The Major Air Commands and Commanders

Here is some information on the major air commands and commanders on both sides during the Crusader period



  • Superaereo (Rome) – General Pricoli (from end of November General Fougier) – High command of Italian air force
  • Air Command Sicily – Attacks on Malta, shipping protection
  • Air Command Aegean- Shipping protection, shipping attacks, reconnaissance
  • 5th Air Squadron (Castel Benito outside Tripoli) – High command of Italian air force in North Africa
  • Sector West (Castel Benito) – Convoy protection, air defense
  • Sector Centre (Bengasi) – Convoy protection, air defense
  • Sector East (Derna) – Close support of ground operations


  • X. Fliegerkorps (Athens) – Escort of convoys, reconnaissance, attack of enemy shipping, air offensive against Egypt
  • Fliegerführer Afrika (Derna) – Colonel Fröhlich – Close support of ground operations in Africa, escort of convoys, reconnaissance
  • From December 41: Luftflotte 2 (Frascati?) – Field Marshal Kesselring – High Command for the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean
  • II. Fliegerkorps (Sicily) – Suppression of Malta


  • RAF Middle East Command (Cairo) – Air Marshal Arthur Tedder – High command of RAF in eastern Mediterranean
  • No. 204 Group (from 21 Oct. Desert Air Force) – Air Marshal Arthur Coningham – Ground support, air superiority battle in North Africa
  • RAF Mediterranean (La Valletta, Malta – from 26 December AHQ Malta) – Air Vice-Marshal Hugh Loyd – Reconnaissance, shipping attacks, shipping protection

Sir Arthur Coningham

It is arguable that New Zealander Coningham’s work in command of the Desert Air Force was critical to the Commonwealth success in Crusader. That is certainly how the historian of the German air effort in the Mediterranean, Gundelach, sees it, and I have quite a bit of sympathy for this view. It is therefore particularly nice that Coningham’s biography is available for free on Google Books here. It can also be accessed through the publications section of the USAF historical site, but I have trouble loading that:

Coningham’s biographical data is available on here. A short bio sketch is here.

Coningham was one of the great commanders in the desert, and it is difficult to comprehend why he was not rewarded more highly. It is also a shame he had to die quite early, in an air accident in 1948.

I have not read all of Orange’s biography, but what I have read is very good, and there is a lot of food for thought in it.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia:

Sir Arthur ‘Mary’ Coningham – CO Desert Air Force, 1895 – 1948

Personal Pictures by an Italian Soldier

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…

Major Ground Commands and Commanders

Here is a list of the major (above divisional level) ground force commands, and who was in charge of them on 18 November 41 or when they were established.


  • Comando Supremo – Mussolini, Ugo Cavallero
  • German Forces in the Mediterranean – Albert Kesselring (from Dec 41)
  • Axis forces in Africa – Ettore Bastico
  • Panzergruppe Afrika – Erwin Rommel (from end of January 42 redesignated Panzerarmee Afrika)
  • Deutsches Afrika Korps – Ludwig Cruewell
  • Corpo Armata di Manovra – Gastone Gambarra
  • XXI. Corpo Armata – Enea Navarrini
  • X. Corpo Armata – ? (from ?)


  • Commonwealth Middle East – Sir Claude Achinleck
  • 8th Army – Sir Alan Cunningham (from 24 November Neil Ritchie)
  • 30 Corps – Willoughbie Norrie
  • 13 Corps – Reade Godwin-Austen
  • Tobruk Fortress – Ronald Scobie
Jock Campbell’s VC

Jock Campbell’s VC


In the initial stage of the Sidi Rezegh battles on 21/22 November 1941, Brigadier Jock Campbell, commanding 7th Support Group, the non-armoured element of 7th Armoured Division, won his Victoria Cross for his brave and energetic leadership of the defense forces on Sidi Rezegh airfield against the German assault. The best online account of the battles I am aware of can be found at this link.


‘The Battle at Sidi Resegh, Libya, 1941’
Watercolour, pen and ink by Eric ‘Jack’ Dawson, formerly 2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade, 2007. (Courtesy UK National Army Museum)[1]

Bob Crisp memorably describes the action in ‘Brazen Chariots’, and I think Cyril Joly in ‘Take these Men’ also describes it.

When I started my research into the Operation, I came across a very dramatic drawing that encapsulates it very well, and I contacted the National Archives to have it properly identified, which they did very quickly, but unfortunately then changed back to the old text again after a while. Probably too speculative for them. I think it’s a shame, since the drawing would properly belong into their ‘Valour’ colleciton.


Unidentified brigadier leading tanks onto the battlefield. National Army Museum.

Here is the citation of Campbell’s VC, from the 2nd Supplement to the London Gazette of 30 January 1942:

War Office
23rd February. 1942.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to Brigadier (acting) John Charles Campbell, D S O, MC (13594), Royal Horse Artillery, in recognition of most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Sidi Rezegh on the 21st and 22nd November, 1941.

On the 21st November Brigadier Campbell was commanding the troops, including one regiment of tanks, in the area of Sidi Rezegh ridge and the aerodrome His small force holding this important ground was repeatedly attacked by large numbers of tanks and infantry. Wherever the situation was most difficult and the fighting hardest he was to be seen with his forward troops, either on his feet or in his open car In this car he carried out several reconnaissances for counter-attacks by his tanks, whose senior officers had all become casualties early in the day Standing in his car with a blue flag, this officer personally formed up tanks under close and intense fire from all natures of enemy weapons.

On the following day the enemy attacks were intensified and again Brigadier Campbell was always in the forefront of the heaviest fighting, encouraging his troops, staging counter-attacks with his remaining tanks and personally controlling the fire of his guns On two occasions he himself manned a gun to replace casualties During the final enemy attack on the 22nd November he was wounded, but continued most actively in the fore-most positions, controlling the fire of batteries which inflicted heavy losses on enemy tanks at point blank range, and finally acted as loader to one of the guns himself.

Throughout these two days his magnificent example and his utter disregard of personal danger were an inspiration to his men and to all who saw him. His brilliant leadership was the direct cause of the very heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy In spite of his wound he refused to be evacuated and remained with his command, where his outstanding bravery and consistent determination had a marked effect in maintaining the splendid fighting spirit of those under him.

Jock Campbell rose to Major General and GOC 7th Armoured Division, but tragically died in a car accident at Halfaya Pass just a few weeks after taking over his new command, on 26 February 1942.

Brigadier John Charles Jock Campbell, VC. CO 7th Support Group, 1894 - 1942 Brigadier John Charles ‘Jock’ Campbell, VC. CO 7th Support Group, 1894 – 1942 (Courtesy Wikimedia)


[1]2 Rifle Brigade was at Sidi Rezegh.