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How Gen. Eisenhower Spun a Humiliating WWII Defeat into Winning Military Strategy

January 23, 2019 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

After his first battle in North Africa exposed U.S. weaknesses, Eisenhower regrouped to lead major military victories.

As the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the European theater, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower is remembered as one of the most masterful military figures in history, the man behind the bold and superbly-executed Normandy invasion in June 1944 that led to Nazi Germany’s defeat less than a year later.

But before Eisenhower’s great military successes, there was a great failure. When he first faced the Germans in Tunisia in February 1943, his forces took a brutal beating in the battle of the Kasserine Pass. The battle is regarded by some as the most humiliating U.S. combat setback in World War II, with American forces suffering more than 6,000 casualties.

The loss was so devastating that British allies began to question Americans’ ability to fight. But after figuring out what had gone wrong, Eisenhower made sweeping corrections. He reorganized his forces to work together in a more cohesive fashion, shook up his intelligence operation and brought in the brash, aggressive Gen. George S. Patton to shape up the U.S. Army’s ground combat force in Tunisia.

Just as important, Eisenhower didn’t lose faith in his men. Instead, he was able to see what they did right in the battle, and to build upon those strengths.

“The U.S. Army, the entire Allied force, was restructured from top to bottom after Kasserine,” Robert Citino, the Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, explains. “If Eisenhower wasn’t ready for Kasserine, he also showed that he knew how to jump start things.”

Rommel’s German Troops Launch Counterattack

As the National World War II Museum’s website details, in November 1942 Eisenhower led the American and British forces in Operation Torch, an invasion of Axis-held North Africa. The Allied forces moved eastward, with the British forces under Gen. Bernard Montgomery taking Tripoli in late January. Then the Allies crossed the Atlas mountains, with a plan to head toward the Mediterranean and split the German forces to the north and south.

German military commander Erwin Rommel discussing plans with General Nehring in Tunisia in December 1942.

In response, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel used two of his tank divisions to push back the Allied line. Then, he saw an opportunity. He decided to launch a direct counterattack against the Allies through the …read more


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