Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41 - Port Capacity?

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Andreas
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Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41 - Port Capacity?

Post by Andreas » 07 Mar 2008 14:47

On 21 April 41 Force B bombarded Tripoli with HM Destroyers HOTSPUR, HAVOCK, HERO, HASTY, HEREWARD, JERVIS, JANUS and JUNO acting as screen for HM Battleships WARSPITE, BARHAM, VALIANT and HM Cruiser GLOUCESTER. It was planned to use a blockship (either obsolete battleship CENTURION, or even BARHAM), but Cunningham refused to entertain the idea.

http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono ... Jaguar.htm

http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/we ... liant.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Centurion_(1911)

I have come across a claim in a German history of Crusader that a harbour bombardment of Tripoli by three battle ships had a long-term reduction in capacity of 50% as a consequence, contributing to supply shortages into Crusader, seven months later.

Questions:

a) Is this correct?
b) Was there another bombardment after MD2?

Many thanks in advance!

All the best

Andreas

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Davide Pastore
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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41

Post by Davide Pastore » 07 Mar 2008 15:35

Andreas wrote:a long-term reduction in capacity of 50% as a consequence, contributing to supply shortages into Crusader, seven months later.

I wonder if such a reduction was not due to the spontaneous explosion of the ship Birmania
on 3 May 1941, carrying aviation ordnance. According to Erminio Bagnasco, 'Navi e marinai italiani nella seconda guerra mondiale', the explosion (sinking also the ship Città di Bari, later raised by British) caused heavy damage and the wreckage blocked one of the port wharfs.

For those who can read Italian, I found two pages from a book of memoirs describing both the naval bombardment (RN guns being incorrectly reported as '305mm howitzers') and the Birmania explosion

This site offers some interesting photos (possibly three show the explosion of Birmania himself).

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41

Post by Andreas » 07 Mar 2008 15:48

Thanks Davide. That does appear more likely.

Naval History Net wrote:talian torpedo boat CANOPO was sunk by British bombing at Tripoli.
Italian steamer BIRMANIA (5305grt) was set afire and exploded.
Italian steamer CITTA D' BARI (3339grt) was lost from the explosion of steamer BIRMANIA.


Highly effective bomb attack that one. Does anyone know where the planes came from? Malta or Egypt?

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41

Post by Davide Pastore » 07 Mar 2008 16:38

Bagnasco says 'accidental explosion' but offers no detail.

Cull & Galea's 'Hurricanes overs Malta' says nothing. Moreover at the time there were only a few Blenheim on the island.

Gunby & Temple's 'RAF Bomber Command Losses' didn't list any aircraft lost on Tripoli in early May, however it says there were four Wellington squadrons (37, 38, 70, 148) in North Africa with 257 Wing 'bombing ports and airfields' at the time. So it is likely that, if it was an aerial attack, it came from there

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41

Post by Andreas » 07 Mar 2008 16:53

Hi Davide

I do not think that bomber forces outside the UK came under Bomber Command, therefore I would not expect to see their losses in a book focussing on Bomber Command losses. See e.g. the RAF website on No. 37 Squadron:

http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/h37.html

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41

Post by Davide Pastore » 07 Mar 2008 19:06

Andreas wrote:I do not think that bomber forces outside the UK came under Bomber Command, therefore I would not expect to see their losses in a book focussing on Bomber Command losses

Maybe I should have added :D that the complete title of the book is 'RAF Bomber Command Losses in the Middle East and Mediterranean, Volume I: 1939-1942'.

It lists any Blenheim, Wellington, Halifax, Liberator, etc, etc, etc. lost in the area.

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41

Post by Andreas » 07 Mar 2008 20:36

Hehe - that would have saved us from my useless speculation.

Seriously though - did bombers in the Middle East operate under Bomber Command?

RM Canopo was lost to bombing off Tripoli that night - any idea how that happened?

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41

Post by Davide Pastore » 07 Mar 2008 21:20

Andreas wrote:Seriously though - did bombers in the Middle East operate under Bomber Command

Probably not.
The title of the book possibly means something like 'bomber-shaped aircraft losses etc.'

Andreas wrote:RM Canopo was lost to bombing off Tripoli that night - any idea how that happened?

I have only the comment of the usual old Bagnasco:

"During a British air raid in the evening of 3 May 41, the ship was hit by bombs that started a violent fire, followed by the explosion of magazines and the sinking of the ship."

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41 - Port Capacity?

Post by Andreas » 08 Mar 2008 11:20

Many thanks Davide, that is very helpful.

The other question then remains - what was the short-/long-term impact on the port capacity of this incident?

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41 - Port Capacity?

Post by Davide Pastore » 08 Mar 2008 11:50

According to the tables in USMM's 'La Difesa del Traffico' (that you probably own?), not much. The table about personnel transported shows a dramatic decrease from April 41 (about 20,000 men) to May 41 (about 10,000 men), slowly climbing to 13,000 in June and 16,000 in July. However the (IMHO) far more important table about materials transported shows a very little decrement from April to May, followed to a huge leap upward in June.

Short answer: who knows? :?

IIRC I posted these tables on AHF once, but I forgot the thread.

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41 - Port Capacity?

Post by Bronsky » 08 Mar 2008 14:23

I typed the tables from "La Difesa..." and sent them to Jon G who posted the figures somewhere in that section of the forum. Alternately, contact me by email and I can send you the spreadsheet.

The main reason for the drop in personnel shipped is that the surge corresponded to the arrival of the Axis reinforcements, so April corresponds to a peak due to the arrival of more combat units, with less arriving in May. That doesn't, of itself, speak of a drop in port capacity. There were times when shipments decreased because there simply wasn't much to send (e.g. in early 1942).

Also, troops are both numerous, heavy, and self-unloading so they tend to skew the "tonnage shipped" figures upwards in their month of arrival.

Port capacity is the smallest of the following: berthing space (i.e. number of piers and/or lighters), unloading rate (i.e. cranes and manpower), clearing rate (i.e. storage capacity, transport capacity out of the port and to the front). So if there wasn't enough manpower to discharge ships from all piers 24/7 and/or if transport was unavailable to clear what was being shipped, the loss of 50% of the berthing space wouldn't amount to a 50% drop in port capacity. It would only mean a 50% drop in the theoretical maximum port capacity (which was never reached).

From the tonnages discharged, my estimate is that the Tripoli port capacity under historical conditions was something like 80,000 tons per month.

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41 - Port Capacity?

Post by Jon G. » 09 Mar 2008 09:53

Several interesting threads going again this past week, but alas only limited time for me to participate :(

Bronsky wrote:I typed the tables from "La Difesa..." and sent them to Jon G who posted the figures somewhere in that section of the forum...


Indeed :) But try as I might, I can't find my old post with the numbers you so kindly provided to me. They must be buried somewhere in the massive Axis Shipping... thread. For good measure, here are the figures again:

Image

Fuel only, with breakdown betwixt German & Italian oil
viewtopic.php?p=1025459#p1025459

As for the first of Andreas' original questions...

Andreas wrote:...I have come across a claim in a German history of Crusader that a harbour bombardment of Tripoli by three battle ships had a long-term reduction in capacity of 50% as a consequence, contributing to supply shortages into Crusader, seven months later.

Questions:

a) Is this correct?...


...I would be tempted to call the German claim anything in between valid and specious, depending very strongly on when this claim of 50% reduction of port capacity was made. If a contemporary assessment made the observation, then I'd be interested in hearing more, or at least knowing how the author arrived at a 50% reduction. If, however, the claimed 50% reduction of port capacity is a post facto comment, I'd be strongly inclined to dismiss it out of hand because it sounds strongly like snide post-rationalizing of the sort that Rommel's cult makes in order to exonerate him for any blame for ultimate Axis failure in North Africa.

How would a bombardment made a forthnight after Rommel had recaptured Benghazi affect his overall supply position for half a year? Rommel's supply problems leading up to the Crusader battles (compared to the Gazala battles the following year) were mainly because Benghazi was not yet operating at full capacity at the time of Crusader.

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41 - Port Capacity?

Post by Bronsky » 13 Jun 2008 11:50

This is continued from the "Axis tanker" thread.

The following information is drawn from a couple of articles "I porti della Libia" by Renato Mancini published in the magazine "Storia Militare", February-March 1998.

The port had been dredged to a depth of 8-10 m. Depth at the port entrance was 10.5 m.

The following is my translation from the article, plus some comments.

Tripoli - which from October 1940 absorbed a greater part of the traffic bound to Tripoli, as that port still lacked an effective defense against the ever more frequent air attacks - saw its efficiency quickly decline and already by mid-1941 it was already halved, as the warehouses located on the docks were made unusable.

Docking space for ships over 7,000 tons were [a total of 4, of which 2 by a quay which was serviced by a rail line], plus enough space for 10 ships in a harbor already encumbered by a half-dozen wrecks. By that time [mid-41] daily unloading capacity [no night shifts, but assuming work wasn't interrupted by Allied air attacks] was up to 2,200 [metric] tons with another 500 tons to be transferred directly on coasters and 300 tons of fuel to be transferred through hoses. An illustration of these difficulties was when it took 8 days to unload 20,000 tons from 5 ships in January 1942, despite special preparations having been made in advance of the ships' arrival.

The 20 April 1941 bombing by Cunningham's battleships - which went on for 45 minutes without opposition from Italian coastal defenses - coupled with Wellington and Swordfish attacks doesn't seem to have sunk more than a couple of freighters, although it was likely responsible, together with the continuous RAF attacks, for the above-mentioned destruction of storage capacity. A few days later, a large ammunition transport (Birmania) blew up while docked, which gravely damaged the quay it was docked to as well as causing fatal damage to the Città di Bari.

All in all, port capacity was definitely reduced but there was sufficient scope for improvement (like working around the clock in shifts) that it could be boosted if necessary. This last comment is mine, not from the article :wink:

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41 - Port Capacity?

Post by phylo_roadking » 13 Jun 2008 23:02

To go back to the issue of who commanded bombers IOn the Middle East - as far as I can see, ALL RAF assets were unified under the AOC Middle East - Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore until May 1941.

Regarding whether there was a second bombardment - almost certainly no...and not just from the evidence of other damage; Churchill rammed the Tripoli bombardment through over the objections of the COS and War Cabinet, along with Operation Tiger...but DIDN'T want to "stretch his luck" a THIRD time by forcing Wavell to divert part of Tiger's armour reinforcements to Crete...

So given the loss of Crete, the mounting of the disastrous BATTLEAXE with Tiger's tanks, and given Cunningham's losses off Crete...AND we have the example of Churchill NOT overriding another theatre commander in the aftermath of Tripoli and Tiger...there's no way Churchill would have had the nerve or political brownie points after April to order Cunningham into a SECOND such raid against the opposition of His Lordships at the Admiralty let alone Cunningham.

(See Alan Clark's The Fall of Crete)

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Re: Bombardment of Tripoli (MD2) 21 April 41 - Port Capacity?

Post by Michael Emrys » 15 Jun 2008 04:54

phylo_roadking wrote:...the mounting of the disastrous BATTLEAXE with Tiger's tanks...


I thought the tanks that came via the Tiger convoy were not ready by the time of Battleaxe due to the need to extensively rebuild them after their arrival.

Michael
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