The Desert War – March 1942

December 25 1942, Mena
Previously unpublished photo courtesy of DJM’s uncle David, © 2022

We reach March 1942 and again, there is not much happening on the ground. It all seems to have ground to a halt and once more Churchill is not amused. The Royal Navy is still going full blast.

Malta was still taking a pasting, on an island smaller than the Greater London area the Luftwaffe delivered 2,000 tons of bombs in March. This was a 100% increase from February’s figure. During February no convoy had reached Malta. In March only two of the four merchant ships in the convoy made it to the harbour. Both were bombed by the Luftwaffe and only part of one of the ships’ cargo was offloaded.The German bombers were now accompanied by many more fighter escorts and the few available Spitfires were used to attack the fighters while the Few Hurricanes were used to attack the bombers. Both were terribly outnumbered. By the end of this month there were between 20 and 30 serviceable fighter aircraft on Malta to face the over 600 German and Italian warplanes. We have to wait until April to find out what was done to rectify this.

On the 1st submarine HMS Unbeaten sank a French cargo ship carrying phosphates from Sfax in Tunisia to Bizerta at the very north of Tunisia (that country was still under Vichy French control). On the 2nd 16 Wellingtons from Malta attacked Palermo destroying the Puma, an ammunition ship, the explosion damaged 5 warships and 8 freighters in its vicinity. On the 5th submarine HMS Uproar sank Italian freighter Marin Sanudo near Lampedusa, Italian torpedo boats failed to find the Uproar with their depth charges and submarine HMS Torbay sank an Italian merchant ship in Corfu harbour.

On the 7th HMS Eagle sent 15 Spitfires to land on Malta. The 3rd Battalion of the San Marco naval infantry regiment, or Italian Marines, were moved from Antelat to Benghazi to boost the coastal defences. On the 8th Churchill, furious that the Allies were not attacking the stalled Axis advance at the Gazala Line, recalled the British C-in-C Middle East back to London for a dressing down.

On the 11th U-565 sank cruiser HMS Naiad near Sidi Barrani, 82 crew were killed but 582 survived. On the 13th submarine HMS Una sank an Italian fishing boat off the coast of Tunisia. On the 14th Italian submarine Mocenigo sank the Free French vessel Sainte Marcelle just east of Gibraltar and off Calabria submarine HMS Ultimatum sank Italian submarine Millo. At 3pm U-133 left her base at Salamis but at 5pm she hit a mine and sank with all crew killed. On the 17th submarine HMS Unbeaten sank Italian submarine Guglielmotti near Sicily and rescued 12 of the survivors. On the 18th submarine HMS Upholder sank Italian submarine Tricheco near Brindisi, there were only 3 survivors.

On the 20th the Allies attacked Benghazi and Derna hoping to take Axis attention away from a vital convoy heading for Malta. On the 21st carriers HMS Argus and HMS Eagle escorted by a battleship, a cruiser and nine destroyers left Gibraltar bound for Malta. Two Italian submarines tried to attack but failed. Italian submarines Onice and Platino caught sight of convoy MW10  which had left Alexandria while they were off the Libyan coast. The Italians sent one battleship, 3 cruisers and 10 destroyers from Taranto and Messina to intercept this convoy. Submarine HMS P36 saw the Italian response. On the 22nd the Italian force found convoy MW10 but the British escorts kept it at bay. At the end of the day 3 British cruisers and 6 destroyers were damaged while the Italian battleship was damaged. Later two Italian destroyers were sunk by a storm.

On the 23rd German aircraft sank two British transport ships in convoy MW10 but the remaining two reached Malta by midnight. On the 24th German bombers attacked Malta and damaged destroyer HMS Legion but without directly hitting her. On the 26th there was another German air attack, this time they hit HMS Legion and she broke in two. Both halves were towed out to sea and scuttled. British ship Pampas was hit at the dock and sank as well as an empty freighter. Submarine HMS P39 was also at the docks and was badly damaged. On the 28th carriers HMS Argus and Eagle left Gibraltar with battleship HMS Malaya plus other escorts on a mission to deliver another 16 Spitfires to Malta. On the 29th HMS Eagle delivered her 7 Spitfires to Malta.

And in other news …. on the 1st in the US 112,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up and moved to internment camps far away from the coast, on the 3rd the infamous Leon Degrelle, Belgian politician and member of the SS Walloon unit, was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class, on the 5th the Tirpitz and her escort moved out to the Arctic Ocean ready to intercept Allied convoys and in Britain conscription was amended to include men between the ages of 41 and 45, on the 6th in Germany the first conference on the plan to sterilise people of mixed blood was held (socialism via eugenics at work), on the 8th the US Army began constructing the Alaska Canadian Highway, on the 10th the US Marine Corps bought a 132,000 acre ranch near San Diego, this would soon be named Camp Pendleton, on the 15th Adolf predicted victory over the Soviet Union by the summer of 1942 (faulty crystal ball again), General Alexander confessed to US General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell that we only had 4,000 properly equipped fighting men in Burma, on the 18th the first A4 rocket exploded on its stand at Peenemünde during a combustion chamber test, on the 19th censorship in Britain was causing much discussion and Home Secretary Herbert Morrison, Mandelscum’s grandfather, threatened to shut down the Daily Mirror if it continued ignoring the censorship laws (socialists are most enthusiastic about censorship), on the 23rd in another blue on blue incident an American blimp bombed submarine USS Gato near San Francisco, on the 26th 3 destroyers and 16 smaller vessels left Falmouth in the direction of Saint Nazaire, at 11pm on the 27th HMS Campbelltown and some smaller vessels left her escorts behind and sailed towards the dry dock at Saint Nazaire, in the early hours of the 28th despite being fired at by coastal guns, Campbelltown rammed the dock and unleashed the 256 commandos she was carrying to go and smash up the dockyard. 169 were killed and 215 were taken prisoner (the crew of the Campbelltown also left the ship), when the Campbelltown exploded 360 Germans were killed and finally on the 30th 32 Halifax bombers attacked the Tirpitz but had very little impact.

It is amazing that the land war in North Africa was so stop and start. There are periods of several weeks where it is all go in one direction or another and then it goes quiet for weeks if not months. It seems both sides were building up supplies for the next offensive while keeping a bit in reserve just in the case the other side mounted another offensive. As we have already seen, Churchill wanted more aggression from his Generals and was prepared to sack them if they did not live up to his expectations.


© well_chuffed 2022