Before Bruneval – Chasing Radar in Libya

Before Bruneval – Chasing Radar in Libya


28 February 1942 was the day of Operation BITING, the Bruneval raid (see this link), in which a combined operation managed to obtain German radar equipment from a Würzburg site, which led to substantial advances in the understanding of the German state of this technology on the British side, and helped the conduct of the bomber offensive on the 3rd Reich.

Bundesarchiv Bild 141 2732 Radargeräte Würzburg Riese und Freya

Freya and Würzburg Riese (giant Würzburg) installations. Source: Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv via Wikimedia.

Radar in the Desert

Prior to the successful raid at Bruneval, it is possible that there was an attempt to benefit from the chaos of the Axis retreat in Cyrenaica in the second half of December 1941, to lay hands on German radar equipment. Through ULTRA intercepts, the Empire commanders had become aware that German radar was being employed in North Africa, to support fighter control against Royal Air Force raids against German and Italian airfields and logistics installations in the rear of the battlefield. Two intercepts from early December clearly indicated the likely presence of Germany FREYA and WÜRZBURG radar system in North Africa. In late 1941, these were the most advanced German radar installations, and North Africa was the only place where Empire forces were in ground contact with the Germans.

The situation regarding German radar in North Africa had been noted by Empire code breakers at Bletchley Park for about a month. Incidentally, the famous picture of the Würzburg installation at Bruneval was dated just a day before the key intercepts about radar in North Africa. Intercepts allowed monitoring the urgent calls for radar equipment to deal with the Empire air offensive in the run-up to CRUSADER, and the monitoring the progress that the equipment had made from its despatch from the Reich to North Africa, via Italy. It is possible that other intercepts or more local intelligence gathering led to the conviction that the installation was at Benina airfield.

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Ultra intercept, November 1941. Collection 

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Ultra intercept, November 1941. Collection

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Ultra intercept, December 1941. Collection

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Ultra intercept, December 1941. Collection


Until CRUSADER progressed successfully, there was however little chance of being able to capture and evacuate German radar installations, which were located hundreds of miles behind the frontline and, unlike in Northern France, were placed well inland.

This situation changed on 17 December 1941, when the Axis forces retreated from the Gazala position, and this retreat quickly turned into a more or less chaotic rout, with Empire and Axis forces co-mingled on the map, and multiple instances of ‘friendly fire’ air force raids by both Axis and Empire forces hitting their own troops, causing substantial casualties. Three separate Empire pursuit columns were operating in the area of western Cyrenaica, from the north, 7 Indian Brigade in the Jebel Akhdar, pursing the retreating Italian infantry divisions on the coastal road, 7 Support Group south of the Jebel Akhdar, pursuing the retreating Axis armoured force which took the short-cut via Msus and Antelat, and 22 Guards Brigade around Antelat, attempting to cut off the retreating Axis forces in a repeat of what happened at Beda Fomm in February 1941, during Operation COMPASS.

On 21 December, following a commanders’ conference at the HQ of 7 Support Group, with General Gott present, 7 Support Group launched PEPYS column (one squadron armoured cars of the Royals, one battery of anti-tank guns of 3 R.H.A. and C Coy 2 Rifle Brigade) towards Benina airfield for a raid. It is possible, but not documented, that this raid related to radar, but it is probably more likely that it was simply an attempt to disrupt Axis withdrawal from the airfield, which was well underway. It is also not clear if Pepys column ever got onto the airfield, but it is known that they engaged Axis forces. After the raid concluded, PEPYS were ordered to rejoin 7 Support Group. CURRIE column also advanced towards Benina that day, but gave up the project due to heavy going and rain.

On 22 December, new orders were issued, now focused on getting to Soluch and Sceleidima, and to cut off the retreating Axis forces. On this day, the Royal Air Force also launched a major effort against Magrun landing ground, recognizing the Benina had been abandoned (see here for background on this). These orders mentioned a ‘valuable LISTENING SET’ at Benina, which was to be captured and placed under guard by Currie column. I suppose that this refers to Radar.

In the end, 22 December was a wash. 4 R.H.A., Lt.Col. Currie’s outfit, notes that they were conducting rest and maintenance until mid-day, and then moved south, away from Benina, towards Antelat and Soluch. Any opportunity that might have existed to capture a German radar set was thus gone.


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Operation Order, Currie Column, 7 Support Group, 7 Armoured Division, 22 December 1941. Collection.

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 Typed version of same Operation Order, Currie Column, 7 Support Group, 7 Armoured Division, 22 December 1941. Collection.


War Diary 7 Support Group, 1941

War Diary 4 R.H.A., 1941

HW 5 ULTRA Intercepts

The Other Ultra – Article

While not directly relevant to the CRUSADER period, this is a very good read by an expert on the subject. Highly recommended.–Signal-Intelligence-and-the-Battl.aspx

Here’s something (in Italian) about a Regia Marina wireless operator:

Happy reading!

Protecting ULTRA – Must try harder?

ULTRA was the code-name given to radio interception and decryption of Axis radio communications. While many people know that this affected a lot of German radio communications, what is less well known is that Italian communications were also routinely decyphered. For a lot of good detail, see Chris’ blog at this link. One of the problems faced by the Allies was to hide the fact that they had read a message, while still taking advantage of it. Otherwise there would be the risk that a reasonably smart enemy would quickly figure out what was going on, and change cypher methods. In the Mediterranean, what happened was that reconnaissance planes were sent out, often from Malta, to ‘discover’ convoys that had been reported in ULTRA. This way the Axis had a good explanation why the convoy was discovered, and would not get suspicious. The story below shows the wisdom of this approach.

Just before the time of CRUSADER, suspicions had been raised about the repeated failure of U-boat patrol lines in the Atlantic to succeed in engaging convoys. On 19 November, the war diary of Adm. Doenitz, Commander of the German submarine fleet, the translated version of which has been transcribed on U-Boat Archive notes:

A likely explanation would be that the British, from some source or other, gain knowledge of our concentrated dispositions and deviate thereby encountering perhaps boats proceeding singly.  This knowledge could be gained by the enemy:
  1) […]
  2) By deciphering our radio messages.  This matter is being continually examined by the Naval War Staff and is considered as out of the question.



In other words, there was complete faith in the security of the German naval encryption system at this time. While this unbreakable security may have been the case for the Kriegsmarine (although I doubt it), what was not considered was the repetition of naval signals or sending of related signals through other networks, e.g. the Luftwaffe, or by Allies. This was of course not as much of an issue in the Atlantic, but it certainly was in the Mediterranean.

About 10 weeks before that diary entry, Panzergruppe Afrika wrote to the German military attache in Rome, General von Rintelen, regarding shipping between Italy and North Africa[1]. The memo covers a range of issues relating to harbours, distribution of shipping space between the Axis partners, and also radio security, or rather the lack thereof on the Italian side. It states:

Shipping losses on the route to Tripolis are especially high. […] Furthermore the English (sic!) without doubt gain their information from radio traffic, which gives them a fairly clear picture about the departure and the individual situation of ships (see attachment). Regarding a reduction of radio traffic, compare minute of the meeting between General Bastico and General Rommel on 17 August 1941, sent by this Ia Nr. 25/41 Geh.Kdos. Chef – Sache on 18 August 1941.[2] 

Furthermore it does not seem impossible that the English are using espionage (Naples?).

The attachment referred to above is of great interest, since it shows a number of cases where the ULTRA guard seems to have been let down sufficiently to arouse severe suspicions on the Axis side. It is quoted in full below:

Attachment to Kdo. d. Pz.Gr.Afrika Abt. Ia/O.Qu.Nr. 26/41 g.Kdos. Chefsache of 1 September 1941.

1) The following submarines were discharged in Bardia up to 30 August:

a) 10 August Zoea
b) 12 August Coridoni
c) 16 August Atropo

a) Arrival of Zoea was repeatedly moved. Announcement on German and Italian radio net. According to report DAK English air raids happened every evening on the announced arrival days. The locally ordered discharge at 5 AM on 10 August remained undisturbed until the departure.
b) Corridoni arrived as previously announced on the evening 12 August. From the start of discharging rolling enemy air raids occurred.
c) Arrival time of Atropo was foreseen for 15 August, but was moved. Nevertheless on the evening of 15 August a heavy English air raid took place. Atropo then arrived without announcement on 16 August and could be discharged without disturbance.


a) For 0900 hours 5 August the arrival in Bardia of the supply steamer Cicilia had been announced. As was found out later, this announcement was based on an error. Cicilia was meant for Benghazi. Again in this case on 5 August a particularly active English air activity reigned over Bardia.
b) According to Geh.Kdos. of Chief of German liaison staff at the Italian navy No.4 558 on 24 August at 0300 hours AM steamer Bellona was to arrive at Bardia. DAK reported for 24. August 0400 hours AM english air raid on harbour. The sea area outside the harbour was systematically illuminated.

3) It is of particular note that the English air raids always happened at the times of day notified in the announcement transmitted on the Italian radio net. (report DAK)

4) The Italian radio traffic is being supervised by German listening posts. According to Major SINGER, radio interception analysis office Southeast, even after three changes, every Italian key was decyphered.

It is clear from this that the suspicion was squarely on the Italians. What is also appears clear is that somewhere something had broken down in the protection of the radio interceptions (whether ULTRA or not), and the measures taken to intercept relatively unimportant Axis traffic into Bardia put at risk the capability of the Commonwealth to listen into Axis radio nets. Additional protection would probably have been easy, by just laying on more attacks at random times, to prevent a pattern from forming. But of course, air assets came at a premium in the Western Desert air force during the summer of 1941, with demands on the few available squadrons being very high.

[1] Command Panzergruppe Afrika, Abt. Ia/O.Qu. Nr.26/41 g.Kdos.Chefs., dated 1 September 1941. Copy held in NARA, Panzergruppe Afrika files.

[2] Afraid I don’t have a copy of this.

How not to preserve secrecy – the German way

I work a lot with ULTRA intercepts at the moment, and every so often they provide some light relief.

Two facts ahead:

1) Rommel’s 50th birthday was on 15 November 1941. Being an important member of the Wehrmacht general’s group, and an erstwhile member of Hitler’s inner circle, when he commanded his body guard, he did get telegrams of congratulations from the Nazi leaders, at least Goebbels.

2) The Germans used a system of code-names for places, formations, ships, and offices throughout the Mediterranean.  So for example, ATLAS was the command of the German Afrika Korps, while AMTSGERICHT (county court) was Benghazi. Overall they are mildly amusing in some cases (a personnel office called UNGEHORSAM (disobedience) for example), or highly transparent in others (OTTO LUCHS (Lynx) is the Intelligence Department of Panzergruppe staff – and Germans think of the Lynx as a very sharp and perceptive animal). It’s relatively easy to figure out a lot of them, or at least to get a good idea.  Sometimes the ULTRA type-outs also provide the explanation. I’ll provide a list in the future.

Now, 1) and 2) together.

So on 16/11 ‘Source’ (i.e. ULTRA) intercepted the birthday wishes from Goebbels to Rommel. The signals soldier transmitting them had been a good boy, and followed the instructions to the hilt (there’s something about German stereotyping here), so it starts:

To the Commander in Chief of OTTO ELEFANT, General Rommel…

I am sure it took the best of Britain’s brains to figure out what that code meant…

Luftwaffe Appreciation of RAF Strength in North Africa, 20 November 1941

The item below is from the UK National Archives. It is an ULTRA/Enigma intercept, and I am comparing it with the actual RAF strength (another National Archive file kindly provided by Michele Palermo) for the same week. There are some assumptions in there which I’d happily correct, if someone knows better.

  1. Operational Units
    1. Single-engine fighters: 19 fighter squadrons with 450 – 500 Tomahawks and Hurricanes, of which at the moment 390 are in the front area, according to air photography. [actual: 17.5 squadrons and one flight of Fleet Air Arm Martlets, with another 4 more forming, 280 operational with another 394 operational in 14 days – so this is a serious over-estimate by German intelligence]
    2. Heavy fighters: 3 squadrons with 60 Beaufighters, at least 1 squadron of these in the front area. [actual: 1 squadron with 16 aircraft, with another 3 forming, and 8 more aircraft becoming operational in 14 days – another serious overestimate]
    3. Day bombers: 12 squadrons with 200-250 Maylands and Blenheims, of which at the moment about 170 are in the front area according to photography. 1 squadron, equipped with Boeing Fortress I aircraft, probably being formed in the Delta area. The greater fighting value of the Maryland as opposed to the Blenheim permits its employment as an auxiliary heavy fighter: low-level attacks and, above all, attacks on transport aircraft have frequently been successfully carried out (armament: 4 fixed MG’s firing forwards, 2 firing backwards, and in addition one moveable twin MG firing upwards and one firing backwards: this has been established from captured aircraft.) [actual: 9 squadrons of light bombers with 2 squadrons and 1 flight of Maryland/Blenheim reconnaissance, with a total of 144 bombers and 36 reconnaissance operational; none forming, and another 193 light bombers becoming operational in 14 days. 3 Fortresses only, which were on special assignment. Also half a squadron of Boston III active with 8 planes, with the half forming, and 15 Boston III to become active in 14 days – this is a reasonably accurate estimate; regarding the use of the Maryland as a heavy fighter, it rather appears to me that (with one exception I am aware of), Blenheims served in this role]
    4. Night bombers: 5 squadrons with 125 Wellingtons, night attacks on Cyrenaica are carried out every night, aircraft starting from Suez Canal area, with advanced landing grounds in the Western Desert (gliding attacks and flare-dropping carried out). [actual 5 squadrons with 100 planes operational and another 22 to become operational in 14 days no squadrons forming – this is an almost perfect estimate flare dropping however was carried out by Fleet Air Arm Albacores, which are not included in this strength report]
    5. Transport aircraft: 2 transport squadrons with 25 Bombays and/or Valentias and 20 Lockheeds. 6 Bombays were employed on night 16-17/11 to drop parachute sabotage detachment in Cyrenaica (this is confirmed by the shooting down of one aircraft and the papers recovered from it). [actual 2 squadrons with 24 Bombays/Valentias operational and another 4 to become operational in 14 days, no squadrons forming; 1 squadron with no Lockheed/Douglas active, and another one forming, with 16 planes to become operational in 14 days – again a very reasonable estimate)
    6. The shortage of personnel existing after the units have been brought up to strength as regards material seem to have been overcome. It must be assumed that there exist strong reserves in aircraft parks for fighter and bomber units, since there has been a constant flow of supplies by air to Africa (U.S.A. material) and via Mediterranean (English material) (cf. air photograph of aerodrome 25 km west of Hedouan. [this is a correct interpretation of the situation]
  2. Scale of Effort

    Night bomber units since 1/9/41, regularly at about 15 per cent daily. It is probable that with the increased scale of effort since early November the maximum possibilities of these units have been reached. On the other hand fighter and day bomber units have been carefully withheld up to the beginning of the month. Their present increased scale of effort is normal, having regard to the situation (scale of effort since … at the moment reaches at the most 25 per cent of the actual strength). It thus appears that scale of effort in present form is possible for some time ahead, and may even rise for a while.

Actual scale of effort:

  • Assuming 2 sorties per day for single-engine fighters, the capacity usage was 10% in this week, although that is a big if, since 521 of the 673 (plus 18 Hurricane recce and 16 Hurribomber sorties) sorties of all fighters are unspecified and could include Beaufighters and Blenheims. For the Beaufighters (assumed 1 sortie), usage was 26% of capacity, 29 sorties.
  • Assuming 2 sorties per day for Blenheims and Marylands, the effort was about 9%, 185 sorties (plus 5 Blenheim fighter sorties) with 144 operational planes, but there are also 64 unspecified bomber sorties, some of which will be Fortresses, some others Wellingtons and light bombers.
  • For the reconnaissance Blenheims and Marylands, usage was only 7%, assuming one sortie per day as capacity. A total of 18 sorties was made. But there are another 23 unspecified sorties.
  • Assuming (based on nothing but my own thoughts, if someone knows Luftwaffe capacity assumptions, please let me know) total capacity is 1 sortie per day for the Wellingtons, the effort in this week was about 21%, at 148 sorties compared to 100 operational planes.
  • For the transport fleet, utilization was also low, at 9% (assuming 1 sortie per day), 15 sorties of Bombays are recorded]

The numbers appear to show a very strong focus on the initial gaining of air superiority. For example, in the following week, the Blenheims and Marylands had 265 sorties with unchanged operational numbers, a rate of 13%. Wellington sorties remained practically unchanged, while fighter sorties increased to 777 on unchanged numbers, or a rate of 20%. Unspecified bomber sorties tripled however, so the actual utilization was higher.

Compared to the Luftwaffe expectation, the Desert Air Force was operating at a low capacity rate, if the assumptions are correct. This is partially explained by the longer distance planes had to fly to get to their area of operations, I guess. But there are also questions raised e.g. by Australian Wing Cdr. Geddes in a special report, about the efficiency of the ground crews.

A day in the life of the Luftwaffe – Operations report by Fliegerfuehrer Afrika 23 Nov. 41

A day in the life of the Luftwaffe – Operations report by Fliegerfuehrer Afrika 23 Nov. 41

This operations report was sent on 23 Nov. 41 at 1730 hrs from Fliegerfuehrer Afrika Ic (intelligence officer) to Fliegerkorps X in Greece, and ITALUFT, the German Luftwaffe staff in Italy. The report was intercepted by the British decoding teams and decrypted at Bletchley Park. It can now be found in the National Archives in Kew, London. I have left the report in the original text, annotated it, and provided a glossary below. I also re-ordered it according to time.


Junkers 87 dive bombers of an unknown unit taking off in North Africa. Courtesy Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv.

Fliegerfuehrer Afrika Operations Report 23 November 1941

0401 hours

1 Ju.88 of the AFRIKA Kette carried out recce of the tracks BIR EL GUBI – GIARABUB as far as SIDI OMAR. No enemy M/T observed. N.E. of BIR EL GUBI a concentration of about 100 M/T.

0540 hours

2 Bf. 110 of Stab Stuka 3 on recce S. of DERNA as far as 30 degrees N. 1 Bf. 110 brought confirmation of the 2 field aerodromes. 1 Bf. 110 missing. (1)

0550 hours

15 Ju.87 of II/StG2 carried out attack on tanks and M/T concentration E. of BIR EL GUBI, with 5.5 tons of H.E. bombs accurately placed in the target area. Very strong fighter defence: 3 Ju.87 missing, 1 Ju.87 made forced landing. 1 Ju.87 crashed on aerodrome, crew escaped by parachute.(4)

0555 hours

18 Ju.87 of I/StG1 attack on field fortifications and a battery position E. of BIR EL GUBI with 6.05 tons of H.E. bombs: bombs on target: effect not observed on account of strong fighter defence: 2 Ju.87 missing. 1 Ju.87 made forced landing, crew wounded but rescued. (2) (3)

0601 hours

1 Bf.110 of AFRIKA Kette in BIR HACHEIM to BIR EL GUBI and BAB ES [??} E. of BIR EL GUBI concentration of ?40 M/T. Otherwise nothing observed. At 0622 hrs [?] Bf.110 of III/ZG26 broke off attack on concentration near BIR EL GUBI as fighter protection was not assured.

0735 hours and again at 0802 hours

1 Ju.88 of the AFRIKA Kette on photographic recce of roads, railways and aerodromes SIDI BARRANI to EL DABA: heavy railway traffic at railhead: aerodromes only partly covered on account of heavy cloud.

0945 hours

11 Bf.110 of III/ZG26 broke off low-level attacks S. and E. of BIR HACHEIM on account of contact with 30-40 Curtiss fighters. (5)

1140 hours

In square 6231 3 destroyers and 1 small merchant ship, course west.

[No time]

I/ and II/JG27 shot down 10 enemy a/c on freelance patrols and while escorting Stukas. 1 Bf.109 missing, 2 Bf.109 made forced landing.



  1. There was only one field aerodrome in the area, Landing Ground 125, occupied by Hurricanes of No.33 Squadron and Blenheims of No. 113 Squadron
  2. This was likely on 1 South African Brigade which was in the area, ‘masking’ Bir el Gubi and the Ariete division position there. From memory I believe that these attacks were not very effective, even though they were unpleasant.
  3. A loss rate of 20% per sortie must have been extremely worrying.
  4. 33% loss rate.
  5. This, together with the two preceding notes, shows that while the Desert Air Force may not have had the number of kills of its adversary, it did achieve its operational objective on this day, which was to inflict losses on the enemy strike force and keep them away from their target, or at least reduce their efficiency.

Afrika Kette – a small unit (Kette – Chain) equipped with long-range reconnaissance Junkers 88 and Messerschmidt 110, stationed in Greece but under control of the Fliegerfuehrer Afrika. Bf. 109 – Messerschmidt 109, single-engined fighter
Bf.110 – Messerschmidt 110 twin-engine multi-role plane (heavy fighter, recce, ground attack)
Curtiss – Curtiss Tomahawk single-engined fighter
Fliegerfuehrer Afrika – commander flying units Africa. Fliegerkorps X – Air Corps X in Greece, with head-quarters in Athens Tatoi airport. H.E. – High Explosive
Ju.87 – Junkers 87 single-engine dive bomber
Ju.88 – Junkers 88 twin-engined multi-role aircraft used as reconnaissance, medium bomber (level and dive), night fighter.
M/T – motor transport
Recce – reconnaissance
Stab – Staff squadron. For dive bomber wing 3 this was well equipped with recce and transport planes. StGSturzkampfgeschwader – dive bomber wing Stuka – Sturzkampfbomber – Dive bomber. ZGZerstoerergeschwader (destroyer wing), equipped with Messerschmidt 110 planes.

Some more on I./StG3 in North Africa

Some more on I./StG3 in North Africa

Substantially updated and fixed ULTRA picture links 3-Aug-2019

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), which was already in North Africa on 17 November, 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).

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-theatre 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. It is also possible that the confusion originated from the expected duration of the operation of four days, as indicated in the comment on an intercept of a message requiring Tmimi being readied for ‘landing and unloading’ on 19 November.

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.

StG3-1 ULTRA intercept of order to StG3 to prepare for move to North Africa, issued 16 November 1941


DSC_0174 Indication that move is going ahead, morning of 19 November 1941.


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 in Salonika-Sedes airport, 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, with a rear detachment remaining in Greece.  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.

DSC_0177Confirmation of impending move of I./StG3 to North Africa, 19 Nov 41 – request by unknown source for immediate despatch of I./StG3. Also note the rapidity of the interception and decoding. Sent 1420 hours on 19 November, decoded version printed 1734 hours 19 November.

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.

DSC_0202 Final movement order for I./StG3, 19 Nov 1941 for move on 20 Nov 1941.

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’).

DSC_0322 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

In an assessment sent to Washington 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 additional 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

Arrival date therefore almost certainly 20 Nov 41.

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