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Operation Herkules: The Axis Invasion of Malta. New book available on Amazon.com in the Kindle store

Discussion in '☆☆ New Recruits ☆☆' started by Scott Ward, Dec 31, 2011.

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  1. Scott Ward

    Scott Ward Member

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    Do we have a Malta thread open? With Malta in Axis hands Would Rommel have gotten the men, supplies, weapons and especially fuel he needed to break through British defenses at El Alamein?
    Could he have taken Cairo, the Nile River Delta and the northern terminus of the Suez Canal? With what long term consequences?
     
  2. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    With Malta in Axis hands,Rommel would NOT have gotten the men,supplies weapons and fuel needed to break through British defenses at Alamein,because these(men,etc) were at Tripoli,and the problem was to move them to the front .
    Thus,he could not have taken Cairo,etc
    Btw :why could he defeat the British at Alamein,with more men,etc ? A possible German victory did not depend on how strong the Germans were,but also on how strong the British were,and the gap between both was enormous .
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Actually there is a great deal on Malta here, type in Malta or Southern option/strategy or even North Africa into the search engine (top right of page) and it will bring up all relevent threads. Happy reading, and feel free to chime in (but if you have any body armor you might want to strap it on as it could be a buppy ride :) )
     
  4. Marmat

    Marmat Member

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    ... the likes of Correlli Barnett & Martin van Creveld for example state that the strategic importance of Malta was overblown, that Rommel’s problems were unavoidable (von Thoma, despatched to the desert in Oct. 1940 stated that a max. of 4 motorized type Div. could be supplied in the area on a move to the Nile – without the Italians) as he moved east, and were more related to his extended position, and the inadequacies associated with the Italians themselves, the North African ports in general, communications, and it was more costly to the RN and merchant marine than it was worth. Apparently if you do a final accounting, you'll find that overall, Malta was actually costlier to the British than to the Axis.

    When the front was further to the West, the Cyrenaica airfields could operate far more aircraft than Malta could, Gib. was a far more effective base for the RN. Malta as an airbase had worth for supply interdiction only when the hump of Cyrenaica was lost, and even then it was limited. Surface forces were likewise limited to the ability to keep Malta itself sufficiently supplied, but in any case, Force K, the only striking force of consequence based on Malta, gutted itself in a minefield towards the end of 1941 and was not replaced – despite some spectacular successes, surface forces only accounted for something like 5-6% of Italian merchant losses anyway.

    Malta was a nice to have for sub ops., i.e. the 10th Flotilla and their small U class, placing them closer to the Italian supply sealanes further west, but not crucial either. As the front moved further east, the air and sea resources of Alexandria came into play. What's seldom mentioned is that for several months in the spring/summer of 1942, there were either no subs operating out of Malta, or those there lacked sufficient supplies.
    In mid-1942, Malta had in effect been neutralized. The RN’s 10th Sub Flotilla left their Lazaretto base in April, after it was ruined by the Luftwaffe. Five subs sailed to Alex., one was lost enroute, when they operated with the 3rd Flotilla for a time, but it was out of Haifa, Beirut, and Port Said, Harwood partially evacuated Alex. A reduced 10th returned to Malta in dribbles in Aug., but fuel and supplies were so short they were almost required to leave again, in any case they were severely restricted in the short term. Likewise with the RAF, the fuel supply was down to mere days, glycol even less than that – both the RN and RAF would be very much resurgent by the end of the year however. Yet you know what Rommel’s supply situ. was like during the mid-1942/pre- El Alamein period. Why?

    The reason was that Rommel insisted that convoys be run direct to Tobruk, instead of Tripoli and Benghazi, which while the Italians could ship here relatively unscathed at this time, they had been left so far behind that regardless how much was shipped, supplies carried to Tripoli and Benghazi either sat on the piers, or took weeks to get to the front with the hugely inadequate motor transport. But Tobruk could only handle 1/5th the volume Rommel needed anyway, plus was so far east that it was unduly exposed to the British, Italian merchant losses increased fourfold, supplies dropped almost 50% from July to August, and Malta had little to do with it all. The Italians abandoned shipping to Tobruk mid-August, they couldn’t afford the loses, nor the extra fuel oil required for the shipping and escort required to go that far, Rommel was screwed, his fuel allotment was only 30% what was required – oh yes, despite the difficulties mentioned, the 10th Flotilla returned to Malta at this time too, for obvious reasons.



    The Italians, already hurting big time by way of merchant shipping, continued to supply via Tripoli and Benghazi, hardly suffering any losses in this period – Malta had been neutralized - but the road transport couldn’t do the job, the losses etc., of hauling from there, all the way to Rommel, in the teeth of the British – no win for Rommel, largely because of geography, although the Italians certainly do slap themselves on the back and say it wasn’t their fault, they delivered all kinds of stuff, to “North Africa”.

    Malta always remained of worth as a recon. base of some renown, and as a relay point for aircraft on their way to Egypt –usually at night. For example, Churchill and Brooke stopped there and took a look around enroute to Egypt - to replace the Auk.

    Could Malta even be taken?


    “Hitler’s closest military advisers, the operations officers of OKW, were anxious that XI Air Corps should be used to capture Malta. When asked to advise whether Crete or Malta was the more important objective in the Med.,“All officers of the section,” General Warlimont recalled, “whether from the army, Navy or Air Force, voted unanimously for the capture of Malta, since this seemed to be the only way to secure permanently the sea route to North Africa.” Keitel and Jodl, their chiefs, accepted their conclusions; but when on 15 April they confronted Student with this opinion he overcame them. He had already decided that Malta was too strongly garrisoned and defended to yield to an airborne assault. Crete on the other hand, with its ‘sausage like form, and single mainroad’, offered an ideal target to his parachutists” – John Keegan

    Regarding the Crete operation Student himself said:

    “ Much of the loss was due to bad landings – there were very few suitable spots in Crete, and the prevailing wind blew from the interior to towards the sea. For fear of dropping troops in the sea, the pilots tended to drop them too far inland – some of them actually in the British lines.
    “No troops came by sea” although they had been intended to “The convoy sailed for Crete, ran into the Fleet” i.e. RN “and was scattered.”


    As far as the British response goes at this critical phase he says “But the New Zealanders made only isolated attacks. I heard later that the British Command expected, besides the airborne venture, the arrival of the main German forces by sea on the coast between Maleme and Canea, and consequently maintained their forces in occupation of the coast.”

    When you consider what had occurred, plus the size and makeup of Malta in light of Student’s comments, it’s no wonder he goes on to say: “The Fuhrer was very upset by the heavy loses suffered by the parachute units, and came to the conclusion that their surprise value had passed. After that he often said tome: ‘The day of parachute troops is over.’ When I got Hitler to accept the Crete plan, I also proposed that we should follow it up by capturing Cyprus from the air, and then a further jump from Cyprus to capture the Suez Canal.” (note, Malta is out of the picture). Student said regarding the later plans, that according to Hitler “He felt that if the British Fleet appeared on scene, all the Italian ships would bolt for their home ports and leave the German airborne forces stranded.”



    That’s the non-airborne component, now for more on the non-seaborne,specifically Malta.


    Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean stretching for 152 miles on its east-west axis and varying in width from 7.5 to 35 miles, Maleme and Heraklion are 100 miles apart. The main island of Malta is nothing like Crete, it’s only 17 miles by 9 miles wide, with only 85 miles of coastline. That coast is almost uniformly inhospitable, being composed of limestone cliffs. Any areas with gentle access to the sea are ports, the west face of the Is. is harbourless and virtually inaccessible. What specialised landing craft did theItalians possess to circumvent Malta’s physical features?


    Maj. Gen. Giacomo Carboni, commander of the crack “Friuli” Div., had been assigned the role of attacking the cliffs of Malta, and in fact was training in the Leghorn area. Carboni was more than pessimistic, he approached Count Ciano who visited him in Leghorn. Ciano wrote in his diary “I had a long and interesting conversation with Carboni, At the moment he is commanding one of the assault divisions which is to participate in the Malta operation. He is decidedly against it. He is convinced that we shall have heavy losses and thatn othing will come of it” … Ciano goes on about Carboni’s anti-German attitude, and that he was the son of an American mother. Later Carboni sought Ciano in Rome, Ciano wrote “General Carboni has come to Rome …He is convinced that we are heading for an unheard of disaster. Preparations have been childish, equipment is lacking and inadequate. The landing troops will never succeed in landing, or, if they land they are doomed to total destruction. All the commanders are convinced of this, but no one dares to speak for fear of reprisals by Cavallero.” Carboni also spoke to the King, and his heir, the Prince of Piedmont, who was also his Army Group C.-in-C. who wrote in his memoirs “The Malta operation, carried out with the inadequate means at our disposal, takes on the appearance of a new folly, the consequences of which will be not only a new loss of military and political prestige to us and an irreparable loss of men, ships, and planes but will also have another effect.” The Prince goes on pointing out that the Germans might seize on Italian weakness “take over command and ravage our country”. Despite Carboni’s usurpation of the chain of command, he wasn’t disciplined, on the contrary Carboni was promoted to command a Corps.


    Despite what Kesselring or Cavallero and the Comando Supremo wanted, the field level commanders of both the sea/land and airborne elements agreed that Malta could not be taken, at least not with the means at hand.


    The Southern or German Med. Alternative was a bust all around.


     
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  5. freebird

    freebird Member

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    The resources needed to attempt an invasion of Malta would perhaps be better spent improving the Libya rail system, had they been more proactive at this (ie, a Tripoli - Tobruk rail line) it might have made a big difference
     
  6. Marmat

    Marmat Member

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    ...in both Cyrenaica, and Egypt. The Italianshad built a light gauge railway running from Benghazi, to Barce to the east,and Soluk to the west. The British likewise had a railway running fromAlexandria to Mersa Matruh, linked to Cairo, Suez etc., which they extended tothe Port of Sollum on the Egypt-Cyrenaica border. The British had capturedlocomotives, rebuilt and utilised the Benghazi line when they'd occupied muchof Cyrenaica post Sidi Barani, the Germans and Italians had likewise rebuiltthe Sollum line in their buildup to El Alamein. Rommel had counted on 1,500tons/day shipped along the Sollum line east, but only got 300 tons/day out ofthat railway. Part of the problem was that the Italian's lacked the equivalentof the RN's Inshore Squadron, that and losses were so great shipping furthereast to Tobruk and Sollum, that they refused to sustain them, and British airattack on transport infrastructure behind the lines themselves.




     
  7. freebird

    freebird Member

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    Indeed there were. That's why I said "improve". ;)
    The difference is that the British system connected directly to the ports (and palestine) while the Libyan system was a collection of isolated branch lines.

    View attachment 15330

    What the Italians really could have used was a fully linked system, allowing direct transport from Tripoli, vastly reducing the need for trucks, and eliminating the need for shipping to Tobruk. It would also allow pooling of locamotives, rolling stock etc,

    Unfortunately for the Axis, this was put on hold with the outbreak of war, and the German rail resources were taxed by operations in the Soviet Union
     

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  8. Scott Ward

    Scott Ward Member

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    So, let's toss a new wrinkle into this. Suppose not only a successful, if reasonably costly Axis invasion of Malta, but also that as a result of the invasion of the island the German's for once tumble to the idea that
    their Enigma codes might be compromised, or even that a spy in Berlin or Rome was betraying them. Once a suspicion of this sort is planted German reliance on Enigma as 'unbreakable' is shaken. Maybe they even test the hypothesis that the code is broken in some fashion that reveals the truth, or at least reinforces the suspicion. Take away the intelligence edge the British enjoyed OTL at this time in the desert, replace it with the Germans able to exercise a bluff via false Enigma traffic, and then what happens? With limited quantities of fuel arriving safely at Tobruk and trucking forward to the front, and an intelligence edge, even of value for only a few weeks, could Rommel have pushed through to Suez?
    These are the two premises of "OPERATION HERKULES". 1) Malta could be taken and if it had been, 2) might something in the British response, or the capture of the British 'Y' Service intercept team members on Malta have tipped the Germans that their signals security was suspect?
     
  9. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    My understanding is that the Germans believed that the British had broken the Italian codes. That was one reason they didn't share as much with the Italians as they might have.
    It hardly begins to make up for the American's realizing that their diplomatic code was brokent.
     
  10. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    What the BP boys may claim,my conviction is that the British intelligence edge was irrelevant for the outcome of the war in NA.
    You can't explain the British successes by Enigma,unless you have an explanation for the Geman successes,and,it would be unwise to say that the German successes were made possble,because Enigma failed .
     
  11. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Ace

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    Welcome aboard! Heh. This is always a fun can o' wurmz to toss in the middle of the ring. My personal opinion is that if Malta had been German, then a lot more of the supply ships would have made it to North Africa. Now, how well those supplies would have made it to Rommel (got nuttin but respect for the man!), is another question, and has been discussed previously here. The thing that makes me think that whether Malta had been German or not would not have made a difference is....Hitler. Doesn't matter much if supplies are safer getting to NA, since Hitler kicked off Barbarossa and wasn't sending much of anything to Rommel anyway. Safer shipping lanes might have loosened his purse-strings a little bit, but I don't think it would have been enough to make much of a difference.
     
  12. Scott Ward

    Scott Ward Member

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    Now consider how the POD might have cascaded. In OTL Churchill flew to Egypt and sacked Auchinleck and Dorman-Smith shortly after 1st El Alamein ended in a draw. Winston's choice to replace him was "Strafer" Gott, over the mis-givings of Alan Brooke. But Gott was killed when the transport plane he was riding back to Cairo in was shot down. How about after Tobruk AND Malta falls the following are also changed as a consequence.
    1) The GERMAN Radio INtercept company 621 is NOT overrun in the desert, and thus Rommel does not lose that edge. Maybe as simple as they got sent to a different location the night before.
    2) The Germans suspect ENIGMA is broken and Rommel tests this by sending Berlin and Rome a FALSE plan of attack.
    3) He waits t attack El Alamein until LATE July, not July 1. WHen Churchill sacks "The Auk", Strafer Gott is not killed. Montgomery does NOT assume command of 8th Army.
    Combined with a higher % of supplies, especially fuel getting through it seems like these factors could give Rommel just enough to break through to Suez. A defensive posture there would be very strong as the Brits would have to either cross Sinai to counter-attack, or effect a landing on the Egyptian Red Sea coast and move north. Now THEY have the logisitics problem.
    Interested to hear what you guys think! I am mapping my outline for the sequel to "OPERATION HERKULES" and appreciate the opinions!
     
  13. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    This may need to move to Alt. History for clarity. Still a interesting what if. Sometimes small quirks can have interesting ramifcations.
     
  14. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    This may need to move to Alt. History for clarity. Still a interesting what if. Sometimes small quirks can have interesting ramifcations.
     
  15. Scott Ward

    Scott Ward Member

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    Yes, great idea. Can anyone guide me on how to move this thread to a more appropriate forum?
    THanks!
    Scott
     

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