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


 

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.”

NewImage

 

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

Fuel Allocation Request – Artillery Regiment 33

There is a lot of talk about how the desert required higher fuel allocations than foreseen for the German forces, but very little evidence of how this worked out in detail. I have just now come across some information in my files, which I will post below.

First a bit of background. Fuel was by far the most urgent and heaviest (by weight) of items in the German supply requirements. In the context of the desert war, fuel was crucial – no fuel, no movement of anything. The armies in the desert were dependent on trucks for moving supplies, and no attempt to ameliorate the situation by using coastal shipping, railways, or pipelines (all of which were used), could do more than lessen the requirement. 

Fuel was needed to carry everything, including fuel. The further away from supply entry points an army got, the worse the ratio of useful load/fuel use got. In the German case, the Panzergruppe  Command estimated that 1kg delivered to the port of Bardia was equivalent to 6kg delivered to Tripoli harbour, which should be read that to deliver 1kg of goods from Tripoli to Bardia, 5kg of fuel were needed – in other words it was hugely inefficient. 

Furthermore, for any movement off the main coastal road (which was in quality comparable to European roads), fuel consumption went through the roof. Moving vehicles of any type in desert terrain was not easy on the fuel use.

Finally, German fuel logistics were based on the concept of Verbrauchssaetze (loosely: ‘consumption units’), which used a set unit of output to determine a supply requirement. For fuel, this was the amount of fuel needed to move the vehicle 100km of distance. For weapons, it was called Ausstattung, and was the ammunition quota needed to carry out about 3-4 days of combat. For those wanting to know more, you can have a look at this link.

Now, after this explanation, here is the short but informative request, translated from a captured document, and found in WO208/3173 in the UK National Archives in Kew:

REPORT OF PARTIAL FUEL REQUIREMENTS (10 DAYS)

26 September 41: Artillery Regiment 33 reports to the 15. Panzerdivision

The 3,100 liter allowed to the Rgt. for every ten days is insufficient. The Rgt. asks for a raise of the allotment according to  the following key:

Water supply: 1,850 liter
Ration collections: 650 liter
Post collection: 350 liter
Fuel, ammunition, and spares collection: 360 liter
Evacuation of the sick: 650 liter
Inspection drives: 320 liter
Battery chargers: 700 liter

Total: 4,880 liter

Some items of note here. AR33 was stationary during the period in question. It’s supply point was Bardia, while it was stationed east/south of Bardia. The high number of fuel requirement for evacuation of the sick may reflect the high incidence of sickness in Panzergruppe during this period.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-782-0006-22%2C_Nordafrika%2C_Nachschub%2C_Soldaten_mit_Feldflaschen.jpg

Delivery of supplies in North Africa, March/April 1941, courtesy of the Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia.

A little analysis shows that the requirement was about 57% higher than the allocation. Water supply was by far the highest requirement, at 38% of the new requirement, and almost 60% of the original allocation. What is interesting is the high requirement for battery charging – not something one reads a lot about in the context of military logistics in WW2. It’s over 14% of the new requirement, and almost 23% of the original allocation.

Sidi Rezegh After Action Report – 3./Flak 33

I have previously posted the some AARs on the pivotal battle of the campaign, the destruction of the Allied forces on the Sidi Rezegh landing ground on Sunday of the Dead, 23 November 1941. The report by Ariete Division’s di Nisio column can be found at this link, and that of 6 NZ Brigade at this link.

The report below is from one of the less glamorous German units, an anti-aircraft battery that was subordinated to 15. Panzerdivision’s armoured regiment, Panzerregiment 8. It provided the link between the advancing Panzerregiment on the right (east) and Ariete’s column on the left, during the final attack on Sidi Rezegh.

The battery was equipped with four 8.8cm dual-purpose guns and supported by 2cm light AA guns. More information from a period document can be found at this link.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-443-1574-26,_Nordafrika,_Flakgesch%C3%BCtz.jpg

German 88mm AA gun in firing position in North Africa, June 1942 (courtesy Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons) 

 

COMBAT REPORT

Concerning combat actions of 3./Flakregt.33

from 19 November to 15 December 1941

From 19 November, at the time the code word “Hochwasser” (High Water) was transmitted, 3./Flakregiment 33 was subordinated to Panzerregiment 8 for mobile use. After moving into the concentration area and following that into the alarm area, the following combat actions took place from 20 November:

[…]

23 November Afternoon

1.) Subordination: I./Pz.8[1]

2.) Task: as on 20 November 1941[2]

3.) Operation and combat activity: During the afternoon of this day strong enemy forces were attacked in the same area[3]. The battery was tasked on the left wing of the armoured battalion, and on its own left was connecting to the Italian division Ariete[4] which also attacked. Because of the fast advance of our tanks, as well as dispersedly positioned enemy infantry the battery could, due to the intense MG and rifle fire, not keep up the connection to our tanks. On the other hand the advance of Ariete proceeded only slowly, so that the gap between the two armoured units continued to increase. The enemy recognized this situation and attempted to enter into the gap with a group of tanks supported by infantry, to disturb the attack from the flank. The battery therefore drew all the enemy fire in this space onto itself. Despite strongest opposition it held its position to the beginning of dusk, and thereby prevented the realization of the enemy’s intentions.

4.) Successes:

Destruction of:
5 Cruiser Mk. IV
2 Armoured Cars
1 artillery battery in firing position
20 trucks
1 MG position.

Enemy infantry was engaged with airbursts and fire from 2cm guns.

5.) Ammunition used:

66 AT Shells
33 HE shells contact fuse
36 HE shells timed fuse

6.) Losses

a) Personnel:
1 NCO and 1 OR KIA
1 Off. wounded
7 OR wounded

b) Materiel
1 prime mover with special trailer Type 201 destroyed by direct artillery hit 

Notes

[1]1st Battalion Panzerregiment 8
[2]Task: Support armoured attack and defense against enemy armour acting as tank accompanying battery.
[3]Given as 20km south-east of El Adem. 
[4]Di Nisio column 


 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3b/Burnt-out_88_mm_Flak_36_near_El_Alamein_1942.jpg

Destroyed 88mm AA gun with prime mover (Sdkfz.7) and Sonderanhaenger 201, El Alamein 1942. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial via Wikimedia.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Every so often in going through the mountain of files on my hard drive I come across one that makes me smile inwardly, despite the serious subject matter. Most of the time it’s because I recognise over the distance of 70+ years that little has changed. Administrators and bureaucrats still like to get one over each other, and the mission seems to matter less than to make sure that your unit (or today department) comes off better than the other. Here’s one of those, and it makes you wonder who the enemy was!

Division z.b.V. Afrika

Divisional C.P. 1 November 1941

Dept. Ia Az III/2.

Re: Personnel strengths of Fortress Halfaya

Attention: D.A.K. Ia

1.) Division reports that I./S.R.104, since 30 October assigned to Fortress Halfway, only has a real (‘Ist’) strength of:

18 Officers, 1 Civilian Official, 136 NCOs, 683 ORs, compared to a theoretical (‘Soll’) strength of

26 Officers, 4 Civilian Officials, 176 NCOs, 969 ORs.

This means there is a gap of almost 30% across all categories.

2.) According to the report by the battalion, 21. Pz.Div. pulled a large number [of personnel] into various commands, through permanent (‘Kommandierter’) and temporary (‘Abstellungen’) assignments. Within the [21.Pz] division, only this battalion had to provide these.

This division considers the current real strength of I./S.R.104 a not acceptable weakening of the personell allocation to the Halfway Sector, and requests politely that 21. Pz.Div. is requested soonest to fill up the combat (‘Gefechts’) strength [of the battalion].

The other interesting information here is the considerable strength of Major Bach’s battalion, which at full strength would be able to field 1,171 men. This compares to about 830 men in a British motorised infantry battalion at the same time (see this link). So in fairness, even at the low ‘Ist’ strength being reported, the battalion still had the same size as its British equivalent.

I./S.R.104 (1st Battalion, Motorised Rifle Regiment 104) was the last German unit to surrender in the Bardia/Halfaya Sector. It was then under command of the Italian Savona Division under Major-General Fedele de Giorgis. The battalion was rebuilt from the dissolved MG Battalion 8 in April and May 1942.

The document can be found in the war diary appendices of 90th Light Division in NARA.

An Example of a Stosslinie

In a previous post (at this link) I have explained the German ‘Stosslinie’ system by which units were given locations on a standard map. The picture below shows such a line on an Italian map used by the German intelligence officer in Panzergruppe Africa’s command staff. The line starts with the value of 65 north of B. el Harmarin/south-east of Mechili, and ends with the value of 105 at Bir el Gobi.

Stosslinie