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Tunisian Operations

Volume 388: debated on Wednesday 7 April 1943

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May I ask the Prime Minister whether he can make any statement as to the course of the operations in Tunisia?

I have received reports from the High Command in Tunisia that a new victory has been gained by the Desert Army. At half-past four yesterday morning, in the darkness of a moonless night, General Montgomery ordered his main forces to the assault of the Akarit position North of Gabes. The advance of the British and Indian infantry divisions was preceded and covered by a barrage of about 500 guns, which is practically the Alamein scale. The enemy appeared to be taken by surprise by this attack out of pitch darkness. His fortified positions were overwhelmed, and by noon all the dominant key points were in our hands. A hole had been blasted in the centre of the enemy's 12-mile defensive line, through which our armoured and mobile forces were immediately ordered to advance The enemy now fought with savage vigour to restore the situation, but all his counter-attacks were repulsed. The advance of the British armour continued, and by nightfall the open country had been reached. Over 6,000 prisoners have been taken so far. Rommel's army is now retreating Northward, and is being hotly pursued. This successful battle and frontal attack should enable the Desert Army to join hands with the United States Forces who have been pressing the enemy unceasingly from the West. The whole of the operations of the group of Armies on the Tunisian front are being concerted by General Alexander under the supreme command of the Allied Commander-in-Chief, General Eisenhower.

Naturally the House will be very glad to receive this good news. The Prime Minister is aware that there are other issues at stake. May I therefore ask him whether the enemy forces engaged were the main forces or whether they were a rearguard?

My statement covers the whole position. The enemy retreat did not begin until after the assault was successful.