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Old 4th March 2005, 17:21
Christer Bergström Christer Bergström is offline
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Luftwaffe fighter losses in Tunisia

I found the loss figures for the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean area suspiciously high in Williamson Murray’s “Luftwaffe” (published in 1985). According to Williamson Murray, the Luftwaffe lost no less than 282 aircraft, including 124 fighters, in the Mediterranean area in January 1943 alone. (Murray, “Luftwaffe”, p. 211.)

These figures give a completely different impression than the picture one gets through Christopher Shores’s very detailed “Air War over Tunisia”. (In the latter book, Shore’s conclusion is that the Luftwaffe’s fighters held the upper hand in the air combats and generally sustained relatively few losses in air combat.)

If we go to another book which is quite similar to Murray’s “Luftwaffe”, and also based on a wealth of original documents, namely E. R. Hooton’s “Eagle in Flames: The Fall of the Luftwaffe” (published in 1997; ref. p. 221), we will find completely different figures:

Here is a comparison of loss figures for the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean in Murray’s and Hooton’s books - all aircraft types included:

Jan 1943: Murray: 282. Hooton: 105
Feb 1943: Murray: 206. Hooton: 99

Hooton’s figures are more in line with other sources - not only with Shores’s “Air War over Tunisia”, but above all with the official “Flugzeugbestand und Bewegungsmeldungen” and the daily returns to Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe.

Due to “Flugzeugbestand und Bewegungsmeldungen” and the daily returns to Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe, the Luftwaffe fighter units in the Mediterranean sustained the following aircraft losses in air combat in January 1943:

II./JG 2: 2
JG 27: 0
II./JG 51: 7
JG 53: 8
JG 77: 15

Total sum: 32.

That should be compared with Murray’s figure of 124 Luftwaffe fighters lost in the Mediterranean in January 1943!

The character of the air fighting in the Mediterranean through January 1943 is clearly displayed by the statistics for the Luftwaffe fighter units: 269 victory claims against 32 own aircraft lost in combat. (Among those 269 victory claims, Heinz Bär was responsible for 13 and Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert for 10.)

Since I don’t have Shores’s “Air War over Tunisia” here - which contains most losses sustained by both sides - the only source I have for Allied losses is a quite unreliable, and probably “sweetened” British public source from WW II itself (i.e. publicly issued in 1943). Due to that source, the Allies lost 151 aircraft (78 fighters and 73 bombers) in air combat over Tunisia in January 1943. This figure probably is lower than the actual figure, but even this figure gives a relation of five Allied aircraft shot down in air combat for every Luftwaffe fighter shot down in air combat. The actual Allied losses in air combat probabably were higher than those wartime released figures.

(Shores's research in "Air War over Tunisia" shows that only a small part of Allied losses in Tunisia were due to Italian fighters.)

How shall we explain Murray’s unique and very high figures, when other sources give considerably lower figures? Maybe Murray used outdated and erroneous material - after all his book was published 20 years ago.

BTW, E. R. Hooton’s conclusion about the air war in Tunisia reads: “The Jagdgruppen exploited conditions similar to those in Russia a year earlier and inflicted heavy losses: om 4 December Oberleutnant Julius Meimber’s 11./JG 2 annihilated 11 Blenheim V bombers of Nos 18 and 614 Squadrons and on 13 March JG 77 wiped out seven P-39s, while experienced US 33rd Fighter Group was reduced from 75 to 13 fighters and withdrawn to Morocco.” (p. 220.)

As an indication of the Luftwaffe fighters’ effectivity - in the face of an Allied numerical superiority in Tunisia in January 1943 of 600 aircraft against 140 German and 288 Italian (Hooton, p. 219) - II./StG 3 and III./StG 3 flew successful operations against the Allied positions throughout January 1943 wihout more than two Ju 87s being registered as lost due to enemy fighters. (Another four Ju 87s were registered lost due to “Feindbeschuss” or unknown reasons.) Moreover, III./SKG 10 also flew fighter-bomber missions thoughout January 1943, without losing more than a single aircraft to Allied fighter interception. (Arthy & Jessen, “Fw 190 in North Africa”, pp. 153 - 154.)

It would be great if anyone could contribute with some facts (supported by source references). Maybe someone here has access to the figures of actual Allied aircraft losses in Tunisia in January 1943?
All the best,

Christer Bergström