ROMMEL FIGHTS TO GAIN TIME FOR HITLER IN NORTH AFRICA

From YANK Magazine

Hemmed in on three sides in Tunisia, the Nazis have nothing to win except delay of European invasion but that’s enough to keep them fighting until their last man goes down.



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Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in 1942

The battle for Tunisia will be a fight to the finish, G.I.s who are meeting Rommel’s blitzkrieg tactics for the first time in North Africa know this now. Hitler and his general staff have known it all along. With the fall of Tunisia, Germany’s European fortress begins to topple.

Time is the one big objective of the bloody North African struggle. Invasion of Europe is scheduled for this year, and the jumping off place for the Allies is North Africa.

Maj. George Fielding Eliot, the war analyst, said: “If he (Rommel) can throw the American forces back with such heavy losses that they cannot immediately resume their pressure on his flak, he then will be free to deal with the Eighth Army in its turn, and will have a far better chance of prolonging his tenure of the Mareth positions and the east coast ports. Eventually he will have to give them up as he well knows, but we must never forget that in Tunisia the Germans are playing chiefly for time. The longer they can keep us fighting in Africa, the longer it will be before we can develop offensive operations elsewhere. The German high command no longer expects to win this war. Its one remaining hope is to wear us down, to prolong the agony until for weariness we give the Axis a peace which will enable it to retain the nucleus of power essential to a comeback later on.”



Americans Are Driven Back

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Rommel speaks with soldiers of his Afrika Korps in Tunisia. The soldiers are riding in a captured American M3 halftrack.

Rommel made his lighting thrusts by striking through Faid Pass. Fanning his armored columns north and south, he drove the Americans back to hill positions beyond Feriana, Thelepte, Kasserine and Sbeitla. Three valuable American airfields were lost to the enemy. In the north, the Americans abandoned their positions in the Ousseltia Valley and retired into the mountains to the west. This move straightened the lines with those to the south and gave the Allies command of the valley with the British holding the gap to the south of it.

Stalling for a short breather, Rommel then drove through the Kasserine Gap with the obvious intention of taking Tebessa, American advance base just inside the Algerian border. If he was successful in capturing Tebessa, he would come into possession of immense quantities of supplies and material.

Allied losses were high a result of this push. Important rail and road communications were lost: supply bases and airfields were captured. According to the German High Command, 3,000 Allied prisoners were taken, 125 heavy tanks, 50 big guns and more than 40 armored cars.



German Army Flanked by Allies

This was the dark side of the picture. The bright side was the fact that Field Marshal Rommel and Col. Gen. von Arnim commanded an army that was hemmed in against the sea by enemy forces on all sides.

Troops of the British First Army were on the north flank; American, British and French troops extended across the front to the west; the British Eighth Army was advancing on the German southern flank.

Medenine, outposts on the Mareth fortifications line, was evacuated by the Germans and occupied by Gen Montgomery’s seasoned desert fighters.

They also occupied Foum Tatahouine, another fortified town on the Mareth line, 35 miles south.

While the Germans retired behind the line and dug themselves in, British heavy artillery smashed at the fortifications, and detachments of the Eighth Army attempted to outflank the line to the south.

Allies and Axis North AfricaSupply lines occupied the attention of Allied leaders as much as any other factor. Here the Axis has the edge. It is only a little more than 100 miles from Tunis to Sicily, main Axis supply base; 350 miles from Bizerte to Naples; 300 miles from Sicily to Gabes through which Rommel is supplied.

The Allies have a much greater problem. Gibraltar is 3,685 miles from New York, 1,467 miles from Liverpool. From Gibraltar it is still 297 miles to Oran and 494 miles to Algiers over muddy terrain and precipitous mountain passes to the front. Gen. Montgomery has a supply line extending overland and by coastal shipping from Cairo and Alexandria, more than 1,500 miles distant. Allied planes and submarines, however, continue to harass the short Axis supply lines and bases. Prime Minister Churchill reported that one-fourth to one-third of all Axis shipping in the Mediterranean had been sunk, while terrific raids continued on Naples, Sardinia and Sicily.

Meanwhile effects of the present fighting on Spanish Morocco were being carefully watched by the Allies. To the rear of Gen. Eisenhower’s American forces, Franco has anywhere from 150,000 to 250,000 troops stationed in the Spanish colony. Trained by Germans, who are still in command, the troops, mostly natives, are excellent fighters and loyal to their officers.

According to Prime Minister Churchill, there are 250,000 Axis troops in Tunisia, and while he did not disclose the number of Allied troops on the fighting front, he did say that 500,000 men had been landed in North Africa.

Preliminaries to the showdown fight cost the Axis heavily, too. Losses in the air were 645 Axis planes downed, 260 Allied planes.



Stalling Us Off Nazi’s Only Hope

Allied victory will not be gotten cheaply. But as the Axis forces pushed past green American troops and badly equipped French troops, Rommel gained no lasting advantage. Allied positions in the hills are much stronger than they were before. Rommel is still in the position of being trapped between two armies, outgunned and outnumbered. With the British Eighth Army nipping at his heels from the southern flank, he doesn’t dare extend his lines too far into the hills toward Algeria.

No matter how you cut it, the Germans are fighting a desperate but losing battle in the Mediterranean. The most they can do is delay Hitler’s evil day.



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