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What if Hitler had not declared war on the United States

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  • #46
    Originally posted by InExile View Post

    Germany's best hope for taking Egypt and the Suez would probably have been in late 1940 to early 1941 when the British were still shaken from the defeat in France and before they had time to build up their strength in the Mediterranean.

    German paratroopers had already taken Crete, the other necessary targets were Malta for sure and Gibraltar, though Gibraltar would have been hard without Spanish help. After taking Malta, the Germans and Italians could perhaps neutralize or contain the British fleet in Alexandria, which would make it a lot harder for the British to build up their strength in Egypt and attack German and Italian shipping in the Mediterranean.

    With the benefit of hindsight we know that Rommel had no chance of taking Egypt and the Suez with the forces that had. But given how well he did with the fraction of resources available in the Russian front, what if the Germans had managed to perhaps quadruple the strength of their army in North Africa or more, if that theater had priority over the Russian invasion in 1940 and 1941 and British strength in the Mediterranean had been significantly weakened. Perhaps the German chances to take the Suez start looking quite good in this scenario.

    Beyond the Suez I agree that the logistics issue would make further advances extremely hard, but I do think the British alone would find it extremely hard to dislodge the Germans after they had taken Egypt.
    Perhaps I didn't fully explain the issue for the Germans in Nth Africa. It literally doesn't matter how many troops you land in Nth Africa, as you advance along the coast it is only possible to supply roughly the number Rommel actually had. So, what happened to him is going to just keep happening. The British can sit a truly massive force in Egypt, sit a very big air force over it and park a very large naval force off the coast. Nothing Germany or Italy can do changes that. Just not doable. The capacity of the ports is limited and the logistics of supplying that army are nightmarish. The Germans & Italians managed to get a force of over 100,000 into Egypt in 1942, but it couldn't attack with enough force to get any further. It also suffered from the excellent nature of the terrain for defence.

    What 'Rommel did' is wreck a perfecly good army. Had he husbanded those forces and used them to stop British advances it would at least have slowed that line of advance.

    This is the wiki entry on Axis logistics. Gives a basic idea of the problem:

    Axis supplies from Europe to Libya were moved by road and after Operation Compass (December 1940 – February 1941), only Tripoli remained as an entrepôt, with a maximum capacity of four troopships or five cargo ships at once and an unloading capacity of about 45,000 long tons (45,722 t) per month. Tripoli to Benghazi was 600 mi (970 km) along the Via Balbia and only half way to Alexandria. The road could flood, was vulnerable to the Desert Air Force (DAF) and using desert tracks increased vehicle wear. The Axis advance of 300 mi (480 km) to the Egyptian frontier in early 1941 increased the road transport distance to 1,100 mi (1,800 km). Benghazi was captured in April; coastal shipping there had a capacity of only 15,000 long tons (15,241 t) and the port was within range of the DAF. About 1,500 long tons (1,524 t) of supplies per day could be unloaded at Tobruk but lack of shipping made its capture irrelevant.[56]

    A German motorised division needed 350 long tons (356 t) of supplies a day and moving its supplies 300 mi (480 km) required 1,170 2.0 t (2 long tons) lorry-loads.[57] With seven Axis divisions, air force and naval units, 70,000 long tons (71,123 t) of supplies were needed per month. The Vichy French agreed to Axis use of Bizerta in Tunisia but this did not begin until late in 1942. From February to May 1941, a surplus of 45,000 long tons (45,722 t) was delivered; attacks from Malta had some effect but in May, the worst month for ship losses, 91 per cent of supplies actually arrived. Lack of transportation in Libya left German supplies in Tripoli and the Italians had only 7,000 lorries for deliveries to their 225,000 men. A record amount of supplies arrived in June but shortages worsened at the front.[58]

    There were fewer Axis attacks on Malta from June and ship losses increased from 19% in July, to 25 per cent in September, when Benghazi was bombed and ships diverted to Tripoli; air supply in October made little difference. Deliveries averaged 72,000 long tons (73,155 t) a month from July to October but the consumption of 30 to 50 per cent of fuel deliveries by road transport and truck unserviceability of 35 per cent reduced deliveries to the front. In November, a five-ship convoy was sunk during Operation Crusader and ground attacks on road convoys stopped journeys in daylight. Lack of deliveries coupled with the Eighth Army offensive forced a retreat to El Agheila from 4 December, crowding the Via Balbia, where British ambushes destroyed about half of the remaining Axis transport.[59]

    Convoys to Tripoli resumed and losses increased but by 16 December the supply situation had eased except for the fuel shortage. In December, the Luftwaffe was restricted to one sortie per day. Vichy sold the Axis 3,600 long tons (3,658 t) of fuel, U-boats were ordered into the Mediterranean and air reinforcements were sent from Russia in December. The Italian navy used warships to carry fuel to Derna and Benghazi and made a maximum effort from 16 to 17 December. Four battleships, three light cruisers and 20 destroyers escorted four ships to Libya. The use of an armada for 20,000 long tons (20,321 t) of cargo ships, depleted the navy fuel reserve and only one more battleship convoy was possible. Bizerta was canvassed as an entrepôt but it was within range of RAF aircraft from Malta and was another 500 mi (800 km) west of Tripoli.[60]
    Just a point on that 'late 1940 to early 1941' period. It isn't what you think. 'British confusion' after the fall of France was VERY short lived, if it ever really existed. Britain immediately began preparing to 1) defend the homeland; 2) defend the vulnerable bits of the empire. Before France even fell there was an armoured division and elements of an Indian division & an Australian division in Egypt. By August, before the Battle of Britain was even finished, troops were also being sent from Britain to Egypt. A month later there were more than 4 divisions worth of troops in Egypt. By the end of 1940 there were over 30,000 attacking into Italian territory, which means there were more in total (still some back in Egypt). At this point in the war Germany was licking its wounds from the French campaign, refitting its divisions and preparing for an invasion of Britain that would never come. By the time Germany got a big enough force to Africa to threaten Egypt Britain would have dropped yet more Indian, Australian, NZ & possibly British divisions in Egypt.

    Also remember that by November 1940 there were something like 70,000 Commonwealth troops (India, Britain, Sth Africa, Kenya, Uganda etc.) fighting in what is now Ethiopia. That campaign was nowhere near as important as Egypt. It would have taken very little time to move a division or two from there to Egypt if required.

    Additionally, in the first half of 1941 Germany had to deploy forces into Yugoslavia & Greece. Britain was actually able to spare 60,000 troops to help Greece. That is additional to forces in Egypt. Those forces would have been available in late 1940/early 1941 to defend Egypt too.

    Finally, dig up something on what the Royal Navy was doing in the Med during the period you are talking about. Taranto knocked the wind out of the Italians for a period, and RN forces regularly threatened & even attacked convoys. The closer you get top Egypt the farther you get from Axis air cover for any resupply.

    Germany & Italy (and there were always going to be a lot of Italians) could never get ahead of Britain's ability to stack forces in the Nile delta. Even if Germany moved quickly in 1940 it wasn't going to get a decent force near Egypt quick enough.
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    • #47
      Rommel fought at the end of a very long and tenuous supply line. Again, Germany was a continental power not global. It's ability to project power across a significant body of water was almost ruinously difficult. And having Malta sitting astride your tenuous supply line didn't make things any easier.
      “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
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