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March 1943 - El Guettar

on Fri, 08/19/2011 - 00:22

The failed Axis offensive at Kasserine Pass meant that by March of 1943 the Axis were doomed in North Africa. The Axis were trapped between two powerful armies and reliant on a logistical chain perpetually in crisis, as the Allies enjoyed overwhelming naval superiority and new air bases in Algeria and Libya to launch attacks on Axis shipping. The Axis had maneuvered a quarter of a million soldiers and huge stores of equipment and supplies into a dead end. General von Arnim, commanding Army Group Afrika, actually surmised the odious Axis supply situation meant U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower did not even need to attack, as the Axis forces in Tunisia would starve by July.

A sick and dispirited Rommel left Africa for good on March 9th and with him went the best chance the Axis possessed to hang on and delay the inevitable allied victory. The Allies launched a series of powerful blows from east and west forcing the Axis armies back on Tunis, despite the Germans skillful use of terrain and reserves. The Americans, following their poor performance during the battle of Kasserine Pass, improved weekly. On March 23-24, 1943 and following a rapid advance of seventy-five miles Patton's men carved the counterattacking 10th Panzer Division to pieces near El Guettar. Although the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion and 899th Tank Destroyer Battalions supporting the US 1st Infantry Division both took heavy losses against the German tanks, the beleaguered American tank destroyers also played an important role in decimating the 10th Panzer, as did the increasingly world class American artillery. US artillery played a prominent role in crushing a late afternoon assault by the German panzer grenadiers as the American artillerymen employed everything from airbursts to skipping shells off the ground to decimate the assaulting German infantry. The overwhelming firepower pounded the Germans with such brutal efficiency Patton, overseeing the battle from a trench on high ground, commented "My God it seems a crime to murder good infantry like that." The 10th Panzer Division possessed only 26 operational tanks by March 25th and for the first time in the War, the Americans had stopped a full-scale attack delivered by a German panzer division.

by Steven Douglas Mercatante

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