DIARY of COMPOSITE SQUADRON 2 RTR (NEMO) from date of joining 4 ARMD BDE

First a bit of context. 2 RTR was orignally in 7th Armoured Brigade, and was one of the experienced tank regiments (i.e. battalion) in 8th Army. Its tanks were older Cruiser Mk. IV, which had reliability problems (the squaddie assessment would probably be that they were ‘shagged’). Like the rest of 7th Armoured Brigade, this regiment was hard hit in the initial tank battles of Operation Crusader, losing many vehicles due to enemy action and breakdown, and it was withdrawn to the Delta for rebuilding on 2 December, with the exception of a squadron (company) made up of the remaining tanks of the regiment. It was not to return to the desert for a while, since it was sent to the Far East in January 1942.

Thanks go to the Tank Museum in Bovington for making the transcripts of the war diaries available. They are an invaluable help to researchers, and I would like to encourage anyone looking for war diaries to contact their library.

The operations outlined below are quite interesting in the context of Crusader. Neither involved heavy fighting for the tanks, and there we have the problem of both of them. The first, on 1 December, aimed (as far as the 4th Armoured Brigade was concerned) to “extricate the New Zealand Division from its predicament at Belhamed. What they failed to realise was that Freyberg, the New Zealander’s commander, was not interested in being extricated, but in tank support to smash the attack on his division. When this was not forthcoming, he withdrew into Tobruk. The second, 6 December, was in the opinion of the tanks to “cover” the attack of 11th Indian Brigade (4th Indian Division) on Bir el Gubi. This attack failed in its main aim, to dislodge the Italian forces in el Gubi, with very heavy losses in the face of resistance by a battalion of Young Fascists (Giovanni Fascisti). This stand has become to Italians what Rorke’s Drift is to the British. And rightfully so – the utter failure by the British command to concentrate a Brigade of infantry and a Brigade of tanks to deal with a battalion of infantry is still difficult to believe. While 2 RTR talks about a successful attack, this only refers to one part of the attack, on the supply dump.

Nov 30
On this morning Composite Regiment, 22 Armd Bde was formed under the command of Major J W Dickens 3 CLY, consisting initially of a Regimental HQ of 3 tanks, and two squadrons each of 15 tanks, under the command of Major Yule and Major Rudkin MC respectively.
Lt Davidson with A Echelon, excepting three 6-ton lorries and one 8-cwt truck, left the field on this day. On arrival at 4th Armd Bde HQ. The Composite Regt formed third regiment. On this afternoon the regiment was in reserve and Bde leaguered as a whole south of Sidi Muftah (438394).

Dec 1st.
4th Armd Bde moved north to aerodrome area with the object of extricating the NZ forces. Composite ?Regt carried out the duties of protection left, while 5 RTR contacted the NZ Bde NE of the aerodrome. The operation which involved heavy engagement by 5 RTR was not however carried out, and the Bde drew south to its former area later in the day.
At 1630 hrs NEMO was ordered to move to Bir Berraneb (443374) via Bir Regham (440380), in order to intercept a force of MET with A/Cs which had been reported west of that area.

Dec 2nd and 3rd. No activity.

Dec 4th.
At 0500 hrs the Bde moved to area NE of El Gubi and in the afternoon moved north to Esc-Scerghi (421398 ) to take up a defensive position against a threat which did not materialise, although slight shelling was encountered from NW. At dusk the Bde moved back to El Haid where the composite regiment was reinforced by a further squadron from 22 Armd Bde under Major Lord Cranleigh, bringing the total strength of the Regt to 49 tanks.

Dec 5th.
4th Armd Bde moved back to Bir Berraneb owing to reports that enemy tanks had moved east towards Bardia. The day uneventful and that evening regiments went into separate leaguers for the first time.

Dec 6th.
4th Armd Bde moved into area pt 181 (427377) to cover the attack of 11 Indian Bde. on El Gubi. Composite Regt was moved protection right and an enemy column was encountered in the area pt 181. A successful attack was made by NEMO threatening the right flank of the column, and ARTHUR the left and centre. Only slight contact was made and the enemy made off hurriedly in a NW direction.
In the afternoon the Regt moved N to Esc-Scherghi and to assist him in the area NW of that place. No contact was made with the enemy except through the medium of shellfire.

Dec 7th.
4th Armd Bde moved to harass the enemy column now on the defensive in the area Bir el Gubi. At 1100 hrs NEMO was detached to 3 RTR in order to carry out a flank attack from the south.
The attack was fairly successful, was covered by Artillery fire very accurately placed from the east. NEMO was able to close in to 1000 yds at the nearest point, and to get in 10 mins of comparatively unimpeded fire before heavy artillery fire forced the squadron to withdraw. Distinguishing targets was difficult, as there were a number of derelict tanks, including one Mk IV, placed probably intentionally in position. At 1500 hrs, NEMO was sent on along offensive patrol south of El Gubi to Bir Reuid (399383). Owing to the necessity for replenishing petrol and ammunition and the difficulty in distinguishing friend from foe in the half light, the move was a complete failure, and the squadron rejoined the regiment in leaguer at about 2230 hrs at Bir El Dleuna (424371).

Dec 8th.
The Bde continued its harassing role, moved N W from Bir el Gubi to the area (404378 ). NEMO was not engaged.

Dec 9th.
Bde continued moving NW to Pt 185 (381407) in order to cover the western approaches to El Adem while the main attack was progressing. Later in the day the Bde moved east and then north to area 399409 where late in the evening contact was made with the enemy at long range by 3 RTR. The Bde leaguered 3 miles north of this place, which was then occupied by the Indian ?Div.

Dec 10th.
Bde moved to area 380412, composite regiment was now reduced to 21 effective tanks, NEMO being 9 tanks strong, and the following morning all personnel of 2 RTR were relieved by personnel of 4 CLY.

Counter battery observation

One aspect of artillery combat that is close to my heart is counter-battery observation. My grandfather spent the war in Russia doing this kind of job. It essentially consists of locating enemy gun positions by day and night using sound ranging, and by night using flash ranging, and to guide their own artillery to fire on it.

In Africa, the Germans had Beobachtungsabteilung 11 doing this (probably under Arko 104 – more on this in the future), and a battery of 15th Panzer, Beobachtungsbatterie (Pz) 33 (326), which was under Panzerartillerieregiment 33.

For the British, this work was done by 4th (Durham) Survey Regiment R.A. You can download their history here.

Below is a map of the observation posts of 33 (326) outside Tobruk, taken from Froben’s book “Aufklärende Artillerie”.  This system observed the western edge of the siege lines.  The ‘Flugplatz’ is the Gambut airfield.  The ‘Achsenstrasse’ is the Axis bypass road constructed by the Italians to ensure that supply could continue to run even though Tobruk had not been taken, and the Via Balbia continued to be blocked. ‘Panzergraben’ is the tank ditch.

Small naval unit losses and damage

Update:  08-03-14. Lorenzo Colombo kindly alerted me to an error, which I have now corrected. ORP Sokol did not damage Aviere in Navarino harbour.

Update: on 21-6-09 I completed a full trawl of Naval History Net and now have considerably more confidence in the completeness of this list.

The constant convoy battles either on the Italy/Greece to Libya or the Alexandria to Tobruk routes took a severe toll on smaller units on both sides. This list is probably not complete – I have tried to ignore losses in the western Med, and in Greek waters, since these would not have been directly relevant to the North African convoy battle. I will eventually also add merchant shipping losses for the period. Sources are the two excellent sites Naval History Net and the Chronik Seekrieg site at the Landesbibliothek Stuttgart.

I think that these losses show quite clearly the commitment that the Regia Marina had to the convoys and the supply of Axis forces in North Africa. Something that is often not appreciated by those who think that the Italians were not pulling their weight. Also note that any aerial torpedo losses or damage to Royal Navy vessels are almost certainly due to Italian aircraft.

The list does not include very minor damage that did not take ships out of commission, or damage/sinkings caused by collisions with friendly ships.

Italian Regia Marina/German Kriegsmarine

Destroyer

  • Fulmine (lost, surface engagement, 8/9 Nov 41)*
  • Libecco (lost, sub torpedo, 9 Nov 41)*
  • Euro (damaged, surface engagement, 8/9 Nov 41)*
  • Grecale (damaged, surface engagement, 8/9 Nov 41)*
  • Aviere (damaged, submarine torpedo, 19 Nov 41)**
  • Alvise da Mosto (lost, surface engagement, 1 Dec 41)***
  • Corazziere (heavily damaged, collision with Granatiere, 18 Dec 41)****
  • Granatiere (heavily damaged, collision with Corraziere, 18 Dec 41)

Escort Destroyer/Torpedo Boat

  • Alcione (total constructive loss after beaching, following damage by sub torpedo, 11 Dec 41)

Mine Hunter/Mine Layer

  • Zirona (damaged/beached, air attack, 25 Nov 41)

Submarines

  • Saint Bon (lost, sub torpedo, 4 Jan 42)*****
  • Caracciolo (lost, depth charges, 11 Dec 41)******
  • U557 (lost, rammed in error by Italian escort destroyer, 16 Dec 41)*******
  • U451 (lost,sunk by aircraft depth charge off Tangiers, 21 Dec 41)
  • U79 (lost, depth charges, 23 Dec 41)
  • U75 (lost, depth charges, 28 Dec 41)
  • U374 (lost, sub torpedo, 12 Jan 42)********
  • U577 (lost, aircraft depth charge, 15 Jan 41 off Mersa Matruh)*********

Auxiliary Warships

  • Adriatico (lost, surface engagement with Force K, 1 Dec 41)
  • Cittá di Palermo (lost, sub torpedo, 5 Jan 42)

* All four destroyers lost/damaged during the battle of the Duisburg convoy, by Force K operating out of Malta.

**The attack was carried out by Polish sub ORP Sokol while Aviere lay in the harbour of Navarino. Aviere probably did not suffer too much damage.

*** Sunk by Force K while attempting to defend her charge, the large tanker Iridio Mantovani. Her commander received the Gold Medal of Military Valour for this action.

**** This collision occurred at high speed around 6 am on 18 Dec after the first battle of Sirte. Both destroyers had their bows sheared off and up to 20 members of their crews were killed. One of them was towed to Greece by German tug Max Behrens, and Granatiere was under repair until September 1942, while Corazziere could return in May 1942.

***** Sunk on a supply mission to North Africa.

****** Sunk on return from a supply mission to Bardia.

******* On return from the attack that sank HMS Galatea.

******** She was first depth-charged on 10 January by HMS Legion and HMNS Isaac Sweers, and damaged to an extent that did not allow her to dive anymore. In this condition she ran into HMS Unbeaten, which sank her two days later.

********* The successful attack was made by a Swordfish of 815 Squadron FAA operating from a shore base in Egypt. It was previously thought that a Sunderland of RAF 230 Squadron sank her on 9 Jan. Instead, this attack hit U568 causing only minor damage. See here.

Commonwealth/Royal Navy

Destroyer

  • HMS Jackal (severely damaged, aerial torpedo, 30 November 41)
  • HMS Kandahar (lost, mine, 19 Dec 41)*
  • HMS Jervis (damaged, charge placed by frogmen, 19 Dec 41)**
  • HMS Kimberley (severely damaged, sub torpedo, 12 Jan 42)***
  • HMS Ghurka (lost, sub torpedo, 17 Jan 42)****

Sloop

  • HMAS Parramatta (lost, sub torpedo, 27 Nov 41)
  • HMS Flamingo (severely damaged, air attack, 7 Dec 41)*****

Corvette

  • HMS Salvia (K97 – a Flower-class) (lost with all hands and  about 100 passengers which she had rescued before from merchant Shutien while on Tobruk run, sub torpedo from U-568, 24 Dec 41)

Other units/Auxiliaries

  • HMS Chakdina (sunk, aerial torpedo, 5 Dec 41)******
  • HMS Chantala (sunk, mine, 7 Dec 41)
  • HMS Glenroy (damaged, aereal torpedo, 23 Nov 41)*******
  • HMS Sotra (mine-sweeping whaler) (lost with all hands 80m east off Tobruk, sub torpedo from U-431, 29 Jan 41)

Submarines

  • P.31/HMS Uproar (damaged, air attack, 14 Jan 41)
  • N.36/HMS Perseus (lost, mine, 7 Dec 41)********
  • N.18/HMS Triumph (lost, causes unknown, 31 Dec 41)

*Lost in the same minefield as HMS Neptune

**Secondary damage from the explosion of a tanker in Alexandria harbour during the Xa MAS attack.

***Her stern was blown off by the explosion, and she would only return to duty in early 1944.  She was one of only two K-Class destroyers to survive the war.

****This was and L-Class, not a Tribal-class destroyer, she was the second HMS Ghurka during WW2, the first one having been lost on 19 April 1940 off Norway.  She was torpedoed by U133, which was in turn attacked by HMS Maori, but suffered only light damage.

*****She would only return to duty in 1944.

******HMS (or sometimes SS) Chakdina (3,033 GRT) was an armed boarding vessel commandeered by the Royal Navy and acting as a hospital ship (my guess is not as an official hospital ship however). She was sunk shortly after leaving Tobruk by attack from an Italian S.79 torpedo bomber. She carried a large number of wounded and POW, many of whom died when she sank in just three minutes. One of the POWs was German general von Ravenstein, former commander of 21. Panzerdivision. He survived. HMS Chakdina and Chantala belonged to the same owner before the war. You can see a picture of the similar HMS Chakla under air attack in Tobruk harbour at this link. Armed Boarding Vessels were a kind of armed merchant cruiser, usually armed with obsolete guns. In the case of Chakdina, Chantala, and Chakla, they were used for transporting troops and stores in and out of Tobruk, and all of them were lost on the Tobruk Run.

*******HMS Glenroy was a large infantry landing ship, originally a fast freighter belonging to the Glen Line, with a deckload of caiques (traditional trading vessels of the Med) for Tobruk harbour.  She was so severely damaged that she had to be beached for a few days off Mersa Matruh, before it was possible to bring her into Alexandria. You can read a first-hand story of her ordeal at this link.

********HMS Perseus was lost with 59 out of 60 men. The remarkable escape of stoker John Capes, ascending from 52m below the surface of the sea, is retold at this link.

Major Ground Commands and Commanders

Here is a list of the major (above divisional level) ground force commands, and who was in charge of them on 18 November 41 or when they were established.

Axis

  • Comando Supremo – Mussolini, Ugo Cavallero
  • German Forces in the Mediterranean – Albert Kesselring (from Dec 41)
  • Axis forces in Africa – Ettore Bastico
  • Panzergruppe Afrika – Erwin Rommel (from end of January 42 redesignated Panzerarmee Afrika)
  • Deutsches Afrika Korps – Ludwig Cruewell
  • Corpo Armata di Manovra – Gastone Gambarra
  • XXI. Corpo Armata – Enea Navarrini
  • X. Corpo Armata – ? (from ?)

Commonwealth

  • Commonwealth Middle East – Sir Claude Achinleck
  • 8th Army – Sir Alan Cunningham (from 24 November Neil Ritchie)
  • 30 Corps – Willoughbie Norrie
  • 13 Corps – Reade Godwin-Austen
  • Tobruk Fortress – Ronald Scobie

The Crusader Project (What it is all about)

We are working on what will probably be the first single-volume, complete and focused history of the winter battle in North Africa 1941/42 from 18 November 41 to 6 February 42, known under the British operational name “Crusader”. The project is based on German and Commonwealth records, a wealth of secondary works, including the British operational and intelligence, South African, New Zealand, and Italian official histories, unit histories, historical reports written post-war by German officers, and analysis of the war in desert by authors such as Field Marshal Michael Carver.

The book will cover the day-by-day progress of the battle on land and sea, and discuss the strategic setting, with a particular focus on the convoy battles between the Royal Navy and the Regia Marina and the intelligence situation for both sides.

Throughout the project, we will inform anyone interested here. We will also make files and information available that are unlikely to end up in the book, but will still be of interest to the general reader.

Andreas & Rich

Losses in Operation Crusader

Losses in Operation Crusader

Background

Operation CRUSADER was a major bloodletting for all participants, by the standards of the Desert War (it paled into insignificance compared to the war in the Soviet Union, or Normandy). One looking at the comparative losses on the Axis and the Empire side, it is clear, that there are some interesting discrepancies in the statistics. Axis losses were about 1/3rd of those present at the start of the operation. Empire losses by comparison about half that, at 16%.

Panzerarmee Analysis

The first set of numbers is from the Panzerarmee War Diary, drawn up shortly after the battle.

Abbreviations:

  • OR = other ranks (soldiers who are not officers)
  • KIA = killed in action
  • WIA = wounded in action
  • MIA = Missing in action

German losses

(Officers/Other Ranks – Share of total strength on 18/11/41)

  • KIA 104/1,032 (7%/7%)
  • WIA 144/3,339 (8.5%/7%)
  • MIA 201/9,940 (10.5%/20%) (of these 4,500 Bardia/Halfaya)
  • Total 449/14,311 (14,760)

Italian losses

(Off/OR – Share total strength on 18/11/41)

  • KIA 85/951 (3%/1.5%)
  • WIA 155/1.967 (4%/3%)
  • MIA 1.172/17.382 (34%/30%) (of these 8,000 Bardia/Halfaya)
  • Total 1,412/20,300 (21,712)

Axis total: 1,816 Off/35,060 OR (36,876)

Axis Material (Share of total on 18/11/41)

  • German Tanks 220 (85%)
  • German Guns 42 (40%)
  • German Aircraft 170 (160%)
  • Italian medium Tanks 120 (80%)
  • Italian guns 181 (40%)
  • Italian Aircraft 105 (150%) – this is possible because both Axis air forces were substantially reinforced

The Panzerarmee War Diary assumes Commonwealth losses as this, including the counter offensive in January, and overstating personnel losses by about 30%:

  • 10.000 KIA/WIA
  • 12.000 POW
  • 1.623 armoured vehicles (tanks/AC/carriers)
  • 2.500 motor vehicles
  • 329 Aircraft

Empire Analysis

The British official history, which is based on German/Italian records and of course the Empire unit records, gives the following losses to mid January, without Rommel’s counter offensive.

Total strength/KIA/WIA/MIA/Total/Share of strength 18/11/41

  • German 65,000/1,100/3,400/10,100/14,600/22%
  • Ital. 54,000/1,200/2,700/19,800/23,700/43%
  • Axis total 119,000/2,300/6,100/29,900/38,300/32% (13,800 of these MIA
    in Bardia/Halfaya)

British losses 118,000/2,900/7,300/7,500/17,700/15%

The counter offensive at end Jan. was no big deal for either side interms of losses, apart from the ca. 1,000 POW of 7th Indian Brigade which was encircled east of Benghazi but mostly able to break out. Nevertheless this must account for most of the discrepancy in the POW numbers of the Commonwealth forces.

Things not adding up

Italian numbers for Italian losses are much higher than either the British or German numbers:

Italian losses from Italian Official History 15/11/41 to 15/1/42

Officers/NCO/OR/Libyans/Total:
1,945/2,674/34,974/2,674/42,185

Material:

  • Autom. support weapons: 3.200
    Mortars 89x81mm/307x45mm
  • Tanks 63 medium/187 light (all light tanks lost – the number of medium tanks lost was almost certainly much higher, over 130)
  • Armoured Cars 25
  • Anti-Aircraft guns 320
  • Guns all calibres 584
  • Motor vehicles 5.000

The Italian official history also gives Axis strength as higher than the British OH:

Germans 70,000
Italians 100,000 (they count everyone in Libya, is my guess)

As you can see there are significant discrepancies in the numbers, and the KTB of PAA has to be seen as the absolute lowest for the Axis losses. It is likely that the most relevant number is the one from the British official history.

If anyone has further insight, please contact me.

Supply statistics for North Africa

Supply statistics for North Africa

Background
These are calculations I have done based on data in Dati Statistici Vol. I 2a Edizione USMMM Roma 1972. The figures very clearly show the extent of the autumn supply crisis, which almost cut off supplies to North Africa at the very moment the fighting reached the highest pitch of intensity of all year, and how much the situation improved prior to Operation Venezia in May 1942.
 
Oriani
SS Oriani, sunk by No. 105 Squadron R.A.F. on 13 September 1941, while travelling from Patrassos to Benghazi on a supply run. Unknown origin.
 
Data
Arrival rates of all military[1]supplies in NA, Italian navy data, all units, volume of military supplies received in 1,000 tons (for the two key months the information on military supplies sent is added):
 
Jul 41 – 81% (61.5kt)
Aug 41 – 87% (75.6kt)
Sep 41 – 79% (66.3kt)
Oct 41 – 76% (56.2kt)
Nov 41 – 26% (16.2kt/61.9kt)
Dec 41 – 78% (29.7kt/38.2kt)
Jan 42 – 100% (60.5kt)[2]
Feb 42 – 100% (56.8kt)
Mar 42 – 80% (38.7kt)
Apr 42 – 99% (142.0kt)
May 42 – 92% (76.6kt)
Jun 42 – 79% (30.1kt)
Jul 42 – 92% (74.4kt)
Aug 42 – 66% (49.0kt)
Sep 42 – 81% (77.3kt)
Oct 42 – 50% (33.9kt)
Nov 42 – 74% (60.3kt)
 
Notes
[1]The quite considerable deliveries for civilian needs are excluded from the calculations. For example, in November 41, 13,604 tonnes of 17,310 sent arrived in North Africa. In December, all 9,441 tonnes sent arrived.
[2]
Note that this is not fully correct – about 200 tons of January supplies were lost at least on submarine Saint Bon (sunk 5 January by HMS Upholder) and liner Vittoria, sunk by combined air/sub torpedo attack on 23 January.
 
Note that ‘non-arrived’ does not necessarily mean sunk, since it could also include convoys that departed but had to turn back (e.g. Convoy “C” on 24 November 41).
 
Detailed Tables for download
These tables were created by user Paspartoo for this thread on the Axis History Forum. Please let me know if they read okay once opened in a separate window.
Rommel con a2
 
Rommel con a1