Superb site about the Inshore Squadron

Thanks to Robert’s inquiry on the About page, I did a quick Google regarding the Royal Navy’s Inshore Squadron, which ran a variety of vessels for close-in work along the North African coast. Quite a few of these were provided by the Royal Australian Navy. The page below has a lot of information on them.

Happy reading!

http://www.gunplot.net/matapan/scrapironflott12.html

Naval Personnel Losses during Operation CRUSADER

In an older post (at this link), I have provided the losses during Operation CRUSADER. These are almost certainly ground forces, and in any case, air force losses would not have added significantly to them, in terms of overall volume. One thing I did not consider until now however are the losses of the two large navies supporting the battle, the Regia Marina and the Royal Navy. Reading up on the sinking of Citta di Palermo on 5 Jan 1942, which caused heavy loss of life (921 dead and missing presumed dead), made me think about this aspect however.

Having had a quick look, it is apparent that the personnel losses on both sides are about equal to the losses suffered at land, further reinforcing the nature of Operation CRUSADER as a campaign fought in three dimensions, and probably at the time, the largest one ever fought in this way. These two older posts provide information on unit losses, both large and small.

In the table below I have ignored any losses by merchants, and anything outside the period. I have also not included German submarines. With one exception, losses happening apart from the on the day the unit was lost are not considered. For the Royal Navy, the sources are the HMS Barham Association and HMS Neptune Association websites, and the excellent Naval History Net. On the latter, it appears that in some cases losses for damaged ships (e.g. torpedoing and beaching of HMS Glenroy) are not given. This, and the exclusion of losses on operations (with one exception, a casualty from air attack on HMSAS Sotra on 1 Jan 42) understates the overall losses. For the Italian navy, it is the Italian Wikipedia, which I deem to be reliable in this. Kriegsmarine losses are based on information on Uboat Net. For the Italian side, I have estimated the losses of Citta di Palermo as 350 men. Losses of passengers are excluded.

The end result is that the Italian navy lost about 40% more men killed at sea than the army did on land during Operation CRUSADER. For the Commonwealth, losses at sea reach close to 2,600, while during land operations about 2,900 were killed (plus about 800 who were drowned later as POWs on Sebastiano Venier, Ariosto and Tembien, in December 41 and February 1942). But in direct operations, Royal Navy losses reached over 90% of losses during land operations.

German losses were primarily with the six submarines they lost (one had no casualties), and these come to 186 killed. In addition, the Germans lost naval personnel embarked on freighters Maritza and Procida to man AA guns (Marinebordflak), and maybe some smaller numbers on other vessels (e.g. some of the instructors for the sonar on Alvise da Mosto), but I don’t have those numbers. In any case they would be small, so total losses will probably not be more than 250.

It is worth noting that while none of the Regia Marina vessels was lost with all hands, both the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine suffered such losses. HMS Salvia, HMSAS Sotra, HMS Lady Shirley and HM/Sub Triumph were lost with all hands. So were U557 (rammed in error by Italian Orione) and U577 (sunk by a Swordfish of No. 815 Sqdrn.) HMS Neptune, HM/Sub Perseus, U374, and U451 had only one survivor each. It is further worth noting, as Urs Hessling points out, that HMS Barham and HMS Neptune are amongst the highest personnel losses the Royal Navy suffered in World War II, while the combined loss of Alberico da Barbiano and Alberto da Giussano probably also ranks amongst the highest losses of the Regia Marina in a single action, and these do of course affect the picture.

Lest we forget.

Arm of Service

Unit

Type

Individual Loss

Total Loss

Regia Marina

Alberico da Barbiano

Light Cruiser

534

1,436

Citta di Palermo

Auxilary Cruiser

350

Alberto da Giussano

Light Cruiser

283

Alvise da Mosto

Destroyer

138

Amm. Saint Bon

Submarine

75

Corazziere/Granatiere

Destroyers

24

Alcione

Torpedo Boat

17

Amm. Carraciolo

Submarine

15

Royal Navy

HMS Barham

Battleship

841

2,651

HMS Neptune

Light Cruiser

764

HMS Galatea

Light Cruiser

470

HMAS Parramatta

Sloop

147

HMS Kandahar

Destroyer

73

HMS Chakdina

Armed Boarding Vessel

72

HM/Sub Triumph

Submarine

62

HMS Salvia

Corvette

59

HM/Sub Perseus

Submarine

59

HMS Lady Shirley

A/S Trawler

33

1

HMS Rosabelle

A/S Yacht

30

1

HMSAS Sotra

Mine-Sweeping Whaler

23

HMS Gurkha

Destroyer

9

HMS Queen Elizabeth

Battleship

8

HMS Chantala

Armed Boarding Vessel

1

Note 1: Both HMS Lady Shirley and HMS Rosabelle were sunk by U-374 when it entered the Mediterranean.

German Antisubmarine Equipment on Italian Vessels

In the files of the German naval command in Italy held at NARA, I found something completely new to me (as one does).  In autumn 1941 the German navy had started to equip Italian escort vessels withASDIC active sonar equipment (S-Geraet) and depth charge launchers (WBW).  The priority was apparently given to equipping escort units in the Aegean, where allied submarines had been active and successful for a while.  In December 1941, the Kriegsmarine established a sub-hunting flotilla at Piraeus to be able to contribute to the Regia Marina’s effort.  Italian vessels were equipped with the German sonar when they went into wharf in Italy for general maintenance, i.e. they were not pulled from service to have this equipment fitted. My guess is they were stretched so thin already that this would not have been possible.  Until the German sonar came along, the Italian vessels had to use passive listening devices to locate submarines.  One is tempted to conclude from the significant successes achieved by Allied submarines that these were not very good at fulfilling their purpose.

The sonar equipment on the Italian vessels was operated (maybe only initially) by German sailors, and one of the first Italian units to be outfitted with the German equipment was the destroyer Alvise da Mosto, sunk in a surface engagement with Force K from Malta on 1 December 1941, off Tripoli (see this older entry). It had only been outfitted at the Italian navy shipyard in Fiume two weeks beforehand, it appears.

A report by the two surviving German sailors found its way into the files of the German naval command, and is preserved at NARA.  Both of these men were re-assigned to other Italian escort vessels and helped sink HM Submarine Tempest on 13 February 1942 (this article describes the incident), Ordinary Seaman Maidenoff being credited with re-establishing her location when she was submerged.

The report must be from after March 1942, since it refers to the death of Commander del Anno who was lost when his destroyer went down in a gale  at the 2nd battle of Sirte. While probably not a completely accurate report, it is an interesting eye-witness statement. Below is a translation of the report.

Report about the Actions of the Destroyer “Da Mosto” from 18 November 1941 to 1 December 1941 based on the Statements of the two Rescuees Petty Officer Rublack and Ordinary Seaman Maidenoff

German listening crew consisting of:

Petty Officer (Bootsmaat) Rublack

Able Seaman (Matrosengefreiter) Hartmann

Able Seaman Macar

Ordinary Seaman (Matrose) Maidenoff

Ordinary Seaman Retter

During the move from Fiume to Pola on 18 November a submerged Italian submarine located at 4200 [metres].  Echo remained good until the end. Speed 16 knots.

During the move Pola -Tarent on 24 November one steamer escorted. Defect on the motor cinema [screen of the sonar, I guess]. Mirror running too slow, therefore no correct distance.  Reason: strong variations in net. Turning the unit off leads to only slight improvement.

Around 0700 [hours] perfect echo ranged at 320 degrees. Distance could not be fixed. Boat [this refers to Da Mosto] zig-zags at high speed, steamer turns away.  This location was very probably an enemy submarine since a few hours later  an attack occured on another steamer in the same area (statement by the commander).

Enter Taranto on 25 November around 1500. With help from a German mechanic the cinema motor is changed against another one from the installation of another boat.  The work is completed shortly before the boat leaves harbour.

On 26 November 1500 left harbour with a tanker for Trapani.  In the Messina Straits submarine alarm raised by another boat. Search by Da Mosto without result.

At the southern tip of Sicily an unknown mine barrier was well located.  Moved according to location by S-Geraet.

28 November at 2000 entered Trapani with tanker.

30 November at 0300 left harbour with tanker on western route to Tripoli.  On the way location of a floating mine, a buoy, and a wreck.  Furthermore three French coastal vessels were located on 3600 to 3800 metres, which were only then recognised from the bridge.

During the course of 1 December attacks by English bombers occured in several waves. The tanker was hit in the stern and remained motionless. Attempts to take it in tow failed.  Air defense of tanker was weak.  Around 1730 English surface units came into view.  Da Mosto immediately went into the attack and achieved hits on a cruiser [this is not correct].  After a short time Da Mosto was hit in the stern.  Ammunition and the Italian depth charges went off.  During the sinking the forward torpedoes were fired, but without hit. Da Mosto sank around 1800. The crew gave cheers to its ship, the Duce and the Fuehrer.  The English destroyers drove through the swimming crew without attempting to rescue someone, and shouted derisively “Good bye boys”.

Petty Officer Rublack swam to the tanker with two Italians to bring a still intact boat into the water and to sink the tanker. A destroyer opened fire hozever, so that the intent could not be carried out.  The tanker then also sank soon afterwards.  Another destroyer appears to have had the intent before that to take it into tow [again this is wrong].

The S-Geraet was kept manned until the start of the engagement when the boat went to high speed.  The listening crews thereafter went to their battle stations on the guns.  Petty Officer Rublack and Ordinary Seaman Maidenoff were on the bridge. Able Seaman Macher fell at the rear gun.  Nothing has been observed concerning the whereabouts of Able Seaman Hartmann and Ordinary Seaman Retter, who until the last moment manned the S-Geraet.

Around 2300 the torpedo boat Prestinari reached the site of the engagement and took the survivors on board.

The commander, Fregattenkapitaen (Commander) del Anno was very complimentary about the performance and the brave behaviour of the German listening crew. Petty Officer Rublack received the Iron Cross 2nd Class and the Italian Bronze Medal of Valour, and Ordinary Seaman Maidenoff the Iron Cross 2nd Class and the Italian War Merit Cross. The commander received the Gold Medal (later killed in action as commander of Scirocco).

A very informative article on the anti-submarine warfare development of the Kriegsmarine can be found at this link (search the document for “magnetostrictive” to jump directly to the ASW section). A very informative, but highly technical, article on German passive sonar can be found at this link.

The Mediterranean Fleet – Greece to Tripoli

This is another of the official books published by the Ministry of Information, this time in 1944. The same caveats apply as in “The Tiger Kills”, but so do the same reasons for recommending it. There are very good accounts of naval operations off Crete during the evacuation, of the Tobruk Run, the effort to keep the garrison of besieged Tobruk supplied in 1941, and of the Malta convoys.

Recommended reading.

The Role of Crete in the North African War

While Crete is best known for Operation Merkur, the airborne assault that took the island from the Commonwealth forces defending it at the end of May 1941, it also played a considerable role in the war in the Mediterranean, and was of great importance to the Axis effort in North Africa.

  • Suda Bay, on the north-western tip of Crete, became an Italian naval and submarine base. Submarines and destroyers were based here, and would be used to bring supplies to North Africa from Suda (see also the Italian reports I posted here).
  • Airfields around Crete were used as bases or to stage both combat and supply missions towards North Africa. Missions against Commonwealth supply shipping in the Suez Canal zone were flown from here. I believe support missions for Iraq and Syria also originated from here, but it is also possible that these came out of the Doedecanese islands then occupied by Italy.
  • During the siege of Bardia/Halfaya from December 41 to January 42, some supply and combat missions were flown from Crete, but impeded by bad weather in Crete.
  • Air cover and aerial reconnaissance were provided from Crete to protect convoys running on the eastern leg from Greece to North Africa. Not always successful as the loss of the tankers Maritza and Procida showed (again, see the report by escort commander Mimbelli here).
  • During the build-up for the battle of El Alamein, Crete became a source for reinforcements to Panzerarmee Afrika. 164. Leichte Infanteriedivision was previously an occupation force in Crete, called Festungs-Division Kreta.

Book Review – Levine

The War Against Rommel’s Supply Lines

Alan J. Levine

Four Stars out of Five

This is a very good book providing an in-depth analysis into the battle raging against the umbilical cord tying the Axis forces in North Africa to their base in Italy. In my opinion, no student of the war in the Mediterranean will be able to ignore it.

The book covers the whole of the supply struggle waged in the Mediterranean, but focuses on the period following the Alamein battles and the invasion of North Africa by US and British forces, when it became imperative for Allied planners to prevent a permanent lodging of Axis forces in Tunisia, to the surrender of Axis forces in May 1943. Five out of six chapters are devoted to this effort, while the first chapter provides a concise, yet highly informative and well-researched summary of what went on during 1940-42.

The focus chapters deal with the planning of the invasion of French North Africa, and in particular the role and establishment of 12th Air Force. The author describes well the troubles this formation went through when it was first established, and the very difficult command arrangements at the start of the campaign in Tunisia. The following chapters discuss the invasion, the attack against the build-up of Axis forces in Tunisia, which is rightly described in a very critical manner, the re-organisation of the forces engaged in the logistical battle from January 1943 onwards, and their contribution to the eventual victory. The book gives time to both US and British forces engaged in the battle, and is quite (and justly) complimentary to the Italian effort in keeping the Axis forces in Tunisia supplied.

The author manages well to weave a narrative integrating theatre strategy and individual actions, although at times the information packed into single sentences or paragraphs can become overwhelming. I am also not convinced about the need for as much detail as is sometimes provided and editing could maybe have parsed the text a bit more of unnecessary detail.

The book is very well-researched, going through archival material such as unit records of air formations engaged in the battle, or patrol reports of submarines, and it makes very good use of official histories, of both sides. This is a particularly outstanding feature of the book – where possible, the author made the effort of trying to verify claims made by Allied forces against air and sea targets, by checking the Axis records. While this is no doubt a thankless task, and often a wild goose chase, it is one that cannot be lauded enough. The author has also gone to good length in providing a background on the technical capabilities of the Allied weapons available for the task, highlighting the planes and submarines in particular.

The book sports an index, an extensive literature list, and a good set of endnotes – in other words, it is a serious research work. What is missing is a list of maps, although since there are only two, so maybe that was not considered necessary. Which leads me to: sufficient in number and detail maps are missing, so I recommend having an Atlas of WW2 handy while reading it, unless you have a North Africa map in your head. The selection of pictures is appropriate to the topic, and the quality is acceptable, especially considering the price. What I really would have liked to see are diagrams of air-sea attack formations. These are described verbally, but a picture would help very much in understanding the roles of the various planes engaging shipping targets. But that is really the only major gripe I can think of.

Thanks go to Stackpole for not only publishing a book that is clearly dealing with a somewhat esoteric topic (why bother with logistics – when you could have the umpteenth 750-page colour book about Waffen SS-Tigers?), but making the effort to create a very attractive presentation, and pricing it very reasonably. Highly recommended.

Large Naval Unit Losses and Damage

A number of large naval units on both sides in the Mediterranean were either lost or severely damaged during the timeframe of the Crusader battle. I believe this list is complete, but if not, corrections are welcome. Small units and subs to follow. Sources are varied, include Italian Navy, Regiamarina.net, official histories, etc.

Italian

Battleships

* Vittorio Veneto (damaged, submarine torpedo, 14 Dec 41)

Heavy Cruisers

* Trieste (damaged, submarine torpedo, 22 Nov 41)

Light Cruisers

* Duca degli Abruzzi (damaged, aerial torpedo, 22 Nov 41)
* Alberto di Giussano (lost, surface encounter, 13 December 41)
* Alberico da Barbiano (lost, surface encounter, 13 December 41)

British

Aircraft carriers

* Ark Royal (lost, submarine torpedo, 13 Nov 41)

Battleships

* Barham (lost, submarine torpedo, 25 Nov 41)
* Valiant (damaged, frogmen attack, 19 Dec 41)
* Queen Elizabeth (damaged, frogmen attack, 19 Dec 41)

Light cruisers

* Neptune (lost, mines, 18 Dec 41)
* Galatea (lost, sub torpedo, 15 Dec 41)
* Aurora (damaged, mines, 18 Dec 41)