After the Anglo-American landings in North Africa on November 8, 1942, the Americans remained optimistic about their ability to fight a real opponent like Rommel and the Afrika Korps. In headlong retreat after the Battle of El Alamein, Rommel had disobeyed orders of his Führer. He was not without the ability to fight, however. He intended to consolidate his forces closer to his supply lines.
The green Americans moved slowly to take advantage of the Axis retreat, and while Montgomery pursued Rommel across North Africa, taking Tripoli on January 23, 1943, the Americans did not press the Axis western flank. Eisenhower would later write that the American operations “violated every recognized principle of war.” Nevertheless, confident Allied commanders planned for the conclusion of operations in North Africa.
Rommel and his junior officers were openly contemptuous of the Americans’ ability to fight. After a buildup that included heavy Tiger I tanks that mounted the 88mm gun that Rommel had pioneered in antitank combat, Rommel exploded against the Americans at Faïd on February 14. Rommel drove the Americans back on what would be the defining moment for the American ground soldier against the Germans ’ Kasserine Pass, in the Tunisian Dorsal Mountains.
Kasserine Pass would teach the Americans how to fight the Wehrmacht. On February 19, Rommel probed the American lines, and concluded the Pass was the soft spot in the American lines. The next day, he personally led the attack that cracked the American defenses and sent them reeling back.