443rd AAA Bn in World War II

TUNISIAN CAMPAIGN

STATION DE SENED/MAKNASSEY OPERATION

El Guettar and Station De Sened were not permanently garrisoned by the enemy but were bases from which small patrols operated. Station De Sened was manned mostly by Italian troops with several armored cars, a battery of field artillery and some tank destroyer guns. On 23 January 1st Armored Division’s CCC under General Stack, in a two day raid from Gafsa toward Sened, made enemy contact and captured several trucks and 150 prisoners. Hardly had it returned from the raid when CCC was ordered to leave from Gafsa and attack Maknassey by way of Sidi Bou Sid. On 31 January CCC was moving northeast on the Sidi Bou Sid road with orders to hit the flank of enemy forces moving from Maknassey toward Sidi Bou Sid when orders came from the 1st British Army to attack and seize Maknassey to the southeast. CCC then changed its direction of attack and had seized the north end of Maissila Pass, on the way to Maknassey, when new orders came for it to move north through Sidi Bou Sid to Sbeitla. While still enroute to Sbeitla, CCC was diverted to Hadjeb El Aioun, arriving there on 2 February to act as Division Reserve.

These examples of the frequent redisposition of Allied forces and the long, arduous and dangerous marches caused thereby suggest that such tactical activity disrupted coordination and communication and had a great deal of influence on the final outcome of operations in the area.

Drive On Sened With Combat Command DThese kinds of tactical operations and movements made 443rd Provisional Commander Larson acutely aware that his total of two batteries, with eight antiaircraft platoons of four gun-tracks each (when none were disabled) was insufficient to protect the 1st Armored Division’s units against increasingly heavy German air attacks. On 31 January Major Larson advised General Ward, Commander of the 1st Armored Division, of the situation and pointed out that over half of the Battalion was still in French Morocco and Algeria doing nothing but static air defense. General Ward took immediate action and within a week the remainder of the 443rd was enroute to the Tunisian front.

About the same time the 1st Armored Division’s Combat Command D (CCD), under Colonel Maraist, Commander of the 1st Armored Division Artillery, moved the night of 30/31 January on the Gafsa-Maknassey road with a mission of aggressive action to seize a ridge three miles east of Station De Sened, bypassing the town with its main force. CCD was then to attack Maknassey in coordination with CCC, coming from the northwest. However, CCC, when on the approaches to Maknassey, had been rerouted north to Hadjeb El Aioun. In the meantime, eighteen truckloads of enemy infantry had arrived to reinforce Sened positions. In spite of lack of expected support from CCC, Colonel Maraist’s CCD pushed on into Station De Sened. In late afternoon, as the fighting raged, a German in an American uniform came in a jeep, from behind the American lines, shouting, "It is an order — pull back! The Germans are putting on a big offensive"! The road to the rear was soon boiling with vehicles retreating westward in the gathering dusk. But Colonel Maraist, seeing his troops falling back, seized a machine gun and ordered his units to return to the attack or he would start shooting! His action saved the day and American troops were soon again engaging the enemy. Against heavy resistance from the German and Italian defenders, CCD finally secured Station De Sened after first capturing it then losing it, and then pushed eastward nearly six miles. At that point, CCD was ordered to return to Bou Chebka and then to Sbeitla, where it was dissolved on Corps order.

Just prior to the above operations, the 1st Armored Division’s Combat Command A, under General McQuillan, moved the night of 25/26 January from Sbeitla to Sidi Bou Sid just southwest of Faid and Faid Pass. The narrow Faid Pass led between Djebel Si Kralif and Djebel Bou Dzey. The Germans had attacked and captured the Pass, village and surrounding hills from the French. On 31 January CCA launched a counterattack toward Faid. It was unsuccessful due to the strong, camouflaged and well-entrenched enemy positions. It failed to relieve the encircled French at Faid Pass. Long range, accurate artillery fire was intense. Without reserves or reinforcements, CCA was forced to withdraw into defensive positions based upon two, key terrain features — Djebel Lessouda northwest of Faid and Djebel Ksaira south of the pass. General Ward (1st Armored) on 11 February was assigned responsibility for the Faid defense but had only CCA at his disposal. And CCA’s disposition was specifically designated by II Corps — an arrangement that created serious potential for delay and restraining effect upon General Ward’s freedom of command in dealing with developments.

During these Combat Command operations, the 1st British Army on the north Allied flank and the French XIX Corps in the center, had operational control of 1st Armored Division units except CCA. American forces were on the south or desert flank of Allied lines. 443rd units moved constantly with the Combat Commands and forward command posts, to provide air and ground protection, and were heavily engaged. For example:

  • On 1 February Platoon B-1(with CCD) shot down seven seven Stukas.

Rates of fire were so intense that their machine guns warped and 37 mm guns jammed, putting three of four gun-tracks out of action. Whereupon Platoon D-4 was relieved from the 1st Armored Division’s Command Post and it replaced Platoon B-1.

  • On 2 February, Platoon D-2 (with the 168th Infantry Regiment of CCD) destroyed five Stukas and a Messerschmitt.
  • On 27 January, Platoon B-3 (with CCA) shot down one of two Stukas bombing the Command Post.

Throughout the desert campaigns 443rd men endured many evening sandstorms when the fine sand and grit sifted into eyes, nose, food and clothing, and sand clouds were churned up during all vehicle movements. Gun crews had to constantly clean and grease the 37 mm guns, the .50 cal. machine guns and small arms. Parachute silk was cut and used as neck scarves to try to keep the sand out of clothing. Water was at a premium and baths were a forgotten luxury except for those rare occasions when old Roman baths were discovered, such as those at Constantine and Gafsa. Otherwise, the Corps of Engineers’ water points strove valiantly to provide units with modest amounts of chlorinated water. Roman ruins usually had traces of old aquaducts which centuries earlier had carried water but which were no longer functioning. And even in the desert, the rocks, hills and mountains carried their own hazards. A number of accidents occurred during the night moves in blackout along roads with precipitous cliffs and hair-pin turns — such as the Platoon B-l gun-track that overturned in the mountains south of Maktar, killing two crew members.

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