September 1942

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For the first night of the month, all available jamming aircraft were ordered to protect two ships, Abbruzzi and Picci Fassio from nightfall: two Heinkels were deployed, from 1700–0030 and 2145–0500 hours but the Fassio was torpedoed and sunk by the RAF at 0045. The Wildschwein was on station with the convoy at the time of the sinking and had jammed seven A.S.V. frequencies. Even so, the Germans monitored continuous A.S.V. contact reports from RAF aircraft and right before the attack there was a call to illuminate the target. As for the Abruzzi, she was reportedly attacked from 1720–25 in complete darkness by two Beaufighters and seven Liberators despite the presence of seven escorting Axis aircraft which shot up one of the B-24s. The subsequent verdict on the loss of the two ships was that ”no one can be blamed”.

During the night … the tanker Picci Fassio was sunk off Derna by enemy planes. In the same area the escorted tanker Abruzzi with 484 tons of fuel for the German Army was damaged by a bomb hit … and was abandoned by the crew. Another air attack occurred during the night … on the escort of the steamer Proserpina east of Otranto … The extraordinarily lively and successful emeny air activity against the African supply operations is extremely troublesome …

Kriegsmarine Operations Staff, 2 September 1942

The ground stations were evidently very busy for Fliegerkorps X complained to Ob. Süd that Obltn. Zadra, currently in charge of the WIM-Zentrale was the sole plotter and his health had deteriorated considerably as a result of continuous night duty; relief plotters were urgently requested.

Two RCM aircraft operated on the night of the 2nd, indirectly protecting the damaged and drifting Abruzzi and the Regia Marina tanker Stige. Next day the Axis commanders issued new instructions: finding it hard to provide sufficient escorting aircraft given the needs at the front, they directed that convoys leaving Tobruk and Benghazi should be routed to proceed together wherever possible. Furthermore, ships bound from Greece to Italian ports should pass by night through areas where Luftwaffe escort was required. The Kommando suffered an operational loss on 2 September when He 111 H-6, W.Nr. 7586, TM+KP crashed into the sea off Kalamaki, killing all four of Ltn. Johannes Rische’s crew. Two bodies were recovered, those of Rische and his wireless operator, Uffz. Helmut Brohammer, who are buried in the Dionyssos-Rapendoza war cemetery.

By 1430 on the 3rd, Fliegerkorps X realised that the Sportivo convoy (which also included the transports Bianchi and Padenna and four escorts) had been located by the British and called for jamming by all available aircraft. The position that afternoon however was “all the Wildschweine are ill” but one “recovered” at 1730, taking off at 1937 hours. Whilst the Sportivo got through, Padenna, Bianchi and the torpedo boat Polluce were torpedoed overnight, the first of these by an RN submarine, Thrasher, the others by aircraft. A new convoy consisting of four transports and 12 destroyers was considered a “decisive factor for continuing the North African struggle” and so the daylight escort on 6 September was to include:

For Ankara and Sestriere: at least six aircraft from first light, to the position of rendezvous with Ravello and Manara (c. 0730), continuing until 1000.

From 1000 until dark, at least nine aircraft.

Additional escort continuously from first light until 1030, Italian aircraft and three Bf 109 of Fliegerkorps II.

From 1000 until dark, three Ju 88 of Fliegerkorps II as low cover against torpedo-carrying aircraft, three Bf 110 as high cover.

It was also hoped to bring in Do 217 night fighters (although Berlin had not yet agreed to allocate any) and as a further protective measure German wireless operators were to be embarked on the escorting Italian destroyers Folgore and Antonio Pigafetta. First however there was a practice mission: WIM 7 at Derna was notified by the »WIM-Zentrale« that from 1200–1500 an He 111 would be making a jamming test flight, radiating on 173, 180, 190 and 200 mHz. All WIM stations were to report signal strength and direction on those frequencies.

Turning to the “real thing”, two Wildschwein He 111 were assigned to the convoy, taking off at 1915 and 2215. They jammed four frequencies between 2018 and 0115 and two from 0055–0307 and both aircraft had landed by 0407 hours.

To help ensure the convoy’s safe passage on the night of the 7/8th, a Kdo. Koch He 111 was up at 1610 while an hour later 13 Ju 88 of KG 77 took off for an attack RAF Shallufa near Suez, intended to cripple the A.S.V. Wellingtons and anti-shipping bombers thought to be based there. Next day the Zentrale asked Derna if “the Nachtfalter sets” were being heard, on which frequencies and at what strength. A fragmentary signal from Derna that day may have been the response to this inquiry:

Nachtfalter has not been heard. A fres apparatus is urgently required. No longer ready for operation as from 0015 hours.

The Navy Operations Staff’s dismal conclusion on 8 September was that: "we are not equipped at present to deal with the highly superior skill of the RAF in night operations at sea". Three days later however there was a hopeful note: "The newly developed radar set … (‘Hohentwiel’) has a range of 15 km at an altitude of 50 m and … 400 km at …1000 m. It thus approximates the performance of British equipment."

continued on next page …

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TIMELINE

 

13 September

Failed British commando raid on Tobruk.

Early September–
late October

Eighth Army build-up and training for planned offensive. Axis forces fortify positions before El Alamein, laying extensive minefields.

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