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.

Waterlogged1

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:

Waterlogged2

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.

One thought on “A Look on the Waterlogged Landing Grounds

  1. Just in general, I am quite impressed by the role of weather, topography, and other gross natural factors on battle outcomes. Certainly so with Crusader, with the big storm during the night of 17/18 November – referred to repeatedly in firsthand accounts from both sides – helping the Empire to get a quick leg up in the aerial aspect of the battle. Basil Embry, on Coninghams staff at the time, says C. and he pre-located some of the LGs with precisely this sort of event in mind.

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