The Irish Brigade spent the first few days of April 1943 preparing for their part in a coordinated 78th Division assault on German positions in the mountains north of the Beja to Medjez-el-Bab road. This would be the first time that the division had gone into action as a complete formation.
The brigade’s specific objective on this occasion was the 1,400 foot Djebel Mahdi, and to achieve this, their ranks were further supplemented by 16th Durham Light Infantry, who were on loan from 46th Infantry Division. The attack was timed for the early morning of 7th April and the start of the action was heralded by the firing of 150 guns.
6 Innisks led the attack but in the course of providing close personal support to C Company, who had come under heavy fire, the battalion’s CO, Lt-Col Allen, was killed. Despite signs of a German counter attack, the Skins secured a foothold on the Djebel. 1 RIrF, led by their C and D Companies. then passed through 6 Innisks’ forward positions and, by nightfall, were able to fully consolidate the Irish Brigade’s positions on Djebel Mahdi. On the brigade’s right hand side, both 11 Brigade and 36 Brigade had also been successful in their assaults. Three days later, the brigade was ordered to advance a further five miles to take Djebel Guernat (Guerinat), and with the support of tanks from the North Irish Horse quickly secured their aims. The Oued Zarga to Medjez-el-Bab road was now completely clear of German forces.
The next task for the Irish Brigade was to move eastwards to launch attacks on the mountains north of Medjez-el-Bab including Tanngoucha and Djebel Ang, where 11 Brigade was battling to withstand sustained German counter attacks. 2 LIR rejoined the brigade and were immediately positioned behind Djebel Bettiour. For their impending teask. the brigade was provided with further temporary support from 5 Buffs, and 56 Recce.
6 Innisks, now commanded by Lt-Col Neville Grazebrook, attacked Tanngoucha on the evening of 15th April, getting half way up the hill, but were forced to withdraw after receiving withering defensive fire from flank positions. At the same time, 1 RIrF attacked Djebel Ang and Kef el Tiour just beyond it, and were heard to utter their war cry “Faugh a Ballagh” as they overwhelmed German resistance on these peaks, before mist prevented further onward progress towards pt 622. After prolonged enemy counter attacks throughout the night, the Faughs were eventually able to consolidate their advanced positions. Meanwhile, the Buffs’ assault on the village of Heidous was driven back, and a further assault by the Skins on Tanngoucha, although initially successful, was followed by a withdrawal, which was forced upon them, before dawn.
New plans were now set for a brigade wide assault, with 6 Innisks to target Tanngoucha again, 1 RIrF to take pt 622 and Butler’s Hill, and 2 LIR to move against the village of Heidous. This new series of attacks was set for the evening of 22nd April.
During that night and the following day (Good Friday) the Skins were able to get half way up Tanngoucha, but although the Faughs got close to their objective, they were forced to withdraw. At the same time, the Irish Rifles failed to capture Heidous.
Without any hope of being reinforced by other infantry units, two days later, the Irish Brigade made a further effort against their three major objectives and, on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, the Faughs, with the support of three Churchills from the North Irish Horse, successfully reached the peak of pt 622, the Skins surmounted Tanngoucha, and that night the LIR captured Heidous, which had by then been evacuated. The next day, news also came that 78th Division’s other attacks in the area had been successful, and that the battle of Longstop had been won.
Over the next few days, although the three battalions of the Irish Brigade were now a much depleted force, they continued to pursue the enemy through the mountains before being relieved by French forces in early May.
During April 1943, the Irish Brigade had seen 130 men killed, with hundreds more wounded or captured.
7th April – Successful assault on Djebel Mahdi, during which Lt-Col Heaver Allen, CO of 6 Innisks, was killed.
10th April – Brigade moves to secure Djebel Guernat.
15th April – 2 LIR rejoin the brigade.
15th/16th April – First, largely unsuccessful, brigade wide assaults on Tanngoucha, pt 622 and Heidous.
22nd/23rd April – Further brigade assaults result in partial success.
25th April – Complete and full success for the Irish Brigade as they capture Tanngoucha, pt 622 and Heidous.
26th – 30th April – Pursuit continues.
April 1943 Roll of Honour:
6th July 1943 – Rifleman George Harold Keepin, London Irish Rifles.
Links to the transcribed April 1943 war diaries: