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Rommel pursues a different strategy in North Africa

Discussion in 'What If - Mediterranean & North Africa' started by T. A. Gardner, Jun 29, 2008.

  1. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Even if Rommel reached Alexandria or the canal, he'd still be facing the Empire forces he had pushed back to Palestine or Sudan or wherever - unless he inflicted some sort of Cannae on 8th Army. So I think the rationale for Torch would still exist. It was still the only way to get significant American forces into action on the European side of the war before mid-1943, and it was consistent with the British/Allied policy of securing Vichy territories for the Free French.

    As it was, Torch had the ironic effect of giving Rommel's Panzerarmee an added lease on life. Historically, by January 1943 they were pushed back to Tripoli and the border with Vichy North Africa. Rommel - and Hitler - would have faced a choice between surrender, internment, or being the first to violate Vichy territory and undoing the armistice.
     
  2. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    Strategically, even if Torch was successful, American and British material superiority would overcome Italian and Rommel. As most of North Africa was desert land, would Rommel pull An axis victory like how von Manstein won in Kharkov or Zhukov's cauldron which was Kursk ? About weapons, if Italian and German AFK deployed more defesively, more Stug3 and hence Semovente 75/18 would be deployed. Therefore Italian land forces could have a chance to hold the frontline economically.

    Sometimes I consider that Rommel would be better to part of the command of Army Group North or Center where the push for Leningrad and Moscow would be achieved as fast as possible. If Guderian was assigned AGC, Rommel could be assigned AGN. Coupled with Italians fighting in Leningrad, would Rommel's presence near Leningrad be another story?

    However, the encounter of Rommel and Mannerheim would be quite a scene and on the battlefield would actually help the course of war for AGN; Rommel might just ignored Hilter's order to starve Leningrad into submission and use Italian or else to take Leningrad without Finnish help.

    With Leningrad out of the picture, the usual extrapolation would be the transfer of German bulk of forces to AGC for the push to Moscow; which then changed the war in the east significantly.

    For Africa, would a defensive minded commander be a better choice -- Model commanding Heinrici, Kesselring still in charge of Liasion with the Italian and Vichy France ?
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    A lot to get through here. :)

    As to the value of Stug's or Semovento's, yes in defensive operations they had value, but the terrain is also a factor. They preformed best where cover was plentiful, acting much like snipers in the ambush mode. Fire, move, fire again. Desert conditions were less ideal. Better in the west facing the Torch landing, less effective in the east fighting the 8th Army. I have always felt the best tank killer is another tank, and in a environment that favored mobility, a more nimble tank is still your best bet.

    Rommel in Russia, here I think you may be over estimating what he could accomplish.

    Rommel commanded 7th Panzer Division in France, and by all accounts did well. Had he gone to Russia he likely would serve initially no higher than a Panzer Corps commander or even as commander of a Motorized Corps. Germany had many such skilled officers, and at this command level it is questionable that he distinguish himself all that much compared to his brethren. Even if he commanded AGN's 4th Panzer Army he would still be under the thumb of commander AGN, OKW then Hitler and would not have the same freedom of action he enjoyed in Africa. His orders would be explicit, with little room to exceed them and none for disregarding them.

    Rommel's fame rests on his ability to operate semi-independently in a African sideshow (as viewed from Berlin) and for fighting a "clean" war, as it does for his battle skill. Russia would not afford him the first two, and restrict the third as no one who strayed too far from Hitler's edit's lasted long in any one command.

    Rommel was too far down the chain of command in any realistic Russian posting to have any serious contact with Mannerheim and if he did somehow, its doubtful he would be any more effective getting him to do as he pleased than he did with Mussolini. In any event he would need to command AGN to have any influence in the capture of Leningrad. Way, way above his station.

    Your last about a different commander for DAK might have traction, but you still need a somewhat aggressive commander for desert operations as they are fluid and a purely defensive commander might simply get himself caught up defending fixed points which usually spelled doom in Africa.

    Kesselring get's. high marks as a defensive commander in Italy, but it should be considered that he had perhaps the best defensive ground to work with an a opponent who for various reasons fought with one hand behind their backs.
     
  4. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    The Italian Navy did a more than reasonable achievement
     
  5. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    I think Model was not entirely figting for defense; his talent for improvisation might help Italy to "rolling with the American and British punches" and counterattack -- which mobility and defensive operations favors. Thus Stug's or Semovento's would have values. Also the effect of individual and small numbers -- several hundreds -- Italian soldiers could maximize -- like Red Army soldiers in Stalingrad. At any rate, German Italian land forces in North Africa better bought time for Axis to achieve major military, political and/or diplimatic victories to have an economical chances to survive eventially the Ameican British sandwich. Model's commandership favored that than Rommel's. For Heinrici, battlefield wihich required defensive strategy would be his favorable ground: Italian North Africa and Finland were.

    In terms of combat on such a vast land in Russia, there are going to be places for generalship down the command chain to shine; not talking about coercing Mannerheim to perform favoring the Germans with Finnish troops, but did German forces in foreign soil in different areas of combat require semi-independent command, like Rommel's in NA? Kurt Student and Eduard Dietl enjoyed semi-independence because of their specialization in paratrooping and mountain warfare. If Rommel's specialization was leading the charge, fighting in Finland with Dietl might help Finnish push along the Isthmuses towards the White Sea. At the beginning of Barbarossa, Soviet resistance in Karelia and Kola would be considerablly weaker than on North European plain.. Rommel's leading the charge and alongside Hjalmar Siilasvuo taking adavantage of the Red Army chaos caused by Rommel's charge would favor taking Kantalahti. The Finnish and German forces would be in control of railways and piers towards Murmansk, not just cutting them. Then Dietl could proceed northward from Kantalahti, instead of slugging across inhibitable ground east of Petsamo, towards Murmansk the city. On weapons, was Rommel successful in improvision ? Fighting in Finland required a lot of it.

    A far-stretched what-if is to assign German officers as advisors to Manchuria for the Japanes push from it northwards.
     
  6. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Yes,but wasn´t that other than big ships....
     
  7. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    The Italian merchant navy succeeded into supplying the Axis forces in NA(the problems started in NA) and without the Italian merchant navy,who was protected by the Regia Maritima, Rommel would not have lasted a month in NA .And not only the Axis forces in NA were supplied ,but also those in the Balkans,France,Sardinia and Sicily.
     
  8. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Yes, and the one and two-men torpedoes and exploding ships did massive damage but cruisesrs,destroyers etc were hiding.
     
  9. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    They were not hiding : they were escorting the convois to NA :the merchant navy succeeded to transport to NA 85 % of what was loaded in the ports.Without the escorts from the RM this would not have been possible .
     
  10. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    Then taking Malta would have been more important. Regia Maritima should have launched the operation in the closing days of the Battle of France and the operation lasted into the days of German-French ceasfire talks. Then Germany would know explicitly its Italian ally intention and might have pushed for more advantages from Vichy France -- say Tunisia to Italy.

    The following is sure to have been discussed. Regia Maritima and Italan merchant navy could ferries more convoys to Malta and neighboring island in the centre of the Mediterranean, including Macchi C.200 and 202. Was the North African coast within half an hour flight from Malta ? Not to mention, Spanish, Romanian and Hungarian pilots like German could transfer between the aerial wars in NA and the SU.

    If Italian military industries were looking for profits, captured Soviet machinery -- say usable engine parts from destroyed, wrecked and captured Soviet machines -- could be transported to Italy and Malta for refitting and research. Semovento's success followed Stug's; why not an Italian Sturmovik. Both these machines are good for ground attack on the ground. British and American forces would have to slug their ways to Malta and Italy to remove their threats, or overhelmed their bases or numbers by strategic bombing or outnumbering. Either way, more time would be required, achieving exactly what Italian strategic role for the Axis, buying time for German-led forces to conclude favorably against the SU.
     
  11. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    Malta had no influence on the outcome of the war in NA : in the OTL (Malta remaining a British base) 85 % of what was sent to NA arrived in NA ports,but despite this the Axis lost;if Malta had been captured more supplies (but not much more ) could be sent to NA,but this would not help the Axis,because the problem was NOT to send supplies to the Lybian ports, but to send supplies from the ports to the battlefield;we have already discussed this and the conclusion is that it was imposible to send more supplies where it was needed (battlefield) and when it was needed .Even if in the ATL the double amount of supplies was sent to NA, it would not help the Axis .
     
  12. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    Then I recommend someone to summarize these points in a sticky post at the top of North Africa and the Mediterranean. The context does not help understanding...

    Back to content, how about dropping supplies onto the battlefield ?
     
  13. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    Dropping supplies on the battlefield would require a lot of transport aircraft and air superiority .Dropping supplies was done sometimes in Russia, but it was very costly :the aircraft would consume more fuel than they could drop.
    Supplying was done bt train, in NA the Axis had no decent railway system,and this explains their supply problems .
     
  14. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    With what? Until there's a cease fire with France the Italian Navy would face both the British and French Navies. They may take Malta but at the cost of their fleet or they might not be able to take Malta and still loose the fleet. Even vs just the British look at what the RM had available at the time vs what the RN had in the Med.
     
  15. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Another thought on alternatives to Rommel, the original intent of the German deployment was simply to shore up the Italian position against an anticipated British offensive. If a different commander was more inclined towards obeying his orders, the British would have more time to build up ground and air strength and logistic infrastructure in Cyrenaica, which would put the Axis forces in a dangerous position. In particular, aircraft from Cyrenaican bases, in conjunction with Malta, would present a major threat to Axis supply routes - and be able to cover British convoys to the island. Bombers could be flown in, possibly fighters, Benghazi to Malta is approximately 450 miles. Tripoli, the smaller ports, and the coastal road/railroad would be subject to air attack.

    Rommel's offensive, taking him to the Egyptian frontier, vastly improved the Axis position. His supply lines via Benghazi were relatively secure. Malta was isolated, although it never ceased to be a thorn in the Axis side. Thanks to Italian colonization over the past few decades, logistic infrastructure in Cyrenaica was better than most of North Africa. He had a short, defensible front with room behind for maneuver - or to retreat and recover as he would do after Operation Crusader.

    In the same vein, Rommel would have done better to reoccupy that position after Gazala rather than advancing into Egypt. It would be even more solid in 1942 with Tobruk captured. Tobruk had brought a vast haul of supplies, notably trucks and petrol, most of which was used up in the advance to El Alamein. Historically it took the British until October 1942 to build up forces and supplies for an offensive at the end of the railroad a few miles from Alexandria; how much longer would it take to stage all that at the frontier? Meanwhile the Panzerarmee would be in a much stronger position, both militarily and logistically, so the British would need correspondingly more troops and stockpiles to take them on.

    One option for the Allies might be to switch their main emphasis to Torch. It would be much easier logistically - that word again - to support a major effort in French North Africa than in Egypt where supplies had to go all the way around Africa. An advance to Tunisia would threaten not just Libya but the whole Axis position in the western Mediterranean. If there was no immediate threat to Alexadria or Suez, there would be no immediate need for 8th Army to take the offensive (other than the desire to finally defeat their Panzerarmee counterparts).

    p.s. for an alternate alternate history, following the first paragraph, if the British were able to conquer all of Libya in 1941, their planned next move was an attack on French North Africa, then called Operation Gymnast. Gymnast in 1941 would be an all-British/Free French operation and would meet maximum resistance from the Vichy French. The capture of Vichy Syria and Lebanon, almost totally isolated from Vichy or Axis support, took five weeks and involved extensive fighting; how much longer might a campaign for French North Africa take? It would be a particularly formidable challenge if Vichy, Italy, and Germany cooperated effectively; fortunately for the British that would be problematical.
     
  16. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Malta in Axis hands wouldn't add much to the capabilities they already possessed with bases in Sicily and southern Italy; the point was to remove it as a threat to Axis supply lines.
     
  17. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    The bigger picture for Italian NA was still defense for the eventual British counterattack. Maybe under Rommel, a generalship specialized in defense would be a good choice. How about a kind of Heinrici under Rommel ? Did both generals possess similar personalities ? As Heinrici was unfriendly with H and Goring, sending him to NA under Rommel would be maximizing his abilities while keeping him far away from Germany.
     

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