On the 19th of February 1943, the Germans launched a counter attack into the Kasserine Pass towards Thala. The Brigade was tasked with stopping the German advance. By dawn on the 21st, the Regiment was in a position blocking the road from Thala to Kasserine. All that day it fought a difficult delaying action in which fourteen tanks were lost. At dusk the Regiment retired into a leaguer. After a short time the sound of tanks moving on the road was heard; the enemy had resumed his advance in the dark and led the attack with a Valentine tank which had been abandoned by the Regiment at Tebourba in December. This ruse completely deceived the infantry in front of the regimental leaguer. It was not until the Germans opened fired that anyone realised what had happened. The first person to react was the Adjutant, Captain Ponsonby, who firing the gun of his own tank, destroyed four German tanks in quick succession. Soon the other tanks joined in and three more tanks were destroyed. The German attack dissolved; although the Regiment remained in the area for the next three days, the Germans did not renew it, but retired eastwards.
Protected only by the inferior armour of the Valentine and out gunned by the German tanks, the cost was high. Although the pass was held, the 17th/21st Lancers was reduced to only twelve tanks. It was after this encounter that the Regiment was withdrawn from the line and re-equipped with the American Sherman tank mounting a 75mm gun. This represented a great improvement on the old ‘Tommy Cookers’ (Valentines), both in terms of firepower and armoured protection.
The stage was now set for the Battle of Fondouk, on the 8th and 9th April, in which the Regiment was to play a leading role. The Fondouk Pass was a flat, open plain, 1000 yards wide, dominated on both sides by steep rocky heights. The plan was for the Regiment to break through the pass and cut off the retreating German forces. During a reconnaissance on the evening of the 8th, the Regiment lost four tanks. At 9.00 a.m. on the 9th the 17th/21st was ordered to force the Pass at any cost. The area was mined, and covered by both artillery and anti-tank guns positioned both in the pass and on the high ground. For two hours the Regiment tried to break through the Pass, sustaining such heavy losses that only a handful of tanks were left in action. Information that the dry riverbed to the left might prove to be a way through was passed to Brigade Headquarters. At 11.30, 6th Armoured Brigade ordered the 16th/5th Lancers to try that route, which despite a number of losses to men and tanks, proved successful.
Although the subsequent break-through was achieved, the delay allowed the German forces to retreat unmolested towards Tunis. Regimental losses were eleven killed and thirty-two wounded, with thirty-two tanks put out of action, twenty-seven beyond further use.
May saw the final action of the North Africa campaign with the capture of the Cap Bon Peninsula. The Germans were trying to delay its capture long enough to allow evacuation of their Army by sea. The Regiment conducted a ‘charge’ along the beach totally out manoeuvring the German defensive positions. Enemy resistance crumbled, thousands of prisoners were taken, and thus ended the campaign.
After nine months out of action, March 1944 saw the 17th/21st Lancers, still as part of 6th Armoured Division, deployed to Italy. The North African campaign marked the height of allied armoured warfare. Ahead lay a new country, with difficult terrain that would require new tactics. Even though the dominant role of the tank would no longer be so pronounced, the regiment still played its part to the full in the Italian campaign.