The Polish 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Division was the only other Soviet military unit to have raised its national flag over Berlin.
The Battle of Berlin was one of the most ferocious, bloodiest battles in history. It marked the final major offensive of World War II which lasted from April 16, 1945 to May 2, 1945, Soviet troops advanced towards the German stronghold from the east. south and north annihilating everything in their path. More than 2.5 million Soviet troops, 6,250 tanks, 7,500 aircraft, 41,600 artillery pieces pounded German defensive positions into oblivion. On the German defensive were 1 million troops, 1,500 tanks, 3,300 aircraft, and 10,400 pieces of artillery. By the end of the fighting the Soviets had killed over 458,080 German soldiers and taken another 479,298 as prisoners. By comparison, the Soviets lost 81,116 KIA, or MIA, and 280,251 WIA. Soviet materiel losses amounted to 3,300 tanks, 2,108 artillery pieces and 917 aircraft.
The Soviet Offensive consisted of four fronts; Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front, which would position itself on the northern flank, and thereby protect Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front, which was to spearhead the attack on Berlin itself, in conjunction with Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front located just to the south. The 4th Ukrainian Front led by Yeremenko would attack and maintain a constant barrage against German troops in the southern zone.
The hulking Vulcan was the second of Britain’s famous “V” bombers and the first such craft outfitted with a delta wing. Although intended for a possible war with the Soviet Union, it fired its only shots in anger during the 1982 Falklands conflict.
A 1946 British air staff study recommended production of a trio of new strategic bombers that combined high speed, heavy payload, and great range. The Air Ministry then issued Specification B.35/46 to that effect, and an Avro design team under Roy Chadwick came up with a unique solution. They held that a large delta configuration was the best possible solution to all three requirements, especially in providing lift and, hence, range. A prototype of the huge craft was rolled out in August 1952 as the Vulcan. It was a very streamlined airplane, with the air intakes and engines buried within the wing and tricycle landing gear. The design was strong enough to be rolled in flight, and the prototype exhibited fighter-like qualities. The only major problem encountered was buffeting at high speeds, which was corrected on production models by providing a kinked leading edge and a less swept-back wing. The Vulcan B.1 entered the service in 1957, and 45 were constructed. These were followed by 87 of the B.2 model in 1960, which had extensively modified flight-control surfaces and stronger engines. This version was also equipped to fire the nuclear- tipped Blue Steel standoff missile.
The Vulcans served capably in their roles as part of the West’s nuclear deterrent. However, when the Soviet Union finally perfected surface-to-air missile technology, the big bomber’s mission changed from high-altitude bombing to low-altitude penetration. New and better electronic countermeasures were installed, as well as an array of conventional bombs. The Vulcans were due to be phased out early in 1982 but earned a brief reprieve during the Falklands conflict with Argentina of that year, where a handful conducted very long-range bombing missions with mixed results. This memorable bomber’s replacement was the Panavia Tornado.
The initial production aircraft. First few with straight leading edge, later retrofitted with Phase 2 (kinked) wing. Early examples finished in silver, later changed to “anti-flash” white. Many converted to B.1A standard 1959-1963. Last few unmodified B.1s in RAF service with No. 230 OCU retired by 1966. Last flight by any B.1, an engine testbed XA903, March 1979.
The B.1 with an Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) system in a new larger tail cone (as in B.2). Unlike the B.2, the B.1As did not undergo extensive wing strengthening for low-level flying and were withdrawn from service 1966-67.
Developed version of the B.1. Larger, thinner wing than the B.1 (Phase 2C wing) and fitted with Olympus 201-202 engines of 17,000 lbf (76 kN) each, or Olympus 301 engines of 20,000 lbf (89 kN) each. Uprated electrics with Auxiliary Airborne Power Plant (AAPP) (Auxiliary power unit) and Ram Air Turbine (RAT). ECM similar to B.1A. Terrain-Following Radar (TFR) in nose thimble radome fitted to most aircraft in mid-60s. New Radar warning receiver aerials on tail fin giving it a square top from mid-1970s.
Nine B.2s converted to Maritime Radar Reconnaissance (MRR). TFR deleted. Five aircraft further modified for Air Sampling Role. Distinctive gloss finish with light grey underside.
Six B.2s converted for air-to-air refuelling with Mark 17 Hose Drum Unit (HDU) mounted semi-recessed in tail cone. TFR deleted. Fitted with three bomb-bay drum tanks, it was the only mark of Vulcan that could jettison fuel in an emergency.
Specifications Vulcan B.1
Crew: 5 (pilot, co-pilot, AEO, Navigator Radar, Navigator Plotter)[nb 1]
Length: 97 ft 1 in (29.59 m)
Wingspan: 99 ft 5 in (30.3 m)
Height: 26 ft 6 in (8.0 m)
Wing area: 3554 ft² (330.2 m²)
Empty weight: 83,573 lb (including crew) (37,144 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 170,000 lb (77,111 kg)
Powerplant: 4 × Bristol Olympus 101, or 102 or 104 turbojet, 11,000 lbf (49 kN) each
Maximum speed: Mach 0.96 (607 mph (1,040 km/h)) at altitude
Cruise speed: Mach 0.86 (567 miles per hour (912 km/h)) at 45,000 ft
Range: 2,607 mi (4,171 km)
Service ceiling: 55,000 ft (17,000 m)
21 x 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of conventional bombs
1 x Blue Danube nuclear gravity bomb
1 x Violet Club 400 kT nuclear gravity bomb
1 x US Mark 5 nuclear gravity bomb supplied under Project E
1 x Yellow Sun Mk.1 400 kT nuclear gravity bomb
1 x Yellow Sun Mk 2 1.1 MT thermonuclear gravity bomb
1 x Red Beard nuclear gravity bomb
The AMX-30 Engin Blindé du Génie (EBG) was developed by Giat Industries (now Nexter Systems) to meet the requirements of the French Engineers and the prototype was shown for the first time in 1981.The EBG entered production during 1987 with the first of a batch of 20 units being completed by the end of that year. A further 16 vehicles were funded in 1989. The French Army had a total requirement for 126 EBGs but production ceased after 71 had been produced. The last EBG was handed over to the French Army in early 1994.Development and production of the AMX-30 EBG was undertaken at the Nexter Systems facilities at Roanne. As the AMX-30 production line is closed it is not anticipated that there will be any further production of the EBG.It should be noted that there are no AMX-30 MBTs left in front line service with the French Army although specialised versions such as ARV and EBG remain in service. For example, although the French Army has taken delivery of a total of 406 Leclerc MBTs and 20 Leclerc based ARV, many other support vehicles still remaining in service are based on the older AMX-30 chassis.The French Army also has a potential requirement for a new armoured engineer vehicle with similar capabilities to that of the BAE Systems Global Combat Systems Terrier Combat Engineer Vehicle.This has recently entered production for the British Army and is covered in detail in a separate entry in Jane’s Armour and Artillery.
The chassis of the EBG is almost identical to that of the AMX-30D ARV, but uses automotive components of the later AMX-30 B2 MBT including the engine, transmission, torque converter and suspension. The three-man crew consists of the vehicle commander, sapper and driver.Mounted at the front of the hull is a hydraulically operated dozer blade with a capacity of 250 m3/h for transport and filling, or 120 m3/h for excavating. Mounted at the back of the lower part of the dozer blade are six scarifying teeth, these being used for ripping up the surface of roads to a depth of 200 mm when the vehicle is being driven in reverse. The dozer blade is 3.55 m wide when fully extended and 1.1 m high.The hydraulic winch has a capacity of 20,000 kg, is provided with 80 m of cable and has a winching speed of 0.2 to 0.35 m/s irrespective of traction force. Automatic winding speed is from 0.2 to 1.4 m/s with traction capability interlocked with the speed of the vehicle. The winch, which leads out through the front of the vehicle, can be used during fording operations.Pivoted at the front of the hull on the right side is a hydraulic arm with a maximum lifting torque of 15,000 kg/m; the double-jointed arm can be extended to 7.5 m and traversed through a full 360°. The arm is provided with a lifting hook and pincer-type grab. The arm can also be fitted with an auger which can drill.
The graceful Victor was the last of Britain’s famous V-bombers. Technologically advanced when conceived, it was quickly outdated and performed more useful service in tanker and reconnaissance roles.
After World War II, and anticipating the technological trends of the day, Britain determined to maintain a strategic bombing force that would be jet-powered and carry atomic weapons. Specification B.35/46 was thus issued in 1946 to secure such aircraft, and Handley Page responded with a unique design quite different from its competitor, the Avro Vulcan. First flown in 1952, the Victor was a graceful, high-wing monoplane of rather sophisticated lines. The wing was crescent-shaped with decreasing degrees of sweep toward the tips. This arrangement allowed a constant critical Mach number over the wing for fast speed and high-altitude performance. The front fuselage was also unusual in that the front cabin was slightly podded and drooping while the rear was crowned by a high “T” tail, also of crescent design. The object of the Victor’s construction was to enable higher speed and altitude than contemporary fighters. However, by the time it debuted in 1958, the Russians had perfected Mach 2 fighters and surface-to-air missiles. Thus, the first-model Victor, the B Mk 1, was obsolete as a nuclear strike craft from the onset. By 1964 several had been converted into K Mk 1 tankers to replace the aging and ailing Vickers Valiant.
The final version of the Victor, the B Mk 2, was redesigned as a low-altitude bomber and, hence, was fitted with a stronger, redesigned wing. It also possessed trailing-edge fairings to improve low-altitude maneuvering. With manned bombers being supplanted by guided missiles, however, it was decided to convert these aircraft into tankers as well. Several were also subsequently modified into SR Mk 2 strategic reconnaissance craft capable of photographing the entire Mediterranean in only seven hours. Four such craft could also cover the entire North Sea region in only six hours! These graceful machines were finally withdrawn from service in 1994.
Prototype, two aircraft built.
Strategic bomber aircraft, 50 built.
Strategic bomber aircraft, B.1 updated with Red Steer tail warning radar and ECM suite, 24 converted.
Victor B.1A (K.2P)
2 point in-flight refuelling tanker retaining bomber capability, six converted.
3 point in-flight refuelling tanker (renamed K.1 after bombing capability removed), 11 converted.
3 point in-flight refuelling tanker (renamed K.1A as for K.1), 14 converted.
Strategic bomber aircraft, 34 built.
Blue Steel-capable aircraft with RCo.17 Conway 201 engines, 21 converted.
Strategic reconnaissance aircraft, nine converted.
In-flight refuelling tanker. 24 converted from B.2 and B(SR).2.
Proposed military transport of 1950 with new fuselage carrying 85 troops. Unbuilt.
1950 civil airliner project. Not built.
Proposed pathfinder version with remotely operated tail guns and powered by Conway engines. Rejected in favour of Valiant B.2.
Proposed military transport version of HP.97. Not built.
Proposed “Phase 3″ bomber of 1955 powered by Bristol Olympus or Sapphire engines. Not built.
1958 project for military or civil transport, powered by four Conway engines. Capacity for 200 troops in military version or 145 passengers in airliner in a double-decker fuselage.
Proposed “Phase 6″ bomber designed for standing patrols carrying two or four GAM-87 Skybolt ballistic missiles.
Proposed military tactical transport based on HP.111 and fitted with blown flaps. Rejected in favour of Armstrong Whitworth AW.681.
Specifications (Handley Page Victor B.1)
Length: 114 ft 11 in (35.05 m)
Wingspan: 110 ft 0 in (33.53 m)
Height: 28 ft 1½ in (8.57 m)
Wing area: 2,406 sq ft (223.5 m²)
Empty weight: 89,030 lb (40,468 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 205,000 lb (93,182 kg)
Powerplant: 4 × Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire A.S.Sa.7 turbojets, 11,050 lbf (49.27 kN) each
Maximum speed: 627 mph (545 knots, 1,009 km/h) at 36,000 ft (11,000 m)
Range: 6,000 mi (5,217 nmi, 9,660 km)
Service ceiling: 56,000 ft (17,000 m)
Up to 35 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs or
1× Yellow Sun free-fall nuclear bomb
Reconnaissance of area Bir el Gubi-Gabr Sciahebi (24 kilometres south south-east of Gubi) Gabr Saleh-Hagfet el Nadura.
Italian Air Reconnaissance reports in this area 800 to 1,000 vehicles, mainly tanks, moving north-west. Identification of strength and headings of enemy.
Result: Time 1.2.30-1.2.45 pm. Observer Lt. Kuhlmann.
1. Fifty vehicles near Gabr Saleh.
2. 100 vehicles near Bir Taieb el Esem.
3. 250 stationary vehicles about 1.6 kilometres south-east of Bir el Gubi, among them tanks.
4. From the above area (para.3) 100 vehicles heading south-east, 20 vehicles west north-west.
Two sorties flown.’
Reconnaissance report by Lt. Haseloff, pilot with 2.(H)/14 flying Bf-110s 30 November 1941
Early in September 1941, a strengthening and re-organisation of the German day fighter force in North Africa began. Firstly, 7./JG 26 at last departed entirely from the area to be replaced by 4./JG 27. During its time in the Mediterranean area, the unit had created a record unique in aviation history, claiming at least 52 enemy aircraft for no losses. On the Staffel’s return to France, Muncheberg, who had claimed 25 of the victories, was promoted to Hauptmann and given command of II./JG 26 which had recently re-equipped with the Fw 190. On 24 September the remaining ground crews from 7./JG 26 were returning to France by way of Salonika in a Ju-52/3m when it was attacked by three Beaufighters and two men were injured by cannon fire. The Ju-52/3m returned to Africa but both men died, these being the only fatalities suffered by the unit in the Mediterranean.
Later in the month, the three Staffeln of I./JG 27 also began withdrawing to Germany to re-equip one by one with the new and much improved Bf-109F-2. On 14 September, the II. Gruppe of JG27 began to arrive in North Africa. It had previously operated in Central Russia before returning to Germany also for re-equipment with the Bf-109F-2. The Gruppe was commanded by Hptm. Wolfgang Lippert (25 victories) and the Staffelkapitane were Oblt. Gustav Rodel (4./JG 27), Hptm. Ernst Dulliberg (5./JG 27) and Oblt. Rolf Strassner (6./JG 27).
The first Bf-109F Staffel to arrive in North Africa was 4./JG 27 which flew its first sortie on 26 September without event, and it was not until 3 October that the Gruppe fought its first combat. One Bf-109F, the first Friedrich to be lost in North Africa, was shot down, but three Hurricanes were claimed, one each by Oblt. Radel, Lt. Arthur Schacht and Uffz. Horst Reuter. In fact, the RAF lost a Hurricane of 33Sqn. and two Tomahawks of 112Sqn. Around this time, I./JG 27 which had just finished re-equipping with the Bf-109F-2, also returned to the theatre. A further two Hurricanes from 33Sqn. were shot down by Oblt. Ernst DCiliberg and Uffz. Reuter of II./JG 27 on 5 October and next day two further Hurricanes plus three Tomahawks were destroyed by the unit. The Gruppe suffered its first pilot loss two days later when it attacked a formation of Marylands of 12 (SAAF)Sqn. and Lt. Gustav Adolf Langanke of 5. Staffel was shot down by return fire and reported missing. Regular skirmishes continued, a major action occurring on 10 October when Tomahawks clashed with Bf-109s of II./JG 27 and shot down six in two operations. However, three pilots from the German unit were lost during the next few days: Oblt. Franz Schulz of 6./JG 27 on 17 October, Uffz. Paul Lesmeister of II./JG 27 on the 22nd and Lt. Jakob Waibel of I./JG 27 on the 23rd.
Early in the morning of 16 November, a Bombay transport aircraft carrying 16 men from the British Special Air Service (SAS) was shot down by Ofw. Otto Schulz of 4./JG 27. The SAS men were part of a force which was to mount the first large-scale sabotage operation against Luftwaffe airfields in North Africa, planned for the night of 16/17 November. The remaining men from the unit attempted to attack the dispersal areas of I./JG 27 but were driven off and, as daylight dawned, two Bf-109s from the 2. Staffel followed the tyre tracks made by the SAS vehicles, and destroyed them all. Although this particular operation had proved a failure, the SAS was later to prove very successful against Axis airfields, eventually destroying over 400 aircraft in North Africa, more in fact than was destroyed by the RAF during the same period.
By this time a dedicated fighter-bomber Staffel had been added to JG27 equipped with Bf-109E-4jBs which were capable of carrying four 110lb SC 50 bombs or one 1,100 lb SC 500 bomb beneath the fuselage. Alternatively known as 10.(Jabo)/JG27 or Jabostaffel Afrika the unit carried white identification numbers forward of the fuselage Balkenkreuz and a diagonal bomb symbol aft.
On 18 November, British troops under General Auchinleck supported by about 580 tanks, launched a major offensive in North Africa code named ‘Crusader’. The main object of the attack was to relieve the beleaguered garrison at Tobruk. XXX Corps crossed over the Egyptian border into Libya, taking Rommel, who had also been planning an offensive, by surprise. The first major clash between British and German air forces came four days later when 13 Allied Hurricane and Tomahawk fighters, one Wellington and seven Blenheim bombers were claimed destroyed by Land II./JG 27″ This was not without loss to the Germans however, who lost six Bf-109s shot down, two pilots from l/JG27 being taken prisoner, while the Staffelkapitan of 5/JG27, Hptm Dullberg, was slightly injured.
By this time, the British ground offensive had run into trouble, and Rommel immediately took the opportunity to counter-attack. He pushed two strong columns back towards the Egyptian frontier which forced the Tobruk garrison to break out from its positions in an attempt to avert disaster. As New Zealand infantry dug in around Sidi Rezegh, both the RAF and the Luftwaffe mounted intense efforts to support their respective armies. On 28 November, the New Zealanders managed to link up with the defenders of Tobruk, only for the city to be surrounded again two days later.
Around this time a third German day fighter Gruppe began to arrive in the Mediterranean theatre when ground crews from III./JG 53 under Hptm. Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke transferred to Catania in Sicily. The unit, which had previously operated in Central Russia, had recently re-equipped with the new Bf-109F-4 powered by tHe-1,350 hp DB601E engine and equipped with a 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon firing through the spinner. The original intention was for the unit to strengthen Axis fighter strength in Sicily, but the situation in North Africa was such that by 6 December it was forced to transfer to Tmimi, west of Gazala. Two aircraft were damaged in a bombing attack on the 5th, two others were damaged in belly landings in the next few days, and on 11 December four more aircraft were blown up at Tmimi. Also near Tmimi Fw. Franz Elles, a pilot of 2./JG 27 with five victories, was taken prisoner after the oil cooler of his Bf-109was damaged following combat with a Tomahawk.
Operation ‘Crusader’ continued, with Commonwealth troops battering the Gazala line on 13 December. Several air battles took place but while a number of Bf-109s were claimed by Allied pilots, the only confirmed pilot casualties were Ofw. Albert Espenlaub of I./JG 27 who was taken prisoner and Lt. Karl Vockelmann of 7 /JG53 who was wounded. Espenlaub, who had 14 victories, was later shot on 25 February 1942 while trying to escape from a PoW camp in Palestine, and Vockelmann was III./JG 53′s first casualty in North Africa. On the same day, German pilots claimed five Commonwealth P-40 Tomahawks destroyed, two by Lt. Marseille (his 33rd and 34th victories), one by Oblt. Homuth (his 31st), one by Hptm. Gerlitz (his 10th) and one by Ofw. Erich Krenzke of 5./JG 27. Also destroyed was a Blenheim by Ofw. Karl-Heinz Bendert of Stab II/JG27 and a Hurricane by Oblt. Hans-Joachim Heinecke of 8./JG 53. Next day, Uffz. August Nieland of 7./JG 53 and Lt. Wolfgang Ihrig were both killed in combat with Tomahawks while flying an escort mission for dive-bomber attacks on British troop concentrations. Also killed on this day was Ofw. Hermann Forster (13 victories) of I./JG 27 but, in turn, the Germans claimed five RAF aircraft destroyed.
On 16 December, two pilots from III./JG 53 were lost, one of them, the Staffelkapitan of 7./JG 53, Oblt. Heinz Altendorf being taken prisoner following hits from British anti-aircraft fire. A final loss by the unit was suffered in North Africa on 19 December when Fw. Alfred Seidl was wounded in combat with Marylands. Shortly afterwards the Gruppe returned to Sicily where it joined the remainder of the Geschwaderwhich had also arrived on the island. To replace III./JG 53, the III. Gruppe of JG27 under Hptm. Erhard Braune was transferred to the area from Russia, bringing the Geschwader up to full strength. The Gruppe’s Staffelkapitane at this time were: Oblt. Hermann Tangerding (7./JG 27), Hptm. Werner Schroer (8./JG 27) and Oblt. Erbo Graf von Kageneck (9./JG 27). Kageneck, who had already claimed 65 victories, had been awarded the Eichenlaub on 26 October 1941.
On the morning of 17 December, three days of intensive air attacks against the retreating Axis ground forces began. An Allied formation strafing Axis columns was attacked by 12 Bf-109s of JG27 and five escorting Hurricanes were claimed, two by Marseille, one by Lt. Rudolf Sinner and two by Lt. Franzisket. Three of the Commonwealth pilots were killed and a further two injured. A further Hurricane was shot down during the afternoon by Lt. Friedrich Hoffmann of I./JG 27.
Regular aerial skirmishes continued for the next few days, but on 24 December, III./JG 27 suffered a severe loss when about six Bf-109Fs attacked a formation of Hurricanes near Agedabia. The RAF fighters formed a defensive circle, but one of them suddenly broke out and fired on the aircraft piloted by Oblt. Erbo Grafvon Kageneck. The German pilot was hit in the groin and lower stomach and made an emergency landing to the west of Agedabia where he was rescued by Italian soldiers. In spite of an urgent transfer to Italy, on 12 January 1942 he died in a Naples hospital as a result of complications arising from his wounds. He had 67 victories. His successor was the experienced Lt. Klaus Faber, promoted to officer rank at this time.
A British Crusader tank passes a burning German Pzkw Mk IV tank during Operation Crusader. 27 November 1941.
Part of Mediterranean, Middle East and African Theatre of the Second World War
Date 10 June 1940 – 16 May 1943
Location Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco
Result Allied victory; Axis retreat to the Italian peninsula
Casualties and losses
~238,558 casualties 620,000–950,000 casualties
8,000 aircraft destroyed
6,200 guns, 2,500 tanks, and 70,000 trucks destroyed or captured
During the Second World War, the North African Campaign took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940-16 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts (Western Desert Campaign also known as the Desert War) and in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch) and Tunisia (Tunisia Campaign).
The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers. The Allied war effort was dominated by the British Commonwealth and exiles from German–occupied Europe. The United States entered the war in 1941 and began direct military assistance in North Africa, on 11 May 1942.
Fighting in North Africa started with the Italian declaration of war on 10 June 1940. On 14 June, the British Army’s 11th Hussars (assisted by elements of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment [1st RTR] ) crossed the border into Libya and captured the Italian Fort Capuzzo. This was followed by an Italian offensive into Egypt and the capture of Sidi Barrani in September 1940 and then in December 1940 by a Commonwealth counteroffensive, Operation Compass. During Operation Compass, the Italian Tenth Army was destroyed and the German Afrika Korps, commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, was dispatched to North Africa, during Operation Sonnenblume, to reinforce Italian forces in order to prevent a complete Axis defeat.
A see-saw series of battles for control of Libya and parts of Egypt followed, climaxing in the Second Battle of El Alamein when British Commonwealth forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery, delivered a decisive defeat to the Axis forces and pushed the Axis forces back to Tunisia. Following the Allied landings in North-West Africa, Operation Torch, in late 1942 and after Allied battles against Vichy France forces (which subsequently joined the Allies), the combined Allied forces encircled the Axis forces in northern Tunisia and forced their surrender.
The Axis, by fighting on a second front in North Africa, inadvertently provided a degree of initial relief to the Soviet Union – along the Eastern Front. Information gleaned via British Ultra code-breaking intelligence proved critical to Allied success in the North African theater of Allied operations.
On 10 June 1940, the Kingdom of Italy, aligned itself with Nazi Germany, declared war upon France and the United Kingdom. British forces, based in Egypt were ordered to undertake defensive measures but to act as non-provocative as possible however on 11 June they began a series of raids against Italian positions in Libya. Following the defeat of France, on 25 June, Italian forces in Tripolitania, facing French troops based in Tunisia, redeployed to Cyrenaica to reinforce the Italian Tenth Army. This coupled with the steadily degrading equipment of the British forces led General Archibald Wavell to order an end to raiding and placed the defence of the Egyptian border to a small screening force.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ordered that his Tenth Army was to invade Egypt by 8 August. Two days later, no invasion having been launched, Mussolini ordered Marshal Graziani that the moment German forces launched Operation Sealion, he was to attack. On 8 September Italians, hampered by the lack of transport, enfeebled by the low level of training among officers and weakened by the state of its supporting arms; were ordered to invade Egypt the following day. The battle plan was to advance along the coastal road while limited armoured forces operated on the desert flank. To counter the Italian advance Wavell ordered his screening forces to harass the advancing Italians, falling back towards Mersa Matruh were the main British infantry force was based, positioned on the desert flank was the 7th Armoured Division who would strike into the flank of the Italian force.
By 16 September the Italian force had advanced to Maktila, around 80 miles (130 km) west of Mersa Matruh, where they halted due to supply problems. Despite Mussolini urging for the advance to carry on, Graziani ordered his force to dig in around Sidi Barrani, fortified camps were established in forward locations and additional troops were positioned behind the main force. In response to the dispersed Italian camps, the British planned a limited five day attack, Operation Compass, to strike at the fortified camps one by one. The British Commonwealth force, totalling 36,000 men, attacked the forward elements of the ten division strong Italian army on 9 December. Following initial success the operation Compass as British force pursued the retreating Italian forces. During January the fortified towns of Bardia and Tobruk were captured and the fleeing Italians cut off at Beda Fomm by the 7th Armoured Division who had crossed the western desert. At the Battle of Beda Fomm the remnants of the Italian army surrendered. Within ten weeks Allied forces had reached El Agheila and destroyed the Italian Tenth Army taking 130,000 prisoners of war.
The Italians responded by despatching motorised and armoured reinforcements to Africa and beginning in February 1941 and continuing until early May; Operation Sonnenblume saw the German Afrika Korps, under the command of Erwin Rommel, arrive in Tripoli to reinforce their Italian allies with orders to block Allied attempts to drive the Italians out of the region. The forward Allied forces, now named XIII Corps, adopted a defensive posture and over the coming months was built up before having most of its force redeployed to Greece while the 7th Armoured Division was withdrawn to the Nile Delta. In their place inexperienced, ill-equipped, and under strength forces were deployed.
Although Rommel had been ordered to simply hold the line, an armoured reconnaissance soon became a fully-fledged offensive from El Agheila in March 1941. During March and April the Allied forces were forced back and leading general officers captured. The Australian 9th Infantry Division fell back to the fortress port of Tobruk, and the remaining British and Commonwealth forces withdrew a further 100 miles (160 km) east to the Libyan–Egyptian border. With Tobruk under siege from the main German-Italian force, a small battlegroup continued to press eastwards. Capturing Fort Capuzzo and Bardia in passing, it then advanced into Egypt, and by the end of April had taken Sollum and the tactically important Halfaya Pass. Rommel garrisoned these positions, reinforcing the battlegroup and ordering it onto the defensive.
Tobruk’s garrison, although isolated by land, continued to receive supplies and support from the Royal Navy, and Rommel was unable to take the port. This failure was significant; his front line positions at Sollum were at the end of an extended supply chain that stretched back to Tripoli and was threatened by the Tobruk garrison, and the substantial commitment required to invest Tobruk prevented him from building up his forces at Sollum, making further advances into Egypt impractical. By maintaining possession of Tobruk, the Allies had regained the initiative.
The inaction of both sides would, however, not last for much longer. The Allied forces soon after launched a small attack, Operation Brevity, in an attempt to push the Axis forces back over the border, but the offensive failed. Brevity was followed up by a larger scale offensive, Operation Battleaxe, intended to relieve the siege at Tobruk: however, the second operation also failed.
During the drawn out stalemate, the Allied forces reorganised. Archibald Wavell was succeeded as commander in chief Middle East Command by Claude Auchinleck and the Western Desert Force was reinforced with a second Corps to form the new Eighth Army, which was at that time made up of units from the British Army, Australian Army, the British Indian Army, the New Zealand Army and the South African Army. There was also a brigade of Free French under Marie-Pierre Koenig. The new formation launched a new offensive, Operation Crusader, in November 1941 and by January 1942 joint operations had resulted in the recapture of all the territory only recently beforehand acquired by the Germans and Italians. As a consequence, and once again, the front line (axis of advance) would be El Agheila.
After receiving supplies and reinforcements from Tripoli, the Axis again attacked, defeating the Allies at the Gazala in June and in doing so captured Tobruk. The Axis forces drove the Eighth Army back past the border of Egypt where their advance was stopped in July only 90 miles (140 km) from Alexandria in the First Battle of El Alamein.
General Claude Auchinleck, who had personally assumed command of the Eighth Army following the defeat at Gazala, was sacked following the First Battle of El Alamein and was replaced by General Harold Alexander. Lieutenant-General William Gott was initially given command of the Eighth Army; however he was killed en route to taking up his command and was replaced by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery – who would ultimately take complete command of the Eighth for the remainder of the Desert War.
The Axis forces made a new attempt to break through to Cairo at the end of June at Alam Halfa but were pushed back. After a period of build-up and training, the Eighth launched a major offensive, decisively defeating the German-Italian army during the Second Battle of El Alamein, in late October, 1942. The Eighth Army then pushed the Axis forces westward, capturing Tripoli in mid-January 1943. By February, Eighth Army was facing the German-Italian Panzer Army near the Mareth Line and came under command of General Harold Alexander’s 18th Army Group for the concluding phase of the war in North Africa, the Tunisia Campaign.
Japanese ship and Allied air movements during the battle.
Japanese movements in eastern New Guinea, 1942-1944.
A B-24’s chance discovery of a sixteen-ship Japanese convoy on March 1, 1943, set off a three-day running battle (March 3–5) between Japanese and Allied forces in the Bismarck Sea. On the one hand was a very determined Japanese convoy escort of eight destroyers commanded by Rear Admiral Masatomi Kimura, who intended to deliver the 51st Imperial Infantry Division and over thirty thousand tons of critical fuel, ammunition, and other supplies to the beleaguered Japanese forces in New Guinea. He was supported by Admiral Kusaka’s Eleventh Naval Air Fleet. Their opponents were General Kenney with his Fifth Air Force and a small squadron of PT boats. Coming at a crucial point in the New Guinea campaign, the outcome in the Bismarck Sea would have a direct and decisive effect on the campaign ashore.
The convoy run had been ordered by the Japanese commanders in Rabaul. General Okabe’s failure to seize the port of Wau had jeopardized Japan’s overland campaign to capture Port Moresby. Logistics were the key. Both Japanese and Allied forces were at the end of their logistical tether. Japanese army and naval air squadrons desperately needed fuel and spare parts, while the ground forces needed food, ammunition, and fresh troops. The convoy’s merchant ships and oilers would deliver the required material, while two troop transports would carry the 51st Division; its nearly seven thousand troops could tip the balance ashore. Recognizing the Allied air threat, Admiral Kusaka ordered daily combat air patrols and provided eight destroyers with strong antiaircraft batteries to protect the convoy. Admiral Kimura also expected to encounter U.S. submarines, but he could do little except order additional lookouts. Few of his destroyers had active sonar, but it was their lack of radar and air cover which would prove decisive in the coming battle. The submarine threat never materialized.
The convoy departed Rabaul on February 28 and was detected late in the afternoon of the next day. A rainstorm hindered Allied efforts to shadow the convoy, and it was lost at sundown, before any air strikes could be launched. It was rediscovered the next morning, and seven B-17s forged through the bad weather to press home their attacks. Three attacked from high altitude and missed, but four struck from below 6,000 feet, sinking one transport and damaging two others. Later attacks were less successful, their efforts hampered by bad weather, aggressive Japanese fighter patrols, and the bombers’ limited numbers. Sunset brought the Japanese a reprieve, but the next day would see both sides redouble their efforts. Two destroyers picked up survivors and delivered them to Lae overnight, returning to rejoin the convoy in the early morning.
General Kenney ordered a maximum effort for the next day, including all available Australian as well as U.S. aircraft. The resulting 137 bombers with supporting fighter escorts overwhelmed the forty-two Japanese naval Zeros protecting the convoy. Lacking radar to vector their fighters to the bombers, the Zeros became embroiled with the Allied fighter escorts while the heavy and medium bombers punched through unscathed to strike the convoy. The American A-20s and B-25s employed the new “skip-bombing” technique and recently installed forward firing armaments to devastating effect. Every ship suffered some damage— several, seriously.
Two destroyers, including flagship Shirayuki, and a transport were sunk. Another destroyer and three merchant ships were knocked dead in the water. Several ships were burning. The next wave of Allied aircraft nearly finished the convoy off, critically damaging one destroyer and sinking the previously crippled destroyer and two more cargo ships. The surviving transports were immobilized, and the water was littered with struggling seamen and soldiers. The Japanese sent dozens of fighters to provide air cover and despatched two submarines to pick up survivors. Two destroyers fled to Rabaul packed with 2,700 survivors. Two others, Yukikaze and Asaguma, remained behind to pick up the remainder and fled during the night. The one surviving crippled cargo vessel, Oigawa Maru, and the two remaining disabled destroyers were finished off by American PT boats that night and by American bombers the next morning, respectively. Another transport went down that night. The Japanese submarines I-17 and I-26 marked the last moments of the battle by fishing more than two hundred survivors from the water during the evening of March 4. American PT boats unsuccessfully attacked the latter submarine as it was finishing its mission. The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, a disaster for the Japanese, was over.
The Japanese lost more than four thousand men and nearly thirty thousand tons of supplies in the battle. This devastating defeat ended Japan’s strong efforts to reinforce its forces on New Guinea. The combination of deadly Allied air power by day and PT boat patrols by night all but strangled the Japanese forces in New Guinea. All future Japanese logistics support would come by submarine and would never approach the quantities needed to support effective ground operations. In effect, the Allied victory in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea both demonstrated air power’s dominance in naval warfare and also ensured the ultimate Allied victory ashore.
The Bismarck Sea was the debut of the B-25 strafer and Bristol Beaufighter. Both had been in action previously, but never with such effect. Fred Cassidy was aboard a Beaufighter at the Bismarck Sea:
When attacking ships we liked to come in from the front. It was our goal to put the bridge out of order. You would begin the approach sideways, maybe three-quarter speed, perhaps 220 knots, and about four miles off. Then we’d run parallel. We’d make a big wide turn, get into line astern, usually a flight of maybe three. We’d start at the back of the ship and make a big sweeping turn and come in from the front and begin the dive from about 500 feet. The ship would be about 600 yards in front. You’d let go with your cannon at maybe 100 yards from the ship, aim straight at the bridge, and turn straight off. You’d pull up over the mast. You’d watch the ship kind of disintegrate. In the Bismarck Sea battle we strafed from the front. The ships were careening in all directions. I saw a 500-pound bomb level with our starboard wing going at the same altitude and same speed that we were that a Mitchell had just dropped, maybe twenty feet off the water. You also had to dodge bomb-splashes at the Bismarck Sea because the Liberators and ’17s were dropping from 6,000-10,000 feet and they’d make huge splashes when we were about twenty feet off the sea. These splashes were thirty to fifty feet across and followed by a tremendous spout of water. We had to fly through those. The damage done to the Japanese was devastating.
Veteran B-25 pilot Garrett Middlebrook had an unusually close ringside seat to the Bismarck Sea debacle:
After the Bismarck Sea we converted to eight .5O-calibers in the nose, which were awesome, absolutely awesome. It was absolutely unreal what they could do. I saw it often, first at the Bismarck Sea. This was a very interesting mission for me-it was the only one I flew as a copilot of the sixty-five I flew during the war. Midway through the mission I thought I was fortunate. The pilot was doing all the work and I was a witness to history being made-we knew this was a big show that would live in the history books for 100 years. During the battle we circled out there waiting our turn to go in, a good mile away. The A-20s went in first, and then the strafers of 30th Bomb Group arrived. They went in and hit this troop ship. What I saw looked like little sticks, maybe a foot long or something like that, or splinters flying up off the deck of the ship; they’d fly all around . . . and twist crazily in the air and fall out in the water. I thought, “What could that be? They must have some peculiar cargo on that vessel.” Then I realized what I was watching were human beings. It was a troopship just loaded. When the third group hit them two of the ships went in and unloaded with those sixteen machine guns and most likely the turret gunner upstairs was having a little fun, too. I was watching hundreds of those Japanese just blown off the deck by those machine guns. They just splintered around the air like sticks in a whirlwind and they’d fall in the water. Soon afterwards we attacked a destroyer that was fleeing. We didn’t have the nose guns but hit him square with two bombs at mast level.
After the war former Rabaul staff officer Masatake Okumiya described the anguish caused by the Bismarck Sea among Japanese leaders:
The effectiveness of enemy air strength was brought to [Admiral Yamamoto] with the news of a crushing defeat which, if similar events were permitted to occur in the future, promised terrifying disasters for Japan. . . . Our losses for this single battle [Bismarck Sea-EB] were fantastic. Not during the entire savage fighting at Guadalcanal did we suffer a single comparable blow. It became imperative that we block the continued enemy air activities before these attacks became commonplace. We knew we could no longer run cargo ships or even fast destroyer transports to any front on the north coast of New Guinea, east of Wewak. Our supply operation to north-eastern New Guinea became a scrabbler’s run of barges, small craft and submarines.
After the Bismarck Sea the Japanese had to send convoys much farther up the coast out of air attack range, for the moment causing immense difficulties in getting them to the front. Yet troops sent forth were hardly safe. After the war Japanese officers at Rabaul estimated that 20,000 troops were lost during sea transit in the Rabaul-New Guinea area. As the months went on U.S. submarines operating in Southeast Asian waters and off Truk began to take their grim toll in addition to ships and barges destroyed by aircraft.
FURTHER READINGS Hoyt, Edwin P. The Jungles of New Guinea (1989). Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, vol. VI (1968). Salmaggi, Cesare, and Alfredo Pallavisini. 2194 Days of War (1977).