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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. scipio

    scipio Member

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    Well - this all seems a bit mixed up.

    Have you read "the Crucible of War - Wavell's Command" by Barrie Pitt. I think it would be a good point to start if you want a meaningful dialogue on the campaign in North Africa.

    You really can't blame Hitler for the initial fiasco. Mussolini wanted to do his own thing in North Africa (and East Africa) and specifically excluded the Germans.

    It was only after the Commonwealth Army under O'Connor had defeated an Italian Army five times its size, capturing 130,000 troops and all its arms and transport (in initial attack that was only planned to last 5 days - but when the door was kicked in the Italian Army collapsed - and as the Italian Commander was lead away he was still complaining he had been beaten by a much superior force).

    With the British at the Tripolitanian border but unknown to the Italians down to 47 tanks (including captured Italian ones), precious little fuel, most of their infantry about to depart for Greece - Mussolini relented and Hitler sent a holding force to prevent the collapse of his Ally in North Africa.

    Rommel disobey his orders (not for the first or last time) and attacked instead of holding the line at El Agheila - he was in luck because Wavell did even have enough troops to defend the blocking position. Wavell was faced with demands to send troops to Greece, to East Africa (which was more serious and higher up the to do list than North Africa), war against Vichy Syria and a revolt in Iraq by Rashid Ali.

    Rommel did not know that Barbarossa was in preparation but Halder and the high command made clear to him that he was not going to get more supplies or troops.

    "Selection and maintenance of aim - Clausewitz" - Barbarossa had to have first claim on everything once it had been agreed.
     
  2. lunatic

    lunatic Member

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    I think Hitler can be blamed for not recognizing that Britain was not going to sue for peace, unless it was soundly defeated. There was only one way to defeat Britain in 1940 and with a small investment: join forces with Italy and capture Malta and Egypt. Moreover, Hitler could have encouraged Stalin to use his huge army to invade Persia, Iraq, Arabia, etc, Which Britain simply could not defend against even 500 Soviet tanks and planes and 150,000 men.
    Had Hitler realized the crucial importance of Egypt (which Räder desperately tried to make him see), he could have easily persuaded Mussolini to listen to his generals and to join forces with Germany to ensure success, especially if Hitler assured Mussolini that Malta and Egypt would become Italian colonies, securing the Med and joining east and west Italian Africa.
    The problem is that Hitler payed a lot more attention to idiots like Göring (main culprit of Dunkirk, BoB, the bombing of Germany in 1942, Stalingrad, etc,), Mussolini and Himmler than to smart people like Räder, Rommel, Guderian, etc,
     
  3. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    "By the time Rommel was in NA with sufficient foreces" :
    What would be sufficient forces ?
    To do what ? Expell the British from Libya ? Expell them from Egypt ?
    The war in NA was not depending on sufficient forces,but on logistics,and these were limiting the number of forces that could be committed .
    I have already given the monthly strength of the AK (1941/1942),and,IIRC,this was not higher than 50000 men .
    In 1941,Rommel attacked (with a small force) in the spring,after initial successes,he was stopped in the summer and driven back in the autumn/ winter.
    In 1942,Rommel was attacking in the spring,after initial successes,he was stopped in the summer and driven back in the autumn/winter.
    If he was pursuing a different strategy (which one?) the result would be the same :there was nothing he could do against the increasing of the British strength in NA.Nothing.
     
  4. lunatic

    lunatic Member

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    Logistics in NA were limited only by Hitler sending Rommel too late and assigning him the lowest priority and by the fact that Malta, despite being so close to Sicily and so far from Alexandria and Gibraltar remained in British hands. In 1940, at the height of German and Italian might and the nadir of the British empire, Malta and Egypt were simply not defensible.

    Like LJAd points out, Rommel never had adequate forces to achieve anything meaningful, he managed to cause some problems only thanks to British supplies. Ironically, he received the most modern tanks, men, etc, only when the Americans were in Africa and the British were very strong and the Italian navy was almost wiped out and all those resources were all lost when they were most needed in the USSR. Had Rommel received the resources I suggest in 1940, he would have rapidly captured Egypt and the middle east, forcing the British to capitulate.
     
  5. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    I want not to restart the whole thread of the logistics in NA (perish the thought),but,the fact is that even without Barbarossa,Rommel could not have more men,etc... at Alamein than he did have :logistics prevented this =the Libyan ports and railways could not supply more men .After Alamein,it took Montgomery (with an enormous infrastructure) THREE MONTHS to reach Tunis,and,this was not because the resistance of the AK .
    While the Egyptian economy could supply an army of + 500000 men,the Libyan economy(if there was such thing) could not .
    I know that after Torch the 5th PzArmée(60000 men ) was sent...to Tunesia,not to Libya:the 5th Pz never could operate in Libya,and,that's the reason it was not sent earlier .
     
  6. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    An extract from"Logistics and the Desert Fox"
    "In Supplying War,Martin van Crefeld comments : operating in the desert,neither the British,neither their German opponents,had the slighest hope of finding anything useful but camel dung :D, and,while the former did at least possess a base of some considerable force in Egypt,the latter were entirely depending on sea-transport even for their most elementary requirements ."
    One exemple:while the British could use the Egyptian infrastructure to supply their forces with water,the Germans had to get their water from Germany .
     
  7. lunatic

    lunatic Member

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    Monty always crawled (except when he threw entire paratrooper divisions against armored divisions to capture the bridges leading to and over the Rhine). Even in Sicily, where supplies were plentiful, Monty crawled, forcing Patton to request permission from their superior to advance independently at high speed.

    Like I said, Logistics in Libya were mostly limited by Malta. Logistics were much better in Tunisia, because eventhough the Italian's had lost most tankers, cargo ships, etc, by late 1942, supplies from western Sicily arrived in Tunisia (a shorter journey) without much interference from Malta (close to eastern Sicily). Leaving Malta in enemy hands was much more costly than it would have been leaving Sevastopol in Soviet hands. It was absurd not to capture it in 1940.

    In 1940 the Italian navy and merchant fleet were mighty, Hitler was receiving Soviet oil on credit. With Malta in the hands of the axis, improving port facilities in Tobruk would have ensured better supplies and after capturing even a small port in Egypt supplies would have been ensured. From Malta Ju-52s could have transported some supplies. Kesselring supplied Rommel much of the fuel for el Alamein from his LW stockpile.
     
  8. scipio

    scipio Member

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    Lunatic
    I think that you are arguing about Hitler's strategy - not Rommel's.

    If Hitler and the Wehrmacht High Command had been deadly serious about blasting the British out of Egypt, then last thing they should have done was to chose Rommel. Only a General with a superb command of Logistics could have succeeded - the man that Hitler needed was Monty.

    Look at the El Alamein line (which Wavell had already started preparing in March 1941 - fearing the worst) - the only really defensive line in the whole of North Africa. It would have needed a WW1 battle of attrition (just like Monty fought) at El Alamein in order to break through. For this to be successful, the Axis would have needed to assemble a force of three times that of the British. A really tough Logistics job given the immense distances and lack of available Ports.

    Rommel for all his Cavalier audacity was destined to fail - still more enjoyable to read about than patient, methodical but effective Generals like Monty.
     
  9. lunatic

    lunatic Member

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    Monty did nothing special, he only stopped an exhausted and undersupplied Axis force in el Alamein II thanks to hundreds of thousands of mines, incredible amounts of artillery, tanks, men, etc, just like Auchinleck had done in el Alamein I.
    Like Auchinleck Monty allowed Rommel to escape (with fewer than 50 worn tanks when Monty had 500 tanks in good shape and an awesome air force). Surprisingly, Auchinleck was removed from command for the same result that Monty was promoted and became famous, so desperate to create a hero had Churchill become.
    Ritchie's, Auchinlecks and Monty's exceedingly conservative approach and poor use of formidable resources cost the RN and RAF enormous losses defending and supplying Malta in order to sink the Italian ships and prevent Rommel from receiving supplies, for the British generals could only defeat a force that was much weaker than theirs.

    It is surprising that despite having a much superior navy, a larger motor vehicle and airplane industry, receiving billions of dollars of American help and large numbers of troops from India, Australia, etc, the British could not eradicate the poorly supplied axis from NA, until the Americans arrived with even more tanks, artillery, airplanes, men, etc,
     
  10. lunatic

    lunatic Member

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    The Allies in NA were so inefficient that they used more hydrocarbons just in that campaign (including transportation of equipment, supply, troop, etc,) than the whole axis during the whole war.
    The same can be said of bomber command, the Italian campaign (including Sicily), just 1944 in the Pacific, just 1944 in France, just 1944 in the eastern front, etc, It is amazing how little fuel the axis used in such a widespread and prolonged war.
     
  11. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    It seems that you don't know
    1)that Rommel already was defeated at Alamein when Torch started
    2)that Torch was a COMBINED British-US operation .
     
  12. scipio

    scipio Member

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    If this is a reference to the Tunisian Campaign, I think you will find that the majority of the forces in active combat were British, both in Tunisia and of course in the Montgomery's 8th Army approaching from Tripolitania.

    By their own admission, Americans (with the notable exception of their excellent artillery) had a lot to learn both as regards their infantry and armour. Your friend, Rommel rated them rather poorly.
     
  13. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Lunatic, as I do not recall doing so, let me welcome you to the forum!

    I must contest your post's a bit as I feel they lack some depth and needs context.

    Yes Britain used vastly more oil in North Africa than Germany, but they had it to spare. This would remain so through out the war for the Anglo-American forces. Indeed the lavish use of oil reflected in microcosim the war philosophy of the western Allies, use material rather than blood to overwhealm the enemy. For America this approach meshed well with both her industry and her political temperment. It also worked nearly as well for England's industry, but was equally important as she could not afford to take heavy loss of life as she had in WWI.

    As for Malta, yes heavy air and naval losses were incurred to hold this bastion, but part of this stems from pre-war British perception that the Island could not be effectively defended. What Britain could not count upon was a lack of will by the Axis to seize the island. When it became clear that Malta was not about to be overrun and how effective it was in interdicting Axis supply, Britain did everything within it power to keep the fortess supplied. As little planning had been prepared before hand these resupply efforts were a little disorganized and impromptu affairs which helped make them costly. Still it was this effort that helped make Rommel so deficiant in oil in the first place and so well worth it. It should also be noted that while air and sea losses were 'heavy' suppling Malta, the actual human cost compared to a all out land battle was significantly less. For Britain, Ships and aircraft were nearly as plentiful as oil in comparison to the Axis forces.

    I will never be confused with a fan of Montgomery, but he was a competent General, and reasonably aware of his limitations. I admire Rommel greatly, but compared to Monty, he just could not grasp the big picture of the war in North Africa. It must be remembered that in 1942 the Anglo-American forces were learning how to win. By the second half of 1942 they were beginning to win the battles that 6 months previously they were losing. No small feat in itself.

    Both Britain and the US were building armies nearly from scratch. The US because it didn't have much of one to begin with, and England because they lost much of theirs at Dunkirk. the DAK was drawn from a army that had two victorious campaigns under their belts and was full of confidence. America had to learn it, Britain, relearn it. It is a mistake to compare armies as if they are a board game where units have a consistant and never changing value. It is also a mistake to compare the Aliied forces of 1942 with those of 1944. Two very different animals even though they look the same.
     
    brndirt1 likes this.
  14. Gebirgsjaeger

    Gebirgsjaeger Ace

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    There is not much to add, belasar! Except that in my opinion Monty wasn´t that brilliant as some will think.
     
  15. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    Saying that"logistics in Libya were mostly limited by Malta" is wrong :some time ago,the losses of the Sicily/Tripoli convoys were given on this forum,and the fact is,that these were not that high .(some 15 %?)
    To put it otherwise:without Malta,more supplies would have reached Tripoli and would REMAIN in Tripoli ,because,the railways in Libya could transport to the front only a limited amount of supplies .
     
  16. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    By no means was Malta the only logistical nightmare for Axis forces, but I submit that once it became clear to Britain that it could be defended, and could be usefull in interdicting supply to the DAK, they did as much as possible to make use of this asset. We have debated before about the value of Malta, and each has their own opinion, what remains clear though both Britain expended much to keep it functioning and the Axis much to neutralize it. In this it has undisputed value.
     
  17. lunatic

    lunatic Member

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    WW II was won by airplanes and the thousands of American planes were decisive in NA (as Rommel well knew and which told him that France would fall to the allies, regardless of any defensive measures). Without the American forces Rommel would have survived the British in NA for years. Monty just didn't have the brains or guts to defeat him, despite the massive foreign aid.
     
  18. scipio

    scipio Member

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    I believe the size of the British Army and US one was pretty comparable in size at the start of the War. Only 2 Divisions were immediately available for France and by May 1940, 13 Divisions deployed with no regular soldier left in Britain (just 2 Canadian Divisions)

    England did not lose its Army at Dunkirk - it saved its Army (but lost its materiel).
     
  19. scipio

    scipio Member

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    There were no railways in Libya - just a small light railway around Benghazi, which was not used by either side.
     
  20. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Saddle Tramp

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    You would be incorrect, the US Navy and Royal Navy were of comparable size, but the standing US Army (pre conscription of 1940) placed the American land forces at 12th or 13th in the world, behind Romaina and just ahead of Portugal I believe in standing army and weapons.
     

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