*** World War II Operation Torch drive on Tunisia

Hitler Seizes Tunisia: Air Lift (November 9-17)

Tunisia World War II
Figure 1.--There was at first a great deal of support for Vichy among the French. This had changed substabially by 1942 as the true character of the NAZIs became increasingly apparent. The Vichy men conttinued to collaborate wuth the Germans. While Darlan's duplicity allowed the Germans to seize and hold Tunisia. There was no cheering when the Germans moved into Tunisia (novenber 1942). This was in sharp contrast to the reception to the Allies when they reached Bizerte abd Tunis (May 1943). The heart of the French people was with the Allies as this little girl shows (May 1943).

At the time of the Torch landungs, there wereb no Gerrman forces in Tunisia, it was entirely in French Vichy hands. Axis North African operationms including the Afrika Koros were launched entirely from Italian Libya. Torch came at time when Hitler's attention was fully focused on Stalingrad. Tunisia would proved to be last country, actuaally a French colony, that Hitler would invade (except for his Axis allies, Italy and Hungary). At the time the Germans were encountering stiff Soviet resistance in Stalingrad, but believed the city would fall within days. Zukov had not yet launched his massive offensive cutting Stalingrad off. At a time when the strategic imparative was to defeat the Soviets in Stalingrad, Hitler's focus was affected. He reacted immediately, but without fully considering the consequences. He committed his increasinjky scarce reserves to Tunisia, a position of only minor importance compared to the central importance of the Ostkrieg. (This severely depleted the Wehrmacht's strategic reserve and weakened the German capability of effectively dealing with the Soviet Stalingrad offensive when it came days later--November 19.) Admiral Darlan after surrendring the Vichy forces in Morocco and Algeria, pretended to cooperate with the Allies. He secretly ordered Vichy commanders in Tunisia to allow the Germans to use Tunisian ports and airfields. Had he not done this, there would have been no protracted fight for Tunisia. The French people were sympathetic to the Allies, but Darlan was still not sure about the outcome of the war and his future. From his perspctive it looked like the Germans had won in Stalingrad and he had to be concernd about their reaction in France itself. As a result, he ordered Vichy forces in Tunisia which the Allies had not yet reached to cooperate wih the Germans. Hitler was able to rush available German and Italian forces from Sicily and southern Italy to Tunisia. Many Germans arrived by Luftwaffe transports--the same transports that wpuld soon be so badly needed at Stalingrad. Vichy officials in Tunisia equivocated. But they did not close the all important airfields. Allied reconnaissance flights reported 40 German aircraft had landed at Tunis (November 9). British photographic reconnaissance showed around 100 German aircraft of various types on the Tunis airfield (November 10). The Italian Air Force sent 28 fighters to Tunis. The Germans began a massive airlift (November 12). The initial German airlift would bring in over 15,000 men and 581 short tons (527 t) of supplies. Walther Nehring was assigned to oversee the German buildup and command of the newly formed XC Corps (November 12). He flew into Tunis (November 17). The Allied air cover did not yet extend to Tunis and Bizerte. Thus Italian ships were able to bring in heavy German weapons, including 176 tanks, 131 artillery pieces, 1,152 vehicles, and substantial quantiies of supplies. Thus Germans had three divisions in place, including the powerful 10th Panzer Division (end of November). The Italians moved two infantry divisions into northern Tunisia to support the Germans. Hitler ordered General Jürgen Von Armim with the newly formed 5th Panzer Army with 47,000 Germans and 18,000 Italians to stop the Allied advance from the Torch landings and protect the rear of Rommel's retreating Afrika Korps. The 5th Panzer Army was a smaller force than the advancing Allied 1st Army, but more experienced and better armed. The Allied 1st Army was a largely American and British force with poorly armed French units. The 5th Panzer army had powerful weapons including, a few new Type 6 Tiger tanks and its 88-mm anti-tank guns. They were especially effective before the Allies could project their air power over Tunisia. Withut this commitment to Tunisia, the auir lift to Stalingrad would have been more effective.


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Created: 9:21 PM 11/29/2022
Last updated: 9:21 PM 11/29/2022