Axis Air Force Strength for the Planned Attack on Tobruk, November 1941

This post is based on a document from the war diary appendices to Panzergruppe War Diary August to November 1941, the section dealing with the planning for the attack on Tobruk. See also this older post.

Prior to the attack it was planned to substantially reinforce the strike force of the Luftwaffe in North Africa, by temporarily basing medium bombers and Stuka ground attack planes there. These planes were to come from the Greek mainland and Crete, while planes from the Greek mainland would also operate utilising Crete as a forward base. Planes were also to be moved from further west to Gambut and Gasr el Arid, very close to the planned breakthrough sector.

Based on this document, there would not have been a joint command arrangement governing the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica missions, which would further have complicated command arrangements, since Fliegerfuehrer Afrika was not under command of Panzergruppe, but rather only auf Zusammenarbeit angewiesen – instructed to co-operate.

Fliegerfuehrer planned however to install a close combat command at Gambut airfield. The purpose was presumably to ensure close co-operation between the dive bombers and the ground forces.

What is interesting about the numbers is that these do not contain the totality of the planes based in Sector East for the Italians. Furthermore, they are maximum numbers, not taking into account likely serviceability rates, which ranged from ‘okay’ for the single-engined planes to dismal for the Ju 88.

Class Unit Location Type Number Notes
Luftwaffe
Command Fliegerfuehrer Gazala Various Adv. CP in Gambut
Recce

Fighter

2./(H)14

I./JG27

Derna

Gazala

Various

Me 109F

 

20

II./JG27 Gambut 20 Control of air space into Egypt
Dive Bomber Stab Stuka 3 Gambut Various To become close combat leader in Gambut, coming from Crete
I./Stuka 1 Derna Ju 87 30 To move to Gasr el Arid
II./Stuka 2 Tmimi Ju 87 30
I./Stuka 3 Tmimi Ju 87 30
Stab LG1 Benina Various From Athens
II./LG1 Benina Ju 88 15 From Athens
III./LG1 Benina Ju 88 15
I./LG1 Heraklion Ju 88 15 From Athens
II./KG26 Heraklion He111 15 Torpedo and bomber role, from Romania
Regia Aeronatica[1]
Command Sector East Derna Unknown
Fighter 153 Gruppo Caccia Derna M.200 20
20 Gruppo Caccia Martuba/
Gambut
G.50 20 To fully move to Gambut the day before the attack
Bomber 43 Gruppo BT Martuba Br.20 15
Gruppo of 8 Stormo Derna S.79 15
Ground attack 376 Squadriglia Caccia Gazala Cr.42 8 To move to Gasr el Arid the day before the attack

Source: NARA, War Diary of Panzergruppe Afrika, Montanari L’Operazioni in Africa Settentrionale Vol. II – Tobruk

[1] Unit designations based on Montanari, and are only a guesstimate.

Abbreviations and translations:

German

2./(H)14 = 2nd Squadron Army Reconnaissance Group 14 (a close reconnaissance and ground support unit equipped with Hs 126 recce and Me 110 ground attack/fighter planes.

JG = Jagdgeschwader – Fighter Wing (about 90 planes), normally three groups

I./[…] etc. = 1st Group (about 30 planes for fighters and dive-bombers, 15 planes for bombers), normally three squadrons

StG = Sturzkampfgeschwader – dive bomber wing (about 90 planes)

LG = Lehrgeschwader – Instruction Wing, in this case medium bombers, about 50 planes)

KG = Kampfgeschwader – Bomber Wing (about 50 planes)

Italian

See these two older posts for Regia Aeronautica plane types (fightersbombers).

BT = bombardamento terrestre (medium bombers)

Caccia = hunt (fighters)

Stormo = wing (about 90 fighters or 45 bombers) could contain two or three groups

Gruppo – Group (about 15 medium bombers or 30+ fighters) could contain 3 squadrons

Squadriglia – Squadron (about 10 planes)