1 Commando, Op Bizerte part of Lt.Col Ken Trevors narrative
Transcript of Operation "Bizerte" Narrative
To: Lt-Col. Trevor From: Philip Jordan
Acting under orders to support the advance of the 36th Infantry Brigade by turning the enemy's sea-flank, cutting his lines of communication and harrying his withdrawal, No. 1 Commando embarked in the port of TABARKA on the evening of November 30. The Commando, which consisted of six British and four American Troops, embarked a few minutes before dusk beneath the walls of the ancient fortress which used to guard this little place, and at 1800 hrs. turned East for its destination.
The whole Commando, together with 8 donkeys whose function was to carry the mortars, sailed in nine L.C.Ms and four L.C.As and the naval personnel responsible for landing them acted under the orders of the Army. Earlier night reconnaissance by the Naval and Commando Commander had selected as a landing place a beach some 60 miles East of Tabarka, which was protected by a spur of land from the long Eastward roll of the Mediterranean. (Map Reference: 4805 : Sheet 2 : 1/200,000). The Northern coast of Tunisia in this sector of land offers few opportunities for quick and successful landing: for the most part the coast is precipitous, with mountains rising almost immediately from the sea. At this time of the year the Mediterranean here is seldom calm: even on a windless day the accumulated swell of 900 miles of open sea usually beats on the shore with a ferocity that makes any landing such as that contemplated impracticable. For this reason a beach, whose approaches are guarded by a sand bar whose expanse is to some extent guarded from the perpetual swell by the Northward jutting mass of Dar Sidi el Moujad was chosen for the landing, scheduled in the original plan of operation for 0100 hrs. on Dec 1.
The journey through the night was accomplished without incident of any kind; and the beach was sighted soon after the moon came up. It is one of the first fundamental principles of all Combined Operations that material to be landed on an open beach shall be both buoyant and waterproof. On this occasion there were certain objects to which these principles could not apply: the 8 donkeys, and the cinema apparatus brought by a Sergeant of the Army Film Unit. The latter was immediately submerged and rendered useless, but 5 of the donkeys managed to swim ashore. Two of these only were in any condition to be made use of, and the other three were returned to the landing craft from which they had come, and thence "returned to store". As it turned out the two animals who remained on shore were useless, for the terrain proved to be unsuitable for pack-animals.
By 0315 all landings had been made, and the 10 Troops moved off to their appointed positions. The whole Commando was divided into halves, and the most Easterly position assigned to those five Troops who landed in the first wave. Each Troop was assigned a map reference and within its own area was to operate independently.
It had been a wet landing, with water rising approximately to just below the armpits of an average size man, but it was accomplished with the loss of only one wireless set, through who outer covering sea-water managed to percolate. All the other sets, eleven of them, were successfully landed, each capable of maintaining communication with both or either of the headquarters attached to each half. No attempt was made to land any set which could maintain communications with the 36th Brigade, the only available sets capable of covering the distance are too heavy to move across this ground.
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cycle came down the road, but was allowed to proceed in the hope that it might be leading a convoy. Otherwise there was no movement until late that night when a drunken pilot of the Africa Corps (who insisted that all New Zealanders cut the throats of their prisoners) came careering along the road on a motor cycle, and was captured at the bridge just south of the road junction. With perhaps greater veracity he said that an attack was coming from the Bizerte direction.
On the third afternoon the enemy opened fire from the cover of woods, at a range of about 600 yards, and four armoured cars were reported to be moving forward to attack. Actually only two were seen, both of them eight wheeled, both coloured for desert war rather than for a Tunisian campaign in winter. The second of the two Troops was attacked from machine gun nests and shelled from eight wheeled armoured cars, but they replied with light machine gun fire and with armour piercing rifle fire; and the enemy withdrew.
All the Troops attacking the enemy road position came under heavy fire, but throughout the whole operation, from which they eventually withdrew because of the inevitable shortage of rations, the initiative remained in their hands. They were able to come and go at will, and to make and break contact with the enemy whenever it seemed proper to them to do so. For a total casualty list of 6 officers and 128 other ranks they were not only able to fulfill their programme and return with valuable information - particularly concerning Sidi Ahmed aerodrome, on to which at 1100 hours each day, twenty large transport planes landed with fighter escort, and on the first day fourteen bombers - but to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy.
They were able to observe that the enemy's main supply route from Bizerte is along the road from the fork just west of Sidi Ahmed aerodrome southwards through Tindja and the outskirts of Ferryville, for throughout the whole of the operation the enemy was moving his columns solely by this route. One such column, of 100 vehicles with A.F.V. protection and fighter cover was observed by Capt. Bradford's Troop during their observation of the aerodrome area, which is continually protected by not only very large ground forces but by A.F.V's as well.
Among the casualties were Captain Bradford who led his men to within four miles of the centre of Bizerte itself; and who was killed leading his Troop against the enemy. He died giving coherent orders to his remaining officer for the future disposition of his men. Earlier in the day he had lost one of his officers, Lieut. Petty, while his men, having cut the telephone wires near Bizerte and used them as trip wires, were crossing a piece of open ground in twos and threes. During this move they were fired upon by German's wearing French uniform. Six or eight of them, who were close enough to Lieut. Petty, threw hand grenades at him and his batman, and both fell. The batman was not killed, for he rose from the ground with his hands up, and pointed down to where Lieut. Petty was lying. This gesture was the signal for the Germans to throw three more grenades at the spot where Lieut. Petty had fallen.
Capt. Morgan, who commanded the Troop on the immediate left of Capt. Bradford was also killed. He too died after giving coherent orders to his men to carry on the battle.
It is some indication of the severity of the fighting during this operation that five officers have been recommended for the M.C., sixteen Other Ranks for the M.M., and one for the D.C.M. The whole operation lasted three days, after which the Commando spent two days withdrawing to a rendezvous down to the road to Cap Serrat, during which period they were able to investigate the right flank of the enemy engaged by the 36th Brigade. During the whole operation the average ration per man worked out at about one tin of bully, one packet of biscuits - all of which we sodden when the first landing was made - so tea, chocolate and cigarettes. One troop was able to buy a calf from local Arabs, which they then butchered and cooked. Others picked up a few eggs and chickens here and there.
Because of the necessity of travelling light, little ammunition was carried, and much of that was brought back. This does not imply a small casualty roll for the enemy, for each man is a highly trained shot, and the minimum effective proportion which he is expected to achieve is twenty-five per cent of all shots fired.
Perhaps the main lesson to be derived from this operation, which certainly went according to plan, is that the sea can no longer be considered a safe flank. An enterprise such as this, conducted by the navy and army, both operating under the command of the latter, shows that the function of the Commandos plus the Navy is that of the cavalry: to turn the enemy's flank and harass his rear while the main attack is being put in from behind. This operation showed beyond any doubt that when the original plan is such that adherence to it is possible, a small force, operating on cavalry lines, can inflict relatively high casualties on the enemy, disorganize his supply routes and withdraw at its own will without itself suffering in anything like the same degree.
It remains only to be added that none of the enemy prisoners withdrawn survived the journey to the final rendezvous, a rendezvous made the more cheerful by the fact that the first mail from home was waiting there, as well as a supply of Airgraph cards which are to be in England before Christmas.
Source:Copy of National Archives document supplied by John Mewett. Transcribed by Jennie Barlow. Note: Page two of this document is missing…but it is placed here so the contents can be used accordingly.
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