Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rommel decides against attacking Malta

Back in March 1942, Rommel still thought that taking Malta soon should be a priority. He changed his mind, along with everyone else in authority on the Axis side. Field Marshal Kesselring had wanted to attack Malta early because he knew that the German air strength would be greatly reduced to meet other needs. The Italians knew that they would not be ready for an amphibious attack before July, so they opposed an early attack. By April, Rommel realized that he would need to attack in the desert before the British, who were planning to attack in May. Taking Tobruk was now the top priority for the Axis side. While the focus shifted to the western desert, a joint staff with Germans and Italians continued to plan for a later attack on Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Submarine losses in April and May 1942

One reason that the Axis convoys to North Africa were safer was that the British had lost three submarines. Two U-class submarines, the famous Upholder and the Urge were both lost in April 1942. Lt-Cdr Wanklyn's luck had run out when the Upholder was sunk by an Italian torpedo boat on 14 April. The Urge was lost without a trace after sailing from Malta on 27 April. The Official History suggests that she was mined. The third submarine, the Olympus, was mined a short distance from Malta on 8 May.

The Germans lost three submarines during May. A Lockheed Hudson from No.233 Squadron attacked U.573 and forced her into internment in Spain. A Consolidated Catalina from No.202 Squadron and the destroyers Wishart and Wrestler sank U.74 a day later. A Short Sunderland from the same squadron damaged a submarine late in May. U.568 was sunk by the destroyers Eridge, Hero, and Hurworth northeast of Tobruk. The air connection, in this case, was that a Blenheim from No.203 Squadron had sighted the submarine and alerted the destroyers.

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

Monday, February 11, 2008

Some analysis

From what we have seen so far in 1942, following the Japanese attacks in the Far East, the British and Commonwealth forces were stretched to the breaking point. We can say with hindsight that the Middle East was stripped down too far and the British paid dearly during the spring and summer, because of that. The situation in the Pacific was stabilized not by the force of arms on the ground but because of naval successes at the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. The battle that was spread across 1942 into 1943 in the Solomons was what finally wore down the Japanese enough that the Allies were able to go on the offensive. Because of that overreaction, which is understandable but regrettable, North Africa was almost lost. Another factor as the Axis air superiority, partly due to their geographical advantage in Cyrenaica and partly due to better aircraft in the Bf-109f. More Spitfire V's had to be sent to the Mediterranean theater to restore the situation in the air. The great influx of American-built aircraft also helped, even when the fighter aircraft were inferior, initially. It was only when the P-51B's entered service that there was a better aircraft available.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

British naval operations in May 1942

After the destruction of three of four of Captain Poland's destroyers, no further surface operaations could be mounted from Alexandria in May 1942. The destroyer division had been attacked by several waves of aircraft, mostly Ju-88 divebombers, but also some He-111's. The Ju-88's were based at Heraklion and had just completed training in anti-shipping operations. In mid-May, the Italians had mounted another "human torpedo" attack, but this one was ineffective. Meanwhile, submarine operations continued unabated, but submarine losses rose on both sides. The submarine ace Lt-Commander Wanklyn and the Upholder were lost in May to an Italian torpedo boat. One factor would ease the dire British naval situation. The Germans were forced to shift combat aircraft to Russia in increasing numbers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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