Effect on Air Transport Operations in Russia in 41

On 27 November, during the last German push towards Moscow, the chief of staff of VIII Fliegerkorps, the close-support specialists under von Richthofen, had to issue the following instruction, which in effect centralised air supply for ground forces, something which had become increasingly important during the supply crisis of Operation Taifun, the attack on Moscow:

STARTS

As a result of transfer of transport gruppen (wings) to other theatres of war (=Mediterranean) supply by air can from now on take place only to a limited extent. Liason officers (with ground forces) are to point out that only in the most urgent cases can supplies be carried by air.  Applications for air transport to be made to Fliegerkorps VIII.

ENDS

The information appears to also have gone to Berlin for information.

CX/MSS/473/T15

Operation Crusader did have an impact that was felt far beyond Libya, and for the first time allowed the German high command to peak into the abyss of resources not adequate to a two-front war.

An expensive visit to Castelvetrano

On the night 4/5 January 1942 the RAF bombers (Blenheims and Wellingtons) from Malta paid a visit to Castelvetrano (I have also seen Castel Vetrano and Castelveltrano as spelling) airfield on Sicily.  At the time, the airfield was stuffed with Axis transport planes which gathered in the Med, either to resupply Africa, or to transport in units and supplies belonging to the Luftwaffe’s 2nd Air Fleet which had just started its camapign against Malta.

This aerial reconnaissance picture below shows the airfield and the Axis planes parked on it on the day before the successful attack, and it was probably the reason for the attack.

Vertical aerial reconnaissance view of Castelvetrano airfield, Sicily, the day before a successful attack was made on it by Malta-based Bristol Blenheims of Nos. 18 and 107 Squadrons RAF. A number of Junkers Ju 52 and Savoia Marchetti SM 82 transport aircraft, many of which were destroyed during the raid, can be seen parked around the airfield perimeter. © IWM (C 4183)

Vertical aerial reconnaissance view of Castelvetrano airfield, Sicily, the day before a successful attack was made on it by Malta-based Bristol Blenheims of Nos. 18 and 107 Squadrons RAF. A number of Junkers Ju 52 and Savoia Marchetti SM 82 transport aircraft, many of which were destroyed during the raid, can be seen parked around the airfield perimeter. © IWM (C 4183)

The after action report (AAR) of the Wellington attack makes interesting reading.  11 Wellington sorties were flown that night, with four a/c making the trip twice.  One of the Wellingtons carried a 4,000 lb (1,800kg) “blockbuster” bomb, and appears to have managed to drop it right into the parked planes.

From the individual plane narratives:

Plane M […]He saw that most aircraft had been parked near the runway directly on the east of the aerodrome and that they looked like JU 52’s. […]

Plane Z dropped his 4,000lb [Blockbuster] bomb from 8,000 feet which landed just east of runway about two thirds of the way down from North-South.  A terrific explosion resulted throwing up debris and dust.  The target was visible when aircraft crossed the coast and showed up well.

Plane P No fires were burning when the aircraft arrived on the target at 0357 hours (Approximately 4.5 hours later than aircraft Z).

The attack went in in two waves, first four aircraft  between 2041 and 2200.   Then a single aircraft with the blockbuster bomb. A second wave from 0357 to 0525. Total bombs dropped were:

21 x 250lb GP

28 x 500lb GP

1 x 4,000lb GP

3,360lb incendiaries.

One aircraft failed to return, with the crew of Sgts. Lewthwaite, Pick, Chalmers, Bryan, and James. The Axis air forces lost six S.82s (one of which was used by the Germans), four Z1007bis, a CR42 and a Ju52, all of which were destroyed; in addition 42 more aircraft were damaged to various degrees: 22 S.82s, 15 Z1007bis, 2 FN305s, 2 CR42s and a MC200 (Thanks to Jon G. on AHF for the info). The S.82 were the biggest transport planes available in the Med at this stage, and losing 28 of them even if some were only out of service temporarily must have been a very big drain on overall Axis air transport capacity at a critical juncture.

(see also this prior post)

The Admirals Views are Wild

Well, at least that is what I can make out of C’s handwriting. His full comment is ‘I incline to the view that the admirals views are wild’, but I am not 100% certain about the last word. It is his comment on a piece of intel submitted to him, titled ‘Italian appreciation on the situation in LIBYA 27th November’. This itself is a misnomer, and I think C got it, since it is not an official appreciation, but the view of one, albeit high-ranking naval officer on the ground campaign. Still, the Italian admiral was not far off the established opinion. Only five days later Panzergruppe HQ declared victory – read at this link!

Here is the full text:

STARTS

CX/MSS/ZTPI/2600 (474/1)

Mediterranean Military Operations

At Cyrene during the evening of 27/11 source saw the following naval document, signed by Admiral Mateucci giving the Italian impressions of the situation:-

Axis front Sidi Amar (sic!) – Bardia is consolidated and quiet at present. Three British divisions, which were heavily engaged there, would appear to have retired to the eastward, for refitting (?). Concentrating the major part of their available forces, the British have opened a narrow breach through our forces disposed for the siege of Tobruk, joining up at Belhamedi. However, from this morning, 3 Axis armoured divisions from the Bardia area are advancing fighting, towards the westward. The British have had, as their dominating objective, the union with the forces besieged at Tobruk while the general shape of the battle has been characterised by the broad maneuvre. First towards the east, and now towards the west of the Axis armoured division.

ENDS

Let’s go through this with the benefit of hindsight.  At this point, out of three divisions and three independent brigades, only 7th Armoured had pulled back (what was left of it), but not to the east, mostly to the south, as had the South African 1st Brigade, while 5th had ceased to exist.  4th Indian Division was still besieging the frontier, and the New Zealand Division was busy attacking westward. Of course, it was the failure by the Axis commanders to realise this which helped to win the battle for the Commonwealth.

If anyone knows which position the good Admiral held, I would be very interested.

According to Rich, “C” was Lieutenant Colonel Sir Stewart Menzies, and the position of “C” was the model for Ian Fleming’s “M”.

C's covering note to the PM