A note on RAF losses in CRUSADER

This is very preliminary, but I thought readers might be interested.  Jon commented earlier on this post, that the RAF as a rule kept 50% of strength in reserve.  Going through the weekly loss figures during Operation CRUSADER shows why.

Losses are being defined as write-offs (Cat. E) and need for return to base workshop (Cat. B) – many thanks to Jan Safarik who provided this explanation here. The loss figures extend to week ending 13 February but do not include the week 6 February, which is missing. But on the other hand the week 13 Feb has such high losses that I wonder if it does not include the preceding week…

In any case, Hurricane losses amounted to 74% of strength at the start of the battle.  Tomahawk losses to 112% (!). Blenheim losses to 60%, and Wellingtons to 49%. The brunt of the losses in the battle was borne by the single-engine fighters, which accounted for 61% of total losses, and the light bombers, which accounted for another 19%. A very high 11% of the losses were Wellingtons, and the rest is accounted for by various types.

Of note are the high losses in Beaufighters, showing how hard these planes were worked – 14 out of 24 planes, or 58% became casualties. It can’t have been fun to be in the two squadrons (No. 252 and No. 272) operating the type during CRUSADER. On the other hand, the Beaufighter has the highest ratio of Cat.B (repairable) casualties, at 43%.  By comparison, the Blenheim has only 24%. While there can be many reasons for this, it may tell us something about the toughness of the planes?

Some odd losses as well – a single Caproni (captured Italian transport), a single Whitley (what on earth was she doing in North Africa?), a single Wellesley, a single Sunderland (with a very interesting story behind the loss – scroll down halfway on this page)

Two new arrivals in the desert

Two new arrivals in the desert

The successful convoy operations of mid-December 41 and first week of January 42 also brought some new technology to the Axis forces, which managed to somewhat restore their hitting power.

Ariete’s support was strengthened by the arrival of the Semovente da 75/18, a self-propelled gun on the M13 tank chassis. Two batteries of these guns were established and almost certainly participated in the January reconquest of Cyrenaica. I presume that despite the short barrel this gun could have been reasonably effective, because of its use of a hollow-charge round (Effeto Pronto) with good penetration capabilities – this site gives 120mm, but would have suffered from low accuracy due to low muzzle velocity.

Semovente da 75/18 – I presume it is Rommel in the staff car to the rear, and the picture is most likely from the start of the January 42 counter-offensive.

90.Leichte Afrika-Division’s anti-tank battalion was strengthened by the arrival of the first Dianas, a somewhat haphazard-looking (shotgun) marriage between a medium halftrack chassis (Sdkfz 6, with this variant being the 6/3) and a captured Russian Feldkanone 36(r) (the Russian F-22 Divisional Gun), which, with its high hitting power would have been bad news for anything in the tank department of the Commonwealth. I am somewhat less certain however how much action these saw during the reconquest, or how efficient they were overall. A lot of technical info can be found at this link, and there are lots of pretty pictures of the Flames of War model of the Sdkfz 6/3 at this link. While the whole thing looks like a contraption, I should think that if put in a good position for long-range sniping it could have been quite effective, and the crew was certainly better protected than the crews of the Commonwealth 2-pdr portees, or the Italian gun crews on their truck-mounted artillery pieces.

2-pdr Portee on Belhamed during CRUSADER.

The very useful Lone Sentry site has information from a wartime bulletin on both of these, including nice drawings, at this link.