Heinz Bär, the Kommandeur of I./JG 77.
zed troops, vehicles and guns fell back through
Sidi Bou Zid and streamed to the west, south-west and north-west. The German Stukas
and fighter-bombers took full advantage of the
opportunity, flying multiple missions during the
late-morning and afternoon to stoke the chaos.
These were the kinds of operations the Luftwaffe was designed to perform, so it is unsurprising that it was so effective on the opening day
of the battle. Unlike the Luftwaffe, the USAAF
in North-West Africa was not focused on direct
army support, with strategic bombing a real
priority, and it would take several days before
they reorientated all their efforts to the battle
By day’s end, Sidi Bou Zid had been taken by
the Germans, thanks in part to the efforts of the
Luftwaffe. XII ASC flew 228 sorties over central
Tunisia, reporting four aircraft lost and seven
damaged. From its 289 sorties, Fliegerkorps
Tunis had three aircraft lost and one damaged,
and its daily report spoke of the “most effective
air support” it provided at Sidi Bou Zid.
More Axis Success at Sidi Bou Zid, 15
Overnight, the Allies took stock of the situation, and decided to attempt another armoured
counterattack at Sidi Bou Zid on 15 February
1943. However, the Germans knew what was
coming, and prepared accordingly.
In the air, there was a daring early morning strike by 23 Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 77 against the main XII ASC airfield at Thelepte, during
which Hauptmann Heinz Bär claimed two aerial
victories. A member of Bär’s unit, I./JG 77, wrote
in his diary: “We make our approach out of the
sun. As we roar over the runway, Spitfires are
sighted, but we get back safe and sound.” The
strafing raid was a complete surprise, damaging six Spitfires and two A-20s, while setting
an A-20 on fire and wounding a pilot sitting at
readiness in his Spitfire. One participant from
8./JG 77 was shot down and captured, and
a P-39 pilot who intercepted the raid later wrote: “When you look back on it that was a very
bold and daring raid by the Germans, sending
so few aircraft against an airfield complex with
six or seven enemy fighter squadrons …”
Once the German raid was over, XII ASC operations got going, and unlike the previous day,
there was a real focus on the Sidi Bou Zid area,
to support the counterattack that began soon
after midday. The Luftwaffe had held back its
Stukas until this moment, and a total of seventeen St.G. 3 aircraft were sent out at 13:00 and
15:00, playing a vital role in disrupting the U.S.
Army counterattack, which had been soundly
defeated by dusk. XII ASC did what it could to
help, but it was to no avail.
Meanwhile, in response to the worsening situation, the Americans sent medium bombers of
XII Bomber Command to raid the key German
air base at Kairouan in the afternoon. B-26s
and B-25s of the 17th and 12th BGs, escorted by
P-38s, caused considerable damage. They
badly damaged or destroyed four FW 190s, moderately damaged two, and damaged another
eight aircraft, also destroying the fighter control
installation at the airfield and gutting the Ger-
Charles F. ‘Chuck’ Hoover, leader of the 346th
FS/350th FG in February 1943.
Pilots of No. 243 Squadron at Souk el Khemis. The unit flew over the Kasserine battlefield in February 1943.
Photo: IWM via Wikimedia Commons
An FW 190 of III./SKG 10 in Tunisia. The Gruppe played an important role on 14 February 1943.
INFO Eduard - October 2021