Rommel vs. Montgomery

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DrG
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Post by DrG » 30 Jun 2004 01:10

Rommel's criticism wasn't only for Italy, of course, but also for German generals cohordinating the war effort in the Mediterranean.
Enno von Rintelen, the German attaché in Italy, wrote this comment in an article written after WW2:
"supplyes are needed for operations, but operations must take logistics into account."
Quite a simple reasoning, certainly self-absolutory for von Rintelen, but I think nobody could disagree.

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Re: Rommel vs. Montgomery

Post by DrG » 30 Jun 2004 01:25

Alte Mann wrote:Why didn't the Commando Supremo route the ships to Axis controlled ports closer to the front lines? Rommel asked them this question many times and they never came up with a reasonable explanation.
I have found a few data that contradict this statement: in July-August 1942 about 140,000 t of supplyes were sent to Libya, of them:
Tripoli 35,669 t, Bengasi 60,500, Tobruk 47,071, Marsa Matruh 1,927.
Moreover, at the end of August 8,000 t of fuel were sent to Tobruk and Bengasi, while ammo and new trucks, that were less urgently needed, were shipped to Tripoli and Bengasi (in other words: more urgent supplies were sent nearer the front).

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Post by Andy H » 30 Jun 2004 18:54

In regards to using ports closer to the front.
Firstly you have to try and imagine what you envisage when you say a port. Most people will envisage a deep anchorage with plenty of jetty space, cranes, bunkering facilities the major and wharehousing etc.

Bengahzi the nearest major Italian port to the front, required dredging, it could only accept ships under 90mtrs in length thus bigger ships were forced west to Tripoli. The Italian post of Derna was less modern than that of Benghazi, and materials were being transhipped to smaller vessels (with all the added fuel costs) for the Derna run.
Though Tobruk was nearer and better equipped, it had to be cleared and made workable again after the Allies destroyed most of the infrastructure. Also being that close to the front it wasn't that far from Allied air power.

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Rommel vs. Montgomery

Post by Alter Mann » 04 Jul 2004 05:06

DrG, I'm having a lot of trouble with your assertion that the fuel supply in North Africa was not critical, and that the Italians were keeping the DAK relatively well supplied. Tonnage shipped does not equal tonnage received at the front line. Theoretical unit strength does not equal vehicles available. War would be a lot different if either of these things were true.

My sources include, but are not restricted to: 'The Rommel Papers' by Liddel-Hart, 'Rommel's War in Africa' by Heckmann, and the section in von Mellinthin's book about the time that he spent there. Rommel's diaries for the period of the El Alamein battle are either missing or were never written, so Liddel-Hart used other sources. That would seem to reduce the possibility of bias, but not eliminate it.

I will try to compile some statistics on vehicle and fuel availability at the front if you are willing to accept data from either German or British sources. There is no point in wasting the time otherwise.

At El Alamein, Rommel asked permission to start moving the Italian forces even before the situation got critical, because he didn't want to lose them and they had less transport than anyone else. Permission to move anyone at all was denied, but he started moving them anyway, before he got approval. The only German unit that was south of the Italians was Ramcke's unit, which also had no transport, but managed to capture some from the British and eventually made it to safety. The reason why these immobile units were so far south was that they could be used to defend static positions that could not be flanked from the south because of the terrain conditions there. The more mobile units were kept in the north because the line was so thin and they could be utilized for a mobile defense. It doesn't appear to have had anything to do with national origin from the sources that I have.

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Re: Rommel vs. Montgomery

Post by DrG » 04 Jul 2004 16:50

Alte Mann wrote:DrG, I'm having a lot of trouble with your assertion that the fuel supply in North Africa was not critical, and that the Italians were keeping the DAK relatively well supplied. Tonnage shipped does not equal tonnage received at the front line. Theoretical unit strength does not equal vehicles available. War would be a lot different if either of these things were true.
The data about fuel shipped to North Africa shows that losses were not terrible with the exception of late 1941 (but the problem was solved using the reserve stockpiled in Tripoli since 1939: 20,000 t). In the battles of El-Alamein fuel was not the most serious problem: the first was made when the losses on the sea were too limited to justify any lack of fuel, in the second the tanks returned to their lines instead of pursuing the attack because of the lack of confidence of Rommel (who, not surprisingly, after the loss of Fellers and Seeböhm was less sure of his actions), while the last, though made during a bad moment for convoys, was not influenced, given the fact that most of the ACIT (Armata Corazzata Italo-Tedesca: Italo-German Armoured Army) managed to retreat as far the Gulf of Sirte for 1,500 km and that no tanks, during the battle, had to be abandoned because of lack of fuel (it was not the Ardennes in 1944).
If there were shortages of fuel, they were certainly lower than claimed by Rommel (but, it seems, not by von Bayerlein), and not caused by losses on the sea (except in late 1941).
The most serious problem, besides the capacity of ports, was the distance of the front from the ports, but who can be blamed for this except Rommel himself? Bastico, Kesselring and Cavallero (and they were all his superiors, nominally) had told him not to go too farther the Libyan-Egyptian border. He decided to attack Egypt, then he must pay the consequences of his decision. He was well aware of the problems of the supply system, but he wanted to ignore them. Moreover, to the technical problems, we have to add the stronger presence of the RAF in Summer-Autumn 1942 (thanks to "Lend and Lease" and to the proximity of its bases to the front during the advance of the Axis, whose airplanes, instead, had to fly from improvised strips). British airplanes were a serious problem for the columns of supplies, but again I can hardly see why British air superiority should be a fault only of the Italians.
Thus, the shortages, not necessalry only of fuel, were caused by Rommel's own decisions.
I will try to compile some statistics on vehicle and fuel availability at the front if you are willing to accept data from either German or British sources. There is no point in wasting the time otherwise.
If you want to post them you are welcome, but at best from German primary sources, not British primary ones. Though, once accepted that supplies from Italy had only limited losses on the sea, the undeniable fact that supplies to the front were far less is, as I've explained, all caused by Rommel's decisions, he cannot blame anybody else than himself. He hadn't authority on the war on the Sea (but still, if convoys were sunk, he should have acted following this fact, as cleverly poined out by von Rintelen), but the decision to over-extend the supply lines on the land was only his.
About "wasted" time, just look at the lenghth of my posts and the data provided, and then at your own... who do you think has "wasted" more time? :roll:
The only German unit that was south of the Italians was Ramcke's unit, which also had no transport, but managed to capture some from the British and eventually made it to safety. The reason why these immobile units were so far south was that they could be used to defend static positions that could not be flanked from the south because of the terrain conditions there. The more mobile units were kept in the north because the line was so thin and they could be utilized for a mobile defense. It doesn't appear to have had anything to do with national origin from the sources that I have.
At the beginning of the battle there were mobile units (the 21. Panzer and Ariete) also in the south, they were moved to the north only when the attack to the south was repulsed by the Italians while in the north the 164. was in serious trouble.
About the escape, while it's often remembered the Ramcke, it's quite forgotten that at el Daba 300 Italian trucks of a supply column were taken by Germans by force, while at Sollum the Germans stopped the Italians (firing when necessary) to let their troops pass first.

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Rommel vs Montgomery

Post by Alter Mann » 04 Jul 2004 17:48

If you can answer this question, it should mean that you understand that the Italians did not always act as brakes against Rommel's fecklesness.

Why did Mussolini have his white horse shipped to North Africa?

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Post by Mait » 04 Jul 2004 19:38

I have never heard that Rommel had any trouble ignoring Mussolini's orders (or should we call them suggestions?). :)

Best Regards,

Mait.

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Post by DrG » 05 Jul 2004 02:14

Alte Mann wrote:If you can answer this question, it should mean that you understand that the Italians did not always act as brakes against Rommel's fecklesness.
Why did Mussolini have his white horse shipped to North Africa?
In June 1942 nobody (I underline: nobody) pushed Rommel's attack on Egypt, you should be aware of his sarcastic and presumptuous words told to Bastico when he ordered him not to advance in Egypt.
And about Mussolini (whose influence on Rommel's decisions was less than zero), he went to Libya on 29 June, not before the attack.

Just for information, a short cronology of the decision to attack Egypt:
- 20/21 June: Tobruk is conquered; Rommel had asked to be allowed to conquer it, Italians give it only with the assurance by Rommel that then he would stop to let Axis forces conquer Malta (Operation C.3 - Herkules)
- 21 June: meanwhile Mussolini writes in a letter to Hitler: "E' mio avviso, e certamente anche il vostro, che bisogna consolidare, e, al più presto, ampliare i risultati raggiunti. Al centro del nostro quadro strategico sta il problema di Malta, a proposito del quale abbiamo preso a suo tempo le note decisioni. Ora, per mantenere i risultati conseguiti in Marmarica e provvedere alle future esigenze, occorre poter eseguire con sufficiente sicurezza i necessari trasporti. L’occupazione di Malta, oltre a risolvere il problema dei traffici nel Mediterraneo, ci restituirebbe la piena disponibilità delle forze aeree." ("It is my opinion, and certainly also yours, that we have to consolidate, and, as fast as possible, enlarge the reached results. At the center of our strategic situation there is the problem of Malta, about which we have already taken the known decisions. Now, to keep the reached results in Marmarica and to take steps for the future needs, we have to make the necessary transports with sufficient safeness. The occupation of Malta, besides solving the problem of traffics in the Mediterranean, would give us the full avaibility of our air forces").
- 21 June: Rommel informs Hitler that he wants to go on with the offensive "I go on to Suez. I hope Italians will follow me"
- 22 June: Rommel meets Bastico in Bardia: Moser, adjutant of Rommel, takes these notes: "Bastico has insisted that we have not to go beyond the Giarabub line [the Libya-Egypt border], with attitude prudently defensive. [...] In Rome they still insist for the conquest of Malta and von Rintelen has informed Rommel that Mussolini has written to the Fürer with this opinion [...] Gen. Bastico has informed that the Comando Supremo has been given the order of Mussolini of not going beyond Marsa Matruh, informing for the hundredth time that the attack on Malta was already decided for August. [...] Today gen. Cavallero may have insisted that the Afrika Korps should be stopped, as told by telgram by von Rintelen, while untill yesterday he was entusiastically approving the general's [Rommel's] plans.". And the report ends with the well known sarcastic and presumptous words of Rommel to Bastico: "if Italians don't want to march, they may do what they want; he [Rommel] would go on with the Afrika Korps. He [Rommel] has finished inviting the Italian for a breakfast in Cairo."
- 23 June: Hitler writes to Mussolini: "The Destiny, Duce, has offered a chance that will not repeat twice in the same theatre of war [...] The British 8th Army has been pratically destroyed, the installations of the port of Tobruk are almost intact. [...] My suggestion is this: order the continuation of the operations untill the complete annihilation of British troops." (on 27 June Moser wrote in his notes that this letter by Hitler had been clearly inspired by Rommel's report).
- 23 June: the letter (more or less "a proposal that cannot be refused") forces Mussolini to order this rather hesitating communique from the Comando Supremo to Rommel: "The Duce agrees, generally speaking, with the concept of proceeding thoroughly with the exploitment of the success".
- 24 June: beginning of the attack
- 26 June: Rommel meets Cavallero, Bastico and Kesselring. Rommel arrives an hour late and rather angry, he doesn't even talk to Kesselring. To Cavallero's doubtful question: "And beyond Marsa Matruh?" he replyes: "I'll go on as far as possible. I have a few gasoline and water, but in this climate of success soldiers don't ask to drink or even to sleep. They only want to go on. [...] Now I'll reach El Alamein, but the targets are Alexandria, Cairo, the Nile. If [a huge "if"...] the Panzerarmee will be able to pass the narrow passage of El Alamein, a thing that I believe, on 30 June I'll be in Cairo. I wait you there, we will be able to speak with more comfort."
If these are the words of a strategist... :roll:

In Italy we say: "chi è causa del suo mal, pianga se stesso" ("who has caused his own ruin, shall complain of himself").

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Post by kingmann » 13 Jul 2004 06:01

Based on the books I have read, the many of the Italian troops in North Africa were very poor quality. ( In response to letting German Units advance in front of the italians.)

I have also read that there was a lack of fuel for tanks in the Rommel papers.

Rommel received only about 30% of his needed ammount of supplies. This had been going on for most of the campaign. This is a major setback to any force.

The attack on El Alamein, I believe, is mainly due to pressure from Hitler. Rommel knew that he was at a severe numerical inferiority and although he had been at an inferiority for most of the time, it would just seem a bit illogical to make such an attack in that position.

The fact that Hitler had decided not to send any more German units until the end of the North African campaign doomed the DAK. Although Italian divisions were sent, they were inadequate for the type of strategic movements Rommel had used.

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Post by Andreas » 13 Jul 2004 12:44

kingmann wrote:The attack on El Alamein, I believe, is mainly due to pressure from Hitler. Rommel knew that he was at a severe numerical inferiority and although he had been at an inferiority for most of the time, it would just seem a bit illogical to make such an attack in that position.
You may believe that, but it is just wrong, as was pointed out before in this thread.

Rommel advanced convinced he only had to pursue a beaten enemy to the Nile. He worked very hard to convince his superiors that this was the case.

He simply misjudged the situation.

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Post by CoffeeCake » 18 Jul 2004 00:14

I believe that if they were given the same resources, same amount of men, etc., I think that Rommel would have beaten Montgomery. Considering that Montgomery had way more resources and had the strategic advantage over Rommel (Qatarra Depression), victory was inevitable at El Almein.

The Italians did have poor troops in North Africa, why do you think the DAK was needed in the first place :lol:

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Post by Jon G. » 18 Jul 2004 01:15

CoffeeCake wrote:I believe that if they were given the same resources, same amount of men, etc., I think that Rommel would have beaten Montgomery. Considering that Montgomery had way more resources and had the strategic advantage over Rommel (Qatarra Depression), victory was inevitable at El Almein.

The Italians did have poor troops in North Africa, why do you think the DAK was needed in the first place :lol:
CoffeeCake, if you read the earlier posts in this thread, you will see that there were specific and quantifiable reasons why Rommel didn't get any more supplies than he did historically - namely, the limited capacity of Axis North African ports and the very great distance from those ports to the front.

The Qattara depression was a tactical advantage at best, and it of course would chiefly help the defender - i. e. Rommel, once the Alamein battle started. The British strategic advantage was the big base area they had in Egypt, lend-lease equipment shipped in by way of Iran and fuel delivered from the Middle East.

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Post by CoffeeCake » 18 Jul 2004 03:56

Yeah, I know that Rommel wasn't effeciently supplied, which led to his loss, but had he the same resources as Montgomery, it would have been different, but that's what if territory.

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Post by Jon G. » 18 Jul 2004 08:30

With all respect, if you follow this thread from the beginning, you also know why Rommel wasn't effectively supplied.

Just adding a slightly subjective slant to it, you could indeed claim that Rommel was operationally ambitious well beyond his logistic means. Does that make him a good general?

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Post by CoffeeCake » 18 Jul 2004 09:10

Sorry, I just got through reading the whole thread. Don't get angry, I just hadn't had the time to and only joined in the conversation now.

Rommel, IMO, is a good general. He did push through France at a fast rate in 1940, but did a poor job defending it in 1944.

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