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.

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.

German Firing Trials against the Matilda II

I have previously posted some views on the Matilda II at this link.
While going through the appendices to the war diary of 21. Panzerdivision, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, I came across the results of firing trials with various German guns against the Matilda II, which show quite nicely how the one-time  queen ofthe battlefield have moved towards obsolescence.

Some notes to help interpretation:

  • Indication (Anzeige) I interpret as ‘success’
  • Pz.Gr. is a tank round
  • I presume that the writer of the memo made errors in the tank/anti-tank round designations
  • Gr.40 (should be 39) is the standard model round for tank guns and anti-tank guns. It contained a small amount of HE filler for better after-armour effect.
  • Gr.41 (should be 40) is a tungsten-core round with better effect but no HE filler.
  • Pz.Gr.38 normal (should be Rot/red) is the standard anti-tank round of the short 7.5cm tank gun, capped and with HE filler.
  • Pz.Gr.38 red (should be HL for Hohladung) is a hollow charge round only available for the short 7.5cm tank gun in the Panzer IV at the time
  • l.F.H.18 is a light field howitzer, and was the standard artillery piece of the Wehrmacht. Comparable to the US 105mm or the British 25-pdr.
  • ‘Special ammunition’ for this gun was hollow-charge. This was not allowed to be used during Operation CRUSADER by order of Hitler.
  • Panzerbuechse 41 is a heavy anti-tank rifle.

STARTS

Trial Firing on Mark II
on 19.3.42 on the firing range of I./Panzerregiment 8

1.) Assembly and explanation of types of ammunition

2.) Firing at 600m with target at acute angle

5cm tank gun with Pz.Gr.41 on turret, also on wheel assembly

5cm tank gun with Pz.Gr.40 on turret

Potential indication

7.5cm Pz.Gr. normal on turret

7.5cm Pz.Gr. 38 red on turret

Panzerbuechse 41 on turret and lower hull

Indication

5cm anti-tank Gr.40 on turret, also on wheel assembly

5cm anti-tank Gr.41 on turret

7.5cm HE round on tracks

Indication

l.F.H.18 HE round on tracks

l.F.H.18 Pz.Gr. on turret

l.F.H.18 with special ammunition on turret

Indication

Turn the Mark II facing frontally.

Against the front all weapons that had indication from the side.

3.) Following this advance of all weapons to 400m

Fire on the front turret by all weapons in the same order as before. After this advance of all weapons with no indication to 200m.

At this range also indication by 2cm tank gun with Pz.Gr.40 and 41.

The original document is attached below. Comments and corrections more than welcome.

German report on firing trials results against Matilda II, 19 March 1942

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.

Losses in Operation Crusader

There are some interesting discrepancies in the statistics.

The first set of numbers is from the Panzerarmee War Diary, drawn up shortly after the battle.

Abbreviations:

OR = other ranks (soldiers who are not officers)

KIA = killed in action

WIA = wounded in action

MIA = Missing in action

German losses (Officers/Other Ranks – Share of total strength on 18/11/41)
KIA 104/1,032 (7%/7%)
WIA 144/3,339 (8.5%/7%)
MIA 201/9,940 (10.5%/20%) (of these 4,500 Bardia/Halfaya)
Total 449/14,311 (14,760)

Italian losses (Off/OR – Share total strength on 18/11/41)
KIA 85/951 (3%/1.5%)
WIA 155/1.967 (4%/3%)
MIA 1.172/17.382 (34%/30%) (of these 8,000 Bardia/Halfaya)
Total 1,412/20,300 (21,712)

Axis total: 1,816/35,060 (36,876)

Axis Material (Share total strength on 18/11/41)
Tanks 220/120 (85%/80%)
Guns 42/181 (40%/48%)
Aircraft 170/105 (160%/150%)

The Panzerarmee War Diary assumes Commonwealth losses as this:

10.000 KIA/WIA
12.000 POW
1.623 armoured vehicles (tanks/AC/carriers)
2.500 motor vehicles
329 Aircraft

The British official history, which is based on German/Italian records and of course the Commonwealth unit records, gives the following losses to mid January, without Rommel’s counter offensive.

Total strength/KIA/WIA/MIA/Total/Share of strength 18/11/41
German 65,000/1,100/3,400/10,100/14,600/22%
Ital. 54,000/1,200/2,700/19,800/23,700/43%
Axis total 119,000/2,300/6,100/29,900/38,300/32% (13,800 of these MIA
in Bardia/Halfaya)

British losses 118,000/2,900/7,300/7,500/17,700/15%

The counter offensive at end Jan. was no big deal for either side interms of losses, apart from the ca. 1,000 POW of 7th Indian Brigade,which was encircled east of Benghazi but able to break out. Nevertheless this must account for most of the discrepancy in the POW numbers of the Commonwealth forces.

Now for the real puzzle: Italian numbers for Italian losses are much higher than either the British or German numbers:

Italian losses from Italian Official History 15/11/41 to 15/1/42
Officers/NCO/OR/Libyans/Total:
1,945/2,674/34,974/2,674/42,185
Material:
Autom. support weapons: 3.200
Mortars 89x81mm/307x45mm
Tanks 63 medium/187 light (all light tanks lost)
Armoured Cars 25
Anti-Aircraft guns 320
Guns all calibres 584
Motor vehicles 5.000

The Italian official history also gives Axis strength as higher than the British OH:

Germans 70,000
Italians 100,000 (they count everyone including chaps in Libya, is my guess)

As you can see there are significant discrepancies in the numbers, and the KTB of PAA has to be seen as the absolute lowest for the Axis losses. It is likely that the most relevant number is the one from the British official history.

If anyone has further insight, please contact me.