1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 14 Jun 2009 03:05

Just in passing, I want to return to this for a moment -
Once France falls the Paratroopers should have sent to take Malta.

The German paratroopers needed to go after Malta and the sooner the better.
...for there were questions raised on the original thread about the Germans' ability to put airlanded troops onto Malta.

During the research for the above incidents and attacks by Fliegerkorps X, I came across a lot more detail about the three 1940 airfields on the islands. The issue with the FJ taking defended enemy airfields - see events in Holland, Norway AND Crete - was that the runways rapidly filled with damaged or wrecked aircraft when they EITHER attempted to take the airfield by main force from airlanded troops brought in by Ju52s rather than paratroops OR attempted to land heavier-equiped troops from the airlanding divisions as 2nd wave reinforcements. In Norway, as wrecked and bogged-down aircraft began to block runways, others attempted to land on boggy aprons and then similarly filled these with wrecks...and the same happened in Holland - and Crete. In Holland, the Luftwaffe attempted to get round the problem by making makeshift landings on stretches of motorway and the beach at Zandvoort...incidently leading to more damaged aircraft; In Crete, they eventually cleared enough damaged aircraft out of the way to land support troops at Maleme, under fire from the defenders...by forcing POWs to move wrecked aircraft under "friendly fire" at gunpoint and shooting those who refused, a clear war crime.

However - difficulties landing in a similar manner on Malta in 1940 would NOT be as easily dealt with. Hal Far at the time was a long but very narrow runway with virtually no apron to either side; instead, mere feet from the edge of the runway, the land began to fall away to either side in ravines. There's no room to land aircraft if even a single wreck should block the runway, one of the main reasons why the RAF planned for three airfields on the island just before the outbreak of war. Room for an apron was at such a premium that the RAF had to use nearby roads connecting the airfields as makeshift dispersals.

Luqa was for most of 1940 a VERY rough strip; it was only flattened and levelled and finally tarmac'd virtually by hand by local civilian volunteers in the absence of earthmoving machinery. Which is why it wasn't operating heavy aircraft - it's Wellingtons and later Marylands - until November of 1940.

As for Ti'Qali - similarly, the RAF didn't have the labour resource to improve it either for heavy aircraft; being a "dry" lake bottom, apparently aircraft were very prone to "bogging down" in the very soft earth when it was a grass strip. That's why the RAF blocked it for all of 1940 - all their available earthmoving efforts were going into Luqa. Once heavy aircraft were able to fly out of Luqa, only then were the obstacles cleared from the lake bed and work begun on Ti'Qali.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 14 Jun 2009 03:21

Jon, I also came across something of interest regarding Budden's opinions as discussed earlier http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... n#p1337754. It would appear that while the middle one of those, regarding nothing much having been done BY the outbreak of war with Italy...is correct, and he's right about the Air Ministry poo-poo'ing the threat from the RA...nevertheless, it DOES seem that contrary to the view one would get from Budden, the CIDS did take the decision to upgrade Malta's air defences considerably before the war. From Denis Richards, regarding Malta's value and its defence -
It might, for instance, by employed as an air staging post and reconnaissance base, a naval refuge and emergency repair depot, or a base for light naval forces. It was therefore well worth defending reasons of prestige apart; and in the summer of 1939 the Committee of Imperial Defence approved a long-term air defence programme amounting to four fighter squadrons and 172 anti-aircraft guns. The Air Ministry, however, not unnaturally doubted whether Malta could survive under the very nose of the Italian Air Force; and fighters were badly needed elsewhere. When the Italians entered the war Malta was thus still awaiting its four squadrons, though the necessary airfields had been built, and a radar station had been in existence since March 1939
...IIRC the first RAF RDF array outside the United Kingdom. It DID have problems of course; it could provide warning of approaching attackers but not altitude, and the simple lack of size of Malta meant that this couldn't be compensated for by "depth" of ground observation and listening posts as in the UK. But it was there... :wink: As was the overall plan to build the islands into a good forward AIR striking and staging base. And this isn't necessarily a position you'd glean from reading Budden...

It also puts to rest the question of - was the through-1940/41 aerial buildup on Malta proactive, or merely reactive to being at war with italy? As the PLANS to build up Malta's air defences now appear to definitely date from the summer of 1939...before war with EITHER Gearmany or Italy - and were carried out when resources allowed, then it can be seen as a proactive decision to make use of Malta's position as a forward strike (depending who we ended up at war with!)/recce base and staging post.

There's another interesting fact to be gleaned from Richards' Official History; it was of course only SHORT-range fighter aircraft needed to be actually ferried to withing flying-off range of Malta by the Royal Navy; the island right from June 1940 acted as a staging post for LONG-range aircraft such as Wellingtons, staging through to the Middle East. Often these units delayed on Malta for a week or a fortnight, and carried out raids on Sicily and Italy BEFORE flying on later to Egypt 8O Hence the RAF carrying out long-range attacks against the Italians before Wellingtons were permanently be based at Luqa :wink:
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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Jon G. » 14 Jun 2009 16:22

phylo_roadking wrote:...
and a Z. 506 B floatplane on the 19th. Controversially, the floatplane was a red cross-marked rescue aircraft.
This MIGHT might be explained with reference to the 1944 history. And the "contrversial" element possibly removed. The identification of the aircraft type differs, but given that by 1941 the Z.501 was being used mainly for search-and-rescue by then due to its vulnerability to RAF/FFA fighters...this COULD be it - unless Shores mentions THIS as a separate incident?
Yes, he mentions it as a seperate incident, so arguably the loss of the Z.506 B is not really part of the Illustrious blitz, other than that it happened on the same day, in the same general area.

The 'controversial' adverb is my addtion - I'd consider it controversial (but not unlawful) to shoot down rescue planes. Sadkovich mentions another Z.506 rescue plane shot down as early as Jan 12, without giving any geographical details. This could have happened far from Malta, which again could be why Shores makes no mention of it. Still according to Sadkovich (p 161), the Italians filed a complaint over the practice of attacking rescue planes via the Red Cross in Geneva.

Another RA loss during the first Luftwaffe offensive against Malta was a CR 42 accidentally shot down by a Bf 110 on the 19th.
A lighter incident at the end of January...
Can you give a date for this event so that I may check it?
A possible misidentification - THIS could be the Cant Z.506B mentioned by Shores, for that aircraft type is a "float-plane", whereas a Z.501 is actually a flyingboat :wink:
Oh, I wouldn't put too much importance on whether the aircraft in question was identified as a flying boat or a floatplane.
As for numbers, Denis Richards' 1953 Official History of the RAF has this for the period...
The forces of Fliegerkorps X in Sicily on 9th January 1941 numbered 61 dive-bombers, 77 long-range bombers, 12 long-range reconnaissance aircraft, and 22 twin-engined fighters. There were also about 75 Italian machines available for operations against Malta, making in all a total of some 250 enemy aircraft
That sounds about right for a ballpark figure for relative Fliegerkorps X:RA figures, but remember that aircraft strengths fluctuated, for example, Italian Ju 87s coming down to Sicily on the 9th, but not positively identified as participating in the Illustrious blitz the following week. Also, the date is probably one day too early at least for Fliegerkorps X in Sicily figures - the transfer of German ground organisation down through Italy was not all that smooth (they did run out of bombs, after all), and some of Geisler's aircraft had only just touched down in Sicily when operations began on January 10th.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 14 Jun 2009 16:47

A lighter incident at the end of January...
Can you give a date for this event so that I may check it?
Unfortunately that's a direct quote from the 1944 history :( BUT my other source puts it on "the night of 26/27th" (January) :)
Night of January 25th/26th an Italian seaplane
disabled cruising round alighted off the island; the crew of
4 taken prisoner.
Regarding the actual incident on the 19th...interestingly, it ALSO says THIS...
In addition anti-aircraft claim to have shot down six bombers.
What's interesting about THAT is - if you look back over the last two or so pages, the MOST claims for Axis aircraft to AA fire anywhere ELSE is....five. There's no specific mention of the Red Cross-marked aircraft incident on the 19th, but I wonder if this mysterious "extra" claim is it?
Oh, I wouldn't put too much importance on whether the aircraft in question was identified as a flying boat or a floatplane
On the contrary; it points to the 1944 history being put together by someone who didn't necessarily know his aircraft types - or bother checking :lol: And given the circumstances of its capture...it's not as if it had to be visually identified from any great distance away! 8O But that's just an interesting aside.
Also, the date is probably one day too early at least for Fliegerkorps X in Sicily figures
But given that it was collated in 1953, it's probably intended to represent Fliegerkorps X's best possible numbers... prior to losses over Malta.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Jon G. » 14 Jun 2009 17:54

phylo_roadking wrote:...
Can you give a date for this event so that I may check it?
Unfortunately that's a direct quote from the 1944 history :( BUT my other source puts it on "the night of 26/27th" (January) :)
Further checking with Shores confirms this story so completely that there is little need to explore it further. There are even two pictures of the Z. 501 on pp 136-137.
...Regarding the actual incident on the 19th...interestingly, it ALSO says THIS...
In addition anti-aircraft claim to have shot down six bombers.
What's interesting about THAT is - if you look back over the last two or so pages, the MOST claims for Axis aircraft to AA fire anywhere ELSE is....five. There's no specific mention of the Red Cross-marked aircraft incident on the 19th, but I wonder if this mysterious "extra" claim is it?
No, it isn't, but that is because I did not describe the Z. 506 B loss on Jan 19 more fully. The Italian aircraft was spotted 'circling the island' on 1110 (that is, between the morning and afternoon raids of that day); two Hurricanes were scrambled, and the Italian was shot down by Flt. Lt. MacLachlan at an unspecified hour shortly after.

There was another Z. 506 B incident earlier on the 19th. Flgt. Sgt. Pickering was sent off to investigate a suspicious plot which turned out to be a Z. 506 B escorted by a CR 42. He chased the floatplane halfway back to Sicily, attacked it, but did not hang around to check results. Earlier in the day - that is, during the morning raid - the same Sgt. Pickering had filed claims for damage to a Ju 87 and a Ju 88.

Sgt. Pickering was with 261 Squadron so I presume that he was flying a Hurricane - although a Gladiator and a Fulmar were also in operations against Axis aircraft on the 19th.

The 'early' (and escorted) Z. 506 is not described as a red cross-marked rescue aircraft, so I will assume that it wasn't. Perhaps that shaped what followed with the other Z. 506 later on the same day - although Lt. MacLachlan apparently had established that the Z. 506 which he shot down was indeed marked with the red cross before he engaged it, he was following by this time established practice.
Oh, I wouldn't put too much importance on whether the aircraft in question was identified as a flying boat or a floatplane
On the contrary; it points to the 1944 history being put together by someone who didn't necessarily know his aircraft types - or bother checking :lol: And given the circumstances of its capture...it's not as if it had to be visually identified from any great distance away! 8O But that's just an interesting aside.
Right, what I meant is that interchangeability of terms used does not denote interchangeability of aircraft engaged. It can however give us a strong clue as to where Shores got his information from.
Also, the date is probably one day too early at least for Fliegerkorps X in Sicily figures
But given that it was collated in 1953, it's probably intended to represent Fliegerkorps X's best possible numbers... prior to losses over Malta.
Right, that could be the point of using Jan 9th as the date.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 14 Jun 2009 20:42

The 'early' (and escorted) Z. 506 is not described as a red cross-marked rescue aircraft, so I will assume that it wasn't. Perhaps that shaped what followed with the other Z. 506 later on the same day - although Lt. MacLachlan apparently had established that the Z. 506 which he shot down was indeed marked with the red cross before he engaged it, he was following by this time established practice
..."established" by THAT day's activities, or those plus the Jan 12th incident? Does Shores mention the earlier attack on the 12th?

EDIT: this is what I have for the 12th....
GERMAN AIR FORCE.
January 12th.Only a few ocoastal
patrols were reported; 1 enemy aircraft was damaged by our fighters
off Libya
and another was probably destroyed over Shetlands.
...a bit sparse, but there's nothing on that date more specific to Malta.
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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Andy H » 14 Jun 2009 20:44

Phylo wrote:
...it becomes clear that EXCESS was a through-convoy from Gibraltar to the Pireaus - it was just one single cargo ship, the SS Essex, escorted by H.M.S. Hero that BROKE OFF from the main convoy to enter Valetta Malta was the sideshow, the THREE cargoships with tanks heading from Gibraltar to the Pireaus was the main convoy, and it didn't stop at Malta nor enter Valetta.
Thought this may be of interest:-
This operation was in fact 4 convoys at the same time. One from Gibraltar in the west & one from Alexandria to the east. This was originally to start off in December but was held up due to the activities of the German cruiser Hipper in the Atlantic.
Four merchantmen took part from Gibraltar - three were destined for Piraeus to supply Greek allies & one was bound for Malta carrying 4000 tons of ammunition & 3000 tons of seed potatoes. In Alexandria three merchantmen were assembled - one (an oil tanker, referred to as 'an oiler') was destined for Suda Bay on Crete & 2 other merchantmen carrying oil fuel & petrol destined for Malta. The plan was to get these ships to Malta & escort empty merchantmen back to Alexandria.
Source: http://www.killifish.f9.co.uk/Malta%20W ... Excess.htm

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 14 Jun 2009 21:13

Thanks, Andy. I came across that at the same time as I came across the SS Essex-related obituary up on Page One that provided so much detail http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... 3#p1340447 I went with that as it had the names of the three Greece-bound merchantmen if anyone wanted to double-check.

I also thought the obituary had a certain...personal element...normally missing from a W-I.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Dili » 14 Jun 2009 22:42

I have read page 4 and 5 and i have this limited comments to say:

I am not aware of existence of 289a Squadriglia in Regia Aeronautica at WW2. The question Jon G. asks about "sil." is indeed correct Siluro=Torpedo, Squadriglia Silurante = Torpedo Squadron(note that Italian bomber/torpedo squadriglia have as established dotation of 9 planes).

The Do-215 refered must probably mean Do-17 but what unit will be with them?

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Jon G. » 15 Jun 2009 02:39

phylo_roadking wrote:
The 'early' (and escorted) Z. 506 is not described as a red cross-marked rescue aircraft, so I will assume that it wasn't. Perhaps that shaped what followed with the other Z. 506 later on the same day - although Lt. MacLachlan apparently had established that the Z. 506 which he shot down was indeed marked with the red cross before he engaged it, he was following by this time established practice
..."established" by THAT day's activities, or those plus the Jan 12th incident?
No, the practice of shooting down enemy aircraft with red cross markings when flying in areas of operation was established during the Battle of Britain. Here's a July 14th 1940 communique explaining RAF policy on such aircraft.
Does Shores mention the earlier attack on the 12th?
I wrote:...Sadkovich mentions another Z.506 rescue plane shot down as early as Jan 12, without giving any geographical details. This could have happened far from Malta, which again could be why Shores makes no mention of it...
Given the timeframe, somewhere off the coast of Libya seems a good guess. I could check it with Fighters over the Desert, another Shores book, but I don't have that to hand right now.
Dili wrote:I am not aware of existence of 289a Squadriglia in Regia Aeronautica at WW2. The question Jon G. asks about "sil." is indeed correct Siluro=Torpedo, Squadriglia Silurante = Torpedo Squadron(note that Italian bomber/torpedo squadriglia have as established dotation of 9 planes).
Thanks a lot for your input, Dili. The 289a Squadriglia is listed as an independent formation - i.e. not part of a RA Gruppo. But RA terminology sometimes plays tricks on me, and definitely sometimes also on eg. Sadkovich.

On a related note, do you know approximately when the 96 Gruppo Ju 87s were operating from Sicily?
The Do-215 refered must probably mean Do-17 but what unit will be with them?
That's a good question. But since Dorniers are only listed as claims and not as losses, it could simply be mis-identified Ju 88s.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 15 Jun 2009 03:27

Here's a July 14th 1940 communique explaining RAF policy on such aircraft.
You don't happen to know what the ICRC's reaction to the Italian complaint was?
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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Dili » 15 Jun 2009 03:58

8 Jan 41 it is given orders to 96 Gruppo w/ 12Ju-87B2 to move from their missions against Greece/Albania to Comiso where they got 500kg anti ship bombs. First Mission 9Jan 16.00hours w/9 Stuka w/12 CR42 of 23Gruppo against Marsa Sirocco where one of 2 "big merchants" there were hit with 2 bombs. 10Jan w/ 3 Ju-87 against a cruiser that was hit and let stopped and with fire on board. In afternoon of that day 7 Stukas(1 from 236º and 6 from 237º) attacked Illustrious and the source says it was hit. 12 January the Command said that a part of planes should be back to Lecce to operate against Greeks and integrated in 97 Gruppo and a part will go to Africa as 96 Gruppo.

Source: Dimensione Cielo -Bombardieri No.6
The 289a Squadriglia is listed as an independent formation
I searched Courage Alone and that Unit doesn't appear in Independent Squadriglia. It jumps from 288RM(Sea Search squadron) to 300CT(Night Fighter).

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 15 Jun 2009 14:52

10Jan w/ 3 Ju-87 against a cruiser that was hit and let stopped and with fire on board. In afternoon of that day 7 Stukas(1 from 236º and 6 from 237º) attacked Illustrious and the source says it was hit.
To quote numerous John Wayne films - "Do this mean what I think it do?"...THAT looks like there might be some question over whether Fliegerkorps X was responsible for the damage to the Illustrious and the Southampton...

EDIT: from my source -
4. On the 10th Illustrious was attacked four times by dive-bombers
low-level bombers and torpedo planes some of which were German
and sustained six direct hits by bombs and several more near
misses. She was considerably damaged.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Jon G. » 15 Jun 2009 17:53

phylo_roadking wrote:
Here's a July 14th 1940 communique explaining RAF policy on such aircraft.
You don't happen to know what the ICRC's reaction to the Italian complaint was?
No, sorry, I don't know what came of the complaint.
Dili wrote:...
The 289a Squadriglia is listed as an independent formation
I searched Courage Alone and that Unit doesn't appear in Independent Squadriglia. It jumps from 288RM(Sea Search squadron) to 300CT(Night Fighter).
Thanks for the infomation on the 96 Gruppo Stukas. The 500 kg bombs which they got at Lecce must have been the heaviest bombs in the Italian inventory at this time? On an interesting side-note, German Ju 87s with extra-heavy 1,500 kg. bombs took a full hour (!) to climb to their operational ceiling, despite being just half an hour's flight away from Malta when operating from Sicily.

Shores lists the 289a Squadriglia as a SM 79sil. unit commanded by a captain Orazio Bernardini, but as you say, Shores appears to be in error about the unit's designation. Do you know the actual designation?
phylo_roadking wrote:...looks like there might be some question over whether Fliegerkorps X was responsible for the damage to the Illustrious and the Southampton...
On the 10th Illustrious was attacked four times by dive-bombers
low-level bombers and torpedo planes some of which were German
and sustained six direct hits by bombs and several more near
misses. She was considerably damaged.
Well, distribution of credit is always a sticky subject. But even if the Germans hit more than the Italians, they also had more aircraft and heavier ordnance for their Stukas than the Italians did. In fairness, though, you can't really seperate German hits from Italian misses, and vice-versa, because we can't know if the Stukas attacking the Illustrious would have hit anything if the torpedo bombers - which can only have been Italian at this point in time - had not attacked at the same time.

Regarding your earlier figures for RA aircraft strength in Sicily
...There were also about 75 Italian machines available for operations against Malta...
...Sadkovich has Air Sicily strength on the 9th/10th as 25 'bombers', 12 Ju 87s, and six torpedo bombers, but clearly he does not include Cr 32s, CR 42s and MC200s in this figure.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Andy H » 15 Jun 2009 19:28

Jon G wrote:-
Given the timeframe, somewhere off the coast of Libya seems a good guess. I could check it with Fighters over the Desert, another Shores book, but I don't have that to hand right now
Shores mentions on Pg 27-9th January 1941-PO Goodman of 73Sqn encountered an SM81 with Red Cross markings while on patrol. It appeared unarmed. so he allowed it to proceed on its way undisturbed.

There is no other refs to Red Cross planes etc within the timeframe mentioned previously. Shores makes ref to a Z506B Floatplane being shot down on Jan 3rd (Pg 26) by 55Sqn, but there is no mention of it having Red Cross markings.

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