Friday, June 30, 2006

Air units in East Africa

All of the air units available to support General Cunningham were with the South African Air Force. The squadrons available were:

No.3 Squadron SAAF Hurricanes and Gladiators
No.11 Squadron SAAF Fairey Battles
No.12 Squadron SAAF Ju-86s
No.40 Army Cooperation Squadron SAAF Hartbeests
No.41 Army Cooperation Squadron SAAF Hartbeests

This force was "commanded by Air Commodore W, Sowrey, R.A.F., with Brigadier H. Daniels, S.A.A.F., as his Senior Air Staff Officier". An army cooperation control group was reconstituted on 20 May for this compaign. This is based on Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

General Cunningham's plans

General Cunningham's plan, dating from April 1941, had been "to move on Jimma and the Lakes from Addis Ababa and at the same time advance northwards from Yavello and Neghelli". The orders from General Wavell to take the road from Asmara to Addis Ababa changed the plan. General Cunningham was reduced to part of the 11th African Division the 12th African Division. His new plan was for the two divisions to push forward and to join and then "drive the enemy from the Lakes region". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The situation at Galla-Sidamo

Under Italian rule, Ethiopia was divided into five provinces. Galla-Sidamo was in south-western Ethiopia. General Gazzera was located at Jimma. The province was 500 miles long and 300 miles wide. Jimma was connected to the capital at Addas Ababa by one of three roads into the province. There is a string of lakes that stretch over 140 miles, starting from the northernmost, which is about 60 miles from Adda Ababa. "South African engineers were building a new all-weather road" from Marsabit in Kenya. The other roads could only be used in fair weather, and were poor. The Italian forces in three locations, and consisted of four understrength divisions supported by the remaining 30 light and medium tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The situation in East Africa, starting in the spring of 1941

After the main Italian army, commanded by the Duke d'Aosta had surrendered in East Africa, the British commanders had wanted to strip down the remaining forces to the minimum. It was only due to General Cunningham's successes that he had won permission to continue offensive operations. One factor that greatly helped was that the Italian air force in East Africa had "collapsed". The SAAF and RAF in the Sudan were able to "play a decisive part". Air power proved to be a "decisive factor" at Gondar, later in the summer and fall. General Cunningham's first operations were in Galla-Sidamo from April to October 1941. Some of General Platt's force was made available to General Cunningham from the Sudan. The second phase ran from October to November and included the attack against Gondar. French Somaliland also was an ongoing concern, although that mainly was a political problem. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The remaining Italian forces in East Africa in May 1941

The Official History now switches context to "the final campaign in East Africa". We have previously summarized the victories in East Africa, as convered in Volume I of the Official History. Somewhat less than 25% of the Italian forces in East Africa remained, after the Duke of Aosta had surrendered on 19 May 1941. The remaining Italians were located in Galla-Sidamo and in Gondar. There was also a "garrison at Assab on the Red Sea". General Nasi's army in Gondar consisted of "about 41,000 men and 70 guns". General Gazzera had more guns (200) and somewhat fewer soldiers (38,000) in Galla-Sidamo. His force was swelled by refugees from fallen areas, such as Somalia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The roles of the German and Italian air forces in the Mediterranean Theater

The German and Italian air forces were essentially two separate commands. While they obviously had joint interests and often cooperated, there was no unified command. The Official History suggests that if they had a unified command, that they might have been able to hurt the British quite badly, if they had made a determined effort to attack shipping in the Suez and the ports. Rommel's priority was immediate pressure on the supply line to Tobruk, so while that pressed the British Inshore Squadron to the limit, they did not succeed in starving Tobruk to the point of surrender. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Dilution of Axis air power in the fall of 1941

The German air unit in the Mediterranean was Fliegerkorps X. They had a force of He-111 and Ju-88 bombers. Both had a considerable range. They might well have caused a great deal of damage if they had been concentrated on bombing Malta, the Suez, or even the British supply lines. Instead, they were occupied in tasks for which they were ill-suited and misused. The primary one was escorting convoys. I suppose the idea was to bomb any British surface attackers. The Official History offers the opinion that Fliegerkorps X was inadequate for the demands being made up on it. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Italian air power

The Official History says that the Italian air force, at their entry to the war, consisted of 313 aircraft "in Libya and the Aegean" and "325 in East Africa". In the period we are presently considering, June to October 1941, the Italian air force had "73 bombers and 137 fighters" in Libya and "37 bombers and 46 fighters in the Aegean". The air force in East Africa was non-existant by this time. The Italian air force was commanded from Italy, so that the Libyan army commander had less control over operations than he would have liked. There was a liaison between the German and Italian air forces, but this was in Rome. The Official History points out that the German High Command still considered the North African war an Italian operation. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The German air force in the Middle East and Mediterranean in 1941

In January 1941, Fliegerkorps X had been sent to Sicily to operate against Malta and shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. They were the specialist unit for martime operations, and had taken part in the Norway campaign, later in 1940. Fliegerkorps X was only peripherally involved with Greece and Crete. They were mostly the province of Fliegerkorps VIII and XI, from the Balkans. After the capture of Crete, Fliegerkorps X was left. They had between 400 and 450 aircraft. Their serviceable aircraft often was as low as 250 at any point in time. The point was made that Fliegerkorps X and Rommel's army were just detachments and were not intended to absorb a lot of resources that were needed elsewhere. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Comparative losses in the air in the Middle East from mid-June to mid-October

The British intelligence estimates in 1941 were that they had destroyed 142 German aircraft and 253 Italian aircraft between the middle of June 1941 until the middle of October. The real German records show that their total losses, from all causes, were just 81 aircraft. There are not comparable records for the Italians, but existing records for the middle of June to the middle of September show that they lost 89 aircraft, plus others "destroyed on the ground from July onwards". The British losses for the same period "were 198 destroyed in battle and 48 on the ground". This is based on the account in the Official History.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More on the Axis air effort in the fall of 1941

Attacks on shipping to Tobruk were carried out by Ju-87's, often escorted by Me-109F's, which were superior to every British fighter in the Western Desert. The Official History says that at times, almost every British fighter in the theater was involved in the protection of shipping.

The Axis airforces carried on harassing raids against "targets in the desert". Suez and the canal were hit by Ju-88's based in Greece. These were carried out over July to October 1941, aanmd involved 34 attacks with 300 sorties. Few of these were successfully attacked. Five were lost, of which one was in August and four were in September. This is based on the account in the Official History.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Axis air campaign

Much of the German air campaign was devoted to bombing Tobruk and the ships carrying supplies. The Germans used their divebombers to attack shipping. They also hit the harbour with divebombers, as well as level bombers. Night bombers based in Greece conducted unaimed bombing of the general area at night. The Germans also laid mines in the harbour, to do everything they could to weaken Tobruk for an anticipated attack. Apparently, the British anti-aircraft artillery were very effective. Fighter cover was less of a factor, due to the range from bases. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More on air operations in the Middle Eastern Theater in the fall of 1941

German supply dumps in the forward areas were repeatedly hit by South African Marylands, flying under escort. Dumps near Gambut, between Tobruk and the border were singled out for more attention. The result was that German preparations for a renewed attack on Tobruk were delayed, so that the British were ready for offensive operations before Rommel.

Besides supply lines, the battle for air supremacy was waged by a bombing campaign against Axis airfields. Fields at Gambut and Gazala were particularly targeted. Gazala was the main fighter base.

British fighter aircraft were totally devoted to air defense of the main army bases and convoys to Tobruk, and to escorting reconnaissance and bomber aircraft. The alternate, more offensive strategy would have entailed patrols over Axis-held territory, looking for opposing aircraft to engage.
This is based on the account in the Official History.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

More on the RAF bombing offensive in the fall of 1941 and the Martin Maryland

In August and September 1941, Wellingtons flying from Egypt hit the Corinth Canal with the aim of blocking it. At the time, it had been thought that they had succeeded, but we now know that they had not been able to block the canal.

Both Derna and Bardia were bombed frequently. At night, they were hit by Wellingtons and Fairey Albacores and in the daytime, they were hit by Blenheims and Marylands. The Maryland was playing a greater bombing role at this date, while they had previously had been restricted to maritime reconnaissance. They were a diminishing resource, however, as production had been limited. As I have previously written, this lists Maryland production:

Customer Martin
Designation Model Customer Production Initial Delivery
XA-22 167 US Army 1 prototype 9/28/1939
167-A3 167-F1 France 115 aircraft 12/12/1939
167-A3 167-F2 France 100 aircraft 2/08/1940
167-A3 Armoured 167-B3 France 45 aircraft 6/18/1940
Maryland I 167-B3 British RAF 50 aircraft ?
Maryland I 167-B3 British RAF 35 aircraft 7/25/1940
Maryland II 167-B4 British RAF 150 aircraft 4/14/1941

The successor aircraft was to be the Martin 187 Baltimore. Volume deliveries to the Middle East only happened in the Spring of 1942. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History and from the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum site.

This was apparently an early Maryland I, perhaps taking off.

These are some Maryland pages:
  1. Warbirds: The Martin Maryland
  2. RAF Museum: Maryland photo
  3. Wikipedia: A-22 Maryland
  4. The Glenn L Martin Maryland Aviation Museum: Martin Model 167

Friday, June 16, 2006

Middle East air operations June-October 1941

During a four month period from mid-June to mid-October 1941, there were widespread air operations in the Middle Eastern theater. The Tripoli port was hit at night 72 times by a total of 357 Wellingtons (one aircraft per sortie). Daylight raids were made by Marylands and Blenheims. As the British were only able to use 500 lbs. bombs and smaller, the damage was not as extensive as it might have been.

Operations continued from Malta. They hit targets in Sicily and Southern Italy, concentrating on airfields and ports.

Benghazi was hit in 102 attacks by Wellingtons operating from Egypt. The squadrons involved were No.37, No.38, No.70, and No.148. Marylands from No.12 Squadron SAAF and No.24 Squadron SAAF, as well as No.39 Squadron RAF. Marylands and Blenheims also were used in night attacks on Benghazi, starting in August. By the end of this period, SAAF Marylands were used in daylight attacks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Air support for the Army from July 1941

As previously noted, the No.253 Army Cooperation Wing had been formed for the expressed purpose of providing air support for the Army. The wing was now part of the Western Desert Air Force. Joint army RAF exercises were conducted, starting in July 1941. One step that was defined by September was to provide an Air Support Control Headquarters (ASC). These units were provided to corps headquarters and to armoured divisions. Each brigade had a "tentacle" that could communicate with wireless telegraphy to the ASC. They functioned as forward air controllers, as we would call them. The ASC units only came into existence by 8 October, when the first two were formed. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Air Vice-Marshal Dawson

Air Vice-Marshal Dawson was sent to the Middle East from the Ministry of Aircraft Production. He role was as Chief Maintenance and Supply Officer was to oversee the assembly of new aircraft, including any modifications, the maintenance of aircraft, their storage, and supplying associated equipment and parts. He arrived in June 1941. There had been four maintenance units in the Middle East, three focused on repairs and one on ordnance. No.103 at Aboukir was heavily bombed and was moved. No.102 had fallen into disuse and had practically ceased to exist. More was moved to the Massara caves, and it was expanded to deal with storage and repair, becoming the No.111 Maintenance Unit. When Aboukir was under attack, it was partially moved to Heliopolis. The became a new repair unit. The British Overseas Aircraft Corporation largely supplied the staff. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

More Churchill intervention in later 1941

Political concerns continued to drive the Prime Minister's agenda on the Middle East. He relented and was going to allow 25,000 more air personnel to be transported to the Middle East, but in fact, only 15,000 were sent by the end of 1941. Everyone but Churchill also wanted more "reinforcements and drafts" to build up existing units that had been depleted, but Churchill wanted to send out new divisions, instead, to have more British divisions in the field, so that all the fighting was not being done by "the Dominions". Even that did not happen. Churchill had asked President Roosevelt for shipping for two "regular British divisions", but in the event, there was only shipping available for one, and that to be sent from Halifax, and that division, the 18th, ended up being sent to the Far East, not the Middle East. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Churchill was unhappy with RAF staffing plans for the Middle East

Convoy capacity from Great Britain to the Middle East never was great enough for the demand. By the summer of 1941, the Chiefs of Staff had wanted to send 35,000 men to the Middle East to build up the RAF there, to correct the shortages and shortcomings. Churchill was resistant, because he wanted to send army troops instead. In stead of 35,000 men, he wanted that number to be reduced to 20,000. The 35,000 men was intended to aid the buildup to 62-1/2 squadrons, including 17 new fighter squadrons. Churchill was also unhappy with the total planned number of 85,000 men, which he considered to be excessive. Even without the 17 new fighter squadrons, the need was to build to about 74,000 men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Factors limiting the RAF in the Middle East

The RAF's numeric strength in the Middle East grew rapidly from June to October 1941. This is a summary of the numbers:

Formed Squadrons Total Aircraft Newest Aircraft
Mid-June 1941 34-1/2 549 419
Mid-August 1941 49 722 550
Mid-October 1941 52 846 780

Air Marshal Tedder was concerned that the air strength would expand beyond the capacity of air fields, maintenance, and trained air crew. The air crew training was a major issue. On paper, there were three operational training units in the Middle East, but none were functional in June. The operational training units would be expanded to four and built up to an efficient state, but progress was slow. By "late Autumn", one was "fully staffed". One other was half-ready, while another had untrained staff, and the fourth had not been formed, yet. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The RAF in the Middle East was suffering from gaps in production between aircraft versions

In the summer and fall of 1941, there were production transitions taking place among aircraft models and there were gaps between the phaseout of older models and the new models coming into production. These are some examples:

The Hurricane I was disappearing, but the number of
Hurricane II's available was driven by needs in Britain, which kept numbers down.

The Tomahawk (P-40C) was relatively new to the Middle East, but it was being phased out in favor of the Kittyhawk (P-40D and P-40E). Teething problems were expected with the new type.

Fighter Command versions of the Beaufighter were contingent on adequate supplies of ground-control radar for guiding interception. The tradeoff was that the Coastal Command version would require more aircrew from Britain.

Production of the Martin 167F Maryland was ending, but the replacement aircraft, the Baltimore (A-30) was delayed. The RAF was forced to send every Blenheim IV that was available, so that the Middle East would have medium bombers. Thre were very few of these left. As soon as they were available, Douglas Boston III aircraft would be sent.

The Wellington I heavy bomber did not do well in the heat, so the Wellington II was developed, but they were slow coming into production.

Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers were in use in Britain, but had not reached the Middle East. They would need to be drawn from Britain for the Middle East. They are not listed in the appendix in Vol.II of the Official History, so they must not have reached the Middle East, yet.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Guidance for the Middle East commanders from Churchill in September 1941

General Auchinleck had proposed that specialist air units be assigned to protect and cooperate with the Army in the Middle East. Churchill disagreed and sent a letter outlining the policy that he wanted implemented. One step was that Churchill had ordered 250 Bofors 4omm light AA guns sent for the Army, so that they did not need to be so dependent on the RAF for air defence. Also, rather than dispersing aircraft to provide cover over a wide area, aircraft should be concentrated to achieve air superiority over the critical points. Aircraft should also be used to attack enemy rear installations. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Decisions about the British attack in North Africa in late 1941

General Auchinleck and Air Marshal Tedder had been called home to speak with the Defence Committee, after they were appointed. The Defence Committee had been anxious to mount some sort of offensive quickly so that the British could be perceived as taking pressure off the Russians, as we have previously discussed. Much of the rationale for the change in command was politically driven, as was the need for an offensive. General Auchinleck was able to successfully argue that the offensive should be delayed until November, when the chances of success were much better.

Everyone expected that by November the RAF could be reinforced with new aircraft, so that they would be in a better position to gain air supremacy over the battlefield. British forces generally had been very small, relative to the Italians and now that had been even more true since the arrival of the Germans. The record so far in the Mediterranean and Middle East had been that the RAF had been unable to meet the demands placed upon them to support and defend British ground and naval forces. The challenge was to correct that situation. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Combined arms battlegroups in North Africa

Rommel, at least, and probably it was German Army doctrine, routinely used combined-arms battlegroups in North Africa. In 1941, the British were organized along division and brigade lines, but even by the summer of 1941, there was a limited use of motorized infantry, artillery, and anti-tank guns. Including tanks would still have been a rarity.

General Auchinleck and Eric Dorman-Smith advocated the use of combined arms battlegroups, but what were actually created in mid-1942 were generally to small, so that it was not possible to easily concentrate them. Instead, you had these small groups off "swanning" in the desert, all doing what they wanted without central control. That understandably alienated mainstream British army opinion, which was generally conservative and opposed any radical ideas, and the people who advocated them. That was part of the reason that Percy Hobart was unemployed in the late 1930's and why Eric Dorman-Smith ended up that way. Claude Auchinleck had enough prestige that he continued to be employed, at least back in India.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The British were disappointed with their interdiction efforts

Despite their successes, the British were concerned that the Axis was still able to get too many supplies through to their forces in Libya. A series of steps were taken to improve the performance of their forces:
  • 3 Wellingtons with long range radar were sent to Malta
  • 11 Albacores were fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks to extend their range
  • Force K was formed to operate from Malta with the cruisers Aurora and Penelope and destroyers Lance and Lively
This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Axis supply situation was very bad by November 1941

Some 40 Axis merchant ships were lost to aircraft and submarines from June through October 1941. This was rapidly diminishing the available pool of transports, and would greatly affect the course of the campaign in North Africa. General Halder, at the OKW, continued to view the protection of the supply lines to Libya as an Italian affair and refused to consider moving more aircraft to the area.

Only by late August did the OKW concede that the campaign in Russia would continue into 1942. Before the end of September, German submarines were sent to the Mediterranean Sea and Hitler assigned Fliegerkorps X the task of protecting convoys to North Africa. These moves were driven by British successes in interdicting the supply lines. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Airpower on Malta in August and September 1941

A considerable air power had been built up on Malta by August and September 1941. The inventory had grown to this force:

20 Blenheim bombers (probably Mk.IV)
12 Welligton heavy bombers
20 Swordfish torpedo bombers, FAA
10 Maryland reconnaissance aircraft
15 Hurricane I fighters
60 Hurricane II fighters
8 Beaufighter long range fighters

They were employed on different tasks:

Blenheims: bomb attacks on shipping
Swordfish: torpedo attacks on ships and minelaying
Wellingtons: bombing ports and minelaying

The Blenheims were primarily engaged in low-level attacks on ships with bombs. They would come in at mast-height. Occasionally, Wellingtons would be used to bomb ships at sea, although this was less common. They were primarily used to bomb Tripoli. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The British campaign against Axis shipping in the Mediterreanean Sea in the fall of 1941

The British campaign against Axis shipping in the fall of 1941 was being prosecuted by both submarines and aircraft. The submarines operated from Gibraltar, Malta, and Alexandria. They were primarily the small U Class boats at this stage. Aerial reconnaissance was photographing ships engaged in the North Africa supply effort to aid analysis.

The Italians ran convoys down through the Straits of Messina to Tripoli and Benghazi. Evasive routing was also employed, so that some ran to the east before they ran back to the Libyan ports. The convoys stayed well away from Malta.

Three British submarine flotillas were involved. They were the 8th Flotilla from Gibraltar, the 10th Flotilla from Malta, and the 1st Flotilla from Alexandria. The 8th flotilla included some Dutch submarines. On 18 September 1941, Upholder sank two Italian liners, the Neptunia and Oceania. Operations occurred with the expected losses: Union was sunk in July, and P32 and P33 were mined off Tripoli in August.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, June 02, 2006

RAF organization change in the Mediterranean area

At Admiral Cunningham's request, No. 201 Group RAF was reformed as No.201 Naval Cooperation Group RAF. Air Commodore Slater's primary responsibility was to cooperate with the fleet. This change happened on 20 October 1941. The squadrons involved initially were:

Two General Reconnaissance Squadrons RAF
One Greek General Reconnaissance Squadron
One Flying Boat Squadron (Sunderlands)
One Yugoslav Flying Boat Squadron
Two Long-Range Fighter Squadrons RAF

As of 21 October 1941, Admiral Cunningham had the increased responsibility for the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, as far east as Aden. The command had to contend with FW-200 Condors and He-111's flying from Crete, which had successfully bombed the Georgic on 24 July 1941, near Suez. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

More about Halberd

The Mediterranean Fleet went to sea in support of Operation Halberd. Admiral Cunningham had hoped to draw the German airforce to the battlefleet, away from the convoy. No one noticed that they were even at sea, so they broke radio silence. The Italians had reacted by sending as much of their fleet to sea as they had fuel. They were already suffering from a scarcity of fuel oil for their ships. The Italian-centric view had thought that this might be an attempt to get revenge for the attack on Gibraltar, and they had hoped to send all five of their battleships to sea, but in the event, they only sent the two Littorio class ships out, because of the fuel limitations previously mentioned. After Cape Matapan, the Italian fleet was operating under restrictions, and in the even, they did not close to within sight of Force H. The Regia Aeronautica showed skill and courace in attacking the British force, and the navy was disappointed in having done so little. The SM79 torpedo bombers continued to be a factor while Italy was in the war on the Axis side. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official history.

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