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Posted on May 19, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Kasserine Pass: Allied Defeat?

By Alexander Wilson

Hoping to still capture Tebesa before the offensive petered out, Rommel ordered the 10th Panzer to attack once again on the 20th. Salvoes from German rocket launchers and artillery pieces rained down on the Americans as Germany panzer grenadiers mounted numerous attacks against the Allied positions. Fierce fighting ensued, but by mid-afternoon the Allied line has collapsed and the Panzers had broken through. The British had lost their last tank and the U.S. engineers supporting Stark had taken heavy casualties (14). The Germans, after smashing the Anglo-American defenders, found no Allied forces in their immediate vicinity save the bloodied and broken remnants of Task Force Stark. They had inflicted two crushing defeats, Sidi Bou Zid and Kasserine, on the Allies within the short span of one week.

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Though they had triumphed tactically, the overall attitude in the Axis camp was dismal, with the sole exception being Kesselring. Rommel, remembering no doubt his previous experiences in North Africa, saw that his flanks were exposed and his supply lines stretched thin (15). Worse, he realized that his 10th Panzer Division had only defeated a fraction of the U.S. II Corps, and feared both a counterattack by the Americans and an offensive against the Mareth Line by Monty. Moreover, he has seen how amazingly well-equipped the Americans had been and noted how stubborn their defense of the pass had been: a handful of American battalions had held off an entire German Panzer division for two days (16). Von Arnim, meanwhile, had been planning an offensive of his own farther north, and Rommel suddenly realized exactly why von Arnim had withheld important troops from him, some of which had been brand new Tiger I tanks (17). Therefore, after continuing his drive towards Tebesa for only two more days, during which his forces encountered stiff Allied resistance, Rommel reluctantly called off the attack and pulled his forces back to face Monty and his Eighth Army (18).

The Battle of Kasserine Pass, though depicted in Patton and elsewhere as a serious debacle for the Americans, can actually be looked at as an American victory, although Pyrrhic in nature. At a high cost in men, material, and supplies, assets which were relatively easy to replace for the U.S., Task Force Stark and the American II Corps had successfully blunted Rommel’s audacious plan to slice through the Americans and take Tebesa, and action which might have had serious reverberations for the Allied campaign in Tunisia. For the price of a few infantry brigades and a handful of British tanks, Task Force Stark had managed to pull off something of a Stonewall Jackson after all. Though they had not stood as firm as Jackson had at Manasses Junction, the Americans, through their stubborn defense and brave sacrifices, had played a key role in the defeat of Rommel’s offensive. The Battle of Kasserine Pass, considered by some as a disgraceful setback for the Americans, can really be deemed a strategic victory for the Allies. Within a month of the battle, Rommel was in Germany, never to return to North Africa, and the Allies, hitting the Germans from both the south and west, were finally beginning to make substantial gains in Tunisia. The wily Desert Fox had been defeated once again.

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14 Comments

  1. Great article.Well, I believe that the germans have been considered to have won the battle, but the U.S. forces could more afford the losses than Rommel could. Rommel needed any and all tanks he could get a hold of, so even though the Americans didn’t inflict heavy casualties on the Germans, it still greatly affected the capabilities of the africa corps by destroying even only a few tanks, so I would go for allied victory, but thats just me.Please correct me if that appears incorrect.

  2. I agree, if you win a battle, for ex. you take a huge defensive line. Well if you beat your enemy but you only have 20 guys left, well then its a bigger loss for you than the other guy, cause he’ll retaliate with 1000 men. So allied victory for me. Though I never lose respect for Rommel, bad guy or not he was a brilliant mind.

  3. This article is what true historical analysis is all about; find out what really happen and not what is politically correct or pleasing. While the battle at Sidi Bou Zid was a German victory, Kasserine was another matter. Initially the Americans were heavly punished for their sloppy deployments and slow responses. However, they managed to deny Rommel his goal of reaching Tebessa. In his final effort to break through, his forces were severly punished by American artillery. In fact, Rommel expressed his admiration for the way the Americans handled their artillery. In the end, it was Rommel who was forced to retreat. It was not a ‘great’ victory, but it was a victory none the less. In his book, “There’s a War to Be Won”, Geoffrey Perret gives an excellent analysis of this battle and why it has been misconstrued as an abject defeat for the Americans.

  4. The author is in error in one major point. The British were not destroyed in front of Thala and the remaining forces were not just Stark’s survivors. The tanks and infantry still in front Thala the morning of the 21st were from the British 26th Armoured Brigade supported by the divisional artillery of the US 9th Infantry DIvision. These are the forces that stopped the 10th Pz at Thala, while more British and US forces stope the 21st Pz at Sbiba and, finally, the US 16th regiment orf 1st division and CCB of of US 1st Armoured stopped the Africa Corps Assault Group at Haidra in the Hatab River valley.

    ALl that aside, it was a definite Allied win.

  5. I’m laughing reading this. There are actually people in this world who think Kasserine pass was anything other than a crushing German victory….

  6. My dad was capture at Kasserine and spent the next 2 years, 2 months, and 2 weeks in LuftStalag III.

  7. Kasserine was a victory for Americans because the Germans ran out of energy beating our tank corps to a pulp? Was the author perhaps related to the general in charge? This was an american victory like stalingrad was a German victory.

    • Germans inflicted more damage, but failed in their strategic objective. Americans held the field.

      American victory, but costly one.

  8. a very warped history. almost pure fiction.

  9. Germans won. Americans got pummeled. In fact, the person who hurt Rommel the most was that idiot Von Armin. Classifying this battle as an American Victory is like classifying Pearl Harbor as an American victory. Americans learned a lot from their defeat, but it was still a defeat. Rommel, perhaps the greatest WWII general of all time. If he had more resources, he easily would have crushed all of his opposition

  10. Kelly is right.
    If Rommel had the same assets as Montgomery at El Alamein the Desert Fox would have smashed through the British lines and secured the Suez Canal.
    Montgomery had twice the tanks with 200 more in reserve. He had more artillery, more anti-tank guns, and above all more troops, fuel, and ammunition.
    All this song and dance about America winning at Kasserine reminds me of the idiots running our country in the ground in DC.

  11. Italians did not exist ?
    Gen. Messe either?

    Obsessed by ”Germanity” ?
    Thanks

  12. First of all there is an unhealty obsession about German Army and especially about Rommel among Anglo Saxons almost at fanboyism levels because he was the only commander they faced. Rommel was not a genius in war folks. His excellent skill in tactics was more than balanced by his strategical incompatance in strategy and more importantly his inability to balance his operations according to logistical resources and reinforcements he had. Several times he overextended himself , disobeyed orders or recommendation he received from his peers (Kesselring , Von Arnim ) and punished on battlefield. In fact after July 1942 there is no strategic success he won on battlefield. Kasserine Pass and Sidi Bou Zid are only temporary tactical victories which did not affect strategic disposition of Allies at all. At the end Field Marshall Harold Alexander got command of all Allied armies at the helm of 18th Army Group and drove German counter attacks in February-March 1943 , 2nd US Corps was recovered , US Army learned some valuable lessons and gained battlefield experience in exchange of some strategically worthless ground 6500 casaulties and 200 tanks…All of them were recoverable…A fair exchange I would say…By the way after fall of Kasserine Pass it was British units which held Thala northern gap of Eastern Dorsal along with 9th US Infantry Division artillery , 1st US Division with help of 1st US Armored Div. defended Tebessa..and Von Arnim’s last assault on north towards Beja was defeated by 46th British Infantry Division and 1st British Airborne Brigade. This article leaves contribution of British units.

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