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

Background

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[1].  

Reinforcements and Allocations

Prior to the attack it was planned to substantially reinforce the strike force of the Luftwaffe in North Africa, by temporarily basing additional 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 from Crete, utilising Heraklion as a forward base.

To support the air assault, planes were also to be moved from landing grounds inb western Cyrenaica 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 Fliegerführer Afrika was not under command of Panzergruppe, but rather only auf Zusammenarbeit angewiesen – instructed to co-operate.

Fliegerführer planned however to install a close combat command at Gambut airfield. The purpose of this was presumably to ensure close co-operation between the dive bombers and the ground forces throughout.Furthermore, the air plan was quite detailed, and the Regia Aeronautica would no doubt have carried out the assigned tasks – how any more flexible re-arrangement on the day would have worked is an open question, however.

What is interesting about the numbers is that these do not contain the totality of the planes based in Sector East for the Italians, and also do not contain all German air force elements (e.g. destroyer squadrons are not included even though they had a clear role in the air assault).

Furthermore, they are maximum numbers, not taking into account likely serviceability rates, which ranged from ‘okay’ for the single-engined planes to low for the Ju 88 Gruppe based in Benina. Screen Shot 2020 06 28 at 3 03 46 PM A PDF version of the table can be downloaded here: Tobruk Air Attack Force

Tasks

Based on the target map, the primary objective of the air assault would not have been the softening of the line of fortifications, but rather bombing of zones of concentration for potential counter-attacks on the Axis assault forces, the fortifications inside the fortress, and battery positions to suppress Empire artillery.

Screen Shot 2020 06 28 at 3 56 36 PM

Target Map for Air Assault on Tobruk, 30 Oct 1941. Rommelsriposte.com Collection Red arrow indicates direction of ground assault, planned for 23 November 1941

Notes

[1] See also this older post.

[2] III./JG27 was at the time still in Germany, converting to the Me 109 F-4 variant.

Sources

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

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)

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