A knocked-out German PzKpfw III tank, with the body of one of its crew lying on the hull, 24 February 1943.

A knocked-out German PzKpfw III tank, with the body of one of its crew lying on the hull, 24 February 1943.

A PIAT (Projectile Infantry Anti-Tank) in action at a firing range in Tunisia, 19 February 1943.

A PIAT (Projectile Infantry Anti-Tank) in action at a firing range in Tunisia, 19 February 1943.

A Scammell Pioneer recovery lorry tows a disabled Crusader tank into a REME workshop, 12 February 1943.

A Scammell Pioneer recovery lorry tows a disabled Crusader tank into a REME workshop, 12 February 1943.

In North Africa the Eighth Army was nearing the end of its long journey to the west from Egypt. After a pause to replenish and refit in Tripoli it finally came up against the Mareth line where the Germans chose to make a stand, after their long retreat.

The German forces in Tunisia had had success in their attacks on the raw American troops at Kasserine Pass and the British First Army who were enagaging them on their other front. If they could successfully hold off the Eighth Army they might have more success in breaking through the Allied lines further west. The Mareth Line was the defensive position where they intended to keep one front stable.

Neil Mccallum was a British officer with the Eighth Army:

It is common knowledge that the enemy intend to make a stand at Mareth. Montgomery, we hear, is pleased. Our attitude is of resignation. The easy chasing, mile after mile, could not last. The enemy’s other Tunisian campaign, against the First Army and the Americans, would be a travesty of all strategy unless a stand were made here.

The country towards Mareth is undulating. Sandy ridges and bush-covered wadis. Very green in places. The scrub is full of flowers, yellow and blue and white, exciting flowers of pure colour and in great numbers, far more splendid than the foretaste we had of them in western Libya and on the other side of Tripoli.

The air is suffused with spring. Birds are singing. Flies and ants and bees are busy. Part of the mystery of the country is the refreshing magic of spring, offered to us tantalisingly, underlining our status as soldiers and killers.

Far to the north and west are the hills where the ‘line’ is, after it leaves the littoral. Through glasses I have been watching one of the foothills where our heavies are bursting. The lack of response from the enemy continues. It is disturbing, neither defining nor denying his presence.

As usual the Jocks are perched on the sky-line, indifferent to observation. They sit in the sun stripped to the waist, shaving or cleaning their riiies. My sergeant insists that this has a demoralising effect on the enemy. He is a believer in the divisional Tradition.

It is as though the half-clad men were saying to the Germans, “Well, here we are. We’ve caught up with you. We know you’re there in those bloody hills and this is all we care.” It is magnificent folly. It will last till the shells come over.

Occasionally there is the distant burbling of a Spandau machine-gun, but we do not know if it is used by the enemy or is a captured weapon used by our own machine-gunners. Such things magnify the lack of news. Something is happening, but what is it; and where is it happening, and who is involved?

This vast countryside must be swarming with soldiers in different uniforms but we do not possess the picture of it. One feels neglected, almost insulted at not being allowed to share the secret.

And now to sleep in the afternoon in the warm sun. Tonight we shall probably move further on.

See Neil McCallum: Journey with a Pistol.

An AEC Matador tows a 4.5-inch field gun across a wooden track built across soft ground on the border between Libya and Tunisia, 23 February 1943.

An AEC Matador tows a 4.5-inch field gun across a wooden track built across soft ground on the border between Libya and Tunisia, 23 February 1943.

A sapper of 8th Field Squadron Royal Engineers lifts a mine on the Thala-Kasserine road, 24 February 1943.

A sapper of 8th Field Squadron Royal Engineers lifts a mine on the Thala-Kasserine road, 24 February 1943.

A captured German SdKfz 7 artillery tractor in the Western desert, 22 February 1943.

A captured German SdKfz 7 artillery tractor in the Western desert, 22 February 1943.

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Feb

23

1943

British intelligence analyses German morale

23rd February 1943: British intelligence analyses German morale

Generally speaking, German morale is passing through a much more critical stage than in any previous winter of the war. German opinion no longer displays, either at the level of the masses or among the privileged classes, that uniformity which has hitherto characterised it, and which may be regarded as the hallmark of a successful totalitarian state. Large numbers of people have begun to compare 1943 with 1918, to ask whether the war has reached its turning point and to cast about for a third alternative open to the German people between Nazi victory and Russian vengeance.

Feb

22

1943

Sophie Scholl is beheaded in Munich

22nd February 1943: Sophie Scholl beheaded in Munich

Between June 1942 and February 1943 the group distributed six different leaflets denouncing Hitler and the Nazi regime. Readers were urged to”Support the resistance movement!” in the struggle for “Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and protection of the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of criminal dictator-states”. These were the principles that would form “the foundations of the new Europe”. Thousands of leaflets were produced using a hand cranked printing machine and they reached most of the major cities in Germany.

Feb

21

1943

Hitler after Stalingrad

21st February 1943: Hitler after Stalingrad

The attacks of nervous irritation increased. One moment Hitler’s collar was too tight and was stopping his circulation; the next his trousers were too long. He complained that his skin itched. He suspected poison everywhere, in the lavatory cistern, on the soap, in the shaving cream or in the toothpaste, and demanded that these be minutely analysed. The water used for cooking his food had to be investigated as well. Hitler chewed his fingernails and scratched his ears and neck until they bled. Because he suffered from insomnia, he took every possible sleeping pill. His bed was warmed with electric blankets and cushions.

Feb

20

1943

The other casualties of 8th Air Force bomber operations

20th February 1943: The other casualties of bomber operations

On investigation of the accident it was found that the whole tail assembly had fallen off from Bill’s plane while it was three or four thousand feet up and so it was impossible for even Bill to land her safely. Immediately on losing its tail the plane went into a flat spin and dove into the ground at a very high speed killing everyone on impact. After hitting the ground it burst into flames and so was completely demolished. This accident brought our total losses for the week up to six.

Feb

19

1943

Panzers fail in second assault on Kasserine Pass

19th February 1943: Panzers fail in second assault on Kasserine Pass

As we very soon discovered, the Americans had first-class tanks and antitank guns. Behind the front, large supply dumps could quickly replace any deficiency. The fact that they had no combat experience and were at a disadvantage against our “desert foxes,” could not be held against them. In one respect, they seemed to have the edge over their British allies: they were extraordinarily flexible; they adapted immediately to a changed situation and fought with great doggedness.

Feb

18

1943

Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels calls for ‘Total War’

18th February 1943: Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels calls for ‘Total War’

We promise you, we promise the front, we promise the Führer, that we will mold together the homeland into a force on which the Führer and his fighting soldiers can rely on absolutely and blindly. We pledge to do all in our life and work that is necessary for victory. We will fill our hearts with the political passion, with the ever-burning fire that blazed during the great struggles of the party and the state.

Feb

17

1943

American 168th Infantry’s last stand at Kasserine Pass

17th February 1943: American 168th Infantry’s last stand at Kasserine Pass

The Germans brought up several, tanks, all of them with yellow tigers painted on their sides and opened fire. They also set up machine gun positions and supplemented that with rifle fire. While they were doing this their infantry completely encircled the small American force. After three and one-half hours of fighting the American fire power diminished and then practically ceased as the men were out of ammunition or had become casualties. Finally an armored car bearing a white flag came dashing into the American circle.

Feb

16

1943

German retreat continues on Eastern Front

16th February 1943: German retreat continues on Eastern Front

It is -40° C; the snow level is as high as our bodies. The steaming, agitated and exhausted horses can’t even pull the empty sleds anymore. Our small group becomes smaller and smaller, only half of them are still able to fight. Injured soldiers, many with frostbite, load their carbines and shoot. They lumber through the snow; their faces are contorted with pain. In the midst of the blizzard, some fall behind and lose their group, which was supposed to support them.

Feb

15

1943

Bombed by own aircraft as RAF attack Milan

15th February 1943: Bombed by own aircraft as RAF attack Milan

At that point my job was to stand on the step ahead of the main spar and put my head up into the astro hatch to assist the gunners in keeping a look out for fighters. For some inexplicable reason, I did something I had never done before; I looked directly above and got the shock of my life. In the glow from the searchlights and target I saw another Lancaster 30 feet above us on exactly the same heading and, like us, his bomb doors were open! The 4,000lb bomb looked enormous and I knew it could be released at any second.