1. General : Units of the 9th Division Artillery (less the 60th Field Artillery Battalion which had been detached) moved on March 25-26 to bivouac areas in the vicinity of Gafsa. Unit commanders made map and terrain recon March 26, but, upon returning to the Artillery CP, which had been established in the palm grove at El Guettar, they were informed that the attack had been postponed 24 hours and that units would remain in bivouac for the night March 26-27.
During the day of March 27, the unit commanders continued recon, and at 1300, the 26-FAB, followed by the 2/17-FAB, moved to the south and east, around Chott El Guettar to a bivouac in wadis south of the Chott. At dusk they occupied the positions that had been previously selected. The 84-FAB had been supporting the 1-ID. They remained in their same positions and shifted their support to the 9-ID. The 34-FAB left their bivouac at dusk and followed the 3/47-IR, to positions along the Gafsa-Gabes Road.
All positions were thoroughly dug in and preparations were made to support the attack at 0600, March 28. No registration was permitted until after 0600, and radio silence was ordered until that time. The 2/17-FAB, and the 26-FAB were placed in direct support of the 47-IR. The 84-FAB, was placed in general support along with the 34-FAB. 150 rounds of ammunition was ordered dumped at the gun positions, and the trains wore to be replenished at the Gafsa Depot immediately. No plan of offensive fires was permitted by the situation. All units sent forward observers out to be in position to support the attack by observed fire. The firing throughout the day was light. Some battery positions were located and fired upon.
At 0835 the Commanding Officer of the 26-FAB requested permission to displace forward. This was granted and Battery A was sent forward. This battery was shelled while on the road but no damage was done and the battery occupied the position. Later the remainder of the Battalion moved to the new position. No other unit moved forward throughout the day. Harassing fires were fired throughout the night on lines of communication.
Early on the morning of this date the attack was continued. The enemy was driven back along the entire line, artillery fire delivered was considerably increased and was reported as very effective. Battery C of the 34-FAB which had moved forward at 0300 to positions in the vicinity of [3069-68156], was heavily shelled throughout the day. Enemy artillery registered on each gun and tried to knock the battery out. Damage was very slight, one 2,5 ton truck of the AAA being destroyed. The advance was again halted by the enemy, and the positions were stabilized for the nights. The enemy was continually harassed by our artillery fire throughout the night. The Division and Division Artillery CPs were harassed by enemy planes throughout the night, their planes being overhead at least eight consecutive times through the nights, Battery C established a dummy position at the point where they were shelled and moved about 500 yards to a new position.
The morning of this date a planned 20-min offensive fire was prepared to launch the infantry attack at 0600. Requests were made to Corps Artillery for additional artillery support, so, the 178-FAB (155-MM HOW), the 1/17-FAB (155-MM HOW) and the 1/36-FAB (155-MM G) were assigned to assist in the preparation. 15 battalion concentrations and six battery concentrations were placed on Djebel Kreroua, Djebel Lettouchi and some fire on Hill 369. The infantry advanced and were able to take part of Djebel Lettouchi. They were then driven from their position by a determined enemy counter-attack. Continued heavy fighting was experienced during the day.
Throughout the day the enemy artillery fired on the dummy position established by Battery C, 34-FAB. They hit a can of gasoline left at the position and started a fire. This was evidently taken as a hit on a battery, for the enemy continued to shell the position throughout the day and waste a large amount of ammunition. Survey of the front lines by the artillery survey party proved that the infantry had not reached their objective. Bombing of the Division and Division Artillery CPs continued throughout the night. Mostly the raids were of a harassing nature and were continuous throughout the night.
The action was very light this date. The infantry attempted to filter through enemy lines. The artillery fired very few rounds most of which were fired on targets of opportunity and harassing missions. Enemy air activity was almost continuous throughout most of the day. The attacks wore mainly of a harassing nature and were very ineffective. The Division CP and Division Artillery CP were again harassed continuously throughout the night by enemy planes circling and dropping flares and bombs. Damage was slight and effect was poor as personnel had learned to sleep in trenches. An amusing incident of the day was the surrender of 100 Italians to one man from the 34-FAB.
April 1 1943
On this date the action continued to be light. Enemy tanks were reported several times throughout the day. Several of these were destroyed by artillery fire at maximum ranges. The 34-FAB destroyed one 88-MM gun, and the 26-FAB fired on enemy personnel with excellent effect. The day was marked by considerable shelling by enemy artillery and by considerable air activity. The CPs of Division and Division Artillery were again harassed during the night, but on a decreased scale.
April 2 1943
Enemy tank activity increased, and the result was a large number destroyed by artillery fire. The 26-FAB, destroyed at least 8 tanks during the day. Also a number of trucks were destroyed in addition to a large quantity of enemy equipment. The day’s action, if it did nothing else, proved the effectiveness of 105-MM fire against tanks at extreme ranges, practically the entire day’s firing being at ranges of 10000 to 12000 yards. This was true of the entire engagement, due to the lack of cover afforded by the terrain at closer ranges. On the night of April 2, the Division Artillery survey section surveyed the front lines by firing rockets and triangulating them in. Results were excellent and the front line battalions were definitely located. The infantry had not reached their objective.
Firing was normal throughout the day End the enemy seemed to be withdrawing. Fighting was heavy throughout the afternoon, and the artillery fired a considerable number of rounds in a preparation at 1600. The infantry advanced and was able to seize Djebel Lettouchie. At 1800 the 26-FAB was heavily bombed by a flight of 18 JU-88s, 4 ME-109s, and 8 FW-190s. Damage consisted of one 2,5 ton slightly damaged and 6 slight casualties. Reports indicated that our fighter planes and antiaircraft were very effective, shooting down 14 enemy planes. A point of interest was the attempt of the 4 ME-109s to draw off the Spitfire cover by making a diving attack at another point prior to the attack by the bombers. The Spitfires did not fall for the trap. The 34-FAB, moved Battery C to a new position at [3341-6929].
April 4 1943
This date was again marked by considerable activity by the artillery, the 26-FAB again having a field day. During the day it destroyed 5 tanks, an ammunition dump and several trucks. The 34-FAB, fired on motor vehicles starting several fires and fired on tanks several times during the day, dispersing the tanks. The air patrol of the day consisted of eighteen P-51s which met no resistance. Air activity definitely had decreased and remained that way for the duration of tho engagement.
April 5 1943
Considerable enemy nativity was reported throughout the day. Many of the reports were confusing and probably referred to our own tanks. A concentration of about 75 enemy tanks was reported and Corps requested fire of all units placed on it. No artillery observer was available to observe this concentration and it was never verified that it existed. Results were not determined. Division Artillery was prepared to fire on selected concentrations throughout the night to prevent a possible counter-attack. No attack developed and concentrations were not fired. As a whole the firing throughout the day was light.
April 7 1943
All troops started to move forward. Little if any resistance was encountered. By 1200 Djebel Berda, Hill 772, was taken and troops continued the advance. Djebel Lettouchi was occupied, and at 1518-H the tanks of Benson’s force were reported in rear of Hill 369. Shortly after this Hill 369 fell, and Benson’s force was moving east. At 1705 Benson’s force contacted the British 8th Army at , and the Battle of El Guettar was over. At 1730 the 34-FAB, was ordered to move from their present position to concealed bivouac at Bou Chebka. The Div Arty Headquarters, the 26-FAB and the 84-FAB followed the morning of April 8.
Ammunition Expended : During the Battle of El Guettar, the units of the 9-ID Artillery and attachments fired the following amounts of ammunition : 26-FAB, 14.092; 84-FAB, 7775; 2/17-FAB, 5732 and the 34-FAB, 3784. This, of course, does not include the large number of rounds fired by the 1-ID Artillery and the 13-FA Brigade in their excellent support of the Division upon the occasions required.
For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be
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(NB : Published for Good – March 2019)