On this day, German General Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps launch an offensive against an Allied defensive line in Tunisia, North Africa. The Kasserine Pass was the site of the United States' first major battle defeat of the war.
General Erwin Rommel was dispatched to North Africa in February 1942, along with the new Afrika Korps, to prevent his Italian Axis partner from losing its territorial gains in the region to the British. Despite his skill, until this point Rommel had been unable to do much more than manage his own forces' retreats, but the Battle of Kasserine Pass would finally display the "Desert Fox's" strategic genius.
In the Battle of El Alamein in August 1942, British General Bernard Montgomery pushed Rommel out of Egypt and into Tunisia, behind the Mareth Line, a defensive fortification built by Vichy French forces. After taking several months to regroup, Rommel decided on a bold move. Rommel set his sites of Tunis, Tunisia's capital and a key strategic goal for both Allied and Axis forces. Rommel determined that the weakest point in the Allied defensive line was at the Kasserine Pass, a 2-mile-wide gap in Tunisia's Dorsal Mountains, which was defended by American troops. His first strike was repulsed, but with tank reinforcements, Rommel broke through on February 20, inflicting devastating casualties on the U.S. forces. The Americans withdrew from their position, leaving behind most of their equipment. More than 1,000 American soldiers were killed by Rommel's offensive, and hundreds were taken prisoner. The United States had finally tasted defeat in battle.