Weapons In North Africa
For a more in depth look at the decisive weapons of the North African Campaign go to my German Technological Superiority page.
The fact that Rommel`s DAK (Deutsches Afrika Korps) in North Africa contained equipment which was far more advanced and effective than the Eighth Armies equivalent meant that the campaign lasted much longer than it may have done otherwise, whilst at the same time there were not sufficient numbers of them to become a decisive factor in the campaign. For instance, when the British launched Operation Crusader in late November 1941 the 8th Army outnumbered the combined Axis force (118,000 men to 113,000), had 680 tanks (with 500 in reserve or in supply) to Rommel`s 390 and 1000 British planes confronted 320 Axis aircraft2. What the Times Atlas of the Second World War and many other history books does not mention is that these statistics are completely misleading as one British tank is not equal to one Panzer whilst The Eighth Army's air support, though numerically superior, was qualitatively inferior3 and in making this mistake it is not alone. It was not until the Second battle of El Alamein that the Allies possessed the sufficient superiority in numbers to offset the technical superiority that the Axis force enjoyed. This is an important point that is very rarely mentioned in literature on the Second World War let alone the North African theatre, where technical superiority was of utmost importance due to the precarious nature of supplying an army.
Included in the forces that Hitler sent to North Africa in early 1941 were many different types of weapons and with more and more experience of fighting the Afrika Korps it became clear to the Allies that there was a significant difference between the quality of equipment being used by the two armies. The Afrika Korps had two distinctly superior weapons at their disposal in North Africa; the Panzer tanks deployed in the 15th Panzer Division and the 21st Panzer Division and their anti-tank guns when pitted against the British counter-parts (the 2 pounder and 6 pounder) proved to be a very significant factor in battle. Indeed German tank losses were only about one-eighth of the British losses4 during Operation Battleaxe (the British attempt to relieve Torbruk) and this was the first time that British weapons such as the Matilda and Grant tanks, as well as the standard British two pounder anti tank gun proved to be totally inadequate5.
Intelligence was slow in establishing the extent to which the British weapons were inferior to the Germans6 as it was not until enemy weapons were captured and sent back to Britain for analysis that it became apparent that extra armour plates were face hardened - to an extent which made the German tanks invulnerable to frontal penetration by the British two pounder7. The 88mm flak gun was used as an anti-tank gun more and more frequently as the conflict progressed and the Allies were slow to grasp its effect upon the battlefield. At a startling 2000 yards it could still penetrate the British tanks frontal armour, which made it an extremely lethal weapon in the Germans armoury and a severe threat to the British tanks throughout the Desert War. All the technical edges which Rommel`s Afrika Korps had over the Eighth army helped Rommel to inflict heavy losses on the British, inevitably lengthening the desert war. This had to weighed up against the fact that the Italians weapons were as much a liability as were the German ones superior. The Afrika Korps did not receive sufficient numbers of these superior weapons, such as the Panther and Tiger tanks or the 88mm flak guns to enable it to be a decisive factor in the campaign, but there were enough to lengthen the Desert war considerably.
British forces in Africa could do little to rectify the enemy's continuing superiority in quality of armour and armament before the end of the battle of Alam el Halfa in September 19428, but in time for the Second Battle of El Alamein the British attained numerical superiority in guns, as well as in tanks 9 which was significant in that it tipped the balance in the Eighth Armies favour.
1 Peter Young, Purnells Encyclopedias Of The Second World War (Volume 3, page 874)
2 John Keegan, The Times Atlas Of The Second World War (page 80)
3 Peter Young, Purnells Encyclopedias Of The second World War (Volume 3, page 874)
4 British Intelligence In The Second World War (Volume 2 - appendix 14 page 709)
5 British Intelligence In The Second World War (Volume 2 - appendix 14 page 706)
6 British Intelligence In The Second World War (Volume 2 - appendix 14 page 707)
7 British Intelligence In The Second World War (Volume 2 - appendix 14 page 707)
8 British Intelligence In The Second World War (Volume 2 - appendix 14 page 715)
9 British Intelligence In The Second World War (Volume 2 - appendix 14 page 715)
Diverted and Committed Troops
Intelligence in North Africa
Commanders and their tactics
High Command Disputes And Interference
Concluding thoughts on the North African Campaign