While not directly relevant to the CRUSADER period, this is a very good read by an expert on the subject. Highly recommended.
Here’s something (in Italian) about a Regia Marina wireless operator:
While not directly relevant to the CRUSADER period, this is a very good read by an expert on the subject. Highly recommended.
Here’s something (in Italian) about a Regia Marina wireless operator:
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:|
|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. 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.
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.
 Command Panzergruppe Afrika, Abt. Ia/O.Qu. Nr.26/41 g.Kdos.Chefs., dated 1 September 1941. Copy held in NARA, Panzergruppe Afrika files.
 Afraid I don’t have a copy of this.
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…
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.
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:
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.
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.
Fliegerfuehrer Afrika Operations Report 23 November 1941
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
In square 6231 3 destroyers and 1 small merchant ship, course west.
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.
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.
StG – Sturzkampfgeschwader – dive bomber wing
Stuka – Sturzkampfbomber – Dive bomber.
ZG – Zerstoerergeschwader (destroyer wing), equipped with Messerschmidt 110 planes.
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.
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.
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’).
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.
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:
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.
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.