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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX сentury

The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II

A chain of mountains separates coastal Tunisia from the arid interior. In a plain between two arms of the mountains and behind the passes in the west lay important Allied airfields and supply dumps. On 14 February 1943, the Axis commanders sent German and Italian forces through the passes, hoping to penetrate the American positions and either envelop the British in the north or seize Allied supply depots.

"Hill 609" by Fletcher Martin. Much of the Army's fighting in the final offensive in northern Tunisia involved dismounted infantry attacks on prepared defensive positions in rugged hill country. (Army Art Collection)


German forces quickly cut off and overwhelmed two battalions of American infantry positioned too far apart for mutual support, and the experienced panzers beat back counterattacks by American reserves, including elements of the U.S. 1st Armored Division. U.S. troops began evacuating airfields and supply depots on the plain and falling back to the western arm of the mountains. Dug in around the oasis town of Sbeitla, American infantry and armor managed to hold off the Germans through 16 February, but defenses there began to disintegrate during the night, and the town lay empty by midday on the 17th. From the oasis, roads led back to two passes, the Sbiba and the Kasserine. By 21 February the Germans had pushed through both and were poised to seize road junctions leading to the British rear.
Rommel and other German commanders, however, could not agree on how to exploit their success. Meanwhile Allied reinforcements rushed to the critical area. The 1st Armored Division turned back German probes toward Tebessa, and British armor met a more powerful thrust toward Thala, where four battalions of field artillery from the U.S. 9th Infantry Division arrived just in time to bolster sagging defenses. On the night of 22 February the Germans began to pull back. A few days later Allied forces returned to the passes. The first American battle with German forces had cost more than 6,000 U.S. casualties, including 300 dead and two-thirds of the tank strength of the 1st Armored Division.
In March, after the British repulsed another German attack, the Allies resumed the offensive. The U.S. II Corps, now under the command of Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, attacked in coordination with an assault on the German line by Montgomery's troops. American and British forces in the south met on 7 April as they squeezed Axis forces into the northeastern tip of the country. The final drive to clear Tunisia began on 19 April. On 7 May British armor entered Tunis, and American infantry entered Bizerte. Six days later the last Axis resistance in Africa ended with the surrender of over 275,000 prisoners of war.
The U.S. Army learned bitter lessons about the inadequacy of its training, equipment, and leadership in the North African campaign. Army Ground Forces acted quickly to ensure that American soldiers would receive more realistic combat training. Higher commanders realized that they could not interfere with their subordinates by dictating in detail the positions of their units. Troops had to be committed in division-size, combined arms teams, not in driblets. The problem posed by American tanks, outgunned by the more heavily armed and armored German panzers, took far longer to correct. But the artillery established itself as the Army's most proficient arm.
Sicily and Italy
Meeting in Casablanca in January 1943, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff decided that the large Italian island of Sicily would be their next target. Montgomery's British forces landed on the southeast coast, while Patton's newly activated Seventh Army landed on the southwest, with the mission of seizing airfields and protecting the flank of the British drive. Airborne troops spearheading the attacks scattered wide of their targets but managed to disrupt enemy communications. Hours after the initial landings on 9 July, German armor struck the American beaches. Naval gunfire, infantry counterattacks, and the direct fire of field artillery landing at the critical juncture broke up the German formations. But two attempts to reinforce the beaches with parachute and glider-borne troops ended in disaster when Allied antiaircraft batteries mistook the transport planes for enemy aircraft and opened fire, causing severe losses.
Meanwhile, the Germans solidly blocked the British drive on the Sicilian capital, Messina. General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, Allied ground commander, ordered Patton to push toward Palermo, at the western tip of the island. Once in Palermo, since the British drive was still stalled, his forces attacked Messina from the north. Patton used a series of small amphibious end runs to outflank German positions on the northern coastal road. American and British troops arrived in Messina on 17 August, just as the last Axis troops evacuated Sicily.
In late July the Allies decided to follow up their success in Sicily with an invasion of Italy. Having lost hope of victory, the Italian High Command, backed by the king, opened secret negotiations with the Allies. The Germans, suspecting that Italy was about to desert the Axis, rushed in additional troops.
The Germans swiftly disarmed the Italian Army and took over its defensive positions. A British fleet sailed into the harbor of Taranto and disembarked troops onto the docks, while the U.S. Fifth Army under Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark landed on the beaches near Salerno on 9 September. The Germans reacted in strength. For four days vigorous attacks by German armor threatened the beaches. But on 16 September American and British forces made contact, and two weeks later American troops entered Naples, the largest city south of Rome. Allied plans called for a continued advance to tie down German troops and prevent their transfer to France or Russia, while Hitler decided to hold as much of Italy as possible.

"Bailey Bridge" by Tom Craig. Mechanized warfare demanded a substantial increase in tactical bridging; in Italy the Bailey Bridge proved versatile and adaptable to a variety of weights and situations. (Army Art Collection)

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