Warfare in News

Posted on Monday 22nd April

On this day 22 April 1943, 70 years ago, the British Army began the Battle of Longstop Hill. It was a pivotal infantry battle that led to the victorious final stage of the Tunisian campaign.

Longstop Hill, known locally as Djebel el Ahmera, with its adjoining peak Djebel Rhar, was two miles in length and some 800-feet high. It was really a mountainous, hog’s back ridge of hidden folds and defiles. The mountainous ridge complex commanded the whole Medjerda Valley. The Germans had held Longstop Hill since late December 1942, and had built up its defences to resist every attack. It had to be taken to allow for a planned armoured drive down the Medjerda Valley into Tunis.

At 8pm on 22 April more than 400 guns opened up a deafening artillery bombardment, which pounded Longstop Hill throughout the night. Around midday on 23 April the British First Army launched the infantry attack, using battalions of the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Buffs, 1st East Surreys, and 6th Royal West Kents of the 78th Battleaxe Division. Despite the efforts of the Royal Artillery to soften up the German positions, the odds were not overwhelming in favour of the attack. After six months of fighting in the mountains of north-west Tunisia, the infantry battalions were severely depleted, and some below 50 per cent strength.

In the 5 hour battle which ensued, the COs of 5th Buffs, 6th Royal West Kents and 8th Argylls were all lost. Major John Anderson of the Argylls, despite being wounded led about 40 officers and men onto Longstop’s summit, for which he was awarded the VC. It took another 6 days of fighting before the whole of the Longstop Hill ridge, of the Djebel el Ahmera and Djebel Rhar peaks, were secured.

Despite enormous losses, with some units suffering more than a third in casualties from the enemy’s withering fire, the taking of Longstop Hill set up the route for the Allies’ final assault on Tunis. Eisenhower acknowledged that

‘…the battles for its possession from the beginning to the end of the African campaign, probably cost more lives than did the fighting for any other spot in Tunisia.’

For an embedded experience of the front-line fighting in the Tunisian campaign, read With the East Surreys in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy 1942-1945, by Bryn Evans.

Further Reading

With The East Surreys in Tunisia and Italy 1942 - 1945

Only £25.00

With The East Surreys in Tunisia and Italy 1942 - 1945

(Hardback - 240 pages)
by Bryn Evans

The East Surreys were in near continuous action from November 1942, when they landed in North Africa (Operation TORCH) through to the end of hostilities in May 1945. During these three years of bitter fighting they cleared the Germans from Tunisia, took part in Operation HUSKY, (the invasion of Sicily) and fought up through Italy as far as the River Po.

Trained as mountain troops, the East Surreys saw set piece and… Read more...

Of further interest...

Barnsley News from Barnsley Chronicle