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To War With The Bays: 34 - The Fall Of Tunis

...Then during our rest period, when it was raining heavily and Buck and I were sleeping in the tank, we were awakened at 6.30 a.m. and told to be ready to move in fifteen minutes. Jerry was on the run!

We passed Kurnine. The Germans had been blasted off it. We only covered twelve miles that day but we felt we were at last on the move. We ran into pockets of resistance but overcame them without loss. In spite of being heavily shelled and temporarily held up by anti-tank guns, we still moved forward. Orders came for us to mop up anything in our way, and we proceeded to do so relentlessly.

There were hundreds of refugees now on the roads and they were suffering casualties too. We stopped at a farm, filled up our water cans and pushed on...

Jack Merewood tells of the fall of Tunis,


At nights when we came back to close leaguer we'd put a tarpaulin over the top of the tank so no light could be seen. Then one of us inside would get our little stove going and brew up, surrounded by 75 mm shells. So much for no naked lights within twenty yards of a vehicle.

One night the members of No. 4 Troop showed us a little pig they had picked up. They kept it in their tank as we continued the fight.

'B' Squadron were in front of us one day, and we watched as they were engaged in a tank battle in a valley below. To our dismay 'B' Squadron lost two tanks and their crews, although the Germans fared worse. There was a lot of air activity and a German plane came down right in front of us.

No. 2 Troop were ordered to take a ridge in front. Our troop moved up in support then fired smoke shells from our mortars to cover them and they took the ridge without loss.

On Wednesday the 28th April, 1943: 'Up at 4.30 a.m. Moved out of leaguer at 5 a.m. Cooking breakfast, half a dozen shells dropped fairly close so we ate it in tank. Afternoon pretty quiet. Buck and I chased some cows with the idea of catching one and milking it, but no success; we could only get within a few yards of them.

Jerry planes over. Had a few shots at them - very low. There's a big hill about a mile away, we're more or less at the bottom of it. Jerry has guns up there. Our artillery gave them a pasting. Ready to move at 6.45 p.m. (now) to go into close leaguer and take over from 10th Hussars in morning.'

[Next day:] Reveille 4.30 a.m., moved at 5 a.m. up to ridge where 10th Hussars were. Very quiet. Few shots fired at us. Sat in same position from 5.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. Couldn't get out of tank. Brewed up inside. Read a couple of books. Moved into close leaguer at 7.30 p.m. Had a stew ...'

Next day it was a different story. We had to push on. We were shelled and we retaliated but kept moving forward. Our Troop Leader's tank was hit but the crew baled out and thankfully escaped unhurt. We were lucky to get away with the loss of only one of our three tanks. The fighting was heavy and we could easily have been further victims.

When we close-leaguered that night, quite shaken after the day's events, our commander, Ted, was sent back with Lieutenant Saunders's damaged tank and Lieutenant Saunders took over our tank.

Colin, our driver, had gone sick a few days before with a swollen arm, and his place was taken by Walker, a very rough and ready young man from Sheffield, but, like Colin, a good driver. Now he too went sick with a sore hand, and was sent back to 'B' Echelon to be replaced by a driver named Joyce.

Meanwhile another tank was hit and the commander, Sergeant Stan Webber, hurt, but not seriously.

Sunday 2 May: 'Reveille 4 a.m. (this is getting a bit monotonous), could have slept for a week ... Still here . .. The big hill on my right, which is so near yet so far, for Jerry still holds it, is Kurnine and we are at a point between Medjez El Bab and Pont Du Fahs ...'

Occasionally a canteen wagon would come with sweets, beer and soap etc., while every night wagons came up to our leaguer bringing rations, petrol, ammunition, water and much-awaited mail. One night I had yet another marvellous parcel from Cape Town.

The drivers of these trucks had a hazardous job, particularly 'Jock' Davidson who drove the petrol and ammunition - there was always a danger from shelling or bombs.

We advanced a little, and down in a valley came across a knocked-out German Mark 3 Special tank with the dead driver still inside it. But things appeared to have reached a stalemate. We had expected to be in Tunis long ago. Every day hundreds of our bombers went over and we could see the German ack-ack bursting around them.

Then during our rest period, when it was raining heavily and Buck and I were sleeping in the tank, we were awakened at 6.30 a.m. and told to be ready to move in fifteen minutes. Jerry was on the run!

We passed Kurnine. The Germans had been blasted off it. We only covered twelve miles that day but we felt we were at last on the move. We ran into pockets of resistance but overcame them without loss. In spite of being heavily shelled and temporarily held up by anti-tank guns, we still moved forward. Orders came for us to mop up anything in our way, and we proceeded to do so relentlessly.

There were hundreds of refugees now on the roads and they were suffering casualties too. We stopped at a farm, filled up our water cans and pushed on.

'In bed after midnight up at 4.10 a.m. and moved off at 4.40. About 11.45 a.m. two German officers came walking towards the tanks waving a white flag. Say they have 700 men who want to give themselves up. Two of us got out of the tank, waved them in, and then herded them back to the infantry behind us.'

Then hundreds more soldiers, both Italian and German, started to stream down the road. When taken prisoner, they would never mix with each other. The Germans in general were quiet, sullen, and obviously despised their allies, who on the whole were more cheerful and glad to be out of the war. Equipment was discarded everywhere, a real shambles.

We kept going and were needed to help the 10th Hussars who had come under heavy fire. One shell landed just behind us and some of the shrapnel went through the locker on the side of the tank. Later I discovered it had also gone through my mess tins and my mug. A major disaster.

Then it came over the wireless that on the hill in front of us were some German soldiers, and a troop of tanks was to be sent over to get them. Our troop went. As we climbed the hill six Germans came running down waving their arms. We picked two up and had them on the back of our tank.

They had a broad band round one arm inscribed 'Hermann Goering Panzer'. They were part of Goering's crack Panzer Division - his top tank fighting unit. One was a sturdy, red-haired, good-looking young man in his early twenties. The other, a blond boy, looked very young and we asked his age. 'Sixteen,' he said.

Both were quite cheerful. Then the older one pointed up the hill and said: 'Officer.'

I jumped off the tank, pistol in hand, and climbed the hill. At the top the ground sloped into a hollow. I went down perhaps foolishly as I was now out of sight of the tanks to where there were some bushes. I walked towards them, gun in hand. They suddenly parted and out came the German officer, frantically waving a white handkerchief, his face the same colour, and shouting: 'Kamerad, kamerad, kamerad.'

I saw he had a gun in a holster. With my pistol in his ribs I took the gun, turned him round, marched him out of the hollow and down the hill to the tanks. He said in broken English that he had only been in North Africa a few days, having been rushed there from the Russian front.

We loaded him and the other four onto our tanks and took them back to hand them over to the infantry. As we went, the roads were packed with German and Italian lorries, driven by Germans and Italians, full of thousands of their own soldiers, giving themselves up. It was an amazing sight.

Tunis fell on 11 May, 1943. On the 12th there was fighting around the town, but by the 13th there was no more resistance. Altogether over a quarter of a million prisoners had been taken and thousands killed. Thousands more were killed as they were bombed mercilessly by the Air Force while trying to escape by sea from Cape Bon. The area for miles was littered with vehicles and equipment, and the war in North Africa was over.

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