Sunday, September 9, 2012

RAF strength Med/Middle East - 1941-43

In the period 1941-43 the main theatre of war between British and German military forces was North Africa. There British forces had to fight against the German Africa Corps and the Italian Army.

The RAF strength during this period was the following:

Middle East Command and later Mediterranean Command

 

 North West African Air Forces

RAF - North West African Air Forces
Types
7-May-43
3-Sep-43
Spitfire
686
703
Hurricane
165
181
Kittyhawk
97
Beaufighter
62
144
Wellington
31
207
Marauder
15
16
Boston
40
74
Blenheim
44
63
Hudson
57
43
Baltimore
71
Spitfire recon
15
20
Mosquito recon
4
Total
1,115
1,623

 

Numbers refer to planes operational plus those serviceable within 14 days.

RAF Malta

 

Source: Daily strength reports from AIR 22 - 'Air Ministry: Periodical Returns, Intelligence Summaries and Bulletins'

Some comments:

Numerical strength goes up dramatically during the period 1941-43. From 385 fighters and bombers in May ’41, to 1.202 in May ’42, to 2.926 in May ’43 (including NWAAF).

In terms of quality the picture is not as clear as regards quantity. Even though the Brits have the excellent Spitfire fighter, in the Med they use the outdated Hurricane and the US P-40. Both these planes are inferior to the Bf-109. The Spitfire is finally used from mid 1942 but is only available in large numbers in late ’42.

The bomber force also suffers from mediocre quality. Initially it is made up of the outdated Blenheim and Wellington types. In 1942-43 the US types Boston, Maurauder, Baltimore, Maryland and Hudson are also used.

Standardization does not seem to be an issue with the RAF. In 1941 there are 2 fighter and 4 bomber types in use. In 1942 there are 6 fighter and 9 bomber types. Finally in 1943 there are 5 fighter and 8 bomber types.

Lend Lease plays a vital role in N.Africa, as the American P-40 fighter and the Boston, Maurauder, Baltimore, Maryland and Hudson bombers make up a large part of RAF strength in the theatre (roughly a third of ME Command in 1941-42).

Comparison with Axis strength:

Unfortunately I don’t have similar data for the Italian AF but Luftwaffe strength for Luftflotte 2 and Sud Ost has been posted here.

The RAF had a significant numerical advantage over the German AF, however that does not mean that the Germans were always outnumbered.

Against Malta the Luftwaffe could concentrate a large force of fighters and bombers operating from Sicily. In the first half of 1942 they had between 300-400 combat planes versus less than half as many British planes.

On the other hand in North Africa it was the Brits that had crushing superiority. The strength of Fliegerf├╝hrer Afrika fluctuated between 200-300 planes versus up to 6 times as many in Middle East Command.

The Germans also faced serious supply problems that forced them to rely mainly on the Bf-109 and Ju-87. Bombers like the Ju-88 could not be permanently based in N.Africa but operated from Italy and Greece and were resupplied in N.African airports. The RAF on the other hand had the benefit of a large number of twin-engined bombers operating from N.African bases.

1 comment:

  1. When you are comparing Axis vs. Commonwealth, you mustn't forget the Regia Aeronautica. They also played, and they were first of all a force to be reckoned with (not just numerically), and they were committed to the theatre. The Regia Aeronautica played a vital role in providing reconnaissance, ground strike, torpedo, strike, and close escort forces, and this worked well with the Luftwaffe's small Bf 109 force operating as distant escort to strike missions. Also, once the very good Mc 202 appeared in North Africa in November 1941, the Regia Aeronautica had a fighter that was ahead of the Commonwealth equipment.

    Also, comparisons between Axis strength in North Africa and RAF Middle East at the start of an operation can be misleading, since unlike the RAF, the Axis had the option to either fly in planes from Greece and Italy, or to operate strike missions directly from Greece (mainland or Crete). This is particularly pronounced during Operation CRUSADER, where Axis air strength in fighters increases dramatically within a week or so of the start of the operation.

    Ju 88 were permanently based in North Africa in 1941 (III./LG1), but they had low serviceability ratios (just like in Greece).

    Regarding the superiority of the Bf 109. This really only started when the E version was replaced by the F-4 just before the start of CRUSADER.

    All the best

    Andreas

    ReplyDelete