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). When 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 15%.

This list does not include losses at sea, which were substantial (see this blog article), and I presume does not include air crew losses.

UntitledImage

Temporary Grave of Captain R.J. Williams, Adjutant of 10 Royal Hussars, killed in action on the retreat march to the Gazala position. He was the gunner of the regiment’s commanding officer’s tank, and was severely wounded on 23 January, dying of his wounds on 28 January. He is now buried at Tobruk War Cemetary, while the remainder of his regiment who were killed on 23 January 1942 are now buried in Benghazi War Cemetary.

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 – Loss by cause/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%)[1]
  • 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%)[2]
  • 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%)[3]
  • Italian medium Tanks 120 (80%)
  • Italian guns 181 (40%)
  • Italian Aircraft 105 (150%)[3]

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[4]
  • 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.

Axis Losses

  • German
  • Strength 18/11/41 65,000
  • KIA 1,100
  • WIA 3,400
  • MIA 10,100
  • Total 14,600/22%
  • Ital.
  • Strength 54,000
  • KIA 1,200
  • WIA 2,700
  • MIA 19,800
  • Total 23,700/43%
  • Axis total
  • Strength 119,000
  • KIA 2,300
  • WIA 6,100
  • MIA 29,900
  • Total 38,300/32% (13,800 of these MIA
    in Bardia/Halfaya)

Empire losses

  • Strength 118,000
  • KIA 2,900
  • WIA 7,300
  • MIA 7,500
  • Total 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 1,945
  • NCO 2,674
  • OR 34,974
  • Libyans 2,674
  • Total: 42,185

Material:

  • Autom. support weapons: 3.200
    Mortars 89x81mm/307x45mm
  • Tanks 63 medium/187 light[5]
  • 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.

Notes

[1] Of these 4,500 Bardia/Halfaya

[2] Of these 8,000 Bardia/Halfaya

[3] This is possible because both Axis air forces were substantially reinforced

[4] Includes tanks, armoured cars, and carriers

[5] All light tanks lost – the number of medium tanks lost was almost certainly much higher, I estimate over 130

If anyone has further insight, please contact me.

4 thoughts on “Losses in Operation Crusader

  1. Pingback: The tragedy of the POWs killed at sea « The Crusader Project

  2. Discrepancies on losses aside, I’d take the “Official History” of anything with a large grain of salt. Brit OH of WW I, for instance, written by Haig’s cronies, is a notorious crock. I could bore you with a few hundred other concrete examples but, some other time. Just in general, I think the truth about anything lies in creating as dense a web as possible of eyewitness-participant accounts.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Naval Personnel Losses during Operation CRUSADER « The Crusader Project

  4. Pingback: Bardia, Halfaya, and the January Offensive – The Crusader Project

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