On 12 November the 3rd Parachute Battalion (3 Para Bn) jumped onto and seized the vital airfield at Bone between Algiers and Tunis, arriving barely before German paratroopers deployed for the same mission. Four days later 1 Para Bn dropped and occupied a key road junction at Beja 90 miles from Tunis. Both operations achieved the desired link up with the advancing 1st Army.
2 Para Bn under Lt Col Frost fared less well. They parachuted on 29 November to destroy aircraft at Oudna, only to find it abandoned. 1st Army halted by unexpected heavy opposition left the battalion isolated 50 miles behind enemy lines. A two day epic fighting withdrawal followed to reach Allied lines, losing around 16 officers and 250 men en route. Oudna became a Parachute Regiment battle honour.
With the onset of winter in 1943 and 1st Army vigorously opposed by a reinforced enemy, 1st Parachute Brigade was committed to fighting in the infantry role. They blunted an enemy thrust in the Tamera Valley sector in March, where the Germans and Italians threatened to break out along the coastal road. Despite desperate assaults coming in at division strength, supported by artillery and aircraft, the line held across rough ground in bitter wintry conditions. Enemy losses were severe and 1,170 Germans and 550 Italians were captured by the brigade.
During the final stage of the North African campaign with the Afrika Korps trapped between 8th and 1st Allied Armies the 1st Parachute Brigade opened the coast road for the last attacks, until relieved by the 9th American Division. The brigade was withdrawn to refit and prepare for further airborne operations.
The brigade conducted three major airborne operations and took part in more battles than any other formation in 1st Army, capturing 3,500 prisoners and inflicting 5,000 casualties at a cost of 1,700 to themselves. General Alexander congratulated the brigade on learning the Germans had conferred the ‘Red Devils’ nickname, which has since become the unofficial title for British Airborne Forces.
The book Tunisian Tales, by Niall Cherry, offers an in depth look at the overall campaign.
Battle honours conferred for North Africa: