Cronistoria Files of Superaereo

Cronistoria Files of Superaereo


When going to the archives yesterday with my friend James (and getting me the nerdiest-looking picture on a user card ever), I found some very nice Italian information covering the CRUSADER period.  I am actually not quite sure if this has ever been published in English, or indeed in Italian. Maybe somebody can comment on that?

Cronistoria is shorthand for Cronica della Storia (historical chronicle), and it is a simple mission report compiled for Superaereo of the Regia Aeronautica (High Command of the Royal Air Force) in the A.S.I. (Africa Settentrionale Italiana – Italian North Africa) area of operations, on a daily basis.  Below are two days.

15 November 1941

tel. 2485 to Superaereo

5 MC.200 carried out an escort of a S.75 reconnaissance plane.  Formation was attacked by 4 Hurricans from above.  Combat allowed the reconnaissance plane to escape.  One MC dived in smoke and crashed on the ground. One Hurricane shot down in flames.

13 CR.42 carried out escort for a S.81.

5 G.50 carried out patrol over Benghazi, and one G.50 took off on alarm.

2 MC.200 took off from Barce on alarm.

tel. 2518 to Superaereo

One Ro.37 explored along the coastline from Ain Gazala Apollonia-Marsa Susa and five miles out from Apollonia-Marsa Susa Ai Gazala.

One Cant.Z.501 carried out a search for motor sailing vessels and mines (or mine hunters)

18 November 1941

tel. 2581 to Superaereo

5 G.50 prepared to take off for an alarm, two did not succeed, the other three followed, reached and attacked an enemy formation; one (enemy) plane shot down.

tel. 2633 to Superaereo

One G.50 took off on alarm.

6 CR.42 carried out an escort of Ju.87 planes.

10 G.50 took off on alarm from Martuba.  One G.50 took off on alarm from Ain-Gazala and made contact together with German fighters with a formation of 9 Glen Martin (bombers). One shot down.

Italian division strengths at the end of the battle

Another document from yesterday’s haul shows the strength of all Italian divisions on 1 Feb 1942, and compares them to their authorised strength.  It makes sombre reading and shows the impact of the fighting on the Italian formations, most of which I would presume (but be happy to be corrected about) to have been at pretty close to full strength under the Tipo AS40 organisation when the CRUSADER battles started. In this document however, the relevant strength level applied to them is the Tipo AS 42 organisation.

It looks as if the conversion to AS42 was ordered around the start of January 42, and it may well have been an organisation type that achieved two advantages for the Italians. First, it significantly reduced the supply needs for the infantry divisions which in the view of commanders on both sides always had a marginal role in Africa (notwithstanding the fact that the Commonwealth infantry divisions together with the British I-tanks won CRUSADER).  At the same time, it already reflected the very heavy losses suffered by the Italian divisions during CRUSADER.  If the strengths at the end of the battle are compared to the AS40 organisation, they do look a lot worse. AS42 was a divisional organisation that was really more reflective of Italian capabilities in terms of maintaining frontline strength in Africa while building it up significantly in Russia at the same time (where the Expedition Corps was built up to an Army in 1942).  Quite simply, Italy took on more than she could handle with the Russian adventure. Between Russia, the occupation of Greece and Albania, and the need to protect the homeland, little if nothing was left for the last remaining colony of the would-be successor to the Roman empire.

What AS42 meant in terms of combat capability of the Italian infantry divisions is bleak – they were divisions in name only. In terms of strength, they were closer to a British infantry brigade than anything else. So when we are talking about Italian divisions, this needs to be kept in mind. Essentially, the two Italian infantry corps would have a combat value comparable to, although probably slightly above (depending on what artillery the Corps was furnished with) that of a British infantry division.

X. Corpo Armato (10th Army Corps) – all divisions should have 6,865 men under the Tipo A.S.42 organisation

Bologna – 3,897 (56% of authorised strength under the AS42 TO&E/36% compared to the AS40 TO&E)

Brescia – 4,108 (59%/37%)

Corps Troops – 1,522

XXI. Corpo Armato (21st Army Corps)Pavia and Sabratha divisions should have 6,865 men under the Tipo A.S.42 organisation, Trento should have 10,831 as Div. Ftg. Autotrasportabile or 8,731 as Div. Mot. tipo A.S. (maybe someone can confirm which type this division was? The document seems to indicate only Piave was organised as the latter type)

Pavia – 4,651 (67%/42%)

Sabratha – 5,084 (73%/46% – Sabratha was not involved in active combat in CRUSADER, providing only a blocking force at Mersa el Brega; it was however involved in COMPASS and was rebuilding in Tripolitania during the year)

Trento – 4,518 (52% assuming it was a Div. Mot. tipo A.S.)

Corps Troops – 3,551

Corpo Armato di Manovra CAM – Mobile Army Corps

Ariete – 5,707 (62% – as armoured division should have 9,274)

Trieste – -6,795 (78% – Trieste should have 10,831 as Div. Ftg. Autotrasportabile or 8,731 as Div. Mot. tipo A.S. – but the question is the same as with Trento)

Corps Troops -555

Other units:

Various Elements

Western Libya – 4,540

Eastern Libya – 517

Completely lost:

Divisione Savona – 0 (division lost at Bardia/Sollum)

This link contains good information about Italian divisions,  but in German.

Leo Niehorster’s site has pages on the organisation of the A.S.40 Infantry Division and the A.S.42 Infantry Division.

I would be interested to find out when the reorganisation into A.S.42 was ordered for the infantry and motorised divisions, before or during the winter battles of 41/42?