German AA Armament of Axis Merchant Vessels – 26 Nov. 1941

Background

The increasing threat from air attack of the merchants plying the North Africa route led to increased air defence measures, with permanent installations of quite substantial numbers of guns on the vessels. The guns and their crews were organized in a special unit, Marinebordflakkompanie Süd, a dedicated naval AA unit. In addition, army anti-air guns were shipped in some cases, and troops embarked on vessels would use their own weapons to thicken the air defense. 

In the records the increased air defense is remarked upon in September 1941, and the losses of attacking Blenheim aircraft climbed very high during autumn and winter 1941.

Merchant

Unknown merchant on the way to North Africa, 1941, showing the stern AA gun position. Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv

Armament at the end of 1941

On 26 November 1941 a memo was issued which gives some information on how the German navy equipped merchants on the North Africa run with AA capability, in order to protect them from the roving Blenheims and Swordfish or Albacores operating from Malta.

The memo of which the table was part was sent on 26 November 1941. Of note that three of the vessels in the memo had been sunk by then, two of them with all hands, including the AA crews. Also of note that army (Heer) AA guns were shipped in a few cases, in particular on high-value merchants such as Ankara and Monginevro. Why they were put on the old and rather small steamer Procida is a mystery to me though. In any case, I hope this is of interest to some, and I would be interested to see how this compared to e.g. the armament on British merchants.

No

Ship Name

Weapons

 

2 cm AA

AA MG[2]

Notes

Single

(Navy crews)[1]

Quad

(Army Crews)

C/30

C/38

C/38

C/13

C/34

 

1

Ankara

2

1

1

 

 

 

2

Almena

 

2

 

 

 

 

3

Brook

 

2

 

 

 

 

4

Bellona

 

2

 

2

 

 

5

Maritza

 

2

 

2

 

Sunk 24-11-41

6

Max Berendt

 

2

 

 

 

Salvage Tug

7

Monginevro

 

 

1

 

 

No Naval AA Crews, Italian vessel which was being loaded with substantial German cargo at the time.

8

Nirvo

 

1

 

2

 

 

9

Procida

 

 

2

2

 

Sunk 24-11-41

10

Tinos

2

 

 

2

 

Sunk 22-11-41 in Benghazi harbour

11

Trapani

2

 

 

 

 

 

12

Santa Fe

 

2

 

 

 

 

13

Savona

 

2

 

2

 

 

14

Spezia

2

 

 

2

 

 

15

Achaia

          Not re-armed yet

16

Cuma

          Not armed yet

17

Menes

          Not re-armed yet

18

Ossag

          Not re-armed yet

19

Reichenfels

          Not re-armed yet

20

Wachtfels

          Not re-armed yet

21

Sturla

          Not armed yet

22

Cagliari

          Not armed yet

Source

NARA, Documents of Marineoberkommando Sued PG45144 – the document also contains a number of after-action reports.

Notes

[1] C/30 = Standard 20mm light AA gun of the German navy, superseded by the C/38 20 mm gun which was copied from the German army 2cm Flak 38. C/38 = Standard 20mm light AA gun of the German army, adopted by the navy due to its higher reliability. A quadruple mount was available, but not in service with the German navy.

[2] C/13 = Naval version of the MG13 light machine gun, introduced in 1930, and superseded by the MG34. Calibre 7.9mm. C/34 = Naval version of the standard light machine gun of the early war years. High rate of fire. Calibre 7.9mm.

8 thoughts on “German AA Armament of Axis Merchant Vessels – 26 Nov. 1941

    • I am perplexed as well. Maybe because she was supposed to carry German cargo she got some German guns, or maybe the Italians failed to provide guns in time?

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