WI: Rommel was right about Malta

Crete was the costliest naval engagement for the RN in the entire war. They lost 4 cruisers and 6 destroyers and had one AC, 2 BBs, and 4 cruisers put out of action for a long time, Maybe the time to hit Malta was right after Crete. The relative strength of the RM v. the RN was at its highest.
Also Crete was much closer to British bases and further from Axis airfields and ports. The garrison on Crete was about twice the size of the garrison on Malta. There was some British air power on Crete at the beginning of the battle and more could be brought in with direct flights rather than having to use ACs. The Italian navy was not really present for the Crete operation. All of these things make Crete a much, much more attractive venue for the RN in comparison with Malta.
One issue with garrison sizes is that Malta is less than one twentieth the size of Crete, and much more developed. Malta is a defender's paradise and an attacker's nightmare, so you'd either have to flatten the place, or starve it out, and the latter isn't practical, as the resources you'd need wouldn't be available.
 
This same logic sometimes comes up in Sea Lion threads. That the RN would not be an issue as they had already withdrawn far from the channel. Here, as there, the answer is that they are of course not going to hang around getting bombed when there is no reason for them to be there. An invasion is definitely the time for them to be there
The big difference is air power. The RAF had nearby bases and had by no means been swept from the sky. Also the stakes as well as the quantity of 1. RN resources nearby, and 2. Axis naval resources nearby were very different. For Sea Lion, it had to be a case of "all in" for the UK - that was not he case with Malta. Indeed, the UK had considered Malta to be marginal and unable to be defended in the summer of 1940. Also the UK had massive naval resources near any possible site for Sea Lion - not so, with Malta. The naval resources were some distance away and much less massive. Finally, the Axis had almost no naval resources available for Sea Lion whereas they had naval resources roughly comparable to the RN naval resources for Malta.
But, as I have said from the beginning, the big deal was air power. Because Malta was hard to replenish with aircraft the Axis could achieve total air supremacy fairly quickly with a massed effort from Sicily. They were never able to come close to doing this in the Channel.
 
Another big difference with Sea Lion is logistics. In Sea Lion you had to transport a very sizable force and then constantly resupply it so that it could defeat the entire British army with tanks, and artillery and, in order to do so, travel hundreds of miles, construct airfields, etc. Meanwhile the enemy is constantly being resupplied by the Americans.
On Malta, travel needs are very limited, the enemy has 12 or so tanks and 12,000 or so men who have little or no hope of resupply.
 
Hard to find the right window. Summer of 1940 may be too early because Mussolini may not be willing to let the Germans get involved Maybe early 41 - around the time Mussolini was really having problems in North Africa but before Barbarossa. In my view, the earlier the better both because it would save more Axis merchant shipping, free up the air units earlier and probably be easier.
Summer of 1940 is out not because of Mussolini but because the LW is fighting the BoB. Similarly anything to soon after that is out because they're still recovering from fighting the BoB.

Then as you say you have Barbarossa mid 41. But before that you also have the invasion of Greece which required both Italian and LW planes as well.
 
On Malta, travel needs are very limited, the enemy has 12 or so tanks and 12,000 or so men who have little or no hope of resupply.
What kinds of tanks are we talking about? If they're Matilda IIs, then the Italians are screwed, because those things are unkillable by any Italian weapon short of the Cannone da 90/53 or maybe the the Cannone da 75/46 C.A. modello 34.

Also, you don't have many entry points, so rthe ones there are are going to be fairly heavily guarded, pre-sighted guns and all.
 
Italy isn't going to risk a brazen confrontation with the RN just months after the RN sunk half their battle line.
Italy did just that within days of Taranto. And then did it again the next week.

Taranto was 11-12th Nov. On the 15th Nov the Italian fleet left port to intercept a British Club Run to Malta, forcing Somerville to turn back early. On 27th Nov they tried again, resulting in the inconclusive action of Spartivento.

There's a bit of a myth of Italy's performance at sea in the Med. They weren't incompetent - they were brave, aggressive and relatively successful. But their doctrine and technology let them down at key points - most obviously at night - and of course they suffered from being overshadowed by Germany. They failed to take opportunities.

However in the case of this putative attack on Malta, the option of disengagement present at both Calabria and Spartivento is not there. If Italy wants to land on Malta, the invasion shipping will need to be protected from the RN. This puts them in the deeply unfavourable situation of being forced to defend a fixed point, very likely at night.

I suspect bravery will not avail them in those cirumstances.
 
However in the case of this putative attack on Malta, the option of disengagement present at both Calabria and Spartivento is not there. If Italy wants to land on Malta, the invasion shipping will need to be protected from the RN. This puts them in the deeply unfavourable situation of being forced to defend a fixed point, very likely at night.

I suspect bravery will not avail them in those cirumstances.
Pretty much my point. The RN isn't stupid, so they won't risk much on mere supply runs. A blockade/invasion is another kettle of fish, and you can bet your boots the RN will absolutely commit to it, pretty much regardless of cost. Better to die than to show cowardice.
 
Yeah I realised after I wrote that I might have misunderstood your line of thinking. Oh well.

Plus there's a question of just how serious the RM was in pushing the opportunities in Operation White and at Spartivento - really, were those sorties "proper" efforts to engage and destroy a British squadron? How much were they driven by the need to uphold fleet morale by showing fighting spirit after Taranto? Was it deemed sufficient to engage and then withdraw unless a gilt-edged opportunity presented itself?

But yes, your point stands - an attack on Malta is a "cards on the table, let's see what you've got" encounter and it is not actually clear that the RM really desired that. It's a big gamble and the consequences of failure would be severe.
 
1. I am assuming the involvement of German ground troops.
2. I am assuming that they opt for this operation (and others) rather than BOB.
3. Then, if Mussolini agrees, summer of 1940 is best.
4. If he doesn't, then as soon after that as possible.
5. With these assumptions, I still think it is doable as described.
6. My assumption is that with German participation, air supremacy is achieved which - even at this early date - trumps sea power and tanks.

But you have all made some good points so I will hit the books, do some research and try to get back to this in a couple of weeks or so after I return from a trip.
 
Isn't it a huge propaganda coup for the British (and excellent news for their factory production and rearming their army) if instead of fighting the Battle of Britain and doing his best to level their airfields and armaments factories (and some of the 1940 attacks were very effective in smashing British weapons production - the Germans managed to destroy the UK's entire anti-tank rifle production at that time (which was based in Birmingham) if I remember Churchill's memoirs right, and take out a new bomber design (Wikipedia identifies the Supermarine B.12/36) whilst it was still on the drawing boards in the Southampton area) Hitler instead decides to attack... Malta?
 
I was having a brain fart at the time I wrote that, because I was reading that as akin to "This is after Taranto, after all...", instead of, as intended, "This will be more so after Taranto, so...".

I realised my brain was misfiring, and misunderstanding what, in retrospect was clear enough that it really shouldn't have been misunderstood, yet my addled brain managed to do so anyway. So my apologies, and I hope I didn't offend, and I'll scuttle back to lurker mode in a moment, lol.

As for this whole concept, I like the back and forth's that are taking place. With access to historical wartime records that we in the present have been enjoying for decades, the proverbial **SeaLion** is revealed as something not even the Nazi's were dumb enough to actually try and go through with, yet at the time, fear in the UK populace was allowed over this very subject. We know that the Germans could 100% have landed "German boots on ground" in the fall of 1940, but unknown to the general population of the UK, these boots would 99% of the time be worn by some tattered, scattered, tiny disjointed groups with no hope of fighting their way off the coast, and would even have been incapable of being evacuated when it became clear even to Hitler what an unadulterated mess the whole 'invasion' had turned out to be, what with thousands of German troops lost due to drowning, while the more fortunate others being forced to jump 'ship' and swim back to shore when their craft swamped right as they set off. Those poor folks that actually made it to British shores are much more likely to be 'survivors' than effective combatants, and mostly not landed anywhere near where they were supposed to be. So not only no reinforcements/resupply, what with the majority of their barges scattered and lost in the initial, first wave, but no evacuation either! My point here is that, it matters not what the invader thinks they can do, but what the defender is afraid the invader can do. If anyone disagrees or doubts this, look no further than the historical attacks upon both the French and Italian fleets in 1940. Both were based upon fears, in this case of the UK government, that these fleets, used competently, may have posed a dire threat to British power/interests. The British government was not incorrect in their fears, and took appropriate steps to ensure that this would not come to pass.

Now back to Malta.

For us to get an attempted invasion of Malta, what would have to have taken place before hand? For my thoughts on the matter, should Italy have taken into account the potential need to take Malta right at the outset of their entry into WWII? You know, like when the defenses would likely have been undermanned and weak, and the potential for launching a surprise attack is at it's most likely/possible? Did Italy make any such preparations, or did they just jump in with both feet and overlook Malta entirely?

Basically, what I would ask, is when should the Italians have recognised Malta as a potential thorn in their sides, and begin planning to remove said thorn, before or after their entry into WWII?
 

Coulsdon Eagle

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I was having a brain fart at the time I wrote that, because I was reading that as akin to "This is after Taranto, after all...", instead of, as intended, "This will be more so after Taranto, so...".

I realised my brain was misfiring, and misunderstanding what, in retrospect was clear enough that it really shouldn't have been misunderstood, yet my addled brain managed to do so anyway. So my apologies, and I hope I didn't offend, and I'll scuttle back to lurker mode in a moment, lol.
No offence taken. I was looking at what I'd posted & trying to figure out what was wrong with it :D

There was an Osprey release recently on the air battles over Malta that pinpointed the periods when the Axis had seized enough control in the air to make an invasion more possible. I'll try to dig it out.

My own thoughts are: -
  1. A successful invasion of Malta is possible if enough of certain parameters are met;
  2. The optimal time from a naval perspective would be between August & November 1940, when the MN is out of the game, Vittorio Veneto & Littorio enter service and the FAA attack on Taranto;
  3. Sadly the Luftwaffe is neck deep into the BOB until late September, so no meaningful support available, although there would be a load of underemployed Stukas in the Pas de Calais;
  4. Given the casualties an airborne assault would suffer, I expect that the Axis would be able to take Crete or Malta, not both.
There will be more to follow once I find that elusive book.
 
Looking at the stats however, there appears to have been minimal attempts by the British to disrupt supply shipping to Libya in 1940 (50 people and 10 tons of supplies were lost in June, but nothing lost in the period of July - November, at least, according to Wikipedia), so how obvious would it be that the place actually needed neutralising? Also, the problem with focussing on Malta, from the German perspective at least, is that the Mediterranean was considered an Italian theatre until late 1940, so any attack in this time-frame will be exclusively an Italian operation.
 
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Looking at the stats however, there appears to have been minimal attempts by the British to disrupt supply shipping to Libya in 1940 (50 people and 10 tons of supplies were lost in June, but nothing lost in the period of July - November, at least, according to Wikipedia), so how obvious would it be that the place actually needed neutralising? Also, the problem with focussing on Malta, from the German perspective at least, is that the Mediterranean was considered an Italian theatre until late 1940, so any attack in this time-frame will be exclusively an Italian operation.
Those are good points, and hard to argue with.
 
So Rommel was right then?
Maybe Rommel was indeed right.

Any invasion of Malta in 1942 is going to be very, very difficult. But not impossible IMO if the Axis are willing to throw enough resources at it. In my experience, it is very easy to come up with reasons why any military operation cannot succeed but most actually do. It ‘just’ requires smart people to come up with a good plan and the resources to pull it off.

But even if Malta is taken and Axis supplies arrive unmolested in North Africa, Rommel is never going to get sufficient supplies (and let’s not talk about getting the supplies to the front lines) to equal the Allies. And his force is simply too small to fight the allies on anything like equal terms.

So his only chance of real and permanent success is to keep the allies off balance and establish a psychological dominance to off-set his inferiority in numbers and supplies. Which is what he has been doing since early 1941 and usually quite effectively at that.

On paper, he should never have been able to do that in 1941/early 1942. Just as on paper, he stood no chance of success in late 1942. But war is not just down to comparing numbers. Strategy, luck and psychology play a much greater role IMO.

Rommel, despite operating on a shoe-string, might very well have sent demoralised allies led by General Gott running to Cairo and beyond. Nothing in Gott’s career suggests he could have successfully rallied the 8th Army and defeated Rommel. It was only his unexpected death that allowed Montgomery to assume command of 8th Army and his style of fighting (abundant supplies, methodical battle) was the perfect antidote to Rommel’s style.
 
Actually refreshing to see that Rommel does get a bit of accolades instead of the usual Rommel bashing.

Of course Rommel (and others!) were sitting with the choice:

1) Take time out to invest Malta
OR
2) get to Cairo with what was available

Rommel knew that building up resources was a losing game for him. He would not be able to match the Allies at that stage whether he had malta or not.

So, he decided to go for El Alamein and take as much of Egypt as possible.

... but he lost that bet after all
 
1. I am assuming the involvement of German ground troops.
2. I am assuming that they opt for this operation (and others) rather than BOB.
3. Then, if Mussolini agrees, summer of 1940 is best.
4. If he doesn't, then as soon after that as possible.
5. With these assumptions, I still think it is doable as described.
6. My assumption is that with German participation, air supremacy is achieved which - even at this early date - trumps sea power and tanks.

But you have all made some good points so I will hit the books, do some research and try to get back to this in a couple of weeks or so after I return from a trip.

If there's no BoB then there's likely a lot of changes all over, e,g Malta might have more than Glouster Sea Gladiators in crates
 
As far as I can work out the number of infantry battalions in Malta grew from 7 when Italy declared war to 15 in May 1942 and remained at that level until the end of March 1943.

The 7 infantry battalions that were there when Italy declared war were all under the Malta Infantry Brigade. 5 of them were British and 2 were Maltese.

A third Maltese battalion was added on 1st July 1940, which brought the total to 8.

The Malta Infantry Brigade was renamed the Southern Infantry Brigade on 7th August 1940 and a Northern Infantry Brigade was formed the same day.

A British battalion arrived on 10th November 1940, which brought the total number of British battalions up to 6 and the grand total to 9. This battalion was initially under the Fortress Mobile Reserve, but it joined the Northern Infantry Brigade on 22nd February 1941.

Another British battalion arrived on 21st February 1941, which increased the grand total to 10 battalions (7 British and 3 Maltese).

A pair of British battalions arrived on 27th July 1941. This increased the grand total to 12 battalions (9 British and 3 Maltese). The Central Infantry Brigade was formed the same day.

A British battalion arrived on 2nd August 1941. This increased the grand total to 13 battalions (10 British and 3 Maltese).

A British battalion arrived on 27th January 1942. This increased the grand total to 14 battalions (11 British and 3 Maltese).

A fourth Maltese battalion joined the Central Infantry Brigade on 4th May 1942. This increased the grand total to 15 battalions (11 British and 4 Maltese).

The Western Infantry Brigade was formed on 13th May 1942.

The four infantry brigades were renamed on 14th July 1942 as follows:
1st (Malta) Infantry Brigade - formerly the Southern Infantry Brigade​
2nd (Malta) Infantry Brigade - formerly the Northern Infantry Brigade​
3rd (Malta) Infantry Brigade - formerly the Central Infantry Brigade​
4th (Malta) Infantry Brigade - formerly the Western Infantry Brigade​

The 1st to 4th (Malta) Infantry Brigades, were renamed the 231st to 234th Infantry Brigades on 1st April 1943. However, the 1st (Malta) Infantry Brigade was not on the island when it was renamed. It had left Malta on 30th March 1943 and would arrive in Egypt on 3rd April 1943.
 
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