Max Hastings: Operation Pedestal

1.7 million tonnes.

Thats (off the top of my head) the amount of Italian merchant shipping sunk during WW2 by allied forces.

How much of that is because of Malta (not just forces based in Malta but forcing convoys to route away from Malta closer to other forces.

How much war material is that. What would that war material have done elsewhere.

Theres an opinion that Malta could have been let go. I don't feel it would have released major forces for service elsewhere.
 
I think that's probably true, just windering about it.

However, British also poured lot of resources into Malta that could be used elsewere. All the shipping lost and used, all the planes sent there and lost (mostly with pilots) on the way without even fighting, all the naval forces dedicated to it with major losses (2 CV's among others, even if one obsolete) and damages... Subs used for suply runs instead for hunting Italian shipping.

Brits could also use that elsewhere.

And it's doubtfull if all those planes could be supplied if sent to Lybia.

I think Malta was definitely worth it just for morale purposes, to "fight back".

I'm just wondering if cold material calculation also makes it similarily important or less than that.
No. The british were protecting, not just interests in the med, but the route to India and the middle east oil fields. They were playing the long strategic game.
 

trinity

Banned
Even avoiding the Greek mainland campaign and holding Crete the British Commonwealth lacked the strength to really destroy the Axis forces until Operation Crusader in late 1941. The entire 2nd Armoured Division likely only had the strength to hold Rommel's Op Sonnenblume at Tobruk, the forces gathered for Battleaxe when added to the semi-successful 2nd AD likely only had the strength to take Benghazi. It's only when Op Crusader, if launched from west of Tobruk and using the lessons learned from earlier campaigns, that the British have the strength to push much past their 1940 high point and perhaps make Tripoli.
And it was transferring troops to Greece because they thought they had plenty of time before the Afrika Korps could get organized that cost them the opportunity, not defending Malta.
Both Greece and the Mediterranean were diversions of effort from the point of main emphasis in North Africa, as Hastings expertly points out and what all of his critics seem to be missing the point.

Had the High Command been in sync earlier with the political importance of Libya to the Italian war effort, their decision-making process would have been copletely different.
 
Both Greece and the Mediterranean were diversions of effort from the point of main emphasis in North Africa, as Hastings expertly points out and what all of his critics seem to be missing the point.

Had the High Command been in sync earlier with the political importance of Libya to the Italian war effort, their decision-making process would have been copletely different.
All you are doing is make people laugh at you with comments like that. Greece for instance was not a diversion , it was, in grand strategy terms, needed to set up political and economic pieces ( mainly in the US ) to help win the war. Churchill was fully aware Britain needed the US in its corner a lot more more than a quicker win in the North African theatre ( strategically all that was needed was to keep Suez safe , driving the Axis out was just a bonus )
 
Both Greece and the Mediterranean were diversions of effort from the point of main emphasis in North Africa, as Hastings expertly points out and what all of his critics seem to be missing the point.

Had the High Command been in sync earlier with the political importance of Libya to the Italian war effort, their decision-making process would have been copletely different.

I agree. Greece was a diversion, the British could never have provided sufficient forces to stop the German reaction their deployment was expected to provoke.

However there simply wasn't enough material strength available to the British in early-mid 1941 to do much other than halt Rommel short of the objectives he achieved, even if all the resources sent to Greece were instead deployed in Libya. For example the 2nd AD had 2 understength Armoured Brigades and the Support Group instead of the standard 3, and even these were organised along the less than ideal structural lines the British were using at the time. The Tiger convoy bought more tanks and equipment for use in Battleaxe but even these when used alongside what was left of the 7th and a successful full strength 2nd ADs equipment barely amount to two ADs.
 

trinity

Banned
All you are doing is make people laugh at you with comments like that. Greece for instance was not a diversion , it was, in grand strategy terms, needed to set up political and economic pieces ( mainly in the US ) to help win the war. Churchill was fully aware Britain needed the US in its corner a lot more more than a quicker win in the North African theatre ( strategically all that was needed was to keep Suez safe , driving the Axis out was just a bonus )
I agree. Greece was a diversion, the British could never have provided sufficient forces to stop the German reaction their deployment was expected to provoke.

However there simply wasn't enough material strength available to the British in early-mid 1941 to do much other than halt Rommel short of the objectives he achieved, even if all the resources sent to Greece were instead deployed in Libya. For example the 2nd AD had 2 understength Armoured Brigades and the Support Group instead of the standard 3, and even these were organised along the less than ideal structural lines the British were using at the time. The Tiger convoy bought more tanks and equipment for use in Battleaxe but even these when used alongside what was left of the 7th and a successful full strength 2nd ADs equipment barely amount to two ADs.
Blame Hastings, not me. That's precisely what he's saying here, and he's very much correct in this case.
 
Blame Hastings, not me. That's precisely what he's saying here, and he's very much correct in this case.

If Hastings thinks that avoiding Greece and focusing on Libya in the first half of 1941 will bring victory in North Africa in 1941 then he's wrong.
 
IMO between holding Crete and holding Malta I’d have chosen Malta. During most of Summer 1942 it was a non-factor in interrupting German shipping. Crete would’ve been a much better base for reducing Axis air cover and interdicting shipping to Benghazi.

Anyway, Malta was definitely useful as a submarine base but the anti-shipping campaign’s success was a combined arms operation of air power, surface ships, and subs. Ultimately it could’ve been run from Cyprus/Alexandria with less efficiency.
 
Blame Hastings, not me. That's precisely what he's saying here, and he's very much correct in this case.
What? If you are saying Hastings is correct then its your opinion as well as his so why is he to blame? Don't rely just on one source and follow it uncritically. As a Youtuber is fond of saying , always ask " Is this the case?". Unless you believe the British were drinking lead paint by the gallon then it is clear they would know if the Germans commit to Greece , the Germans win. So it becomes clear that the British going to Greece was not done for purely military reasons, hence the situation is not as simple as Hastings claims it is. Its not about winning in North Africa , its about winning the war. Which makes his entire argument fall down.
 

CalBear

Moderator
Donor
Monthly Donor
All you are doing is make people laugh at you with comments like that. Greece for instance was not a diversion , it was, in grand strategy terms, needed to set up political and economic pieces ( mainly in the US ) to help win the war. Churchill was fully aware Britain needed the US in its corner a lot more more than a quicker win in the North African theatre ( strategically all that was needed was to keep Suez safe , driving the Axis out was just a bonus )
Ease back.

Play the Ball.
 
1.7 million tonnes.

Thats (off the top of my head) the amount of Italian merchant shipping sunk during WW2 by allied forces.

How much of that is because of Malta (not just forces based in Malta but forcing convoys to route away from Malta closer to other forces.

How much war material is that. What would that war material have done elsewhere.

Theres an opinion that Malta could have been let go. I don't feel it would have released major forces for service elsewhere.
Also submarines operating from Malta could launch and retrieve commando raids and insert and extract S.O.E. agents. And if they had a deck gun a submarine could shoot up Italian coastal infrastructure including unprotected sections of the main west coast railway line.
 

trinity

Banned
If Hastings thinks that avoiding Greece and focusing on Libya in the first half of 1941 will bring victory in North Africa in 1941 then he's wrong.
Saying that somebody is wrong does not make them wrong.
What? If you are saying Hastings is correct then its your opinion as well as his so why is he to blame? Don't rely just on one source and follow it uncritically. As a Youtuber is fond of saying , always ask " Is this the case?". Unless you believe the British were drinking lead paint by the gallon then it is clear they would know if the Germans commit to Greece , the Germans win. So it becomes clear that the British going to Greece was not done for purely military reasons, hence the situation is not as simple as Hastings claims it is. Its not about winning in North Africa , its about winning the war. Which makes his entire argument fall down.
Considering how it’s the British who thought that Greece wouldn’t fall to the Germans, Hastings obviously passes the clickbait Youtuber test. Greece played a minimal war in Roosevelt’s decision to wage undeclared naval warfare on Germany in 1941, so your premise is incorrect.
 
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Garrison

Donor
Even if in cold blooded strategic terms it was sensible to abandon Malta would it have been politically possible to do so? Its one thing if the Axis were to seize Malta but quite another to simply withdraw and leave it to its fate. What would that have said about British capabilities and British resolve? I cannot see Churchill approving such an idea even if say Alanbrooke put it forward, for that matter is there any evidence the Chiefs of Staff ever floated such an idea and what the reaction was?
 
For some WW2 context - which I don't know if Max Hastings goes into, not having done any more (at the initial date of this post) than glance at his latest release - Operation Pedestal takes place in the summer of 1942, when Winston Churchill is desperately trying to persuade President Roosevelt to go ahead with Operation Torch, the German army under Rommel has advanced almost to Alexandria, and when Stalin is basically jeering about the Royal Navy and calling them all manner of unspeakable things after the PQ17 convoy disaster and asking the British Prime Minister where their fighting spirit is? (In fact I think that the British Prime Minister is in Moscow, trying to soothe Stalin, either during, or shortly after, Operation Pedestal taking place.)
So Winston needs British shows of strength and resolve to show off to not just Roosevelt, but to Stalin too, to convince them that the UK is still capable of fighting on (despite a catalogue of recent disasters, including but not limited to Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Gazala, PQ17, and the loss of Tobruk and retreat of 8th Army deep into Egypt) in the face of extreme adversity.
(edit - minor rewording)
Now maybe Max Hastings acknowledges and goes into this, and maybe he doesn't. But that's some context and background events going on in the runup to Operation Pedestal, which I hope would be included in any narrative which does not have a pre-determined conclusion which the writer is determined to prove.
 
Saying that somebody is wrong does not make them wrong.

Of course it doesn't, however in the western desert in 1940-41 it's very easy to get a handle on British armoured strength because we're talking about single divisions.

  • The 7th AD routed the Italians at Beda Fomm and then were withdrawn to Egypt to refit in early 1941
  • The 2nd AD arrived in Egypt in December 1940, just over half was deployed forward in Libya and the rest was sent to Greece. The Libyan half was destroyed in Battle during Rommels operation Sonnenblume in March-April 1941. The other half was lost in Greece at about the same time. 2nd AD was never re-raised
  • The Tiger convoy of May 1941 pushed through 82 cruiser and 135 Matilda tanks, these were used by 7th AD, 2 Brigades of 2 regiments plus spt grp. These were used and lost in Op Battleaxe in June 1941.
  • By November 1941 7th AD finally got 3 brigades of 3 tank regiments each, more than double the strength the ADs had up to this point, plus the Army tank brigade with 3 regts of Matildas. Outnumbering the Axis in tanks 738 to 414 Operation Crusader was a success.

Of that lot about the only thing that could change is all of the 2nd AD being deployed to Libya. However there were huge problems with the British occupation, for starters they never got Benghazi port operational until about 10 minutes before Rommel arrived, so the 2nd AD had horrific mobility and serviceability problems. The result was that for example 5RTR lost 29 tanks to breakdown but only 9 to enemy action. I think the ideal scenario is 2nd AD remains intact in Libya, but is held back east of the Jebel Akhdar where it can be more easily supplied from Tobruk, and is able to meet Rommel at full strength and halt him at Tobruk or thereabouts. Then when 7th AD is refitted with the Tiger Convoy Battleaxe is launched from Tobruk with somewhat greater strength and even as a failure still hold Tobruk. That means that the very powerful forces gathered for Crusader might have a chance of pushing the Axis were beyond El Agheila. However this is a pretty optimistic scenario, especially given the horrific state of the British armoured forces between Compass and Crusader.

So to reiterate my point, the British can't gather the strength to eject the Axis from Libya until very late 1941, and even then only if things go reasonably better than OTL.
 

trinity

Banned
Of course it doesn't, however in the western desert in 1940-41 it's very easy to get a handle on British armoured strength because we're talking about single divisions.

  • The 7th AD routed the Italians at Beda Fomm and then were withdrawn to Egypt to refit in early 1941
  • The 2nd AD arrived in Egypt in December 1940, just over half was deployed forward in Libya and the rest was sent to Greece. The Libyan half was destroyed in Battle during Rommels operation Sonnenblume in March-April 1941. The other half was lost in Greece at about the same time. 2nd AD was never re-raised
  • The Tiger convoy of May 1941 pushed through 82 cruiser and 135 Matilda tanks, these were used by 7th AD, 2 Brigades of 2 regiments plus spt grp. These were used and lost in Op Battleaxe in June 1941.
  • By November 1941 7th AD finally got 3 brigades of 3 tank regiments each, more than double the strength the ADs had up to this point, plus the Army tank brigade with 3 regts of Matildas. Outnumbering the Axis in tanks 738 to 414 Operation Crusader was a success.

Of that lot about the only thing that could change is all of the 2nd AD being deployed to Libya. However there were huge problems with the British occupation, for starters they never got Benghazi port operational until about 10 minutes before Rommel arrived, so the 2nd AD had horrific mobility and serviceability problems. The result was that for example 5RTR lost 29 tanks to breakdown but only 9 to enemy action. I think the ideal scenario is 2nd AD remains intact in Libya, but is held back east of the Jebel Akhdar where it can be more easily supplied from Tobruk, and is able to meet Rommel at full strength and halt him at Tobruk or thereabouts. Then when 7th AD is refitted with the Tiger Convoy Battleaxe is launched from Tobruk with somewhat greater strength and even as a failure still hold Tobruk. That means that the very powerful forces gathered for Crusader might have a chance of pushing the Axis were beyond El Agheila. However this is a pretty optimistic scenario, especially given the horrific state of the British armoured forces between Compass and Crusader.

So to reiterate my point, the British can't gather the strength to eject the Axis from Libya until very late 1941, and even then only if things go reasonably better than OTL.
Well, all of this didn't even begin to justify the pointless detours to Greece.
 
Malta being maintained as a base from which submarines, ships (force K) and aircraft can interdict shipping from Italy to North Africa created many problems for the Axis logistics beyond % of ships lost etc. They had to convoy, or convoy more, with escorts, on occasion very heavy escort and on such occasion using up what limited fuel the RM had in order to do so.

Without Malta being such a PITA the Axis would have enjoyed much greater freedom in the region and could have generated a greater number of sailings with less hassle

While the throughput of the ports in North Africa never seemed to keep up with the demand and need of the Axis forces, the losses from Malta based aircraft, subs and ships added another problem.

And as I said earlier the Germans and Italians used significant portions of their air forces to suppress the Island (meaning that they could not be used elsewhere) losing many aircraft doing so.

So to Max’s point yes the Island might have been a net drain on the allies and particularly the RN but it was also a net drain on the Axis.

A thunk just occurred to me regarding Max’s point. would the Axis have benefited more if ‘they’ had not tried to suppress the island. Or were they obliged to?
 
If Hastings thinks that avoiding Greece and focusing on Libya in the first half of 1941 will bring victory in North Africa in 1941 then he's wrong.
We know that the British in April knew Barbarossa was coming (they had known for some time). We also know that bringing the Greeks and the Yugoslavians into the war (the Greeks were already fighting) on paper brought about 1.5 million fighting men into the equation.

In hindsight the Greek adventure was foolish but only because the Yugoslavians folded so fast and then the Greeks now badly out numbered and out flanked also then folded so fast.

If that campaign had bogged down in the region and Barbarossa still goes ahead that region would become very important.

And then what of the Turks and the Bosporus?

The political and strategic potential of sending W force was massive

The retaining of British forces in Africa might change fortunes locally but it was going to be some time before the British were strong enough to push the Axis out of Libya.
 
Thanks for some insightful comment - I think there is a broad consensus that Hastings over -eggs the pudding with his perceptions that Malta was essentially a side-show and that Pedestal was largely a prestige issue.
 
I think one of the issues with analysis of something like this is that it assumes that Point A (Malta) has an additive (subtractive) effect when it actually has closer to an exponential effect in terms of difficulty for the Allies (Axis).

If Malta falls, the European Southern coastline is fully Axis save for Gibraltar. That has ripple effects and consequences elsewhere.
 
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