There is a lot of talk about how the desert required higher fuel allocations than foreseen for the German forces, but very little evidence of how this worked out in detail. I have just now come across some information in my files, which I will post below.
Fuel was by far the most urgent and heaviest (by weight) of items in the German supply requirements. In the context of the desert war, fuel was crucial – no fuel, no movement of anything. The armies in the desert were dependent on trucks for moving supplies, and no attempt to ameliorate the situation by using coastal shipping, railways, or pipelines (all of which were used), could do more than lessen the requirement.
Fuel was needed to carry everything, including fuel. The further away from supply entry points an army got, the worse the ratio of useful load/fuel use got. In the German case, the Panzergruppe Command estimated that 1kg delivered to the port of Bardia was equivalent to 6kg delivered to Tripoli harbour, which should be read that to deliver 1kg of goods from Tripoli to Bardia, 5kg of fuel were needed – in other words it was hugely inefficient.
Furthermore, for any movement off the main coastal road (which was in quality comparable to European roads), fuel consumption went through the roof. Moving vehicles of any type in desert terrain was not easy on the fuel use.
Finally, German fuel logistics were based on the concept of Verbrauchssaetze (loosely: ‘consumption units’), which used a set unit of output to determine a supply requirement. For fuel, this was the amount of fuel needed to move the vehicle 100km of distance. For weapons, it was called Ausstattung, and was the ammunition quota needed to carry out about 3-4 days of combat. For those wanting to know more, you can have a look at this link.
Now, after this explanation, here is the short but informative request, translated from a captured document, and found in WO208/3173 in the UK National Archives in Kew:
REPORT OF PARTIAL FUEL REQUIREMENTS (10 DAYS)
26 September 41: Artillery Regiment 33 reports to the 15. Panzerdivision
The 3,100 liter allowed to the Rgt. for every ten days is insufficient. The Rgt. asks for a raise of the allotment according to the following key:
Water supply: 1,850 liter
Ration collections: 650 liter
Post collection: 350 liter
Fuel, ammunition, and spares collection: 360 liter
Evacuation of the sick: 650 liter
Inspection drives: 320 liter
Battery chargers: 700 liter
Total: 4,880 liter
Some items of note here. AR33 was stationary during the period in question. It’s supply point was Bardia, while it was stationed east/south of Bardia. The high number of fuel requirement for evacuation of the sick may reflect the high incidence of sickness in Panzergruppe during this period.
Delivery of supplies in North Africa, March/April 1941, courtesy of the Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia.
A little analysis shows that the requirement was about 57% higher than the allocation. Water supply was by far the highest requirement, at 38% of the new requirement, and almost 60% of the original allocation. What is interesting is the high requirement for battery charging – not something one reads a lot about in the context of military logistics in WW2. It’s over 14% of the new requirement, and almost 23% of the original allocation.
For Germans the logistics were always a big problem and if we added the problem of tobruk, in their favor they had the great quality difference between the English storage cans and the German and American suitcases.“Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister”-vs-“4-gallon fuel canisters”
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When I joined the Canadian Army Reserves, we had the C42 radio which was issued in a “National Survival” setup. This was a large crate with the radio in the top half set up and ready for operation. The bottom half contained six (IIRC) large batteries, each capable of powering the radio (24v). The idea was that this box could be moved to the area of an atomic attack to help coordinate the restoration of order. Yes, it was at the end of that period (before the first H bomb) that we thought that atomic war was survivable. I joined just as the Militia was shifting back to its role as supplementing the Regular Force.
The crates and batteries were withdrawn from service, but the radios stayed with us for a few more years with vehicle mounts. We also kept small ‘chore horse’ generators to power the radios, rather than idling our vehicles to keep batteries charged. These were 1950s items and were not fuel efficient. I would expect that the German generators would guzzle petrol at the same rate.
The Regiment would have to power radios for the RCP (Regt Command Post), three Battery CPs, the Admin CP, Operations CP, and at least one alternate CP(e.g. the Regt CO’s tactical HQ at Brigade/Division HQ). Seven units, each using 10 liters per day to provide 4-6 hours of charging time. Modern generators use fuel at about 1.2 to 1.4 liters per hour, the older models were probably 1.75 to 2 liters per hour.
These generators were essential kit, as they reduced wear on the vehicle engines (which also consumed fuel at similar rates) and easier to muffle. The chore horse ‘muffler’ was a flexible metal hose attached to the exhaust. You just buried the other end in the ground to muffle it.
Thanks for that. I hadn’t even considered generators!
All the best