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TUNISIAN CAMPAIGN

Posted 10/28/2009 Printable Fact Sheet
 
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North American B-25C
North American B-25C in flight at low level over the desert. Note the lack of engine exhaust stacks (B model feature) but the presence of the navigation sight blister and de-icing boots (C/D model features). (U.S. Air Force photo)
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The Royal Air Force and the Army Air Force functioned as a unit in Africa. During the Tunisian campaign, Air Marshal Tedder, under General Eisenhower, commanded the Air Forces in the Middle East, in Malta and in Northwest Africa. Lieutenant General Spaatz commanded all of the Northwest African Air Forces, consisting of our own 12th Air Force and part of the Royal Air Force, the units being the Strategical Air Force under Major General Doolittle, the Coastal Air Force under Air Vice Marshal Lloyd, the Western Desert Air Force under Air Vice Marshal Broadhurst, a Photographic Wing under Colonel Roosevelt, and the Northwest African Tactical Air Force under Air Marshal Coningham. As evidence of the success of this arrangement the Luftwaffe has been knocked from the skies over the Mediterranean.

Air and ground commands of both countries were fully as integrated. The ground commander and the air commander lived side by side in the same camp, ate together at the same mess, planned and operated on equal terms in the closest possible manner. They both knew that only the long reach of air power could achieve a lightning triumph in Tunisia. The Tunisian campaign became another lucid demonstration of the soundness of having an airman run the air war while a soldier runs the ground war -- but always working together.

The battle for the Mareth positions began with an air blitz on enemy airdromes. Prior to the attack of the British 8th Army, our entire air force concentrated on those airdromes. After the strength of the German Air Force had been materially reduced, our northern and central air units operated exclusively against the Luftwaffe, relieving the Western Desert Air Force and the 8th Army of any concern over German air opposition. This left the Western Desert Air Force free to employ hundreds of bombers and fighter bombers to search out enemy concentrations and to operate with great effectiveness immediately in front of the ground units of the 8th Army.

At the crisis of the battle in front of El Hamma, our tankbusters were thrown in; the enemy broke and retreated. In this operation, the 146th Panzer Grenadiers Division was caught moving on a road and put out of commission by air attack.

After a short pause, the 8th Army attacked at Wadi Akarit. Again the air units in the north and center were concentrated on the German air establishments and once more the Western Desert Air Force was free to work at maximum intensity on the German forces deployed around Wadi Akarit. Again the enemy retreated, this time more quickly than was expected, to a semi-circle from Bizerte to Enfidaville.

At this point, it was the turn of the Western Desert Air Force to draw away what was left of enemy air power while the Tactical Bomber Force lent its strength to the attack by the 1st Army and the 2nd U.S. Corps.

The battle for the capture of German forces in Tunisia began not on April 22, when the ground forces pushed off, but four days before when we sent 90 night bombers against the German airdromes. We had guaranteed to reduce the Luftwaffe to relative impotence by the dawn of the 22nd, and we did. In two days we destroyed 112 German airplanes.

The spectacular destruction of the 20 ME-323 6-engine transports on the 22nd was part of our plan to knock the Luftwaffe down and to keep it down during the period of the ground movement forward. Those ME-323's were carrying the equivalent of a German regiment into Tunisia.

But spectacular actions of this sort were not so decisive as the steady weight of air attack that the Tactical Air Force was turning on the enemy troops in front of the 1st Army. From the 22nd on, we had free fighter squadrons sitting over the German airdromes, daring the Nazis to take the air. When they finally did come up, they were knocked down by a small proportion of our fighters. The great balance of our force was then sweeping a path for the main ground effort.

The weight of daily attack during this period was heavier than any air force had ever delivered in collaboration with an attacking army. On May 6, during the final drive from Medjez el Bab to Tunis, we flew 2,146 sorties, the great majority of which were bomber, fighter-bomber or strafing missions on a 6,000-yard front. We blasted a channel from Medjez el Bab to Tunis.

This report was prepared by the Army Air Forces and is dated Jan. 4, 1944.

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