The American M3 tank crew in Tunisia at the end of 1942. Photo: War History.

The first tank battle between the US and Germany in World War II


The American M3 tank first encountered a German Panzer in the battle of the Chouigui Pass in 1942 and was lucky to win by detecting the opponent’s weakness.

On November 26, 1942, an important encounter took place in the remote countryside in Tunisia when US troops first landed in North Africa to participate in the Mediterranean battlefield, while Nazi Germany also maneuvered. quality deal.

Germany’s strategy in Europe was mainly based on a formation of fast maneuverable tanks with strong firepower. In the empty desert terrain in North Africa, this approach worked, while the American soldiers had no experience in fighting German tanks. However, this changed during the battle at Tunisia’s Chouigui Pass.

The US M3 tank driver team in Tunisia at the end of 1942. Photo: War History.

Lieutenant Colonel John Waters then commanded a battalion of the US 1st Armored Division, but was assigned to the Blade Force, which was mainly British forces with British commanders. The battalion had three companies with about 60 M3 light tanks, supported by a platoon of three 75 mm howitzers and an 81 mm mortar platoon. They do not have infantry, mechanics, and anti-tank guns with them, so they are vulnerable.

Opposing Waters was a mixed force consisting of German and Italian reconnaissance units arranged along the route to Chouigui Pass to locate the Allies. An Italian anti-tank unit was also entrenched with German paratroopers on a farm along the route.

The German line-up consisted of mainly Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks, designed in the late 1930s to play a pivotal role in the German armored force. Panzer III tanks were armed with a 50 mm gun, while the Panzer IV had a more powerful 75 mm anti-tank gun.

The Axis Powers organized two close defense positions on the Tunisian coast, around the ports of Brizerte and Tunis. Control of the hills along the route to these towns gave them full control over the area. The Allies need to capture the hills and the pass between them if they want to deflect the opponent.

Blade Force was tasked with fighting the Axis faction near the center line, with two attacks in the south direction towards Medjez el Bab. Meanwhile, the third cape is responsible for controlling one of the routes between Tunis and Bizerte. This is the path that runs through Chouigui Pass.

The US battalion led by Waters was in the third bow. They were tasked with crossing the pass and spying on the forward area, including the bridges over the Medjerda River.

The operation over Chouigui Pass was initially successful. The Americans wiped out the weaker Axis units, circling around the heavily defended ranch before taking over the hills. They split up into scout spies around the Medjerda River and captured a bridge.

After reaching the top of a hill, the US tank force under the command of Major Rudolph Barlow discovered an unexpected target, which is a German airport with planes taking off without being strictly protected. .

They immediately attacked, destroyed guards, destroyed aircraft and structures at the airport. A total of 20 German Bf-109s were burned on the ground.

Both sides retreated after the battle. German soldiers were frightened because false reports of Allied tanks appeared near Tunis, while Waters wanted to ensure the safety of his troops. General Nehring of Germany was severely criticized by his superiors. Field Marshal Kesselring assumed that the Allies would advance cautiously and Nehring should not have retreated.

Panzer IV tanks were destroyed in Tunisia in 1943. Photo: US Army.

Panzer IV tanks were destroyed in Tunisia in 1943. Photo: US Army.

On November 26, 1942, the Americans under Waters’s command returned to Chouigui Pass at the same time General Nehring deployed a reconnaissance force drawn from the 190th Panzer tank battalion, consisting of three Panzer III vehicles and six Panzer IV vehicles. .

The first American force that the Germans saw was Company A under the command of Major Carl Siglin. German tanks immediately attacked without knowing that Company B under Colonel Bill Tuck was hiding behind a high hill.

Company B’s M3 tanks then opened fire. The 37 mm cannon on American tanks was not as destructive as German tanks, but they were in a position that was more advantageous than their opponents and had some luck.

One of the first shots hit a Panzer under the crawler gear. This position was only covered with thin armor, making the bullet easy to penetrate and flare the German tank on fire.

The shot helped the Americans understand that their artillery was not strong but was capable of firing accurately within a range of 2.5 km and the discovery was common to the company. By concentrating their firepower in the area near the front of the German tank, they could hit that weak spot. As a result, German tanks were shot on fire.

The Germans withdrew after destroying 6 US light tanks and losing 7 Panzer. This was not a clear victory for the Americans because the two sides’ losses were quite similar. Major Carl Siglin was killed in the fighting, but the Americans survived the first engagement with a tough rival, German tanks.

Duy Son (Follow War History)

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