Skip to content

Operation Walk 16 and 17 March 1943

January 17, 2011

General Bernard Law Montgomery’s plans for the attack at Mareth required a number of preliminary attacks to occur for the success of OPERATION PUGILIST, which was set for the 20 March 1943.

It was planned that the 7th Armoured Division was to occupy ground, currently occupied by the 51st (Highland) Division, as a preliminary operation to protect the flank of the said Division. The dominating feature of the objective was Point 153, SIDI EL GUELAA, which was the southernmost point of the outpost line. It was a large whale-backed hill with the steep end facing the British lines. The remainder of the series of features was in the shape of a horseshoe. Between the lines was the WADI BOU REALMI, which in many places, like so many other Wadis in the region had sheer vertical banks 3 ā€“ 30 feet in height.

The original proposal was for the 131 Queen’s Brigade, made up of the 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/7th of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, acting as the Motorized Infantry Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division to carry out the attack, however, General Leese suggested the 201 Guards Brigade actually undertake the operation, as “The Horseshoe” was ‘lightly held’. The Intelligence Staff did not consider there would be extensive minefields, because there were not sufficient men to have laid them.

Due to the fact the 201 Guards Brigade were waiting to be relieved by section of X Corps, they were unable to take over from the 51st (Highland) Division immediately, and because all the ground in front of their new position was overlooked by enemy positions it was very difficult to carry out any reconnaissance. Air photos showed a lightly held open flank of the outpost position.

Brigadier Julian A Gascoigne, the 201 Guards Brigade commander, considered the strongest favourable feature of the plan of attack, to be the large amount of artillery support available, both 25 pound and medium artillery pieces. There was in fact one gun per twenty yards on a 2000 yard front moving on 100yards on four minutes over a depth of 1200 yards.

On the 13 March, 1943, the 6th Grenadier and 3rd Coldstream Guards of the 201 Guards Brigade relieved the 51st (Highland) Division. The 14 March, saw them move forward and occupy ground west of the WADI EL MACHEHANE. On the same night the 2nd Scots Guards relieved, and eventually moved to the positions vacated by, the Grenadiers. The Corps lined up on the front with XXX Corps closer to the coast and X Corps closer to the Matmata Mountains. In the area of “The Horseshoe”, from the left flank, the Regimental Battalions lined up:

1/7th Queens

1/6th Queens

3rd Coldstream

6th Grenadiers

with the 1/5th Queens in reserve for the 131 Queens Brigade, and the 2nd Scots Guards in reserve for the Guards.

Brigadier Gascoigne determined that a night attack on the German position would occur on the 16 March when there was a full moon. The 6th Grenadiers would lead the assault.

On the night of the 14/15 March, a number of patrols were sent out to reconnoitre the ground over which the attack was to occur. That night a Gunnery Officer of the 51st (Highland) Division was captured whilst carrying out reconnaissance to locate an observation post, from where to direct fire during the assault. It was not known at the time of his capture that he had marked maps on him, giving away the whole plan.

On the 15/16 March the Germans increased the defences.

At 1930 on the 16 March the tree companies of the 6th Grenadiers and the three companies of the 3rd Coldstream moved forward to the Start Line which had been “taped in the half hour of darkness before Zero”. The leading troops, once they had reached the Start Line, paused until 2100 hours, the artillery concentrations having started at 2035, which was to drown any noise made when getting to the Start Line, especially when crossing the wadi.

At 2100, both battalions moved forward to the Wadi Bou Ramli, where they had another pause of ten minutes, to reorganise after the crossing. This occurred under heavy concentrations on selected German positions. It was soon after forming up again that they ran into trouble, the 90th Light Division had been reinforced with a battalion of Panzer Grenadiers which had laid minefields in thick belts. The 6th Grenadiers reached their objectives, passing pockets of Germans who had either been stunned by the advance or decided to “Lie Low”. These Germans now started to counter-attack the assault Companies from the rear, with the Guards taking heavy casualties and becoming quite depleted. The Guards were also having trouble with their radios, which had become defective during the fighting, and so were unable to ask for further artillery support.

There was no communication with Brigade HQ until just before 2300 when the first success flare was seen, and which from it’s bearing, was believed to be the right hand objective of the Grenadier Guards.

Shortly afterwards a second success signal was seen, this from the centre, the left company of the Grenadier Guards. A third followed at approximately 2330 coming from what was obviously the main feature of the objective, Point 153. The apparent situation changed at Brigade HQ shortly after, when information we received that there was difficulty getting the carriers and anti-tank guns across the Wadi as they were being shot to pieces. The mines were also a disaster for the vehicles.

The Grenadiers had reached their objectives by 0130, but the supporting vehicles were very slow in coming p, and a number of Germans had “come to life” after the barrage had lifted, so there was a great deal of fire coming from behind the objectives, i.e. between the Grenadiers and their Start Line. No. 1 Company of the Coldstream Guards had also achieved their objective, having got to the top of Point 153, and taking 50 to 100 prisoners. No. 4 Company, at the Centre, got as far as the ridge 300 yards from the Opening Line of the Barrage, when they came under heavy fire from the left flank and took casualties in the minefield. The Carriers were sent for, but these were again blown up on mines. They were now pinned down and could advance no further. No. 3 Company reached the foot of Point 135, came under fire, and stopped.

At about this time a message was received at Brigade HQ from the Coldstream’s Commanding Officer giving details of the situation and asking for instructions. The response was to dig in and hold the position. A message was then received from the officer commanding the Grenadier Guards requesting two companies of the Scots Guards to help hold the position. Gascoigne determined that it was apparent that it was weapons not men that were needed, and, that if it was eventually required for the position to be withdrawn from it would be very difficult with the greater part of the Scots Guards involved, with no firm base to withdraw through, so the response was to hold.

By 0330 the forward positions were becoming untenable, no more was heard of No. 1 Company of the Coldstream Guards, with the remaining two companies withdrawing and digging in on the east side of the Wadi at about Point 75.

At first light, approximately 0525, the decision was taken to call off the attack and for the Guards to withdraw under cover of smoke and support from the 1/6th Queens machine gun and mortar fire. With the Guards withdrawal, the 1/6th Queens were exposed and any movement brought heavy artillery fire on their position, causing a number of casualties.

Later both the 131 Queens and 201 Guards Brigades were brought back to east of the Medenine-Mareth Road, although the 1/6th Queens left two companies as outpost in the former positions. From 17 to 23 March, it fell to the Queens Brigade to maintain enemy impressions that the front was still fully active and further attacks were pending. The Queens sent strong patrols forward especially to the “Horseshoe”.

On the night of 19/20 March, the Battle Patrol of the 1/6th Queens under Lieutenant P. Kime, reached the top of “The Horseshoe” and wandered about for an hour, firing and throwing bombs without meeting the enemy and coming under some fixed line machine gun fire.

On the night of 21 March, OPERATION PUGILIST, started.

The Casualty statistics for the 201 Guards Brigade for this action are as follows:

Killed

Wounded

Missing

Officers

Other-Ranks

Officers

Other-Ranks

Officers

Other-Ranks

Grenadier Guards

8

15

4

83

11

151

Coldstream Guards

11

7

44

4

93

Scots Guards

2

2

5

21

2

NOTES:

I am still investigating the Casualties for the Queen’s and will update as they come to hand

It is possible that my Grand-Uncle Private G F Dyer of the 1/6th Queens Battalion may have been involved in this action and patrols following. Again, this will be updated if this can be confirmed.

Advertisements
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: