After highlighting Casablanca and El Jadida, Morocco, I had not planned to write about other North African locations, but in light of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet receiving the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize , I thought readers might be interested in learning more about a city that caught my attention while doing research for Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn.
In the minds of most Europeans and Americans, Tunisia probably does not carry the glamor or mystique of her neighbor to the west. If Tunisia is to be judged by Hollywood standards, it’s a flop. Wikipedia lists a grand total of twelve movies with a Tunisian setting, most of them either French and/or from the 1930’s, verses fifty-six set in Morocco. There is one outstanding exception, however – Patton, starring George C. Scott as the complicated, controversial, and driven US general. His part in Operation Torch, the November 1942 Allied invasion of northwestern Africa, and subsequent involvement in the Tunisian Campaign are featured in the movie.
When one thinks of Tunisia, it is usually of the capital, Tunis or of the vast rolling Tunisian desert, but there is another, lesser-known location on the Mediterranean coast that held some importance during the North African Campaign (June 1940 – May 1943). The port city of Sfax, located 270 km southeast of Tunis, played host to an interesting event in January 1943.
Sfax was founded in AD 849 on the ruins of earlier habitations. Today, its chief claim to fame is as Tunisia’s “second city” where the main economic activities are industries (phosphate processing), agriculture (olives and olive oil, nuts), fishing (largest fishing port in Tunisia) and trade (import-export).
During World War II, this strategically placed port played a decidedly different role. To understand its significance, one must understand the relative positions of Allied and Axis armies in North Africa during late 1942 and early 1943. British-American combined forces pushed eastward from Morocco and Algeria into Tunisia, while British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery chased German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel out of Egypt and across Libya. Rommel’s great hope was to join his forces with those of German General von Arnim, who held areas around Tunis and Bizerte, 70 km north of Tunis.
“The stage of conflict [of the North Africa Campaign] shifted… in January 1943. As the British Eighth Army pushed the German-Italian Panzer Army west across Libya, General Field Marshal Erwin Rommel sent staff officers to the port of Sfax, 150 miles south of Tunis, to prepare for a juncture of Axis forces in Tunisia and Libya. The possibility of a Rommel-von Arnim link-up greatly concerned Allied planners because these combined armies could sweep westward into Algeria and Morocco, where the Allies held only coastal enclaves.”
Imagine how, if given the opportunity, Allied commanders might have dealt with Rommel’s contingent of Nazi staff officers in Sfax. Next, consider German knowledge of the Casablanca Conference attended by both Roosevelt and Churchill. Now, season the mix with spies, double agents, a critical coded message, and murder. This is what I did in writing Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn.
For an interview with OSS Captain Kurt Heinz, hero of Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn:
For a brief synopsis and excerpt:
Pinterest, for additional photographs and points of interest featured in the novel:
Gallery of Sources for Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn’s Tunisian chapters
- http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2015/, accessed October 13, 2015.
- http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/tunisia/tunisia.htm, accessed December 12, 2014.
Kitchen, Martin. Rommel’s Desert War
Moorehead, Alan. Desert War: The North Africa Campaign, 1940-1943