This is a translation of a report from the Italian Navy’s official history “La Difesa Del Trafico con L’Africa Settentrionale” (The Defense of the Traffic with North Africa – Volume II), which was published i1976 as part of the 8-volume complete history of the Regia Marina in World War II. The translation was done by me – apologies for the possible errors. My Italian is far from perfect.
On 4 December ULTRA reported an item of 13 November, from OTTO TIGER (probably Panzergruppe Ia or commander) to OTTO HAMSTER (Panzergruppe Quartermaster) and IDA PINTSCHER (probably von Rintelen in Rome), as follows:
The supply situation demands temporary transfer of centre of effort (Schwerpunkt) from 20/11 to delivery of fuel and rations. For this purpose is is necessary to employ submarines and destroyers in increased numbers purely for the transport of supplies. IDA QUALLE (probably Quartermaster in Rome) has been informed in detail of the supply position.
Regia Marina Report
This particular report describes this programme in detail. The naval emergency supply programme was obviously planned after the destruction of the BETA or Duisburg convoy, and instituted in late November 1941. It ensured that the Axis forces in North Africa would at least receive a minimum of supplies, even if no more merchant ships would be able to make it across the Mediterranean. Considering the dire situation of fuel oil available to the Regia Marina at this stage, and the actual volume that could be transported on the naval vessels each run, the emergency programme was a highly wasteful effort which was nevertheless required to head off a complete collapse of the Axis forces in Libya. In this, it succeeded, together with the air supply flown in during the battle, and the arrival of some single runners of the merchant fleet (see this list of successful runs).
What is also notable is the importance of Suda Bay on Crete to the ability of the Regia Marina to execute such a programme.
I. Exchange of letters between Admirals Weichold and Riccardi
LIAISON OFFICE OF THE GERMAN ADMIRAL AT THE ITALIAN NAVY
SECRET RESERVED TO THE ADDRESSEE
Translation N. 366/41 22 November 1941
To the Chief of the General Staff of the Royal Italian Navy, His Excellency Squadron Admiral Designated D’Armata RICCARDI
Following on from my verbal commication to the Deputy Chief the General Staff I have the honour to submit to Your Excellency, in the name of the Grand Admiral, the following:
The Grand Admiral begs you to take into consideration, regarding the current situation in North Africa, all possibilities for resupply of gasoline, ammunition, and anti-tank weapons for the Cyrenaica with light naval units and submarines, even if this requires to run risks with them that normally would not be appropriate. The lack of supplies can be of great importance for the joint conduct of the war and for the holding of the Italian colony.
SUPERMARINA 22 November 1941
To Admiral Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy in Italy, His Excellency Admiral WEICHOLD
Re: Traffic with North Africa
SECRET RESERVED TO THE ADDRESSEE
Responding to your letter n. 366/41 of today
I would like to ask you to assure the Grand Admiral that Supermarina sees the current situation in exactly the same manner as he expressed it in his letter. Already going beyond the most serious requirements and confronting risks of war and seafare that in other times it would not be justified to take, a light cruiser and three destroyers will soon be be made available for the transport to Benghazi of the German battalion which Your command is preparing. You also know, as you are constantly kept aware of all decisions of Supermarina, that the transport of gasoline will be expedited with all means at our disposal, including a light cruiser, as you know. Also and especially now in this difficult moment the perfect coincidence of the views of our two navies is manifest.
THE CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF RICCARDI
II. Regia Navale Emergency Supply Plan for North Africa of 4 December 1941
One per day to Bardia or Derna
a. Fuel transport
Cagni (All with 140 tons fuel and 3 tons variable supplies.) Saint Bon, Millo, Carraciolo, Micca, (105 tons of fuel oil in submarine tanks , 70 tons various fuels in jerry cans, total 175 tons.)
b. Ration transport Menotti 14 tons in pallets Settimo 11 tons in pallets; (or for either submarine 20 tons of heavier rations)
2. Destroyers/torpedo boats One or two per day. Each destroyer could carry 95 tons of fuels, in 4,000 jerry cans and 140 barrels. Each torpedo boat could carry 65 tons of fuels in jerry cans and barrels. Depot ship Bellona supplied from German Wachtfels at Patrasso and then ran to Suda escorted by Turbine, while Wachtfels remained at Patrasso.
a. For Benghazi running a shuttle service from Benghazi to Suda Bay.
i. First pair: Two destroyers Vivaldi, from Leros, then Suda Bay and Benghazi
ii. Second pair: Destroyer Pessagno from Leros, then Suda Bay and Benghazi Destroyer Pigafetta from Taranto to Benghazi and then to Suda Bay
iii. Third pair: Two destroyers Da Recco and Usodimare from Naples to Benghazi, then to Suda Bay.
b. For Derna, running a shuttle service from Derna to Suda Bay.
i. Torpedo boat Orsa leaves Taranto for Derna and then Suda Bay.
ii. Torpedo boatProcione runs from Argostoli to Benghazi and then Suda Bay, thereafter shuttle between Derna and Suda Bay.
iii. Torpedo boat Orione runs from Brindisi to Derna and then Suda Bay.
3. Special vessels One or two per week for Benghazi depending on availability of the port.
a. MS Calitea from Brindisi to Benghazi, to leave only when the port at Benghazi was free. Estimated transport ability 1,000 tons of various materials.
b. German steamer Ankara from Taranto for Benghazi to leave when battleship Duilio and the VIIth Division [of cruisers] could escort it . Estimated transport ability 5,500 tons of various materials.
4. Cruisers (special traffic)
a. Cadorna – at Taranto to leave for Benghazi at date to be settled, coordinated with loading of MS Veniero and depending on weather conditions. Freight:
- 325 tons of gasoline in jerry cans
- 100 tons of fuel oil in the cruiser’s bunkers • 20 tons of rations
- 10 tons of small arms ammunition
- 100 men
b. Da Barbiano Da Giussano – from Taranto to Palermo and on to Tripoli. Both cruisers depart at a date to be settled depending on the lunar phase. Freight (each cruiser):
- About 300 tons of rations
- About 20 tons of ammunition for 88mm AA guns
- About 500 tons of fuel oil in the bunkers
- 120 men
The attack on Tobruk was to begin on 21 November, and therefore weapon or personnel would have been of little use at this point.
These were large, ocean-going submarines. Carraciolo and Saint Bon were lost on these missions. See the older entry at this link for background.
Carraciolo being fitted at the wharf in Monfalcone. (Wikipedia)
Both of these were submarines of 1,153 tons displacement submerged, comparable to the German Type IX boats, and were named after Italian politicians of the early 19th century.
See the older entry at this link for an explanation of Regia Marina ship classes.
Both of them sunk with heavy loss of life in the most spectacular, if one-sided, surface engagement during CRUSADER. See the older entry at this link for background.