Tunisian Weather 1942-43
Here are some clips on weather as it affected the Tunisian campaign.
From US Army Campaigns of WWII – Tunisia
The decisive Axis advantage in these five days (24-28 Nov 41) of fighting was above the battlefield. In fact, the Axis maintained several hard-surface airfields east of the Atlas Mountains until late in the campaign. In November Luftwaffe squadrons often flew several on-call missions each day from fields on the outskirts of Tunis, while Allied squadrons had time for only one planned daylight mission from more distant fields. The Atlas Mountains also created a weather difference that worked against the Allies in the early months of the campaign. Axis pilots enjoyed more clear days east of the mountains, while Allied pilots west of the range lost many days to rain. These conditions meant that Axis squadrons had the time and weather to react to targets of opportunity such as armor columns and infantry concentrations, while Allied air units had to be content to bomb fixed targets such as airfields and supply areas.
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Despite the string of defeats, General Anderson aimed another attack at Tunis, this one scheduled for 22 December. The continued but slow buildup had brought Allied force levels up to a total of 20,000 British, 11,800 American, and 7,000 French troops. A hasty intelligence review showed about 25,000 combat and 10,000 service troops, mostly German, across their line of departure. Allied commanders hoped that a quick strike and numerical superiority would offset Axis air support and the increasingly heavy rains which had begun to affect Allied mobility. The first contact seemed to justify such hopes.
On the night of 16-17 December a company of the U.S. 26th Regimental Combat Team (RCT), 1st Infantry Division, made a successful raid on Maknassy, 155 miles south of Tunis, and took twenty-one Italian prisoners. The main attack began the afternoon of 22 December and pointed toward continued success. Despite rain and insufficient air cover, the U.S. 18th Regimental Combat Team and British Coldstream Guards made good progress up the lower ridges of the 900-foot Longstop Hill that controlled a river corridor to Tunis. But two days later a German counterattack stopped the advance, and by the 26th the Allies had withdrawn with heavy losses to the line they had set two weeks earlier. Without gaining even their preliminary objective the Allies had taken 534 casualties.
The run for Tunis had been stopped. . . .
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In mid-March the Allies went back on the offensive. General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery’s Eighth Army hit the Axis southern flank around Mareth with a multi-division force. In a month-long series of battles, the British, hampered by heavy rains but assisted by worsening German-Italian relations, pushed Axis units over 150 miles north to Enfidaville, only 47 miles from Tunis.
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The objective for II Corps was a string of towns and hill masses beginning at Gafsa, 180 miles south of Tunis and 105 miles northwest of Mareth, where the British Eighth Army was pounding Rommel’s line. Spearheaded by Maj. Gen. Orlando Ward’s 1st Armored Division, Patton’s men took Gafsa on 17 March but were denied the satisfaction of victory when the enemy withdrew without a fight. Urging on his tankers and their attached 60th Regimental Combat Team, Patton was soon raging at the enemy’s alliance with “General Mud”; heavy rains stopped his tanks and trucks for two days. Finally, on 21 March, the Americans covered the 28-mile distance to Sened and took their second objective, this time against light opposition.
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From the US Army in WWII (Green Book) series; Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West
The Medjerda valley extends generally southwest to northeast about 125 miles across Tunisia from headwaters beyond the Algerian border to its outlet north of Tunis. It consists of several alluvial plains connected by gorges, and the river for most of its length has steep-sided banks. After heavy rains the clay soil of the fertile plains turned into some of the softest mud known to soldiers. (Page 281)
The withdrawal began after darkness (10-11 Dec 42). One after another, the units pulled out of position on Djebel Bou Aoukaz and Djebel el Asoud and fell into column on a lateral road leading to Bordj Toum and the supposed roadblock. Tanks, half-tracks, trucks, guns, and other vehicles were soon closely bunched on a virtual causeway across a treacherous sea of mud, and remained so as they approached the river. Ahead of them, Company D, 13th Armored Regiment (Capt. Philip St. G. Cocke), with some infantry, crossed at 1745 to strengthen the defense of the bridgehead until the withdrawal was complete. They found no evidence of the covering force and turned toward the railroad station of Bordj Toum and the supposed roadblock. A light engagement with a small German force ensued, the sounds of which started rumors back at the bridge that a German attack was imminent. Occasional shells fell near the bridge. The rumors spread from the head of the column to those in command. They made the position of the withdrawing force seem critical. Rather than stop to reconnoiter, Lt. Col. John R. McGinness, the officer in command, hurriedly ordered the vehicles to reverse and instead of crossing by the Bordj Toum bridge to turn off onto a narrow dirt track which ran near the southeastern bank of the river through Grich el Oued to Medjez cl Bab. It was a disastrous error of judgment. The leading vehicles kept going but behind them they left an increasingly churned-up ribbon of mud in which most of the remainder were completely mired. The crews were ordered to abandon them and continue into Medjez el Bab on foot. (Pp 331-32)
Farms are fewer in central Tunisia than farther north, for the rainfall through much of the year is as light as, from December to March, it is plentiful. In the wet season the powdery top soil becomes slushy mud, and the many dry stream beds fill with water and justify the bridges which at other times seem superfluous. (Page 349)
(13-14 Feb 43) Meanwhile, GroupStenkhoff, the main force of the 21st Panzer Division, pushed along the northern edge of Djebel Meloussi (622) under the eyes of its commander, Colonel Hildebrandt, screened to the west and south by the 580th Reconnaissance Battalion. Progress was interrupted chiefly by muddy dips in the plain or mechanical failures in some of the vehicles. Opposition on the ground was nil. (P 413)
(22 February 43) Air reconnaissance west of the Allied southern flank revealed the fact that reinforcements were approaching Thala from Le Kef and moving from Tebessa toward the Bahiret Foussana plain. With a fairly correct picture of the Allied dispositions, Rommel recognized that his offensive could not succeed. Mud and mountain terrain ill suited to tank action, rain and fog impeding air support, and the lowered combat strength of the Axis units had all contributed to final failure. To be sure, any Allied intention of cutting through to the sea near Sfax and breaking communications between Rommel’s and von Arnim’s armies had been frustrated for several weeks. But Axis hopes for a successful penetration to Le Kef and beyond were completely extinguished. (P 469)
(5 March 43) At 1700 Colonel Ward received orders to withdraw. Hampered by rain and “ice-slick” muddy roads, the task force returned to its original position near Sbiba via a circuitous route that took elements of the command through the enemy outpost line. Casualties had been few.” (Page 509)
But if the military situation near Gafsa permitted an immediate start of the second undertaking, the weather made postponement unavoidable. Much against his wishes, General Patton was forced to accept the fact that the mud had made an armored attack on 19 March out of the question. Streams were full to overflowing. The earth was soggy and in many places there were extensive shallow pools. Bivouac areas were flooded. The soft roads were quickly cut into deep ruts by heavy trucks or churned into a viscous blanket by tank tracks. Travel cross-country became impossible for wheeled vehicles. Indeed, to assist them in reaching the roads from their parks required extraordinary effort and much extra time. The weather’s one compensation was the fact that it restrained enemy air activity. (Pp 548-49)
Nord Arika, Tunis, Mite Februar 1943: – Der VW-82/trop auf dem Wege von Bir-el-Afey zum Kasserine-Paß. http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?p=6542120