The German war machine smashed against the green American lines. Conditioned by years of fighting, the German military outclassed the American’s, and the Battle of Kasserine Pass was evidence of this. The battle would be a bitter lesson learned for the American’s in their war against the Germans. The US would have to look at the way they were conducting their operations against the Axis forces, and significant changes would have to be made. On the windswept deserts of North Africa, victory in the war remained uncertain but within a few short years American troops would be pushing headlong into the German countryside. The lessons learned in North Africa would prove pivotal in the overall victorious campaign in Europe and would help shape the face of modern American warfare.
On 8 November 1942, Allied forces launched Operation Torch. A three-pronged amphibious assault landed in French North Africa to support British and Commonwealth forces battling against the Afrika Korps in Libya. The Vichy government in France had maintained control over French North Africa following the fall of France in 1940. The American’s were able to sweep across French North Africa with relative ease. What resistance put up by Vichy French forces was quickly overwhelmed by superior American firepower. As the Allies converged on Tunisia, the fate of North Africa seemed to be solely in the hands of the Allies.
While the Germans had suffered a significant setback by being pushed to Tunisia, they remained a force to be contended with. In the Battle of Sidi Bou Zid, German forces smashed American defenses. American armor, which had easily overpowered their Vichy French counterparts were outclassed by the well experienced and trained German tank crews. When the dust settled on the battlefield over 100 American tanks were destroyed or damaged. The loss of these armor assets for the American’s would come to haunt them in the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Despite outnumbering the German forces, the American’s again suffered a debilitating defeat. In the Battle of Kasserine Pass, the Allied forces lost an additional 80 tanks. In the two battles between German and American forces in Tunisia, the Germans inflicted over 6,500 casualties and destroyed 183 tanks while only losing 34 tanks of their own and experiencing 2,000 casualties.
Despite the German victories, the Afrika Korps could not stop the Allied onslaught and were forced to retreat from North Africa, with the final surrender of Tunisia on 13 May 1943. The victory was costly for the Allies, but would lead to tactical and strategic innovations that would help with future operations against the Axis forces in Europe and lead to eventual victory.
Look for more information regarding the history of the Battle of Kasserine Pass in the upcoming World at War issue #44 with the article “A Tale of Two Corps: US II Corps & II SS Panzer Corps” and join the conversation on Facebook!