Short Write-Up on Reid’s Force ‘E’

There is a bit of info in Brett-James’ “Ball of Fire”, the history of 5th Indian Division in WW2. Force ‘E’, or Oasis Force as it was also known as far as I know, was the southern hook of the Crusader operation, aiming for the southwestern corner of Cyrenaica. In the end it was too weak to achieve much more than a serious headache for Axis commanders, although its presence in the rear of Panzergruppe Afrika may have contributed to the decision to abandon the Gazala line on 17 December 41.

Read about mid-page here.

The whole book is worth reading too.

Start from here.

Books of Interest

This is a list which will grow over time… Eventually, I guess the aim will be to provide a review for each of them.

  • Agar-Hamilton & Turner ‘The Sidi Rezegh Battles’
    Official South African history
  • Carver ‘Dilemmas of the Desert War’
    Analysis of why Ritchie was not as bad as he is usually portrayed.
  • Carver ‘Tobruk’
    Standard work on the battles for Tobruk, leading up to its fall.
  • Clifton ‘The Happy Hunted’
    Biography by NZ Brigadier Clifton who was in charge of the Royal Engineers during the battle
  • Cocchia ‘Convoglio’
    Cocchia was an Italian escort commander, and later head of the USMM (historical office of the Italian Navy)
  • Crisp ‘Brazen Chariots’
    A must read – Crisp was a troop (platoon) commander in 3 RTR
  • Hargest ‘Farewell Campo 18’
    NZ Brigadier Hargest was captured when 5th Brigade HQ was overrun, and evacuated from Bardia by submarine. He escaped through Switzerland and France, and was eventually killed in Normandy, while acting as observer to the British forces there.
  • Hinsley ‘British Intelligence in World War 2’ Vol. II
    Standard work, including a lot of interesting information on ULTRA and the Y (radio intercept) services.
  • Kippenberger ‘Infantry Brigadier’
    NZ Brigadier Kippenberger was badly wounded on Belhamed.
  • Kriebel/Gudmundsson ‘Inside the Afrika Korps’
    Kriebel was Operations Officer of 15th Panzer, and wrote this in captivity.
  • Montanari ‘Tobruk’
    Italian official history ground and air
  • Playfair ‘The Med and The Middle East’
    British official history
  • Santoni ‘Il Vero Tradittore’
    The role of ULTRA in the Mediterranean uncovered
  • Smith, P. and Walker, E. ‘Battles of the Malta Striking Forces’
    Anything by Peter is worth reading. This one deals in particular with Force K (see also my book review https://crusaderproject.wordpress.com/category/book-reviews/page/3/)
  • USMM ‘La Difesa del Trafico’
    Italian official navy history
  • Terraine ‘The Right of the Line’, a one-volume history of the RAF in Europe and the Med.
  • Smith, Peter ‘Fighting Flotilla’, on the development and fate of the ‘L’ class destroyers which featured so prominently during Crusader (HMS Lance and Lively of Force K)
  • National Archives ‘Special Forces in the Desert War 1940 – 43’
  • Pope, Dudley ‘Flag 4’ on coastal forces in the Med.

Book Review – Levine

The War Against Rommel’s Supply Lines

Alan J. Levine

Four Stars out of Five

This is a very good book providing an in-depth analysis into the battle raging against the umbilical cord tying the Axis forces in North Africa to their base in Italy. In my opinion, no student of the war in the Mediterranean will be able to ignore it.

The book covers the whole of the supply struggle waged in the Mediterranean, but focuses on the period following the Alamein battles and the invasion of North Africa by US and British forces, when it became imperative for Allied planners to prevent a permanent lodging of Axis forces in Tunisia, to the surrender of Axis forces in May 1943. Five out of six chapters are devoted to this effort, while the first chapter provides a concise, yet highly informative and well-researched summary of what went on during 1940-42.

The focus chapters deal with the planning of the invasion of French North Africa, and in particular the role and establishment of 12th Air Force. The author describes well the troubles this formation went through when it was first established, and the very difficult command arrangements at the start of the campaign in Tunisia. The following chapters discuss the invasion, the attack against the build-up of Axis forces in Tunisia, which is rightly described in a very critical manner, the re-organisation of the forces engaged in the logistical battle from January 1943 onwards, and their contribution to the eventual victory. The book gives time to both US and British forces engaged in the battle, and is quite (and justly) complimentary to the Italian effort in keeping the Axis forces in Tunisia supplied.

The author manages well to weave a narrative integrating theatre strategy and individual actions, although at times the information packed into single sentences or paragraphs can become overwhelming. I am also not convinced about the need for as much detail as is sometimes provided and editing could maybe have parsed the text a bit more of unnecessary detail.

The book is very well-researched, going through archival material such as unit records of air formations engaged in the battle, or patrol reports of submarines, and it makes very good use of official histories, of both sides. This is a particularly outstanding feature of the book – where possible, the author made the effort of trying to verify claims made by Allied forces against air and sea targets, by checking the Axis records. While this is no doubt a thankless task, and often a wild goose chase, it is one that cannot be lauded enough. The author has also gone to good length in providing a background on the technical capabilities of the Allied weapons available for the task, highlighting the planes and submarines in particular.

The book sports an index, an extensive literature list, and a good set of endnotes – in other words, it is a serious research work. What is missing is a list of maps, although since there are only two, so maybe that was not considered necessary. Which leads me to: sufficient in number and detail maps are missing, so I recommend having an Atlas of WW2 handy while reading it, unless you have a North Africa map in your head. The selection of pictures is appropriate to the topic, and the quality is acceptable, especially considering the price. What I really would have liked to see are diagrams of air-sea attack formations. These are described verbally, but a picture would help very much in understanding the roles of the various planes engaging shipping targets. But that is really the only major gripe I can think of.

Thanks go to Stackpole for not only publishing a book that is clearly dealing with a somewhat esoteric topic (why bother with logistics – when you could have the umpteenth 750-page colour book about Waffen SS-Tigers?), but making the effort to create a very attractive presentation, and pricing it very reasonably. Highly recommended.

Book Review – Afrika Korps Tome 1 – 1941

Afrika Korps Tome 1 – 1941
by Cédric Mas

 Batailles & Blindés Hors Série No. 6

Four Stars out of Five
While not technically a book, this special issue of the French magazine Batailles & Blindés, written by fellow forum member 13eme DBLE, alias Cédric Mas, certainly contains all that would make for a very good book, plus some added goodies for modelers that are only available in magazines. While I can find some things to criticise, overall I think that anyone who speaks French and is interested in the war in Africa should get this, if they can (it is almost sold out), or at the very least Volume II, and hopefully Vol. III in the future. You’ll regret not following my advice.
The book (for want of a better term) is about 130 pages, in A4 format. The format has been put to good use, since it contains a vast number of pictures from Cédric’s personal collection, a number of very well drawn maps, and (modelers behold), detailed plan drawings of seven vehicles that served with the Commonwealth and Axis armies in North Africa, as well as a good number of beautifully executed colour drawings of vehicles and guns of both sides.
The text is a straightforward, well-researched narrative that follows the development of the battles in the desert in a lot of detail. It is obvious that Cédric has done his research, and then some. While I would certainly not always agree with him on his assessment of particular actions, overall I cannot but tip my hat to him, and even where I disagree with him, the issues are not always clear-cut. If you speak French and want a readable and accessible history of the actions in the desert, you need to look no further than this. The text is well written and marvelously supported by the large number of rare photographs that Cédric has made available for the book, all of which have been treated with care to make for good quality prints. What is nice is that Cédric is at the end of each of the three chapters addressing the key questions one may ask about a particular event or battle described in them, in the form of a set of questions and answers which address these issues. Cédric has clearly thought them through, and the analysis he provides in his answers helps to round off the narrative. It is also nice to see the Italians getting a very fair treatment in the text. A pleasant change from the usual Italian bashing.
So why only four stars? Well, first of all it is in French… Okay, I am joking, that is not the issue. There are serious problems with the editing, in particular Commonwealth unit names are in some cases consistently wrong (e.g. “11th Hussards”, instead of “11th Hussars”). This may seem a minor niggle, but it starts to grate after repeated reading, also because it is such an easy mistake to avoid. Unfortunately also, the book lacks a literature list, something I would be very keen on reading, and an index. All of these things together would normally suffice to bring a book down to three stars in my view, but this would be unjustifiably harsh on the excellent research that Cédric has presented us with. So the missing star to five should be seen as an encouragement to add those missing items in the next volume, while the added star from three is a recognition of his achievement in research and presentation.
A must-read, in my view. Hopefully somebody will be able to translate it into English one day.

Book Review – Battles of the Malta Striking Forces

The Battles of the Malta Striking Forces

by Peter C. Smith and Edwin Walker

5 Stars out of 5

This is the second book I have read by Peter C. Smith, and like the first (“Hold the Narrow Sea”), it was a delight, and is highly recommended.

“The Battles of the Malta Striking Forces” deals with the history of the Malta-based surface striking forces in 1941, a time during which they proved a veritable thorn in the side of the Axis, and contributed directly to the Commonwealth victory on land in Operation Crusader, which started in November 1941. The narrative describes in detail the key actions in which the striking forces were involved, most importantly the convoy battles on 16 April 41 and 8/9 November 41 and the destruction of the light cruisers da Barbiano and di Giussano by the Royal Navy’s 4th Destroyer Flotilla. The book ends with the first battle of Sirte, and the destruction of Force K on a minefield north of Tripoli on 18/19 December 1941. It also describes the strategic situation in the Mediterranean, and how these actions were linked into events in other parts of this theatre. Appendices describe the warships used and list them, the load of the Beta convoy (better known as Duisburg convoy) which was entirely sunk on 8/9 November, signals from and to HMS Penelope sent during the fateful night of 18/19 December, and an interesting list of gunnery effects during the Duisburg convoy battle. An index is also included, which is a great help. The numerous pictures and maps selected for inclusion are not only helping understanding the events, but add life to the book as a whole.

The authors have obviously gone to great lengths to research this short but important section of Malta’s history in the Mediterranean war, looking both at unit records on the Royal Navy side, and the official history of the Italian navy. While there are minor niggles (e.g. the consistent misspelling of the Duisburg as Duisberg), and some typos and date errors, I think this book shows clearly that history books do not need to be dry, heavy tomes that can double as weights in a fitness programme or door stops. It is packed with information, yet readable. At just 120 pages in a pocket-book format, this book contains all one might want to know about the actions of Malta-based strike forces in 1941. With one clear exception however – the book does not discuss the role of ULTRA intelligence in the actions of the Royal Navy forces. But this is clearly not the fault of the authors, who researched, wrote and published in 1974 before the role of ULTRA in the Mediterranean became known. For those interested in this aspect, I can only recommend Santoni’s “Il vero Tradittore”, or as a second-best for this specific aspect, Hinsley’s official history of British intelligence, Vol. II.

A particularly welcome aspect of this book is the positive and respectful attitude the authors show towards the performance of the Regia Marina, the Royal Navy of Italy, which has been slandered far too often in the memoirs and papers particularly by German officers. The brave and determined actions of commanders and ships companies, such as Capitano di Fregata Mimbelli of the Lupo and Capitano di Fregata dell’Anno of the Antonio da Mosto, both of whom conducted hopeless defenses of their charges in the face of a vastly superior force in November and December 1941, or of the destroyer Luca Tarigo, which sank the destroyer HMS Mohawk with a torpedo fired by a junior officer while she herself was disabled and on fire, are recorded in detail, and with the respect they deserve. Reading this book it is clear that the Regia Marina was no push-over, and that the successes in the Mediterranean had to be fought for by the Royal Navy, and did not come for free.

I do not think that any serious student of the sea war in the Mediterranean can do without this book, and those looking at the land war in North Africa should also get themselves a copy. I would hope that Mr. Smith would find the time to update the book, or maybe expand it to include the role of the British submarines, and the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force units operating from Malta.

This review refers to the 1974 Ian Allan hardcover edition, published in the Sea Battles in Close-Up series as Vol. 11

The Crusader Project (What it is all about)

We are working on what will probably be the first single-volume, complete and focused history of the winter battle in North Africa 1941/42 from 18 November 41 to 6 February 42, known under the British operational name “Crusader”. The project is based on German and Commonwealth records, a wealth of secondary works, including the British operational and intelligence, South African, New Zealand, and Italian official histories, unit histories, historical reports written post-war by German officers, and analysis of the war in desert by authors such as Field Marshal Michael Carver.

The book will cover the day-by-day progress of the battle on land and sea, and discuss the strategic setting, with a particular focus on the convoy battles between the Royal Navy and the Regia Marina and the intelligence situation for both sides.

Throughout the project, we will inform anyone interested here. We will also make files and information available that are unlikely to end up in the book, but will still be of interest to the general reader.

Andreas & Rich