German tank flag signals

This document is from the war diary of the H.Q. of 7 Armoured Division, December 1941. It’s the first time I have seen this, and it is unusual in that it is in colour. Very few documents are. Signalling in a tank battle was of course a challenge with the means of communication available in 1941, and so even though German tanks were equipped with radio sets, these were not always reliable due to atmospheric conditions, they could be jammed (something the Empire forces attempted through the use of some specially equipped Vickers Wellingtons during CRUSADER), and networks could be overloaded. Flags were therefore a low-tech fallback, but of course suffered from their own issues – difficult to use in failing light, impossible in the dark, and affected by ground conditions, e.g. when lots of dust was thrown up.

Usual health warning applies: this is a wartime document based on intelligence assessments. It may well be wrong, and the Germans only had flags in their tanks so they could engage in a Maibaumtanz.

German Flags

For the gamers: Tank Variants Available during CRUSADER

I thought it might be useful to put up a list of tank types that I am aware of were available to the opposing forces during CRUSADER. Particularly in the German case, I am not 100% sure about the sub-variants, but the general capability is clear. Happy to be corrected on all this, as always.

Updated with Peter Brown’s input as per comment below, 5 June 2018

1) British

  • Cruiser A9 (only Tobruk garrison and HQ tanks)
  • Cruiser A9 close support tank with 3″ howitzer
  • Cruiser A10 (only Tobruk garrison and 7 Armoured Brigade or HQ tanks)
  • Cruiser A13 (Called Mark IV by the Germans, only Tobruk garrison and 7 Armoured Brigade
  • Cruiser A15 (Cruiser Mk. VI Crusader – not in the Tobruk garrison, called Mk.VI by the Germans)
  • Cruiser A15 close support tank with 3” howitzer
  • US M3 General Stuart (only 1 and 4 Armoured Brigade)
  • Matilda IIa (known as Mark II to the Germans)
  • Matilda IIa+
  • Matilda II close support tank with 3” howitzer
  • Valentine Mk. I (only 8 R.T.R.)
  • Light tank Mk.VIb
  • Light tank Mk.VIc
  • Light tank Mk.VI AA variant

2) Italian

  • M13/40 medium tank
  • M14/41 medium tank (from January 42)
  • Light tank L3/33 (CV-33)
  • Light tank L3/35 (CV-35)
  • Light tank CV-33 and CV-35 flamethrower variant
  • Semovente da 75/18 self-propelled gun on M13/40 chassis (from January 42)

3) Germans

  • Panzer Ia
  • Panzer Ia engineer support
  • Panzer Ib
  • Kleiner Befehlswagen (command tank based on Panzer I)
  • Panzerjaeger I
  • Panzer II
  • Panzer III F/G/H/J, short 50mm gun (50L42 only)
  • Grosser Befehlswagen (command tank based on Panzer III)
  • Panzer IV D/E/F, short 75mm gun (75L24 only)
  • Captured Matilda II
  • Captured US tank M3 General Stuart (for a short time during Sidi Rezegh)
On the German side, the long-barreled Panzer III with the 50L60 and the Panzer IV with the 75L42 guns did not arrive until March 1942 at the earliest, and first saw action in the Gazala battles starting at the end of May 1942.
On the British side, I do not see any A9, A10, and probably few if any A13 after CRUSADER. I am not aware of any A9 or A10 fighting with 2 Armoured Brigade in January 1942.

Not Crusader – Report on the Crash of Hans-Joachim Marseille

Edited 30 May 2018: Added ULTRA Intercepts.

As I said, every so often I post something not related to CRUSADER.

The document below is a report by the unit that recovered the body of Captain (Hauptmann) and Squadron Commanding Officer (Staffelkapitaen) Hans-Joachim Marseille, at the time the top scoring German ace in North Africa, when his Me 109 went down in flames on 30 September 1942 in the area of Pz.Gren.Regt.115 of 15. Panzerdivision.

Hans-Joachim Marseille

Fighter Pilot Captain Hans-Joachim Marseille. Knights Cross with Diamonds, Oak Leaves, and Swords, 3 September 1942. Courtesy Bundesarchiv

Marseille was a major part of German propaganda about the war in Africa, and the way the immediate actions after his death and recovery went demonstrate this. He was generally regarded as an exceptional fighter pilot, and had been awarded well over 100 victories at the time of his death.

Aircrew-Luftwaffe-JG27-ace-Hans-Joachim-Marseille-Der-Adler-June-1942-01

Spanish edition of the Luftwaffe propaganda magazine Der Adler (The Eagle), 14 July 1942, Marseille on the cover, explaining a dog fight.

Copy

M o r i t z, Lieutenant in the Staff of Pz.Gren.Rgt. 115

O.U., 30 September 1942

Report on the Crash of Lieutenant[1] Marseille

On 30 September 1942, at 11.42 hours, 6 German Messerschmitt fighters, coming from the east, fly towards the location of the staff units of Pz.Gren.Rgt.115. Directly above the position of the heavy infantry gun company[2], in about 200 m of altitude, one of the planes suddenly started trailing black smoke; while the pilot escaped, and then, since the parachute did not open, fell from 200 m of altitude smashing into the ground, the plane spun almost vertically down and exploded on the ground.  Remaining parts burned.

MarseilleCrash

Burned wreckage of Marseille’s Me109G. Vehicle in the back at the point where his body impacted the ground. Unknown photographer, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Immediately attending soldiers of the heavy infantry gun company, as well as the doctor arriving five minutes later, could only note the death of the pilot because his brain was smashed in (in addition to a complex fracture of the femur). The time of the crash was 11.45 hours. Further investigations showed that the pilot was Lieutenant Marseille. He carried the following private items on his person: 2 rings, 1 medal, 1 letter, 1 watch, Knghts Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords[3]. These things and the whole pilot’s dress, including parachute, were picked up shortly before 12.00 hours by Sergeant W. Wal, L-21658 Munich II (7.schw.Flum.Kp.Ln.Abt.Afrika).

I arrived at 12.00 hours myself, and immediately recognised Lieutenant Marseille based on the published pictures. I ordered immediately, following the doctor’s cleaning and wound-dressing of the body, to lay it in state. Lieutenant Marseille was laid up under a large awning, covered by a Swastika flag, and surrounded by a honour guard of six men with rifles. At the same time, the commanding officer of the 1st battalion, 10cm Artillery Group Littorio, stationed nearby, Captain Luisiana, arrived with 3 officers and put two wreath fabric pieces in the national colours of Italy onto the chest of the dead Lieutenant Marseille, under the ceremonial greeting of all those present.

At 13.15 hours, Lieutenant Marseille was collected in ceremony by all the officers of his squadron, led by his squadron commander[4], and transferred to his base.

Signed Moritz

Lieutenant, Staff Pz.Gren.Regt.115

[1] His actual rank at this time was Hauptmann, Captain or Flight Lieutenant
[2] Unusually, at the time the regiment had two heavy infantry gun companies, normally equipped with 150mm sIG33 guns, the 13th, and the 15th company. It is not clear which one is referred to here, and I do not know if both were physically present with the regiment at the time.
[3]He should also have carried the diamonds.
[4] Marseille was the Squadron CO until his death.

Thanks to RodM on the 12 O’Clock High Forum, I can now add two ULTRA intercepts conveying the news of Marseille’s death to authorities in London. This is again a highly unusual step, showing that Marseille was not just recognised on the German side. The intercepts are to be found in the UK National Archives, DEFE 3/573 – Intelligence from intercepted German, Italian and Japanese radio communications, WWII, CX/MSS/C 1-533, 1942 Sept 16-1945 May 15.

What is notable is the discrepancy in the height given at which Marseille baled out of his plane, compared to the report by Lieutenant Moritz above.

TO: C.S.S. Personal

From: Duty Officer, Hut 3

Following neither reported in CX/MSS nor signalled abroad

CX/MSS/C44

MEDITERRANEAN

AIR PERSONALITIES

On 30/9 Fliegerfuehrer AFRIKA reported the death of Hptm. MARSEILLE, Staffelkapitaen in JG 27. He was not killed by enemy action. His engine caught fire and he baled out at 3,000 m. His parachute failed to open and he crashed at 0940/30/9 7 km south of the mosque at SIDI ABD EL RAHMAN, in his own territory. He was flying a Messerschmitt 109G.

2359/30/9/42

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Marseille with his 48th claim, a Hurricane Mk. II of No. 213 Squadron R.A.F., in February 1942. Courtesy Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv.

TO: C.S.S. Personal

From: Duty Officer, Hut 3

Following neither reported in CX/MSS nor signalled abroad

CX/MSS/C45

MEDITERRANEAN

AIR PERSONALITIES

AMSEL Ia[1] to 5th Air Corps[2] for Feldmarshall[3], on Hptm. MARSEILLE 2nd Report.

His engine began to smoke from unknown causes over the front area, at 6,000 metres. He then glided towards our territory, during which time the Geschwader[4] control heard him speaking continuously. The enemy did not interfere. MARSEILLE’s voice was perfectly clear. He supposed himself that his engine was on fire. He let his companion in the Schwarm[5] guide him as the cockpit was full of smoke. Flames were first seen as he baled out, which he did at 3,000 metres 7 km. S of SIDI ABD EL RAHMAN ….. (several sentences illegible) …. The a/c was burnt out. Engine and parachute have been found. Funeral probably in the afternoon of 1/10 at DERNA.

0827/1/10/42 GMT

[1]Codename for Chief of Staff (Ia) of Fliegerfuehrer Afrika, the commander of Luftwaffe forces in North Africa.
[2]5a Squadra, the Italian air force command for North Africa.
[3]Probably Field Marshal Kesselring
[4]Wing, a unit composed of three Gruppen, the largest tactical command in the Luftwaffe. Comparable to a regiment.
[5]Flight. A sub-unit of a Staffel or Squadron, comparable to a platoon. The six Me109 reported by Lieutenant Moritz would have been the Schwarm on this occasion. As an aside Schwarm is a very old word, originating possibly in Sanskrit, and being very similar in German, English, and Norwegian/Danish.

German armoured recovery

The wartime US intelligence document below gives a good overview of the organisation of German armour recorvery and maintenance.

http://www.lonesentry.com/articles/ttt08/german-tank-maintenance-recovery.html

Recommended reading.

The picture below shows the heavy recovery vehicle in action, in this case on captured almost certainly during CRUSADER, when the workshops of both German armoured divisions fell into the hands of the Allied troops.

4083835

TANK HOSPITAL IN THE WESTERN DESERT. A CAPTURED GERMAN FAMO ZUGKRAFTWAGEN F3 18 TON HALF TRACK HAS BEEN PUT TO VERY GOOD USE FOR HAULING A DAMAGED BRITISH CRUSADER TANK BACK TO THE HOSPITAL. Courtesy AWM.

 

Post-CRUSADER – Guidelines for the use of 88mm AA guns in the D.A.K.

The following instruction was issued on 22 May 1942, just before the start of the Gazala campaign. It is interesting in terms of lessons learned, and likely intended to serve as a reminder to commanders who had served in the D.A.K. for a while, as well as instruction to newly arrived commanding officers. It shows well the multi-tasking roles assigned to the heavy AA batteries. A bit of new information to me is about the speed discrepancy between the 8.8cm gun prime movers and the reconnaissance battalion vehicles.

The instruction can be read against a similar British document at this link.

C o p y

SECRET

Deutsches Afrikakorps, H.Q. 22 May 1942

Ia/Flak No. 661/42 sec

Guidelines for the Use of AA Batteries

I. Heavy AA Battery 8.8cm

A) General:

The heavy AA battery 8.8cm is equally useful for the task of:

a) AA batterie
b) Tank accompanying battery
c) Ground target battery, especially at a range of 8-14km

From its anti-air firing position at least half the guns can immediately engage tanks and ground targets. The re-grouping of the other guns for engagement of tanks will only require a few minutes. When tasks of tank or ground target engagement are expected, a more linear or trapezoid placement can be chosen from the start, which will bring almost all the guns into fire immediately.

Smashing successes are to be obtained in all three tasks in the most easy manner when the 8.8cm battery is tasked together.

The assignment of single 8.8cm guns to infantry units often leads to an early loss of the guns since they offer too large a target in the forward line.

On assignment to Reconnaissance Battalions the prime movers cannot sustain the speed of the mostly much faster moving Reconnaissance Battalions, breakdowns of prime movers and loss of the guns are therefore the consequence. The assignment of heavy A.A. batteries to Reconnaissance Battalions is therefore to be restricted.

B) On stops of more than 30 minutes duration, refueling, resting, concentration etc. the heavy battery enters into air defense position as a matter of course.

C) On concentration of tank forces the 8.8cm batteries are to be held back initially and only shortly before the start of the attack to be pulled into the tank concentration.

D) During spreading out. Heavy A.A. batteries are most usefully put between the 1st and 2nd waves of tanks. The battery commanders should as much as possible be assigned a command tank with  a radio.

E) The use of the 8.8cm tank accompanying battery is generally on one wing of the tank force, to achieve flanking impact.

II. 2 cm AA Battery:

The 2cm batteries of the AA artillery are less useful for defense against surprise enemy strafing attacks than the self-propelled AA companies of the Army.

On the other hand, they can fire from a fixed position foundation with much higher hit probability against air and ground targets than the guns fitted on top of self-propelled mounts and trucks.

The use of 2cm guns against armoured cars only promises success under 800m of distance.

On stops the 2cm guns go into firing position in all cases. During combat moves the 2cm guns are as far as possible to be placed on the outside of the combat groups.

For the Deutsche Afrikakorps

The Chief of the General Staff

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A soldier examines a German 88mm gun believed to have been knocked out by the RAF in the Western Desert, 10 September 1942. (Courtesy of the IWM)

Air War Publications – New Article

It’s that time of the year again, the time where I have to plug my friends at Air War Publications. They just published the first part of the 2-part e-Article on 2.H/14, the German close-range aerial recce unit that worked hard to provide intel to the staff of Panzergruppe Afrika.

Examples of the intel provided are below:

Written reconnaissance report (in this case from the long-range recce outfit 1./F121)

Visual interpretation of enemy situation from the air (probably from 2./(H)14, see comment by Andrew below.

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Luftwaffe mechanics working on a dis-assembled Hs126 close-range recce plane. From Pinterest.

You can find it at this link:

Air War Publications – E-Articles

As always, the article is very well researched and written, and contains a number of rare pictures. Well worth the very low price for anyone interested in the war in North Africa.

Full disclosure: I reviewed the article and contributed data and (I think) some pictures to it. I have no financial interest in plugging it here.

Technical vs. battle losses during the first days of CRUSADER – PR5

It is quite rare to come across reasonably reliable data for technical losses of tanks during battle, i.e. how many tanks fell out because e.g. their transmission conked out, or some other part of the complex mechanism failed.

Fortunately enough the war diary for Panzerregiment 5 survives, and contains such information for at least the first few days of CRUSADER. The table below gives this. Panzerregiment 5 had the oldest tanks in the Mideast, which would have clocked up substantial mileage by the time of CRUSADER.

While not 100% clear, I suspect that these are permanent losses, as ascertained after the battle, when the war diary was written up, and an explanation what caused them. The reason for this is that each of the losses for tanks needing recovery is followed by a note on why and where the tank was lost. Causes of loss are outright destruction, mobility kill in enemy territory that could not be recovered, mobility kill that was recovered but was lost later at a concentration point, or in a workshop.

It is likely that the extent of technical problems is understated here too. The regiment started moving on 18 November. Between 18 and 19 November, it’s strength reduced by a total of 37 tanks (11x II, 23x III, 3x IV), or 31% of its reported tank strength on 18 November, and it is not far-fetched to suppose that many of these tanks may not have been able to move, or quickly broke down, given that only 8 tanks were reported as complete losses on the day.

23 November was the day of the battle of Totensonntag, Sunday of the Dead, when 5 South African Brigade and 7 Support Group were taken to the cleaners at Sidi Rezegh.

25 November was the day when PR5 was sent into the two disastrous attacks on 4 Indian Division’s position outside Sidi Omar.

It is also worth noting that on 27 November, when the regiment was left with 2x IV, one of them had to be cannibalised (and was lost in consequence), to get the other one going again. These two technical failures are not accounted for in this list.

On 30 November it is noted that the regiment received 3x II, 4x III, and 2x IV as repaired vehicles from the division’s workshops. The strength returns make clear however that some tanks were received throughout, maybe after their crews undertook minor repairs to get them going again. 

II = Panzer II
III = Panzer III
IIICd = Panzer III Command Tank (grosser Befehlswagen)
IV = Panzer IV 

Date

Combat Loss TWO1

Combat Loss (MK2)

Technical Loss (MK)

Total Loss

Technical Loss Share

19 Nov

2x III

1x II
4x III

1x III

8

13%

20 Nov

1x III

2x II
1x IV

 

4

0%

21 Nov

1x III

1x III

1x II
1x III

4

50%

22 Nov

1x III

3x III
1x IV

2x II
2x III
1x IIICd

10

50%

23 Nov

2x III

1x IV

5x II
6x III
1x IV

1x II
1x III

17

12%

24 Nov

2x III

1x III Cd3
2x III

 

1x III4

6

17%

25 Nov

1x II
9x III

1x II
1x III
1x IV

1x II
1x III

15

13%

Total

20

31

13

64

20%

1 TWO = Total Write Off, tank was destroyed by enemy action on the battlefield

2 MK = Mobility Kill, Vehicle had to be towed off the battlefield

3 This was later repaired and rejoined

4 Report not complete