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Juha 20th March 2005 20:31

Tunisian losses
Hello, the old thread was locked, so I started a new one.

I took some time to read a bit Playfair et al The Mediterranean and Middle East Volume IV London 1966

as background p. xvii "...We have seldom been able to ably our methods to the operations of the Axis air forces because the records are not complete. As regards the enemy's losses in aircraft, Italian records have virtually dried up, while German records describe a portion of losses on operations in terms of which we have not found an accurate explanation. [1 e.g. "Not by enemy action", "Unknown". The puzzle is because these headings, when compared with other information available to us, appear to express more than their obvious meanings.] Broadly speaking these casualties amount to a 1/4 of the aircraft lost, and have been omitted from our reckoning."

Rather cryptic to me. One explanation is that IIRC the writers had access to ULTRA material but of course only to use as a background material. Maybe they had found some conflicts between ULTRA and the then open loss info and revealt that on this rather hazy way. But maybe their way to handle those "Unknowns" explains the difference theirs and Hooton's numbers in March 1943 LW losses. (136 vs. 160)

p. 179 "...During the period 22nd - 30th Nov., in direct and indirect support of the advance, Eastern Air Command flew an estimated total of 1,710 sorties and lost at least 45 a/c, ten of them on the ground. The US 12th AF flew about 180 sorties and lost at least 7 a/c. The LW in Tunisia flew some 1,084 sorties and lost 63 a/c (excluding those destroyed by Malta's a/c), incl. 21 on ground and 3 to AA guns. The recorded Italian losses amounted 4 a/c."

p. 186 "...Between 1st and 12th Dec., in direct and indirect support of the advance, Eastern Air Command flew 2,225 sorties and lost at least 37 a/c. The US 12th AF flew 523 sorties and lost 17 a/c. The LW in Tunisia flew just over 1,000 sorties and lost 37 a/c (excluding those destroyed by Malta's a/c), 9 of them on the ground. The recorded Italian losses amounted to 10a/c."

p.189 "...Between 13th and 26th Dec., in direct and indirect support of the advance, Eastern Air Command flew an estimated 1,940 sorties and lost at least 20 a/c. The US 12th AF flew about 720 sorties and lost 16 a/c. The LW in Tunisia flew some 1,030 sorties and lost 17 a/c exclusive of those destroyed by Malta's a/c. The Italians lost 3."

p.278 "...Altogether, from the 27th Dec 1942 to 17th Jan 1943, and excluding operations against shipping, the British flew 3,160 sorties of all kinds and lost 38 a/c. The Amricans flew an estimated 3,200 or so (incl. 694 by their invaluable air transport a/c). for the loss of 36, so far as is recorded. 47 German a/c were destroyed, but total Italian losses are unknown."

In all the losses according to writers of this book were not very onesided and only after 13th Dec were the Allied losses clearly bigger than those of Axis. 13.12.42 - 17.1.43 Allied lost at least 110 and Axis 67+, thats maybe 1:1,64 for Axis advance which is much less than that of almost 1:4 in fighter to fighter combat in Jan 43. Maybe part of this is explaned by the fact that Allied bombers (excl. those hopeless Bisleys[Blenheim Vs]) were harder to knock down than the Axis bombers? Should have read lmore but ran out of time.


Andreas Brekken 20th March 2005 22:33

Re: Tunisian losses
Hi, Juha.

I am not that familiar with this area of operations, bue a lot of data gathered on Luftwaffe losses in general.

Could You pls give me a list of which units we are talking about and timespan?


Franek Grabowski 21st March 2005 01:47

Re: Tunisian losses
I presume they have noted differencies between monthly returns, daily GQ6 returns and possibly other data available, eg. from Allied intelligence, the latter including Ultra, wireless intercepts, crash data, etc.
I have been just comparing GQ6 (thanks to Jim P.) and monthly losses for a unit based elsewhere at the different time and the monthly write offs generally fitted to aircraft damaged 40%+. Generally it seems only aircraft lost due to enemy action were listed as combat losses - there were no missings, so I do not know how they were registered. Allied listings included aircraft lost in combat sorties or non combat sorties not depending on cause, so it is apples and oranges.
More interestingly, the unit I looked for somehow missed to record in daily returns about 6+ aircraft lost due to accidents(?).

Juha 21st March 2005 08:36

Re: Tunisian losses
Hello Andreas
I'm at work now, but timeframe is 8.11.42 - 13?.5.43.
As on units, better check from Michael Holm's pages
But at least JG 77, JG 53, II/JG 51, II/JG 2, III/ZG 1 aka III/SKG 10, II/Sch.G 2, II/St.G 3 and a couple tac recon staffels, cannot remember the bomber units. And at the beginning zero unit, then rapid built up, then some units moved out some arrived and near the end only a few JGruppen and some other units. One researcher arrived, so I must stop now.


Juha 21st March 2005 16:25

Re: Tunisian losses

thanks for Your comment.

Yes, I'm also puzzled on those missing a/c, I haven't a clue on that. What are incl. in by Playfair et al on Allied losses, I'm not sure. Probably I must find a copy of the Volume I and read its introduction. I haven't paid a notice on this question before because when I read parts of the book some 20 years ago I was looking on background info on tank actions in Tunisia.


Christer Bergström 21st March 2005 19:43

Re: Tunisian losses
Friends, according to Playfair’s 40-year old book, explicitly and admittedly flawed by difficulties to obtain accurate Luftwaffe loss statistics, it is said that during the period 22nd - 30th Nov., the Luftwaffe lost 63 a/c (excluding those destroyed by Malta's a/c) in Tunisia, incl. 21 on ground and 3 to AA guns.

I wonder which units should have suffered all those losses in only nine days. Anyway, in “Fighters Over Tunisia” (which I now have) one can find only 30 Luftwaffe losses in the air - losses due to accidents included - during the same period. The only figure which matches with Payfair’s old stuff is that 20 Luftwaffe aircraft were destroyed on the ground. But where we shall find the difference between the 30 Luftwaffe losses in “Fighters over Tunisia” and the 42 Luftwaffe aircraft which Playfair implies the Luftwaffe lost in the air is an interesting question.

Abyway, due to the daily returns to the Generalquartiermeister der Lw, the Luftwaffe fighter units in lost a total of nine aircraft due to hostile action in the air in Tunisia between 22 Nov and 30 Nov 1942.

Obviously, Playfair's source for Allied losses also are flawed, since he writes - according to Juha: "Eastern Air Command flew an estimated total of 1,710 sorties and lost at least 45 a/c". - At least 45 aircraft? And Playfair apparently continues like that whenever he talks about Allied losses: "they lost at least. . ." or "so far as is recorded. . ."

I didn’t take the time to count the Allied losses listed in “Fighters Over Tunisia” during the same period - which occupies pages 62 - 79 in that book - but even a cursory reading shows that the Allied losses clearly were considerably higher than those of the Luftwaffe in fighter combat. Also, the Allies made quite heavy overclaims, which seems not to be the case regarding the Luftwaffe fighter claims.

Interestingly, the authors of “Fighters Over Tunisia” found that when II./JG 51 on 27 Nov 1942 attacked a formation of Spitfires and claimed seven shot down for no own losses, the corresponding Allied records gave no clue as to actual Allied losses. This is what the authors (Shores, Ring and Hess) found instead: “324 Wing recorded that of five sweeps made, two were badly bounced from cloud cover, but no details of the actual losses were recorded.” (p. 70.)

When Shores, Ring and Hess sum up the Tunisian air war at the end of the book, they write:

“Tunisia to the ‘experten’ of the German fighter force had proved to be a great killing ground. As the numerical strength of the Allies increased however, and the area over which operations took place got smaller, life became increasingly difficult for them. [. . .] Undoubtedly the Luftwaffe fighters had done a better job in Tunisia in early 1943 than they had in Libya and Egypt during 1942.” (p. 389)


“The Tunisian Campaign [. . .] can perhaps be said was the last great heyday of the German fighter pilots in the West.” (p. 384.)

Or as the Polish fighter pilot Ludwig Martek of 145 Squadron is quoted recalling from the Tunisian air war:

“We [i.e. the Allied pilots] were always superior in numbers.” (p. 412.)

Juha 22nd March 2005 07:52

Re: Tunisian losses
Hello Christer
You wrote:" according to Playfair’s 40-year old book, explicitly and admittedly flawed by difficulties to obtain accurate Luftwaffe loss statistics,..."

Don't underestimate the book, the writers, who all were rather high-ranking officers (group captain, captain, RN, brigadier and major general) had access to all official documents, also those that were then and rather long time afterwards officially secret and so unavailable to other researchers, especially to civilians and they also got help and co-operation from official historians and from archives in other countries, for example from Germany and US. So problemsstemmed probably more on the fact that so much LW documents had been destroyed than an ability to track the material. But of course the book is old.

Christer wrote:"Playfair's source for Allied losses also are flawed, since he writes - according to Juha: "Eastern Air Command flew an estimated total of 1,710 sorties and lost at least 45 a/c". - At least 45 aircraft? And Playfair apparently continues like that whenever he talks about Allied losses: "they lost at least. . ." or "so far as is recorded. . .""

I don't see that as a problem, see above, but rather as a good professional practice. They might have noticed that there might have been gaps in their source material or that maybe there might have been losses that had not been property documented in the official documents and they made that clear to their readers. That was double important in this case because, as I wrote above, they had access to materials that were inaccessable to other researches. The problems with some US losses during the early part of Tunisian campaign is well known, for example.

OK back to work

Frank Olynyk 22nd March 2005 08:14

Re: Tunisian losses
When the British Official Histories were written, the decrypting of Enigma was still secret, so no reference to it appears in them (other than the Intelligence volumes published after the declassification of the work at Bletchley Park). But they did prepare properly annotated volumes, and I believe a set of this is at the PRO in Kew. My memory says they are (or were) in the reference room, not the library, and not as accessioned items which have to be requested by computer. So their sources could be checked.


Juha 22nd March 2005 11:12

Re: Tunisian losses
Thanks for that info, I'll try to remember that when I visit PRO next time.


Andreas Brekken 22nd March 2005 19:23

Re: Tunisian losses
Hi, guys.

I do believe the only way we can get any further regarding this issue is to get down to the basis and the hard records that does exist today.

I am also unable to check my records against Your comments here, especially when they are written like 'for the unit I checked some losses seem not to be recorded' like Franek just did. No negative remark really Franek, I just do not want to write an answer regarding apples, when You were counting beans....

There is one source in particular on the German side that has not been mantioned here in detail, namely the 'Summarische Verlustemeldungen' for the units involved. They do not give the details, but they definitely give the number of losses recorded.

I am currently doing some work in regards to checking these against the 'Flugzeugbestand und Bewegungsmeldungen' as published oin Michael Holm's web site. There are discrepancies, but it seems (conclusion this far) that these can be based on the following: Report timespan (losses recorded with dates just before a shortly after the end/start of the month not showing in correct monthly return), and unit dispositions (these records are by Gruppe, and thus a Gruppen-TO or clerk could have had problems obtaining the correct figures for his return, especially when seen against the above dating 'problem').

I will look further into this, and report my findings later.

Also as a general comment - an aircraft damage with a loss percentage BELOW 10% is not reported as an aircraft loss. In my work with the GenQu 6 Abt loss records, I have come across numerous records that are recorded and later stricken with the comment saying: 'Streiche .... da Flzg unter 10% beschädigt'. This could even happen if the pilot or a crew member was killed!

To know how the system that generated our sources worked is especially important when discussing like we do here, I even feel that some of the participants have not fully understood and studied the loss return system of the WWII Luftwaffe based on original documents, but are referring to secondary sources that are at best an authors comprehension of a given event.

Also one VERY important message, You cannot read the GenQu6 Abt listings to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth without comparing esplly to the above mentioned 'Summarische Verlustemeldungen'. The reason being of course that none of us have access to the returns for the following dates (without doing backwards reconstruction from other sources):

January 2nd 1944 - January 28th 1945
February 21st 1945 - February 26th 1945 (current research hints towards these never being completed)
All records after April 1st, 1945

The reason I am saying this is that the records for 1944 most probably contain a multitude of corrections and amendments to the records for 1943.


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