World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls(17); Kwajalein Island Secured

Occupation of Kwajalein Island had reached an advanced stage by the morning of 4 February. The end of enemy resistance during the day could definitely be anticipated. The advance from the western beach had covered more than three fourths of the island’s length and considerably more than three fourths of its area. The stretch that remained was less than 1,000 yards long and 400 yards wide, a section containing the ruins of about thirty buildings amid the scorched and battered remnants of many trees. The ground north of Nathan Road was divided into segments by four east-west roads at intervals of approximately 100 yards and, some 300 yards farther north, by the loop of the island highway. The ocean shore was studded with pillboxes, gun positions, machine gun emplacements, antitank sea wall barricades, and shelters. Most of these works were oriented toward attack from the water rather than along the island from the south, and all had been heavily pounded by naval gunfire, artillery fire, and air bombing. The interior could be presumed to hold concrete shelters and earth-and-log bunkers resembling those that had proved to be such substantial obstacles to the advance of the previous day.

Plans for the Attack of 4 February

Plans for the attack on 4 February had been made during the night of the 3rd in partial misconception of the actual location of the front-line troops. At division and regimental headquarters it was supposed that the Nob Pier-Nathan Road line had been reached. The 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry, was understood to have reached the base of the pier, and the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, was believed to be on the Nathan Road line, from which the 32nd Infantry was to take over the entire assault to the end of the island. These estimates were based on the overoptimistic reports of the front-line units, issued the evening before, and had not been contradicted during the night. Nor was there full recognition of the condition of the areas directly behind the reported front lines. As indicated, the late afternoon drive on 3 February had been pushed forward with little attention to the task of mopping up the enemy troops hiding under rubble piles, in shelters, and in the few buildings still left standing. Reserve units had not been able to complete the task. Until the remnants of the enemy force thus bypassed could be destroyed, confusion would exist, communications would be disrupted, and the attack delayed.

An exact knowledge of the location of various units still could not be had as morning approached. Company and battalion commanders did not know where many of the components of their units were, and radio contact with the rear continued to be poor. In the 184th Infantry zone of action, moreover, one entire section of enemy-held territory—that south of Nob Pier between Will Road and the lagoon— had not even been entered, although regimental and division headquarters assumed that it had been seized. The 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry, which had been charged with the capture of this ground, had failed to enter it by dark on 3 February and planned to complete its mission early the next morning.

Regimental orders for the 32nd Infantry attack of 4 February called for the 1st Battalion to attack through the front lines held by the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, and by the 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry. It was to jump off at 0715, following fifteen minutes of preparatory fire by artillery and naval guns.2 In order to execute this attack, however, it was thought necessary to get all companies of the 1st Battalion into position before dawn. Company A was to form the right of the battalion line, Company B the center, and Company C the left. At the moment this plan was decided upon, Companies A and B were in reserve some distance to the left rear of the 3rd Battalion line, and Company C was stretched out across the rear of the front in a badly disorganized state. The weapons platoon of the latter company was “missing” after becoming involved in the previous night’s counterattack, having actually pulled back to the ocean shore.

To launch the attack as early as possible, Colonel Logic about midnight ordered 1st Lieutenant Robert J. Kretzer, the Company C commander, to move his men to the lagoon side of the island before dawn. Company A would relieve Company C in its earlier position at approximately 0230. Lieutenant Kretzer, realizing that such a movement would be extremely dangerous under the conditions then existing behind the front lines, made a personal reconnaissance of the route his company would follow and visited the command posts of the 184th’s advance companies, notifying them that Company C would be moving through the area later in the night.

Company A arrived in the area behind the front lines at 0230, as ordered, but because of the confusion the relief was not completed until 0400. By that time the moon had gone down, but fires and flares still cast enough light over the area to silhouette moving men. Lieutenant Kretzer executed his move to the lagoon shore in the simplest manner possible. After organizing his company, he simply faced them to the left and marched them westward in a long column. At one time two of the platoons became separated in the debris, but they found each other again quite accidentally. At another time the column passed close to a Japanese shelter.

The men could hear the enemy soldiers talking inside. As the rear marched along the side of the dugout, four enemy soldiers came charging out of it straight for the last few men. A Japanese officer, swinging a saber and yelling, threw a grenade from about thirty feet away. The Americans, who could see the trail of sparks as it sailed toward them, scattered in all directions. Two men were wounded in the explosion, but the four Japanese were all killed in exchange. During the rest of the march two other Company C men were hit in the legs by rifle fire. By 0530 the company was in position somewhere in the rear of the 184th Infantry line.

Morning Attack of 4 February

Sunrise on 4 February came at a few minutes after 0700. It found the forward elements of the attacking force intermingled with the defending enemy in a wide zone between Noel and Nathan Roads. The attack began in considerable confusion. Companies A and B, 32nd Infantry, moved forward on the right according to plan. Supporting tanks were with them from the start. Ten medium tanks preceded the main body of the infantry by about fifty yards, and four light tanks moved along the ocean beach. Before either company reached the front-line positions of the 3rd Battalion, however, they had become involved in a full-scale battle with the Japanese who had been bypassed the day before and who now poured heavy fire on the companies as they advanced toward the line of departure. By 0730 the 32nd Infantry attack had almost stalled as groups of infantrymen turned aside to clean out the positions that poured fire into their ranks. It was not until 1000 that the two 1st Battalion companies reached the lines held by the 3rd Battalion. Company L, 32nd Infantry, was finally pinched out by Company B at 1030.

Until after 1000 the whereabouts of Company C on the lagoon side of the island was unknown at the 32nd Infantry command post because of failure of the company’s radio communications. During this period Lieutenant Kretzer found himself confronted by a peculiar situation. The 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry, was still following the orders issued to it the day before and, despite the presence of Company C in its rear, it proceeded to complete mopping up the last 300 yards between it and Nathan Road as well as the area between Will Road and the lagoon. Without further orders from his own battalion, Lieutenant Kretzer could do nothing but wait until the units to the front moved out of his way.

As many Japanese had been bypassed in the 184th’s zone as had been overlooked on the ocean side of the island. Company G, 184th Infantry, had serious difficulty even in organizing the attack upon which Lieutenant Kretzer’s unit was waiting. Besides withstanding counterattacks, Company G had been under fire in its perimeter throughout the night from enemy riflemen firing from every direction but west. When daylight came, riflemen—especially in buildings along the eastern edge of the perimeter—pinned the unit down and prevented it from forming for an attack at 0715. Low in ammunition, hampered by un-evacuated wounded, and facing an extensive air raid shelter in the center of the perimeter in which a large contingent of the enemy was believed to have taken refuge, the company decided to await the arrival of tanks. When the tanks arrived, fire was directed into the shelter, and the first large-scale surrender on Kwajalein took place. Thirty-one Koreans and one Japanese scurried out of the structure with their hands up and much of their clothing removed. One of the tanks herded them to the rear.

Company C, 32nd Infantry, began the day by capturing many prisoners while waiting for the battalion ahead of it to move. Aided by tanks of Company B, 767th Tank Battalion, the platoon on the left brought five Koreans up from an underground shelter. Then, covering the Koreans with BAR’s, the unit moved from shelter to shelter while the prisoners persuaded others to surrender. In less than an hour thirty-three of the enemy were taken in this fashion.

In the area between the Admiralty ruins and Noel Road the 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry, began mopping up at daybreak. When at 0830 an order was received from the regimental commander to send one company to participate in the assault, Company B was attached to the 2nd Battalion, which ordered it to attack along the lagoon shore from the northern limit of the 1st Battalion’s night perimeter. The company moved along Will Road in columns of platoons, crossed its line of departure at approximately 0900, and worked through the area in the rear of Companies E and G, at the same time swinging toward the lagoon.

The action of Company B, as had been hoped by Colonel O’Sullivan, commander of the 184th Infantry, cleared out many of the Japanese who had been harassing the 2nd Battalion and gave Company C, 32nd Infantry, a chance to move through the front lines and proceed with its attack to the north. At approximately 1100 Lieutenant Kretzer pushed his company beyond Nathan Road for the first time, and shortly before 1200 the unit came abreast 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry, the right flank of which had reached Nate Road, two hundred yards north of Nathan, in a badly disorganized condition a short time before. Some of the tanks were approximately three hundred yards ahead, approaching the northern highway loop, but orders had been issued for the 1st Battalion to halt its advance pending relief by the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry. The latter unit was to carry the battle for Kwajalein Island through to the end.

Completion of the Mission of the 184th Infantry

At daylight on 4 February the actual disposition of the forward troops became known to 184th Infantry headquarters, and the plan of attack in that regiment’s zone was modified. The movement of Company B, 184th Infantry, and the use of Japanese-speaking teams to induce surrender were the earliest of several steps taken to restore motion to the northward attack and to control the enemy within the area south of Nathan Road. To drive to Nob Pier and secure that structure, “the remnants of all three companies” of the 2nd Battalion were placed under the command of Captain Rene E. Maysonave of Company G, with orders to bypass Company B whenever B should be held up. Shortly after 1300 Captain Maysonave’s consolidated unit swept by Company B’s right wing and took up the attack on the base of Nob Pier. The 2nd Battalion cut off any enemy withdrawal across Nathan Road and sent patrols, by tank, on foot, and in a small boat, out to the pier’s end. No enemy was found on the pier. By 1435 all resistance had ceased along the lagoon side of the island from Nob Pier back to Green Beach 4.

The surrender of a considerable number of Japanese and Koreans continued to be a notable feature of the action of 4 February. Only a remnant of the original garrison was still capable of fighting. Fragments of the enemy force, after several days in isolation and without water, abandoned their shelters. From the first hour of the renewed attack until darkness, the compounds filled with a stream of prisoners.

Major Jackson C. Gillis, intelligence officer of the 184th Infantry, accompanied Company B with a loudspeaker and a Nisei interpreter. After heavy tank fire on shelters, the loudspeaker went into action. The enemy was promised food and water and immunity from further harm if he came out and surrendered. When the loudspeaker broke down, prisoners were recruited to talk directly to the men in the shelters, in some cases even going down among them. Though two Koreans were tortured by the Japanese in one shelter that they entered on such a mission, before the end of the morning over ninety prisoners were taken by the 184th. The 32nd Infantry used the same method beyond Nathan Road.

The Afternoon Attack of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry

The 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, passed through the 1st Battalion at 1345 to complete the assault along Kwajalein Island. All forward movement of the 1st Battalion had stopped, its line consisting of a series of small, exhausted groups in a dense confusion of debris. The ground was interlaced with innumerable trenches and foul with bodies of the enemy, many of them long dead. Some of the corpses had been mangled by maneuvering tanks, adding greatly to the nauseating stench that blighted the area.

Company F, on the right, held its position until Company G brought the left wing in line; then both advanced. After going for seventy-five yards, Company F and its seven supporting tanks came to a large blockhouse into which the tanks directed their fire. While Company F was thus engaged, Company G moved ahead for about a hundred yards, occasionally coming under fire from Company F. Both companies eventually resumed their progress with the left still far advanced; they cleared the surface and underground shelters of living enemy all the way to Nero Point at the end of the island. Camouflaged dugouts and ruined concrete blockhouses and shelters contained Japanese against whom it was necessary to employ scores of satchel charges, hundreds of grenades, and, ultimately, flame throwers.

The 1st Platoon, Company G, on the extreme left, reached Nero Point at 1515 and reported its arrival to the regimental command post. The men then sat around on the beach and discussed the battle, oblivious of further combat behind them.

The 3rd Platoon, Company F, nearer the island’s center, in the meantime came upon three long concrete shelters, side by side. The first was sixty feet long and about six feet above ground. Its left end had been blown off and a hole had been broken in the top near the right end, but the remainder held some of the enemy. Under command of Staff Sergeant Raymond Borucki, the platoon started to pass the structure after hurling two satchel charges in an entrance.

Finding that living enemy were still inside, they then threw in more heavy demolition charges and many grenades. Private Elmer Collins and Private First Class Franklin S. Farr volunteered to investigate. They crawled to a door, walked in, and found themselves facing several of the enemy. Firing as fast as they could, they hurriedly backed out, dropped to the ground, and threw in grenades while their comrades fired into the doorway. Another squad covered a second entrance most effectively. When Collins and Farr re-entered, the only man they saw alive was the leader of the other squad, Staff Sergeant Eugene M. Rider; he had just come in through the other entrance on the same mission. All the enemy were dead. After this operation, which required nearly half an hour, the 3rd Platoon, Company F, took the two remaining shelters in a similar manner.

Machine gun bullets began to whine over the heads of the 1st Platoon, Company G, on the beach. The men investigated. Soon they were back in action, mopping up circular 5-inch twin-mount gun positions and other places concealing small numbers of the enemy, and helping to establish a cordon within which to confine the remnants of the enemy at the island’s tip.

Company F’s methodical movement among the enemy positions in its path subjected it to well-aimed rifle fire, which inflicted numerous casualties and delayed the last stages of the battle. Obstinate Japanese resistance continued as evening approached. About 1900, Captain Pence, commanding Company G, walked over to Company F’s area to confer with Captain Mark E. Barber, and was shot by an observant enemy rifleman before he could heed the warning shouts of men in Company F’s forward line. Even with the battle’s end so near, the troops became increasingly cautious.

At dusk tanks were brought up to reduce the last 150 yards of the island. The tanks remained for only a few minutes, but they either drove to cover or killed the enemy riflemen who had been pinning down Company F. The attack again got underway and continued until 1920, when the entire northern end of the island was secured.

Even before that time, General Corlett had announced the island of Kwajalein secured. At 1610 he radioed to Admiral Turner: “All organized resistance . . . has ceased. The troops have been organized for mopping up operations.” The cost of the fourth day’s fighting had been somewhat higher than that of the preceding day. The number killed in action on Kwajalein Island and adjacent Burton Island came to 65; 252 men were wounded.

The operation had been a model one in almost every respect. The attacking force had achieved strategic surprise. The Japanese were not expecting a landing in the central Marshalls and were generally unprepared to meet one when it came. To a degree, even tactical surprise was won since it was obvious that the enemy was better prepared to meet an invasion either from the lagoon shore or from the ocean side than from the end of the island where it came. Except for the occasional failure of tank-infantry co-ordination, no important deficiency had been revealed in the execution of the plan. Artillery preparation, naval gunfire, and aerial bombardment had softened up the target in a fashion unexcelled at any other time in the Pacific war. The ship-to-shore movement had been conducted expeditiously and without serious hitch. Supplies flowed ashore and to the front lines smoothly and without interruption. The infantry-engineer teams assisted by tanks moved steadily, if somewhat more slowly than had been anticipated, up the axis of the island clearing the enemy from shelters and pillboxes. American casualties were light. All together, the battle for Kwajalein Island represented the ideal for all military operations—a good plan, ably executed.

Completing the Conquest of Southern Kwajalein

The Southern Attack Force, which had captured Kwajalein Island after establishing supporting units on Carlson, Carlos, and the channel islands, was also charged with the seizure of the many other islets and coral outcroppings of southern Kwajalein Atoll north as far as Bennett Island (Bigej) on the eastern leg of the atoll and Cohen Island (Ennugenliggelap) on the southwestern leg. Running north from Kwajalein Island on the eastern leg, these included in order, Byron, Buster, Burton (Ebeye), Burnet, Blakenship (Loi), Beverly (South Gugegwe), Berlin (North Gugegwe), Benson, and Bennett. Running north from Chauncey (Gehh) lay Chester, Clarence (Torrulj), Clement (Mann), Clifford (Legan), Clifton (Eller), and Cohen. No specific times for the capture of these outlying islands had been set, since the situation on Kwajalein Island was to be the determining factor in governing the timing of the landings on each.

Chauncey Island

During 1 February the troops that had landed by mistake on Chauncey Island that morning were removed without completing the occupation. The infantry went to Cecil Island, and the reconnaissance troops were brought back aboard their high-speed transport, Overton. Only a small force of eleven sailors was left to guard the barges on the nearby reef, but when the enemy opened fire on these men it was decided to send reinforcements ashore from Overton and complete the occupation of the island without further delay.

Between 0800 and 0900 on 2 February elements of the 7th Reconnaissance Troop landed from Overton on the northwestern end of Chauncey. Four 60-mm. mortars were set up at once and began a searching fire over the island. For twenty minutes the APD also shelled the ocean side. Three platoons formed abreast and moved along the island through the thick woods, with the headquarters platoon in the center rear. None of the enemy was discovered until the left wing of the line had reached that part of the island opposite the beached tugboat. Then the silence was broken by heavy machine gun and rifle fire, falling mostly on the left center of the American force.

A long mound of earth, about five feet high and sloping at both ends, was discovered to be undefended. Investigation of the end of the mound brought rifle fire from nearby trees, and it soon became apparent that the Japanese were concentrated about twenty yards beyond the mound in a shallow trench behind a rock parapet. Over their heads was a tent, camouflaged with palm fronds and masked by the deep shade of tropical vegetation.

To overcome this position the 1st and 3rd Platoons, on the flanks, moved forward far enough to assault the position obliquely, while the 2nd Platoon crawled near enough to direct machine gun fire at the parapet and to throw grenades into the position beyond it. For about forty-five minutes a fire fight ensued, and only after a bazooka rocket exploded inside the tent in which the Japanese were concealed were they finally subdued.

A count of the enemy dead revealed that sixty-five had fallen in the action. Out on the tugboat, to which troopers of the 2nd Platoon rowed in rubber boats, twelve others were found dead, possibly from shelling by Overton. In a small landing barge were thirteen others, and along the beach were thirty-five more probably killed by air attacks earlier in the day.

While the American flag was being raised on the beached Japanese tugboat, charts and other document were found containing intelligence material that was to prove of considerable assistance in completing the capture of Kwajalein. The rest of Chauncey was soon secured without further trouble. The total American loss on the island that day was fourteen wounded.

Burton Island

Among the islands in southern Kwajalein known to have Japanese garrisons, Burton was believed to be second to Kwajalein Island in importance. A plan for its capture was prepared before and during the approach from the Hawaiian Islands, and perfected after arrival at the atoll. The assault forces were to be drawn from the 17th Infantry.

This regiment had completed its mission of taking Carlos and Carlson Islands on 31 January and had been assembled on Carlos to reorganize and re-equip while holding itself in readiness on 1 February to support the attack on Kwajalein Island, if necessary. When such employment was deemed to be unlikely, it was decided to make the landing on Burton Island at 0930 on 3 February.

Terrain and Enemy Defenses

The southern extremity of Burton Island is less than three miles north of Kwajalein Island, and there are two minute outcroppings of the atoll reef between them. Along a straight axis, Burton extends almost directly north for 1,800 yards, its width being an unvarying 250 yards. The southern end curves to the southwest and is shaped somewhat like the bow of a freighter; the northern shore line runs squarely east and west.

Before being heavily bombarded, it had had more than 120 machine shops, warehouses, and other buildings. Coconut palms dotted most of the island, but along the ocean shore the major vegetation was sand brush and small mangrove trees. The most conspicuous clearing was a concrete apron for seaplanes, extending 100 yards in width for about 300 yards along the lagoon shore in the northern quarter of the island. Jutting a hundred yards into the lagoon from the apron were two concrete seaplane ramps, and nearby were large hangars and repair shops. From the southern edge of the hangar area to the southwestern point of the island, a narrow, surfaced road paralleled the lagoon beach for 1,200 yards. From the northern side of the seaplane area, a curving road with several spurs ran to the northwestern point. Trails extended along the ocean shore.

In addition to the seaplane area and the roads, one of the most noticeable of the enemy’s improvements at Burton Island was a concrete pier 160 yards long extending into the lagoon from a point almost midway along the coast. Known to the attacking force as Bailey Pier, it was shaped like an L, with the arm jutting north at right angles to the main stem, but with a spur extending obliquely southwest halfway out from shore. At the pier’s base were several buildings and two high radio masts.

Preliminary air reconnaissance indicated that Burton was defended by pillboxes and machine gun emplacements near the beaches and surrounding the seaplane area. The enemy had evidently originally expected an attack to come from the ocean side, where the shore could be more closely approached by ships of deep draught. Prepared positions had been organized to meet such an assault. Much attention had recently been given, however, to defense of the lagoon side. On the lagoon beach and near the hangars a number of pillboxes and machine gun emplacements had been spotted. One heavy and eight medium antiaircraft guns had also been observed near the apron.

The lagoon beach had been designated by the invading force as Orange and marked off into four sections, of which that farthest south was known as Orange 4. On Orange 4, a stretch about five hundred yards in length, the defenses seemed lightest, and here the landing was to be made. After getting ashore and making a left turn, the attacking force would move northward along the axis of the island.

On 2 February, Major Maynard E. Weaver, executive officer of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, with engineer officers and representatives of other elements of the regiment, made an offshore reconnaissance of Burton Island from the destroyer Franks, which was supplemented by a two-hour seaplane flight by Major Weaver. These investigations confirmed the earlier choice of Orange 4 and revealed defenses that had been concealed by vegetation before the bombardment.

The Landings and First Day’s Action

The 17th Infantry was to hit Orange Beach at 0930, 3 February. The last details of the assault plan, including naval participation, were co-ordinated during the night of 2-3 February.30 The first four waves of the 1st Battalion had already embarked from Carlos Island in two LST’s, and the first waves of the 3rd Battalion were in two other LST’s. The 2nd Battalion, in reserve, was in a transport equipped with LCVP’s.

To support the landing, not only the platoon of light tanks from Company D, 767th Tank Battalion, but also the seventeen mediums of Company C that had been landed by error on Kwajalein Island, were assigned to the force. The amphibian tanks of Company A, 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion, were also ready. During the night the regimental field order for the attack was distributed. Harassing artillery fire was thrown at Burton from the 155-mm. howitzers emplaced on Carlson, supplementing the pounding that had been given the island by the guns of Minneapolis and San Francisco during the afternoon. The landings on Orange Beach 4 followed the standard pattern. At 0730 the 5-inch and 8-inch guns began firing.

Half an hour later the artillery on Carlson Island again opened fire. The 145th Field Artillery Battalion sent 981 rounds of 155-mm., while the 31st and 48th Battalions fired so intense a barrage of 105-mm. that the enemy were driven to cover and the ground over which the attack was to move was devastated.33 The bombardment was suspended for an air strike from 0845 to 0906 in which carrier planes dropped thirty-three tons of general purpose bombs and fired 88,000 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition. Artillery fire was lifted inland at 0933 and farther inland at 0951. The bombardment had been so effective that at the beach itself and for the first two hundred yards no live enemy was encountered. The 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, commanded by Colonel Hartl, landed in LVT’s with two companies abreast. Despite the mechanical failure of one tractor and a collision between two others, the first three waves made the shore without casualty.

An LCI gunboat moved shoreward on each flank of the first wave, blasting the area near the beach with rockets and machine gun fire. The amphibian tanks and tractors directed their machine guns into the few palm trees that still retained enough foliage to conceal snipers. At various points about 150 yards offshore the reef was hit, and then the tractors ground their way through the foamy water to make the beach at 0935. Far off at the left, a machine gun on the end of the pier fired among the boats of the fourth wave and caused the first casualties of the landing. Four men were wounded. An LVT containing artillery observers drew machine gun fire from Buster Island but this was quickly silenced by counter-fire from the 31st Field Artillery Battalion. While the men still afloat were meeting the fire, those on shore reorganized and formed a line of attack.

Company A, under Captain Richard H. Natzke, was on the right and Company C, commanded by 1st Lieutenant George E. Linebaugh, was on the left, each reinforced by a platoon of heavy machine guns from Company D. Company B, the remainder of Company D, and one platoon from the 50th Engineer Battalion were in reserve. After traversing the southern end of the island, the line started toward the northern end. The amphibian tanks moved at its left flank, pouring fire ahead of the troops. The ground was thoroughly torn up and strewn with debris, but few enemy dead were seen. Almost an hour passed after the first wave hit the beach before the first general contact with the enemy was made. When the battalion was stretched across the island on a line even with the northern limit of Orange Beach 4, it received small arms fire at all points. The enemy had come up from shelters after the artillery barrage moved northward and was taking full advantage of the plentiful cover. Bursts of Japanese machine gun fire swept diagonally across the front from positions near the beaches.

Supporting tanks began to cross the landing beaches at 1016. They assembled at the southwestern point of the island and then struggled through the rubble north toward the line of attack. A tank trap across the island was easily passed, but the island was too narrow to make use of more than four tanks on the line at a time, and co-ordination with the infantry was unsatisfactory.

The attacking force met its strongest opposition on the extreme left, along the lagoon shore, where Company C bore the brunt. At the right, movement was deliberately retarded to keep the line even; Company A could have gone forward much more rapidly than it did. Enemy resistance consisted of individual and small-group activity, without apparent general plan or direction. Japanese troops were armed with .25-caliber rifles, 7.7-mm. and 13-mm. machine guns, and one 77-mm. dual-purpose antiaircraft gun that was still in operation after the bombardment. Some of the Japanese, and even the Korean laborers among them, had taken up crudely improvised dynamite throwers and spears made of bayonets attached to poles.

Most machine gun positions were eliminated by directed artillery or mortar fire. Some were destroyed by tanks. In the forward line demolition charges were used by the infantrymen, while combat engineers worked among the supporting elements. The enemy, following a pattern of behavior now familiar to the American troops, remained in shelters until they were blasted out by explosive charges, flame throwers, and sometimes bazookas. Holes were made by repeated point-blank fire from the 75-mm. guns of the tanks and by the self-propelled M8’s, of which four came ashore in the afternoon. More often, hand-placed charges were used to create working space for flame throwers. Although this type of work on the larger shelters was frequently left for the engineers by the advancing front-line infantry, the work of the 1st Battalion in eliminating riflemen lurking in rubble heaps and among the trees was very thorough and the advance, while persistent, was slow. The rear was well secured.

Progress on the extreme left wing was slowed not only by the many active pillboxes but also by the large number of individual rifle pits in which the enemy lay concealed under palm fronds, waiting as usual for opportunities to fire or to throw grenades upon our troops from behind. First the 2nd Platoon, Company C, and then the 3rd carried the advance in this zone. The 3rd thoroughly cleared one hole after another and in one place eliminated a group of the enemy firing from a large excavated pigpen.

Although one tank had made an advanced reconnaissance as far as the base of Bailey Pier, the line was about a hundred yards south of the pier when, shortly before 1700, Company B passed through Company C to take over the front at the left. About 1900 consolidation for the night began. The forward elements of the 1st Battalion were strung across the island on a line just south of Bailey Pier, and the area inland from the landing beaches and to the rear of the 1st Battalion was covered by the 3rd Battalion.

Evacuated from Burton Island during 3 February were twenty litter cases and twenty-three ambulatory wounded. The 1st and 3rd Platoons, Company A, 7th Medical Battalion, had landed within the first ten minutes, set up a collecting station near the beach, and operated together under company control. They had used five ¼-ton trucks converted to ambulances and had also served as the shore party medical section in evacuating wounded by LVT’s to ships.

On Burton during the night of 3-4 February constant illumination and artillery, mortar, machine gun, and naval fire helped to forestall any counterattack that might have been organized. An enemy 77-mm. dual-purpose gun was silenced by the intermittent counterbattery fire of 81-mm. mortars, which was later found to have killed several Japanese relief crews. In the half light of dawn the enemy attempted several counterattacks, none of which materialized into any serious threats. The last was broken up at about 0700 with the aid of called artillery concentrations.

Completion of the Conquest of Burton

When on the second morning the attack was resumed at 0730, the main enemy resistance had shifted to the eastern side of the island. The Japanese had reoccupied four pillboxes close to the American front line on the ocean side, and were able to hold up Company A until, with the aid of self-propelled mounts, the company took the positions. During the morning, a flight of five Navy bombers made two runs over targets that had been spotted with the aid of information from a prisoner. The planes dropped a total of two and three-quarters tons on an ammunition dump, a shelter, and a heavy machine gun that had an excellent field of fire across the hangar apron. Direct hits on these targets apparently disheartened the enemy. Not a single shot was fired by them at any later time during the operation. They remained buried in their dugouts until forced out or until they killed themselves.

By 1130, when the 3rd Battalion passed through and took up the assault, Company B had moved about 350 yards to the southern edge of the concrete apron, and on the right Company A was fifty to seventy-five yards farther back. On the left Company L advanced behind the tanks across the open area, while on the right Company K pushed swiftly through the heavily bombarded section of hangars, repair shops, small buildings, trenches, and shelters, arriving at the northeastern corner of the island at 1210. After this the last of the enemy were readily mopped up. By 1337 the island was fully secured. The official estimate of the enemy dead totaled almost 450. Seven Japanese were captured. The 17th Infantry lost seven killed in action. Eighty-two were wounded.

Final Mop-up

During the two days in which Burton Island was being captured (3 and 4 February), two pairs of smaller islands south and north of it were also brought under American control. Detachments of amphibian tanks were dispatched on 3 February to Buster and Byron, two tiny outcroppings above the main reef between Kwajalein and Burton. The amphibian tanks met no opposition. Troops of the 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry, landed the following day on Burnet and Blakenship north of Burton. On the former, about forty natives cheerfully submitted to capture. On the latter, somewhat more than a score of marooned Japanese sailors and Korean laborers had to be clubbed or bayonetted into submission before the island could be declared secure at 1212.

For the continuation of the mop-up on 5 February, the 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry, less a beach combat team and the Blakenship security detail, was organized into an Eastern Force and a Western Force, each consisting of a reinforced rifle company. The Eastern Force went first to the northern end of the southeastern leg of Kwajalein Atoll and worked south toward Bennett Island. In succession it visited Ashberry, August, Barney, Augustine, and Bascome Islands, meeting no resistance, but finding seven natives on Augustine Island.

The Western Force moved northward from Carlos Island. Clement, Clarence, and Clifford Islands were quickly secured and without opposition. On Clifton a small Japanese force had to be subdued before the island could be declared secured.

Troops of Company E met some desultory machine gun fire as they moved up the island from the landing beach on the southern tip. From a wounded prisoner it was learned that over a hundred sailors had come ashore from ships that had been bombed in the lagoon and had brought with them antiaircraft machine guns and other weapons. This little force could offer no serious resistance to the attackers, although one American soldier was killed and four others were wounded. By nightfall the island was declared secure. The enemy had lost 101 killed, many of them suicides. The next day neighboring Cohen Island was occupied without opposition.

Meanwhile, the remaining islands on the southeastern leg of the atoll were being seized by other units of the 17th Infantry, the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, and a detachment from the 184th Infantry. At 0930, 5 February, the 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry, made an unopposed landing on the northern end of Beverly Island and completed its occupation in less than an hour, having discovered only three Japanese on the island. Simultaneously, the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry, landed on Berlin. After moving slowly through the underbrush some distance up the island from the southern end, the attackers encountered some small arms fire from dugouts, costing them altogether three men killed and four wounded. These dugouts were quickly demolished and by 1514 Berlin was secured. One hundred and ninety-eight enemy were killed and one captured. Immediately thereafter, Company C, preceded by a platoon of medium tanks, crossed the reef to Benson Island. The crossing was unopposed and the advance up the island was rapid. One Japanese was killed and two natives taken prisoner at the cost of one American killed and one wounded.

The task of capturing Bennett Island was assigned to the 7th Reconnaissance Troop, which was to repeat the procedure it had followed in capturing Carter and Cecil Islands on D Day. The troops were taken from Carlos through the lagoon to a point near Bennett in the high-speed transports Manley and Overton and disembarked before dawn. In rubber boats they moved ashore, landing at the northern point of the island at 0600. Hastily, before daybreak, a defensive position was established there. At dawn the force moved out, with the 3rd Platoon in front, the 1st Platoon on the left flank, the headquarters platoon supporting the center rear, and the 2nd Platoon acting as rear guard.

About a hundred yards from the line of departure, the advance platoon came across a well-protected bunker containing an unknown number of Japanese. Neither grenades, bazookas, nor clusters of grenades were powerful enough to destroy the position, so Captain Gritta, commanding officer, ordered it bypassed. The 1st and 3rd Platoons then moved forward to meet an attack of Japanese infantry approaching from the south. After a brief exchange of machine gun and small arms fire, fifteen of the enemy were killed and one machine gun was captured, another knocked out. As the front line continued toward the center of the island, it came across another bunker, which appeared to be much stronger than the first.

Meanwhile, Captain Gritta had called for reinforcements. The 3rd Battalion, 184th Infantry, had been standing by in floating reserve to assist in the capture of Berlin or Beverly, if necessary. The battalion was ordered instead to Bennett, where the resistance appeared to be heavier. Accompanied by two medium tanks and under command of Lieutenant Colonel William B. Moore, executive officer of the 17th Infantry, this reserve force began to come ashore on Bennett about 1100. The unit moved up at once, getting into the front lines shortly before noon. Meanwhile, the destroyer Noel had moved to a station west of Bennett in order to furnish fire on call.

In the absence of other orders, Colonel Moore and his infantrymen took over the ocean side of the island while Captain Gritta’s troop covered that nearest the lagoon. By this time the occupants of the first dugout had committed suicide, and after the tanks subdued the second dugout the advance southward along the island began. After hardly more than twenty-five yards’ progress, machine gun fire from a pier on the right stopped the advance for a few minutes while mortar and tank fire knocked out the machine guns.

The attack was almost halfway to the southern tip before division orders authorized Colonel Moore to take command of the operation. The 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop withdrew to the beach, and the infantry, supported by two light and two medium tanks, completed the attack. Early in the afternoon the troop overcame another set of pillboxes near the center of the island. Through the dense underbrush the process of mopping up was continued until 1642, when the island was reported fully secured. At the cost of one killed and two wounded in the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop and no casualties among other components, Bennett Island had been captured and some ninety-four Japanese had been killed or had died by their own hands.

The Southern Landing Force thus completed its mission, with losses for the entire operation in southern Kwajalein reported as 142 killed, 845 wounded, and two missing in action. The best estimate of enemy losses was 4,938 dead and 206 prisoners, 79 of whom were Japanese and 127 Korean. Meanwhile, some forty-five miles to the north, operations of the Northern Landing Force against the sixty-two islands of the upper half of Kwajalein Atoll were also nearing

SOURCE: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls: BY; Philip A. Crowl, & Edmund G. Love (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls(18); Capture of Majuro and Roi-Namur

World War Two: Gilberts & Marshalls(16); Kwajalein: The Third Day


Get A Jump on Tomorrow, Your Horoscopes for Tuesday, Feb. 19

Get A Jump on Tomorrow….

Your Horoscopes for Tuesday, Feb. 19


Moon Alert

Avoid shopping or major decisions from 8:30 AM to 10 AM EST today (5:30 AM to 7 AM PST). After that, the Moon moves from Leo into Virgo. The Super Full Moon in Virgo peaks at 10:54 AM EST (7:54 AM PST).

Aries (March 21-April 19)

Today’s Full Moon could introduce tension with coworkers, which means you will have to be patient and understanding. Meanwhile, this is an excellent day to do research of any kind because your mind is focused and detail oriented.

Taurus (April 20-May 20)

Be patient with children today because they feel this Full Moon. Likewise, romantic partners might be more challenging. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent day to discuss future travel plans or anything related to medicine, law and higher education or taking some courses.

Gemini (May 21-June 20)

Today’s Full Moon creates challenges between the demands of home and family versus the demands of your career and your public reputation. At this time, you cannot ignore your career, which means you have to be skilful dealing with family. Good luck!

Cancer (June 21-July 22)

Pay attention to everything you say and do today because the Full Moon will trigger an accident-prone energy for you. (Gulp.) This means you have to be more alert than usual. Remember this! It’s a good day to study and wade through legal matters.

Leo (July 23-Aug. 22)

You will be more concerned with wills, inheritances, taxes, debt and shared property in the next four weeks. In fact, today is an excellent day for important discussions about these matters because your mind is clear, focused and capable of handling details.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sept. 22)

Today’s Full Moon might create tension between you and close friends and partners; although this doesn’t have to be the case. Nevertheless, be accommodating and patient with others. It’s a strong day to discuss the division of labour and shared expenses.

Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 22)

Although today’s Full Moon might create increased stress with coworkers; nevertheless, you are ready to get some work done! Your concentration is excellent and you will have no trouble focusing on details or staying on to of whatever you’re doing.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 21)

Today’s Full Moon might trigger difficulties with your kids (and even a lover). However, this is a good day to make long-range vacation plans, or to teach or help your kids to learn something. Remember to be patient with others while Mars is opposite your sign this month and next. (Sigh.)

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 21)

Today’s Full Moon makes you feel pulled between the demands of home and family versus the demands of your career. At this time, you cannot ignore the demands of home and family, especially family discussions and repairs at home. This stuff has to be done!

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 19)

Do be careful because this is an accident-prone day for your sign. However, this influence is simply the Full Moon, which means heightened emotions will cause you to be distracted. (This will apply to others as well so you will have to drive defensively.) Be smart.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 18)

Something connected with your earnings and finances might come to a head at this time because of the Full Moon. Fortunately, Mercury is in your Money House dancing with Saturn, which gives you lots of common sense, patience and ability to skilfully negotiate. No worries.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)

Today the only New Moon opposite your sign all year is taking place, which can introduce tension with partners and close friends. Fortunately, this is nothing you can’t handle, especially if you are pleasing and patient with others. This is also a good day to make future plans.

If Your Birthday Is Today

Actress Millie Bobby Brown (2004) shares your birthday today. You are an optimistic, sensitive dreamer who will put the needs of loved ones before your own. Take care of yourself this year to be a strong resource. Nurture relationships you value. Focus on your personal responsibilities to family as well as yourself because service to others is important this year. Explore the arts, enroll in a class. Personalize your home with treasures that have meaning.


Your Daily Horoscopes for Monday, February 18th

Your Daily Horoscopes for Monday, February 18th


Moon Alert

We have the “all clear” today to shop and do business. The Moon is in Leo.

Aries (March 21-April 19)

Until your birthday arrives, keep a low profile and play your cards close to your heaving bosom. Work alone or behind the scenes. Seek out solitude. Use the next four weeks to set some goals for your new year ahead (birthday to birthday).

Taurus (April 20-May 20)

The next four weeks will be super popular f! Enjoy schmoozing with others, particularly younger people. This is an excellent time to formulate goals and decide how to pursue them. Hint: Your time of harvest is two years away!

Gemini (May 21-June 20)

You look marvellous in the eyes of bosses, parents and VIPs in the next four weeks because the Sun is at high noon in your chart. This happens only once a year so make the most of it. Quite literally, make hay while the Sun shines!

Cancer (June 21-July 22)

Grab every opportunity to travel or take courses for further training because you will want to expand your world in the next four weeks. It’s a great time for writing projects. In fact, March will be a wonderful month to finish something that’s been lagging on forever. (A thesis perhaps?)

Leo (July 23-Aug. 22)

You’ll be intense and ambitious in the next four weeks! Your gonads are in overdrive and you’re ready for action! Not only will you be sexually passionate, you will be passionate about everything that you care about. Expect lively discussions about wills, inheritances and shared property.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sept. 22)

This is the only time all year when the Sun is opposite your sign for four weeks! Symbolically, the Sun is your energy and it will now be as far away from you as it gets all year, which means you will need more rest and more sleep. You will also be more focused on partnerships.

Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 22)

Do what you can to get more efficient and be more productive in the next four weeks. When it comes down to it, you will want to give thought to how you can best run your life so that it flows well. You like an atmosphere that is pleasing, supportive and attractive.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 21)

Lucky you! The next four weeks will be lighthearted, fun-loving and flirtatious! Enjoy the arts, sports events, social outings, the theatre, long lunches and fun dates plus playful activities with kids. This will be one of your most pleasant months of the year!

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 21)

Home, family and your private life will be your main focus in the next four weeks. Many of you will be involved with a parent more than usual. All of you will enjoy cocooning at home, especially among familiar surroundings. Get cozy!

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 19)

The pace of your days will accelerate in the next four weeks because you will be busy with short trips, errands, appointments, conversations with siblings and relatives plus increased reading, writing and studying. You will feel a strong urge to enlighten others about your views.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 18)

Money issues will be on your mind in the next four weeks. You might negotiate a salary or discuss financial deals. You will also give more thought to your possessions and your assets and how you want to handle things.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)

The Sun will be in your sign for the next four weeks giving you a boost of energy that is a special advantage! It will attract people and favourable situations to you. This is great news for you because it’s your chance to get out there and fly your colours!

If Your Birthday Is Today

Actor John Travolta (1954) shares your birthday today. You are ambitious, hard-working and unique. You are patient but you want recognition and hopefully fame for what you do. Because this will be a fast-paced year, get ready for action. Expect fresh excitement! Enjoy travel opportunities and chances to expand your horizons. Be open to embracing change and new opportunities. Your personal freedom is one of your goals this year.




At 7:53 a.m. PST on February 19, 2019, the full moon will be in Virgo.

Full moons often help us to see the big picture. But under the light of the Virgo supermoon—which occurs when the orb is at its closest point to Earth, the urge to gaze is slated to be even stronger—we may have trouble seeing the forest for the trees.

That’s because, as this lunation puts everything under the microscope, we’re called to notice details that typically go overlooked. And while some of them are flattering, focusing on the flaws is human nature.

No matter how satisfied we are in our lives, for most of us, there’s still a discrepancy between how things should be and how they actually are—and that gap may seem especially wide during this full moon. Just remember, we’re all still works-in-progress, so before you criticize, make sure it’s constructive!




Virgo’s intentions are pure—all it really wants is to help us be our best selves. But under this sign’s influence, the standards we set for ourselves (and others) can be ridiculously high.

Fortunately, with the sun in Pisces opposite this full moon, it’s easier to forgive each other’s shortcomings. We all miss the mark sometimes, but most of us are trying our best—so we may want to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

That doesn’t mean we have to tolerate bad behavior, though. Virgo is all about personal integrity—so if our actions are out of alignment, this full moon will reveal the error of our ways and put us back on track.


True, it’s not always easy to tell right from wrong. But discerning Virgo helps us cut through all the confusion and find the clarity we need to make wise decisions.

Just be careful not to overthink things—with so much information to process at this full moon, it’s easy to succumb to analysis paralysis. Decide what’s really important…then take a deep breath and let the other stuff go.





As far as you’re concerned, Virgo, there’s always room for improvement. But while your self-care game is strong—diet, exercise, meditation, an occasional trip to the spa—that’s not exactly the same thing as self-love. In fact, sometimes it’s just one more thing to stress about! This full moon reminds you that you’re beautiful, just the way you are.


Like no one’s watching, Libra—that’s the only way to live at this full moon. After all, you’ve been doing your best to live up to other people’s standards, but the ones that really matter are your own. So how well are you measuring up? Be as honest as you can—you’ll serve others better by being authentic than by trying to be perfect.


Why leave anything to chance, Scorpio? We know you like to be prepared…but still, there’s something to be said for not planning everything down to the last detail. At this full moon, you’ll have a lot more fun if you leave some room for serendipity. Intriguing opportunities may present themselves—if they do, just say yes!


You’re an unlikely homebody, Sag, but right now, all you want is to stay in and chill! With career pressures piling up at this full moon, domestic life can seem like a sweet escape. Still, if you’re constantly fantasizing about leaving it all behind, you may want to think about building a career you won’t feel the need to escape from.


We’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt, Capricorn. But as objective as you try to be, we’re all guilty of applying double standards at times—or having unconscious biases that cloud our vision. This full moon reveals a few of your own. Fortunately, though, it also supports you in holding yourself to a higher standard.


You promised yourself you’d never sell out, Aquarius—and we’ve got to say, your integrity is pretty damn impressive! Still, every now and then, it’s worth reevaluating how realistic your principles actually are when applied to everyday life. This full moon gives you a better idea of the real-world financial situations and power dynamics you may be dealing with.


We’ve all got our blind spots, Pisces, especially when it comes to seeing ourselves. Fortunately, the people closest to us have a way of bringing these things into focus. We’re not just talking about the flaws, either—at this full moon, loved ones can also help you to see the beauty in yourself that’s all too easily overlooked.


Check yourself before you wreck yourself, Aries! You may think you can get away with anything, but if you cross the line, this full moon won’t hesitate to give you an attitude adjustment. The more you cooperate, the better off you’ll be—so stay humble, take responsibility for yourself, and make sure you’ve really got the best intentions at heart.


Simple pleasures are what you live for, Taurus. But when you see people out there on social media living their best lives, sometimes you worry you’re missing out—even if you know it’s not your cup of tea. At this full moon, there’s no need to overthink things. Stop comparing yourself to others, and just enjoy what you love.


Fake it till you make it, Gemini—sometimes, this is useful advice. But when it comes to integrity, there’s no substitute for the real deal. At this full moon, you’re painfully aware of the gap between the person you are and the person you’d like to be, but you’re in also in a uniquely powerful position to do something about it.


Someone’s go-to work out the details, Cancer—and more often than not, that person is you—so your preoccupation with practical matters is totally understandable. But even when you don’t have it all figured out, the universe has its own ways of making it work! This full moon helps you focus on what’s most important and stop sweating the small stuff.


Only the best for you, Leo! At this full moon, it’s important to know your own worth.  But if you’re looking for it in money, possessions, or other status symbols, you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s the purity of your heart and your devotion to doing what’s right that make you true royalty—and nothing can take that away.



Your Daily Cosmic Calendar for Monday, February 18th


Think like a winner during a significant day when several celestial link-ups require your attention. Chiron re-enters Aries (1:11 a.m.) until 2027 while Pallas stops at 30 degrees of Libra (8:41 a.m.) to go retrograde until May 30. Chiron and Pallas archetypes deserve your study and reflection. Chiron has a strong association with wounds and pains (physical or psychological), holistic healing and alternative medicine, twilight zones, keys opening doors to higher consciousness, shaman-mentor roles, mavericks and catalysts, and building rainbow bridges between the material and spiritual dimensions of life. Regarding Pallas, think more about these qualities: problem-solving, strategy sessions, brainstorms and ingenious inventions, engineering, scholarly research, games of skill and mental prowess, the immune system, DNA and the genetic code.

Beyond the dynamism of Chiron and Pallas themes, do your best to safely handle Venus uniting with Saturn at 17 degrees of Capricorn (2:53 a.m.), the sun entering Pisces (3:05 p.m.), and Mercury uniting with Neptune at 16 degrees of Pisces (10:38 p.m.). A healthy balance between dealing with practical matters and tuning into spiritual guidance is the right way to proceed.

Flowing trines from the sun to Pallas (2:53 a.m.) in air signs and the moon to Jupiter (4:01 p.m.) in fire signs are inspiration-packed aces to keep up your sleeve in order to neutralize an increase in stress.

[Note to readers: All times are calculated as Pacific Standard Time. Be sure to adjust all times according to your own local time so the alignments noted above will be exact for your location.]

Copyright 2018 Mark Lerner & Great Bear Enterprises, Ltd.

World War Two: North Africa (5-21); Axis Strike II Corps

No one doubted that the enemy would attack again in central Tunisia; the only question was where. The movements of his mobile, armored troops were attentively watched, for they would deliver the blow.

The 21st Panzer Division was known to be in the Faid-Maknassy area. The 10th Panzer Division had shifted southeastward from the Medjerda valley so that most of it was in the vicinity of Kairouan, opposite the French XIX Corps. The Italian 131st (Centauro) Armored Division was northwest of Gabes in position extending up toward El Guettar and Gafsa. The 15th Panzer Division was near the Mareth Position in southern Tunisia. There were indications that an attack might be made toward Pichon, either by way of Fondouk el Aouareb gap or by one of the routes north of it. Various signs seemed to point to enemy attacks along more than one axis. The evidence led Colonel B. A. Dickson, II Corps Intelligence Officer (G-2), to warn of a main attack on Gafsa from Gabes plus a major diversionary effort in the Pichon or Pont-du-Fahs areas. To the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department, the enemy’s situation seemed to indicate a major attack on the Sfax-Tebessa axis and an auxiliary attack from Kairouan moving west and northwest.

General Eisenhower had hoped that the Allies could stabilize the front and at the same time free a force large enough to retake Faid pass. In view of enemy capabilities this hope could not be realized. Instead, General Anderson decided to abandon a contemplated counteroffensive from Le Kef to Faid, to concentrate mobile armored forces at Feriana and Sbeitla, with forward elements in the vicinity of Gafsa and Faid, and to hold the existing Allied positions from Medjez el Bab to Pichon against all but the strongest enemy pressures. Provision was made for temporarily switching the bulk of Allied tactical air support, which would normally be assigned to the northern sectors, to central Tunisia when necessary.

Anderson’s revised mission became that of protecting airfields at Souk el Khemis, Tebessa, and Theiepte for continuous use by Allied air units, and of securing the openings at Medjez el Bab and Bou Arada through which the First Army would make its ultimate attack on Tunis in conjunction with Eighth Army. Second in importance only to this paramount role was another mission: recapture of the defiles held by the enemy, in order to improve the Allied position when the final offensive began, and to interfere with the enemy’s line of communications on the coastal plain. Anderson was to avoid “costly failures” injurious to morale by committing sufficient forces in any attack. Finally, he was directed to keep the mobile striking forces in the south well concentrated in order to strike en masse when the need should arise, and to forego for the present the intended assembly of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division m army reserve near Guelma.

Allied Dispositions, 13 February

British First Army undertook to reorganize its 5 Corps front while the enemy’s attack was being prepared, partly to restore the many small units separated from their parent organizations and partly to achieve the long-deferred establishment of a substantial First Army reserve. The withdrawal of 10th Panzer Division from positions along the northern front into a mobile reserve farther south, the arrival of the British 46th Division, in the forward area, and the introduction into the French sector of elements of the U.S.1st and 34th Infantry Divisions-all made it possible to consider withdrawing the British 6th Armoured Division from the Bou Arada valley into army reserve. The division was to be refitted near Rhardimaou with new Sherman tanks which were being brought in via Bone, and was to relinquish its own lighter tanks for use by the French. Orders on 12 February specified relief of the British 6th Armoured Division between 15 and 28 February; the 16/5 Lancers had already begun to leave its old tanks at a depot at Ebba Ksour on 12 February preparatory to receiving the Shermans. Forward areas would be held during the reorganization by a smaller concentration of infantry than heretofore. To offset this weakness General Anderson prescribed that each likely route of approach by enemy armor be heavily mined, that the mine fields be covered by infantry and artillery, that a mobile reserve be kept in each sector, and that observation be continuous and be supplemented at night by energetic patrolling.

The much desired army reserve, once in being, would make it possible to counter each Axis thrust without improvising formations for each defensive operation. The 133rd and 135th Combat Teams, U.S. 34th Infantry Division, made the long wintry journey from the Oran area to Tunisia during the second week of February. They were ordered to relieve French units from the Algiers Division, and indeed, Colonel Robert W. Ward’s 135th Infantry had barely completed that process near Pichon before the enemy’s attack began. The 133rd Combat Team (Colonel Ray C. Fountain) farther west was then diverted to the vicinity of Had jeb el Aioun. The 34th Division ( General Ryder) took control as the enemy’s attack started.

General Allen’s U.S. 1st Infantry Division (less Combat Teams 18 and 26) remained under General Koeltz’s command and in positions in the Ousseltia valley. The 18th Combat Team farther north was withdrawn on 13-14 February by British 5 Corps into reserve preparatory to transfer to the French XIX Corps. The unit was scheduled to relieve the British 36th Brigade in the Rebaa Oulad Yahia valley later that month. It would thereby extend the American-held portion of General Koeltz’s front before the end of February, while the 26th Combat Team would come from General Fredendall’s corps about 3 March to relieve French troops scheduled for rest and re-equipment. These arrivals would reunite the U.S. 1st Infantry Division after almost three months of dispersal. In the Pichon area was the French Light Armored Brigade which had passed to the command of General St. Didier on 6 February.

The southern flank of the French Corps was covered on the eve of the attack by Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division. This force, which included 110 medium tanks and 69 guns, and was directly under First Army control, was east of Maktar. Next to it on the south was Colonel Stack’s Combat Command C, of the same division, a somewhat weaker group, and south of that unit was General McQuillin’s Combat Command A, reinforced by the 168th Combat Team (less 1st Battalion) under Colonel Drake, both controlled by II Corps through Headquarters, 1st Armored Division.”

Headquarters, U.S. 1st Armored Division, near Sbeitla and the division reserve there were connected through Kasserine with French and American units at Fcriana, Gafsa, and El Guettar. At Feriana, a small force of all arms was assembling under command of Colonel Stark. At Gafsa, and southeast of it at the village of El Guettar, was the extreme south wing of the active Allied front. The Allied high command, after some irresolution, determined that Gafsa could not be strengthened enough to hold it against any probable enemy force. In case of necessity, the Gafsa force would be evacuated toward Feriana, where a counterattack in sufficient strength could be mounted.

In the Advance Headquarters, II Corps, at the Hotel de France in Gafsa, Colonel Frederic B. Butler relieved General Porter and with Colonel Morliere of the Constantine Division directed operations by a mixed American and French command as far as El Guettar. The arc from Sbeitla through Kasserine and Feriana to Gafsa and El Guettar was screened to the east and south by security detachments and beyond them, by roving patrols. The latter were conducted for II Corps by Squadrons Band D, 1st Derbyshire Yeomanry.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Anderson met at General Fredendall’s headquarters near Tebessa on 13 February to review the disposition of forces, American, British, and French. The Commander in Chief, Allied Force, then concluded that they were “as good as could be made pending the development of an actual attack and in view of the great value of holding the forward regions, if it could possibly be done. During the night, he went forward as far as Sbeltla and Sidi Bou Zid, getting back to Tebessa a little before daylight. All along the line from Pont-du-Fahs to Gafsa, the word had been flashed from First Army’s headquarters in Laverdure late on 13 February that an attack would be made by the enemy the next day.

The Enemy’s Intentions

The enemy had considered making the forthcoming attack ever since Rommel in November first pointed out the advantages of combining his retreating force with that already in Tunisia in order to gain the margin of superiority necessary for a drive into Algeria. On 4 February, when the volume of logistical support to Tunisia had not yet reached a level which could sustain a drive for long, Rommel revived his suggestion in another memorandum to Comando Supremo. Rommel then proposed that he leave part of his army at the Mareth Position in order with its mobile portion to strike Gafsa from the southeast while mobile elements of von Arnim’s command hit simultaneously from the northeast. The situation, Rommel believed, was temporarily propitious.

The longer the attack was postponed, the greater the likelihood that the British Eighth Army could hamper its full execution, and the stronger the American forces to be overcome. On the other hand, should no such attack be attempted, the Allies would be far more likely to succeed in pinning down von Arnim’s army while striking that of Rommel from both the front and the rear. The conditions for success therefore seemed to be: swift and surprising attack within the next few days; concentrated attack by superior forces; and unified command disregarding the boundary between the two Axis Army zones.

The German high command had already formulated plans to establish a unified command when the presence of two Axis armies in Tunisia made such a headquarters necessary, but at this juncture, conditions made them unready to put those plans in effect. Operations as aggressive as those which Rommel was advocating would lack the degree of control essential to success. As soon as possible, Axis strategy required the extension westward of the bridgehead near Tunis so that it embraced at least the Djebel Abiod-Medjez el Bab road. The plans for the attacks on Sidi Bou Zid and Gafsa were therefore essentially defensive in concept. Because the Axis command left the ground forces to be co-ordinated rather than commanded, a swift adjustment of plans to take advantage of opportunities could not be made.

Fifth Panzer Army had independent plans for the employment of both 10th Panzer Division and 21st Panzer Division. It also controlled the growing Division Centauro. Its southern boundary extended to the 34th parallel until 12 February, when the area for which Rommel’s army was responsible was extended northward to include Gafsa, Sened, and Sfax, covering an area vital to the security of that army but beyond its power to defend effectively against strong simultaneous attacks there and in southern Tunisia. Thus the planning for what Rommel referred to as a “Gafsa operation” involved the use of troops chiefly controlled by von Arnim. The latter was planning to push back that part of the Allied forward line which ran between Pichon and Maknassy, using all his mobile troops not otherwise inextricably committed elsewhere.

Comando Supremo first ordered an attack against the Gafsa area, primarily to destroy Allied forces, and only secondarily to gain territory. In this operation Rommel would command all armored and mobile elements of the two panzer armies not absolutely indispensable to operations on other fronts. The 10th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions from the northern army and the 15th Panzer Division from the southern force would be supported by Fliegerkorps Tunis.

When Kesselring, Rommel, and von Arnim met on 9 February to discuss these orders, the most recent reconnaissance reports revealed that American units were leaving Gafsa for more northerly stations. The two army commanders then revised the plans. The attack was now to consist of an initial operation against Sidi Bou Zid by Fifth Panzer Army, using 10th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions, and a later joint attack under Rommel’s command against Gafsa by a Kampfgruppe taken from the German Africa Corps and supported by elements of the 21st Panzer Division. Comando Supremo revised its directive and Kesselring approved the plans to execute it.

The armored strength of the Axis forces available for the attack at Sidi Bou Zid exceeded 200 Mark III and Mark IV tanks, plus 11 or 12 Mark VI Tigers. The 10th Panzer Division had 110 tanks in four battalions; 21st Panzer Division, 91 tanks in three battalions; and Division Superga had an attached German company with several Tigers. By delaying the attack on Gafsa until the elements of the 21st Panzer Division could also take part, a force of some 160 tanks might be employed there. The armored units to be drawn from south Tunisia came to 53 German and 17 Italian tanks. The Axis forces were matched by the 1st Armored Division, which had 202 medium and 92 light tanks in operation, and lighter armored vehicles and artillery that considerably outnumbered those of the attacking force. The American division, if concentrated, could provide formidable opposition to the forthcoming attack. But since its tanks had lighter armor and guns of shorter range, it would have to outnumber its opponents in a battle if its opposition was to be effective.

Allocation of Axis forces to the two successive operations remained a matter of negotiation for about a week. Rommel was inclined to exaggerate the resistance still to be expected at Gafsa, and in addition to obtaining a promise of the major part of the 21st Panzer Division, nibbled at the rest of von Arnim’s mobile armored units. Thus the blow at the southern flank of the British First Army in February originated as two separate, if related, operations under different commands. The first was an effort by von Arnim to complete his hold on the Eastern Dorsal from Faid north to Pichon, and perhaps to push the Allies well to the west. The second was Rommel’s endeavor to disperse and destroy the American II Corps in the general vicinity of Gafsa. Then the first had been completed, the second could start, and von Arnim planned, after relinquishing the 21st Panzer Division, to bring as much as possible of 10th Panzer Division northward along the western edge of the Eastern Dorsal to gain full possession of the gaps at Fondouk el Aouareb and Pichon, and to roll up the Allied line north of Pichon. Beyond Sidi Bou Zid and Gafsa, the forces committed to these two operations were expected only to engage in reconnaissance toward Sbeitla and Feriana, respectively.

Axis Plans for Taking Sidi Bou Zid and Gafsa

The Fifth Panzer Army’s attack against Sidi Bou Zid was placed under the direct command of General von Arnim’s chief of staff, General Heinz Ziegler, and designated Operation FRUEHLINGSWIND on 8 February. The 10th Panzer Division (now commanded by General von Broich) [NOTE: Von Broich took command when General Fischer was killed on 1 February by an Italian mine] was ordered to move from its position near Kairouan by night marches, assemble east of Faid pass, get through before daybreak, and launch an attack along the Faid-Sbeitla road.” The non-motorized units of the 21st Panzer Division (Colonel Hildebrandt), which had been stationed near Faid since 31 January, would participate in a second phase of the attack against Sidi Bou Zid; but the division’s mobile elements were to pass along the coastal side of the mountain chain to Maizila pass, about twenty miles farther south, and then to approach Sidi Bou Zid from the south and southwest. The 10th Panzer Division organized three assault groups: groups Gerhardt and Reimann, and a reserve force.

Group Gerhardt was to open the operation by crossing Faid pass, then swinging to the northwest around Djebel Lessouda (644) to neutralize its defenders and to bar intervention from the direction of Sbeitla or Hadjeb el Aioun. This force was built around the 7th Panzer Regiment (less a battalion), and a battalion of the 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Group Reimann was to proceed along the highway from Faid to Sbeitla toward the southeastern corner of Djebel Lessouda, and then to turn southwesterly for an attack on Sidi Bou Zid. This aggregation included the 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment (less a battalion) and a company of heavy Tiger tanks, plus one platoon of 88-mm. dual-purpose guns, as well as supplementary infantry, engineers, and artillery. The reserve (Kampfgruppe Lang) consisted of the 10th Motorcycle Battalion reinforced by armored engineers, an antitank gun platoon and two 88-mm. dual-purpose gun detachments. From the hills east of Faid, most of the artillery of both the 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions would be employed to support the infantry attack.

The 21st Panzer Division was organized for the operation into two combat teams: Kampfgruppe Schuette (with Headquarters, 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment) and Kampfgruppe Stenkhoff (with Headquarters, 5th Panzer Regiment). The core of each was a battalion of tanks, reinforced with armored infantry, supporting artillery, and flak. Schuette was to open Maizila pass for the main body of the division, and turn north against Sidi Bou Zid. While this secondary attack was driving the Allied troops back to the village and containing them there, Stenkhoff’s group reinforced by a second battalion of tanks, was to execute a wide flanking maneuver. This move would take his force as far west as Bir el Hafey, about 25 miles cross country from Maizila pass. During this move, whose difficulty was by no means underestimated by General Ziegler, Colonel Stenkhoff’s group would be protected on the southern flank by the 580th Reconnaissance Battalion (reinforced). From Bir el Hafey, Stenkhoff was to swing to the northeast and bear down on Sidi Bou Zid. This maneuver, if executed in time, would enable Stenkhoff’s group to co-operate with units of the 10th Panzer Division, Group Schuette, and non-mobile elements located at Ain Rebaou pass, closing a ring around the AlIied force in Sidi Bou Zid. A force would be sent to clear the Allies from Djebel Garet Hadid (620) in order to deny its usefulness for observation. If the rather exacting schedule of the operation could be met by the 21st Panzer Division, Combat Command A (reinforced), 1st Armored Division, would be caught and annihilated.

The other operation, that against Gafsa, was planned and conducted by the German Africa Corps (DAK) staff. The Kampfgruppe DAK which they assembled was a composite German-Italian force in division strength consisting of infantry and armored units supported by artillery, flak, and miscellaneous other detachments. It was placed under the command of Colonel Freiherr Kurt von Liebenstein, formerly commanding officer of the 164th Light Africa Division. Kampfgruppe DAK was to move against Gafsa from the southeast. The elements approaching it from Gabes would be joined by mobile Italians at their station near EI Guettar. Mobile elements would be drawn from the 21st Panzer Division operating in the area of Sidi Bou Zid to reinforce the DAK for its drive on Gafsa. The objective was the Gafsa basin, but Rommel in persistent adherence to his original proposals had in mind the possibility of exploiting as far as Tebessa.

On 13 February, Rommel, von Arnim, and General Hans Seidemann, the Luftwaffe commander, met General Ziegler and his division commanders at La Fauconnerie east of Faid pass to review plans, confirm boundaries, and reach full understanding of respective roles and missions. Rommel was inclined to be pessimistic about what lay ahead of the force approaching Gafsa, but von Arnim was confident that the bulk of the American forces would be drawn to his front, and that Gafsa would be lightly held. Ziegler again assured Rommel that the 21st Panzer Division would be detached at the first possible moment to reinforce von Liebenstein. Then Ziegler and Colonel Heinz Pomp tow, his operations officer, went to the hills overlooking F aid village and the Sidi Bou Zid plain for a final reconnaissance before the attack.

The Battle of Sidi Bou Zid, 14 February Combat Command A was waiting for the enemy column which came through Faid pass at 0630, 14 February. Plans had been prepared to cope with possible enemy moves through that defile or through the gaps immediately north or south of it. In compliance with the II Corps orders of 11 February, a “Lessouda Force” of infantry, tanks, artillery, and tank destroyers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters, executive officer of the 1st Armored Regiment, had been stationed on Djebel Lessouda, north of Sidi Bou Zid.

Engineers assisted in preparing defensive positions on the hill. The force sent out patrols each night. The tanks, tank destroyers, and artillery occupied varying positions on the flat during the day, and retired after dark to others within the defensive area where they remained until just before daylight. The Lessouda Force was expected to block an attack until a mobile armored reserve of about forty tanks (3rd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment) under Lieutenant Colonel Louis V. Hightower, stationed nearer Sidi Bou Zid than the Lessouda Force, counterattacked. An artillery-infantry observation post on Djebel Lessouda was in communication with the command posts of both Lessouda Force and Combat Command A, 1st Armored Division, in Sidi Bou Zid.

A similar arrangement was made by the 168th Combat Team (less 1st and 2nd Battalions) and a platoon of the 109th Engineers on Djebel Ksaira (560), under Colonel Drake. The 91st Field Artillery Battalion (less Battery B) and 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment (155-mm. howitzers), were placed astride the Sidi Bou Zid-Ain Rebaou road at the base of Djebel Ksaira, where they were protected by elements of the 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion (SP). From an observation post there, watchers could note enemy activity along the road to Meheri Zebbeus. On 13 February, a strong northwest wind smothered all sounds except of tank motors to the east after dark, but though faint “It consisted of the 2nd Battalion, 168th Infantry (reinforced) (less Company E); Company G, and Reconnaissance Company, 1st Armored Regiment; Battery B, 91st Field Artillery; and one heavy platoon of Company A, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, they were heard and reported. All units were therefore alerted and trains were ordered back to Sbeitla. At 2130, Colonel Waters conferred at Combat Command A’s command post in Sidi Bou Zid with General McQuillin and Colonel Peter C. Hains III, commanding officer of the 1st Armored Regiment. Waters then returned to Djebel Lessouda to await the enemy.

Elements of the 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and the 7th Panzer Regiment began emerging from Faid pass onto the misty plain about 0630, 14 February. As they started northwestward toward Djebel Lessouda they encountered some of the patrolling tanks of Company G, 1st Armored Regiment, under command of Major Norman Parsons. Early in the action Major Parsons’ tank was knocked out, and with it all radio communications with Colonel Waters was destroyed at a time when light was not yet sufficient for direct observation that far from Djebel Lessouda.

The prepared artillery barrage on Faid pass was consequently not requested. But the Americans soon recognized that a tank battle was in progress near the pass, the proportions of which could not yet be appreciated. “To clear up the situation,” Combat Command A sent Companies H and I, 1st Armored Regiment, and most of Company A, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion (75-mm. guns), up the road from Sidi Bou Zid to Poste de Lessouda. As the men got started, the first of several Axis air strikes in the area that day began. Then they were warned from Djebel Lessouda that about twenty Mark IV tanks were at Poste de Lessouda, apart from whatever force was still engaged near the pass. The American armored force under Colonel Hightower came within sight and range of the enemy a few minutes later, and was subjected to fire from what were believed to be 88-mm. guns and from perhaps as many as four Mark VI Tiger tanks. Hightower’s men might have cleared up doubts concerning the strength of the enemy, but they were outranged and were unable to drive him off or destroy him.

The next discoveries reported from Djebel Lessouda were that the first engagement near the pass had ended without information of what had become of Company G, 1st Armored Regiment, and that there was movement toward the northern end of the hill by an enemy force of eighty armored vehicles and trucks. By 0900, the enemy’s strength already on the western side of Djebel Lessouda was described as thirty-nine Mark IV tanks, perhaps a few Mark VI’s, and mobile infantry. This force moved very slowly southward toward the road from Faid to Sbeitla, firing on the slopes of Djebel Lessouda as it passed. Colonel Hightower was warned of the approach of this second force which might cut him off. He redirected Company H, 1st Armored Regiment, to delay the enemy, and with Lieutenant Colonel Charles P. Summerall, Jr.’s, 91st Field Artillery Battalion (less Battery B, which had been in the path of the first attack and was now about to be caught again, this time from the rear) opposed this strong northern prong of the enemy attack by fire and maneuver. American losses were heavy, and, in the last hour of the morning, the unequal contest ended in a withdrawal southwestward.

Heavy attacks by dive bombers and fighter-bombers between 1000 and 1100 supported ground attacks on Sidi Bou Zid from Faid village and Ain Rebaou pass. These ground attacks were intended to pin down General McQuillin’s forces and permit the armored columns to close in from the northwest and southwest. The enemy’s drive was recognized as too powerful for the defenders, but they held on under division orders as the situation deteriorated. The 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery, was ordered from its exposed positions east of Sidi Bou Zid to an area southwest of the village. As it moved back by batteries, enemy dive bombers repeatedly struck it and eventually destroyed it as a fighting unit.

At the same time that the 10th Panzer Division and part of the 21st Panzer Division were preparing to attack through Faid pass, the mobile elements of the 21st Panzer Division had moved southward to Maizila pass, and after darkness 13-14 February, started through it. The first elements of Kampfgruppe Schuette followed by the 5th Panzer Regiment began emerging from a path through a mine field there shortly after 0600. The soft sand of the road through the pass proved hard going for the tanks and slowed the rate of advance. Reconnaissance to the north revealed no Allied threat. Indeed, no contact with Allied forces occurred until, at 0920, low-flying planes strafed one of the marching columns. But at 0940, Company C, 81st Reconnaissance Battalion, reported to the 1st Armored Division that twenty unidentified vehicles were emerging from Maizila pass, ten going west and ten north. A little later, Company A in the pass south of Djebel Matleg (477) was cut off and captured with all its vehicles.

The road from Maizila pass to Sidi Bou Zid ran between Djebel Ksalra on the east and Djebel Garet Hadid on the west. The elements of Colonel Drake’s command which moved onto Djebel Garet Hadid during the morning attack saw an enemy force of about thirty vehicles, approaching along this road at noon, a force they had been warned to expect. They engaged it in the defile, the skirmish continuing throughout the afternoon. This column, an advance element of Kampfgruppe Schuette was joined by the remainder of that group late in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Group Stenkho If, the main force of the 21st Panzer Division, pushed along the northern edge of Djebel Meloussi (622) under the eyes of its commander, Colonel Hildebrandt, screened to the west and south by the 580th Reconnaissance Battalion. Progress was interrupted chiefly by muddy dips in the plain or mechanical failures in some of the vehicles. Opposition on the ground was nil. Group Stenkho If reached Bir el Hafey on the Gafsa-Sidi Bou Zid highway about noon, assembled, and at 1345 proceeded in force northeastward along the highway toward Sidi Bou Zid, some eighteen miles distant.

Reports of the battle filtering through from General Ward’s headquarters to that of General Fredendall near Tebessa were sketchy. The successive appearance of the enemy’s armored groups left total numbers in considerable doubt. The reported loss of artillery and the identification of Mark VI’s among the enemy tanks brought early requests from the division for reinforcing artillery. The II Corps shifted a battery of the 68th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and two platoons of Company A, 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion, from Feriana to Sbeltla.

General Ward at first did not consider the situation grave, but when towards noon, the loss of about half the tanks of Hightower’s 3rd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, was reported, along with the fact that the force south of Sidi Bou Zid was described as very substantial, it became clear that not only had Djebel Lessouda been surrounded but that Colonel Drake’s troops were marooned on Djebel Ksalra and Djebel Garet Hadid. It also became apparent that elements of McQuillin’s force in and around Sidi Bou Zid were being driven out and would have to move without delay to avoid being caught on both flanks. Authorization to pull out was finally given to McQuillin early in the afternoon. By 1405, Combat Command A’s command post was seven miles southwest of Sidi Bou Zid, Hightower’s depleted tank force was stubbornly covering the withdrawal of Combat Command A, fighting off a threat from Group Stenkholf on the southwestern flank, and Colonel Drake’s infantry force by division order was necessarily left in isolation until it could be relieved by a counterattack already being planned for the next morning. It could not have withdrawn in daylight without being subjected to repeated air attack and heavy losses.

From division reserve near Sbeitla, General Ward had sent the 1st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry (Colonel Kern) , and one company of light tanks during the morning to a crossroads eleven miles northwest of Sidi Bou Zid on the Sbeitla-Faid road. It established a protective line west of which Combat Command A could reorganize, after a cross-country retreat via Zaafria. During this withdrawal some vehicles were stalled in soft sand or in the wadies and were left behind to be salvaged after dark.

Long-range artillery and tank fire harried the Americans, and some of Stenkhoff”s tanks threatened to disrupt the movement This point was known thereafter to the 1st Armored Division as “Kern’s Crossroads,” by penetrating the southwestern flank. Colonel Hightower’s own tank moved to this danger point, where alone it knocked out several enemy vehicles and drove off the remainder; at the very end of the engagement his tank was itself destroyed but its crew escaped. At dusk, Combat Command A, less the isolated troops of the 168th Infantry, began arriving at the rallying point near Djebel Hamra (673), where it reorganized for defense of Sbeitla.

Thus, Combat Command A, which might have been of the 91st Armored Field Artillery Battalion pursued and perhaps destroyed, was able, and all the 155-mm. howitzers of the to get away, 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery. At 1705, group Stenkhofl established At 1530, General Ziegler considered that contact with elements of the 10th Panzer his initial mission had been achieved. He Division west of Sidi Bou Zid. By nightfall, that village was firmly held by the Germans. Its former Allied defenders had withdrawn toward Sbeitla or had been caught and isolated on Djebel Lessouda, Djebel Ksa’ira, and Djebel Garet Hadid. On the plain west of Sidi Bou Zid, abandoned, burning, or broken-down vehicles marked the route of withdrawal. Combat Command A’s losses had been heavy: 6 killed, 22 wounded, 134 missing, 44 tanks, all but 2 tank destroyer guns, 9 of the authorized 105-mm. pieces ordered the 10th Panzer Division to reconnoiter aggressively to Hadjeb el Aioun, twenty-five miles north of Sidi Bou Zid, the 21st Panzer Division (reinforced ) to assemble for an expeditious move against Gafsa, probably starting at noon next day, and both divisions to employ some of their non-mobile units in mopping up around Sidi Bou Zid. The fact that the tenacious defense of Djebel Ksaira and Djebel Garet Hadid by the Americans was proving troublesome, and the possibility of an American counterattack deterred Group Ziegler from dispersing to any great extent.

[NOTE: ( 1) Rpt by Col Hains, 12 Mar 43, and Rpt by Col Hightower, 1 Jul 46, in 1st Armd Div Hist Reds. (2) 10th Panzer Diu, Ie, Taetigkeitsbericht , 14 Feb 43, lists the following Allied losses: 71 prisoners, 40 tanks, 7 armored personnel carriers, 15 self-propelled mounts, 1 antitank gun, 9 machine guns, 1 prime mover, 4 trucks, and 18 other vehicles. (3) The initial estimate of Combat Command A’s losses in personnel was 62 officers and 1,536 enlisted men killed, wounded, or missing in action (see Msg, G- 3 1st Armd Div to’ G-3 II Corps, 0745, 16 Feb 43, Entry 116 in II Corps G-3 Jnl). Of these, 573 were 1st Armored Division troops (see 1st Armd Div G- 3 Jnl, 14 Feb 43).]

Allied divisional reserves at Sbeitla consisted of the light tank battalion ( 1st ) of the 13th Armored Regiment at about half strength; the 1st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry; Company B, 16th Armored Engineers; and two antiaircraft guns of Battery B, 443rd Coast Artillery (AA) Battalion (SP ). The French units in the area were not equipped with weapons suited to successful counterattack on an enemy who employed Mark IV and Mark VI tanks, 88-mm. dual-purpose guns, and other modern arms. For that matter, neither were the Americans, although they were far more fortunate in their armament and much more mobile than the French.

Allied Preparations for Counterattack To make the next day’s counterattack, General Ward brought south from Hadjeb el Aioun Colonel Stack’s Combat Command C, and via II Corps got First Army to release to him the 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel James D. Alger), from Combat Command B near Maktar. The arrangements were completed shortly after noon, 14 February. Alger’s battalion took to the road that afternoon using the new twenty-twa-mile route between El Ala and Hadjeb el Aioun which had been constructed by American Engineers.

The enemy was much stronger than the Americans realized. Among other indications of their misapprehension was the small size of the reinforcement requested. General Welvert emphasized to the Chief of Staff, French XIX Corps, that all of Combat Command B should be sent to Sbeitla and early on 14 February, in view of what seemed to him the slowness of II Corps’ decisions, tried to expedite action at General Anderson’s headquarters through French But First Army would not release Combat Command B from Maktar for commitment near Sbeitla even on the basis of the situation as estimated late on 14 February. No unit of the 10th Panzer Division had been identified in the Sidi Bou Zid attack. The total number of tanks, computed at from 90 to 130, could be those of the 21st Panzer Division and the separate 190th Panzer Battalion only, without including any from the 10th Panzer Division. If that calculation was correct, the Allies reasoned, the 10th Panzer Division was remaining opposite the French XIX Corps for an attack there, and Combat Command B would be needed in the area. Indeed, it was decided that Alger’s battalion would have to be replaced, a requirement which First Army was happily able to meet because it had anticipated some such need and on the previous day had called back the 16/5 Lancers Regiment from Ebba Ksour, where it was engaged in exchanging old tanks for new. General Eisenhower left II Corps headquarters late in the morning of 14 February and with Truscott and others drove to Constantine, sight-seeing at Timgad en route.

The word of an attack at Sidi Bou Zid was not believed to indicate a major offensive. But as news came to the AFHQ advance command post on the next two days, General Eisenhower participated in the decision to hold Allied strength in central Tunisia and to evacuate Gafsa. The enemy’s power and apparent intentions indicated that Gafsa could not be successfully defended but that there was time for an orderly withdrawal spread out over two successive nights. All supplies and transportation equipment could be removed and the place booby-trapped and mined. First Army’s orders to bring back the French on the first night and the Americans on the second were questioned by II Corps on the ground that secrecy could not be maintained and that the enemy would interfere with the second night’s operations.

The actual evacuation of Gafsa was accomplished during the night of 14-15 February, a night of rather confused and excited activity, especially on the part of civilians who could remember the brief Axis occupation of the preceding November. The troops pulled back as far as Feriana. The medical services of the 51st Medical Battalion and 48th Surgical Hospital moved farther back.

The railroad bridge north of Gafsa was prematurely demolished before all the rolling stock had been removed; it was therefore taken west to Metlaoui where it was concealed in a tunnel. In the old Kasba of the abandoned town six tons of French ammunition were blown up, unfortunately damaging adjacent buildings and injuring their native occupants. Last to leave Gafsa was the 1st Ranger Battalion. The movement to Feriana was covered on the east by Squadrons Band D of the 1st Derbyshire Yeomanry.

While the U.S. II Corps pulled in its southwestern flank from Gafsa and extracted reinforcements from north of Sbeltla, its northern boundary was shifted so that after midnight, 14-15 February, Thala (north of Kasserine) , Sbiba (north of Sbeltla), and Fondouk el Aouareb gap, all fell in the area of General Koeltz’s Corps. First Army suspended all scheduled reliefs of French units and arranged to cover the gap between Djebel Trozza (997) and Djebel el Abe’id (697), south of EI Ala, by the U.S. 133rd Combat Team, and to block the road leading into Sbiba from the east with a French force, the 1st Battalion, 1st Algerian Infantry, and with artillery, tanks, and antitank guns. East of Kasserine village, the 19th Combat Engineers (Colonel Anderson T. W. Moore) began to arrive that night to organize a defense line.

Late on 14 February General Fredendall received the following instructions from First Army: As regards action in the Sidi Bou Zid area, concentrate tomorrow on clearing up situation there and destroying enemy. Thereafter collect strong mobile force in Sbeitla area ready for action in any direction, Press on with defenses as ordered . The decision to counterattack with Combat Command C, reinforced by the 2nd Battalion,

1st Armored Regiment, had been adopted before this optimistic directive was received. During the following morning, while the counterattack was being launched, General Fredendall’s order to General Ainard specified: Desire you carry out plan to withdraw 168th Infantry from positions on DjebeI Lessouda and Djebel Ksaira. Place 168th Infantry on new position Djcbel Hamra. Details of withdrawal left to your judgment but should be designed for maximum security of infantry withdrawing.

General Ward defined Colonel Stack’s mission in the following terms: This force will move south, and by fire and maneuver destroy the enemy armored forces which have threatened our hold on the Sbeitla area. It will so conduct its maneuver as to aid in the withdrawal of our force’s in the vicinity of Dj Ksaira, eventually withdrawing to the area north of Dj Hamra for further action.

Colonel Stack’s orders had to be prepared with the aid of two small-scale maps of the anticipated battle area, and in lieu of adequate reconnaissance by Stack’s own attacking force, of supplementary data provided by two officers of the Reconnaissance Company, 1st Armored Regiment, and by Colonel Hains, all of whom had been in the preceding day’s battle. Stack understood the enemy’s strength to consist of forty tanks north of Sidi Bou Zid and fifteen to twenty tanks south of it, belonging to enemy units not yet identified. By pushing a column through or beyond Sidi Bou Zid, he might succeed in screening the withdrawal of the southernmost American groups under Lieutenant Colonel John H. Van Vliet, Jr., on Djebel Ksai”ra and Colonel Drake on Djebel Garet Hadid. The Lessouda Force under Colonel Waters could be assisted in a subsequent and much easier operation.

The Counterattack at Sidi Bou Zid, 15 February

Combat Command C, including Alger’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, reinforced, after its arrival from Maktar, marched south from Hadjeb el Ai”oun on 15 February over a fairly direct road to an assembly area northeast of Djebel Hamra.” For the counterattack of 15 February 1943 at Sidi Bou Zid, Combat Command C consisted of: the 6th Armored Infantry (less the 1st and 2nd Battalions); the 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, Company G, 13th Armored Regiment; the Leading elements reached the assembly area by 0945, but the column was strafed by enemy planes near the end of its march and did not complete reorganizing until just after noon, when it began the attack.

From Colonel Stack’s command post on Djebel Hamra, the battlefield stretched out below with unimpeded view for miles through the clear dry atmosphere of a sunny afternoon. Even through field glasses, Sidi Bou Zid, about 13 miles distant, was a tiny spot of dark hued evergreens and white houses behind which rose the hazy slopes of Djebel Ksaira. At the left was Djebel Lessouda, toward which the road from Sbeitla, extended as straight as a taut string, and from which Colonel Waters radioed reports of what could be seen from its heights. On the right, the road from Bir el Hafey slanting northeastward to Sidi Bou Zid could be identified, and roughly parallel with it, the long ridge of Djebel el Kebar (793). There was considerable mirage. The dips and folds of the plain were for the most part gradual, but several steep-sided deeper wadies creased it in general from north to south.

The monotonous brown-gray of the landscape was marked at various points by patches of darker cactus, by the geometric figures of cultivated fields and orchards, and by small clusters of low, block-shaped white buildings. At 1240 the attacking formation started over this expanse with great precision until its vehicles were reduced by distance to the size of insects, and obscured by heavy dust. In the lead were the tanks. They started slowly southeastward in column of companies, led by Company D, followed by Company F, the assault guns, and Company E in that order. Tank destroyers were grouped on each wing. The artillery and then the infantry in half-tracks followed. At 1340 a formation of ten to twelve enemy fighters and nine enemy bombers swept over the column for the first time, strafing and bombing it near Djebel Hamra. An hour later the Germans dive-bombed Sidi Bou Zid well in advance of the American force, and at 1630 subjected the infantry to another bombing just as it passed through the artillery positions.

While Colonel Stack’s force was delayed by enemy air attack, the Germans found time to prepare for their scheme of defense. Three companies of Group Stenkhoff were to strike the American south flank while elements of Group Gerhardt, from a position northwest of Sidi Salem, were to envelop Combat Command C from the north flank. Three heavy and two light batteries began firing briskly on the attacking force after withholding fire until it had neared its objective and its tanks were all in range.

Stukas joined the ground forces in opposing the American advance. Enemy planes were also used to divert attention from a slow shift by elements of the 5th Panzer Regiment aimed at turning the southern flank. A steady stream of radio reports from Djebel Lessouda and Djebel Ksaira to Combat Command C via the 1st Armored Division described enemy movements and indicated that the Axis forces, although large, were considerably dispersed. Colonel Stack was urged to push on aggressively while he retained this advantage.

Colonel Alger’s tanks could cross the series of wadies in the path of attack only at a few points. Toward these crossings his armored units converged in temporary concentrations before again spreading out in attack formation. While Company D, 1st Armored Regiment, was reconnoitering to find a way across the first great ditch, at a point a little beyond the village of Sadaguia on the left flank, a tank destroyer platoon entered that village and there the enemy’s first resistance, a Stuka attack, knocked it out. The tanks, with one exception, crossed the first wadi successfully and after fanning out resumed the advance toward the second. As they arrived at the one good crossing point there, the enemy opened up with air burst and then with antitank artillery fire. On the northern flank, an enemy battery including four 88-mm. and two 47-mm. antitank guns had been waiting in concealment. Before their fire took effect, they were observed and overrun by the advance platoon of Company D, 1st Armored Regiment. The air burst, coming from artillery pieces emplaced on the shoulders of Djebel el Kebar and other vantage points to the southeast, forced the tank crews to “button up” and to continue movement with restricted vision.

While Company E, in reserve, remained near the second wadi, Companies D and F, and the assault guns pushed on. Batteries B and C, 68th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, took up firing positions and began counterbattery fire, or shelled enemy tanks, in response to calls from forward observers in the leading American vehicles. As the infantry began to pass through the artillery, an air attack struck the area and threw the troops into some confusion.

The tanks arriving at the third wadi came under much heavier fire, especially on the southern flank. Company D on the north was able to send tanks into the village of Sidi Salem, where they shot up the buildings and a motor pool to the east, and stopped the progress of an enemy tank force trying to pass the village’s northern edge.

But when Company D tried to emerge northeast of the village, heavy fire from the north drove the tanks back to cover. Company F moved toward the area south of Sidi Bou Zid along a route in defilade pointed out by Colonel Alger. Alger’s tank, while heading back toward Sidi Salem to rejoin Company D, was knocked out. The radio operator was killed but the others survived, only to be captured. Company E, in the meantime, came forward and pressed toward the village and then, about 1630, encountered the spearhead of an enemy armored force striking from the northern flank. Company F became involved at about the same time against a similar thrust from the south. On either flank, the enemy sent additional enveloping forces. That at the south escaped detection until it had reached a threatening position from which it was finally driven off by Battery C, 68th Armored Artillery Battalion. The threat nonetheless remained and caused the attacking American forces to start a hurried withdrawal.

The enemy’s slowly advancing column, reinforced with Tiger tanks, heading toward the deep northern flank in the area of Kern’s Crossroads, was reported from Djebel Lessouda in time for Combat Command C to commit its reserve company of medium tanks (Company G, 13th Armored Regiment) to try to intercept it. The company took a course too far to the northwest and missed the enemy, who turned southward into the battle area, thus avoiding also some long-range fire from the 91st Armored Field Artillery Battalion near Djebel Hamra.

At 1645, Colonel Stack reported to General Ward that it had become doubtful that Combat Command C would reach Djebel Ksaira before sundown. A few minutes later, when Colonel Alger was asked by Stack to report his situation and to state what help he could use, he replied laconically: “Still pretty busy. Situation in hand. No answer to second question. Further details later. Then his radio went silent. His further details were reserved until the year 1945, when he was released from imprisonment and could supply an account based on the recollections which he and his fellow captives from the battalion had shared during the intervening period.

By 1740, the armored infantry was escaping the threatened envelopment. The tank battalion, whose losses were already severe, started back through a gantlet of enemy antitank fire from which only four emerged that evening. A few dismounted crews also escaped. After darkness had fallen, the 68th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (less Battery A), marched from the battlefield where it had been briefly cut off at dusk, leaving the enemy in possession and many fires blazing. The Germans energetically salvaged both their own equipment and that left behind by the Americans, but two months later, more than forty rusting tanks were found when the Allies recovered control over that region. Thus on the second successive day, a small American armored force had been driven from the battlefield with heavy losses. The estimate of the damage inflicted by Combat Command C, 1st Armored Division, upon the enemy was thirteen Mark IV tanks, five 88-mm. and ten other artillery pieces damaged or destroyed, and upwards of fifty men killed.

The 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, on 16 February reported 15 officers and 298 enlisted men missing in action and one officer wounded and evacuated. The Allies were slow to realize that they had lost another tank battalion. The enemy’s motor pool near Sidi Bou Zid continued to burn into the night, but the Americans interpreted it as a group of German tanks. “We might have walloped them or they might have walloped us,” reported General Ward to II Corps as late as 2230 hours that evening. Through messages dropped by air on Djebel Lessouda before darkness, he had, however, ordered Colonel Waters to get his force back during the night. The enemy had been surprised at the weakness of the counterattack and remained alert for a second wave of attack.

[NOTE:50- (1) Msg, CO CCC to G-3 1st Armd Div, 1348, 16 Feb 43, in CCC 1st Armd Div Jnl. (2) The Germans themselves claimed to have salvaged every tank of their own, but listed as American materiel captured or destroyed: 39 tanks, 17 armored personnel carriers, 4 antitank guns, 3 self-propelled mounts, 8 machine guns, 1 105-mm. howitzer, and about 100 vehicles. 10th Panzer Div, Ie, Taetigkeitsberieht, 15 Feb 43. (3) The estimate at 0325, 16 February, by G-3, 1st Armored Division, was 46 medium and 2 light tanks, 130 vehicles, and 9 self-propelled lOS’s. II Corps G-3 Jnl, 16 Feb 43; Entries 76 and 87. (4) See sketch map, Howe, The Battle History of the 1st Armored Division, p. 164.]

He knew exactly from captured orders the units which had been fighting thus far. The Allies, however, were maintaining a defense line near Kern’s Crossroads east of Sbeitla and reorganizing for defense, as already noted. In fact, at the highest levels a decision of the greatest moment to subsequent operations had been made during the day.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (5-22); Axis Turn Allied Southern Flank

World War Two: North Africa (5-20); Sparring Along the Eastern Dorsal