Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without...

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Jon G.
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Post by Jon G. » 30 Apr 2007 02:06

You are very welcome Jeffrey :) It's been a very useful experience to find and post these maps. The difference between Allied and Axis infrastructure in North Africa, in this thread and the train thread, is really quite striking.

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Post by Jon G. » 17 May 2007 00:17

I've lifted the tables below from an article by James Sadkovich entitled The Italo-Greek War in Context: Italian Priorities and Axis Diplomacy from the Journal of Contemporary History.

Image

This table shows the distribution of Italian combat aircraft in December 1940:

Image

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Post by Jon G. » 17 May 2007 13:36

From the tables above it is a trivial matter to calculate how much of a percentage drain Greece was on the Italian war effort in North Africa, or vice versa for that matter - in the period October-December 1940 Greece accounts for some 83% of merchant ships used in the two theaters; or approx. 84% of merchant GRT used.

But the time windows chosen by Sadkovich are revealing. Graziani's offensive into Egypt had basically already ended in September whereas the Italians were sustaining a much larger operation in Greece from October 1940 onwards.

The picture changes somewhat in the January-May 1941 time frame where Greece only accounts for about 75% of ships used, or some 68% of merchant GRT, the discrepancy between percentage of ships and percentage of GRT perhaps reflecting that tankers on average are slightly bigger than other ships.

January-May 1941 of course also encompasses Operation Sonnenblume, the German transfer of troops to North Africa. A number of the ships accounted for on the African route in Table 2 are therefore German. For an extensive discussion of Axis shipping in the Mediterranean, see this thread:

http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=93416

...of relevance to that thread is also the proportion of naval ships used on the respective routes.

What I find most revealing in Sadkovich' tables is that Africa accounts for nearly as much fuel as Greece does in the October-December period. That probably illustrates the distances from Italy's Libyan ports to the frontline in Egypt quite well. In the January-May 1941 time frame that distance was considerably shorter, but when the 100% motorized DAK had appeared on the scene fuel needs presumably grew correspondingly, which is why Africa recieved slightly more fuel than Greece in that period.

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Post by Jon G. » 12 Oct 2007 19:14

I've come across a small handful of threads dealing with the subject of North African port capacities from some German-language WW2 forums. I realize that the language will be a problem for some of this forum's readers, but these threads are too juicy to ignore:

Aufnahmekapazität der Häfen
http://afrika-korps.de/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2082

Zahlen und Fakten zum Thema deutsches Afrika-Korps
http://forum.panzer-archiv.de/viewtopic.php?t=89

Aufnahmekapazität nordafrikanischer Häfen im 2WK
http://forum-marinearchiv.de/smf/index.php?topic=1167

...chock full of data for you to devour. Particularly the marinearchiv thread is massively interesting with several original documents posted by their member 'TD', who appears to access the BA-MA frequently. It is perhaps symptomatic of the incestuous nature of WW2 fora that these three threads frequently link to one another, as well as to this very thread.

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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without...

Post by JeffreyF » 18 Jul 2009 06:24

Somehow had forgotten about this thread, thanks for additional information.

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Post by Allan M » 18 Sep 2011 19:40

[quote="Jon G."]I've lifted the tables below from an article by James Sadkovich entitled The Italo-Greek War in Context: Italian Priorities and Axis Diplomacy from the Journal of Contemporary History.

Can someone with access to USMM tell me if, in Table 2, the numbers listed under 'Personnel airlifted' are included in the Personnel columns? I'm also wondering if there isn't in USMM a breakdown of the 'Personnel airlifted' by month. Also, from the scan it isn't legible which numbers the footnotes are referring to. I assume 'From October 1940 to January 1941' refers to the first number, '772' flown to Africa, and 'From October 1940 to March 1941' refers to '57,152' flown to Greece (actually Albania). Another source I've read said that the Ju52s flew about 30,000 troops to Tirana over two months, and I wonder just how long they used Ju52s and perhaps if Italian transports hadn't taken over to fly the remainder after the Ju52s were withdrawn?

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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without.

Post by Jon G. » 19 Sep 2011 14:40

Allan, I don't have access to the USMM, but table 2, above, is sourced to Santoro's 1957 history of the Regia Aeronautica (which I don't have either)

The 'personnel airlifted' column does not gel too well with other sources - although if you include return flights (with wounded etc.) you would get closer to the mark; it would be a typical Sadkovic slant to throw in return flights in the right-hand table :|

I posted something about the 'Transgerma' Bari-Albania flights in this thread http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... 6&t=137528

Hopefully someone with access to Italian histories can pipe in.

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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without.

Post by vathra » 24 Dec 2011 11:01

First I want to say I really enjoyed reading this topic, and similar discussions.
I also enjoyed reading "Supplying war".
Davide Pastore wrote:You have probably read the Navy Official History. However, just in case someone else is reading, I add some excerpts from volume VI, "La Difesa del Traffico con l'Africa Settentrionale" [The defence of traffic with North Africa] by Adm. Aldo Cocchia, about port receptivity.

Peacetime max capability was:

Tripoli - up to 5 cargo ships (2.000 t per day) + 4 personnel ships (500-600 men per hour) unloading at the same time.

Tobruk - up to 3 cargo ships (1,000-1,500 t per day) + 2 personnel ships (250-300 men per hour) unloading at the same time.

Benghazi - up to 3 cargo ships (1,000 t per day) + 2 personnel ships (250-300 men per hour) but only 3 ships unloading at the same time.
I have question regarding unloading time for ships.

For cargo ships, if we divide tonnage capacity of harbour with number of ships it can operate simultaneosly, we have average of around 400 tons per ship per day.
Does it mean that ship with 5.000 tons of cargo would be unloaded in 12 days?
Also, if there is less ships in harbour, could it mean that they could be unloaded faster?

If above figures of unloading are correct (more than 10 days), it could mean that one round trip could take up to 4 weeks, if similar time is needed for loading.

Second question, why did Axis preferred loading ships in southern harbours?
Northern adriatic ports, such as Trieste, Zara and Split, had good railway connection. Ships would travel longer, but trains would travel shorter for similar amount of time.
On the other way, ships would consume almost double amount of fuel, and would be occupied for 5-10% more time.
My guess is that by choosing to make work easier on ships, it seems that naval transport was bottleneck.

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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without.

Post by Jon G. » 24 Dec 2011 14:25

vathra wrote:First I want to say I really enjoyed reading this topic, and similar discussions.
I also enjoyed reading "Supplying war".
Cheers, this seems to be a topic that refuses to die :)
Davide Pastore wrote:You have probably read the Navy Official History. However, just in case someone else is reading, I add some excerpts from volume VI, "La Difesa del Traffico con l'Africa Settentrionale" [The defence of traffic with North Africa] by Adm. Aldo Cocchia, about port receptivity.

Peacetime max capability was:

Tripoli - up to 5 cargo ships (2.000 t per day) + 4 personnel ships (500-600 men per hour) unloading at the same time.

Tobruk - up to 3 cargo ships (1,000-1,500 t per day) + 2 personnel ships (250-300 men per hour) unloading at the same time.

Benghazi - up to 3 cargo ships (1,000 t per day) + 2 personnel ships (250-300 men per hour) but only 3 ships unloading at the same time.
I have question regarding unloading time for ships.

For cargo ships, if we divide tonnage capacity of harbour with number of ships it can operate simultaneosly, we have average of around 400 tons per ship per day.
Does it mean that ship with 5.000 tons of cargo would be unloaded in 12 days?
This calculation only makes sense under the assumption that the unloading capacity of the port in question was only reached with the maximum number of ships docking (and being unloaded) at the same time; i.e. Tripoli would then be able to unload five ships, each with 5,000 tons worth of cargo, in 12 days. Otherwise, assuming that all unloading effort could be concentrated on one, big cargo of 5,000 tons, Tripoli would have been able to empty the ship in just 2½ days under Davide's calculations.

I think that peacetime is the operative word in Davide's calculations, and to that I would like to add that the calculations presumably operate with averages, too.

On one hand, some cargoes - eg. tanks - are heavy and unwieldy, and some military cargoes (eg. ammunition and fuel) need to handled with caution, possibly adding to stated unloading times. On the other hand, cargoes can be prepared for easy unloading, for example by placing them on pallets at the port of embarkation, at the expense of reducing overall size of cargo (because the pallets will take up precious cargo space), and still other cargoes aren't all that unwieldy to begin with.

Also, many ships of the era had their own derricks and could unload their cargoes themselves without other external aid than dockhands for clearing the quay of unloaded goods. Small as they were, both Tripoli and Benghazi had small port railroads for this task, but Tobruk didn't - yet the heaviest single items sent to North Africa by the Axis during the war were sent to Tobruk, namely train engines aboard the semi-famous Ankara, a ship that was originally built to carry locomotives to South America.

Bottom line is, average figures will only get you so far, variables such as overall cargo size and unwieldyness will play in too, as will availability of dockhands, length of day, and weighing the risk of having port lights turned on, and thus unloading round the clock, against the increased risk of enemy air raids...
Also, if there is less ships in harbour, could it mean that they could be unloaded faster?
Not according to the calculations you gave yourself.
If above figures of unloading are correct (more than 10 days), it could mean that one round trip could take up to 4 weeks, if similar time is needed for loading.
I don't think your figures are correct because you are operating with a tonnage per ship per day constant, rather than a tonnage per harbour figure.

You should also note that a single cargo of 5,000 tons would be very big by North African Axis standards - the norm was smaller cargoes distributed over several ships, in part because the Italians didn't have that many big ships (and some of them would have too much draft for Libyan ports anyway), in part because loading so much aboard a single ship would be too risky from a potential loss point of view, and indeed because spreading the cargo over several ships not only made unloading faster, it also gave the Axis the opportunity of sending part of the convoy to Tripoli, and part of it to Benghazi/Tobruk as appropriate once the convoy had made it safely across the Mediterranean.
Second question, why did Axis preferred loading ships in southern harbours?
Northern adriatic ports, such as Trieste, Zara and Split, had good railway connection. Ships would travel longer, but trains would travel shorter for similar amount of time.
On the other way, ships would consume almost double amount of fuel, and would be occupied for 5-10% more time.
My guess is that by choosing to make work easier on ships, it seems that naval transport was bottleneck.
Note that some of the Adriatic ports you mention weren't Axis when the war in North Africa began :)

Otherwise, I think you are correct. Naval transport and (especially) escort were much more of a bottleneck than rail transport was. At least on the European side of the logistics chain.

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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without.

Post by vathra » 24 Dec 2011 14:56

Jon G. wrote:This calculation only makes sense under the assumption that the unloading capacity of the port in question was only reached with the maximum number of ships docking (and being unloaded) at the same time; i.e. Tripoli would then be able to unload five ships, each with 5,000 tons worth of cargo, in 12 days. Otherwise, assuming that all unloading effort could be concentrated on one, big cargo of 5,000 tons, Tripoli would have been able to empty the ship in just 2½ days under Davide's calculations.

....

You should also note that a single cargo of 5,000 tons would be very big by North African Axis standards - the norm was smaller cargoes distributed over several ships, in part because the Italians didn't have that many big ships (and some of them would have too much draft for Libyan ports anyway), in part because loading so much aboard a single ship would be too risky from a potential loss point of view, and indeed because spreading the cargo over several ships not only made unloading faster, it also gave the Axis the opportunity of sending part of the convoy to Tripoli, and part of it to Benghazi/Tobruk as appropriate once the convoy had made it safely across the Mediterranean.
Thx for reply, things are much clearer now.

If we assume that cargos (and vessels) were smaller (around 1000 to 2000 tons), they could be loaded/unloaded much faster. It would mean that roundtrip could be made in less than 10 days. In such conditions, travelling to more distant harbours would take 3-4 days more, meaning that it would be necessary to have 30% more ships for same job!
Also, using smaller ships means that harbours will have more ships at the same time - meaning that dilemma if ship could be unloaded faster if it is alone in harbour is not existing in this situation.

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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without.

Post by Urmel » 27 Dec 2011 00:26

The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without.

Post by Urmel » 27 Dec 2011 01:10

Jon G. wrote: You should also note that a single cargo of 5,000 tons would be very big by North African Axis standards - the norm was smaller cargoes distributed over several ships, in part because the Italians didn't have that many big ships (and some of them would have too much draft for Libyan ports anyway), in part because loading so much aboard a single ship would be too risky from a potential loss point of view, and indeed because spreading the cargo over several ships not only made unloading faster, it also gave the Axis the opportunity of sending part of the convoy to Tripoli, and part of it to Benghazi/Tobruk as appropriate once the convoy had made it safely across the Mediterranean.
i don't think that is fully correct.
Jon G. wrote:Otherwise, I think you are correct. Naval transport and (especially) escort were much more of a bottleneck than rail transport was. At least on the European side of the logistics chain.
Some more arguments: It's also much more difficult to sink a train then a ship. Trains run on coal, not on fuel oil. Naples was probably the best port. the stuff had to go on trains any case.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without.

Post by arturolorioli » 27 Dec 2011 12:02

Please note that supply ships for NA were as a rule never fully loaded: the standard load turned out in most cases ro be about half of the full load, or even less. That was done mainly to allow a faster unloading time and avoid having the ships sitting in the harbour as a target for CW air attacks for too long. And the logistic bottleneck was not just about unloading capabilities, but also about the storage facilities, that were equally limited.
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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without.

Post by Urmel » 27 Dec 2011 12:16

Wouldn't this also be connected to the fact that military cargo is quite bulky, in relation to its size (e.g. trucks, gasoline carried in barrels, tank engines, etc.).

On the second point, and the lack of storage was clearly connected to a lack of trucks again. More trucks would have meant a faster removal of goods from storage to the front line.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: Question on composition of Italian forces in NA without.

Post by Jon G. » 27 Dec 2011 13:12

JBond wrote:i don't think that is fully correct.
I don't off-handedly remember any single cargoes of 5K ton size being delivered to Libya by the Axis in any case, but maybe I am mistaken. The example is theoretical in any case.
Some more arguments: It's also much more difficult to sink a train then a ship. Trains run on coal, not on fuel oil. Naples was probably the best port. the stuff had to go on trains any case.
That too. Although you can find coal-burning ships and oil-drinking trains, it's clear that the Italians were far more limited in what they could send by ship than what they could send by rail.
arturolorioli wrote:...And the logistic bottleneck was not just about unloading capabilities, but also about the storage facilities, that were equally limited.
True, as I recall the Italians spent a lot of effort expanding the cargo handling facilities of particularly Benghazi in 1942, including sending a team of port specialists aboard a ship that got sunk en route. As I further recall (sorry, I am too lazy to check) the Italians complained that the Germans had wrecked Benghazi far too much during the Axis withdrawal following Operation Crusader.

Amongst other things, oil storage tanks were built at Benghazi harbour in 1942. Until then, all fuel delivered east of Tripoli had to come in drums, imposing a major delay on unloading times as compared to pumping oil directly to a tank farm.
JBond wrote:...On the second point, and the lack of storage was clearly connected to a lack of trucks again. More trucks would have meant a faster removal of goods from storage to the front line.
Both Tripoli and Benghazi had port railroads which were useful for evacuating stuff cluttering the quays. I however have no idea if, or to which degree, these port railroads were used, since they would also have supply demands of their own like coal, always a rare item to the Italians.

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