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Old 25th March 2005, 16:58
Christer Bergström Christer Bergström is offline
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Discussion on the air war in Tunisia

(RH deleted superfluous comments)

Friends, according to Playfair’s book, 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.

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. 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.)
All the best,

Christer Bergström

Last edited by Christer Bergström; 25th March 2005 at 17:02.
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Old 25th March 2005, 16:59
Christer Bergström Christer Bergström is offline
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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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Old 25th March 2005, 17:01
Christer Bergström Christer Bergström is offline
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Re: Discussion on the air war in Tunisia

According to Mullins, no P-38s from 1st Fighter Group were involved in the more famous "Palm Sunday Massacre" of German air transports.

That is correct. The "Palm Sunday Massacre" on 18 April 1943 was carried out by a total of 46 Warhawks from all three squadrons of US 57th FG, plus an attached squadron from 324th FG, provided with a top cover by 11 Spitfires from 92 Sqn. The 65 Ju 52s which these attacked were escorted by 16 Bf 109s and MC 202s and three Bf 110s. Again, there were 19 Axis fighters against almost 60 Allied fighters - no wonder the Axis fighter pilots failed to protect the Ju 52 transport planes. The 15 Bf 109s claimed 7 P-40s shot down against a single own loss (in reality, the Americans lost six P-40s), so it must be concluded that if the numbers of fighters had only been even, the "Palm Sunday Massacre" could have had the opposite meaning - namely a massacre on American fighters. This only as an illustration of the significant importance of numerical inequality.

guess Christer wants us to believe that USAAF Lightnings always roamed the North African skies in group-sized wolfpacks. Nothing could be further from the truth -- the P-38 squadrons were usually committed piecemeal at the whim of army commanders. That is one reason why the 14th Fighter Group was temporarily withdrawn from battle the previous January, they were badly mauled

Here is a row of examples of strengths of US P-38 Lightning formations in Tunisia, from "Fighters over Tunisia", each time with reference to the US reports in question:

10 March 1943: 36 P-38s from 1st FG escorted bombers and were involved in combat with 15 Bf 109s.

12 March 1943: 32 P-38s from 82nd FG escorted B-25s. A little later, 30 more P-38s escorted bombers to attack Sousse.

15 March 1943: 38 P-38s of 1st FG escorted B-26s.

20 March 1943: 29 P-38s of 82nd FG escorted B-25s.

22 March 1943: 23 P-38s of 82nd FG escorted B-26s, and they were engaged by two Bf 109s. Later during the mission, the same US formation of bombers and P-38s was attacked by six Bf 109s.

23 March 1943: 27 P-38s of 1st FG escorted B-17s to bomb Bizerta.

When I described the US success against Ju 52s on 5 April 1943, my point was to describe it as the result of an overwhelming US numerical superiority in fighters in that combat. There were 46 P-38s against 5 Bf 110s and Bf 109s, later reinforced by 8 Bf 109s, and although the German fighters shot down six P-38s, they could not prevent 14 Ju 52s from getting shot down. Of course the result would have been completely different if the figures would have been reversed - if there would have been 46 Bf 109s and Bf 110s and only 13 P-38s.

It is true that the Americans made several tactical errors, due to their inexperience, early in the Tunisian campaign. One of these mistakes was to not fully exploit their numerical.

In consequence, the inexperienced US fighter units also were badly mauled by the Luftwaffe veterans. Here are some examples:

On 26 December 1942, 1st FG escorted B-17s, but lost two P-38s to German fighters while the German units sustained no losses.

On 2 January 1943, 27th FS/1st FG despatched eight P-38s to escort B-17s, but these were bounced by 12 Bf 109s of ÍI./JG 51 and the C.O., Capt. Glenn, and Lt. H. K. Smith were both shot down - by Fw. Anton Hafner and Ofw. Otto Schulz - without German losses.

On 8 January 1943, eight P-38s of 49th FS/14th FG, along with some P-38s of 97th FS/82nd FG and P-40s of 58th FS/33rd FG clashed with II./JG 2. In their excellent "Fw 190 in North Africa" (pp. 71 - 72), Jessen & Arthy write: "In this slaughter, the 48th FS/14th FG suffered three aircraft destroyed and two damaged. 58th FS/33rd FG and 97th FS/82nd FG losses are unknown."

On 10 January 1943, 14th FG again despatched eight P-38s on a mission, but these were attacked by Ofw Otto Schulz (II./JG 51) and his wingman, and one P-38 was lost without German losses.

On 11 January 1943, ten P-38s of 1st FG escorting B-17s again came across II./JG 51 and lost two more P-38s (one of them to Ofw. Otto Schulz) without German losses.

On 15 January 1943, eight P-38s of 48th FS/14th FG escorted bombers, while eight more from the 49th FS escorted other bombers. Both formations were attacked by Luftwaffe fighters. Capt. Fulmer was seen to crash into the sea, while Lt. Auton and Lt. Lawrence failed to return. Shores et al describe a third Lightning mission that same day ("Fighters over Tunisia", p. 153) : "Other P-38s escorted 18 B-26s . . . 12 Bf 109s of II./JG 51 attacked . . . records confirm the loss of two P-38s during this mission, the unit involved is not specified."

On 21 January 1943, another two P-38s were shot down out of a formation of ten 82nd FG P-38s.

On 23 January 1943, 16 P-38s of 48th FS/14th FG clashed with Bf 109s of II./JG 51 of about the same strength as the Americans, and the P-38 pilots Lt. Schottlekorb, Lt. Mark Shipman, Lt. Stuteville, Lt. Harley, Lt. Yates, and Lt. Soliday - a total of six Lightnings - were shot down without any German losses. Again Ofw. Otto Schulz - the Eastern Front veteran who started to emerge as a first class "Lightning killer" - was among the successful German pilots.

Here we can clearly see that II./JG 51 was the main reason why the 14th Fighter Group was so badly mauled that it had to be temporarily withdrawn from battle, as Sixnifty points out: At least ten, maybe over a dozen, of this unit's P-38s were shot down in only three of those examples above, all by II./JG 51 - which apparently sustained no own loss to P-38s during those days.

On 4 February 1943, ten P-38s of 1st FG escorted B-17s, and four P-38s were lost in combat with Bf 109s.

But the Americans eventually learned to pull together their fighters into formations which outnumbered the enemy, and due to this quite rational tactic, their successes increased.

The mass formations of US fighters started to appear in the Tunisian skies from late February 1943 and onward. Thus, on 25 February 1943, 1st FG pulled together 34 P-38s from the 27th, 71st and 94th squadrons to escort B-17s (together with numerous Spitfires). From then onward, the ruling phenomenon was this - as expressed by many German fighter pilots whom I have met and interviewed:

"Die Amerikaner kamen immer in die Masse." - The Americans always came in masses.

The tactic of despatching concentrated masses of fighters to gain an overwhelming numerical superiority against the enemy had been used by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain from August 1940, not without success.

The conclusion that "German pilots in Tunisia tried to avoid battle no matter what the odds" seems to be far fetched. Reading through "Fighters over Tunisia" rather gives the opposite impression, of very aggressive German fighter pilots actively seeking combat. On page 53 in "Fw 190 in North Africa", which Sixnifty quotes to prove his thesis, it is the Fw 190-equipped ground-attack unit III./SKG 10 which is dealt with. The task of a ground-attack unit is to deliver as many and as effective strikes as possible against ground targets, and for this reason, the ground-attack pilots are often forbidden to engage in air combat if they are not drawn into it. The ground-attack pilot has to drop his bombs, use his ammunition against ground targets, and then bring his own aircraft undamaged to base.

Also, Sixnifty left out the continuation of Spitfire pilot Peart's quote on p. 53 in "Fw 190 in North Africa":

"I think that all of the Luftwaffe pilots were good. I can't really comment on the pilots of the 190s because we had more fights against the 109s. The 190s weren't used in a straight out combat role. They were more attack, bomb and get out fast. They were fighter-bombers, and they wouldn't stick around for a dogfight." (End of quotation in the book.)

Regarding overclaims by II./JG 2, it should be noted that II./JG 2 fought much against the US aviation in northern Tunisia, and the US records for aircraft losses in Tunisia obviously are flawed by an unusually high degree of white spots. However, the comparison with Allied loss records in "Fighters over Tunisia" shows that the other German fighter units - mainly the former Eastern Front units II./JG 51, JG 53 and JG 77 - had a relatively good accuracy in their claiming. Not least if one compares with Allied or Italian claiming, which often was vastly exaggerated.

I hope others will contribute with their knowledge on the topic to this thread, for discussing this topic has learned at least me a great deal.
All the best,

Christer Bergström

Last edited by Christer Bergström; 25th March 2005 at 17:04.
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Old 26th March 2005, 22:45
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George Hopp George Hopp is offline
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George Hopp
Re: Discussion on the air war in Tunisia

Your excellent summary of combats between the US and German forces beautifully illustrates comments made elsewhere about such battles: the Germans may have shot down lots of Allied escort fighters, but the Allied fighters were almost always completely successful in protecting the bombers.
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Old 26th March 2005, 23:59
JeffK JeffK is offline
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Re: Discussion on the air war in Tunisia

Originally Posted by George Hopp
Your excellent summary of combats between the US and German forces beautifully illustrates comments made elsewhere about such battles: the Germans may have shot down lots of Allied escort fighters, but the Allied fighters were almost always completely successful in protecting the bombers.

This trait of the Luftwaffe pilots was also seen in the Western Desert, while some fighter units suffered heavy losses, the Desert Air Force Light & Medium Bombers were able to do their job without "disastrous" losses. In return, a DAF pilot dreamed of little more than a "Stuka Party"

Marseille, in his 150 plus claimed kills, only shot down 3 2-engined bombers. (But some single engined would have been fighter-bombers)

To those who know the eastern Front, did the Luftwaffe concentrate on the fighters there??
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Old 27th March 2005, 09:33
Kutscha Kutscha is offline
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Re: Discussion on the air war in Tunisia

Interesting George and Jeff.

It would seem that the so called superiority of the jagdfliegers over Allied a/c was not so superior as some try to claim. Thanks for putting the air fighting in proper perspective.

Since BoB was mentioned in a post,

RAF a/c lost - 1017
LW a/c lost - 1882
109/110 lost - 871

from After the Battles 'The Battle of Britain-Then and Now'

The jagdfliegers did not do such a great job in protecting their bombers unlike the Americans in Tunisia.
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