TEBOURBA Nov 26, 1942
By the end of November 1942 the Allies had arrived in Tunisia after driving across Morocco and Algeria. Their plan is to separate the Axis forces in Bizerte from those in Tunis and then to destroy the divided Axis forces and capture both cities. Then they will move south behind Rommel.
The primary Axis strike force under General Nehrings XC Corps is the 190th Pz Bn of 90th Lt Division. More German and Italian forces are on their way; namely, 10th Pz Div and 501st Hvy Tank Bn.
On Nov 26 the first armor encounter between US and German forces takes place north of Tebourba at Chouigui Pass when a small German KG consisting of 1 co of 190th Pz Bn (6 Pz IVGs and several PzIIIs) and 2 companies of infantry run into 3 companies of 1st Bn/1st US Arm Div equipped with Stuarts, assault guns (3, 75mm howitzers on halftracks) and a 81mm mortar plt. The German force moves forward against one US tank company and the assault gun plt and while engaged were hit on their southwest flank by the third tank co which has been held back from view on a reverse slope. Even with only 37mm guns the Stuarts knock out 6 PzIVs and 1 Pz III on their vulnerable sides. Both sides fall back.
DJEDEIDA Dec 2
By the end of November the Axis manage to hold the Allies just west of Dejdeida. They then go over to the offensive on 1 December. 10th Pz Div plans a three-pronged attack. A holding attack from the south, an armored thrust (KG Hudel with 2 cos of tanks, 2 PAK cos and 1 co of inf) from the north and a center force to drive forward if the Allies pull back their center (including 2 Pz IIIs and 2 Tigers). On Dec 1 the Germans push forward with all 3 groups and make substantial gains. On Dec 2, just to the north of Tebouba in plain terrain clear of olive groves over 30 Stuarts of 1st Bn/1st Arm Div meet a German armored attack. The Pz IVs and IIIs drive the Stuarts off the field with heavy losses. Meanwhile another German panzer assault is made directly into the north of Tebourba where the Shermans of 2nd Bn/1st Arm Div are defending the town. 2nd Bn is driven west of the city and at least 6 Shermans are lost. By Dec 4 the Germans have secured Tebourba with the capture of over 1000 Allied personnel, the destruction of 55 Allied tanks and 300 vehicles.
BORDJ TOUM Dec 10, 1942
The Axis continue to rush forces into Tunis (Pz AOK 5) and plan to operate as aggressively as possible. Rommels German-Italian Panzer Army is approaching Tunisia from Libya and soon the Germans will have two armies in Tunisia. The Allies pause to regroup and bring up supplies during the rainy season.
In early December after their defeat at Tebourba the Allied force to the east of the Medjerda River finds itself in exposed positions and a general repositioning is ordered for 10-11 December. The US Combat Command B is to withdraw through Medjez el Bab to the west while British 1st Guards Bde is to replace them. But before this move could be completed the Germans strike to clear both sides of the Medjerda. Units of 10th Pz Div (86th Pz Grd Rgt & 7th Pz Rgt) as well as elements of 5th Fallschirmjaeger Rgt and 501st Heavy Tank Bn are involved. The 86th Pz Grd Rgt attacks supported by a company of panzers on both sides of the river to the rail station and bridge at Bordj Toum. Defending Toum was the US 16th Combat Engrs, artillery, antitank guns and the medium tanks of HQ Plt/13th Arm Rgt and 2nd Bn/13th Arm Rgt. The German attack was stopped and the bridge saved.
SOUTHWEST OF FURNA Dec 10 (this may have to be changed?)
While the action at Bordj Toum is underway the German forces of 7th Pz Rgt and 501st Heavy Tank Bn drive down the road through Massicault, Furna and Sidi Midiene to attack Medjez el Bab. This regiment, minus its 2nd Battalion, along with some Tiger tanks, an antitank company and a battery of artillery run into elements of the 1st Bn, 1st Arm Rgt and scatter it but artillery and an infantry roadblock knock out 4 panzers. At this point the Germans learn of a US tank force coming down on their right rear from Toum. This is the1st Bn 13th Arm Rgt and Co C, 701st Tank Destroyers (M3 equipped). The Stuarts of the 1st Bn are decimated and 19 lost while the tank destroyers are wiped out but claim 10 panzers destroyed. The Germans though, after these actions, move back to their start point around Massicault and fail in this attempt to take Medjej el Bab.
EAST OF MEDJEZ-EL-BAB Dec 10
All day on 10 Dec the elements of 7th Pz Rgt, 501st Hvy Tank and the other units attempt to reach Medjez-el-Bab. Roadblocks, minefields and artillery fire halt them. Along the road from Furna the Americans make two flank attacks mostly with Stuarts of 1st Bn/13th Arm Rgt and Company C/701st TD Bn with M3 tank destroyers. Nineteen Stuarts are lost in these actions as well as all the tank destroyers in Co C. For the whole day on Dec 10 the Germans claim 36 US tanks and after mopping up the battlefield claim another 80 guns, vehicles and halftracks.
TO GOUBELLAT Dec 15 (No historical evidence for this)
Although sorely pressed the Americans manage to hold onto the bridge at Toum and the village of Medjez-el-Bab. The Allies now voluntarily retire from Toum but manage to hold onto Medjez-el-Bab and Goubellat.
On 15 December the Germans order 10th Pz Div forward to Ksar Tyr and Pont-du-Fahs to the edge of the good tank country in front of Goubellat. Skirmishes take place here between recon units and patrols while both sides gather their strength. Recon elements sometimes strengthened with a panzer zug engage recon elements of the US 1st Arm Div.
THE PLAINS (SOUTH OF GOUBELLAT) Dec 16 (No historical evidence).
The flat terrain before Goubellat entices elements of 7th Pz Rgt reinforced with strong reconnaissance troops in halftracks supported by SP artillery to probe aggressively and deeply towards Goubellat looking for a weaknesses or openings. They are met by fierce American reaction. Units of 2 Bn/13th Arm Rgt are on the prowl also with a few Stuarts from the Rgts recon section and covered by artillery units at Goubellat. Three kilometers east of Goubellat in the early morning a classic meeting engagement takes place.
NORTH OF MEDJEZ-EL-BAB Dec 25
In late December the Allies attempt to move forward again to Toum on both sides of the Medjerda River. From Medjez-el-Bab Allied units move north to secure Longstop Hill on the western side of the Medjerda River while a smaller force drives up the eastern side in a holding attack.
The Germans oppose the move on the western side of the river with elements of 7th Pz Rgt, 69th Pz Grd Rgt and the newly arrived 754th Inf Rgt. On the eastern side of the river is the 86th Pz Grd Rgt. The Allies attack with the 2nd Bn/Coldstream Guards and the US 18th Inf. They take the high ground initially but on 25 Dec the German strike back with 7th Pz Rgt, panzer grenadiers and artillery swinging around on the Allies left flank, capturing and holding the hills. The Allies fall back towards Medjez. Casualties are heavy on both sides.
SIDI BOU ZID Attack Feb 14, 1943
During late January and early February 1943 von Arnims 5th Pz Army (Pz AOK 5) pushes forward against Faid Pass to forestall any Allied move against Rommels rear as he moves back from Libya to Tunisia under pressure from Montgomerys Eighth Army. Comando Supremo advises von Arnim that his next task will be to continue to advance his left wing and be prepared to destroy the American forces coming from Tebessa.
The Axis plans is: From Faid von Arnim is to strike Sidi Bou Zip in operation Fruehlingswind. In the south Rommel in operation Morganluft is to attack towards Gafsa using von Arnims 21st Pz Div. The intent is to destroy II US Corps.
On Feb 14 Gen Ziegler unleashes 10th and 21st Pz Divs. The 10th Pz Div is in three Kampfgruppen. KG Reimann will lead straight down the road from Faid Pass with Tigers and grenadiers of 86th PGR. KG Gerhardt is to follow with a part of 7th PzRgt and 69th PGR, swing around the Djebel Lessouda and then cut the road to Sbeitla. Lang is in reserve. 21st Pz Div is in two Kampfgruppen: Schuette and Stenckhoff. These KGs are about 20 miles south of Sidi Bou Zid. They are to advance west and then northeast behind Sidi Bou Zid. 10th Pz deploys over 110 tanks as well as 10 or 11 Tigers. 21st Pz Div has over 90 tanks.
The US forces around Sidi Bou Zid are Combat Command A/1st Arm Div and 168th RCT/34th Inf Div. CC A includes the 40 medium tanks of 3rd Bn/1st Arm Rgt. Also infantry elements, Co A/701st TD Bn, Battery B/91st FA Bn and the Recon Co/1st Arm Rgt are all at the Djebel.
By nightfall Sidi Bou Zid had been captured and American forces on the Djebel are isolated. US casualties are reported as 44 tanks destroyed, all but 2 tank destroyer guns and all the artillery.
SIDI BOU ZID Counterattack Feb 15
During the night of 14 Feb General Ward of 1st Arm Div sends forward Combat Command C to assist those forces still fighting west of Sidi Bou Zid around Kerns Crossroads on the road to Sbeitla. CC C is reinforced by 2nd Bn/1st Arm Rgt of medium tanks and also by 6th Arm Inf (minus 2 bns), Co G/13th Arm Rgt, 701st TD Bn (less 2 cos), a detachment of Co B/13th Arm Rgt as well as artillery, engineers and AAA.
As the Americans come forward at about 1240 hrs on the flat terrain to the west of Sidi Bou Zid they are taken in flank by KG Stenkhoff of 21st Pz Div from the south and KG Gerhardt of 10th Pz Div from the north. The Luftwaffe is in support. By 1740 the battle is over and the US forces are streaming to the rear. The Germans report 39 US tanks captured or destroyed, 17 APCs, 4 anti tank guns and over 100 vehicles. The US claims 13 Pz IVs destroyed. The Germans repair or salvage all their losses. When the US reoccupies the area 2 months later they find the hulks of 40 US tanks on the battlefield.
TO SBEITLA Feb 16, 1943
On 15 February 1943 Allied First Army reacting to the US defeat at Sidi Bou Zid directs US II Corps to extricate its forces still around Sidi Bou Zid and to fall back to a new line running east of Sbeitla, Kasserine and Feriana. II Corps is further directed to establish a mobile reserve. General Zieglar, von Arnims Chief of Staff for Pz AOK 5, orders 10th Pz Div to reconnoiter towards Sbeitla on 16 February 1943 and to destroy US facilities and dumps in that area. Von Arnim keeps 21st Pz Div, promised to FM Rommel who was operating against Gfasa, in Pz AOK 5. Since Gfasa falls without a fight von Arnim plans to use the 21st Pz Div at Sbeitla. This scenario depicts the spirited action between US rear guard forces and the forward elements of 10th Pz Div (KG Gerhardt I/7th Pz Rgt, II Pz Grd Rgt 69, Pz Jg Abt 90, detachment of light arty and engineers) reconnoitering westward towards Sbeitla.
SBEITLA 17 Feb
In the very early morning of 17 Feb, First Army authorizes US II Corps to evacuate the ancient Roman town of Sbeitla. Combat Command B, 1st Armored Div is to fight a delaying action at Sbeitla and not withdraw until directed by II US Corps. Combat Command A and C so roughly handled at Sidi Bou Zid are to withdraw from the town late in the morning.
The 21st Pz Div holding in the area of Sidi Bou Zid now comes forward to join KG Gerhardt for the attack on Sbeitla in the evening of 16 Feb. KG Gerhardt after joining the attack during the night then with other 10th Pz Div units moves north to Fondouk. 21st Pz Div (Oberst Hildebrandt) splits into KG Pfeiffer and Stenkhoff and continues during the night to attack Sbeitla. As CC C and A try to prepare to withdraw CC B bears the brunt of the unequal fight.
As dawn approaches, CC Bs orders are to hold Sbeitla until 1100 hrs. This unit consists of the tanks of 2d Bn, 13th Armor, 27th Field Arty, 601st TD Bn (M3 equipped) and part of 2 Bn, 6th Arm Inf. In the afternoon the US forces start pulling out and the Germans report capturing 27 destroyed TDs and US tanks. All 21st Pz Div damaged panzers are recovered and repaired.
TO KASSERINE Feb 18
The battles of Sidi Bou Zid and Sbeitla lead Field Marshall Rommel to decide that, after all, perhaps an offensive by both panzer armies into the rear of the Allied positions in Algeria is possible. The message traffic and conferences within the bewildering Axis chain-of-command causes the final offensive to be less bold than Rommel and Kesselring had hoped. They planned a wide sweeping envelopment of the Allies to stop at Bone and the sea! But Italian Comando Supremo order on a small solution to Le Kef with the attack through the US II Corps HQ & supply dumps area at Tebessa. Group Rommel is formed to include both of vonArnims pz divisions. On 18 February reconnaissance assets of the DAK move up to Kasserine Pass. 33rd Recon Bn runs into some determined Americans under Lt Col Moore (about 2000 men strung out along 3 miles) consisting of 1/26 Inf, 19th Combat Engr Rgt, 33rd Field Arty Bn and 805th TD Bn plus a battery of Free French 75mm guns. Meanwhile 21st Pz Div, finally released by von Arnim, is directed by Rommel to try another route and drives north from Sbeitla towards Sbiba against units of 6th Arm Div (Brit) and 34th Inf Div (US).
DJEBEL SEMMAMA Feb 19
The appearance of Rommels DAK at Kasserine on 18 Feb causes US II Corps Cdr to dispatch Col Stark with the words, I want you to go to Kasserine right away and pull a Stonewall Jackson. His small force includes 3rd/39th Inf and Co I, 13th Arm Rgt.
On the German side, after the failure of 33rd Recon to rush the pass two bns of the Pz Grd Afrika Rgt begin to assault the pass and climb Djebel Semmama. Massive artillery fires stop them in the pass. At noon Gen Buelowius commits 1/8th Pz Rgt to the pass. Because of von Arnims foot-dragging, most elements of 10th Pz Div are still at Sbeitla after their attack at Fondouk. They start slowly on the way to Kasserine. At about 1530 Gen Buelowius orders another attack into the pass and by nightfall the Germans are well into the pass and on the western side of Djebel Semmama but the fighting is intense.
US forces during this day are elements of the 26th and 39th Inf as well as Co I, 13th Arm Rgt and 805th TD Bn
KASSERINE PASS Feb 20
The Allies attempt to feed more units into Kasserine and during the early morning a small British force (Gore Force) with a few tanks arrives. On the DAKs left, elements of US 1st Inf Div are moving from Tebessa to the high ground and CC B, 1st Arm Div is ordered to Djebel Hamra.
The Germans are several miles into the pass. One road leads north to Thala and one northwest to Tebessa. At 0830 Gen Buelowius orders DAK to drive up the valley road to gain the high ground around Djebel Hamra while Rommel orders 10th Pz Div to move up the Thala road. At about 1630 Rommel again orders both DAK and 10th Pz Div to attack side-by-side and this attack finally takes the pass destroying many US tanks and tank destroyers as well as the small British force. Co I, 13th Arm Rgt and 894th TD Bn takes the brunt of this assault. The Germans are now about 10 miles into the Pass.
DJEBEL EL HAMRA Feb 22
During the night of 20/21 February Rommels forces in the Pass succeed in gaining the exits at the end of Kasserine Pass. It has taken KG DAK and 10th Pz Div 2 days to gain the Pass. Now is the time for exploitation but Rommels forces are weakened and his dilemma is to decide which road (Thala or Tebessa) he should concentrate on while holding at the other. The course he chose is to defend in place, send out recon units and order 21st Pz Div to take up defensive positions at Sbiba and send him reinforcements. This has, in part, been necessary because von Arnim had sent only about half of 10th Pz Div to Rommel despite orders from Kesselring and Rommel.
During 21 Feb the 33rd Recon Bn with tank support starts up the Tebessa Rd. Elements of 10th Pz Div go up the Thala Rd but run into strong British units. They move ahead slowly. 33rd Recon is stopped by the recon elements of 13 Arm Rgt but that unit falls back after contact and 33rd Recon reports Dejebel Hamra as lightly held.
For 22 Feb Rommel decides to advance on the Djebel Hamra as well as on the British at Thala. The DAK is too late for as they approach the Djebel the CC B of 1st Arm Div arrives with some infantry units on the high ground protecting the two roads to Tebessa. The US force includes 2nd Bn plus I Co of 13 Arm Rgt supported by two artillery SP batteries and the 601st TD Bn (M3s) and the 894th Tank Destroyer Bn (M10s) as well as the 6th Arm Inf Bn and various SP AAA units. An afternoon attack fails in a storm of US artillery fire. Tank and tank destroyers fire from defilade positions and refuse to leave those positions. Rommel orders a sweep around the southern side of the Djebel. In rainy downpours this move runs into US troops. A field artillery battery and some AAA units are overrun but the DAK advance no further in the face of heavy artillery fire. The US II Corps commander issues a no retreat order and the Americans hold. At Thala the 10th Pz Div comes very close to breaking through but are just stopped short of that village by British armored forces.
EL GUETTAR March 23, 1943
In April and March 1943 the main focus has shifted to Rommel and the Mareth line where the Axis attempt to gain the initiative over their old enemy Eighth Army. Meanwhile US II Corps is ordered to attack towards Gafsa, Maknassy and El Guettar to draw off Axis reserves from those forces facing Eighth Army.
After taking Gafsa and Maknassy elements of II US Corps moved through El Guettar. Units of 1st Inf Div are to secure the road network going east in preparation to the move to get behind Rommels former army now called Italian First Army. The Gumtree Road and the road to Gabes as well as the high ground around them are the objectives. Elements of both the 10th and 21st Pz Divs are defending the hills and are massing to strike this dangerous Allied thrust in their rear.
On 23 March elements of the16th & 18th Inf Rgts and 26th Combat Team are pushing up the Gumtree Road and the hilly area to its right. The 26th CT has just moved into the lower part of the Djebel Mcheltat at 0500 hrs when a German motorized force from 10th Pz Div, reconnoitering by fire, takes them under fire. Then on their right down the valley near the Gabes Road comes the main spearhead, parts of both 1st and 2nd Bn, 7th Pz Rgt, with panzers in a hollow square and infantry carriers in the center. Behind them comes truck borne infantry. At about 0700 hrs the panzer spearhead is hit by heavy artillery fire and by antitank guns of the 601st TD Bn. They are joined by the 899th TD Bn in M10s. In a matter of moments 8 panzers are put out of action on hastily laid minefields and some 30 more were stopped by gunfire. Despite being under intense fire the Germans manage to recover and tow almost all their disabled tanks to the rear. Heavy Stuka raids cover the withdrawal.