How important was Malta?

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StuG32118
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Post by StuG32118 » 05 Sep 2006 16:02

You are absolutely right about the politics and Hitler's beliefs, I was going on if Hitler had followed Raeder's desire to take the Med. and move into the middle east.

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Post by Bronsky » 05 Sep 2006 17:55

StuG32118 wrote:You are absolutely right about the politics and Hitler's beliefs, I was going on if Hitler had followed Raeder's desire to take the Med. and move into the middle east.
Even if he had and Mussolini had agreed to subordinate his "parallel war" to that strategy, I wonder what the possible timetable could have been. Not sure what could have been made available for August.

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Post by Jon G. » 05 Sep 2006 20:09

StuG32118 wrote:You are absolutely right about the politics and Hitler's beliefs, I was going on if Hitler had followed Raeder's desire to take the Med. and move into the middle east.
If memory serves me, Raeder first presented the idea of an aggressive Mediterranean strategy to Hitler in September 1940. As far as I know, Raeder placed emphasis on the capture of the Suez, not on taking Malta.

I am unaware if Raeder's canvassing of the Mediterranean strategy was in any way connected to von Thoma's October 1940 field trip to Libya, but it seems likely. Again, I don't know if von Thoma addressed Malta in his report on how the Germans could seize the Suez, but in his verdict he advised against a land offensive against the Suez launched from Italian North Africa because the Libyan ports were too small to support the forces necessary.

Besides, in October 1940 the Italians seemed to be doing fine in North Africa without German help...

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Post by Bronsky » 05 Sep 2006 21:02

Jon G. wrote:If memory serves me, Raeder first presented the idea of an aggressive Mediterranean strategy to Hitler in September 1940. As far as I know, Raeder placed emphasis on the capture of the Suez, not on taking Malta.
According to the paper mentioned in the Gibraltar thread, OKW & Raeder were more interested in the western Med (i.e. Gibraltar) than in the eastern Med. I don't know how true this is, as I don't have time to check.

Historically, it was only in September that it became clear that Germany might need an alternative strategy to bombing Britain into submission as well as having the spare planning resources to devote to such projects. But I wonder how fast, assuming a quick "Med first" strategic decision, forces could have been redeployed in Sicily in the first place, given logistical & transport constraints.
Jon G. wrote:Again, I don't know if von Thoma addressed Malta in his report on how the Germans could seize the Suez, but in his verdict he advised against a land offensive against the Suez launched from Italian North Africa because the Libyan ports were too small to support the forces necessary.
This report used to be available online, but the link is now dead (or it has moved), and I no longer have it in electronic format. I'm pretty sure that I printed it out, so I'll start paperlifting.

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Post by StuG32118 » 05 Sep 2006 21:12

Raeder began proposing occuping Malta sometime in October 1940. Had Hitler agreed to this and the planning and logistics gotten underway at this time, they probably would have been ready about the time that things began to turn for the Italians. The Duce would then have jumped at the chance to have help in Africa and the Med. Also if Rommel and the Afrika Korps get there earlier, before the lend-lease supplies are pouring in they have a much better chance of winning the campaign.

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Post by Jon G. » 06 Sep 2006 06:43

StuG32118 wrote:Raeder began proposing occuping Malta sometime in October 1940. Had Hitler agreed to this and the planning and logistics gotten underway at this time, they probably would have been ready about the time that things began to turn for the Italians...
Raeder's interest in the Mediterranean may also have been motivated by his desire to get some of the limelight back on his service. France had been an almost 100% Heer/Luftwaffe undertaking, and the Kriegsmarine was not envisaged a great role in the upcoming Barbarossa campaign.

Apart from that, who says that Malta had to be seized by the Germans? The Italians could have tried in 1940 irrespective of whether Hitler had wanted to take the island or not. The Axis partners did not share many of their plans, particularly not at this early stage - Mussolini in fact attacked Greece without informing Hitler first, and without attempting to coordinate his plans with the Germans. An Italian-German joint venture assault on Malta in 1940 presupposes a degree of coordination and cooperation which was nonexistent at the time.
Bronsky wrote:
Again, I don't know if von Thoma addressed Malta in his report on how the Germans could seize the Suez, but in his verdict he advised against a land offensive against the Suez launched from Italian North Africa because the Libyan ports were too small to support the forces necessary.
This report used to be available online, but the link is now dead (or it has moved), and I no longer have it in electronic format. I'm pretty sure that I printed it out, so I'll start paperlifting.
I would be very interested in seeing von Thoma's report, and also Paulus' 1941 report if you know where to find them. I've seen references to von Thoma's report many times, but never the actual report itself.

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Post by Lupo Solitario » 06 Sep 2006 14:24

Jon, I believe the largest part of people has usually a biased vision of italo-german relations during WWII. There was no way before 1942 for which Hitler could "order" anything to italians or, opposite, had to "cohordinate" moves.

Few people is conscious that the so-called "Steel Pact" of 1939 was one of the most ridiculous alliances ever signed cause it practically fixed that "allies" had no to interfere each other, cutting europe in two different "areas of influence" where the other signer had no right to entry.
Anyway the treaty didn't speak about Balkans, which were the main italo-german hostility area. Just in spring 1939, Mussolini had ordered to occupy Albania mainly as an answer to german occupation of Czecoslovakia and openly declared that to any german move in balkans, there would have been an italian answer.
The rest of Mediterrean was italian area of influence where germans had not to enter.

Italian and german military were deeply interested in avoiding joined actions. The only real german require for an italian cohoperation was about an italian army on Rhine front, request rejected by italians.

In those conditions, it's useless debating about german actions on Malta in 1940 and so on, we're over german possibilities. Also the german offer in fall 1940 for a mech contingent in North Africa was rejected. On the other side, the balkanic overlapping caused the greek albanian campaign: it was the german occupation of Romania in october 1940 (not announced to italians) after the german veto to italian occupation of Yugoslavia to push Mussolini to order the invasion of Greece and related consequences.

Only the complete failure of italian military in november-december 1940 forced Mussolini to call and open doors to german intervention in the Med

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Post by Bronsky » 06 Sep 2006 16:15

Jon G wrote:I would be very interested in seeing von Thoma's report, and also Paulus' 1941 report if you know where to find them. I've seen references to von Thoma's report many times, but never the actual report itself.
I feel pretty sure that I read it, but since I didn't find it in the relevant pile of printouts I'm beginning to have doubts. I found this study for an online source, but you have to read between the lines to infer Malta's role. Definitely second best, I'll keep looking. I've never read Paulus' report (just seen it mentioned)

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Post by Jon G. » 06 Sep 2006 17:00

Thank you Bronsky, but that one I know:

http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=104187

:) Definitely 'second best' particularly because it was written with the benefit of hindsight.

It might be possible to find out where to find Thoma's report somewhere here but I confess that I have not yet found the courage to sift through that site. The dearth of German original sources pertaining to the Mediterranean theater and available online is frustrating.

Lupo, I think you are right that the same hindsight I allude to above causes us (or many of us) to see the Mediterranean war as principally a German affair, with minimal and inefficient Italian help. That's why capturing Malta, attacking Egypt etc. are often erroneously seen as things the Germans 'could' have done earlier in the war.
Lupo Solitario wrote:...Only the complete failure of italian military in november-december 1940 forced Mussolini to call and open doors to german intervention in the Med
Still if memory serves, the first deployment of German forces to the Mediterranean were Ju52s for airlifting troops from Italy (probably Bari) to Albania in November 1940. Theoretically, then, November 1940 would have been the earliest possible time for German military action against Malta.

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Post by Bronsky » 18 Sep 2006 20:40

Jon G. wrote:I came across this 1994 paper, recently digitalized and made available for the public via the CARL treasure trove:

Comparison of the invasion of Crete and the proposed invasion of Malta By Maj. Steven L. W. Kavanaugh.
I finally got around to reading it. I suppose it's okay as an introduction, and it definitely has merits as a military study in decision-making. As a historical work, however, there's very little in there that interested people don't already know. The work relies heavily on a couple of sources, at least one of which (the Sutton study) is either a goldmine or your average dated work spouting common stereotypes. I suspect the latter, but one never knows...

Did anyone else read this?

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Post by Jon G. » 19 Sep 2006 18:03

I will admit that I have not yet read Kavanaugh's paper. The preamble looks extremely promising, but the bibliography leaves something to be desired: all secondary sources, and only memoirs to represent the German view. No Italian authors are represented either, which is sadly all too usual. It's dreadful to see James Lucas make it into the bibliography of a serious paper, and whereas a reference to Wikipedia may have looked cool in 1994 I'm not sure if it will impress anyone today :)

Anyway, I shouldn't just judge Kavanaugh's paper by its bibiliography. I'm looking forward to reading it.

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Post by Bronsky » 25 Sep 2006 12:45

Jon G. wrote:I will admit that I have not yet read Kavanaugh's paper. The preamble looks extremely promising, but the bibliography leaves something to be desired: all secondary sources, and only memoirs to represent the German view. No Italian authors are represented either, which is sadly all too usual. It's dreadful to see James Lucas make it into the bibliography of a serious paper, and whereas a reference to Wikipedia may have looked cool in 1994 I'm not sure if it will impress anyone today :)

Anyway, I shouldn't just judge Kavanaugh's paper by its bibiliography. I'm looking forward to reading it.
Please let me know what you think after you've done that. I found the paper definitely second-rate, with some good information but mostly drawing from inadequate and/or outdated sources. Essentially, for a paper submitted in 2006 it is incredible to read that kind of things (e.g. that in 1941 the Germans, instead of attacking Malta, focused on HMS Illustrious - then supposedly acting as an aircraft ferry - because of the expected effect on British morale).

90% of the footnotes draw on exactly two sources: a book by Forty on Malta (which I haven't read, though my opinion of Forty is fairly favorable), and "Wayne Lutton, Malta and the Mediterranean: A Study in The Allied and Axis Strategy, Planning, and Intelligence during The Second World War (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International. 1983)".

Most of the statements to which my reaction was "I'd really like to see a source for this" are sourced to Lutton. After a bit of Googling, I found The following book review by Lutton as the only historical work available online (as opposed to political statements) and found it objectionable, like the statement that "And in France, and other parts of the European Union, writers are subject to fine and possible imprisonment for daring to publicly criticize the growing Muslim presence in Western countries" which a look at online European papers will quickly disprove (unless of course I'm looking at the wrong "other parts of the European Union" which is a big place, but that's definitely not true of France).

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Post by Jon G. » 30 Sep 2006 11:09

I'm inclined to agree with you, Bronsky. After I've read the paper I concur it's definitely second-rate. I think the description of the preparations for the assault on Crete is fair enough, and the topographic descriptions of Malta and Crete are useful - but Kavanaugh's analysis of the strategic situation in the Mediterranean is nothing but a tired rehash of the Italian 'paralysis of the will' which meant that Malta was left alone. It also irks me that he describes the 'three main powers' in the Mediterranean in 1940 and 1941 as Italy, Britain and Germany. Kavanaugh also makes it appear that Churchill almost single-handedly decided that Malta should be held at all costs - as far as I know the British seriously considered abandoning Malta altogether until January 1941.

This map of Axis convoy routes is useful:

Image

...but overall, Kavanaugh's paper doesn't really meet the standards of other CARL papers. The abstract was pretty promising, though.

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Re: How important was Malta?

Post by Davide Pastore » 08 Mar 2008 16:34

To calculate the importance of Malta, we have to calculate how much more supplies could be sent to North Africa if the island had been captured by the Axis.

Let's begin from scratch, and concentrate on summer 1942.

According to Montanari, 'Le Operazioni in Africa Settentrionale' (Vol. 3, page 514) at the beginning of El Alamein campaign (about August) Rommel needs 100,000t of supplies monthly. He then adds 20,000t of supplies "to be unloaded from larger ships and loaded on smaller coastal boats" to obtain a total of 120,000t of supplies unloaded monthly.

The reference about unloading on coastal boats is a bit nebulose, since ISTM that loading and unloading occupies manpower just the same, so such value should be counted twice to calculate the amount of handled supplies. Unless Montanary meant 'unload 10,000t and load 10,000t'. I'm going to assume he meant instead 'unload 20,000t and load 20,000t' as explained below.

Montanari divides these 120,000t as:

Tripoli = 20,000t
Bengasi = 45,000t (1,500t/day)
Tobruk = 30,000t (1,000t/day)
Marsa Matruh = 12,000t (400t/day)
Derna + Ras Ilal + Sollum + Bardia = 13,000t (about 100t/day each port)

Of course Tripoli works much below its theoretical limit (60,000t according to the - admittedly quite conservative - USMM values). But since:

1) the 20,000t unloaded at Tripoli concide with the 20,000t loaded on coastal transports;
2) unloading supplies at Tripoli and transporting them to El Alamein by road is wasteful, since a sizeable amount of them (assumed as 1/4 for my calculations below) has be fuel burned by shuttle trucks;

I assume the Tripoli value means 'all supplies bound to Tripoli are transfered to coastal shipping'. This means Tripoli handles 40,000t monthly (unload 20,000t arriving from Italy, load them again) and the remaining receiving capability is unused.

In the same page Montanary says that "during the last 15 days" (I confess I don't understand which ones...) at Tobruk 1,250t daily were unloaded plus 140t loaded, total of 1,410t handled.

So the list has to be amended:

Bengasi = 45,000t (1,500t/day)
Tobruk = 42,000t (1,400t/day)
Marsa Matruh = 12,000t (400t/day)
Derna + Ras Ilal + Sollum + Bardia = 13,000t (about 100t/day each port)
Total: 112,000t excluding Tripoli

About Tripoli alone, the largest number I saw about its capability comes from a reunion on 13 Jul 41 between Roatta and other bosses where it was planned to unload to Tripoli 3.500t/day (105,000t/months, 175% the USMM value) "on the basis of what experienced until today" (Lucio Ceva, 'La condotta italiana della guerra', page 167). However at the time Bengasi was working at slow rate and the other ports not at all, so it is likely most of unloading assets (manpower, cranes, boats, crafts) available in North Africa were at the time concentrated at Tripoli, and later sent to other destination.

I assume the normal capability of Tripoli lies somewhere between the two historical values of 60,000t and 105,000t. Let's say 90,000t (closest to Roatta estimate, 150% of conservative USMM estimate). I am not using teh full Roatta's figure both for the reasons stated above and because some supplies were needed by Tripoli itself: my 90,000t are all dedicated to Rommel.

Montanari says at pages 548-549 that 75,000t per month were the planned (in March) "indispensable quantity to guarantee the supply of Italian and German troops", to be transported onboard 22-24 ships, each carrying an average of 3,100-3,400t each.

It is possible (the passage is unclear) such value does not include the fuel (30,000t per month as per page 550). If so, grand total is 105,000t per month (comparable to the initial 100,000t above); if not, then the Axis troops received a +33% increase from March to August.

About fuel, at page 548 it is said that consumptions were 1,000t/day 'during the most intense activity' and 600t/day (hence 18,000t/month) normally.

To know what really arrived, source is USMM 'Dati statistici'. Montanari has a table at page 548 but his values are a bit weird. Data is: tons of fuel + tons of other loads = tons total

Jan 42: 22,842 + 43,328 = 66,170
Feb 42: 24,458 + 34,507 = 58,965
Mar 42: 15,105 + 32,483 = 47,588
Apr 42: 48,031 + 102,358 = 150,389
May 42: 18,581 + 67,858 = 86,439
Jun 42: 5,568 + 26,759 = 32,327
Jul 42: 23,901 + 67,590 = 91,491
Aug 42: 22,500 + 29,155 = 51,655
Sep 42: 31,061 + 46,465 = 77,526

Observations: During both January and February Malta was considered dangerous, and during both June and August large Allied operations disrupted normal traffic, so these four months are not representative. Average of remaining values (April being IMHO a statistical quirk, since large convoys arrived both in the early and last days of the month) is 27,336t + 63,351t = 90,687t, very similar to July values.

Since these values differs from Montanari ones, I presume he listed the expected supplies instead of the actual ones.

We have seen 112,000t can be handled in ports from Benghasi eastward plus at least 60,000 at Tripoli. About the latter, a part is to be loaded onboard coastal shipping (to be unloaded again as part of the 112,000t above) and another part is to be delivered by road (very inefficient).

Assuming coastal traffic can be increased from the extant 20,000t/month to 25,000t/month (so as to neatly fit into the receiving capacity of the five smaller eastern harbors) and assuming it all comes from Tripoli [#1], the latter port:

- receives 65,000t from Italy and unload them on wharfs
- load 25,000t on coastal boats (total 90,000t handled)

The remaining 40,000t are carried by trucks, but 1/4 of it is fuel burned by trucks themselves, so only 30,000t reach Rommel.

This means the summer 1942 maximum theoretical supply to Rommel is 112,000t by sea + 30,000t by truck = 142,000t. This value is 157% of the historical average value (90,687t).

Bottom line: I don't know what to say! An increase of +57% is nor fish nor meat, too large not to have some effect, too small to automatically guarantee the Nile.

[#1] In truth, I am sure this assumption is false since Italian MZs and German MFPs shuttled supplies from Tobruk to the small eastern ports. However such assumption eases calculations.

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Re: How important was Malta?

Post by Bronsky » 10 Mar 2008 17:40

First, thank you for posting the link to this thread in the other one as I find that the server had unsubscribed me.
Davide Pastore wrote:According to Montanari, 'Le Operazioni in Africa Settentrionale' (Vol. 3, page 514) at the beginning of El Alamein campaign (about August) Rommel needs 100,000t of supplies monthly. He then adds 20,000t of supplies "to be unloaded from larger ships and loaded on smaller coastal boats" to obtain a total of 120,000t of supplies unloaded monthly.
Ok, I assume that this means 100k unloaded in proper ports, and an additional 20k unloaded by barges, lighters etc in very small ports or even over the beach.
Davide Pastore wrote:Tripoli = 20,000t
Bengasi = 45,000t (1,500t/day)
Tobruk = 30,000t (1,000t/day)
Marsa Matruh = 12,000t (400t/day)
Derna + Ras Ilal + Sollum + Bardia = 13,000t (about 100t/day each port)
We agree that in this example the 20k tons for Tripoli are only the amount that is being transshipped and then sent to Rommel, thus taking up 40k tons of port capacity, the rest going for the needs of the Italian population, Regia Marina base installations etc.

According to Alessandro G. (Haydn), quoting both the official history and a couple of articles about the ports of Libya in Storia Militare (1998) Derna could handle 500 tons on top of whatever tiny amounts the other ports could provide. Dernia was the DAK's own port, though note it is further from the front than Tobruk. I don't own Montanari but I do now have the Storia Militare articles so I'll look them up when I have a little more time.
Davide Pastore wrote:2) unloading supplies at Tripoli and transporting them to El Alamein by road is wasteful, since a sizeable amount of them (assumed as 1/4 for my calculations below) has be fuel burned by shuttle trucks;
I think you are being very optimistic if you assume that truck supply will be able to go all the way from Tripoli to El Alamein, and it would definitely consume more than 1/4 of the load by my rough estimate. Say the average truck burns 130l for 350km, total distance is over 1,400km so 1,024l for a round trip, call it at least 1,200l and then add spare parts, spare tyres, food and water for the drivers etc. Over 50% of the load is being consumed and I'm not even accounting for breakdowns.

As far as I know, no-one even attempted an overland LOC between Tripoli and El Alamein. When the Axis was at El Alamein and the Regia Marina unloaded in Tripoli, Rommel mostly didn't receive anything.
Davide Pastore wrote:In the same page Montanary says that "during the last 15 days" (I confess I don't understand which ones...) at Tobruk 1,250t daily were unloaded plus 140t loaded, total of 1,410t handled.
In early August, 2,200 tons were being manhandled in Tobruk, with 1,900 as an average (Sadkovich quoting Coccia and the Verbali)
Davide Pastore wrote:About Tripoli alone, the largest number I saw about its capability comes from a reunion on 13 Jul 41 between Roatta and other bosses where it was planned to unload to Tripoli 3.500t/day (105,000t/months, 175% the USMM value) "on the basis of what experienced until today" (Lucio Ceva, 'La condotta italiana della guerra', page 167). However at the time Bengasi was working at slow rate and the other ports not at all, so it is likely most of unloading assets (manpower, cranes, boats, crafts) available in North Africa were at the time concentrated at Tripoli, and later sent to other destination.
There is that, though the amount of port equipment in North Africa was not a fixed asset. In 1942 the Italians moved additional cranes stripped from Italian ports to Benghazi and could likely have moved more. The Germans could have stripped some from various ports that they were occupying and not using (from Amsterdam to Bordeaux, there was no shortage of those) if it had come to that. Even without going into counterfactuals it is a fact that total port capacity was greater in 1942 than it had been the year before.
Davide Pastore wrote:Montanari says at pages 548-549 that 75,000t per month were the planned (in March) "indispensable quantity to guarantee the supply of Italian and German troops", to be transported onboard 22-24 ships, each carrying an average of 3,100-3,400t each.
The monthly average received between March '41 and November '42 is about 70,000 tons so they would be 30% under the minimum necessary for that long a time? Either the minimum necessary was too conservative a figure or 70-75k tons was a good ballpark figure but it included fuel.
Davide Pastore wrote:Since these values differs from Montanari ones, I presume he listed the expected supplies instead of the actual ones.
Note that looking at tonnage sent doesn't appreciably change the picture, and for some time in January and February the problem seems to have been not only Malta but lack of cargoes to ship.

That being said, the "too dangerous" periods is exactly my point regarding the actual role of Malta. Consider a body of troops advancing in the open. A machine-gun opens fire, kills and wounds a few soldiers, the rest go to ground. From now on, that single machine-gun is preventing normal movement across that field. Troops can only be sent in mass, or with smoke screens, or by another route, so the total effect of the MG is out of proportion to just the casualties it actually inflicts.

Ditto Malta, IMO.
Davide Pastore wrote:This means the summer 1942 maximum theoretical supply to Rommel is 112,000t by sea + 30,000t by truck = 142,000t. This value is 157% of the historical average value (90,687t).
This is actually more than that because the historical average value includes shipments that never reached Rommel but were used for Italian civilians, Regia Marina base troops and other Tripoli-based consumers. I've never found a reliable breakdown of what was unloaded where. I've been able to reconstitute a little of it using the convoy information from Coccia that you sent me, but it's hugely time-consuming and at any rate the greater the number of convoys the more unreliable the whole exercize becomes. :|

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