Transport Aircraft Strength in Greece, 5 Dec 1941

In reaction to the Commonwealth offensive and the supply crisis, a large number of transport planes were assembled in Greece to ensure at least the most urgent supplies could be delivered to keep the German forces in North Africa in the game, so to speak.

An ULTRA intercept (CX/MSS/503/T29) of early December 1941 gives a snapshot of this strength, and it shows the low levels of serviceability, and importantly also shows what this level of effort could deliver in a day. With the proviso that without having the same info for other days, it is impossible to say whether this was a good, bad, or indifferent day.

On 6/12 Fliegerkorps X made following report to C. in C. GAF (Gen. Qu. Genst. 4 Abt.):-

Strength Return (at 5/12/2200 hours):-

Unit Location Esta-blishment Service-able Percent
9/KG z.b.V. 1 Tatoi

12

1

8.3%

11/KG z.b.V. 1 Tatoi

12

6

50.0%

Glider Towing Detachment Eleusis

2

1

50.0%

Freight Gliders Eleusis

4

4

100.0%

KG z.b.V. 172 Tatoi

10

4

40.0%

KG z.b.V. 300 Tatoi

50

35

70.0%

KG z.b.V. 102 Kalamaki

18

12

66.7%

II./LLG 1 Kalamaki

5

3

60.0%

10./KG z.b.V. 1 Benina (North Africa)

11

1

9.1%

 Remarks: 1 Ju 52 (O6 + CC)(?) of KG z.b.V. 102 missing since 4/12.

The total comes to 118 planes, excluding the gliders and their tows, of which 67 were operational, or 57%.

Transports on 5/12:

To DERNA    2 Jumo 211 H engines

75 drums of cable

648 armour piercing Flak shells (8.8 cm)

47,600 litres B4

6 men of (F) 123 with baggage

9 soldiers with baggage

To MALEMES    90 men of Res. Flak Abt. 806

Remarks: the intented transfer of fuel to CRETE in the afternoon was not possible, owing to weather. The following are still on the way:-

Of II/LLG 1 – 2 a/c

Of KG z.b.V. 102 – 3 a/c

Some more on the mechanical reliability of Crusader Tanks

In an older post (at this link), I had provided some information that Rich had found on mechanical issues affecting Commonwealth tanks during CRUSADER. Working my way through the Queen’s Bays war diary for January 42, I have now come across a statistic of tank breakdowns for mechanical reasons during the Axis counter-offensive of January 1942. The Queen’s Bays were one of the three armoured regiments of 2 Armoured Brigade, 1 Armoured Division, and were equipped with a mix of 31 Cruiser Mk. VI (Crusader), 1 Cruiser Mk. IV, and 19 M3 Stuart tanks.

Over the course of operations, 22 Cruiser tanks (21 Mk. VI, and 1 Mk. IV) broke down, three developing two separate faults. One tank broke down due to a collision. Ignoring the latter, the failure rate was 77% including the three twin-failures.

Two M3 Stuart’s broke down, or 11%, one of them due to having towed broken down Cruisers, and being worn out in consequence, and the other due to faulty electrical wiring. Five M3 Stuarts were lost due to lack of petrol (the high petrol consumption of the aerial engine used in the tank was responsible for this), and one was unaccounted for.

The reason for the breakdown of Cruiser tanks was very varied, but can be grouped as follows:

5 tanks – Fan-related problems, including overheating

4 tanks – Undefined engine issues (which could be caused by fan or ignition failures)

3 tanks – Ignition failures

2 tanks – air compressor failure

2 tanks – piston rings worn, oil issues

1 tank each – various issues, see below

Failure Item Number of tanks
Ignition 2
Front idler broken in collision 1
Engine seized 1
Fan broken, engine seized 1
Engine trouble 1
Steering 1
Starter bendix drive shaft seized 1
Fan sprocket broke, engine seized 1
Fan chain broken, engine seized 1
Engine trouble, failure to start 2
Engine piston rings badly worn 1
Valve trouble 1
Engine oiling up. Due possibly to worn piston rings. 1
Engine clutch gone 1
Air compressor failure 2
Water pump leaking. Carburation trouble. 1
Oil leaks and faulty oil pump 1
Engine overheating 1
Ignition fault due to cracked distributor cap 1
Fan jockey wheel spindle bearings 1

On the whole, I would see the mechanical performance of these tanks as appalling. I am wondering if the regiment had been given insufficient time to acclimatise, or indeed what other reason could have been responsible for this. In any case, it is clear that the British tankers of the Bays were fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.

Experience with Cruiser Tanks in 2 Armoured Brigade, January 1942

Following the retreat behind the Gazala line, it was a time for 8 Army to review the experience of the previous three months of fighting. Reports were written, and lessons learned prepared in a systematic way. These are today held at the UK’s National Archives at Kew.

On 20 February, Brigadier R. Briggs of 1 Armoured Division’s 2 Armoured Brigade (he would later rise to command the division) issued his report on the experience of his brigade in the short but violent counter-offensive of January/February 42. This battle will be the subject of our first book. Below are some interesting views on the performance of his brigade’s main armament, the Crusader Mk. VIa and the US-built M3 Honey tanks.

The clear view that the Crusader is a better tank then the M3 Honey is of interest, when compared to the report of 4 Armoured Brigade on 3 December 41, which states that the M3 Honey had held up ‘splendidly’ after 15 days of fighting, while the A13 and A15 British cruiser tanks (the A15 being the Crusader tank) were ‘not so good’ (message GD8 GHQ Liaison Sqdrn. to GHQ, 3 Dec 1941, TOO 1440 TOR not given).

[…]

5. Equipment

(a) Crusader Mk. VIa

This proved itself satisfactory as a battle tank, within certain limitations. These limitations are as follows:-

(i) The inadequacy of the 2 pdr gun.

(ii) Insufficient thickness of armour, especially in front.

(iii) A variety of leaks in oil, water, and air systems, many of which occur in places so inaccessible as to require Workshops resources and many hrs for repair. Neither are available in the desert.

(iv) Failure of the engine cooling fan drive to stand up to the work required.

(v) Relatively short life of certain components, notably compressors and swash pumps.

(vi) The Cruiser tank can be, and was, overdriven beyond its capacity; several engines seized while tanks were used for essential fast recce.

(b) General Stuart

The General Stuart proved itself more sound than the Crusader, and required far less maintenance. The air-cooled engine did not overheat, and naturally, gave no anxiety about water leaks. It stood up well to fast work. Its limitations are:-

(i) The inadequacy of the 37mm gun.

(ii) Insufficient armour, especially in front.

(iii) Its design for use by a comd who is also a gunner makes it a dangerous battle tank. It is considered that one offr and a crew of 9 L were lost for this reason. In Cruiser action a tank must have a separate comd and gunner. In this respect the Valentine fails.

(iv) No platform to the fighting compartment makes a crew slow to fire, except to the front.

(v) A bad gun platform on the move. Inadequate telescope sight.

Conclusion

The Crusader is considered to be a better battle tank than the General Stuart. Armd regts should consist entirely of Crusaders until a better tank is produced.

(c) Scout Cars

[…]

(d) Armament

Both 2 pdr and the 37mm gun are inferior to German guns. Until this disparity is rectified, we must be prepared for the inevitable heavy casualties. This is applicable in action against both German tanks and German A Tk guns.

The disparity has led to the inclusion of 25 pdr guns in an Armd Bde in an A Tk role. As the accurate range of the 25 pdr in this role is limited to 1500 yards by their inferior telescope sights, their co-operation with tanks has not been as successful as was hoped. In all three cases, 2 pdr 37 mm and 25 pdr – the telescope sights are inferior to German instruments. If full advantage is to be taken of the 75 mm in the General Grant tank, and of the 6 pdr gun when it arrives, better telescopic sights are essential.

(e) Amn

All out amn is solid. It is therefore designed solely for tank v tank action. In many cases our tanks were engaged at long range by A Tk guns before German tanks came into action. We have no accurate long range reply to this. A proportion of HE for use against A/Tk gunners would have helped.

All forms of smoke were used with success. […]

There are a few interesting points in this report:

1) Only solid shot on issue, also for the 37 mm. Until now I believed that this gun was issued with both solid shot and HE.

2) The need for fast recce, and consequent overdriving of the Crusader. That’s an interesting tactical insight, and shows the ‘need for speed’ in the desert.

3) The points about the quality of the gun sights are important, particularly in the desert where long-range engagements were regularly possible.

Abbreviations:

Amn = ammunition

A Tk A/Tk = anti-tank

Bde = Brigade

HE = high explosive

Mk. = Mark

pdr = pounder