78th Division - Capture of Longstop, 22 - 26 April 1943

Discussion in 'Higher Formations' started by Gerry Chester, Mar 11, 2008.

  1. Gerry Chester

    Gerry Chester WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    78th Divison

    78th Divison

    Part of an ongoing process, the 78th Infantry (Battleaxe) Division's report on the capture of Longstop Hill, the gateway to Tunis, in April 1943.

    THE CAPTURE OF LONGSTOP 22 - 26 APRIL, 1943
    78th Infantry (Battleaxe) Division Report

    SETTING:
    The area of the attached 1/25,000 map1 represents a piece of country between Medjez el Bab and Tebourba. Generally the valleys are flat agricultural land interspersed here and there with small wadis From out of these flat valleys rise steep hills. The lower slope of these hills are gradual and covered with scrub; but, as the higher mountains are reached, the slopes become steeper, the scrub disappears and the hills become very similar to the hills met with on the north-west Frontier of India.
    Between Medjez el Bab and Tebourba, runs one of these flat valleys. Up it runs the river Medjerda and on the north side of this river lies the main metalled Medjez el Bab - Tebourba road. A glance at the map will show how this road is overlooked from a distance by the Dj el Tanngoucha 5645 and more immediately by Dj el Ahmera 6043 and Dj el Rhar 6144 (together commonly known as "LONGSTOP".


    A view of LONGSTOP HILL from about the bend in the road 645441.
    The winter had been wet and muddy but by the middle of April rains had become fewer and by the time of the battle the ground was hard; the days were hot; but the nights, particularly the hilltops, cold.

    TROOP DISPOSITIONS:

    Earlier in the campaign the British troops had held Tebourba for a short time. But with increasing German pressure they had withdrawn and by 22 April the Germans were in possession of “Longstop” and the higher ground to the north-west culminating in the Dj et [sic] Tanngoucha. British troops held. Chassart - Teffaha, 5741, from which place our line ran approximately northwestward through Heidous, 5544.

    THE PLAN:

    Broadly, the plan was to seize Dj at [sic] Tanngoucha and Longstop Hill by an attack along then both from the south-west.

    138 Inf Brigade (6 Royal West Kents, 5 Buffs and 8 Argyle [sic - Argyll] and Sutherland Highlanders) under command with 1 Surreys and North Irish Horse (army tanks) and supported by most of the 78th Divisional Artillery, were detailed for the attack on “Longstop”.

    The plan of the Commander, 136 [sic - 36] Brigade (Brigadier Howlett) was roughly as follows:

    a: R.W.K. and 5 Buffs were to lead the attack with 8 A. and S.H. in reserve.
    b: The start line for the attack ran north-west and south-east through Chassart - Teffaha. The objective for the 6 R.W. K. was the high ground north and south of Dr. ech Chaibine 5942. The objective for 5 Buffs, whose task was to protect the left flank from any German counter-attacks from the high ground to the north, was pt 303, 5843 pt. 196, 5943 and Dj Bechtab 5843.

    c: 8 A and S.Hs in reserve were to pass through the 6 R.Y.K. [sic - R.W.K.] and, seize Dj el Rhar (i.e. the right hand end of Longstop in the photograph above).

    d: 1 Surreys with the N.I.H. were to be prepared to exploit north-eastwards in daylight along the road to Tebourba.

    THE ATTACK:

    23rd April:
    At 2245 hrs 22 Apr, 6 R.W.K. and. 5 Buffs left their start line. 5 Buffs met little opposition in the tangled hills north-west of Chassart—Teffaha and by 0530 hrs had seized all their objectives. But heavy machine-gun fire prevented the 6 R.W.K. from gaining more than the high ground south-east of Dr. ech Chaibine and it was not until 0800 hrs on 23 that the 6 R.W.K. were able to seize the high ground north of that place. This delay had made it impossible for the 8 A. and S.H. to capture the main hills during the hours of darkness.

    Accordingly, soon after dawn, the Commander, 138 Brigade, appreciating that his original plan had been too ambitious, went forward and made a further plan for 8 A. and S.H. and 1 Surreys, supported by the North Irish Horse, to seize the Dj el Ahmera, i.e. the western half of Longstop. (the left hand part of the hill shown in the photograph above). Owing to some delays in laying on the artillery support, it was not possible to start this attack before 1330 hrs. At this hour, supported by very heavy artillery concentrations, 8 A. and S.H. went up the Dj el Ahmera ridge with great dash through heavy machine-gun fire.

    Footnote:
    1: Map not available



    A view of the southern slopes of LONGSTOP from 6 R.W.K.objective.
    Casualties were heavy and included the Commanding Officer (Lt.-Col. McNabb), his Intelligence Officer and Adjutant. By 1530 hrs, after going in with the bayonet, 8 A. and S.H. had captured the hill. In this attack the Argylls were supported along the Southern slopes of Longstop by two Squadrons of the North Irish Horse. When night fell, Dj el Ahmera was held by 8 A. and S.H. and 1 Surreys, both battalions being very weak owing to shortage of strength and casualties. The remains of 6 R.W.K. had moved closer up in reserve. The whole force on Dj el Ahmera was now under command of Lt.-Colonel Wilberforce of 1 Surreys. An attempt by the 6 R.W.K. during the night to capture Dj el Rhar failed owing to heavy mortar fire on their forming-up place.

    24th April:
    This day was chiefly notable for an attempt by 1 Surreys assisted by one squadron of tanks to clear Sidi alib Hassine 6143 ridge. In this attack the tanks helped 1 Surreys on to the ridge, which was captured in spite of intense mortar and Machine-gun fire.

    25th April:
    During the 25 Apr, no further advance was made, but the troops on Dj el Ahmera strengthened their positions and the tanks remained upon the southern slopes of the hill. 5 Buffs still protected the left flank. They had not been heavily engaged, although they had been shot up to some extent by enemy mortar and shell fire at long range. Towards the end of this day, information was received that the Germans had withdrawn from Dj et [sic - el] Tanngoucha and the high ground north of Longstop. This made the task of the 5 Buffs no longer necessary and released them for the final attack on Dj el Rhar.

    It will be noticed that up to the present time almost the entire effort of 138 Bde had been made on the southern half of the Dj el Ahmera ridge.

    26th April:
    The plan for the final attack on the Dj el Rhar consisted of a diversion round the south flank from Sidi alib Hassine by a squadron of the North Irish Horse and a fighting patrol from 8th A & SH. The main attack was to go in along the north slopes of Dj el Ahmera and was to be carried out by 5th Buffs.


    The 5th Buffs start line from the south.

    The view and field of fire from the top of the Dj el Ahmera ridge.

    A similar view looking west-north-west.
    At 0830 the Germans brought down the usual heavy mortar fire on the diversion on the southern flanks of the hill. This diversion besides succeeding in mopping up a number of enemy snipers who still lay hidden on the southern slopes undoubtedly attracted the enemy's attention from the main attack elsewhere. On the left at the same time, 5th Buffs left their start line and worked forward with one squadron of tanks on the lower northern slopes of the hill and another squadron supporting them on their main axis of advance. This squadron had some tanks which got right up on to the top of the Dj el Ahmera ridge.
    Immediately the Buffs appeared on the north-west slopes they were heavily engaged with mortars and infantry guns. The attack pressed steadily forward, tanks and infantry working together. It became essentially an advance in which small pockets of infantry and tanks helped each other through the rough country. Sometimes a tank would turn its Besa on an MG post that was worrying the infantry, sometimes the infantry would attack an anti-tank gun. Sometimes a tank on the top of a hill would engage an anti-tank gun that was holding up tanks lower down. Upon one occasion a tank and an anti-tank gun surprised each other at a range of 10 yards but the tank got its Besa into action first. It was essentially a slow steady attack in which the individual initiative of the junior commanders on the spot enabled the troops to work their way forward. In this work the Churchill tanks that had got on to the top of the Dj el Ahmera played a prominent part. Eventually these tanks descended the gully between Dj el Ahmera and Dj el Rhar and went up the southern slopes of the Rhar hill. Half way up this final hill the driver of one tank noticed that his oil pressure was at zero. The tank stopped and the crew got out, filled up the tank with oil, then got in again and went on with the battle.

    Finally the whole of the Dj el Rhar was in the hand of the 5th Buffs, very few enemy getting away to the north or east. On Longstop over 300 prisoners were taken, most of them on the Rhar, at a cost to the Buffs of 40 casualties. The Germans put in no counter-attacks, although, as some of the prisoners were being led away, some air-burst mortars did some damage amongst them.

    LESSONS:

    There are a number of important lessons which can be drawn from this engagement.


    a: The Germans fought hardest on the Dj el Ahmera. Yet a walk over the battle field afterwards disclosed far fewer dug-in positions on this half of the hill than there were on the Rhar. On this latter hill the Germans had carried out large excavations involving hundreds of tons which they removed from caves and dugouts and tipped down the hill.
    Part only of the extensive excavations carried out on the Rhar.

    If they had only put in as much work on their actual defences as they had done on their dugouts to avoid artillery bombardment and air attack Dj el Ahmera would have formed a tougher proposition than in fact it did.

    b: Some of the positions from which they actually fought were indifferently sited. Owing to the bad siting of an anti-tank gun, a Churchill tank was able to approach it in dead ground and then engage it at 10 yards range.

    TACTICS
    Morale.

    1: Before dealing with tactics some mention of morale is necessary. Cases have occurred in which infantry, faced with an attack in which they had not complete confidence, asked for and received, a few Churchill tanks to “bolster up morale”. In the subsequent attacks the tanks have accompanied the infantry and fired off their guns at nothing in particular and the attack has been successful. I question whether, by such tactics, the junior commanders have “bolstered up morale”. Surely all they have achieved is to bolster up the reliance placed by the infantry on the tank. The same argument has been used for keeping Churchill tanks in the foremost defended localities for days at a time after the arrival of anti-tank guns. This the Army Commander views with horror.

    2: I would emphasise that such tactics have only been occasional isolated incidents and chiefly confined to troops with little battle experience. But it is just the sort of thing that might be indulged in by troops new to the rigours of war and I think it is of sufficient importance to warrant being mentioned early.

    3: The word morale is continually being used by the regimental officer. It is an extremely complex subject upon which many officers, particularly those with a limited experience of man management, are somewhat ill-informed. It is sometimes brought forward as the reason for some course of action which it tactically unsound. To indulge in false tactics for the sake of improved morale is like taking the first dose of a dangerous drug. There is no foreseeing to where it may lead you. The commander must keep the question of morale at the back of his mind but he must never let it come to the front of his thoughts so much as to cloud his clear reasoning. In general it seems that the following guidance might be of help to officers who are without that invaluable battle experience which has been gained by the troops here.

    a: If a commander's only reason for some course of action is to improve morale, his plan is probably unsound and he should try something else. or somewhat differently.
    b: If false tactics are indulged in for the sale [sic] of improved morale, the morale effect produced may be the reverse of that anticipated.
    4: Generally I was most impressed by the high morale of our troops. As a result of conversations with our commanders it is clear that good morale as always is produced by:
    a: Success in battle as a result of a unit’s own efforts.
    b: Good administrative arrangements. (I heard nothing from regimental officers but unqualified praise of the ‘Q’ arrangements of the campaign. In fact, as one commander put it to me, it was more the first class food which the soldier has had throughout the campaign than anything else that has enabled him to stand up to the worst rigours of the winter).
    c: Strict discipline.
    5: These factors have not been lacking in the First Army and have all played their part in the victorious conclusion of the campaign.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 31, 2020
  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I have the 78th Divisional History.
    Any queries, I'll have a look, feel free to ask.
     
  3. Niccar

    Niccar WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    I have the 78th Divisional History.
    Any queries, I'll have a look, feel free to ask.

    any information concerning the landing in Bari of the 78th divisions there in September 1943

    many thanks donald
     
  4. Kieron Hill

    Kieron Hill Senior Member

    Hi Gerry,

    Just seen this post and remember that a veteran
    of the 78th Division had given me a copy of a
    BBC broadcast Titled "Battle Honours" "The 78th
    Division" In this broadcast there is a little bit that
    I thought you'd like

    "And Longstop Hill fell...not because of tanks or guns
    ....not because of the terrific Artillery barrage which
    I watched creeping up the slope of the Hill... No, it fell
    because a few hundred men with rifle and bayonet forced
    its surrender...because they charged up those death-
    swept slopes not once - but four times."

    Gerry this BBC broadcast is 3 pages in total if you would
    like a copy for your records send me a e mail.

    Cheers
    Kieron
     
  5. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    any information concerning the landing in Bari of the 78th divisions there in September 1943

    many thanks donald
    Hello Donald, this is what it has to say about Bari.
    No mention of a landing.
    Did you mean the landings at Termoli on October 3rd?

    [​IMG]
     
  6. Niccar

    Niccar WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Owen your reply was greatly appreciated, as I have seen referances to the 78th landing at Bari several times by other veterans and was wondering how I missed this
    as my recollection was I landed at Reggio de Calabria and was never seaborne again until it was all over incidently my regiment was the Kensingtons as mentioned on your
    page and was aware of the other landings at Taranto many thanks again donald
     
  7. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Donald,
    Am I reading your post correctly?
    You are a Veteran of 78th Div.
    Please tell us more.
    How long were you with them?
    From what dates?
    Ever been back to any of your former haunts?
    I'm off to Italy soon, any of your mates still resting there?
     
  8. Niccar

    Niccar WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Donald,
    Am I reading your post correctly?
    You are a Veteran of 78th Div.
    Please tell us more.
    How long were you with them?
    From what dates?
    Ever been back to any of your former haunts?
    I'm off to Italy soon, any of your mates still resting there?

    Owen

    You were reading correctly and I am a 78th div veteran I joined them in North Africa after the fighting there had finished and met my older brother who was in the East Surreys and had seen action there at Longstop Hill etc he asked a stupid question like what the ******* hell are you doing out here? he didn’t know that I had joined the army but knew I was slightly under age like many thousands of others that did the same thing of course from there to Sicily then on to sunny Italy and eventually Austria the campaigns are all well recorded and do not need any description by me
    not that I could anyway . In 2004 we went on holiday to Sorrento and I hired a car
    and we visited Cassino Cemetary the day was beautiful sunny and peaceful and
    there was nobody else there as we went up the steps I started to tremble and couldn’t
    get much farther than the first few rows of beautifully kept markers as my wife walked away to take some photographs I got to the end of the row and the tears came
    at the end of the different rows on the last marker the simple words just got me
    “A soldier of the second world war known only to God” our Battalions marker for no known graves is on the last colonnade on the left side of the ornamental lake
    At the top it simply reads 1st Battalion Princess Louise Kensington Regiment as we left my wife asked if I wanted to visit my cousin’s grave at Minturno Cemetery he fell
    crossing the Garigliano with the Royal Fusiliers he was an only child and it devastated my Aunt and Uncle I replied no I’ve had enough emotion for one day and during the whole day I refused to look up at the Monastery hope this doesn’t sound to depressing

    donald
     
    Owen likes this.
  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Donald,
    We'll be going to Minturno, do you want us to visit your cousin's grave?
    Can you tell me who he is?

    Thanks for your reply.
    So the Monastary at Cassino still haunts your memory?
     
  10. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Hi Donald

    As another 78 div man may I give you a hearty welcome to the site.

    I started off in North Africa and joined the 49th Light Ack Ack. They were eventually disbanded in December '44 when I was retrained in Rieti to be a "tankie" in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, but that's another story :)

    We will talk more when we both have time.

    Cheers

    Ron

    Moderators.....a question...... Where is Donald's Veteran status ?

    ps
    Have just returned from six days in Prague and am catching up on my e-mails and numerous postings on various WW2 websites.
     
  11. Niccar

    Niccar WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hi Donald

    As another 78 div man may I give you a hearty welcome to the site.

    I started off in North Africa and joined the 49th Light Ack Ack. They were eventually disbanded in December '44 when I was retrained in Rieti to be a "tankie" in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, but that's another story :)

    We will talk more when we both have time.

    Cheers

    Ron

    Moderators.....a question...... Where is Donald's Veteran status ?

    ps
    Have just returned from six days in Prague and am catching up on my e-mails and numerous postings on various WW2 websites.

    Owen

    I really appreciate your offer to visit my cousins resting place at the Minturno War Cemetery the entry below are the details supplied by the CWGC

    Name: CARTER, HENRY WILLIAM
    Initials: H W
    Nationality: United Kingdom
    Rank: Fusilier
    Regiment/Service: Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)
    Unit/Text: 9th Bn
    Age: 20
    Date of Death: 19/01/1944
    Service No: 14307895
    Grave Reference No V111, H, 13.

    Many thanks in anticipation donald


    Ron

    First a sincere apology we have already commented with each other on Peter Gs site and in my complete ignorance being rather new to computers I was under the impression that if you joined another site you had to have a different joining name
    you would know me as niccar on Peters site and I look forward to many more trips down memory lane with you

    donald
     
  12. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Ron

    First a sincere apology we have already commented with each other on Peter Gs site and in my complete ignorance being rather new to computers I was under the impression that if you joined another site you had to have a different joining name
    you would know me as niccar on Peters site and I look forward to many more trips down memory lane with you

    donald

    Donald

    Non fa niente, as we used to say in Italy, or, as Bill Shakespeare would say "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet " :rolleyes:

    I've also been known to use different aliases on different sites, my most common one being "ex4thhussar", so I know the problem.

    The important thing is that you have arrived on a first class site and I look forward to seeing further postings from you.

    Ciao !

    Ron
     
  13. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Donald,
    Your cousin is now on my ever growing list of graves to visit and photograph.
    I'll post a photo on here on my return.

    Cheers
    Owen
     
  14. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Donald/niccar.
    Here is a photo of your cousin's grave.

    [​IMG]
     
  15. Niccar

    Niccar WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Donald,
    We'll be going to Minturno, do you want us to visit your cousin's grave?
    Can you tell me who he is?

    Thanks for your reply.
    So the Monastary at Cassino still haunts your memory?
    Hi Owen
    Many thanks for the photograph of my cousin Harrys marker stone it means so much to me as I said he was an only child and I dont think my Aunt and Uncle ever got to see where he was interred they both passed away many years ago so many thanks once again and best wishes

    niccar
     
  16. RickGlanvill

    RickGlanvill Junior Member

    Hello all.

    I'm researching the war experiences of my grandfather, Sgt. Percy Boddington, known as ‘Skip’. He very rarely spoke about this period himself.

    He was a driver with the 78th infantry ROAC and although we were aware that he served in North Africa and Italy, we have never known any of the detail.

    I’m hoping to shed some light through this forum and would appreciate some pointers.

    I’m London based and visit TNA quite regularly.

    Thanks

    Rick
     
  17. Peccavi

    Peccavi Senior Member

    I have taken an interest in Longstop since a Coldstream Guardsman friend of my Father told me that they had taken the Hill, handed over to the Americans who lost it and then the Guardsmen were turn around to re-take it again - one can imagine their indignation. But that was the earlier time. It was later surrendered to the Germans again.

    I have the book "Bloody Road to Tunis" and although the 5th Buffs and 6th West Kents 1st East Surreys were heavily involved. The taking of the summit was down to the 8th Argylls and the leadership of Major Jack Anderson who shot and bayoneted his way to the top - only four officers and 30 men reached the summit out of 300 Argylls at the start. Anderson got the VC for this action but regretably was killed soon after.

    Unless I missed something can't see anything of this in the link report.

    Anyway I would have thought that the book I refer to (by David Rolf) would help put everything into context.
     
  18. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Welcome to the forum Rick. My father also served with the 78th Div. Have you any photos you would like to post?

    Note to mods: do you think this should be moved to the 78th British Div (Battleaxe )thread?

    Lesley
     
  19. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    A couple of photos of Longstop that I took last week - I didn't get the chance to climb up here as my major interest was in the area behind: Djebel Tanngoucha, Djebel Bettiour, Kef El Tior, Pt 622 and the village of Heidous, where my father and his comrades spent a difficult April 1943.

    best wishes
     

    Attached Files:

  20. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Hello all.

    I'm researching the war experiences of my grandfather, Sgt. Percy Boddington, known as ‘Skip’. He very rarely spoke about this period himself.

    He was a driver with the 78th infantry ROAC and although we were aware that he served in North Africa and Italy, we have never known any of the detail.

    I’m hoping to shed some light through this forum and would appreciate some pointers.

    I’m London based and visit TNA quite regularly.

    Rick

    Rick,


    Hello and welcom to the forum.


    Regards
    Tom
     

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