Movie Monday: Giarabub (1942)

The siege of Giarabub (also called Jaghbub) was the final success of Empire forces related to Operation COMPASS, the first counteroffensive, which destroyed the Italian forces in North Africa. It was taken on 21 March 1941 following a 3-month siege, by a combined Anglo-Australian force consisting of 2/9 Australian Infantry Battalion, 6 Australian Divisional Reconnaissance Regiment, and a battery of 4 Royal Horse Artillery. 10 days later the Axis commenced it’s second offensive.

Giarabub came to play a role later in 1941, when Oases Force set out from it for its raid on Gialo (Jalo/Jalu), the topic of our first book. In 1942 it was re-taken by the Axis, and occupied until the withdrawal to the west in October 1942.

To get everyone in the mood, here’s the Italian movie about the siege, from 1942.

Luftwaffe Magazine Der Adler Online

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.

Archive.org – Der Adler

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Cover page of the Italian edition of 30 June 1942, with Field Marshal Kesselring (OB Sued) and Italian Chief of the General Staff Field Marshal Cavallero in Benghazi.

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:

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Anti-aircraft artillery and camels on the move in the desert, in a rather nice shot that certainly led to some ribaldry in other service arms (in German ‘Kamel’ is a term used for someone who is or who has done something stupid).

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Caption: ‘What choice do we have, the German recce planes see every nosetip’. Part of a special set of caricatures on the war in Africa, in the 8 July 1941 issue, incidentally (or not) also the issue in which Major Heymer’s Knights Cross for his services with 2.H/14 was announced.  

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Political education in the 8 July 1941 issue, probably to explain the strategic purpose of fighting in North Africa.

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Death Notice of an ace – Lieutenant Erbo von Kageneck of III./JG27 was shot down in a dogfight with No. 250 Squadron R.A.F. south Agedabia. He suffered an abdominal wound and died five days later in hospital in Naples. His brother, also a fighter pilot, died on the same day in Russia.

The Rommel Myth

You sometimes come across the claim that the so-called Rommel myth is a post-war creation, such as the statement:

Like Young, whose ‘Rommel the Desert Fox’ created the Rommel myth, authors can appear biased because they echo sources that reflect the prejudices and assumptions of the period.[1]

Nothing could be further from the truth. Rommel’s myth was, for a range of reasons, well in the making from an early time of the desert war. See for example T. Kubetzky’s thesis (in German, available as a Google E-Book) called ‘The Mask of Command’, which presents ample evidence that German wartime propaganda was very busy indeed in myth creation.

Today I went through interrogation reports of German and Italian prisoners from February 1942, kindly sent to me by Tom. They are in WO208/5518 in Kew. The reports are probably based on wiretaps on prisoner of war accommodations, or maybe reports from ‘stool pigeons’, fake prisoners inserted to record conversations.

One particular item stood out that demonstrates clearly that the myth was at least beginning to take shape as early as the turning of the year 1941/42. The report is dated 1.2.42. What is interesting is that the prisoner in question had probably never been to Africa and/or served under Rommel. He was a Sergeant-Major of the German air force’s Coastal Air Wing 806, 2nd Squadron (2./Kuestenfliegergruppe 806), and taken prisoner after his plane, a Junkers 88, was shot down over or around Malta on 3 January 1942. Probably either Feldwebel Freese, or Feldwebel Arnold, air gunner and observer respectively of a 2./KflGr806 Ju 88 shot down by Hurricanes or AA between 0933 and 1015 hours of 3 January 1942 after an attack on Safi landing strip.[2] The whole crew of four survived the loss of the plane, abandoning it in the air and parachuting safely to the ground. The other prisoner numbers are: 421372, Corporal Hoppe, wireless operator, 421370, First Lieutenant Schnez, Pilot, and 421371 – the other Sergeant.[3]

A 421359 in conversation with A321571:

[…]

He [Rommel] went to the FUEHRER too, and said: “I can’t go on fighting with such shells as these.” He wanted to take over [or give up?] the command, in AFRICA (?).

[…]

That rumor that ROMMEL had some Italian officers shot was quite true.

[…]

(Eulogy of ROMMEL)

ROMMEL’s a marvelous chap. He’s had seven drivers already and he hasn’t even been wounded. His battle position is an old car, heavily armored of course. It’s got a few sandbags on top, and there he sits inside.

The light tanks couldn’t get back, they had to stay where they were. They were to be fetched during the night. Suddenly a sort of lorry came racing along, ROMMEL was inside. “Now, boys” he said, “go along and fetch that stuff. Even if you’re taken prisoner, it won’t be so bad, I’ll get you back to-morrow.”

Several mythology elements of Rommel are apparent here – going over the head of the Army command to Hitler to make his case; showing the Italians who’s the boss; oblivious to danger; leading a charmed life; motivating his men to give all through personal appeals.

[1]World War II in Europe, Africa, & the Americas, with General Sources: A Handbook of Literature and Research, Loyd E. Lee, Robin D. S. Higham pp. 142-143, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997

[2]https://maltagc70.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/3-january-36-hour-attack-on-malta/

[3]http://www.ronaldv.nl/abandoned/airfields/MT/malta.html#safi

Movie Thursday – Boche-Busting at Halfaya

Some very interesting movies from British Pathe showing events during operation CRUSADER.

1. The Libya Offensive

2. Advance into western Cyrenaica (Dec. 1941)

3. Fall of Bardia (2 Jan 1942)

4. Capture of Halfaya Pass (17 Jan 1942)

5. Mopping up in Libya (I assume this is either in late 41 or early 42 – maybe someone recognises the General?)

6. First German POWs to arrive in South Africa (1942)

Happy viewing!