September 1942

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The existence but not the location of a Störleitstelle Afrika (Jamming Control Station Africa) was revealed to the Allies via a message of 1 September, addressed to a radar repair depot in Messina. 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. A Wildschwein was on station with the convoy at the time and had jammed seven ASV frequencies. Even so, the Germans monitored continuous ASV contact reports from hostile 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 enemy air activity against the African supply operations is extremely troublesome …

Kriegsmarine Operations Staff, 2 September 1942

Shipping losses due to enemy air attacks have assumed intolerable proportions. I hereby direct [you] to take measures to ensure that in future losses are reduced to a minimum.

Directive to X. Fliegerkorps and Kdo. Herling, 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 that his health had deteriorated considerably as a result of continuous night duty; relief plotters were urgently requested.

As on several previous days, ground stations in Egypt plotted airborne jamming in the early hours of 2 September:

… bearings disclosed the source of interference to be travelling East and at this juncture the “Lark” warning was passed to 252 Wing Controller. After reaching 070º at 0341 [GMT+2] the source of interference appeared to travel West through 147º. At this time Raid 3 was on the table and its movements coincided with that of the source of interference …

Two RCM aircraft operated on that night, indirectly protecting the damaged and drifting Abruzzi and the Italian Navy's tanker Stige. Only one carried out this task and the tanker reached its destination at 0800 on the 3rd while the Abruzzi was towed into Benghazi. At 2355 hrs, 90 km NNW Tobruk an RAF aircraft reported interference on its ASV: “intermittent A.M. C.W. [amplitude modulated continuous wave] on port side of tube only, course 312º.” In addition »LN Sonderkommando RPZ« (Special Air Signals Detachment of the Reich Postal Service Main Office) at Noto, Sicily reported the detection of ASV radars at 1925 and 2035. In both cases bearings were taken but detection was followed by “electrical interference”.

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 shortly after take-off from 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 ordered jamming by all available aircraft. The position that afternoon however was that “all the Wildschweine are ill” but one later “recovered”, taking off at 1937 hours, an RAF aircraft experiencing “railing type interference” on its ASV display at midnight, about 120 km NNW Tobruk. Whilst the Sportivo got through, Padenna, Bianchi and the torpedo boat Polluce were torpedoed overnight, the first of these by an RN submarine, the others by aircraft. On the 5th, Sonderkdo. Koch reported from Kalamaki that three of its aircraft were unserviceable: an He 111 H-6 was having both engines changed; another was undergoing a “special installation” as was the unit’s Ju 88 D-5.

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 (even though 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. In addition, Fliegerkorps II (in Taormina, Sicily) confirmed that »Trupp 7« would operate aboard the destroyer Aviere for the protection of the combined Ravello and Ankara convoys. From the context it seems that their role was to liaise with the air escorts. Fliegerkorps II also signalled details of two jamming sorties apparently due to take place overnight (many words are missing from the intercepted text) along designated patrol lines. A pair of minesweeping Ju 52 which arrived in Athens-Tatoi on the 6th were to be sent to Tobruk “at once”, and this too could be seen as a measure to ensure the “decisive” convoy’s safe arrival. 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.

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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