Mareth Line
The Mareth Line was a system of fortifications built by the French between the towns of Medenine
Medenine is the major town in southeastern Tunisia, south of the port of Gabès and the Island of Djerba, on the main route to Libya. It is the capital of Medenine Governorate.- Overview :...

 and Gabès
Gabès , also spelt Cabès, Cabes, Kabes, Gabbs and Gaps, the ancient Tacape, is the capital city of the Gabès Governorate, a province of Tunisia. It lies on the coast of the Gulf of Gabès. With a population of 116,323 it is the 6th largest Tunisian city.-History:Strabo refers to Tacape as an...

 in southern Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

, prior to World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. It was designed to defend against attacks from the Italians in Libya, but following the Fall of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 and Operation Torch
Operation Torch
Operation Torch was the British-American invasion of French North Africa in World War II during the North African Campaign, started on 8 November 1942....

 it fell into Axis
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

 hands and was used by the Italians and Germans to defend against the British instead.


The geography of central Tunisia is dominated by the Atlas Mountains
Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains is a mountain range across a northern stretch of Africa extending about through Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The highest peak is Toubkal, with an elevation of in southwestern Morocco. The Atlas ranges separate the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert...

, while the northern and southern portions are largely flat. The primary feature in the south is the Matmâta
Matmata is a small Berber speaking town in southern Tunisia. Some of the local Berber residents live in traditional underground "troglodyte" structures. In 2004 it had a population of 2,116....

 hills, a range running north-south roughly parallel to the eastern coast on the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

. West of the hills, the land is inhospitable desert, making the region between the hills and the coast the only easily navigable approach to the settled areas in the north. A smaller line of hills runs east-west along the northern edge of the Matmâta range, further complicating this approach. There is a small gap between the two ranges, the Tebaga Gap, at the extreme northern exit of the Matmâta hills.

The line broadly followed the Wadi Zigzaou for 35 km (21.7 mi) inland from the sea to the Matmâta hills, crossing the coastal road. The wadi
Wadi is the Arabic term traditionally referring to a valley. In some cases, it may refer to a dry riverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain or simply an intermittent stream.-Variant names:...

 provided a natural defence line, with steep banks some 70 feet (21.3 m) high in places. It was reputed to be the most difficult military defence line in North Africa. The French view was that the hills were sufficiently impassable to discount any attempt to outflank on the landward side, which, however, was subsequently disproved in Operation Supercharge II.

Wartime history

After the Allied success at El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein
The Second Battle of El Alamein marked a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The battle took place over 20 days from 23 October – 11 November 1942. The First Battle of El Alamein had stalled the Axis advance. Thereafter, Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery...

, the German and Italian forces had conducted a fighting retreat across northern Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

 and into Tunisia. General Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army paused at Medenine to prepare for the difficult assault on the Mareth Line and the Italian First Army
Italian First Army
The Italian First Army was an Italian army formation, in World War I, facing Austro-Hungarian and German forces, and in World War II, fighting on the North African front.-World War I:...

 (comprising the remnants of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Erwin Rommel
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel , popularly known as the Desert Fox , was a German Field Marshal of World War II. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought....

's Afrika Korps
Afrika Korps
The German Africa Corps , or the Afrika Korps as it was popularly called, was the German expeditionary force in Libya and Tunisia during the North African Campaign of World War II...

 and the Italian armies), now commanded by General Giovanni Messe
Giovanni Messe
Giovanni Messe was an Italian general, politician, and Field Marshal . He is considered by many to have been the best Italian general of the Second World War.-Early life and career:Born in Mesagne, Apulia, Giovanni Messe pursued a military career in 1901...

, attempted a pre-emptive attack (Operation Capri
Operation Capri
The Battle of Medenine, also known as Operation Capri, was a German counter-attack at Medenine, Tunisia, intended to disrupt and delay the 8th Army's attack on the Mareth Line. The German attack started on 6 March 1943, failed to make much impression and was abandoned at dusk on the same day...

). When this failed, the axis troops withdrew to the Mareth Line and awaited the British attack.

Operation Pugilist
Operation Pugilist
Operation Pugilist was an Allied operation in Tunisia during the Second World War. In his General Plan, General Bernard Montgomery stated "...the object of operation Pugilist is to destroy the enemy now opposing Eighth Army in the Mareth position, and to advance and capture Sfax." Pugilist itself...

On 19 March 1943, the Eighth Army assaulted the line. The British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division
British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division
The 50th Infantry Division was a 1st Line Territorial Army division during the Second World War. The two Ts in its insignia represent the two boundaries to its recruitment area, the rivers Tyne and Tees...

 of British XXX Corps successfully managed to penetrate the line near Zarat, but their pocket was destroyed by a counterattack from the 15th Panzer Division on 22 March.

Earlier reconnaissance by the Long Range Desert Group
Long Range Desert Group
The Long Range Desert Group was a reconnaissance and raiding unit of the British Army during the Second World War. The commander of the German Afrika Corps, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, admitted that the LRDG "caused us more damage than any other British unit of equal strength".Originally called...

 had confirmed that the Line could be outflanked. This would enable a force to enter the Tebaga Gap from its western end and reappear on the coastal plain behind the Mareth Line - the "left hook". Montgomery, therefore, sent Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg
Bernard Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg
Lieutenant-General Bernard Cyril Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO & Three Bars , was a British-born New Zealand Victoria Cross recipient and soldier who later served as the seventh Governor-General of New Zealand.A veteran of the Mexican Revolution, he became an officer in the...

's reinforced New Zealand 2nd Division
New Zealand 2nd Division
The 2nd New Zealand Division was a formation of the New Zealand Military Forces during World War II. It was commanded for most of its existence by Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg, and fought in Greece, Crete, the Western Desert and Italy...

 - now the New Zealand Corps - through the Matmâta hills. This attack was stalled by determined defence.

Operation Supercharge II

Although the attacks by XXX Corps and the New Zealand Corps had been repulsed, allied forces were redistributed with 1st Armoured Division of British X Corps
X Corps (United Kingdom)
The X Corps was a British Army formation in the First World War and was later reformed in 1942 during the North African campaign of the Second World War as part of the Eighth Army.- First World War :...

 sent to reinforce the Tebaga Gap. Brian Horrocks
Brian Horrocks
Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Gwynne Horrocks, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC was a British Army officer. He is chiefly remembered as the commander of XXX Corps in Operation Market Garden and other operations during the Second World War...

, commander of X Corps, was placed in charge of operations at the Tebaga Gap and renewed attacks began on 26 March. This "left hook" broke through the Tebaga Gap on 27 March and, combined with a fresh frontal assault, the Line was rendered untenable. However, Messe's forces were able to escape encirclement when the 1st Armoured Division was held up at El Hamma. The Axis forces retreated to a line at Akarit, 60 kilometres (37.3 mi) to the north.

External links

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