Wednesday, May 31, 2006
At the close of Halberd
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
The Halberd convoy in September 1941
The decision was made on 28 August 1941 to send another convoy to Malta through the western Mediterranean Sea. The operation was called Halberd, and would include a heavy naval force: the battleships Nelson, Rodney, and Prince of wales and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. There were 5 cruisers and 18 destroyers. The convoy would include 9 merchant ships. 22 Beaufighters and 5 Blenheim fighters were available for air cover. On 27 September, the Nelson was torpedoed by an Italian aircraft (perhaps an SM79 torpedo bomber). No.69 Squadron was providing maritime reconnaissance, and one of their Marylands sighted 2 Italian battleships and 8 destoyers to the ENE. They were about 70nm away. Another force was sighted 20 miles closer: 4 cruisers and 8 destroyers. When the British battleships steered for them, the Italians turned away.
When the concoy entered the Skerki Channel, Force H turned towards Gibraltar. Towards nightfall, small groups of torpedo bombers staged attacks. One hit the transport Imperial Star, which had to be sunk. The convoy reached Malta at about midday. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.
Monday, May 29, 2006
More Malta supply runs in 1941
In September 1941, hthe merchant ship Empire Guillemot was sent with supplies for Malta. She had an odd cargo, as she carried "fodder for livestock". The passed through the Western Mediterranean by flying "false colours". At various times, she flew the flags of Spain, France, and Italy. She was seen by aircraft, but not disturbed. She arrived at Malta on 19 September.
Submarines were also used to carry supplies to Malta, although only small quantities could be sent this way. The minelaying submarines Cachelot and Rorqual had larger volumes, so they were especially suitable. The larger O-class ships, such as Osiris and Otus also were used. On 30 July 1941, the Chachelot was caught on the surface by an Italian torpedo boat and had to be eventually scuttled. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Minelaying in the Mediterranean Sea in August 1941
The cruiser minelayer Manxman carried out an operation to lay mines south of Livorno (Leghorn) on the night of 24/25 August 1941. For part of the trip, the Manxman wore a disguise as a French light cruiser. She left Gibraltar in disguise, but removed it at sunset on 24 August. The British were being meticulous about adhering to international law, which thought that carrying out hostile acts in disguise was unsporting. After laying mines, the Manxman escaped at 37 knots, and then reassumed her disguise. She was back in Scotland by 30 August.
Admiral Somervilled, commander of Force H, carried out a diversionary operation to draw any potential attention away from the Manxman. On 24 August, he had ten Swordfish from Ark Royal "set fire to some cork woods and bomb a factory near Tempio in Sardinia". The Italian fleet was drawn out, thinking that another Malta convoy was at sea. When Force H returned to Gibraltar, they figured that they had cause the convoy to turn back. This is based on teh account in Vol.II of the Official History.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
An attack on Gibraltar
Friday, May 26, 2006
The Italian attack on the Grand Harbour at Malta.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Malta in August 1941, after being reinforced
112 heavy AA guns
118 light AA guns
104 pieces of artillery (light, field, and medium)
15 Hurricane I
60 Hurricane II
In August, a night fighter was formed with 12 Hurricane IIs, and this seems to have reduced the frequency of night raids. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Operation Style in August 1941
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Substance was a hard fought convoy
In fruther attacks, the destroyer Firedrake was damaged and had to be towed to Gibraltar by another destroyer. The transport Sydney Star was torpedoed by an Italian MTB at night, but was able to proceed towards Malta, after her troops and part of her crew were removed. She actually arrived on 24 July, before the convoy. The rest arrived safely. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Malta needed more forces
aircraft carrier Ark Royal
This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History. I also consulted this web page about convoys.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The period from July to October 1941, in the Mediterranean, consisted of a fight for control of the sea and the flow of supplies and equipment
Saturday, May 20, 2006
The Official History tries to spin that General Auchinleck should have attacked sooner
Vol.II of the Official History of the War in the Mediterranean and Middle East paints a picture that the Germans and Italians so benefitted from the delay in the British attack until November 1941, that the British should have attacked sooner. That ignores the fact that the British army in North Africa was not ready for any offensive. They would have just repeated Battleaxe, where they squandered what strength they had without result. They focus on the benefit to the Axis forces and ignore the realities of the British situation in this discussion. To be fair, they had already examined the British situation and had convinced me that even November 1941 was too soon to attack.
So, we should go ahead and list the Axis reinforcements that arrived between August and November 1941:
Part of the Afrika Division, later renamed as the 90th Light Division
Italian artillery units
Trieste (motorized) Division
Sabratha Division, reformed after being almost totally destroyed
100 M13/40 tanks for the Ariete Division
some light tanks of little value
15th Panzer and 21st Panzer Division were built up
to 250 tanks from 180, almost all by repairs
Friday, May 19, 2006
New plans had to be made, as Russia was stronger than thought
Thursday, May 18, 2006
The German attack on Russia started so well, that they started planning their next moves
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Command changes on the Axis side in the summer of 1941
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
The German situation from May 1941 in North Africa was quite different
Monday, May 15, 2006
Churchill was not to get his early offensive
Sunday, May 14, 2006
The British tank situation in the summer and fall of 1941
The British had to face that reality that infantry tanks such as the Inf.Mk.II Matilda were unsuitable for tank-to-tank combat, and so they were finally withdrawn from the armoured divisions. Instead, they would be used to equip the "Army Tank Brigades", for use in the infantry support role for which they were intended. The Matilda had actually shown itself quite capable in the Battleaxe operation, but they had radio problems and limited range, so that alone necessitated that they could not be used in mobile operations. Their superior armour had shown itself to be useful against the Germans, however.
Since the British were not able to supply enough cruiser tanks (increasingly, Crusaders), they had to use the American Stuarts in their place during the summer and fall of 1941. The Stuarts were extremely mobile, but they suffered from lack of desert equipment and had an odd, rather small gun in the 37mm. They were thus burdened with a gun that was non-standard and required special ammunition that was only in limited supply. Still, they played an important part in the Crusader battle in late 1941. They were replaced, though, in the cruiser role, as soon as adequate numbers of Crusaders and the American Grants were available. This is based, in part, on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
As soon as General Auchinleck arrived, Churchill was pressing for a new offensive
Friday, May 12, 2006
Iran ("Persia") becomes a problem
Thursday, May 11, 2006
The threat to the British position in the Middle East from Barbarrosa
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
After the German attack on Russia on 22 June 1941
The British Chiefs of Staff were not surprised at the German attack on Russia on 22 June 1941. The British had been weakened and were not a threat, but were strong enough at home that an invasion was impractical. The British were aware that there was a large scale movement of German forces to the East. The reduction in German air activity in the Mediterranean theater and over Britain was also indicative of the shift in forces elsewhere.
Rumours accurately forecast that the Rumanians would attack Russia with the Germans. By late May, the German armies facing East had grown to at least 100 divisions. The British expected the Germans to go through some exercise where they would demand concessions from the Soviets that they could not accept, and then use that as a pretext to invade. The reality was the Germans skipped what used to be the accepted forms and just attacked without warning on 22 June. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
More thoughts about generals
Monday, May 08, 2006
More thoughts on Generals Wavell and Auchinleck
We might make a few comparisons between Generals Wavell and Auchinleck. Some obvious things to examine are appointments and their strengths and weaknesses.
Based on results, General Wavell seems to have done well with his appointments. He was in his position for about two years. Auchinleck held his position for only about a year. General Auchinleck did not do well with his appointments, and I have wondered at the difference. One example was Alan Cunningham, who had done well in East Africa, and had conducted a fast-moving campaign that routed the Italians. The problem was that General Cunningham was near exhaustion at the end of the campaign. General Auchinleck was more impressed by Cunningham's campaign, and seems not to have been able to assess the man.
Wavell's primary strength seems to have been his planning ability. His ability to judge men was another strength. His weaknesses were his verbal inarticulateness and his seeming inability to recognize which orders from Britain were reasonable and which were not. He accepted the end to the offensive in Libya without protest and the adventure in Greece. Both turned out badly. He objected to Iraq and Syria, both of which turned out well.
I have wondered if General Auchinleck was more of an idea man. One factor that I had not considered was the Auchinleck was an Indian army man, and lacked much exposure to the regular British army. He did not do well with his appointments, but he proved himself a brilliant field commander, something that was not consistent with his position as theater commander. Auchinleck saved the Crusader battle, in late 1941, and turned it from a defeat into a victory. He then turned the 8th Army over to General Ritchie, who was not up to the job. Auchinleck had to step in and restore the situation, finally halting Rommel at the First Battle of El Alamein. He and his chief of staff, Eric Dorman-Smith, were removed by Churchill, as Churchill had finally lost confidence, and politically, needed to make a change.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
The root of Wavell's problem
The root of Wavell's problem
Saturday, May 06, 2006
Churchill makes personnel moves, starting in May 1941
Friday, May 05, 2006
Thursday, May 04, 2006
The British aviation situation greatly improved by the summer of 1941
Month Aircraft arrivals
In addition, in July, 16 aircraft arrived from South Africa and 76 from the United States.
This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
British aircraft in use in May 1941
- Hurricane I: equal to the contemporary Italian aircraft and the Me-110, but inferior to the Me-109 above 16,000ft
- Hurricane II: not available yet. Some were equipped with cannon for low-level attack
- Blenheim IF: still used for low-level attack on airfields and vehicles
- Blenheim IV: outclassed and could only operate with escorts
- Martin Maryland: maritime reconnaissance only, as its speed and armament limited its ability to operate where there were enemy fighters. Its bomb capacity was too limited and its loaded range was too short
- Sunderland flying boat: good for maritime reconnaissance, but not of defended ports
- Westland Lysander: obsolescent, and not able to operate with out escorts
- Wellington: only able to operate as a night bomber
- Curtis Tomahawk: new and unproven, although it was hoped that it would prove useful for both the fighter and low level attack roles