The Kasserine Air War

Photo: O'Boyle


XII ASC aircraft at Youks-les-Bains. It was a vital airfield during the Battle of Kasserine

Pass, serving as a base for American Spitfires, Bostons, P-38s, and P-39s.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Kasserine Pass in mid-February 1943 is one

of the most famous of the Second World War, renowned as

Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s last victory in North

Africa. Despite bad weather throughout the battle, it was also

witness to some ferocious but sporadic air fighting over the

mountains and plains of central Tunisia. The initial results

of the fighting went very much in favour of the Germans and

Italians, as the inexperienced Americans were taught some

harsh lessons in the heat of combat, but overwhelming Anglo-American numerical superiority on land and in the air

eventually turned the battle in favour of the Allies. In the

eleven days between 14 and 24 February 1943, Spitfires,

FW 190s, Stukas, Bf 109s, Airacobras, Bostons, P-38s and

a variety of other aircraft engaged in a deadly duel, with more

than 60 aircraft of all nationalities destroyed, as Allied and

Axis tanks and troops slugged it out on the ground below.

A Grant tank from the 1st Armored Division advancing during the Battle of Kasserine Pass.



Land War Situation

Since Generalfeldmarschall Rommel’s defeat

at El Alamein in Egypt and the Anglo-American

invasion of Morocco and Algeria in November

1942, the Axis troops in North Africa had very

much been on the defensive. By early February 1943, they had been expelled from Libya,

leaving eastern Tunisia as their only foothold

in North Africa. Desperate to stave off a looming defeat, the German commanders planned

a strong counteroffensive in central Tunisia.

There was to be an initial attack on the American-held village of Sidi Bou Zid, aimed at destroying Allied forces in the area, followed in

subsequent days by a detachment of Rommel’s

Deutsch-Italienische Panzerarmee moving

against other American troops at Gafsa. There

were some vague ideas of a subsequent drive

towards Tebessa and then all the way to the Algerian coast to cut off the Allied army in Tunisia,

but it depended on how the situation developed.

Opposing the Axis army in central Tunisia was

the U.S. Army’s II Corps, but its line was not

strongly held, and the troops were very green,

so it was an obvious target for Rommel’s attack.

By the evening of 13 February, the Americans

at Sidi Bou Zid were aware of the imminent

Axis offensive, and prepared themselves as

best they could for the coming onslaught. The

U.S. Army had reserves in the region, but the

German and Italian army was undoubtedly the

stronger in central Tunisia when it began its


The Air Forces

In terms of air forces, the Allies would initially rely entirely on the inexperienced airmen

of the American XII Air Support Command (XII

ASC) for operations over the Kasserine region. As the name suggested, XII ASC was an

army support formation, based at Thelepte

and Youks-les-Bains and consisting of Spitfire

fighters, reconnaissance and ground-attack

INFO Eduard - October 2021