to give tanks a fair opportunity to maneuver. The valley is about two miles wide at Bou Arada and expands to 17 miles near Pont du Fahs. It is covered with wheat about two feet high at present.
The British hold the highest hill northwest of Bou Arada and are shoving tank spearheads out into the more open country, but the Germans are strongly entrenched on the hills on each side of the valley. One of the British objectives is “Two Tree Hill,” which once had two trees on it. They have since been cut down by the Germans because they were such a good landmark.
Positions held securely
The Germans lashed out in strong counterattacks east of Medjez el Bab, but they were thrown back with heavy losses and all newly-won Allied positions were held securely.
Some 45 miles south of Tunis, the British 8th Army sent patrols out to test Axis defenses in the next line of hills before the Tunis coastal plain and beat off a local enemy counterattack.
Radio Algiers said the 8th Army had now advanced 12 miles along the east coast and was halfway between Enfidaville and Bouficha.
Cairo, Egypt (UP) –
Revised figures today showed that Allied fighter planes Thursday shot down 31 giant Me 323 air transports over the Gulf of Tunis instead of 21, as previously reported. The transports, with a capacity of about 140 soldiers each, were carrying gasoline and troops to Tunisia.