U.S. troops on the lessons from combat in Tunisia

An Allied convoy near Casablanca, French Morocco, in November of 1942, part of Operation Torch, the large British-American invasion of French North Africa.

An Allied convoy, escorted by sea and air, plowed through the seas toward French North African possessions near Casablanca, French Morocco, in November of 1942, part of Operation Torch, the large British-American invasion of French North Africa.

The U.S. Army went from 189,839 men and women in 1939 to 3,075,608 in 1942 and up to 8,267,958 in 1945. [Figures courtesy National WWII Museum.] Everyone was on a huge learning curve throughout every level of the organisation.

Whilst the U.S. Army was well equipped it had come unstuck at times in Tunisia. But even the Germans recognised that it was quick to learn and adapt

Part of this proces was the interviewing of a wide range of personnel in the field. The views of all ranks of men who had been involved in front line fighting were actively sought out. They were presented, largely unedited, in booklet form for the benefit of men in training:

LIEUTENANT COLONEL RINGSOK, 6th Armored Infantry, and members of his Battalion, 14 April 1943….

The Germans will infiltrate into our line and stay there all day, firing the machine-pistol indiscriminately. He may not have a target but he does it for the nervous effect it produces on us. Our defense for that is to have each platoon do a mopping up job until it contacts the adjacent units and the area is cleared of such people. We use the self-propelled 37-mm gun on the carrier to do this and take in prisoners. We back it up and fire canister into the holes when we find the Germans.

The Germans will become discouraged by continuous firing of weapons. It is terribly annoying to them. So now, throughout the night, we have members of the squads take turns at firing the machine guns. It also helps keep the men awake and on the jobs. At no set time, but off and on and many times during the night, the guns are fired.

Something else to consider is the ease with which you can use indirect firing with the machine gun. Indirect firing can be most advantageously used and it does not need to be made complicated. We simply go out where we can see, and fire, and make records of it on stakes, and at night when we wish to fire a certain distance, we just elevate to the desired height as shown on the stake. We were using indirect firing one night to good advantage when we were firing on a road. Evidence was seen the next morning when we saw a truck burning on the road. The firing cut a supply road three miles away.

The German flares and night signals gave my battalion a lot of trouble at first. The Germans fire flares continuously all night long, mostly to annoy and disturb troops. My troops, at first, would cease firing and attempt to guess what the enemy meant. But really, in most instances, it didn’t mean anything but was meant to distract the troops. And it will distract them unless you teach them to pay no attention to it, but to continue the battle and fire flares in return. After all, you can’t do anything after the flare is fired.

We fire lots of flares in the battalion now, and when Jerry fires at us, we fire in return.

I got my men used to the German flares by getting all I could, including those I could borrow from the British, and we fired them all night at Jerry. Now we take flares with us and fire them at Jerry at night. We do this on all the nights that we don’t use them for signals, then we use them only for signals. But my men now pay no attention to the enemy flares.

We were taught to fire the ground signal projector and white illuminating flares to mark front lines, but they will light up our area 200 yards square and will show the enemy our position rather than show us his. They should be shot out in advance of our positions and fired so that we are in the dark and the enemy is illuminated.

SERGEANT GEORGE CLELAND, Company “D”, 6th Armored Infantry, near Sidi bou Zid, 14 April 1943.

When you push the enemy back the ground between your position and the enemy’s position should be checked for snipers. I think patrols should be equipped with additional fire power.

The hardest thing for my squad to do is stay together.

Men in the States should be trained to dig foxholes. It will save lives. Foxholes are better than slit trenches because they protect a man more and you can fire out of a foxhole and you can’t very well out of a slit trench.

If I went to the States to train men, the first thing I would stress to a new man is leadership. I would make the man have confidence in his leader, and train him in every weapon, camouflage, and to dig foxholes; also to cover up tin cans. (Tin cans reflect light and give away positions.)

If you are going to harden a soldier up, keep him hardened up and don’t let him get soft. Start hard training and keep it up. Men should be hardened before they go into combat. Physical training on a boat is fine, but weapon training is wasted.

Flares should be used at night to confuse the enemy. They are very effective. You should also fire machine guns at night even if you don’t see the enemy. It has a very effective demoralizing effect on the enemy.

In the States we didn’t have enough night training. Men should be trained in the use of stars for navigation. All men should be trained to know organization in the States. The half-tracks carry enough ammunition. Jeeps should have trailers to carry ammunition from half-tracks to the guns.

‘Tankers in Tunisia’ was a manual prepared for men training at the Armored Replacement Training Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The manual consisted of interviews with officers and enlisted men in Tunisia during April 1943. The interviews were compiled by Brig. Gen. T. J. Camp in North Africa. The whole booklet can be found at Lone Sentry.

A United States soldier advances cautiously at left with a sub-machine gun to cover any attempt of the German tank crew from escaping their fiery prison inside their tank following a duel with U.S. and British anti-tank units in Medjez al Bab area, Tunisia, on January 12, 1943.

A United States soldier advances cautiously at left with a sub-machine gun to cover any attempt of the German tank crew from escaping their fiery prison inside their tank following a duel with U.S. and British anti-tank units in Medjez al Bab area, Tunisia, on January 12, 1943.

Contemporary U.S. Army Signal Corps colour film, including footage of low level Luftwaffe raids on U.S positions – and a frontline battle when U.S. troops and British artillery take on a Panzer attack:

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