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Part 2 of 2 - 1943

US troops in Tunis Harbour (Library of Congress, click to enlarge)

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Casablanca Conference, Morocco - Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt with their Chiefs of Staff met for this important conference. Major areas for discussion included the European invasion in 1944, landings in Sicily and Italy after the Tunisian campaign, the bombing of Germany and the continuation of the war in Burma and the Pacific. Losses due to U-boats and the shortage of shipping would prove to be significant constraints on Allied plans. At this time the two Western Allied leaders announced a policy of unconditional surrender of the Axis powers.

Attacks off Algeria - Axis attacks continued against Allied ships in Algerian ports and convoys off the coast. There were losses on both sides: 1st - Cruiser "Ajax" was severely damaged in Bone harbour by Ju87s. 13th - Canadian corvettes on convoy escort accounted for two submarines. On the 13th, "Ville de Quebec" sank "U-224" west of Algiers. 19th - Canadian corvette "Port Arthur" sank Italian submarine "TRITONE" off Bougie by gunfire. 30th - As corvette "SAMPHIRE" escorted Gibraltar/North African ports convoy TE14 she was torpedoed by Italian submarine "Platino" near Bougie.

Axis Supplies to Tunisia - Attempts by the Italian Navy to supply the Axis armies in Tunisia led to heavy losses, especially on mines laid between Sicily and Tunis by fast minelayers "Abdiel" and "Welshman", and submarine "Rorqual". 9th - Destroyer "CORSARO" hit one of "Abdiel's" mines northeast of Bizerta. 17th - Returning from Tunisia, destroyer "BOMBARDIERE" was sunk off western Sicily by submarine "United". 31st - Torpedo boat "PRESTINARI" and corvette "PROCELLARIA" went down on mines laid by "Welshman" in the Strait of Sicily.

Axis Supplies to Libya - Final supply trips to Tripoli by Italian submarines led to more losses north of the Libyan capital. 14th - "NARVALO" was attacked by a RAF Beaufort and finished off by destroyers "Pakenham" and "Hursley", escorts with Malta/Alexandria convoy ME15. 20th - "SANTAROSA" was torpedoed off Tripoli by MTB-260, one of the growing number of coastal forces operating along the North African coast.

Libya - Gen Montgomery resumed the advance on the 15th, and Bueret, outflanked by British Armour and New Zealand troops was soon taken. The defences in front of Tripoli were similarly outflanked and on the 23rd the victorious Eighth Army entered the capital.

PROSPECTS FOR ALLIED VICTORY - The Russians gained a famous victory with the German surrender at Stalingrad in January 1943. Taken with the October 1942 British Battle of El Alamein and June 1942 American Battle of Midway, the three Allied successes are usually considered as marking the turning point in the 40 month old war against the Axis powers. The Battle for Guadalcanal, ending as it did Japanese hopes of controlling the South West Pacific should also be added to this roll-call of victory. However, more than 30 months of struggle and bloodshed had to be endured before victory was certain.


1st - As cruiser-minelayer "WELSHMAN" sailed from Malta to Alexandria after minelaying operations in the Strait of Sicily, she was sunk by "U-617" north of Bardia.

3rd - Italian destroyer "SAETTA" and destroyer escort "URAGANO", supplying Axis forces in Tunisia, sank on cruiser-minelayer "Abdiel's" mines northeast of Bizerta.

North Africa - As Rommel prepared his Mareth line defences in southern Tunisia, Eighth Army units crossed the border from Libya on the 4th. All of Libya was now in Allied hands and the Italian North African Empire ceased to exist. From Mareth, Rommel could switch his forces to the northwest or east as he wished. His supply lines were also much shorter. The battle for the rest of North Africa was not yet over. Leaving much of his forces to hold Mareth, in mid-month he launched an attack against the US Second Corps to the northwest. The aim was to break through the Allied lines around Gafsa and reached the sea near Bone. Gafsa soon fell and the Allies were pushed back in the Battle of Kasserine Pass and other passes. After a week of struggle the Axis forces were held. They withdrew to concentrate on the Mareth defences as the bulk of Eighth Army approached.

Northern Tunisia Campaign - German and Italian operations against Allied shipping off Algeria led to further losses: 6th - Canadian corvette "LOUISBERG" escorting UK/North Africa convoy KMS8 was torpedoed by German aircraft off Oran. 8th - The Royal Canadian Navy took its revenge when corvette "Regina sank the Italian submarine "AVORIO" off Philippeville. 17th - A patrol of escort destroyers "Bicester", Easton", Lamerton" and Wheatland" shared in the sinking of two Axis submarines. The Italian "ASTERIA" went down off Bougie on the 17th. 23rd - Six days later the same escort destroyer patrol sank "U-443" to the northwest of Algiers.

Southern Tunisia Campaign - As the Mediterranean Fleet Inshore Squadron continued to support the advancing Eighth Army, ships were lost on both sides: 9th - Corvette "ERICA" on escort duty sank on a British mine off Benghazi. 17th - "U-205" attacked Tripoli/Alexandria convoy TX1 northwest of Derna, and was then sunk by South African aircraft of No 15 Squadron and destroyer "Paladin". 19th - Combined air and sea attacks also accounted for "U-562" northeast of Benghazi. This time the convoy was Alexandria/Tripoli XT3, the warships destroyers "lsis" and "Hursley" with aircraft from No 38 Squadron RAF.

MARCH 1943

Tunisia - In the south, before his final recall from Africa, Field Marshal Rommel attacked Eighth Army positions in front of the Mareth Line, but was easily held. On the 20th the main Eighth Army offensive started with British and Indian forces going in near the sea, as the New Zealanders once again moved up to outflank. Meanwhile, from the northwest, the US Second Corps alongside the British First Army was attacking towards Gafsa and Gabes, endangering the Axis rear. By the 29th, the Mareth Line was broken and the Germans and Italians had retreated to a strong position north of Gabes at Wadi Akarit. The Inshore Squadron was still in attendance on Eighth Army in the south and the battles of the supply routes in the north and south continue: 8th - Cruiser-minelayer "Abdiel" laid more mines in the Axis supply routes to Tunisia. The field north of Cape Bon sank three destroyers in March, starting with destroyer escort "CICIONE" on the 8th.12th - In a sortie against Axis shipping bound for Tunisia, Force Q destroyer "LIGHTNING" was torpedoed and sunk off Bizerta by German E-boat "S-55". 19th - Attacks by German aircraft on Tripoli harbour sank two supply ships and damaged escort destroyer "DERWENT" so badly she was not fully repaired. This was the first German success using circling torpedoes. 24th - "Abdiel's" Cape Bon minefield sank two more Italian destroyers on the 24th - "ASCARI" and "MALOCELLO".

APRIL 1943

Tunisia - The Battle of Gabes in southern Tunisia started on the 5th when Eighth Army attacked the Wadi Akarit defences. Within two days the Axis was retreating. The same day - the 7th - US troops of Second Corps met Eighth Army units near Gafsa - the long awaited link-up. By the 10th Sfax had fallen to Eighth Army, but a British First Army breakthrough at Fondouk was too late to cut off the retreating Germans and Italians. The 14th saw the Axis well established in the main defence lines running around Tunis and Bizerta from Enfidaville in the south, through Longstop Hill and to the sea west of Bizerta. For the rest of April heavy fighting took place as the Allies slowly closed in. Numerous Axis supply ships on the Tunisian route fell victim to Royal Navy submarines.

16th - Destroyers "Pakenham" and "Paladin" out of Malta encountered an Italian supply convoy north of Pantelleria island. In a running gun battle with the four escorting torpedo boats, Italian "CIGNO" was sunk and another damaged, and "PAKENHAM" disabled. She had to be scuttled.

'The Man Who Never Was'- Submarine "Seraph" released the body of a supposed Royal Marine officer into the sea off Spain. His false papers helped to persuade the Germans that the next Allied blows after North Africa would fall on Sardinia and Greece as well as Sicily.

MAY 1943

North Africa and Tunis: The End for the Axis - The Allied Armies continued to push on, and on the 7th Tunis was taken by the British and Bizerta by the Americans. The Axis surrender came on the 12th and nearly 250,000 Germans and Italians were taken prisoner. All North Africa - French and Italian - was under Allied control after nearly three years struggle.

4th - As the Tunisian campaign ended, destroyers "Nubian", Paladin" and "Petard" sank Italian torpedo boat "PERSEO" and a supply ship near Cape Bon. 25th - Escorting corvette "Vetch" sank "U-414" northeast of Oran.

Merchant Shipping War - In the first five months of 1942 Allied forces had sunk over 500 Axis merchantmen of 560,000 tons throughout the Mediterranean. In contrast, the end of the Tunisian campaign marked a major upturn in the fortunes of Allied shipping. By mid-month minesweepers had cleared a channel through the Strait of Sicily, and the first regular Mediterranean convoys since 1940 were able to sail from Gibraltar to Alexandria (GTX). Return XTG's start in June 1943. The opening of the Mediterranean was equivalent to commissioning a large amount of new Allied merchant ship tonnage.

JULY 1943

Invasion of Sicily: Operation 'Husky' - Many of Gen Patton's US troops sailed from Algeria and Tunisia; all of Gen Montgomery's British forces from Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Malta. (A Canadian division sailed direct from Britain). Some of the troops made the voyage in landing ships and craft.

North Africa played little further direct role in the war






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