Axis retreat in the desert
Sunday, December 13, 1942 www.onwar.com
In North Africa... Libya, The British 8th Army captures Mersa Brega. Rommel begins to withdraw from the El Agheila position.
Over Tunisia... US air forces stage heavy raids on Bizerta and Tunis.
December 13th, 1942
UNITED KINGDOM: Bletchley Park: The U-boat Enigma cipher has been cracked. Shark had baffled the codebreakers from the beginning of this year because of the additional rotor which it uses. Now the Admiralty’s submarine tracking room will once more be able to route convoys round the wolfpacks. Sadly, Captain Roger Winn, who runs the submarine tracking room, has collapsed and has been ordered to take sick leave.
Jews observe a day of mourning for their European brethren persecuted by the Nazis.
FRANCE: VICHY FRANCE: The premier, Pierre Laval, announces: “Without equivocation ... I want Germany’s victory.”
NETHERLANDS: Amsterdam: Hitler appoints Anton Mussert as leader of the Netherlands.
MEDITERRANEAN SEA: Sloop HMS Enchantress is acting as escort for convoy KMS-4 Gibraltar/Algiers. Off Bougie, Algeria she engages the Italian submarine Corallo (Captain Guido Guidi) with her depth charges the Corallo was forced to the surface. Then some reports claim the gun crew tried to bring her deck gun into action against the Enchantress. Next the Enchantress rammed Corallo sinking her with all hands lost. (Dave Shirlaw)
NORTH AFRICA: The British 8th Army captures Mersa Brega as Rommel begins to pull out of the El Agheila positions.
Italian armour from the three divisions of 20th Corps now regrouped as Ariete Tactical Group, reinforced by a battle group from the newly arrived Centauro armoured division, are attacked by the British 8th Armoured Brigade, attempting to push around the desert flank. This comes at a particularly bad moment, since a large part of the German armour is temporarily immobilized while awaiting refuelling. The fight begins when a rearguard of three M14 tanks supported by four guns is attacked by 80 Shermans. The Italians hastily fall back, but when the British reach the main Italian defense line, it is they in turn who are surprised, losing numerous vehicles to the Italian guns. After a heavy artillery barrage, the British advance again. The fighting is furious, and often at close quarters. One British tanker describes how an unseen Italian artillery piece held its fire until a Crusader tank from his unit was within 50 yards of the gun position. However, the Italian gunners’ first shot was just off, tearing through the storage boxes on the side of the vehicle, after which the Crusader drove at full speed straight over the Italian emplacement, crushing one of the gunners under its treads. Another tank in the same unit was less lucky, taking a direct hit that killed the driver and mangled the commander’s arm and leg. Later 12 M14s counter-attacked, but the Shermans knocked out eight in an extended fight. After this the British advance overcame the Italian antitank screen, destroying or capturing a dozen 47mm guns and taking 50 prisoners. But the British, having lost 22 tanks and two armoured cars, with night descending established a defensive lager as per their usual procedure, allowing the Italians to pull back unmolested. (Mike Yaklich)
TUNISIA: Bizerta and Tunis are the targets of heavy US air strikes.
Destroyer escort USS Hammann launched.
Submarine USS Muskallonge launched. (Dave Shirlaw)
U-103 damaged SS Hororata.
U-159 sank SS City of Bombay.
U-176 sank SS Scania. (Dave Shirlaw)