How important was Malta?

Discussions on WW2 in Africa & the Mediterranean. Hosted by Andy H
User avatar
Simes
Member
Posts: 61
Joined: 21 May 2006 19:15
Location: UK

How important was Malta?

Post by Simes » 01 Jun 2006 17:05

[Split off from this thread http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=102319 in order to provide a more focussed basis for discussion]


Basically, Hitler got involved because he saw the mess that the Italians had gotten into in North Africa and Albania/Greece, but the Germans missed several opportunities in this theatre.

As you've said, Gibraltar was one of them, but the main goal should have been Malta, which (If it had been in Axis hands) would have virtually 'closed off' the eastern mediterranean as far as allied shipping goes.

The basic point that it was all a waste of men and material who should have been on the eastern front is a fair one.

To say Hitler was 'angry' over Mussolini's invasion of Greece is an understatement, have you seen the footage of him standing at a map, with Mussolini? You can see him 'tearing a strip' off Mussolini.

The Germans had hopes of Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey joining the Axis, these were all pretty much ended by the Italian action in the Balkans.

Eventually though, I think Hitler saw the same prizes as Mussolini did.....Egypt and the Middle Eastern oil fields.

User avatar
fredleander
Financial supporter
Posts: 2164
Joined: 03 Dec 2004 20:49
Location: Stockholm

Post by fredleander » 01 Jun 2006 18:28

Simes wrote:As you've said, Gibraltar was one of them, but the main goal should have been Malta, which (If it had been in Axis hands) would have virtually 'closed off' the eastern mediterranean as far as allied shipping goes.
With Gibraltar in Axis hands anything would have been possible in the Med. But, it would take real cooperation with the Italian navy.

Full Monty
Member
Posts: 34
Joined: 24 Apr 2006 01:30
Location: England

Post by Full Monty » 01 Jun 2006 22:58

I'd question whether Gibralter could have been held. Axis assts in the Med were very stretched as it was as against the British/Commonwealth air/sea/land forces that could have been deployed to retake it. Strategically all of the opportunities for the Axis lay in the Eastern Med - Gibralter was relatively insigificant. :)

Imho Malta was not actully much more important, apart from in the mind of Winston Spencer Churchill. Losing either might have dented British prestige somewhat but the effect on the North African campaign would have been negligible.

User avatar
Michael Emrys
Member
Posts: 6002
Joined: 13 Jan 2005 18:44
Location: USA

Post by Michael Emrys » 01 Jun 2006 23:13

Simes wrote:...the main goal should have been Malta, which (If it had been in Axis hands) would have virtually 'closed off' the eastern mediterranean as far as allied shipping goes.
Not quite. Simply holding Sicily and Cyrenaica effectively closed off the Eastern Med to through traffic. But capturing Malta would have greatly eased the threat to Axis supply lines to NA.

Mchael

Full Monty
Member
Posts: 34
Joined: 24 Apr 2006 01:30
Location: England

Post by Full Monty » 02 Jun 2006 00:48

Michael Emrys wrote:But capturing Malta would have greatly eased the threat to Axis supply lines to NA.

Mchael
The supplies interdicted by units based at Malta were, if you'll excuse the pun, a drop in the ocean compared to those consumed by the vehicles transporting them from Benghazi or Tripoli to the troops at the front. Rommel's perrenial logistical problems were a direct result of the lengh of his supply lines.

User avatar
Michael Emrys
Member
Posts: 6002
Joined: 13 Jan 2005 18:44
Location: USA

Post by Michael Emrys » 02 Jun 2006 00:59

Full Monty wrote:
Michael Emrys wrote:But capturing Malta would have greatly eased the threat to Axis supply lines to NA.

Mchael
The supplies interdicted by units based at Malta were, if you'll excuse the pun, a drop in the ocean compared to those consumed by the vehicles transporting them from Benghazi or Tripoli to the troops at the front. Rommel's perrenial logistical problems were a direct result of the lengh of his supply lines.
No argument there. Still, the supplies—especially vehicles—that ended up on the sea bed would have been useful in NA.

Michael

User avatar
fredleander
Financial supporter
Posts: 2164
Joined: 03 Dec 2004 20:49
Location: Stockholm

Post by fredleander » 02 Jun 2006 10:09

Full Monty wrote:I'd question whether Gibralter could have been held. Axis assts in the Med were very stretched as it was as against the British/Commonwealth air/sea/land forces that could have been deployed to retake it. Strategically all of the opportunities for the Axis lay in the Eastern Med - Gibralter was relatively insigificant. :)
One of the reasons why Gibraltar could have been taken is that there were no air assets there winter/spring '41 - others from eventual carriers in the area. A pre-requisite for Axis holding it would be that they established an air presence there.
Full Monty wrote:Imho Malta was not actully much more important, apart from in the mind of Winston Spencer Churchill. Losing either might have dented British prestige somewhat but the effect on the North African campaign would have been negligible.
That Malta was not important is a somewhat original statement..... being a base for denying supplies to the Axis forces in North Africa. However, for the Allies to hold on to Malta would be difficult with Gibraltar in Axis hands. Also, the Axis used a lot of resources to hold Malta down.

User avatar
fredleander
Financial supporter
Posts: 2164
Joined: 03 Dec 2004 20:49
Location: Stockholm

Post by fredleander » 02 Jun 2006 10:16

Full Monty wrote:The supplies interdicted by units based at Malta were, if you'll excuse the pun, a drop in the ocean compared to those consumed by the vehicles transporting them from Benghazi or Tripoli to the troops at the front. Rommel's perrenial logistical problems were a direct result of the lengh of his supply lines.
As the Allies were able to build up Malta - after "Torch" - whole Axis convoys were destroyed by air and sea units based at Malta. With Gibraltar in Axis hands the story might have been very different. "Torch", too.

Full Monty
Member
Posts: 34
Joined: 24 Apr 2006 01:30
Location: England

Post by Full Monty » 02 Jun 2006 22:38

Michael Emrys wrote:
Full Monty wrote:
Michael Emrys wrote:But capturing Malta would have greatly eased the threat to Axis supply lines to NA.

Mchael
The supplies interdicted by units based at Malta were, if you'll excuse the pun, a drop in the ocean compared to those consumed by the vehicles transporting them from Benghazi or Tripoli to the troops at the front. Rommel's perrenial logistical problems were a direct result of the lengh of his supply lines.
No argument there. Still, the supplies—especially vehicles—that ended up on the sea bed would have been useful in NA.

Michael
Checking though the Panzer Truppen records I can only find reference to some 34 PzIIIs and 11 PzIIs being sunk on the routes to Tripoli and Benghazi. A relative pittance compared to the numbers actually shipped.

Full Monty
Member
Posts: 34
Joined: 24 Apr 2006 01:30
Location: England

Post by Full Monty » 02 Jun 2006 22:51

leandros wrote:
Full Monty wrote:I'd question whether Gibralter could have been held. Axis assts in the Med were very stretched as it was as against the British/Commonwealth air/sea/land forces that could have been deployed to retake it. Strategically all of the opportunities for the Axis lay in the Eastern Med - Gibralter was relatively insigificant. :)
One of the reasons why Gibraltar could have been taken is that there were no air assets there winter/spring '41 - others from eventual carriers in the area. A pre-requisite for Axis holding it would be that they established an air presence there.
Hmmm, I'd question whether the Axis could maintain a sizeable enough force to hold on.
Full Monty wrote:Imho Malta was not actully much more important, apart from in the mind of Winston Spencer Churchill. Losing either might have dented British prestige somewhat but the effect on the North African campaign would have been negligible.
That Malta was not important is a somewhat original statement..... being a base for denying supplies to the Axis forces in North Africa. However, for the Allies to hold on to Malta would be difficult with Gibraltar in Axis hands. Also, the Axis used a lot of resources to hold Malta down.
One only has to look at the statistics and the convoy routes to see that Malta's significance has been blown way out of proportion, particularly by Rommel 'fanboys' trying to explain away their hero's incompetence (not saying that of anyone here, just making a general observation :) ). I'd agree that after 'Torch' Malta comes back into play somewhat, but given Allied materiel superiority it really makes little difference who controlled it come late 1942.

User avatar
fredleander
Financial supporter
Posts: 2164
Joined: 03 Dec 2004 20:49
Location: Stockholm

Post by fredleander » 02 Jun 2006 23:35

Full Monty wrote:Hmmm, I'd question whether the Axis could maintain a sizeable enough force to hold on.
That's another story.
Full Monty wrote:One only has to look at the statistics and the convoy routes to see that Malta's significance has been blown way out of proportion, particularly by Rommel 'fanboys' trying to explain away their hero's incompetence (not saying that of anyone here, just making a general observation :) ). I'd agree that after 'Torch' Malta comes back into play somewhat, but given Allied materiel superiority it really makes little difference who controlled it come late 1942.
Monty himself saw Malta as important. He even adjusted his own plans to accommodate airfield availability for coverage of supply convoys there.

alf
Member
Posts: 1343
Joined: 09 Oct 2003 10:45
Location: Australia

Post by alf » 03 Jun 2006 00:56

Monty himself saw Malta as important. He even adjusted his own plans to accommodate airfield availability for coverage of supply convoys there.
Not really the crisis for Malta's survial was over before Monty arrived on the scene. He benefited from having the island airfields operational and able to attack Axis convoys. But the real issue is why did the Axis fail to subdue Malta, it was the most bombed place on earth and Sicily was very close by.

A good place to start as to why Malta survived is to read about the Pedastel convoy and in particular the only tanker in the convoy - USS Ohio

(Edit cos I couldnt get the picture to work here) :( Google Image Ohio Malta to see the USS Ohio enntering harbour after surviving Pedastel.
A crippled tanker with 2 destroyers lashed to her to keep her afloat, if you look carefully you can see the remains of a Stuka stuck in her deck. When the fuel was unloaded from her, she broke her back and finally sank.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/war/wwtwo/ ... a_05.shtml
Yet in the late summer of that year Malta probably did play a role of some significance. As Stephen Bungay has shown, its renewed air and submarine striking forces prevented Rommel from fully exploiting the sea port of Tobruk, thus neutralising it as a supply point for his troops at Alamein.
Malta has almost mythical importance to some for Rommels defeat. Reality was logistics was never Rommels strong point. From the link above
After the loss of the surface striking forces, its effect on Axis supply lines had been, at best, marginal. There were always more supplies at Tripoli than could be transported to German troops at the front. Indeed the effort put into supplying Malta was disproportionate.

User avatar
Michael Emrys
Member
Posts: 6002
Joined: 13 Jan 2005 18:44
Location: USA

Post by Michael Emrys » 03 Jun 2006 05:18

Full Monty wrote:Checking though the Panzer Truppen records I can only find reference to some 34 PzIIIs and 11 PzIIs being sunk on the routes to Tripoli and Benghazi. A relative pittance compared to the numbers actually shipped.
I was thinking more of trucks. ISTR that hundreds of those went down. Furthermore, it would be a mistake to consider only German vehicles. I am counting Italian trucks among the (uncertain) figure I mention above, but there were also a significant number of Italian tanks that went down. They may not have been great examples of the breed, but neither were they of negligible value.

Michael

User avatar
Michael Emrys
Member
Posts: 6002
Joined: 13 Jan 2005 18:44
Location: USA

Post by Michael Emrys » 03 Jun 2006 05:26

Full Monty wrote:One only has to look at the statistics and the convoy routes to see that Malta's significance has been blown way out of proportion, particularly by Rommel 'fanboys' trying to explain away their hero's incompetence.
Indeed. But that does not seem to be any part of the present discussion, so let's just set that aside.

I am not trying to claim that Malta was a decisive factor in the eventual Axis defeat, but it was a significant one. The amount of Axis supply reaching the front was pretty much proportional to the amount of suppression through bombing of Malta. And while there were other factors effecting how much successfully got across, the timing was not entirely coincidental. So let's neither exaggerate nor deny the importance of Malta. Even the fact that it was absorbing so much of the Axis air effort in the MTO, making it unavailable elsewhere, is not without its significance.

Michael

User avatar
Bronsky
Member
Posts: 825
Joined: 11 Apr 2003 09:28
Location: Paris

Post by Bronsky » 03 Jun 2006 14:14

Full Monty wrote:One only has to look at the statistics and the convoy routes to see that Malta's significance has been blown way out of proportion, particularly by Rommel 'fanboys' trying to explain away their hero's incompetence (not saying that of anyone here, just making a general observation :) ). I'd agree that after 'Torch' Malta comes back into play somewhat, but given Allied materiel superiority it really makes little difference who controlled it come late 1942.
I suppose that it depends on which statistics you look at.

Malta forced the Axis to use convoys, which was an inefficient use of the weak port capacity available.

Malta forced the Axis to use heavily-escorted convoys which cut deeply into the Italian fuel reserves, to the point that most of the Regia Marina had to remain in port except for those escort missions.

Malta forced the diversion of very large air assets, and the expenditure of a lot of ammunition (I have in mind the figure of 500 Axis planes lost suppressing Malta in the first half of 1942").

Malta forced the Axis to escort their convoys, and since they didn't have the fuel to send escorted convoys everywhere, the Axis had to unload most of their convoys to Tripoli, which in turn forced them to commit to the very wasteful overland route to Cyrenaica.

The Axis couldn't use coastal shipping as much as it wanted. Why was that? Because of Malta-based air attacks. Cause: Malta. Coastal shipping couldn't be used in Cyrenaica and Egypt as well. Why? Because the Luftwaffe couldn't provide effective defense against the Egyptian-based RAF. And why was that? Because it had to keep a lot of force in Sicily to keep Malta honest, leaving the North African air assets overstretched. Cause: Malta.

I don't think that a look at the statistics shows that Malta's importance was overblown. I do have the figures on the percentage of Axis convoys that arrived, versus the amount that was lost en route. Not only does it amount to a significant loss (remember: a disastrous RAF raid like Nuremberg was "only" a 10% or so loss rate), but there are all the indirect effects that I mentioned above.

Return to “WW2 in Africa & the Mediterranean”