Initial Transport of the Afrikakorps to North Africa

While not strictly related to CRUSADER, this information is nevertheless of interest and relevance. This post was born from this discussion thread on the Axis History Forum.

Below the initial transports of Army units covering 5.lei.Division (later to become 21st Panzer) and I./Flak 18, as well as some smaller units I guess. Where available the size of the ship is given when it is first mentioned (thanks to Mescal on AHF for this), and any damage due to enemy action is also mentioned. Luftwaffe transports are not included in this. The organisational unit of were small convoys, termed ‘Staffel’ in German. Attached to these were supply ships which carried purely supply apparently, rather than new units.

1st Staffel 8 Feb 41 (back in Naples 18 Feb, so 10-day roundtrip):
Ankara (4,768 GRT)
Arcturus (2,596 GRT)
Alicante (2,140 GRT)

2nd Staffel 12 Feb 41
Kybfels (7,764 GRT)
Adana (4,205 GRT)
Aegina (2,447 GRT)
Ruhr (5,954 GRT)

3rd Staffel 17 Feb 41
Menes (5,609 GRT – torpedoed and damaged on return journey by HM/Sub Regent, who herself was damaged in the counter attack)
Arta (2,452 GRT)
Maritza (2,910 GRT)
Herakleia (1,927 GRT)

4th Staffel 23 Feb 41:
Ankara
Marburg (7,564 GRT)
Reichenfels (7,744 GRT)
Kybfels

5th Staffel 25 Feb 41:
Leverkusen (7,368 GRT)
Wachtfels (8,467 GRT)
Alicante (2,140 GRT)
Arcturus

6th Staffel 1 Mar 41:
Castellon (2,086 GRT)
Ruhr
Maritza
Amsterdam (8,673 GRT – Italian vessel, not sure whether she carried German load)

7th Staffel
Adana
Aegina
Arta
Herakleia
Sabaudia (1,590 – Italian(?) attached as supply ship)

8th. Staffel 5 Mar 41
Ankara
Marburg
Reichenfels
Kybfels

9th Staffel 7 Mar 41:
Alicante
Arcturus
Wachtfels

10th Staffel 12 Mar 41
Castelleon
Ruhr
Maritza
Leverkusen (this was after the famous fire which caused the loss of 13 tanks, according to WD CO Naval Transport)

11th Staffel 14 Mar 41
Adana
Aegina
Herakleia
Galilea (8,040 GRT)
Arta (supply ship)

12th Staffel 16/17 Mar 41
Marburg (16 March from Naples)
Reichenfels (dto)
Ankara (17 Mar from Palermo, re-directed to pick up 150 urgently needed vehicles)
Kybfels (dto)

13th Staffel 19 Mar 41
Arcturus
Wachtfels
Santa Fe (4,627 GRT?)
Procida (1,842 GRT)

14th Staffel 22 Mar 41:
Alicante
Leverkusen
Castellon
Maritza

15th Staffel 26 Mar 41:
Adana
Herakleia (sunk by submarine HM/Sub Utmost off Tunisian coast, 69 out of 206 soldiers on board lost)
Ruhr (damaged by submarine HMS Utmost off Tunisian coast)
Galilea (damaged by submarine HM/Sub Upright on return journey, beached in Tripoli a few days later)
Samos (2,576 GRT – supply ship)

Also 26 Mar 41, tanker Persiano (2,474 GRT) with fuel for the army from Naples.

16th Staffel – 29/30 Mar 41
Marburg (29 March from Naples)
Kybfels (dto)
Ankara (30 Mar from Palermo)
Reichenfels (dto)

17th Staffel – 2 Apr 41
Maritza
Procida
Alicante
Santa Fe

18th Staffel – 8 Apr 41 (last troops of the original contingent)
Wachtfels
Arcturus
Leverkusen
Castellon

19th Staffel – 11 Apr 41 (last load of original units, possibly first load of 15th Panzer)
Ankara
Marburg
Kybfels
Reichenfels

Various Runs – 10 Apr 41
Persiano (tanker – attacked 40nm north of Tripoli by HM/Sub Tetrach, set on fire and sunk)
1st Supply Runs to Benghazi:
Samos from Tripoli
Ramb III (3,667 GRT, Italian vessel) from Naples, effective loading capacity only 1,100 tons due to ballast
Motor sailing vessels for coastal traffic from Trapani:
Rosina
Giorgina
Unione
Luigi
Frieda

The organisation of the transport had to be made with the consideration of several constraints.

1)  Harbour capacity in Tripoli was restricted by a policy of not unloading at night, to reduce the risk of enemy air attacks disrupting unloading and maybe blocking quays by sinking ships alongside. My guess is that at dusk ships were moved off the quays into more open water. This essentially reduced capacity by about 50%, is my guess. See this older post on port capacity.

2)  Ships were of different sizes and speeds, so slow and fast convoys were organised, and optimisation of unloading was an issue, since ideally convoys were supposed to return together.

3)  Italian reinforcement convoys continued at the same time as the German transports, and convoys were timed to reduce the number of ships in Tripoli harbour at any given time. This also indicates the very heavy call on Italian escort vessels, which would have been in service non-stop.

4)  There was a conflict between the Kriegsmarine and the army (Rommel/Halder, who for a change saw eye to eye on something) about the loading of ships. The navy wanted to send troops and vehicles separately, to presumably reduce risk to losing troops if a slower supply vessel was sunk, while the army wanted them to be sent together, in order to have the units immediately ready for action once they hit the quayside in Tripoli. Following a number of ship losses the navy method was adopted.

5)  There was no capacity at first at the receiving end to handle navy matters, and everything had to be run from Italy. This included coastal convoys in North Africa.

6)  Not all ships were available immediately, and arrived in drips and drops throughout the period. Furthermore, not all ships were protected against magnetic mines from the outset.

7)  The Luftwaffe had to be given space on the ships as well, but it wasn’t fully integrated into the transport system, and there appears to sometimes have been a lack of clarity on when supplies would arrive.

8)  AA armament on the ships had to be organised, and when the Luftwaffe refused to provide it, it had to be borrowed from the Italians. This left vessels relatively weakly equipped for AA defense, and they had to rely on the escorts. Navy AA detachments (Marinebordflakkompanie Sued)only arrived during the period. See this older post for AA equipment about half a year later.

Source for all this: War Diary Naval Transport Command South for 1941, while the identity of the attacking subs is based on Royal Navy Day by Day. Many thanks to Dirk for sending this war diary through!

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