Some more on I./StG3 in North Africa

Background – Clearing up Confusion

In a prior post (at this link) I have discussed the move of I./StG3 to North Africa.  From a discussion on the AHF (at this link), it appears there is a substantial lack of clarity regarding this post, partially induced by it:

a) showing that Hooton (presumably in his “Eagle in Flames”) made an error, and

b) it not being in line with information given to the White House by the UK Foreign Office in one of the daily updates, sent on 28 Nov 41, on the military situation which were sent across the Atlantic. (This information can be read at this link)

Well, before going into the detail of this, three upfront statements:

a) The original post contains an error, which may have a bearing on ‘b)’ above, and which I have now corrected. The error was that I overlooked the fact that not all of I./StG3 was slated to go to North Africa for the assault on Tobruk, but only the staff of the Gruppe (not the Geschwader), which was already in North Africa on 17 November, and the 3rd Squadron. Now together that should be about 15 planes at most (see e.g. this link for an explanation of Luftwaffe organisation).

b) Hooton is wrong if he is indeed “[…] quite definite that the order to transfer came four days after the 19th (because of the state of the airfields in-theatre after the bad weather).” My guess is he  either made a mistake in noting down the information, or he did not check the files I did in Kew. That happens. It is also possible that the confusion originated from the expected duration of the operation of four days, as indicated in the comment on an intercept of a message requiring Tmimi being readied for ‘landing and unloading’ on 19 November.

c) The information sent to the White House is also wrong, but this could just be a typo, or a clerical error, confusing German and Italian dive bomber reinforcements., or it could be base on using older intel, instead of newer. That also happens.

StG3-1 ULTRA intercept of order to StG3 to prepare for move to North Africa, issued 16 November 1941


DSC_0174 Indication that move is going ahead, morning of 19 November 1941.


A couple of points regarding the discussion on the AHF:

a) Stab StG3 and 1./StG3

These were two different units. It is a bit confusing, because StG3 had only the staff and one operational group plus a training squadron in Salonika-Sedes airport, so one wonders what they needed a staff for.  And indeed they did not, which is why the staff unit was sent to Africa in August 41 to provide a staff for the two groups of StG1 and StG2 which were already in North Africa, with a rear detachment remaining in Greece.  On 15 Nov 41 (the report was made on 17 Nov but clearly refers to 15 Nov as the date it reports about – it was decoded at 0425 hours on 18 Nov 41) the staff of StG3 consisted of the following planes, all of them in North Africa, and with the functions indicated:

3x Me 110 destroyer/recce/liaison (2 serviceable)

4x He 111 bomber/transport/liaison (3 serviceable)

3x Ju 87 dive bomber (1 serviceable)

The staff had 13 crews, of which 6 were ready, and 7 conditionally ready.

On the same day, I./StG3 in Crete reported a strength of 31 Ju 87. Additionally, there was a reserve training squadron at Salonika-Sedes, with 7 serviceable Ju 87 (0 OOB strength, which British intel believed to be a typo), 22 crews, of which 4 were ready (presumably the instructors, and 3 conditionally ready).

b) Serviceability of aerodromes in North Africa

In a prior post (at this link) I have talked a bit about the water-logged landing grounds, and much has been made of them in various histories.  While the situation was probably not a good one for a number of plane types, it appears that the landing grounds were not completely out.  On 19 Nov 41, 0030 hours, Derna and Benina were reported serviceable for Ju52 transport planes. Also on 19 Nov 41, III./LG1 reported normal operations out of Benina, but Derna was reported closed by the recce unit Afrika Kette equipped with the same planes.

On 20 Nov 41 the Ju 87 dive bombers stationed in Benina moved to Tmimi, while the planes of I./StG1 had moved to Gazala on 19 Nov 41, indicating the serviceability of these three airfields for the Ju 87 by those dates, despite the flooding.  It appears that fighters could operate throughout. So while the flooding certainly had a significant impact on the Luftwaffe in Africa, it did not keep it from joining battle for more than a day or two, and actually not for more than a few hours after the Axis actually realised they had a real battle on their hands!  The impact on signals and organisation was probably much heavier than that on being able to fly the planes in and out.

c) Timing of the order for I./StG3 to move and arrival of unit in North Africa:

On 16 November, as outlined before, staff and one squadron of I./StG3 was ordered to prepare for the move to North Africa in support of the assault on Tobruk. Judging from the wording of this order, the original order for the transfer had gone out before. How long, I don’t know.

At 1420 hours 19 Nov 41, an unsigned and unaddressed request was intercepted by ULTRA, stating that a powerful attack was underway from the direction of Giarabub to Tobruk (this was not exactly correct), and that I./StG3 should be sent to Derna at once.

DSC_0177Confirmation of impending move of I./StG3 to North Africa, 19 Nov 41 – request by unknown source for immediate despatch of I./StG3. Also note the rapidity of the interception and decoding. Sent 1420 hours on 19 November, decoded version printed 1734 hours 19 November.

It is likely that this came from Fliegerführer Afrika, in my view. The timing of the request is consistent with the timing of the re-appraisal of the situation at Panzergruppe HQ (see e.g. von Taysen Tobruk). But then during the night 19/20 Nov 41 Fliegerkorps X reported that it could not operate due to weather, and this may have delayed the transfer. In any case, at 2040 hours 19 Nov, a message was sent stating that I./StG3 and 9./ZG26 would leave AM the next day (20 Nov 41)  for Derna.

DSC_0202 Final movement order for I./StG3, 19 Nov 1941 for move on 20 Nov 1941.

This is likely to have taken place, since on 21 Nov 41, a detached force had been created at Benina, including 23 serviceable Ju 87 of I./StG3, which had conducted an armed reconnaissance on the same day.  I./StG3 is not featuring in the activity report for 20 Nov 41, which would make sense if that was the day they arrived. They are mentioned again on 22 Nov 41 undertaking the same activity, with 21 planes serviceable.

On 22 Nov 41, a strength return was intercepted which did not break strength down by unit, but only by type. According to it, strength of total Ju 87 in North Africa had increased from 69 on 15 November to 91 on 22 November (serviceable had increased from 55 to 56). Considering that some Ju 87 had already been lost during operations in the intervening days, this 22 plane net increase in total Ju 87 in theatre can only have come from the transfer of I./StG3. For example, on 20 Nov 3 German aircraft were shot down near or over the battlefield on 20 Nov, one of which was a Ju 87, and during a Beaufighter raid on 20 Nov 4 Ju 87 were slightly damaged (and it is impossible to say by how much – the Luftwaffe also counted aircraft that were to 90% destroyed as ‘damaged’, but presumably that would not be ‘slightly’).

DSC_0322 Confirmation of presence of I./StG3 in North africa, 21 Nov 41 – note the typo in the type designation (Ju 88 instead of Ju 87 – but it is really a typo)

d) The optel sent to the White House

In an assessment sent to Washington the Foreign Office states that 15 German dive bombers and 25 Italian have arrived. I’ll have a look at my Italian sources, but this seems odd to me. The other way round would make more sense, since the Italian units had about 15 or so planes per unit, while the German Gruppe based on the available intelligence had brought over at least 25 planes.

I do not know if an additional Italian Stuka unit was sent, but I must say that I have not seen any info on this in the files I am using, and this prior post of mine, containing the average frontline strength of the Italian air units, does not seem to indicate any additional units (although this is not conclusive – they may just have lost them very quickly). This was a bit of a mystery to me until I rechecked my files, and while at first it seemed to be a clerical error, or maybe a simple typo, it now appears that maybe the Optel is using the old intel from 16 November, which only talks of the Group staff and the 3rd Squadron being sent, which would come to at most 15 planes, and ignores the later info that at least 23 planes had been sent.

So, to sum up regarding the moves of I./StG3:

16 Nov – request to I./StG3 to report on transport aircraft requirement for the planned move to North Africa of staff of Group and 3rd Squadron in connection with an operation lasting 4 days (assault on Tobruk)

19 Nov – request for immediate despatch of group to North Africa.

19 Nov – info that group will leave for North Africa on 20 Nov

21 Nov – group is active in North Africa

Arrival date therefore almost certainly 20 Nov 41.

I hope this clarifies the matter of I./StG3’s arrival in North Africa somewhat.


2 thoughts on “Some more on I./StG3 in North Africa

  1. “b) Serviceability of aerodromes in North Africa

    … So while the flooding certainly had a significant impact on the Luftwaffe in Africa, it did not keep it from joining battle for more than a day or two, and actually not for more than a few hours after the Axis actually realised they had a real battle on their hands! …”

    Hi Andreas,
    do you have any thoughts on how the rains affected Axis recconaissance during the relevant period, and how reduced air recce – in turn – affected or contributed to the diliatoriness of the Axis in identifying CRUSADER for what it was? The foregoing assumes, oviously, that air recce *was* adversely affected by the weather.



  2. Hi Jon

    Good point, and quite right. As you can see from the entry, the strategic recce planes of the Afrika-Kette were grounded, and my guess is that not a lot happened for tactical recce either, until the 19th. On the 17th, only the fighters at Gazala could operate, and they did claim two Marylands that day. On the 18 Nov, all airfields were declared serviceable “provided care was taken in taking off and landing”. But the signal lines had been completely destroyed. So air recce was definitely affected on the 17 Nov, and presumably on the 18 Nov. For the 19 Nov Fliegerführer advised Fliegerkorps X that no operations would be possible, but this proved overly pessimistic. Then on 0730 hours 19 Nov a report was made of 600 MT (motor transport) advancing north-west from south of Sollum, area Ridotta Maddalena and Gasr el Asid. This was seen as part of a larger operation. From then on it took about 7 hours for Fliegerführer to state that a big attack was in progress and request immediate despatch of reinforcements from Crete.

    Even if they had been able to operate out of the airfields, they would still have had trouble getting their reports through. Overall, the impact of the weather on operations must have had an effect on the assessment of the scale of the attack, in my view. But how much is difficult to say – one wonders how pigheaded Rommel would have been in the face of German intel, as opposed to Italian.

    All the best



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