After the Operation Torch landings in French North Africa, the French resistance was swiftly overcome and the colonial French came to terms with the Allies. There then began the ‘race to Tunis’ the Tunisian capital in the west. The initial swift progress came to a grinding halt in early December as the Germans rushed reinforcements to the area. The 10th Panzer Division, veterans of the Eastern Front were among the units that arrived from France. The war in Tunisia now began in earnest:
Casualties in the fighting between the 1st and 3rd were heavy on both sides. By the 5th the British column in Tebourba had been forced to withdraw and was regrouping on the heights overlooking the town.
From the Military Situation Report for the week, as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB 66/32/3.
Amongst those involved was Herbert Wallace Le Patourel. The 26 year old from Guernsey was a Major in the Hampshire Regiment when he earned a posthumous Victoria Cross:
For conspicuous gallantry in action in the TEBOURBA area on the 3rd December, 1942.
On the afternoon of the 3rd December, 1942, the enemy had occupied an important high feature on the left of the Company commanded by this officer. Counter-attacks by a Company of another Battalion and detachments of Major Le Patourel’s Company had been unable to regain the position. This officer then personally led four volunteers under very heavy fire to the top in a last attempt to dislodge several enemy machine guns. The party was heavily engaged by machine gun fire and Major Le Patourel rallied his men several times and engaged the enemy, silencing several machine gun posts.
Finally when the remainder of his party were all killed or wounded, he went forward alone with a pistol and some grenades to attack enemy machine guns at close quarters and from this action did not return. From reports received from wounded men, this officer died of wounds.
Major Le Patourel’s most gallant conduct and self sacrifice, his brilliant leadership and tenacious devotion to duty in the face of a determined enemy were beyond praise.
In fact, although he suffered grievous wounds Le Patourel survived, was taken prisoner. He was later repatriated because of his injuries but returned to active service and eventually retired as Brigadier.