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North African Campaign Pt. 5: Stubbing the Toe
by Pete Gade

Our 105-mm gun is good against tanks. I watched one gun hit three tanks coming in a big mass of tanks, approximately thirty tanks, and with high explosive ammunition he collapsed three of them like taking shoe boxes and shoving them flat. The rest of them scattered or moved up to the right. We had to leave because more were moving up.
- Lt. Colonel L. V. Hightower, Executive Officer, 1st Armored Regiment, First Armored Division. (Compiled by Brig. Gen. T. J. Camp, Tankers in Tunisia.)

Background

Come early 1943, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the once-vaunted “Desert Fox,” shambled through the North African wastes with his tail between his legs.

Shattered by his defeat at the Second Battle of El Alamein in the autumn of 1942, Rommel’s once-vaunted North African force endured months of retreat through Libya. With the British 8th Army hounding his flight he was a broken man, pessimistic, and whip-sure that the complete and utter defeat of Axis forces in North Africa loomed. It must have appeared as such, for on 8 November 1942 U.S. forces landed in three French North African locations as part of Operation Torch. As a harbinger of 1944-45, the Allies then put the squeeze on Germany and its co-belligerents from eastern and western fronts.

Still, Rommel held out some hope. In his view, the American forces were little more than “Britain’s Italians.” Given the typical German assessment of their Italian allies, Rommel clearly held little regard for the combat value of his new opponents who had been flung halfway around the world and rushed into their first battles. He believed that a decisive attack against the Allies’ southern Tunisian flank, largely secured by the Americans, could restore hope for the German situation – and his personal reputation. His moment came in late February 1943 at the Battle of Kasserine Pass.

Scenario: Stubbing the Toe

With their quarry both green and overextended, Germany broke through the Kasserine Pass in spectacular fashion. Yet their success against the Allies proved fleeting as Axis infighting and indecision allowed U.S. and British forces a chance to make key stands against dispersed enemy battlegroups.

Aftermath

Axis forces indeed made initial headway against the Allies at Kasserine Pass after two days of fighting between 19 and 20 February. Yet, on the 21st, the Allies made two defiant stands that stymied the Axis onslaught. Elements of the U.S. 1st Armored Division halted the Axis advance along the Tebessa road, and a near suicidal counter by British forces outside of Thala bought the Allies yet more valuable time. The Axis then retreated and the Allies reoccupied Kasserine Pass just days after the initial attack.

Suggested Reading

Atkinson, Rick (2002). An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy. Henry Holt and Co.










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