On the 19th of February, 1943, green US troops were baptized in a fire when Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korp and Italian Allies pushed into Kasserine Pass at the Western end of Tunisia. Six days later, 6,500 American soldiers were dead, captured or wounded.
After having suffered heavy casualties in the days preceding what would come to be known as the Battle of Kasserine Pass, soldiers, and tanks of the 1st battalion, 26th Regimental Combat Team along with Rangers, Engineers, and French artillery held the rail lines and hills that would allow German breakout towards Algeria. Rommel, the Desert Fox himself, lead his panzer units into the area before splitting into two separate attack groups.
Tanks from the 1/8th Panzer Regiment joined a Panzergrenadier Battalion but had little luck against the artillery in the pass on the first day of the attack. The US commander, Alexander Stark, had called for reinforcements but only received token support from division and above. Unfortunately, Rommel had better access to additional forces and committed his tanks from the 10th Panzer. After taking overwatch positions out of the hands of Americans during the night, Rommel ordered an attack at 1 pm on the 20th which overran all of the American positions.
The retreating troops actually ran into the command group for the 1st Armored Division relief force and over a 10-mile span, while performing a leapfrog style retreat, lost all of its tanks before linking up with the 26th armored brigade.
After the disaster at Kasserine, the German advance was eventually stifled but not before 10,000 allied troops had been lost (including the 6,500 Americans mentioned already) to a paltry 2,000 German casualties. Amongst the many changes implemented after the battle, Eisenhower reorganized Allied high command to allow for better coordination. Interestingly, later, Rommel would praise elements of the 1st Armored Division for their defense in actions after the battle at the pass as well as a remark on the adaptability of US Commanders to the rigors of maneuver warfare. The Germans also took note of the American Half-track, which after capturing a good number of them, put them to use alongside their own national models.
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