Battle of Kasserine Pass
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseDefeated at the Battle of Faïd Pass and Sidi Bouzid, American forces fell back on 17 Feb 1943 to Kasserine Pass in western Tunisia. Axis commander Erwin Rommel immediately proposed a plan to strike further west into French Algeria to further undermine American efforts in the region before the arrival of the British and Commonwealth forces from Libya. On 18 Feb, he submitted this westward attack to Field Marshal Albert Kesselring for approval, which came down at 1330 hours on 19 Feb. His attack plan, however, had been altered by his superiors; while he wanted a concentrated westward attack toward Tébessa in French Algeria, the plan had been altered so that his forces were divided against two separate passes. He nevertheless commenced the attack later on the same day despite his complaints. Although at this point he had never engaged in major combat with American forces, he did not think the Americans were up to the task of defending against his armored attacks.
ww2dbaseOn the second day of the offensive, Rommel personally led a battlegroup of the German 10th Panzer Division (with Italian units attached to the group) on an attack toward Kasserine Pass. Meanwhile, German 21st Panzer Division moved north against Sbiba Pass. Inexperienced and inadequately armed to defend against a tank assault, the defending American troops broke within minutes. Rommel praised the officers and men the Italian 7th Bersaglieri Regiment, whose gallantry was instrumental in the Axis success; the commanding officer of the 7th Bersaglieri Regiment, Colonel Luigi Bonfatti, was killed in action. Overnight, Italian 131st Armored Division "Centauro" attacked Highway 13, driving out the Americans in the region and taking control of the road.
ww2dbaseOn 21 Feb, the Axis forces were divided into two groups. Rommel personally led German 10th Panzer Division toward Thala, while a smaller Italian and German force advanced toward Haïdra further west near the Tunisian-Algerian border. The Americans continued to fall back; some of the retreats were so unorganized that the Axis forces were able to capture heavy equipment left behind by the Americans. As many American positions were overrun and became surrounded, however, the Axis advance slowed as more and more troops had to be kept behind to eliminate the many pockets that formed. By the end of 21 Feb, the German 10th Panzer Division was positions outside Thala; by this time, it was apparent to the Americans that Rommel's objective was Tébessa in French Algeria to the southwest, a major supply dump. On 22 Feb, with additional Allied forces rushed to Thala over the course of the previous day, the Axis attackers met a stronger resistance. Experienced British infantry replaced the Americans on the front lines, while the Americans and the British formed a powerful artillery force behind the front lines. Pre-empting an Axis attack, the Allies commenced a heavy artillery bombardment, destroying many tanks; it took the Axis forces several hours, until after dark, before they could fall back from the Allied pre-emptive strike.
ww2dbaseBefore dawn on 23 Feb, Rommel gave the order to withdraw eastward to avoid a British attack from Libya, behind his current position. Coincidentally, United States Army bombers launched a massive strike on Axis positions, which hastened the retreat. By 25 Feb, as Axis forces moved east of Kasserine Pass, American forces reoccupied it. The final tally reflected that the Allies suffered 10,000 casualties while the Axis suffered only 2,000; more than half of the Allied casualties were American.
ww2dbaseAlthough the series of American defeats in Tunisia ultimately did not cause serious strategic consequences, the US Army replaced some of the senior commanding officers in the theater. Most notably, Lloyd Fredendall, who shouldered most of the blame on the American side, was removed from command at the II Corps, ultimately replaced by George Patton.
Last Major Update: Mar 2011
Battle of Kasserine Pass Timeline
|18 Feb 1943||Erwin Rommel submitted a plan to Albert Kesselring and the Italian High Command for attacking the Americans guarding the Tunisian-Algerian border.|
|19 Feb 1943||Rommel launched a surprise counter-attack at Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, overwhelming the fresh but inexperienced Americans.|
|20 Feb 1943||German and Italian troops defeated American troops at Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, but the force attacking Sbiba Pass was met with strong resistance.|
|21 Feb 1943||Axis troops pushed American troops back toward Thala, Tunisia and threatened to cross the Tunisian-Algerian border. By this date, the Americans had lost 100 tanks, 55 heavy guns, and 80 trucks.|
|22 Feb 1943||Allied troops pre-emptively struck the Axis attacking forces near Thala, Tunisia.|
|23 Feb 1943||Erwin Rommel ordered his forces in western Tunisia to move east to avoid being attacked on both sides.|
|25 Feb 1943||Battle for Kasserine Pass in Tunisia closed with the Americans, inexperienced and poorly led, suffered a major defeat. Nevertheless, the Americans would regain the pass at the end of the battle as overall strategy dictated the Axis forces to withdraw back into northern Tunisia.|
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Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937