Successful supply runs for the Axis – November 1941


I think it was Kriebel, Ia (operations staff officer) of 15. Panzerdivision, or maybe von Mellenthin, Ia (intelligence staff officer) of Panzerarmee Afrika who claimed that from the destruction of the Duisburg (Regia Marina designation: “Beta”) convoy by Force K on the night 8/9 November until the arrival of Ankara at Benghazi on 19 December, no supplies reached the Axis forces in North Africa.  In the immortal words of Good Omens, this is not correct.  While it is correct that until the successful M.42 operation on 19 December no major convoy came through, and that very important merchants such as Maritza, Procida, and Mantovaniwere sunk, a good number of merchants made it through.

RCT Zeno 1942 ANMI MI

Navigatori Class Destroyer Nicolo Zeno during an escort mission in 1942, showing the experimental ‘Claudius’ dazzle camouflage that she would likely have carried on convoy duty in late 1941. Wikipedia.

Naval Units

First of all, there were the naval units carrying emergency supplies, as well as reinforcements (e.g. Sonderverband 288 arrived in parts on Italian destroyers).  See this older post for the emergency supply programme. Also, there were a few runs of purely civilian supply ships carrying food, coal and cement, and a run by the water tanker Leneo with water supplies for Tripoli harbour, probably from Tunisia. Furthermore, there were runs by submarines to various ports in North Africa, and the Giussano-class Condotierri light cruiser Cadorna crossed with fuel and ammunition.


At the same time, some small merchant convoys also made it through.  Below is a list of these, including their cargo.  The information is from the official history of the Italian Navy, Vol. VIII La Difesa del Trafico con L’Africa Settentrionale and various websites.  One should note that the Med was a very dangerous place to be at the time if one was in an Italian merchant.  Of the nine ships that made the run successfully, four were lost within the next six weeks, one of them on the return run, and one in harbour in North Africa while unloading.

The list may not be complete. Naval History Net’s Day-by-Day list at this link states that German steamer Brook and Italian trawler Amba Aradam, escorted by Tp Partenope arrived at Benghazi from Brindisi on 18 November. My current information is that this is not correct, but that it was instead a coastal convoy from Tripoli.  The list also does not include the four F-lighters that went from Trapani to Tripoli on 2 December.

The List

Supplies and reinforcements delivered on merchants during this period total as follows (not complete):

Tanks M13/40 24
Troops (Italian & German) 2,846
Vehicles and prime-movers 322
General stores and rations (military) 5,885 tons
Ammunition (Italian) 896 tons
Air force fuel 675 tons
Ammunition and various materials for the Germans 330 tons
General war stores for the Germans 3,383 tons
Undefined Up to 2,300 tons on Bolsena 1 December

Arrival dates, detailed cargoes and escorts as follows:

Arrival Date 16 November
Location Benghazi

Ct da Verrazano (1)
Ct da Pigafetta

Ship(s) Name(s) Città di Napoli (2)
Città di Genova
Cargo by ship Città di Napoli
General Supply and Rations 130 tons
Troops 697
  Città di Genova
General Supply 60 tons
Rations 104 tons
Troops 562
Arrival Date 21 November
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct Zeno

Tp Partenope (3)
Ship(s) Name(s) Città di Palermo
General Supply 92 tons
Troops (Italian) 428
Troops (German) 260
Arrival Date 23 November
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Tp Orione

Ct Strale
  Tinos (4)
Cargo by ship Bolsena
General Supply and Rations for the Italians 341 tons
Ammunition 395 tons
Vehicles and Prime Movers 5
Food and other Materials for the civilians 140 tons
Ammunition and various materials for the Germans 330 tons
War stores for the German forces 3,383 tons
War stores for the Italian forces 14 tons
Vehicles and Prime Movers 4
Arrival Date 23 November
Location Tripoli

From Italy
Ct Usodimare
Ct Saetta
From Tripoli

Ct Sebenico
Tp Centauro

Ship(s) Name(s) Fabio Filzi (5)
General Supply and Rations 3,073 tons
Tanks M13/40 (Italian) 10
Vehicles and Prime Movers 123
Civilians 110
Troops 115
Fuel for the airforce in barrels 675 tons
Arrival Date 24 November (6)
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct Malocello
Ship(s) Name(s) Città di Tunisi
General Supply 103 tons
Troops (Italian) 476
Troops (German) 289
Arrival Date 1 December
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct da Verrazano
Ship(s) Name(s) Sebastiano Venier (7)
General Supply 1968 tons
Troops (Italian) 19
Civilians 118
Ammunition 591 tons
Vehicles and Prime Movers 190
Tanks M13/40 14
Arrival Date 1 December
Location Tripoli
Escort(s) Tp Centauro
Ship(s) Name(s) Bolsena
Cargo No information but see above run for capacity.


(1) Ct = Cacciatorpediniere, a larger destroyer, I think these would be Fleet Destroyers (large, well-armed, fast) in Royal Navy classification.

(2) The four Città vessels were classed as naval auxiliaries D1 to D4 and carried an armament of 4x120mm guns and AA equipment. They were relatively fast (19 knots for Genova and Palermo, 17 knots for Tunisi and Napoli) passenger/cargo ships with about 5,400 tons displacement. Only Città di Tunisi survived the war and was broken up in 1970ish.  Città di Palermo did not even survive CRUSADER, she was torpedoed and sunk with very heavy loss of life by HM Submarine Proteus (Lt.Cmdr. Francis) off the Greek island of Cephalonia on 5 January 1942.
(3) Tp = Torpediniere, a smaller destroyer, I think these would be Destroyer Escorts (small, medium armament, medium speed, designed for convoy duty) in Royal Navy classification.
(4) Tinos was bombed while in the harbour of Benghazi. Most of her freight (AA ammunition and bombs) could be salvaged however.
(5) Mn Fabio Filzi was a new ship, commissioned in 1940. She was a fast and large merchant (16 knots, 6,836 tons displacement), and clearly seen as a high-value addition to the Italian merchant fleet, judging by her escort. It did not help her much, she was lost off Taranto to HMS Upright, together with what looks like her sister Carlo de Greco, while carrying 45 German tanks and about 600 or so troops. 453 shipwrecked were rescued by the accompanying destroyers.
(6) Mn Città di Tunisi ran in convoy from Suda Bay with Città di Genova to arrive on 21 November, but suffered an engine breakdown and had to return to Suda Bay with Malocello. After fixing the malfunction she set out again. She was damaged by bombs on the return run, according to radio interception by the British Admiralty.
(7) Tragically, on the run back Sebastiano Venier was torpedoed by HM Submarine Porpoise (Lt. Cdr. E.F.Pizey DSO) and had to be beached on Navarino. Of about 1,800 British and Commonwealth POW she transported, over 300 were killed. There is a lot of detail on this tragedy at this link.

10 thoughts on “Successful supply runs for the Axis – November 1941

  1. While that seems like a lot of men, material and tonnage, how does it compare in terms of daily requirements? For example; 675 tons of avgas – that’s about 2 days worth, isn’t it?


  2. Probably a bit more than that, 3-4 I would guesstimate. It is little, in terms of needs while a major operation is going on. The idea of the post was not to say that enough supply was coming through (there wasn’t), but that there was more than nothing. The Germans in all theatres had this nasty little habit of making their allies look bad to absolve themselves from blame.

    I think 60-100,000 tons per month would probably have been needed to maintain PAA and the civilians. For comparison, in every the same month over 500,000 tons were unloaded in Egypt for the Commonwealth and civilians.


  3. This is most interesting. Somewhere I read that, in connection with the code-breaking, that decisions were made to more-or-less “allow” some smaller ships and convoys through in order to keep the Italo-Germans from hitting on the idea that their mail was being read. Seems to have worked; even postwar, the Germans (cf., I think Kesselring’s book) suspected “Italian treachery” in the matter of those big convoys that were precisely intercepted and destroyed.


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