If it were in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it…

The below is from the H.Q. Tobruch Fortress Intelligence Summary No. 10, issued on 1 November 1941.

Own Ground Activity

(b) Patrols

[…]

The Polish Officer missing from a patrol night 30/31 Oct has returned. A full report has not been received. It seems that he posed as a GERMAN, and having previously bandaged his head, hailed a passing lorry and ordered the ITALIAN driver to take him to the hospital. During the day he took cover in a gun pit near the DERNA rd and spent the day observing. At dusk he returned by lorry, this time driven by a LIBYAN, and debussing in the MEDAUUAR, made his way successfully through to our lines. Details of the information gained will be given when available.

The report is contained in the next day’s intel summary No. 11, 2 November 1941, although it appears to me that the officer wasn’t Polish after all, going by the surname.

A report has been received of the activities of 2/Lieut. RUSHILL who, as mentioned in yesterday’s summary, penetrated the ITALIAN lines on the night 30/31 Oct.

Whilst concealed in an arty pit near the DERNA Rd, he noted a considerable amount of movement West to East. He located 4 fd guns at 394433 on the left of the road, and 2 fd guns on the escarpment at about 39504315. He also noticed about 8 tanks dispersed near the escarpment.

The locations are about 10 km NNE of Acroma, within the Axis bypass road perimeter.

 

 

British and US tank deliveries to Egypt July 1941 to January 1942

In previous posts I have provided information on German (at this link) and Italian (at this link) tank deliveries to North Africa. At the request of David, here’s an overview of tank reinforcements sent to Egypt. It is broken down by convoy, except for the US deliveries, for which this information is not available. Here instead I have used the closest report to month end (they were issued weekly to the Prime Minister), taken the ‘in theatre’ number for that report, and substracted the ‘in theatre’ number for the previous month-end report. So e.g. for end July 40 M3 Light are reported ‘in theatre’, while for end August 109 are reported. August deliveries are therefore 69. It’s not perfect, but in the absence of convoy information it’s the best I can do. I hope readers find this useful.

What is clear from the table below is that the allied supply chain outdelivered the Axis chain by a very considerable margin during this period. In fact, it delivered more tanks in these six months than the Germans managed in the more than two years they shipped tanks to North Africa! The convoys that did this were the W.S. series (nicknamed ‘Winston Specials’). You can find detailed information about the movements and arrival times at this link or at this link. I noted in particular the delivery of 60 M3 light tanks on W.S.12, the only ones to come to Egypt via the UK. I wonder who decided on that…

What is shocking however is to compare the number of deliveries with the number of tanks operational on 7 February, in this older post, and that is where it becomes clear why this high level of deliveries was desparately needed to stay in the game in North Africa.  With 1,184 tanks delivered, and another 356 on hand, substracting the 100 that had been sent to Burma with 7 Armoured Brigade, but adding another 66 M3 Medium that had arrived in the interim, leaves a total of 1,506. Yet on 7 February only 350 were operational, i.e. less than had been operational on 2 July 1941, while another 893 were estimated to undergo repairs and maintenance, and 36 M3 Light were with 10 Armoured Division in Palestine, making for an estimated total of 1,279. This implies 227 total losses, but this was quickly revised upwards, to an estimate of 390 (180 Crusader (sic!), 130 M3 Light, 80 I-tanks). I believe to these losses have to be added the losses of 7 Armoured Brigade and 1 R.T.R., which were equipped with older Cruiser marks, and this would increase losses by another up to 150. By 9 February GHQ M.E. had decided that older Cruiser marks were no longer considered for the tank strength return, since they had become obsolete and/or so worn out not to matter anymore on the battlefield. Total losses of about 540 cruiser and I-tanks sounds believable to me.

In terms of types, I would guess about half of the UK I-tank deliveries would have been Matilda II, the other half Valentines. For the British cruisers, most if not all of them would have been Crusaders, I would guess.

Convoy

 

Month of Arrival

M3 Light (Medium)

UK Cruiser

I-Tank

Light Tank Mk. VI

Armoured Cars

W.S.8b 07/41 12 14
W.S.8x 07/41 50 50
W.S.9 07/41 20 20 251
US 07/41 402
W.S.10 08/41 21 30 251
US 08/41 69
W.S.10x 09/41 1663
US 09/41 53
W.S.114 10/41 30 60 35 501
US6 10/41 152(2)
W.S.12 11/41 60 124 52 35 831
US6,7 11/41 9(1)
US6 12/41 97(11)
W.S.12z 01/42 55 381
Totals  By type 480(14) 478 226 65 221
Totals 1,184 tanks
227 Light tanks and ACs

1 Humber Armoured Cars (probably Mk. I), could also include a small number of Daimler Armoured Cars

2 Includes 4 M2A4, mentioned here for completeness.

3 22 Armoured Brigade

4  Remainder 1 Armoured Division

5 AA tanks with Besa Quad MG mounts, belonging to 1 Armoured Division, but lent out on arrival to 1 Army Tank Brigade.

6 Number in brackets are M3 Medium tanks received in theatre during the month.

7 8 M3 Light reported as ‘lost at sea’

On a side note, Churchill was not a happy man about the situation with conflicting tank strength reports, as shown by this rather cranky note of his:

Prime Minister’s Personal Minute – Serial No. D223/1

Colonel Jacob.

Where are the 120 odd [tanks] which were to have arrived on the 8th [July], and where are the rest of the first 60 Americans? Why did the Minister of State say the other day “We have only 100 tanks fit for action” when you show 211? Are these figures telegraphed from Cairo, or do you make them up here, or do the War Office.

W.S.C.

23. 7. 41

Colonel Jacob probably thought ‘Ouch!’ when he read this.’ His reply then explained the matter a bit further, and is quite clear in what probably went on regarding the difference, explaining that the difference probably related to tanks unloaded from W.S.8(b) and (x), but not yet received by a depot in the Delta, tanks undergoing minor repairs, and excluding the tanks in Tobruk. Still, poor Colonel Jacob could probably have done without this…

A Most Sombre Assessment

The item below is a note from a meeting at Comando Supremo concerning the disconcerting situation with the naval supply at the end of November 1941. It’s from the supply section of the war diary of German Naval Command South, and most likely originated from the German liaison officer at Comando Supremo, General Rintelen.

The discussion and assessment outline very clearly the dire situation that the Italian naval and air forces faced in the Central Mediterrenean at this point in time, where every convoy was subject to a relentless set of attacks by surface, submarine, and air forces, based on Malta, while at the same time, fuel supplies were rapidly depleting. Since even the use of a battleship had not prevented the loss of Adriatico to surface vessels from Malta, it can be presumed that the Italian naval command must have been quite frustrated, with no ability to up the ante any further.

For: OKW/L/Wolfsschanze, OKH General Staff of the Army, Operations Dept., Attaché Department.

For information: German Naval Command Italy, General of the German Air Force at the Italian Air Force Command

SECRET COMMAND AFFAIR

Instigated by me a meeting was held during lunch time at Comando Supremo, concerning the Africa transports. The deputy commanders of the three armed forces elements and Admiral Weichold took part. The purpose of the discussion was to see how far it would be possible to ship, apart from the most urgent supplies, additional formations and replacements for weapons and equipment for the battle in Marmarica.

Following a detailed examination it became clear that it is not possible, with the current naval situation, to bring reinforcements other than the most urgently required supply into Cyrenaica. Apart from the shipment of fuel and rations by destroyer and submarine, it has only been possible to put a convoy of four vessels into action, covered by one battleship and a cruiser division, of which only one vessel, the Veniero[1], arrived in Benghazi, while two vessels (Capo Faro and Adriatico) were sunk, while the fourth vessel (Iseo) had to seek refuge in a Greek port.

In the same way it will be tried to cross the vessels Ankara and Monginevro, loaded with German supplies, to Benghazi, when the harbour is capable again of receiving a larger vessel after the discharging of the Veniero (4-5 days)[2]. Additional formations, such as the German tank companies, will be crossed to Tripoli in the fast vessels Del Greco and Filzi[3].

Although desirable, the crossing of the tank companies to Benghazi, either with naval vessels or with fast freighters, would block the harbour of Benghazi temporarily for the unloading of the absolutely required supplies.[4]

Concerning the current naval situation, the Deputy Chief of the Admiralty, Admiral Sansonetti, outlined that the situation has worsened further because since yesterday four cruisers and four destroyers are in Malta[5], while apparently also bombers with extended range have arrived.

The situation is furthermore made more difficult because it is at present not possible to gain air superiority over the Central Mediterranean, as well as the limited possibilities for the use of the Italian fleet due to the lack of fuel oil. During the month of November only about 13,000 tons fuel oil arrived, while consumption ran at about 78,000 tons.

The point was further made that at present the transfer ports of Navarino and Suda Bay are very badly protected against air strikes, and a shipment of AA guns was requested. Apart from Italian AA, there are available two batteries of 2 cm and one batter of heavy AA, which are currently ready in Italy for transfer to Africa.

As a result of the meeting it has to be noted that it is not possible to ship any formation in time for the battle in Marmarica, but only the most urgent supplies. Instead it will be attempted to bring these reinforcements to Tripoli.

At the end it was noted by the Italian side that a sufficient supply of Libya to replace the losses is only possible by using the port of Tunis.

The German General at the High Command of the Italian Armed Forces. Nr. 3599/41 GKDOS

[1] Veniero was in turn sunk on the return leg, with a large number of Empire troops POW on board. See at this link.

[2] See at this link for the issues with harbour capacity of Benghazi. While the theoretical capacity was quite good, the actual capacity had been reduced by sunk ships in harbour, as well as other considerations, and Benghazi was only fit for smaller vessels at this stage of the war.

[3] Both of them sunk with all their cargo off Taranto in one of the luckiest submarine attacks in the Mediterranean on 13 December 1941.

[4] This is a bit of a strange statement, given than Ankara also carried a whole tank company and unloaded this successfully in Benghazi.

[5] This was the reinforcement of Force K with cruisers HMS Ajax (Flag), HMS Neptune, destroyers HMS Kandahar and HMS Kimberley, and the destroyer squadron of HMS Sikh, HMS Maori, HMS Legion, and HNMS Isaac Sweers.

Two new books on North Africa/Rommel by Cedric

My friend Cedric has been considerably more productive than I have been, and has put out two books in the last year and a half. I am afraid they are in French, but if you speak French, they are bound to be chock full of information and pictures (or in the case of the biography, maps) you have probably never seen. I haven’t read them, but going by the quality of his articles/special issues in Batailles & Blindes, they are must haves.

Mas/Feldmann – Rommel Biography (2014)

Mas – The Battle of El Alamein (June – November 1942)

Of the special issues of Cedric, the first one is still available at this link, while the second one is sold out, as are the regular numbers 31 & 32, which contain a two-set article on the German artillery in North Africa.

Happy reading!

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