A bloody introduction to modern armored warfare
The US Army got its first taste of the German Army in the Atlas Mountains of Tunisia in mid February 1943. It was not a glorious time for the untried American II Corps. Poor leadership by II Corps commander Floyd Fredendall led the Americans to a humiliating defeat in a series of defensives positions and ill-conceived counter-attacks. Almost 6,000 were killed or wounded and hundreds more were captured in the battles around Sidi Bou Zid (14th/15th), Sbeitla(16th) and the Kasserine Pass(19th). The whole action is often referred to in the aggregate as the Battle of Kasserine Pass.
In early February 1943, General Erwin Rommel and his German Africa Corps were in danger of being cut off from its provisions in Tunisia. The American Army’s II Corps had taken up positions in the passes of the Grand Dorsal section of the Aurès Mountains at the eastern end of the Atlas Mountain chain which were blocking Rommel’s way to his northern Tunisian supply ports. Rommel sent two Panzer Divisions to take the passes. They surprised The American 1st Armored Division, led by General Orlando Ward, on the morning of 14 February 1943 with a well choreographed air and land maneuver. The disarrayed Americans were ordered by Fredendall to regroup, with minimal re-enforcements, and counter-attack. Ward thought this was ill-advised, but did not object vigorously. Rommel was prepared and unleashed hell on the unsuspecting Americans with a classic ambush near Sidi Bou Zid. The 1st Armoured was mauled again.
The Battle of Kasserine Pass
Finally, the Americans were allowed to fall back and re-group. The next point of defense would be the Kasserine pass, which was an opening in the range where a road, a river and a railroad track went through…an obvious point to hold. Rommel knew this as well. After probing the line sufficiently, Rommel launched. Already learning the very hard lessons that Rommel was teaching them, the Americans held at first and Rommel had to try again. The Desert Fox’s second attempt was to prove successful and the way was open for his panzers to rush through the gap.
Rommel was in open conflict with the Italians and many of his German colleagues and superiors, so he did not hold the area for long. However, in conducting the actions around the Kasserine Pass, he had taught the Americans a great lesson and it was taken to heart fully.
The Battle of Kasserine Pass Motorcycle Ride Recommendation
I have not ridden this, but would love to some day. II Corps landed around Oran, Algeria in early November 1942 as part of Operation Torch. They traversed northern Algeria to enter Tunisia in late 1942 through early 1943. The ride I describe follows the Tell Atlas range running parallel to the Mediterranean coast. It is mostly on the new A1 highway from Oran to the Battle of Kasserine Pass battlefields in northern Tunisia.