On the morning of Wednesday, February 17, while Drake’s men were being swept off the Sbeitla plain, Liebenstein’s Italo-German elements advanced up the road from Gafsa and entered Feriana. A few miles away, at Thelepte, American airmen had been evacuating both airfields throughout the preceding night. Most of the thirty-five hundred officers and men at the air bases moved out by truck, taking their equipment and supplies, while pilots flew out the operational planes. Flames from the burning gasoline, explosions set off by demolition teams, and roads crowded with vehicles marked a wholesale withdrawal that had the elements of haste and near-panic. German tanks came over the rough plain on a broad front, slowed first by dry stream beds across the desert, then by shells from American artillery, but they advanced doggedly. Gardiner opened fire with a concentrated volley that stopped the German tanks momentarily. They came on doggedly, locating individual American positions and working up to them.