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

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grassi
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Post by grassi » 15 Aug 2006 22:47

Another thread on http://www.afrika-korps.de deals with the port capacity of Benghazi.
It seems to be higher then 24.000t a month - "its daily capacity had been increased to 2-3,000 tons":
The capacity for fuel was significantly increased in April 1942.
http://afrika-korps.de/forum/viewtopic. ... sc&start=0
The interesting parts of the discussion were done in English.
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Jon G.
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Post by Jon G. » 16 Aug 2006 09:31

Yes, the Axis spent some effort at expanding the capacity of Benghazi. Most noteably, they began constructing a bulk fuel tank which could hold 7,000 tons. This post by DAK member Paul is particularly relevant:

http://afrika-korps.de/forum/viewtopic.php?p=3320#3320
(click on the little white square to the left of the word 'posted' at the top of a post, then copy and paste the URL from your browser's address line into your post)

Note that this construction work is placed in early 1942 by Paul - i.e. too late to be of any help for Rommel's first assault on Tobruk or the Crusader battles. Van Creveld makes the point that Rommel's 1942 offensive penetrated deeper into Egypt because Benghazi was fully operational by then - despite the PAA receiving fewer supplies on average in 1942 than it did in 1941. It seems that the Axis needed less time to turn Tobruk into a useful supply head than they needed for Benghazi. At any rate Tobruk was a good deal smaller than Benghazi (despite being a perfect natural port), but its proximity to the front line made its use indispensible for an advance on Egypt.

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Post by David W » 16 Aug 2006 23:49

Guys,
given all that has been said recently & not so recently on this thread. Are we any closer to being able to give some accurate port capacity figures for Tobruk, Benghasi & Tripoli? Complete with modifiers for 1942 improvements etc.

???

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Post by Jon G. » 18 Aug 2006 23:06

Beyond general notions of Tripolis being the largest port of the three, Benghazi the second largest and Tobruk the smallest, I find it difficult to accurately project these three ports' respective capacities. There are so many numbers for daily capacity of one or more ports thrown around, often with little or no justification or explanation on how the author arrived at his number/s. It appears that capacites have mostly been calculated retroactively, based on tonnage actually delivered, rather than as general projections.

There are many variables to consider if you want to calculate port capacity: length & size of quays (Benghazi could only handle ships up to 90 meters for example); depth of harbour bassin (Tobruk appears to have a naturally deep bassin, for example, unlike Benghazi), availabilty of cranes (like the one at Tobruk) & rail cars to quickly unload and distribute cargoes (I've seen photos of railroad freight cars on the quays of Tripolis, for example); hoses and tank facilities for liquid cargo (like the tank built at Benghazi); availability of port labourers etc. etc. Some cargoes take longer to unload than others, and there's also a trade-off involved between maximum ship cargo and cargo which is packed for speedy unloading. Length of daylight hours and the frequence of enemy air raids are two other factors to consider.

Combined, that's enough variables that port capacity can only be an estimate at best. I dare not estimate on the capacities of Tripolis, Benghazi and Tobruk, but maybe someone else does. Overall port capacity was definitely a bottleneck for the Axis, for all of the reasons given above, but it is clear that any working port - however small - close to the front line was a great help to the Axis effort, also if the port in question only had the capacity to handle a fraction of the PAA's supply needs.

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David W
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Post by David W » 19 Aug 2006 00:23

So; "No" Then!

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Post by Jon G. » 19 Aug 2006 00:42

Hmm, I'll settle for 'not yet' :)

But less categorically worded questions may serve better. For example, and just to re-hash on the whole Axis North African logistics issue you might instead ask, 'were North African ports too small for the PAA's needs'? Everybody from von Thoma on seemed to think that they were, but Rommel basically ignored that, or maybe he disagreed that North African ports were too small to cover his needs. He certainly realized that he needed Tobruk in order to advance on the Nile.

Maybe it would be better to examine to which degree North African ports (& their respective cargo processing capacities) governed Axis operations, rather than use them as an explanation why Rommel and the PAA failed at reaching the Nile Delta.

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Post by Jon G. » 02 Feb 2007 03:50

As an addendum to the above, and really just to bump this thread, an article about African ports from the October 1942 edition of Economic Geography gives the following minimum depths for Italy's three Libyan ports: Tripolis 24 feet, Benghazi 26 feet and Tobruk 30 feet.

Tobruk was naturally deep, the other two had had their approach channels and anchorages artificially deepened. It is no surprise that Tobruk is the deepest harbour of the three - it's a natural port whose underdeveloped state owed to the nearly nonexistent hinterland. On the other hand, it is surprising that the article - which I am not quite prepared to take as gospel - rates Benghazi as a deeper port than Tripolis. I vaguely recall reading that sanding was a particular problem at Benghazi, which had to be drenched quite often for that reason.

The article then proceeds to examine a number of African ports in greater detail. Unfortunately no Italian ports are among them, which can perhaps be explained by the publishing date of the article. Alexandria is described in some detail - it's located on an island turned into a peninsula by landfill and divided into an east harbour and a west harbour on either side of the peninsula. There was a two-mile long breakwater protecting the west harbour, which had also been dredged to a depth of 36 feet - the east harbour, closest to the Nile delta, was mostly for local use because it was very prone to silting coming from the Nile.

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Post by Jon G. » 19 Apr 2007 23:31

Here are four excellent quality Libyan town maps, zoomable to a very high degree of detail. The maps are too big to post here - instead, I've cropped out part of the 1:7,500 Tripoli map showing the harbour with its basin:

Image

Each square is approximately 600x600 meters.
As the site I link to explains, the maps were compiled by the U.S. Army Map Service in 1943.

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Post by Jon G. » 22 Apr 2007 19:16

...and here's Benghazi. Image pulled from the P502 map collection which I've been raving about for the last few days

Image

...map originally drawn to 1:250,000 scale. Note how sea depths are stated, too. With sufficient interest I'll post a few more images of other Libyan and Egyptian ports and roadsteads in the next few days.

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JeffreyF
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Post by JeffreyF » 23 Apr 2007 22:23

Consider the interest to be sufficient enough. :D

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Post by Jon G. » 24 Apr 2007 19:26

Okay! As promised, here are a few more maps of North African ports. First some Italian ports:

Tobruk, at the very edge of the map:
Image

Derna:
Image

Bardia and Sollum:
Image

...and finally Tripoli, drawn to a smaller scale than above:
Image

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Post by Jon G. » 24 Apr 2007 19:35

Here are a few maps of Vichy/Allied ports. It's hopefully now easier to understand why the Comando Supremo was clamoring for the use of French North African ports, which were bigger and more well-equipped.

Bizerte with its lagoon. The salt water lagoon acts as a filter for sediment, meaning that there is little sanding at Bizerte.
Image

Sfax and the Kerkennah Islands. Many Axis merchantmen met their demise near the Kerkennah Islands.
Image

...and finally, Suez at the southern end of the canal.
Image

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Post by Bronsky » 25 Apr 2007 09:23

Jon G. wrote:Here are a few maps of Vichy/Allied ports. It's hopefully now easier to understand why the Comando Supremo was clamoring for the use of French North African ports, which were bigger and more well-equipped.


Their greatest advantage is that they were linked to a railroad, helping port clearance immeasurably which otherwise would be a problem.

Jon G. wrote:Bizerte with its lagoon. The salt water lagoon acts as a filter for sediment, meaning that there is little sanding at Bizerte.


Not quite, the lagoon needed to be dragged regularly and the French were behind schedule so nominal depth was only there in a relatively narrow channel.

Not a real problem for merchantmen, but Bizerte was meant as a military base capable of servicing large ships.

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Post by Jon G. » 25 Apr 2007 19:14

Bronsky wrote:Their greatest advantage is that they were linked to a railroad, helping port clearance immeasurably which otherwise would be a problem.


Well, Tripoli and Benghazi had medium and small port railway facilities respectively, but they weren't connected to a larger rail system as we have been discussing at some length in another thread. The Tripoli map is too big to post in its entirety, so I've posted the harbour part of it here and the railroad part of it in the other thread.

Bizerte with its lagoon. The salt water lagoon acts as a filter for sediment, meaning that there is little sanding at Bizerte.


Not quite, the lagoon needed to be dragged regularly and the French were behind schedule so nominal depth was only there in a relatively narrow channel.

Not a real problem for merchantmen, but Bizerte was meant as a military base capable of servicing large ships.


Hmm, yes, I managed to confuse the marsh (barely visible on the extreme left on the Bizerte map) and the lagoon with the seperate port at Ferryville. According to Deasy's article the marsh acts as a filter for sediment from Bizerte's tributary waterways, meaning that Bizerte itself isn't subject to much sanding, which is otherwise a problem for ports situated on or near rivers/waterways. Deasy goes on to describe Bizerte as the finest natural port in all of North Africa and Ferryville as 'one of the best equipped naval bases in the world'. But, writing in October 1942, he was probably acting on outdated information regarding sanding and dredging.

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Post by JeffreyF » 30 Apr 2007 00:59

Thanks for take the time to put this together.

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