Transport of Sonderverband 288 to Africa

A unit that has attracted a bit of attention disproportionate to its size is Sonderverband 288 (literally: Special Formation 288).  You can find some more information on this unit here (but be careful, not all of the information at the link is correct).  Elements of the unit were ordered across to North Africa from Greece in November, to be included in an ad-hoc unit called Sperrverband Daumiller (blocking detachment Daumiller, named after its commander, Captain Daumiller).  We meet this unit in the Agheila position at the end of December.

The first transport was by air on 24 November, when 9 Junkers 52 flew a unit of Gebirgsjäger under the command of Hauptmann (Captain) Daumiller to Benghazi, to act there as a blocking detachment. These  were probably initially two platoons of Gebirgsjäger (specialised mountain troops) of a total strength of 90 men, equipped with 25 anti-tank rifles and a ‘plentiful’ supply of ammunition were flown to Africa from Greece in Ju 52. These were the only Gebirgsjäger to serve in Libya throughout the duration of the war 5A regiment of these troops fought in Tunisia in 1943). This transport brought, according to British intelligence, the total of arrivals to 269 men brought in by plane.

By the two torpedo boats (small destroyers, probably Alcione and Lira, the former was sunk on 11 December by HM Submarine Truant near Crete), it was planned that at mid-day 24 November (departure time is my guess), the HQ of the Heavy MG Platoon, two platoons of engineers with blocking material and 12 light flamethrowers would be brought over to Derna.  Also 3 anti-tank rifles, 2 5cm Anti-tank guns, and 3 armoured cars. In total 100 men, 24 vehicles and 12 motor-cycles.  Additionally fuel for the vehicles to cover 1,000 standard kilometres (10 consumption units/Verbrauchssätze), and 3 days of rations. However, it is possible that this trip was cancelled, because of the more urgent requirement to bring in fuel on the naval units. Remaining elements could not be transported, but it is likely that this move was later postponed to free the naval units for transport of more important items or because the armoured cars could not be transported on the relatively small torpedo boats.

On 29 November, General Osterkamp, who was then in charge of the sector around Benghazi, appealed for urgent transport of the armoured cars to counter the threat posed by Force E, if necessary by using Junkers 90 heavy transport planes, destroyers, or even a cruiser.

On 30 November, German air command decided that while the remainder of SV 288 should be transported as soon as possible, fuel had to take precedence.

On 1st December it was then stated that 5cm AT guns of 5th Mountain Division should be flown from Crete to Derna. I presume these belonged to Daumiller’s outfit.

It is furthermore pointed out that the unit would not be ready to act as a fully equipped and mobile blocking detachment, because it lacked sufficient vehicles, anti-tank guns and its Sturmgeschütze (Stugs – fully armoured assault guns with 75mm guns), which would have to be transported on a slower transport ship. In the event, these Stugs did not appear in combat until the Gazala battles in May 1942, when one was captured by South African armoured cars.

Overall, this little episode shows a few things:

First, the ability of the Wehrmacht to improvise in the face of urgent necessity.  They had little qualms to take specialised units (SV 288 was originally destined for Iraq and contained Arab-speaking personnel) and throw them into battle elsewhere when needs demanded.

Secondly, already one week after the start of CRUSADER the Axis was scrambling to plug what they saw as serious holes. In this case, it is Brigadier Reid’s Force E that had them running scared all along the coastline, because there were almost no Axis ground forces capable of stopping Reid’s force from raiding the airfields and supply installations and western Cyrenaica.

Thirdly, again after one week of combat, the Axis was reduced to weighing equally unpalatable options. Should they send an urgently needed ground force to protect the airfields from possible raids? Or should they send in petrol to keep planes in the air? Or should they send 5cm AP ammunition of which its own tanks were beginning to run short?

Interesting discussion on the AHF

There is a lot of very good information in this discussion on the Axis History Forum, started by Cédric.

Since I have now left that forum, a quick response to the point raised on page 3 by Oasis on what KG Burckhardt was ordered to do – I don’t think he is right, but I’ll check. 🙂

Edit months later:

Turns out that while Burkhardt was ordered to take over the position at Marada, his battle group never seems to have made it there.  Instead it was used to plug the whole between the Italian Xth and XXIst Corps, between the divisions Brescia and Pavia. This covered part of a line running along a Uadi, roughly from Maaten Giofer to Maaten Belcleibar.