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German dilemma Crete or Malta

Discussion in 'North Africa and the Mediterranean' started by steverodgers801, Nov 6, 2013.

  1. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    ITs believed that there was no good reason for Germany to take Crete. Rereading a book says that the Germans were concerned that if they left Crete to the allies that the British could use it as a air base to not only hit Ploesti, but to interdict oil supplies going from Romania to Italy. Germany had the problem of too many objectives and not enough resources.
     
  2. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    Invasion of Crete (Operation Merkur) was also considered as last part of Balkan Campaign to be finished. Hitler just felt he couldn't leave a potential British air base so close to mainland Balkans on the eve of Barbarossa. Of course he was actually over estimating any potential strategic air threat towards Ploesti oil fields at that stage of war (even accurate air raids towards Ploesti refinaries failed to knock down those facilities permenantly until 1944) Hitler was so determined not to spread out army prior to Barbarossa and endanger the invasion of Russia to be started on June 1941 he even considered leaving Crete unoccupied and intact. Operation Barbarossa was already delayed almost six weeks due to Balkan Campaign. German parachute commander General Kurt Student deceived him that it could be done with just airborne forces plus Luftwaffe and minimum commitment from army. Of course after the slaughter of German paratroopers at Merkur operation and routing of German seaborne forces heading towards Crete , successful invasion of Crete became actually meaninless , a Pryric victory for Germans. Axis garrison in Crete and Dordonecesse islands were isolated and cut off when Germany was desperate for more manpower at later stages of war (I am talking about 50.000 or more German troops isolated and forced to surrender at Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean region at the end of war ) Even more important invasion of Crete actually saved Malta I think. Severe casaulties suffered by German paratroopers and seaborne infantry during Merkur convinced Hitler "airborne forces are a thing of past"-his quote (meanwhile Allies were training airborne divisions) When Student again seeked permission for invasion of Malta (Operation Hercules) at 1942 spring Hitler flatly refused at first (he actually tore Student that Italian Fleet would run away and once British Fleet arrived German paratroopers would be isolated and destroyed even if they captured Malta. He did not want another Crete rehersal where losses were severe ) then dragged his foot and decided to wait Rommel's successful conquest of Egypt before launching Hercules. When Egypt did not fall and Panzer Armee was stopped , German Italian airborne forces (Italian Folgore Airborne Division and German Ramcke Parachute detachment) reserved for Operation Hercules were sent to stabilize the front at El Alamein due to request of Rommel at July 1942 (he was desperately short of infantry) and Hercules invasion of Malta was permenantly shelved.

    I think Hitler said something like this to Student when he wanted permission and resources to launch Herkules in April 1942. "What do you think will happen once you capture Malta ? Let me tell you what shall happen ! British Navy in Gibraltar will arrive. Royal Navy in Alexandria will do the same. Italian Navy will run away and leave you as they always do. And you will be all your own in Malta with a hand full of your paratroopers then I will see what your vaunted Italian allies were made of !" ( Angriffshohe 4000 - Cajus Bekker) Then he strictly forbade Student to return Rome and ordered him to remain in Berlin. Clearly image of Italians in Hitler's eyes was damaged beyond repair at this stage of war.

    Irony is Folgore Parachute Division was the toughest Italian fighting unit in Italian army and later fought to last bullet in Second Battle of Alamein before forced to surrender en masse at the end of battle on November 1942. Rommel actually requistaned their share of fuel to pull remains of Afrikakorps back intact and deserted them to surrender to British. And German Ramcke Parachute Group alsıo suffered very heavy casaulties at Alamein but managed to escape and retreat orderly at the end of battle.
     
  3. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    The Folgore had very little organic transport (or artillery for that matter) ..... The Germans did grab all available transport once the decision to pull back from El Alamein was made but it was mostly corps and army level assets that were normally used to move supplies forward.
    The decision to execute Hercules (or more properly C3)was mostly indluenced by Rommel, that feared releasing the air assets required after his victory at Tobruk would allow the Allies to reorganize.
    From a ground force perspective the time to attack Malta was 1940, but the naval situation prevented it, the Regia Marina couldn't stand up to the combined strength of the Alexandria based Mediterranean fleet and Gibraltar's force H. It only gained the required naval superiority in early 1942 when frogmen put out of action the Alexandria battleships.
    Crete airfields were critical in providing support for naval operations in the Eastern Med and land operations East of Tobruk, leaving it in Allied hands would have totally changed the strategic situation in the Med even without the British stationing offensive forces there, it's capture allowed to reopen communications with the Dodecannese bases.
     
  4. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Indeed while there were good reasons for the Italians to consider taking Malta in 40 I don't see why the Germans would have felt all that much of a need to. In any case I'm not sure that the Germans could have taken Malta by themselves and even with the Italians it wouldn't have been easy. There are a couple of good threads on this over on the Axis history forum.
     
  5. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    Actualy Kesselring warned Rommel specifically not to march Egypt after Tobruk fallen in June 1942. He emphasized Luftflotte II in Libya and Sicily was worn out , their machines and pilots need a rest and overhaul and airfields were left behind in Cyreneica. There was no logistical undetaking or basic structure to provide air support to Panzer Armee once it entered Egypt. Luftflotte II was also tasked to blockade and bomb Malta , provide air lift for supplies to North Africa plus several Transportverbande air craft was being pulled to Easern Front to suport advance on Caucaus etc. Kesselring said Rommel once he goes after 8th Army to Nile he would be on his own , out of Luftwaffe air cover , close to RAF air bases and shorten Allied logistical route and summarized "it would be madness to attack Egypt with these limited forces under Axis command right now against intact and perfectly supplied enemy airfields." ( Angriffshohe 4000 - Cajus Bekker) Tripoli and Benghazi harbours were quite limited to unload necessary supply quotas to march on Nile and Suez while Alexandria in Egypt was a large sized deep harbour at British hands. He advised Rommel to wait capture of Malta. Rommel did not listen him and lobbied all the way to Hitler to attack Nile right away as soon as possible even without aircover. That shows Rommel was not a military genius as portrayed. Though in 1942 even under severe Axis air attacks and naval blockade Malta garrison and defences were quite strong and reinforced , it would not fall easily. More over Hitler was right Royal Navy H Force in Gibraltar was still intact and most of the RN Mediterranean Fleet in Alexandria was also ready to interfare any Italian naval sortie. (damage to HMS Valiant was repaired in six months and most of British cruisers destroyers in Alexandria were still intact) Most importantly Italian Navy was immobilized due to lack of fuel. In his memoirs Kesselring constantly complained about fuel shortage and its effects on capital ships of Italian Navy.
     
  6. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    I have always put my "trust" in taking Gibraltar instead of Malta. How to do it is another thing as Franco bluntly stopped Hitler from getting through Spain there.But if you got Gibraltar, one major supply route would be cut, and Malta´s position would be much weakened. Germans could also get their subs and ships to the Med, but probably the RN would fight hard for Gibraltar etc.
     
  7. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    There was no way to get to Gibraltor without Spanish assistance. The British were too strong for a sea invasion and since Spain refused to join in with the Germans it left no means to attack.
     
  8. green slime

    green slime Member

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    While the Italian Navy could not in 1940 withstand all the combined RN forces in the Med, is it guaranteed, that the RN would want to risk their assets in the face of potential Italian air superiority over Malta at that stage of the war? Being within easy distance from both Libya and Southern Italy, at a time when Operation Sealion was still a potential threat, how many vessels would the RN be willing to commit and lose to prevent Malta falling?
     
  9. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    It wouldn't just be to defend Malta. The opportunity to inflict significant damage on the Italian fleet would also be a draw. The LW wasn't very effective attacking warships at speed at that point. The Italian air force may even have been better at it in 1940. At least they had a working torpedo.
     
  10. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    Was the Italian air force actually capable of fighting, I believe that most of its planes were older and I don't know how good the pilots are. Considering the quality of command the army and navy had, would the air force be any better. As a joke goes the Italians drink wine, the British rum and the Italians stick to port.
     
  11. green slime

    green slime Member

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    I think you meant "The French drink Wine..."
     
  12. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Actually the Regia Marina was a lot more active in 1940 than in the later years as the fuel stocks dwindled. But it was not until rather late in the year that it reached parity as Doria, Duilio, Littorio and Vittorio Veneto had completed their shakedown, but soon after the Taranto attack reset the balance in British favour. With just Cesare and Cavour really operational facing the RN would be impossible.
    The air force was convinced that high altitude bombing would be effective against moving ships, the experimental torpedo squadron was just that, a squadron, IIRC it had 3 or 4 operational SM 79. Pilot quality was average, but training was totally unrealistic. So without an influx of German aircraft the real threat to the RN was minimal, though the perceived threat may have limited commitment.
     
  13. green slime

    green slime Member

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  14. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    yes I meant French. Even with a full complement of ships the quality of Italian fleet leaders is doubtful, especially in courage.
     
  15. green slime

    green slime Member

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    Incorrect. The Italian Fleet was not lacking in courage. The Italian fleet was under strict RoE, because the Italian Naval Command knew there was no chance of building anything new, therefore, they treated their assets extremely carefully, and hindered the authority of commanders in the field.
     
  16. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    It is the same story with Kriegsmarine surface fleet also. After their initial raiding spree in 1939-41 German Navy gave strict orders to its admirals and captains not to risk vessels (few they were) under their command essentially tying their hands and giving initiative to British. Result :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Barents_Sea
     
  17. rkline56

    rkline56 USS Oklahoma City CG5

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    Seafire Royal Navy fighter restored. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TneYPcyGbbY They probably saw some action in the Med around Malta and Sicily.
     
  18. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Not a Griffon engined variant like that one, the air wing of British carriers during the critical years when the Italian Navy was still a threat was Sea Gladiators, Fulmars, Martets (F4F) and Sea Hurricanes. There was at large scale usage of the Seafire at Salerno but shortly after that most heavy carriers that operated the type left the Med.
     
  19. knightdepaix

    knightdepaix Member

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    The shorelines of the peninsula and islands were more important to defend than winning a battle or two in North Africa as Italy could not compete with GB with the latter's colonies around the globe. Wearing down GB ability to continue the war would be more prudent.
    If so, would Italy develop vessels and machines -- tank destroyers, submarines with torpedoes -- that can economically balance the effectiveness of combat ? Italian industries could use ideas from T-34, German help in Panzer3 and Panzer4, and Czech tank to produce a domestic produced tank destroyer on Italian chasis: Italian versions of stug3, hetzer and stug4 in numbers while better tanks are held in reserve and in development. In sum, Italian military might not defeat the British decisively in battles for offense but won decisively in defense or slow but steady offense -- the idea Germany would have wanted from Italian participation in grinding the GB in the war effort -- to look for an advantageous ceasefire to the hope of linking up Libya with Italian East Africa. Linking up did not necessarily mean taking the whole Egypt. Then thru East African ports, Italian submarine could then communicate and exchange with the Japanese ones in the Indian ocean for intangible assets in intelligence, technology, personnels etc.

    In addition, given even if Malta is Italian early on, Kesselring warning Rommel of not matching into Egypt would still be valid mainly due to logistical problems at insufficient loading ability of ports and roads. So far the above comments were based on info on previous posts on this site. I think the reasons behind why Italian military did not develop economical and effective ways in manufacture and fighting are interesting. Look at Finland, the Germany-Soviet Union eternal combat of decades since around ww1 contributed to chances for Finland to survive but the nation was determined in carrying the continuation war until the SU was progressively winning. In resources management, Finland and Italy seems to complement each other. Finland had timber, mineral resources and metal ores but lacking enough agricultural products whereas Italy was industrialized in the north and agricultural in the south. Therefore, if Italy sent troops to fight the Soviet Union, sending to Finland would actually facilitate the exchange of resources with much less German influence. However both nations lack coal and gas -- Would wood to liquid petrol industry hold similar efficiency to the F-T process ? Both nations were in the middle location of conflicts.

    In an alternative history note, if Germany engaged the GB and Soviet Union, in what way could Italy benefit in that process ? Italian DoW on the GB would not work, from previous discussion. Sending troops to Finland to replace non-specialized German troops to fight elsewhere, as German military influence in Finland already puzzled Finnish leadership ? Helping Romania with Italian naval presence in the Black Sea so German troops could bypass Ukraine when considering south of the Greater Caucasus mountains ? Therefore maybe no the 6th army fiasco in Stalingrad ? Instead of German crossing the mountains, the Red Army and German led troops fought in mountains ?

    Another questions on my own, if an Italian tank destroyer knock some British machines or tanks out of action, could Italian engineer recover some useful parts from leftover when the battle is done. Also, how do you guys search online for an interesting but relatively new topic ?
     
  20. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    The Italians used plenty of captured British equipment in North Africa, 25lb field guns and Matilda tanks were especially prized but I doubt they managed to keep the Matildas in working order for long.

    You will have to develop your own techniques, IMO Google is getting worse and worse, I was just looking for the barrel length of the German sw FH18 howitzer without getting up and looking in a book and had to rephrase the query multiple times before getting a hit, "Sw FH18 gun" seem pretty unambiguous to me and should not turn up pages of products that advertise with Google before giving me what I'm looking for, but it does :mad:, adding "German 15cm" to the search string finally fixed it.
     

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