HM/Sub Urge (N17) may have been located off Libya

It appears from various news media that a missing submarine from the famous 10th Submarine Flotilla on Malta may have been located off Libya. There are some doubts around it, but I thought it worth mentioning in any case.

Telegraph Article

Argunners Article – includes a sonar picture.

HM/Sub Urge was, as the name indicates, a U-Class submarine, and a highly decorated one at that. Her wartime history is very well set out on U-Boat Net at this link

HMS Urge

HM/Sub Urge underway – official Admiralty picture from the IWM Website

Hopefully it is really her, and the relatives will then have some more knowledge on what happened to the crew. Also, hopefully the situation in Libya will calm down at some point, and enable further investigation of the wreck, to confirm that it is HM/Sub Urge, and maybe confirm the reason for her loss. Urge was lost with 42 men on board, carrying a number of passengers apart from her complement. The crew and passengers were very highly decorated, between them accounting for:

1x D.S.O. and bar

1x D.S.C. and bar

2x D.S.C.

1x D.S.M. and bar, twice Mentioned in Despatches

10x D.S.M.

4x Mentioned in Despatches 

Ras el Hilal

Location of Sonar Contact, showing how close it is to the straight line course from Malta to Alexandria. Click on the picture for a smaller scale satellite image of the area.

Based on the history on U-Boat Net, and the location, which seems to confirm that the fatal attack was delivered by Fiat CR.42s of this may well be one of the last (if not only) times that a double-decker plane sunk a submarine. Contrary to the entry on U-Boat Net however, it appears that the CR.42 in the ground assault variant, which was the main role it played in North Africa in 1942, could carry up to 2x100kg bombs, which may well be fatal to a surfaced submarine.

It is most likely that the planes of 153 Squadriglia which are now likely to have sunk HM/Sub Urge were flying escort or maritime surveillance to cover the coastal convoys between Benghazi and Derna. The parent unit of 153 Squadriglia, 3 Gruppo C.T. (3rd Fighter Group) was based on airfields around Benghazi (K2, K3) in early 1942 (see this link).

Fiat CR 42 Benina Lybia 2

“Fiat CR.42 – Benina Lybia” by Unknown – . Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Urge conducted four patrols during Operation CRUSADER, damaging the modern Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto in an attack that led to the cancellation of convoy operation M.40 in mid-December 1941. While this was quite a success, it appears that the Admiralty was not too happy that Urge’s commander did not try to sink her, even if it would have been suicidal to do so.

Urge’s most famous victim was the Italian light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere, a Condottieri-class light cruiser from 1930. She was lost with about half her crew when Urge put a torpedo into her just off the island of Stromboli on 1 April 1942. She was the last survivor of her sub-class (Giussano) of four light cruisers. Somewhat confirming that the class was very vulnerable, she broke in two after being hit by one torpedo, and quickly sank. The exact location of her sinking and two pictures can be found at this link.

3NDxQGB

Giovanni delle Bande Nere at anchor, probably pre-war.

Lost with HM/Sub Urge

ROWLEY JOHN KENNETH 27 D S M 06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/SSX 21371’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 56, 1. SON OF HARVEY SWANN ROWLEY AND SYBIL MARY ROWLEY, OF HALL GREEN, BIRMINGHAM.

 

DAY FREDERICK 21   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/SSX 20578’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 53, 3. SON OF ANNIE DAY.

 

PARKINSON JOHN LESLIE 24   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 204152’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 66, Column 2. SON OF JOSEPH AND EDITH PARKINSON, OF COPPULL, LANCASHIRE; HUSBAND OF ADA PARKINSON, OF COPPULL.

 

DAVISON ROBERT 21   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 190316’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 64, Column 3. SON OF ROBERT JAMES DAVISON AND AGNES DAVISON, OF NORTH WALSHAM, NORFOLK.

 

GOSS RONALD HENRY 22   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/SSX 20989’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 65, Column 1. SON OF SAMUEL AND DAISY GOSS, OF CWMBRAN MONMOUTHSHIRE.

 

WILDMAN RICHARD 22   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 204322’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 67. Column 1. SON OF RICHARD JOHN AND MARY ALICE WILDMAN, OF LANCASTER.

 

O’NEILL JOHN 22 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/JX 217252’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 64, Column 3. SON OF WILLIAM JOHN AND ANNIE O’NEILL, OF HUCKNALL, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE.

 

TOMS CHARLES HERBERT 38 D S M 06-05-42   Chief Engine Room Artificer Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/M 35358’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 3. SON OF HERBERT AND ALICE TOMS; HUSBAND OF VERA MURIEL TOMS, OF GOSPORT, HAMPSHIRE.

 

JACKMAN CHARLEY JOHN 33 D S M and Bar, Twice Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42  Chief Petty Officer  Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/J 110919’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 2. SON OF GLOSTER AND CATHERINE ARABELLA JACKMAN; HUSBAND OF ELSIE ROSALIE JACKMAN, OF BROCKENHURST, HAMPSHIRE.

 

RUTTER RONALD FREDERICK 24   06-05-42   Electrical Artificer 4th Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 59915’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 63, 3. SON OF WILLIAM THOMAS AND ELLEN LOUISA RUTTER, OF UXBRIDGE, MIDDLESEX.

 

HELLYER REGINALD 28 D S M 06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 47775’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 2. SON OF ERNEST AND OLIVE HELLYER; HUSBAND OF VERONICA ANN HELLYER.

 

VARLEY ERIC 28 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/MX 52497’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 69, Column 1. SON OF JOHN AND HANNAH EDDEN VARLEY, OF HORDEN, CO. DURHAM.

 

WHITE WILLIAM PETER 21   06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 4th Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 76840’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 2. SON OF GEORGE VICTOR AND CHARLOTTE LEASK WHITE, OF EAST HAM, ESSEX.

 

HARMAN STANLEY GORDON     06-05-42   Engine Room Artificer 4th Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/MX 76070’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 2.  

 

NORRIS JESSE   D S M 06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 142500’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 52, 2. SON OF JESSE AND MINNIE NORRIS, OF ROCHESTER, KENT.

 

OSBORN HERBERT GEORGE ARTHUR 27 D S M 06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 134094’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 52, 2. SON OF HERBERT CHARTER OSBORN AND ROSE EMILY OSBORN; HUSBAND OF VIOLET MAY OSBORN, OF CAMBRIDGE.

 

GROVES LAURENCE FRANK 36 D S M 06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/J 101563’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 52, 2. SON OF FRANK AND ROSE GROVES; HUSBAND OF GLADYS WINIFRED GROVES, OF FLEETWOOD, LANCASHIRE.

 

MORRIS FREDERICK HAROLD 22   06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/JX 145545’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 63, Column 1.

 

LAW ERIC CHARLES 22 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Leading Signalman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 145120’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 58, 2. SON OF CHARLES FREDERICK AND LOUISA ALICE LAW.

 

WILKES SAMUEL CORNELIUS     06-05-42   Leading Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/KX 81223’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 61, 3.  

 

WOOLRICH JOHN EDWARD 24   06-05-42   Leading Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/KX 90716’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2. SON OF WILLIAM AND EDITH WOOLRICH, OF CHELL, STAFFORDSHIRE.

 

ASHFORD HAROLD GEORGE 32   06-05-42   Leading Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 127562’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF GEORGE AND ESTHER D. ASHFORD, OF FROME, SOMERSET.

 

ROGERS ROY WILLIAM GEORGE 22 D S M 06-05-42   Leading Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/SS 26082’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF GEORGE WILLIAM AND EDITH LOUISA ROGERS, OF WHITSTABLE,

 

KENT. TOMKINSON EDWARD PHILIP 30 D S O and Bar 06-05-42  Lieut-Commander Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 61. Column 3. SON OF ROBERT EDWARD AND BEATRICE LUCY TOMKINSON; HUSBAND OF MYRTLE ALICE TOMKINSON, OF LANGHAM, SUFFOLK.

 

ALLEN DAVID BENNETT   D S C 06-05-42   Lieutenant Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 61, Column 3.

 

RANSOME JOHN SANDEMAN DEANE 26 D S C 06-05-42   Lieutenant Royal Naval Reserve H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 71, Column 1. SON OF CAPTAIN FRANK DEANE RANSOME AND CELIA NOEL RANSOME.

 

POOLE JAMES MALCOLM STUART 23 D S C and Bar 06-05-42 Lieutenant Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 1. SON OF JAMES AND FLORENCE MAY POOLE; HUSBAND OF LILIAN ELIZABETH ANNE POOLE, OF STREATHAM HILL, LONDON.

 

BOTTING HENRY JOHN     06-05-42   Petty Officer Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/JX 137747’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 51, 3.  

 

WATTS HENRY RONALD JOSEPH 31 D S M, Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Petty Officer Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘P/JX 129967’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 3. SON OF JOSEPH EVANS WATTS AND EDITH CLARA WATTS, OF ARBORFIELD, BERKSHIRE. HIS BROTHER STANLEY HORACE WATTS ALSO FELL.

 

ASHFORD WILLIAM GEORGE 28 D S M 06-05-42   Petty Officer Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘C/KX 82966’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 60, 3. SON OF HENRY GEORGE AND ALICE M. ASHFORD; HUSBAND OF VIOLET FRANCES ASHFORD, OF MERTON, SURREY.

 

WISEMAN PETER DUGDALE 27 Mentioned in Despatches 06-05-42   Petty Officer Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 134000’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF THOMAS AND JANE WISEMAN, OF BLYTH, NORTHUMBERLAND.

 

STANGER MARCUS 26   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/KX 90258’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 70, Column 3. HUSBAND OF GEORGINA ALEXANDRA STANGER, OF PLYMOUTH.

 

McMILLAN JOSEPH CRESSWELL DIXON 21   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/SSX. 32970’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 70, Column 2. SON OF ROBERT AND MARY A. MCMILLAN, OF FAULDHOUSE, WEST LOTHIAN.

 

TWIST HENRY ERNEST   D S M 06-05-42   Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge United Kingdom ‘D/JX 225829’ PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2.

 

BAXTER LESLIE GORDON     06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘C/LD/X 3971’ CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL 66, 2.  

 

McDIARMID FRED 21   06-05-42   Able Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/SSX 32644’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 64, Column 2. SON OF GEORGE AND ELIZABETH B. MCDIARMID, OF GLOSSOP, DERBYSHIRE.

 

CHAMBERLAIN SIDNEY WILLIAM 22   06-05-42   Leading Seaman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/SSX 22878’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 62, Column 3. SON OF ERNEST WILLIAM AND EMILY CHAMBERLAIN, OF BRIGHTON.

 

LEEKE RONALD WILLIAM 20   06-05-42   Leading Signalman Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/JX 154364’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 66, Column 2. SON OF THOMAS WILLIAM AND ADA DOROTHY LEEKE, OF SCOTTER, LINCOLNSHIRE.

 

LAMB JAMES WILFRED 24   06-05-42   Leading Stoker Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/KX 94635’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 1. SON OF CLARENCE LAMB, AND OF JANE A. LAMB, OF YORK.

 

MAIDMENT JOHN 22   06-05-42   Leading Telegraphist Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/SSX 22031’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 66, Column 3. SON OF JOHN AND ETHEL MARY MAIDMENT, OF DORCHESTER, DORSETSHIRE.

 

BRYANT ALBERT EDWARD 38   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/K 61633’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2. SON OF ALBERT AND ROSE BRYANT; HUSBAND OF ETHEL MARY BRYANT.

 

BROWN CYRIL 28   06-05-42   Stoker 1st Class Royal Navy H.M. Submarine Urge. United Kingdom ‘P/KX 84490’ PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL Panel 68, Column 2. SON OF RUFUS AND HILDA ELIZA BROWN, OF COAL ASTON, DERBYSHIRE.

 

Eagles over Gazala Published–Michele Palermo’s new book

My friend Michele has gotten his next book through to publishing!

Here’s an in-depth review of Eagles over Gazala: http://stonebooks.com/archives/140608.shtml

menIBN003-cover

It follows on from ‘Air Battles in North Africa’, and anyone interested in the air war in North Africa must buy a copy.

I look forward to receiving my copy!

http://www.ibneditore.it/shop/eagles-over-gazala/ (best price, order from Publisher)

http://www.bookdepository.com/Eagles-Over-Gazala-Michele-Palermo/9788875651688

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eagles-Over-Gazala-Battles-Africa/dp/887565168X

Axis Aircraft on Captured Landing Grounds–November/December 1941

Background

On 3 January 1942 the Air Liaison Officer with 13 Corps sent through a report on operations, including an Appendix on Axis planes found at the various landing groups which had been overrun at this stage. At this point in time, Agedabia and Antelat landing grounds had not been captured, and for some reason the list does not include Sidi Rezegh, where at least 18 planes would have been found (16 were destroyed when the landing ground was taken).

The list includes all planes found, and it is important to note that the wrecks did not necessarily hail from the CRUSADER operation, but could have originated anytime during operations, including the COMPASS offensive earlier in 1941. It is also worth keeping in mind that a good number of these planes would not necessarily have been lost due to enemy action – accidents were a constant hazard, and many planes were thus written off. Finally, the table of course gives only a snapshot, since planes that were lost outside aerodromes would not be considered here.

Planes that almost certainly were lost on current operations were the Me 109F and Mc202 types, as well as a good number of the Ju 88s, while the Breda 88 and Me 109E wrecks most likely preceded Operation CRUSADER. One Me 109F was captured in flying condition, and there are some pictures on the net of this plane flying with No. 1 Squadron S.A.A.F.

A note on Mediterranean Air War Vol. I

As an aside, I found the same statistics in Mediterranean Air War Vol. I MAW I) today, but there are some issues I have with the conclusions drawn there. First of all, in addition to the 458 planes below, MAW I also gives numbers for Agedabia and Thamet aerodromes which of course had not been taken at this stage (and Thamet would not be taken until a year later, in fact). These numbers appear to be simply a repeat of the claims made by the S.A.S. for the raids on these airfields in December. The problem with this is of course that these claims were certainly wrong for Agedabia, and probably for Thamet. At Agedabia the S.A.S. claimed 37 planes destroyed, but in reality it was ‘just’ 18. Of course, there probably would have been other planes that had been shot up in strafing raids, or crashlanded. But we simply don’t know, so to state that 37 wrecks were found there is not based on any real evidence.

Furthermore, the conclusion drawn in MAW I is that the number of planes found on the airfields can be taken as a ‘fairly accurate assessment’ of Axis losses. This is of course utter nonsense, and I am perplexed as to why it is stated like this. The only thing it is, is an accurate assessment of the numbers of planes found on the airfields. Any plane that crashed or force-landed away from an airfield is not included in this assessment. The number of planes to whom this happened is without doubt significant (probably in the hundreds since the start of the war in North Africa), so the number of wrecks found on airfields does not tell us anything other than the absolute minimum of planes lost by the Axis between 10 June 1940, and the end of December 1941. In other words, it is quite meaningless. The reason for publishing it below, and why I think it has some information value, is different. I think the statistic shows quite well the range of planes that the Axis used, and who primarily used which airfield (e.g. Benina – German, Berka – Italian), and in some cases we can also clearly tie units to airfields (e.g. Gazala No.2&3 – JG27 with Me 109, Benina – LG1 with Ju 88).

The Data

Table 1 below has summary data by class of aircraft, while Table 2 is a reproduction of the original table. For some planes it is a bit difficult to classify them. For example, the Cr.42 served both as a fighter and a ground attack plane, and the same was true for the older fighters. The He 111 served both as a ‘hack’ (liaison) plane and as a bomber/torpedo strike plane.

Table 1: Summary of Planes on Overrun Landing Grounds by Class

Total by Type Number Total by Group
Fighters 243
 (current) Me 109F/Mc202 37
Me110 27
(old) Me 109E/G.50/Mc.200 86
Cr.42 93
Bombers/Strat Recce
Ju 88/S.79/Br.20/Do 17/He 111 94 130
Ju 87 36
Transport/Liaison/Tactical Recce
Glider, Ju.52, S.81, Ca.133 48 48
Ca. 310/311, Ghibli, Fi 156, Hs.126, Caudron, Ro.37, Ro.63, Me 108 32 32
Other 5
Breda 88 2
Cant. Z501 Flying Boat 3
Total 458 458

Table 2: Planes on Overrun Landing Grounds by Landing Ground and Type

Landing Ground German Planes Number Italian Planes Number Total by Airfield
Gambut Ju 87 3 G.50 1 42
Me 110 8 S.79 2
Me 109E 17 Ju 87 5
Me 109F 1 Mc.200 3
Ju 88 1
Fi 156 1
Bir el Baheira Me 110 1 2
Hs 126 1
Gasr el Arid Me 109F 2 2
El Adem Ju 87 2 Ca. 311 4 78
Me 109 1 S.79 5
CR.42 or Ro.37 64
G.50 2
Sidi Azeiz Me 109E 1 Cr.42 1 3
Ghibli 1
Gazala No.1 Do 17 1 Mc. 200 5 36
Ju 52 3 S.79 14
Me 109 2 Cr. 42 5
Hs 126 2 Ro.37 1
Fi 156 1 Bomber 1
G.50 1
Gazala No.2 & 3 Me 109F 11 G.50 2 35
Me 109E 6 S.79 6
Fi 156 3 Br.20 1
Ju 87 1 Cr.42 2
Me 110 2 Mc.200 1
Tmimi Ju 88 3 S.79 7 23
Ju 52 2 Cr.42 1
Me 109F 4 Biplane 1
Ju 87 5
Martuba West S.79 12 22
Ca.133 2
G.50 7
Mc.202 1
Martuba West (Sat. E) Ju 87 2 5
Me 109F 2
Me 109E 1
Martuba East Ju 87 2 Mc 202 1 10
Me 110 3
He 111 1
Me 109E 1
Fi156 1
Hs 126 1
Derna Gliders 6 G.50 3 74
Ju 88 4 Mc.200 4
Fi 156 6 S.79 2
Ju 87 7 Mc.202 1
Caudron Goeland 1
Ju 52 18
He 111 3
Me 110 8
Me 109F 4
Me 109E 7
Maraua Ju 87 2 2
Barce Me 109F 1 Mc.202 5 28
Berka Main S.79 3
Ca.311 1
G.50 7
Ro.37 2
Br.20 1
S.81 1
Ro.63 1
Cr.42 6
Berka Satellite S.81 2 29
G.50 8
Ca.133 2
S.79 1
Ca.311 1
Ca.310 1
Cr.42 14
Benghazi (Harbour) Cant Z.501 3 3
Benina Me 110 5 Breda 88 2 64
He 111 4
Ju 52 12
Me 109E 6
Ju 87 7
Me109F-2 4
Ju 88 22
Me 108 1
Caudron Goeland 1
Total 228 230

458

Axis Air Force Strength for the Planned Attack on Tobruk, November 1941

This post is based on a document from the war diary appendices to Panzergruppe War Diary August to November 1941, the section dealing with the planning for the attack on Tobruk. See also this older post.

Prior to the attack it was planned to substantially reinforce the strike force of the Luftwaffe in North Africa, by temporarily basing medium bombers and Stuka ground attack planes there. These planes were to come from the Greek mainland and Crete, while planes from the Greek mainland would also operate utilising Crete as a forward base. Planes were also to be moved from further west to Gambut and Gasr el Arid, very close to the planned breakthrough sector.

Based on this document, there would not have been a joint command arrangement governing the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica missions, which would further have complicated command arrangements, since Fliegerfuehrer Afrika was not under command of Panzergruppe, but rather only auf Zusammenarbeit angewiesen – instructed to co-operate.

Fliegerfuehrer planned however to install a close combat command at Gambut airfield. The purpose was presumably to ensure close co-operation between the dive bombers and the ground forces.

What is interesting about the numbers is that these do not contain the totality of the planes based in Sector East for the Italians. Furthermore, they are maximum numbers, not taking into account likely serviceability rates, which ranged from ‘okay’ for the single-engined planes to dismal for the Ju 88.

Class Unit Location Type Number Notes
Luftwaffe
Command Fliegerfuehrer Gazala Various Adv. CP in Gambut
Recce

Fighter

2./(H)14

I./JG27

Derna

Gazala

Various

Me 109F

 

20

II./JG27 Gambut 20 Control of air space into Egypt
Dive Bomber Stab Stuka 3 Gambut Various To become close combat leader in Gambut, coming from Crete
I./Stuka 1 Derna Ju 87 30 To move to Gasr el Arid
II./Stuka 2 Tmimi Ju 87 30
I./Stuka 3 Tmimi Ju 87 30
Stab LG1 Benina Various From Athens
II./LG1 Benina Ju 88 15 From Athens
III./LG1 Benina Ju 88 15
I./LG1 Heraklion Ju 88 15 From Athens
II./KG26 Heraklion He111 15 Torpedo and bomber role, from Romania
Regia Aeronatica[1]
Command Sector East Derna Unknown
Fighter 153 Gruppo Caccia Derna M.200 20
20 Gruppo Caccia Martuba/
Gambut
G.50 20 To fully move to Gambut the day before the attack
Bomber 43 Gruppo BT Martuba Br.20 15
Gruppo of 8 Stormo Derna S.79 15
Ground attack 376 Squadriglia Caccia Gazala Cr.42 8 To move to Gasr el Arid the day before the attack

Source: NARA, War Diary of Panzergruppe Afrika, Montanari L’Operazioni in Africa Settentrionale Vol. II – Tobruk

[1] Unit designations based on Montanari, and are only a guesstimate.

Abbreviations and translations:

German

2./(H)14 = 2nd Squadron Army Reconnaissance Group 14 (a close reconnaissance and ground support unit equipped with Hs 126 recce and Me 110 ground attack/fighter planes.

JG = Jagdgeschwader – Fighter Wing (about 90 planes), normally three groups

I./[…] etc. = 1st Group (about 30 planes for fighters and dive-bombers, 15 planes for bombers), normally three squadrons

StG = Sturzkampfgeschwader – dive bomber wing (about 90 planes)

LG = Lehrgeschwader – Instruction Wing, in this case medium bombers, about 50 planes)

KG = Kampfgeschwader – Bomber Wing (about 50 planes)

Italian

See these two older posts for Regia Aeronautica plane types (fightersbombers).

BT = bombardamento terrestre (medium bombers)

Caccia = hunt (fighters)

Stormo = wing (about 90 fighters or 45 bombers) could contain two or three groups

Gruppo – Group (about 15 medium bombers or 30+ fighters) could contain 3 squadrons

Squadriglia – Squadron (about 10 planes)

Book Review: Courage Alone by Chris Dunning

Here’s the verdict upfront: this is a beautiful book, full of photos, very nice coloured drawings, and also very informative.  I managed to get it new for UK£20, which is a steal, considering the label price is UK£35, and the high quality of the book. A must-have for anyone interested in the Regia Aeronautica.

Cover - Note that mine has a different picture of a Sm 79 with torpedo on top

The book covers both matters of interest to operational historians, by providing group and squadron histories of varying length, including the histories of the RA’s experimental station at Guidonia and the experimental air torpedo squadron, and for modellers, with a section on camouflage and many colour drawings.

These unit histories are accompanied by drawings and photos relevant to the text.  The book also contains orders of battle for various major actions or campaigns (e.g. Sidi Barrani 1940 or the HARPOON convoy). Unfortunately the RA’s OOB for Operation CRUSADER is missing, which I consider to be a strange oversight. Their is a set of maps showing airfields, and standard flight routes, which are of considerable interest.

I am not a modeller, so I have to leave judgement on this topic to more competent readers.

The book covers the following areas:

  • Chronology from start of the war to the armistice in 1943
  • Command structure and doctrine
  • Unit histories of groups and independent squadrons
  • Squadron allocations for 1940/41 and 42/43
  • Orders of battle
  • A chapter on the aircraft carrier Aquila
  • A chapter on anti-shipping operations
  • Aircrew training and ranks
  • Aces
  • Aircraft types
  • Aircraft equipment
  • Camouflage
  • Aircraft markings
  • An analysis on why the RA lost
  • Extracts from technical manuals of the Ca 310 and Cr 32

My two criticisms would be that first it would have been nice to read more about the performance of the Italian planes. There is a list of all types produced in Italy and flown by the RA, but it is a table with very limited information on how the planes did. Otherwise such information is scattered into the squadron histories – this shows that the author knows a lot about the topic, but has not collated it for this book. The second is that I do not see the value in having 20 pages of tables with squadron allocations. More OOBs or performance infos of key types in comparison to their opponent fighters would have been nice – e.g. how did the Cr 42 compare to the Gloster Gladiator? How did the Fiat G 50 perform in the ground attack role? What were the key shortcomings of the Br 20? But these are somewhat minor shortcoming in what otherwise is a marvellous and very informative book that is also a pleasure to read and enjoy.

Some more on I./StG3 in North Africa

In a prior post (at this link) I have discussed the move of I./StG3 to North Africa.  From a discussion on the AHF (at this link), it appears there is a substantial lack of clarity regarding this post, partially induced by it:

a) showing that Hooton (presumably in his “Eagle in Flames”) made an error, and

b) it not being in line with information given to the White House by the UK Foreign Office in one of the daily updates, sent on 28 Nov 41) on the military situation which were sent across the Atlantic. (This information can be read at this link)

Well, before going into the detail of this, three upfront statements:

a) The original post contains an error, which may have a bearing on ‘b)’ above, and which I have now corrected. The error was that I overlooked the fact that not all of I./StG3 was slated to go to North Africa for the assault on Tobruk, but only the staff of the Gruppe (not the Geschwader) and the 3rd Squadron. Now together that should be about 15 planes at most (see e.g. this link for an explanation of Luftwaffe organisation).

ULTRA Intercept of order to StG3 to prepare for move to North Africa

ULTRA Intercept of order to StG3 to prepare for move to North Africa

b) Hooton is wrong if he is indeed “[…] quite definite that the order to transfer came four days after the 19th (because of the state of the airfields in-theare after the bad weather).” My guess is he  either made a mistake in noting down the information, or he did not check the files I did in Kew. That happens.

Confirmation of Impending Move of I./StG3 to North Africa, 19 Nov 41

Confirmation of Impending Move of I./StG3 to North Africa, 19 Nov 41

c) The information sent to the White House is also wrong, but this could just be a typo, or a clerical error, confusing German and Italian dive bomber reinforcements., or it could be base on using older intel, instead of newer. That also happens.

A couple of points regarding the discussion on the AHF:

a) Stab StG3 and 1./StG3

These were two different units. It is a bit confusing, because StG3 had only the staff and one operational group plus a training squadron, so one wonders what they needed a staff for.  And indeed they did not, which is why the staff unit was sent to Africa in August 41 to provide a staff for the two groups of StG1 and StG2 which were already in North Africa.  On 15 Nov 41 (the report was made on 17 Nov but clearly refers to 15 Nov as the date it reports about – it was decoded at 0425 hours on 18 Nov 41) the staff of StG3 consisted of the following planes, all of them in North Africa, and with the functions indicated:

3x Me 110 destroyer/recce/liaison (2 serviceable)

4x He 111 bomber/transport/liaison (3 serviceable)

3x Ju 87 dive bomber (1 serviceable)

The staff had 13 crews, of which 6 were ready, and 7 conditionally ready.

On the same day, I./StG3 in Crete reported a strength of 31 Ju 87. Additionally, there was a reserve training squadron at Salonika-Sedes, with 7 serviceable Ju 87 (0 OOB strength, which British intel believed to be a typo), 22 crews, of which 4 were ready (presumably the instructors, and 3 conditionally ready).

b) Serviceability of aerodromes in North Africa

In a prior post (at this link) I have talked a bit about the water-logged landing grounds, and much has been made of them in various histories.  While the situation was probably not a good one for a number of plane types, it appears that the landing grounds were not completely out.  On 19 Nov 41, 0030 hours, Derna and Benina were reported serviceable for Ju52 transport planes. Also on 19 Nov 41, III./LG1 reported normal operations out of Benina, but Derna was reported closed by the recce unit Afrika Kette equipped with the same planes. On 20 Nov 41 the Ju 87 dive bombers stationed in Benina moved to Tmimi, while the planes of I./StG1 had moved to Gazala on 19 Nov 41, indicating the serviceability of these three airfields for the Ju 87 by those dates, despite the flooding.  It appears that fighters could operate throughout. So while the flooding certainly had a significant impact on the Luftwaffe in Africa, it did not keep it from joining battle for more than a day or two, and actually not for more than a few hours after the Axis actually realised they had a real battle on their hands!  The impact on signals and organisation was probably much heavier than that on being able to fly the planes in and out.

c) Timing of the order for I./StG3 to move and arrival of unit in North Africa:

On 16 November, as outlined before, staff and one squadron of I./StG3 was ordered to prepare for the move to North Africa in support of the assault on Tobruk. Judging from the wording of this order, the original order for the transfer had gone out before. How long, I don’t know.

At 1420 hours 19 Nov 41, an unsigned and unaddressed request was intercepted by ULTRA, stating that a powerful attack was underway from the direction of Giarabub to Tobruk (this was not exactly correct), and that I./StG3 should be sent to Derna at once. It is likely that this came from Fliegerführer Afrika, in my view. The timing of the request is consistent with the timing of the re-appraisal of the situation at Panzergruppe HQ (see e.g. von Taysen Tobruk). But then during the night 19/20 Nov 41 Fliegerkorps X reported that it could not operate due to weather, and this may have delayed the transfer. In any case, at 2040 hours 19 Nov, a message was sent stating that I./StG3 and 9./ZG26 would leave AM the next day (20 Nov 41)  for Derna. This is likely to have taken place, since on 21 Nov 41, a detached force had been created at Benina, including 23 serviceable Ju 87 of I./StG3, which had conducted an armed reconnaissance on the same day.  I./StG3 is not featuring in the activity report for 20 Nov 41, which would make sense if that was the day they arrived. They are mentioned again on 22 Nov 41 undertaking the same activity, with 21 planes serviceable. On 22 Nov 41, a strength return was intercepted which did not break strength down by unit, but only by type. According to it, strength of total Ju 87 in North Africa had increased from 69 on 15 November to 91 on 22 November (serviceable had increased from 55 to 56). Considering that some Ju 87 had already been lost during operations in the intervening days, this 22 plane net increase in total Ju 87 in theatre can only have come from the transfer of I./StG3. For example, on 20 Nov 3 German aircraft were shot down near or over the battlefield on 20 Nov, one of which was a Ju 87, and during a Beaufighter raid on 20 Nov 4 Ju 87 were slightly damaged (and it is impossible to say by how much – the Luftwaffe also counted aircraft that were to 90% destroyed as ‘damaged’, but presumably that would not be ‘slightly’).

Confirmation of presence of I./StG3 in North africa, 22 Nov 41

Confirmation of presence of I./StG3 in North africa, 21 Nov 41 - note the typo in the type designation (Ju 88 instead of Ju 87 - but it is really a typo)

d) The optel sent to the White House

Here the Foreign Office states that 15 German dive bombers and 25 Italian have arrived. I’ll have a look at my Italian sources, but this seems odd to me. The other way round would make more sense, since the Italian units had about 15 or so planes per unit, while the German Gruppe based on the available intelligence had brought over at least 25 planes.  I do not know if an Italian Stuka unit was sent, but I must say that I have not seen any info on this in the files I am using, and this prior post of mine, containing the average frontline strength of the Italian air units, does not seem to indicate any additional units (although this is not conclusive – they may just have lost them very quickly). This was a bit of a mystery to me until I rechecked my files, and while at first it seemed to be a clerical error, or maybe a simple typo, it now appears that maybe the Optel is using the old intel from 16 November, which only talks of the Group staff and the 3rd Squadron being sent, which would come to at most 15 planes, and ignores the later info that at least 23 planes had been sent.

So, to sum up regarding the moves of I./StG3:

16 Nov – request to I./StG3 to report on transport aircraft requirement for the planned move to North Africa of staff of Group and 3rd Squadron in connection with an operation lasting 4 days (assault on Tobruk)

19 Nov – request for immediate despatch of group to North Africa.

19 Nov – info that group will leave for North Africa on 20 Nov

21 Nov – group is active in North Africa

Likely arrival date therefore 20 Nov 41.

I hope this clarifies the matter of I./StG3’s arrival in North Africa somewhat.

Not so close co-operation

I came across an interesting item at the UK National Archives today.  It appears that on 4 December 41, the Italian Air HQ (Superaereo) instructed General Marchese (Commander of the 5th Area Command = Italian air force in North Africa), to co-operate closely with the local German commander, Fliegerführer Afrika.  What is astonishing to me is that part of the order is for an exchange of liason parties between the two HQs to  enable the speedy exchange of reconnaissance information.  It appears that this kind of link had until then not existed, which goes some way to explain the completely different intelligence appreciation arrived at by the Italians and the Germans before the British attack started on 17 November (where the Italians were completely right, and Rommel’s vaunted intelligence officer von Mellenthin was completely wrong).  It is also surprising that it took over two weeks into the battle before anyone thought this might be a good idea. My guess is that the arrival of Kesselring had a lot to do with it. A parallel war indeed.