The Next Act Begins

During a speech about the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa on 10 November 1942, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Late October 1942 was the high-water mark for the Axis across the globe. But in the beginning of November they were stopped at El Alamein, Stalingrad, and Guadalcanal. November 1942 saw the Allies take the offensive. However, the Germans were far from defeated and determined to wrest the strategic initiative back. In response to the Torch landings, Hitler sent his strategic reserve, which was still very much in demand on the Eastern Front, to occupy Vichy French Tunisia and subsequently throw the Allies out of North Africa.

However, he did this under the false assumption that Stalingrad was captured. Unknown to Hitler, Vasily Chuikov’s 62nd Army still occupied an area of the city less than a square mile along the Volga River (just let that statement sink in for a second). On Hitler’s directive, 100,000 mostly German troops commanded by Lt Gen Walter Nehring began landing in Tunisia in the second week of November. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, retreating across Libya with the beaten PanzerArmee Afrika, was furious with Hitler and hastened back to Tunisia to take command. (If Rommel would have had those troops, or even just their supplies for the battles at El Alamein, there is little doubt that he would have been able to seize Alexandria and the Suez Canal. Ditto for Paulus at Stalingrad.)

Eisenhower, and especially British LtGen Kenneth Anderson in eastern Algeria, recognized the German threat and they attempted to seize Tunisia before the Germans could organize. Unfortunately, confusion among the inexperienced Americans meant that the British could only attack with two brigades against dug in German troops with Luftwaffe air superiority. The attack predictably failed and the German build up in Tunisia would continue unabated.

Sometime in the next couple of months, the eager but naïve US Army would meet the German Army in battle for the first time. But instead of ill supplied, beaten, and weary Italians and Germans of the old Afrika Corps; the Americans would meet experienced and rested German troops, battle hardened against the Russians, led by one of Germany’s most capable tactical leaders, and armed with the newest equipment that the German economy could produce. In hindsight, the question wasn’t whether the Americans would win, but whether they would recover.

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