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Old 6th March 2005, 14:38
Andrew Arthy Andrew Arthy is offline
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Air war in Tunisia, January 1943

Hi Christer,

You asked for some figures for Allied fighter losses in combat, so I thought I'd go through the text of Shores, Ring & Hess for you.

Allied fighter pilot losses in combat with German fighters and bombers in northern and central Tunisia in January 1943 were as follows:

Failed to Return/Missing - Killed - Wounded

72 Sqdn 1 - 0 - 0
81 Sqdn 2 - 1 - 0
111 Sqdn 0 - 3 - 1
242 Sqdn 7 - 0 - 0
243 Sqdn 1 - 1 - 0
1st FG 6 - 2 - 0
14th FG 9 - 3 - 1
33rd FG 2 - 4 - 0
52nd FG 1 - 0 - 0
82nd FG 8 - 0 - 1
GC II/5 0 - 1 - 1

Total: 37 missing/failed to return
15 killed
4 wounded

In comparison, German pilot losses in combat with Allied fighters and bombers:

Failed to Return/Missing - Killed - Prisoner - Wounded

I./J.G. 53 1 - 1 - 2 - 1
II./J.G. 53 0 - 0 - 0 - 0
II./J.G. 51 2 - 0 - 0 - 3
II./J.G. 2 1 - 1 - 0 - 0
III./S.K.G. 10 1 - 1 - 0 - 1

Total: 5 killed
3 missing/failed to return
2 prisoner
5 wounded

So in combat the Allies lost 56 fighter pilots, while the Germans lost 15.

No matter what way you use the statistics, it is clear that the Germans held a degree of air superiority in northern and central Tunisia in January 1943. For example, in that month two Allied units (81 Sqdn and the 14th FG) were withdrawn from combat due to heavy losses (and the 33rd FG was forced to withdraw early in February 1943). On the German side, no fighter unit withdrew from northern Tunisia in January 1943, although II./J.G. 51 was withdrawn briefly in February 1943.

Of course a major issue was the downing of American four-engined bombers, something the German fighter forces in northern Tunisia always struggled to do. This was due in part to the light armament of the Bf 109, according to a complaint in the records of the Führer der Luftwaffe Tunis:

"Erfahrung: Bewaffnung BF 109 G – 4 mit 1 Kanone gegenüber viermot Bombern zu schwach. Bomber zeigen ausserordentliche Standfestigkeit. Es wird gebeten zu prüfen, ob statt 3,2 cm Kanonen (G-2) eine 3,7 und zwei 2,2 cm bzw. 2 MG eingebaut werden können." [Source: BA-MA RL 7/32, p.53]

As for lack of fuel preventing ground-attack operations, no, that was not a problem in January 1943. In fact, the main thing that did prevent German ground-attack operations on some days in that month was the inclement weather, quite common in Tunisia in the winter of 1942/1943.

If anyone wants an accurate picture (from the German side) of the air situation in northern Tunisia in January 1943, then you should check BA-MA RL 7/32. From this source, II./St.G. 3 flew the following missions:

01.01.43 - 10 sorties, four aircraft damaged by anti-aircraft fire
02.01.43 - 10 sorties, 3 Ju 87s lost with crews (one crew returned a couple of days later), four damaged. A Ju 87 gunner claimed one Spitfire shot down in return.
03.01.43 - 4 sorties, no aircraft damaged
05.01.43 - 10 sorties, no aircraft damaged
11.01.43 - 35 sorties, four aircraft lightly damaged by anti-aircraft fire
13.01.43 - 9 sorties, no aircraft damaged

I don't have time to include more, but hopefully that gives some idea of the scale of operations by the Ju 87 unit in northern Tunisia in this month. This Gruppe continued flying operations into April, until at least 14 April 1943. (Source: Logbook of II./St.G. 3 gunner). Not bad for an aircraft often considered "obselete" since 1940.

I won't deal with operations in southern Tunisia (J.G. 77 and Sch.G. 2), because that is not an area I've researched enough (BTW: is anyone out there interested in doing a unit history of I./Sch.G. 2?).

I hope some of the above is helpful (and I'm not trying to provoke anyone!!!)

Cheers,
Andrew A.

"You'll never silence the voice of the voiceless" - Rage Against The Machine