Book review on Java Gold Blog.
Thanks to Stuart over at Tanknet, I have come across this, and had a bit of a look. I want to note that I am publishing this for research purposes, and not to in any way, shape, or form endorse the content.
It’s a pretty comprehensive collection of this Luftwaffe propaganda magazine, that was published in multiple languages, and also featured a lot of colour pictures. Publication seems to have been bi-weekly, and it is reasonably close to the events, so for CRUSADER it is worth looking through the December to March issues of it.
The magazine carried foto stories of the war, both home and actual front, some political articles, regular columns such as ‘How they gained their Knights Cross’, some funny corners and a crossword, amongst other things.
When reading it we shouldn’t forget that it was a propaganda magazine for the Nazi regime, and anything, both pictures and text, needs to be critically considered in this regard, and with it constantly in mind.
Some sample content related to CRUSADER below:
Cédric found this site, which is well worth going through. These are pictures taken by a soldier of the 1st Engineer Regiment of the Italian army, first on the French border, and later in North Africa. Some very interesting pictures of the retreat in December 1941.
Italian captions only, but maybe automatic translation helps…
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.
Crusader was unusual in that it brought together a vast number of nationalities in a battle where almost none of them had anything to do with the place they fought over in the first instance. A total of three nationalities on the Axis side, and another 10 on the Allied side.
If anybody has further info on No. 272 Squadron (Blenheims) which seems to have contained a good number of Belgiums, please email me.
On the Axis side:
Germans (15th, 21st Panzer, Div. z.b.V. Afrika/90th Light)
Italians (Armoured Div. Ariete, Mot. Div. Trieste, Trento, Inf. Div. Bologna, Brescia, Pavia, Sabratha, Savona)
Libyans (native troops, auxiliaries)
German (submarines, MFP lighters)
On the Commonwealth side (counting formations at least battalion size or large naval units from destroyer or up or air units from Squadron up):
British (1st and 7th Armoured, 70th Infantry)
Indian (4th Infantry)
South African (1st and 2nd Infantry)
New Zealand (Infantry)
British (22nd Guards, 1st and 32nd Army Tank)
Polish (Carpathian Brigade)
Free French (Groupe Larminat – official name apparently Corps Francais du Western Desert) involved in the end of the siege of Halfaya
Czechoslovak (under command of the Polish Brigade)
South African (various)
Rhodesian (No. 237 Squadron, engaged in tactical recce)
French (Groupe de Bombardement ‘Lorraine’ from the start and later Groupe de Chasse Alsace)
Australian (No. 450 Army Co-Operation)
Australian (Cruiser HMAS Hobart, Destroyers HMAS Nestor, Nizam, and Napier, Sloops HMAS Parramatta and Yarra)
Dutch (Destroyer HrMS Isaac Sweers, submarines)
Polish (submarine ORP Sokol)
Greek (Destroyer Panther of 1911 vintage, Torpedo-boat Niki of 1906 vintage, and the modern Kondouriotis and maybe Spetsai – ironically, the latter two built to Dardo-class specifications in Italian shipyards in the early 1930s)
South African (22nd and 25th A/S Groups with 7 whalers in total, 166th, 167th M/S groups of converted whalers)
1. Report by the Head of Escort Section Procida and Maritza convoy, Commander (Capitano di Fregata) Francesco Mimbelli
Extract from the report of Captain of Frigate Mimbelli regarding the engagement of Destroyer Escort Lupo on 24 November 1941
b) The fire of the two Destroyer Escorts, considering the particularly difficult conditions under which it was conducted (frequent change of approach to avoid bracketing by the enemy; reduced visibility by smoke-screen; impossibility for Lupo to measure range etc.etc.), had a fairly satisfying result. As was already told, an Arethusa class cruiser was hit once or twice by Lupo. Previously, this same cruiser had already been hit by Cassiopea shortly before. In total 304 rounds of 100/47 [main armament of the torpedo boats] were expended: 116 by Lupo and 188 by Cassiopea. Perfect in every regard the performance of the munitions and guns: not one dud round. Less well however was the performance of the smoke generators on the two Destroyer Escorts, which generated smoke alright, but not of the density and opaqueness that could have been wished for.
c) After sighting, the enemy tried to disturb our radio communications on the naval frequency (m.55) by emitting a constant signal for several minutes. This probably aimed to stop or blanket our signal of discovery, and to prevent indirectly the assembly of naval or air forces in our support. Despite the efforts by the enemy, our signal of discovery was promptly received by the radio station of Naval Command South East.
d) The tactical conduct of combat by the English was in my view based on not running risks. Instead of aiming for the complete destruction of the enemy forces, which would not have been difficult to achieve given the great disparity in forces and the measurable distance in speed, they contented themselves with only sinking the steamers in the care of the Destroyer Escorts, in a way that could not cause significant damage to their own units The enemy destroyers remained all the time rigidly close to the cruisers and did never attempt a gamble, even though their higher speed would have allowed them to. When the two Destroyer Escorts had to leave the field of action, they renounced to pursue, or at the least pursue as far as possible. The fire of the English was as always heavy, but I can not say I was favourably impressed by the precision and the speed. It must of course be said that a Destroyer Escort taking high-speed evasive actions is anything but a simple target.
e) For the part concerning the conduct of the action on our side, I maybe allowed to observe that I missed the information from aerial reconnaissance about the approach of the enemy forces. If I had known of the approach of the English division towards me just a few hours before, I could most likely have evaded contact until sunset, and then return quickly to the Morea coast. When sighting the enemy forces I quickly understood that the steamers were practically condemned: we missed two hours to sunset; there was no support group nearby; the coast was too far. Only one hope remained for me: that of an intervention by German bombers. It was above all that hope which made me look for delaying, for as long as possible, the approach march of the enemy units and the destructive effect of their fire on the steamers. I had to renounce twice to conduct the attack to the finish with Lupo because the enemy, free of any restriction to maneuver, by turning bow to me, immediately conducted the counter-maneuver that is at the same time easiest and most effective. When at 16.30 hours I saw that nothing could be done to rescue the Maritza and the Procida, and that remaining close to them would lead only to the loss of the two Destroyer Escorts, I decided to abandon the two steamers with their precious cargo and their brave crews. Never before have I had to take such a painful decision which is in such contrast, at least apparently, to that which should be the creed of every torpedo commander: aggressiveness. I had to shut up the sentiment and obey the cold reasoning which ordered me to save Lupo and Cassiopea for other endeavours.
CHIEF OF THE SQUADRON
Commander FRANCESCO MIMBELLI
Commander (later Admiral) Francesco Maria Mimbelli, MOVM. USMM
Commander Mimbelli survived the war, and rose to the rank of Admiral, ultimately (in a supremely ironic twist) becoming the Italian representative of the NATO forces in the Mediterranean, based in Malta. In 1961 he took command of the Italian fleet for one year, before retiring due to illness. In 1993 the Italian navy named a guided missile destroyer after him.
The Italian guided-missile destroyer Francesco Mimbell (D 561) at La Valletta, Malta.
2. Exchange of letters between Supermarina and Naval Command Trapani on the loss of tanker Iridio Montavani
COMMAND OF NAVAL BASE TRAPANI
Trapani, 21 December 1941/XX Office O.A.
SUPERMARINA SECRET – RESERVED – PERSONAL
Re: Mission report escort battle with enemy and sinking of Royal Destroyer Da Mosto
In conjunction with dispatch no. 28861 dated 16th of the current month relating to the same affair.
While returning the mission report of the commander of Royal destroyer Da Mosto I would like to allow myself to present the following:
The losses we have suffered in the channel of Sicily in the last six month because of increased activity of enemy air forces are in my view due to imperfect air-sea co-operation. Leaving aside the reasons why this co-operation has thus far not been effective, it is a fact that the convoys, in particular those of one or two units with a naval escort, do not have aerial escorts for the whole daylight time, or don’t have it at all. This allows enemy air reconnaissance a lot of liberty and following that deadly attacks. It can also be observed that often the attacks happen when fighters are absent. Reiterating that the convoys, against which Malta is an effective air base, which can be seen at the moment, should not venture south of Pantelleria without aerial escort during the day, and can therefore not leave the final port of call in Italy before that escort is available and assured. 1. In the case we are looking at here, the attack at 13.00 hours, the fighters which were present from 10.40 hours, did not intervene. In the second attack at 16.50 hours, with the aerial escort absent, the attack could develop with only board weapons against it. 2. Finally the sighting of the two cruisers and the accompanying destroyer occurred just when, by fatal coincidence, the Da Mosto expected the Malocello and the Prestinari. Even this uncertainty could have been avoided had the aerial reconnaissance worked, and rapidly signaled the discovery. This would have allowed Da Mosto to be informed of the presence of enemy warships, and enabled her to make for Tripoli, only 60 miles away, avoiding a day-time battle without hope of success while having shipwrecked on board. Because of the situation created by the uncertainty, a retreat would almost certainly not have allowed to prevent the destruction of Da Mosto by the enemy force, and her commander therefore decided to take on the battle, leading his ship with determination and bold daring to her glorious end.
ADMIRAL OF DIVISION
Commander of the Naval Station
SUPERMARINA TO NAVAL STATION TRAPANI
Re: Mission report escort battle with enemy and sinking of Royal Destroyer Da Mosto
SECRET – RESERVED – PERSONAL
Referring to sheet 3/1716 S.R.P. dated 21 December 1941 – XX
Regarding the aerial escort of the Da Mosto convoy, this was assured for the whole duration of daylight. During the first attack of 13.00 hours the fighters, while present, did not intervene because they were not aware of the presence of enemy aircraft. While this is inconvenient, this has already been verified on other occasions, and continues to be verified until it is possible to have an adequate system of communication between ships and planes, since the visibility from the planes is limited, and the first spotting is always effected by the naval unit. During the second attack at 16.50 hours the fighters, while in flight, were not in the sky above the ships because the attacks happened during the change of escort, when the first patrol, at the limit of fuel, had turned away to return to base, while the second patrol had not yet arrived above the convoy.
CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF