During Operation Torch, British LtGen Kenneth Anderson attacked out of Algeria and into Tunisia in order to capture the ports of Bizerte and Tunis and stop the German build up. Due to American organizational and logistical problems, he could only attack with two British brigades and an adhoc American brigade group known as “Blade Force”. Blade Force was formed around the 1st US Armored Regiment of the 1st US Armored Division, equipped with M3 Lee medium tanks and M3 Stuart light tanks.
The advance started off well but Anderson’s force began to run into serious opposition from German units just south of Bizerta. Nevertheless, on 26 November 1942, C Company, 1st Arm Regt, commanded by MAJ Rudolph Barlow infiltrated through German lines (yes, you can infiltrate with a tank) and stumbled upon the German airfield at Djedeida. Barlow immediately ordered his 19 tanks on line and attacked.
In what can only be described as a “Tanker’s Wet Dream”, C Company machine gunned aircraft and trucks, gunned down scurrying Luftwaffe ground personnel, shot up buildings and tents, set fuel containers on fire, and on at least two occasions, crushed aircraft by running them over.
However, several aircraft managed to take off and were soon strafing the American tanks. Also, the raid didn’t last much more than an hour before nearby German units responded. Without infantry support, (US Combined Arms Doctrine was woefully antiquated in 1942) Barlowe couldn’t hold the airfield, so he wisely withdrew and exfiltrated back towards American and British lines (yes, you can exfiltrate in a tank). The Raid on Djedeida destroyed over 20 German aircraft and put the airfield out of commission.
Unfortunately, the Americans learned all the wrong lessons and the Germans all the right ones. GenLt Nehring, the German commander in Tunisia, was now alerted to the holes in his defense and reacted accordingly. And the raid had no appreciable effect on Luftwaffe operations due to the resiliency of their operating and supply systems. The Raid on Djedeida did however produce a great sense of accomplishment and bravado among American tankers. That cockiness would have been quickly dispelled had Barlowe stayed around any longer: a mere 2 kms away were four of the brand new German Panzer Kampfwagen VI “Tiger” tanks, equipped with armor impenetrable by anything an American tank could shoot at it, and was equipped with a variant of the vaunted and lethal dual purpose 88mm flak cannon that can easily out range the tiny 37mm anti tank gun on the American tanks.
The Americans would learn that lesson soon enough.