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Did Rommel have air support as well?


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#51 Sheldrake

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Posted 29 November 2013 - 12:58 PM

If you look at the Gazala battles the DAF had numerical superiority (but I don't have the figures at hand)  but couldn't prevent the axis planes from providing critical support in the reduction of the allied "boxes" that eventually led to the fall of Tobruk, I don't call that air superiority. The LW and Regia Areonautica ground support units were equipped with Ju 87 and CR 42s not exactly the sort of planes that could operate without at least air parity.

 

The problem with the DAF was that it operated large numbers of level bombers (Welligtons, Blemheims) that had few viable targets in the desert. It also got very low priority on Spitfires that mostly went to Malta leaving the DAF with Hurricanes and P40s that were not as good as the German Me 109.

 

As Steverdodgers801 pointed out it's difficult to make real comparisons between air availability in the Med, a lot of missions in support of Rommel in 1942 were flown by Crete based planes and axis units could swing from bombing Malta/naval interdiction to ground support more easily than the more tactically rigid British whose only reliable base in the central Med was Malta and lacked bases in the Western Med for most of the campaign.

 

Digging up some figures on plane availability would help this discussion.

 

According to Terraine at the start of the Gazala Battles the DAF had fewer serviceable aircraft C 290 (plus 700+ elsewhere in the ME) against the Axis total of C 650 (plus a further 200 in Crete and Sicily with the range to hit Libya)

The DAF had a wing of light bombers (@ three squadrons) and two wings of fighters (@ 4 Sqns P40 & @4 Sqns Hurricane) All 211 Group fighters were supposed to be fighter bombers from 1 June 1942, but only four sqns had  adapted at that date. The first spitfire sqn joined the DAF on the same date. One reason why Spitfires were not deployed earlier was because of the concerns about the aircraft's suitability for operating from rough airstrips in view of its narrow under carriage.

 

It is true that the German Me109F and G (and the lesse acknowledged MC202) had a superiority in air to air fighting over the P40s and hurricanes of the RAF. However, there were relatively few Germanand Italian top quality fighters and the tactics they adopted tended to be hiyt and run. The result was that the “jaegerflieger persued a private war while the landser cowered in the trenches.” ( E R Hooten) This was a touch of Trenchard over the trenches with the DAF pressing on while the German aces racked up a score. The DAF flew 1500 sorties in the first five days and lost 50 aircraft (20% strength)   The biggest air battle with both sides employing close air support was over Bir Hachiem, defended by the French and surrounded by the Axis. . The RAF flew 1500 sorties in support ove rnine days at a cost of 20 aircraft. The Luftwaffe flew 1400 and lost 15 while the Italians lost at least five.
 

The other issue was that Malta was the seen as a bigger priority, by both sides – which is the other reason why Sptifres went there before Egypt. As Kesselring pointed out when he tried to stop Rommel's 1942 North African adventure was that the Luftwaffe did not have the resources to sustain an air offensive over Malta and North Africa at the same time.

 

 

I don't think it was a case of the Med depriving the Russian Front of German aircraft but that the Russian winter prevented their use on this front and hence their availability in the January to March periods for North Africa. Russia always got priority. 

 

The Germans might not have needed the Luftflotte 2  assets on the  Eastern Front in the Summer of 1942.  However, in Dec 1942- Jan 1943 I suspect the Germans trapped in Stalingrad might have appreciated the availability of the aircraft maintaining an air bridge to Tunisia, and the panzers lost there.. 



#52 steverodgers801

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Posted 29 November 2013 - 01:40 PM

There was a Luftflotte that specialized in naval operations assisting in the Black sea area that was withdrawn to attack Malta. This all but eliminated the support for that area. its been a while, but I believe they were assisting in interdicting traffic on the Volga



#53 TiredOldSoldier

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Posted 29 November 2013 - 08:19 PM

Comparing serviceable aircraft with total aircraft available is apples and oranges, but I need to scape up some figures, at Bir Hakeim the French AA claims were significant so a total of 20 losses per side looks low.

 

According to a recent book by Mirko Molteni the Italians had 300 first line aircraft in January 1942 the Germans 250 and the DAF 600 to 650. During the first week of  21/1/42 28/1/42 the DAF lost 28 planes against 7 German and 4 Italian ones.

One big fight on 13/2/1942 between P4 and a mix of Mc 200 and Mc 202 escorting CR42 and Me 109(!) fighter bombers ended up in four Allied and 3 Axis losses, on 3/4 1st Stormo Mc 202 destroyed 6 P40 for no losses, on the following day dogfight between  Mc 200 and P40  ended with two losses per side.

In May an additional 150 planes were moved from Sicily to Lybia including the Mc 202 equipped 4th Stormo and more CR42 fighter bombers (the CR 42 was the most numerous Italian plane and still in production in 1943 so after it became useless as a fighter it was switched to other roles. Molteni's estimates for May puts the axis at 670 planes versus 700 allied ones. The Axis forces started the offensive with raids against British airfields (AFAIK nobody in the desert had early warning radars initially  so attacks on airfields often achieved surprise but by El Alamein  the Germans had a Freya and I expect the better equipped allies had EW as well).

On 4/6/42 over Bir Hakeim the Italians claimed 6 DAF fighters for no losses, towards the middle of the month the DAF pulled back to Egypt greatly helping the LW and RA capability to bomb Tobruk and strafe the troops, on 14/6 alone the Italians lost a total of 9 planes (Mc 200 and CR 42) on ground attack missions. One gets the general  impression the DAF was far from the superior force and Rommel got a lot more ground support than his allied counterparts.

 

But by El Alamein the axis force had grown to 770 planes versus 1200 allied ones and fuel and spares shortages caused a drop in missions flown. Alegy mentions a curious episode that well defines the ramshackle organization of the RA, early combats had shown that the oxygen equipment on the Mc 202 was faulty, the commander of 4th Stormo went to Italy to requisition replacements, on his flight back the commanding officer of Gela airport tried to arrest him and confiscate the replacements as he had not "followed proper procedures". His book looks generally accurate though nowhere as good as the Gustavsson/Longo day by day reconstructions of the early clashes. 

 

I really don't understand your claim of the “jaegerflieger persued a private war while the landser cowered in the trenches, the British fighters stuck mostly  to air combat until pretty late, so if not facing their axis opponents what were they doing?


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#54 Sheldrake

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 12:07 AM

TOS - 

 

Your anecdote about mc202 spares illustrates the difficulties the Italians had maintaining their aircraft and the low serviceability.  Two points.  

 

1.  I agree that it is difficult to evaluate air battles from the fragments of conflicting reports. E.g. Claims are unreliable compared to reported losses.  That is why I have quoted from John Terraine and ER Hooten's work , whose referenced research and historic analysis I trust.  

 

2.  On what evidence do you make the statement that   " the British fighters stuck mostly  to air combat until pretty late,"?  This is not what is in either John Terraine's history of the RAF  or E R Hooten's study of the Luftwaffe.  RAF fighters were being used increasingly for ground attack from Dec 1941 on-wards, which is why all 211 Group  fighter aircraft were supposed to be equipped to carry bombs by 1 June 1942.  .As with the RFC in WW1 the DAF may not have had the best of the air to air combats but provided better air support for the army.   The success of the RAF in developing Close air support in the desert was attributed to Tedder and Coningham and one reason why Tedder became Eisenhower's deputy. 



#55 TiredOldSoldier

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Posted 30 November 2013 - 09:21 AM

Molteni is a recent book and from what I've been able to check from other sources generally accurate.

 

I read quite a lot of Italian and German diaries on the desert war air, attacks on ground troops by fighters are very rarely mentioned until late 1942 and when they are the way they are described makes it think the writer thought about it as an "exceptional event". Compare this with the French diaries at Gazala.

 

The fact that,  if I read your post correctly, DAF fighters were equipped with bombs only from Dec 1941, and the conversion of the scheduled squadrons was not complete by the Gazala battles,  when the axis had already been using fighter bomber for a while (Me 110, CR 42, Jabo Me 109) and was converting the Mc 200 squadrons to ground attack  in 1942 rather confirms the late priority given to ground attack in DAF doctrine. AFAIK the DAF initially concentrated on attacking  airfields not troops. Add to that that the Axis had a number of dedicated ground attack units (Ju 87) while the allies had a lot of light and medium level bombers not very well suited to ground support (Blemheims,  Wellingtons and the early US deliveries)  while total number were roughly similar and you get the clear impression Rommel had better support.

 

A different story would be over France, there the Allied fighters switched to attacking ground targets (Rhubarb Raids) in 1941 while the LW only left a few Gruppen  that stuck to air combat with the exception of the low level raids by some small specialized fighter bomber units whose role was basically to prevent the British redirecting elsewhere the large commitment to air defence resulting from the BoB.

 

 

 

 

.


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#56 Smiley 2.0

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Posted 09 December 2014 - 03:44 AM

He did have air support especially with fighters, bombers and dive bombers, but because the allies had already cracked the enigma code they were able to determine when supplies were coming in via the air with the Ju-52s and the Kriegsmarine. Though Rommel did have support from the air it was difficult to maintain since it was hard to get supplies and fuel across the Mediterranean without being attacked by Allied aircraft. That is also why he ran dry of a lot of fuel and other supplies.

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