Transport of Sonderverband 288 to Africa

Background

A unit that has attracted a bit of attention disproportionate to its size is Sonderverband 288 (SV 288; literally: Special Formation 288).  You can find some more information on this unit here, but need to be careful, not all of the information at the link is correct. 

SV 288 was originally destined to support the uprising in Iraq and contained Arabic-speaking personnel. It was a mixed formation heavy on support weapons rather than infantry, with anti-tank capabilities.

SV288 during CRUSADER

Elements of SV288 were ordered across to North Africa from Greece in mid-November after the start of CRUSADER, to form an ad-hoc unit called Sperrverband Daumiller (blocking detachment Daumiller, named after its commander, Captain Daumiller).  We meet this unit in the Agheila position at the end of December and in the Marada Oasis in January.

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North Africa, SdKfz.250 armoured personnel carrier and Sturmgeschütz III in 1942, likely of SV288. Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv.

Initial Transport

24 November

The first transport was by air on 24 November, when 9 Junkers 52 flew a unit of Gebirgsjäger under the command of Hauptmann (Captain) Daumiller from Greece to Benghazi, to act as a blocking detachment against expected enemy incursions in the area. This was triggered by Operation SYMPHONY (see this link) and the advance of Brigadier Reid’s E-Force to the south (the subject of our first book).

These  were probably initially two platoons of Gebirgsjäger[1] of a total strength of 90 men, equipped with 25 anti-tank rifles and a ‘plentiful’ supply of ammunition. The Gebirgsjäger under SV288 were the only Gebirgsjäger to serve in Libya throughout the duration of the war, but a regiment of Gebirgsjäger fought in Tunisia in 1943. This transport brought, according to British intelligence, the total of arrivals to 269 men brought in by plane, but this seems unlikely, and may confuse the numbers flown in with those who arrived on an armed merchant cruiser in Benghazi the same day.

The main transport effort of the day was supposed to happen on two Italian Spica-class torpedo boats[2], it was planned that at mid-day 24 November (departure time is my guess), the HQ of the Heavy MG Platoon, two platoons of engineers with blocking material and 12 light flamethrowers would be brought over to Derna, together with 3 anti-tank rifles, 2 5cm Anti-tank guns, and 3 armoured cars. In total 100 men, 24 vehicles and 12 motor-cycles.  Additionally fuel for the vehicles to cover 1,000 standard kilometres (10 consumption units/Verbrauchssätze), and 3 days of rations. It is highly likely that this trip was cancelled, because of the more urgent requirement to bring in fuel on the torpedo boats, and there is no record of them arriving in Derna. The remaining elements, which included a platoon of Sturmgeschütze[2] could not be transported on these small units in any case.

29 November

An ULTRA message showed that Luftwaffe Gaustab[4] commander General Osterkamp, who had been put in charge of the defense of the Benghazi/Agedabia sector, appealed for urgent transport of the armoured cars to counter the threat posed by E-Force, if necessary by using Junkers 90 heavy transport planes, destroyers, or even a cruiser.

30 November

An ULTRA message showed that German air command decided that while the remainder of SV 288 should be transported as soon as possible, fuel had to take precedence. At this point the expected threat from E-Force had been reassessed and downgraded.

1st December

ULTRA intercepts was then stated that 5cm AT guns of 5th Mountain Division should be flown from Crete to Derna.

It is furthermore pointed out that the unit would not be ready to act as a fully equipped and mobile blocking detachment, because it lacked sufficient vehicles, anti-tank guns and its Sturmgeschütze, which would have to be transported on a slower transport ship. In the event, these Stugs did not appear in combat until the Gazala battles in May 1942, when one was captured by South African armoured cars.

RN Alcione

Torpedo Boat Alcione in 1939 at Taranto, as she would have appeared in 1941. One of the vessels on which the transport was supposed to have taken place. USMM.

Assessment

Overall, this little episode shows a few things:

  • The ability of the Wehrmacht to improvise in the face of urgent necessity.  They had little qualms to take specialised units and throw them into battle elsewhere when needed.
  • Within one week after the start of CRUSADER the Axis was scrambling to plug what they saw as serious holes. In this case, it is Brigadier Reid’s E-Force that had them running scared all along the coastline, because there were almost no Axis ground forces capable of stopping Reid’s force from raiding the airfields and supply installations and western Cyrenaica.
  • After just one week of combat, the Axis was reduced to weighing equally unpalatable options. Should they send an urgently needed ground force to protect the airfields from possible raids? Or should they send in petrol to keep planes in the air? Or should they send 5cm AP ammunition of which its own tanks were beginning to run short?

Notes

[1] Specialised mountain troops
[2] Generally known as 
Stugs in English – fully armoured assault guns with 75mm guns, on a Panzer III chassis.
[3]small destroyers, probably Alcione and Lira, the former was sunk on 11 December by HM Submarine Truant near Crete
[4]Luftwaffe rear area command based in Benghazi.

5 thoughts on “Transport of Sonderverband 288 to Africa

  1. They were renamed Panzer-Grenadier Regiment Afrika at the end of 1942, and my guess is that (like the rest of the troops) they missed the last boat home and surrendered in May 43.

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  2. Pingback: Brandenburger Special Forces in North Africa 1941 « The Crusader Project

  3. Pingback: A bit of Detail for Sonderverband 288 « The Crusader Project

  4. Pingback: "Daumiller" Unit - Weapons and Warfare

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