This was a German limited offensive in southern Tunisia in concert with ‘Frühlingswind’ (15/24 February 1943).
The operation was designed firstly to check the possible junction of Lieutenant General K. A. N. Anderson’s Allied 1st Army and General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army, a meeting which would divide Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen von Arnim’s 5th Panzerarmee in the north from Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee (from 20 February Generale d’Armata Giovanni Messe’s Axis 1st Army) in the south; and secondly to drive on the important Allied supply base at Gafsa. Rommel, who was to be elevated to command of the newly created Heeresgruppe ‘Afrika’ on 22 February, proposed a combined offensive by the Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee and von Arnim’s 5th Panzerarmee under Rommel’s sole command, with Generalleutnant Friedrich Freiherr von Broich’s 10th Panzerdivision and Generalleutnant Hans-Georg Hildebrandt’s 21st Panzerdivision of the 5th Panzerarmee undertaking ‘Frühlingswind’, and an assault force of Generalmajor Kurt Freiherr von Liebenstein’s Deutsches Afrikakorps undertaking ‘Morgenluft’ (i).
Generale d’Armata Vittorio Ambrosio, chief-of-staff of the Italian Comando Supremo, was unable to impose a single command on the joint offensives, a fact which was ultimately to lead to operational failure though not to tactical defeat.
The most important engagement of the operation was the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, which was in fact a series of engagements fought around the Kasserine pass, a gap 2 miles (3.2 km) wide in the Dorsale Orientale chain of the Atlas mountains in the western central part of Tunisia. The battle was of significance as the first large-scale clash between US and German forces in World War II: inexperienced and untested, the US troops were led ineptly, suffered heavy casualties, and were driven back more than 50 miles (80 km) from their original positions to the west of the Faïd pass in a humiliating rout.
US and British land forces had come ashore at several locations along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of French Morocco and Algeria on 8 November 1942 in ‘Torch’, just a few days after the westward break-out of Lieutenant General (from 11 November General Sir) Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army after the 2nd Battle of El Alamein far away in the east of the North African theatre. The Axis responded to 'Torch' by launching ‘Braun’ (ii) to ferry German and Italian troops from Sicily and thus secure a major lodgement in Tunisia, one of the few easily defended areas of North Africa, and only one night’s sail from Italian bases in Sicily. This short passage made it very difficult for Allied naval vessels to intercept Axis transports, while air interdiction proved equally difficult as the Allied air base nearest to Tunisia was Malta, more than 200 miles (320 km) distant. As the Allies’ North-West African build-up after ‘Torch’ continued, more aircraft became available and new airfields in eastern Algeria and Tunisia became operational, resulting in greater success in stopping the flow of men and equipment into Tunis and Bizerta. By the time this made become possible, however, the Germans and Italians had been able to land sizeable forces and secure their position in Tunisia.
The Allies made an attempt to cut off Tunis in November and December 1942 before German troops could arrive in strength but, as a result of North-West Africa’s poor road and railway communications, a force of only divisional size could be supported logistically, and in combination with the Germans’ good use of the excellent defensive terrain this made it possible for modest numbers of German and Italian troops to hold off the Allied attempt by the ‘Hart’ Force along the northern coastal road and the ‘Blade’ Force along the more southern inland road to Téboursouk and Medjez el Bab.
On 23 January 1943 Montgomery’s westward-advancing 8th Army took Tripoli, thereby depriving Rommel of his main supply base. Rommel had foreseen this eventuality, however, and changed his line of supply to Tunis, from which he could be nourished as his Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee blocked the southern approach to Tunisia from Tripoli by occupying the powerful defences of the Mareth Line, which the French had constructed in order to fend off any possible Italian attack from Libya. With his line braced at each end by the Atlas mountains in the west and Gulf of Sidra in the east, Rommel expected even relatively small numbers of Axis troops would be able to hold off Montgomery’s army.
Upsetting this plan was the fact that Allied troops had already crossed the Atlas mountains and established a forward base at Faïd in the foothills of the Dorsale Orientale, the eastern arm of the Atlas mountains. This put the Allies in an excellent position to deliver a thrust directly top the east toward the coast of the Gulf of Tunis and thereby sever Rommel’s forces in southern Tunisia from the Axis forces farther to the north, and cut their line of communications to Tunis.
Elements of von Arnim’s 5th Panzerarmee reached the Allied positions in the Dorsale Orientale, the eastern end of the Atlas mountains, on 30 January. The 21st Panzerdivision met French troops at Faïd, and their despite excellent use of their abundant but light 75-mm (2.95-in) guns, which sometimes took a heavy toll of the German infantry, the French were easily forced back.
US artillery and armour of Major General Orlando’s Ward’s US 1st Armored Division, elements of Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall’s US II Corps, then entered the battle, destroying some of the German armour and apparently forcing the remainder of it into a headlong retreat. In fact the US tanks had fallen victim to a well-proved German tactic which Rommel’s forces had previously employed very successfully against the British in the Western Desert: the German tank retirement was no more than a ploy, and when the German tanks reached their original positions, with the US armour in pursuit, a screen of German 88-mm (3.465-in) dual-role anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns opened fire and knocked out almost all of the US tanks. Now freed of the possibility of a US armoured intervention, the 21st Panzerdivision resumed its advance toward Faïd.
Another tactical lesson that the US forces now learned the hard way, during the German advance, was the fatal consequence of digging only shallow slit trenches instead of foxholes, as German tank drivers could easily crush a man inside a trench by simply driving into it and simultaneously making a half-turn.
What was left of the 1st Armored Division made several efforts to halt the German advance, but all three of the division’s combat commands found themselves faced with the classic result of the speed of the German Blitzkrieg type of warfare: every time they were ordered to defend a position, the Americans found that it had already been overrun, and they were then attacked by German troops with heavy losses. After three days, the II Corps was compelled to withdraw into the foothills.
Most of Tunisia was now in German hands, and the entrances from the west and south into the coastal lowlands were all blocked. The Allies still held the interior of the roughly triangular Atlas mountain range, but this seemed of little concern to Rommel since the eastward exits from the mountains were likewise blocked. For the next two weeks, Rommel and the Axis commanders farther to the north, namely von Arnim and Generale d’Armata Giovanni Messe, discussed what next they should attempt. The process was rendered difficult by the fact that von Arnim despised Rommel, and the delay was to prove costly.
In the area of Sidi Bou Zid, with Gafsa to its south-west, Kasserine and Sbeitla to its north-west, and Faïd to its north-east, there were elements of both armies, notably the 21st Panzerdivision transferred from the Deutsches Afrikakorps of the Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee and the 10th Panzerdivision from the 5th Panzerarmee.
Though most of Tunisia had been under German and, to a more limited extent, Italian control since November 1942, the Dorsale Orientale was under Allied control with elements of Fredendall’s inexperienced II Corps in the south and Général de Corps d’Armée Marie Louis Koëltz’s poorly equipped French XIX Corps of Général de Corps d’Armée Alphonse Pierre Juin’s French North African Land Forces command in the centre and thus to the south of Lieutenant General C. W. Allfrey’s British V Corps in the north.
Fredendall neither visited the front nor took into consideration any input from commanders farther forward from his specially built bunker near Tébessa, some 80 miles (130 km) to the rear. In the absence of clear intelligence about Axis intentions, Fredendall had dispersed his forces to cover all eventualities, but this process left his formations and units generally isolated from each other and therefore unable to provide mutual support when under concentrated attack. At Sidi Bou Zid, Fredendall had bypassed his divisional commanders and ordered the defensive dispositions himself without even seeing the terrain.
At this time Rommel considered that the 8th Army posed him no major threat. Until the port of Tripoli, which the Germans had effectively destroyed as they pulled back, could be brought back into operation, Montgomery could maintain only a small force in the south of Tunisia. (Tripoli was not fully operational until the end of February, although ships were able to start unloading there on 9 February.) However, Rommel did appreciate the threat which would be posed to the Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee should the Allied forces on the Dorsale Orientale push to the east and manage to cover the 60 miles (95 km) to the coast, which would isolate the two Axis armies from each other and sever the Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee’s line of communication from Tunis.
Rommel decided that there was time to improve his supply situation and at the same time weaken the Allied threat to his western flank, and at a time early in February proposed to the Comando Supremo in Rome an offensive toward two US supply bases just to the west of the Dorsale Orientale. Although he had little interest in taking and then holding the mountains’ interior plain, Rommel believed that a quick thrust could capture supplies and also further disrupt any US actions to concentrate forces in the area of Tébessa.
Rommel’s plan involved two main groups, including units detached from von Arnim’s 5th Panzerarmee. von Arnim, who had an acrimonious relationship with Rommel, strongly objected and it took a week for the emergence of a compromise plan brokered by the Comando Supremo. The revised plan was to begin with a thrust by the 5th Panzerarmee through the US communications and supply centre of Sidi Bou Zid as ‘Frühlingswind’, while 60 miles (95 km) to the south-west, a major element of Rommel’s Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee was to take Gafsa and advance on Tozeur in ‘Morgenluft’ (i).
Sidi Bou Zid was defended by the infantry of Colonel Thomas Drake’s 168th Regimental Combat Team of Major General Charles W. Ryder’s US 34th Division and the tanks of the 1st Armored Division’s Combat Command A. The disposition ordered by Fredendall had placed most of this strength in defensive ‘islands’ of high ground in a manner that left them in danger of successive isolation and thus defeat in detail.
On 30 January von Arnim despatched the 21st Panzerdivision to attack the Faïd pass, which was held by elements of the French XIX Corps. Asked for assistance, Fredendall reacted only slowly and von Arnim’s troops were therefore able to overcome fierce French resistance and achieve their objectives while inflicting heavy casualties.
At 04.00 on 14 February four Kampfgruppen, with 140 tanks of the 10th Panzerdivision and 21st Panzerdivision, under the command of Generalleutnant Heinz Ziegler, von Arnim’s deputy, advanced through the Faïd and Maizila passes, sites which Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied theatre commander, had inspected a mere three hours earlier, to attack Sidi Bou Zid.
The attack was launched by tanks of the 10th Panzerdivision which, under the cover of a sandstorm, moved to the west from Faïd with the Kampfgruppe ‘Reimann’ and Kampfgruppe ‘Gerhardt’. Elements of Combat Command A attempted to delay the German advance with the aid of a 105-mm (4.13-in) M101 howitzer in a semi-fixed installation on an M4 Sherman medium tank, and the Germans responded by shelling the US positions with 88-mm (3.465-in) guns. By 10.00 the Germans had circled Djebel Lessouda, which was held by the ‘Lessouda’ Force, an armoured battalion group commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters, and linked at a point to the north of Sidi Bou Zid.
Meanwhile the Kampfgruppe ‘Schütte’ and Kampfgruppe ‘Stenckhoff’ of the 21st Panzerdivision had secured the Maizila pass to the south, and the Kampfgruppe ‘Schütte’ then moved to the north to engage two battalions of the 168th Regimental Combat Team on the Djebel Ksaira while the Kampfgruppe ‘Stenckhoff’ moved to tghe north-west toward Bir el Hafey in order to swing round and make the approach to Sidi Bou Zid from the west during the afternoon. Under heavy fire from the Kampfgruppe ‘Schütte’, Drake requested permission to retreat but was refused any such authorisation by Fredendall, who ordered him to hold where he was and await the arrival of reinforcements, which in fact never arrived. By 17.00 the Kampfgruppe ‘Stenckhoff’ and the 10th Panzerdivision had made contact, and the tanks and artillery of Combat Command A had been driven nearly 15 miles (24 km) to the west to Djebel Hamra with the loss of 44 tanks and many guns. The infantry were left marooned on the high ground at the Djebel Lessouda, Djebel Ksaira and Djebel Garet Hadid, along with elements of the 1st Armored Division’s 81st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
During the night Ward moved Combat Command C to the Djebel Hamra in order to counterattack Sidi Bou Zid on 15 February. The attack had to be delivered across flat and therefore exposed terrain, however, and after being bombed and strafed early in the movement found itself between two German divisions employing between them more than 80 PzKpfw III medium tanks, PzKpfw IV battle tanks and PzKpfw VI Tiger I heavy tanks. Combat Command C was therefore compelled to fall back, and the undertaking cost it 46 medium tanks, nine self-propelled guns and 130 other vehicles before it regained its position at the Djebel Hamra.
By the evening von Arnim had ordered three of the Kampfgruppen to make for Sbeitla. They were engaged by the battered Combat Commands A and C, which were driven back. On 16 February, helped by intensive air support, the Germans also drove back the fresh Combat Command B and entered Sbeitla.
Spurred by the initial success of ‘Frühlingswind’, Rommel ordered an assault force of the Deutsches Afrikakorps to attack Gafsa on 15 February. During the night of 14/15 February, however, the Allies pulled their forces out of Gafsa as Anderson had ordered that the main defence line should be on the hills around Fériana, and that Gafsa should not be defended against any major attack. Moreover, mindful to the threat to his southern flank, Anderson obtained Eisenhower’s approval on 16 February for a total withdrawal from the Dorsale Orientale back to the line of the Dorsale Occidentale from Fériana to the north.
Early on 17 February Fredendall secured Anderson’s authorisation for a further withdrawal from Sbeitla and Fériana. The II Corps was now in the position to concentrate its defensive effort on the more easily defended Kasserine and Sbiba passes on the mountain chain’s western arm. By this point in the Tunisian fighting, the US forces had lost 2,546 men, 103 tanks, 280 other vehicles, 18 field guns, three anti-tank guns, and one anti-aircraft battery.
At this point there developed disagreement within the Axis camp about precisely what should be done next as the whole of Tunisia was under Axis control, and there was little to do until the 8th Army arrived on the Mareth Line. Eventually, Rommel decided his next move should be an attack through the Kasserine pass into the II Corps’ main strength at Tébessa. In this way, he could gain vital supplies from US dumps on the Algerian side of the mountains’ western arm, eliminate the Allies’ ability to attack the coastal corridor linking Mareth and Tunis, and at the same time threaten the southern flank of the Allied 1st Army. On 18 February Rommel sent his concept to Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the Oberbefehlshaber ‘Süd’, who approved it and forwarded it to the Comando Supremo.
At 13.30 on 19 February Rommel was notified of the Comando Supremo’s agreement, but only to a revised plan. He was to receive the 10th Panzerdivision and 21st Panzerdivision from von Arnim’s 5th Panzerarmee, and then to attack through the Kasserine and Sbiba passes toward Thala and Le Kef to the north, clearing the Dorsale Orientale and threatening the Allied 1st Army’s right flank. (von Arnim was told to detach the whole of the 10th Panzerdivision, but in fact released only Generalmajor Felix von Broich’s Kampfgruppe ‘von Broich’, keeping the other half of the division, including its Tiger I heavy tank unit, for his own purposes.)
Rommel was appalled as the revised ‘Morgenluft’ (i) plan diluted the concentration of his forces and would, once the advance had passed through the passes, leave him with dangerously exposed flanks. A concentrated attack on Tébessa, while entailing some risk, could in Rommel’s estimation have yielded badly needed supplies, destroyed Allied potential for operations into central Tunisia, and possibly have provided the Luftwaffe with a forward base in the form of the airfield at Youks les Bains to the west of Tébessa.
Early on 19 February, Rommel ordered the assault force of the Deutsches Afrikakorps from Fériana to attack the Kasserine pass, and the 21st Panzerdivision at Sbeitla to attack to the north through the pass to the east of Kasserine which leads to Sbiba and Ksour. The Kampfgruppe ‘von Broich’ of the 10th Panzerdivision was ordered to concentrate at Sbeitla in readiness to exploit success in either pass.
In the Sbiba area was Major General C. F. Keightley’s British 6th Armoured Division, less Brigadier C. A. L. Dunphie’s 26th Armoured Brigade which, less the tanks of the 16th/5th Lancers, had been sent to Thala. Also in the line were US troops in the form of the 18th Regimental Combat Team of Major General Terry de la M. Allen’s 1st Division and three infantry battalions of Major General Charles W. Ryder’s 34th Division. There were also three US field artillery battalions, elements of two British anti-tank regiments and some French detachments.
The 21st Panzerdivision made little headway against the considerable firepower of the defending force, which had also laid minefields, and was therefore checked and then driven back by 20 February.
Defending the Kasserine pass was a largely US force comprising the 1/26th Infantry, 19th Combat Engineer Regiment, 6th Field Artillery Battalion, a US tank destroyer battalion and a battery of French artillery. On the hills to this force’s west was the Task Force ‘Welvert’ of Général de Division Marie Joseph Edmond Welvert, commander of the Division de Constantine, and comprising one US Ranger battalion, one US infantry battalion, three French infantry battalions, two US field artillery battalions, four French artillery batteries and engineer and anti-aircraft detachments. Farthest to the west was the Task Force ‘Bowen’ (3/26th Regimental Combat Team), blocking the track from Fériana to the north-west toward Tébessa. Between Task Force ‘Bowen’ and Tébessa was the 1st Armored Division, which was regrouping and had only its Combat Command B fit for combat. The Allied defensive positions in the pass on 18 February were held by ‘Stark’ Force under Colonel Alexander Stark, commander of the 26th Regimental Combat Team.
An initial attempt to surprise the defences in the Kasserine pass by quickly pushing the 33rd Aufklärungsabteilung of Generalleutnant Willibald Borowitz’s 15th Panzerdivision into the pass failed, and one Panzergrenadier battalion was then ordered into the floor of the pass and another onto the Djebel Semmama, the hill on the pass’s eastern flank. Only slow progress was made against defensive artillery fire, and the tanks of the 1/8th Panzerregiment were committed at about 12.00, but there was little further German progress in the face of the determined US defence.
Frustrated by the lack of progress Rommel decided to commit his units of the 10th Panzerdivision on the following morning in an attack co-ordinated with that of the Deutsches Afrikakorps’s assault force, which was to be bolstered by elements of Generale di Divisione Calvi di Bergolo’s Italian 131st Divisione corazzata ‘Centauro’.
Meanwhile British reinforcements in the form of Dunphie’s 26th Armoured Brigade and Brigadier F. A. V. Copland-Griffiths’s 1st Guards Brigade of Keightley’s 6th Armoured Division had been arriving at Thala. After making a forward reconnaissance, Dunphie decided to intervene, but the Allied 1st Army restricted him to the despatch of a small combined-arms group (comprising one infantry company, one squadron of 11 tanks, one artillery battery and one anti-tank troop) as Lieutenant Colonel A. C. Gore’s ‘Gore’ Force. Another organisational change came when Brigadier C. G. G. Nicholson, deputy commander of the 6th Armoured Division, was given command of all units to the north-west of the pass under the designation ‘Nick’ Force.
During the night the US positions on the shoulders overlooking the pass were overrun, and at 08.30 German Panzergrenadier and Italian bersaglieri units resumed the attack. At 10.00 Dunphie came to the conclusion that ‘Stark’ Force was about to give way and ordered ‘Gore’ Force to the Thala side of the pass. At 13.00 Rommel committed two battalions of the 10th Panzerdivision, and the Axis pressure now surged through the Allied defences. The US survivors made a disorganised retreat up the western exit from the pass to the Djebel el Hamra where the 1st Armored Division’s Combat Command B was arriving.
On the exit toward Thala, ‘Gore’ Force slowly leapfrogged back, losing all of its tanks in the process, to rejoin the 26th Armoured Brigade some 10 miles (16 km) farther to the rear. As February 20 came to a close the Axis forces stood poised to strike toward Tébessa and Thala, and both sides now paused to plan for the next day.
The assault force of the Deutsches Afrikakorps began to advance along the Hatab river valley toward Haidra and Tébessa early in the afternoon of 21 February and continued its progress until encountering the defences of the 1st Division’s 16th Infantry and Brigadier General Paul McD. Robinett’s Combat Command B of the 1st Armored Division at the Djebel el Hamra. The German and Italian force was there halted and, despite heavy pressure including air attacks, failed to dislodge the US defenders. Having brought the Axis drive toward Tébessa to a halt, Allen, commander of the 1st Division, and Robinett started to plan the counterattack that was to be launched on the following day, 22 February.
The plans made by each side were upset by ongoing battle, however, and the Axis forces launched another assault on the US position on the morning of 22 February. Despite the pressure on them, the Americans held their line and by the middle of the afternoon the US infantry and tanks launched a counterattack that broke the German and Italian force, taking more than 400 Axis prisoners and pressing forward into the position of the Deutsches Afrikakorps.
Rommel had remained with the main strength of the 10th Panzerdivision during the advance toward Thala, where the 26th Armoured Brigade and remnants of the 26th Infantry had positioned themselves along a series of ridges leading to Thala. Throughout 21 February the 10th Panzerdivision edged closer to Thala. If the town fell and the German division decided to move on the more southerly of the two roads from Thala to Tébessa, Major General Manton S. Eddy’s US 9th Division to the north would be cut off from its supplies, and Combat Command B of the 1st Armored Division would be trapped between the 10th Panzerdivision and its supporting units moving to the north along the second road to Tébessa.
The combined Allied force fought a holding action in front of Thala, retreating as slowly as it could ridge by ridge to the north, until by the close of the day the battered British and US force held the German attacks just to the south of Thala town.
All 48 guns of the 9th Division’s divisional artillery and several 37-mm anti-tank gun platoons, which had started to move on 17 February from their positions 800 miles (1300 km) farther to the west in Morocco, were emplaced that night, so when the battle reopened on the next day the Allied defences were considerably stronger. The front line was held largely by British infantry with exceptionally strong firepower support by US and British artillery organised into a single fire unit under the US artillery’s commander, Brigadier General Stafford LeRoy Irwin. The British contribution to the artillery component of the defence was 36 guns, and further support was provided by the Derbyshire Yeomanry reconnaissance regiment and the 17th/21st Lancers armoured regiment.
When Anderson, the Allied 1st Army’s commander, ordered the 9th Division and its organic artillery support to Le Kef to meet an expected German attack, Major General Ernest N. Harmon, who had been sent by Eisenhower to observe and report on the battle situation and the Allied command, partially countermanded the order, instructing the 9th Division’s artillery to remain where it was. On the morning of 22 February, an intense artillery bombardment by the Allied artillery pre-empted the planned continuation of the attack by the Kampfgruppe ‘von Broich’, destroying armour and other vehicles, and disrupting Axis communications. With Rommel’s agreement, von Broich decided to pause and regroup, so yielding the tactical initiative even as Allied reinforcements continued to arrive. Under constant fire, the Kampfgruppe ‘von Broich’ was unable even to pull back until night had fallen.
With his forces much overextended, their supplies approaching exhaustion, pinned down by the Allied artillery in the pass in front of Thala, and now facing US counterattacks along the Hatab river, Rommel realised his attack had been stopped. At Sbiba, along the Hatab river and now at Thala, the efforts of the Axis forces had not been able to secure a decisive breakthrough of the Allied line.
With little prospect of success, Rommel judged that it would be wiser to break off and to concentrate his strength in southern Tunisia and strike a blow at the 8th Army, which he hoped to catch off balance in ‘Capri’ while it was still assembling its forces. Rommel at least had the consolation that he had inflicted heavy losses on the Allies, and that the Allied concentrations in the area of Gafsa and Sbeitla had been destroyed.
At a meeting at Rommel’s headquarters on 23 February, Kesselring and his chief-of-staff, Oberst Siegfried Westphal, urged Rommel to reconsider, arguing that there were still possibilities for success. However, Rommel was adamant, Kesselring finally agreed, and an order from the Comando Supremo was issued that evening calling off ‘Morgenluft’ (i) and directing all Axis units to return to their start positions.
On 23 February a major US air attack on the pass hastened the German retreat, and by late on February 24, the pass had been reoccupied and Fériana was in Allied hands, with Sidi Bou Zid and Sbeitla following soon after this.
Following the end of the battle, each sides analysed the results. Rommel had hoped to take advantage of the inexperience of the new Allied commanders, but was unsupported by von Arnim, who did not appreciate the intent of Rommel’s offensive. von Arnim, who wanted to conserve strength for his own sector, chose to ignore Kesselring’s orders and withheld the heavy tank unit of the 10th Panzerdivision from Rommel. As to his adversaries, Rommel decided that most US units and, more importantly, their commanders responded in a fashion reflecting their lack of combat experience, most especially when, under stress, they tended to concentrate on what was taking place directly before them and thereby lost sight of the larger situation. Rommel had been unable to exploit this, however, as he had not given the support in forces and freedom to manoeuvre required by his plan, and a significant opportunity was therefore missed. So far as matériel was concerned, Rommel decided that US equipment was good, and that among the best of it was the M3 half-track.
The Allies also studied the results. Positioned by senior commanders who had not personally reconnoitred the terrain, US forces were often located too far from each other to provide mutual support. It was also noted that US soldiers were sometimes slipshod about digging in, exposing their positions, bunching in groups when in open view of the opposition’s artillery observers, and positioning units on topographic crests, where their silhouettes made them perfect targets. Too many soldiers, faced with the rocky Tunisian soil, were still digging shallow slit trenches instead of deep foxholes. The 1st Armored Division had also apparently not learned lessons from its British counterparts about German anti-tank and screening tactics, though others US elements were well aware of the German deception tactic. The Allies had also allowed the Germans to attain air superiority over the battlefield, which curtailed effective Allied air reconnaissance and allowed the Germans a free hand to make bombing and strafing attacks that disrupted Allied attempts at deployment. Attacks by the Luftwaffe in close support of German ground offensives often defeated US attempts to organise effective defensive artillery fire.
Eisenhower reacted to the various analyses by launching a process to restructure the Allied command, creating a new high-level headquarters in the form of the 18th Army Group under General the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander, tightening the operational control of the three Allied nations’ higher command echelons (armies and corps), and improving inter-Allied co-ordination to remove the type of friction which had become evident during the previous month’s operations.
Most importantly for US Army, Fredendall, commander of the II Corps, was relieved and despatched to a training command assignment for the remainder of the war. In this decision Eisenhower had been confirmed in his initial reassessment of Fredendall by reports from senior officers such as Major General Omar N. Bradley and others that Fredendall’s subordinates had no confidence in him as their commander.
Most of the blame fell on Fredendall, but it was inarguable that Anderson, in overall command of the British, French US forces on North-West Africa, was also at fault for failing to concentrate Allied armoured units and integrate Allied forces: as noted by Harmon, Ward and Alexander, these had effectively disintegrated into a collection of disjointed elements.