Running out of tanks – 4 Armoured Brigade 19/20 November

Introduction

This article started off because of a note in the high-level traffic files of 8 Army on a request by 4 Armoured Brigade to scour the Delta for additional M3 Stuart tanks[1] and ammunition for their 37mm guns. The battle that gave rise to the phone conversation was fought over two days, with the initial contact between the forces occurring at or just after 1600 hours on 19 November, and combat broken off due to failing light about 2-2.5 hours later. Combat then recommenced the next morning, when both sides found that their night leaguers were just 3 miles away from each other. At the end of the two days, 4 Armoured Brigade had completely utilized the M3 Stuart tank reserve and also experienced very heavy ammunition expenditure. This prompted the phone conversation that gave rise to this article, appended at the end of this article. An officer in 5 R.T.R. claimed that on 20 November the tanks A Squadron 5 R.T.R. went through 250 rounds of 37mm ammunition each[2].

Large 000001

‘Bellman’, an M3 Stuart tank of 8th Hussars, 7th Armoured Division, knocked out near Tobruk, 15 December 1941. IWM Collection

 

The note that started the research, from the situation reports of 8 Army, is below.

SECRET

Record of telephone conversation with Lt-Col BELCHEM, G1, S.D. HQ Eighth Army, at 2300 hrs, 20 November 1941

———————–

Eighth Army require as many M3 American tanks as possible on top priority. That is to say, this type of tank is required more urgently than other types, as the reserve held by Eighth Army is all gone.

Eighth Army require to be informed how many M3 American tanks can be sent as a result of this request and when they may be expected.

Further stocks of ammunition for the weapons mounted in M3 American tanks are urgently wanted. It was understood that this request referred to 37mm rather than .300”. Lt-Col Belchem said that a quantity of this ammunition was being held at Alexandria for onward despatch, and that if this reserve was already on its way forward well and good; if not he recommended that as large a quantity as possible should be flown up. 

The above demands have already been referred to the D.D.S.D.

The following day, the rather scarce transport plane capacity of Middle East Command was put at 8 Army’s disposal to service this request, and the Bristol Bombays of No. 215 Squadron flew ten tons of M3 gun ammunition up to L.G. 122 for 4 Armoured Brigade, ‘at short notice’ as the RAF report noted.

Large 000005

Bombay Mark I, L5845 ‘D’, of No. 216 Squadron RAF, undergoing engine maintenance at Marble Arch Landing Ground, Tripolitania, while engaged on the transportation and resupply of No. 239 Wing RAF, the first Allied fighter wing to operate from the landing ground after its capture on 17 December 1942. Courtesy IWM

Two days later, on 22 November another phone conversation, this time between Brigadier Galloway, the B.G.S.[3] of 8 Army, and Lt.Col. Jennings, discussed the matter of American tanks.

6. They require every American tank we can send up as well as every reinforcement capable of driving the American tank. (Note – Suggest we should examine whether the ammunition situation warrants our sending up many tanks. I understand that ammunition for American tanks is becoming exhausted.)

Following this, on 24 November, Lt.Col. Jennings noted for the war diary the following:

2. Forty American M3 tanks now en cas mobile are to be ordered forward immediately. DAFV[4] is to arrange 40 drivers from 4 Hussars for ferrying them ahead of R.H.[5]

I intend to publish an in-depth analysis of the first day of 4 Armoured Brigade’s two-day battle with Panzerregiment 5 on 19/20 November. This will be published as a separate article, and given its nature I am looking for e.g. a magazine to place it. The purpose of the expanded article is to analyse in detail the events surrounding the first clash of 4 Armoured Brigade with the enemy, in the process also correcting what I perceive as errors in the historical record that have affected the view we hold of it, and to offer a new perspective that raises questions about both the performance of British armoured units at regimental level, and that of the 21.PanzerdivisionIf anyone has any ideas who might be interested in something of this kind, please let me know.

Endnotes

[1] Confusingly, the US forces used ‘M3’ to name the M3 Stuart light tank, the M3 Medium tank (both Grant and Lee versions), the M3 37mm gun, and the M3 75mm gun. Troops nicknamed the M3 Stuart the ‘Honey’ because of the smooth and untroubled ride it provided. The nickname is sometimes used in war diaries and reports.
[2]If the number is correct, this would equal more than two complete loads, and be almost equal to the whole supply per tank that was available in North Africa at the time, 260 rounds according to Niall Barr in ‘Yanks and Limeys’
[3]Brigadier General Staff – essentially the Chief of Staff. Brigadier Galloway of the Cameronians was a well-regarded staff officer, who rose to command 1 Armoured Division in 1943, although illness meant he never led it in battle.
[4]Director, Armoured Fighting Vehicles
[5]Railhead

 

 

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.

Convoluted Supply

Below a short ULTRA message that shows how complicated life got in terms of keeping the Axis forces in North Africa able to fight, after about three weeks of the CRUSADER battle. This was a period when shipments by merchants were reduced due to the heavy losses which had been suffered recently, and destroyers were employed as a costly expedient.

Dept. for AFRICA Transport has arranged for the delivery of most important supplies for AFRICA to PATRAS and SUDA BAY: from there, they will be sent on, partly on destroyers, and partly by air. Dept. for AFRICA Transport will direct freighters and destroyers to PATRAS, or SUDA BAY (as the case may be): ALBATROS is available for the journey to PATRAS. AMSEL for SUDA BAY: arrival probably not before 5/12.

Cargo of AMSEL:
G.A.F.: 353 cubic metres B4
Army: 90 tons M/T fuel, 400 tons ammunition (of which part has been unloaded at ARGOSTOLI).

Cargo of ALBATROS:
G.A.F.: 1,396 cubic metres B4, 96 cubic metres Rotring, 334 tons Flak ammunition, 271 tons equipment, including 25 (illegible), 100 auxiliary tanks, 43 cases Flak gun barrels (2 cm), 6 cases Flak gun barrels (3.7cm), 19 bottles accumulator acid, 40 a/c tyres, 130 tons canteen supplies, 69 tons bombs.

S.S. Sturla is to move to and fro between ALBATROS and AMSEL, to make up the AMSEL’s cargo. Further freighters are intended to be sent: times of departure and cargo lists will be issued in due course.

Air transport for G.A.F. supplies is required only for B4, a/c engines and Flak gun barrels. Of the army cargo, the Panzer ammunition is urgent. We request list of amounts of supplies sent by air or transhipped on to destroyer, so that supplies can be sent forward punctually.

Should destroyer arrive in SUDA BAY before the BELLONA, then they will (in accordance with orders of Dept. for AFRICA Transport, and SULTAN) be specially available for supplies of B4 to AFRICA.

Note:
ALBATROS = Wachtfels
AMSEL now thought to be BELLONA

A few days later further items were decoded, stating that Wachtfels had moved to Patras from Brindisi, and that it was now to transship directly onto destroyers (presumably at Patras). While saving time, by cancelling the transfer via S.S. Sturla, and by allowing the higher speed of the destroyers to come into play for the whole stretch from Patras to Benghazi, rather than have a slow merchant go to Suda from Patras, this was very costly in terms of fuel. Furthermore, it was now stipulated that the AA gun barrels were to be sent by air.

Patras at the time was also an important transshipment location for fuel to be loaded from ships to airplanes operating from close-by Araxos airport. This was more efficient, since the distance Araxos – Derna was only 394 miles, while a trip via Maleme would have brought the total distance to about 450 miles, and required another landing/take-off (thanks to Great Circle Mapper for this data). While I have no certain information on this, I would presume that the Ju 52 could easily carry its maximum payload over this distance, and might even be able (depending on wind) to return without refueling, as long as the return flight was empty, saving even more fuel in Africa.

G.A.F. = German Air Force
B4 = type of aircraft fuel with lower Octane rating.
M/T = motor transport
Rotring = not known, probably lubricant?
a/c = aircraft

Capacity of Tripoli and Benghazi Harbours, 1941

This post received a major update on 9 July 2012 based on a discussion with Stefan Westermann.

A lot of discussion and research about the war in North Africa focuses on supply. This is quite right, since supply was the decisive factor in the battle. What is of interest in this discussion is that there are few hard, reliable numbers being used. This is surprising, given that the German and Italian documents are available, and provide a lot of the answers.

One question that has arisen to me is the validity of the often cited numbers by the historian Martin van Creveld, from his book ‘Supplying War’ (which I would highly recommend). The question is how, if the monthly capacity of Tripoli is 45,000 tons, much higher delivery rates could be achieved in some months. Another question is how, if Tripoli is supposed to be the major harbour in Libya, it’s daily capacity is considerably below Benghazi’s (1,500 daily tons to 2,700 daily tons, according to ‘Supplying War’)? For those who do not own the book, an article citing the numbers can be found at this link, and it is well worth reading too.

Based on the book, the port capacities of Tripoli and Benghazi are 1,500 tons/day and 2,700 tons/day, respectively, with RAF attacks downgrading Benghazi to 750 tons/day (while I presume this is for 1942, I should have thought that RAF bombing in 1941 also had significant impacts). No footnotes are given for these numbers, and it is quite strange, since many other things are very well footnoted, and van Creveld clearly had access to primary documents. In any case, this equates to a monthly capacity of 46,000 tons for Tripoli and 82,000 tons (ideal)/23,000 tons (effective) for Benghazi. Based on further discussion, I think it can safely be said that van Creveld is quite completely wrong on this. The situation in reality appears to be as follows:

Tripoli
On ideal days, 5,000 tons could be discharged in summer’41 (remark by Admiral Sansonetti during a staff discussion on supply in Rome in September 1941, to be found in Panzergruppe War Diary Appendices Chefsachen).

Benghazi
O
n ideal days, 1,700 tons had been discharged during summer 1941, and on average 1,000 tons had been discharged over the summer months, with a plan to move this up to 1,500 tons. The German view was that 2,000 tons was attainable, and the Italian navy did not dispute this in the meeting.

Constraints in getting additional supplies across the Med were multi-faceted, and direct port capacity was only one aspect, as the conference minute from 12 September 1941 makes clear. Even before the heavy losses of merchant vessels in the last quarter of 1941, there was a shortage of shipping space and convoy escorts for the North Africa route. At the Italian end, capacity of the railways made it difficult to load ships up to ideal weights. The sending across of motor vehicles led to ships ‘cubing out’ before they ‘weighed out’ – i.e. the trucks took up a lot of space compared to their weight, meaning that they restricted overall load. In assembling the convoys, restrictions in number of berthing space at the Libyan end had to be taken into account, limiting the number of ships, but then ships were sunk, leaving capacity in the receiving harbour idle. In those harbours, trucks were missing to handle transport of goods from the quays, Benghazi and probably Tripoli were missing storage, and there were not enough lighters and barges. RAF attacks restricted capacity further, both in Benghazi and Tripoli, with part of Benghazi blocked due to ships sunk in harbour. But this is all related actual capacity, rather than real capacity.

So one could maybe argue that van Creveld is talking about presumed capacity taking all this into account. But that doesn’t fly either. Below is an excerpt from a radio transmission from the DAK war diary, giving monthly figures unloaded for May to August 1941 in Tripoli and Benghazi. An issue in Tripoli’s capacity to me seems to be the transfer to coastal shipping. I would presume that in many cases this transfer would be done while the ships involved are not necessarily moored, but are somewhat offshore, and that it is done directly from ship to ship, or by barge from ship to ship, and therefore does not necessarily constitute a direct impact on the port facilities beyond requiring barges.

Nevertheless, as the table clearly shows, Tripoli easily attained above 1,500 tons/day in two months of 1941, Benghazi in one month, and presumably the ports would not have operated at capacity (even considering restrictions outlined above), with flow of goods related to convoy arrivals.

Port/Classification

May

June

July

August

Tripoli German Cargo 20,300 17,000 35,800 17,400
Tripoli Italian Cargo (includes civilian) 26,000 45,000 28,800 49,300
Tripoli Total Cargo 46,300 62,000 64,600 66,700
Tripoli Coastal Transfer 16,380 14,700 11,720 13,820
Tripoli Daily Cargo Discharge 981 1,551 1,734 1,734
Tripoli Daily Coastal Transfer 537 482 384 453
Tripoli Total Daily 1,518 2,033 2,118 2,187
         
Benghazi German Direct 1,420 4,570 3,470
Benghazi German Coastal 10,580 7,100 5,720 7,920
Benghazi Italian Direct 5,000 3,500 7,100 10,700
Benghazi Italian Coastal 5,800 7,600 6,000 5,900
Benghazi Total 22,800 18,200 23,390 27,990
Benghazi Daily 748 597 767 918
         
Total North Africa 52,720 65,500 76,270 80,870

The minute of the staff conference further does talk about a ‘calculated’ port capacity in Benghazi of 2,000 tons/day, which (see table above) it was recognized that it was unlikely to be reached. Constraints were the removal of unloaded goods from the quay, and the storage of goods that could not be removed from the port area immediately. Both of these of course directly related to the shortage of trucks in North Africa. Berthing space in Benghazi was given as two large (max. 3,500 GRT, 7 m draft), one small vessel, and one tanker. Only eight Italian and four German merchants fitted that bill. These merchants which fitted Benghazi were further restricted by being able to only take itemized cargo or vehicles, but not both. Maximum realizable capacity was therefore seen as 45,000 tons/month, or 1,500 tons/day, even though recently daily discharge had reached rates up to 1,700 tons – but of course this was dependent to some extent on the types of goods being discharged, and their specific weight. Realistic capacity was assumed to be 1,000 tons/day.

On 1 November 1941 a note is appended to the war diary of German Naval Command South that states that the situation has not changed since the memo of 11 August 1941, and that based on experience to date the capacity of the harbour was assumed to be 30,000 tons monthly, but that it was feared that weather conditions and expected damage from air attacks would reduce this over the next few months. It crucially does state however that the real discharge capacity is higher, and has not been reached due to a combination of adverse weather conditions, enemy action, and a lack of shipping.

The inescapable conclusion of this is that van Creveld’s numbers on port capacity are wrong. It is important to note that this does not affect his main argument however, which is rather concerned with port distance from the frontlines, and which I continue to believe stacks up.

Other items of note:
– in terms of the impact that distance had on the effectiveness of supply, a German claim in a document on submarine supplies to Bardia, namely that 100 tons of cargo discharged in Bardia were of equal value as 600 tons discharged in Benghazi!

– transport of troops by air is more fuel efficient than by sea, but restricted by a lack of available planes (100 required, 15-20 available with a capacity of 30 troops each (I presume Sm.82), and these need heavy maintenance after just two round-trips). Shortly after the conference, Mussolini prohibited transport by sea in passenger liners in any case, following the sinking of the Neptunia and Oceania (see here) in which 384 soldiers and sailors lost their lifes, and which had been preceded by the loss of MV Esperia in August (see here). There are good pictures of Neptunia, Oceania, and Victoria, which was lost to aerial torpedoes on 23 Jan 42 at this link.

BenCol: Advance on Benghazi I – Planning

BenCol (Benghazi Column) was an evolving concept during Operation CRUSADER. The aim was clear – envelop the southern flank of the Axis forces, push a sufficiently large force onto Benghazi, and thereby cut the Axis forces in eastern Cyrenaica off their lifeline, by taking out the only harbour worth mentioning, and cutting the coast road, as well as taking out the Benina and Barce airfields, which were important bases for the Axis air forces.

Had the operation been carried out, it would almost certainly have been written about and heralded as a daring  example of command. Combining two smallish, highly mobile forces, with their own air support,  supplied over a sea controlled by enemy air forces, a dashing paratroop special forces raid thrown in, to reach far into the rear of the enemy. The Germans at least were extremely concerned about it, and strengthened their defenses in western Cyrenaica. Over the course of CRUSADER however, with increasing losses and uncertainty in the key battle around Tobruk, the ambitious plans had to be scaled back, and finally abandoned when the battle had moved beyond it.

The distance of advance from Tobruk to Benghazi, using the best possible route, was 350 miles.

The information is from WO201/635 – Bencol Advance on Benghazi.

1. 7 Armoured Division to March West

In an undated document from November the idea was for a mixed Army/RAF force, led by 7th Armoured Division HQ, to carry out this operation once the battle around Tobruk had advanced to a point where command could be certain that the force (then called ‘Column “F”) could carry out its mission, advancing either via Antelat, or Er Regima in the north, although it was pointed out that no fighter cover could be guaranteed on the northern route.

At this point in time the strength of the force was foreseen to be substantial – and interestingly quite close in balance to a late-war armoured division (although much weaker in artillery):

HQ 7 Armoured Division (General Gott commanding)

4 Armoured Brigade

Composite Brigade Group comprising:

Elements of Support Group 7 Armoured Division

22 Guards Brigade w/3 infantry battalions

One 25-pdr Field Regiment

C.R.E. (Commander Royal Engineers) 7 Armoured Division & 3 Field Squadron RE

Det. 142 Field Park Sqdrn.

One A/Tk battery

One Lt. AA Rgt.

One Armd. Car Rgt.

Supply Column

It was supposed to meet with Brigadier Reid’s ‘Force “E”‘ at Antelat, south-west of Benghazi, with Reid’s men advancing from the south towards the coast at Agedabia, taking the airfield there, and cutting the coastal road. Before arriving there, a party of parachutists under Captain Stirling was supposed to jump onto the airfield, destroying all the airplanes there.

The RAF element consisted of six fighter squadrons, with one of these permanently based on L.G.125, deep in the desert south-west of Tobruk.

The time to get to Benghasi was estimated at 3.5 days. The original vehicle requirement of the column was ca. 2,200 organic vehicles, and another 2,000 for supplies, but this was not seen to be possible, and instead the column was expected to carry five days of supplies, and should then be supplied by (truck?) convoys.

The latest documents I can find refering to this are dated 30 November.

2. Scaling Down – Bencol is born

When the battle around Tobruk made it impossible to send anything from 7 Armoured Division, a scaled-down version of the plan was introduced, and the name “Bencol” introduced. First orders seem to have come out on 1 December. The new order of battle for Bencol simply removed all elements from 7 Armoured Division, i.e. HQ, 4 Armoured Brigade,  engineers, and elements of Support Group. Command of the advance would be exercised by Brigadier Marriott, Commander of 22 Guards Brigade.

Strength is given as follows:

22 Guards Brigade HQ (102 men, 23 trucks, 9 motorcycles)

Spec. Signals Section (85men, 8 trucks, 14 motorcycles)

3 infantry battalions with LADs (2 Scots Guards, 3 Coldstream Guards, 1 Worcesters) (2,376 men, 459 trucks, 36 motorcycles, 132 carriers)

One Armd. Car Rgt. (11 Hussars)  (582 men, 91 trucks, 7 motorcycles, 58 armoured cars)

One 25-pdr Field Regiment (51 Fd Rgt) (24×25-pdr) (697 men, 145 trucks, 6 motorcycles)

One A/Tk battery (73 A/Tk Bty) (123 men, 39 trucks, 8 motorcycles)

One Lt. AA Rgt. (1 LAA Rgt) (12 40mm guns) (281 men, 57 trucks, 8 motorcycles)

Bde. Coy RASC (400 men, 189 trucks)

Supply Column (5.5 motor transport companies, 2 water tank companies) (1,575 men, 919 trucks & 428 men, 158 tankers)

Total: 6,649 men, 2,088 trucks, 88 motor cycles, 132 carriers, 58 armoured cars, with weekly supply requirements of about 1,000 tons. Additionally, RAF strength had increased to 12 Squadrons, and was expected to be 4,500 men and 500 trucks, with supply requirements of 500 tons (this was a guesstimate).

To ensure supply once Benghazi had been taken, the Royal Navy was requested to send a ship to Benghazi to land supplies not before 12 December, especially fuel and ammunition, once the port had been taken. This would presumably have been one of the more interesting assignments on offer at the time.

By 9 December planning had changed slightly, adding back CRE 2 Armoured Division, 3 Fd. Coy RE, 142 Fd Pk Det., a squadron of M3 Stuart tanks, and reducing infantry to two battalions and the LAA Rgt. to a single battery.

The RAF component was to be under the command of Adv. HQ No. 258 Wing and was called ‘Whitforce’. It consisted of No. 2 (SAAF), No.4 (SAAF) (both Curtiss Tomahawks), No.33 (ground attack Hurricanes) and No.250 Squadrons (Curtiss Tomahawks), as well as of light and heavy AA, No. 2 Armoured Car Regiment, and various maintenance and supply units.

On 17 December, following a few bloody days on the Gazala line, the operation order was given to Bencol.

3. Not enough trucks – and Benghazi is no longer the objective

In the period 9 to 20 December the availability of trucks exercised the mind of planners. In the meantime, on 18 December the Axis forces retreated from the Gazala line, and 13 Corps opened the pursuit, making the original role of Bencol surplus to requirements, and more importantly requiring so many trucks that it was no longer practicable to operate Bencol independently. The truck allotment was consequently reduced again, and Bencol was ordered to move straight west, towards Msus, and thence drawing on 13 Corps supplies.

Submarine Supplies to North Africa – May to November 1941

Submarines played a minor but interesting role in the supply of Axis forces in North Africa, even before the Regia Marina’s emergency programme of November. Throughout the campaign they delivered fuel, ammunition, and rations. When Bardia was invested in November 1941 during the early phase of CRUSADER, they were used to evacuate officer prisoners of war, such as Brigadier Hargest, commander of 5 New Zealand Brigade, who was captured on 27 November 1941 when his Brigade HQ was overrun, and high-ranking Italian officers who were evacuated to serve again when it became clear that Bardia was a lost cause. Submarines had the advantage of stealth, and they were small enough to use the smaller harbours along the coast, such as Derna, thereby reducing the need to spend fuel on forward transport, or to slot into capacity-constrained harbours such as Benghazi with additional supplies. Two submarines were lost on re-supply missions during CRUSADER, Carraciolo (sunk on 11 December by depth charges from Hunt-class destroyer HMS Farndale after a failed attack on a Tobruk convoy) and Saint Bon (sunk on 5 January by HM/Sub Upholder south of Sicily). Both of them were large ocean-going submarines of the Cagni class. The small amounts of fuel supplied by the submarines were nevertheless valuable. For example, a single run by a Cagni class submarine could supply sufficient aerial fuel to keep the Luftwaffe planes in North Africa flying for one day.

ON 21 November the German Navy Command (Seekriegsleitung) in Berlin requested from the Commander Naval Transport Italy (Seetransportchef Italien)an overview of German army supplies transported by submarine to North Africa. On 28 November the Seetransportchef responded with an overview that unfortunately does not contain dates, and for most of the missions fails to name the submarine. It is nevertheless of interest. On 6 February 1942 an update was provided which gave additional information. It is important to note that Italian supplies are not included in these volumes, and neither are those of the Luftwaffe.

The documents are translated below.

Berlin W 35 the 21 November 1941

Tirpitzufer 72-76

Fast Memo (Schnellkurzbrief)

To

Seetransportchef Italien

Rome

For the submarine transports carried out until now a list has to be supplied immediately, including the names, dates of leaving and entering harbor, and the type and volume of goods transported.

[…]

High Command of the Navy

Skl Qu.A. Via 10419/41 geh.

SECRET!

Quartermaster Rome                                        28 November 1941

(Army)

No. 6466/41 geh.

To

Seetransportchef

Rome

Referring to the meeting of Oberlt. Vogel and Lt. Kostas, Qu Rom sends the attached list of submarine transports thus far.

1 Attachment                                            The Quartermaster

Signed

SECRET!

Quartermaster Rome

(Army)

Supply Runs with Submarines thus far with supply for the Army (starting in May [1941])

No

Fuel

Ammunition

1

75

2

72.2

3

75

4

67.1

5

78.9

6

43

7

68.6

8

88.4

9

33.7

10

53

11

53.5

12

55

13

58

14

47

15

Zoea

56.3

16

Corridoni

17.6

65.7

17

Atropo

59.4

18

Saint Bon

140

19

Cagni

140.2

20

Atropo

56.8

21

Atropo

57

22

Saint Bon

133

5

23

Cagni

139

5

24

Millo

134

6.8

25

Micca

26

Saint Bon

137

2.3

1,014

1,009.5

Seetransportchef Italien Rome, 6 February 1942

B.Nr. Geh. 841/1942

To

German Navy Command Italy

Attn. Lt.Commander Stock

Attached we submit an overview of submarine transports during the year 1941.

Submarine Transports

Total supply since start (10 May 41 to 31 December 41):

1,086 tons fuel

1,072 tons ammunition

203 tons rations

No supplies were shipped in the month of September.

From 20 November to 30 December the following were shipped in 8 voyages:

675 tons fuel

9 tons ammunition

203 tons rations

Italian submarines transported until July only ammunition for the army (about 1,000 tons), from August to end of November fuel and a small volume of ammunition (900 tons fuel and 20 tons ammunition).

During December primarily Italian rations were transported, and at the end of December 4 voyages brought:

139 tons fuel

203 tons rations

for the German Afrikakorps.

To get an overall idea of the volume of submarine supplies compared to other measures, it is useful to look at the files of a single harbour loading unit. In this case the Seetransportstelle Brindisi, reporting on traffic ex-Taranto for the month of December.

Total supply was 12,116.6 tons, in the following categories:

259 men

100 vehicles

6 motor cycles

1,326 tons for the German army

359.5 tons for the German navy

10,431.1 tons for the German air force

Seven submarines were loaded for a total of 440 tons of army supply. By comparison, the cruiser Cadorna brought 233 tons and 88 men in one voyage, while 6 destroyers brought 49 men and 315.9 tons of supplies.

This article at Regiamarina.net gives a nice overview of Italian transport submarines.

The Regia Marina’s Emergency Supply Programme of 22 November 41

This is a translation of a report from the Italian Navy’s official history “La Difesa Del Trafico con L’Africa Settentrionale” (The Defense of the Traffic with North Africa – Volume II), which was published i1976 as part of the 8-volume complete history of the Regia Marina in World War II. The translation was done by me – apologies for the possible errors. My Italian is far from perfect.

On 4 December ULTRA reported an item of 13 November, from OTTO TIGER (probably Panzergruppe Ia or commander) to OTTO HAMSTER (Panzergruppe Quartermaster) and IDA PINTSCHER (probably von Rintelen in Rome), as follows:

The supply situation demands temporary transfer of centre of effort (Schwerpunkt) from 20/11 to delivery of fuel and rations[1].  For this purpose is is necessary to employ submarines and destroyers in increased numbers purely for the transport of supplies. IDA QUALLE (probably Quartermaster in Rome) has been informed in detail of the supply position.

[1] The attack on Tobruk was to begin on 21 November, and therefore weapon or personnel would have been of little use at this point.

This particular report describes this programme in detail. The naval emergency supply programme was obviously planned after the destruction of the BETA or Duisburg convoy, and instituted in late November 1941. It ensured that the Axis forces in North Africa would at least receive a minimum of supplies, even if no more merchant ships would be able to make it across the Mediterranean.  Considering the dire situation of fuel oil available to the Regia Marina at this stage, and the actual volume that could be transported on the naval vessels each run, the emergency programme was a highly wasteful effort which was nevertheless required to head off a complete collapse of the Axis forces in Libya.  In this, it succeeded, together with the air supply flown in during the battle, and the arrival of some single runners of the merchant fleet (see this list of successful runs).

What is also notable is the importance of Suda Bay on Crete to the ability of the Regia Marina to execute such a programme.

SANSONETTI

I. Exchange of letters between Admirals Weichold and Riccardi

LIAISON OFFICE OF THE GERMAN ADMIRAL AT THE ITALIAN NAVY

SECRET RESERVED TO THE ADDRESSEE

Translation N. 366/41 22 November 1941

To the Chief of the General Staff of the Royal Italian Navy, His Excellency Squadron Admiral Designated D’Armata RICCARDI

Following on from my verbal commication to the Deputy Chief the General Staff I have the honour to submit to Your Excellency, in the name of the Grand Admiral, the following:

The Grand Admiral begs you to take into consideration, regarding the current situation in North Africa, all possibilities for resupply of gasoline, ammunition, and anti-tank weapons for the Cyrenaica with light naval units and submarines, even if this requires to run risks with them that normally would not be appropriate. The lack of supplies can be of great importance for the joint conduct of the war and for the holding of the Italian colony.
WEICHOLD

SUPERMARINA 22 November 1941

To Admiral Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy in Italy, His Excellency Admiral WEICHOLD

Re: Traffic with North Africa

SECRET RESERVED TO THE ADDRESSEE

Responding to your letter n. 366/41 of today

I would like to ask you to assure the Grand Admiral that Supermarina sees the current situation in exactly the same manner as he expressed it in his letter. Already going beyond the most serious requirements and confronting risks of war and seafare that in other times it would not be justified to take, a light cruiser and three destroyers will soon be be made available for the transport to Benghazi of the German battalion which Your command is preparing. You also know, as you are constantly kept aware of all decisions of Supermarina, that the transport of gasoline will be expedited with all means at our disposal, including a light cruiser, as you know. Also and especially now in this difficult moment the perfect coincidence of the views of our two navies is manifest.
THE CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF RICCARDI

II. Regia Navale Emergency Supply Plan for North Africa of 4 December 1941

1. Submarines
One per day to Bardia or Derna
a. Fuel transport
Cagni (All with 140 tons fuel and 3 tons variable supplies.)*
Saint Bon
Millo
Carraciolo
Micca (105 tons of fuel oil in submarine tanks , 70 tons various fuels in jerry cans, total 175 tons.)

b. Ration transport**
Menotti 14 tons in pallets
Settimo 11 tons in pallets; (or for either submarine 20 tons of heavier rations)

2. Destroyers/torpedo boats***
One or two per day. Each destroyer could carry 95 tons of fuels, in 4,000 jerry cans and 140 barrels. Each torpedo boat could carry 65 tons of fuels in jerry cans and barrels. Depot ship Bellona supplied from German Wachtfels at Patrasso and then ran to Suda escorted by Turbine, while Wachtfels remained at Patrasso.

a. For Benghazi running a shuttle service from Benghazi to Suda Bay.
i. First pair: Two destroyers Vivaldi  [?], from Leros, then Suda Bay and Benghazi
ii. Second pair: Destroyer Pessagno from Leros, then Suda Bay and Benghazi
Destroyer Pigafetta from Taranto to Benghazi and then to Suda Bay
iii. Third pair: Two destroyers Da Recco and Usodimare from Naples to Benghazi, then to Suda Bay.
b. For Derna, running a shuttle service from Derna to Suda Bay.
i. Torpedo boat Orsa leaves Taranto for Derna and then Suda Bay.
ii. Torpedo boatProcione runs from Argostoli to Benghazi and then Suda Bay, thereafter shuttle between Derna and Suda Bay.
iii. Torpedo boat Orione runs from Brindisi to Derna and then Suda Bay.

3. Special vessels One or two per week for Benghazi depending on availability of the port.
a. MS Calitea from Brindisi to Benghazi, to leave only when the port at Benghazi was free. Estimated transport ability 1,000 tons of various materials.
b. German steamer Ankara from Taranto for Benghazi to leave when battleship Duilio and the VIIth Division [of cruisers] could escort it . Estimated transport ability 5,500 tons of various materials.

4. Cruisers (special traffic)
a. Cadorna – at Taranto to leave for Benghazi at date to be settled, coordinated with loading of MS Veniero and depending on weather conditions.
Freight:
• 325 tons of gasoline in jerry cans
• 100 tons of fuel oil in the cruiser’s bunkers
• 20 tons of rations
• 10 tons of small arms ammunition
• 100 men
b. Da Barbiano Da Giussano**** – from Taranto to Palermo and on to Tripoli. Both cruisers depart at a date to be settled depending on the lunar phase.
Freight (each cruiser):
• About 300 tons of rations
• About 20 tons of ammunition for 88mm AA guns
• About 500 tons of fuel oil in the bunkers
• 120 men

* These were large, ocean-going submarines.  Carraciolo and Saint Bon were lost on these missions. See the older entry at this link for background.

**Both of these were submarines of 1,153 tons displacement submerged, comparable to the German Type IX boats, and were named after Italian politicians of the early 19th century.

***See the older entry at this link for an explanation of Regia Marina ship classes.

****Both of them sunk with heavy loss of life in the most spectacular, if one-sided, surface engagement during CRUSADER. See the older entry at this link for background.