1 Commando, Operation Bizerte Plan and Structure Dec'42
No. 1 Commando: Operation Bizerte
Appendix 1: December 1942
Copy of original document supplied by: John Mewett
Transcribed by: Jennie Barlow
Maps will be added later to this War DIary segment
The report is divided into the following headings:
4. Execution of Plan
5. Attainments of Objects
(b) Local Inhabitants
9 Map attached
Ref. Maps: 1/50,000 Sheets No’s, 1, 2, 5 & 6, and 1/200,000 Sheet No. 2.
No. 1 Commando attached to 36 Inf. Brigade to support the advance of the Brigade by turning the enemy's sea flank - cutting his lines of communication and harrying his withdrawal. Leading elements of 36 Inf. Brigade to make contact with the Commando on D.2 at Road Junction 5094.
1. Seize and hold Road Junction 5094.
2. Seize and hold Road Junction 5796.
3. Deny road to enemy.
4. Destroy enemy transport.
5. Delay and harry enemy forces withdrawing before the 36 Inf. Bde.
(a) - NAVAL
The whole Commando to be embarked in 9 L.C.M.'s and 4 L.C.A.'s by 1730 hrs. D+1 at TABARKA. The flotilla to be formed up outside the harbour at 1800 hrs. and move off. The landing to be made at 0100 hrs, D.1 on the beach in the area 4805, in two waves, and to return to the base at TABARKA.
(b) - ARMY
The Commando to be divided into two halves, Left and Right Half, each half composed of five Troops and H.Q.s; Right Half commanded by Lt. Col. T.H. Trevor, and Left Half commanded by Major K.R.S. Trevor.
Right Half who were to take up the most Easterly Positions to be landed in the first wave. On landing four Troops were to move forward independently to following areas and to act independently on their arrival:
Holt's Troop: On extreme Right flank covering road from area 5395.
Morgan's Troop: Right centre in area Road Junction 5796.
Thompson's Troop: Left centre in area 5998.
Bradford's Troop: On extreme Left flank in area 6100.
Craven's Troop: In reserve with Right Half Commando H.Q. in area 5100.
Left Half to take up positions around the Road Junction 5094:
Davies' Troop: On extreme Right flank in area 4991.
Martin's Troop: In Right centre in area 4993.
Pollitt's Troop: In Left centre in area 5094.
Davidson's Troop: On Left flank in area 5295.
Marshall's Troop: In reserve in area 4895 overlooking road.
Headquarters: In a position overlooking Road Junction at 4996.
All Troops and H.Qs. to move independently and to assist each other where possible when in position.
1 x No. 18 Set W/T and Signal personnel to be attached to each Troop and both H.Qs. Each Half to be allotted different frequencies but Control Sets at each H.Q. to come up on each other's frequency when required. All Ranks to use semaphore for Sub-Section, Section, Troop and individual communication. It was considered that runners could not be used as country was too rough and danger of observation by enemy too great.
Communication with 36 Brigade was considered impossible owing to the distance, country, and unavailability of powerful enough W/T Set which if available would be too heavy to land or transport across country.
4 - EXECUTION OF PLAN
(See Troop Commanders' Reports attached.)
5 - ATTAINMENT OF OBJECTS
1. Road Junction 5094 was occupied until D.3. when a German armoured column composed of 3 Armoured Cars, 2 Tanks and 3 Lorry loads of Infantry put in an attack from the West.
2. Road Junction 5796 was occupied throughout D.1. when enemy attack by A.F.Vs. and Infantry forced a withdrawal into the hills. After the tactical withdrawal it was still covered from the hills until D.2.
3. The Road between Road Junction 5094 - Road Junction 5796 was denied to the enemy until D.3.
4. All transport was destroyed which amounted to 1 Motor-cycle Combination with 4 men. One Motor-cycle Combination was allowed to proceed hoping it was leading a convoy.
5. The enemy was harried for 3 days and he was forced to draw on his reserves and to detach a force to counter the threat on his flank and rear.
6. The Commando occupied and dominated throughout 3 days the area between 47-62 Eastings and from the road to the Sea inclusive, during which time one Troop exploited to within 6 Kilometers of BIZERTE; which included the aerodrome SIDI AHMED 6700.
By dawn the whole Commando had advanced some 5 miles inland, without making any contact with the enemy or with the local inhabitants. Their objectives now lay before them, on the far side of the range: the road junction (5094) where the main route from Bizerte to Mateur round the Northern shores of Garaet Achkel is joined by a Secondary route which runs Westwards some two and a half to three miles South of the coast: the road junction 5 miles to the East of it (5796) at Douar Faroudja: and the road which runs between them. These they held, the former for three days with a small detachment that required an enemy column of three armoured cars, two tanks, and three lorry loads of infantry to dislodge them: the latter for one day. After a tactical withdrawal from the latter it was covered from the hills for a further 24 hours.
From now until three days later the Commando not only dominated this area and denied the use of the road to the enemy, but they sent a Troop to keep under continuous observation the aerodrome at Sidi Ahmed, about 7 miles to the North East of Douar Faroudja. During those three days the Command also occupied an area of some 125 square miles, inside which they moved with complete freedom; and were able to destroy any enemy transport attempting to use the road between 5094 and 5796. Those were the immediate and tangible factors of the operation, but in addition the Commando forced the enemy to draw on his reserves and to detach what may properly by assumed to have been a substantial force to counter the threat to his flank and rear.
All this was accomplished in the face of considerable topographical difficulties, none of which could have been suspected from a preliminary study of available maps.
Near the roads the country is open and easily accessible to tanks, but only in their immediate neighborhood. Off the road the Commando were able to advance only about 2 miles in every hour during the hours of daylight, and half that rate at night. The hills and valleys in the area of the operations are covered with Mediterranean heather, rising to a height of at least 7 feet. Higher up the mountains the scrub is lower but the going is no less difficult. Often the easiest method of progression is to imitate the goat and move on hands and knees, for these animals, which roam the hills in profusion, have forced their own tracks through the undergrowth. What tracks for human beings the country does provide are hard to find even on a large scale map, and normal movement is difficult without the aid of a local guide.
Trustworthy guides are hard to find, for there is no fixed local political orientation: some Arabs are extremely friendly to the Commando, some pointed out their positions to the enemy. Some Italians at an outlying farm showed great kindness to our wounded men, and one Troop Commander reports that he was informed that the Germans had shot three Frenchmen who had given food to our men. The Germans themselves almost certainly disguise some of their men as Arabs; and one German was shot wearing French uniform, as was one who appeared in the green beret of the Commando and a British gas cape and called upon Capt. Craven's Troop to surrender.
The main enemy position encountered lay a short way back from the road junction 5094, and appeared to be fairly well concealed. Its machine gun nests were sighted to give good enfilade fire, and it also disposed of some 2-pounders on concealed tracks. Fire was withheld until the Commando forces were well within an organized network of machine gun fixed lines.
This position was most closely approached by two Troops, those of Capt. Davidson and Capt. Pollitt. Both Troops reached approximate positions in the early afternoon and detached parties to form road blocks with heavy stones and whatever else they could find to do the work. On the following afternoon an enemy motorcycle. At the end of D.3. the Commando withdrew in its own time down the road to CAP SERRAT, investigating the enemy's Right flank during the process.
The country covered by the Commando is very different to that portrayed by the map. Near the Road the country is open and fairly good tank country. Movement off the road is difficult but possible. Rate of advance 1 M.P.H. at night and 2 M.P.H. by day (not using tracks). The hills and valleys are covered with Mediterranean heather, low bush and high bush. Tracks are hard to find from the map and it is advisable to have a local guide. Streams are mainly dry but there is plenty of water available in wells, again local knowledge is preferable.
Coast: The coast is difficult, many beaches impracticable owing to surf, with strong Westerly swell.
Movement: Movement is facilitated by getting into the hills where the scrub is shorter.
Roads: The main road between the Road Junctions was the equivalent of second-class English roads with room for two lines of slow moving traffic. Road to CAP SERRATT was passable to tracked vehicles of carrier type and if repaired suitable for single line traffic.
(b) LOCAL INHABITANTS
The local inhabitants’ attitude and behaviour can most easily be explained by their own saying that they were "Amis Toute la Monde". Many instances were provided of Arabs being exceptionally friendly and useful, but on several occasions Arabs definitely were hostile. Arabs on three known occasions deliberately gave away our positions and pointed them out to the enemy. Some of the Arabs were in all probability disguised Germans and Italians. Great kindness and even food was given to the wounded by some Italians at an outlying farm. One German was also shot wearing French uniform.
a - Static Positions: Any positions encountered are shown on attached map. They appeared to be fairly well concealed M.G. nests sited to give good enfilade. Some small two pounder guns on tracks are concealed ready to move where required. Fire is held until our forces are well inside a well organised network of M.G. fixed lines.
b - Composition of Mobile Column: The enemy mobile columns which were sent out to combat the threat of the Commando were organised on the following lines:
Armoured Cars 2 - 3 as point section.
Lorry-borne infantry 2 - 2 lorry loads.
Medium Tanks 2 - 3
c - Use of Arabs: The enemy made use of Arabs as guides and it was suspected that they were disguising themselves in Arab dress.
d - L. of C.: Capt. Bradford's Troop which exploited to the East reported a large convoy of about 100 vehicles composed of supply lorries with A.F.V. protection and fighter aircraft cover, moving S.W. from BIZERTE. As this column did not come through the road dominated by the Commando, it is deduced that the enemy's L. of C. must be along the road which runs due south from Road Junction at 6501.
e - Personnel: The only enemy positively identified were a Corporal from a L.A.A. Regiment and G.A.F. officer and Corporal. During the operation, on at least one occasion the enemy adopted the distinctive Commando head-dress a British Cape A.G. taken from a Commando casualty in order to delude our own troops into thinking that they were friendly.
f - Air Forces: Throughout the operation the main BIZERTE aerodrome situated at SIDI AHMED was under observation. Fairly dense enemy air activity was observed on the aerodrome which included D.1. 14 bombers arriving from North East picking up fighter escort over the aerodrome and moving away eastwards. On D.1., D.2. and D.3. 20 large transport planes with fighter cover landed on the aerodrome at approximately 1100 hrs. each day. Fighter aircraft were stationed on the aerodrome.
The Troop which exploited to the aerodrome area discovered that very large enemy forces including A.F.Vs. made up the ground defences. This is confirmed by local reports.
Throughout the operation, German Fighter planes flew very low over the Commando area but failed, with one exception, to discover Troop positions.
7 - CASUALTIES
The following casualties were suffered during the operation:
British Troops: 4 Officers 56 Other Ranks
American Troops: 2 Officers 72 Other Ranks
6 Officers 128 Other Ranks
Wounded and removed to hospital 4 Other Ranks (British).