Kasserine Pass

German campaigns and battles 1919-1945.

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Kasserine Pass

Post by Fish » Fri Sep 24, 2004 1:05 am

Hi All

I am doing a bit of research and am looking for the name or names of the Operation that kicked of the Battle of Kasserine Pass on 13/14 Feb 1942

There were 2 different offensive actions taken one by von Arnim's 5th PzrArmee and the other by Rommel's DAK

any help is greatly appreciated
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Post by Pirx » Fri Sep 24, 2004 2:38 am

I never heard that DAK made an offensive action in Kasserine pass. I thought that in 1943 DAK was in defensive near Tunesian-Lybian border, against British 8th Army.

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Post by Lipton » Fri Sep 24, 2004 9:42 am

In 1943 the German 5th Panzer Army in North Africa has committed 3 counterattacks against French XIX. Corps and American II. Corps – near Fondouk on 2. January, near Bour Arady on 18. January and near Fáid on 30. January. Near Fáid 10. and 21. Panzer Division conquered the American positions, kept advancing and on 19. February they reached Kasserine Pass. American G.I. from 1st Armored Division, who fought decisively, repelled the first attack, but the second succeeded and lead to a retreat of the American forces.

The advance was stopped by the counterattack of British 6. Armored Division supported by artillery from American 9th Division. German units retreated and were transferred to Mareth, where they had to face Monty’s oncoming offensive.

That’s all I found so far.

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Post by dduff442 » Fri Sep 24, 2004 9:53 am


Fruhlingswind (Spring Wind) 14 Feb. 1943 -- Offensive launched at the Said Pass - Kasserine Pass against II (US) Corps by the 5 PzAOK.

Ochsenkopf (Oxhead) 26 Feb. 1943 -- Offensive mounted from Mateur against Allied forces by 5 PzAOK towards Beja and Mejez el Bab.

Olivenernte (Olive Crop) Jan. 1943 -- Plan to capture Medjex el Bab in Tunisia.

Sturmflut (Stormflood) 19 - 22 Feb. 1943 -- German attack on the Kasserine Pass, Tunisia.

All info blagged from:


...so you'll need to take up any queries with the author. I can personally verify Ochsenkopf and have no reason to doubt the others.


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Post by Jerry » Sun Sep 26, 2004 4:54 am

Operation Spring Wind involved both 5 PzAOK and DAK. 5 PzAOK's 10 PzD and 21 PzD attacked from the north via Faid Pass while DAK's 15 PzD and Centauro PzD attacked from the south at El Guettar.

When you're in command..... command!

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Post by 2nd SS Panzer Das Reich » Fri Oct 08, 2004 9:50 am

Kasserine pass was Germany's first major victory againist the American forces. The Americans lost 3,000 KIA, 3,700 became POWs and 200 American tanks were knocked out of action in this battle.

The Afrika Korps did not have the needed supplies to take full advange and advance farther. However the British begain to lable Americans as "our Italians". They saw Americans as weak soldiers as they felt the Italians were.

Erwin Rommel then saw the American training and equipment as poor and thought of them as a none treat. This would prove otherwise at D-day. Failures such as Kasserine pass and Market Garden have sparked a fight between American and British WWII vets. The British say: "It was because Americans were such poor soldiers". Americans on the other hand will blaim the "poor leadership of the British high command".

In the movie "Patton" one German stated to Rommel: "American soldiers... British Generals... Worst of everthing"
Wehrmacht: men of courage

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Post by Kitsune » Fri Oct 08, 2004 11:05 am

Kasserine Pass,
30 January-22 February 1943

Part I:

When World War II opened in Europe in September 1939, the U .S . Army
lacked the capacity to wage modern warfare . Although many dedicated
individual professional soldiers had during the 1920s and 1930s conscientiously
studied to be ready for the next war, decline, neglect, and stagnation
marked America's military forces . As the Army's strength decreased, its
potential to function decayed . Whether this "tragically insufficient" establishment
was capable of restoring itself quickly in a time of emergency became
questionable .' The Army, which had shrunk in size between 1919 and the
mid-1930s, was unable to absorb new techniques of waging war . Equipment
deteriorated continuously as World War I stocks were used up. Personnel
shortages brought Regular Army training to a standstill in 1934 . The Army
still "had ample time to rebuild itself, but no money." Without adequate
funds, raising a credible Army and concluding contracts for modern materiel
were impossible . Several years later, the Army received "more money, but
time . . . was lacking ." 2
Several circumstances accounted for the Army's weakness . Victory in
World War I had bred complacency and inhibited imaginative ideas and
experiments in doctrine, organization, and materiel . A revulsion against war
in general and disillusionment with World War I in particular, together with
faith in the oceans as bulwarks of protection, had prompted retreat into
national isolation and desire to avoid foreign entanglements . Because of the
great economic depression, congressional appropriations had dwindled, manpower
had declined, and the development and procurement of weapons and
equipment had languished. Even after World War II began in Europe, the
American public had remained lethargic toward military issues . A "large and
expensive combat-ready military structure" could not be supported, and "for
two decades after 1920 the Army and the National Guard together were quite
incapable of waging war ."3 As Japanese aggression in Asia and as German

and, to a lesser extent, Italian preparations for war and expansion in Europe
created international tensions, President . Franklin D . Roosevelt and Congress
gave some attention to military problems and allowed increased expenditures .
Yet General Malin Craig, the U .S. Army chief of staff, wondered whether a
renascence might be too late . In the summer of 1939, he warned that at least
two years were required to transform funds into military power . "Time is the
only thing," he said, "that may be irrevocably lost . " 4
At the outbreak of the war in Europe, the U .S. Army was still seriously
undermanned and underequipped, practiced obsolete procedures with outmoded
weapons, and from 1933 ranked seventeenth in size among the armies
of the world . The actual strength of the Regular Army in 1939 totaled fewer
than 190,000 troops, who were scattered, usually in battalions, among 130
posts, camps, and stations . Although Craig's successor, General George C .
Marshall, predicted the impossibility of expanding and modernizing the
establishment overnight, that was exactly what the Army would have to do .'
How well the Army had performed the task of rehabilitating itself would
become apparent in February 1943 during a series of engagements in Tunisia
that came to be known as the Battle of Kasserine Pass .
Rapid demobilization after World War I had left the Regular Army with
130,000 men on 1 January 1920 . 6 The National Defense Act of that year
authorized 280,000 active-duty soldiers, but Congress reduced the number to
150,00 regulars in 1922, to 135,000 in the following year, and to 118,750 in
1927 . The National Guard, with a ceiling of 450,000 members, rarely totaled
half that number, while about 100,000 officers, and men, receiving at best
indifferent attention, formed the Organized Reserve Corps . 7 Consisting of
110,000 men in 1936, the standing Army lacked'airplanes, tanks, combat and
scout cars, antiaircraft artillery guns, searchlights, fire-control equipment,
.50-caliber machine guns, and other vital materiel . The United States "on its
own initiative had rendered itself more impotent than Germany under the
military limitations of the Treaty of Versailles . "8 Authorized a 165,000-
member Regular Army in 1937, and a 210,000 level in 1939, the U .S . Army
was without a single division prepared for combat .
The experience of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France
in 1918, particularly the final phase, largely determined Army doctrine during
the interwar years, Offensive operations had featured large and heavy artillery
preparations, barrages timed to move forward on successive lines ahead of the
infantry assault, use of tanks to assist infantry through the barbed wire and
across enemy trenches, and massive advance of infantry to engage in hand-tohand
combat with the enemy . The National Defense Act of 1920 confirmed
refighting, "the old kind of war" in the future . 9 Proficiency in the rifle and
bayonet used in open and fluid rather than in static warfare and the efficacy of
the "headlong attack" were basic doctrinal beliefs . 10 Infantry advancing to"engage and destroy the enemy by physical encounter" was the key to victory
in battle . Despite the emergence of machine guns, automotive transportation,
tanks, planes, and other developments, the rifle remained the most important
weapon. Doctrine relegated aircraft, tanks, machine guns, and artillery to
employment as auxiliary arms for the infantry and at the same time
proclaimed adherence to offensive and aggressive tactics ."
Tanks had formed a separate component in the AEF, and four battalions,
all using French and British models, participated in battle, but the National
Defense Act of 1920 placed tanks under infantry control . This reinforced the
idea of gearing tanks' forward movement to the pace of the infantry soldier .
Tanks became in effect self-propelled artillery pieces to assist the infantry
advance . The Army built thirty-five between 1920 and 1935, most of them test
models, and the first standard model adopted in 1938 represented no doctrinal
change . Tanks continued as infantry-support weapons . 12 The horse cavalry
continued to have an eminent place in doctrine, not only for reconnaissance
and communications but more especially for pursuit . In search of traditional
mobility but prohibited from developing tanks, the cavalry experimented with
light armored cars but made little progress because of endemic penury and
meager manpower . 13 All the combat arms tried to gain mechanized vehiclesthose
used in combat-and motorized vehicles-those used for transportation-
but the efforts withered . Motorization for artillery was deemed to be
'`madness ." Attempts to organize and establish a mechanized force in 1928
and again in 1930-31 failed .'4
The Army Air Corps, practicing a variety of functions and missions,
turned increasingly to strategic bombardment and neglected close tactical
support of ground forces . "Air Corps infatuation with the heavy bomber and
strategic air power" resulted in "a reasonably good bomber . . . but no
similarly adequate fighters and attack planes to support surface battles ." 15
The doctrinal coordination of ground and air action was primitive . The
artillery gave thought to centralizing the control of gunfire, both for direct and
indirect firing, and also to the use of forward observers . Lack of resources,
particularly communications equipment and manpower, inhibited solid development
of these new techniques . 16 Except for conversations among thoughtful
officers and some small tactical experimentation in the field, doctrine remained
relatively unchanged between the wars . Lacking the means to try new
procedures, the Army kept alive its stress on offensive and aggressive
operations . As late as the summer of 1939, the Army was "still attuned to the
combat styles of 1918 ."17
1 Realistic exercises to train and test individual soldier, unit, and combined-
arms proficiency, to practice procedures in the field, to disseminate
knowledge, to stimulate air-ground cooperation, to give officers experience in
handling large organizations-in short, to achieve war readiness-were out of
the question for most of the interwar period because of the stringent economy
in defense expenditures, the low peacetime strengths of the Regular Army, the
National Guard, and the Organized Reserve Corps, and the dispersal of the
few divisions in existence . 18 In overseas posts-Hawaii, Panama, and the
Philippines-units could concentrate for periodic war games, but the three
regular infantry divisions in the continental United States were so scattered
that it was difficult and costly to bring together divisional components for
training . Not until the latter part of the 1930s did maneuvers involve at least a
corps headquarters and two or more divisions . 19 The imposition of nonmilitary
duties also detracted from serious attention to training . The Civilian
Conservation Corps (CCC), created in 1933 to give work to unemployed
young men, came under Army administration, and this responsibility diverted
officers and men from drill .20 Units of an under-strength National
Guard and members of the Organized Reserve Corps gathered once a week in
armories and spent two weeks of the summer in the field every year to work
with obsolete equipment in very short supply . The training was rudimentary .
The primary function of the National Guard was to be ready at the behest of
state governors to help maintain public order during natural disasters and
civil strife . While duty of this sort built unit cohesion, it was less than valuable
as wartime preparation .
The War Department created four field armies in 1932, and, although
they "existed only on paper, the department gave them primary responsibility
to train the units in their areas .21 Four years later, in 1936, no corps
headquarters troops and few army headquarters troops existed . As late as
1939, the First Army had two officers serving as permanent headquarters staff
members. No wonder that the First Army, in a major exercise in 1935, could
do no more than test the assembly of 36,000 troops . The Third Army staged
an exercise in 1938 involving 24,000 troops, and the outcome ; according to its
commander, proved the continuing usefulness of the horse cavalry . In 1939,
the First Army conducted a series of exercises for about 50,000 troops,
actually a collection of individual organizations without supporting units . At
23 percent of authorized war strength, the force had no 155-mm howitzers,
was short in antitank weapons, had on hand 6 percent of its infantry mortars,
33 percent of its machine guns, and 17 percent of its trucks . One river crossing
used up more than half the engineer pontoon equipment available to the entire
U.S. Army. The outcome of the maneuver, according to the commander,
proved the continuing, utility of the World War I square-type infantry
division . 22
That these exercises proved the validity of concepts already outmoded
indicated the nature of the maneuver problems and the methods in the field
for solving them . By 1939, the Army had virtually forgotten how to conduct
training on a broad scale . Very few officers could handle organizations larger
than a battalion . Advanced officers' courses in the branch schools were
generally stereotyped and routine, although the temporary association of

young officers, presumably the best of their generations, provoked discussion
among them and stimulated professional reading .23 The two-year course at
the Command and General Staff College stressed solving military problems by
the "school solution," and although the practice stifled initiative and
originality, it did produce officers who were "standard" in thought processes,
who were at home and at ease in any headquarters and unit . Early in the
postwar period, the college taught what was called the latest tactical doctrine
of World War I . New tactics and techniques of the separate arms, as well as of
the combined arms, found places in the curriculum by 1929, mechanization
and motorization were taught beginning in 1935, and the employment of the
mechanized division received attention in the following year, all on a highly
theoretical basis .24 The Army War College offered lectures by military and
civilian experts, expected students to read and to do research, and had them
solve more or less realistic problems derived from history and theory,
individually as well as by committee . The final exercise, visiting the principal
Civil War battlefields in Virginia and Pennsylvania in order to follow the
operations of the armies, corps, and divisions, indicated a persistent concern
with the past .
Standard weapons and equipment were of World War I vintage : the
Springfield Model 1903 rifle throughout the Army (although the M1 Garand
semiautomatic rifle was in limited production by 1939), the 75-mm and 155-
mm howitzers for the artillery ; the .50-caliber machine gun for antitank and
antiaircraft use (although the 37-mm gun was being produced by 1939), and
the Stokes three-inch trench mortar for the infantry (although 60-mm and 81-
mm mortars were being developed by 1939) . About a thousand tanks were left
over from World War I, and in 1934, only twelve postwar tanks were in
service . All the tanks on hand were lightly armed and armored . Walter
Christie built a tank with a new suspension system and with interchangeable
wheels and tracks, but the Army purchased only a few experimental models . 25
The organization of the War Department General Staff fostered compartmentalization
and inhibited the use of combined arms . Chiefs of infantry,
cavalry, and artillery presided over more or less autonomous branches and
discouraged interaction and mutual experimentation . The basic combat
organization was the infantry division, nonmotorized, structured as in World
War I with two brigades, each of two regiments of four battalions each .
Toward the end of the 1930s, some students and faculty membefs at the Army
War College recommended reducing the size of the division in order to
enhance mobility and flexibility . At least one student committee suggested
abolishing the brigade level of command . From 1936 on, Lesley J . McNair,
first at Fort Sill, later at Fort Leavenworth, worked out a blueprint to
streamline the square-type division to triangular shape, not only to attain
mobility and flexibility, but also to gain personnel for corps and army
headquarters troops and support units . Nothing would come of this before
1939 .`
A start toward mechanization occurred in 1928 with the formation of an
experimental organization composed of two tank battalions, an armored
cavalry troop, an infantry battalion, an artillery battalion, engineer and signal
companies, a medical detachment, an ammunition train, and a squadron of
observation planes . The provisional force was broken up after three months
for lack of funds . While the infantry branch did little to further armored
warfare, the cavalry developed "combat cars (light tanks) and in 1932
activated the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) . 26 In the summer of 1939,
the combat forces of the U .S . Army consisted of three embryonic infantry
divisions at half strength and six others consisting of skeleton cadres; two
cavalry divisions, each totaling about 1,200 men ; the 7th Cavalry Brigade
(Mechanized) at half strength ; several assorted regiments ; and 17,000 airmen
using obsolete planes . 27
The U.S . Army chiefs of staff in the 1920s and 1930s-Generals Peyton
March, John J . Pershing, John Hines, Charles P . Summerall, Jr., Douglas
MacArthur, and Malin Craig-struggled to modernize the Army. Their
efforts were in vain because of the lack of general public interest and the
scarcity of funds . On the intermediate and lower levels, military life during
the greater part of the interwar period was generally one of stultification . The
prerogative of seniority brought older officers to important positions, and
many lacked energy and stamina, looked with satisfaction on the achievements
of World War I, and were cautious and conservative in their outlook .
Yet a group of younger professionals was studying the art of war, reading
military journals and books, and seeking to prepare themselves for combat ; a
surprising number would attain prominence in positions of great responsibility
during World War II . It was a wonder that these officers serving "in the
dullness of a skeletonized army" emerged in the 1940s as brilliant administrators
and leaders . 28
The state of affairs on the other side was quite different . The Germans
after World War I, restricted by the Treaty of Versailles to an army of 100,000
men, turned this force into a professional cadre capable of quick expansion in
time of war. Seeking military reasons for their defeat, maintaining their
tradition of studying the lessons of the past to apply them to the future, and
determined to be ready for modern warfare, the Germans, who had had but a
few tanks in the Gteat War, restored mobility to the battlefield . They
developed armored warfare according to the precepts of J . F. C . Fuller and B .
H . Liddell Hart and created a doctrine of blitzkrieg (lightning war) founded on
the principles of the so-called Hutier tactics, that is, to exploit quickly penetra-
' The 2d Infantry Division was triangularized in 1937 for field tests, but on completion of the
exercises it returned to its original organization .
tions of the enemy line by avoiding centers of resistance and striking deeply
into the rear in order to paralyze communications . Civil flying and glider
enthusiasts formed nuclei for a resuscitated air force, which concentrated on
lending close tactical support to the ground forces .
The rise to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933 gave immediacy to a wellintegrated
program of militarization beyond Versailles Treaty limits . A
gigantic industrial renascence, in large part intended to overcome economic
depression, provided weapons and equipment for an army increasing in
numbers and in skill . By 1936, the German Army and Air Force were strong
and well trained ; intervention in the Spanish Civil War tested doctrine,
weapons, equipment, and organization and gave experience to those who took
part . The apparently united will of the German people to restore the former
power of Germany complemented astounding progress in the art of war .
Although German military leaders felt themselves unready for general war
before 1942, the successes of Hitler's diplomacy in the 1930s-in the
Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia-stilled their reservations . German
victories in Poland, Denmark, Norway, and Western Europe in 1939 and
1940 were astonishing. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941,
although promising quick success, bogged down because of the enormous
distances, contradictory objectives, and, eventually, the winter weather .
The Italians shared with Benito Mussolini dreams of restoring the glory
of ancient Rome . Although the Italian ground forces succeeded in Ethiopia
against a primitive foe, Italian participation in the Spanish Civil War and the
later 1941 thrust from Albania into Greece showed deficiencies in organization,
weapons, equipment, and leadership, perhaps partially the result of a
lack of the natural resources, particularly oil, required for modern war . A few
elite units were first rate, but many Italian formations reflected the general
corruption of the state system . The Italian Army in North Africa, specifically
in Libya, had light, under-powered tanks and trucks, World War I artillery
pieces, old-fashioned antitank and antiaircraft guns, and obsolete rifles and
machine guns .29
The Germans and Italians fought a coalition war under the disadvantageous
lack of a coalition machinery to translate policy on the highest level
into strategy. The two allies cooperated through loosely organized, complicated,
and often poorly defined and ineffective diplomatic .and special liaison
arrangements . Although the two dictators, Hitler and Mussolipi, occasionally
met, they fought parallel wars . German aid, in the form of troops, weapons,
equipment, supplies, and leadership, was necessary to sustain the Italian
effort, and this bred German feelings of superiority, disdain, even contempt
for Italy as well as an Italian sense of inferiority and jealousy . The Axis war
was poorly directed, and the inability to synchronize activities was made
evident in the Battle of Kasserine Pass .
On 1 September 1939, on the same day that Germany invaded Poland, Gen .
George C. Marshall became U .S. Army Chief of Staff . 30 He immediately
implemented policies to retire older officers, reassign those who were incompetent,
and bring younger and more energetic men to responsible positions, 31
A week after the German invasion, President Roosevelt raised the authorized
strength of the Regular Army to 227,000 men and the National Guard to
235,000 and permitted members of the Organized Reserve Corps to volunteer
for active duty . The War Department that fall, in accordance with McNair's
plans, reduced the size of the infantry division and reorganized it from a
square to a triangular type, giving it three infantry regiments consisting of
three battalions each, The gain in manpower as a result of triangularization,
as well as the influx of men into the Regular Army and National Guard,
enabled the War Department to hold genuine corps and army maneuvers in
the spring of 1940, the first full-fledged corps maneuvers since 1918 .
The task of attaining war preparedness began seriously in 1940 as larger
and more realistic exercises and maneuvers developed and refined new
doctrine, techniques, and equipment . In January 1940, the Fourth Army
Headquarters laid out an unprecedented amphibious exercise involving
Army, Navy, and Air Corps elements . Fourteen thousand participating troops
of the 3d Division moved by water from Tacoma, Washington, landed on the
shore of Monterey Bay, California, and "captured" San Francisco .32 Maneuvers
in Georgia and Louisiana in April and May 1940 tested new types of
corps headquarters directing triangular infantry divisions . At the same time,
the 7th Mechanized Cavalry Brigade and the infantry's Provisional
Motorized Tank Brigade came together to form an improvised armored
division . Recommendations from these exercises included combining the
regimental artillery battalions of an infantry division under the central control
of a division artillery, expanding the mechanized brigade into an armored
division, and creating a second armored division . 33
Spurring these developments was the phenomenal success of the German
blitzkrieg in France in May and June, which produced consternation, then
defeatism and apathy, in the War Department . How could the German tanks
be stopped? Marshall dispelled the gloom with two positive decisions . He
established the Armored Force, whose mission was to match the power of
German mobile forces . He directed his planners to provide antitank defense of
an offensive nature to halt the enemy's massed armor . 34
The Armored Force, under Brig . Gen . Adna R . Chaffee, came into
being in July 1940 . The I Armored Corps, with two divisions under its
command-the 1st at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the 2d at Fort Benning,
Georgia-supervised training . Both armored divisions were formed with a
reconnaissance battalion and an armored brigade, the latter consisting of two
regiments of light tanks armed with the 37-mm gun, a regiment of medium
tanks armed with the short-barreled 75-mm gun, an infantry regiment of two
battalions, a field-artillery regiment, plus an additional field-artillery battalion,
an engineer battalion, and signal, ordnance, quartermaster, and
medical units .35
,Activated on 15 July 1940 with Regular Army personnel later augmented
by draftees, the 1st Armored Division, which would see action in the Battle of
Kasserine Pass, pioneered the development of tank gunnery and used
forward-observer fire-direction techniques developed after World War I . By
1941, although shortages of all sorts existed-for example, only sixty-six
medium tanks produced in the United States were on hand-the 1st Armored
Division was able to participate in the Louisiana and Carolinas maneuvers .
The units engaged in simulated battle during daylight and night hours,
practiced maintenance, performed logistics and administration, and lived in
field conditions .36
Both armored divisions participated in the Louisiana maneuvers in
September 1941 . Involving 400,000 troops, pitting for the first time one field
army against another, featuring armored and paratroop forces, assembling
the unheard-of number of more than 1,000 aircraft, the exercises demonstrated
"an unusual amount of experimentation . "$7 The foremost purposes
were to fight large-unit battles, to test motorized and mechanized techniques,
to foster air-ground cooperation, and to practice medical evacuation, demolitions,
reconnaissance, and intelligence . 38 In the Carolinas in October and
November, the training exercises were a major test of the 1st and 2d Armored
Divisions . A total of 865 tanks and armored scout cars opposed 4,320 guns
effective against tanks . The results were inconclusive, and no firm doctrine
could be enunciated and written, mainly because of shortages in authorized
strength and weapons in all the participating units . Missing were 10 percent of
the mortars, 40 percent of the 37-mm guns, 18 percent of the 155-mm
howitzers, and 87 percent of the .50-caliber machine guns . 39
Clearly, features of the armored division required modification . When
Chaffee took ill, Lt . Gen . Jacob L . Devers replaced him as chief of the
Armored Force on 1 August 1941 . An artilleryman, Devers improved
firepower . Maj . Gen . George S . Patton, Jr ., commanding the I Armored
Corps, stressed mobility . Together they gave the armored divisions better
balance .40 On 1 March 1942, as Maj . Gen . Orlando Ward, who had
commanded the 1st Armored Brigade in the Louisiana and Carolinas
maneuvers, took command of the 1st Armored Division, a drastic reorganization
of the Armored Division was under way . In order to gain flexibility, the
brigade headquarters was eliminated and replaced by two combat commands .
Each combat command had its own intelligence and operations capabilities
but depended on the division for logistics and administration . Three separate
self-propelled field-artillery battalions operated under the division artillery .
The division trains controlled the service elements . A higher proportion of
infantry to tanks was achieved by increasing the number of battalions in the
infantry regiment to three and by reducing the number of tank regiments
from three to two regiments of three battalions each . A total of 14,620 troops
manned the division, which was equipped with .30-caliber carbines, selfpropelled
and towed antitank guns, self-propelled assault guns, .30- and .50-
caliber machine guns, 105-mm self-propelled howitzers, 60-mm and 81-mm
mortars, light and medium tanks, armored and scout cars, and half-tracks .
Unfortunately, much equipment was lacking .41
Before the 1st Armored Division could train in its new form, it received a
massive infusion of recently inducted replacement troops, bringing the
division to authorized strength, and went to Fort Dix in April 1942 for
shipment overseas . Overage officers were relieved and replaced, and the
division sailed for Northern Ireland in May, and trained there for five months .
The stress was on small-unit training and gunnery . The work improved tankartillery
cooperation, but tank-infantry and air-ground cooperation remained
weak. 42
In November 1942, the 1st Armored Division embarked in ships again,
this time for a voyage to North Africa and the eventual engagement of
Kasserine Pass . It would go into battle with two battalions of light tanks armed
with the 37-mm gun, three battalions of medium tanks armed with the lowvelocity
75-mm gun, and one battalion of early-model Sherman medium
tanks . The "relative weakness in armor and fire power when compared with
the German tanks was not suspected until they met in Tunisia ." 43
To stop German massed armor, the War Department created the tank
destroyer, so named to connote offensive and aggressive characteristics as
opposed to the defensive and passive meaning of, "antitank . " A "marriage of
the artillery gun to truck and tractor," the tank destroyer was to embody an
aggressive spirit and to destroy enemy tanks by maneuver and fire . 44 To
create an ideal tank destroyer with mobility and punch, quickly and easily
fired and giving the crew protection against small-arms fire, was a difficult
task . From a 37-mm gun mounted on a quarter-ton truck or jeep, the tank
destroyer evolved to a 57-mm then 75-mm, 76-mm, and finally 90-mm gun
mounted on a carriage resembling a tank .
During maneuvers in August 1940, the employment of antitank guns,
manned by antitank companies in the infantry regiments, was passive ; they
were deployed in cordon defense . A year later, bringing the companies
together under central control proved a more satisfactory practice for
offensive, aggressive movements in large-scale exercises . Yet observers noted
tendencies to commit the guns prematurely and to fragment their strength . In
November 1941, the War Department projected activating fifty-three tankdestroyer
battalions, and a month later, eight infantry antitank battalions
were redesignated tank-destroyer battalions . Tank destroyers became a
provisional branch with a Tactical and Firing Center to supervise organization
and training. Not until August 1942 when Camp Hood, Texas, opened,
did a thoroughly rounded program begin . A tank-destroyer field manual
published in June 1942 developed the motto "Seek, Strike, Destroy." The
first officers candidate class graduated in October. By then, tank-destroyer
battalions were attached and later assigned to divisions . The War Department
planned to activate a total of 222 battalions .
The antitank rocket launcher called the bazooka, a grenade with a new
tail assembly, came into existence in mid-1942 . It was recommended for issue
to tank-destroyer battalions . Training in its use started in December 1942.
That was too late for the units already overseas, and bazookas were issued to
troops already in Tunisia and to soldiers aboard ships . However, no one really
knew how to operate and employ them . 45
By far the most important entity dealing with mobilization, organization,
and training came into being in July 1940 . This was General Headquarters,
U.S . Army, known as GHQ modeled on Pershing's AEF headquarters . U .S.
Army Chief of Staff Marshall named Brigadier General McNair, then
commandant of the Command and General Staff College, to be his chief of
staff at GHQ and gave him a free hand to fashion the combat units into a
proficient fighting force . GHQ was inserted structurally between the War
Department General Staff and the four field armies, which had formerly
conducted training . Although army commanders were initially reluctant to
relinquish their training function, McNair quickly established a standard
system progressive in nature, that is, a regular training cycle from the recruit
through the unit to combined-arms teams .
After the German spring campaigns in Denmark and Western Europe in
1940, the president raised the Regular Army to 280,000 men, then to
375,000 . In September, authorized to do so by the Congress, he enlarged the
Regular Army to 500,000 troops and called the 270,000 men of the National
Guard into active federal service for a year . The Selective Service Act in the
same month permitted the induction of 630,000 draftees into uniform . This
gave the Army a strength of 1 .4 million troops . 46 The absence of sufficient
housing, mess, and training facilities in the camps, posts, and stations made it
impossible to transfer the eighteen National Guard divisions to federal status
at once, and they came on active duty over the space of a year. By mid-1941,
almost ,1 .5 million men had been mobilized, assigned to units, and were
engaged in all forms of training .47 The National Guard divisions were
restructured into triangular shape and brought to full authorized strength .
Commanders and staff officers who owed their appointments'to state politics
and who were less than qualified on grounds of military education or physical
conditioning were removed and replaced by Regular Army officers . Complicating
the massive mobilization and training experience were the activation
of new divisions and other units, revisions in tables of organization and
equipment, the adoption of newly developed weapons-examples were the
tank destroyers, the replacement beginning in 1940 of World War I-type 3
inch mortars by the 60-mm and 81-mm mortars, the issue of the M1
semiautomatic Garand rifle after 1941-and the acceptance of new combat
doctrine . That the entire process did not collapse into chaos bordered on the
miraculous .48
McNair set into motion, inspected, and critiqued a variety of exercises to
test proficiency and identify failures in the training programs . For example,
the critique of a First Army maneuver in August 1940 noted such important
errors as improper use of combat teams and motor transportation, inability to
reconnoiter and maintain contact between adjacent units, and deficiencies in
signal communication, antitank guns, ammunition supply, and medical
evacuation . All National Guard units, in particular, reflected inadequate
training . Many officers and men were physically soft and undisciplined ; many
headquarters, particularly signal, military police, ordnance, engineer, and
medical, were nonexistent ; and weapons and equipment were in extremely
short supply . GHQ maneuvers in Tennessee in early 1941 showed the troops
still road bound, ignorant of field manuals, unable to reconnoiter properly,
and generally deficient in basic- and small-unit training ; leadership was weak
and unable to coordinate with adjacent and supporting units and with units of
other branches .49
The apex of McNair's training efforts came at the Louisiana and
Carolinas maneuvers in 1941 . Testing army aviation, GHQ found it poorly
coordinated with ground action . Ground troops underestimated air potential,
were weak in liaison and communications, had inadequate combat intelligence,
and were guilty of dispersed and fragmented efforts . There was a
general lack of discipline, an unwillingness to move off the roads, and a
reluctance to break column formations . 50 Yet the results of the Louisiana
maneuvers of 1941 confirmed "the soundness of existing policies ." 51 The
major lesson of the Carolinas maneuvers was "the crying need for infantry
support, both within the [armored] division and between infantry and
armored divisions . " 52 Both maneuvers accelerated the creation of independent
tank battalions to work with infantry . A light plane, the Cub, for artillery
spotting began to be built in 1942 . What no one seemed to notice was how the
air service had thwarted the War Department's efforts to create air support of
ground forces . No procedures or command relationships existed for largescale
air-ground operations . 53
At the end of November 1941, just a few days before the Japanese
bombed Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into the war, McNair
judged whether the troops were ready for combat. They "could fight
effectively," he said, but "losses would be unduly heavy." Against the
Germans, he added prophetically, the results "might not be all that could be
desired." 54 There had simply not been enough time for training . At the time
of Pearl Harbor, 1,638,000 men were in Army uniform, but only a single
division and a single antiaircraft artillery regiment were on full war footing .
"Though a large Army was not ready for combat . . . the United States
entered the war . . . with a training program carefully thought out and in full
operation ."56 GHQ training principles included progression through a fourphase
sequence, tests in each phase, unit training with frequent review, free
maneuvers, immediate critiques, the goal of general combat proficiency,
integration of the tactical units, a stress on the responsibilities of commanding
officers at all levels, and an emphasis on battle realism . 57 In line with the last
principle, GHQ established the Desert Training Center in California and
Arizona early in 1942 . There, in a primitive environment, troops lived,
moved, and fought under simulated battle conditions . 58
Beginning in December 1940, the War Department abolished the
traditional two-year course at Leavenworth and instead offered short, special,
and refresher instruction to selected commanders and staff officers who were
scheduled to assume positions of major responsibility in new units . The Army
discontinued the War College course and assigned faculty and staff members
to the War Plans Division of the War Department General Staff and
elsewhere . 59 GHQ itself went out of existence in March 1942 . The War
Department abolished the branch chiefs and formed the Army Ground Forces
under McNair to continue training combat forces . Earlier maneuvers had
focused on testing equipment and training, but large-scale exercises in 1942
tested doctrine, particularly infantry-armor coordination, which improved,
and air-ground cooperation, which remained disappointing .60 Unfortunately,
the two major units that would fight at Kasserine Pass, the 1st Armored
Division and the 34th Infantry Division, did not take part in the 1942
exercises, for they were in Northern Ireland . As late as July 1942, the 1st
Armored Division was still awaiting delivery of much equipment, and the 34th
Division, which had just started training for amphibious landing, had few
antiaircraft guns and no tanks . 61 The tank destroyers with these divisions had
light 37-mm guns and light armored cars . Antiaircraft artillery units were
shipped overseas after attaining only "minimum proficiency in their weapons
and before receiving combat training with other ground arms or with
aviation ." Because of the wide dispersion . of training centers and the
insufficiency of planes to tow targets for firing practice, antiaircraft personnel
were quite simply "improperly trained," 62
The 34th Infantry Division, the first American division to go to Europe,
originated in the National Guard . It was chosen for overseas service presumably
because it was deemed to be well trained . Among its major organic
components was the 168th Infantry regiment, which had had a typical prewar
military upbringing and would be involved in the Battle of Kasserine Pass .63
The 168th had participated as an Iowa volunteer unit in the Civil War,
specifically in Grant's campaign against Vicksburg and in the later movement
of the Union Army through the Carolinas . Mobilized again in 1917, the
regiment fought in France as part of the 42d Rainbow Division . Members in
the 1920s and 1930s were proud of the unit's combat history and had a special
feeling of cohesion . Of northern European stock, the men were from the towns
of Atlantic, Council Bluffs, Glenwood, Red Oak, Villisca, Shenandoah, and
Carlinda, agricultural communities in the gently rolling hill country of
southwestern Iowa . In these towns, citizens had purchased shares to construct
armories for the companies of the regiment, and the state government paid
rent to the owners. An armory contained offices, a drill hall resembling a
basketball court, supply rooms, and facilities for reunions, dances, banquets,
and patriotic celebrations .
Guardsmen were, for the most part, unmarried men from eighteen to
thirty-five years of age . They received one dollar for attending a training
session, and the pay was important in attracting members during the
Depression . They met every Monday evening and practiced close-order drill
and the manual of arms . They occasionally performed small-unit maneuvers
on a football field or in a city square . They received summer training at Camp
Dodge, Iowa . The annual inspection in each armory was usually linked to a
military ball, the highlight of the social season . Maj . Walter Smith inspected
the southwestern Iowa units in 1939 and called them a "very very fine
organization ." Other regiments in northern and northwestern Iowa, in
Minnesota, and in North Dakota came together with the 168th to form the
34th Division, commanded in 1939 by Maj . Gen. E. A. Walsh of Minneapolis
. In the summer of 1940, the division trained at Camp Ripley,
Wisconsin . Upon the -troops' return to their armories, revised National Guard
programs and schedules doubled their training time . The average guardsman
in the 168th had eighteen months of service . Two-thirds were high school
graduates; about one-third had some education beyond high school . Captains
were between thirty-four and forty-five years of age, and many of them, and
more senior officers, had served in World War I . Quite a few men joined the
regiment in 1941 to avoid the draft .
The 34th Division was called into active federal service in February 1941 .
On 2 March, the men of the 168th Infantry had farewell dinners in the
armories in their home towns, paraded, then marched to the train stations .
They traveled to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, which was still under construction
. Living in tents, the men engaged in close-order drill and small-unit
tactics, including night attacks . Some went to schools for special training .
Equipment and weapons were in such short supply that stovepipes simulated
mortars, trucks carried signs to denote their use as tanks, and broomsticks
served as rifles . The heaviest infantry weapon was the 37-mm gun . In April,
draftees from all over the country arrived to bring the 34th Division regiments
up to strength . The division participated in two maneuvers in Louisiana in
June and August.64 A Regular Army officer, Maj . Gen . Russell P . Hartle,
took command in August . In January 1942, when Hartle assumed command
of the V Corps, Maj . Gen. Charles W . Ryder, a West Point graduate,
succeeded him as division commander, and the division sailed for Northern
Ireland. The following month, the division was triangularized . The men
continued training, practicing amphibious landings in Scotland later that
In November, the division participated in the North African invasion,
coming ashore near Algiers . Of the soldiers then constituting the 168th
Infantry, about 30 percent were from the local armories in southwestern Iowa .
Two hundred of these men were reported missing in action on 17 February
1943, a day of severe fighting during the Battle of Kasserine Pass .
In summary, the entire mobilization process, including the organization
and training of the U .S . Army, was hasty, largely improvised, and saved from
disaster by the stability and intelligence of leaders like Marshall and McNair .
This crash program gave the field forces a semblance of preparedness . Yet
maneuvers revealed many deficiences in basic soldiering skills and, among a
large proportion of officers, basic command skills . Shortages of weapons and
equipment and the need to improvise had hampered instruction . There was
insufficient time to permit individuals and units to acquire and become
proficient in the doctrine, weapons and equipment, and skills required for the
modern warfare of the 1940s . Organizations and men were still largely in tune
with the time and space factors that had prevailed in the previous war, They
had yet to adjust to the accelerated tempo and increased distances of the
battlefield-in particular, the necessary speed of reaction so well understood
by their adversaries . American leadership and manpower had the potential to
excel, but it would take the reality and the adversity of Kasserine Pass to
develop an inherent capacity for excellence .
Deployment of American forces began shortly after Pearl Harbor, when
Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston S . Churchill confirmed a
strategy unofficially reached during Anglo-American staff conversations in
1941 . The Allied leaders endorsed a Europe-first endeavor and established
machinery to direct the coalition military effort .65 The president and prime
minister worked through the British Chiefs of Staff and the American Joint
Chiefs of Staff sitting together to form the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) .
The CCS issued directives to the theater commanders who were supreme
Allied commanders or Allied comanders in chief-the terms were interchangeable-
and who would exercise a unified command over the forces of
both nations .
American strategists generally favored a massive blojv against the
German-occupied continent of Europe and a direct thrust into Germany. To
these ends, the 34th Infantry Division, the 1st Armored Division, and later
the 1st Infantry Division went to Northern Ireland, where they trained under
the V Corps headquarters . The European Theater of Operations, U .S . Army,
under General Eisenhower provided overall direction, and the II Corps
headquarters under Lt . Gen. Mark W . Clark, who had been McNair's closest
associate, served as the theater training command . The British preferred an
invasion of French Northwest Africa, where German and Italian troops were
absent as a result of the armistice terms of 1940. The French had pledged to
resist invasion, but if, as the Allies hoped, they quickly came over to the Allied
side, they would offer only brief resistance to the untried Americans . The
landings in the French territories would also threaten the Axis forces based in
Libya and fighting the British in Egypt .
North Africa became an active theater of operations in 1940 when Italian
forces attacked the British . The ensuing campaigns were of a seesaw nature,
with first one opponent, then the other achieving temporary success . In 1941,
to help Mussolini, Hitler sent General Erwin Rommel'sAfrika Korps of several
German divisions to North Africa . Subsequently, Rommel took command of
Panzer Grupp Afrika, which consisted of the Afrika Korps augmented by several
mobile Italian divisions; in 1942, he took charge of Panzerarmee Afrika, all the
German and Italian combat units . Mussolini and his Comando Supremo directed
the operations in North Africa through an Italian theater commander, To
facilitate Rommel's access to the German high command and to smooth Italo-
German coordination, Hitler dispatched Field Marshall Albert Kesselring to
Rome . At first commander of the German air forces in Italy, Kesselring was
the ranking German officer in the Mediterranean area and, as such, virtually
a theater commander. With Kesselring's support, Rommel attacked in May
1942 . By June, he was at El Alamein, Egypt, sixty miles short of the Nile .
This was the situation in mid-1942 when Roosevelt accepted Churchill's
suggestion to invade French Northwest Africa . Eisenhower, named Supreme
Allied Commander, and Clark, his deputy, formed a new Allied Force
Headquarters (AFHQ) in London and began to plan landings, code-named
TORCH, on the shores of Morocco and Algeria .
In August 1942, Rommel attacked from El Alamein only to be stopped
by General Sir Harold Alexander, commander of the British Middle East
Forces with headquarters in Cairo, and General Sir Bernard E . Montgomery,
commanding the British Eighth Army in Egypt . After receiving 300 brandnew
American Sherman tanks, the British took the offensive on 23 October
and forced Rommel to withdraw . As the British pursued, Rommel conducted
a retrograde movement across Libya . During that retreat, TORCH was
launched. The invasion took place on 8 November 1942 . A task force under
Ryder and consisting of the 34th Division, part of the 1st Armored Division,
and British elements made the easternmost landing near Algiers, where
fighting ended on the first day . Another task force under Maj . Gen . Lloyd R .
Fredendall's II Corps and containing the 1st Infantry Division and British
units invaded in the center near Oran, where combat terminated on the
second day. A wholly American task under Patton, sailing directly from the
United States, landed in the west near Casablanca and battled French forces
vigorously for three days .
These events introduced American troops to combat on the Atlantic side
of World War II . But this hardly constituted the first battle, for the French
were not the enemy. Most French commanders and units offered reluctant
opposition . French organization, doctrine, and war materiel had not been
updated since 1940 . Curiously, resistance met by the Americans had been
more intense and of longer duration in Morocco . The future participants in
the Battle of Kasserine Pass were those who had engaged in almost no active
operations . They saw their performance against the French as more than
adequate for success against the Germans and Italians . Confident of their
underpowered light tanks with 37-mm guns, trusting the power of the 57-mm
and 75-mm guns on their Shermans, they believed themselves to be blooded
and tried in action .66
The French authorities in North Africa, after agreeing to a truce, joined
the British and Americans who, by then, in accordance with prior plans, had
turned eastward from Algeria, entered Tunisia, and were driving toward
Bizerte and Tunis, their ultimate objectives . On the way they quickly ran into
opposition . Axis troops had entered Tunisia from Italy shortly after TORCH,
and eventually a field-army-size force, under General Juergen von Arnim,
built up an extended bridgehead covering Bizerte and Tunis in the northeastern
corner. Von Arnim sought to prevent the Allies from overrunning
Tunisia and also to permit Rommel's army to finish withdrawing from Libya
into southern Tunisia . The Axis would then hold the eastern seaboard of the
country . To guarantee their security on the eastern coastal plain, von Arnim
and Rommel needed to control the passes in the Eastern Dorsale, a mountain
range running generally north and south . Through that chain were four major
openings-Pichon and Fondouk in the north and Faid and Rebaou in the
south . Von Arnim seized Pichon in mid-December 1942 . Toward the end of
January 1943, as Rommel settled into the Mareth Line in southern Tunisia,
the Axis desire for the other passes initially spurred what developed into the
Battle of Kasserine Pass .
The Allies deployed in Tunisia with the bulk of their strength in the north . 67
Because of bad weather and supply deficiencies, Eisenhower on 24 December
called off the offensive toward Bizerte and Tunis . Early in January 1943, to
counter Rommel's growing presence, he began moving Fredendall's II Corps
headquarters and American units to southern Tunisia in order to buttress
poorly equipped French troops holding the Fondouk, Faid, and Rebaou
Passes and the town of Gafsa, an important road center .
Allied command lines were less than firm . General Sir Kenneth A . N .
Anderson, at the head of the British First Army-with the British V Corps,
several British divisions, and some American and French units in the north, was the overall tactical commander in Tunisia, but Americans found him
difficult to work with . Fredendall exacerbated the problem because he saw his
role as autonomous . The French, who had General Louis-Marie Koeltz's
XIX Corps in the center, a division in the north, another in the south, and
miscellaneous detachments scattered virtually everywhere, refused to serve
under direct British command . As a consequence, General Alphonse Juin,
commander of the French land and air forces in French Northwest Africa,
exercised loose direction and provided liaison and guidance to all French
formations .
Fredendall had small packets of troops dispersed over a very large areaone
battalion of the 1st Infantry Division at Gafsa, another blocking the
Fondouk road to Sbeitla, Combat Command A (CCA) of the 1st Armored
Division at Sbeitla, Combat Command B (CCB) near Tebessa . He could
bolster the French garrisons holding the Faid and Rebaou Passes, keep his
forces concentrated in a central location and ready to counterattack, or strike
toward the east coast to sever the contact between von Arnim's and Rommel's
armies . He sought to do the latter by raiding a small Italian detachment at
Sened on 24 January. The action was highly successful as a morale builder but
had no real result except to squander Fredendall's meager resources .
The Axis command correctly read the situation and continued planning
to take control of the Eastern Dorsale . Rommel established his headquarters
in southern Tunisia on 26 January, and two days later Comando Supremo in
Rome approved a cautious push to take the Fondouk and Faid Passes and to
advance on Gafsa. With Rommel's 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions temporarily
under von Arnim's control, von Arnim attacked on 30 January to open the
Battle of Kasserine Pass . Just before dawn, thirty tanks struck 1,000 French
troops in the Faid Pass while another contingent of German tanks, infantry,
and artillery drove through the Rebaou defile ten miles to the south, overran
several hundred French defenders, and came up behind the French holding
Faid . Encircled and outnumbered, the French fought gallantly for more than
twenty-four hours until they were overwhelmed .
Five hours after the German attack started, Anderson instructed Fredendall
rather vaguely to restore the situation at Faid . Because Ward, the 1st
Armored Division commander, was at Gafsa supervising the Sened raid and
other useless actions, Fredendall communicated directly with the CCA
commander at Sbeitla, Brig . Gen . Raymond McQuillin, who was old in
appearance, mild in manner, and cautious in outlook . McQuillin sent out two
small reconnaissance units toward the Faid and Rebaou Passes to determine
what was happening . At noontime, even though the French at Faid were still
resisting,, the reconnaissance elements erroneously reported the Germans in
control at both passes . McQuillin decided to counterattack . As he moved his
assault forces forward, German planes bombed and attacked his units and
disrupted the advance . American aircraft dispatched to intercept the Germans
dropped bombs on the CCA command post by mistake, and American
antiaircraft gunners shot down an American plane . McQuillin then waited for
nightfall. During the hours of darkness, he pushed his forces about halfway to
Faid and Rebaou .
On the morning of 31 January, more than twenty-four hours after the
German attack, McQuillin committed a small-tank infantry force under Col .
Alexander N. Stark, Jr ., to strike to Faid and another such force under Col .
William B . Kern to go for Rebaou. Late getting under way, the effort was
badly coordinated and too weak to attain the objectives . Heavy German
defensive fires, together with effective bombing and strafing from the air,
knocked out several tanks and induced terror, indecision, and paralysis
among the American units . McQuillin's effort petered out . As Fredendall, the
II Corps commander, was thinking on 1 February of moving CCB from
Tebessa to Sbeitla, Anderson, the First British Army commander, instructed
him to dispatch CCB toward Fondouk, where von Arnim had struck Koeltz's
French elements, seized the pass, and threatened a serious penetration .
Fredendall complied . McQuillin tried again that day to reach Faid but failed
because, he said, of the disgraceful performance of Stark's infantry . Von
Arnim, now in control of the four major passes, called off further endeavor .
With the 10th Panzer Division at Fondouk and the 21st at Faid and Rebaou, von
Arnim, instead of returning both divisions to Rommel, hoped to keep them
for use in the north . The front in Tunisia now became quiet, and the first or
preliminary phase of what would develop into the Battle of Kasserine Pass
ended .
On the Allied side, Eisenhower questioned Fredendall's competence,
Anderson doubted the battleworthiness of American troops, Fredendall
wondered whether Ward was proficient, McQuillin castigated Stark, and so it
went down the line . American ineptitude and failure to rescue the French
defenders at Faid had shocked the French . Additional American units-parts
of Maj . Gen . Terry Allen's 1st Infantry Division and of Ryder's 34th
Division-moved into southern Tunisia but they were split into small parcels
and physically separated . During the second week of February, Fredendall's
combat units were deployed as follows : At the front, in blocking positions on
two hills covering the roads west from Faid and Rebaou to Sidi bou Zid and
Sbeitla were two forces . On the hill called Djebel Lessouda north of the Faid
road was Lt . Col. John K. Waters of the 1st Armored Division . He
commanded about 900 troops-a company of fifteen tanks, some reconnaissance
elements, a tank-destroyer platoon, and a battery of self-propelled 105-
mm howitzers-as well as the 2d Battalion (less a rifle company) of the 168th
Infantry. In support of Waters, Lt . Col . Louis Hightower, a few miles away at
the village of Sidi bou Zid, commanded fifty-one tanks, twelve tank destroyers,
and two artillery battalions of the 1st Armored Division .
On Djebel Ksaira, overlooking the road from Rebaou, was Col . Thomas
D. Drake, who had taken command of the 168th Infantry in January. He had
about 1,000 men of the 3d Battalion (plus a rifle company of the 2d) of the
168th, plus 650 miscellaneous troops-a medical detachment, the regimental
band, 200 engineers, an attached cannon company, several antiaircraft guns,
and a few artillery pieces . Supporting Drake was the Reconnaissance
Battalion of the 1st Armored Division near Sidi bou Zid . Drake received 200
replacement troops on 12 February, but some lacked weapons, quite a few had
never fired a rifle, and none had entrenching tools or bayonets . On the
following day, Drake accepted several truckloads of brand-new bazookas ; no
one on the hill had ever fired this antitank weapon, and Drake planned to
figure out how to operate them and to start a training program on 14
February. Behind and west of Waters and Drake were elements of McQuillin's
CCA at Sbeitla and Sidi bou Zid. Ward had his division reserve at
Sbeitla, a battalion of infantry under Kern, a battalion of tanks, and a
company of tank destroyers . CCB was near Fondouk, 100 miles from Sbeitla ;
Col. Robert I . Stack's Combat Command C (CCC), consisting primarily of
the 6th Armored Infantry, was twenty miles away in the same direction .
West of Sbeitla, Stark's 26th Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division and a
1st Armored Division tank battalion under Col . Ben Crosby were at Feriana
guarding the road from Gafsa and protecting the airfields at Thelepte, but
who controlled them was unclear . Arriving at Gafsa to augment French units
presumably under Fredendall's command were a U .S . Ranger battalion,
some artillery and tank-destroyer units, plus about a battalion of the 1st
Derbyshire Yeomanry, a British armored-car ,regiment dispatched by Anderson
to bolster the inexperienced Americans ., Fredendall's II Corps reserve
consisted of several artillery and tank-destroyer battalions near Tebessa,
where the corps headquarters was located, plus the 1st Battalion, 168th
Ultra-secret intercepts indicated an apparent enemy plan to strike
through Fondouk to destroy the French in the center of the Allied front, then
to turn north and rip into the British flank . Although other sources of
intelligence pointed to Axis offensive preparations in the south, Eisenhower's
G-2 at AFHQ a British officer, as well as Anderson, became convinced of an
imminent Axis thrust in the north . To preserve these positions, which pointed
toward Bizerte and Tunis, Anderson instructed Fredendall to be ready to
abandon Gafsa in the south . Together with Koeltz, Fredendall was to prepare
to withdraw about fifty miles to the Western Dorsale and there to plug the
passes, especially the two important defiles at Kasserine and Sbiba . Contrary
to Allied expectations, Kesselring, von Arnim, and Rommel, with Comando
Supremo; approval, decided to launch two attacks, both in the south . Von
Arnim was to head for Sidi bou Zid, Rommel for Gafsa. The concept,
however, was somewhat fuzzy . Von Arnim wished simply to throw the Allies
off balance and to retain possession of the 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions.
Rommel hoped to recover control of his two panzer divisions and to go all the
way to Tebessa and, if possible, beyond . If the attacks went well, Kesselring
promised to give Rommel control of at least one of the panzer divisions and
permission to go as far as he could .
The second phase of the Kasserine battle started very early on the
morning of 14 February, before Drake could institute his bazooka-firing
training program on Djebel Ksaira . During a raging sandstorm, more than
200 German tanks, half-tracks, and guns of both panzer divisions came
through Faid . One task force swung around the northern side of Lessouda and
encircled the hill ; another swung around the southern side of Ksaira and
surrounded the height . Waters' and Drake's forces, Fredendall's blocking
positions, were thus marooned . A series of American mishaps, due largely to
inexperience, then permitted the Germans rather easy and quick success . The
bad weather relaxed the Americans' security arrangements, and they were
unable to react quickly and firmly . Until the storm lifted, men on the hill had
difficulty identifying the German elements and held their fire . At 0730, as the
weather cleared, McQuillin initiated planned countermeasures . He limply
told Hightower to clear up the situation . As Hightower prepared to drive to
Djebel Lessouda and relieve the American defenders, enemy aircraft struck
Sidi bou Zid and temporarily disrupted McQuillin's command post and
Hightower's preparations . Throughout the rest of the day, German planes
harassed the Americans . Despite repeated requests for air support, only one
flight of four American aircraft appeared briefly over the battlefield .
Hightower went into action with forty-seven tanks . Although outnumbered,
he fought bravely against the more effective German tanks . By midafternoon,
all but seven of his tanks had been destroyed . During the
engagement, some American artillerymen panicked and abandoned their
guns. The 1st Armored Division Reconnaissance Battalion, ready to rescue
Drake's men on Djebel Ksaira, was unable to even start its counterattack
because some of the German tanks surrounding Drake had thrust forward
toward Sidi bou Zid and captured a reconnaissance company . The rest of the
American reconnaissance units then pulled out and headed for Sbeitla .
With his command post in Sidi bou Zid directly threatened, McQuillin,
covered by Hightower's engagement, decided to withdraw to Sbeitla. He
phoned and asked Ward to provide a shield by blocking the main road from
Faid to Sbeitla . Ward sent Kern and his infantry battalion to take up defensive
positions eleven miles east of the town at a road intersection 'that became
known as Kern's Crossroads . Around noon, McQuillin started to move his
artillery units and command post out of Sidi bou Zid . German dive bombers
attacked them and prompted confusion . As a consequence, for several hours
McQuillin lost communications with his subordinate units . That afternoon a
swirling mass of American troops-McQuillin's command post, mis-
cellaneous elements, Hightower's remnants, artillery pieces, tank destroyers,
engineer trucks, and foot soldiers-fled toward Sbeitla. McQuillin reestablished
his command post there and began to ass
"Tell my mother I died for my country. I did what I thought was best."

John Wilkes Booth
April 12, 1865

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Joined: Sun Sep 28, 2003 5:34 pm

Post by Kitsune » Fri Oct 08, 2004 11:06 am

Battle of Kasserine Part II:

Rommel urged von Arnim to continue his attack during the night in
order to exploit his tactical success, but von Arnim was satisfied to await the
American counterattck he figured was inevitable . Ward at Sbeitla was indeed
planning a counterattack . He, as well as McQuillin and Fredendall, radioed
Waters and Drake to sit tight on the heights and await rescue . To strengthen
Ward, Fredendall sent him some artillery and tank destroyers from Feriana .
Fredendall asked Anderson to return Brig. Gen. Paul Robinett's CCB to
Ward's control . But because Anderson expected the main German effort to
strike in the Fondouk-Pichon area, he held the bulk of Robinett's force and
released Lt . Col. James D. Alger's tank battalion, which arrived in Sbeitla on
the evening of 14 February. With Alger merely replacing Hightower's
destroyed battalion, Fredendall ordered Crosby to move his battalion from
Thelepte to Sbeitla during the night .
Anderson had three major concerns : the American losses in the Faid-Sidi
bou Zid region, the dispersal of the Allied units in the south, and the
increasing vulnerability of his positions in the north. Telephoning Eisenhower,
Anderson suggested evacuating Gafsa in order to concentrate strength
in defense of the Feriana-Sbeitla area . Eisenhower agreed but asked Anderson
to withdraw over two consecutive evenings . Anderson then instructed Fredendall
to move the French troops out of Gafsa that night, 14 February, and the
Americans on the following night . The French pulled out of Gafsa ; so did
most of the civilian population and American supply and service units .
Around midnight, Anderson changed his mind and ordered Fredendall to
withdraw the American combat troops . As the considerable movement
reached Feriana, forty miles away, many rear-area troops became nervous .
Some began to destroy depots and supply points in Feriana and Thelepte .
Uncertain that Ward could hold Sbeitla, Anderson on the evening of 14
February instructed Koeltz to cover the Sbiba Pass in the Western Dorsale .
He was to move French troops and the 34th Division to Sbiba . To block the
Kasserine Pass if Ward had to pull out of Sbeitla, Anderson told Fredendall to
have Ward fall back to the west for twenty miles and defend at Kasserine .
Fredendall sent engineer troops to Kasserine
positions .
In Algiers, Eisenhower ordered American units in Algeria to start for
Kasserine Pass, a movement requiring several days' travel . News of their
departure, he surmised, would perhaps hearten the troops in Tunisia . While
Eisenhower, Anderson, and Fredendall prepared to withdraw to the Western
Dorsale, Ward looked forward confidently to his counterattack on 15 February.
Stack's infantry and Alger's tanks were to marry up at Kern's
Crossroads, drive to Sidi bou Zid, then rescue the troops on the heights of
Lessouda and Ksaira . While Alger, who had yet to lead his troops in combat,
studied the terrain from a hill on the morning of 15 February and Stack
readied his infantry for the advance, a flight of German bombers struck their
formations and prompted enormous confusion .
The counterattack finally started at 1240 in great precision across the
Sbeitla plain . Alger's tank battalion led, his three tank companies advancing
in parallel columns with a company of tank destroyers, half-tracks mounting
75-mm guns, flaring out on the flanks and protecting two batteries of artillery .
Behind rode Stack's infantry in trucks and half-tracks with several antiaircraft
weapons as protection . Unfortunately, steep-sided wadis-dry stream bedscrossed
the plain irregularly and disturbed the careful spacing of the attacking
troops . As the tanks crossed the first ditch, German dive bombers jumped
them. They bombed and strafed again at the second gully . At the third
depression, German artillery began firing . Finally, German tanks emerged
from hiding and started to encircle the entire American force, The Americans,
fighting bravely and desperately against superior German weapons and
experienced German troops, tried to beat back the German wings threatening
to surround them . At 1800, Stack ordered all units to disengage and return to
Kern's Crossroads . The infantry and artillery escaped relatively unscathed .
The tanks were completely destroyed . Alger was taken prisoner, 15 of his
officers and 298 enlisted men were missing, and fifty of his tanks had been
knocked out . In two days of battle, the 1st Armored Division lost ninety-eight
tanks, fifty-seven half-tracks, and twenty-nine artillery pieces .
Just before darkness, a pilot dropped a message from Ward to the troops
on Lessouda. They were to get out during the night . Waters having been
captured, Maj . Robert R . Moore, who had taken command of the 2d
Battalion, 168th Infantry, fewer than two weeks earlier, displayed magnificent
leadership and marched out about one-third of the 900 troops on Lessouda to
Kern's Crossroads . The other men, together with vehicles and equipment, fell
into German hands . Drake on Djebel Ksaira received a message from
McQuillin on the afternoon of the following day, 16 February, to fight his way
out. That night, Drake led his men off the hill and across the plain . German
troops intercepted them and captured almost all . Only a handful reached
to start building defensive safety. The two battalions of the 168th Infantry involved on Lessouda and
Ksaira sustained losses of about 2,200 men . Two hundred of the soldiers
reported missing were from the southwestern Iowa National Guard units .
Meanwhile, when Rommel's attack forces, an Italo-German group of 160
tanks, half-tracks, and guns, learned on the afternoon of 15 February that the
Allies had abandoned Gafsa, they advanced to the town, entered, and
patrolled toward Feriana . That brought the second phase of the battle to a
close .
In southern Tunisia, Rommel completed his long retreat across Libya
and gathered his troops to the Mareth Line on that day. He could not
understand why von Arnim did not push immediately into and through
Sbeitla. Von Arnim cautiously wanted first to mop up in the Lessouda,
Ksaira, and Sidi bou Zid area . Then he would take Sbeitla, turn north, and
sweep clear the western exits of the Fondouk and Pinchon Passes . The absence
of an overall commander of the two separate German forces in Gafsa and in
Sidi bou Zid, together with the lack of firm objectives at the outset of the
attack, now delayed the German course of action . Kesselring, visiting Hitler
in East Prussia, learned what had happened and telephoned his chief of staff in
Rome . He directed him to relay an order for a push to Tebessa with Rommel
in command . This first required Comando Supremo approval, and when
approached, the Italian high command hesitated .
In the meantime, on 16 February, Anderson and Fredendall ordered
Ward to go over on the defensive and to concentrate "on guarding the
Feriana, Kasserine, Sbeitla areas ." Ward's chances of doing so improved
when CCB, after an all-night movement, reported at Sbeitla . Ward put CCB
south of the town, beside CCA, which pulled back from Kern's Crossroads .
For the first time, the 1st Armored Division was operating in combat as a
single unit. That afternoon, when small German forces probed toward
Sbeitla, Crosby's tank battalion and a provisional company of a few tanks and
tank destroyers under Hightower halted them and permitted Ward to set up a
coherent defensive line covering the town . On the same afternoon, Anderson
moved to strengthen the defense of the Sbiba Pass . From the northern sector,
he sent a brigade of Maj . Gen . Sir Charles Keightley's British 6th Armoured
Division southward . Koeltz moved the 34th Division (less the 168th Infantry)
west from the Pichon area . That evening, Comando Supremo gave von Arnim
permission to attack Sbeitla, and he jumped off at once . Alter nightfall,
preceded by reconnaissance units, German tanks approached Sbeitla in three
columns, firing as they advanced . Shells dropping into Sbeitla prompted
McQuillin to shift his CCA headquarters to a location west of the town . Many
American troops misinterpreted the movement and believed a wholesale
evacuation was in progress . A good part of the CCA defenders panicked and
fled. Why?
Night fighting was a new and terrifying experience for most of the men .
The solidity of the defensive line was more apparent on a map than on the
ground. Because of the darkness, the troops were not well placed . Because
of the haste of the withdrawal, they were not well dug in . The harrowing
events of three days of defeat had exhausted many soldiers, morally and
physically. Uncertain and nervous, fatigued and confused, hemmed in by
widespread firing that seemed to be all around them, believing that the
Germans were already in Sbeitla, demoralized by the piecemeal commitment
and intermingling of small units, no longer possessing a firm sense of
belonging to a strong and self-contained organization, and numbed by a
pervading attitude of weariness and bewilderment, many men lost their
confidence and self-discipline . 68
A churning mass of vehicles surged through the town and departed . When
engineers demolished an ammunition dump, they intensified fear and
prompted additional departures . Around midnight, concerned over his ability
to hold Sbeitla, Ward telephoned Fredendall and suggested reinforcing
Kasserine in strength,
At 0130 on 17 February, Anderson, talking with Fredendall on the
telephone, authorized Ward to withdraw from Sbeitla . Anderson asked that
Ward hold all day in order to give Koeltz more time to install blocking
positions at Sbiba . Fredendall thought that that was too much to ask of Ward,
and Anderson finally agreed that Ward was to hold the town until 1100 on 17
February and longer if he could . At dawn, on 17 February, Fredendall issued
a directive . Ward and the 1st Armored Division, when forced to leave Sbeitla,
were to retire through the Kasserine Pass toward Thala . Anderson Moore's
19th Engineers were to organize the Kasserine Pass defensively and to cover
Ward's withdrawal . Stark's infantry regiment was to defend Feriana until
compelled to pull back toward Tebessa . Air force personnel were to abandon
the Thelepte airfields . At Sbeitla, the Germans lessened their pressure as they
turned to round up Drake's men coming off Ksaira . The 1st Armored
Division settled down and held, although rear-area units, preparing to leave,
blew up dumps and destroyed supplies .
From Gafsa, the Italians and Germans of Rommel's force advanced in
strength and entered Feriana . About 3,500 men at the nearby Thelepte
airfields were streaming toward Tebessa after having burned 60,000 gallons of
gasoline, thirty-four disabled aircraft, and facilities . Stark retired to Tebessa .
The Afrika Korps entered Thelepte at noon and salvaged twenty tons of
aviation gas, thirty tons of lubricants, plus ammunition and assdrted supplies .
Fredendall moved his command post out of Tebessa and for about six hours
had no communications with his subordinates . Increasingly nervous supply
and service units in and around Tebessa began to head for the west in search
of safety. At Sbeitla, the Germans attacked that afternoon, and, although
CCB held relatively well, panic in the town turned the place into a nightmare .
In accordance with new instructions, CCA, harassed by German planes,
pulled back and moved north to Sbiba, That evening, the troops dug hasty
defenses to block the Sbiba Pass and allow Koeltz's arriving forces to take
positions . CCB withdrew to Kasserine . The Germans entered Sbeitla at 1700 .
After four days of fighting in the Faid-Sidi bou Zid-Sbeitla area, the
Americans had lost more than 2,500 men, 100 tanks, 280 vehicles, and 30
guns. Mounting uncertainty and nervousness infected Allied forces as far
away as Algiers, The Germans, holding Gafsa, Feriana, Thelepte, and
Sbeitla, threatened the Sbiba, Kasserine, and other passes in the Western
Dorsale . If they pressed forward, they would menace Tebessa, Le Kef,
Bone-indeed, the entire Allied front in Tunisia . Thus ended the third phase
of the Battle of Kasserine Pass .
On the evening of 17 February, von Arnim left the 21st Panzer Division at
Sbeitla, sent a task force north toward Sbiba, and dispatched the 10th Panzer
Division to take positions in reserve behind the Pichon and Fondouk passes .
When Rommel telephoned that evening and suggested a lightning thrust to
Tebessa, von Arnim was uninterested, although he permitted reconnaissance
elements to probe beyond Sbeitla toward Kasserine the next day . Rommel,
still lured by the prospect of exploiting success, sent a message to Kesselring
on the afternoon of 18 February . He proposed an attack to Tebessa with the
10th and 21st Panzer Divisions. Kesselring was in accord and passed the
recommendation to Comando Supremo . That night, Comando Supremo approved
but stipulated a shorter hook or envelopment to Le Kef . Rommel was to
control the two panzer divisions and the Afrika Korps, of which the Italian
Centauro Division was a part, but he was to have no authority over von Arnim .
Instructing the 21st Panzer Division to strike to Sbiba, the Afrika Korps to
advance to Kasserine, Rommel recalled the 10th Panzer Division to Sbeitla .
Depending on which attack succeeded, he would commit the 10th to Sbiba or
to Kasserine .
On the Allied side on 18 February, the shock of defeat was visible among
the troops . Everyone was tired . Units were mauled, dispersed, and mixed ;
had no specific missions ; lacked knowledge of adjacent formations. The troops
seemed to be slipping out of control . Eisenhower sent artillery and tank
destroyers from Algeria to Tunisia. A shipment of 295 new Sherman tanks
had just arrived, but unwilling to risk losing them all, he released 30 to the
British and 30 to the 1st Armored Division . Alexander had come to Algiers on
15 February in accordance with agreements reached at the Allied Casablanca
Conference in January and prepared to take command of the ground forces in
Tunisia-Anderson's First Army and Montgomery's Eighth-which were
approaching the Mareth Line . Alexander conferred with Eisenhower, then
toured the British front on 16 February, visited the French sector on 17
February, and traveled on 18 February to the II Corps area . He was horrified
to see the state of confusion and uncertainty and was upset by the absence of a
coordinated plan of defense . Instead of waiting to take command of the
ground forces on 20 February, he assumed command on the nineteenth and
ordered everyone to hold in place. There was to be no withdrawal from the
Western Dorsale .
Moore's 19th Engineers had been laying mines between the village of
Kasserine and the pass, five miles beyond . On 18 February, having covered
the withdrawal of CCB through the village and the pass, Moore moved his
men through the pass and organized defensive positions . Just beyond the pass,
on the western side, the road splits : one route leads to the west toward
Tebessa ; the other, the main road, goes north to Thala . Moore, with about
200 engineers and infantrymen armed with small arms and automatic
weapons and supported by two batteries of U .S . 105-mm howitzers, a battery
of French 75s, and a battalion of tank destroyers in the rear, covered the road
to Tebessa . An infantry battalion defended the road to Thala . 69 Most of the
troops were inexperienced and nervous . On the evening of 18 February,
Anderson instructed Koeltz to dispatch a brigade of Keightley's 6th Armoured
Division from Sbiba to Thala . Brig . Charles A . L . Dunphie's 26th
Armoured Brigade moved . He was thus in place to help the American
battalion defending the road from Kasserine to Thala . Or he could move back
to Sbiba if the main German threat developed there .
Meanwhile, CCA of the 1st Armored Division, having given Keightley's
and Ryder's forces, as well as the French, time to set up defensive positions at
the Sbiba Pass, drove through Sbiba to Tebessa . On 19 February, CCA
arrived at the three minor passes south and west of Kasserine to bolster
remnants of a French division, two American battalions (one of Rangers, the
other of infantry), the Derbyshire Yeomanry, and CCB, When German
reconnaissance units probed the Kasserine Pass on the evening of 18
February, some of Moore's engineers fled . That night Fredendall put Stark in
command of all the units defending the pass . Stark arrived on the morning of
19 February as the Germans attacked in earnest . Seeking surprise, an infantry
battalion of the Afrika Korps advanced through Kasserine Pass without artillery
preparation . When the troops met opposition, a panzer grenadier battalion
backed by 88-mm cannon reinforced them . A unit of British mortars and
some reconnaissance elements had just arrived at the Kasserine Pass, and they
helped the Americans hold off the Germans . When Moore asked for more
infantry to support his engineers, Stark seized on a battalion of the 9th U .S.
Infantry Division that had just arrived from Algeria . Stark sent two rifle
companies to Moore-one for each flank of Moore's defenses-and kept one
for the Thala road, thereby splitting the battalion .
Rommel himself came to Kasserine, was impressed by the opposition,
and decided to make his main effort toward Sbiba . But he wished the attack at
Kasserine to continue . After clearing the pass, his troops were to strike
westward toward Tebessa in order to stretch the Allied defenses . The 21st
Panzer Division had attacked Sbiba that morning, but Koeltz, Keightley, and
Ryder had stopped the thrust . Rommel then changed his mind and decided to
concentrate in the Kasserine area . He ordered the 10th Panzer Division, which
was on its way to Sbeitla, to continue on to the Kasserine Pass . The division
was at half strength, for von Arnim had refused to release some units,
particularly the heavy panzer battalion, which had about two dozen enormous
Tiger tanks . Because the 10th was moving slowly, an impatient Rommel
brought up the Centauro Division. He now wished the Afrika Korps to open the
pass and to drive westward toward Tebessa . The 10th Panzer Division, after
going through the Kasserine Pass, was to strike at Thala . That evening, the
16th Infantry of the 1st Division marched from the Sbiba area to the Kasserine
area. Fredendall sent it to bolster the minor passes south and west of
Kasserine. He gave General Allen, the 1st Division commander who was with
the regiment, the job of coordinating the defenses of these passes . Fredendall
then ordered CCB of the 1st Armored Division to back up the engineers on
the Tebessa road at Kasserine Pass where the defenses seemed on the verge of
collapse . Dunphie, commander of the 26th Armoured Brigade at Thala, asked
permission to reinforce Stark, but Keightley wanted him to be on hand if he
was needed at Sbiba . Dunphie nonetheless sent eleven of his tanks from Thala
to buttress Stark's positions that night .
On 20 February, the 21st Panzer Division attacked Sbiba again and made
no progress . But at Kasserine, the shrieks of the nebelwerfer, multiple rocket
launchers that had been recently introduced by the Germans, unnerved
Moore's engineers holding the Tebessa road . They fell apart, and by
afternoon-having lost eleven men killed, twenty-eight wounded, and eightynine
missing in three days (and many more had temporarily vanished)-they
no longer existed as a coherent force . Fortunately, Robinett's CCB arrived
and blocked the road . On the main route to Thala, although jittery, the
defenders held . Rommel then became even more impatient for a quick victory
at Sbiba and Kasserine . He was apprehensive over the Mareth Line positions,
for Montgomery had just that day attacked his outposts in southern Tunisia .
Late in the afternoon, on Anderson's order, Keightley dispatched Brig .
Cameron Nicholson, his assistant division commander, from Sbiba to Thala
with miscellaneous troops . No longer confident of Fredendall's ability,
Anderson wished Nicholson to command, as Fredendall's representative, all
the British, American, and French fighting on the west side of Kasserine Pass .
What actually developed was that Fredendall and Robinett' commanded the
forces blocking the Tebessa road, and Nicholson and Dunphie took control of
the units defending the Thala road .
On 21 February, Rommel let the attacks in the Sbiba area continue but
looked for decisive success at Kasserine . He decided to make his main effort to
Thala and to head for Le Kef beyond . Furious fighting on both the Tebessa
and Thala roads resulted in a slight German advance toward Tebessa and the prospect of German tactical success at Thala . By now, Stark's force on the
Thala road had virtually evaporated, and Dunphie emerged as the chief Allied
protagonist . Committing his tanks and infantry against a strong thrust
directed by Rommel himself, who took control of the battle for several hours,
Dunphie lost the bulk of his armor and had to withdraw to the final line of
defense before Thala . The Germans followed, and fierce combat erupted after
darkness and ended in a draw. Both sides retired 1,000 yards-Dunphie to the
north, the Germans to the south . The final defensive line was virtually
uncovered, and Rommel seemed about to enter Thala . Expecting just that,
Anderson asked Koeltz, who had again stopped the Germans at Sbiba, to send
a battalion of infantry and whatever else he could to Thala, Because Ryder
was making some local adjustments, Koeltz requested Keightley to dispatch
elements . That night, a battalion of British infantry and some tanks traveled
along a mountain trail to reinforce Nicholson and Dunphie .
Meanwhile, Allied units were coming from Algeria . A battalion of
French infantry moved from Constantine and arrived at Sbiba . Fifty-two
Sherman tanks and crews were en route to Tebessa . A provisional British unit
with twenty-five new Churchill tanks reached Sbiba . The 47th Infantry of the
9th U .S. Division was on the way from Oran to Tebessa . Most important,
Brig. Gen. S . LeRoy Irwin's 9th Division Artillery, with three artillery
battalions and two cannon companies, traveling from western Algeria, got to
Tebessa on the afternoon of 21 February . Ordered to Thala at once, Irwin's
guns were in position by midnight . Nicholson placed Irwin in charge of all the
artillery at Thala, and Irwin sited his forty-eight pieces, plus thirty-six other
guns of various calibers, to cover the all-but,abandoned final line of defense,
manned now by British infantry reinforced by stragglers rounded up by Stark,
about twenty tanks of Dunphie's brigade, plus the British infantry battalion
and a few tanks, some of them new Shermans released by Eisenhower, coming
from Sbiba . Less than a mile away were at least fifty German tanks, 2,500
infantry, thirty artillery pieces, and other weapons, including the notorious
nebelwerfer .
The 10th Panzer Division was ready to start what Rommel expected would
be the advance into Thala on the morning of 22 February, when Irwin's guns
opened up . Expecting a counterattack, the Germans postponed their effort .
Nicholson launched a foray and, although he lost five tanks, bluffed the
Germans. Rommt;l came up the Thala road, noted the increased volume of
Allied shelling, and gave permission to delay the offensive . Now Robinett and
his CCB seemed about to be overwhelmed . During the previous night,
approximately a battalion of German and Italian troops had infiltrated the
American positions . Intending to strike toward Tebessa, they became lost . On
the morning of 22 February, they arrived in the rear of the miscellaneous
Allied troops-American, French, and British-guarding the Bou Chebka
Pass, one of the minor defiles south and west of Tebessa . The Axis force
captured several American howitzers and antiaircraft guns and prompted
considerable anxiety over the security of that pass and two others nearby . It
took most of the day to track down, disperse, and capture the Italo-German
Under the impression that Allied defenses were caving in, Fredendall
went to the commander of the under-strength French division in the area and
asked him to defend Tebessa . While Fredendall was gone, someone at the II
Corps headquarters decided to move the corps command post to avoid being
overrun. When Fredendall returned, he found his headquarters half abandoned;
many clerks and radio operators were on the way to Le Kef and
Constantine . Feeling unable to maintain control, Fredendall, having already
passed responsibility to Allen for the minor passes, now instructed Ward to
coordinate the defenses on the Tebessa road . Learning that the 47th Infantry
of the 9th Division was about thirty miles south of Constantine, Fredendall
asked the regiment to remain where it was in order to protect Constantine in
case the Axis forces broke through Thala and Tebessa .
During the night of 22 February, Anderson, whose British First Army
headquarters was nine miles north of Sbiba, shifted his command post behind
Le Kef. Koeltz almost pulled his headquarters back too, for von Arnim had
attacked half-heartedly in the Pichon area . But Koeltz drew Keightley's and
Ryder's divisions out of Sbiba and faced them toward Thala to meet the
expected breakthrough there . Sbiba lay open to German entry. However,
nothing happened at Sbiba or at Kasserine . After conferring with Kesselring,
who came to Tunisia on the afternoon of 22 February, Rommel called off his
attack . He had been unable to secure von Arnim's cooperation . He thought it
impossible to obtain a decisive victory before Montgomery attacked the
Mareth Line . His units were fatigued, and Rommel himself was extremely
tired and discouraged . That night, Rommel ordered his forces to withdraw to
the Eastern Dorsale and the east coast . They did so early on the morning of 23
February, leaving a profusion of mines and destroyed bridges in their wake .
There was no Allied pursuit of the departing enemy . According to Koeltz, the
Allied units "were in such disorder and their commanders so shaken" that no
immediate reaction was possible . 70 The Battle of Kasserine Pass was over .
On the afternoon of 23 February, some Allied units moved forward
cautiously. They found no enemy. Not until two days later did the Allies
understand that Rommel's offensive had ended . They then advanced to the
east and several days later were again in Sbeitla and Sidi bou Zid, in Thelepte,
Feriana, and Gafsa .
German losses in the Kasserine operation totaled almost 1,000 casualties-
200 men killed, almost 550 wounded, 250 missing-and 14 guns, 61
motor vehicles, 6 half-tracks, and 20 tanks were destroyed . Italian losses are
unknown. The II Corps took 73 Germans and 535 Italians prisoner . The
Germans reported capturing 4,000 prisoners, 62 tanks and half-tracks,
motor vehicles, and 36 guns . But American losses were much higher . About
30,000 Americans engaged in the Kasserine fighting under II Corps, and
probably 300 were killed, almost 3,000 wounded, nearly 3,000 missing . It
would take 7,000 replacements to bring the units to authorized strengths . The
34th Division under the French XIX Corps at Sbiba sustained approximately
50 men killed, 200 wounded, and 250 missing . II Corps lost 183 tanks, 104
half-tracks, 208 artillery pieces, and 512 trucks and jeeps, plus large amounts
of supplies-more than the combined stocks in American depots in Algeria
and Morocco . The series of operations known as the Battle of Kasserine
Pass-from the start at Faid through Sidi bou Zid and Sbeitla to the final act
at the Kasserine defile-was a disaster for the U .S . Army.
U.S. forces at Kasserine displayed several strengths . The battle confirmed the
leadership of certain individuals-among them Ward, Robinett, Hightower,
Alger, Waters, and Stack in the 1st Armored Division ; Ryder, Drake, and
Moore in the 34th Division ; Summerall the artilleryman ; and many at the
small-unit level whose names escaped notice . New weapons and equipment
coming to the field of battle, although at first poorly managed, turned out to
be superior . The .50-caliber antiaircraft machine gun, used particularly well
by CCB along the road leading to Tebessa, spelled the doom of the German
dive bomber. The Sherman tank proved to be battleworthy . The bazooka
would be used with success later . When relatively inexperienced American
troops fought alongside seasoned allies, notably as at Sbiba, they stood firm
and controlled . If the British were largely responsible for stopping the
Germans on the road to Thala, the Americans had, after initial unsteadiness,
settled down and blocked the road to Tebessa, Instead of being disheartened
by their inexperience, they displayed a remarkable recovery and an ability to
learn . Subsequent operations in Tunisia revealed their competence and
confidence . They quickly came to regard their allies with understanding and
to work with them closely despite differences in national outlooks, habits, and
The weaknesses the Americans showed were those usually demonstrated
by inexperienced troops committed to battle for the first time . Beforehand,
they were overconfident, as CCA was at Sidi bou Zid ; once committed, they
were jittery, as were Moore's engineers . They lacked proficiency in newly
developed weapons such as bazookas . They had, difficulty identifying enemy
weapons and equipment, They were handicapped by certain poor commanders-
Fredendall, who was arrogant, opinionated, and perhaps less than
stable ; McQuillin and Stark, known as Old Mac and Old Stark, whose
reactions were slow, cautious, and characteristic of World War I operations .
Units were dispersed and employed in small parcels instead of being
concentrated . Air-ground cooperation was defective . Replacement troops
were often deficient in physical fitness and training . Some weapons were
below par-the light tank was suitable only for reconnaissance ; the tank
destroyer was insufficiently armed and armored ; the 37-mm gun was too
small . Higher commanders shirked the responsibility or lacked the knowledge
to coordinate units in battle, to delineate firm unit boundaries, to mass
defensive fire, and to provide military police to handle traffic and prisoners of
war. Commanders were in general imprecise in their orders . Command lines
among the Allied forces had been tenuous, and mutual lack of confidence and
bitterness marred relations . In addition, "American troops in North Africa
enjoyed very little direct support from aircraft and suffered many attacks at
the hands of friendly fliers, all because no solutions had been developed for the
problems identified in the 1941 maneuvers of Louisiana and Carolinas ." 71
The strengths of the Axis as perceived by the Americans consisted of
combat troops' experience ; the superiority of certain items of equipment,
notably the German tanks ; the effectiveness of the nebelwerfer; and the close
coordination of tactical air support with ground operations . Axis weaknesses
were a lack of trust between Germans and Italians, the absence of an effective
coalition machinery to provide overall theater direction, and, although it was
scarcely remarked on at the time, the petty jealousies among commanders,
notably between von Arnim and Rommel . Had Axis forces been closely
coordinated by an overall commander in pursuit of bold objectives enunciated
by a self-confident coalition, the Axis would, no doubt, have attained a
strategic victory instead of merely a tactical success .
As a consequence of the Battle of Kasserine Pass, the U .S . Army
instituted many changes . Officers worked to improve fire-direction control, to
obtain better battlefield intelligence, and to gain more effective air support .
Four months after Kasserine, in July 1943, the Army Ground Forces
lengthened the thirteen-week basic training cycle to seventeen weeks and
stressed physical conditioning, mine laying and removal, patrolling, reconnaissance,
and other combat techniques . The Army concentrated on producing
the Sherman tank and procuring larger caliber guns, notably those of 76-
mm and 90-mm. Commanders decided to employ units as units instead of
parceling them out in small segments . Fredendall, McQuillin, and Stark were
removed from positions of leadership . Emphasis was now placed on efficiency,
discipline, and self-control . The Army tightened its procedures and became
more military in the best sense of the word .
More specifically, the War Department made changes in the infantry
division . 72 In March 1943, the infantry squad was authorized ten Garand
rifles, one automatic rifle, and one Springfield 1903 Model rifle, a considerable
increase in small-arms firepower. The cannon company with six selfpropelled
75-mm howitzers and two self-propelled 105-mm howitzers had
been used at the infantry battalion level, but in March 1943, the War
Department abolished the cannon companies in infantry battalions and
replaced them with the increased firepower and greater flexibility of three
cannon platoons at the infantry regimental level with six towed 105-mm
howitzers . The experience of the 1st Armored Division in North Africa was
considered too fragmentary to give guidance on reorganization . Furthermore,
deployment of the armored division in the Battle of Kasserine Pass was
defensive and not in line with the aggressively offensive mission for which the
armored divisions had been intended . Nevertheless, on 15 September 1943,
while the 1st and 2d Armored Divisions, both overseas, remained as
constituted under the 1942 tables of organization and equipment, other and
newer armored divisions were restructured and lightened . The regimental
echelon was abolished, and the battalion became the basic unit . All battalions
were alike and therefore interchangeable . Three battalions of tanks, infantry,
and artillery increased flexibility and doubled the proportion of infantry to
tanks. Three combat commands, all of which could fight, now became
standard .
The 37-mm gun had been a failure in North Africa, and the War
Department recognized this fact . But while the weapon was "definitely
abandoned" in favor of the 57-mm gun as the result of experience in Tunisia,
the 37-mm gun had to be retained until enough 57-mm guns could be
produced to replace the lighter model .
The tank destroyer, "armed with unsatisfactory and makeshift expedients,"
was a disappointment . In general, the weapon lacked suitable armor
protection and firepower . Creation and development of the weapon, as well as
training for its use, had come too late for Kasserine Pass . When "it became
clear from the limited operations in Tunisia . . . that tank destroyer units
would not be requested by theater commanders in anything like the numbers
that were becoming available," McNair recommended in April 1943 further
reducing the number of tank destroyer battalions to be activated . The
maximum projection of 222 battalions had already been cut to 144 ; now it was
curtailed to 106 .
In May 1943, when Ward, having been relieved as commander of the 1st
Armored Division, assumed command of the Tank Destroyer Center at Camp
Hood, he shifted the principal training emphasis to gunnery, developed the
capacity for indirect fire, and stressed teamwork and operating in simulated
battle conditions, The field manual was rewritten in June 1943 in light of the
lessons of the battle . There was a shift toward using towed three-inch tank
destroyers, which were now beginning to be regarded as defensive weapons .
Not until the European campaign of 1944 was a proper role found for tank
destroyers . They were recognized as defensive weapons and, instead of the
earlier offensive orientation, they operated with "aggressive spirit . "73 While
tanks became the primary antitank weapons, tank destroyers became highly
mobile supporting artillery. They functioned as auxiliary artillery, together
with tanks and antiaircraft artillery . The Tunisian operation led to increased
numbers of field artillery, tank, and combat-engineer battalions . 74
The antiaircraft training cycle, which had been increased from thirteen to
eighteen weeks before Kasserine Pass, was again lengthened in July 1943, this
time to twenty-two weeks . 76 Yet the "most disappointing aspect of the 1943
maneuvers . . . was air-ground cooperation ."76 Planes frequently attacked
friendly forces because of failure to display panels on the ground or to properly
use pyrotechnics, and antiaircraft artillery continued to shoot down friendly
planes. Close coordination of ground units and tactical supporting air units
would be successfully resolved only after the Normandy invasion, when
tactical air commands worked closely with each field army and when special
radios enabled pilots to talk directly with the ground units they were
assisting .77 By the late summer of 1943, Army authorities agreed that
combined-arms training had never been satisfactory. Infantry and armored
officers had had inadequate training in each other's operations ; higher
commanders and staffs were inexperienced in coordinating operations and
had a tendency to use units "in such driblets that their effectiveness was lost ."
Not enough weapons and units had existed in 1942, or even in 1943, for
effective combined-arms training. 78 Until late in 1943, armored and infantry
divisions were unable to train together, and nondivisional units had only
"limited opportunities for combined [arms] training ." 79
As Army Ground Forces noted in March 1943, divisions in the United
States had received only 50 percent of their authorized equipment in certain
critical items, while nondivisional units had received a mere 20 percent . Thus,
"shortcomings shown by American troops in combat in North Africa . . .
were attributed . . . in large measure to lack of opportunity to train with
enough weapons and ammunition ." 80 Although Army Ground Forces had
tried to issue full allowances to units in training, continuing shortages of
equipment and supplies had made the practice impossible .81 On the other
hand, a major confirmation of prewar outlook was the role of the division
organized to fight as a self-contained organization .
The vision of how the U .S. Army was to fight in World War II was
essentially sound . As McNair remarked in June 1943, a defensive attitude
stimulated by the Battle of Kasserine Pass was "undermining the offensive
spirit by which alone we can win battles," 82 The late date and the short
duration of the mobilization and organization process, of the development
and procurement of weapons and equipment, and of the training cycle,
together with necessary haste and improvisation, made impossible adequately
preparing troops for the exigencies of what was to them the' new and sobering
reality of war. Americans at Kasserine "paid in blood the prise of battlefield
experience ." 83 For Americans who had been imbued with an aggressive and
offensive notion during training, the defensive Battle of Kasserine Pass
imposed a role for which they were psychologically ill equipped . Yet the
underlying cause of the American failure was discrepancy in numbers
between the Allies and the Axis . The Axis built up its strength in Tunisia
faster than the Allies could, and the presence in the field of two Axis armies
against a single Allied army (before Montgomery arrived) gave the Axis an
indisputable advantage . Another trump card was the German and Italian
troops' prior battle experience . Still another was superior Axis equipment,
particularly tanks and guns. The close coordination of ground-air units by
virtue of doctrine, training, and experience also was vitally important .
The Americans made many mistakes in this first large-scale engagement
of the war in Europe, but they learned from their errors and made
adjustments that enabled them to go on to victory in Tunisia and beyond, The
defeat at Kasserine showed the Army what troops had to learn and to do .
"Tell my mother I died for my country. I did what I thought was best."

John Wilkes Booth
April 12, 1865

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Post by Rich » Fri Oct 08, 2004 12:52 pm

2nd SS Panzer Das Reich wrote:Kasserine pass was Germany's first major victory againist the American forces. The Americans lost 3,000 KIA, 3,700 became POWs and 200 American tanks were knocked out of action in this battle.
I'm afraid that is somewhat of an exaggeration.

Actual US tank losses from 14 to 20 February were 98 medium and 2 light tanks. Of those, 46 medium and 2 light tanks were lost 14 February at Sidi Bou Zid and 48 medium tanks were lost in the US counterattack at Sidi Bou Zid on 15 February. The remaining 4 medium tanks were lost 16-20 February, most likely in the operations near Kasserine Pass itself.

The battle casualties are somewhat more confused, but hardly approached the levels suggested, especially in killed. Total battle casualties to US Army forces engaged in the battle (1st AD and elements of the 1st and 34th ID), for the entire campaign (8 November 1942-13 May 1943) included just 1,625 KIA, 5,757 WIA and 3,990 MIA and CAP. And for February, total theater casualties to the US Army, including Air Corps, were 431 KIA, 1,014 WIA and 3,355 MIA and CAP.

As far as the fragmentary battle casualty reports for the engagements go, it may be estimated that from 14-20 February losses were 45-46 KIA, 130-176 WIA and 2,138-2,378 MIA.

In any case, the claim of 3,000 KIA is quite simply wrong.

The report of 3,700 PW evidently comes from two German reports, one dated 19 February from PzAOK 5 for the period 14-18 February, which counted 2,876 "American" prisoners, and a second from DAK dated 22 February for 19-22, which counted 845 "prisoners." Overall, it appears that this total of 3,721 prisoners must be a partial duplication, includes Commonwealth PW as "American," is miscounted, or all of the above.

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Post by 2nd SS Panzer Das Reich » Fri Oct 08, 2004 1:52 pm

I looked at web site that had the info I posted. I guess this teachs me "not to believe everything I read".

This is the website im talking about.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_ ... erine_Pass
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Post by Rich » Tue Oct 12, 2004 6:59 am

2nd SS Panzer Das Reich wrote:I looked at web site that had the info I posted. I guess this teachs me "not to believe everything I read".

This is the website im talking about.
Generally Wikipedia is more careful than that, I am a little surprised. However, like all encyclopedic entries you have to treat it with a grain of salt, since you have no idea where the information comes from. :(

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