443rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion in World War II

NORTHERN TUNISIA CAMPAIGN

1ST ARMORED DIVISION OFFENSIVE

Northern Tunisia 23 May to 9 April - Click on map to view larger imageCol. Maraist’s 1st Armored Division Artillery Command Post moved into the hills southeast of Mateur, directly behind friendly infantry positions in defenses recently abandoned by the Germans. On 21 April the 13th Artillery Brigade moved into position west of Tine Valley where Hill 609 dominated the entire valley (called the "Mouse Trap" by the British). Behind a 30 minute artillery preparation, the 34th Infantry Division and I Company of the 1st Armored Regiment attacked Hill 609 and captured it on 30 April. With this key observation point lost, enemy resistance in the "Mouse Trap" began to collapse and in another attempt to halt the Allied advance, the Luftwaffe again resumed heavy air attacks on Mateur, its bridge and Allied troops and continued to bomb and strafe until 5 May. But Mateur had been taken and the main German defense system in the North had been broken. It was fitting that the final German collapse should come on Mothers’ Day, 9 May 1943.

During the "Mouse Trap" action it was reliably reported that midnight visits to a winery in the vicinity would find British, German and American G.I.s filling their five gallon water cans at the wine vat spiggots — "friends" for the moment but bitter, shooting enemies the next day.

443rd platoons continued their strong, antiaircraft support during the northern Tunisia battles, shooting down more Messerschmitts (ME-109s) and Focke-Wulfs (FW-190s). Stukas (JU-87s) were being seen less frequently, perhaps because so many had been destroyed.

By 9 May all that remained of the once vaunted Afrika Corps was truckload after truckload of German and Italian troops coming into Allied lines to surrender, followed by columns of others on foot. While the Germans had been able to evacuate some key personnel across the Mediterranean to Sicily and Italy, most had to be abandoned in Tunisia. Many were lost as Allied war planes shot the slow, German air transports down into the sea. And the victorious 443rd AAA AW Bn (SP) men had their share of garlands of flowers fruit, wine, cognac and cookies as they passed through captured Ferryville on their way to Bizerte. Not to be overlooked or forgotten were the happy, grateful kisses that French girls, lining the roads, bestowed upon their American liberators.

By 11 am on 9 May, all Axis troops in II Corps sector had officially surrendered unconditionally. But some unit communications were poor or destroyed so occasional artillery and small arms fire was received. A major task was to secure the coastline and prevent enemy soldiers from escaping on barges, securing installations to prevent sabotage, and taking over government. ration dumps so that prisoners could be adequately fed. General Harmon ordered that prisoners be used to point out and identify all land mines, booby-traps and delayed mines, in accordance with their unconditional surrender. The significance of the Allied victory can be realized by comparing the over 250,000 prisoners taken in Tunisia with the 90,000 Germans captured by the Russians at Stalingrad.

After reports that Arabs and others were pilfering German supply and ammunition dumps, an order was issued at 7 pm on 9 May to all units to take steps to guard all such installations and to shoot anyone caught pilfering.

The final operation in Tunisia from 3 to 9 May was the first time the 1st Armored Division had been able to operate as a unit and on a mission for which it was designed. It did so with tremendous success. During the Tunisian Campaign the 443rd operated mainly with the 1st Armored Division. However, at various times, platoons were temporarily assigned to protect elements of the 1st, 9th, and 34th Divisions as well as several other II Corps units. During the Tunisian Campaign the 443rd destroyed 78 enemy aircraft and probably destroyed 25 others. The Battalion had lost 13 gun-tracks as well as several trucks and other vehicles. On 27 May General Harmon praised the 443rd at a Division Assembly. And a memorandum from Colonel Robert V. Maraist, 1st Armored Division Artillery Commander to Lt. Colonel Werner L. Larson, Commander of the 443rd AAA AW Bn, stated:

"As Division Artillery Commander of the US 1st Armored Division, I wish to extend my personal thanks and appreciation, as well as that of the 1st Armored Division, for your loyal and efficient AA support.

"From 7 January to the present date, when you have been attached to this Division, your officers and men have lived up to the high standard that this Division maintains and it has been a great pleasure to have had you under my command.

"Will you please extend my appreciation to your fine command for their outstanding support. Whenever I think of Station De Sened and other air attacks I will most certainly remember your duck hunters in action and the pleasureable sight of falling enemy planes".

On 22 May 1943 the 443rd was detached from the 1st Armored Division and attached to the 34th Infantry Division.

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