Kasserine Pass, 30 Jan – 22 Feb 1943

Subject: History
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 9
Word count: 2488
Topics: World War 2ArmyMilitary Science
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Abstract

The Kasserine Pass battle in North Africa which involved the Allied forces against the Axis forces had a devastating outcome for the Americans contrary to their expectations. The Americans began the invasion as an Operation Torch on November 8, 1942, with a goal of seizing Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The defeat of the U.S. Army and their Allied forces by the Axis forces in the battle of Kasserine Pass depicts several strategic and operational challenges. The logistical issues had great impact because they made it impossible for the Allied forces to coordinate the forces within the region and provide supplies such as equipment, food, ammunition and fuel thus weakening their operations in Tunisia. Furthermore, the weak leadership disrupted the coordination of military activities and mistrust among the leaders of the Allied forces. Nevertheless, battle provided vital lessons to the U.S. army that helped them to defeat Europe and emerge victorious in the Second World War. Some of the lessons included the need for a well disciplined and coordinated leadership and improved logistics as well as adherence to the principles of battle such as the principle of mass, security and unity.

Introduction

The Kasserine Pass battle in North Africa which involved the Allied forces against the Axis forces had a devastating outcome for the Americans contrary to their expectations. The Americans began the invasion as an Operation Torch on November 8, 1942, with a goal of seizing Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia (Zemurray, Nd.). Comprising of three task forces namely the Western Task Force, Central Task Force and the Eastern Task Force the forces launched an attack against French in Northern and Western Africa. However, the American missions in the North Africa had both military and political advances among the leaders of the Allied countries. Although the American military leadership lead by General George C. Marshall was opposed to Americans involvement in Mediterranean campaign, President Roosevelt declined the views of the military leaders and his military advisor on this matter and pushed for the commitment of the U.S. troops in North Africa (Johnson, 2013). The Allied forces (comprising of British American and French troops) launched quick attacks on the Axis (Italy, Germany and Sicily) with a mission to liberate Tunisia. Upon the landing of British and American troops in North Africa, the two forces began their military operations in North Africa from the eastern towards the western regions (Sherwood, 2013). The engagement of American troops at Kasserine Pass against the Germany troops was faced with great resistance and Americans faced terrible defeat as they could neither capture Tunis or Bizerte nor split German Bridgehead as they had planned. Despite this humiliating defeat, the Kasserine Pass was the first large-scale engagement defeat for Allied Forces, their lessons learned ensured future victories during World War II.

The Battle of Kasserine Pass

In February 1943 the American and French troops experienced a humiliating defeat from the Italian and Germany forces at Kasserine Pass in Tunisia during the Second World War. Before this period, the Anglo-Americans had invaded the French dominated North Africa on November 8, 1942, which called the Axis states to send troops to Northern Tunisia from Italy (Sherwood, 2013).  Additionally, the victory of the British forces on October 23, 1942, at El Alamein compelled the army of German General Erwin Rommel to withdrawal from Libya and moved to southern Tunisia. The Americans forces were overconfident about the ability to conquer the Axis forces (Sherwood, 2013). Nevertheless, they lost in an excruciating defeat to the Axis troops for various reasons which later turned into lessons to improve their future welfare and eventual victory in the Second World War.

The once overconfident American generals made several mistakes which contributed to their loss of the battle. The generals mismanaged their troops by leading from behind while allowing their juniors to take the lead and confront the well-equipped and more experienced fearless Germany forces. The inexperienced American soldiers and ill-equipped French troops could not match the well prepared and experienced Germany and Italy forces (Zemurray, Nd.). Furthermore, there were only a few French and American troops commanding the vast area and the poor railway and road network in the area acted as a great impendent to any effort to provide any reinforcement as quickly as possible.

The overzealous American troops encountered great resistance from the Axis in the northern Africa and they were pushed back eighty kilometres (fifty miles) from the mountain range of Eastern Dorsale to Western Dorsale across the Sbeitla Plain from where they changed tactics from attacking to resisting the attack by the Axis (Johnson, 2013). The defeat of the allies at Kasserine Pass was demoralising to the American soldiers and the citizens back at home which also cast doubt about the preparedness and prowess of the American soldiers to succeed in battle (Sherwood, 2013). However, as aforementioned the allied forces were dealt a severe defeat at Kasserine Pass for several reasons which discussed later in this document. Nevertheless, this defeat was of great significance because the allies learned lessons which helped them reorganize their troops to succeed in the later attacks in the Second World War.

The Allied troops had a major issue of disunity among the military command. The joining of French in the Allies was a major cause of disunity since the French troops were not ready to operate under the British commanders. Unfortunately, the American commanders lacked the experience of North Africa to take the military leadership from the British Commanders which resulted in disorganized allied forces lacking combat (Sherwood, 2013). The logistics issues, lack of experience and small ill- equipped Allied troops continued to expose their weaknesses leading to failure to effectively defeat the Axis.

The military engagements in the Northern Tunisia halted between late December 1942 and mid-January 1943 due to poor logistics, bad winter weather and lack of proper coordination of military operations both on air and on the land. The Allies led by Eisenhower focused on Southern Tunisia as the specifically Tebessa and Kasserine to continue its offensive attacks (Sherwood, 2013).  They strategized on giving American forces their front and strengthen the French forces to resist any potential attack by the opponents led by Rommel.  This new arrangement established Kasserine Pass as the battleground begging for the end of January 1943.

However, the move by the Axis forces to abandon strategic positions and restrict their advances came as a surprise to the commanders of the allied forces. The Germany troops attacked the French towards the end of January 1943 in defence of the Faid Pass (Zemurray, Nd.). This attack had a devastating impact on the Allied forces as it disoriented their plans for offensively driving Maknassy as the Allied commanders got confused as to whether to continue with the offensive drive or stage a counterattack against Germans. This state of confusion and uncertainty of the Allies gave the Germans an opportunity to expand the attacks. The Axis forces attacked the Allied forces on February 14, 1943, on the southern Tunisia, the Germany 21st Panzer Division launched an attack against the US 1st Armoured Division on the Western part of Faid (Johnson, 2013). The Americans launched a counterattack the following day, but since they were ill-prepared they could not match the attackers hence about 1400 American troops were captured (Sherwood, 2013). Also, the Allies could not obtain reinforcement on time hence they were pushed backwards by the attackers to the West. This is how the Americans came to establish another defensive position at Kasserine pass after a series of defeat and retreat at Sidi Bou Zid.

Romel was quite tactical as he strategized to capture the Allied supply depot on the north-west at Tebessa and then advance to the Algerian coast through the North region with a goal of trapping the British troop in the northern Tunisia. On February 19, 1943, Panzer Army received reinforcement from 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions and seized the opportunity to attack the II Corps and captured Kasserine Pass with minimal resistance from separate battalions and companies on secluded hilltops (Johnson, 2013). The defeat of the American troops was mainly at Kasserine was mainly due to change of Axis priorities and rigidity of the American resolutions. Besides the defeat, American soldiers were demoralized by the disunity and underutilized equipment abandoned in a rush to retreat from the attackers. The Americans had more than 6,000 casualties which led them to change their tactical advances by retreating from attackers (Sherwood, 2013).  Nevertheless, the Rommel forces advanced towards east to take defence against the Montgomery’s Eight Army to the East.

Logistics issues were one of the causes of the defeat of the American troops and their allies. The Allies forces lost their focus as they entered the North Africa since their initial goal was to capture the port cities and destroy the communication lines upon entering Tunisia as well as destroy the Rommel’s forces. The commander of the forces encountered the new challenge of managing logistics such as moving the troops between Tunisia and Algeria while abandoning the initial plans. This issue arose when planning for Operation Torch since the American forces had prepared for occupying army while situation turned into striking offensive forces thus compelling the Allies occupying army to change into a striking offensive force (Zemurray, Nd.). Furthermore, the American forces were overconfident and underestimated the possible resistance on the ground hence they did not prepare adequately for the real situation. The long distances and poor road network exacerbated the logistical issues and delayed supply of reinforcement thus complicating the military operations in Algeria and Tunisia. Consequently, there was a lack of essential supplies such as food, ammunitions and fuel (Sherwood, 2013). Also, the Allied forces were defragmented over a large area which exposed them to successful attack by well-equipped Axis forces. Finally, due to logistical issues the Allied forces was thinly dispersed in Tunisia which gave Axis forces an easy time to breakthrough and captures their main locations including Kasserine Pass.

The other issues leading to the defeat of Allied forces was the abuse of principles of war such as mass, command, security and unity of the forces. The U.S. II Corps were thinly dispersed in the regions resulting in pockets of troops that were easily cut-off and by the enemies (Johnson, 2013).  As opposed to the principle of unity of command which requires all operations elements being controlled by a single unit of command for common objectives the Allied forces were under different commanders. The lack of unity of effort among the Allies in the northern Tunisia weakened the forces to the advantage of their enemies. There was mistrust among the Allies and improper deployment of the forces in the region which contributed to weak counterattacks. As regards the principle of security the forces should preserve their preserve their combat power by preventing their enemies from gaining an undue advantage (Sherwood, 2013). The Allied forces disregarded the principle of security in the battle at Kasserine Pass by ignoring the intelligence information and over depending on Ultra intercept data. However, due to interference with the data capturing system the Ultra intercept data was unreliable and led to a wrong conclusion about the manoeuvres of the enemies and resulting in the staging of defences against wrongly perceived attacks or facing unanticipated attacks. Inexperienced leaders such as Eisenhower had a negative influence on the effective performance of the Allied forces. The leaders were responsible for sanctioning of thinly deployment of troops in Tunisia and improper utilization of intelligence information that weakened the forces. Additionally, Fredendall also weakened his control of the troop further by establishing his centralized control very far from the areas of operations.

Significance of the Battle of Kasserine Pass

Despite the massive failures of the Americans and their allies at Kasserine Pass in 1943, the battle provided the Allied forces with invaluable lessons that would contribute to their unprecedented victory in the Second World War. For instance, the logistics issues that mainly contributed to the terrible defeat of Allies at Kasserine Pass, the Allies learned about the significance of efficient logistics and supply systems. Immediately after the Kasserine defeat, the logistics were improved, and there was a massive movement of over 4,500 trucks supplying fuel, food, weapons and ammunition to the front in Tunisia (Sherwood, 2013). Also, the improvement of transport network facilitated the movement of personnel in Tunisia thus empowering the Allied Forces to push their enemies eastwards.

Another contribution of the Kasserine Pas defeat to the improvement of Allied forces was the importance of having efficient leadership. Initially, there were several issues of indiscipline cases among the military personnel and inability of the commanders to effectively coordinate the military expertise to defeat the enemies (Johnson, 2013). For instance, Fredendall had established his command base far from the forces hence he could not have well-disciplined and managed troop. It has demoralized forces since the commanders were absent from leading the troops (Zemurray, Nd.). The leaders later learned the relevance of instilling discipline among the forces and ensuring they were adequately trained and equipped. They later improved their controls of the troops by establishing discipline and training on their forces and leading them from front hence this motivated them to conquer their enemies.

The American forces also improved the equipment and including tanks and anti-tanks to match the Wehrmacht used by the German forces. They established a battalion of TD (776th) which was well equipped with new M-10 guns and also provided further training to the forces going into battle with the German forces (Zemurray, Nd.).  There was an improved coordination of air and ground forces as well as ensured all the command bases were well coordinated. The implemented changes made a significant contribution to the victory against Europe.

Conclusion

The failure of Allied forces in the battle of Kasserine Pass demonstrates the various challenges of tactical and military operations. The U.S. Army and allied forces had several issues of leadership, logistics, and poor coordination of air and ground operations which gave the enemies an undue advantage. It was impossible for the Allied forces to get reinforcement on time or more their personnel across regions. As a result of poor leadership, the troops were poorly disbursed in the area hence the enemies could easily penetrate the defence and conquer the Allied forces. The leaders failed to lead from the front and faulted the principles of security, unity, masses and command. Furthermore, there was mistrust among leaders and overdependence on a single source of intelligence information. Nevertheless, despite the shortcomings the battle of Kasserine pass was the crucial turning point to the U.S. because the lessons learned helped in creating coordinated troops, improving logistics and commanders were able to lead from the front while utilizing intelligence information to enhance their efficiency hence they were able to win against Europe in the Second World War.

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  1. Johnson, D.E. (2013). Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917–1945. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  2. Sherwood, C.E.J. (2013). Bloddied but Bruised: How the World War II American Army at Kasserine Pass Grew Up in North Africa. Florida State University Libraries.
    Retrieved from; http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:185168/datastream/PDF/view
  3. Zemurray, S. (Nd.). The Battle at Kasserine Pass, North Africa The National WWII Museum, New Orleans. February 19 – 25, 1943. Retrieved from http://www.nationalww2museum.org/see-hear/collections/focus-on/kasserine-pass.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/?referrer=http://www.nationalww2museum.org/see-hear/collections/focus-on/kasserine-pass.html
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