Time for my yearly tweet, reminding all that today marks the anniversary of the end of the Tunisian Campaign, a six-month conflict that saw the Axis finally evicted from North Africa, and left the Allies, in Alexander's words 'Masters of the North African shore'.
This remarkable campaign saw many notable achievements, but has been sadly overlooked by Second World War scholars, perhaps to a greater degree now than even Burma and the increasingly recognised 14th 'Forgotten Army'.
Instead, we have something of a gap in the literature, and even more so in the popular consciousness, which sees the gap between El Alamein and Operation Husky contract so as to become something of a flowing narrative - seven months that just seem to fly by for many commentators.
Across the pond, there's a little more consideration to what went on in North Africa after Alamein - after all, it was the first deployment of US troops against German and Italian opponents, and also the location of Kasserine, still a sore point in US military history.
But even these are effectively two 'blips' - Operation Torch, the US entry into the 'European theatre', and Kasserine, a battle that roughly marks the midpoint of the Tunisian Campaign, have more literature surrounding them in isolation than the campaign itself has even enjoyed.
So why is this the case? There are two main reasons I have surmised from researching the topic for my thesis:
1. Legacy, narratives and self-promotion
2. Public interest and Glamour, or lack thereof
The first of these reasons is easiest to surmise, particularly in a context of British historiography - Tunisia does not fit the contemporary narrative, spun by British press and reinforced by commanders such as Alex and Monty, that El Alamein ended the war in North Africa.
For the sake of narcissism and a good mythos, the enduring narrative spun about Tunisia is that it was the end-point of Monty's, and 8th Army's, drive to push the Axis out of Africa. It is effectively a footnote, because to acknowledge much else to is to say Alamein wasn't total.
Monty in particular was keen to uphold this, which you can see in his memoirs, which barely acknowledge that another British army was active in North Africa at the time. When he has to, at the end, he even claims the credit for 8th Army because they loaned divisions to 1st Army.
In letters to Brooke, and between Alex and Monty, there is almost this cliquey, high school-esque parochialism to their tone, that goes virtually into the realm of libel in terms of how they refer to 1st Army commander Kenneth Anderson.
And to many historians writing briefly about Tunisia, their version of events is how the campaign played out, because there are no heavily publicised sources to contradict them - Kenneth Anderson left no memoirs, little correspondence, only a detailed, neutral dispatch.
But going to the other end of the scale, Tunisia isn't popular because it lacks glamour - in a sense it is embarrassing to American authors because of the defeats suffered by US II Corps, particularly Kasserine, even though they showed great quality and improvement.
And for British forces, it has little to compare to the sweeping moves and aesthetic of the desert campaign, only mud, rain, and a great number of desultory, brutal in-fights and actions on top of peaks and in deep valleys. No Alamein or Compass here.
In some senses the lack of coverage is a self-fulfilling prophecy - a less well-trodden source base (for those attempting something original at least), a distinctly limited secondary material repository, and no public interest to really drive commercial interest.
What attempts have been made to rectify this lack in recent years have somewhat disappointed as well - The Bloody Road to Tunis, Exit Rommel - most of them just regurgitate the same narratives, when books written half a century ago demonstrate far greater perceptiveness.
One exception I will add however is Ian Mitchell's Battle of the Peaks, which though I have not fully grappled with yet, is so far detailed, thorough and interesting, focusing on the battles around Longstop Hill that bedevilled Allied forces so much.
So with that, I think I'll end this thread here, with just the hubristic note that hopefully some of my research might prove helpful in dispelling some of these narrative myths, and regaining the rightful place in the lexicon of WW2 that 'Tunisgrad' rightfully deserves.
And if anyone wants to ask me any questions, or get me to talk/write about Tunisia, feel free to get in touch! 😆
You can follow @EarlOfTunis.
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