An Army at Dawn:
Scenario Preview, Part Four
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
An Army at Dawn brings the Fourth Edition of Panzer Grenadier to the North African theater, with forty scenarios set in the Tunisian campaign. Here’s a look at the fourth and final segment of 10 scenarios from designer Mike Perryman; you can read about the others here, here and here.
Kasserine Pass: Like a Stone Wall
19 February 1943
Seeing the Allied position in disarray, the Axis command decided to take advantage with a counter-offensive to drive their enemies back into Algeria. Unfortunately for the Axis cause, at least four different commands had their own concept for the attack and issued orders accordingly. On the Allied side, II Corps commander Lloyd Fredendall seemed determined to match their confusion single-handedly. He phoned Col. Alexander Stark and told him to drive immediately to Kasserine Pass and take command of the assorted troops there. “I want you to go to Kasserine right away,” Fredendall told the astonished colonel, “and pull a Stonewall Jackson.”
The Americans held the pass despite their poor organization and cohesion. After nightfall the commander of the British 26th Armored Brigade, Brigadier General Charles Dunphie visited the pass to see how to best employ his unit if needed. Colonel Stark assured him that everything “was well in hand.” Unfortunately, the colonel only had a vague idea where his units were deployed, and the brigadier encountered a fair number of German troops less than 400 yards from the command post. Fredendall refused Dunphie’s request to move his brigade forward and clear up the situation, despite Stark’s strong support for the British general’s idea.
The Germans begin their attack with an infantry-heavy force, trying to force a breach in American defenses that are strong in infantry, heavy weapons and artillery, but weak in morale and leadership. Then things get really tough for the Americans, when a strong panzer force arrives to exploit the breakthrough (whether the breakthrough’s been made or not).
Kasserine Pass: Gore Force
20 February 1943
According to the U.S. Army’s official history of the campaign, “what happened during the night of 19-20 February cannot be clearly reconstructed from the records.” While not being able to piece together the sequence of events, they knew situation on Djebel Semmama took a definite turn for the worst. German infantry infiltrated in such numbers down the Thala road behind the hill that British First Army headquarters ordered Lt. Col. A.C. Gore to take a small force from 26 Armoured Brigade and clean them out first thing in the morning.
Gore had too few troops to clear up the infiltrators, and the Germans methodically worked their way forward all morning. Rommel berated Col. Otto Menton of the Panzer Grenadier Regiment Afrika – a close personal friend and comrade from the First World War - for the slow progress, then sent in additional panzers and infantry. The forward Allied defenses quickly fell apart, trapping a Combat Command B Armored Infantry Battalion attached to Gore Force on Djebel Semmama. The Germans quickly appropriated the halftracks the Americans left behind in the pass. Gore Force lost all their tanks while slowly being forced back but maintained discipline and hampered all German efforts to get around them.
A tiny American force is holding the objective, but the cavalry coming to save them isn’t exactly overwhelming. The Germans can probably overrun the hilltop, but whether they can in turn hold out against the American reinforcements is unclear. That makes for a see-saw engagement and a very fun scenario.
Kasserine Pass: Egged On
20 February 1943
Rommel’s original plan had called for his troops to simply seal off the Kasserine Pass and make their breakthrough elsewhere; after the fighting on the 19th he decided prospects were actually better at Kasserine and shifted his point of attack accordingly. The pass would be opened by the Battle Group DAK, a division-sized collection of German Army, German Air Force and Italian Army troops with even a handful of German-officered Tunisian “volunteers.” Eager to push forward, Rommel visited group headquarters to egg the troops on.
The American engineers did what they could but did not possess infantry training, and so allowed the Italian tanks to work between their positions. Once this happened they could offer no effective defense and abandoned their positions in an uncoordinated withdrawal. The rest of Task Force Stark held on until 1700 hours when the Germans overran Colonel Stark’s headquarters. The colonel and his staff barely escaped, along with two army cameramen who wanted to get some action shots and received more than they bargained for. Stark’s counterpart, Colonel Bonfatti, ran out of luck and died leading his Bersaglieri to victory. The tanks from 131st Armored Division Centauro advanced five more miles without encountering any organized resistance before night forced them to laager.
German and Italian forces are trying to overrun an American position. The Americans have artillery and some tank support and some very strong geography on their side, but their morale’s just not a match for the Axis veterans. It’s a big scenario with a lot of tanks involved. This is a good thing.
Kasserine Pass: Duel at Dawn
21 February 1943
The Italian advance overran a huge number of American artillery pieces and supply vehicles, and finally came to a halt sometime before dawn – they appear to have been slowed overnight by the sheer quantity of weapons, vehicles and supplies found intact and abandoned along the American retreat route. Just before dawn they encountered an American rearguard thrown out by 1st Armored Division’s Combat Command B.
Lloyd Fredendall, commander of the American II Corps, made a bad situation worse by suddenly placing all troops defending Kasserine pass under British Brigadier Charles Dunphie, then on the north sideof Kasserine Pass with his 26 Armoured Brigade, but not sending Dunphie any additional communications equipment or personnel. That left Col. Paul M. Robinett and his Combat Command B adrift on the south side of the pass. Without orders or direction, the American rear guard offered brief resistance and then fell back to join the rest of Robinett’s troops.
The Italians are on the march, and a small American force can’t hope to stop them, they can only hope to delay them. With no Shermans on the board, the Italian tanks can fight something closer to their weight class, the M3 Stuart light tank.
Kasserine Pass: The Reports Were Wrong
21 February 1943
Misled by the disorderly American retreat, the German 33rd Reconnaissance Battalion reported shortly before noon that no substantial American forces occupied the area east of Djebel Hamra. Sensing opportunity, Rommel ordered his troops forward into the gap. Without waiting for Luftwaffe confirmation the panzers hurried forward to cover the eight miles to Djebel Hamra before the situation changed.
The reports concerning an absence of American forces were wrong. A well-trained, well-concealed American force waited for them, covered by a large number of artillery pieces. When German panzers skillfully attempted to lure the emplaced American tanks into range of their famed 88’s the American wisely didn’t take the bait. By 1800 the Germans had absorbed enough punishment and called off the attack still four miles short of Djebel el Hamra.
It’s a pretty straightforward scenario: separate German and Italian forces enter the map and try to fight their way past an American defensive line. American morale has improved, and they do have some strong support weapons at their command.
Kasserine Pass: A Terrible Price
22 February 1943
During the night Battle Group DAK swung to the south in order to hit the Americans in the rear. Unfortunately for them Panzer Grenadier Regiment Afrika became disoriented in the dark and found themselves seven miles south of Djebel Hamra at dawn. Instead of striking the main American positions, the grenadiers routed the Americans on Hill 812 and captured a large number of artillery pieces and vehicles. This left them in a very exposed position, so the Germans threw the rest of the force at Djebel Hamra to distract the Americans.
Karl Bülowius, commander of Panzer Army Afrika’s engineers, had temporarily taken command and ordered Battle Group DAK’s Italian contingent to attack because, he said, their morale was close to breaking. Just how a futile attack would improve their morale, he did not say, and the Italians suffered enormous casualties from well-directed American artillery fire. The attack distracted the American attention from the grenadiers on Hill 812 before they broke off at noon.
The Italians must attack a strong American position, but hopefully they have better direction than that provided their historical counterparts by the engineer-general. Their German tank support is strong, morale is good and artillery nearly matches that of the Americans. This is going to be a closer-fought battle than the actual event.
Kasserine Pass: Denouement
22 February 1943
While Battle Group DAK conducted its futile attacks on Combat Command B, Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen of the American 1st Infantry Division had tried all through the morning to organize a counter-attack. Finally in the mid-afternoon he reached Col. Paul Robinett of the armored force and the Big Red One readied itself to attack Hill 812. Battle Group DAK had gained almost a full day to prepare itself.
Communications difficulties and the diversionary attack on Djebel Hamra held up the effort to rid Hill 812 of the grenadiers until 1600. Unlike earlier American attacks that lacked professionalism, this attack went in well planned and executed. Additional infantry and the tanks of Company G, 13th Armor Regiment from Combat Command B joined the attack. Perhaps more importantly the 1st Division’s Chief Artillery Officer really knew his craft, despite being known as Mr. Chips. II Corps allotted copious amounts of ammunition to the battle, and when the smoke cleared, all of the captured equipment and Hill 812 were back in American hands.
A swarming infantry fight on just one mapboard, with plenty of troops on both sides. The Americans have numbers on their side and a massive edge in artillery, plus an airplane.
23 March 1943
The Americans occupied Sened Station and advanced beyond Maknassy in conjunction with the British 8th Army’s operations around Mareth. This placed the Italian 1st Army in an untenable position. As the Americans pushed further eastward against the 131st Armored Division Centauro the Germans slowly gathered a force to repel them. The Germans moved forward well before dawn on the 23rd.
The Germans stormed onto Hill 336, causing heavy Americans casualties in bitter fighting that became hand-to-hand at many points. But a minefield stretching from the southeast corner of Hill 336 across the road to the Keddab wadi slowed the Germans enough to allow two battalions of American tank destroyers to engage them. Used as intended, the tank destroyers performed admirably, claiming 30 panzers. The minefield claimed eight more, breaking the attack’s momentum. The Germans tried another unsuccessful attack later in the afternoon before calling it a day.
We jump ahead a month in time for a big fight between two combined-arms forces, with the Germans having an edge in armor and morale as they try to force their way over and through a strong American force without much armor but plenty of heavy weapons.
23 March 1943
The Americans had now taken the offensive, with German and Italian forces making determined counterattacks. The 1st Infantry Division’s 18th Infantry Regiment forced their way eastward along the Gabes-El Guettar road. They spent the previous afternoon attempting to take Djebel Berda northeast of Hill 772. Dawn found them attempting to do the same before 10th Panzer Division broke into their rear areas and unhinged the Allied position.
The day ended with the forces about where they started after inconclusive fighting by both sides. Terry de la Mesa Allen, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, believed his men could take the hill but would need substantial reinforcements, at least another regiment of infantry plus tank and artillery assets. Unwilling to commit such forces to the attack on Djebel Berda, even had they been available, II Corps eventually ordered Allen to abandon the attempt.
An infantry fight on one board, with the Americans having an edge in numbers and artillery but no tanks. Since the Italians have a mobile 90mm anti-tank gun any American armor would just become scrap anyway. They also have a goodly amount of heavy weapon support. This is going to be a hard-fought scenario.
Task Force Benson
31 March 1943
Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army turned the German flank at the Mareth Line, forcing a significant retreat. The Americans received orders to become more aggressive to keep the pressure on both German flanks. This played right into the hands of II Corps’ new commander, General George Patton. He quickly became disenchanted with the 1st Armored Division’s commander, Orlando Ward, over Ward’s aversion to leading his division from the front. Colonel Clarence C. Benson, more of a fighter, soon received the nod from Patton to take over the task force designated to spearhead the breakout.
The new commander delayed the attack until late afternoon to coordinate the various supporting arms. Colonel Benson showed the aggression that Patton had hoped to see, when he pushed the tankers through the gaps in the minefields despite the infantry being unable to follow. The infantry held their ground until relieved the following afternoon. The attack destroyed four dual-purpose 88mm guns as well as a number of antitank guns and six panzers.
We finish up by finally getting Patton into the game, at least an action inspired by Patton even though he wasn’t present himself. The Americans have a big edge in numbers and especially armor, but they also have tough victory conditions and the Germans have an 88mm gun.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.