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The Fall of Malta Decisive or not

Discussion in 'What If - Mediterranean & North Africa' started by StudentofWar, May 15, 2009.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    For those opposed to the idea of Axis attack on Malta seem to faver two themes, One; Any attack on Malta would be difficult and costly, Two; Controlling Malta would not aid Rommel at El Alamain. With respect I feel both arguments have flaws.

    If level of difficulty and cost were the final arbiter of whether a battle was fought or not then the history of WWII would be very much differently written. The American troops off Omaha Beach would have stayed on board their ships playing mumblypeg, Allied bomber crews would be down at the pub having a pint rather than fighting there way to Germany, and vitually none of the Pacific island invasions would have taken place.

    We also seem to think there was only one battle fought in North Africa, the 2nd Battle of El Alamain. There were a whole series of battles fought prior to Montgomery's masterstroke. Points at which the 8th Army was nearly destroyed well away from their own supply base. We forget that British offensives sputtered out for the same reason that Germany's did, too long a supply line, and at these moments the British troops were just as vunerable as Rommel was at El Alamain.

    T.A. and others are right to point out that supplies lost at sea were not the only problem for Rommel or even his greatest challenge. Still any supplies that get through that would otherwise be sitting at the bottom of the Med is a net plus no matter how you look at it. The figure of 15% is mentioned above as the lost rate, so lets accept that as our base figure. What does that mean in actual numbers, How many tanks, trucks, rounds of ammunition, how many gallons of fuel?

    Rommel acomplished a great deal with limited resouces, can we say with absolute conviction that even a dozen shiploads of supplies available at a critical moment in battle might not spell the difference between destroying the 8th Army well away from its supply base, or allowing to escape?

    Axis air and sea units operating from Malta would make Allied efforts to interdict supply convoys more difficult and costly to Allied cause. Thus fulfilling Hitler's objective of keeping the British busy while he pursued his other objectives.

    The argument is made is made the even if Rommel did capture Cairo and Alexandria so what, just more useless land to defend. The point being that the Allies would have to recapture the lost territory before they push Rommel out of Africa. All this takes time and material. The Allies have plenty of material, but time works in Germany's favor. The longer it takes to clear Africa and then resecure Malta then the later it will be for an attack on Italy proper. Which I believe was Hitler's intent all along.
     
  2. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Malta was considered indefensible in 1940 and would have probably fallen to a determined push. Let's not forget that the island had close ties to Italy and before the bombing campaign the population may well have welcomed the Italians as liberators.
    Neither side really had the logistic capability for the campaign, tha British suffered badly when they went beyond the Alexandria Tobruk raiiline in 1941 and 1942 and the DAK managed to outrun it's opponents during the El almein retreat because it was retreating along it's supply lines using up the depots as it passed through while the pursuers had to be supplied by road. The British had not developed a significant air supply capability at the time as all large plane production was taken by bomber command.
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    ULTRA and Malta.

    As TOS writes ULTRA had a tremendous impact on tageting Axis convoys. What is less well known is that ULTRA decryps would not be used if there was any chance that using them would compromise the ULTRA secret. To give the Axis the impression that the convoy was found in the old fashioned way a reccon mission would be sent out to 'find' the enermy convoy, and be seen doing it. Most of these 'reccon missions' were based out of Malta.

    Before anyone claims that the convoys would have been attacked, even at the risk of ULTRA, I respectfully submit the bombing of Coventry for your consideration.
     
  4. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    well,IMHO,the theory that Coventry was not defended,to keep the existence of Ultra secret,is only worthless,sensational .....crap:cool:
     
  5. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    I don't know about Coventry but the practice of sending a single recce plane to overfly fly the Axis naval forces to create the illusion that they had been discoverd by conventional means is a historical fact. There was a considerable controversy in Italy when this was discovered after the war as "HumInt" (read traitors) rather than "SigInt" was suspected before ULTRA became common knowledge.
     
  6. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    there was a story (by Winterbotham) that Churchill knew of an inpending attack on Coventry(the source being Ultra),but decided to do nothing,to preserve the secret of Ultra:the whole story has been debunked as an invention by Winterbotham,to sell his book .:D
     
  7. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    I will defer to you on this point LJAd, it seems I may have been a victim of urban mythology about Coventry, however the fact remains that the Allies would do almost anything to protect the secret of ULTRA, as they should in my book.
     
  8. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Let's look at this from the position of Malta has fallen to the Axis. What is the Allied response?

    British submarines would still be just as able to patrol the Med from Gibralter and Alexandra as they historically did. Malta makes the transits a bit longer and gives the crew one more place to put in for a bit of shore liberty and rest but, on the whole it makes little or no difference.

    So long as the British can identify when a convoy is sailing they can still reconnissance it by air. The only real change is that now the aircraft would have to have longer legs to fly into the area. Again, I don't see that as a major problem or disadvantage. So, the British might use Wellingtons or Mitchells fitted as torpedo bombers instead of Beauforts or Beaufighters. If they added radar to these planes then they could effectively attack at night and the Italian escorts would be useless in protecting the shipping.

    So, Since Malta's primary function was to interdict shipping between Italy and North Africa, I don't see its loss as being strategically crucial. The British can manage substitutes that would work to Malta.
     
  9. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    I have read many of your posts and have found them both informative and insightfull in the past, and no doubt will do so in the future, but I must challenge you on this one.

    Will British subs still be able to attack convoys? Abosolutely! But British subs are subject to the same restictions that German ones are, they must attack at or near the surface and must stay surfaced most of the time. Attacks become more difficult not to mention more hazerdous with Axis ASW assets based at Malta. Nor will they be able to put in at Malta for resupply and repair thus forcing more time spent in transit, and less time on station. All of which reduces combat effectiveness of British subs.

    I am sure Axis merchant and warship crews would find Malta a fine liberty port as much as the English, but that is hardly its only use. It would make an equally fine emergency harbor for damaged transports who could not keep up with the convoy. Tugs could sortie to retreive those merchantmen unable to proceed on their own. Air-Sea assets could deploy from Malta to come to the aid of mariners and aircrew stranded at sea due to enemy action.

    Yes the British could use longer range medium bombers like the Wellingtons to search for convoys. There are however some drawbacks as well. First these aircraft must be drawn from some other duty and you cannot simply have the Beauforts/Beaufighters replace them. The Mitchells would not be available in numbers until late 1942/early 1943. More resources would be needed to maintain the larger aircraft with larger crews. Flights would not simply be longer they would be considerably so, from Tobruck area by a factor of 3-4 times as far, from the Egyptian border 5 times as far, and from Alexandria 7 or 8 times as far. Navigation errors plus variable weather conditions as well as crew/aircraft fatuige would lead to a higher rate of failure to intercept.

    These bombers would be vunerable to fighter intercepts based from Malta as well as Sicily and Africa. They could fly at night, but then the Axis could deploy nightfighters to counter. They could attack at night but I question how effectively. Stiking a moving target in clear daylight conditions is no easy task in itself. Nor could they attack in large numbers at night as the risk of collision in the air and hitting the sea would be severe. I am unaware of many successfull night torpedoe attacks on moving targets. Air-defence by Italian ships would certainly be degraded, but hardly useless. A fairly large number of both German and English nighttime high altitude bombers were downed by surface flak, so a low altitude close aproach to launch a torpedoe would be no cake walk. In any event Axis convoys could sail from Itay to Malta, then Malta to Tripoli minimizing the time spent at sea during night hours, with most if not all time under air protection as well as surface escorts.

    Why must every idea be a superb strategic masterstroke the will end the war in decisive victory? Is there no merit to the idea of doing something simply because it will make an enemy's job more difficult and yours a little easier? The Allies certainly thought so, carrier raids on outlying Japanese outposts, the Doolittle raid, commando raids in Europe and Africa, Single plane raids by Night Witches of Russia. None of these were 'stategic' or 'decisive' but they had merit none the less.

    You have written, forcefully I might note, on this thread and others that Axis victory in Africa was impossible and a foolish waste of resouces. That may be true, but what is the alternative? Surrender Africa without a fight? How do you do this? Force Italy to withdraw from their empire or simply refuse to aid them and watch them be crushed in a absurdly easy victory for England?

    For allies, the German Italian relationship was never very good to begin with, this would hardly help the matter. What do you gain, a "Torch" landing in Sicily in late 1942 rather than north west Africa. Considering how easily Italy folded when the homeland was invaded a Italian surrender 6 months to a year sooner hardly seems to help

    For once Hitler may have been right in thinking that it was better to keep England busy as far away as possible from the heart of his empire for as long as he could. You do not enter every battle in the sure knowledge of victory, but with the thought that the battle may give you time and space to find victory on another battlefield.

    best reguards,

    Belasar
     
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  10. Wiley Hyena

    Wiley Hyena Member

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    I agree with this response. Sometimes microanalysis can ferret out an answer or defeat a theory, but sometimes microanalysis just bogs you down..much like an army. A macroanalysis of the issue however leads to a great lift in Italian morale once Malta is conquered. This would further animate the whole theatre from the Axis' perspective. Perhaps it would even convince Hitler to devote a greater part of Germany's war machine to the theatre for the purpose of capturing Egypt and the Suez Canal. The strategical advantage of Suez to the Axis would have been enormous because the British would have had to pull her eastern med warships out through the Suez, or risk losing them to Axis bombing or as a result of lack of supply. And again, that would come with another reanimation of the theatre from the perspective of the Axis war effort and balkan/Turkish-pro axis politics. Now what started at Malta snowballs into convincing nuetrals to join the axis. Even Spain might have been brought over leading naturally to the fall of Gibralter. At that point the Axis have a war winner going down in North Africa. But even assuming Gibralter remained in British hands, the fall of suez could have provided many opportunities for the Axis to turn the operation into a threat on Russia's southern sector, with or without Turkish help.
     
  11. drogon

    drogon Member

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    I might disagree with some of you here.

    Fall of Malta: Totally achievable, preferably in 1941.
    Provided the Regia Marina did what they had to.

    Results:
    . First and most important: Spain (most certainly as Franco would have respected his agreement passed at Hendaye) would have entered the war and Gibraltar would have been capture.
    . With Gibraltar and Malta both in axis hands: No more cape convoys and of course no more Mediterranean convoys, except if the RN wished to have most of its ships sunk
    . No more axis convoys for the Afrikakorps sunk and thus Rommel would have won the desert campaign especially since no more convoys would reach the British troops

    all this making possible:
    . The junction of axis forces in the Caucasus
    . More important: No more oil for either the USSR or the British, at least in this part of the world
    . Also, with Egypt and the Middle East in axis hand, I can't see the British able to easily send supplies to India and thus I am not sure India would have resisted during the Japanese campaign in Burma
     
  12. Artem

    Artem Member

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    I think once again it can be agreed that Malta as most things in North Africa proves the pattern... It meant nothing for the Axis but a lot for the Allies.

    Frankly I have to agree with the supply issue. Even though that little more oil/supplies would have helped Rommel, I'm pretty sure that the extra transport capacity would have made the greater difference (which was the serious issue).

    The British loss of Malta... Well I can't accept the argument that it wouldn't have meant much. If it didn't then it would not have been used or fortified so much in '42. RN would have had to stretch a tiny bit more during a time when GB wasn't exactly all that high in morale.

    As in overall strategy... if Rommel could push on he would have captured important strategic locations going eastwards. Forcing RN into a one way entrance to the med, some nice propaganda, middle east and so on. Again not that important for the Axis but critical for the allies.
     
  13. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    It boils down to this. If the Axis took Malta it would have made it more difficult for the Allies to interdict Axis shipping from Italy to North Africa. But, lower loss of shipping and a somewhat larger delivery of supplies in itself would not be decisive.

    For the Axis the problem was lack of land transportation to move those supplies from the port of their arrival to the front. Bengazi was marginal as a port due primarily to damage. By the time the Axis took Tobruk it was useless as a port being clogged with wreckage and sunken ships.
    Without closer ports to the front everything is being shipped by truck forward as much as 1000+ miles along a single road. That is the logistical issue that needs addressing for the Axis, not shipping by sea. It is also the one that they Axis cannot address.
    So, in the grand scheme of things Malta makes a difference but not the critical difference.
     
  14. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    I can conceed that Axis control of Malta would not bring Germany decisive victory in the war, or even in the Med. In my opinion the best case outcome for the Axis would be for enough equipment/supplies gets thru to allow the DAK/Italian forces to shatter the 8th Army in one of the early battles around Bengazi/Tobruck, then race into Egypt before the British can set up an effective defence.

    Admittedly a very small chance, but about as likely as Germany's plan for Russia 1941 working as intended. It might extend the North African campaign by 6 moths to a year. Which is about as much as the Axis could hope for.
     
  15. Wiley Hyena

    Wiley Hyena Member

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    I appreciate this counter argument as to logistics. It certainly makes the Malta question interesting to consider. But, I think its reasonable for one to consider that any difference might have been critical with regard to Rommel in North Africa.
     
  16. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    If you look at this historically, Rommel lost 16.3% of all supplies and just 8% of replacements and military equipment that was sent to him due to shipping losses enroute. Yet, at the Alamein position his army was starved for supplies. This was because they were being used up moving what arrived forward. When roughly 80% of your gasoline is used for moving supplies and the other 20% to the front line you have a definite problem.
    I don't think that increasing the supplies sent by say, 20% is going to change that situation dramatically.

    There were two periods where the British really put a dent in supplies shipped. Both coincide with their major offensives. The first was from 7/41 to 12/41 where the Axis was losing 26.8% of what was shipped. The second coincides with Alamein from 7/42 to 12/42 where 35.5% of shipments failed to arrive.

    But, overall, the Germans were receiving the bulk of what was sent. The problem lay with what happened once the material was ashore in North Africa. Trucking it a thousand plus miles was literally eating up everything before it got to the front.
     
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  17. Wiley Hyena

    Wiley Hyena Member

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    But, easing you away from a reasonable debate on supply, how would you consider German control of Egypt and Suez? Would you agree that RN would then be confined to the Gibralter straits as a means of asserting itself in the Med?
     
  18. drogon

    drogon Member

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    I would like to know where these supply figures come from please?
    The ones I found are far more critical at the worst time possible, especially during the second push of the AK prior to El Alamein and the culprit was Malta with its planes and warships. (from Rommel himself)

    Also: I want to absolutely point out that, with Malta taken: The Allies wouldn't have any means to cut the supply line of the Italian and German forces anymore.
    In addition, Gibraltar would have been gone.......as simply as that as Franco would have respected his Hendaye agreement.

    So, what would the RN do without Gibraltar and with Alexandria under fire?
    Also, with the Cape route cut, what about South Africa and India? Send the convoys for Egypt through the Pacific??

    For the ones who believe this wouldn't have been decisive (at least for the Mediterranean front):
    What would the 8th army had done, with the cape supply route cut???


    Seems to me: Too many here focus too much on one aspect only (supplies, 8th Army, Afrikakorps and so on) and forget the political and geostrategic issues at play.

    Malta out of the way:
    . Spain enters the war alongside the axis (Hendaye agreement) = Loss of Gibraltar
    -> hence loss of the traditional Cape route
    -> 8th army cut of supplies for at least a few months as none of its two supply routes are practicable
    and then a whole lot of possibilities open for the axis
     
  19. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    There is no proof that Spain would have joined the Axis,and,if it did,it would have meaned another burden for Germany .
    Gibraltar and Malta both in axis hands =no more cape convoys ????
    junction of axis forces in the caucasus:totally impossible
    the oil of the middle east:irrelevant for britain
    the Germans never captured the oil of the caucasus,which,btw,was not indespensable for the SU
     
  20. drogon

    drogon Member

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    Spain not joining Germany? At Hendaye Franco was reluctant but with the British evicted from the Mediterranean he could no longer say no to Hitler, and in such a case Gibraltar was a goner.

    Gibraltar in axis hands: I hardly see the cape convoys continuing easily or the RN would have to devote huge ressources to protect them and it would have meant a big detour through the Southern Atlantic.

    Junction of axis forces in the Caucasus: Impossible maybe, I hardly see the British halting the AK if the 8th army was cut from its supplies for at least a few months

    Oil in the middle east: Yes of course Britain could have managed without them but with the middle east in the hands of the axis then India would have been under a major threat

    The loss of Baku oil fields would have crippled quite a bit the USSR -> Baku oil fields were among the major oil producing areas in the world at the time.
    Otherwise, the Germans would never have tried to capture them to the point of losing their elite 6th army at Stalingrad. This said, it is true that the USSR oil production fell sharply between 1940 to 1945 and the allies became a major oil supply source.
     

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