With the Irish Brigade regaining strength after suffering significant levels of casualties in the battles north of Bou Arada during January, the first two weeks of February 1943 saw all three battalions continuing patrolling activities between Bou Arada and Goubellat.
From the middle of the month, there were widespread German attacks on Allied forces in the south of Tunisia, which culminated in a significant set back for American forces at Kasserine Pass on 19th February. To counteract these advances, and to defend against an imminent German armoured force breakthrough into the rear of 1st Army, large elements of 6th Armoured Division were sent south to support the Americans.
In the Bou Arada area, meanwhile, an ad hoc force named ‘Y’ Dvision was created out of the Irish Brigade, 1 Parachute Brigade and a French battalion with artillery support, all coming under the leadership of Brigadier Russell, with officers of 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers (1 RIrF) taking over command of the Irish Brigade. A reserve was also created out of elements of 1 RIrF, who joined with a squadron of Churchill tanks and a further squadron of armoured cars coming from the Derbyshire Yeomanry
On 26th February, four German battle groups attacked ‘Y’ Division, and while the Parachute Brigade and 6th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (6 Innisks) held firm in their areas, the widely stretched positions of 2nd London Irish Rifles (2 LIR) on Stuka Ridge were largely overrun, but there were sterling defensive actions undertaken by the battalion with close artillery support from the Ayrshire Yeomanry. But it was due to the counterattacking intervention actions of 1 RIrF, 6 Innisks, and Churchills of the North Irish Horse that the brigade’s positions were stabilised. By the end of the day, B Company 1 RIrF was able to clear Stuka Ridge totally.
Although this attack had been stopped in its tracks, further defensive action was required of 1 RIrF, the Derbyshire Yeonmanry and several Churchill tanks near to El Aroussa and the attacking forces were pushed back to Steamroller Farm. It was here, when they were assaulted by ‘Y’ Division, who joined with a Guards Brigade, 51st Royal Tank Regiment (51 RTR) and an American Combat Team (ACT) that the Germans were eventually forced to retreat in a north easterly direction.
A further link to the Irish Brigade’s overview of the action at Stuka Ridge and its aftermath can be found here.
1st February to 15th February – Continuing patrolling activity north of Bou Arada.
16th February – ‘Y’ Division created.
26th February – German attack on Stuka Ridge.
February 1943 Roll of Honour:
February 1943 War Diaries: