The Restored Burlington Northern Depot & WWII Memorial Museum

http://depothill.net


 Faïd and Kasserine Passes Battle
Tunisia, 30 JAN 1943 – 22 FEB 1943

 

Introduction

During the struggle against the Axis, the citizens of Montgomery County Iowa

 lost a high percentage of their sons.  Many active service participants from the

county were solders in Company F ( Villisca) and Company M ( Red Oak).

During WWII, both units were assigned to the

168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Red Bull Infantry Division (see note 1).

  At the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial  in Tunisia rest

2,841 of our military dead, their headstones set in straight lines subdivided into

 nine rectangular plots by wide paths, with decorative pools at their intersections.

Along the southeast edge of the burial area, bordering the tree-lined terrace

leading to the memorial is the Wall of the Missing.  On this wall 3,724 names

are engraved. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.

Most honored here lost their lives in World War II in military activities

ranging from North Africa to the Persian Gulf.

 

The Memorial in the North Africa American Cemetery consists of the Court of Honor and

 

the chapel. The Court of Honor is in the form of a cloister.  Within it is a large rectangular

 

stone of remembrance of black Diorite d'Anzola quarried in northwest Italy;

 

this inscription, adapted from Ecclesiasticus XLIV, is worked into the

 

design of the mosaic panel surrounding the base:

 

SOME THERE BE WHICH HAVE NO SEPULCHRE

THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE.

 

The rectangular pylons of the cloister are of San Gottardo limestone from the vicinity of

Vicenzain Italy; the main part of the structure of the memorial is faced with Roman travertine.

The pavement is of Sienite della Balma granite from northwest Italy. In the southwest

corner is a Russian-olive tree (Elaeagnus angustifolia).  On the west wall of the cloister

facing the mall is this inscription, with translations in French and Arabic:

1941-1945

IN PROUD REMEMBRANCE OF THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF HER SONS AND

IN HUMBLE TRIBUTE TO THEIR SACRIFICES THIS MEMORIAL HAS

BEEN ERECTED BY THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

cemetery-american-tunisiaVER2.jpg

<<<>>> 

The name "Kasserine" is generally not remembered as one of the finest hours of the

US Army because of the disastrous battle at Kasserine Pass, where German forces

delivered a crushing blow to the American Army.

 

 

However, "Kasserine" was, in fact, a series of engagements between Axis & Allied forces

including the 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Red Bull Infantry Division,

that left the US Army still in control of the battlefield at the end of the fight.

 

At the start of 1943, both Axis & Allies were moving forces into Tunisia as quickly as possible.

German units were ferried across the Mediterranean by all available means.  The Afrika Korps

had been pulled back through Libya to the Mareth Line on Tunisia's southeastern border.

 

The British Eighth Army was slowly moving up behind the German retreat in the east and

Allied forces were being moved from Morocco and Algeria into western Tunisia.

The British First Army was in the north, the American II Corps in the south,

with French forces in between.

 

In southern Tunisia, the Atlas mountains divide into Y-shaped extensions of the Eastern Dorsal

and Western Dorsal.  The Germans controlled the passes through the Eastern Doral,

secured by actions occurring at the end of January, while the Allies controlled the

Western Dorsal, with a strong American II Corps presence in the valley in between.

 

Axis forces decided to expand their defensive perimeter.  For this action, Field Marshal

Erwin Rommel had his 21st Panzer Division, most of the 10th Panzer Division, and units

from the Kampfgruppe DAK (Deutsches Afrika Korps).  On 14 February Rommel attacked

through Faïd Pass in the Eastern Dorsal, inflicting severe damage on American units in his path.

 

Within three days, the Germans controlled the valley.  The American II Corps suffered

significant losses, including most of its 1st Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, and the

168th Infantry Regiment, killed or captured.  The Allies retreated and began moving units to block

a likely German attack through the Western Dorsal passes at Sbiba Gap and Kasserine Pass.

On 17 February, Allied forces were ordered into Sbiba Gap and Kasserine Pass.

 

At Sbiba Gap were elements of the British 6th Armoured Division, which consisted mainly of

the British Guards Brigade, to which the 18th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division

was attached.  This force was later supplemented by units of the 34th Infantry Division.

 

At Kasserine Pass was Task Force Stark, which consisted mainly of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry,

the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Infantry division, and the 19th Combat Engineer Regiment,

3rd Infantry Division, later reinforced by elements of the 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry.

 

Rommel, still the Desert Fox, saw an opportunity to boldly strike the Allies, with their green

and untested American Torch forces, and, if successful, cause their retreat into Algeria - an

event that would surely prolong the German presence in North Africa.

 

He proposed his battle plan, but, fortunately for the Allies, there were dissensions among the

German commanders in Tunisia.  Field Marshal Von Arnim, commander of the 5th Panzer Army,

disagreed with details of Rommel's plan and the Axis commander in North Africa,

Field Marshal Kesselring, modified the plan, leaving Rommel somewhat perplexed

and possibly much less enthusiastic about his prospect for complete success.

map-kasserinesbiba.png

 

On 19 February, Rommel renewed the attack.  He assigned the 21st Panzer Division to probe

Sbiba Gap and Kampfgruppe DAK to probe Kasserine Pass, while he recovered the

10th Panzer Divisionfrom Von Arnim.

 

At Sbiba, the British Guards Brigade dug in on the west side of the Sbeitla-Sbiba road,

while the 18th Infantry Regimental Combat Team was assigned more exposed positions

on the east side of the road.  The vaunted 21st Panzer Division reached Sbiba and deployed

to the east of the road. Soldiers of the 21st Panzer Division were among the most seasoned

German fighters then in Africa, having been part of the original Afrika Korps.

 

Rommel arrived during the attack and noted the tough defense at Sbiba. In the meantime,

Kampfgruppe DAK'sprobe, although initially repulsed, showed much more promise.

When the 21st Panzer Division attacked on the morning of the 20th, they fought to within

600 meters of the 18th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, but got no further.

 

Therefore, Rommel ordered them into holding positions and diverted the late-arriving

10th Panzer Divisiontoward Kasserine.  The fate of American soldiers defending

Kasserine Pass is well known. Rommel broke through at Kasserine, then split his force,

sending one group toward Bou Chebka and the other toward Thala.

 

At Bou Chebka he met determined resistance from Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division,

the 16th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, and Big Red One's Division Artillery. At Thala,

the British 26th Armoured Brigade gave ground grudgingly in a valiant attempt to stem

the German tide. Fortunately, the US 9th Division Artillery arrived just in time.

 

By the end of the day on the 22nd, it was clear that Rommel's bold plan could not succeed.

His units by then lacked the strength of force, compounded by a crippling shortage

of fuel and ammunition, to exploit his victory at Kasserine Pass.

The Germans broke contact and withdrew.

"Kasserine" was over.

 

Courtesy of 18th INFANTRY REGIMENT ASSOCIATION

http://www.18infantry.org/18th_Regiment_Lineage.php

 

Also, read

Battle of the Kasserine Pass on Wikipedia

 

 

Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West

( especially Part Five – “Concentration of Forces in Tunisia” )

by Dr. George F. Howe

 

Strategy and Tactics by the Third Reich, in North Africa
by Mitch Williamson, historian


Tunisia 17 November 1942 – 13 May 1943

as reported by the U.S. Army Center of Military History

 
     Kasserine Pass and the Tunisian Campaign
(youtube, 1 hour),

lecture, maps, and images, by Captain Rick Jacobs

 

Faïd and Kasserine by Kenneth C. Haydon

( son of Carl G. Haydon, Company A, 1st Battalion,

168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division,

who fought in North Africa and Italy during WWII )

Haydon discusses, was Faïd & Kasserine a SUCCESS or FAILURE?


“The experience [of the Luftwaffe savaging American ground forces at] Kasserine
directly led to the issuance of what has been called the ‘Declaration of Independence’
of the U.S. Air Force.”  Read
Control of the Air: The Ensuring Requirement
by
Dr Richard Paul Hallion, Jr (see pp 12-13 of the 72 page .pdf article, 1999)


The ‘Declaration of Independence’ for tactical airpower was based on
“Centralized control, decentralized execution”, proven to be successful by the R.A.F.
Read the three page
overview by Dr Silvano Wueschner (.pdf, 2018)

 

 

*** ADDENDUM ***

Some lessons learned by the Allies, from engagements in Faïd and Kasserine Passes battle,

which assisted in the final victory over the Axis.

Kasserine Pass was the only time in WWII the 34th Infantry Division withdrew

(45-50 km).   Contributing factors included units being repeatedly passed to the French,

British, and American II Corps, and the tactical mistake of thin lines of Allied tanks against

massed elements of Panzerarmee Afrika movements.   Also, lack of reinforcements,

provisions, and air support (the Luftwaffe was dominate over the battlefield).   

On 06 March 1943, newly promoted Lieutenant General George S. Patton

replaced Major General Lloyd Fredendall, as commander of the American II Corps.

For more “lessons learned”,

click here for Dr. George F. Howe’s expansive “Fruits of Victory” report

from the Center of Military History, U.S. Department of Defense.


Also, The significance of Kasserrine on development of Close Air Support Doctrine
by Major A. Hasken, US Army
Joint Force Quarterly, Number 20 (1998-1999).

And, Kasserine Pass and the Proper Application of Airpower
by Major Shawn P. Rife, USAF, in
Joint Force Quarterly, Number 20 (1998-1999).
“Kasserine Pass is the only important battle fought by the Armed Forces – either in
World War II or since that time – without enjoying air superiority.”

Christopher Rein, PhD, Combat Studies Institute, in Army History, Summer 2018,
writes "After the Battle of Kasserine Pass, Eisenhower asked for a replacement
for his British intelligence chief, Brigadier Eric E. Mockler-Ferryman,
belatedly realizing that he should have placed greater trust in estimates
from Fredendall's young but capable staff."   Read Dr Rein's paper
(16 pp .pdf) -
Fredendall's Failure: A
Reexamination of the II Corps at the Battle of Kasserine Pass


"The decision to commit American troops in North Africa came directly from
President Roosevelt, who overruled the advice of [General of the Army] Marshall...."
The Battle of Kasserine Pass: An Examination of Allied Operational Failings
by Vincent M. Carr, Jr., Major, USAF 
(40 pp., .pdf)


 

 

The Restored Burlington Northern Depot & WWII Memorial Museum

depothill.net

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