Friday, February 26, 1943
By Combined News Services
ALLIED FORCES HEADQUARTERS, NORTH AFRICA – Germany’s battle-hardened Afrika Korps soldiers, led by the infamous “Desert Fox,” attacked U.S. troops in Tunisia’s Kasserine Pass, handing the Allied forces its second defeat in two months at the cost of more than 6,000 American casualties.
The three-day battle, which pitted American troops against Nazi soldiers led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, nicknamed the “Desert Fox,” cost U.S. troops dearly: 300 were killed, 3,000 were wounded, and another 3,000 were reported missing, most of them likely to be prisoners of war, Allied military officials said.
German forces pushed American soldiers back more than 80 miles.
This was the second Allied defeat in North Africa in eight weeks and puts the entire Allied war plan on the continent into doubt, Allied military officials said.
“The general accepts full responsibility for this defeat,” said Maj. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith of his commanding officer, Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allies’ commander-in-chief in North Africa. “It causes us to reconsider our strategy and tactics.”
As the Germans struck U.S. lines, American military officials said, chaos ensued, with troops abandoning their positions and weapons and fleeing to the rear. It was, said a U.S. general who requested anonymity, “The worst performance of U.S. Army troops in their whole proud history.”
The first defeat came back in December, just after Christmas, when Allied forces were prevented from liberating Tunis, an important Allied objective because the city’s ports are vital to re-supplying Nazi troops in North Africa.
More than 350 U.S. troops were reported killed, wounded or missing in December’s battle while another 180 British troops were reported killed, wounded or missing.
Earlier this week, British Lt. Gen. Harold Alexander was appointed the new ground commander, leading all Allied ground forces in North Africa and reporting to General Eisenhower.
After inspecting U.S. soldiers on Wednesday, Alexander told one American reporter that “American troops are soft, green and quite untrained. They lack the will to fight.”
Officers on General Eisenhower’s staff told reporters that some American generals in the African theatre may be relieved of their duties as a result of this latest defeat. Eisenhower, however, apparently remains safe in his job.
“There will be no change at the top,” said U.S. Army chief of staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, from Washington. “Eisenhower is our general.”
The latest casualty numbers from North Africa come about six weeks after the War Department reported that the United States lost 60,000 soldiers, Marines, sailors and aviators last year.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific Theatre, Army Maj. Gen. Alexander M. Patch, commander of American forces on Guadalcanal, announced that the island has been liberated from the Japanese. Nearly 1,600 American soldiers and Marines were killed in the six-month battle for the island.
The U.S. Navy also lost of a number of ships and sailors during the battle.
“Total and complete Japanese defeat on Guadalcanal effected today,” said General Patch.
Allied forces on New Guinea are making progress against the Japanese, too.
The latest Gallop poll shows that 53 percent of Americans say that Japan is America’s chief enemy while only 34 percent report that Germany is.
Writer’s question: Would American confidence on World War II have suffered if some of the battles had been reported in this fashion?