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21. Panzerdivision in Tunisia
Sidi Bou Zid
Following the American Torch landings in November, 1942,and a failed drive toward Tunis, the Allied forces and German Afrikakorps engaged in a tough campaign in mountainous terrian of central Tunisia.
On arrival in Tunisia the 21.Panzerdivision was put under the control of 5.Panzerarmee, and then used in a number of Kampfgruppen in a series of engagements against the Allies.
On Sunday, 14 February, Combat Command A (CCA) of the US 1st Armored Division (Old Ironsides) were entrenched between the two key terrain features, Djebel Lessouda and Djebel Ksaira. News soon came over the radio that the Germans (10. Panzerdivision) had broken out of Faid Pass and that the Combat Command’s command post at Sbeitla was surrounded.
At 6:30 hours the Germans had begun shelling the Djebel Lessouda positions and had followed up with a tank attack. Within two hours about 40 Panzer III and IV tanks along with towed PaK40 7.5cm anti-tank guns, supported by artillery and infantry, were by-passing Djebel Lessouda on the north. Half of this force proceeded toward Sbeitla. The remainder, joined by 20 other tanks, including some Tiger I E heavy tanks coming through Faid Pass, engaged CCA forces that were counterattacking the advance near Lessouda Oasis.
The CCA armour was outnumbered two to one by mostly heavier tanks. Waves of German bombers began attacking Sidi Bou Zid and Djebel Ksaira. The guns of CCA began smoking the area to provide some concealment to its outnumbered forces. Air attacks continued across the front all day and the Luftwaffe dominated the skies.
By mid-morning Germand Panzers and infantry began moving on Sidi Bou Zid from north of Djebel Ksaira, and a large number of Panzers (21. Panzerdivision) emerged from Maizilla Pass, south of Djebel Ksaira.
The 21st Panzer moved from Maizila Pass in the south, splitting into two spearheads, one in a flanking movement toward Bir El Hafey and the other north to Djebel Ksaira.
The unopposed left-hook to Bir El Hafey then turned northeast toward Sidi Bou Zid. The north spearhead cut off the forces on Djebel Ksaira and turned west to Sidi Bou Zid. It became apparent to the American troops at Sidi Bou Zid they would have to be pulled back. The remnants of the CCA armour fought a rear-guard action to cover the withdrawal.
But US reinforcements were on their way. A force of M3 Stuarts and infantry under Colonel Kern was coming fast from Sbeitla to the northwest. This force set up a protective line at a crossroads northwest of Sidi Bou Zid, which after the days battle would be known as "Kern’s Crossroads" among the Allied troops. CCA rallied and held the crossroads.
The few remaining tanks foiled the German attempts to disrupt the retreat, and the Germans settled for capturing Sidi Bou Zid and turning to reduce the remaining garrisons of the two surrounded Djebels. The remnants of the two US Rifle battalions held out a couple more days.
Heavy casualties were being sustained in both men and equipment by the US forces. (By 1 pm the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Armored Regiment had suffered casualties of almost 50%).
Five days later, Rommel’s offensive at Kasserine Pass was launched. This attack resulted in one of his most famous desert victories. The victory however failed to gain any lasting benefit against the ever building Allied forces Tunisia. It was to be the last major Axis offensive in North Africa.
The 21. and 10. Panzerdivisions were divided into Kampfgruppen based on Panzer Abteilungs (Battalions or Detachments) with supporting Panzergrenadiers, anti-tank guns etc. The 21. Panzerdivision was divided into Kampfgruppen Schutte and Stenkhoff for the Sidi Bou Zid battle.
Gruppe Stenkhoff ~ Oberstleutnant Stenkhoff
Stab/Panzer-Regiment 05 (Staff Platoon)
I Abteilung/Panzerregiment 5
Panzergrenadierregiment 104 (1 Battalion)
Stab III./Artillerie-Regiment 155 (lei. Feldhaubitzen-Batterie; 7. Batterie; 8. Batterie)
two Flakkampftrupps (2cm and 8.8cm)