Why didn't the Germans invade Malta?

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Jon G.
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Post by Jon G. » 16 Jan 2005 14:00

Grease_Spot wrote:
Maybe the Allies would have aimed for Greece and/or Yugoslavia instead if they still wanted to try the soft belly strategy.
I am extremely sceptical of that likelihood. The Americans were dead set against getting involved in the Balkans, and reluctant to go into Italy...
You are right that invading Italy was Churchill's baby much more than it was the Americans'. Especially Marshall was very sceptical about it. I think Eisenhower was more favourably disposed towards the idea, but maybe that's simply because he was CiC Med at the time :)

On the other hand, less than a full scale invasion of Yugoslavia might have been tried. For example, a joint Allied attempt at taking the Dodocanese, rather than the British trying (and failing) on their own, maybe followed up by invading Crete?

Sardinia and Corsica, both voluntarily abandoned by the Germans later, were other possibilities for the Allies to consider after the Tunisian campaign had ended.

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Post by Michael Emrys » 16 Jan 2005 18:45

Shrek wrote:On the other hand, less than a full scale invasion of Yugoslavia might have been tried. For example, a joint Allied attempt at taking the Dodocanese, rather than the British trying (and failing) on their own, maybe followed up by invading Crete?
But the Americans would have viewed this—probably justifiably—as an unprofitable dispersion of forces. It's one of those things they might have done with a vastly increased amount of resources available and nothing urgent to spend them on. Lacking that, it was a better strategy to husband forces for use where they could accomplish the speedy defeat of Germany.
Sardinia and Corsica, both voluntarily abandoned by the Germans later, were other possibilities for the Allies to consider after the Tunisian campaign had ended.
This makes a great deal more sense in my book. Moving directly into Sardinia and Corsica after Sicily has been secured, but before putting a major force on the mainland strikes me as a good idea. From Sardinia and Corsica the Allies put the coast from Marseille to Rome under threat. Hitler had originally intended to evacuate the Penninsula at least as far as northern Italy, but Kesselring convinced him that it could be defended. With any line south of, say, Genoa, threatened with flanking from the sea, I think Hitler sticks with his first thought.

In this scenario, the 8th. Army crosses the Straits of Messina, and is reinforced via Taranto and Bari as historically. Its primary mission is to secure the airfield complex at Foggia as well as to follow up the retreating Germans and inflict as much damage on them as possible consistent with minimizing its own losses.

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Post by Michael Emrys » 16 Jan 2005 18:51

Andy H wrote:Also I think that Italy proved (especially for the Americans) and useful learning tool in terms of war fighting-Command & Control structures, Logistics, Civilian admin etc etc
Agreed. I think the American command was far too eager to plunge into France, and were saved from their own inexperience by circumstance and the more sober estimates of the British. But let's not forget that the most important learning ground was probably North Africa for both of them.

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Post by Andy H » 16 Jan 2005 19:58

Also the seaborne landings on Sicily along with the airdrops proved a useful learning tool for the DDay and Dragoon landings in 1944

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Post by The Argus » 16 Feb 2005 02:55

Malta would have been taken before Husky, or Sciliy wouldn't have happened. It comes down to air support and the tatical range of a Spitfire. It might seem odd to pin in all on one factor, and the US certiainly had aircraft with longer ranges. But the Spit was was the heart of the allied fighter strength in theater at the time, and operations had to be cnducted taking this into account.

True they could have used carriers for air support, but to do that would have ment prying US carriers from the Pacific, and try getting tha past Adml King! And of course the Spit was the primary RN fighter too and at the time not all that happy at sea (as the invasion of Italy would demonstrate).

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Post by MARABA » 22 Apr 2005 08:06

Shrek wrote:It might be more prudent to ask why the Italians didn't try taking Malta. It was not very heavily defended in 1940, and the British even considered voluntarily abandoning the island until January 1941.

the Med. Apart from resupply convoys attempting to get to Malta,
British convoys were sent around the Cape from very early on -- so the
Germans had no way of interdicting them, so no effect there.

As for German/Italian resupply, the Malta base didn't really have a
huge limiting effect -- the real limitation was lack of merchant
shipping to move it across the Med to North Africa and, more
importantly, lack of oil to ship it across anyway (the Italians were
100% reliant on Germany for oil, and Germany was only able to produce
a fraction of her *own* requirements, so the Italians were way at the
bottom of the list).

The key resupply problem in North Africa was the lack of a decent
transport net coupled with constant and unavoidable oil shortages due
to German oil production shortfalls.

As for the airpower needed to invade Malta. Well, it was (temporarily)
available, but Rommel convinced Hitler to transfer it to *his* control
for the El Alamein campaign, where it was *still* insufficient to
allow him to win. Ergo, if it had been directed against Malta, it
would have actually *hindered* Rommel
!!

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Post by Jon G. » 22 Apr 2005 09:50

It's worth noting that the Italians spent lots of fuel oil on escorting shipping across the Mediterranean - on at least two occasions in late 1941 and early 1942, no less than 100,000 tons worth of warships were used to protect 20,000 tons of merchant shipping. Escorts that were necessitated by the Royal Navy presence on Malta.

The Italian merchant navy suffered serious losses throughout the war, as did all merchant navies - but from a pre-war merchant navy of approximately 1,5 million tons to a mid-1942 level of about 1 million, losses weren't that serious as to preclude running supply ships to North Africa, whose ports were hopelessly underdimensioned anyway, and thus only able to process few ships at a time.

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Post by bearcat » 23 Apr 2005 22:56

The Folgore division were supposed to take Malta but the plan got scrapped and they were sent to North Africa.

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Post by Jon G. » 24 Apr 2005 14:42

Yes, and an Italian general compared committing the crack Folgore paratroopers as mere leg infantry to the front at Alamein to washing floors with champagne. This unit had been trained and raised at great cost.

The Ramcke parachute brigade had also been raised with the Malta operation C3/Hercules in mind, but also this formation was sent to North Africa to serve as ordinary infantry.

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Post by Andy H » 25 Apr 2005 15:11

Sardinia and Corsica, both voluntarily abandoned by the Germans later, were other possibilities for the Allies to consider after the Tunisian campaign had ended.
At the Casablanca conference it was agreed to postpone the cross-channel attack till after 1943. They also agreed that they must do something, but what.

Britain favoured occupying Sardinia, whilst the US favoured Sicily.
Sardinia was less strongly held and could be taken two months earlier and with less forces. This would provide a good bomber base for targets in Italy's industrial north, and commando raids along its coast.

Admiral King hated the idea. He said that Sicily would have to be taken eventually so why not do it immeadiatly

On January 19th the CombinedChiefs of Staff (CSS) decided on the occupation of Sicily, with four clear objectives
1. Securing the Med lines of communication
2. Divert German forces from Russia
3. Increase the pressure on Italy
4. Create a situation in which Turkey can be enlisted as an active ally

Thus the invasion of Sicily was entered upon as an end in itself, with limited objectives. Thus the op wasn't seen as a springboard for further op's in Italy or eleswhere

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Post by bearcat » 26 Apr 2005 04:58

Yes, and an Italian general compared committing the crack Folgore paratroopers as mere leg infantry to the front at Alamein to washing floors with champagne. This unit had been trained and raised at great cost.
They were a very effective fighting force though.

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Rommel - for or against Malta

Post by Miha Grcar » 29 Jul 2005 19:35

The interesting thing about this is that Rommel wrote about conquering Malta in his war diary, but seems that the supreme command denied him the mission and directed him to persue the retreating enemy after the fall of Tobruk. This was mentioned in "Rommel and his Art of War" by Dr. John Pimlott (not much of a fresh reference material). However in other books I read about him wanting to push on and leave Malta alone. Does anyone have any idea from where did this difference in info come from? I'll search for it when I am with my books and write out that specific passage, hopefully someone could clarify this...

Sorry if I joined late and this is a bit out of context...

best,
Miha / Nibelung

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Re: Rommel - for or against Malta

Post by Michael Emrys » 02 Aug 2005 09:39

Nibelung wrote:The interesting thing about this is that Rommel wrote about conquering Malta in his war diary, but seems that the supreme command denied him the mission and directed him to persue the retreating enemy after the fall of Tobruk. This was mentioned in "Rommel and his Art of War" by Dr. John Pimlott (not much of a fresh reference material).
In all versions I have previously encountered, the change in orders from halting at the Egyptian border to pursuing into Egypt came at Rommel's insistent request. He felt that he had 8th. Army beaten and that it should not be permitted to recuperate. So the air support that would have been used against Malta (and later on the paratroops as well) were transferred from Sicily to North Africa. If Dr. Pimlott is saying that Rommel was compelled against his desire to pursue into Egypt, I don't know where he is getting that from. IIRC, even Rommel's own diaries gives no sign of that, and he is well-known for complaining loudly and at great length there about any orders he received from his superiors that he didn't like.

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Post by JonS » 10 Aug 2005 22:22

Grease,
a quick look at the Rommel Papers seems to bear out what Nibelung wrote, which was a surprise to me, as my 'received wisdom' is/was the same as yours. Against that, though, all I really did was look up 'Malta' in the index, and look at those pages. The two relevant entries are before the start of the Gazala battles, and then again well after PAA is in Egypt. The first relates that the plan is to get Malta after Tobruk, the second that the plan was changed in Berlin after Tobruk was actually captured. It also mentions Hitlers disdain for the Italian paras as being part of the reason for deferring the op.

Mind, it was about a week ago that I had a look at this, and I spent all of 5 minutes doing it, but it's probably worth looking into a bit more. Another useful source might be von Mellinthin - but always bearing in mind that he was writing purely from memory, without reference to any primary sources whatsoever. And bearing in mind the uberAxe we was grinding. Similarly for the Rommel Papers actually - Rommel seems to have been a particularly poor observer of events (e.g. his 'hundreds of British tanks' at Arras, and 'the British had 600 pieces of medium artillery' at El Al 2), and of course he had no access to the other side of the hill when he was writing, and I doubt he even had much access to the German source docs, except at the instants in time when they were written and being used in his own HQs. Finally, I'm even more wary of the RPs because of Liddel Harts involvement.

Still :) those are probably a couple of good places to start.

Oh, and of course the German Official Histories, in particular Volume VI ("Germany and the Second World War: The Global War : Widening of the Conflict into a World War and the Shift of the Initiative 1941-1943 "), though at $350 you might want to find a copy in a library ...

Bah, what was I thinking ... the Italian OHs would probably be useful too. Assuming you speak Italian that is. And can even find a copy.
Regards
JonS

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Post by Jon G. » 10 Aug 2005 23:18

Greene/Massignani may not be on a terrible high level, but their book at least incorporates Italian sources.

Their version of just what happened after the fall of Tobruk is the standard one outside Rommel's vast fan circle, which included Liddel Hart.

According to Rommel's North Africa Campaign p 167 events transpired thusly:
Axis plans about Malta needed to be decided now that Tobruk had been secured. Kesselring first arrived in Africa to speak with Rommel on the question of the air units now to be delivered to the Malta operation. "The British are on the run, we should give them no chance to regroup. A later attack on the Nile Delta will need stronger forces and mean higher casualties." Kesselring argued against this, he felt that the air forces needed to rest and Malta needed to fall so that supply lines could be made more secure. But Rommel refused on the grounds that the enemy was in complete crisis. He was informed by the "Gute Quelle" intelligence that the situation of the Middle East Commonwealth forces was so bad that an immediate exploitation of the success would allow the Axis, as Rommel signalled Rintelen, to "destroy the enemy and thus open the way to the hearth of Egypt"
Rommel and Rintelen rarely agreed on anything, so the implication is that Rintelen was all for going ahead with Hercules/C3, which at any rate would have been a mostly Italian operation, with possible dire consequences for Rommel's glorious place in the history books.

Raeder had earlier supported the Malta plan, and if we take Kesselring's views as representative of the Luftwaffe's stand on the matter and if we furthermore assume that whatever Rommel was for Rintelen, representing the OKH, was against, Rommel appears to have been alone in thinking that pressing ahead into Egypt was the right thing to do.

Unsurprisingly the Comando Supremo also favoured Hercules/C3 over attacking into Egypt: the day Tobruk fell Mussolini wrote Hitler and asked for German fuel to be allocated for the upcoming Malta operation.

But as before and since, the German chain of command was utterly chaotic below Hitler. Rommel simply by-passed the opposition and approached Hitler directly:
...Rommel asked the Führer directly for permission and Hitler agreed against the view of Raeder and Kesselring(...)Hitler then wrote the famous letter to Mussolini who was enthusiastic over Rommel's victory and ignored Cavallero's advice. Cavallero was sensitive to the political need not to disagree with Mussolini, and came around. The result was that Rommel was allowed to continue the pursuit of the 8th Army(...)Rommel won the argument, partly due to Hitler and Mussolini's support
(Ibid.)

In the orthodox version Mussolini only made his flip-flop after Hitler had persuaded him. Greene/Massignani's version of events puts him in a less flattering light.

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