US M3 Stuart North Africa 1942

Officially M3 Light Tank was a WWII US tank that was supplied to Russia, Britain and other Commonwealth armies under lend-lease prior to the US entry into the war.    The US combat debut of the M3 Stuart tank in the ETO was during the Allies Invasion of North Africa where it engaged the Vichy French, Italians, Luftwaffe, and the vastly superior German panzers while under British command.

 

 

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Specifications:
Crew: 4 (Commander, gunner, driver, assistant driver)
Main Armament: 37mm Gun M6 with M44 mount (147 rounds)
Secondary Armament:
3 × .30 Caliber (7.62 mm) Browning M1919A4 MGs (6,750 rounds)
Engine: air-cooled radial, gasoline-fueled, 7-cylinder Continental W-670
Armor: 38mm upper front hull, 44mm lower front hull, 51mm gun mantlet
38mm turret sides, 25mm hull sides and rear.
Weight: 33,500 lbs (15.20 metric tons)
Fuel capacity: 89 US gallons (340 liters; 74 imperial gallons)
Range: 100 miles (160 km)
Maximum speed: 36 mph (58 km/h) on road

 

 

From the British experience in the North African desert, the Stuart’s limited range was a severe problem where units often outpaced their supplies and were stranded when they ran out of fuel. The M3A1 was equipped with two cylindrical-shaped external fuel tanks each carrying 27 Gallons (102 liters) of fuel which doubled the Stuart’s range. When empty or before entering combat, the crew could jettison the external tanks from inside the tank.

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US 1st Armored Division

 

 
1st Armored Regiment:

  • 1st Battalion (M3 Stuart light tanks)
  • 2nd Battalion (M3 Lee Medium tanks)
  • 3rd Battalion (M3 Lee Medium tanks)

 

13th Armored Regiment:

  • 1st Battalion (M3 Stuart light tanks)
  • 2nd Battalion (M3 Lee Medium tanks)
  • 3rd Battalion (M3 Lee Medium tanks)

 

 

1942 structure of a US Light Tank Battalion

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Unit Markings

 
During WWII, there was little if any standardization of unit markings of the armored divisions in the US Army.    In certain divisions, there were general practices that were followed aside from the bumper codes.   The divisions developed their own and often unique set of unit markings.    The US 1st Armored Division used a triangle for the Regimental HQ and the slant position of bars indicated each of the battalions.    A circle positioned near the bar indicated the 1st Armored Regiment while the 13th Armored Regiment used a square.

 

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Company markings for the 1st and 13th Armored Regiment’s 1st Battalions

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Probable Turret Numbers:

HQ Platoon: Numbers 1, 2
1st Platoon: Numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
2nd Platoon: Numbers 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
3rd Platoon: Numbers 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

 

 
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The US 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment was commanded by a 35 year old Lieutenant Colonel John Knight Waters who was General George S. Patton’s son-in-law (married Patton’s daughter Beatrice in 1934).    The battalion’s heritage traces back to part of a regiment that was formed during the 1832 Black Hawk war where its soldiers were recruited mainly from the southern states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.    During the Black Hawk war, the US Army did not have any cavalry; only mounted soldiers that were part-time volunteers.    After the war, the US Congress created the Mounted Ranger Battalion which was expanded to the 1st Cavalry Regiment in 1833.

 

 

 


Operation Torch

 

 

 
Operation Torch was the Allied invasion of French North Africa.    The operation was a three-pronged attack on Casablanca, Oran and Algiers, then a rapid advance to Tunisia.    The 1st Battalion of the 1st Armored Regiment and the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 13th Armored Regiment of Combat Command B (CCB) were assigned to land at Oran in Algeria and D-Day was set for 8 November 1942.    The weather was a concern because Tunisia receives 16 inches of rain yearly and it falls exclusively between November and March.   Heavy rain would hinder vehicle and troop movements and grounded or prevented air support.

 

 

M3A1 Stuarts loaded in a landing craft are preparing for the invasion.

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On D-Day, CCB landed on two beaches west and east of the port of Oran.   CCB objectives were to swing wide of the infantry attack, block avenues of approach from the south, southwest and southeast, and assist the infantry in the capture of Oran by an attack on the city from the south.    The airfields at La Sénia and Tafaraoui which were used by the Armistice Air Force (French: Armée de l’Air de Vichy) had to be captured as soon as possible to prevent French aircraft from attacking the invasion fleet.

 

 
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CCB was divided into two separate armored Task Forces (TF).    TF Green landed on Beach X near Cap Figalo about 30 miles (48.28 km) west of the port of Oran.    TF Red landed on Beach Z near St. Leu about 28 miles (45 km) east of the port of Oran.    The Stuart tanks were unloaded by 0800 hours after the beach was secured by the US 1st Infantry Division “Big Red One”.    The M3 Lee medium tanks, being bulkier and heavier, had to be transported in the holds of transport ships.    They could not be unloaded until the Oran port was captured.    CCB HQ came ashore at 0930 hours and established its Command Post (CP) at St. Leu.

 

 

TF Red consisted of:

  • CCB HQ and HQ Company
  • 1st Bn, 1st Armored Regiment
  • 2nd Bn, 13th Armored Regiment
  • 2nd Bn, 6th Armored Infantry Regiment
  • Company B, 701st Tank Destroyer (TD) Bn

 

TF Green consisted of:

  • 13th Armored Regiment HQ and HQ Company
  • 1st Bn, 13th Armored Regiment
  • 1st Bn, 6th Armored Infantry Regiment
  • Company C, 701st Tank Destroyer Bn

 

 
701st Tank Destroyer Battalion:

 
Each company was organized along the standard lines of a US tank destroyer company in 1942.    They contained three platoons, each with two sections of two TDs each, for a total of four per platoon and 12 per company.    Two platoons were equipped with the M3 half-track Gun Motor Carriage (GMC) which mounted a 75 mm M1897A4 gun with a gun shield.    The 3rd platoon was equipped with the M6 37mm GMC, also known as M6 Fargo, based on the WC-55 (modified Dodge WC-52 light truck). The M6 GMC was intended only for training but the orders came too late for the units to replace them with the M3 GMC before the invasion.

 

 

 

The Assault Platoon attached to the Battalion’s HQ Company had three T30 M3 half track Howitzer Motor Carriages (HMC) mounting a short barreled 75mm (3.0 in) M1 Pack Howitzer.    This T30 named “Frances” had some engine problems on the landing beach.    Note the number 104 chalked on the hood (bonnet) and the faded number 104 on the hull side to the right of the star.

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Vichy French Airfields

 

 

 

At 0835 hours on November 8, the TF Red column left St. Leu and advanced to Tafaraoui about 25 miles (about 40 km) inland.    The attack on the airport was launched at about 1100 hours and by 1215 hours it had been captured with about 300 POWs taken.    French planes from La Senia bombed the field once during the afternoon but by 1630 hours, the field was repaired and Spitfires of the 308th and 309th Fighter Squadrons, US 31st Fighter Group from Gibraltar began to arrive.    The 309th shot down 3 French Dewoitine D.520 fighters that were strafing the airfield as the group was landing.    The US Spitfires also immediately provided air  support for the invasion forces.    Tafaraoui later became a major US 12th Air Force airbase.

 

 

 
A light tank company, probably company C, 1/1st Armored Regiment, preparing to move out.

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Film:   Censored Negative, North African Invasion, November 1942

 

Film:   1942 – Les Américains débarquent au Maroc (Muet)

 

 

 

This is my screen capture of M3 number 4 from the film.    Sources state that the stripes on the turret star indicated the platoon but this Stuart does not appear to agree with that assumption.     Since the company marking was applied only to the front and rear of the hull, the stripes on the star probably indicated the company, one stripe for A, two stripes for B and three for C.    Note the yellow “4” painted on the hull side.   The US flag was applied to all vehicles hoping that the French would not fire upon Americans. At that time, the US flag only had 48 stars instead of today’s 50 stars.

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The night of November 8-9 was uneventful for the US tankers.    The TF Green column maneuvered into position to attack La Senia airfield at dawn in a coordinated attack with the TF Red column.    The attack was launched at 0745 hours, and by 0840 hours the TF Green column had captured the airfield taking 160 POWS and some 3,00 gallons of gasoline.    The TF Red column had started its move to La Senia at 0750 hours but came under artillery fire from Valmy and the hills northwest of Tafaraoui.   At the same time, the Reconnaissance Company had reported a column of French tanks and artillery near St. Lucien moving north from Sidi bel Abbes (home of the Foreign Legion).    Since there was no reserve available, TF Red column was forced to abandon its attack on La Senia and move to protect Tafaraoui airfield from the threat from the south.    One light tank company and a platoon of infantry was sent to by-pass the opposition at Valmy and reinforce the TF Green column at La Senia while the rest of the TF Red engaged the French force advancing from the south.

 

According to US sources, 14 French tanks have been destroyed by a company of Stuart tanks and a platoon of M3 75mm half-track GMCs.    They reported the French tanks were obsolete Renault R35s.    Actually, they were French Renault D1 tanks of the 2nd RCA (Régiment de Chasseurs d’Afrique, Regiment of African Hunters).    The D1s had fought in the battle of France in 1940 and took heavy losses.   After the Armistice, the Germans allowed the Vichy French to send the surviving D1s to their colonies in North Africa.    This battle was uneven, since the US 75mm AT gun could knock out the French tanks at long ranges.    However, the Americans did lose one M3 75mm GMC and one M3A1 Stuart.    The French losses were 14 D1s, almost a whole company.   The French troops joined the Allies on November 10.    The remaining D1s were concentrated into the Brigade Légère Mécanique and fought against the Axis during the Battle of Kasserine Pass in 1943 where on one occasion, a D1 destroyed a Pz.Kpfw. IV (probably at close range).

 

 

Renault Char D1

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Specifications:
Production: 160 delivered between 1932 and 1935
Crew: 3 (commander/gunner, loader, driver)
Weight: 15.4 tons (14 tonnes)
Engine: 65 hp Renault 4 cylinder gasoline engine (Cassel)
Armour: 30mm max originally, 35mm max late production
Max Speed: 13 mph (20 kph)
Max Range: 60 miles (96 km)
Armament: 47mm (1.85 in) SA34 gun and two 7.5 mm (0.295 in) Reibel MG

 

 
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BLADE FORCE

 

 

 
The US M3 Lee medium tanks that landed in Oran could not fit through the narrow Tunisian railroad tunnels.    Due to a shortage of landing craft, they were forced to endure a long tedious road march from Tafaraoui, Algeria to Béja, Tunisia.    Waters’s 1st Armored Battalion was rushed to the Tunisian front line by rail and became part of Blade Force, a provisional British/American brigade size armored force of the British 1st Army under the command of General Sir Kenneth Arthur Noel Anderson. Anderson wanted to make a fast advance into Tunisia and to capture the key ports of Bizerte and Tunis before the Axis are able to send reinforcements to Tunisia.

 

 
Blade Force commanded by British Colonel Richard Hull consisted of:

  • 1st Bn./1st Armored Regt. (54 M3 Stuarts)
  • British 17/21st Lancers, 26th Armoured Brigade, 6th Armoured Division (about 64 Valentine tanks)
  • Elements of the 1st Derbyshire Yeomanry (6th Armoured Division’s reconnaissance regiment)

 

 

Blade Force supported the British 78th Infantry Division which comprised the 1st Infantry (Guards), 11th and 36th Infantry Brigades.

 

 
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In the north along the coast, the 36th Brigade advanced along Highway 7 east from Djebel Abiod towards Mateur and was halted by heavy Italian fire from the surrounding hills.    Along the southern route, the 11th Infantry Brigade advanced east from Béja towards the Medjerda River and the village of Medjez-el-Bab supported by the US 175th Field Artillery Battalion (towed 105mm).    Medjez-el-Bab was defended by the 5th Fallschirmjäger Regiment supported by an Italian AT company, two 88mm AT guns and a kampfgruppe from Panzer-Abteilung 190.

 

With both infantry brigades stalled on the flanks, Blade Force was ordered to break through the center of the line in the Tine River valley area.    Waters’s 1st Battalion spearheaded the advance starting from Béja headed northeast to Sidi Nsir then east towards Chouïgui traveling over rough goat trails.     Whenever Stukas appeared overhead, Waters ordered all the tanks to duck into nearest stand of cactus to avoid detection.

 

On the afternoon of November 25 along the bank of the Tine River, a French farm compound (St. Joseph’s Farm) was spotted.    Gum trees covered a rectangular courtyard surrounded by thick walls with fighting parapets and firing ports designed to defend against raiding Arabs.    Italian infantry were defending the farm from a network of trenches.    Company A’s Stuarts rushed forward and assaulted the farm compound.    MG fire ripped through the trenches and killed a few of the enemy infantry.     The Stuart’s 37mm gun was not able to make a dent in the compound walls.    Waters then ordered the mortar platoon and the assault guns (T30 M3 75mm HMC half-tracks) into action and with the additional fire power the defending Italian troops were overrun.

 

 

 


Djedeida Airfield

 

 

 
While the attack on the farm compound was petering out, Waters ordered Company C (17 Stuarts) commanded by Major Rudolph Barlow to advance ahead and reconnoiter the bridges over the Medjerda River.    Using Michelin tourist maps, Company C travelled through a mile long defile named  Chouïgui Pass and reached the village of Chouïgui which was on the edge of flat fertile plains only twenty miles from Tunis. They then followed the paved road southeast into the Medjerda valley towards Tébourba.    Traveling at 35 mph, Barlow’s Stuarts skirted the town of Tébourba and followed Highway 55 south for another two miles to the narrow bridge across the Medjerda River at El Bathan.    Several bursts of coaxial MG fire scattered the sentries at the bridge.     Barlow then pressed ahead, using the olive groves as cover, traveled northeast seven miles along the bank of the Medjerda towards the village of Djedeida. Beyond a ridge a few hundred yard ahead of the column, a German plane was spotted raising into the air and then was followed by another.    Barlow sent forward a platoon (5 Stuarts) commanded by Lt. Wilbur H. Hooker while the rest of the company remained under cover in an olive grove.    Hooker’s platoon soon returned and reported that there was an enemy airfield packed with planes on the over side of the rise.    No sentries were posted and the enemy were unaware of their presence.  Barlow radioed back to Waters reporting what they had found.    Waters who had spent most of the day hiding among cactus from those flying devils gave the order to attack the airfield.

 

 

 
The Luftwaffe units operating from the airfield that day were I. and III./J.G. 53 flying Messerschmidt Bf 109G fighters, and II./St.G. 3 flying Junkers 87D Stukas.    This is the view of the airstrip facing west.

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Planes on the dirt airstrip were being refueled while others were being rearmed with bombs, cannon shells and MG belts.    The planes crowded around the airstrip looked like “fat geese on a small pond.”

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Barlow ordered his tanks to form a forage line with two platoons lined up abreast and the third following slightly behind.    The 17 Stuarts revved up their engines and surged over the crest of the hill and barreled down the front slope from the southwest charging towards the airstrip.    A few Luftwaffe crewmen turned and waved probably believing the tanks were Italian.    Then the first bursts of MG fire struck the parked planes and the onslaught began.    Fuel drums and ammunition dumps exploded.    Planes disintegrated or burst into flames.    Several Stuarts drove behind
a row of parked aircraft and methodically sheared off their tails.   Tanks then drove back and forth across the airfield firing at all targets or at anything that moved.    A few enemy fighters managed to get airborne when the attack began and circled back for strafing runs on the tanks.    German rifle fire hit the armor plates of the Stuarts and bounced off like peas.    Some of the field defenders redirected their skyward pointing AA guns towards the rampaging tanks but to no avail.    The fighting was over in about a half hour.    With night approaching and with no infantry support, Waters ordered Company C to immediately return to Chouïgui.    One Stuart was destroyed, several damaged and two crewmen were KIA from strafing, including a platoon leader.     Around twenty enemy planes, fuel, ammunition and supplies were destroyed but replacements were quickly flown in and operations were able to resume.

 

 

 


Chouïgui Pass

 

 
While Major Barlow’s Company C was reconnoitering the Medjerda valley to the east, back on the western side of Chouïgui Pass (pronounced as “Chewy Gooey Pass” by the Allies) , the 1st Battalion HQ tanks knocked out two Italian Semovente da 47/32s.

 

 
The Semovente da 47/32 “tank hunter” mounted a 47mm Ansaido 47/32 gun on a modified turretless L 6-40 light tank chasis.    It was open topped and had a three man crew (Commander/Gunner, Loader, and Driver).    It entered production in 1941 but did not enter Italian service until late 1942.

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The marking on the side of this example indicate that it was the 4th tank, 2nd Platoon, 2nd Company.    The background color indicated the company (Red – 1st, Blue – 2nd, Yellow – 3rd) and the number of vertical white bars indicated the platoon.

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Two platoons of Company A attacked enemy infantry forces held up in a walled farm north of the pass (later named “Coxen’s Farm” by the British).    The attack harassed the enemy but without infantry support and armed mainly with 37mm guns on their tanks, they were not able to flush out the Germans and Italians.    Company A recalled its tanks after one Stuart was knocked out by an Italian 47mm AT gun hidden in the cactus between the walled farm and the road.

 

Company A then came under terrific air attacks by German planes.    Messerschmidt fighters and Stuka dive bombers strafed and dropped bombs on the column.    The enemy aircraft came in waves, making no fewer than 9 separate passes over the company.     One crewman was KIA and no tanks were lost.

 

As November 25th ended, Blade Force HQ ordered the 1st Armored Battalion to move to east end of the pass.    A security detail was left in the pass while the battalion set up a defensive perimeter 2 miles south of Chouïgui about the time when Barlow’s Company C returned from their airfield rumble.    Waters, worrying about his exposed position, drove during the night 40 miles to Blade Force HQ in Béja to straighten out the battalion’s orders.    Just before dawn on the 26th, he arrived back at the battalion and ordered the battalion to move back through the pass into the Tine River valley once again.

 

 

On Thanksgiving morning, November 26, Waters positioned his companies to cover the tactically important Chouïgui Pass.    He setup his HQ company at the farm compound (St. Joseph’s Farm) southwest of the pass.    Major Carl Siglin’s Company A was positioned to the east of the battalion HQ, on cactus covered ridge a mile south of the pass.    Major William R. Tuck’s Company B was hidden behind a low hill just north of the pass entrance and Barlow’s Company C was positioned to guard the eastern entrance of the pass.

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This is an aerial view of what probably is St. Joseph’s Farm today.    It is the only farm in that area.    In 1942, the road was unpaved and the dusty road was a distance from the farm.     Sometime after the war, the road was paved and made sense to redirect the road to run along side of the farm.

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The tank crews spent Thanksgiving morning preparing the companies’ positions.   They parked their tanks in hull-down positions with only the turrets exposed over the ridge lines, rigged up their camouflage nets and dug slit trenches.    They also refueled and rearmed all the operational tanks.    Then the men had their Thanksgiving meal of greasy mutton stew with hard-tack, heated over gasoline-soaked dirt and washed down with thick tea while griping about the brass in the rear who were eating real turkey with all the trimmings.

 

Around noon, a sentry using liberated French naval binoculars spotted a dust cloud rising a few miles to the north near the enemy held Coxen’s Farm.    Waters climbed a hill and confirmed the approach of an enemy column led by some Italian reconnaissance armored vehicles.    Three German kompanies supported by panzers from Panzer-Abteilung 190 were advancing south from Mateur to reinforce the Axis units fighting around Medjez-el-Bab.    While Waters was spying the advancing column, enemy shells began to land in the area around him.    The crews hurriedly ripped down the camouflage nets, cranked up their Stuart’s engines and dropped their bedrolls and packs to the ground.    The first tank battle between Germans and US forces had begun.

 

Waters first ordered the three assault guns (M3 75mm HMCs) to move into the olive groves along the Tine River road.    They opened up with a barrage of 30 rounds at one thousand yards range.    The shells only raised more dust and prompted return fire from the enemy column.    Waters ordered the assault guns to hurry back to the farm covering their withdrawal with a few smoke rounds.    The approaching panzers also included new Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf. Gs armed with a long barreled 75mm gun which were superior to the Stuart’s puny 37mm pop gun.

 

From the ridge south of the pass, Major Siglin in his tank named “Iron Horse” and 11 other Stuarts of Company A made a cavalry charge down the hill to the valley floor. Machine gun tracer fire lashed out while the Stuarts’ 37mm guns fired continuously.    A leading Italian armored car was hit and came to a smoky stop.    Then a panzer replied with a loud roar and a Stuart came to an abrupt stop becoming a blazing inferno.    Another Stuart was hit, then another.    They brewed up like the first.    Even near misses from the German gun were devastating.     A shell that failed to penetrate the hull still had enough force to shear off the Stuart’s rivet heads which ricocheted inside the tank.    Engulfed by gray smoke, the panzers closed to within 300 yards. Major Siglin’s Iron Horse and the other surviving Stuarts backed off an tried to withdraw under the intense fire.    One Stuart fired more than 18 rounds at a single Pz.Kpfw. IV where each of the shells simply bounced off the panzer’s hull.

 

In just ten minutes, half of Company A’s 12 Stuarts were destroyed.    At that point, Waters sprang the trap for which Company A was the bait.    While the German’s attention was on pulverizing Company A’s Stuarts, they failed to detect Major’s Tuck’s Company B hidden behind the ridge just north of the pass entrance.    After the German column had passed, less than a hundred yards away, Company B Stuarts poured over the crest of the hill and swung in behind the panzers.    At point blank range even their puny 37mm guns were able to penetrate the panzer’s rear thin armor.    The panzers tried to wheel around but it was too late.     Dozens of US rounds ripped into the German panzers.     Seven panzers were destroyed including a half dozen of the new Pz.Kpfw. IVs.

 

The surviving Axis elements withdrew north along the Tine River with the Stuarts and US soldiers pursuing them.    German infantry and two surviving panzers took cover within the walls of Coxen’s Farm where Major Siglin’s company had unsuccessfully attacked the day before.    But this time the revengeful Americans crashed the gates and rampaged through the compound shooting up everything in sight before exiting. Other enemy troops in the area were mopped up.    After dark, the German commander withdrew the reminder of his shattered force eight miles north back to Mateur where he was sacked and court martialed for retreating without orders.   During the  fighting at Coxen’s Farm, Major Siglin had been killed by a panzer round through the turret of his Stuart Iron Horse.    His body was returned to St. Joseph’s Farm and was buried there.

 

This tank battle ended in a draw where Waters essentially traded tank for tank.   Waters execution of this battle was done according to one of General Patton’s famous quotes “Hold’em by the nose and kick’em in the pants.” (the clean version).     But in this case, the Americans also got a bloody nose in the process.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The Allies began to make some momentum.     On the left flank to the north along the coast, the 36th Brigade broke loose and began to advance forward.     In the center, Waters 1st battalion cleaned out the Tine valley and linked up with the rest of Blade Force.    Mateur, the gateway to Bizerte, was just over the horizon.    On the right flank to the south, the advance to Tunis would be decided by a series of battles that began almost within artillery range of the capital.

 

Ten miles south of the Tine valley, British infantry of 1st battalion, East Surreys captured the town of Tébourba before daylight on November 27.    The tommies found half cooked eggs and a beefsteak still cooking in a police station kitchen which was just vacated by the enemy.   At 1130 hours, 17 panzers counter-attacked Tébourba and the battle raged for about two hours. British artillery and AT guns had repelled the panzers and nine surviving panzers retreated back towards Djedeida which the Allies called “Deedahdeedah”.    A day had passed before an Allied counter-attack was organized.    At 1300 hours on November 28, two companies of the 5th battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment (“Northants”) were supported by 19 M3 Lees of 2/13th Armored Regiment.    A dozen or more tommies rode on each of the tanks and two more companies of Northants followed behind on foot.    The column advanced towards Djedeida along the rail enbankment which the retreating Germans had followed the day before.    For two miles, the Anglo-Americans rolled in an attack wedge through terrain dotted with orchards and gum trees and the white profile of Djedeida came into view.    To the north, Stukas were seen taking off from Djedeida airfield.    Perfectly camouflaged, the German ambushers waited for the lead tanks to close within 300 yards and then enemy AT guns and MGs opened fire on the column from hidden revetments.    The tommies leaped from the tanks; some ran for a shallow ditch 50 yards behind, while others took shelter behind the armor hulls or they were KIA.    Five M3 Lees were left burning while the rest pulled back firing at shadows and gun flashes.    The Allied counter-attack had failed and there were heavy losses.    This was the same route which Major Barlow’s Company C, 1st Armored Battalion took just three days earlier.

 

 

M3A1 Stuart, probably of the 1/13th Armored regiment, following a 2/13th M3 Lee medium tank and a M3 half-track advancing northeast along Highway 50 adjacent to the rail line from Medjez-el-Bab.   In the background is a rail embankment and a overpass.     Note that the Stuart and the other vehicles have a liberal coating of local mud applied as camouflage.

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From intercepted encrypted German messages on Monday, November 30, the Allies learned that the Germans intended to mount an offensive.    At 0452 hours on Tuesday morning, December 1st, the Allied field commanders were notified that the 10th Panzer-Division had been ordered to attack Tébourba at dawn.    If the warning ever reached the front line units, it was too late.    Around 0745-0800 hours, two Panzer-Abteilungs slammed into the village of Chouïgui from the north and northeast.    Blade Force, including Waters’s 1st Battalion, was crumpled under the heavy assault and fled south towards to the Medjerda valley.     The surviving elements of Blade Force split into two directions south to evade the panzers.    Half of the force headed southeast towards Tébourba while the other half headed southwest towards Medjez-el-Bab.     Meanwhile the US 1st Armored Division CCB finally arrived from Medjez-el-Bab after a two week 700 mile road march from Algeria.    The US M3 Lee medium tanks engaged the panzers and took heavy losses.

 

 

 

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This battle was the first engagement of the new Tiger I tank in North Africa.    On November 23, the first three tigers of Schwere Heeres Panzer-Abteilung 501 were unloaded in the port of Bizerte.    The other tigers were transported by Siebel  ferries (Marinefährprahm).     The tigers were assigned to Kampfgruppe Lüder and Kampfgruppe Djedeida.     Led by Hauptmann (Captain) Nikolai Baron von Nolde (who wore gym shoes in combat), the Panzer-Abteilung was part of the force which attacked towards Tébourba on December 1st.   While exposed to Allied artillery fire, the enemy tanks which the tigers were confronted by for first time in Africa were US M3 Lees hidden in an olive grove.    The combat was at short range and the M3 Lees did not destroy any German armored vehicles.    Two M3 Lees destroyed were credited to Kampfgruppe Lüder.    However, while Baron Nolde was giving orders to another Hauptmann in the open, he was killed when a British AT round ripped away both of his legs.     That evening, the panzer grenadiers secured the area and one tiger was left behind due to a mechanical breakdown.    The attack resumed the next day with a single tiger escorted by five Pz.Kpfw. III Ns.    Six M3 Stuart tanks, four AT guns and several vehicles were set on fire and the Panzer-Abteilung lost only one Pz.Kpfw. III N.

 

 

 
This is Tiger number 142 of Panzer-Abteilung 501 in the Tunisian hills.    Some sources state that it was camouflaged with large patches of Graugrün RAL 7008 (gray-green) paint.

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M3A1 Stuart number 16 was captured on 2 December 1942.    Many sources caption it as being captured at Kasserine Pass in 1943.

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This is my close up of Stuart number 16.    Note that part of the turret star that overlaps the turret port hatch has flaked off or was worn away.    On the front fender is a folded tripod mount for a .30 Caliber MG.   It usually had a canvas cover.

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This is a view of the same Stuart taken sometime later.    Note that the folded MG tripod mount has been removed.

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This is another view of the same Stuart taken much later. Note that the left side hull sponson MG had been removed leaving a hole next to the company C marking.    The right side hull sponson MG is still in place.

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At noon on December 4, the Germans had taken Tébourba with heavy losses inflicted on the Allies.    The Allied units fell back in disarray.    At 0700 hours on a clear morning of December 6, the Germans launched an attack from Tébourba southwest along Highway 50 towards Medjez-el-Bab.    First, two waves of Stukas hammered the Allied infantry dug in three miles southwest of Tébourba.    Then German troops of the 5th Fallschirmjäger Regiment attacked supported by panzers of the 10th Panzer-Division which included tigers.    Battery C of the US 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion opened fire on twenty panzers at the range just under a mile.    This distracted the Germans briefly who then turned on the gunners.    Giving ground slowly, the US artillerymen retreated with their T30 M3 75mm HMCs.    Reinforced with five new Sherman tanks from Patton’s units in Morocco, the M3 Lees of the 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment arrived and were unaware of the friendly infantry locations or those of the enemy.    The German gunners waited until the Shermans, five abreast, closed to a quarter mile before opening fire.     Fifteen minutes later, all 5 Shermans and most of the following M3 Lees were burning.   That night it began to rain and it fell incessantly for the next three days.     The soggy ground was unfavorable for maneuver and the Germans halted their attack.

 

 
StuartsAfrica-27

 

 
On December 10, the German attack resumed.     The Tigers of Kampfgruppe Lüder was now attached to Kampfgruppe Gehrhardt of  Panzer-Regiment 7.    Their new objective was to attack the essential crossroads at Medjez-el-Bab from the east.    Two Tigers led the column which started towards the enemy from Massicault.    CCB tried to intercept the column with a flank attack using elements of the 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (M3 Stuarts) and Company C of the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion. The 701st TDs claimed ten German medium panzers knocked out before being put out of action themselves.    The panzers in the column smashed through Waters’s remaining Stuarts and half-tracks.     Waters retreated with his remnants through Medjez-el-Bab and crossed the Bailey bridge spanning the Medjerda River.    Six km from Medjez-el-Bab, the panzers came under fire from several French artillery batteries as well as AT fire.    They were ordered to turn around to thwart an armored counter-attack by the 1/13th Regiment M3 Stuarts from the north.    The Company A Stuart tanks fell on seven surprised enemy armored scout cars and destroyed them with a smoking broadside at fifty yards, but then the panzers appeared.    The Stuarts were outgunned by the panzers and were mired when they maneuvered off the road and 19 were lost.    Since Medjez-el-Bab was unattainable, the German column then pulled back to Massicault leaving a small blocking detachment at Sidi Mediene and had suffered only moderate losses, but at the end of the day, both the bridge at Medjez-el-Bab and at Bordj Toum remained under Allied control.

 

 

 

Film:   1942, Northern Africa Front 250171-04

 

 

 

This Tiger is probably from Panzer-Regiment 7 moving towards Medjez-el-Bab.    The heavy rain has caused flooding in the area.

StuartsAfrica-28

 

 

 

On the turret of this M3 Stuart, the company marking and the number 2 indicate  that it belongs to the 2nd platoon of the Company C, 1st battalion, 13th Armored Regiment.   Note the damaged track around the front sprocket.

StuartsAfrica-29

 

 

 

14 December 1942, No.3 Company, 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, observing a mixed patrol from the 1/1st US Armored Regiment and the Coldstream Guards Carrier Platoon returning from Smidia Farm, a site of a fierce battle two days previously.

StuartsAfrica-30

 

 

Film:   COLDSTREAM GUARDS AT MEDJEZ EL BAB

 

 

 

This is a view of one of the passing US M3 Stuarts.     Note that it has local mud smeared on as camouflage.

StuartsAfrica-31

 

 

 
The British Grenadier and Coldstream Guards were engaged in heavy fighting for Longstop Hill (Djebel Ahmera) located on the north side of Highway 50 between Medjez-el-bab and Bordj Toum.    Between December 22 and Christmas Day, the hill switched ownership serveral times.    The Coldstream Guards took the hill first and they were then relieved by 1st Battalion, 18th infantry Regiment, US 1st Infantry Division who were not able to hold the hill against a heavy enemy counter-attack.    On Christmas Eve, the Coldstream Guards re-took the hill and once again an enemy counter-attack pushed them off the hill.    On Christmas Day, the Grenadier Guards re captured the hill for the third time and the Grenadier Guards relieved the Coldstream Guards that day.    The area between Medjez-el-bab and Bordj Toum became a no man’s-land, seven miles wide and crowded with shades.    Both sides beagn to sent out infantry patrols along Highway 50 until the spring of 1943.

 

 

 

The following photos were all taken on 28 December 1942.    The British troops are probably from the Grenadier Guards on patrol escorted by surviving US Stuart tanks.    A week later, the Grenadier Guards were taken off the line and sent six miles west of Medjez-el-bab.

StuartsAfrica-32

 

 

 
This is my close up of Stuart number 17.    The name on the hull side is illegible.

StuartsAfrica-33

 

 

 
This is the rear of Stuart number 17. Note the dried mud on the hull and the muddy tracks.

StuartsAfrica-34

 

 

 
Lieutenant Colonel Waters survivied the fighting in Tunisia 1942 and became the executive officer of the US 1st Armored Regiment.    On 15 Feburary 1943, he was captured at his command post at Dejebel Lassouda, Tunisia when surrounding German forces attacked Sidi bou Zid.    He then spent the next two years in a POW camp in Germany.

 

 

 


Restored and running M3A1 Stuart

 

 

 

It is owned and restored by Steve Greenberg in Oregon, USA.

StuartsAfrica-35

 

 

Video:   M3A1 Stuart Tank -2

 

Viedo:   M3A1 Stuart tank firing

 

Video:   WWII USMC Veteran Going For A Ride

 

 

 


MODEL KITS AND DECALS

 

 

 
1/35:
Tamiya 35360 US Light Tank M3 Stuart Late Production – 2018
Academy 13269 M3A1 STUART LIGHT TANK – 2012
Italeri 6498 M3A1 – 2012
Tamiya MM142 Stuart U.S. Light Tank M3 – 1974

Star Decals 35-C1046 US 1st Armored Division North Africa ’42-43

Italeri 6477 Semovente L40 da 47/32 – 2011
Model Victoria 4074 Fiat-ANSALDO “SEMOVENTE” DA 47/32 ITALIAN S.P.G.

Blitz 35FS 1017 France Renault D1 FT (Resin kit) – 2010
Blitz 35FS 1013 France Renault D1 (Resin kit) – 2009

Blitz 35 DEC 002 Decals Char D1

 

 

1/72:
Mirage Hobby 872122 “Old Ironsides” Light Tank M3A1

 

 

 

Recommended reading:

Rick Atkinson (2002) “An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943”, Henry Holt and Company

 

 

Thats_all_Folks

 

 

 

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