As part of our series covering the WW2 battles from our 2017 calendar, last month we looked at the Widening of the Bastogne Corridor. This month, we shift our focus to the Battle of the Kasserine Pass in the North African campaign.
By the winter of 1942/43, the campaign in North Africa was going badly for the Axis forces. The Allied victory at the Battle of El Alamein had forced the German Afrika Korps and their Italian allies to retreat towards Tunisia. Only three days later, the Torch Landings in Morocco and Algeria opened up a second front to the West. On 23 January 1943, the British Eighth Army took the Axis’ main supply base in Tripoli. This made the situation even more tenuous for the Axis forces. As they retreated into the Atlas mountains of Tunisia, it rapidly became clear that a counterattack against the British and American forces was imperative to avoid complete defeat.
Recognising that an Allied drive to the Mediterranean coast would severe his supply lines, Field Marshal Rommel planned to launch an attack to push the British and Americans back. On 19 February 1943, Rommel’s attack got under way, focusing on the 2-mile wide Kasserine Pass. Having correctly identified it as a point of vulnerability, Rommel’s forces succeeded in pushing the inexperienced U.S. troops back over 50 miles. Lacking experienced leadership, the American troops were unable to halt the German advance until they finally rallied on 23 February. By the time the Allied troops had re-organised, over 6000 U.S. troops had been killed or captured. Eventually, combined British and American efforts succeeded in pushing the Axis back and retaking the Kasserine Pass. However, the battle had revealed significant shortcomings, particularly in U.S. units. Combat inexperience and several deficiencies in equipment had hampered their performance. In the wake of the battle, a serious study was carried out and several changes were implemented in U.S. Army training and tactical procedures.
The Battle of the Kasserine Pass was the Axis’ last major offensive in North Africa. Although it succeeded tactically in pushing the Allies back, it ultimately failed to relieve their position in the area. The battle came as a major surprise to the American troops and led to significant changes. It was the first major engagement between German and American forces in WW2 and would serve as a valuable lesson to the Allies in their future campaigns in Sicily, Italy and France.