Use of German Sonar on Italian vessels – Pt. 2

Use of German Sonar on Italian vessels – Pt. 2

In a previous post (at this link) I had written about the use of German sonar (S-Geraet) and depth charges by the Italian navy, the Regia Marina. This commenced at the end of 1941, and gave the Regia Marina an important new capability in providing convoy defense on the North Africa route, which led to some quick successes, such as the sinking of HMS P-38 (see also this link). A technical description of the history and functioning of the S-Geraet can be found at this link.

In the post below, I have translated a report of the Special Command of the German navy, the Kriegsmarine, which was charged with the task of overseeing the operation of the German equipment on the Italian vessels. The document is from the war diary of the German Liaison Staff at the Admiralty of the Royal Italian Navy, and can be found in NARA under T-1022 Roll 2481.

Overview of the Activity Carried Out Thus Far by the Special Command for the Installation and Deployment of German S-Geraete on Units of the Royal Italian Navy

(Commenced 17 November 1941)

1.) Introduction followed proposals made by Chief Naval Liaison Command to Italian Navy during July 1941.

2.) Exectution

a) Personnel:

1 Officer (Commander Ahrens)

1 Chief Petty Officer[1]

3 Non-Commissioned Officers from the Submarine Defense School Gotenhafen[2]

Furthermore listening crew (from destroyer Lody, strength 1/4[3] from beginning November to mid-December on Torpedo Boat (Torpediniera) Castore, and listening crew strength 1/4 on destroyer Da Mosto from beginning November to 1 December. 3 other ranks were killed when the boat was sunk. The NCO and one man remain at the disposal of the Special Command.

b) Activity:

At the start of the activity:

Clearance of specific questions of detail concerning submarine defense with the relevant Italian offices, especially Admirals Strazzari and Da Zara. Determination of equipping Italian vessels with S-Geraet installed with German depth charges and depth charge throwers.

Instruction of Italian crew and shore personnel in various naval stations about installation and maintenance of the German depth charges.

Schooling of listening and depth charge crews on the units with S-Geraet installed. Carried out trials.

Instruction of all captains in all questions relating to submarine defense, especially about the method of attack. Participation in combat missions.

c) Successes of Italian vessels equipped with S-Geraet up to 28 February 1942.

1.) Torpedo boat Castore near Gaeta on 24 November 1941: based on S-Geraet location report evaded two torpedo trails. Carried out attack with 36 depth charges. Destruction of submarine possible.[4] German listening crew.

2.) Destroyer Da Mosto, southern tip of Sicily, 27 November 1941: location of an unknown minefield. German listening crew.

3.) Torpedo boat Lince, Gulf of Taranto, early December, attack on located submarine with Italian depth charges. Success questionable. Italian listening crew and Construction Advisor Morgenstern.[5]

4.) Torpedo Boat Orsa, 115 Degrees, 63 nautical miles off Sfax on 7 January 1942. Attack on located submarine with 30 German depth charges. Success: initially strong aural location ceases; location continues to show in large oil slick. Location of attack had to be left early to ensure protection of the escorted steamer.[6] Italian and German listening crew, directed by Commander Ahrens.

5.)  Torpedo boat Sagittario at Cape Ducato on 8 February 1942. Evaded torpedo. Enemy submarine rammed, has to be considered destroyed. Torpedo boat heavy damage on the bow. German and Italian listening crew.[7]

6.) Torpedo boat Circe on 13 February 1942: located enemy submarine was fixed for six hours. Submarine surfaces after 3 attacks with German depth charges; 23 prisoners made. Attempt to bring her in fails, boat sinks. English submarine “Tempest”. German and Italian listening crew.

7.) Torpedo boat Pallade at Capo dell’Armi on 16 November 1942. Located submarine attacked in three runs with 45 German depth charges. At water depth of 1,600m signal ceases after final attack. Oil slick of 1,000 x 2,000 m. German and Italian listening crew, directed by Commander Ahrens.

8.) Torpedo boat Circe at Ras Hallab on 23 February 1942. During escort of convoy attacking submarine is located and periscope is sighted. 10 depth charges dropped on diving location. Submarine surfaces briefly, twice, and finally sinks. Bag with flags, parts of interior (door of cupboard, tabletop), cans of biscuits and cigarettes as well as human body parts come up. Large oil slick. Continuous rising of air bubbles. German and Italian listening crew.

d) Intended equipping of Italian naval and merchant units

Delivered:

1.) 29 S-Geraete of which one fixed in Spezia. One further S-Geraet lost when destroyer da Mosto was sunk.

2.) 40 depth charge throwers, 72 reloading installations, 20 depth charge rails, 60 single depth charge holders.

3.) 4,000 depth charges Type Dora

2,000 depth charges Type Fritz

1,500 stamps and cartridges for depth charges WB D60m and WB F40m.

By 28 February 1942, 10 Italian torpedo boats and 1 destroyer as well as 9 auxiliary vessels have been equipped with the S-Geraet.

For equipping further Italian naval units with S-Geraet, see attached list, Appendix 17.[8]

NewImage

R.N. Pallade, a Spica-class, Alcione sub-class Torpedo Boat, photographed pre-war. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

[1] Oberfeldwebel

[2] Ubootabwehrschule (UAS)

[3]1 NCO, 4 other ranks

[4] There is no submarine loss recorded for this day, and no attack in the region of Gaeta either. I used the ASA database at this link for checks.

[5] Baurat, a German civil servant grade. I have not verified this attack.

[6] This was not actually a successful attack – see this link, in particular comments below.

[7] The submarine was HM/Sub Proteus (N29), and while she was damaged, it appears she came off better than Sagittario. Details from the crew of HM/Sub Proteus can be found at this link.

[8] This will follow in another post.

A day in the life of 13 Corps – 8 Jan. 42

A day in the life of 13 Corps – 8 Jan. 42

Background

The text below was meant to be a standard daily entry in the narrative of the Commonwealth side. It shows and analyses events on a daily basis from the Commonwealth perspective.

Having written and researched it however, I had to conclude that life’s too short, and this level of detail is impossible to achieve for daily entries. Between having two small kids and a fairly (and increasingly) demanding day-job, there is no chance that I could manage this level of work, especially when you get into some of the days where multiple units were in contact.

So I have decided that this could go online, since I won’t use it in the book, but still put an awful lot of work into this. It is still of interest I feel, to show the action on a quiet day in the lull between the Axis abandoning Agedabia, and the resumption of major combat operations.

Happy reading, and please keep in mind that the below has not been edited to publication level!

Allied Position [1]

Forward Area

Activity fell into two distinct groups, to the north of and straddling Uadi Faregh the Guards Brigade was occupying and moving beyond Agedabia, and 7 Support Group in the centre of the line continued pushing west. To the east E Force was actively patrolling, and 1 Armoured Division reached Saunnu to the north-east.

The northern advance, directed towards the south-west via Agedabia, was much delayed by mines, which 2 Scots Guards were set to clear throughout the day. At the same time 3 Coldstream Guards were ordered to advance further southwest. Because of the heavy mining and the low visibility caused by a sandstorm, the Coldstreams took until 1500 hours to move past the town and onto the Via Balbia and the Haban (Ridotta el Gtafia) track. They did not encounter opposition in their advance, but lost touch between companies owing to the dark. At dusk No.2 Company engaged enemy rearguards of 90.lei.Afrika-Div. which then withdrew. Somewhat inexplicably however, at 1950 hours 4 Indian Division reported to 13 Corps that Guards Brigade was held up by roadblocks on the Via Balbia and the desert track towards the Ridotta el Gtafia, about 12km south-west of Agedabia.

Further south, the KDG had made contact with 11 Hussars, and reported two armoured cars and one tank at Haban (1 on the map below). Unknown to the KDG, these belonged to the reinforced A.A.33 which covered this area and track. One column of 7 Support Group was reported to be in touch with Axis forces south of el Haselat (3′), about 55km south-south-east of Agedabia where the track to Gialo Oasis crossed the Uadi el Faregh, this was probably CURRY column reporting contact with the other elements of A.A.33.

CURRY also reported the area along the Wadi al Faregh between el Haselat and Maaten Bettafal (4 on the map), 90 km to the south-west of Agedabia and about 40km south of the Via Balbia, free of the enemy, with a radius of 8 miles (13km) around Bettafal showing no major signs of Axis forces. Worryingly though, the advance of all these motorized columns was held up not just by bad going, but also by supply difficulties.  E Force columns and patrols were covering the southeastern flank of the advance, and ordered to continue to do so.

7 Support Group issued a comprehensive operational order on 8 January, which foresaw it keeping contact with and harassing the enemy on a line running from Haban to Maaten Burruei about 70 km to the south-west, and to prepare the ground for a further advance of 1 Armoured Division in this direction.

This included, most importantly, an order to 12 Lancers[2] to push far west with the aim to ascertain enemy presence in the area of Maaten Burruei. They were expected to be in place at their destination at 1200 on 10 January. If no enemy was found at Maaten Burruei, further reconnaissance to the west was to be carried out, and 7 Support Group would follow up to occupy Maaten Burruei on 11 January.

Humber

A Humber Mk II armoured car of the 12th Royal Lancers on patrol south of El Alamein, July 1942. (IWM14640) While the 12 Lancers were almost certainly equipped with the Humber Mk. I in January 1942, the picture would not have been dissimilar.

To the north of their patrolling area, the KDG was meant to establish a link to them and thereby the beginnings of a cohesive line, and a cover of the southern flank of the Via Balbia. This was to be achieved by pushing patrols out to Bir es Suera (6), Bir el Ginn (7), and Maaten Belcleibat (5’, about 20km north of Mn. Burruei), while at the same time keeping a link with 11 Hussars further to the north.

The day also saw orders going out to the L.R.D.G. patrols based at Gialo, to push a patrol far north-west with the aim to ascertain enemy presence in the area of Marada Oasis.

Air Operations

Tactical recces and fighter sweeps were carried out over the northern area of the Axis position as well as along the Wadi al Faregh, showing Axis forces in place throughout, and including Maaten Giofer and Maaten Belcleibat. A medium recce on the Marada area was attempted by No. 60 Squadron S.A.A.F., but this failed due to extreme haze up to 18,000 feet, although the crew was treated to a marvelous sunset.[3] The reason for this was probably the very heavy sand storm, which also made any bombing impossible. Five Wellingtons from No. 108 Squadron operating out of Egypt were detailed to raid motor transport at Marsa el Brega, but failed to find the target, and bombed alternative locations instead, with no loss. Seven Marylands of No.21 Squadron S.A.A.F. attacked Marble Arch L.G., but found no planes there, and instead bombed stores and a small vessel at Ras el Garguigh[4].

Naval Operations

A small convoy with petrol and ammunition reached Benghazi, but could not be unloaded due to weather.

Operational Considerations

A signal from 1 Armoured Division to 13 Corps was intercepted by Adv. HQ Eighth Army, resulting in a request by Ritchie to Godwin-Austen to not expose the southern advance to an envelopment from the north. This was an early concern about the possibility of an Axis counter-strike, which foresaw the design of the plan implemented by Rommel in his attack on 21 January. The war diary of 7 Support Group also raises the possibility of a counter-attack, which it states should not be dismissed.

The next day however, this possibility was dismissed by Godwin-Austen, who pointed out that while he took note of the Army Commander’s concerns, he saw “[…]no reason for apprehension at this time.”, and wished to take advantage of the current momentum to push reconnaissance further west before the Axis could establish counter patrols. This was behind the orders to the KDG and the 12 Lancers.

A key aspect of the move of 12 Lancers to Maaten Burruei was also to recce a track which could be taken by 1 Armoured Division. The route through the Wadi el Faregh  itself was deemed unsuitable for a large force. The L.R.D.G. patrol to be sent to Marada was to ascertain if armoured forces were at the oasis[5], since these would be able to participate in a pincer movement against a push of 1 Armoured Division west from Maaten Burruei. Air reconnaissance had not been carried out yet of this area.[6].

Godwin-Austen was probably feeling that confirmation of his view came by way of the plans for the Axis withdrawal which had been captured, and which outlined in detail the plans for the withdrawal to the Marada – Mersa el Brega position, and to which the observed enemy behavior conformed. Furthermore, the 7 Support Group’s Intelligence Assessment No. 12, issued on 7 January, included an analysis of enemy tank strengths that concluded this could not be much more than about 60 – 65, reducing the risk of any counter-strike.

Map of the Agedabia Sector showing key locations, from German intel files.

German map of Agedabia sector

German Situation Map, Jan. 1942 Locations edited by author. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

Strategic Considerations

General Auchinleck informed Churchill that the retreat from Agedabia into the line Agheila – Marada, which he considered favourable for defence, was happening. He also pointed out that a further advance required the building up of supplies at Benghazi[7]. This port however had been quite effectively sabotaged, and the other ports were only slowly coming into operation. Tobruk was still only handling 600 tons a day, while the requirement for an advance to Buerat was calculated to be 400 tons of petrol per day alone. Derna could not handle ships with more than 15 feet draught and therefore could not make a meaningful contribution[8]. The consequence of this situation was that 1 Armoured Division had transmitted to its Brigades an order by 13 Corps to restrict petrol consumption on 6 January. On 8 January this was deciphered by German radio reconnaissance and passed to the Ic of Panzergruppe, giving the Axis forces some measure of security about future enemy intentions.

A discussion had also commenced between the Chiefs Of Staff in the UK and Middle East Command on the consequence of a failure to crack the Axis position with this final push. The suggestion from Middle East Command had been to give up the whole of the recently conquered area, including Tobruk, and to retreat to the Libyan/Egyptian frontier, thereby reducing pressure on supplies, and stabilising the front in a defensible position.  C.O.S. in the UK pointed out the consequences of such a retreat regarding the ability to attack the Axis supply into North Africa, and the effect this would have on Malta. This concern appears overdone however, since arguably the situation would not be worse than it was up the start of CRUSADER.

On 8 January also, an analysis of the Hurricane fighter/army co-operation[9] situation was received by the R.A.F. HQ in Cairo, in copy to a message from London to Washington. This outlined in detail the situation with competing requests from the Far East and Russia, and advising that due to the need for tropicalisation, no Spitfires could be expected for another four months, even though 70 were allocated to the Middle East each month. Reliance therefore had to be placed on the Kittyhawk as mainstay of the fighter force. Interestingly, the analysis is treating requirements for Hurricane deliveries in support of Operation GYMNAST, the planned invasion of Sicily following a complete victory in Libya, as a given.[10]

Assessment

The resistance on the Via Balbia itself, together with the absence of Axis forces in the south and the rapid advance enabled by this absence there, led to an increasing risk that the southern forces were exposing themselves to a counter-strike from the north.

This was mitigated to some extent by the known weakness of the Axis forces, and had to be weighed against the possibility to seize ground in locations that negated to some degree the geographical advantage of the Agheila position. Maaten Burruei was a key location in this regard, since it sat right between the two impassable salt lakes and controlled this gap, just about 10km east of the track to Marada which would be the lifeline for any force placed there. The occupation of Burruei therefore opened the possibility to use this gap to push a force into the centre of the emerging Axis position.

The ground reconnaissance of the suitability of the terrain south of the Wadi al Faregh, to be carried out by 12 Lancers on their way to Maaten Burruei, was necessary to ascertain whether a southern envelopment of the Axis position on the Via Balbia, rather than a frontal attack, was possible. 1 Armoured Division had to be able to advance with a secure northern flank into the position between the salt lakes, in order to achieve this.

The next days would therefore be critical in shaping the operational planning of Eighth Army’s next attack.


[1]WO 169/4053, WO169/4982 and WO169/4005

[2]Supported by one section of 25-pdr guns from 2 R.H.A. and one battery (minus one troop) of A/Tk guns from 102 (NH) R.H.A.

[3]AIR54/89

[4]AIR54/16 – curiously the war diary of No.21 Squadron instead refers to an attack on Sert (presumably Sirte), with results that were seen as unsatisfactory due to insufficient reconnaissance being provided.

[5]There was a suspicion that the Italian Corpo Armato di Manovra, or rather what was left of it, was placed there.

[6]AIR27/1241

[7]WO201/396 Personal ciphers from General Auchinleck to Prime Minister Churchill

[8]ADM234/334 Battle Summary 52 ‘The Tobruk Run’

[9]Army co-operation squadrons undertook reconnaissance and/or ground support missions. They were directly

[10]AIR20/2109 Personal ciphers Tedder to C.A.S.

The Innards of Intelligence – Luftwaffe Aerial Recce Report 12 January 1942

The Innards of Intelligence – Luftwaffe Aerial Recce Report 12 January 1942

Background

I thought readers might be interested to see original Axis material on which the intel reports were built. So here is a Fliegermeldung, an aerial recce report, in all its glory. The cognoscenti will recognise this as a NARA copy. If you click on the picture, it should load it in all its glory.

Sample Fliegermeldung

The example here was a message dropped at the command post from the air, in order to expedite delivery. It would have been followed by a full report based on the interpretation of the pictures taken. But this would of course have taken some time, and not been available until hours later. Dropping messages from the air was a relatively standard way of delivering timely intelligence to German ground units.

1003

Fliegermeldung, aerial reconnaissance report, 12 January 1942. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

So, what does it say? From the top:

Submitted Fliegermeldung  
Reporting unit: Crew Ju 88 – 7A+GH* 1st Report
Location: air drop  
Date: 12 Jan 1942  
Time 14.15 hours  
Pilot: Feldwebel** Weger
Observer:Flight Feldwebel*** Schlesier
Path: Take off: 12.20 Arco – Uadi Faregh – Trigh el Abd – Tengeder – el Hacheim – Mechili – Msus – Arco  
Received: Ic 12 Jan 1942 19.00 hours
To: Panzergruppe  
Map used 1:1,000,000  
Task: Eye and photo reconnaissance in area outlined above  
Report:    
12.45 4,500 m Around Giofer about 20 vehicle stopped
12.50 5,000 m Just north Belcleibat in Uadi el Faregh 2-3 vehicles stopped
13.45 6,500 m Just north Tengeder about 5 vehicles stopped
14.00 7,000 m Northern edge of el Hacheim 80 – 100 vehicles stopped
14.50 7,500 m Around el Mechili about 20 vehicles stopped
15.10/15.?5 8,000 m on track Bir Belhamed – Msus about 50 vehicles, driving west
15.40 8,000 m Airfield Msus occupied by about 40 planes, single- and 2-engined
Weather no clouds, visibility 100 km Light good
Defense None  
     

* 7A was the unit code for 1./(F)121, a long-range reconnaissance unit equipped with Junkers 88D-1, the long-range recce version of the multirole Ju 88. GH was the plane identifier. Since the plane was based at Arco dei Fileni air field, it is likely that it was part of the Afrika Kette, a small group of recce planes permanently based in North Africa, while the remainder of 1./(F)121 was based in Sicily on 12 Jan 1942, at Catania, participating in the assault on Malta (see here).

** RAF equivalent rank: Sergeant, US Army Air Force equivalent rank: Staff Sergeant

 

*** This is the first time I note an NCO observer, they normally seem to have been officers.

A less fortunate sister of GH can be seen below:

http://www.worldwarphotos.info/

Junkers Ju88 7A LH 1(F) 121 Africa, from http://www.worldwarphotos.info

Cruiser Tank Breakdowns and the Battle of Uadi al Faregh

Cruiser Tank Breakdowns and the Battle of Uadi al Faregh

Background

In previous posts (at this link, at this link, and at this link), I had written something about the reliability of the Crusader tank, and the other cruiser tanks used in the desert.

Tank Losses at El Haselat

I have now come across a letter to the Brigade commander of 22 Armoured Brigade, presumably a response from an office in Cairo to what might have been a complaint about the mechanical reliability of the Cruiser tanks. 

The letter (in WO169/1294 – WD 22 Armoured Brigade 1941) deals with the impact of the long-distance  approach march of 22 Armoured Brigade from the re-organisation area south of Gabr Saleh, where new tanks were drawn, to the operational area south of Agedabia.

Assessment

While the letter has the sound of a poor workman blaming his tools, there is some truth in the matter. Tank casualties to breakdowns were heavy, accounting for about 1/3rd of the fighting strength of the Brigade during the approach march and battle, considering the total number of tanks, but almost half of the Cruiser tanks (the American M3 Stuarts were much more reliable, but not considered fit for mainline action anymore).

As the crow flies, the approach march was at least 600km (ca. 400 miles) rom the railhead at Sidi Barran, and in reality considerably more since the Brigade had taken a rather convoluted approach to the battle area. 

Regardless of the cause, by the end of the year, 22 Armoured Brigade, which had started out a week before with 76 cruiser tanks and 40 M3 Stuarts, retained 8 cruisers and 21 of the original Stuarts (9 Stuarts rejoined from a detached squadron during the battle). The last week of the year had been a disaster for the Empire tank forces. 

2rghmap

Approach March, 2 Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, December 1941. TNA Kew, W)169/1397 2 RGH War Diary. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

Subject: Reconditioning of Cruiser Tanks

To:- Bde Commander, 22 Armd Bde

From:- B.O.M.E. [1]

4 Jan 42

The reason for the large number of cruiser tank casualties due to mechanical troubles in the last battle and approach march[2] was undoubtedly due to the fact that 90% of the tanks have exceeded the designed mileage before a complete overhaul becomes necessary. This overhaul mileage was assessed at 1200 miles and prior to the last battle most of our tanks had exceeded 1200 miles and many 1500[3].

The above fact reacted in two ways. First, there was a large scale failure of water pumps, air compressors, and main fan drive sprockets due to wear or length of service. Secondly, owing to inadequate supply of new parts for the above assemblies, “cannibalisation” was carried out among parts which although at the time still function had already performed as many hours of service as the parts they replaced.

This method could only afford temporary relief and obviously in the case of tanks still operating with the Brigade fitted with such parts, no estimate of remaining life can be given with any degree of confidence.

Furthermore, at this stage, it is doubtful if fitting new water pumps assemblies etc., will appreciably lengthen the present life of the tank as cases are occurring more frequently of tanks becoming Z casualties repeatedly with different fault on each occasion.

Field

RHA/RAH

(Sgd). R.H.ARBUCKLE

Capt.

R.A.O.C. [4]

[1] Presume this to be ‘Bureau of Ordnance, Middle East’, but happy to be corrected

[2] The ‘last battle’ was the battle in the Uadi al Faregh between Christmas and New Year in the Uadi al Faregh, in which 22 Armoured Brigade received a savage beating at the hands of the Axis forces.

[3] Puts the service interval on my A4 in perspective. Although it too has coolant pump issues!

[4] Royal Army Ordnance Corps – the branch of the British army dealing with keeping stuff functioning (there was a reorganisation in 1942).

Initial Transport of the Afrikakorps to North Africa

Initial Transport of the Afrikakorps to North Africa

Background

While not strictly related to CRUSADER, this information is nevertheless of interest and relevance. This post was born from this discussion thread on the Axis History Forum.

Below the initial transports of Army units covering 5.lei.Division (later to become 21st Panzer) and I./Flak 18, as well as some smaller units I guess. Where available the size of the ship is given when it is first mentioned (thanks to Mescal on AHF for this), and any damage due to enemy action is also mentioned. Luftwaffe transports are not included in this. The organisational unit of were small convoys, termed ‘Staffel’ in German. Attached to these were supply ships which carried purely supply apparently, rather than new units.

Original Convoys

  • 1st Staffel 8 Feb 41 (back in Naples 18 Feb, so 10-day roundtrip):
    Ankara (4,768 GRT)
    Arcturus (2,596 GRT)
    Alicante (2,140 GRT)
  • 2nd Staffel 12 Feb 41
    Kybfels (7,764 GRT)
    Adana (4,205 GRT)
    Aegina (2,447 GRT)
    Ruhr (5,954 GRT)
  • 3rd Staffel 17 Feb 41
    Menes (5,609 GRT – torpedoed and damaged on return journey by HM/Sub Regent, who herself was damaged in the counter attack), Arta (2,452 GRT) Maritza (2,910 GRT), Herakleia (1,927 GRT)
  • 4th Staffel 23 Feb 41:
    Ankara, Marburg (7,564 GRT), Reichenfels (7,744 GRT), Kybfels
  • 5th Staffel 25 Feb 41:
    Leverkusen (7,368 GRT), Wachtfels (8,467 GRT), Alicante (2,140 GRT), Arcturus
  • 6th Staffel 1 Mar 41:
    Castellon (2,086 GRT), Ruhr, Maritza, Amsterdam (8,673 GRT – Italian vessel, not sure whether she carried German load)
  • 7th Staffel
    Adana, Aegina, Arta, Herakleia, Sabaudia (1,590 – Italian(?) attached as supply ship)
  • 8th. Staffel 5 Mar 41
    Ankara, Marburg, Reichenfels, Kybfels
  • 9th Staffel 7 Mar 41:
    Alicante, Arcturus, Wachtfels
  • 10th Staffel 12 Mar 41
    Castelleon, Ruhr, Maritza, Leverkusen (this was after the famous fire which caused the loss of 13 tanks, according to WD CO Naval Transport)
  • 11th Staffel 14 Mar 41
    Adana, Aegina, Herakleia, Galilea (8,040 GRT), Arta (supply ship)
  • 12th Staffel 16/17 Mar 41
    Marburg (16 March from Naples), Reichenfels (dto), Ankara (17 Mar from Palermo, re-directed to pick up 150 urgently needed vehicles), Kybfels (dto)
  • 13th Staffel 19 Mar 41
    Arcturus, Wachtfels, Santa Fe (4,627 GRT?), Procida (1,842 GRT)
  • 14th Staffel 22 Mar 41:
    Alicante, Leverkusen, Castellon, Maritza
  • 15th Staffel 26 Mar 41:
    Adana, Herakleia (sunk by submarine HM/Sub Utmost off Tunisian coast, 69 out of 206 soldiers on board lost), Ruhr (damaged by submarine HMS Utmost off Tunisian coast), Galilea (damaged by submarine HM/Sub Upright on return journey, beached in Tripoli a few days later), Samos (2,576 GRT – supply ship)
  • 16th Staffel – 29/30 Mar 41
    Marburg (29 March from Naples), Kybfels (dto), Ankara (30 Mar from Palermo), Reichenfels (dto)
  • 17th Staffel – 2 Apr 41
    Maritza, Procida, Alicante, Santa Fe
  • 18th Staffel – 8 Apr 41 (last troops of the original contingent)
    Wachtfels, Arcturus, Leverkusen, Castellon
  • 19th Staffel – 11 Apr 41 (last load of original units, possibly first load of 15th Panzer) Ankara, Marburg, Kybfels, Reichenfels

0063

A leichter Befehlswagen (command tank on Panzer I chassis) of Panzerregiment 5 being unloaded in Tripoli, Feb/Mar 1941. Rommelsriposte.com Collection.

Various Runs

  • 26 Mar 41, Italian tanker Persiano (2,474 GRT) with fuel for the army from Naples.
  • 10 Apr 41
    Persiano with fuel Naples to Tripoli, (attacked 40nm north of Tripoli by HM/Sub Tetrach, set on fire and sunk)
  • 1st Supply Runs to Benghazi: Samos from Tripoli Ramb III (3,667 GRT, Italian vessel) from Naples, effective loading capacity only 1,100 tons due to ballast issues)
  • Motor sailing vessels for coastal traffic from Trapani: Rosina, Giorgina, Unione, Luigi, Frieda

The organisation of the transport had to be made with the consideration of several constraints.

1)  Harbour capacity in Tripoli was restricted by a policy of not unloading at night, to reduce the risk of enemy air attacks disrupting unloading and maybe blocking quays by sinking ships alongside. My guess is that at dusk ships were moved off the quays into more open water. This essentially reduced capacity by about 50%, is my guess. See this older post on port capacity.

2)  Ships were of different sizes and speeds, so slow and fast convoys were organised, and optimisation of unloading was an issue, since ideally convoys were supposed to return together.

3)  Italian reinforcement convoys continued at the same time as the German transports, and convoys were timed to reduce the number of ships in Tripoli harbour at any given time. This also indicates the very heavy call on Italian escort vessels, which would have been in service non-stop.

4)  There was a conflict between the Kriegsmarine and the army (Rommel/Halder, who for a change saw eye to eye on something) about the loading of ships. The navy wanted to send troops and vehicles separately, to presumably reduce risk to losing troops if a slower supply vessel was sunk, while the army wanted them to be sent together, in order to have the units immediately ready for action once they hit the quayside in Tripoli. Following a number of ship losses the navy method was adopted.

5)  There was no capacity at first at the receiving end to handle navy matters, and everything had to be run from Italy. This included coastal convoys in North Africa.

6)  Not all ships were available immediately, and arrived in drips and drops throughout the period. Furthermore, not all ships were protected against magnetic mines from the outset.

7)  The Luftwaffe had to be given space on the ships as well, but it wasn’t fully integrated into the transport system, and there appears to sometimes have been a lack of clarity on when supplies would arrive.

8)  AA armament on the ships had to be organised, and when the Luftwaffe refused to provide it, it had to be borrowed from the Italians. This left vessels relatively weakly equipped for AA defense, and they had to rely on the escorts. Navy AA detachments (Marinebordflakkompanie Sued)only arrived during the period. See this older post for AA equipment about half a year later.

Source

War Diary Naval Transport Command South for 1941, while the identity of the attacking subs is based on Royal Navy Day by Day. Many thanks to Dirk for sending this war diary through!

Captured Guns in Use by 13 Corps, 17 February 1942

Captured Guns in Use by 13 Corps, 17 February 1942

Background

One of the interesting things in the desert war was that both sides liberally scrounged weapons from the other side, and used them. Most famous for that are usually the Germans, who seem to have taken a deep liking to Allied tanks, and of course motor vehicles. But also the Australians used captured Italian tanks (which did them no more good than they did their previous owners, when the Axis forces attacked in early 1941), and of course the famous ‘bush guns‘ in Tobruk, pictured below.

TOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941-08-27. MEN OF THE 2/17TH INFANTRY BATTALION USED THIS CAPTURED ITALIAN FIELD GUN TO SEND 75 MM. SHELLS BACK TO THEIR FORMER OWNERS. THEY WERE KNOWN AS THE “BUSH ARTILLERY” BECAUSE THEY WERE CONVERTED INFANTRYMEN. THIS GUN CREW IS WAITING TO GO INTO ACTION. AWM

Less well known however is the use of captured guns by other Empire forces. At the end of the CRUSADER operations in February 1942, the use had grown to such proportions that the artillery command of 8 Army felt compelled to issue a note to 13 Corps on the matter, including a table of guns currently in use. I reproduce it below. Incidentally, when the Germans evaluated Empire guns after the Gazala battles in May 1942, they wistfully noted that the 5cm Pak 38 had good penetration success against the Panzer III, at considerable range.

What the note indicates is that the Empire troops seem to have had less strict regulations regarding booty equipment than at least the Germans. During the counter-offensive in January 1942, the German command issued strongly-worded orders which forbade units to acquire booty material. Never mind that these weren’t obeyed religiously, they still threatened court-martials for men or officers defying them. On the other hand, this could also indicate the more urgent need for the Axis command to utilize captured weapons and equipment, in order to alleviate the fairly dire supply situation.
For the Empire, it appears clear that guns held a particular attraction, especially LAA, in order to thicken air defense (since it was Empire policy during CRUSADER not to put a fighter screen above the army units, but rather to carry out strategic interdiction), and A/Tk, since the 2-pdr was becoming a more marginal weapon around this time, and since the Axis A/Tk weapons were of comparatively high quality.

TOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941-04. MEN OF 8 BATTERY, 2/3RD LIGHT ANTI AIRCRAFT REGIMENT, PREPARING A SITE FOR THEIR 20/65 BREDA 20MM CANNON. THIS UNIT WAS EQUIPPED WITH CAPTURED ITALIAN GUNS. LEFT TO RIGHT: BOMBARDIER P ROBERTS, GUNNER J W CROFT, GNR R V INCE AND GNR J BUNTZ. (LENT BY MR R K BRYANT) AWM

 

WESTERN DESERT, EGYPT. 1942-07-30. CHOKE-BORE GERMAN 47.32 MILLIMETRE ANTI-TANK GUN BEING INSPECTED BY REGIMENTAL SERGEANT-MAJOR P. LAWSON, OF 2/32ND AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BATTALION. AWM

 

Headquarters,

Royal Artillery,

13 Corps.

 

17th February, 1942.

 

Dear

 

I attach a list showing the “foreign” guns now in use in the Corps; I think it is fairly accurate, though I have seen no returns yet from many units of the Armoured Division or Armoured Car regiments etc., whom I know to have many more, e.g. the K.D.Gs have at least three 28/41mm German A/Tk guns.

 

The trouble is they can usually only carry very few rounds of ammunition with their unauthorised weapons, when these are expended or if one of the tyres gets punctured, the gun is thrown away.

 

Incidentally it is a bit of a sidelight in the transport situation when they can carry such guns in addition to their proper W.E.

 

I can’t help feeling that we ought to get the whole of this captured gun racket tidied up, and when saying this, it is with no desire to deprive units of weapons which they evidently now feel are essential for their safety.

 

To my mind, certain factors govern it and force us to decide which types of captured equipments are worth retaining.

  1. The number of such weapons captured.
  2. If of dual purpose, the best primary role to use them in.
  3. The ammunition stocks held by us.

If we examine the attached list on these lines, we see the following:-

  1. The 105mm Italian is one of the best field guns used against us.
  2. The 75mm Italian especially without sights is useless to anyone as a fd gun and a danger as an A/Tk weapon.
  3. The 50mm German A/Tk is a real good weapon but will be neglected if doled out as at present, and it is recommended that it be withdrawn and if ammunition is reasonably plentiful, it be used in the place of 18-pdrs to complete some of these 64 gun A/Tk Regts.
  4. The 47/32mm Italian A/Tk is the most common of all and seems to have plenty of ammunition. Its not a bad A/Tk weapon.
  5. The 37mm German proved to be a failure against our tanks hence the 50mm.
  6. The 25mm French is not a bad weapon at all and there may be a good many of them. But is ammunition available.

From this it would appear as if we ought to go all out on:-

The 105mm Italian in a Field role.

The 50mm German )

The 47/32mm Italian) in an A/Tk role

The 25mm French )

But none know here the stocks of ammunition held. If we go on as we are, the ‘Q’ staff will go “nuts” and end by supplying the wrong type of ammunition.

 

 

Yours

 

Brigadier E.J. Medley, O.B.E., M.C.

Headquarters, R.A.

Eighth Army

 

CONTINENTAL GUNS IN USE

Type

Calibre

Country of Origin

Numbers in Use

Remarks

Notes

Field

105 mm

Italy

6

Tobfort Very good, 14,000 yards
Field

75 mm

Italy

6

5 N.Z. Bde. Unreadable
Field

C.75 mm

France

24

Free French ?
           
A/Tk

C.75 mm

France

20

Free French ?
 

50 mm

Germany

8

3, Poles.
5, 1 Armd Div
Very Good
 

47/32 mm

Italy

47

12 Free French;
8 NZ Bde;
6 38 Inf. Bde;
6 Armd Div; 17 4 Ind. Div.
Not bad.
 

37/45 mm

France

3 (12)

Poles ? unreadable
 

37 mm

Germany

18

Poles Unreadable, could be ‘not good’
 

25 mm

France

25 (20)

2, 4 Ind Div; 17 TOBFORT;
6, 1 Armd. Div.
Not bad. No. unreadable.
 

20 mm

Italy

6

5, 57 LAA;
1, Poles.
Dual Purpose
LAA
           
LAA

20 mm

France

4

Free French  
 

20 mm

France

8

Free French  

Large E 008282 1

General Brink, accompanied by General Stanisław Kopański, the CO of the Carpathian Rifles Brigade, inspecting a shell of a captured German Pak 38 anti-tank gun, which is now used by Polish troops. The gun, covered by a camouflage net, can be seen in the foreground. IWM E8282

First Paras in the Desert

First Paras in the Desert

That should be German paras, of course. The Italians had a Libyan para battalion trained prior to the war.

Prior to the arrival of the famous parachute Brigade Ramcke, a smaller unit of German paratroopers was flown into North Africa, where it helped shore up the Axis lines for a few weeks, re-captured the by now unoccupied oasis of Gialo (taken in November by Force E under Brigadier Reid) , and supported the advance during late January.

This unit was brought across in the context of the very heavy defeat that the Axis forces had just suffered east of Tobruk and their failure to be able to hold the Gazala line, and at the time of bringing it over it was not certain whether the Commonwealth forces would not make an attempt to push through the Marada – Mersa-el-Brega line which was only weakly held at this point.

File77k4826lp1115lccpjd0Nordafrika.- Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, Generalmajor Bernhard-Hermann Ramcke, Oberleutnant (vlnr); XI. Fliegerkorps – the picture is dated to early 1942, which makes it possible that the Oberleutnant is Burckhardt.

The total strength of the unit was substantial, compared to what e.g. 90.lei.Afrika-Div. or the Italian divisions had to offer at this point, but it appears only less than half were actually sent to North Africa, according to information in this AHF discussion. This would explain why it was referred to as a battalion, when it was actually half-way to being a regiment in terms of size. The biggest problem was of course the complete lack of motor vehicles, which relegated it to a static role, unless trucks could be scrounged elsewhere to bring it forward into combat. While it never entered serious combat, it is interesting to speculate how it would have fared.

In terms of equipment, it would be interesting to know if the battery of 105mm guns were 10,5cm LG-40 Leichtgeschuetze (recoilless rifles), and if these were indeed sent to North Africa. I am guessing that they were, but if someone knows for sure, or even has pictures, please get in touch!

Below is the record of the unit from messages relating to it during the period January to early February 1942.

From: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 11 January 42
To:     90.lei.Afrika-Div.
With new task for Lieutenant-Colonel von Barby

Fallschirm-Lehrtruppe XI Fliegerkorps (

Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps) (strength: 3 rifle companies, 1 machine-gun company, 1 AT company, 1 10.5cm battery, signals platoon, and sapper platoon, total about 1,600 men, commander Captain Burckhardt) will be subordinated to 90.lei.Div. First elements of the battalion, which is currently arriving in Tripolis, will probably arrive evening 11 January in the combat zone. Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps is to be used in the gap between the east wing [of the Italian] X.A.K. [Army Corps] and western wing [of the Italian] XX.A.K. and has to establish itself for defense there. Instruction by 90.lei.Div. following prior reconnaissance by Lieutenant-Colonel von Barby. Following the taking over of the sector named above by Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps, the Italian mot. Korps (motorised corps) which is currently responsible is to be pulled out and to be held ready in the area 46.5 left 3 – 49.5 left 4 – 49 left 5.5 – 46.5 left 4.5 [see

this older post

for what these numbers mean] for mobile missions in southerly, southeasterly, easterly, and north-easterly directions. Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps (

Kampfgruppe

[Battle Group] Burckhardt) holds close contact to east wing X.A.K. and XXI.A.K., as well as Artl.Kdr.104. It reports simultaneously to the command of the Panzergruppe and the 90.lei.Div. A visual depiction of the planned task of the battle group Burckhardt has to submitted to the command of the Panzergruppe by the 90.lei.Div. Supply of battle group Burckhardt to be arranged by QM D.A.K. For the command of the Panzergruppe

From: 90.lei.Afrika-Div. 12 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 20.00 Hours

Evening Report

[…]Nothing known concerning arrival Burckhardt.

90. lei Afrika-Div.

From: 90. lei. Afrika-Div 13 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21.20 Hours

Evening Report

[…]

Two rifle companies of Blocking Detachment Burckhardt have reached Arco dei Fileni; occupies reconnoitered position morning 14 January.  Further elements arrive by 16. January.  Remaining elements still in Sicily.

[…]

90. lei Afrika-Div.From: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 13 January 42

To:       X.A.K. – XXI.A.K. 22.35 Hours

mot. Korps. – D.A.K. 90. lei. Afrika-Div. – Art.Kdr.104 Pi.Führer – Nachr. Führer

S.R.104 (through liaison officer)

[…]4. Mot. Korps defends gap between X. and XXI.A.K. It stands ready on special order to follow the attack D.A.K. either prolonging north or as second echelon. Relief by Gruppe Burckhardt will start during 14 January.

[…]

Panzergruppe Afrika Ia

From: 90.lei.-Afrika-Div. 14 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 19.25 Hours

Evening Report

[…]

Battle group Burckhardt with staff and 2 companies since 08h00 on the march to area ordered.

[…]

90.lei.Afrika-Div.

From:

Panzergruppe Afrika

Ia 14 January 42

To:       D.A.K. – X.A.K. 20.55 Hours

XXI.A.K. – mot. Korps. 90. lei. Afrika-Div. – Art.Kdr.104 O.Qu. – Ia/Pi – Ia/N

[…]5. Mot.Korps reports execution of relief by Battle group Burckhardt and then concentrates as ordered, to be able to follow D.A.K. at first as second echelon.

Panzergruppe Ia

From: Ital. mot. Korps 14 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21.58 Hours

Ital. mot.Korps will be relieved by Gruppe Burckhardt during the course of 15 January beginning on right wing.  Completion foreseen for 17h00. Ital. mot.Korps assembles following completed relief in the area 48.5 left 5. Current CP 48 left 4.

From: Kampfgruppe Burckhardt 15 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 19.00 Hours

Burckhardt reports executing taking over of ordered sector on 15 January 14h00.

Signed: Burckhardt

From: Panzergruppe Ia 15 January 42

To:       D.A.K. – mot. Korps. 21.00 Hours

X.A.K. – XXI.A.K. 90. lei. Afrika-Div. – Art.Kdr.104 Ia/Vers. – Pionierführer Nachr.Führer – Flakgruppe Hecht […]

Addition for 90.lei.Div.: To instruct:

a) Gruppe Burckhardt to conduct constant fighting reconnaissance.

[…]

Panzergruppe Afrika

Ia

From:

Panzergruppe Afrika

Ia 18 January 42

To: All Troop Elements

Army Order for the Attack

[…]Kampfgruppe Burckhardt defends its position between eastern wing X.A.K. and southern wing XXI.A.K.

[…]

The Commander in Chief:

Signed: RommelGeneral der Panzertruppen

From: 90.lei.Div. 20 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 20.00 Hours

Evening Report

[…]

Situation in Marada unchanged.  Reconnaissance up to 30km without result. Standing Italian patrol at 44 right 28.5 pulled back. Burckhardt reports 19 January 15h00 to 18h00 about 40 motorised vehicles, including tracked vehicles at 48.3 left 1.5 from east to west on southern edge Uadi el Faregh.

[…]

From:   Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 20.20 hours

[…] Report minimum vehicle requirements for Kampfgruppe Burckhardt and Gruppe Daumiller. […]

Panzergruppe Afrika Ia

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 22 January 42

To: X.A.K. 07.40 hours

X.A.K. prepares immediate taking over of sector Burckhardt by weaker securing forces.

Panzerarmee Afrika Ia

From:   90.lei.Div. 23 January 42

To: Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 19.00 hours

[…]From Burckhardt 23 January evening staff and 1 para company Agheila. Removal continued. Elements required 25 January there 24 January evening.  Delivery of required special equipment by 24 January questionable.

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 23 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 21.00 hours

[…]

3. […] Burckhardt assembles at Agheila. […]

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 24 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 23.42 hours

[…]

2. Kampfgruppe Burckhardt has to be ready for motorized transport from morning 26 January.

[…]

Panzerarmee Afrika Ia

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 25 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 09.00 hours

  1. 90.lei.Div. with Kampfgruppe Burckhardt (without Kampfgruppe Marada) in foot march and overtaking use of available motor vehicles at disposal Panzer-A.O.K. in area both sides Via Balbia southwest Agedabia between km 15 and 25. Additional vehicles can be expected to be made available from chief quartermaster.  Report when leaving and when division available at disposal in area ordered.

[…]Panzerarmee Afrika Ia

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 31 January 42

To: Kampfgruppe Burckhardt

Fliegerfuehrer Afrika 90.lei.Div. Army Pioneer Leader – Army Signals Leader Chief QM – Liaison Officer Major Fuchs Ia – Ic Order for the occupation of the Oasis Gialo

  1. Oasis group Gialo only occupied by weak enemy security forces. Recognised fires lead to conclusion that oasis is being evacuated. Aerial photographs of 30 and 31 January to be studied at Fliegerfuehrer.
  2. Gruppe Burckhardt at dawn 3 February with a special detachment of 50 men takes possession of Oasis Gialo in ground attack and holds it.
    Advance route:
    Agedabia, el Haselat, Gr. Es Sahabi. Tracks leading to oasis Gialo are to be mined. Furthermore an advance has to be carried out to the supply depot 50 km east of el Hamin (aerial photograph to be studied at Fliegerfuehrer)
  3. The detachment is to be fully mobilised with tracked vehicles and trucks by the chief quartermaster.
  4. Detachment Giaol is directly subordinated to the high command of the Panzerarmee.
  5. Fliegerfuehrer is politely requested to provide fighter cover for the operation and to support the surprise attack with bombers if enemy occupation is recognised. The retreat of enemy forces on the tracks to Siwa is to be harassed by destroyer planes.
  6. Supply: rations for four days are to be taken along. Further supply will be secured by transport planes. Fliegerfuehrer is politely requested to fly in supplies.
  7. The required number of mines (see No.2) is to be brought in by air. (Army pioneer leader organises supply of mines from Agedabia).
  8. Radio information: encoding means and radio information will be supplied to Agedabia by the Army signals leader.
  9. Reports of the Gialo detachment have to be at least twice daily from 2 February (morning and evening report) to the high command of the Panzerarmee.

For the high command of the Panzerarmee

On Behalf of the Chief of the General Staff

Signed v.Mellenthin

From:   90.lei.Div. 3 February 42

To: Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 19.30 hours

Evening Report:

III./I.R.347 and elements Kampfgruppe Burckhardt arrived in Barce. Otherwise no particular events.

90.lei.Div. On 4 February Panzerarmee Afrika reports that Gialo has been re-taken by weaker elements of Kampfgruppe Burckhardt. With this the involvement of the paras in the winter battle of 1941/42 ends.