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Old 12th March 2005, 12:42
Christer Bergström Christer Bergström is offline
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It would be nice to know if the Desert AF got better results against Axis than was that NW African AF in Tunisia in fighter combat.
I don't know, but I wouldn't think so. Reading Shores's "Fighters over North Africa" (which I still have) and "Fighters over Tunisia" (which I no longer have), my impression is that the Desert AF was badly beaten by the German fighters the whole time. Not in each single air combat, but generally and as a prevailing tendency. If I read German accounts, I get the impression that US 52nd FG was more effective than any fighter unit in the Desert AF ever was. Müncheberg was killed in combat with 52 FG on 23 March 1943, and the next day III./JG 77 lost two Bf 109s to 52nd FG.

I don't know if this is because the Americans were better pilots than those in the Desert AF. I don't think so; it would rather be the opposite because the pilots in the Desert AF were more experienced. Probably the American tactic of operating in larger formations is an important explanation.

If we examine the circumstances which led to the so-called "Palm Sunday Massacre" on 18 April 1943 (when a formation of Ju 52s was nearly annihilated en route from Tunis to Sicily), we will find the following:
The RAF and the USAAF mounted a joint fighter sweep. While RAF 92 Sqn. despatched 12 Spitfires, US 57th FG despatched no less than 46 Warhawks in one huge mass. The Germans assigned an unusually high number of fighters to escort the Ju 52s (15 Bf 109s and 5 Bf 110s/Me 210s), and not least in view of this, the American tactic of concentrating large numbers to one and the same mission clearly was very effective. If the Americans would have despatched, let's say 30 Warhawks less on this mission, we probably never would have heard of anything called the "Palm Sunday Massacre".

Please, however, take the US fighter claims in Tunisia with a grain of salt. They made some vastly inflated claims. Like on 3 April 1943, when 52 FG claimed to have shot down 13 Ju 87s. In reality only four Ju 87s were lost as a result of that combat. The escorting Bf 109 pilots of I./JG 77 claimed to have shot down two Spitfires, and I think both can be confirmed with US loss statistics.
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Christer Bergström

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