The Afrika Korps, was a German military unit led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. It is most well known for its unlikely victories and for being one of the German units to never be accused of war crimes. The Afrika Korps entered the North African campaign to aid Germany's Italian allies when the Italians suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the British Commonwealth forces. Rommel launched an offensive from El Agheila which pushed the British back into Egypt. The British subsequently attacked advancing back to El Agheila. Again the Afrika Korps attacked pushing the British Commonwealth forces back to Egypt where the German advance was stopped at the first battle of El Alamein.
Rommel's aggressive campaigns continually lengthened their supply lines, even as the Royal Navy tightened its hold on the Mediterranean. As a result, the Afrika Korps was nearly always in need of vehicles, troops, and most importantly fuel. These supply issues were crucial to its eventual defeat, and with retreat across the sea blocked by the British, they had no choice but to surrender in the spring of 1943.
Battle of Kasserine Pass
The Battle of Kasserine Pass was a military confrontation that took place during World War II. The battle took place at Kasserine Pass in the Atlas Mountains in Tunisia involving Italo-German forces under Rommel that attacked American forces under General Fredendall. It was the first major American combat experience during World War II.
The Anglo-American forces that had landed in Algeria had crossed into Tunisia and after their failure to capture the north half of the country before the arrival Axis reinforcements from Sicily, were now ordered to attack Rommel's Italo-German Army that had retreat from Egypt after the Axis defeat in the Second Battle of El Alamein, pursued at the same time by General Bernard Montgomery's 8th British Army.
Kasserine Pass would prove to be Rommel's last victory in the desert. During the battle, the German officer Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, future chief conspirator against Hitler, was seriously wounded when British fighter plane attacked his vehicle.
Given the scarcity of fuel available to Rommel, the Allies did not expect he would make any significant move towards the west and cross the mountain range that goes from north to south and separates Tunisia from Algeria, and cut in two the allied armies deployed in Algeria and Tunisia. The Allied commanders instead, expected Rommel to continue his retreat northwards to shorten the Axis supply line from the port of Tunis. The Allies, therefore left the Kasserine Pass poorly defended, accumulating troops north of the pass, on both sides of the mountain range.
Upon confirming the enemy weak spots, Rommel realized there was an opportunity to make an attack and a quick advance through kasserine Pass to Tebessa and capture the Allied supply deposits. He began deploying troops to contain the Allied forces located east of the mountains. DAK Kampfgruppe and 21st Panzer Division (General Fritz von Broich) fail in their attacks through Sbiba and Kasserine Pass, but the Italians in the form of the 131st Armored Division Centauro are successful with the Bersaglieri Corps overrunning the US 19th Combat Engineers Regiment (Colonel Anderson Moore). When an attacking tank battalion of the Centauro gains more ground in the fighting, a column of panzers of General von Broich follows up through the pass before turning north towards Thala.
While advancing along Highway 17, the panzers of von Broitch soon encounter strong British defensive positions from the 2nd Leicesters Battalion of the 6th Armored Division deployed outside Thala to halt 10th Panzer. Meanwhile, more units of the 6th Armored Division are sent to reinforce Thala, including three full artillery battalions of the US 9th Division and an anti-tank company.
Meanwhile, the American situation was still very worrying. In Tebessa they were plans in progress for the evacuating of the headquarters of General Fredendall and the destruction of fuel and ammunition depots and other supplies in the base area called Speedy Valley. Morale was collapsing, including that of Fredendall.
Despite the confusion, a new American defense line was taking shape. Combat Command B (CCB) was now blocking the road to Tebessa. Elements of the Centauro Division reached a US outpost in the early morning of 21 February, and after a brief struggle, the outpost was cleared. Assault Group Afrika Korps continued advancing along Highway 13 but the defenders held firm with CCB fighting all day long against repeated German attacks. That night the Africa Panzergrenadier Regiment tried to outlflank CCB, but in the dark attacked an abandoned hill.
The British defenders were still resisting the advance of the 10th Panzer to Thala, but had lost two positions. The Germans had to resort to using captured British tanks Valentine, which worked and the British 26th Armored Brigade (General Charles Dunphy) had to abandon its third line of defense outside Thala.
On 22 February, the Germans continued their efforts to break the last British line of defense outside Thala. The commander of the British force (called Nickforce) defending Thala, was General Cameron Nicholson who managed to convince that day the US commanders present at Thala not abandon the town in favour of Le Kef, 50 miles away. Two battalions of Bersaglieri tried to outflank the defenses of Thala, but the Italian attack was broken by the heavy fire from British artillery. Assault Group Afrika Korps spent much of the day attacking and bombarding CCB, which still defended the road to Tebessa. On the afternoon of 22 March, the 10th Panzer Division was ordered to retreat, but the American and British fire was so fierce that the order could not be fulfilled until nightfall. On Highway 13, attacks from Assault Group Afrika Korps against Combat Command B also ceased, and in the afternoon the Germans in this sector began their retreat.
North Africa was steep learning curve for American forces, the Battle of Kasserine Pass being the near-distasterous defeat that lead to vital restructure, and change in tactics. Close to 30,000 American soldiers took part in the fighting for Kasserine Pass. Around 300 were killed, 3,000 wounded and close to 4,000 American soldiers were captured.
The German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was considered to be a gentleman (as far as German officers went), and later participated in a failed assassination attempt on Hitler. It was his opinion that the Australian Forces represented the elite units of the Allied forces in the North African 'Desert War', this was based on the successful defence of the besieged Tobruk (240 days), and the Australian infantry's innovative means of engaging the German 'Blitzkrieg' Panzer strategy, which up until then was unstoppable without the large-scale use of artillery.
- «Rommel returned to the railway station at Kasserine which briefly served as the combined command post of the German Africa Corps and the 10th Panzer Division, and ordered these two formations to take the Kasserine Pass. In the evening dusk Rommel observed, as he dictated for his diary, 'the exciting scene of the tank battle north of the pass'. He had special praise for the 7th Bersaglieri, who attacked fiercely and whose commander fell during the attack; they threw the American, British and French forces out of the pass ....» Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944, Peter Hoffman, p.171, McGill-Queen's Press, 2008
- «With the available German troops exhausted and still waiting for German reinforcements to arrive, Rommel now ordered the two battalions of the 5th Bersaglieri Regiment (XIV & XXII Battalions, +-1,000 Infantry) forward to the attack. The Italians dismounted from their trucks and backed up by their mortars and the available artillery made a frontal assault on the surrounding ridges. The regimental assault companies and the heavy weapons platoons were sent forward, attacking at several suspected weak points in the Allied defensive lines. A successful breach was made about noon in the frontline minefields and defensive positions and some 800 Bersaglieri infantry stormed forward through the captured frontline strong points.» 5th Bersaglieri Regiment
- «The new commander of DAK Assault Group, General Bulowius, complimented them on their élan, which contributed significantly to Axis success. The Italian action was instrumental in breaking through the US positions and in opening up the road to Thala and Tebessa.» Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian Walker, p.210, Crowood Press, 2006
- «At 4:30 P.M., 20 February, Axis troops rolled through Kasserine Pass. A battalion of the Centauro Division headed west on the road to Tebessa ... The battlegroup from the 10th Panzer Division under Fritz von Broich followed the Centauro battalion into the pass but headed north following the branch road toward Thala.» Exit Rommel: The Tunisian Campaign, 1942-43, Bruce Watson, p. 102, Stackpole Books, 2006
- «Axis forces also made a breakthrough on Highway 13, where the Italians of the Centauro Division spearheaded the attack. In the early morning hours, the Italians pressed their offensive, broke through the remains of the American line, and continued up Highway 13.» Facing The Fox
- THE 23rd FIELD REGIMENT, ROYAL ARTILLERY
- «More than 200 U.S. tanks were destroyed and nearly 4,000 American troops were captured.» World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia, p. 985, David T. Zabecki, Routledge, 2015