Order of Battle of the Italian 55th Infantry Division Savona – November 1941

The Savona division had been in North Africa since the start of the war. It was brought forward to help defend Tripolitania after Operation COMPASS, and then placed in the border defense position during late summer 1941. There it stayed until it had to surrender to 2nd South African Division on 17 January 1942, when it had run out of food and water. Its commander, General Fedele de Giorgis, was awarded the Ritterkreuz for the defense according to German records, but I have not been able to verify this. He survived the war and later became commander of the Corps of Carabinieri in Italy.

I would be interested in comments and corrections, and also further information on the coastal defense guns.
This order of battle is based on German records, and is likely to not be 100% accurate.

55th Infantry Division Savona (A.S. 40 Type)

Divisional Command

Vehicle Company

Infantry Command

Three platoons 4.7cm anti-tank guns

1 platoon 2cm anti-aircraft machine guns

15th Infantry Regiment

Staff

One 81mm mortar company (6 mortars)

Three battalions (2nd battalion in Bardia)

Each battalion staff, three rifle companies with 12 light MGs each, and one support company with 18 4.5cm mortars and 8 anti-tank rifles.

16th Infantry Regiment

As 15th Regiment, 2nd battalion also in Bardia.

Additionally one 6.5cm infantry gun company with 5 guns.

Armour

Light tank company with 13 L33 tanks (sunk on transport)

Artillery Command

12th Artillery Regiment

1st battalion (10cm howitzers) 1st and 2nd batteries (4/5 howitzers, respectively) sunk; 3rd battery of 4 howitzers in Naples.

2nd battalion (10.5cm guns), 3 batteries of four guns each 3rd battery in Naples

3rd battalion (7.5cm guns), 1st battery 6 guns, 2nd and 3rd 4 guns.

8th independent battery with 2 coastal defense guns of unknown calibre

27th independent battery with 6 coastal defense guns of unknown calibre

503rd and 504th independent battery with 8 coastal defense guns each of unknown calibre

55th Field Replacement Battalion with two companies (in Naples)

255th anti-tank battalion with 8 3.7cm and 4 4.7cm anti-tank guns

Pioneer and Signals Troops

127th Mixed Radio and Telephone Company

55th Specialist Engineers

Further signals troops in Naples

Administration Services

27th Bakery Detachment (motorised)

Motorised V.A. Detachment

Supply Columns

155th Mixed Supply Column (motorised)

Medical Services

45th Field Medical Detachment

Military Police

75th Carabinieri Detachment (motorised)

Field Postal Service

55th Field Postal Detachment (motorised)


8th Army’s Order of Battle and Tank Strength after CRUSADER – 7 February 1942

On 7 February 1942 the War Office in London reported to the Prime Minister on the state of forces in North Africa,as it was known at the time in London. The document can be found in WO216/15 in the National Archives in Kew. The document shows how much the main units which participated in the battle had suffered.

Disposition of Troops in Cyrenaica & Egypt
Sector Command Formation Remarks
(a) Western Desert
(i) 13 Corps
1 S.A. Division Less one Brigade
4th Indian Division [Should be: less one Brigade]
200th Guards Brigade
150th Infantry Brigade Group
Free French Brigade Group
Polish Brigade Group
Six Armd. Car Regts.
Reserve column from 1st Armd. Divn. Under command H.Q. of 1st Support Group.
(ii) Reserve in forward area
1st Armoured Divn Less Reserve column and 200th Gds. Bde.
Temporary Composition of division is:
H.Q.
2nd Armd. Bde.
Composite Rgt. From 22nd Armd. Bde.
200th Gds. Bde.
1st Support Group
38th Indian Inf. Bde.
(iii) In Frontier and Railhead area under command of H.Q. 30th Armd. Corps
1st Army Tank Brigade
2nd S.A. Divn.
7th Indian Inf. Bde. Reorganising
(b) British Troops in Egypt
(i) At Mersa Matruh
5th S.A. Bde. Reorganising
(ii) In Delta and Canal Areas
2nd N.Z. Divn. Reorganising and training
7th Armd. Divn. Less 7th Armd. Bde sailing for Far East – reorganizing and re-equipping
22nd Armd. Bde ex 1st Armd. Div Re-equipping
32nd Army Tank Bde Elements only; awaiting reorganisation
3rd Indian Motor Brigade Shortly arriving from SYRIA as reserve for VIII Army.
Two British infantry battalions Including one M.G. Battalion
Three Indian State Forces battalions
One Czech Infantry battalion
2nd Armd. Divn Remnants only; awaiting reorganisation

The same document also gives the tank situation in the Middle East, and it is here that we can see very clearly the hammering the Commonwealth forces had received in the recent operation, but also the effort that was made to rebuild them. A document in the same folder, from mid-October, shows the expectation that by 1st November the 8th Army would be able to field 508 cruiser tanks (340 British of varying marks, 168 US M3 tanks) and 150 infantry tanks, and this number almost certainly excluded the 95 British tanks in Tobruk (28 Cruisers and 67 Matildas).

A more detailed document from around the same time gives the following figures, including Tobruk: Cruisers British 372 + 29 immediate reserve; Infantry Tanks 189 + 38 immediate reserve; Cruisers US 166 + 32 immediate reserve; light tanks 94. Total Cruisers and Infantry Tanks: 628. Tanks under repair/inspection and unloading in the Delta: Cruisers British 66; Infantry Tanks 48; Cruisers US 91; light tanks 14. Total Cruisers and Infantry tanks under repair/inspection and unloading: 205. Total number of tanks in North Africa (excl. light tanks) therefore 833.,of which 75% were available for the operation.

This shows that by February the number of tanks in North Africa had risen to be higher than before CRUSADER, but that the number of operational tanks had reached a low. One book-keeping item to keep in mind is that 7 Armoured Brigade was sent off with 106 M3 tanks (if I recall correctly) to the Far East. Had that not been the case, the number of operational tanks would have been more comfortable to Middle East command in Cairo.

Distribution of Tanks in Egypt and Cyrenaica as known in War Office on 7.2.42
Status Cruisers Infantry Tanks Remarks
Serviceable Tanks
Cyrenaica
2nd Armoured Bde. And composite Regiment from 22nd Armoured Brigade 128 Including tanks handed over by 22nd Armd. Bde.
Frontier Area
1st Army Tank Bde. 111
Delta Area
4th Armd. Bde 106
Base Ordnance Depots 5 Ready for the field by 15th February
(b) Tanks in Command not accounted for above (i.e. tanks under repair and being made desertworthy and in use as training vehicles) 654 239
Estimated total in Egypt and Cyrenaica 888 355
Note: Exact figures for tank casualties are not known in The War Office. The above figures are therefore based on estimates only.

Order of Battle of 7 Armoured Brigade for Operation CRUSADER

7 Armoured Brigade had a short and exciting (in the Chinese curse sense of the word) Operation CRUSADER. Mauled at Sidi Rezegh just days after the operation started, it was withdrawn from battle and returned to the Delta, except for some smaller composite units that remained engaged in the battle for another fortnight, such as composite squadron NEMO of 2 RTR. From the report written after the battle, here is some information that may be of use to wargamers. This OOB differs from Nafziger’s OOB for the battle which can be found at this link. The most important difference is the absence of the Northumberland Hussars (102 AT Rgt. RA) from this OOB. Maybe someone can comment on that.

Order of Battle – 7th Armoured Brigade 18 November 1941

(based on WO201/514)

Unit Commander Equipment
Brigade HQ Brigadier Davey Cruiser Mk.II (A10) tanks
3 Squadron 7 Armoured Division Signals Major H.W.C. Stethem
7 Hussars Lt.Colonel F.W. Byass DSO MC (killed at Sidi Rezegh) Cruiser Mk.II (one squadron), Mk.IV and maybe Mk.V tanks
2 Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) Lt.Colonel R.F.E. Chute Cruiser tanks (mix of Mk.IV and Mk.V)
6 RTR Lt.Colonel M.D.B. Lister (killed at Sidi Rezegh) Cruiser tanks (no confirmation, probably Mk.V)
LRS (Light Recovery Section?) Cpt. N. Barnes
OFP (Supply??) Cpt. C.C. Lambert
Reconnaissance Section Capt. T. Ward
‘A’ & ‘B’ Sections 13 Light Field Ambulance Capts. Hick and Williamson
4 Royal Horse Artillery (less one battery) Lt. Col. J. Curry
F Battery RHA Major F. Withers MC 8 25-pdr
DD Battery RHA Major O’Brien.Butler 8 25-pdr
‘A’ Company 2
Rifle Brigade
Major C. Sinclair MC
Det. 4 Field Sqdn Royal Engineers Corporal Lee (sic!)
‘A’ & ‘B’ Troops 1 Lt. AA battery 1 Lt. AA Regiment Royal Artillery Major Edmeads Bofors 40mm light anti-aircraft guns

The total number of tanks on this day was 129, consisting of a mix of various cruiser marks. While difficult to disentangle, it appears that 26 Cruiser Mk. II (A 10) which formed one squadron in 7 Hussars and equipped Brigade HQ, and at least 16 Mk.IV (A13 Mk.II), which seem to have been primarily in 2 R.T.R., 16 of which had been issued as replacements for 16 Mk. IV tanks which had to be sent to base workshop in October, and were reported ‘unfit for action’ by the commander of 2 RTR, because they were missing essential kit, but they were nevertheless taken along. Other shortages reported were wireless (throughout the Brigade) and Bren guns (particular in 6 RTR which had issued theirs to the Polish units going to Tobruk in October). Mechanical reliability seems to have been a serious issue – on 19 November 7 Armoured Brigade was down to 123 tanks, and on 20 November to 115, without really having seen much combat.

Training state was reported good except in Squadron and Troop maneuver, which was restricted by mileage restrictions and the wireless silence before the operation.

Any comments on the above, in particular relating to the tank composition, would be very much welcome. Note there are discrepancies between the original report and various information found on the web.

Submarine Supplies to North Africa – May to November 1941

Submarines played a minor but interesting role in the supply of Axis forces in North Africa, even before the Regia Marina’s emergency programme of November. Throughout the campaign they delivered fuel, ammunition, and rations. When Bardia was invested in November 1941 during the early phase of CRUSADER, they were used to evacuate officer prisoners of war, such as Brigadier Hargest, commander of 5 New Zealand Brigade, who was captured on 27 November 1941 when his Brigade HQ was overrun, and high-ranking Italian officers who were evacuated to serve again when it became clear that Bardia was a lost cause. Submarines had the advantage of stealth, and they were small enough to use the smaller harbours along the coast, such as Derna, thereby reducing the need to spend fuel on forward transport, or to slot into capacity-constrained harbours such as Benghazi with additional supplies. Two submarines were lost on re-supply missions during CRUSADER, Carraciolo (sunk on 11 December by depth charges from Hunt-class destroyer HMS Farndale after a failed attack on a Tobruk convoy) and Saint Bon (sunk on 5 January by HM/Sub Upholder south of Sicily). Both of them were large ocean-going submarines of the Cagni class. The small amounts of fuel supplied by the submarines were nevertheless valuable. For example, a single run by a Cagni class submarine could supply sufficient aerial fuel to keep the Luftwaffe planes in North Africa flying for one day.

ON 21 November the German Navy Command (Seekriegsleitung) in Berlin requested from the Commander Naval Transport Italy (Seetransportchef Italien)an overview of German army supplies transported by submarine to North Africa. On 28 November the Seetransportchef responded with an overview that unfortunately does not contain dates, and for most of the missions fails to name the submarine. It is nevertheless of interest. On 6 February 1942 an update was provided which gave additional information. It is important to note that Italian supplies are not included in these volumes, and neither are those of the Luftwaffe.

The documents are translated below.

Berlin W 35 the 21 November 1941

Tirpitzufer 72-76

Fast Memo (Schnellkurzbrief)

To

Seetransportchef Italien

Rome

For the submarine transports carried out until now a list has to be supplied immediately, including the names, dates of leaving and entering harbor, and the type and volume of goods transported.

[…]

High Command of the Navy

Skl Qu.A. Via 10419/41 geh.

SECRET!

Quartermaster Rome                                        28 November 1941

(Army)

No. 6466/41 geh.

To

Seetransportchef

Rome

Referring to the meeting of Oberlt. Vogel and Lt. Kostas, Qu Rom sends the attached list of submarine transports thus far.

1 Attachment                                            The Quartermaster

Signed

SECRET!

Quartermaster Rome

(Army)

Supply Runs with Submarines thus far with supply for the Army (starting in May [1941])

No

Fuel

Ammunition

1

75

2

72.2

3

75

4

67.1

5

78.9

6

43

7

68.6

8

88.4

9

33.7

10

53

11

53.5

12

55

13

58

14

47

15

Zoea

56.3

16

Corridoni

17.6

65.7

17

Atropo

59.4

18

Saint Bon

140

19

Cagni

140.2

20

Atropo

56.8

21

Atropo

57

22

Saint Bon

133

5

23

Cagni

139

5

24

Millo

134

6.8

25

Micca

26

Saint Bon

137

2.3

1,014

1,009.5

Seetransportchef Italien Rome, 6 February 1942

B.Nr. Geh. 841/1942

To

German Navy Command Italy

Attn. Lt.Commander Stock

Attached we submit an overview of submarine transports during the year 1941.

Submarine Transports

Total supply since start (10 May 41 to 31 December 41):

1,086 tons fuel

1,072 tons ammunition

203 tons rations

No supplies were shipped in the month of September.

From 20 November to 30 December the following were shipped in 8 voyages:

675 tons fuel

9 tons ammunition

203 tons rations

Italian submarines transported until July only ammunition for the army (about 1,000 tons), from August to end of November fuel and a small volume of ammunition (900 tons fuel and 20 tons ammunition).

During December primarily Italian rations were transported, and at the end of December 4 voyages brought:

139 tons fuel

203 tons rations

for the German Afrikakorps.

To get an overall idea of the volume of submarine supplies compared to other measures, it is useful to look at the files of a single harbour loading unit. In this case the Seetransportstelle Brindisi, reporting on traffic ex-Taranto for the month of December.

Total supply was 12,116.6 tons, in the following categories:

259 men

100 vehicles

6 motor cycles

1,326 tons for the German army

359.5 tons for the German navy

10,431.1 tons for the German air force

Seven submarines were loaded for a total of 440 tons of army supply. By comparison, the cruiser Cadorna brought 233 tons and 88 men in one voyage, while 6 destroyers brought 49 men and 315.9 tons of supplies.

This article at Regiamarina.net gives a nice overview of Italian transport submarines.