North Africa with no Barbarossa

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yantaylor
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North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by yantaylor » 29 Oct 2019 20:51

Hi everyone, I was put a question the other day by a chap, who said 'Would Germany have won the war against the west if they didn't invade Russia' Now I know that this question has been banded around for eons, but I thought of a different take on it and that was the situation in Africa.

If Hitler decided not to invade Russia in 1941 and saw the middle east as a more important target, could he have sent Rommel with a Corps consisting of three panzer divisions and a motorized division, supported with plenty of supplies in late 1940, to sweep the British out of North Africa?

I know that the Germans would have depended on the Italians to ship most of these units and the supplies needed to keep them moving, but would Britain be in any position to stop this force actually getting set up in Libya and start the ball rolling?
How strong were the RN and RAF in the area in late 1940, could they and the Army in Egypt prevent and defeat this German Corps?

Could this force be sustained for a full desert campaign?

Finally, if the Germans did then capture the oil fields in the middle east, could the British stop them from getting any oil back to the European mainland?

What do you all think?
Yan

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by LColombo » 30 Oct 2019 01:05

I know that the Germans would have depended on the Italians to ship most of these units and the supplies needed to keep them moving, but would Britain be in any position to stop this force actually getting set up in Libya and start the ball rolling?
How strong were the RN and RAF in the area in late 1940, could they and the Army in Egypt prevent and defeat this German Corps?
As far as I know, in late 1940 British air and naval forces in the Mediterranean were still relatively weak. Historically, in the last three months of 1940 the dozens of Italian supply convoys sent to North Africa suffered no losses in personnel (ca. 16,000 troops were sent), and extremely low losses in material (0 % in October and November, when ca. 30,000 and 45,000 tons of supplies were sent, respectively; 11 % in December, when some 65,000 tons of supplies were sent). Of several dozens of Italian supply ships that sailed between Italy and North Africa in these two monhts, only two were lost to British attack; steamers Norge and Peuceta, both sunk by torpedo bombers on 21 December 1940.

Therefore, unless significant aerial and naval forces were diverted from some other theatre, I would think that the RN/RAF would not have been able to hamper the transfer of a larger Afrika Korps. Historically, after all, they were unable to inflict significant losses during the transfer of the actual Afrika Korps. The transfer of the Afrika Korps, as well as the Italian "Trento" (motorized) and "Ariete" (armoured) Divisions, was accomplished between February and April 1941 with minimal losses - during these three months, over 60,000 Axis troops and 230,000 tons of supplies and equipment were sent to Tripoli, with losses in personnel amounting to zero in February, less than 4 % in March and less than 5 % in April, and losses in equipment amounting to 2 % in February, 8 % in March and 9 % in April.

The question, I would say, is whether the port of Tripoli would have been able to receive and unload a greater amount of troops and supplies than the one that was actually sent during this time.

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by LColombo » 30 Oct 2019 01:37

By the way, another consequence of "no Barbarossa": while Italian troops in North Africa were dramatically short on vehicles, Mussolini sent 16,700 vehicles to the Eastern Front with the Italian Army in Russia between 1941 and 1942. One can wonder about the impact these vehicles (and the 946 artillery pieces, 1,742 machine guns, 423 81 mm mortars and 220,000 men that made up the ARMIR) would have had if sent to North Africa instead. Of course, the question about Tripoli's capacity to receive all these additional troops and equipment (and the supplies they would have needed) remains a key point.

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by pugsville » 30 Oct 2019 02:00

yantaylor wrote:
29 Oct 2019 20:51
Hi everyone, I was put a question the other day by a chap, who said 'Would Germany have won the war against the west if they didn't invade Russia' Now I know that this question has been banded around for eons, but I thought of a different take on it and that was the situation in Africa.

If Hitler decided not to invade Russia in 1941 and saw the middle east as a more important target, could he have sent Rommel with a Corps consisting of three panzer divisions and a motorized division, supported with plenty of supplies in late 1940, to sweep the British out of North Africa?

I know that the Germans would have depended on the Italians to ship most of these units and the supplies needed to keep them moving, but would Britain be in any position to stop this force actually getting set up in Libya and start the ball rolling?
How strong were the RN and RAF in the area in late 1940, could they and the Army in Egypt prevent and defeat this German Corps?

Could this force be sustained for a full desert campaign?

Finally, if the Germans did then capture the oil fields in the middle east, could the British stop them from getting any oil back to the European mainland?

What do you all think?
Yan
Could this force be sustained. Simple Answer NO.

The Axis could not support the forces they had in North Africa Historically, so supporting more is pretty hard ask. The problems were more than just shipping, port capacity, trucking everything to the front. It took months to transfer the initial Africa corps to North Africa, which was well short of that force.

One of the problems of the North Africa front was that supply lines got long, the distance from your supply base drastically weakened each side capability. You land your panzers at Tripoli and drive then to Tobruk, now they mostly need a refit. The desert environment was punishing on equipment. Air filters etc got worn out rapidly. Servicing of tanks, trucks and aircraft had to be done more often.

Rommel's initial offensive was always go to run out of steam at it advanced a vast distance, and as the British supply lines became shorter to the front and more units could be scrapped together it would be stopped. It's very hard to maintain a offensive over very large distances. As the campaign developed the British could simply logistical support a much larger forces than the Axis. To get around this the Axis would need to build bigger ports and railways, which would take a very long time, and require a large amount of the current shipping capacity.

The British problems in the Middle East is that they were over stretched by a large number of fronts, Italian East Africa, Iraq/Syria , Greece/Crete. But they had the advantage of a large logistical base and large shipping capacity. They nearly always had forces spare somewhere around middle east command that could be rushed to deal with an emergency.

yantaylor
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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by yantaylor » 30 Oct 2019 16:15

Great answers so far, thanks all!

Yan

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Kingfish
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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by Kingfish » 31 Oct 2019 09:47

yantaylor wrote:
29 Oct 2019 20:51
If Hitler decided not to invade Russia in 1941 and saw the middle east as a more important target, could he have sent Rommel with a Corps consisting of three panzer divisions and a motorized division, supported with plenty of supplies in late 1940, to sweep the British out of North Africa?
The more fundamental question is: would Mussolini allow it?

The Italian rout at Sidi Barrani didn't occur until Dec '40. Up until that point Mussolini's dream of an Italian empire along both sides of the Mediterranean was still in effect, something he wanted Italy to accomplish on its own.

Sending a full mechanized corp to NA in 1940 implies Mussolini taking a back seat to the conquest of what he considered his exclusive preserve. I seriously doubt he would have accepted such a monumental loss of prestige so early in the game.
The gods do not deduct from a man's allotted span the hours spent in fishing.
~Babylonian Proverb

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by yantaylor » 31 Oct 2019 12:33

True, that is a good point KF, I wonder how long it took for Hitler to realize that the Italian army was not strong enough against a determined foe, I don't want to put the Italian army down, but how did they do in Yugoslavia, Greece and later in Egypt and Libya.
I suppose then that January 1941 would be the earliest the Germans could get troops and armour into African.

Just want to touch on a few points mentioned earlier, mainly about the ports in Tunisia.
They managed to unlode the re-enforcements sent by Hitler after Torch and El Alamein, didn't they unload the 10th Pz, Herman Goring Div plus an Infantry divsion? They also shipped over a heavy tank battalion plus loads of supporting units.

Yan

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by LColombo » 31 Oct 2019 16:03

yantaylor wrote:
31 Oct 2019 12:33
I don't want to put the Italian army down, but how did they do in Yugoslavia, Greece and later in Egypt and Libya.
Just a passing remark, but the Italian part of the invasion of Yugoslavia went pretty swiftly as far as I know (at the same time, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was not what I would call a "determined" foe, as opposed to Greece).
Just want to touch on a few points mentioned earlier, mainly about the ports in Tunisia.
They managed to unlode the re-enforcements sent by Hitler after Torch and El Alamein, didn't they unload the 10th Pz, Herman Goring Div plus an Infantry divsion? They also shipped over a heavy tank battalion plus loads of supporting units.
The ports of Tunisia (Tunis and Bizerte, plus Sfax and Sousse to a much smaller extent) would have been useful, and were used to unload 72,246 troops and 306,532 tons of supplies between November 1942 and May 1943. The problem is, they were never used before November 1942, even though using them would have been of great help for the entire North African campaign. Hitler did not want to upset the Vichy French, therefore no use was made of the Tunisian ports till the Axis occupation of Vichy France in November 1942.

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by pugsville » 31 Oct 2019 17:16

yantaylor wrote:
31 Oct 2019 12:33
True, that is a good point KF, I wonder how long it took for Hitler to realize that the Italian army was not strong enough against a determined foe, I don't want to put the Italian army down, but how did they do in Yugoslavia, Greece and later in Egypt and Libya.
I suppose then that January 1941 would be the earliest the Germans could get troops and armour into African.

Just want to touch on a few points mentioned earlier, mainly about the ports in Tunisia.
They managed to unlode the re-enforcements sent by Hitler after Torch and El Alamein, didn't they unload the 10th Pz, Herman Goring Div plus an Infantry divsion? They also shipped over a heavy tank battalion plus loads of supporting units.

Yan
Tunisian Ports , once you land the supplies , that's 800 kms of trucking to Tripli, then another 1,000km to Benghazi,anther 600 or so to the Egyptian Border, Another 500km to El-Aliamien, almost 3,000kms of consuming oil that's carried in the trucks reducing capacity. In an environment that has really low serviceability for trucks and every break down , makes the logistical system that much worse. Land a tank and drive it even 1,500 km it gonna need some serious work.

Using Tunisian Ports to supply troops in Tunisia is one thing, at the Gates of the Nile Delta another things entirely.

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by pugsville » 31 Oct 2019 17:20

LColombo wrote:
31 Oct 2019 16:03
yantaylor wrote:
31 Oct 2019 12:33
I don't want to put the Italian army down, but how did they do in Yugoslavia, Greece and later in Egypt and Libya.
Just a passing remark, but the Italian part of the invasion of Yugoslavia went pretty swiftly as far as I know (at the same time, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was not what I would call a "determined" foe, as opposed to Greece).
Just want to touch on a few points mentioned earlier, mainly about the ports in Tunisia.
They managed to unlode the re-enforcements sent by Hitler after Torch and El Alamein, didn't they unload the 10th Pz, Herman Goring Div plus an Infantry divsion? They also shipped over a heavy tank battalion plus loads of supporting units.
The ports of Tunisia (Tunis and Bizerte, plus Sfax and Sousse to a much smaller extent) would have been useful, and were used to unload 72,246 troops and 306,532 tons of supplies between November 1942 and May 1943. The problem is, they were never used before November 1942, even though using them would have been of great help for the entire North African campaign. Hitler did not want to upset the Vichy French, therefore no use was made of the Tunisian ports till the Axis occupation of Vichy France in November 1942.
There was some minor use of Tunisian ports, an agreement was negotiated with Vichy France In May 1941. Not a great deal of traffic IIRC.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Protocols

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by LColombo » 31 Oct 2019 17:50

The amount of supplies carried that way was insignificant. Only 56 trucks and 1,000 tons of supplies (mostly foodstuffs) between December 1941 and February 1942, when this traffic was halted as a result of Allied pressure.

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by jwsleser » 02 Nov 2019 20:53

Louis Capdeboscq and I had an online discussion on this topic back around 2003-ish. We analyzed and posted a large amount of data (one reason I purchased copies of the USSM histories addressing the convoys and other books). Our original question was ‘Did Malta create a significant logistical problem in A.S. for the Axis?’ Our discussion was in reaction to the oft-read claim that Axis shipping/tonnage losses were small compared to the amount of tonnage successfully shipped and received, hence Malta wasn't a major factor. In answering this question, we worked on establishing what was the realistic capacity of the logistical system both to and inside the A.S.

I will note that at the time, I didn't believe Malta was as important as many histories claimed.

As the answer to this question was resolved, we expanded our discussion to include ‘Given increased logistical support in A.S., would a Mediterranean First strategy have been better for the Axis?’

The answer to our first question was in terms of 1st order effects. We decided no, Malta wasn’t a big killer of Axis shipping and supplies. However, the 2nd order effect of scheduling and routing shipping to reduce losses, Malta was significantly impacting the efficient use of shipping and the operation of the ports. The Italians couldn’t schedule shipping based on requirements generated by FF.AA. A.S. as needed, but had to form convoys before supplies were shipped. This scheduling issue created a feast or famine effect in the ports in A.S., preventing efficient use of the ports facilities for unloading and storage. Instead of flowing shipping at a steady rate during a month that could leverage the ports’ unloading capabilities 24/7, you either see flood of shipping that can’t be handled at one time, creating a backlog of shipping in the port awaiting to unload; or you what you historically saw, a backlog of cargo in the departure ports, awaiting the convoy scheduled to open up to move the cargo. This is why you see a wide range of arrival tonnages in the historical data, based on the threat from Malta and the resulting convoy scheduling.

Think of this like using a funnel to fill a can. Pour too fast, and water spills out and the funnel is full as water waits to flow through the smaller neck. This creates a start/stop pattern in your pouring. But you can find that sweet spot, the rate of pouring the water such that you can be constantly pouring and the water flows smoothly through the funnel.

The other 2nd order effect was that Malta limited the use of coastal shipping. This impact is twofold: moving bulk cargo to smaller ports further east was greatly impacted, and it limited the use of coastal shipping to support the truck convoys (more on the latter below).

The 3rd order effect of Malta was the increased use of bunker oil by merchants and warships. As the direct shipping routes couldn’t be used, the longer convoy routes required more fuel. The act of convoying required escorts, again increasing the fuel consumption. Fuel then became a limiting factor on convoy scheduling as the lack of fuel affected convoy schedules. Convoys were often delayed while awaiting escorts that were awaiting fuel.

What we determined was the ports and interior infrastructure had a greater capacity than what the shipping system could deliver given the influence of Malta. The use of trucks to supply forward, while not the best system, clearly worked given the actual amount of tonnage moved by this method. If coastal shipping can be used to move key items, and also used to support the truck LOC, then a significantly increased of supply is possible. Tie this to some improvements in the port infrastructures, and the increase in throughput is quite large. All of these things were possible during the war.

I will point out the main asset the Axis needed in A.S. was airpower. Airpower would be needed to make most of the issues above ‘go away’. Airpower also tends to be a much smaller logistical footprint than ground forces, hence easier to move and support (witness the moves of the X Air Corps during the war).

I can discuss any of this points in detail if needed. As you can read, I changed my opinion on Malta. Malta didn't sink a lot of ships, but made the LOC less efficient than it could have been.

Next this analysis was then run against the ‘Mediterranean First’ Strategy. Our self-established proof was that Germany must gain a significant strategic advantage to justify the resources. Here our conclusion was the Axis likely could have gain the Delta region, but anything beyond was a ‘bridge too far’. The Axis lacked the ground and air forces to move further into Palestine and east to the oil fields, and/or up into Asia Minor and thus into southern Russia. Without such a move that provides an advantage over Russia or a steady, reliable supply of oil, a Mediterranean strategy is a dead end. The UK will not fall if Egypt is lost (all UK shipping was already going around the Cape) and the resources needed to implement would be badly missed once Russia enters the war. And Russia is the 500lb gorilla when looking at German strategy.

If anyone believes that Russia will remain out of the war without Barbarossa, that is a different discussion.

Just some thoughts based on about of year worth of research and discussion.

Pista! Jeff
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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by jwsleser » 02 Nov 2019 21:04

The amount of supplies carried that way was insignificant. Only 56 trucks and 1,000 tons of supplies (mostly foodstuffs) between December 1941 and February 1942, when this traffic was halted as a result of Allied pressure
The Italian Navy saw Tunisia as an advantage and wanted to occupy the country. Shorter shipping distances, better road network, in all a safer LOC. The problem of truck distances would be handled by use of coastal shipping and targeted supplies to ports further east. High rate consumables (e.g. fuel) would be delivered to ports further east. Bulk items that could be placed in depots can be shipped to Tunisia.

The addition of these ports would ease the flow issue I discussed in my previous post.

Pista! Jeff
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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by Urmel » 02 Nov 2019 23:03

jwsleser wrote:
02 Nov 2019 20:53
The other 2nd order effect was that Malta limited the use of coastal shipping. This impact is twofold: moving bulk cargo to smaller ports further east was greatly impacted, and it limited the use of coastal shipping to support the truck convoys (more on the latter below).
Interesting. How did this happen? Attacks by air and mining ops?

Also, do you have a link to that discussion?
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

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Re: North Africa with no Barbarossa

Post by Urmel » 02 Nov 2019 23:05

Kingfish wrote:
31 Oct 2019 09:47
yantaylor wrote:
29 Oct 2019 20:51
If Hitler decided not to invade Russia in 1941 and saw the middle east as a more important target, could he have sent Rommel with a Corps consisting of three panzer divisions and a motorized division, supported with plenty of supplies in late 1940, to sweep the British out of North Africa?
The more fundamental question is: would Mussolini allow it?

The Italian rout at Sidi Barrani didn't occur until Dec '40. Up until that point Mussolini's dream of an Italian empire along both sides of the Mediterranean was still in effect, something he wanted Italy to accomplish on its own.

Sending a full mechanized corp to NA in 1940 implies Mussolini taking a back seat to the conquest of what he considered his exclusive preserve. I seriously doubt he would have accepted such a monumental loss of prestige so early in the game.
That's straight out fantasy. The Italians only came round to the idea of inviting the Germans in when they had been whipped to an inch of their lives by COMPASS.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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