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.

3 thoughts on “A Most Sombre Assessment

  1. That is not true. Adriatico wasn’t protected by a battleship, or cruisers. It was alone. There was fleet at sea but it wasn’t covering the Adriatico which didn’t belong to any convoy.

    Same for 2 others.
    Procione was escorting Iseo and Capo Faro to Benghazi. The last was sunk by aircraft while the later was damaged. Iseo with Procione went to Greece for repairs.


    • Hi Dili

      While I agree there wasn’t a formal convoy, it is my understanding that the Regia Marina saw this as one operation, where they tried to use the cover of the battleship and cruiser division to cross the vessels. In the relatively constricted area in which these vessels ran, the presence of a heavy covering force that could freely maneuver should have been sufficient to deter surface vessels from Malta from engaging, since these could have been picked up and engaged either on the way out or back.

      The whole day and night are well described in the official Italian history, the above is my recollection from reading it a while ago. So while you are technically right, I think it is fundamentally okay to describe it the way Rintelen did in his note.

      Here’s the relevant entry from Naval History Net:


      29 November
      Italian steamers ISEO (2366grt) and CAPO FARO (3476grt) escorted by torpedo boat PROCIONE departed Brindisi for Benghazi.
      On the 30th, steamer CAPO FARO was sunk and steamer ISEO was damaged by Malta aircraft in 37-28N, 19-20E. Torpedo boat PROCIONE escorted steamer ISEO to Argostoli.
      Steamer SEBASTIANO VENIER (6311grt) departed Taranto with destroyer DA VERAZZANO.
      Steamer ADRIATICO, unescorted, departed Argostoli for Benghazi.
      At 0330 on 1 December, after being sighted by Malta aircraft, the steamer was sunk by Force K fifty six miles north of Benghazi.
      Tanker VOLTURNO with torpedo boats ARETUSA and PEGASO departed Navarino for Benghazi.
      On the 29th, tanker VOLTURNO was damaged by Malta based aircraft and was forced to return to port.
      These movements were covered by light cruisers AOSTA, MONTECUCCOLI, and ATTENDOLO with destroyers AVIERE, CAMICIA NERA, and GENIERE.
      The cruisers were unsuccessfully attacked seventy miles south of Taranto by Submarine UPROAR.
      This group joined the VENIER convoy on the 30th.
      On 1 December, the cruisers were again successfully attacked, this time by submarine UPHOLDER.
      Steamer VENIER arrived at Benghazi on 2 December.
      Battleship DUILO, light cruiser GARIBALDI, and destroyers GRANATIERE, ALPINO, BERSAGLIERE, FUCLIERE, CORAZZIERE, and CARABINIERE departed Taranto for support.
      However, the DUILO group is held up by engine problems on cruiser GARIBALDI and heavy weather.

      All the best



  2. Hello Andreas,
    the color pic with supplies being unloaded is definitely in Benghazi. The sunken steamer in the foreground is Maria Eugenia, sunk by air raid in September 1940 and whose wreck was used as a sort of quay. Behind is Città di Tunisi. She only made a handful of trips to Libya, so it is quite likely this photo was taken in November 1941.


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