Panzers fail in second assault on Kasserine Pass

German troops on the move in Tunisia 1943

German troops on the move in Tunisia 1943

In Tunisia the Kasserine Pass remained the centre of contested territory. The Germans had been unable to fully exploit their early successes and had come up against increasingly stiff U.S. resistance.

By 1943 Hans von Luck was a seasoned veteran of the Panzer, having started his war in Poland and continued in France and Russia before arriving in North Africa in 1942. As commander of a Panzer reconnaissance battalion he was now in the front line of the battle:

During the night of 18/19 February I was given the task of taking the Kasserine Pass in a surprise coup and of holding it open for the following units. With the motorcycle escorts in front, I moved off before dawn in the hope of catching the Americans unawares.

They were on the alert, however, and straddled us with heavy artillery fire, which was directed by observers stationed on the heights on either side of the way through the pass. I couldn’t get through. Neither could a rifle regiment that was sent in against the pass.

All the same, we took a few prisoners, who belonged to the 34th U.S. Division. We were surprised by the first-class equipment of the men, and, most of all, by the “daily ration“ that everyone had on him. It was not just the bar of chocolate, the chewing gum, butter, and cigarettes, which, for us, were unaccustomed treats; we were fascinated by the printed slip that was enclosed with each package. On it was written: “You are the best paid and best equipped soldier in the world. We have given you the best weapons in the world. Whether you are also the best fighter is now for you to prove.”

As we very soon discovered, the Americans had first-class tanks and antitank guns. Behind the front, large supply dumps could quickly replace any deficiency. The fact that they had no combat experience and were at a disadvantage against our “desert foxes,” could not be held against them.

In one respect, they seemed to have the edge over their British allies: they were extraordinarily flexible; they adapted immediately to a changed situation and fought with great doggedness.

I will never forget the sight of a few Tiger panzers, with their superior 88mm tank gun, knocking out one Sherman after the other, as they tried to advance through a pass to the east, and couldn’t understand that they were hopelessly inferior to the Tigers.

We admired the courage and élan with which the Americans executed their attacks, even though we sometimes felt sorry for them at having to pay for their first combat experience with such heavy losses. We discovered later, in Italy, and I personally in the battles in France in 1944, how quickly the Americans were able to evaluate their experience and, through flexible and unconventional conduct of a battle, convert it into results.

See Hans von Luck: Panzer Commander

A German armoured column Tunisia, 1943.

A German armoured column Tunisia, 1943.

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