34th Infantry Division
Fondouk Commendation

General Order Number 8, 1 April 1943

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It seems unusual, at least to me, for a division to use a General Order to publish a Commendation to all troops. But there's a part of the story that Maj. Gen. Ryder couldn't tell back then; here it is now:


S E C R E T [subsequently declassified]

HEADQUARTERS 34TH INFANTRY DIVISION
UNITED STATES ARMY
GENERAL ORDER NUMBER 8
1 April 1943
COMMENDATION

Officers and Men, 34th Division and Attached Units:

1. This General Order is being published so that every officer and man of this command will understand the reasons for the readjustments which have just been made in our disposiitons.

2. We must realize that the action in which we have been engaged and in which we are now engaged is not an isolated action of the 34th Division but is a part of the general offensive plan of the high command. This being the case, this division must conform to the plan of the high command, attacking, defending, or retiring as we are directed.

3. This division with attached units attacked the heights Southeast of FONDOUK GAP for five days. Our fundamental mission was to pin down the present enemy garrison to these heights and to attract troops from other fronts to our front.

4. This mission was successfully accomplished. The Corps Commander has repeatedly told the Division Commander that the 34th Division was eminently successful.

5. We have attracted enemy infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft to this front thereby relieving the pressure on our comrades to the North and South. This action has facilitated the general advance against the enemy. In addition, we have caused the enemy heavy casualties in men and materiel and made him expend much of his limited resources against us.

6. Above all, the 34th Division has proved to our High Command and to the enemy that it is an attack division of the highest order.

7. I am proud to be your commander. You have lived up to the highest traditions of our Country and of our Army. In the hard fighting ahead of us, I know that with the experience of our first attack behind us we will be able to deal even heavier blows to the enemy and that we shall be in the vanguard of the Allied attack against the enemy.

8. This order will be read to every officer and man of this command and will then be destroyed so that it will not fall into the hands of the enemy.

CHAS. W. RYDER
Major General,
Commanding.

Source: 34th Infantry Divison General Orders collection of the Iowa Gold Star Museum, Camp Dodge, Iowa. Thanks to Jerry Gorden, Director of the Museum for giving me access to that collection.

Now, the rest of the story ...

The Allied Forces under General Sir Harold Alexander were drawn into a single front for their final assault against the combined forces of Generals von Arnim and Messe in Tunisia in April 1943. The 34th Infantry Division, Major General Charles W. Ryder commanding, was part of the US II Corps under Lt. Gen. George S. Patton. The 34th went into combat as a full division for the first time. Read now the words of a "soldier's soldier":

"... A provisional or makeshift corps was formed [to attack through Fondouk Pass] under the British command of Lieutenant General John T. Crocker.

Crocker rejected Ryder's plan for a feint and encirclement of the main enemy position, demanding instead that he take it by frontal assault. As a result, the 34th was rebuffed with heavy losses in its initial assault, and the British suffered severe casualties in attempting to force the pass. Eventually Crocker took Fondouk and pushed on to Kairouan, but by then the enemy had withdrawn north to Sousse into the hills to Enfidaville.

Irritated by the enemy's escape, Crocker went out of his way to criticize the 34th Division, holding it responsible for the failure of his mission. Ryder flatly refuted Crocker's charges of inexperience and excessive caution. The attack failed, he contended, primarily because of Crocker's scheme of attack. Because of Ryder's reputation for excellent tactical judgement I tended to side with him.

As a result of Crocker's outburst, however, the 34th was blacklisted in Alexander's [18th] Army Group headquarters and his staff there proposed that it be pulled out of the line for training in the rear. Until now the 34th had been scheduled to join the 9th Division as part of the II Corps' Bizerte campaign.

When I [(then) Major General Omar N. Bradley, Deputy CG, II Corps] learned of these British plans to scuttle the 34th and run it through a humiliating round of training, I warned Patton that any such withdrawal would dishearten the division and wreck its morale. The 34th was no better and no worse than our other II Corps divisions, but it was in need of self-confidence, the self-confidence that comes from winning battles and killing Germans.

"Just give Ryder an objective he can take," I told Patton, "and no one will have to worry any more about the 34th. If Alexander will give me the division for our push up on the north, I'll guarantee him that it makes good."

With George's consent I flew back to Alexander's headquarters at Haidra.

Alexander was no less distressed than we over Crocker's recrimination on the "failure of the 34th." Not only was he anxious to make amends, but as a former division commander himself he instantly saw what I meant when I spoke of the need for self-confidence in a combat unit.

"But my staff tells me the 34th is badly in need of further training," he said.

"Give me the division," I pleaded, "and I promise you they take and hold their very first objective. They'll take it if I have to support them with every gun in the corps."

Alexander laughed. "Take them," he said, "they're yours."

[then, less than a month later ...]

... Seldom has an enemy contested a position more bitterly than did the German high on Hill 609. For he know that once that rampart fell, he had no choice but to withdraw to the east and thus open a path to Mateur on the flank of his Tunis line."

... On the morning of April 29, 17 tanks with Ryder's infantry on their tails moved up to Hill 609 from the flank and rear. They rumbled through machine-gun and mortar fire until they sighted the enemy strong points, and soon the hill echoed to their guns as they slammed shell after shell into the enemy's position.

... With this successful attack against Hill 609 the 34th rid itself of the poor reputation with which it had emerged from Fondouk. The following September Ryder sailed with his division from Tunisia to Italy. In two terrible years of campaigning in the mountains there the 34th Division put in a total of 605 days in the line. Altogether in World War II it suffered approximately 20,000 casualties - almost one and one-half its full strength."

Source: "A Soldier's Story". Omar N Bradley. Copyright © 1951, Henry Holt and Co. Published 1999, Modern Library. ISBN 0-375-75421-0. pp 67-68, 87.

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