Book Review: Courage Alone by Chris Dunning

Here’s the verdict upfront: this is a beautiful book, full of photos, very nice coloured drawings, and also very informative.  I managed to get it new for UK£20, which is a steal, considering the label price is UK£35, and the high quality of the book. A must-have for anyone interested in the Regia Aeronautica.

Cover - Note that mine has a different picture of a Sm 79 with torpedo on top

The book covers both matters of interest to operational historians, by providing group and squadron histories of varying length, including the histories of the RA’s experimental station at Guidonia and the experimental air torpedo squadron, and for modellers, with a section on camouflage and many colour drawings.

These unit histories are accompanied by drawings and photos relevant to the text.  The book also contains orders of battle for various major actions or campaigns (e.g. Sidi Barrani 1940 or the HARPOON convoy). Unfortunately the RA’s OOB for Operation CRUSADER is missing, which I consider to be a strange oversight. Their is a set of maps showing airfields, and standard flight routes, which are of considerable interest.

I am not a modeller, so I have to leave judgement on this topic to more competent readers.

The book covers the following areas:

  • Chronology from start of the war to the armistice in 1943
  • Command structure and doctrine
  • Unit histories of groups and independent squadrons
  • Squadron allocations for 1940/41 and 42/43
  • Orders of battle
  • A chapter on the aircraft carrier Aquila
  • A chapter on anti-shipping operations
  • Aircrew training and ranks
  • Aces
  • Aircraft types
  • Aircraft equipment
  • Camouflage
  • Aircraft markings
  • An analysis on why the RA lost
  • Extracts from technical manuals of the Ca 310 and Cr 32

My two criticisms would be that first it would have been nice to read more about the performance of the Italian planes. There is a list of all types produced in Italy and flown by the RA, but it is a table with very limited information on how the planes did. Otherwise such information is scattered into the squadron histories – this shows that the author knows a lot about the topic, but has not collated it for this book. The second is that I do not see the value in having 20 pages of tables with squadron allocations. More OOBs or performance infos of key types in comparison to their opponent fighters would have been nice – e.g. how did the Cr 42 compare to the Gloster Gladiator? How did the Fiat G 50 perform in the ground attack role? What were the key shortcomings of the Br 20? But these are somewhat minor shortcoming in what otherwise is a marvellous and very informative book that is also a pleasure to read and enjoy.

Sinking of HM Submarine P.38 – 23 February 1942

Sinking of HM Submarine P.38 – 23 February 1942


This is only indirectly related to Operation CRUSADER, but of interest nevertheless because it shows the increasing sophistication of Italian escort vessels which happened around the time of the end of the operation, and which probably contributed somewhat to 1942 becoming the worst year for losses in the Mediterranean, with a total of 13 of HM Subs lost, compared to 9 in 1940 (admittedly in just over six months), and 11 each in 1941 and 1942. I have added information on the Italian convoy on 28 May, based on the entry in the Seekrieg website.

HM/Sub P.38

P.38, under the command of Lieutenant R.J. Hemingway RN DSC, was sunk by Tp Circe (Tp = Torpediniere – torpedo boat, a class of light escort destroyers), which sank or participated in the sinking of four Royal Navy submarines, HM S/M Grampus on 16 June 1940, HM S/M Tempest and P.38 in February 1942, and HM S/M Union in July 1942. Circe herself was lost on 27 November 1942 in a collision with auxiliary cruiser Citta di Tunisi. Lt. Hemingway was probably awarded his DSC on 20 December 1940 for  what was believed to be a successful action against an Axis submarine (either U-58, or Italian submarines Veniero or Otario) in the Bay of Biscay, while serving on HM S/M Tigris under Lt.Cdr. Bone, DSO, DSC. In reality however Tigris did not sink the target, whichever of the three it was. His previous command was HM S/M H.31, which was lost with all hands on 19 December 1941 in the North Sea.

Hms p38 submarine

HM/Sub P.38 underway. Wikipedia.

Attack Operations

P.38 was sunk while trying to attack one of the big convoys of early 1942, in this case the third major operation of the year, convoy K.7. It consisted of two separate convoys of six merchants each from Messina and Corfu. The convoys were the fast motor vessels Unione, Monginevro, Ravello (all in convoy 1), and Monviso, Lerici, and Giulio Giordani (convoy 2). They were escorted by destroyers in direct escort (Ugolino Vivaldi, Lanzerotto Malocello, Nicolo Zeno, (all Navigatori-class), Premuda (captured Yugoslav Dubrovnik), Strale (Freccia-class), – convoy 1; Antonio Pigafetta (F), Emanuele Pessagno, Antonio Usodimare, (all Navigatori-class) , Maestrale, Scirocco (both Maestrale-class) – convoy 2) and also by two squadrons of heavy escorts, those of the  old battleship Duilio with the Soldati-class destroyers Aviere, Ascari, Geniere, Camicia Nera, and the heavy cruisers Gorizia and Trento, the light cruiser Giovanni della Bande Nere, and the destroyers Alpino (Soldati), Antonio Da Noli (Navigatori), and Alfredo Oriani (Oriani/Poeti-class).

Convoy 1 was escorted by the Spica-class torpedo boat Pallade, and convoy 2 by Spica-class torpedo boat Circe. Commander of the close escort of convoy 2 was the Captain of the destroyer Antonio Pigafetta.  It appears that only Circe and Pallade were equipped with the German S-Gerät sonar and German depth charge throwers (and maybe also depth-charge rails, since references to depth charges used on Circe use two German separate designations).


Torpediniere Circe Marina Militare

Spica-class Torpedo Boat Circe with dazzle camouflage, which she carried by May 1942. USMM

Lt. Commander Palmas’ Report

Here’s the report of her captain, Capitano di Corvette (Lt.Cdr.) Palmas, which is held in the captured German records section in NARA. It can be found in the files of the German Naval Attache in Rome.

GKDOS 1706/42

28 March 1941 (sic!)



CIRCE escorted a convoy of 3 steamers on the way to Tripolis. Calm sea. Light swell. Speed 14 knots.

Northwest of Cape Misurate an echo was reported at 1014 [hours] in 46 degrees, 1,800 metres. Bearing wanders out quickly. Signal to convoy to turn to port.

Boat [CIRCE] turns into the bearing, increases speed to 18 – 20 knots and moves across the target. At around 1,000m the periscope is sighted at the position of the echo. With 16 knots moved onto it and dropped six depth charges from rails and four from throwers into the location of the dive which was indicated by air bubbles. Depth setting 70 metres. Shortly after the submarine surfaces with heavy list to stern, it had apparently used pressurised air [emergency surfacing]. Other boats [escorts] and planes open fire and throw depth charges, in some cases in front of other boats. One Italian rating is killed by friendly machine-gun fire. This makes an orderly attack by CIRCE impossible. After the other boats have been called off, CIRCE again receives an echo from the by now again submerged submarine. This resurfaces shortly after like a dolphin with running screws and drops 45 degrees listing to prow into the depth. A lot of oil and air bubbles come up, which only slowly reduce. Apart from that parts of the interior fittings (polished cupboard door, table top), one bag with flags and body parts (lung) drift up.

Boat remains 1.5 hours on the scene of the attack. Echo shows the same location until the last. Water depth 350m. The echo is probably caused by the continuing rising of oil and the still escaping air.

In his formal report to Supermarina, the Italian admiralty, he also analysed the performance of the attack. Below is the section on lessons learnt.

  1. March during lively sea during the night 22 to 23 February has taxed the ship’s hull very much, especially while marching direction 180 degrees.
    Three cracks occured at the movement gap [Dehnungsfuge], which is situated in the centre of the boat, between machinery centre and the ventilators of boiler room 2.
  2. In contrast to the attack on 13 February [on HM S/M Tempest, which was sunk], this attack on a submarine was carried out almost with lightning speed, with the intent to prevent the submarine, which was already lying ready to attack, from carrying this out and to then hunt and destroy it.
    The second task, far more important by comparison to the first, was achieved almost immediately. The convoy could, because of my signals, turn away 90 degrees to port, and thereby move away from the danger zone. The second task was then resolved shortly after, by the almost immediate dropping of all depth charges, which were set at 75 metres depth [sic!] from the rails and throwers.
    The explosion has certainly hit the submarine which was in rapid dive. It was so strong that the enemy commander could do nothing else but surface immediately and give pressurised air on all the tanks.
    The second and last attempt by the submarine to surface failed, and it dived forever.
  3. The attach was carried out based on the information received from the S-Geraet, the prior sighting of the periscope, and the air bubbles which remained on the surface when the submarine dived rapidly. These visible signs led me to drop all depth charges at once, even though by this I partially violated existing regulations. 11 depth charges were dropped. I found it not useful to undertake further depth charge drops during the later phases of the search since the proof I had seen and collected left not the slightest doubt about the result of the attack. The parts of the interior fittings of the submarine and the human remains prove beyond any doubt the destruction of the submarine. During the two unsuccessful attempts to surface the tower was closed and nobody came out. The small bag with flags was probably inside the tower under the hatch, inside the pressure vessel.
  4. The behaviour of the crew was again commendable. The rapidity of the attack has excited the crew beyond belief.
  5. The explosion of a depth charge packet is extremely strong. The hull of the torpedo boat has vibrated noticeably, but not too much, because I carried out the attack at a speed of 15 knots.

It is clear from this account that P.38 and her crew never stood a chance. The Italian commander made all the right decisions (and risky ones – emptying his depth charge racks could have landed him in trouble if P.38 had survived the first attack), he had advanced detection systems that allowed him to find the enemy (and I wonder if 10th Flotilla on Malta was aware of this – does anyone know?), and his relentless initial attack doomed the submarine.All 32 hands on her were lost. May they Rest in Peace. You can read a bit of background on one of her crew, 22-year old Clarence Durnell, at this link. Before rejoining the convoy escort, Circe made a final gesture to the fallen, according to the report of her commander:

Before I finally move off, I cross the site of the sinking at slow speed and and offer the fallen honourable recognition with the whole crew on combat stations.

The convoy arrived in Tripoli without any losses, and brought much needed reinforcements for the Axis forces in North Africa, allowing them to build up strength for the Gazala battles in May 1942, the conquest of Tobruk, and the advance to El Alamein.

Many thanks for Dili from the Comando Supremo forum for his comments and corrections.

The tragedy of the POWs killed at sea

The tragedy of the POWs killed at sea


Operation CRUSADER saw about 8,500 Commonwealth soldiers become prisoners of the Axis forces, in the fighting around Tobruk and during the counter offensive in January. See this older post for a discussion of losses suffered by each side. This post here is based on research around the internet.

In general, as the old line goes, ‘For you [insert nickname here], the war is over!’. In the case of North Africa, this was however not the case for the Commonwealth POW. In order to secure them and relieve the supply situation in North Africa, beginning in December 41 they were shipped off to Italian-controlled territory, either to Italy or to Greece (and thence to Italy, I guess), either on naval units or on homeward bound merchants (the New Zealand Official History has a good account of the situation of the POW at this link – note that Sebastiano Venier is called Jantzen in this account).  This could be dangerous, since POW transports were not marked, and since even if ULTRA had given warning to the Royal Navy that a particular transport carried POW, it was likely impossible to warn the submarine commander without risking a breach in the ULTRA secret (e.g. if the submarine commander were to be taken POW himself, and informed his captors about the warning he was given about leaving a particular transport alone).

In consequence, several hundred Commonwealth POW lost their lives during or shortly after the end of Operation CRUSADER and the counter-offensive in three separate sinkings. The casualty figures were high because of overcrowding on the vessels.

Screenshot 2019 10 12 16 15 44


HMS Porpoise in harbour, from Ebay.

The loss of Venier

At 1435 hours on 9 December 1941, the large mine-laying submarine HM S/M Porpoise (Lt.Cdr. Pizey DSC) attacked Sebastiano Venier, ex-Jason, off Cape Methone. She is so badly damaged she has to be beached and is written off. Around 300 of the 2,000 Commonwealth POW estimated to be on board died in the attack, most of them when the torpedo struck the forward hold of the Venier.

Entry in Log of HMSub Porpoise describing the attack on Sebastiano Venier

The fact that Venier had POWs on board was known in London since at least 1100 GMT on 8 December, the day before, and probably earlier than that. The document below is a compilation of intercepts that was passed on to Downing Street. This would indicate that there would have been some time to alert submarines to not attack merchants moving north, albeit of course with the risk that this would lead to compromising the secrecy around the radio interception. Furthermore, a later intercept indicated that Venier would only leave Benghazi at 1600 on 9 December, a time at which she was well aground off Cape Methone.

Naval Headlines

Naval Headlines 159, 1100 GMT, 8 December 1941. UK National Archives, HW1/308

Nevertheless, it is clear that in other circumstances, the Middle East command did play fast and loose with the protection of this secret (see this older post).

The incident is well described in the New Zealand Official History ‘Prisoners of War’:

On 8 December a large draft of 2100 had left on the Jantzen , an 8000-ton cargo vessel, with rations sufficient for the 36-hour dash across to Italy . In the middle of the next afternoon, just off Cape Methoni, near Pilos on the south-west coast of the Greek Peloponnese, she was struck by a torpedo in one of the forward holds. Five hundred or more of the prisoners packed there were killed, and the hatchboards falling in with men lying on them killed others as they crashed below. As soon as they had recovered from the shock of the explosion, men rushed to the decks up ropes or still usable ladders. The rugged coastline of Greece could be seen a mile or two away with heavy seas breaking on it, lashed by a bitterly cold wind.

The Italian captain and crew had taken themselves off in two of the three lifeboats, the other having capsized in launching, and some of the men jumped overboard in an attempt to swim to the shore. Nine New Zealanders reached one of the boats, which eventually made a nearby uninhabited island where they spent the night, and they were taken over to the mainland next day. Fifteen got away on a raft they had managed to launch, but more than half of these died of exposure. Meanwhile a German naval engineer had taken control of the ship, explaining to those on board that the engines would still go and that there was a good chance of reaching safety. He ordered everybody aft in order to keep the weight off the damaged bow and organised rescue parties to bring up to the officers’ quarters the injured from the lower decks. Although the wind and sea were still strong, the ship was brought in stern first and beached about 5 p.m. broadside on to an open piece of coast. In spite of the bitter cold many now swam the remaining fifty yards to the shore, and when darkness fell many others made their way to safety along ropes secured to the rocks.

Next day dawned fine, and those still on board came off in the remaining lifeboat or on stretchers slung to the ropes. A check made later showed that a little over two-thirds of the British prisoners had survived, the remainder (including 44 New Zealanders) having perished either in the explosion or in the events which followed.


Ship Sebastiano Venier aground at Point Methoni, Greece, New Zealand Archives PAColl-2242-1-2

Other Incidents

On 14 February 1942 the brand-new HM S/M P.38 (Lt. Hemingway) attacked a small convoy consisting of Italian steamer Ariosto, German Atlas, and escorts Ct Premuda (ex-Yugoslav Dubrovnik) and Tp Polluce. Ariosto was sunk, hit by two torpedoes, and going down after a few hours in the early hours of 15 February, with 138 Commonwealth POW are lost, almost half the contingent.

On 27 February 1942 the most famous of the Malta submarines, HM S/M Upholder (Lt.Cdr. Wanklyn, VC) sinks the old steamer SS Tembien, launched in 1914.  390 out of 468 Commonwealth POW on board died, together with 68 Italians and 10 Germans.

In total therefore, over 800 POW are killed in these attacks, or around 10% of the number of POW taken during CRUSADER and the counter-offensive.

All three submarines undertaking the attack were to be lost with all hands during the war. HM S/M Porpoise was to become the last Royal Navy sub to be sunk by the enemy in the Malacca Straits in 1945. HM S/M P.38 was lost on 23 February on the patrol after she sank Ariosto in a counter-attack by Tp Circe.  HM S/M Upholder was sunk on 14 April 1942, possibly by Tp Pegaso, or she may have run on a mine.

It is of note that Tp Circe, a Spica-class escort destroyer, was already fitted with German S-Geraet active sonar and depth charges (see this older post). She was on a roll in February 1942, sinking HM S/SM Tempest on 13 February, and HM S/M P.38 on 23 February (misidentified as a ‘Unity-class’, presumably U-class), showing quite well the capability of the new equipment.  I have reports by the captain of Circe and a member of the German sonar crew, which I have posted at this link.

Many thanks go to Brian Sims who has researched this topic exhaustively, and to Barb Edy, whose father Don of No. 33 Squadron RAF was on the Ariosto as a POW, and suvrived the sinking. An account of her sinking by Don can be found in Don’s book ‘Goon in the Block’, which I would highly recommend.



Captain G B H Fawkes with Commander (S) E F Pizey, DSC, RN. IWM16004 – Picture is part of a series showing the men and boats of the Submarine Flotilla in Algiers, February 1943, during their operations against Axis supply traffic to Tunisia.

A note on RAF losses in CRUSADER

This is very preliminary, but I thought readers might be interested.  Jon commented earlier on this post, that the RAF as a rule kept 50% of strength in reserve.  Going through the weekly loss figures during Operation CRUSADER shows why.

Losses are being defined as write-offs (Cat. E) and need for return to base workshop (Cat. B) – many thanks to Jan Safarik who provided this explanation here. The loss figures extend to week ending 13 February but do not include the week 6 February, which is missing. But on the other hand the week 13 Feb has such high losses that I wonder if it does not include the preceding week…

In any case, Hurricane losses amounted to 74% of strength at the start of the battle.  Tomahawk losses to 112% (!). Blenheim losses to 60%, and Wellingtons to 49%. The brunt of the losses in the battle was borne by the single-engine fighters, which accounted for 61% of total losses, and the light bombers, which accounted for another 19%. A very high 11% of the losses were Wellingtons, and the rest is accounted for by various types.

Of note are the high losses in Beaufighters, showing how hard these planes were worked – 14 out of 24 planes, or 58% became casualties. It can’t have been fun to be in the two squadrons (No. 252 and No. 272) operating the type during CRUSADER. On the other hand, the Beaufighter has the highest ratio of Cat.B (repairable) casualties, at 43%.  By comparison, the Blenheim has only 24%. While there can be many reasons for this, it may tell us something about the toughness of the planes?

Some odd losses as well – a single Caproni (captured Italian transport), a single Whitley (what on earth was she doing in North Africa?), a single Wellesley, a single Sunderland (with a very interesting story behind the loss – scroll down halfway on this page)

Two new arrivals in the desert

Two new arrivals in the desert

The successful convoy operations of mid-December 41 and first week of January 42 also brought some new technology to the Axis forces, which managed to somewhat restore their hitting power.

Ariete’s support was strengthened by the arrival of the Semovente da 75/18, a self-propelled gun on the M13 tank chassis. Two batteries of these guns were established and almost certainly participated in the January reconquest of Cyrenaica. I presume that despite the short barrel this gun could have been reasonably effective, because of its use of a hollow-charge round (Effeto Pronto) with good penetration capabilities – this site gives 120mm, but would have suffered from low accuracy due to low muzzle velocity.

Semovente da 75/18 – I presume it is Rommel in the staff car to the rear, and the picture is most likely from the start of the January 42 counter-offensive.

90.Leichte Afrika-Division’s anti-tank battalion was strengthened by the arrival of the first Dianas, a somewhat haphazard-looking (shotgun) marriage between a medium halftrack chassis (Sdkfz 6, with this variant being the 6/3) and a captured Russian Feldkanone 36(r) (the Russian F-22 Divisional Gun), which, with its high hitting power would have been bad news for anything in the tank department of the Commonwealth. I am somewhat less certain however how much action these saw during the reconquest, or how efficient they were overall. A lot of technical info can be found at this link, and there are lots of pretty pictures of the Flames of War model of the Sdkfz 6/3 at this link. While the whole thing looks like a contraption, I should think that if put in a good position for long-range sniping it could have been quite effective, and the crew was certainly better protected than the crews of the Commonwealth 2-pdr portees, or the Italian gun crews on their truck-mounted artillery pieces.

2-pdr Portee on Belhamed during CRUSADER.

The very useful Lone Sentry site has information from a wartime bulletin on both of these, including nice drawings, at this link.

Royal Air Force Strength in November 1941

The question of Commonwealth air strength at the start of Operation CRUSADER has been the subject of some debate, with figures ranging from 600 to 1,000 planes being available to Air Marshal Tedder in Cairo. As the table below, which is based on an RAF document in the National Archives in Kew, shows quite clearly however, the total number of modern planes available to RAF Middle East was only around 800 including transport planes.  While it is safe to presume that the vast majority of these would have been available for operations in the western desert, the low end of the 600 to 1,000 range seems more plausible, while the upper range is not even reached if all unserviceable and obsolete types are taken into account (the total comes to 950). The low end is especially reasonable to assume since this calculation has to take into account planes allocated to training or conversion units etc. In some cases, types were also used for other purposes than designed, e.g. 9 Wellingtons were used as what would now be called electronic warfare planes, and the 13 Douglas Bostons of No.24 SAAF Squadron were apparently used as reconnaissance instead of bombers.
Looking deeper into the numbers, what is interesting is the very small number of dedicated transport planes, just 21 for a theatre that spanned from the western border of Egypt and Malta to Somalia and then on to the Hindukush and the Turkish border.  Although, as this post points out in reply to my request for information, a detachment of Douglas D.C.2 of No. 31 Squadron RAF operated in the western desert over the winter of 41/42. This squadron was at the time based in India, after supporting operations in Iraq and Syria earlier in the year, according to this squadron history. It can’t have been many planes though, since apparently the RAF only received 25 of the type. Some D.C.2 were lost on operations during CRUSADER. While no D.C.2 appear on the list for RAF Middle East, this may of course be because the parent squadron was not attached to this HQ – which in turn raises the question of how complete the list is. Furthermore, this explanation does not hold in the case of No. 117 Squadron RAF, which received D.C.2 transport planes in October 1941 and was active in  While I thought that it might be the case that some other orphaned detachments are not counted, I am now more inclined to consider that the list is only counting combat aircraft, and that it ignores transport and communications planes or trainers. This in turn invalidates my original thought that there were few transport planes for the theatre. I am indepted to this excellent Dutch site on the history of all D.C.2 for making me research this more closely. The Bombays and Valentias seem to have been operated by No. 216 Squadron RAF, which apparently also flew Lockheed Hudsons and four-engined DH86a for medical evacuation.
Also of interest are the 3 B-17 Flying Fortress I, which belonged to No. 90 Squadron RAF, and which had been found unsuitable for operations over Europe according to this squadron history, with more detail at this link. It appears only 12 of the original 20 Fortress I were left after the daylight bombing experiments. Most of these then seem to have gone to No.220 Squadron RAF Coastal Command, which converted onto the type from either December 41 or January 42 to April 42. It is odd that a detachment of three were left with No. 90 Squadron and were sent to the desert. If anyone has information on their operational use in the desert, please let me know.
Another interesting factoid is the relationship between medium and light bombers, which at about 1:2 is much higher than I expected. One hears relatively little about the work done by Wellington crews in the Med, while Blenheims and Marylands feature quite a lot in the accounts.
The other important thing to note is of course on the fighters. By this point in the war the Hurricane II had been outclassed, and struggled to compete with the most modern German (Bf 109F) and Italian (Mc 202) designs. Unfortunately for the Hurricane pilots, both of these Axis types appeared in numbers in the desert during Operation CRUSADER. The considerably smaller number of Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks also could not compete with these Axis planes. See also this older entry on Italian fighter planes.
At a later stage I will expand on this by adding the information on the development of air strength over the time of the battle, and by providing information on RAF losses.
I have kept as close as possible to the original formatting, only introducing the sub-totals and the serviceability rate (U/S = unserviceable).  What is interesting is that there were still a number of Hawker Audax in squadron service – first flight in 1931… Or Vickers Vincent, based on the Wildebeest, designed in 1926… And of course the Vickers Wellesley, flown by No.47 Squadron in East Africa until December 1941.

Commonwealth Middle East Air Strength Nov.41 (Combat planes only)

First Paras in the Desert

First Paras in the Desert

That should be German paras, of course. The Italians had a Libyan para battalion trained prior to the war.

Prior to the arrival of the famous parachute Brigade Ramcke, a smaller unit of German paratroopers was flown into North Africa, where it helped shore up the Axis lines for a few weeks, re-captured the by now unoccupied oasis of Gialo (taken in November by Force E under Brigadier Reid) , and supported the advance during late January.

This unit was brought across in the context of the very heavy defeat that the Axis forces had just suffered east of Tobruk and their failure to be able to hold the Gazala line, and at the time of bringing it over it was not certain whether the Commonwealth forces would not make an attempt to push through the Marada – Mersa-el-Brega line which was only weakly held at this point.

File77k4826lp1115lccpjd0Nordafrika.- Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, Generalmajor Bernhard-Hermann Ramcke, Oberleutnant (vlnr); XI. Fliegerkorps – the picture is dated to early 1942, which makes it possible that the Oberleutnant is Burckhardt.

The total strength of the unit was substantial, compared to what e.g. 90.lei.Afrika-Div. or the Italian divisions had to offer at this point, but it appears only less than half were actually sent to North Africa, according to information in this AHF discussion. This would explain why it was referred to as a battalion, when it was actually half-way to being a regiment in terms of size. The biggest problem was of course the complete lack of motor vehicles, which relegated it to a static role, unless trucks could be scrounged elsewhere to bring it forward into combat. While it never entered serious combat, it is interesting to speculate how it would have fared.

In terms of equipment, it would be interesting to know if the battery of 105mm guns were 10,5cm LG-40 Leichtgeschuetze (recoilless rifles), and if these were indeed sent to North Africa. I am guessing that they were, but if someone knows for sure, or even has pictures, please get in touch!

Below is the record of the unit from messages relating to it during the period January to early February 1942.

From: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 11 January 42
To:     90.lei.Afrika-Div.
With new task for Lieutenant-Colonel von Barby

Fallschirm-Lehrtruppe XI Fliegerkorps (

Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps) (strength: 3 rifle companies, 1 machine-gun company, 1 AT company, 1 10.5cm battery, signals platoon, and sapper platoon, total about 1,600 men, commander Captain Burckhardt) will be subordinated to 90.lei.Div. First elements of the battalion, which is currently arriving in Tripolis, will probably arrive evening 11 January in the combat zone. Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps is to be used in the gap between the east wing [of the Italian] X.A.K. [Army Corps] and western wing [of the Italian] XX.A.K. and has to establish itself for defense there. Instruction by 90.lei.Div. following prior reconnaissance by Lieutenant-Colonel von Barby. Following the taking over of the sector named above by Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps, the Italian mot. Korps (motorised corps) which is currently responsible is to be pulled out and to be held ready in the area 46.5 left 3 – 49.5 left 4 – 49 left 5.5 – 46.5 left 4.5 [see

this older post

for what these numbers mean] for mobile missions in southerly, southeasterly, easterly, and north-easterly directions. Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps (


[Battle Group] Burckhardt) holds close contact to east wing X.A.K. and XXI.A.K., as well as Artl.Kdr.104. It reports simultaneously to the command of the Panzergruppe and the 90.lei.Div. A visual depiction of the planned task of the battle group Burckhardt has to submitted to the command of the Panzergruppe by the 90.lei.Div. Supply of battle group Burckhardt to be arranged by QM D.A.K. For the command of the Panzergruppe

From: 90.lei.Afrika-Div. 12 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 20.00 Hours

Evening Report

[…]Nothing known concerning arrival Burckhardt.

90. lei Afrika-Div.

From: 90. lei. Afrika-Div 13 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21.20 Hours

Evening Report


Two rifle companies of Blocking Detachment Burckhardt have reached Arco dei Fileni; occupies reconnoitered position morning 14 January.  Further elements arrive by 16. January.  Remaining elements still in Sicily.


90. lei Afrika-Div.From: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 13 January 42

To:       X.A.K. – XXI.A.K. 22.35 Hours

mot. Korps. – D.A.K. 90. lei. Afrika-Div. – Art.Kdr.104 Pi.Führer – Nachr. Führer

S.R.104 (through liaison officer)

[…]4. Mot. Korps defends gap between X. and XXI.A.K. It stands ready on special order to follow the attack D.A.K. either prolonging north or as second echelon. Relief by Gruppe Burckhardt will start during 14 January.


Panzergruppe Afrika Ia

From: 90.lei.-Afrika-Div. 14 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 19.25 Hours

Evening Report


Battle group Burckhardt with staff and 2 companies since 08h00 on the march to area ordered.




Panzergruppe Afrika

Ia 14 January 42

To:       D.A.K. – X.A.K. 20.55 Hours

XXI.A.K. – mot. Korps. 90. lei. Afrika-Div. – Art.Kdr.104 O.Qu. – Ia/Pi – Ia/N

[…]5. Mot.Korps reports execution of relief by Battle group Burckhardt and then concentrates as ordered, to be able to follow D.A.K. at first as second echelon.

Panzergruppe Ia

From: Ital. mot. Korps 14 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21.58 Hours

Ital. mot.Korps will be relieved by Gruppe Burckhardt during the course of 15 January beginning on right wing.  Completion foreseen for 17h00. Ital. mot.Korps assembles following completed relief in the area 48.5 left 5. Current CP 48 left 4.

From: Kampfgruppe Burckhardt 15 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 19.00 Hours

Burckhardt reports executing taking over of ordered sector on 15 January 14h00.

Signed: Burckhardt

From: Panzergruppe Ia 15 January 42

To:       D.A.K. – mot. Korps. 21.00 Hours

X.A.K. – XXI.A.K. 90. lei. Afrika-Div. – Art.Kdr.104 Ia/Vers. – Pionierführer Nachr.Führer – Flakgruppe Hecht […]

Addition for 90.lei.Div.: To instruct:

a) Gruppe Burckhardt to conduct constant fighting reconnaissance.


Panzergruppe Afrika



Panzergruppe Afrika

Ia 18 January 42

To: All Troop Elements

Army Order for the Attack

[…]Kampfgruppe Burckhardt defends its position between eastern wing X.A.K. and southern wing XXI.A.K.


The Commander in Chief:

Signed: RommelGeneral der Panzertruppen

From: 90.lei.Div. 20 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 20.00 Hours

Evening Report


Situation in Marada unchanged.  Reconnaissance up to 30km without result. Standing Italian patrol at 44 right 28.5 pulled back. Burckhardt reports 19 January 15h00 to 18h00 about 40 motorised vehicles, including tracked vehicles at 48.3 left 1.5 from east to west on southern edge Uadi el Faregh.


From:   Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 20.20 hours

[…] Report minimum vehicle requirements for Kampfgruppe Burckhardt and Gruppe Daumiller. […]

Panzergruppe Afrika Ia

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 22 January 42

To: X.A.K. 07.40 hours

X.A.K. prepares immediate taking over of sector Burckhardt by weaker securing forces.

Panzerarmee Afrika Ia

From:   90.lei.Div. 23 January 42

To: Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 19.00 hours

[…]From Burckhardt 23 January evening staff and 1 para company Agheila. Removal continued. Elements required 25 January there 24 January evening.  Delivery of required special equipment by 24 January questionable.

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 23 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 21.00 hours


3. […] Burckhardt assembles at Agheila. […]

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 24 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 23.42 hours


2. Kampfgruppe Burckhardt has to be ready for motorized transport from morning 26 January.


Panzerarmee Afrika Ia

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 25 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 09.00 hours

  1. 90.lei.Div. with Kampfgruppe Burckhardt (without Kampfgruppe Marada) in foot march and overtaking use of available motor vehicles at disposal Panzer-A.O.K. in area both sides Via Balbia southwest Agedabia between km 15 and 25. Additional vehicles can be expected to be made available from chief quartermaster.  Report when leaving and when division available at disposal in area ordered.

[…]Panzerarmee Afrika Ia

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 31 January 42

To: Kampfgruppe Burckhardt

Fliegerfuehrer Afrika 90.lei.Div. Army Pioneer Leader – Army Signals Leader Chief QM – Liaison Officer Major Fuchs Ia – Ic Order for the occupation of the Oasis Gialo

  1. Oasis group Gialo only occupied by weak enemy security forces. Recognised fires lead to conclusion that oasis is being evacuated. Aerial photographs of 30 and 31 January to be studied at Fliegerfuehrer.
  2. Gruppe Burckhardt at dawn 3 February with a special detachment of 50 men takes possession of Oasis Gialo in ground attack and holds it.
    Advance route:
    Agedabia, el Haselat, Gr. Es Sahabi. Tracks leading to oasis Gialo are to be mined. Furthermore an advance has to be carried out to the supply depot 50 km east of el Hamin (aerial photograph to be studied at Fliegerfuehrer)
  3. The detachment is to be fully mobilised with tracked vehicles and trucks by the chief quartermaster.
  4. Detachment Giaol is directly subordinated to the high command of the Panzerarmee.
  5. Fliegerfuehrer is politely requested to provide fighter cover for the operation and to support the surprise attack with bombers if enemy occupation is recognised. The retreat of enemy forces on the tracks to Siwa is to be harassed by destroyer planes.
  6. Supply: rations for four days are to be taken along. Further supply will be secured by transport planes. Fliegerfuehrer is politely requested to fly in supplies.
  7. The required number of mines (see No.2) is to be brought in by air. (Army pioneer leader organises supply of mines from Agedabia).
  8. Radio information: encoding means and radio information will be supplied to Agedabia by the Army signals leader.
  9. Reports of the Gialo detachment have to be at least twice daily from 2 February (morning and evening report) to the high command of the Panzerarmee.

For the high command of the Panzerarmee

On Behalf of the Chief of the General Staff

Signed v.Mellenthin

From:   90.lei.Div. 3 February 42

To: Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 19.30 hours

Evening Report:

III./I.R.347 and elements Kampfgruppe Burckhardt arrived in Barce. Otherwise no particular events.

90.lei.Div. On 4 February Panzerarmee Afrika reports that Gialo has been re-taken by weaker elements of Kampfgruppe Burckhardt. With this the involvement of the paras in the winter battle of 1941/42 ends.