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.

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