Initial Transport of the Afrikakorps to North Africa

Background

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.

Original Convoys

  • 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)
  • 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

0063

A leichter Befehlswagen (command tank on Panzer I chassis) of Panzerregiment 5 being unloaded in Tripoli, Feb/Mar 1941. Rommelsriposte.com Collection.

Various Runs

  • 26 Mar 41, Italian tanker Persiano (2,474 GRT) with fuel for the army from Naples.
  • 10 Apr 41
    Persiano with fuel Naples to Tripoli, (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 issues)
  • 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

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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