Loss of Armando Diaz, 25 February 1941

Loss of Armando Diaz, 25 February 1941

Background

The initial transport of the Afrikakorps (see this link)to North Africa went without any losses on the south-bound route until one of the last convoys saw the German merchant Herakleia sunk at the end of March. Despite this success though, it was not without losses overall.

The most serious strike by the Malta-based submarines happened on 25 February 1941, when a Condottieri-class light cruiser of the early two series of six vessels went down, this time it was the Cadorna sub-class RN Armando Diaz. 

The first loss of a light cruiser of this class had occurred in July 1941 at the Battle of Cape Spada, when RN Bartolomeo Colleoni was sunk by HMAS Sydney.

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RN Armando Diaz at Melbourne in 1934 (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The early Condottieris

By the the start of the war, the early Condottieris could be considered obsolete due to their lack of protection, and their degraded top speed, which for  Armando Diaz seems to have declined from 39 knots when launched in 1932 to 31-32 knots by 1941. They were primarily to be used for convoy escort, mine-laying, and training, or indeed as transports in their own right, although da Giussano did serve in the battle fleet at Punto Stilo in 1940.

These early vessels of the Condottieri  class also had construction weaknesses, and the rapid sinking of Diaz confirmed their low survivability. These light cruisers were built for high speed, with the aim to be able to chase and engage on superior terms the French ‘super- destroyers’ of the Chacal  and  Guepard  classes. The test speed of some of the early vessels was astounding, reaching well over 40 knots (64 km/h).

The design for speed of these six early  Condottieris caused them to suffer from multiple issues however, including strong vibrations, and a lack of stability due to being top-heavy. The latter ultimately required the removal of the original tripod mast behind the bridge, which was present in the first vessels.

On the six vessels of the follow-on sub-classes, a completely new armoured forward structure was introduced, giving the Montecuccoli sub-class it’s very distinctive look, and the final iteration of the two Abruzzi-class light cruisers were in my view two of the finest 6″ cruisers of the war.

Sinking of Armando Diaz

On 25 February 1941, while moving south to reach Tripoli, Armando Diaz was torpedoed off Kerkenah Bank in position 34°33’N, 11°45’E by HM/Sub Upright under command of Lt. Norman, D.S.C. RN, who was on his last patrol with this submarine.

Diaz was acting as distant escort to the German 4th Convoy to Libya, consisting of the German merchants Marburg, AnkaraReichenfels, and Kybfels. On this mission she was part of the 4th Cruiser Squadron, together with the di Giussano sub-class RN Giovanni delle Bande Nere and the modern Soldati-class destroyers  Ascari and Corazziere.

Diaz was hit by two of the four torpedoes that HM/Sub Upright fired at her, resulting in catastrophic explosions in her magazine and boiler rooms, leading to rapid sinking. Over 500 sailors were lost with her, and only 153 men were rescued. Ascari was also near-missed, and she proceeded to attack HM/Sub Upright without results.

Details on the attack can be found at this link, and in Italian at this link

Upright

HM/Sub Upright returning to Holy Loch submarine base, Scotland, 17 April 1942, Lieut J S Wraith, DSO, DSC, RN on the left, her 1st Lieutenant on the right. (IWM A8424)

A full article on the operations and fate of the early Condottieris is under preparation.

Luftwaffe Magazine Der Adler Online

Thanks to Stuart over at Tanknet, I have come across this, and had a bit of a look. I want to note that I am publishing this for research purposes, and not to in any way, shape, or form endorse the content.

Archive.org – Der Adler

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Cover page of the Italian edition of 30 June 1942, with Field Marshal Kesselring (OB Sued) and Italian Chief of the General Staff Field Marshal Cavallero in Benghazi.

It’s a pretty comprehensive collection of this Luftwaffe propaganda magazine, that was published in multiple languages, and also featured a lot of colour pictures.  Publication seems to have been bi-weekly, and it is reasonably close to the events, so for CRUSADER it is worth looking through the December to March issues of it.

The magazine carried foto stories of the war, both home and actual front, some political articles, regular columns such as ‘How they gained their Knights Cross’, some funny corners and a crossword, amongst other things.

When reading it we shouldn’t forget that it was a propaganda magazine for the Nazi regime, and anything, both pictures and text, needs to be critically considered in this regard, and with it constantly in mind.

Some sample content related to CRUSADER below:

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Anti-aircraft artillery and camels on the move in the desert, in a rather nice shot that certainly led to some ribaldry in other service arms (in German ‘Kamel’ is a term used for someone who is or who has done something stupid).

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Caption: ‘What choice do we have, the German recce planes see every nosetip’. Part of a special set of caricatures on the war in Africa, in the 8 July 1941 issue, incidentally (or not) also the issue in which Major Heymer’s Knights Cross for his services with 2.H/14 was announced.  

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Political education in the 8 July 1941 issue, probably to explain the strategic purpose of fighting in North Africa.

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Death Notice of an ace – Lieutenant Erbo von Kageneck of III./JG27 was shot down in a dogfight with No. 250 Squadron R.A.F. south Agedabia. He suffered an abdominal wound and died five days later in hospital in Naples. His brother, also a fighter pilot, died on the same day in Russia.

D.A.K. War Diary 28 April 1941

D.A.K. War Diary 28 April 1941

Weather: max. temp 26 degrees C

Arrival and Departure of subordinated troops:

Arrived by air in Benina:

Staff Pz.Pi.Batl. 33
1./Pz.Pi.Batl.33
3./Pz.Pi.Batl.33

One battalion of Artillery Regiment Dalmote (Corps Artillery Regt.) arrived west of Das Mdauuar.

On Tobruk front lively patrol activity by both sides.

Luftwaffe attacked 2 ships at 11.30 hours in Tobruk harbour of 1-2,000 tons. Hit close to ships side. [1] Direct hits were obtained in heavy AA battery on promontory. To commence the planned attack on Tobruk Stukas attacked battery positions and fortifications with great success during the afternoon. Fighters attacked ground targets in strafing attacks. Burning trucks and explosions in ammunition stores were also observed by siege troops 1 Blenheim and 1 Hurricane were shot down.[2]

https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/127950.JPG

  ARMED BOARDING VESSEL CHAKLA, UNDER BOMBING ATTACK IN TOBRUK HARBOUR, 1941-04-29. NOTE HER CAMOUFLAGE SCHEME, THE COLOURS OF WHICH ARE PROBABLY 507A (THE DARKER GREY) AND 507C. THE CHAKLA WAS SUNK AS A RESULT OF THE ATTACK. (STILL FROM A CINE FILM)

 2200 hours the area of Division Trento was under heaviest fire by naval artillery of heavy calibre.

1250 hours following order issued to Gruppe Herff:
“Occupation of track climbing up at Pt. 191 and Suleiman important. Protection has to be so strong in MGs, ATGs and single guns that it hold as long against enemy attacks until support from the rear arrives.” Operations order followed by courier officer on 29 April (see the same).

2200 hours reported Gruppe Herff: “South of line Sidi Omar – Sidi Suleiman 5km southeast Pt. 191 enemy secures with armoured cars and tanks, evade when we advance. Coastal plain up to 15km southeast of Sollum free of enemy. 
Security pushed forward up to 6km southeast Sollum across the track leading from the desert to plain.”

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1942 British Map of the area. Sidi Suleiman (Pt. 206) to the south centre. Halfaya Pass (probably Point 191) to the left above it. 

Replenishment of 5.lei.Div. by bringing in troops via air was announced by O.K.H.

[1]This was a joint German-Italian attack. The close hit was caught on film, and ABV Chakla (3,081t) was sunk as a result of the attack. Her sister ABV Chakdina was sunk on 5 December with heavy loss of life, when leaving Tobruk with POW on board, and the last of the three, ABV Chantala, ran on a mine outside Tobruk on 7 December 1941 and was lost.
[2]ID to follow. 

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 27 April 1941

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 27 April 1941

Weather: max. Temp. 19 degrees C

Arrival and departure of subordinated troops:

Arrived by air (personnel)

Staff 15th Rifle Brigade
Staff I./I.R.104
3./S.R.104
4./S.R.104

Arrived in the operational zone:

Staff company S.R.115

Arrived of Div. Brescia:

227th Company 4.7cm ATG

On the frontline of Tobruk continuous active movement at and behind the enemy positions, in some areas limited enemy advances and artillery activity. Noticeably weak air activity.

On Sollum front enemy has apparently pulled back towards the ridgeline 10km east of Sidi Suleiman with one reinforced battalion. No more contact with the enemy on our security line. Our reconnaissance was hampered by heavy losses of armoured cars during the recent combats.

1345 hours order issued to Gruppe Herff to take Point 191 and Sidi Suleiman at 1700 hours following our air attack with a strong assault patrol and to hold it (see that order).

2100 hours reports Gruppe Herff: “As ordered, posts have been pushed out at Sidi Suleiman – Point 191.”[1] The units foreseen for the attack on Tobruk were set in march from the Sollum front following dusk, as outlined in the order “concerning move of formations”. Gruppe Herff was reordered as follows.

In the area Capuzzo – Sollum Battalion Montemurro and one company Battl. Trento, Artillery Battalion Frongia. In Bardia 1 Battl. Trento. A.A.3 as mobile reserve 6km south of Bardia on the road Bardia – Capuzzo. Standing patrols in the line Sidi Omar – Sidi Suleiman – Point 191. Mobile reconnaissance against the enemy across this line towards south and east.

In line with radio communication of 27 April 1850 hours Gruppe Herff was also left with an additional company Kradschuetzen Batl. 15 and one light AA platoon I./18. These were readied as reserve north of Capuzzo to be at the call of Gruppe Herff.

Bombers of Fliegerfuehrer Afrika successfully attacked AA positions in Tobruk.

Elements of 15. Pz.Div. were sent by air to Bengasi. An application was made to O.K.H. for immediate transport to Gazala, since no column space was available to bring these up.

[1]Probably Halfaya Pass. Sidi Suleiman seems to be Pt. 205

First discord: D.A.K. War Diary Entry 2 April 1941

First discord: D.A.K. War Diary Entry 2 April 1941

2 April 1941

During the night 1/2 April 5.lei.Div. closed up to the forward detachment, with the beginning of the main elements at the Via Balbia, south of M. Tabilb.

The enemy which had been observed to the north and south of the Via Balbia at B.Bilal and B. el Medfun during the evening 1 April by the forward detachment of 5.lei.Div. had retreated east during thenight. During the morning of 2 April he again faced about to resist, but after some artillery rounds evaded up to the area 20km west of Agedabia.0251

German 10.5cm lFH18 light howitzer of I./A.R.75 in action, probably April 1941. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

Lt. General Rommel gave the following verbal order at 13.00 hours: “5.lei.Div. pushes first on Agedabia, then in northwesterly direction on port Zuetina and occupies the same. Mass of the division to be pulled up immediately to Agedabia and the area west of it.”

Armoured Division Ariete at 15.00 hours received order by Aide de Camp[1] “Div.Ariete occupies as soon as possible area (based on thrust line[2]) 12-19 right 2 (7km southeast Cantoniera, south of Mn. Tabilba – Ergh et – Teneb).”

At 16.15 hours Agedabia was taken by the forward detachment of 5.lei.Div. after a short engagement. A.A.3 pushed past Agedabia to the northwest and took Zuetina. 17.00 to 17.45 hours an engagement took place south of Agedabia between II./Pz.Regiment 5 and 20 light English tanks. 7 enemy tanks were destroyed, 11 men captured, three of our tanks were lost.

Div.Brescia advanced into the area east of Agedabia as ordered with the elements instructed to do so. The Bologna battalion on Merduma airfield was subordinated to it.

The operation order of 2 April established the organisation of 5.lei.Div.Div. Brescia, and Ariete for the defense of the area Agedabia – Zuetina.

The Corps combat HQ was suring the day first brought forward to el Muktas, 20km west of Agheila, following that it was brought further forward into the area Cantoniera south Mn. Tabilba.

The airlanding operation to occupy Gialo was further delayed, and now envisaged for 4 April.

The following radio message was received from the Italian High Command: “From messages I have received I take it that your advance continues. This is contrary to what I have ordered. I politely request that you wait for me before you continue the advance.”

[1]Ordonnanzoffizier

[2]See this older link for an explanation.

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 31 March 1941

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 31 March 1941

31 March 1941

Attack by 5.lei.Div. led to capture of English forward positions at Maaten Bescer, as well as partial capture of built-up positions near Marsa Brega. Combat-capable elements of A.A.3 took B. es Suera. Counterattacks by enemy tanks were repulsed.

The reinforced 12th Bersaglieri battalion of Div.Ariete moved into position on the heights just north and 10km orth of Maaten Giofer.

Italian air force attacked reserves around Agedabia, the German tank and motor vehicle concentrations at Bleidet, as well as the positions at Marsa Brega. Near Agedabia a Hurricane was shot down. One Me 110 was lost in aerial combat, another one due to forced landing on our territory.

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I 783 0109 11 Nordafrika Panzer III in Fahrt

Panzer III advancing in North Africa, March – April 1941. Bundesarchiv.

Operation order of evening 31 March set out in writing verbal orders of Commander in Chief concerning operations of divisions to defend, following occupation of B.es Suera and establishment of the bridgehead at Marsa Brega (see same).

Before Lt.General Rommel drove into the forward area to be present at the forward push of 5.lei.Div., he ordered the occupation of Gialo on 2 April (see operation order to 5.lei.Div.). 10 transport planes each were requested from X.Fliegerkorps and the 5th Italian Air Fleet. To be ready at Merduma on 1 April.

Detachment Schwerin moved to rest on the evening of 30 March after a 275km march through the rocky desert 35km south of El-Gaf. On the evening 31 March Count Schwerin reported arrival in Hun and intent to reach Sirt in two day marches on 2 and 3 April, after motor vehicles have been repaired.

The Quartermaster Department in Tripoli reported: “Steamer Galilea of 15th Naval Transport Squadron torpedoed or ran on mine during return leg at 07.00 hours, 31 March. Towing into Tripoli will be attempted.”[1]

[1]Galilea, a German steamer of 1,927GRT was torpedoed by HM/Sub Upright (Lt.D.E.Norman). While not sunk by the attack, she was towed back to Tripoli under escort, beached there, and never repaired. She was finally sunk in the harbour entrance by the retreating Axis forces on 20 January 1943.

D.A.K. war diary entry for 19 February 1941

D.A.K. war diary entry for 19 February 1941

19 February 1941

Forward Detachment Wechmar with subordinated Italian reconnaissance company Santa Maria and one Italian machine gun company moves off on en Nofilia as ordered at 06.45 hours and reaches it at 14.00 hours. Armoured car patrols pushed ahead don’t have contact with the enemy.

23 Stukas of II./Stuka 2[1] attack vehicles at el Brega with good success, dropping 21 500kg bombs. 1 Ju 87 force landed at en Nofilia on return flight, crew recovered. The escort of 7 Me 110 shot down 4 Hurricanes in air combat. 1 Me 110 ditched into sea. Crew rescued by sea rescue plane on 20 February.

0158

Stukas, probably of II./Stuka 2, being readied for a mission in early 1941. Clearly visible the long-range external fuel tanks. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

 

X.Fliegerkorps attacks port of Benghazi during the afternoon, damaging two merchant vessels.

[1]2nd Group of 2nd Dive Bomber Wing. A full group would consist of 36 planes organised in three squadrons. Only II./Stuka 2 was present in North Africa, not the whole 2nd Wing.