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The fight for Kasserine Pass,
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This review is from: Kasserine Pass 1943: Rommel's last victory (Campaign) (Paperback)
This campaign by noted author, Steven Zaloga, is really more than the battle for Kasserine Pass. The author begins his introduction with history concerning the Anglo-French friction caused by issues of June and July 1940, of Rommel arriving in Africa in Feb, 1941, of the German defeat at El Alamein in Oct 1942 and moves on to discuss the American landing in Western Africa in Nov 1942. Though this intro takes up five pages, it will give the new student a good foundation from which to learn of the campaign that leads to the surrender of the Germans in May 1943.
In traditional Osprey format, a one page chronology follows this background info and it covers the time when Rommel arrives in Africa until the German surrender.
Of the next three chapters the "Opposing Commanders" was the shortest and weakest. Mr Zaloga covers the top people on each side but not any of the lower officers which will take part in the campaign. On the German side Rommel, Arnim and Kesselring are discussed. There is much friction between Rommel and Arnim and it will have a major negative impact on their offensive. On the American side Eisenhower, Patton, Fredenhall and to a less extent Bradley are covered. Giraud and Juinis are discussed for the French forces.
Opposing Armies has more space and is more informative. It contains coverage of the German, Italian, American, French forces and includes brief Orders of Battle. Though the British played a secondary role in this campaign, it was an important backup role but they are not covered in this chapter. Their coverage is part of the campaign.
I liked the Opposing Plans chapter the best. Eight pages are devoted to it and it gives the reader a clear understanding of what is trying to be accomplished on both sides and it transitions smoothly into the Campaign. The Allies were holding defensive positions on the Eastern Dorsal with intentions of waiting until spring when Patton and Montgomery coordinate the final offensive to stop the Axis. As usual Rommel and von Arnim were arguing with each other and couldn't agree on strategy. Being more conservative, von Arnim wanted to campaign in the Fondouk and Pinchon sectors while Rommel wanted to attack further south by clearing Kasserine and then moving on to capture the Allied depot at Tebessa.
The campaign coverage is pretty good; all the key engagements are discussed: Arnim's panzers defeated the 1st AD at Sidi bou Zid forcing the Americans chaotically back to Sbeitla and eventual withdrew from Sbeita as well. Also discussed is the tough British defense of Thala, the German capture of Kasserine and then the Pass as well as the stopping of the Germans in front of Tebessa are just some of engagements that took part in the middle two weeks in Feb, 1943.
The first few days for the Americans at Sidi bou Zid, its outposts and at the Kasserine Pass were costly and ungratifying. The author presents this sequence of events in a most lenient way. Some accounts of these first few days is quite critical of II Corp and General Fredendall. American intelligence had painted an incorrect picture of German intent and the American deployment was wrong. The Germans had far superior forces in the Sidi bou Zid sector, easily capturing it but von Arnim was not aggressive and did not exploit his initial success. Rommel was in charge of the forces attacking further south at Kasserine and he too didn't take full advantage of his initial success, splitting his forces, weakening them to the point that the regrouped Americans with the help of British and French were able to prevent Rommel from taking Tebessa. When Rommel saw his offensive was failing and with his supplies running low he withdrew. By the end of the month the Americans had recaptured the Pass. Mr Zaloga doesn't end here but continues the coverage to May when von Arnim surrenders.
The coverage for March, April and May is included but its not complete.
To help follow the narrative, there are five 2-D maps and three 3-D maps. These maps are good and cover the key engagements but do not cover all the action in this Feb, March period. There are some great photos that show the hard terrain the combatants had to overcome. Even the Kasserine Pass was difficult terrain; I'm surprised tanks and trucks could transverse it.
There are several color illustrations and a small reading list if further study is desired.
The chapter, "The Campaign in Retrospect" was very good and clarifies the author's position on the campaign. He admits the initial days of the German offensive penetrated the American's first defense line, inflicting heavy casualties but in the end the 2nd Corp regrouped and with the help of the British and French were able to prevent the Germans from attaining their major objectives. Mr Zaloga admits these conclusions are debatable but since the Germans could not pass through the Western Dorsals and were forced to stay in Eastern Tunisia the Allies could call that a victory.
This campaign which was fought on a small scale in a peripheral theater also allowed Eisenhower and the US Army to see the weaknesses in US Command, US War Doctrine including the low training levels of its soldiers. It was also proven that US weaponry, especially the M3 tank had to improve if Germany was to be defeated. They would have over a year to correct those shortcomings before the Normandy invasion. The defeat was relatively small and not as costly as if the American first engagement of the war had been Normandy. It was also shown the problems with the Axis forces in dealing with Chain of Command and lack of unified strategy or logistic stablity would have a major influence in the coming months.. The future of the Axis in North Africa looked pretty bleak.