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

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edward_n_kelly
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Post by edward_n_kelly » 29 Jun 2006 01:54

I just wonder how relaible van Creveld really is....

I know his essay on Napoleonic logistics (and his even earlier one on that of Marlborough and Louis XIV) were severely dented in Feeding Mars: Logistics in Western Warfare from the Middle Ages to the Present by John A. Lynn (Editor).

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Jon G.
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Post by Jon G. » 29 Jun 2006 02:19

Van Creveld was quite young when he wrote his book on logistics. Maybe he would have drawn different conclusions today. Historians are more or less taught to critisize one another's works - it's part of the trade to critically examine other historians' use of sources and find errors therein.

It could be that some of his conclusions are in error, or just exaggerated, but I think he deserves great credit for covering a subject which has not received the attention it deserves. From a workmanship point of view there is nothing wrong with his book - he used original sources more than he used secondary works, of which there are and were few anyway.

In any case, his book is just a collection of essays, and thus not the definite work on the subject of North African logistics. His essay on Rommel just scratches the surface of a vastly complicated subject.

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Post by Michael Emrys » 29 Jun 2006 02:34

Jon G. wrote:His essay on Rommel just scratches the surface of a vastly complicated subject.
That was my impression when I read it a few years ago, an impression that has been deepened by discussions here and elsewhere. The book as a whole was a real eye opener for me though, and I enjoyed reading it, faults and all.

Michael

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Post by JonS » 29 Jun 2006 03:09

Getting back to the 900 tons per day through Tobruk (yes, I realise this figure has already been severely beaten around the head already), it's probably worth pointing out that 900 tons was the peak figure acheived, not the mean figure. Monthly throughput would have been substantially lower - easily low enough to bring it into line with Crevalds 18,000 tons/month. Everyone seesm to be taking the 900 tons as a typical figure.

As a couple of examples
1) the Luftwaffe managed to lift 300 tons into Stalingrad once, yet the average lift was only about 100 tons
2) from the NZ Railways Group book, a great deal is made of the day they managed to lay ~2 miles of fresh track, yet it would be foolhardy to plan on the basis of them regularly acehiving 2 miles. Indeed, one of the key reasons that they acheived 2 miles on the day in question was because they laid zero miles the day before, so the necessary materials accumulated. Without dimishining their acheivement, this means their two day average was 'only' 1 mile.

(Example figures based on quick googles and memory. Take 'em with a grain of salt.)

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Post by Jon G. » 29 Jun 2006 03:46

JonS wrote:Getting back to the 900 tons per day through Tobruk (yes, I realise this figure has already been severely beaten around the head already), it's probably worth pointing out that 900 tons was the peak figure acheived, not the mean figure. Monthly throughput would have been substantially lower - easily low enough to bring it into line with Crevalds 18,000 tons/month. Everyone seesm to be taking the 900 tons as a typical figure.
Well, I stated at least three times on the preceding page that the 900 ton figure was a maximum, including the original quote :) But I have to clarify myself on the 18,000 tons/month figure I stated for Tobruk - on p 187 van Creveld states that Tobruk was theoretically capable of handling 1,500 tons per day, but in fact rarely attained more than 600 tons. That must be where I took the 18,000 tons from. On p 197 he states that Tobruk '...could barely handle 20,000 [tons]', which could be called a distortion of sorts - clearing the port of wreckage could have improved its capacity from the maximum 900 tons it could handle during Rommel's siege. Probably the British spent some effort clearing the port after the siege was broken, and probably they did not wreck the port very thoroughly when Tobruk fell to Rommel in June 1942.

But I still have no idea how the theoretical capacity of a port is calculated. Different numbers fly about, with little way of proving them right or wrong when you don't know how they are calculated. What was actually delivered is of course the best approach, but even that is only incidental to what a given port could process if working at maximum capacity, not under constant air attack etc. Bronsky's numbers from the Malta thread are relevant, so I'll repost them here:
Bronsky wrote:For the two months between mid-July and mid-September of 1942, the average monthly flux was:
Tripoli: 35,669 tons received from Italy, 19,015 tons loaded on coastal shipping.
Benghazi: 60,500 tons from Italy, 11,090 tons from cabotage, 13,980 tons sent further east on coastal shipping.
Tobruk: 47,071 tons from Italy + 17,655 from cabotage, 10,471 tons loaded on coastal shipping.
Mersa Matruh: 1,927 tons from Italy + 10,030 tons from cabotage.
Figures from an article, "Quartermaster's Nightmare", by Dario Benedetti and provided by Mauro de Vita.
JonS wrote:As a couple of examples
1) the Luftwaffe managed to lift 300 tons into Stalingrad once, yet the average lift was only about 100 tons
2) from the NZ Railways Group book, a great deal is made of the day they managed to lay ~2 miles of fresh track, yet it would be foolhardy to plan on the basis of them regularly acehiving 2 miles. Indeed, one of the key reasons that they acheived 2 miles on the day in question was because they laid zero miles the day before, so the necessary materials accumulated. Without dimishining their acheivement, this means their two day average was 'only' 1 mile.
(Example figures based on6quick googles and memory. Take 'em with a grain of salt.)
1) I think the 300 tons/day was set as a target for what the 6th Army in Stalingrad would need to exist on a subsistence minimum. This figure was rarely, if ever, attained. A target 300 tons/day does make you wonder, though. The 6th Army was a much larger formation than the PAA, but it was of course also completely immobilized.

2) Yes, but the NZ rail engineers performance did improve with time thanks to improved familiarity with the climate, improved procedures, better loading of their supply trains etc.

Edited Tobruk date duh.
Last edited by Jon G. on 30 Jun 2006 08:52, edited 2 times in total.

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Post by JonS » 29 Jun 2006 04:17

Sorry to misrepresent you Jon. It appeared to me as I wrote above.
Jon G. wrote: 1) I think the 300 tons/day was set as a target for what the 6th Army in Stalingrad would need to exist on a subsistence minimum. This figure was rarely, if ever, attained. A target 300 tons/day does make you wonder, though. The 6th Army was a much larger formation than the PAA, but it was of course also completely immobilized.
Based on my quick googling, the initial target was 750 tons/day, quickly revised down to 500, then down again to 350, which was never achieved anyway - 300 was as good as it ever got. I understand that the figures for Stalingrad were based on purely defensive ops, and then subsistance survival, i.e. treating 6th Army as a wasting asset. The PAA figures were presumably for sustained, mobile, and offensive ops.
2) Yes, but the NZ rail engineers performance did improve with time thanks to improved familiarity with the climate, improved procedures, better loading of their supply trains etc.
Sure, but even taking that into account 2 miles was an outlier.

Glad you found the book worthwhile :)

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Post by Michael Emrys » 30 Jun 2006 06:13

Jon G. wrote:...when Tobruk fell to Rommel in April 1942.
June 1942, surely.

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Post by Jon G. » 30 Jun 2006 08:54

Right! At least I got it right on p. 5. :)

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Post by Jon G. » 30 Jun 2006 12:24

Here is the article by Benedetti mentioned by Bronsky Quartermaster's Nightmare I'm strongly tempted to post the whole thing here. It's not a very long article, and the numbers it provides are of key importance to the overall theme of North African logistics under discussion in this and other threads.

I'll refrain from making any premature judgements on the article because I just found it, but I think it is fair to say that Benedetti has an agenda :)

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Post by Bronsky » 30 Jun 2006 13:53

Of course he has an agenda, plus that article was published before some of the pro-Italian or not-anti-Italian books in English like Bagradin, Sadkovich, or Massignani. However, there's nothing wrong with his numbers and in particular with what they say about the port capacity.

Regarding your earlier comment about how port capacity was calculated, it isn't. It can only be estimated, based on peacetime traffic and estimated max traffic given known infrastructure. The problem is that these are far less solid numbers than other theoretical maxima. For example, you can calculate the max speed of an Iowa-class BB after looking at its hull. Even if you add nuclear turbines the ship is unlikely to exceed the max speed that you will have calculated by a significant amount.

Such is not the case for ports. Two examples: a large European port (say Antwerp or Marseilles) handled a lot of tonnage, both import and export. Adding import and export tonnage gives port capacity. However, because the port handled 3 million tons of traffic in 1938 doesn't mean that it could handle 3 million tons of *imports* in 1944. The port facilities (cranes, wharves, etc) would be adequate but clearing that amount from the port would be a problem - as it invariably proved to be.

Example #2: take a small port with very little peacetime traffic. Using that peacetime figure is no real indication of what the port is capable of handling: see the Normandy beaches, or most of the ports that the US used in the Pacific.

Also, technology evolves so new ships can either become better-adapted to handling tonnage quickly (e.g. the Italian fast ships appearing in 1942) or not (e.g. bigger ships requiring bigger ports).

Van Creveld's book is very good. It's easy to pick at some of his findings because he was not a specialist and didn't claim to be. People who write that Van Creveld is no longer worth reading because some faults were found with his numbers in Feeding Mars are IMO missing something (particularly given the fact that Feeding Mars has its errors, too). The chapter from Supplying War about North Africa is largely right: Rommel had a very difficult logistics situation, the greatest problems being the overland route and port capacity. Van Creveld sometimes only quotes the numbers that help his argument and don't quote those that would contradict him, so he shouldn't be taken as gospel on that or other issues, but he's still right more often than he's wrong. IMO.

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Post by Jon G. » 01 Jul 2006 10:02

Bronsky wrote:Of course he has an agenda, plus that article was published before some of the pro-Italian or not-anti-Italian books in English like Bagradin, Sadkovich, or Massignani. However, there's nothing wrong with his numbers and in particular with what they say about the port capacity...
Benedetti's article is from Operations Magazine #26, released in 1997. Greene and Massignani's book about Rommel's desert campaigns was released in 1994. James Sadkovich's hard-to-find book about the Italian navy in World War 2 is from 1994. And Bragadin's book about the Italian navy was first released in English in 1957.

Benedetti's agenda is to show that the Italian navy and merchant navy did not lose the Mediterranean convoy battles. That was not a novel point of view in 1997, nor was it the first time this take on the Mediterranean convoy battles appeared in English. For what it is worth, van Creveld does not claim that the North African logistics battle was decided in the Mediterranean sea.

I'm not really in a position to challenge any of the numbers provided by Benedetti for tonnage of supplies delivered, but I disagree with his way of measuring if the PAA got the supplies it needed:
Benedetti wrote:In October, after the battle of Alam Halfa, General Stumme asked for the military forces in North Africa (as confirmed by some ULTRA interception) a total of 30,000 tons/month of supply, including 12,000 of fuel.
This figure is lower than the 50,000 tons/month that Rommel said was what his Panzer Army needed in The Rommel Papers, but let's just accept that Stumme asked for what he thought an adequate amount of supplies: 30K tons/month. But Benedetti uses Stumme's October 1942 request as a yardstick for whether the supplies delivered during July and August 1942 were adequate.
In a message of August 22, before the battle of Alam Halfa, Rommel sent its request for the forthcoming battle: 1) delivery at Tobruk and Benghazi within August 26 of 2,000 tons of fuel and 500 tons of ammo. 2) delivery at Tobruk within August 27 of trucks in a number sufficient to equip six infantry battalions (90 trucks), 5 artillery batteries (60 trucks) and the just arrived Folgore paratroops division (72 trucks). 3) delivery at Tobruk and Benghazi within Aug. 30 of 3,000 tons of fuel and 2,000 tons of ammo.


It is true that according to Benedetti, Rommel's demands for the upcoming battle of Alem Halfa were by and large met, in most cases also surpassed, but particularly the numbers of trucks he asks for looks far too small and simply wrong. 90 trucks is hardly enough to equip a single battalion of infantry for example, and how can an accurately measured need for 72 trucks for the Folgore paratroopers go hand in hand with clearly rounded requests for 2,000 tons of fuel and 500 tons of ammunition? Anyway Rommel's requests were made on short notice and for the specific occasion of the upcoming Alem Halfa battle; any extrapolations from these requests to monthly needs would surely surpass Stumme's 30,000 tons/month mark.

Benedetti then proceeds to demonstrate that the months of July and August 1942 represent an increase in supplies delivered to the PAA compared to the average of the preceding 17 months. That is not surprising given that Rommel by then also controlled the ports of Tobruk and Mersah Matruh. It would be more logical to compare the 145,167 tons of supplies delivered in July/August 1942 with the supplies delivered in May/June 1942 (~115,000 tons), or with the ~130,000 tons delivered in September/October 1942 to see more clearly Tobruk and Mersa Matruh's impact on Rommel's supply situation. At any rate, Benedetti's remark that '...During this months [February 1941 to June 1942] there were no supplies shortage, so we can assume that such arrivals were sufficient to meet the needs of the fighting forces... is most certainly wrong. By far the most interesting part of his short article is table 5, which shows the role of coastal shipping in the distribution of Rommel's supplies.

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Post by edward_n_kelly » 03 Jul 2006 06:51

Bronsky wrote: Van Creveld's book is very good. It's easy to pick at some of his findings because he was not a specialist and didn't claim to be. People who write that Van Creveld is no longer worth reading because some faults were found with his numbers in Feeding Mars are IMO missing something (particularly given the fact that Feeding Mars has its errors, too). The chapter from Supplying War about North Africa is largely right: Rommel had a very difficult logistics situation, the greatest problems being the overland route and port capacity. Van Creveld sometimes only quotes the numbers that help his argument and don't quote those that would contradict him, so he shouldn't be taken as gospel on that or other issues, but he's still right more often than he's wrong. IMO.
Yes his book is very good, it was the first of its type in the modern era*, and it brought the subject of logistics into the field of view of historians in general. But it also suffered its drawbacks becuase of its "first in the field" status - and it is not necessarily va Creveld's fault. His work has been taken as gospel by too many wheras it should be approached from the point of view of a "stalking horse". The use of "selective numbers" should be frowed upon by any historian of worth - though the I will ascribe the kindly motive of "not aware" rather than "delberately ignored" until evidence is shown to the contrary.

Feeding Mars no doubt suffers from its own problems of minutae but it also broadens van Creveld's work by looking at naval and air logistics, by bringing fresh perspectives onto areas that van Creveld has touched.

Edward

*post 1960's - there were works by the US Armed Forces for instance on their logistic efforts almost in the form of an"official history" but they worked in isolation from the larger picture and the "reason why".

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Post by grassi » 10 Aug 2006 15:55

@ Jon G. et. al.: Cranes in Tobruk 1942

Gentlemen,
there are cranes visible in this video footage (ca. at 1:30 min) on YouTube:

Afrika Korps in Action - Capture of Tobruk
http://youtube.com/watch?v=FJHrnVeNgIc
04:58
From: wolficatz

The commentary claimes that this is Tobruk harbour after the occupation by Axis forces.

Grassi

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Post by Jon G. » 10 Aug 2006 16:20

Thank you for that, Grassi. I promptly updated my post in this thread:

http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=105827

Indeed the crane is visible, although it's difficult to tell if it was operational at the time or not. The harbour certainly looks very wrecked in the film.

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Post by grassi » 10 Aug 2006 17:20

"kuno" on http://www.afrika-korps.de
provides some photos with cranes. One Italian photo is apparently taken before 1942. At least this crane should be opperational (12.VI.2006)..:
http://www.afrika-korps.de/forum/viewto ... c&start=30
Cheers
grassi

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