Saturday, September 30, 2006

The British won the Crusader Battle

The Official History summaries the Crusader Battle by saying that the British won the battle, relieved Tobruk, but it took longer than planned, and by the time the battle was won, the British had "exhausted themselves". The battle took place between the border, as far south as Fort Maddalena, and Tobruk, including towards the south to Bir el Gubi. The stretched out over two weeks, as the British initial thrust misfired, and they were confused and ineffectual for some time, really until General Auchinleck intervened. The area is pretty much ideal for armoured warfare, except near the coast, where there is the escarpment and poor going. The ground inland is quite good for tanks and vehicles, except when there is rain. Near the coast is the Via Balbia, the coast road built by the Italians. Much of the important fighting occurred near the Sidi Rezegh airfield. On the British side, almost the entire army was now motorized, even the infantry. The infantry divisions drew their transport from a pool, while motorized units had integral transport. 30th Corps was completely motorized while the 13th Corps had units that were not. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, September 29, 2006

More thoughts on Rommel

Rommel was trained in infiltration tactics in the Great War, and was a skilled practitioner, as he proved on the Italian front. Infiltration tactics really formed the basis of armoured warfare, as practiced by the Germans in WWII. Patton understood them, and largely adopted the concepts. He, especially, of the Allied generals, was a master of mobile warfare, and the use of armour. Montgomery was not. He required material superiority, and fought in set piece battles. He detested spontaneous, unscripted operations. That was because he was ponderous in thought and always wanted to be in control. The Germans had many who understood the principles. General von Manstein applied them in the 1940 campaign against France, even though he did not command armour. I believe that he commanded an infantry corps. Von Manstein proved himself a master of the form, able to function as a very high level commander on the Eastern Front.


Rommel outclassed all of the British generals in North Africa, with the possible exception of Claude Auchinleck. The British ultimately won the Crusader Battle because General Auchinleck stepped in, after the battle had gone horribly wrong, and defeated Rommel and the Axis forces. Auchinleck was very focused on his position as theater commander, and he did not want to be commanding the army in the field. Only after General Cunningham showed that he had lost control, and had no idea about how to remedy the situation, that Auchineck took over. General Cunningham had only recently fought a brilliant campaign in East Africa, against the Italians and colonial troops. I speculate that Cunningham had accepted the armour mystique, and thought that you somehow used armoured forces differently. You did, but the British did not have a clue, in November 1941, as to how that was done. They were seriously rattled by Rommel's lack of reaction to British moves, and his use of the "sword and shield" methods. Auchinleck had some of the characteristics of Rommel, in that he was able to know about the flow of battle and make informed decisions. As we study the Crusader Battle, we will see how all this unfolds.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The situation in the middle of November 1941

At the middle of November 1941, both the British and Axis forces were preparing for offensives. The British intended to break through to Tobruk and raise the seige. They hoped to drive the Axis forces back towards Tripoli. Rommel was preparing to attack Tobruk, hoping to break through the defenses and take the fortress. Both sides intended to attack about the same time, but the British were able to move first. They had the largest tank force seen to that date in the desert, and had high-hopes about a tank-vs-tank battle. Rommel was apparently ready to concentrate against Tobruk and allow the British to make whatever moves they wanted. The Official History says that we need to study how the conflicting plans interacted, and how the commanders behaved, given the expectations about what the opposing forces would do.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Other tanks in late 1941

Besides the tanks previously listed, the Italians had 52 light tanks assinged to the Ariete Division and 110 more were assigned to the Italian infantry divisions. The Italian light tanks were generally used for infantry support. The Germans had every running tank with the panzer divisions. The first German tank shipments arrived in late December. The British had more tanks besides those assigned to the armoured units, and tehre was the Convoy WS12 that had 124 Crusaders, 60 M3 Stuarts and 52 infantry tanks (it is unclear if they were Valentines or Matildas). The ships in the convoy all seem to have been assigned to units, being sent to the theater. The Crusaders and Stuarts were assigned to a brigade of the 1st Armoured Division. The infantry tanks appear to have been assigned to a battalion of the RTR. In addition, there were many tanks in the shops, either for repair or modification: 92 cruiser tanks, 90 M3 Stuart light tanks, and 77 infantry tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tank forces for Crusader

We have a pretty good idea of the tank complements at the start of the Crusader Battle in November 1941. These are the Axis tanks:

Type 15th Pz Div 21st Pz Div Ariete Div
Pzkw II 38 32
Pzkw III 75 64
Pzkw IV 20 15
M 13/40 146

The British had a more diverse tank complement, of which we don't know the exact details. This is what we do know:

Type HQ 30th Corps HQ 7th Ar Div 4th Ar Bre 7th Ar Bre 22nd Ar Bre
Cru Mk I, II, and III 6 26
Cru Mk IV 62
Crusader 2 53 155
Stuart M3 8 165

1st Army Tank Brigade (13th Corps): 3-cruiser tanks and 132 infantry tanks
(half Matilda, half Valentine)
32nd Army Tank Brigade (Tobruk): 32-cruiser tanks, 25 Lt Mk.VI, and 69 Matilda

This is base on tables in Vol.III of the Official History

Monday, September 25, 2006

British armoured division organization

In November 1941, the British armoured division still had two armoured brigades and a support group. Each armoured brigade had three armoured regiments (or the equivalent RTR battalion). A regiment had about 50 tanks, with a headquarters squadron and three squadrons (A, B, and C). The support group had motorized infantry and supporting artillery. In addition to the 7th Armoured Division, the 4th Armoured Brigade Group operated independently, and had its own organic motorized infantry and artillery. The 4th Armoured Brigade Group could be included in 30th Corps or could be attached directly to the 7th Armoured Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The British 3.7in AA gun

The Official History mentions the British 3.7in AA gun. The primary role of this gun was heavy AA, and the guns were positioned guarding major installations such as the Suez Canal, as well as landing grounds. The gun was capable of being used in the anti-tank role, when supplied with a suitable gunsight. Finally, in April 1942, sixty 3.7in AA guns were fitted for the anti-tank role. A very few were used in a portion of the abortive Gazala battle in May. This is based on a note in Vol.III of the Official History. Contributors have increasingly made the Wikipedia a good source for information about tanks and guns. There is a page for the "QF 3.7in AA Gun".

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Minefields and anti-tank guns in late 1941

Even before the Crusader battle, both the British and Axis had laid extensive minefields of anti-tank mines. They had been laid around Tobruk and on the frontier, as well. These were used in conjunction with emplaced anti-tank guns. In June 1941, during Battleaxe, the German 88mm gun had been a potent force against British tanks, especially Matildas near Halfaya Pass. The Official History says that probably most British tanks knocked out during Crusader were the result of hits from 50mm PAK38's. There were mostly Italian 47mm ATG's around Tobruk and on the frontier. The Germans did have 23 88's on the frontier. The other 15 88's were with the DAK, along with the 96 50mm PAK38's. The DAK also had a number of the inadequate 37mm ATGs. The British had to rely upon 25pdrs for an effective anti-tank weapon. A price was paid, as it impacted their normal artillery role. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, September 22, 2006

British infantry tanks

The British infantry tanks were built to serve in an obsolete role. The infantry tank was trying to fill the that tanks were used in 1917 and 1918, in support of infantry in trench warfare.

That explains the existence of the diminutive Inf.Mk.I Matilda, armed soley with machine guns. The Inf.Mk.II Matilda was armed with a 40mm 2pdr high velocity gun, almost just because the gun existed, and it did make the tank more viable as a battle tank. The Matilda had good armour, good enough that it took an 88mm APC round to knock it out. It might also be disabled by a 105mm howitzer round.

The Inf.Mk.III Valentine was conceived of as tank that was more easily mass-produced than the Inf.Mk.II and it also proved to be capable of improvement, unlike the cast-hulled Inf.Mk.II. The Valentine was based on the proven Cru.Mk.I and Cru.Mk.II designs. The Valentine eventually received a 75mm gun, before it went out of production.

The Inf.Mk.IV Churchill was the ultimate embodiment of the infantry tank concept. It had the long tread, that allowed easier movement over shelled ground, and had good armour. The Churchill eventually received a 6pdr gun and then the British 75mm gun. By that time, the tank was obsolescent, but its good armour kept it around for longer than it might otherwise have been. The infantry tank concept was dead with the Churchill. It was replaced with main battle tanks that could fire HE or AP rounds, with a superior gun. The first such tank was the Centurion, of which prototypes arrived at the front at the end of the war.

More about tanks in 1941

The Russians were the only army that had well-conceived tanks of modern concept in 1941. The Russians were handicapped by the purges of the latter 1930's that wiped out most of the senior officers who were capable. That process almost disabled the Red Army. Fortunately, there were a small cadre of capable generals, and enough good men to stop the Germans before reaching Moscow in late 1941. The Russians had early versions of the T-34, which was like a well-armoured and gunned British cruiser tank, and the KV-I heavy tank, which was armoured on the scale of the Matilda infantry tank. Both the T-34 were equipped with a rather low-velocity 76.2mm gun, but this was replaced with a longer-barreled, higher velocity 76.2mm gun that was superior to anything the Germans had in 1941. The British cruiser and infantry tanks looked poor in comparison with the Russian tanks, as did the German tanks.

The Germans had to rely upon the "88" and field artillery to stop the Russian tanks. One poorly manned T-34 or KV-I could still terrorize a German army, until they managed to disable it or knock it out. Often, the Russian tanks simply bogged down, and then could be knocked out. The need to combat the powerful Russian tanks caused the Germans to rapidly improve their tanks and anti-tank guns. The Pzkw III received spaced armour and a 50mm L/60 gun, in small numbers. The Pzkw IV eventually received a 75mm L/48 gun. That same gun was mounted as an anti-tank gun. The only problem was that the numbers were too few. The Germans also started rush development of the Tiger I with an 88mm gun to combat the KV.

The British effort looked pretty pitiful, compared to what the Russians had, and soon, the Germans had, if in small numbers. Fortunately for the British, the Americans were developing 75mm gunned tanks that would become available by the late Spring of 1942. The Grants and Lees, with their hull-mounted 75mm gun were less than ideal, but by the fall, the British had received the Sherman, with a turret-mounted 75mm gun and good mobility. The Sherman also had the minimally acceptable scale of armour to allow it to compete with what the Germans had. The Italians lagged considerably behind at this time, as the best they had, by 1942, was the M15/42 with the longer-barreled 47mm gun and somewhat better armour. The British only produced better tanks by the end of the war. The Centurion, then only in prototype, was one of the premier tanks of the post-war period.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

More about British tanks

The Official History says that General Norried described the earlier British cruiser tanks as suffering from a "general debility". I take that to mean the A.9, Cru.Mk.I and Mk.ICS, the A.10, Cru.Mk.II, IIA, and IIACS, the A.13 Cru.Mk.III, IV, and IVA, and CS variants. The first really viable cruiser, according to this narrative, was the A.15 Cru.Mk.VI Crusader I. The Crusader suffered from severe teething problems, resulting frequent breakdowns. Due to the poor recovery capability at this date, that caused many to be total losses, as they had to be abandoned to the enemy. The British cruiser tanks, at this date, were all armed with the inadequate 40mm 2pdr gun. The one bright spot was the presence of the American M3 Stuart tank, which was extremely fast and reliable. The main drawbacks were the light armour and small 37mm gun. At least, the 37mm gun had capped AP shot, so even with the light round, Stuarts were better prepared to deal with German face-hardened armour. This is based, in part, on Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tanks and the Crusader Battle

The British expected that the tank would dominate the Crusader Battle (also known as the Winter Battle). While the Official History indicates that the Germans also thought that, Rommel certainly did not. Rommel was a combined armed advocate, and made his reputation with infantry, using infiltration tactics pioneered in WWI. His approach to modern combined arms battlefighting was to use "sword and shield" tactics. He used armour against infantry and transport and artillery against tanks, particularly the 5cm PAK38 and the 88mm FLAK18 and other models.

The Germans had their pre-war tank designs. There were a small number of Pzkw I's, which were just MG armed and were of little consequence. The larger 20mm gun-armed Pzkw II was useful as a reconnaissance tank. The Pzkw III was the main battle tank, although the newest were just armed with a medium length 5cm gun that was capable of firing the "arrowhead" ammunition. The Pzkw IV was used in a similar role to the British support tanks, in that it was burdened with the short 75mm gun, intended to fire HE shells. The German tanks had the advantage of having some face-hardened armour that would shatter the British 2pdr shot and had a few Pzkw III's with appliqué armour.

The British had tanks built to an erroneous, pre-war concept. They had the slow, well-armoured infantry tanks. Originally, these were the Inf. Mk.II Matilda. Later, they were joined by the Inf. Mk.III Valentine, which were capable of being upgunned, unlike the Matilda, stuck with its cast hull. Infantry tanks were supposed to support infantry, but lacked a suitable armament for that role. The faster cruiser tanks were to fight other tanks, but they were under-gunned and armoured to be successful in that role. It was only when the British saw the American Grant, Lee, and Sherman, that they saw how to effectively arm a tank. The American medium tanks had the medium velocity 75mm gun at this date, which could fire either HE or an AP shot. The AP shot was on the order of 12 lbs, so it had much greater striking power than the high velocity, but lightweight 40mm 2pdr gun. Due to bad decision-making, the excellent 57mm 6pdr gun did not appear until 1942.

The Italians had the diesel-powered M13/40, at first. This was joined by the M14/41 and M15/42 tanks. The latter with a longer, higher velocity 47mm gun. They also had the useless L3 light tanks. Their more useful light tank was the L6, which really had too high a silhouette. They did have the excellent Autoblinda armoured cars, which were as good as any used by the Germans and better than what the British had.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The consequences of the relief of the Australians from Tobruk

The withdrawal of the Australians from Tobruk and the transport of the relieving forces placed a great strain on the Royal Navy and the air force. The first step was to bring in the 1st Polish Carpathian Brigade to replace the 18th Australian Brigade. Every night, convoys ran with destroyers and fast minelayers. They had cruiser escorts "to give extra anti-aircraft protection". The navy took damage to "the cruiser Phoebe and the destroyer Nizam". The British 6th Division was now the 70th Division. In late September, the 16th Infantry Brigade Group was brought in, as well as the HQ of the 32nd Army Tank Brigade and the 4th RTR. The 24th Australian Brigade was withdrawn. In mid to late October, the rest of the 70th Division was transported to Tobruk and almost all of the remaining Australians were withdrawn. The situation at sea, given the increased German air presence made the cost of withdrawing the last few Australian units prohibitive. They were left for the time being. In the process of the withdrawal, the navy lost the fast minelayer Latona, the destroyer Hero was damaged, as well as the gunboat Gnat. The oiler Pass of Balhama and the storeship Samos were torpedoed and sunk by submarines. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The defense of Tobruk in 1941

The defense of Tobruk since May 1941 had been commanded by General Leslie Moreshead, the commander of the 9th Australian Division. The Australians mounted an active defense, mounting constant small operations against the attackers. The Axis surrounded Tobruk with a system of minefields and artillery. Axis aircraft constantly were in the air over Tobruk, harrassing the defenders. A great deal of AA ammunition was expended by the defenders. The attackers did not want to attack until they were able to build up an arsenal of heavy artillery. In the event, the Tobruk garrison not only withstood the attacks but were able to break out during the Crusader battle.

The Australian commander, General Blamey, asked that Australian troops be replaced and withdrawn. That seems to have reflected the desires of the Australian government. The Australian government undoubtedly wanted their troops removed from what seemed to be a vulnerable position, in the besieged port. By August, the first withdrawals took place. By the end of August, there had been a change of government in Australia, and the new Prime Minister pushed for the rest to be removed from Tobruk. That seriously interfered with plans for Crusader and put naval assets under increased risk of attack. General Auchinleck was greatly distressed by the matter and Churchill assured him of their complete confidence in him. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The British commando raid on the night of 17/18 November 1941

Rommel was in Rome for a meeting about transportation and supplies in mid-November 1941. He was in Athens, on the way back to North Africa, on the night of 17/18 November 1941, when the British staged a commando attack, trying to capture Rommel. Two submarines, the Torbay and Talisman, put a detachment of the No.11 (Scottish) Commando ashore close to Apollonia, where the British had thought Rommel was living. Lt-Col. Keyes, son of the fleet admiral, was killed in the attempt. He received a posthumous VC for his efforts. The commandos actually assaulted the house that they were trying to reach, and had an itense battle, including hand-to-hand fighting. There is a page that gives much more detail than Vol.III of the Official History, which I have summarized here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hitler decided at the end of October 1941, that the something major was required in North Africa

At the end of October 1941, Hitler appointed Field Marshal Kesselring as Commander-in-Chief South, with Luftflotte 2 and Fliegerkorps II to be withdrawn from the Russian front. He was to take charge, neutralize Malta, and establish air superiority over the Mediterranean Sea. He would be charged with interdicting British sea traffic, in the east-west directions, and would be able to issue orders to the naval commands. Kesselring would report to Mussolini. Rommel would still report to General Bastico. The Italians did not welcome Kesselring's appointment, but were forced to accept him. Kesselring would have a mixed German-Italian staff, in at least a gesture to the Italians. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Axis supply situation in late 1941

Rommel was also planning an attack in November 1941. He hoped to attack Tobruk again, but the situation at sea put that plan into jeopardy. The British anti-shipping campaign was doing so well that Rommel's supply situation was becoming increasingly difficult. The OKH was concerned that the British planned top lift the seige of Tobruk, and then shift forces to defend the Caucasus. The Italians were more concerned that the British planned take the whole of Tobruk.

The Italian high command warned General Bastico that the British planned to launch an offensive soon. Generals Bastico and Rommel thought that would not be possible. Rommel, in any case, thought that he had sufficient forces to deal with any such attack, while he broke into Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Panzer Gruppe Afrika in the fall of 1941

"At the end of July 1941", Panzer Gruppe Afrika was formed with General Rommel as the commander and "General Gause as Chief of Staff". Panzer Gruppe Afrika and the Italian 20th Corps (the Mobile Corps) both reported directly to the Italian North Africa Command, under General Bastico. The XXth Corps had the Trieste Motorized Division and the Ariete Armoured Division under its command. Panzer Gruppe Afrika was a much larger organization with the Deutsche Afrika Korps and teh Italian 21st Corps under its command. The Italian 21st Corps was composed of the divisions surrounding Tobruk. The DAK had the Savona Division holding the border area and had the two armoured divisions, the Afrika Division (to become the 90th Light Division). Both armoured divisions were what Churchill described as "colonial armoured divisions", as they had a smaller organization than the divisions that took part in the invasion of France in 1940. This is based in part, on Vol.III of the Official History.

The navy's role in Crusader

Part of the navy role was to interdict Axis shipping to North Africa, and they had been quite successful in that endeavor. Once the attack began, the navy would provide inshore gunfire support to the land operations. Right before the start of the land campaign, the navy planned to run mock convoy operation "from Gibraltar through the Mediterranean". Another dummy convoy would sail from Malta and head for Tripoli, to make it appear that a landing would be attempted. Operations would be continued on the coast to interdict smallcraft attempting to carry supplies forward to the Axis troops. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The air force was ready and at full strength on 17 November 1941

The Desert Air Force was up to strength, with reserves, and ready for battle on 17 November 1941. The Desert Air Force had already damaged the Axis supply system and air forces. The British were also very well prepared as a thorough reconnaissance had been conducted. When the battle started, they would have three tasks:
  1. maintain air superiority
  2. disrupt the enemy supply system
  3. carry out reconnaissance as needed
Now, the British could reasonably hope that the coming attack would achieve surprise, due in no small part to the dominance of the Desert Air Force. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Aircraft types in the RAF Middle East Command on 11 November 1941

Appendix 5 of Vol.III of the Official History of the War in the Mediterranean and Middle East lists the RAF Orders of Battle and in particular, the RAF Middle East Command as of 11 November 1941. The entire OOB is probably to large for this forum, but listing the range of aircraft in the inventory seems interesting:

Aircraft Role

Morane Saulnier 406 Single-Engined Fighter (Free French)
Fairey Albacore Torpedo Bomber
Avro Anson General Reconnaissance (SAAF)
Avro Anson General Reconnaissance/Torpedo Bomber
Hawker Audax Air Transport
Hawker Audax Tactical Reconnaissance
Bristol Beaufighter IC Long Range Twin-Engined Fighter
Bristol Beaufighter IPR Photo Reconnaissance
Bristol Beaufort I Torpedo Bomber
Bristol Blenheim I Light Bomber
Bristol Blenheim IV General Reconnaissance
Bristol Blenheim IV Light Bomber
Bristol Blenheim IV Tactical Reconnaissance
Bristol Blenheim IVF LR Twin-Engined Fighter
Bristol Bombay Bomber Transport
Douglas DC2 Air Transport
de Havilland DH 86 Air Ambulance
Dornier Do.22 General Reconnaissance (Yugoslav)
Fairey Fulmar General Reconnaissance
Gloster Gladiator Tactical Reconnaissance
Hawker Hartbeest Light Bomber (SAAF)
Hawker Hurricane I Single-Engined Fighter
Hawker Hurricane IIA Single-Engined Fighter
Hawker Hurricane IIB Single-Engined Fighter
Hawker Hurricane IIC Single-Engined Fighter
Hawker Hurricane I Tactical Reconnaissance
LR Hawker Hurricane I Photo Reconnaissance
Junkers Ju.86 General Reconnaissance (SAAF)
Lockheed Lodestar Air Transport
Westland Lysander Tactical Reconnaissance
Martin Maryland General Reconnaissance
Martin Maryland Operational Training
Martin Maryland Strategic Reconnaissance
Martin Maryland Survey Reconnaissance
Curtis Mowhawk Single-Engined Fighter (SAAF)
Percival Proctor Air Transport
Short Sunderland General Reconnaissance
Fairey Swordfish Torpedo Bomber
Vickers Vincent Light Bomber
Vickers Wellesley Bomber Transport
Vickers Wellesley Light Bomber
Vickers Wellington IC Air/Sea Rescue
Vickers Wellington I & IC General Reconnaissance
Vickers Wellington IC Medium Bomber
Vickers Wellington II Medium Bomber

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Desert Air Force Strength on 17 November 1941

The Desert Air Force, commanded by Air Vice-Marshal Coningham, had been increased in strength considerably. By 17 November 1941, the air force had the following units, as quoted from the Official History:

Short range fighters: 14 squadrons (including one naval squadron)
Long-range fighters: 2 squadrons
Medium bombers: 8 squadronds (for a short time 9)
Tactical reconnaissance: 3 squadrons
Survey reconnaissance: 1 flight
Strategic reconnaissance: 1 flight

The SAAF played a considerable part, having provided six squadrons and two flights. The RAAF had two squadrons, the Rhodesians had one squadron as did the Free French. Of course, the heavy bombers (probably Wellingtons at this date), fighters, and reconnaissance aircraft in the theater also occasionally made an appearance in combat. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The SAS raids on 16 November 1941

Two separate raids took place on 16 November 1941 by two detachments from the SAS. One flew on three Bombays to Gazala and the other on two Bombays to Tmimi. The weather was bad, with heavy rain and low visibility. This made navigation difficult, and only one the five Bombays dropped its men on target. The rain had "turned dust into bog", and there were men injured on landing besides. The operations failed and the attacks never took place. Only some of the attackers escaped. "Others were killed or taken prisoner". The only positive feature of the weather is that the Axis airfields were much more effected than the British. That helped to secure surprise for the impending attack, as the Axis aircraft were stuck in mud on their landing fields. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The decoy effort a Jarabub paid off on 15 November 1941

The Germans finally bit on the decoy effort a Jarabub on 15 November 1941. A "brisk fight" happened "in which one Blenheim was lost, five others and two Hurricanes were damaged, and some petrol and transport were destroyed". When the German records were finally seen, there losses were found to be "three Me. 110s, one Ju. 88 and one Me. 109 destroyed, and one Ju. 88 damaged". The official history thought that this was a reasonable showing. Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe was pounding Tobruk on a daily basis. They also raided the Suez "on five nights". They also hit Fuka, where Blenheims were apparently based ("medium bombers"). The only significant and sustained attacks were on Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Air operations from 13 November 1941

The intensity of air operations over the Western Desert dramatically increased starting on 13 November 1941. There were several aims for the air offensive. One was to press the Axis air force to the greatest extent and the other was to cover the ground movements that preceded the start of Crusader. The weather did not cooperate, as the cloud cover kept increasing, which hampered aerial reconnaissance. In the daytime, the Axis airfields were pounded. Wellingtons were active at night, with FAA Albacores, hitting both the supply lines and the airfields. There continued to be low-level fighter sweeps, but they did not provoke the sort of counterattack that had been anticipated. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Air operations in late October and November 1941

The Hurricane in service in the Desert Air Force did not match up well with the Me-109, particularly the Me-109f (actually, the Bf-109f). There was a certain amount of activity centered on raiding the German air fields, in hopes that it would instigate aerial combat, but this only happened three times, and the Germans dominated those, losing one Me-109f to three Hurricanes. There were 68 sorties (one aircraft on one mission) in the last two weeks of October and 72 in the first week of November. The weather was very cloudy, so this discouraged the airfield attacks. That left the British fighters free to strafe ground targets, including transport on the roads. Wellingtons from Malta were active at night, and succeeded in destroying or damaging 16 aircraft in two nights. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

British tank and armoured car wargame pieces

This is a sheet of my 1980's era British armoured car and tank wargame pieces. Clicking the smaller image will pop the full-size sheet:

Monday, September 04, 2006

One of my miscellaneous guns and vehicles sheets of wargame pieces

This is one of my sheets with a selection of different guns and vehicles for use as wargame pieces. They are from my quick and dirty sketch series. I am making the smaller image clickable, so you can get the larger scale sheet:

Sunday, September 03, 2006

FAA Albacores in the desert

The lumbering Fairey Albacores proved to be very important for night air operations over the desert and the enemy ports. The archaic design of the Albacore, with good visibility from the cockpit, gave them an advantage in accurate navigation. The aircrews became experts in navigation over the desert in nighttime. Because of this advantage, they came to be used a pathfinders more than bombers. They carried many flares at the expense of bombs, as that was more useful for their new role. Their flaredropping over targets greatly aided Blenheims flying in night attacks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bombing transportation targets in October-November 1941

The following targets were hit by British bombers:

Tripoli-attacked on 12 nights by 58 Wellingtons, some 4,000 lb bombs used
Naples-hit on 12 nights by 96 Wellingtons, some 4,000 lb bombs used
Brindisi was attacked once by 21 Wellingtons
Benghazi was hit by Wellingtons at night and SAAF Marylands in daytime
Derna-two attacks by 50 Wellingtons and 26 Blenheims at night, 11 Marylands in daytime

The harbour bombing proved to be pretty effective and caused disruptions to the Axis supply effort. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The battle in the air started in mid-October 1941

The air campaign in support of the Crusader plan started in the middle of October 1941. Operations from Malta and Egypt were closely linked to Crusader. They had several roles: reconnaissance for the Army and interence with the Axis supply lines. They also fought for air superiority over Cyrenaica. They had to do all this without giving away too much of the plan for the ground campaign. Reconnaissance alone was almost beyond the resources that were available to the air force. Three units were involved: the Strategic Reconnaissance Unit, the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, and the Survey Flight (newly formed). This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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