Giarabub or Jaghbub is an oasis on the border of Egypt and Libya, far to the south of Fort Maddalena, and on the edge of the great sand sea. At the end of March 1941 it had fallen to Empire forces, led by Australian troops. Since then it had been lightly garrisoned together with Siwa Oasis in Egypt, to the east. By late 1941 it had become the staging post for a diversionary raid on the Axis Hinterland in the Agedabia (or Jedabaya) area, and the airfield hosted two squadrons of long-range fighters, No. 33 with long-range Hurricane Is and No. 113 with long-range Bristol Blenheim IVFs.
The Raid on Giarabub
Around 13 November 1941 a reconnaissance was carried out by a S.79 of the Regia Aeronautica’s 19a Sqquadriglia on the patrol sector Bir el Atasc – Giarabub – Siwa – Ridotta Maddalena from 10.30 hours to 14.30 hours. The crew of the S.79 noted 23 Hurricanes and 17 Blenheims at Giarabub airfield. No. 33 Squadron Hurricanes were scrambled to chase the reconnaissance plane, and an aerial fight ensued, in which the S.79 was damaged and had to break off the mission, but also claimed one Hurricane damaged and emitting smoke.
The report on the engagement by No.33 Squadron is providing further detail.
At noon 2 a/c scrambled to 15-17,000 ft to intercept and enemy recco machine. Sgt. Kelsall caught an S.79 at approx. 8,000 ft and made six attacks, using all his ammunition. The machine was last seen at 4,000 ft with one engine missing and losing height. Probably destroyed. Two more a/c scrambled at 12.30 but found nothing. Two a/c searched for the S.79 but found nothing.
The Attack Report
The document transcribed below is an ULTRA intercept of a Luftwaffe communication relating to a raid by German Ju 88 bombers and Bf 110 destroyers on the Oasis of Giarabub, deep in the desert on the Egyptian side of the border with Libya. Michele found this in the ULTRA files I sent him, and I dug a bit deeper in the ULTRA files and the British war diaries.
Ju 88 of Lehrgeschwader 1 over the Mediterranean, 1941. Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv.
It is rare to find such a detailed report in the ULTRA intercepts. My guess is that normally such reports would have been sent by mail, in order to not clog up the radio communications system. In this case, ULTRA indicates that Fliegerkorps X raised questions about the raid (where, when, how many, what…), since they did not know about it, when Fliegerfuehrer reported that there would be an investigation of the failure of fighter cover.
The attack was successful however, apparently hitting the RAF’s No.113 Squadron (Blenheim light bombers) and No.33 Squadron (Hurricane fighters), and causing a considerable amount of damage. The 29 Indian Brigade war diary (29 Indian Brigade commanded Oasis Force, the garrison at Giarabub/Siwa) states the following losses:
Six RAF ground personnel killed and 16 wounded.
2 Hurricanes shot down with one pilot killed, one wounded
1 Blenheim destroyed on the ground
5 Blenheims and 2 Hurricanes damaged on the ground
1 Me 110 shot down and 3 Ju 88 damaged
Attacking force consisted of two groups: (i) 8 Ju 88 and 1 S.m.79 (in reality 9 Ju 88) and 6 Me 110 bombed; and (ii) 7 Me.110 and 4 Me. 109 strafed the airfield (in reality these were the same 6 Me. 110).
So for a change the claims made by the attacker were actually less than the real damage. The RAF had a total of 9 planes put out of action, and a number of people killed. The RAF weekly intel summary No.116 for the week up to November 19 calls it ‘the most concentrated raid’ on an RAF aerodrome, and correctly states the German losses. Pictures of an attack aftermath a few days later and the perspective of the Royal Air Force personnel on the receiving end of such attacks on Giarabub can be seen at this link.
The main report is para no. 28 of the intercept series filed under CX/MSS/440. Punctuation and capitalisation is unchanged. I have only italicised German words.
The following report was sent on 17/11 by FROEHLICH [Fliegerfuehrer Afrika – Colonel Froehlich was in charge of the German air force in North Africa at this time] to Fliegerkorps X, Chef [chief of staff – Air Corps 10 was the parent unit of German air force units stationed in North Africa, and had its HQ in Athens].
Attack on GIARABUB.
Following report issued after detailed interrogation of all Kommandeure involved.
Task: Attack by III L.G.1 [Junkers 88] and 8 Z.G.26 [Bf 110] to destroy bomber and fighter a/c on GIARABUB aerodrome. 8 Z.G.26 [Messerschmitt Bf 110]to make a low-level attack with S.D.2 [cluster bombs for anti-personnel use]. Fighter escort during outward and return flight: (Roman) I J.G. 27 and II J.G. 27 [both Messerschmitt Bf 109] with which rendez-vous was to be made at 0620 over GAZALA at 2000 m. Rendez-vous with the fighter escort for the 6 Me.110’s of 8 Z.G.26 was made over GAZALA: fighter projection by (Roman) I J.G. 27 for III L.G.1 (9 Ju 88) did not materialise, as at 0620 the formation leader of III L.G.1 (Hptm. HEINTZ) already flew at 2800 metres on the outward course. At 0620 (Roman) II J.G.27 was at 2000 m. over the aerodrome as ordered. On its outward course III L.G.1’s height was 2,800 m. III L.G.1 was not seen either by (Roman) I or II J.G.27. Bad visibility and heavy haze complicated matters as on the outward course the aircraft were flying into the sun. At 0645 the formation leader of III L.G.1 was informed that a large number of fighters were coming up a long way behind him. From this he inferred that the fighter Gruppe was following up. At 0650 there was no longer any fighter escort to be seen in the immediate vicinity. The formation leader assumed that the fighters had already flown ahead into the target area. At 0652 the formation leader signalled to base “am without fighter protection”. At 0700 base signalled back “wait till 0705, break off attack if no fighter escort”. As the target was spotted at that moment from a height of 3200 m. the formation leader decided to attack at 0715. Of 68 bombs dropped, 24 fell in the middle of the a/c parked. According to photographic interpretation, large fires and much smoke was seen. After the attack III L.G.1 flew on the course ordered in close formation. After 3-5 minutes 3 enemy fighters attacked the formation. The attack lasted 30 minutes. 1 fighter turned away after the first burst leaving a trail of smoke.
At 0914 6 Ju.88’s landed at BENINA [aerodrome of Benghazi]. 1 Ju.88 force-landed in grid square 3219, the crew being rescued by the Desert Rescue Service. The a/c received only slight damage. 2 Ju.88’s which had been hit landed in Derna, one of them sustaining 30% damage. 8 Z.G.26 carried out a low level attack with 6 Me.110 simultaneously with the attack by III L.G.1. For results see report for 15/11. 1 Me.110 with Staffelkapitaen, made a forced landing in enemy territory after being hit by Flak. Crew rescued by 2 Me.110 and a/c set on fire. During the low-level attack 8 Z.G.26 was intercepted by 2 Hurricanes, one of which was shot down.
No losses to personnel among III L.G.1 and 8 Z.G.26.
- Fighter protection did not materialise because III L.G.1 did not rendez-vous with fighters at 2000 metrest as ordered, but at 0620 hours flew on the outward course at 2800 metres without making sure that fighters were escorting the formation,
- The formation leader ought to have broken off the attack when ascertained the absence of fighter escort.
1. The above report suggests that FROEHLICH is Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA.
2. The report of 15/11 mentioned above is presumably that reported in MSS/436/T4 para. 11.
The Empire View
No. 33 Squadron ORB provides detail on the defense of the airfield. No Blenheims were scrambled.
Two a/c on readiness took off approx. 0845 hrs to intercept enemy a/c. Shortly after 0900 seven more a/c took off to intercept enemy bombers. At 0920 hours 9 Ju 88s dropped approx. 50 bombs on the landing ground from 8,000 feet. At the same time 6 110s staffed the field from the other direction. Two of our Hurricanes were damaged and one airman shot in the leg. One Blenheim of 113 burned up and five men were killed. […] F/O Anderson crash landed just north of the landing ground and received a small gash in the head. Sgt. Price was shot down and crashed while attacking the 110s. He was killed in the crash. […]
The war diary by 6 L.A.A. Battery, a territorial unit from Coleraine in Northern Ireland also provides interesting detail.
GIARABUB lower aerodrome heavily attacked by enemy aircraft. High level bombing by S.79 and Ju 88s, which were engaged by 3.7” A.A. guns. Low level bombing and machine gunning carried out by Me 110s.which appeared out of smoke and dust raised by high level bombing. Hit on tail of machine scored by Sgt. Pinkerton’s detachment. Wreckage of machine later located in desert by R.A.F.
Interestingly, the attack provided Empire intelligence with confirmation of the use of a weapon previously not known to be in use by the Luftwaffe in North Africa, the 30mm gun in the Bf 110C-6 destroyer variant. One round fired at a No. 113 Blenheim was a dud, and could be recovered. This matter was raised up to Churchill’s attention, with a report compiled shown below.
Note to Churchill on new type of German ammunition, 27 Nov 1941, TNA HW1/314, 10 Dec 1941
Bf 110s 3U+LT and 3U+MT of 9./Z.G.26 in flight over the Mediterranean, possibly Tripoli, 1941. Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv
Earlier Partial reports
Earlier reports were included in other deciphered items:
16: Source saw the following document of 15/11 from Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA to Fliegerkoprs X:
“The operations report from III/LG.1 shows that fighter protection for III/LG.1 did not materialize. Enquiry is proceeding. Results will be communicated.”
17: On the afternoon of 15/11 Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA (Photographic Dept.) reported to Fliegerkorps X as follows:-
“Photograph of JARABUB aerodrome shows 18 single-engined and 14 twin-engined a/c, 3 destroyed (of which one probably so).
18: Source copied the following document of 15/11, signed G.A.F. [German Air Force] Operational Staff, and addressed to Fliegerkorps X.:-
“With reference to your telegram 151/11, supplementary report of attack on JARABUB. Nothing is known here of an attack on JARABUB. Please supply the following particulars: date and time of attack, name of unit attacking and number of a/c, weight of bombs dropped and results observed.”
34: At 1430/15/11 Fliegerkorps X sent the following report to ROBINSON and KURFUERST IC:-
14/11. [should be 15/11] 9 Ju.88 of III L.G.1 escorted by 6 Me. 110 of 8 Z.G.26. Attack on a/c at GIARABUB. Very good results. Fighter defence and heavy and medium Flak.
1 Me.110 and 1 JU.88 forced-landed in the desert…
2 Ju.88 forced-landed in Derna.
1 Hurricane shot down by (Roman I J.G.27)
11: On 15/11 Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA, IC, sent following report to Fliegerkorps X, IC, and ITALUFT:
“Evening report 15/11.
Own air activity: supplement to morning report. 0725 hours, attack by 9 Ju.88 of III/L.G.1 and 6 Bf.110 of 8 Z.G.26 escorted by 8 Bf.109 of (Romand) I J.G.27 and 16 B.F.109 of (Romand) II J.G.27 on GIARABUB aerodrome. Very good results. Photograph of results that some bombs of III L.G.1 fell on the target. Effects of SD 2 of 8 Z.G.26 not to be observed by photograph. Of 22 a/c, 3 multi-engined a/c destroyed according to photograph. A.A. forced 1 Bf 110 to land in enemy territory. Fighter defence brought down one Ju.88 in the desert. Crew of Bf.110 picked up by other crews. Bf.110 burnt out. Crew of Ju.88 rescued by Desert Rescue Service. All other Ju.88 hit by fire from fighters. No casualties among crews. 1 Hurricane shot down by (Roman) I J.G.27 near GIARABUB, aerodrome SIDI BARRANI etc. follows. Repeated fault in cameras, so ground was not completely covered.