The Good Source

The Good Source was how the German intelligence who handled his information called the US military attache at the US embassy in Cairo, Colonel Bonner Fellers.  You can read a lot of background about what he transmitted and how the Axis got a hold of it at this link.

At a visit to NARA today, and without looking for it, I came across the report Bonner Fellers sent on 19 January 1942, after the air offensive against Malta started, and just two days before Panzergruppe Afrika would begin its offensive that would take it to the Gazala line.

There are clearly inaccuracies about the situation in the report, and it is indeed very pessimistic.  But what is astonishing is the amount of detail provided about the British situation in the Mediterranean.  I can not be certain of course, but I believe that this is the first time that a report by Colonel Bonner Fellers has appeared in full on the Internet.  This has been re-translated from German by me.  I think, given the phrasing, that the Germans were probably given the English original, not an Italian translation.

What is also astonishing is the wide circulation given to the report with the heading that it was an intercepted message and from whom it orginated.  Compare this to the treatment that was developed  to protect ULTRA on the Allied side. It is no wonder that the Good Source only lasted for little more than half a year, in my view.

On the other side, the security of diplomatic cipher systems was a matter of concern at least to the British.  On 22 January 1942, just three days after the memo reproduced here was sent, ‘C’, the head of the SIS at the time, sent the draft of a telegram to Churchill, suggesting that he might “care to send this to the President” (Roosevelt). In it, ‘C’ outlines the concerns the British had about the security, or rather lack of it, of US military and diplomatic cipher systems, and suggest bringing together the specialists to make the system more secure.

The German General at the Headquarters of the Italian Armed Forces
(Military Attache Rome)
Ic Nr. 206/42 Secret Command Affair

To

1) Commander in Chief South
2) German Navy Command Italy

(Report was passed on to Supreme Command of the German Armed Forces and Supreme Command of the German Army)

Regarding: German air attacks on Malta.

Comando Supremo has sent over the following, intercepted telegram for information:

19 January 1942. From Cairo to the War Ministry in Washington – Secret –
1.) The week ending with 17 January brought a slight increase – but not on a large scale – of the operations of Axis air forces in Libya.  No new air units were noted, however the existing German units in Africa were brought up to full strength. 25 – 30% of the aerial activity in the desert falls on the Italian air force, while the operations against Malta are exclusively and affair of the German air force.
The information service of the RAF has not reported anything of the increase of air units of the Axis during this week and gave an evasive answer when questioned, by saying that there were no signs of changes.  It is believed that the German air force is now stronger than I reported it in my Report No. 545. The flyers of the RAF have reported that they, as can be seen in the report of the information service of the RAF, have counted 36 planes in all of Sicily. The information service of the RAF expects a gradual increase of the German air force until 1 April, so that the total strength in spring, as it is increased in the east and in Greece, will probably reach 1,000 combat planes here. The number of German fighters in Libya and Sicily at the moment exceeds 200 planes, all of them Me 109.  The German combat and fighter planes have a longer range of action than the similar planes of the RAF.
The main target of the German reconnaissance and bomber planes whose bases are on the Peloponnes, is the sea traffic from Alexandria to Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi. The English want to bring 1,200 tons daily to Tobruk, 200 tons to Derna, and 6-800 tons to Benghazi.  This goal of 2,000 tons per day has not been reached yet, and the RAF fears that the sea route will become too costly for its own fighters and the navy.
2) The heavy attacks on Malta continue.  All bombers have been withdrawn, only the Hurricanes remaine there.  On 26 December some Ju. 88 attacked the airfield of Luka, destroyed six planes on the ground and damaged others. An explosive bomb hit a fuel dump: 25 Wellington 8, which stood within a radius of about half a mile were rendered unserviceable; amongst the ground crews there were significant losses.  Despite the strong air defence (see my report No. 130) – and the strong fighter force on Malta, it is obviously the intent of the Germans to destroy the fighter force, to subdue the garrison of the island by air attacks with bombs and machine guns, and to interrupt the British supply traffic, to ensure the unimpeded sea traffic of the Axis and to control the western Mediterranean as a final goal. Without a doubt this goal also includes the occupation of the island. It is expected that at least three weeks are required to eliminate the usefulness of Malta. Following from the action against Malta it has to be expected that the next goal is to block the eastern exit of the mediterranean by mine barriers and devalue the naval base of Alexandria for the English by attacks from the air and by submarines.
The Italians have about 70 and the Germans about 25 submarines, while the British submarine forces only reach 25% of this number. While the British fleet will by necessity be further reduced, the Italian fleet will be at liberty to protect the convoys against surface units.  We expect that a reduction of the British fleet by 1 April will be the consequence, a point in time when the strength of the German air force in the Mediterranean will have reached its peak.
The RAF relocates planes to the Far East.  Officially 250 planes are currently foreseen for relocation.  The fighter force in this theatre considerably threatens the position of the British air force in the Middle East, and that at a point in time when it would be criminal neglicence to suppose that an air offensive of the Axis is not likely.

The document is signed by General von Rintelen, the German military attache and liaison officer  at Comando Supremo, in person.

Regarding the information contained in the memo, I would think that the (albeit) rough assessment of RN sub strength active in the Mediterranean, as well as the results of the  air attacks onMalta (in particular the withdrawal of the Wellingtons) would have been of interest. Furthermore, the absence of a reference to any expected axis ground attack in Africa (which started two days later) and the reference to the supply problems the British had forward of Tobruk must have been valuable information, confirming the correct assessment of the situation by the Axis intelligence at the time. Finally I think the info on RAF withdrawals to the Far East is good information to have too. So I think there is a lot in what the meo says and does not say which would have been of great interest to an Axis intelligence officer.

Nevertheless, I would like to have a look at the actual plan of the Axis to reinforce the air strength in the Med. Also, I don’t think it is right that the Italians did not participate in Malta, and the number of 200 Me 109 active in Africa and Sicily in mid-January appears overstated to me.

Happy 100th Birthday Royal Navy Aviation!

Well I am very pleased to congratulate the Royal Navy on this achievement.  I just witnessed a spectacular fireworks display from my balcony in Greenwich, and in the morning got treated to the helicopters returning to HMS Illustrious, currently moored here.  The Royal Navy certainly does know how to celebrate in style.

The 100th anniversary is dated back to when the first funding request for a naval airship was granted in 1909. 

A longer post on the Fleet Air Arm during CRUSADER can be found at this link. More specific to HMS Illustrious, during CRUSADER, the squadrons disembarked from HMS Illustrious served as fighters, airborne escort, target illuminators, and night bombers. Illustrious herself was out of service because of damage received in successive attacks from January to May 1941.

Click here for the Flight Global article on the centenary with some nice illustrations.

Click here for the Fleet Air Arm Archive page on HMS Illustrious in WW2.

Click here for the Fleet Air Arm Archive page on No. 815 Squadron FAA.

And some pictures, courtesy of my wife Livia.

HMS Illustrious at her moorings just north the old Naval College

HMS Illustrious (R06) at her moorings on the Thames at Greenwich, just north-west of the old Naval College, now the University of Greenwich

Flypast

The Flypast from our 6th floor balcony close to the river

The Flypast turning over a construction site
The Flypast turning over a construction site
Giving a good idea of the size of this relatively small carrier

Giving a good idea of the size of this relatively small carrier

The 1940s HMS Illustrious (R87) sailing in the Indian Ocean in 1944.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The 1940s HMS Illustrious (R87) sailing in the Indian Ocean in 1944. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

HMS Illustrious under Axis bomber attack in the Mediterranean, probably early 1941. Courtesy of Wikipedia

HMS Illustrious under Axis bomber attack in the Mediterranean, probably early 1941. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Book Review: Ali D’Africa

Ali D’Africa
Michele Palermo & Ludovico Slongo
Four Stars out of Five
Ali D’Africa is a very good book that I can only fully recommend to anyone interested in the air war over the desert in 1941 and 1942.  It is a day-by-day account of the actions of 1o Stormo (1st Fighter Wing) of the Regia Aeronautica during the period December 41 to July 42, in other words the critical period of the fighting in North Africa.
The book is essentially a day-by-day account of air combat, with the attempt to reconstruct what actually happened by going through the unit records on the British and Italian side. The authors must be congratulated for their perseverance in doing this, and for their honesty, because they do not jump to conclusions, and make it clear where they are speculating.  This is interspersed with personal accounts, e.g. by the nephew of an Italian pilot, or quotes from Commonwealth pilots and unit histories, where these can shed light on the often confusing events.  The detailed description of the actions provides a good insight into the roles taken by the various fighter planes present with the Regia Aeronautica in North Africa.
Very helpfully, the book also discusses the technical aspects of the MC.202 compared to the Commonwealth fighter planes and the German Bf109F-4, which at the period of CRUSADER was the mainstay of the Luftwaffe fighter force in North Africa.  The outcome of the discussion was quite interesting to me, in that it showed that while the flight characteristics of the Macchi were superior to those of its opponents, and it presented a real shift in the performance of the Italian fighter arm, the plane was badly let down by its armament, with a consequent compromising of its effectiveness as a weapon that went beyond what I would have expected.  The discussion on the quality (or lack thereof) of the radio equipment in the Italian planes is also quite informative. In my view the book does a good job in showing that the pilots of the Regia Aeronautica fighter arm were not lacking in determination, as has often been supposed, but suffered from a lack of capable communications equipment, which put them at a disadvantage compared to their adversaries and indeed their allies. One example of this in the book is a combat where a single Macchi out of a group engages a number of Commonwealth planes, while the others (who missed the wiggling of the wings by the plane engaging, which was the indication that enemy planes had been sighted) carry on their way, unaware that enemy planes are close.
Ali D’Africa contains a large number of photographs, not just of the planes of 1o Stormo but also of British and German planes used in the desert. These add well to the text. At the end there is a table with all the combats fought by the unit in North Africa, including claims and losses, as well as a list of pilots. A literature list finishes the book.
The book is bilingual, and my review is based on reading the English text.  This is also where I have to mention my major criticism, which did lead to the book not getting a perfect score for me. The English is not bad at all, but it is clear the text was written by a non-native speaker, and did not benefit from a thorough editing job. In some (very very few) cases I had to go back to the Italian to understand what was meant in the text.  Also, the typeset (Arial, I think) and spacing used for the English text is tiring to read, much more uncomfortable than the Italian typeset, and I would encourage the authors to choose a different font, layout, and English editor for their next bi-lingual book.
Ali D’Africa is nevertheless a very very valuable addition to the existing body of knowledge on the air war in North Africa, and builds on and adds to the pioneering work by Shore and Rings, which was undertaken almost 40 years ago now, and in which the Italians were given quite short shrift.  There is still a need for a comprehensive operational study of the Italian air war in North Africa, but this book does not claim to provide it, and it would therefore be unfair to fault it on this account.
In closing, I can only highly recommend this work to anyone interested in the air war in North Africa.
As an addendum, I would like to add that Aviolibri, a very small (I think family-owned) enterprise in Rome should be congratulated for their efforts in putting out what is not only a highly interesting but also a very polished product (Disclaimer, I have no relation with them, and do not benefit from any purchases made, in any way). Purchasing from them through the internet is very easy, and ensures they will continue in business and be able to supply more interesting books. When you are in Rome, also make sure to visit their store in the Via dei Marsi, behind the Termini train station.  There are some interesting Roman ruins nearby too, and you won’t regret your visit. The book can be ordered from their website on www.aviolibri.it, or by emailing IBN@aviolibri.it. The cost is €18, plus P&P. It is worth it, in my view.