Kasserine Pass, Battle of
KASSERINE PASS, BATTLE OF
KASSERINE PASS, BATTLE OF. In a series of engagements in Tunisia during World War II that reached a climax near the Algerian border at the Kasserine Pass, combined Italian and German forces in February 1943 drove American and French troops back about fifty miles from the Eastern to the Western Dorsale mountains. These events grew out of two actions: the British victory at El Alamein on 23 October 1942, which precipitated the retreat of German General Erwin Rommel's army across Libya and into southern Tunisia; and the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa on 8 November 1942, which prompted the Axis nations to dispatch troops from Italy to northern Tunisia. By January 1943, Rommel's troops, pursued by Lieutenant General Bernard L. Montgomery's Eighth Army, were settling into the Mareth positions. At the same time, General D. Juergen von Arnim held Bizerte and Tunis against Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson's First Army, composed of British, French, and American units.
The Americans were inexperienced and overconfident, and the French lacked modern and mechanized weapons and equipment. There were too few men for the large area they defended, yet the roads and railways from Algeria made support for larger forces impossible.
The battle opened 30 January 1943, when Arnim overwhelmed the French at Faïd Pass, and the Americans failed to restore the situation. Arnim attacked again on 14 February and marooned American forces on the Lessouda and Ksaira hills. At Sidi bou Zid he soundly defeated the U.S. First Armored Division, which lost ninety-eight tanks and about half of its combat effectiveness in two days. Allied troops abandoned Gafsa, Fériana, and Thélepte after destroying equipment and supplies, including facilities at two airfields, and the Americans were forced out of Sbeïtla.
Hoping to gain a great strategic victory by a wide envelopment through Tebéssa to Annaba (Bone), which would compel the Allies to withdraw from Tunisia, Rommel continued the offensive on 19 February. He thrust north from Sbeïtla toward Sbiba and sent two columns through the Kasserine Pass, one probing toward Tebéssa and the main effort toward Thala. After fierce fighting, all were stopped by determined defensive work. On 22 February a discouraged Rommel sent his units back to the Mareth positions to prepare for Montgomery's inevitable attack. Unaware of Rommel's withdrawal, the Allies moved cautiously forward, retook the Kasserine Pass on 25 February, and found the Italians and Germans gone.
The Americans learned their lessons and restructured their training programs. Major General George S. Patton Jr. replaced Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall at the head of the II Corps and restored the fighting spirit of the troops. General Harold Alexander instituted a better command system for the ground forces, and the French were rearmed and reequipped. Less than three months later, the Allies defeated the Italians and Germans and won control over all of North Africa.
Blumenson, Martin. Kasserine Pass. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.
Macksey, Kenneth. Crucible of Power: The Fight for Tunisia, 1942–1943. London: Hutchinson, 1969.
Kasserine Pass (kăs´ərīn´), gap, 2 mi (3.2 km) wide, central Tunisia, in the Grand Dorsal chain (an extension of the Atlas Mts.). A key point in the Allied offensive in Tunisia in World War II, the pass was the scene of an Axis breakthrough (Feb. 20, 1943), but it was retaken with very heavy losses by U.S. forces on Feb. 25. See North Africa, campaigns in.