A Look on the Waterlogged Landing Grounds

A Look on the Waterlogged Landing Grounds

One reason generally given for the failure by the Axis air forces to engage, or even just recognise the approach march on 17 and the start of the empire attack on 18 November is the weather. Violent rain storms lashed the North African coast on the days before the attack started, but they fell harder on the Axis landing grounds in the west, making operations there impossible, and in some cases drowning personnel and destroying equipment, where Wadis had been used as camp or storage sites. They also destroyed signal cables making communication that much harder.

While the runways got back into operation relatively quickly (they could be used by light planes on 18 November, provided care was taken), the more important impact was probably on communications, which had been completely destroyed by the floods.

The IWM photo collection has an interesting picture I came across today, showing a Blenheim IV on Gambut airfield east of Tobruk, maybe in December 1941 or January 1942. It shows quite well the extent of water on the field, this time of course coming from later winter storms.


A Bristol Blenheim Mark IV, ‘U’ (serial number unclear) of No. 45 Squadron RAF, undergoes an engine overhaul at waterlogged Gambut, Libya, after violent rainstorms in November and December 1941 rendered many of the forward airfields unusable during Operation CRUSADER.

The second picture shows RAF crews dealing with the rain – my guess is that it belongs to the same time-frame:


Bomber aircrew baling out rainwater from their flooded bivouacs at a landing ground in Libya, possibly Gambut, after torrential rains rendered many of the forward landing grounds unusable during Operation CRUSADER. (IWM CM1931)

At the start of operation CRUSADER Gambut was a major Axis landing ground, but that changed relatively quickly, and it would be June 42 before the Axis forces conquered it again. The defense of Gambut during CRUSADER rested in the hands of Kampfgruppe Briel and is written up at this link.

Some Interesting Forum Discussions of Old

I used to get a lot of information from the AHF forum discussions (if you are not already a member there, but are interested in WW2 discussions, you should really sign up), until I left the forum.

Some of the old discussions are very good in terms of information they make available:

Axis OOB 17 November 41

Convoy M.42

Bombardment of Tripoli by the RN

Air supply to North Africa from Greece

Bombing attack on Castelveltrano Dec. 41

Worcesters at Tobruk 42 – now if anyone has the info on their role in Brigadier Reid’s Oasis Force, please leave a comment or drop me a line… (edit: just checked the link in the forum post, and it is broken – check here: http://www.worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/h_1942tob )

5th Indian Brigade and the Valarini Detachment Dec. 41

Comando Supremo also has some very interesting and insightful discussions.

55th Infantry Division Savona – this was the Italian formation providing the bulk of the forces for the Bardia/Halfaya position, and it is much overlooked in English/German histories, which tend to focus on a battalion of Germans under Major Bach.

Loss of tankers Maritza and Procida – with some very interesting information on Captain Mimbelli, who was in charge of the escort.

S.M.79’s at Tobruk December 41 – some very good info on the effort of Italian aerial torpedo bombers in this one

Fuel load on Iridio Mantovani – a discussion on the very large tanker sunk by bombers and Force K on 1 December 41

Was there a plan for an amphibious assault on Tobruk in 1941? – Answer: no – but still interesting reading.

Happy reading!

Books of Interest

This is a list which will grow over time… Eventually, I guess the aim will be to provide a review for each of them.

  • Agar-Hamilton & Turner ‘The Sidi Rezegh Battles’
    Official South African history
  • Carver ‘Dilemmas of the Desert War’
    Analysis of why Ritchie was not as bad as he is usually portrayed.
  • Carver ‘Tobruk’
    Standard work on the battles for Tobruk, leading up to its fall.
  • Clifton ‘The Happy Hunted’
    Biography by NZ Brigadier Clifton who was in charge of the Royal Engineers during the battle
  • Cocchia ‘Convoglio’
    Cocchia was an Italian escort commander, and later head of the USMM (historical office of the Italian Navy)
  • Crisp ‘Brazen Chariots’
    A must read – Crisp was a troop (platoon) commander in 3 RTR
  • Hargest ‘Farewell Campo 18’
    NZ Brigadier Hargest was captured when 5th Brigade HQ was overrun, and evacuated from Bardia by submarine. He escaped through Switzerland and France, and was eventually killed in Normandy, while acting as observer to the British forces there.
  • Hinsley ‘British Intelligence in World War 2’ Vol. II
    Standard work, including a lot of interesting information on ULTRA and the Y (radio intercept) services.
  • Kippenberger ‘Infantry Brigadier’
    NZ Brigadier Kippenberger was badly wounded on Belhamed.
  • Kriebel/Gudmundsson ‘Inside the Afrika Korps’
    Kriebel was Operations Officer of 15th Panzer, and wrote this in captivity.
  • Montanari ‘Tobruk’
    Italian official history ground and air
  • Playfair ‘The Med and The Middle East’
    British official history
  • Santoni ‘Il Vero Tradittore’
    The role of ULTRA in the Mediterranean uncovered
  • Smith, P. and Walker, E. ‘Battles of the Malta Striking Forces’
    Anything by Peter is worth reading. This one deals in particular with Force K (see also my book review https://crusaderproject.wordpress.com/category/book-reviews/page/3/)
  • USMM ‘La Difesa del Trafico’
    Italian official navy history
  • Terraine ‘The Right of the Line’, a one-volume history of the RAF in Europe and the Med.
  • Smith, Peter ‘Fighting Flotilla’, on the development and fate of the ‘L’ class destroyers which featured so prominently during Crusader (HMS Lance and Lively of Force K)
  • National Archives ‘Special Forces in the Desert War 1940 – 43’
  • Pope, Dudley ‘Flag 4’ on coastal forces in the Med.

War Art

The government of New Zealand, bless them, have made the cash available to put an awful lot of their military heritage online. Not only the NZETC (link on the right), but also the NZ Archives War Art digitalisation project deserve a mention. This is where the header of the blog comes from, by the way.


You can go to the site and search for specifics, e.g. typing in “Bardia” wil find a very nice sketch of the Bardia/El Adem cross-road.

One of my favourites is McIntyre’s “Somewhere on the Lybian Border”, from mid-41. My wife, who is my guide for what is a quality painting, likes it very much too, even though she is not interested in the subject matter at all.


Worth exploring.