The Desert War – January 1943

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Previously unpublished photo courtesy of DJM’s uncle David, © 2022

January 1943 saw the Casablanca Conference take place where FDR, Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud (de Gaulle’s #2) would discuss the future of the war though the French were not really involved in the military planning. Stalin was also invited to attend but pleaded off due to Stalingrad whereas we all know he was paranoid about being deposed and would never travel very far, even Tehran was an unexpected exception. It was from Casablanca that the world first heard of the unconditional surrender demand of the Axis powers, an idea mainly pushed by FDR but the others acquiesced. Stalin would not have objected, his worst nightmare was the western powers making peace with a Hitler-less Germany and then all joining in against the Soviet Union.

The Americans were all in favour of a cross-channel invasion of mainland Europe. The British wanted to invade Sicily and then Italy. There was a kind of compromise whereby Sicily was to be invaded followed by Italy but the main effort would be the cross channel landings.  The Allies also agreed to give as much help as possible to Russia. On his way to Casablanca FDR first stopped in Gambia where conditions disgusted him and increased further his detestation of the British Empire. One of the barely suppressed continuing stories of WW2 was the American loathing of the British Empire and it led to some difficult situations. The thing the Americans and British agreed wholeheartedly on was their dislike of General de Gaulle. De Gaulle’s entire war was spent planning how he could take over as President of France at the end of it. They even held up the entry of Allied troops into Paris so he could be at the front of the parade. I think Napoleon’s wars had wiped out the best of the French people and all that was left were the toadys and arse lickers. Much like we are now when WW1 wiped out our cream and WW2 almost finished us off. Wars are the worst possible solution to anything, the strong die, the weak prosper.

As far as working with the Americans went, Churchill was adamant “There is one thing you must never do and that is mislead your allies”. The British and Americans were two people separated by a common language and no more real partners than the Germans and Italians. The British called the Americans “our Italians” and the septics did not like the condescending Limeys who were their old enemy on two separate occasions. Harold Macmillan meantime decided the British had to be the Greeks to the Americans’ Romans.

On the 1st both Lord Gort and Archibald Wavell were promoted to the rank of Field Marshal.

On the 3rd Lieutenant Greenland RNVR and Leading Signalman Ferrier penetrated Palermo harbour in Sicily, Italy on a Chariot human torpedo and sank the Italian light cruiser Ulpio Traiano.

On the 5th The Italian Navy Forza Navale Speciale (FNS) was disbanded.

On the 6th Captured French submarines Phoque and Saphir departed Bizerte, Tunisia with Italian crews.

On the 7th HMS Jura was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-371 in the western Mediterranean Sea.

On the 8th Axis convoys between Italy and Tripoli, Libya were suspended after a British force of two cruisers and four destroyers sank 14 ships trying to reinforce and supply Erwin Rommel’s troops. British submarine P311 (Commander Cayley) was reported missing and was believed sunk by a mine in the Mediterranean Sea.

On the 15th 2 companies of “Loreto” combat engineers battalion of the Italian Air Force were transferred by ship from Sicily to Tunis; the remaining two companies of the 1st Air Force Assault Regiment “Amedeo d’Aosta” would remain in Sicily to repair airfields. German aircraft raided Telepte Airfield in Tunisia three times and Youks-les-Bains Airfield in Algeria once. A total of 15 German aircraft were shot down during these attacks, four of which were claimed by Captain Carmon Boone of 59th Fighter Squadron of USAAF 33rd Fighter Group, flying a P-40 fighter.

On the 18th British submarine Thunderbolt departed Malta for Tripoli with two Chariot manned torpedoes. The two Chariot teams discovered the harbour to be empty of ships and became stuck far behind enemy lines. One team was captured and the other escaped and would eventually find the advancing British 8th Army.

On the 20th the captured French submarines Requin and Espadon departed Bizerte, Tunisia with Italian crews.

On the 22nd The “Bafile” Battalion of the “San Marco” naval infantry regiment of Italian Navy captured Djebel Bou Dabouss massif in Tunisia, taking 200 prisoners of war at the cost of 24 killed and 65 wounded.

On the 23rd The British Eighth Army captured Tripoli, Libya.

On the 29th Benito Mussolini met with the Commando Supremo. Among the items discussed in this meeting was the plan to salvage, repair, and recommission French battleships Strasbourg and Dunkerque into the Italian Navy by the end of 1946.

On the 30th German troops defeated French troops and captured Faïd Pass, Tunisia HMS Samphire (Lieutenant Commander Renny) was torpedoed and sunk by the Italian submarine Platino off Bougie, Algeria.

In other news – on the 1st, frustrated with the poor performance of the German Navy, Adolf Hitler furiously ordered the decommissioning of the entire German high seas fleet, on the 3rd with the delay in carrying out anti-Semitic policies ordered by Rome, the mayors of Florence and Padua in Italy were fired by the Fascist Party, on the 6th in a conference between Adolf Hitler and Erich Raeder, Hitler continued to express his anger in the German Navy’s ineffectiveness, Raeder asked to be relieved of his duty, on the 7th British murderer Harry Dobkin is hanged at Wandsworth Prison in London, England, United Kingdom, Dobkin had murdered his wife and then dumped her mutilated body in a badly damaged Baptist chapel near where he was a fire watcher in the hope that she would appear to be another unidentified victim of the Blitz, he confessed to his crime after examination of the remains indicated death by strangulation, on the 10th the Fairey Barracuda torpedo and dive bomber began its operational service with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm with the delivery of twelve Barracuda II aircraft to the reformed No. 827 Squadron, on the 13th the call-up age for unmarried British women was lowered to 19, on the 20th the Luftwaffe was forced to abandon any further hit-and-run fighter-bomber raids on London after five Fw 190 aircraft were lost within half an hour to the RAF Manston based Typhoon fighters of Wing Commander Roland Beamont’s No. 609 Squadron, on the 23rd General Dwight D. Eisenhower was tasked with planning the invasion of Sicily with the target date set as the period of the favourable July 1943 moon, General Harold Alexander, Eisenhower’s deputy, would be in overall command of all Allied land forces during the operation, on the 24th British war expenditure was estimated to be running at £14 million a day, on the 27th the USAAF struck Germany proper for the first time as B-17 and B-24 bombers attacked Emden and Wilhelmshaven, on the 29th German authorities ordered Roma and Sinti people across German-occupied Europe to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps, on the 30th Erich Raeder was officially relieved of his command as the head of the German Navy, on the 31st the Milice was created in Vichy France under Joseph Darnand to counter the Resistance, This organisation became another force of the German occupation, reaching a strength of over 20,000 by the Allied invasion in 1944 but of course once France was liberated they all claimed to have been in the Resistance.

As has sometimes been the case, some of this article is my opinions as opposed to hard facts. Feel free to disagree and if I am around and reading the comments (I know, it’s not allowed) maybe you will convince me otherwise.

© well_chuffed 2023