man fuel depot. The raid had a serious impact
on Luftwaffe operations.
In the opening two days of the battle, the relatively small number of Luftwaffe aircraft committed created an indelible impression on U.S.
Army troops, and reports of 14 and 15 February
featured phrases such as: “Enemy aviation had
been apparently unopposed”, “Enemy planes
overhead continuously” and “The Stukas seemed to be shuttling their loads from very close
airfields.” However, the devastating American
raid on Kairouan was a warning shot to the
Germans that despite the successes of their
tactical air force, their opponent had a very capable air force of his own.
INFO Eduard - October 2021
Thelepte Evacuated, 16-17 February
The Axis army spent 16 February 1943 consolidating and planning, while II Corps began
a gradual withdrawal to the west. This withdrawal meant that the American forward airfield of
Thelepte would soon be threatened by advancing Axis troops, so during the day, the first
moves were made to evacuate XII ASC units
and personnel based there to safer airfields in
The weather was reasonable on the sixteenth,
with occasional showers, but both sides were
much quieter in the air, with XII ASC conducting
134 sorties, and Fliegerkorps Tunis around 60.
P-39s reconnoitred the battle area, as did reconnaissance Bf 109s of 2.(H)/Aufklärungsgruppe 14, but with no major land battles occurring, the Stukas were given a day off, while the
FW 190 fighter-bombers had left Kairouan due
to the bomb damage resulting from the previous day’s XII Bomber Command raid.
For the Allied air force, the major event on 17
February 1943 was the full evacuation of Thelepte airfield, an event that lived long in the
memory of those men who experienced it. The
evacuation was relatively well-organized, and
there were few signs of panic amongst those
involved. Still, it was a melancholy situation for
the Americans, as one pilot later wrote: “Everyone hated to have to retreat.” 34 unserviceable XII ASC aircraft had to be destroyed upon
Meanwhile, to the north of Thelepte, the Germans resumed the offensive on 17 February
and captured the town of Sbeitla. American
air efforts were disrupted by the Thelepte evacuation and terrible weather, including snow,
but XII ASC still managed to put up 166 sorties.
To support their offensive, the Germans used
only fighters and the Bf 109 fighter-bombers
of I./Sch.G. 2, who operated successfully against vehicles near Sbeitla. A member of a U.S.
Army tank destroyer unit recalled that the
Bf 109 Jabos “… were bombing and strafing the
vehicles in Sbeitla. About ten or twelve vehicles
were temporarily blocking the road, and the
men were running for cover in the ruins of buildings.”