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Old 25th March 2005, 17:59
Christer Bergström Christer Bergström is offline
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Christer Bergström
Re: Discussion on the air war in Tunisia

Some notes on the Tunisian air war, based on Shores’s, Ring’s & Hess’s “Fighters over Tunisia”.

I am re-reading “Fighters over Tunisia” with great interest. To get a full picture of the air war of course requires a large amount of knowledge, so that one knows how to assess the caleidoscopic combat reports and place them into a context where conclusions can be drawn. The main benefit of “Fighters over Tunisia” is that it refers to an ocean of various combat reports. However, one thing I miss in the book is an overall assessment of various combats. It is easy to “drown” in the jungle of various unit reports. I find the final chapter, “Conclusions” - encompassing almost 50 pages, including many testimonies by the men who experienced that air war - as the most interesting part of that book. There one finds, among many accounts, this statement by the Polish fighter pilot Ludwig Martel (145 Sqn):

“We were always superior in numbers.” (p. 412)

We have seen how Luftwaffe units were drawn into one combat after another with numerically superior Allied fighter formations during one and the same combat flight over Normandy in 1944. See the article ”The Effect of Allied Numerical Air Superiority Over Normandy in 1944” here:

The situation was similar for the Luftwaffe fighters in Tunisia (although the Allies didn’t enjoy the same massive numerical superiority in Tunisia as at Normandy 18 months later).

The description in “Fighters over Tunisia” of the air battle in the Mareth Line - Gabes area in shortly after midday on 22 March 1943 is interesting, because it illustrates the Allied numerical superiority in the air over Tunisia:

At 1250 hrs, a total of 24 Spitfires of 145 and 601 squadrons took off in two formations. 12 of these Spitfires, from 145 Sqn, reportedly met seven Bf 109s in the Mareth area. Then the other formation of 12 Spitfires also reported an engagement with seven Bf 109s in the same area. At 1315 hrs, 36 Kittyhawks from 112 and 250 squadrons took off and were attacked by six Bf 109s (whereby one Kittyhawk of 250 Sqn was shot down by Major Müncheberg of Stab/JG 77). Six more Spitfires of 145 Sqn were scrambled soon after this combat, and north of Mareth these Spitfire pilots “saw Spitfires, Kittyhawks and Bf 109s in combat”. An interesting note! Obviously, 12 or all 24 Spitfires and possibly all 36 Kittyhawks were involved in combat with the same Bf 109 formation. Since none of the various Allied formations reported to have encountered more than six or seven Bf 109s, it seems logical to assume that all these Spitfires and Kittyhawks - maybe a total of 66 Spitfires and Kittyhawks - were engaging those same six or seven Bf 109s. (The six additional 145 Sqn Spitfires reported that they dived into the combat, whereby S/L Wade claimed one Bf 109 shot down.) Then, at 1325, 13 Hurricanes of No. 6 Sqn. took off and was engaged by Bf 109s which shot down one Hurricane.

This is a perfect illustration of Ludwig Martel’s statement: “We were always superior in numbers.”

The result of this series of engagements was one Kittyhawk shot down for no German losses.

The massacre on Ju 52s over Tunisia on 5 April 1943 is another result of the US tactic of operating in large, concentrated numbers:

The formation of Ju 52s was escorted by only two Bf 109s (II./JG 27) and three Bf 110s (III./ZG 26). These were attacked by 46 P-38s, divided into two formations (due to the US report). The Germans scrambled whatever they could to aid the hard pressed formation of transport planes, but the whole reinforcement amounted to nothing more than eight Bf 109s from II./JG 53. The German fighter pilots shot down six P-38s, but of course were so outnumbered that they were unable to cover the Ju 52s against the masses of Lightnings. No less than 14 Ju 52s were shot down.

Later that same day, shortly after 1100 hrs on 5 April 1943, 2./JG 53 reported a combat with 24 Spitfires, whereby one Bf 109 was shot down. This matches with the Allied report referred to in “Fighters over Tunisia”, according to which 46 Spitfires of Nos. 72, 93, 111 and 243 “flew an offensive sweep over Tunis led by Wg.Cdr. Gilroy”. As a result of the Spitfire sweep led by Gilroy, the British claimed one Bf 109 shot down while they sustained the following own air combat losses: “F/Sgt. Nickless being shot down in flames, bailing out at 1,000 feet. Sgt. Faulkner’s aircraft was also damaged, as was that of PO Connors, who force-landed south of Souk el Khemis on return. Sgt. Allen’s aircraft was badly shot-up, one wingtip being shot off and a hole blown in the other wing.”

Regarding the Italian air force’s contribution to the air war over Tunisia, Wg.Cdr. D. I. Benham, who flew with No. 242 Sqn., is quoted saying this about his Tunisian air war experience:

“I only saw Italian fighters on about six occasions.” (“Fighters over Tunisia”, p. 395.)

On pages 436 - 437, Shores, Ring & Hess list the claims and air combat losses for the Luftwaffe fighter units in Tunisia during the period November 1942 - May 1943. II./JG 2, II./JG 27, JG 53 and JG 77 recorded a total of 907 victories against 157 own aircraft shot down in air combat. I wonder if Playfair gives any total sum for Allied aircraft combat losses in Tunisia for the same period? Due to figures published by the British during the war, the Allies sustained a total of 626 aircraft shot down (372 fighters and 254 bombers) over Tunisia during the period 1 January 1943 - 8 May 1943, but this source has to be taken with a grain of salt.

More from ”Fighters over Tunisia” - on pages 438 - 440 there are lists of the most successful fighter aces during the Tunisia air war and their scores during the air war over Tunisia Nov 1942 - May 1943.

Due to this source, these were the top aces on both sides during the Tunisian campaign, and their respective aerial victory scores during the air war over Tunisia Nov 1942 - May 1943:


Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert (Luftwaffe), 51
Kurt Bühlingen (Luftwaffe), 40
Heinz Bär (Luftwaffe), 39 at least (plus 22 in Libya in November/December 1942)
Erich Rudorffer (Luftwaffe), 27
Franz Schiess (Luftwaffe), 23
Wolfgang Tonne (Luftwaffe), 21
Anton Hafner (Luftwaffe), 20


Neville Duke (British), 14
John J. Lynch (US), 11
Levi R. Chase (US), 10
John S. Taylor (British), 10
John K. Buchanan (British), 9,67

Anyone who now wishes to buy the excellent book “Fighters over Tunisia” only has to pay $400 to get a used copy. That’s true, have a look here:

No, I am not the seller, although I wish I were.

All the best,

Christer Bergström
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