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Rommel’s Strategy at Kasserine Pass

Excerpt from How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War—From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror, by Bevin Alexander, pages 144-43

When [German General Erwin] Rommel pulled his beaten panzer army into Tunisia [in early 1943], he realized he had landed in the central position between the Americans and British in Tunisia and Montgomery’s British 8th Army in Libya. Montgomery was moving toward the Mareth Line at his usual snail-like pace. His army could be ignored for a couple of weeks. The Allies in Tunisia had been stopped by the rains of Mediterranean winter and were arrayed on a north-south line with the British in the north, the newly organized French 19th Corps in the center, and the U.S. 2nd Corps under Lloyd R. Fredendall in the south.

This presented an opportunity Rommel couldn’t pass up, especially as he spotted an extreme weakness in the American and French positions---they were holding the Eastern Dorsal mountain passes of Fondouk, Faid, and Gafsa far eastward into central Tunisia with only outpost detachments. Since this Allied line was a thin shell, Axis forces could crack through---Faid and Gafsa were especially poorly defended. They then could drive sixty to seventy miles to the west beyond Feriana and Kasserine through the passes in the Western Dorsals.

Once through these passes, the Axis troops would arrive at the huge American supply base and headquarters at Tebessa---well west of the Allied line in Tunisia and deep into the Allied communications zone. If Axis tanks then drove straight north to the sea a hundred miles away, they might cut off the entire Allied army in Tunisia, or force it to withdraw into Algeria, with devastating consequences.

Then Rommel could turn back, combining his forces with the 5th Panzer Army in Tunisia, and either destroy Montgomery’s 8th Army or drive it into precipitate retreat. In other words, Rommel could execute a classic example of the central position. From the Mareth Line, Rommel could strike first at the Americans and British in Tunisia, then turn back on Montgomery coming up from Libya.

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