The Desert War – January 1942

well_chuffed, Going Postal
September 1942 Brewing Up at Point 189
Previously unpublished photo courtesy of DJM’s uncle David, © 2021

The start of 1942 saw the British starting off on the front foot but ending the month retreating eastwards as the Germans and Italians advanced and as usual there was lots of action on the water of the Mediterranean.

Now if we look back at the first push the Empire made against the Italians it was thundering across Libya and taking Tripoli looked to be well within its grasp. Churchill’s bigger picture told him that we needed to help Greece and so he withdrew the best of our forces from North Africa to reinforce the Greeks. End result, we lost lots of equipment in Greece we could ill afford and the push across Libya came to a standstill until the Africa Korps arrived and pushed us back. If only we had carried on to take all of Libya, things would have been so much different. The Germans could have landed in Tunisia then under Vichy French control but it would have been a completely different battle then, one we might have managed better.

The objective for Operation Crusader was to relieve Tobruk and hopefully destroy the Axis amour. Well we relieved Tobruk but didn’t destroy all their armour with the result that Rommel counter attacked and we had to go backwards again eventually losing Tobruk to the Axis.

On the 1st the new Curtis P-40, or Kittyhawk, fighters saw action for the first time in Africa. 3 Squadron RAAF attacked 16 Stukas and their six 109 escorts. The Aussies shot down 4 Stukas and one 109. On the 2nd 7,000 Axis troops surrendered to the South African and New Zealand troops at Bardia including General Artur Schmitt, the first German General captured in WW2. U-77 attacked destroyer HMS Kimberley near Tobruk. Kimberley’s stern was blown off and HMS Heythrop towed her to Alexandria. On the 3rd 5 freighters and one tanker left Messina, Brindisi and Taranto to build convoy M34. They were carrying 1,200 troops, 54 tanks, 1,000 tons of ammunition and 5,300 tons of fuel to Tripoli. The escort was 4 battleships, 5 cruisers, 19 destroyers and 5 torpedo boats.

On the 4th Blenheims from Malta bombed the air base at Castelvetrano and destroyed 35 Axis bombers and transport planes on the ground. With the number of Axis air raids on Malta it was becoming difficult for the RAF to fight back. On the 5th convoy M34 arrived at Tripoli with supplies Rommel desperately needed. Submarine HMS Upholder sank Italian submarine Admiral Saint-Bon, carrying 150 tons of supplies, near Messina. Submarine HMS Proteus sank Italian troop ship Citta di Palermo near Patras in Greece, many of the 600 aboard perished. On the 6th British aircraft sank Italian freighter Perla near Pantellaria. German troops successfully evacuated Agedabia in Libya.

On the 9th U-568 was attacked by a Sunderland north of Mersa Matruh suffering some damage. On the 10th destroyer HMS Legion and a Dutch destroyer attacked U-374 causing damage but the U-boat escaped. The damage meant the U-374 could no longer submerge. Rommel wrote to his wife with an optimistic prediction of victory. On the 11th U-577 was damaged by depth charges dropped by a Swordfish near Tobruk. On the 12th U-374 was sunk by HMS Unbeaten. On the 15th another Swordfish sank U-577 with depth charges north of Sollum, all 43 crew were killed. Destroyer HMS Hesperus rammed U-93 west of Gibraltar, the Germans then abandoned their submarine and HMS Hesperus went to Gibraltar for repairs. On the 17th Destroyer HMS Gurkha was sunk by U-133 off Sollum, luckily only 9 were killed and 240 survived. HMS Gurkha had been paid for by all officers and men of the Gurkha Brigade after the previous one was lost in 1940. 5,000 Axis troops at Halfaya Pass surrendered to the South Africans. HMS Gurka had been escorting one of three small convoys that made it through to Malta with desperately needed supplies meanwhile two bigger Italian convoys made it to Tripoli.

On the 18th anti-submarine trawler HMS Erin and minesweeper HMS Honjo were destroyed by a mysterious explosion in Gibraltar. Spanish saboteurs or Italian frogmen were suspected though there is no record of it being frogmen. On the 21st Rommel began his counter attack from El Agheile. The following day Axis forces captured Antelat in Libya. The 3rd Battalion of the San Marco Naval Infantry Regiment arrived in Agedabia. Italian convoy T18 with 5 transport ships and 20 escort ships left Messina and Taranto. It was attacked on the 23rd by a British Albacore torpedo bomber and one transport was sunk.

On the 25th submarine HMS Ultimatum sank Italian passenger ship Dalmatia near Messina and German troops captured Msus in Libya acquiring 30 Valentine tanks. On the 27th Rommel sent a small force of tanks from Msus towards Mechili hoping to draw out the British 1st Armoured Brigade while most of his forces headed for Benghazi. On  the 28th Indian forces destroyed port facilities at Benghazi as the Germans got closer. On the 29th 50 German tanks pushed the Indian 4th Infantry Division out of their positions at Benghazi capturing British vehicles and supplies. On the 30th Rommel was promoted to Generaloberst, or Colonel General equivalent to a full General in the UK, and the British 1st Armoured Division in Libya withdrew towards Gazala.

And in other news …. on the 1st the US banned the sale of new cars and trucks to conserve steel and General Ernst Udet, head of the Lutfwaffe’s Production committed suicide, on the 2nd James Doolittle was promoted to Lt Colonel, he was to lead the Doolittle raid over Japan in April,  on the 5th four PoWs escaped Colditz by dressing up as German guards, one of them was Airey Neave, later an MP and murdered by the scum IRA in 1979, on the 7th a US sub sank a Jap vessel for the first time, on the 10th Cap’n Topp of the Tirpitz declared his ship to be fully operational, in the evening of the 11th German coastal guns in France targeted Dover causing minor damage, on the 12th the British sugar and fat rations were reduced to 8oz per person per week, on the 14th the Tirpitz left Wilhelmshaven for Trondheim escorted by four destroyers, on the 15th Bletchley Park were on the lookout for people and had a competition to find clever clogs who could do the Telegraph crossword in under 12 minutes, on the 16th the Tirpitz arrived at Trondheim, on the 20th came the infamous Wannsee conference where the good and great of Nazi Germany discussed the Final Solution, on the 23rd Hungarian troops massacred 2,463 Serbs for being partizans and 700 Jews for being Jews, on the 26th Heinrich Himmler announced his plan to send 100,000 Jewish men and 50,000 Jewish women to concentration camps where they would be used as forced labourers, on the 27th Eamon de Valera, the teasock in Dublin, protested the arrival of US troops in Ulster the day before, on the 29th Himmler issued a directive that established the SS Special Commando Dirlewanger, this unit recruited personnel from concentration camps and hardened criminals and would become notorious for crimes against civilians and on the 30th Adolf himself spoke in the Berlin Sports Palace where he threatened the Jews of the world with annihilation.

Although it is true, as David Irving insists, there is no written order from Hitler to murder the Jews, just the circumstantial evidence in the above paragraph must indicate pretty strongly that he knew and approved. Taken alongside Goebbels’ diary entry of the 13th December 1941 , they were all up to their slimy necks in it.


© well_chuffed 2022