The U.S. upset at the Kasserine Pass was to continue for several days. Although the U.S. Army quickly brought up reinforcements and stiffened the line, there were many pockets of men who had borne the brunt of the initial attack who had not been captured.
Colonel Thomas D. Drake of the 168th Infantry was left in command of a mixed group of about 400 men. They were isolated from other U.S. units and were trying to make their way back to U.S. lines by walking across country. As they attempted to cross a road they were fired upon by a German motorised column coming up the road. It was here that they had to make a last stand. Colonel Drake was to write an official report of the encounter for the U.S. military sometime later. In this report he refers to himself in the third person as he describes events on 17th February:
The enemy stopped and started leaping from their trucks, while enemy tanks immediately began encircling the American column. One U.S. plane flew over at this point and opened fire on the column. Our men, with surging morale, thought it was the promised air support but it apparently was a lone night fighter, a little late getting back from its mission.
One German truck was hit and set on fire. Colonel Drake immediately deployed his mixed command and opened fire with the weapons that they had. By this time there were about 400 men in the command and not more than half of them were armed.
Colonel Drake asked for volunteers of an officer and men; the officer to lead the group of men to a knoll in their rear as the German Infantry was running to circle them. First Lieutenant William Rogers, Artillery Liaison Officer of the 91st Armored Artillery, volunteered to lead the twelve men and urged them to follow him. They gained the desired ground, a little knoll in the desert, and they were able to hold the enemy off for about an hour. At the terminination of the hour Lt. Rogers and all his men had been killed.
The Germans brought up several, tanks, all of them with yellow tigers painted on their sides and opened fire. They also set up machine gun positions and supplemented that with rifle fire. While they were doing this their infantry completely encircled the small American force. After three and one-half hours of fighting the American fire power diminished and then practically ceased as the men were out of ammunition or had become casualties. Finally an armored car bearing a white flag came dashing into the American circle.
Colonel Drake ordered his men to wave the car away. When the car failed to respond he then ordered his men to fire upon the German car. Some of the men began to fire but others could not – as they had no ammunition and then they began surrendering in small groups.
German tanks came in following that vehicle without any negotiations for surrender. The Germans had used the white flag as subterfuge to come inside the circle of defense without drawing fire. Their tanks closed in from all directions cutting Colonel Drake’s forces into small groups .
The men who did not surrender were killed by the Germans. One tank came toward Colonel Drake and a German officer pointing a rifle at him called out, “Colonel, you surrender.” The Colonel replied, “You go to hell,” and turned his back. He then walked away and two German soldiers with rifles followed him at a distance of about fifty yards. Colonel Drake was then stopped by a German major who spoke good English and was asked to get in the German Major’s car where he was taken to Germand Divisional Headquarters.
Colonel Drake was taken to General Schmidt, Group Commander of the 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions at German Divisional Headquarters, where the German General immediately came forward to see him, drew up at attention, saluted and said, “I want to compliment your command for the splendid fight they put up. It was a hopeless thing from the start, but they fought like real soldiers.”
The German Commander promised Colonel Drake that all the American wounded would be cared for and that he could leave American medical personnel to properly look after them, but immediately upon Colonel Drake leaving the field, the American medical personnel were carried off as prisoners and the American dead and wounded left to the ravages of the Arabs, who proceeded to strip the dead and wounded and to beat insensible those wounded who protested to the stripping of their clothes.
The American prisoners were assembled in a group and under guard marched back through the afternoon and night along the road to DJ,. LESSOUDA. Those Americana who were lightly wounded or who became ill because of fatigue, lack of food and water and could not keep up with the column were ruthlessly bayonetted or shot. Many were walking barefooted because the Arabs had, taken their shoes from them under the supervision of the German soldiers.
The men had been left to the systematic robbery of the German soldiers, and some junior officers, for a period of about a half hour. During this time pockets and kits were thoroughly searched, often at the point of the rifle or the bayonet presented at the unprotected belly – watches, rings, pocketbooks, pens and all valuables were ruthlessly seized. They wore then formed in a column of fours, officers at the head, and started to the rear. Three German tanks brought up the rear of the column, which was flanked by armed guards, waiting to strike, bayonet or shoot, any who for any reason straggled.
All day they marched through desert sands with unrelieved thirst almost unbearable . Colonel Drake appealed to the German Commander in the name of common humanity to give the men a drink of water, but was met with the statement, “We only have enough for our troops.” Near midnight they were finally halted for the remaining hours of darkness. The men were herded into a circle in the open desert and there practically froze in the piercing cold of the Aftican night.
THOMAS D. DRAKE, 015364 Colonel, G.S.C., WDGS (Formerly Commanding 168th Inf)