Thursday, October 29, 2009

The 8th Army withdraws from the Egyptian border

With the 8th Army withdrawn from the Egyptian-Libyan border area, the Desert Air Force light bombers and fighter-bombers made a strong effort against the Axis forces. On 23 June 1942, the light bombers flew 45 sorties and the fighter-bombers flew 30 sorties. The fighters made their first jump back to pre-prepared fields at Mersa Matruh. The bombers were moved further back to El Daba. The Axis mobile forces were held up until 24 June due to a shortage of fuel. The DAK and the Italian 20th Corps cut across to the south, while the 21st Corps and 10th Corps moved east along the coastal road. The Douglas Bostons and Martin Baltimores flew 72 sorties on 24 June while the fighter bombers flew another 30 sorties. The Beaufighters had a greater range, so they attacked transport. There had been almost no sign of Axis fighter aircraft in this phase. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Desert Air Force

The Desert Air Force, at the time of Tobruk's fall, had 22 fighter squadrons, two tactical reconnaissance squadrons, and four light bomber squadrons. The aircraft were a mixture of British made and American made aircraft:

11 Hurricane squadrons
6 Kitty Hawk squadrons
1 Spitfire squadron
2 Tomahawk squadrons
2 Beaufighter squadrons

Tactical Reconnaissance
1 Hurricane squadron
1 Tomahawk squadron

Light Bombers
2 Boston squadrons
1 Blenheim squadron
1 Baltimore squadron

The Desert Air Force had 463 aircraft on 22 June 1942, with another 420 distributed across the Middle East. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

American reinforcements to the Middle East

The fall of Tobruk had many repercussions. One was that the Americans decided to send air units and aircraft to the Middle East. They would leave the United States in late June or early July 1942. The reinforcements included the following:

One squadron of 27 Lockheed Hudsons
One group of 80 Curtis Kittyhawks
One group of 57 North American B-25 Mitchells
One group of 35 Consolidated B-24 Liberators

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The air force takes the load

As we said, Air Vice-Marshal Conyngham had a chain of landing zones prepared going deep into Egypt, so he was prepared for any rapid withdrawals. A great effort was made to increase the size of the Desert Air Force that would help slow the Axis advance. So much fighter strength was shifted to the desert that the defence of the Nile Delta was left to some Beaufighter night fighters and a few Spitfires. One bright spot was that there was finally a full squadron of Martin Baltimore day bombers. They were supplemented at night by a Blenheim squadron (no longer fit for day bombing). The size of the threat to the Middle East was finally realized and aircraft destined for India and the Far East were diverted to the Middle East. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The First Plan

General Ritchie's plan was to use a force commanded by General Gott to delay the Axis advance into Egypt. Doing that would allow the RAF to continue to operate from airfields close to the border and to bomb stores that had been left intact. Everything would be staked on a decisive battle to be fought at Mersa Matruh. The 1st South African Division was sent off to El Alamein. In the event, the delaying action became a normal withdrawal. One innovation was the sequence of landing-grounds that were prepared on the way deeper into Egypt. This was an innovation introduced by Air Vice-Marshal Conyngham to allow almost continuous air support to the army. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Frontier, Mersa Matruh, or El Alamein?

The question of the moment on 23 June 1942 was where to fight to stop Rommel. The Defence Committee in London would have liked to see a stand made at the Frontier. For a number of reasons, this was appealing. First, it would keep Axis forces further away from Alexandria and the Nile Delta. Secondly, Allied Air Forces would be better able to protect convoys to Malta and to interdict Axis supply lines.

In the Middle East, the commanders thought that they lacked sufficient mobile forces, especially armour, to risk a fight at the frontier. Mersa Matruh was another 120 miles East of the Frontier. They calculated that there would be that much more strain on Axis supply lines by fighting at Matruh. The problem with fighting at Mersa Matruh was that there still was a lack of mobile forces and defending Mersa Matruh without them was problematic. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The British plans from 21 June 1942

When the British commanders could see that Tobruk was about to fall, they reported their plans to London. General Ritchie had recommended not trying to hold the frontier, but to slow the enemy advance to give time to withdraw to Mersa Matruh. The New Zealand division was being sent to Mersa Matruh where there were some fixed defences for a division-sized unit. The one bright spot was that the British were strong in the air. The British proceeded to plan on a delaying action on the frontier to give the Matruh defenders more time to prepare defensive positions. One new difficulty was that by withdrawing to Matruh, the Axis air forces would be positioned to hit the base at Alexandria and other targets in the Nile delta and the Red Sea. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Axis plans on 26 June 1942

Italian naval forces would make a strong effort to push convoys to Benghazi and Tobruk. They would also use aircraft and submarines to deliver supplies. On 26 June 1942, Rommel had Cavallero and Bastico as vistors to his headquarters that was now located near Sidi Barrani. Rommel wanted to take El Alamein and use that as a base to push deep into Egypt. Mussolini wanted to take the Suez Canal and to be able to impede the arrival of British reinforcements. The one positive benefit to the British of losing Tobruk was that the Americans agreed to supply 300 Sherman tanks and 100 105mm self-propelled guns to the British in the Middle East. They would also supply "a large number of aircraft". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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