I./StG 3 in North Africa

During the CRUSADER offensive the German and Italian air force (the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica) were reinforced heavily from Italy and Greece.  One unit which was transferred across was the first Gruppe (Air Group) of Sturzkampfgeschwader 3 (I./StG3), a dive bomber unit equipped with about 31 Junkers 87 single-engined dive-bombers, a type generally known as Stuka to English-speakers.  While these planes had sown terror during the early war, they were withdrawn quickly from the Battle of Britain in 1940, and were well past their prime in 1941. Nevertheless, they still soldiered on until the end of the war in Africa and on the Eastern Front, despite increasingly heavy losses.

Elements of I./StG3 (staff and 3rd Squadron) was originally meant to be transferred across to North Africa for a 4-day stint only, to assist in the capture of Tobruk (this order also applied to the 9th Staffel of ZG26, a twin-engined fighter unit equipped with Bf110s).  At the time of the start of CRUSADER is was probably based on Crete, in Maleme, and it constituted the only Air Group of StG3, the other two were formed in January and February 1942 in North Africa. When the Commonwealth forces struck, it quickly became apparent that the forces present in North Africa would not suffice, and additional air units were scraped together for a rapid transfer into the theatre.  It must have been helpful at this point that I./StG3 was already earmarked for just such a transfer, and was persumably ready to go at short notice, with 26 out of 31 planes serviceable and 33 out of 36 crews ready for action on 17 November, a rate of 84% for planes and 92% for crews, according to a strength return of X. Fliegerkorps, then its parent formation, a high number.  So on 16 November it was duly ordered to report how many Ju52 transport planes would be needed to transport the ground crews to Africa.  The plan was for the Gruppe to take over Tmimi airfield, which was already occupied by two of  the Ju 87 Staffeln of II./StG2.  With the order came a reminder to calculate the numbers of men and transport planes required ‘economically’.

What happened next however was that instead of the Division z.b.V. Afrika triumphantly riding into Tobruk, all hell broke lose outside the town in the form of the Commonwealth attack.  And so on the 19 November the information came that I./StG3 would move from Crete to Derna in North Africa on the 20th, but it was not for operations lasting only 4 days.  Instead, I./StG3  would stay in Africa until withdrawn to Germany in December 1942, after the defeat at El Alamein.

A useful site for the placements of this unit is this one.

See also this prior post regarding Luftwaffe air strength during the battle.

Please also see this other post for further detail and information on the matter of the transfer of I./StG3 to North Africa, and in particular what the British knew about it, and when.