Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

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Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 26 Jan 2022 17:07

Operation C3/Herkules, to take Malta, envisioned a massive amphibious and airborne operation to land 70,000 troops. Hitler doubted Italian ability to carry it off and didn't want to release the required fuel; the operation was cancelled in part to release assets for Rommel's drive into Egypt.

I'm interrogating the feasibility and benefit of a different strategy. Rather than taking Malta in a massively resource-intensive operation of at least debatable prospects, perhaps the Axis should have extended the Siege of Malta by taking Gozo and neighboring Comino in a far cheaper (and earlier) operation?

A map of C3 from an Army Staff College master's thesis (passim):

Image

Siege warfare from Gozo (and Comino) has several possible benefits. It would allow operating light naval forces from small harbors and bays. This could, inter alia, prevent/diminish the sweeping of mines from around Grand and Marsaxlokk Harbors, impeding the island's ability to receive supplies even by submarine. On Gozo you'd establish at least forward operating airfields to intercept patrols and to recover aircraft damaged while operating over Malta. Gozo airfields would extend dwell time for Sicily-based fighters conducting patrols over Malta as cover for light naval forces and to suppress the RAF.

Heavy German field guns like the 17cm K18 (ranged 18.4mi) could cover the entire main island from Comino:

Image

...that makes the harbors practically unusable and consistently shelling Valetta and other towns increases willingness to surrender (probably destroys stores like foodstuffs as well). Malta has fairly powerful artillery as well but in a sustained siege from Gozo/Comino it's going to be impossible to match Axis ammo supply. If the Allies try to do so, this will have strategic benefits in warship and merchant shipping losses.

A tight siege strategy requires maintaining air/sea superiority around Malta to maintain Gozo/Comino but that's probably doable, at least through May '42 if LW diversions to the Eastern Front and Afrika Korps are as in OTL. If the siege is going well and Malta looks on the verge of surrender by late spring, then refuse Rommel his OTL LW reinforcements and stop him at the Egyptian border (probably the right thing anyway).

Given the weak forces deemed necessary for taking Gozo (3,000 troops in the largest plan vs. 70,000 on Malta), could the Axis have taken the island in early '42 with existing assets (and with OTL air/sea superiority in the area)? Even if it take 10,000 troops to conquer Gozo, this seems both within Axis capabilities and justified by strategic benefit.

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Forces required

Axis estimates of the forces required to take Gozo maxed at 3,000 troops with no airborne landings:

Image

Let's suppose instead that the Axis plans to land 10,000 troops on Gozo and Comino (perhaps in a follow-up from the former). Most of these troops would probably be airborne as Gozo has only a single small beach suitable for landings AFAICS. The extensive naval gunfire support planned for C3, if concentrated against Gozo, could probably suppress AAA fire upon the paratroopers. Besides the beaches, Italy invested heavily in training naval commandos trained to scale cliffs; these would also assault Gozo.

The initial assault, heavily supported by NGFS and air bombardment, would thereafter be reinforced by artillery for the siege. Probably by the few KV tanks intended for C3, just in case the Malta garrison gets adventurous. These could be unloaded over the beaches and in the small harbor of Mgarr on Gozo's south end.

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Counterattack from Malta?

Is there any possibility of an amphibious counterattack from Malta? I've no idea but can't imagine the British had many soldiers trained for this role in the garrison.

During and immediately after the landings, when more-vulnerable light forces hold Gozo, amphibious attack would be ruled out by Axis air/sea dominance. Once a 10,000-man garrison holds the island behind prepared defenses, it's hard to imagine a successful attack from Malta absent an amphibious buildup that would be observed and interdicted.

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The Plan

Once the Axis has established fire bases on Gozo/Comino covering the entire area of Malta, the island's airfields and harbors would probably be unusable. There may be an intervening period of artillery duals with the Malta garrison but they don't have much access to shell supplies, whereas the Axis can ship almost at will over a ~60mi route using beaches/Mgarr - Force K and the RAF being suppressed as in OTL.

Axis may want to take the small peninsula facing Comino on the main island. It may want eventually to push southeastwards to the Victoria Line, to tighten the siege and present Malta's populace with a more compelling case for surrender.

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The Strategic Benefit

If done in Spring 1942, the Gozo siege operation should be up and running by the time LW strength is recalled to Ostheer. That allows Malta's suppression to endure even after the LW no longer has overwhelming force ratio in the Central Med: with the harbors and airfields being shelled, RAF probably wouldn't want to reconstitute a large airforce on Malta and probably couldn't supply it if it wanted to (except at exorbitant cost). If UK for some reason indicates a willingness to pay an exorbitant cost to keep Malta in operation, then LW units can be withdrawn from Rommel and his ambitions curbed. He should be getting better-than-OTL supplies by June anyway, so stop complaining (here I'm talking ideal strategy - I'm aware that Axis may not have acted so rationally in this theater).

I'd guess that Malta surrenders by Fall 1942 in this scenario but that's not necessary to the idea.

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As I say, consider this an interrogation of an idea; I have not invested a great deal of time into it. As always, however, objections that don't make sense will be challenged as such.
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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by T. A. Gardner » 26 Jan 2022 18:13

Gozo wouldn't be that easy. Gozo's coastline is almost entirely unsuited for amphibious landings, and the ports available are tiny. As for airfields, none were built on the island until 1943 in the buildup to take Sicily. The US 21st Aviation Engineer Regiment came ashore on Gozo--with substantial mechanized construction equipment--to build Ta Lambert airfield on the island.
The likely reason no airfields existed prior to this, was the terrain was rugged enough, and there were physical obstacles, like terraced farms and walls, that building one mostly or entirely by hand--like the Axis would have to do--would have taken a thousand workers months to finish. The US on the other hand using bulldozers, dump trucks, and earth scrapers put one in in a week.

Image

https://www.forgottenairfields.com/airf ... 0in%201943.

Eisenhower's recollection of the decision to put an airfield on Gozo:

The only spot that was possible to use was an island and I think it was named Gozo, but if I am wrong General Gruenther will tell me after we leave this meeting. But anyway it was nothing but a mountain. And the British having long ago given up with their hand tools on building this field, said to the engineer colonel visiting for the evening, “How long would it take you to get this field ready?” And the British thought, at least, that anything under a year, if you could do it at all, would be all right. And this man took a look and said, “Oh, 12 to 14 days.” And the British officer was so astonished, and really so insulted in a sense, he said, “When can you start? .... Well,” he said, “let’s see what headquarters will give me.”

https://www.um.edu.mt/library/oar/bitst ... ctions.pdf

So, no, the Axis in taking Gozo are not going to be putting an airfield or airfields on the island anytime soon after landing, if ever.

Yes, the Axis could have taken the island and set up a few batteries to fire on Malta, but that's about the extent of Gozo's usefulness to the Axis.

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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 26 Jan 2022 19:04

Terry Gardner wrote:The US on the other hand using bulldozers, dump trucks, and earth scrapers put one in in a week.
Meh. It's not as if bulldozers don't exist in Germany and not as if Axis wasn't aware of Gozo's topography. They're just rarer. So are humans in Germany vs. US. If they take Gozo they ship the 6 bulldozers in all the German lands.
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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by T. A. Gardner » 26 Jan 2022 19:38

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
26 Jan 2022 19:04
Meh. It's not as if bulldozers don't exist in Germany and not as if Axis wasn't aware of Gozo's topography. They're just rarer. So are humans in Germany vs. US. If they take Gozo they ship the 6 bulldozers in all the German lands.
This is just a major logical fallacy. It's a combination of cherry picking and magical thinking. Nowhere else in Axis territory did the Luftwaffe--and yes, they'd be the ones building the airfield--procure any sort of mass mechanization for construction of airfields. Hell, they Germans barely used mechanized construction methods for anything. That German military engineers used to non-mechanized or very low levels of mechanized construction would suddenly undergo an epiphany and decide that the equivalent of US civil engineering methods should be used is ridiculous. Gozo would be no exception. The Italians would be even more destitute in this respect.

So, no, the Axis isn't going to build an airfield on Gozo in a reasonable amount of time. If they decide to build one, it will take months to complete and by the time it's complete, either Malta will have fallen making its construction moot, or the Axis invasion will have failed making its construction moot.

I doubt that the Germans or Italians would even put in building an airfield on Gozo in their planning. The British certainly didn't think it was worthwhile plan and they held the island for years.

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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by Cult Icon » 26 Jan 2022 20:20

Where are the sources for "very little mechanized construction"?

Just invented without sources?

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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by Cult Icon » 26 Jan 2022 20:55

The Luftwaffe just had to borrow other people's runways,

His sources are literally ...pictures.., then an invented rhetoric-piece to justify the existence of a picture.

But they say, a picture is worth a thousand words :lol:

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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by AnchorSteam » 26 Jan 2022 20:58

It is the 17cm guns that caught my attention.
Artillery is a vastly superior way to put ordinance on target over aicraft, given the short ranges and the time you would need to do it in.

According to some sources, the production of 21cm field guns was stopped to make way for the 17cm and it's surprisingly effective H.E. rounds. Since the Axis had no Long Tom this would be the right gun for the right job, however -

1) were there enough of them available at this time? Assuming cassualties and the usual axis wastage at least 24 would have to be available, plus at least 1500 rounds per gun.

2) would they be able to defend the guns and emplace them agisnt the kind of counter-batter fire the guns on Malta would be able to throw at them from the start? How would they register their fire against targets inside the port?

Its one thing to get the guns there, its is another to make them do what you need them to do. It CAN be done, but how?

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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 26 Jan 2022 21:47

Anchor Steam wrote:1) were there enough of them [17cm K18] available at this time? Assuming cassualties and the usual axis wastage at least 24 would have to be available, plus at least 1500 rounds per gun.
The 17cm is just an example of what could be emplaced. They'd probably prefer to use some of the rarer, captured types because logistics for the siege are already bespoke and it's preferable to leave more of the standard types to the field army. Same reason The 17cm would be needed only to cover, from Comino, the last ~3mi around Marsaxlokk. Everything else is within range of the various 15cm/10cm guns. Half the island is within range of the standard sFH 18.

I'm not certain on 17cm stocks in early 1942. Here's a table from GSWW v.5-1, in which I'm pretty sure "super heavy artillery" is mislabelled and includes the 17cm K18:

Image

No more than 20 "super heavy" pieces would be needed; 15cm/10cm guns/howitzers would do most of the work. Valetta and many airfields, for example, are within range of the common 10cm guns.
Anchor Steam wrote:would they be able to defend the guns and emplace them agisnt the kind of counter-batter fire the guns on Malta would be able to throw at them from the start?
They'd be at a land-based gun-tube disadvantage at first, for sure. But initially they'd be supported by the entire Italian fleet, which can put down some fireworks on Malta batteries, and by concentrated air attacks. I agree that bombs are less efficient - thus the ATL - but as a short-term solution it's acceptable. Axis casualties would probably exceed Allied for the first couple weeks of siege warfare. But at some point Malta runs out of shells, or can't keep up the firing pace.

How many of Malta's emplaced heavy guns could turn towards Gozo, btw?
Anchor Steam wrote:How would they register their fire against targets inside the port?
Air spotting, primarily. Again I envision the Gozo assault taking place within the time frame of OTL LW dominance over Malta. Could also use naval units such as small craft operating from Gozo's small harbors and bays.

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Another option is not even to emphasize long-range artillery much from Gozo and Comino. If you land in, say, February, then on the OTL LW surge timeline Malta isn't doing much until after May anyway. So don't worry about shelling the island's southern half until later, when the LW is recalled to Russia. Use a month to emplace primarily field howitzers and build up a force to take Malta's northwest, short of the Victoria line. Then use another month to move your artillery forward from Gozo, add some 21cm "mortars" and other heavy howitzers, and just pummel the island into submission. If the British try to intervene with massive reinforcements, they lose several divisions at sea and some warships to boot.

The broader point is to take the concept of a siege seriously, and not rely solely on a coup de main of debatable prospects and such enormous maritime and aerial resource demands that the operation is cancelled.
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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by AnchorSteam » 26 Jan 2022 23:41

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
26 Jan 2022 21:47
I'm not certain on 17cm stocks in early 1942. Here's a table from GSWW v.5-1, in which I'm pretty sure "super heavy artillery" is mislabelled and includes the 17cm K18:
I looked it up and production started in 1941, with 338 being built during the whole war. So, its a pity, but it looks like the right gun for the job just won't be there. As good as it is for counter-better fire, I don't think the 10cm Czech guns will reduce fortifications, but there is another gun that would work; the rare 21 cm Kanone 39.
The problem is, it weighs about 40 tons.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
26 Jan 2022 21:47
The broader point is to take the concept of a siege seriously, and not rely solely on a coup de main of debatable prospects and such enormous maritime and aerial resource demands that the operation is cancelled.
Good idea.
But, to be serious, the idea of an operational airfield on Gozo is even more silly than operational airfields remaining on Malta once you get your artillery up and running, and it isn't likely that the last British guns will be silenced until the island is fully occupied.
Your team would have to maintain air superiority all through this operation and keep your batteries supplied with more ammunition than the British can.
If you can do that, you win, and Malta goes the same way Sevastopol did.
If you can't.....

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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by Kingfish » 27 Jan 2022 01:02

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
26 Jan 2022 21:47
Another option is not even to emphasize long-range artillery much from Gozo and Comino. If you land in, say, February, then on the OTL LW surge timeline Malta isn't doing much until after May anyway. So don't worry about shelling the island's southern half until later, when the LW is recalled to Russia. Use a month to emplace primarily field howitzers and build up a force to take Malta's northwest, short of the Victoria line. Then use another month to move your artillery forward from Gozo, add some 21cm "mortars" and other heavy howitzers, and just pummel the island into submission. If the British try to intervene with massive reinforcements, they lose several divisions at sea and some warships to boot.
Just curious, are the British in this WI supposed to do anything other than provide target practice?
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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 27 Jan 2022 01:24

Kingfish wrote:
27 Jan 2022 01:02
Just curious, are the British in this WI supposed to do anything other than provide target practice?

We can be certain they will leave their assorted dual purpose 4.5" or 4.7" guns idle (range of 18,000 meters). And won't bother manning the 9.2" guns with their 27,000+ meter range.

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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by T. A. Gardner » 27 Jan 2022 01:32

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
26 Jan 2022 20:29
Ugh I know we've been through this before. We're about to get a bunch of pictures, generalities, and no quantitative analysis or other objective means for comparison.

Terry's thesis amounts to "US had more construction stuff," which is valid but never sufficient to prove his points (that the Germans could not have built one single runway with machines, for example).

Germans are just bad at engineering - everybody knows this.
I didn't say they couldn't build a runway. They could. But it would take a typical German construction regiment several months at a minimum to do it. This is because such regiments are near totally unmechanized.
So, what I get in return for pointing out the quite obvious is ad hominem...

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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 27 Jan 2022 01:39

Kingfish wrote:
27 Jan 2022 01:02
Just curious, are the British in this WI supposed to do anything other than provide target practice?
Aha. What if the British did something? Brilliant. Except I've already discussed several British reactions so this isn't the first I've heard of people doing something. Heck I did something even before posting the thread. I've known about doing something since like Monday.

What exactly do the British do?

More precisely, besides the British reactions I've already discussed (counterattack from Malta, reinforcement) do they do?

Got any ideas?

Let me help you. I posit that a 10,000-man garrison on Gozo couldn't be amphibiously assaulted from Malta for several reasons. I posit that reinforcement of Malta would (1) cost men and warships lost at sea to the LW as in OTL plus (2) result in the few cargo ships reaching port - as in OTL - being sunk there by the ATL siege artillery. I.e. a complete waste of lives and material. With what part of those assessments do you disagree?

One might posit a "mega reinforcement" effort: say the Allies' Pacific/Indian fleets sail to the rescue. Maybe that works but it comes at immense cost elsewhere (who checks IJN at the Coral Sea?) so doesn't seem feasible. Who gives up the reinforcing troops? 8th Army? But then they're already facing a better-supplied Rommel so that's dicey. Even if enables the island to hold out, it doesn't protect the airfields and ports from shelling so a reinforced Malta is still strategically useless.
Anchor Steam wrote:As good as it is for counter-better fire, I don't think the 10cm Czech guns will reduce fortifications
Plan isn't to destroy the fortifications with long-range guns; it's not that kind of siege. The forts can stay forts, firing ammo until they run out. The essential aspect is that the ports and airfields are unusable. Malta is thereby strategically useless and its starvation is a matter of time. The shelling is aimed, before anything else, at ports and airfields.

10cm K18 isn't Czech, btw.
Anchor Steam wrote:the idea of an operational airfield on Gozo is even more silly than operational airfields remaining on Malta once you get your artillery up and running, and it isn't likely that the last British guns will be silenced until the island is fully occupied.
Note the benefits of the airfield I listed: dwell time for fighters and recovery of damaged planes. That was because I don't see this airfield as a full-service base, just a place to touch down briefly. Absent air superiority, the garrison won't be able to spot its shells on the airfield so would be relying on guesswork shots unlikely to hit planes briefly stopping by.

It's not a bad point though and it's possible that the airfield can't operate until Malta's shell supply is denuded. It'd take some to build anyway. Not a central aspect of the idea, as Sicily is ~60miles away.
Anchor Steam wrote:Your team would have to maintain air superiority all through this operation and keep your batteries supplied with more ammunition than the British can.
LW maintained air superiority over Malta for the first five months of 1942.

Advantageous shell supply seems obvious to me: Malta gets virtually nothing; bad guys get a lot. MFP's/MZ's/Siebels for beach supply alone - 100 boats, 80t payload, 1 r/t per day/boat - that's a lot of supplies. Reduce that sketch by 80% and they're bringing 50,000t/month.
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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 27 Jan 2022 01:41

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
27 Jan 2022 01:24
Kingfish wrote:
27 Jan 2022 01:02
Just curious, are the British in this WI supposed to do anything other than provide target practice?

We can be certain they will leave their assorted dual purpose 4.5" or 4.7" guns idle (range of 18,000 meters). And won't bother manning the 9.2" guns with their 27,000+ meter range.
Read the thread Carl. Artillery dual favors the good guys for a while during the buildup, with Axis taking more casualties.

It's ridiculous that you want to pretend I imagine Malta not shooting back. Don't you have better things to do?
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Re: Taking Gozo as a siege warfare alternative to C3/Herkules

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 27 Jan 2022 03:31

T.A. Gardner wrote:But it would take a typical German construction regiment several months at a minimum to do it.
You're assuming - you consider it obvious - that Germany undertakes perhaps its most atypical operation of the entire war, one on which its strategic theater position largely depends, and just attaches a "typical German construction regiment." It takes time to train commandos to scale cliffs, to retrain paratroopers for the specific mission and to avoid the errors of Crete, it ships MFP's across Europe by massive special road convoys, it grants a special allocation of fuel and then...

...and then it just figures "yeah any old construction unit will do."

...it doesn't look at a map of Gozo.

...or Germans don't realize that bulldozers are more powerful than men.

...or Germany has like 5 bulldozers and Goering is playing with 4 of them.

I mean yeah, if you assume the position against which you are arguing will be planned and executed in a stupid way then of course you win.

Seems like a total waste of time to think that way - making arguments that assume, and rely upon, others being stupid.
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