Battle of Sedjenane
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During World War II, the Battle of Sedjenane was fought between the Allies and Axis for control of a town in northern Tunisia, on the railway line to Mateur and the port of Bizerta. The battle was part of the Tunisia Campaign.
First battle, February–March 1943
The town became of strategic importance during the Allied invasion of North Africa in World War II. Following the initial landings of Operation Torch, the Allied rush for Tunis was halted by German paratroops (operating in the ground role) in the hills east of the town in November 1942. Troops of the 8th Battalion the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were ambushed as they advanced on the road through the hills on November 29 1942 and their wrecked Universal Carriers in No man's land became a grim symbol of the ensuing stalemate to Allied troops over the following several months of the Tunisian Campaign. These dominant hills, known to the Allies, as "Green Hill", "Baldy" and "Sugarloaf" were a barrier to further Allied advances in the north through to February 1943. As war correspondent Alan Moorehead wrote in his 1944 book African Trilogy:
"Sejenane was a wayside railway town in the wet cork forests on the way to Mateur. Whoever held Mateur held Bizerta, and whoever held Green and Bald Hills outside Sedjenane held Mateur." (1)
On February 26, 1943, the Germans broke the stalemate with their "Ox Head" offensive. A complementary blow to their Kasserine Pass offensive earlier that month, this was an attempt to outflank the British troops in Sedjenane and on the high ground opposite "Green Hill" with an attack on the hilly coastal strip to the north between the town and Cap Serrat which was only lightly held by poorly-equipped French troops of the Corps Franc d'Afrique (2).
The German advance, led by Colonel Rudolf Witzig's Parachute Engineer Battalion, was held by a series of counter-attacks by the 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry and two troops of No. 1 Commando on February 27 1943, supported by the 70th Field and 5th Medium Regiments, Royal Artillery. 16 DLI mounted a further, disastrous counter-attack at dawn on March 2, 1943 in which it suffered severe casualties. That afternoon, the Germans also successfully advanced from the east towards Sedjenane and broke through the ranks of the 5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters.
The 6th Battalion the Lincolnshire Regiment, several Churchill tanks of the North Irish Horse, plus elements of No. 1 Commando and 16 DLI were involved in the defence of the town, which finally fell to the Germans on March 4.
Second battle of Sedjenane, April–May 1943
The town was retaken by the Allies on April 1 1943. The several Allied counter-attacks through March 1943, to first stem the German advance and then to retake Sedjenane, represented the first time that British and German paratroop troops had fought each other. The use of the term 'Red Devil' to describe a British paratrooper reputedly has its origins in these engagements, fought by men of the 1st Parachute Brigade.
US forces took over the positions in the Sedjenane area and in front of 'Green Hill' on April 12 1943 through to the conclusion of the North African Campaign in May 1943.
Sgt William L Nelson, H Company, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Djebel Dardys, northwest of Sedjenane, on April 24, 1943. The 2nd Battalion, 60th infantry Regiment also received a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions on April 23 and 24.
- African Trilogy, by Alan Moorehead Hamish Hamilton, London, p 470.
- The Story of 46 Division, p 24
- The DLI at War, by David Rissik, Brancepeth 1952
- The Story of 46 Division 1939-45, published by the Division, Austria, 1946
- The History of the Sixteenth Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, by Lawrence Stringer, 1946
- The Birth of an Army by A B Austin, 1943
- Over to Tunis The Complete Story of the North African Campaign, by Howard Marshall, 1943
- The Red Beret by Hilary St George Saunders, 1950
- The Green Beret by Hilary St George Saunders, 1949
- Green Devils German Paratroopers 1939-45 by Jean-Yves Nasse, Paris, 1997
- To Bizerte With the II Corps Historical Division, War Department, American Forces in Action, 1943. Reprinted 1990
- Sedjenane The Pay-Off Battle Leading to the Capture of Bizerte, Tunisia by the 9th US Infantry Division, May 9 1943, by Henry Gerard Phillips, 1993, ISBN 0-9637444-0-2
- The 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry at Sedjenane
- The 70th Field Regiment Royal Artillery at Sedjenane, the eyewitness account of Major Harry Craggs MC
- An obituary for Major Robert Thorman MC, who was awarded the Military Cross for his actions with the 6th Battalion, the Lincolnshire Regiment on March 4th 1943
- William L Nelson Medal of Honor
- Battle Report of the North Irish Horse at Sedjenane
- Photographs of several Churchill tanks which fell into Axis hands at Sedjenane in March 1943