Battle of Sidi Bou Zid

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Battle of Sidi Bou Zid
Part of the Tunisia Campaign of World War II
Tunisia30Janto10Apr1943.jpg
Tunisian Campaign, January–April 1943
Date14–17 February 1943
Location
34°52′N9°29′E / 34.867°N 9.483°E / 34.867; 9.483 Coordinates: 34°52′N9°29′E / 34.867°N 9.483°E / 34.867; 9.483
Result German victory
Belligerents
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg United States Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Lloyd Fredendall
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Orlando Ward
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
Casualties and losses
2,546 missing
103 tanks [1]
Tunisia adm location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Sidi Bou Zid
Sidi Bou Zid in Tunisia

The Battle of Sidi Bou Zid(Unternehmen Frühlingswind/Operation Spring Breeze) took place during the Tunisia Campaign from 14–17 February 1943, in World War II. The battle was fought around Sidi Bou Zid, where a large number of American units were mauled by German and Italian forces. It resulted in the Axis recapturing the strategically important town of Sbeitla in central Tunisia.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Sidi Bouzid Place in Tunisia

Sidi Bouzid, sometimes called Sidi Bou Zid or Sīdī Bū Zayd, is a city in Tunisia and is the capital of Sidi Bouzid Governorate in the centre of the country. Following the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid, it was the site of the first clashes of the Tunisian Revolution and a catalyst for other protests in the region, often known as the Arab Spring.

Sbeitla Place in Kasserine Governorate, Tunisia

Sbeitla or Sufetula is a city in north-central Tunisia. Nearby are the Roman ruins of Sufetula, containing the best preserved Roman forum temples in Tunisia. It was the entry point of the Muslim conquest of North Africa.

Contents

The battle was planned by the Germans to be a two-part offensive-defensive operation against US positions in western Tunisia. Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen von Arnim commanded several experienced combat units, including the 10th Panzer Division and the 21st Panzer Division of the 5th Panzer Army, which were to sweep north and west towards the Kasserine Pass, while another battle group attacked Sidi Bou Zid from the south. Facing the attack was the II US Corps (Major General Lloyd Fredendall).

<i>Generaloberst</i> General officer rank

Generaloberst, in English colonel general, was, in Germany and Austria-Hungary—the German Reichswehr and Wehrmacht, the Austro-Hungarian Common Army, and the East German National People's Army, as well as the respective police services—the second highest general officer rank, ranking above full general but below general field marshal. It was equivalent to Generaladmiral in the Kriegsmarine until 1945, or to Flottenadmiral in the Volksmarine until 1990. The rank was the highest ordinary military rank and the highest military rank awarded in peacetime; the higher rank of general field marshal was only awarded in wartime by the head of state. In general, a Generaloberst had the same privileges as a general field marshal.

Hans-Jürgen von Arnim German general

Hans-Jürgen von Arnim was a German general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II who commanded several armies. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

10th Panzer Division (Wehrmacht) formation of the German Army during World War II

The 10th Panzer Division was a formation of the German Army during World War II. It was formed in Prague in March 1939, and served in the Army Group North reserve during the invasion of Poland of the same year. The division participated in the Battle of France in 1940, including the Siege of Calais, and in Operation Barbarossa attached to Army Group Center in 1941.

In a few days, the Axis attack forced the II US Corps to take up new defensive positions outside Sbiba. Axis troops were then given time to consolidate their new front line west of Sbeitla. The success of the offensive led the German High Command to conclude that despite being well equipped, American forces were no match for experienced Axis combat troops.

Sbiba Place in Kasserine Governorate, Tunisia

Sbiba is a city surrounded by chains of mountains in the province of Kasserine.

Background

The Allied attempt to capture Tunis in late 1942 after Operation Torch had failed and since the year end a lull had settled on the theatre, as both sides paused to rebuild their strength. Hans-Jürgen von Arnim had been given command of the Axis forces defending Tunisia and reinforcements led to the force being named the 5th Panzer Army (5.Panzer-Armee). Arnim chose to maintain the initiative gained when the Allies had been driven back the previous year by making spoiling attacks to keep his intentions hidden.

Operation Torch 1942 Allied landing operations in French North Africa during World War II

Operation Torch was an Anglo–American invasion of French North Africa during the Second World War. It was aimed at reducing pressure on Allied forces in Egypt, and enabling an invasion of Southern Europe. It also provided the ‘second front’ which the Soviet Union had been requesting since it was invaded by the Germans in 1941. The region was dominated by the Vichy French, officially in collaboration with Germany, but with mixed loyalties, and reports indicated that they might support the Allied initiative. The American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commanding the operation, planned a three-pronged attack, aimed at Casablanca (Western), Oran (Center) and Algiers (Eastern), in advance of a rapid move on Tunis.

The 5th Panzer Army was a German armoured formation that operated on the Western Front and North Africa. The remnants of the army surrendered in the Ruhr pocket in 1945.

In January 1943, the German-Italian Panzer Army (Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee) commanded by General Erwin Rommel, had retreated to the Mareth Line, a line of defensive fortifications near the coastal town of Medenine in southern Tunisia, built by the French before the war. The Axis forces joined and in the Sidi Bou Zid area there were elements from both armies, notably 21st Panzer Division of the Afrika Korps',' transferred from German-Italian Panzer Army and the 10th Panzer Division from the 5th Panzer Army.

Erwin Rommel German field marshal of World War II

Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel was a German general and military theorist. Popularly known as the Desert Fox, he served as field marshal in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II, as well as serving in the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic, and the army of Imperial Germany.

Mareth Line building in French protectorate of Tunisia

The Mareth Line was a system of fortifications built by France in southern Tunisia, prior to World War II. It was to defend Tunisia against attacks from Libya, then a colony of Fascist Italy. Tunisia was occupied by Axis forces after Operation Torch in 1942 and the line was used by the Axis to defend against the British 8th Army, which had re-occupied Libya during 1943.

Medenine Place in Tunisia

Medenine is the major town in south-eastern Tunisia, 77 kilometres (48 mi) south of the port of Gabès and the Island of Djerba, on the main route to Libya. It is the capital of Medenine Governorate.

Most of Tunisia was under Axis occupation but in November 1942, the Eastern Dorsale of the Atlas Mountains had been captured by the Allies. [2] The Eastern Dorsale was held by elements of the inexperienced II US Corps (Lieutenant-General Lloyd Fredendall) and the poorly equipped French XIX Corps (Alphonse Juin). Fredendall made Tebessa, over 80 mi (130 km) back, his headquarters and rarely visited the front. [3] In the absence of intelligence as to Axis intentions, Fredendall dispersed his forces to cover all eventualities, which left his units too far apart for mutual support. At Sidi Bou Zid he had overruled his divisional commanders and ordered the defensive dispositions without studying the ground. Sidi Bou Zid was defended by the 34th US Infantry Division 168th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) (Colonel Thomas Drake) and the tanks of the 1st US Armored Division Combat Command A (CC A). Fredendall had caused most of this force to be placed in defensive "islands" on high ground, which risked defeat in detail. [4]

Atlas Mountains mountain range across the northwestern stretch of Africa

The Atlas Mountains are a mountain range in the Maghreb. It stretches around 2,500 km (1,600 mi) through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The range's highest peak is Toubkal, with an elevation of 4,167 metres (13,671 ft) in southwestern Morocco. It separates the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert. The Atlas mountains are primarily inhabited by Berber populations. The terms for 'mountain' in some Berber languages are adrar and adras, which are believed to be cognates of the toponym Atlas. The mountains are home to a number of animal and plants unique in Africa, often more like those of Europe; many of them are endangered and some have already gone extinct.

Lloyd Fredendall American General during World War II

Lieutenant General Lloyd Ralston Fredendall was a senior officer of the United States Army who fought during World War II. He is best known for his command of the Central Task Force landings during Operation Torch, and his command of the II Corps during the early stages of the Tunisian Campaign. In February 1943, while in command of the II Corps, his forces were defeated by German forces commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel and Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen von Arnim in the Battle of Kasserine Pass. After this setback, Fredendall was relieved of command of II Corps by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in North Africa, and replaced by Major General George S. Patton Jr. in March 1943. In spite of his relief, Fredendall was promoted to lieutenant general in June 1943, assumed command of the Second Army and was greeted back home in the United States as a hero.

Alphonse Juin Marshal of France

Alphonse Pierre Juin was a senior French Army officer who became a Marshal of France. A graduate of the Saint-Cyr class of 1912, he served in Morocco in 1914 in command of native troops. Upon the outbreak of the First World War, he was sent to the Western Front in France, where he was gravely wounded in 1915. As a result of this wound, he lost the use of his right arm.

Rommel was conscious of the danger of an attack by the Allies on the Eastern Dorsale towards the coast, about 60 mi (97 km) to the east, which could divide the Axis forces and isolate German-Italian Panzer Army from its line of supply from Tunis. On 30 January Arnim had sent the 21st Panzer Division to attack the Faid Pass, held by French XIX Corps. Fredendall had reacted slowly and Arnim's troops had overcome fierce French resistance and achieved their objectives while inflicting heavy casualties.

Prelude

German plan

Two offensive-defensive operations were planned, with Unternehmen Frühlingswind to be conducted by the 10th and 21st Panzer divisions against US positions at Sidi Bou Zid, west of Faïd, after which the 21st Panzer Division would join a battlegroup of the 1st Italian Army to attack Gafsa in Unternehmen Morgenluft and the 10th Panzer Division moved north for an attack west of Kairouan. Unternehmen Frühlingswind was to begin from 12–14 February. [5]

Battle

At 04:00 on 14 February four battle groups totalling 140 German tanks drawn from 10th and 21st Panzer divisions (Lieutenant General Heinz Ziegler), advanced through Faïd and Maizila passes, sites that General Dwight D. Eisenhower had inspected three hours earlier, to attack Sidi Bou Zid. [4] The attack started with tanks of the 10th Panzer Division under the cover of a sandstorm advancing westward from Faïd in two battle groups (the Reimann and Gerhardt groups). Elements of CC A tried to delay the German advance by firing a 105 mm M101 howitzer mounted on an M4 Sherman tank. The Germans responded by shelling the American battle positions with 88mm guns. By 10 a.m. the Germans had circled Djebel Lessouda (defended by Lessouda Force, an armoured battalion group commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters, George S. Patton's son-in-law) and joined up north of Sidi Bou Zid. [6]

Kampfgruppe Schütte and Kampfgruppe Stenckhoff of the 21st Panzer Division had secured the Maizila Pass to the south and Kampfgruppe Schütte headed north to engage two battalions of the 168th RCT [7] on Djebel Ksaira while Kampfgruppe Stenckhoff headed north-west to Bir el Hafey in order to swing round and make the approach to Sidi Bou Zid from the west during the afternoon. Under heavy shelling from the Kampfgruppe Schütte, Colonel Thomas Drake requested permission to retreat, which was denied by Fredendall, who ordered him to hold his positions and wait for reinforcements, which never arrived. By 5 p.m. Kampfgruppe Stenckhoff and the 10th Panzer Division had attacked CC A which had been driven nearly 15 miles (24 km) west to Djebel Hamra, with the loss of 44 tanks and many guns. The infantry were marooned on the high ground at Djebel Lessouda, Djebel Ksaira and Djebel Garet Hadid. [8]

During the night the 1st US Armored Division commander Orlando Ward moved up Combat Command C (CC C) to Djebel Hamra, to counter-attack Sidi Bou Zid on 15 February but the attack was over flat exposed country and was bombed and strafed early in the move, then found itself between the two Panzer divisions, with more than 80 Panzer IV, Panzer III and Tiger I tanks. [9] CC C retreated, losing 46 medium tanks, 130 vehicles and 9 self-propelled guns, narrowly regaining the position at Djebel Hamra. By the evening, Arnim had ordered three of the battle groups to head towards Sbeitla and were engaged by the remnants of CC A and CC C which were forced back. On 16 February, helped by intensive air support, they drove back the fresh Combat Command B (CC B) and entered Sbeitla. [10]

Aftermath

The experienced Germans performed well and caused many US losses before General Anderson, who had been appointed to co-ordinate Allied operations in Tunisia, ordered an Allied withdrawal on 17 February. The left (northern) flank of the First Army retreated from a line from Fondouk to Faïd and Gafsa to better defensive positions in front of Sbiba and Tebessa. Eisenhower blamed himself for trying to do too much and the sudden French collapse in the central mountains. Confusing and overlapping command arrangements made things worse. When the II US Corps was forced out of Sbeitla on 17 February and Axis forces converged on Kasserine, the Axis lack of unity of command and unclear objectives had a similar effect on Axis operations. [11]

The poor performance of the Allies during the actions of late January and the first half of February, as well as at the later Battle of the Kasserine Pass led the Axis commanders to conclude that, while US units were well equipped, they were inferior in leadership and tactics. This became received wisdom among the Axis forces and resulted in a later underestimation of Allied capabilities as they gained experience and replaced poor commanders.

See also

Footnotes

  1. Anderson 1993, p. 16.
  2. Billings 1990.
  3. Porch 2005, p. 383.
  4. 1 2 Watson 2007, p. 75.
  5. Hinsley 1994, pp. 276–277.
  6. Playfair et al. 2004, pp. 290–291.
  7. Watson 2007, p. 76.
  8. Playfair et al. 2004, p. 291.
  9. Watson 2007, p. 77.
  10. Playfair et al. 2004, pp. 291–294.
  11. Howard 1972, pp. 344–345.

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References

Further reading