You know what Bryn... I could talk about that. Next year? Yeah plenty of time.
Well now I need to present and the research is taking up a lot of my spare time and taking over my writing time. As I am trying to commit my presentation to text I thought I'd post it here on this blog for anyone that is interested....
There are several generalisations and disbelief about the German Military that have developed through time since the War and I'm hoping to dispel them through the course of this presentation.
Germany's War aims were driven, not through ideology, though that did help, but by resources and OKW (OberKommandderWehrmacht) was painfully aware of the short falls of fuel, precious metals and rubber that faced the fledgling Wehrmacht.
The notion of Blitzkrieg grew out of tactics first used by German Stormtroopers and during British counter attacks in 1918. Heinz Guderian, in his seminal work Achtung Panzer! described the conditions for the ideal tank attacks to punch through an enemy front line and into the rear areas quickly.
Its all about Schwerpunkt.
OKW and OKH (OberKommand der Heer) would select a point of attack along the enemies front line that was the weakest or most preferable for attack. Behind German lines tanks and motorised Infantry would be massed and on X-day they would advance under artillery fire through the line and then sweep towards stores and rear areas sewing confusion and panic into civilians and military staff alike with the aim of bringing the war to a swift end.
This type of war appealed to the German strategists who knew that Germany could not afford another protracted war of attrition like the First World War. If Germany was to go to war she had to take out her enemies quickly and efficiently and this is where a problem arose.
Artillery is slow and cumbersome, it cannot be dragged along at the same speed as a Panzer column and takes time to deploy and fire. Also with the advent of aircraft any large mass of artillery being deployed behind the lines and the lengthy barrage before the attack would attract a lot of attention and the enemy would be able to guess where the attack would come. So what is the solution?
Cue the Luftwaffe.
The German high command had not been ignorant of technical developments and had pursued an active, though supposedly secretive, creation and evaluation program for aircraft development including the infamous "Dive bomber order" from Udet's office.
I'm not going to delve into the age old, and dare I say it tired debate, about whether the Luftwaffe was a Tactical or Strategic air force. For the purpose of Blitzkrieg it was purely tactical as the OKW heads were not interested in long term aerial strategy they only needed temporary aerial supremacy above the Schwerpunkt and advances. The point of the invasion was to knock the enemy out quickly.
I shall never start a war without the certainty that a demoralised enemy will succumb to the first stroke of a single gigantic attack - Adolf Hitler
The Luftwaffe was thus seen only as flying artillery. The beauty of it, as seen by the Army commanders and their master planners in Berlin, was that they could attack without prior warning. On X-day the medium bombers would strike the enemies air instillations around the target areas whilst 109's would perform a freijagd over the advancing columns and areas shooting at anything that moved and engaging enemy aircraft. As the Panzer columns moved forward Ju 87 Stukas would be called in to strike hard points in the defencive network and enemy counter attacks.
This was all controlled by the column commanders who had a Luftwaffe officer attached to update the local Fliegerkorps commander of situations and to report their units current position to cut down the chance of friendly fire. This way the Army group commanders and Luftflotten commanders knew where their men were- In theory.
One of the big problems came with the attacks on England and Malta. The Luftwaffe was suddenly thrown into a strategic role without Panzer support. Africa and Russia threw into sharp relief the amount that the Luftwaffe was being used as an artillery piece. Field commanders were more than happy to call in wave after wave of Stuka dive bombers on one target forgetting the wear and tear on aircraft and their crews but I'll come to that later.
One of the great myths about the Third Reich is the size of its armed forces including the Luftwaffe. What is often forgotten is that during the invasion of Poland there was only 1 bomber fleet on the Western front and only a handful of fighters. The same was true during Sealion, the Germans fielded some 2400 aircraft and that was the total strike force available. When the Germans built up a bomber fleet for Malta or assigned the meagre forces to North Africa they were reassigning aircraft from more vital areas and were generally the only aircraft available.
|The supply route (marked in red)|
Before the war the Italians had set up supply depots on both sides of the sea but they'd never been able to fill them to capacity and air raids had taken a heavy toll. Added to this was the nature of the Italian Colony. There was no Railway from the ports to the front and all supplies had to be driven up by trucks which drank a lot of the petrol delivered and provided a great target from the air!
There was also the problem of equipment. Where as the Allies used the same kit the German and Italian equipment varied wildly and they could not share or pass around surpluses. All German equipment must come from Germany first.
There was also the problem of the shipping. Italian production was still in peace time mode and spare parts were spread around wharves across the whole country as were the ships and merchant fleets. The Italian Navy failed to take control of the merchant marine which left Italian captains thinking of "Their" ships and "Their" crews rather than the Nation's and were thus hesitant to put themselves in any danger. Tankers particularly drew a lot of fire from enemy air and sea units especially when the enigma codes had announced that tankers were sailing. Indeed by November 1942 it was acknowledged that with the losses that had already been incurred, any further resupply by sea would ultimately fail.
The supply situation would get so bad in Africa that the Panzer units would steal Aviation fuel to power their tanks leaving their airmen stranded on the ground.
For victory to be attained in North Africa the Allied island of Malta would have to fall to take the pressure off the shipping supply line.
|Royal Opera House Valletta after an air raid|
Success was quick as Stuka dive bombers struck convoy MS.6 and between the Stukas and a He 111 pathfinder they sank HMS Southampton and severely damaged the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious who was pursued by Geisler's men who flew 200 sorties (losing 8) to try and sink her but she managed to get to Alexandria.
|General der Flieger Geisler|
Stukas were used night and day, the 109s supplemented by a gruppe from JG 27 were used for free sweeps and Jabo raids but Geisler lacked the firepower to completely subjugate the whole island and after a total of 2741 sorties between January-May they only lost 44 aircraft, 62 enemy planes shot down (42 by Munchenberg's squadron and 19 by the Oberstleutnant). The threat to Greece and the Balkan situation led to the Luftwaffe force being withdrawn and the Italian airforce being put back in charge of subduing Malta and escorting convoys.
OKW agreed to Il Duce that Italy should rule their own airspace and Geisler was moved to Crete to carry out operations against the British fleet and bomb Alexandria from there. However without the quality German aircraft the RAF were quick to rearm their forces with 50 Hurricanes arriving in Mid May and a fleet of Swordfish.
1. Airbourne troops would take the southern heights before assualting and capturing the airfields south of Valetta after the Luftwaffe carried out a strike on the airfields.
2. Using sycronised bombing raids and in conjunction with the paratroops, Naval landings would take place south of Valetta and take the strong points and costal batteries before moving on to strike the harbour.
3. Diversionary attacks on the bay of Marsa Scirocco would draw the Allied garrison away from Valetta.
German crews would often fly three sorties a day over the island (one of which against airfields). Fighters would precede the bombers with a strafing or jabo run then the bombs would fall decimating the airfields. Aerial superiority was quickly gained with Hurricane figures dropping to 20 serviceable out of 80 and 97% of all raids were taking part in daylight.
USS Wasp landed 46 Spitfires but they were quickly bounced and their airfields bombed leaving ony 27 by the next day.
The German forces were not immune however and Junker 88s suffered from heavy losses at first as they were diving individually on targets giving gunners time to take them one at a time. Soon formations would move to striking as a Squadron.
When the British decided to try another tacck by bringing a convoy (operation pedestal 11th August) from Gibraltar rather than Alexandria the Germans moved LG 1 to Sicily to engage it. Once a radar equipped Ju 88 found it 75 German aircraft attacked over 4 days costing the Luftwaffe 16 aircraft. They did however sink five ships totalling 52416 grt but laden with food and fuel the convoy still arrived.
The Luftwaffe lost a total of 357 planes in two years, the Italians 175 and the island remained untaken, its operations unhindered much to the detriment of Rommel's campaign.
One of Rommel's complaints was that the Luftwaffe weren't doing enough and historians are keen to point out the lack of German aircraft over the advance towards El Alamien and even over the fortified front.
In a prophetic message to the advancing British soldiers in 1941 a fighter pilot of Jagdgeschwader 53 wrote on the blackboard of their airbase:
|Von Waldau FlFu Afrika|
Rommel was notoriously difficult to work with and Frohlich, the Fifu Afrika took to avoiding meetings and was eventually relieved of command and Von Waldau was placed in charge. Waldau had much more of a backbone, he wasn't willing to take Rommel's outbursts and spoke plainly. Of course Rommel's style of leadership left a bewildered Waldau guessing what was going on. During Operation Crusader Waldau held his craft back unknowing what the over all situation was and where Rommel and his tanks were. The same happened as Rommel pushed forward in Operation Thesius and for the first two days the Luftwaffe was absent from the skies. On the third day, in desperation Waldau sent his Stukas up and when they found a group of tanks heading West towards the German lines they attacked. Unfortunately they were Rommel's tanks that had got turned around in the swirling desert combat - luckily no one was killed. Better communication from the field would have averted this and given Waldau's forces more potency.
There were sevre logistical demands on the small air force in North Africa as they were caught in the same supply problems that held Rommel's forces in a vice. At any one time he had no more than a months supply of petrol until November 42 when it dropped by 90%!!! On top of that the desert proved problematic to the running of aircraft with sand clogging aircraft and engines becoming warn out from over use in operations like the air bombardment on Bin Harcheim, but I will come to that in Part V.
Larger parts like wings and undercarriages could not be brought in by airlift or shipping so a lot of damaged aircraft had to be cannibalised just to keep the few in the air and without a recovery service the number of aircraft just dwindled. This was not helped further by Rommel's rapid retreat from the line at Alamien and Luftwaffe crews were forced to abandon the lame ducks and get out with what they could.
Geisler sent raids from Crete to strike the Allies behind the lines and hit the RAF depot at Alexandra but they began to suffer from enemy fighters pushing them to night attacks. They were further hampered by the Allies stripping down Spitfires to be able to reach high altitude and intercept the Junkers 86 recon aircraft thus leaving them blind of potential targets and assess damage. Frohlich had also sent a solitary bomber to strike the French held fort Lamy on Lake Chad on a round trip of 2500km but that was about it for the Medium bombers role. The consideration that a medium bomber raid on British targets in Egypt would have led to their destruction at the hands of the larger RAF force in Egypt and the greater discipline of the RAF pilots to target bombers over fighters, unlike the Jagdflieger.
The Fighter pilots were a breed unto themselves. Hans-Joachim Marseille, the star of Africa shot down 17 fighters on the same day and had a top score of 158 and rivalled a fellow pilot Horst Reuter's feat of shooting down 6 Hurricanes in a single day TWICE. The famous Bomber pilot Werner Baumbach claimed that fighter pilots lacked the discipline and stoic attitude of the Kampfflieger and in Africa he is proven correct as the fighter pilots became caught up in scoring as many kills as possible to try and get bigger and bigger scores but they saw more challenge in taking down fighters which although important was not what was needed as many Afrikakorps soldiers found to their discomfort as the defence lines and Rommel's devil's gardens were bombed to oblivion. These aces began to suffer losses as the RAF improved the quality of its fighters and the 109 Fs were suddenly facing Spitfire Mark Vs and P-40s instead of the rugged and dependable Hurricanes. Though despite their losses Unteroffizier Bernd Schneider shot down a Bristol Bombay transport carrying the 8th Armies new C-in-C Lt Gen W. H. E. Gott and he was killed on impact meaning that another C-in-C a little known General called Montgomery was called up.
The third limb was the Stukageschwadern who worked so hard to help Rommel advance. They were expertly handled by Waldau who, with Kesselring's intervention, managed to tame Rommel into letting him know what was going on in advance rather which paid massive dividends in the taking of Torbruk which earned Waldau the Knights Cross and Rommel his baton. However the bombs were near useless in the desert. Unless there was a direct hit on a tank or building they were next to useless. Half of all bomb damage and casualties are caused by flying shrapnel and glass but in the desert the explosions only throw up sand which doesn't do any damage when it hits other vehicles or even soldiers.
Waldau's 300 aircraft were beset by enemy bombing attacks, SAS strikes, bad weather that turned the dust strips into swamps, supply issues that plagued the whole African adventure, huge lines of communication and with the massive advances by Rommel a head on the lines that would outrace all the important logistical sections like Fuel, signals, repair miles in the rear with no time to catch up. The situation was so dire that a glider formation was brought in to fly these necessary logistical organisations up to the front without wasting fuel.
Kesselring promised Rommel an airlift of supplies and the Feldmarschall provided. It took a bit of time as the Luftwaffe didn't have the number of transports available in the Mediterranean theatre and they had to be disengaged from the Eastern front which obviously takes time. Oberst Robert Starke with some six Gruppen of aircraft and gliders from LLG 1 were the first to arrive and begin operations. The airlift flew a total of 4425 sorties across Mittlemeer from Greece and Crete to Bengazhi flying in pulks of 25. There were extreme shortages of crews due to sickness and aircraft even though Starke took ambulances and signal aircraft and even a modified refrigeration plane to plug the gaps. These shortages meant that crews would often have to fly the trip twice a day!
The trip was perilous for the formations of Junkers 52 transports and their Messerschmitt 110 escorts. Not only were their take off times similarly heralded with an Ultra message, which of course were duly read by the RAF, they also could only fly on good weather. On the 12th May 1942 15 Ju52s were intercepted by Kittyhawks and Beaufighters, by the end of the battle 8 transports were lost and a further one damaged - 175 soldiers went down with them but only 39 were rescued.
That day one of those true acts of heroism that War brings out occurred when father of six Hauptman Kroseberg of the Search and rescue flew over the survivors and dropped his own life jacket to the men in the sea - only to go MIA before he could return.
It can not be said that the airmen and machines of FlFu Afrika and of Luftflotte 2 operating in the Mediterranean had not tried their utmost or not fought valiantly. Ultimately they were undone by overall strategy and logistics though.