Bardia, Halfaya, and the January Offensive

Bardia, Halfaya, and the January Offensive

Bardia

Bardia is a town on the border between Libya and Egypt, flanked by Sollum. It has a small, natural harbour, and is otherwise pretty unremarkable. During the war it was besieged twice, and fell each time to Empire forces, almost one year apart. It was to change hands another two times in 1942, but each time without being defended.

4117694

BARDIA, LIBYA. 1942-01. RUINED BUILDINGS ON THE FORESHORE OF THE HARBOUR. (Courtesy AWM 022707)

Bardia

Commonwealth Map from Operation COMPASS.
1: Halfaya Pass
2: Sidi Omar
3: Bardia
4: Fort Capuzzo

Bardia becomes a fortified sector

Following the visit to North Africa by the OKH representative, General Paulus in May 1941, the importance of the border was recognised. South and east of Bardia the Axis forces subsequently established a substantial system of modern fortifications, shielding the town to the east and blocking the coastal road at the Halfaya Pass, and providing cover to the rear of the right wing of the forces encircling Tobruk. Axis forces were also placed in the Egyptian border town of Sollum, which was located just east of Bardia, with Upper Sollum on the escarpment, and Lower Sollum on the sea.

The line of successive fortifications ran from Halfaya Pass to Sidi Omar in the west, and it was occupied by German Oasenkompanien and regular Italian infantry, with 21. Panzerdivision‘s II./S.R.104 under the famous Major Bach holding the Halfaya pass position. The system of border fortifications was integrated, and depended on Bardia for supplies. From November 1941 these fortified locations were slowly rolled up from the west by first 4 Indian Division, and then 2 South African Division, or abandoned as the ability of the garrison to maintain the posts continued to shrink, due to lack of supplies.

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 1.48.22 PM

Detail of fortifications on the border at Sidi Omar, from 42 R.T.R. War Diary. UK National Archives, WO169/1421

Bardia as a logistics hub

During the late Spring and through summer of 1941, Bardia had become a hub for the German forces in particular, with some supplies delivered into the harbour directly by submarine, and surface vessels dodging the Royal Navy control of the sea lane between Alexandria and Tobruk. The value of supply into Bardia’s harbour was estimated to be six times that of supplies arriving in Tripoli, because there was no need for fuel to transport them over long distances to reach Tobruk. Due to its size, the harbour could only take small vessels however, and due to its forward location it was very exposed to Royal Air Force attacks.

Isolation during CRUSADER

With the withdrawal of the Axis forces from the Tobruk perimeter on 5 December 1941, Bardia had become isolated, with no immediate hope to re-establish a connection. Rommel argued for an evacuation, Dunkirk style, but the Italian navy was in no mood to risk its fleet and vessels for the purpose. In the end the only course left open was to order the border positions to hold on until the last round, and to hope that a counter strike could relieve them. The latter was a very long shot, and it failed to come to pass.

General Arthur Schmitt, since September commander of the rear area of the Panzergruppe (Korueck 556) had been installed as Commander of ‘Sektor West’ (Bardia) in November, when Division z.b.V. Afrika, which previously controlled the area, had been moved to the Tobruk siege line for the planned attack on Tobruk. Captured after surrendering his command, he returned from captivity after the war and was briefly employed by Egypt in 1949/50 to help create a pan-Arab army, an then engaged in far-right politics in his home state of Bavaria. He died in 1972.

‘Sektor Ost’ was the Halfaya Pass itself and the remaining chain of fortifictions extending south-west from there. It was commanded by Italian General Fedele de Giorgis General Officer Commanding 55 Infantry Division Savona, who in turn surrendered his command to the South Africans on 17 January, having run out of food and water. After returning from the war he commanded the Carabinieri from 1947 until 1950. The Savona division was the only Italian division subordinated to German command at this time.

Schmitt was, judging from his communications with Rommel, a spiteful character, and very anti-Italian. He spent quite a bit of ink accusing his Italian co-commander of seeking an early surrender. It is ironic therefore that after the complaints by Schmitt about de Giorgis, whom he accused of seeking to surrender as quickly as possible, the Italian general held out over two weeks longer, buying the Axis forces at the Marada – Mersa el Brega position critical time. Both generals received the Ritterkreuz for their defense of the border sector, with de Giorgis being the only Italian to receive it in North Africa in 1941/42, and one of only nine to do so throughout the war.

The existence of the fortification system shaped the battle around Tobruk. Rommel’s ill-advised ‘Dash to the Wire’ was meant to relieve the pressure exerted on the border fortifications by 8 Army’s 13 Corps. The existence of the garrisons led to 5 New Zealand Brigade being stationed at Sidi Azeiz, where they were overrun by the Afrikakorps on 27 November. On 25 November, 4 Indian Division destroyed almost all that remained of 21. Panzerdivision‘s armoured strength at Sidi Omar.

Even after the end of the siege of Tobruk, with the land route to Bardia permanently cut, two German vessels made the perilous journey into Bardia in mid-December, Marinefaehrpraehme (MFPs or F-Lighters) of 2. L-Flotille. To the chagrin of the fortress commander though, the first one (F-150) only carried useless supplies of just 4 tons of engine oil, and had only been despatched with a view to picking up much needed replacement tank engines from stocks in Bardia. So much for the vaunted German planning. The second one (F-146) brought much needed supplies however, carrying 70 tons of food, 20 tons of ammunition, and 2 tons of mail. It then remained in Bardia to enable supply to be ferried from Bardia to Sollum. It was however lost within days to Empire artillery fire on 24 December 1941.

Following a relatively inactive siege of about four weeks from the end of November 1941, 8 Army’s 30 Corps and the South Africans of 2 South African Division, supported by the infantry tanks of 8 Royal Tank Regiment and British and Polish artillery, as well as the Royal Navy, commenced the assault on Bardia on 31 December. After a short but sharp battle, the final assault drove into the Axis lines at 0030 hours on 2 January 1942, and Bardia fell for the second time in a year, surrendering unconditionally on the same day. This was the first time in WW2 that a German garrison surrendered, and the first time that German general to surrender his command in WW2.

The Axis forces lost about 12,500 men in the two fortress sectors. At the same time, several thousand Empire force prisoners held in Bardia and Halfaya were returned. After Bardia had been cut off, these men could no longer be evacuated. Some senior officers, such as Brigadier Hargest of 5 New Zealand Division, captured at Sidi Azeiz on 27 November, were evacuated by submarine.

While the losses of men and material were painful to the Axis, there was a clear benefit to the Axis of not considering an evacuation. The defense of the border sector had created a serious logistical challenge for Middle East Command, since it presented a block on the only relevant road on which supply could move in the theatre. By blocking the Halfaya Pass, Axis forces forced the Empire forces to make a very long detour through the desert, eating up time, vehicle space, and fuel, before they could turn north and rejoin the tarmacced coastal road, the Via Balbia. While Tobruk was open as a port, it could not supply the required amounts, and after the fall of Benghazi on 24 December 1941, it took about a month to make the port operational again, because of the need to deal with deliberate destruction and to sweep for mines.

The Empire Forces thus missed a major opportunity to end the war in North Africa when they decided to let Bardia and Halfaya be in December, starving them out, rather than risking the casualties that a full-scale assault could bring. It was the second time in six weeks that Norrie, GOC 30 Corps failed to undertake energetic action, this time by not ordering 2 South African Division attack. There was probably a concern about the ability of the South African forces to sustain heavy casualties, after the loss of 5 South African Infantry Brigade at Sidi Rezegh in November 1941.

When they did attack, it is also not clear why the focus was on Bardia, rather than Halfaya. The town and harbour itself was of little value, and could easily be by-passed. If the resources had been expended on attacking and clearing Halfaya pass from the east, it is likely that this would have succeeded in clearing the coastal road two weeks earlier.

By weakening the ability of the Empire planners to supply the forward area, the failure by the South Africans to robustly assault and take Bardia and Halfaya in early December contributed to the success of the Axis counteroffensive in late January.

As an aside, the siege of the Border fortifications saw the entry into battle of the Free French Brigade, which was to make a name for itself at Bir Hakeim just half a year later. The Empire troops consisted at various stages of South African, British, Indian, New Zealand, Polish, and Free French ground troops, British, Australian, and Free French air force units, and British and Australian naval units.

Related posts Order of Battle of Savona Infantry Division ULTRA Intercepts and Air Raids on Bardia The End of the Halfaya Garrison Losses in Operation Crusader Free French Air Force Operations Art

3796533

Dargie noted, “Shortly after we had re-taken it [Halfaya Pass] from the Italians and Germans in January ’42. Behind the knocked-out British tank can be seen one of the large guns, with French markings, which the Germans had mounted at the top of the Pass”.

The gun in the picture above is a 15.5cm GPF gun used by German coastal artillery. By the end of the siege these powerful guns had pretty much run out of ammunition. The Matilda infantry tank in the foreground carries the white/red/white mark required for the identification of British armoured vehicles during the operation. This Matilda II would have been from ‘C’ Squadron, 8 R.T.R, or from 44 R.T.R. – ‘A’ and ‘B’ Squadrons 8 R.T.R. were in Valentine tanks, and it is likely that this picture presented itself in the Bardia area, rather than at Halfaya Pass.

Photos

large_0000006T

he scene on board HMS AJAX as round after round of 6″ shells are fired into Bardia. (Courtesy IWM8037) This bombardment was undertaken by the Royal Navy’s 7th Cruiser Squadron, out of Alexandria

3881074

Bardia, Cyrenaica, Libya. 6 January 1942. Aerial view taken on the day that Bardia fell shows a long line of prisoners stretching down the road being rounded up by the Allied land forces and transported in the back of trucks. (Courtesy AWM MED0280)

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Dv-En-mXgAAVv47.jpg

A Matilda tank captured and put to use by the Germans, most likely 15. Panzerdivision, and most likely re-captured by New Zealanders in November 1941, west of Bardia. This picture wrongly associates the tank with the successful recapture of Bardia on 2 January 1942.

large_0000005.jpgThe gun turret of a Matilda tank that had been captured and concreted into position to be used as part of the defences of Halfaya Pass, 16 March 1942. A Valentine tank passes by in the background. (Courtesy IWM E9320). Note the tank still carries the Operation Crusader tank marking of white/red/white.

The Good Source

The Good Source

Background

The Good Source was how the German intelligence who handled his information called the US military attache at the US embassy in Cairo, Colonel Bonner Fellers.  You can read a lot of background about what he transmitted and how the Axis got a hold of it at this link.

At a visit to NARA today, and without looking for it, I came across the report Bonner Fellers sent on 19 January 1942, after the air offensive against Malta started, and just two days before Panzergruppe Afrika would begin its offensive that would take it to the Gazala line.

C3c9c00d440fb32fbfeeda2be0cac450

Bonner Fellers Having Canned Corned Beef Meal in Libyan Desert Nov 11 1941. The Bonner Fellers family

At this time, the security of diplomatic cipher systems was a matter of concern at least to the British.  On 22 January 1942, just three days after the memo reproduced here was sent, ‘C’, the head of the SIS at the time, sent the draft of a telegram to Churchill, suggesting that he might “care to send this to the President” (Roosevelt). In it, ‘C’ outlines the concerns the British had about the security, or rather lack of it, of US military and diplomatic cipher systems, and suggest bringing together the specialists to make the system more secure.

The German General at the Headquarters of the Italian Armed Forces
(Military Attache Rome)
Ic Nr. 206/42 Secret Command Affair

To

1) Commander in Chief South
2) German Navy Command Italy

(Report was passed on to Supreme Command of the German Armed Forces and Supreme Command of the German Army)

Regarding: German air attacks on Malta.

Comando Supremo has sent over the following, intercepted telegram for information:

19 January 1942. From Cairo to the War Ministry in Washington – Secret –
1.) The week ending with 17 January brought a slight increase – but not on a large scale – of the operations of Axis air forces in Libya.  No new air units were noted, however the existing German units in Africa were brought up to full strength. 25 – 30% of the aerial activity in the desert falls on the Italian air force, while the operations against Malta are exclusively and affair of the German air force.
The information service of the RAF has not reported anything of the increase of air units of the Axis during this week and gave an evasive answer when questioned, by saying that there were no signs of changes.  It is believed that the German air force is now stronger than I reported it in my Report No. 545. The flyers of the RAF have reported that they, as can be seen in the report of the information service of the RAF, have counted 36 planes in all of Sicily. The information service of the RAF expects a gradual increase of the German air force until 1 April, so that the total strength in spring, as it is increased in the east and in Greece, will probably reach 1,000 combat planes here. The number of German fighters in Libya and Sicily at the moment exceeds 200 planes, all of them Me 109.  The German combat and fighter planes have a longer range of action than the similar planes of the RAF.
The main target of the German reconnaissance and bomber planes whose bases are on the Peloponnes, is the sea traffic from Alexandria to Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi. The English want to bring 1,200 tons daily to Tobruk, 200 tons to Derna, and 6-800 tons to Benghazi.  This goal of 2,000 tons per day has not been reached yet, and the RAF fears that the sea route will become too costly for its own fighters and the navy.
2) The heavy attacks on Malta continue.  All bombers have been withdrawn, only the Hurricanes remaine there.  On 26 December some Ju. 88 attacked the airfield of Luka, destroyed six planes on the ground and damaged others. An explosive bomb hit a fuel dump: 25 Wellington 8, which stood within a radius of about half a mile were rendered unserviceable; amongst the ground crews there were significant losses.  Despite the strong air defence (see my report No. 130) – and the strong fighter force on Malta, it is obviously the intent of the Germans to destroy the fighter force, to subdue the garrison of the island by air attacks with bombs and machine guns, and to interrupt the British supply traffic, to ensure the unimpeded sea traffic of the Axis and to control the western Mediterranean as a final goal. Without a doubt this goal also includes the occupation of the island. It is expected that at least three weeks are required to eliminate the usefulness of Malta. Following from the action against Malta it has to be expected that the next goal is to block the eastern exit of the mediterranean by mine barriers and devalue the naval base of Alexandria for the English by attacks from the air and by submarines.
The Italians have about 70 and the Germans about 25 submarines, while the British submarine forces only reach 25% of this number. While the British fleet will by necessity be further reduced, the Italian fleet will be at liberty to protect the convoys against surface units.  We expect that a reduction of the British fleet by 1 April will be the consequence, a point in time when the strength of the German air force in the Mediterranean will have reached its peak.
The RAF relocates planes to the Far East.  Officially 250 planes are currently foreseen for relocation.  The fighter force in this theatre considerably threatens the position of the British air force in the Middle East, and that at a point in time when it would be criminal neglicence to suppose that an air offensive of the Axis is not likely.

The document is signed by General von Rintelen, the German military attache and liaison officer  at Comando Supremo, in person.

File77psovpyvtfe6kvjla1

Mediterrenean theatre, North Africa. Jagdgeschwader 53, Italian air force personnel posing before planes Messerschmidt Me 109. Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv.[1]

Assessment

Regarding the information contained in the memo, I would think that the (albeit) rough assessment of RN sub strength active in the Mediterranean, as well as the results of the  air attacks onMalta (in particular the withdrawal of the Wellingtons) would have been of interest. Furthermore, the absence of a reference to any expected axis ground attack in Africa (which started two days later) and the reference to the supply problems the British had forward of Tobruk must have been valuable information, confirming the correct assessment of the situation by the Axis intelligence at the time. Finally I think the info on RAF withdrawals to the Far East is good information to have too. So I think there is a lot in what the meo says and does not say which would have been of great interest to an Axis intelligence officer.

Nevertheless, I would like to have a look at the actual plan of the Axis to reinforce the air strength in the Med. Also, I don’t think it is right that the Italians did not participate in Malta, and the number of 200 Me 109 active in Africa and Sicily in mid-January appears overstated to me.

There are clearly inaccuracies about the situation in the report, and it is indeed very pessimistic.  But what is astonishing is the amount of detail provided about the British situation in the Mediterranean.  I can not be certain of course, but I believe that this is the first time that a report by Colonel Bonner Fellers has appeared in full on the Internet.  This has been re-translated from German by me.  I think, given the phrasing, that the Germans were probably given the English original, not an Italian translation.

What is also astonishing is the wide circulation given to the report with the heading that it was an intercepted message and from whom it orginated.  Compare this to the treatment that was developed  to protect ULTRA on the Allied side. It is no wonder that the Good Source only lasted for little more than half a year to nine months, in my view.

[1]The planes are in fact one Me 109F and an Italian Macchi 202, and the picture shows very nice the similar form of the engine compartment of both planes. JG53 was a reinforcement unit sent in December 1941 to relieve the pressure on the Axis air forces in the Mediterrenean theatre.

 

Getting it very badly wrong

Getting it very badly wrong

Background

CRUSADER was not exactly an operation that shone a bright light on the genius of the opposing commanders on both sides. Rather the contrary, with the exception of Auchinleck’s bold reaction to the result of the Totensonntag battle (Admission: I do have a lot of time for ‘The Auk’, and consider him one of the great commanders of World War II – he certainly stood head and shoulders and then some over anyone else in the desert, on both sides).

0870 watermark

Rommel and Generaloberst Böttcher, GOC ArKo104 in the Belhamed/Ed Duda sector supervising operations to reduce the Tobruk breakout salient, 29 November 1941. Rommelsriposte Collection

At NARA I have now come across what appears to me to be the most astonishing misreading of the battle, at least as far as I can tell from what I have seen. It shows in my opinion how completely out of touch with events Rommel was during the first two weeks of CRUSADER, until the visit by Montezumolo from Comando Supremo gave him the reality check that he needed to rescue his command, and made him decide to retreat.  The order is from the files of 90th Light and was distributed to all soldiers in the division. Here goes:

The Commander of Panzergruppe Afrika

Command Post, 2 December 1941 21.00 hours

Order of the Day

The battle in the Marmarica has come to its first victorious conclusion. In uninterrupted heavy fighting against a strongly superior enemy, by 1 December we had destroyed:

814 tanks and armoured cars,

127 planes and captured great volumes of war material. Over 9,000 prisoners have been made until now.

Soldiers! This great success is thanks to your toughness and endurance. The fight is not over yet. Therefore continue to advance to finally throw down the opponent!

The Commander

signed Rommel

The war diary of 90th Light has the following entry regarding this communication:

1110hrs – Radio from the Commander in Chief: the battle in North Africa has found its first preliminary conclusion.  This order, which causes great jubilation, is immediately passed on to all units.

What happened next

One day later the Luftwaffe in Greece was ordered to co-operate closely with the Italian air force to prevent an orderly retreat of the Commonwealth forces by constant attacks, even though Fliegerführer Afrika reported that no signs of a British retreat were seen.

Two days later in turn the order to retreat was given and Panzergruppe Afrika took the long road back to el Agheila. The reaction to this order is not stated in the 90th Light diary. 

The strategic impact of the counteroffensive

In “Decisive Battles of World War II – The German View”, the former head of Operations in OKW, General Walter Warlimont wrote about the North African campaign in 1942 as one of these decisive battles under the title “Decision in the Mediterranean”. He traces the revival of the strategic consideration of a move into Egypt back to the successful counter-offensive by the Axis forces at the end of the winter battle. This offensive, prepared in total secrecy and successfully carried out started on 21 January 1942 swiped away the inexperienced and understrength British 1st Armoured Division in the desert, and almost trapped and annihilated the 4th Indian Infantry Division in the Djebel on the northern coast of Cyrenaica, around Benghazi and Barce.  In the view of Warlimont:

[…]this tremendous offensive drive […] encouraged German leaders to revert to their ambitious project of the previous year, linking it this time with plans for a further offensive in the Caucasus.

The inherent weakness of this development, in which strategic considerations limped along in the rear of tactical success, was glossed over by Rommel’s brilliant victory in the desert, and it was optimistically assumed that Rommel’s tremendous reputation and his undoubted skill as a leader in the field would more than compensate for the steady increase of enemy strengths which was to be expected.

A few comments on this:

  • There are shades of the June 1942 attack into Egypt after the fall of Tobruk here, where strategic considerations (this time the capture of Malta) again ‘limped’ along in the wake of the capture of Tobruk.
  • Warlimont completely ignores in this analysis the fact that the Axis forces, which not three months before, on 21 November 1941 were supposed to seize the Tobruk fortress and then prepare to break across the frontier into Egypt had barely escaped with the hides on their back from Auchinleck’s offensive.  Rommel was in my opinion outgeneralled in November and December 1941, and quite badly and soundly beaten outside Tobruk, the obvious successes, such as the destruction of 5th South African Brigade and the near destruction of the New Zealand Division notwithstanding. But somehow this near desaster was forgotten by a fast drive across a mostly empty desert and the pushing back of the enemy halfway to Tobruk.
  • So while I agree that the counter-offensive was a tactical (and in fact a strategic success), I hesitate to subscribe to the view that either it or indeed the whole winter battle was a ‘brilliant victory’, despite the fact that the Axis side did not hesitate to slap itself on the back over just escaping total ruin in North Africa.
Effect on Air Transport Operations in Russia in 41

Effect on Air Transport Operations in Russia in 41

Operation Crusader did have an impact that was felt far beyond Libya, and for the first time allowed the German high command to peak into the abyss of resources not adequate to a two-front war.

 

File77k58uglbfnvpno93fo

Mediterranean – Junkers 52 in Flight. Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv.

On 27 November, during the last German push towards Moscow, the chief of staff of VIII Fliegerkorps, the close-support specialists under von Richthofen, had to issue the following instruction, which in effect centralised air supply for ground forces, something which had become increasingly important during the supply crisis of Operation Taifun, the attack on Moscow.

CX/MSS/473/T15

As a result of transfer of transport gruppen (wings) to other theatres of war (=Mediterranean) supply by air can from now on take place only to a limited extent.

Liason officers (with ground forces) are to point out that only in the most urgent cases can supplies be carried by air. 

Applications for air transport to be made to Fliegerkorps VIII.

The information appears to also have gone to Berlin for information.

German Strategy in the Mediterranean in late 1941

Hitler issued only two directives concerning the Mediterranean theatre from June 1941, Directive No. 32 and Directive No. 38. Directive 32 of 11 June 1941, little more than a week before the attack on the Soviet Union, contained the broad plans for the Mediterranean after the fall of the Soviet Union, starting with the capture of Egypt. It was an optimistic document, giving orders for the reshaping of the former Soviet space, and outlining how the British position in the Middle East would be attacked through Turkey and from Libya. It imagined a situation in which Germany would be able to control the whole Middle East, up to maybe Iran.

Directive 38 was a wholly different matter. When it was issued, Axis forces in North Africa were staring into the abyss of defeat, and the situation in the Soviet Union was about to turn violently against the Wehrmacht. The directive exposed for the first time the loss of initiative that had taken place, and the need to scrape around for resources, which would be commonplace in later years in the war.

I will, given time, make the text of Directive No. 32 available here as well, both in the original and in translation.

Directive No. 38

On 2 December 41 Hitler issued Directive 38, appointing Kesselring to the new post of CiC South. I tried to find it online, but to no avail, so here it is, in German, as a public service. An English translation is provided below.

This is an OCR of a copy reprinted in Germany, emphasis as in the copy, and I presume the original.

Der Führer and Oberste Befehlshaber F. H. Qu., den 2. 12. 1941 der Wehrmacht

OKW/WFSt/Abt. L (I Op)

441980/41 g. Kdos. Chefs.

Geheime Kommandosache

Chefsache! 17 Ausfertigungen

Nur durch Offizier ! 2. Ausfertigung

Weisung Nr. 38

1) Als Grundlage für die Sicherung und Erweiterung der eigenen Mittelmeerstellung und zur Bildung eines Kraftzentrums der Achsenmächte im mittleren Mittemeer befehle ich nach Einvernehmen mit dem Duce, dass Teile der im Osten frei gewordenen Verbände der deutschen Luftwaffe in Stärke etwa eines Fliegerkorps und der erforderlichen Luftverteidigungskräfte in den süditalienischen und nordafrikanischen Raum zu überführen sind.

Neben der unmittelbaren Auswirkung auf die Kriegführung im Mittelmeer und Nordafrika soll dadurch eine wesentliche Einflussnahme auf die gesamte weitere Entwicklung im Mittelmeerraum angestrebt werden.

2) Mit der Führung der für diese Aufgabe einzusetzenden Gesamtkräfte beauftrage ich den Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring unter gleichzeitiger Ernennung zum Oberbefehlshaber Süd (Ob. Bfh. Süd).

Seine Aufgaben sind:

Erzwingen der Luft- und Seeherrschaft im Raum zwischen Süditalien und Nordafrika zur Herstellung gesicherter Verbindungswege nach Libyen und der Cyrenaika, hierzu insbesondere Niederhaltung Maltas,

Zusammenwirken mit den in Nordafrika eingesetzten deutschen und verbündeten Kräften,
Unterbindung des feindlichen Verkehrs durch das Mittelmeer sowie der englischen Versorgung von Tobruk und Malta in enger Zusammenarbeit mit den dafür verfügbaren deutschen und italienischen Seestreitkräften.

3) Der Ob. Bfh. Süd untersteht dem Duce and erhält über das Comando Supremo dessen Richtlinien für die Aufgaben im grossen. In allen luftwaffeneigenen Angelegenheiten verkehrt der Ob. d. L. mit dem Ob. Bfh. Süd unmittelbar, in wesentlichen Fragen unter gleichzeitiger Unterrichtung des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht.

4) Dem Ob. Bfh. sind unterstellt:

sämtliche im Mittelmeerraum und Nordafrika eingesetzten Kräfte der deutschen Luftwaffe, die seitens der italienischen Wehrmacht zur Durchführung seiner Aufgaben zur Verfügung gestellten Flieger- and Flak-Verbände.

5) Die im mittleren Mittelmeergebiet eingesetzten deutschen Seestreitkräfte bleiben dem Ob. d. M. unterstellt.

Der Ob. Bfh. Süd ist befugt, für die Durchführung der ihm zugewiesenen Aufgaben dem Deutschen Admiral beim Oberkommando der italienischen Kriegsmarine, gegebenenfalls auch der Marine-Gruppe Süd (für das östliche Mittelmeer) Weisungen zu erteilen. Den Einsatz befehlen die Marinedienststellen im Einvernehmen mit dem Ob. Bfh. Süd.

Die Wünsche des Ob. Bfh. Süd zur Abstimmung des gemeinsamen Einsatzes der verbündeten Seestreitkräfte sind ausschliesslich an den Deutschen Admiral beim Oberkommando der italienischen Kriegsmarine zu richten.

6) Die Aufgaben des W. B. Südost und des Deutschen Generals beim Hauptquartier der italienischen Wehrmacht bleiben unverändert.

(gez.) Adolf Hitler

English Translation

The Führer and Commander in Chief. Führer HQ, 2nd Dec. 1941, to the Wehrmacht

OKW/WFSt/Abt. L (I Op)

441980/41/ Secret Command Affair

Chiefs Only! 17 Copies

Only by Officer! 2nd Copy

Directive No. 38

1) As basis for securing and broadening our position in the Mediterranean and to create a power centre of Axis forces in the central Mediterranean I hereby order, in agreement with the Duce, that elements of the German air force formations which have been freed up in the east, in strength of about one air corps, and the required air defense forces, are to be transferred into the Southern Italian and North African area. Apart from the immediate effect on the conduct of war in the Mediterranean and North Africa, a major influence on the whole development in the Mediterranean area will be pursued.

2) I charge Field Marshal Kesselring with the command of the totality of forces employed for this task, and appoint him as CIC South at the same time.
His tasks are:
Force command of the air and sea in the area between South Italy and North Africa to establish secure connections to Libya and the Cyrenaica, and in this context especially to suppress Malta, Co-operation with the German and allied forces employed in North Africa, Stopping of enemy traffic through the Mediterranean, as well as the English supply of Tobruk and Malta in close co-operation with the German and Italian naval forces available for this task.

3) The CIC South is subordinated to the Duce and receives his general guidance for the tasks at large through the Comando Supremo. In all internal German air force affairs he deals with the CIC German Air Force directly, in important matters while informing the High Command of the Wehrmacht at the same time.

4) Subordinated to the CIC South are:
All the forces of the German Air Force employed in the Mediterranean and North Africa, the flying and air defense forces made available by the Italian armed forces for the carrying out of his tasks.

5) The German naval forces employed in the central Mediterranean remain under the command of the CIC Navy.
The CIC South is allowed, to carry out the tasks given to him, to issue directives to the German Admiral at the High Command of the Italian Navy, and where necessary to the Naval Group South (for the eastern Mediterranean). The tactical employment is ordered by the naval offices in agreement with the CIC South.
Wishes of the CIC South to co-ordinate the joint employment of the allied naval forces are solely to be directed to the German Admiral at the High Command of the Italian Navy.

6) The tasks of the Armed Forces Commander South East and of the German General at the HQ of the Italian Armed Forces remain unchanged.

(signed) Adolf Hitler