Battle of Kasserine Pass

Battle of Kasserine Pass is an offensive launched by the Axis powers. It is a part of the Tunisia Campaign. The Axis forces defeated in this battle the US-dominated Allied forces, making the inexperience U.S. Army paid a large price. The U.S. Army’s first large-scale contact with the Germans in World War 2 ended in failure.

The war in North Africa entered 1943 when the Axis forces fully retreated to and defended Tunisia. The overall strategic situation was very serious for the Axis. Two allied armies attacked from east and west directions. Most of the region in North Africa had been occupied by the Allies. Tunisia was the last region that could be defended by the Axis. The only hope for the Axis was to defeat the Allies before it got ready for attacking in order to reduce the huge difference in strength between the two sides. Rommel destructed the port facilities before retreating from Tripoli, making the Allies must spend some time to restore the transport capacity of this port. Therefore, the British 8th Army at the east of Tunisia would be temporarily unable to obtain sufficient supplies for large-scale combat. At this time, the Axis forces could concentrate on dealing with the threat from the west. First, they needed to beat the Allied forces located in the middle of Tunisia and avoided Rommel’s armies located in southern and northern Tunisia being cut off contact with each other.

The Allied force attacking from the west against Tunisia was the British 1st Army. This force was mainly composed of the troops involved in Operation Torch, including troops from the United Kingdom and the United States. After the French Army in French North Africa surrendered, the French Army also joined the 1st Army. The common feature of these forces was lack of combat experience. Except that some British troops had some combat experience, most of the U.S. forces fought in a war for the first time. And the French forces were in shortage of lack of equipment and lack of training. The Axis forces deployed in Tunisia consisted of two parts, one of which was emergent reinforcements sent from Europe in Operation Torch and the other was the Rommel’s troops retreated after the defeat of the Battle of El Alamein. All the troops had particularly rich experience in combat and had been fighting for a long time in North Africa, Eastern and Western Europe. The disadvantage of these Axis troops was lack of supplies. But at this time, a small amount of the new German tank Tiger I had been transported to the war in North Africa. Compared to the Allied tanks, those tanks had superior firepower and protection.

Before this campaign, the Axis forces defeated the Allied troops successively in Faïd Pass and Sidi Bou Zid. So the Allies decided to retreat westward to Kasserine and Sbiba Passes for the purpose of better defense of the Allies. Rommel’s plan was to try the best to defeat the Allied forces and captured some supply materials to improve their situation.

The battle broke out on February 19. The German 21st Panzer Division still first attacked. This force had been fighting for a long time in North Africa and had achieved many victory results. Since the defense forces were mainly composed of the U.S. and French troops, the Axis forces quickly broke through the Allied defenses. After making the progress, the Axis forces continued to advance forward. On the day of 21st, the Axis forces marched to Tebessa situated within the territory of Algeria. But because the Allies launched fierce air strikes and the mobilized large numbers of reinforcements, the offensive from Axis forces was blocked. Meanwhile, the German 10th Panzer Division went to Thala in the north of the battlefield. But this force failed to achieve its operation objectives owing to fierce resistance from the Allies. Till then, the Axis army’s offensive had been completely stalled. After measuring the battlefield situation, Rommel decided to retreat. The Axis forces retreated to the position where they launched the battle. Eventually, the Germans lost about 2,000 people and the Allies lost about 10,000.

Although the Allies suffered larger losses in this battle, it still successfully stopped the Axis forces to achieve their goals. For the Axis forces, it needed a decisive victory to change the battlefield situation, but in this battle it apparently did not do it. Despite of the larger losses of the Allies, but compared to its strong strength, the Allies could completely afford it and it learned a lot from the experience of failure. Over time, the situation was more and more difficult for the Axis powers. Once the British 8th Army in the east got well prepared for attack, it would be very difficult for the Axis forces suffering attacks on its both flanks to hold their defense lines in Tunisia. The contest between the Allies and the Axis in North Africa had entered the countdown state.

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