A Most Sombre Assessment

A Most Sombre Assessment


The war diary of Panzergruppe notes that on 5 December 1941 a General Staff officer sent by Mussolini arrived, bearing news that substantial supplies would not arrive until the new year. It is likely that this was Cordero di Montezemolo, Chief of the Operations Section Africa, who would die in 1944 in the Fosse Ardeatine massacre. This news was instrumental in triggering the retreat into the Gazala position, after Rommel had decided the day before to give up the eastern front of the Tobruk encirclement front.

Colonnello Montezemolo

Colonel Cordero di Montezemolo M.O.V.M. in 1943. Wikipedia.

Comando Supremo Meeting

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 is 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. I suspect that the analysis in the document underlay the message transmitted to Rommel by Cordero di Montezemolo.

The discussion and assessment outline very clearly the dire situation that the Italian naval and air forces faced in the Central Mediterranean 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


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 mosturgently 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 Venier[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


Supplies being unloaded in unknown North African port, probably 1941 in Benghazi or Tripoli. Rommelsriposte Collection.


[1] Venier 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.