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Operation Mandibles, the British take Rhodes

Discussion in 'What If - Mediterranean & North Africa' started by T. A. Gardner, Sep 18, 2010.

  1. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    This is a relatively simple what-if. The British sent three Glen class transports to the Mediterrainian in early 1941 to support the landing of Layforce on Rhodes in conjunction with their reinforcing Greece. Layforce itself was four battalions of commandos. Additional troops would have backed this force in a landing to take the island of Rhodes from the Italians.
    The British called off the operation in part because of the situation deteoriating in Greece. But, what if they hadn't? The Germans and Italians couldn't have reinforced Rhodes at that point and the Island had one mediocre quality Italian binary infantry division (the 50th) on it for defense. Given what we know of similar Italian unit's performance elsewhere during the war the British would have virtually certainly taken the island.
    Let's assume they do.

    The question now becomes how does this effect events in the Med?

    I would postulate that both the Germans and Italians would have made retaking Rhodes a priority to taking Crete at the end of the Greek campaign. The Italians would want to recover their lost real estate while the Germans would want it retaken to prevent its use as an eventual base for air operations.
    If this is indeed the case, the only choice either has is to use 7th Fallschirmjäger there instead of Crete. I would think Rhodes would fall after a fight much like Crete did but probably with less German casualties. The problem here is that in using the 7th FJ for this operation Crete would be delayed sufficently that it wouldn't fall to a German drop there a few months later than the historical one.
    This would have left Crete in British hands and them in a much better position to control the Eastern Med.
     
  2. Totenkopf

    Totenkopf אוּרִיאֵל

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    What does it do in the overall flow of things though? I could see it being as a drain on the Luftwaffe that would literally be next door, perhaps a better way to bomb Ploesti but not much else.

    I also dont see the CW having a guaranteed hold over Crete, because as you said it would take some months for the 7th to regroup for another operation, this leaves ample time for aerial recon as well perhaps a buildup of Materials.

    If anything this might have just turned into another long air battle that while would become an issue for the Germans, there would be no way the British could afford in when you consider the CW air forces were at the breaking point in 1941.

    Also on the land battle, the CW would have had just as terrible a time as the Germans. Look at how the historical defenders of Crete were nothing too impressive and were more improvised then planned, the FJs would need to concentrate on a portion of Crete (That has serviceable beaches or docks) and if they succeed in that then its game over for the British who didn't have ample troops to send to the island as backup, it would likely be alot bloodier, but Crete is still in the Italian neck of the Mediterranean woods, and thus would likely fall as both the Germans and Italians would be scrambling to seal of Greece as a combat theater.

    My 0.2 :)
     
  3. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    It does three things all in the British favor:

    First, I gives them time to orgainze their defense. Since the Germans would still pretty much be limited to landing the 7th FJ in several stages, and there would still be little, if any, chance of support otherwise a better orgainzed defense would likely be enough to defeat the German air landings. As it was historically, Crete was a near run thing for the Germans.
    Second, it would have put more RAF fighters on the island making both bombardment and assault of the island harder. This might be enough to cause the Germans to simply not land at all.
    Third, it means the Luftwaffe will be spread thinner than it historically was in the Med. Over time this could be of some significance. For example, with more resources dedicated to raiding Crete to stop bombing raids on targets like Polesti Malta might get less attention.

    In the long run this is in the Allies favor. The Germans are in a poor position to wage a long term air battle virtually anywhere. Having one more 'front' on which to have to do this only hurts the Germans. Most of the British problem in the Med in 1941 with regard to the air war was that the RAF was far too conservative in its estimates of what was needed to defend Britain. The RAF was hoarding aircraft for that purpose and only sending a trickle to the Med and elsewhere. The same can be said of pilots.
    Look at Singapore. The British sent only obsolesent aircraft and then pretty much left it to Australia and the Commonwealth to provide pilots. Of the Buffalo available there only about a third were operational due to lack of pilots.
    By the same token, the British could have defended Crete largely with just AA guns of various caliber. The Germans could not afford to conduct a protracted air campaign at the time given their upcoming invasion of Russia. Most of the aircraft would have to be pulled within a month or two to support that operation.


    Most of the problem on Crete was that the defense of it was largely ignored until Greece fell. Many of the units on Crete were survivors of Greece and poorly equipped and orgainized. Given roughly two extra months the British would have been in much better shape to defend the island.
    Historically, the New Zealand division with 2 brigades was the backbone of the defense. With another 2 months the complete division would be present. There are two Australian brigades (14th and 19th) on the island too but both came from Greece and were pretty beaten up. There were only 6 tanks on the island with 3rd Hussars, survivors from Greece. Two months would have had another supply convoy or two from Britain arrive and see that unit likely back to at least a reasonable level of strength.
    There were also about a half-dozen other battalions of either British or Greek troops on the island. Most of these units were ill-equipped and understrength having been withdrawn from Greece.
    With even a bit less than two months respite the British would have, much like after Dunkirk, recovered from their debacle in Greece and have refitted their units on Crete.
    Taking the ports won't work as the British have a number of assault transport with landing craft available. They could run supplies over the beaches or into smaller ports relatively easy.
    Without the Italians being willing and aggressive at sea a sea landing is still out of the question for the Axis. After Matapan the Italians are very unlikely to give the Germans much more than a few destroyers as they were very loathe to risk their fleet in general actions further. Also, events leading up to Matapan would cause the Italian navy to lose all faith (such as they had) in German intelligence and reconnissance estimates of the RN.
    The Germans needed to take several airfields for their invasion to work. The 7th FJ on its own would be doomed. They needed the airfields to land (historically) the 6th Mountian Division or 22nd Luftlande Division. Without this critical backup arriving fairly quickly the German attack is doomed.

    So, if Rhodes gave Crete just 6 to 8 weeks breathing space the Germans likely couldn't take the island.
     
  4. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    A delayed attack on Crete might scuttle the whole plan, but there are a few questions I have about this.

    Was the Italian garrison a partial or full binari division, and were there any attached units to the garrison, coast artillery/anti-aircraft etc.?

    How much and how soon would the Layforce be supported?

    Was this attack set for before the allied withdrawl to Crete, during or after?

    Where did the Germans stage the Crete attack, Athens or southern Greece? Which was closer Crete or Rhodes?

    According to Wiki, Layforce was a 2,000 man commando brigade with no heavy weapons of their own, in effect much like German para regiment.

    A full strength Italian Binari division would have 6 Battalions of regular Infantry, 2 Battalions of MVSN Blackshirts, 12 100mm guns, 12 75mm guns, 12 75mm howitzers,
    8 65mm Infantry guns, 8 47mm anti-tank guns, 8 20mm AA guns, over a hundred morters, about a 50 heavy, and 200 light machine guns.

    Italian Infantry have a pretty rocky rep from North Africa, but were said to be reasonably decent when holding a defensive position and supplied. Unless Layforce was reinforced quickly, say 6 to 12 hours by at least a full Infantry Brigade, I would say the issue is very much in doubt.
     
  5. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    At the time of this invasion the 50th had two three battalion regiments: the 9th and 10th Regina. The artillery regiment is the 50th Regina with obsolesent 75mm guns. Two coast defense raggruppemento (the 35th and 36th) with a handful of obsolete guns were attached. These had the 149/35 (a gun with no recoil system developed in 1900) Additionally, a machinegun, engineer, and antitank company were attached.
    The division is basically a static garrison unit orgainzed around defending the island rather than a true division in the conventional sense. It is also not concentrated solely on Rhodes. Instead, it occupies in various strength a number of islands in the Dodecanese of which Rhodes is the largest.

    The British sent Layforce to the Med well before Greece fell on three Glen class assault transports equipped with a total of 54 "A lighters" essentially LCA or small LCT. In addition there were several other transports sent with them. The plan called for an initial landing supported by naval gunfire with a follow-up brigade of infantry.

    They are about the same distance from Greece but Rhodes is closer to Romania than Crete is. Rhodes is also only the largest of several islands in the Dodecanese that the Italians own. It would also be more practical and possible for the Germans to operate locally aquired vessels for movement by sea to Rhodes than Crete if a sea landing was to be attempted.

    But, the 50th is not a full strength division. Rather it is more an administrative headquarters over static coastal defense troops spread over a number of islands and equipped with second hand materials. It has no intrinsic artillery and relatively few heavy weapons. Motor vehicles and first line equipment don't exist in the unit in 1941. They got leftovers.

    [/quote]Italian Infantry have a pretty rocky rep from North Africa, but were said to be reasonably decent when holding a defensive position and supplied. Unless Layforce was reinforced quickly, say 6 to 12 hours by at least a full Infantry Brigade, I would say the issue is very much in doubt.[/QUOTE]

    A better comparison is with some of the coast defense infantry divsions on Sicily in 1943. These simply evaporated in short order. That the British intended to follow the initial landings with a brigade pretty much would have finished the Italians.
     
  6. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Thanks, the info clears it up a bit. An attack prior to the German occupation of Greece with Layforce adequately supported a victory seems likely. Probably 50/50 which way Germany goes, but if the Italians really whan Rhodes back maybe it does happen
     
  7. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Looking at similar Med operations like Leros or the Tobruk raid, that was facing Italian rear area troops, I would say the British would have gotten a bloody nose. attacking an entrenched division (even an Italian binary one) wth what is basically four batallions of light infantry is asking for trouble. Adding 3 batallions of regular infantry as a second wave is not enough. The British didn't have any air supply capability worth mentioning so it would be up to the RN to keep the supply line open, they failed do it in 1943 at Leros how do you suppose they will succeed in 1940 with the Luftwaffe at it's peak?
    AFAIK the 50 was a regular division, they even had standard tankette batallion attached ( CCCXII Battaglione Carri) some of which were sent to Crete as part of the italian group that landed there towards the end of the battle. The coastal batteries, probably belonged to MilMart and were in addition to the army ad CCNN forces.

    OOB of 50 div Regina inf div (1940) , in addition to the CCNN the regiments were 4 batallion units, the bulk was at Rhodes though there were detachmnets on the other islands. The division was non motorized but not as immobile as the scratched up 1943 coastal units.

    it's possible the division had a third regiment attached (either the 309° Rgt. fanteria "Regina" or the 331° Rgt. fanteria) but sources conflict, most likely is that 309 joined the unit in 1942, 331 was with 11th div in Albania in 1942.

    9° Rgt. fanteria "Regina"
    10° Rgt. fanteria "Regina"
    24a Legione CC.NN.
    201a Legione CC.NN.
    50° Rgt. artiglieria "Regina"
    35° Rgp. art. difesa costiera
    36° Rgp. art. difesa costiera

    50° Btg. mortai da 81
    50a Cp. mitraglieri (MG company)
    50a Cp. cannoni controcarro da 47/32
    23a Cp. cannoni controcarro da 47/32
    91a Cp. Genio (Engineers)
    250a Cp. Genio (Engineers)
    46a Cp. mista telegrafisti/marconisti (Comunications)
    ----- 9° reggimento fanteria "Regina"
    I battaglione fanteria
    II battaglione fanteria
    III battaglione fanteria
    IV battaglione fanteria
    1a compagnia mortai
    2a compagnia mortai
    batteria d'accompagnamento
    10° reggimento fanteria "Regina"
    I battaglione fanteria
    II battaglione fanteria
    III battaglione fanteria
    IV battaglione fanteria
    1a compagnia mortai
    2a compagnia mortai
    batteria d'accompagnamento
    201a legione camicie nere egea
    CCI battaglione camicie nere egeo
    CCCI battaglione camicie nere egeo
    201a compagnia camicie nere mitraglieri
    1a compagnia camicie nere mortai d'assalto
    2a compagnia camicie nere mortai d'assalto
    L battaglione mortai
    50° reggimento artiglieria divisionale "Regina"
    compagnia genio artieri
    50a compagnia genio telegrafisti e radiotelegrafisti
    compagnia chimica
    servizi divisionali

    Corps troops
    gruppo carabinieri reali "Egeo"
    settore di copertura "Dodecaneso"
    18 compagnie mitraglieri da posizione
    CCCXII battaglione misto carri
    35° raggruppamento artiglieria costiera
    LVI gruppo artiglieria controaerei


    Historically the British did a landing at Casterlrosso but the 50 div troops retook the island.
     
  8. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    TOS, can you give an idea about how many combat troops (Inf,Arty, etc.) and how many support troops ( Eng.,Com's etc.). Were there any air units/navel units deployed?

    Belasar
     
  9. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    You cannot use 1943 as a measure. By then the Italian forces were reinforced along with the new inclusion of the German Sturm Division Rhodes enters the picture. The Italians appear much weaker by then being inclined to surrender simply on the basis of ongoing events.

    Axis History Factbook: Sturm-Division Rhodos
     
  10. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    That OOB is 1940, so the third regiment is "uncertain" as it was most likely added later

    Here is my guestimate of what was behind those names I could come up with something better on the standard TOEs but not specific to Regina.
    Regina infantry division
    --- Main units
    9° Rgt. fanteria "Regina" (see later for split)
    10° Rgt. fanteria "Regina" (see later for split)
    201a Legione CC.NN. (see later for split)
    24a Legione CC.NN.
    50° Rgt. artiglieria "Regina" the division's artillery regiment some 30 75 and 100mm guns
    --- Other units
    50° Btg. mortai da 81 an 81mm mortar battallion 12 tubes?
    50a Cp. mitraglieri (MG company)
    50a Cp. cannoni controcarro da 47/32 a 47mm A/T company 6 guns?
    23a Cp. cannoni controcarro da 47/32 same as above
    91a Cp. Genio (Engineers)
    250a Cp. Genio (Engineers)
    46a Cp. mista telegrafisti/marconisti (Comunications)
    compagnia genio artieri Engineers
    50a compagnia genio telegrafisti e radiotelegrafisti Comunications
    compagnia chimica chemical company
    servizi divisionali division service troops
    -- Details for main units
    -----9° reggimento fanteria "Regina"
    I battaglione fanteria infantry batallion (700 men ?)
    II battaglione fanteria same as above
    III battaglione fanteria
    IV battaglione fanteria
    1a compagnia mortai mortar company, could be the useless Brixia 45mm or the much better 81mm
    2a compagnia mortai same as above
    batteria d'accompagnamento probably 65mm infantry guns
    -----10° reggimento fanteria "Regina" Same as 9th
    I battaglione fanteria
    II battaglione fanteria
    III battaglione fanteria
    IV battaglione fanteria
    1a compagnia mortai
    2a compagnia mortai
    batteria d'accompagnamento
    -----201a legione camicie nere egea
    CCI battaglione camicie nere egeo Infantry batallion
    CCCI battaglione camicie nere egeo same as above
    201a compagnia camicie nere mitraglieri MG Company
    1a compagnia camicie nere mortai d'assalto "mortai d'assalto "are almost certainly Brixia 45mm
    2a compagnia camicie nere mortai d'assalto same as above
    L battaglione mortai these are likely to be 81mm (Batallion = 12 tubes?)

    Corps troops
    gruppo carabinieri reali "Egeo" Military police
    CCCXII battaglione mistocarri tank batallion, the "misto" designation is interesting most likely due to some older Fiat in addition to the L tankettes.

    settore di copertura "Dodecaneso" local troops
    18 compagnie mitraglieri da posizione 18 companies of static MG troops
    35° Rgp. art. difesa costiera this could be anything most likely obsolete 4" guns sited as coastal artillery
    36° Rgp. art. difesa costiera same as above

    LVI gruppo artiglieria controaerei AA guns either 75 or more likely 20mm, a "gruppo" should be 4-6 guns

    As for naval and air forces here was a MAS flottilla, that took part in the retaking of Castelrosso, and an air group with CR 32 and CR 42 fighters and I think SM 81 bombers/transports, some 50 planes all told I could look up the exact Squadriglie and numbers. I also have seen pictures of CANZ Z 501 recon floatplanes there but dont't know if the timeframe is right.

    The Castelrosso operation was "mandibles on a small scale" (about a company of commandos was used) and failed miserably, the full scale operation was not much more likely to do better.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Abstention
     
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  11. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    It seems the key is how much and how soon Layforce is supported, and if the local garrison can be supported or reinforced quickly enough to hold the island.
     
  12. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    IMO the forces allocated are not enough to take the island even against the Regina division, it's 9th regiment was the the original dodecannese garrison and was extremely familiar with the terrain, the garrison was expanded to a brigade in 1935 with the addition of the 34th regiment and the 28th divisional artillery group (so a binary division in all but name) with the core staff comming from the 9th. The 10th replaced the 34th in 1939 when the 50th division was created and had been on the island for over a year. At Castelrosso the British lacked good maps, the same was likely to be true for Rhodes, a big disadvantage.

    The 9th alone is nearly as big as the whole of Layforce and has some organic artillery, IIRC correctly commandos were nearly "pure" infantry. I recently read Beevor's account of Crete and he is not entusiastic about Layforce.

    Much depends from what the navies manage to do, and weather may cause a stop to landing operations (very bad news for the troops already ashore). At Castelrosso the Italians got a lot more supprort from their ships than the British.

    EDIT:
    Found this info on Comando Areonautica Egeo strenth at the time of the Crete battle:
    At Gadurra (Rhodes)
    92 Stormo BT (200 & 201 Squadriglie) SM 79
    41 Gruppo AS (204 205 Squadriglie) SM 84
    281 Squadrigia Autonoma SM 79 torpedo bombers
    At Maritza (Rhodes)
    50 Gruppo BT (210 211 Squadrigle) Z 1007bis
    172 Squadriglia RT Z 1007bis recon
    At Leros
    161 Squadriglia CM Ro43/Ro44
    162 Squadrigia Autonoma CT CR 42
    163 Squadriglia Autonoma CT CR 32/CR 42
    Gruppo Soccors Z506B air sea rescue

    Serviceable strength was 21 bombers, 4 torpedo bombers, 20 fighters and 6 floatplanes.
     
  13. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    If TOS's Order of Battle is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, then it would seem Layforce supported by a single infantry brigade would not be enough to succeed. However say enough support was deployed (a full division?) and Rhodes was taken. Then what?

    Was Rhodes or Crete suitable for sustained bomber operations? Was there enough flat land for airfields for the bombers and fighters to protect them?Was there sufficent port capacity to keep these assets supplied? As few British heavy bombers were deployed in the Med and the US still nuetral, was Britain's intent to use these islands for strategic air strikes?

    No doubt Hitler's fear of what the British might do would play a part in any decision on an attempt to take one or both these islands, but would they be a real or imaginary threat to the Axis?
     

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