How important was Malta?

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Davide Pastore
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Re: How important was Malta?

Post by Davide Pastore » 10 Mar 2008 22:21

Bronsky wrote:I think you are being very optimistic
Well, I was trying to prove your point... :P

Bottom line: if you think my numbers are optimistics, then the likely maximum load capacity of African port is somewhat inferior to the 157% of historical average.

Now the question is: is that number sufficient to alter the outcome of the war in North Africa in a major way?

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Re: How important was Malta?

Post by Bronsky » 10 Mar 2008 23:47

You were being optimistic regarding a truck-borne supply line, though you also assume that Rommel received all of the 90k tons that constituted the average tonnage unloaded in theater which skews the numbers the opposite way.

Extrapolating from pp.136-37 in Dati Statistici it looks like some 13,000 tons or the 90,000 unloaded represented deliveries for civilians or the Regia Marina so military deliveries were only 77,000 per month in average.

Now I believe that port capacity would be higher than what you list, based on tonnages actually unloaded in the ports and trying to match the total I get the following max estimates (these are, to reiterate, estimates!) in tons per month:

July 1942:
Tobruk 90,000
Benghazi 45,000
Derna 15,000 (this includes Bardia)
Tobruk 15,000
Total = 165,000

In August, Tobruk goes up to 30,000 tons (I could build a case for 60,000 based on the figures mentioned in the previous post, this is for September) so total port capacity is 180,000 tons plus a possible 9,000 if Mersa Matruh is captured (though not immediately upon capture).

So with Benghazi and ports east of it, this gives 90,000 port capacity plus whatever is transshipped from Tripoli i.e.[90,000 - 13,000] / 2 = 38,000 (though the availability of coastal shipping will be the bottleneck here). The maximum port capacity is therefore 128,000 tons for deliveries at least as far east at Benghazi, against 77,000 historically received that's a 66% increase plus the increase in efficiency: in July and August 1942 (together) the following arrived: Tripoli 35,669 t, Bengasi 60,500 t, Tobruk 47,071 t, Marsa Matruh 1,927 t. So my estimate includes a rationalization of the Axis supply system, which wasn't historically possible because of British attacks on Axis logistics, British attacks largely took place because of Malta: either they were Malta-based or they weren't sufficiently opposed because the Axis had to deploy assets to block Malta rather than do air defense of Tobruk.

And no, I don't know if the extra amount of supply is going to be enough to bounce the British position in Egypt. I think it won't be. But generally speaking, capturing Malta in the summer of 1942 no longer serves much of a strategic purpose because of TORCH. Of course, we know that TORCH was going to happen and the Axis didn't.

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Post by Jon G. » 24 Mar 2008 03:13

JonS wrote:New review of an old book:
The War against Rommel's Supply Lines, 1942-1943, by Levine. The title is a bit of a misnomer, but the book itself looks wery wery interestink. Even the review packs in quite a bit of info relevant to several ongoing discussions here regarding logistics in the African campaign.

You can also Search Inside this book.
For what it is worth, [url=e ... 944&sr=8-1]Levine's book[/url] is now out as a cheap Stackpole paperback. I haven't had the time to read it yet - I only got it in the mail Saturday - but at a glance the title is a misnomer, as you say, because it deals mostly with the Tunisian campaign.

Still just at a glance, Levine seems to be repeating the somewhat contemptible opinion of the Italians which can be found in Playfair and Roskill, and his numbers for North African port capacities seem to be nothing but rehashes of van Creveld's estimates on how much traffic Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk could handle.

I'll see if I can find any stuff relevant to this discussion and rehash it here once I've read the book.

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Re: How important was Malta?

Post by Entschuldigung » 12 Sep 2021 06:52

I would like to revive this thread by examining what were the root causes of the Axis failure to rout, expel, capture and or destroy the British in North Africa, the subsequent turning point @ El Alamein, and the wider consequences.

This is more of a discussion regarding the overall narrative strategic concepts rather than statistics and tonnage figures etc (which I will leave to those more qualified).

Here are what I deem to be the compelling reasons for the Axis defeat in North Africa and the Mediterranean and the resulting consequences, whilst keeping in mind the importance that Malta may have had on the situation in that theatre.

Firstly, the desert air force (RAF, etc) began to wrest air superiority by mid-1942 - Rommel himself stated that whoever controls the skies controls the battlefield.

Secondly, The British had secured their strategic position ( though tenuous ) in concert with the Soviets across the Middle East and had been 'managing' various colonies throughout the area for some decades, hence they had experience as well as a dominant presence, established infrastructure, and administrative systems in place. The reason I mention this is to challenge the 'what if' narrative that concludes that Rommel's capture of Cairo, Egypt, and the Suez would have been the end-game move. ( The British empire was still vast despite the numerous handicaps this would bring about)

Thirdly, the war of production was finally starting to affect the disparity on the battlefield (and morale).

Fourth, the loss of Rommel's 'good source', the capture of Nachrichten Fern Aufklarung Kompanie 621, and more widely the improving intelligence situation for the Allies as a result of 'Ultra'.

Lastly, a recurring situation that afflicted the Wehrmacht in many battles where they seemingly got to within a whisker of victory, only to find themselves overstretched, undersupplied, and outnumbered.
This is probably a combination of the negligent and inept if not non-existent Axis overall strategy for victory, a detailed blueprint for winning the war with clear objectives including cooperation between its 'allies', co-belligerents, etc. Germany's grand strategic blueprint was a vague, reactionary, and grandiose mix of ideology, planning on the run, hubris, and short-sightedness. There may have been many social, political, and cultural projects, but large-scale military planning with clear goals that were grounded in reality was vague at best and non-existent at worst.
North Africa started out as lending a helping hand to Italy with instructions to hold the British and prevent them from overrunning the Italians, again an egregious oversight proving to be a bad habit - Hitler and the high command only realizing its importance and reacting far too late by squandering precious men and materiel by way of Tunisia in 1943.

So the question's are: how many of these points could have been remedied?

Could the Axis secure the North African coastline, the Mediterranean, AND hold onto it?

If the Axis do succeed is it still strategically necessary to invade Russia?

The short answer is I believe they could have secured both by committing serious resources and focus - I gradually lose confidence in their ability to hold onto such a vast area unless Turkey joins, and the Axis take serious advantage of anti-British sentiment. Additionally what occurs in Russia has an important bearing.

Some, including myself, believe that the best strategy for the Axis in Europe, specifically Germany was to stick to the Prussian military tenets of Schwerpunkt, Bewegungskrieg, Kurz und vives, Auftragstaktik - most importantly concentrating on one front/theatre at a time. What other choice do they have?
I believe that the Germans erred badly by treating North Africa as a sideshow.

I also believe (however impractical), that North Africa and the Mediterranean ought to have been dealt with BEFORE Russia.

And before anyone starts shouting, Germany ended up fighting not a two-front war, but a multi-front war which proved to be the winning formula, similar to the defeat of Napoleon. One-on-one the Germans proved superior, so stretch them to breaking point by creating fronts all over the continent.
If one includes the air and the sea as separate theatre's then Germany ended up fighting at a minimum a three-front war on land and additionally an air war, sea war, intelligence war, which all impacted Germany's ability to produce and provide itself with adequate resources.

If this is to be accepted, then Malta was of great importance to the Axis, not to mention Gibraltar ( a tough assignment as it meant risking relations with Spain ) and also commandeering the French fleet before the British attacked it.

At a minimum Malta would have greatly increased the security of Axis shipping and thus supplies, which ultimately tipped the battle in the Allies' favour. However, the Axis were running on a countdown clock - they had to secure the important strategic objectives enabling them to prosecute the war on their terms before the Allies production output cancelled any and all opportunity to either win or force a long term conflict.

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