Was Air Power decisive in the two battles of El Alamein?

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Staff Sergeant
Oct 23, 2007
The following is a recognition drawing for troops in North Africa showing the usual defensive position for the 88.

A lot of the time this would have required some explosives to blast through the rock sheet under the sand layer
which was usually not far down thanks to ice ages ripping the top off North Africa.

The idea was to have the barrel just above the sand level which due to the tricks of the heat layer made things look
a lot further away than they actually were.

A defensive 88 position would also include a PAK 38 forward and to one side with machine gun position on the other.
All hard to see from the ground and the air with a camo net over the top.


The lack of photos of these positions always puzzled me but then I found out the guns either left positions when things
got hot or were hit by bombs / artillery which blew away the position and crew but not necessarily the gun. That's why
some pics of abandoned positions look a bit odd at times.
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Reluctant Poster

Staff Sergeant
Dec 6, 2006
I should have posted the article I took the excerpts from so here it is. It does not cover attacking gun positions in the desert as the USAAF wasn't doing that when El Alamein was fought. It started doing ground support in Tunisia. I would be curious to know if the DAF was bombing and strafing flak positions.


  • Flak Neutralization.pdf
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Reluctant Poster

Staff Sergeant
Dec 6, 2006
I certainly appreciate your posts.

I don't have the British/American agreements for Merlin production and initial agreements were not the same as production and production was not the same as deliveries.

The US was originally supposed to get 3000 single stage Merlin out of the 1st 9,000 made. I am not sure they got all of them and the need for spare engines (which the US did not allocate enough for) means that the production numbers for US Merlins will come up short of the Merlin engined P-40s.
It took Packard until some time in March of 1943 to complete the initial 9000 engines. That would be the Merlin 28s (?) and the V-1650-1 combined?
Packard built 615 engines in March so when they made the switch or switches was probably very early.
The switch to the engines for the P-51 is something of a smoke screen or even a Furphy.
Packard never built more than 850 engines in one month in 1942 and early 1943. However by May of 1943 they were building over 1000 single stage Merlins a month.
I don't know when the follow up orders for engines were placed. Obviously well before the 1st contract ran out.
In 1944 Packard built over 7,000 single stage Merlins for the British or about 100 less single stage engines than they did in 1942. In 1944 they built almost 15,800 2 stage engines.
Yes they were having trouble getting the two stage engines built but that seems to have a problem with plant expansion.
From Sept through Dec 1943 Packard never built less that 1200 single stage engines and never less than 450 two stage engines in one month.
Basically Packard production doubled from March of 1943 to Sept of 1943.

Whatever the British were using single stage Merlin engines for seems to have been more important to the Allied war effort than building a few hundred more P-40Ls.
Lancasters. More than 1/2 of them. 3,640 Mark IIIs, Xs and VIIs = 14,560 Packard Merlins plus spares.


Staff Sergeant
Mar 18, 2022
I've got a copy of Ehlers' Mediterranean Air War and I'm about halfway through it. He describes the war from the strategic and operational perspective but knows when to zoom down into tighter focus and give hard numbers. I would say on balance he heavily reinforces several of the points I was making in here, notably about the significance of the kittyhawk and spitfire in the air superiority role, the change in tactics (especially the focus on attacking Axis air bases) starting in mid 1942, and the terrible Allied losses in the first half of 1942. The key roles of Tedder and Coningham (both in mistakes made and the successful reforms implemented), the major importance of the heavy bombers (which was more even than I had realized) the crucial role of Malta in disrupting Axis shipping (which was essentially doomed after Pedestal), the major role of Allied air power in interdicting Axis shipping to the fortunes of the Afrika Korps, the significance of oft discussed small cargo ships in the 'east-west' movement of supplies along the North African coastline and the devastating role of operational air strikes on the movement of supplies by truck on the ground, and of tactical air power in the destruction of artillery and AT guns.

He also gets into detail with the forward air controlling apparatus and cites numbers such as time intervals.

What I was most surprised by so far was the high lethality of the heavy bombers (both B-24s and B-17s) in 1942, the quite high significance of night bombing, mostly by Wellingtons with the help of Albacores as marking / pathfinding aircraft, and the overall intensity of the Allied bombing campaign both on the operational (Ehlers calls it strategic) and tactical level. It's also notable how many ships were being sunk at night, again often by Wellingtons. The Allies were able to maintain attacks on the Axis armies basically 24 hours a day. The failure of not only German with Italian cooperation but also German to German within their war machine is also quite striking. Ehlers feels that the success of the Allies was just as much down to Axis failures of organization as it was to Allies (British) learning and improving their tactics. He also believes that the Axis could have taken Malta with the forces they had in the region and that it would have made an enormous difference.

Signals intel and code breaking was also quite significant of course.

The near collapse of the Axis shipping system by late 1942 is what forced them to start bringing supplies across the Med by Ju 52 and Me 323, with ultimately tragic results for so many Axis soldiers as these transport planes, often with the help of signals intel, were ambusehd and massacred by Allied fighters.

It's also interesting that all the hard won lessons the British learned in 1941-1942 had to basically be re-learned by the Americans in early 1943, largely due to the intransigence of US ground commanders (the USAAF was already onboard with the British approach). The one good thing here is that they did learn this fairly quickly, thanks to British help and ultimately to intervention by Eisenhower.
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Staff Sergeant
Mar 18, 2022
It is also worthwhile remembering that, when considering whether or not an aircraft was “lost”, that the RAF operated an extensive Repair and Salvage organisation in North Africa. From an article in The RAF Historical Journal issue 51

“Under Air Vice Marshall Graham Dawson, the Desert Air Force had developed a highly effective Service-manned network of forward Maintenance Units with thirteen mobile Repair Sections and twelve mobile Salvage sections. Behind these were a further three mobile Salvage Sections and six mobile Repair sections for heavy bombers. This spider’s web of units, criss-crossing the desert, was supported by secure, dispersed depots around Cairo.”

The earliest of these units had formed in June 1940. What couldn’t be repaired / rebuilt became a very useful source of spares for other aircraft.

Here is a photo of one convoy of recovered aircraft. Hurricanes were really easy to break down for recovery.

View attachment 702259


View attachment 702260

And even the odd enemy aircraft

View attachment 702261

Just read a rather eye-popping statistic on this from Ehlers "Mediterranean Air War":

"Repair shops in the Nile Delta turned out nearly 1,600 refurbished planes and 2,400 engines from November 1942 through January 1943, reducing WDAF dependence on new aircraft."

His source for this is I.S.O. Playfair, The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol. 4, The Destruction of the Axis Forces in Africa, History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series (UK Naval and Military Press, 2004) pages 216-217.

"Reducing dependence on new aircraft" is a rather incredible understatement, it's like having two or three whole new factories right there in Cairo. The time period of this statistic is too late for consideration during El Alamein but it does illustrate the scale and efficiency of these repair efforts.

He also later (in 1943) describes an Axis system of mobile repair units which he thinks was a very useful innovation as well, but in 1942 the Axis definitely lagged behind the Allies in keeping their aircraft serviceable and getting them back into action after receiving battle damage.


Staff Sergeant
Mar 18, 2022
Ok so I promised some data from Ehlers, I'm going to post that finally.

Ehlers' Data
These are some of the data points Ehlers mentions during 1942.

January 1942 -
Axis air forces in Tripolitania 515 aircraft, 300 serviceable.
WDAF 445 aircraft, 280 serviceable.
(his source is a British military press report, subtitled "British forces reach their lowest ebb"
Axis deliver 67,000 tons of supplies, 40,000 tons of fuel by sea, loss rate 9%. Loss rate in Feb is 3%, April is 1%
Rommel notes being very pleased with Luftwaffe support

March 1942
Drummond: "fighter squadrons understrength, tactical superiority of Me 109F was out of all proportion to numbers." Me 109s attacking RAF airfields, WDAF bombers only striking at night (Wellingtons with Albacore spotters). Even when RAF had large numbers of fighters to go after Me 109Fs, their superior performance, heavy armanent [!], and backing by Italian fighters gave them unprecedented freedom of action."
Dawson demands more Kittyhawks, noting only 28 were en-route. "Hurricane obsolete as air superiority fighter, transitioning to 'hurribomber'"
335 Kittyhawks arriving from April-June, 65 Merlin powered P-40F arriving in May and June. Tedder demands more Kittyhawks "gravest concern."

April 1942
60 RAF squadrons flying US made aircraft. 60,000 workers pulled from industrial jobs in the UK and trained to be mechanics of US types.

May 1942
First Spitfires arrive WDAF
Germans have 160 fighters and 250 bombers in Sicily (vs Malta)
Gazala Offensive
RAF squadrons "down to 7 or 8 aircraft" due to attrition. Lost 50 out of 250 aircraft 27-31 May. Coningham changes tactics for Kittyhawks to deploy at higher altitudes. First Spitfire PR squadrons. Tedder: Shortage of Kittyhawks.

June 1942
SAS destroys 11 Axis aircraft 12-13 June
"Coningham released fighters to high altitude duty to maximize success" Saved Free French units. "Merci pour la R.A.F. / Merci pour le sport."
WDAF 615 sorties on 26 June. 34 B-24 strikes vs Benghazi 21-30 June. USAAF launches 120 B-24 missions, 45 B-17 missions.
2 RAF Air Liason officers with each USAAF unit.
Friction between Luftwaffe air and ground. Luftwaffe heavy losses 3-10 June.
Heavy Axis troop and vehicle losses covering 8th Army collapse at Bir Hacheim.
21st Panzer division history: "Continual attacks at quarter-hour intervals by bombers and low-flying aircraft."
Germans using Stukas and Italian fighter-bombers for tactical air support, Ju 88 for 'operational'
Gambut airfield captured by Rommel.
Axis supply convoys in June lost 23% supplies, 17% fuel (35% total shipping tonnage)

July 1942
First El Alamein
SAS destroys 66 aircraft July 26
Major WDAF changes (seemingly under Coningham with Tedder's approval)
Tedder: "Spitfires enormous asset". RAF radar. 560 aircraft. 15.3 aircraft per sqn at start, 16.9 by 6 July.
Kesselring: "Luftwaffe units no longer a match for the RAF". vs. Allied artillery: "stuka too vulnerable, Ju 88 too inaccurate" Insufficient fighters.
19th Division attacked 'hourly', Italian Littoro division halted by air attacks. German artillery unit went from 60 vehicles in June to 20 by end of July.
WDAF Air raid Gazala destroys 30 Me 109s. Night bombings hitting Axis supplies.
USAF: 27 x Hudson, 80 x Kittyhawks (P-40F), 57 x B-25s, 35 x B-24s. USAAF 35% of light bombers, 70% of heavies.
At the end of 1st El Alamein - WDAF 780 operational aircraft, Luftwaffe 126 (Italian aircraft not indicated here)
Axis supply convoys in July lost 6% of supplies and fuel

August 1942
Alam Haifa offensive
Allied air strikes (Malta and 201 Group) sink 60,000 out of 137,000 tons of Axis shipping. 443 tons of ammo available to Axis, 350 tons sunk.
RAF aircraft with ASV radar - better torpedoes. Axis supply convoys lost 25% supplies and 41% fuel. 1 Aug to 5 Sept 61 Axis ships sunk (243,000 tons), 18 (73,000 tons) out of commission
Night attacks in ground war. Albacore spotters for Wellingtons. Germans lack searchlights and radar (one Freya radar at El Daba)
Rommel "vast numbers of vehicles burning in the desert"
Once large Axis MV reach port "the RAF faced a profusion of smaller west-to-east sea convoys and land convoys." Attacked by Hudsons with ASV and torpedoes

Sept 1942
Axis supply convoys lost 20% of supply and fuel
Air superiority key because "until the skies were relatively safe, Hurricanes faced heavy losses."
901 British vs 171 Luftwaffe serviceable (Italians not indicated). German POWs: "Flucht-Psychose" - 'flight psychosis' due to raids.
British ground division: Nine "tentacles" with nine radios, 3 sets in control HQ, 2 liaison to division HQ, + 2 FASL

Oct 1942
Second El Alamein
"Several major" Axis supply convoys destroyed. Heavy bomber raids against Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk, requiring ships offload at different harbors.
Five large fuel tankers sunk in one week. Only one road for truck transport - 'under unceasing air attack'
Rommel: "Air raid after Air raid after Air raid" burning vehicles choked the battlefield.
"Air raids put all of von Thoma's artillery out of action". German army "lost mobility."
27 Oct - 3 Nov 4,244 tons of fuel allocated, 893 tons arrived.
Bf 109G in Theater. "Only the 78 Spitfires and the perennially understrength Kittyhawk units could contest the air."
B-24s, A-20s, B-26s, B-25s and 50 Wellingtons in 205 group at the time of El Alamein. 205 group flying 540 sorties a day.
Wellingtons drop 125 tons in night attacks, later 200 tons per night.
General Georg Stumme killed by strafing attack during the "Defense of Outpost Snipe" which I'm going to do a deep dive in a followup post
21st Pz counterattack stopped by RAF, 6 pounder, and tanks (RAF 352 tons of bombs)
Operation Supercharge, Germans hit 34 raids vs. "Hill 28"
9 x intact Bf 109G captured by Allied ground forces.
Sortie rates dropped as Axis army retreated out of range. Montgommery 'cautious'

Ehlers' Conclusions
Chapter 8 is titled "Axis High Tide" February - July 1942
Chapter 9 is titled "The Tide turns" - July - October 1942

That is pretty close to the main premise of what I was arguing earlier in this thread. But I promise you I hadn't seen this book.

Ehlers notes that the Germans could have done much more against RAF basis - such as 205 Group bases that were preying on the German shipping, or attacked Suez.
(I am not so sure they could do the longer range strikes but I'll come back to that. But at some points Allied maritime strike aircraft bases were within range of Bf 109s and MC 202s)
Says Germans only had an intermittent campaign against Allied tactical air bases.
Notes that Bf 109 was not good in the escort role and had limited range.
Strategic goal at 1st El Alamein included oil fields. Ehlers says Germans were thinking about breaking through and shutting down Suez but didn't coordinate their strategy well enough.
RAF covered (made possible) 8th Army escape and survive first half 1942.
US heavy bombers "packed a punch out of proportion to their numbers" by mid 1942.
Importance of the Kittyhawks and Spitfires for air superiority. Hurricanes already incapable in this role by March 1942.
Change in tactics with Kittyhawks in June - July 1942 (Ehlers only mentions flying at higher altitude, I'll have a bit more on that).
Importance of Wellingtons in night attacks, and Albacores as night time markers with flares. They also had Halifax in Theater.
Major significance of better British torpedoes appearing (I think) in mid 1942.
East to West coastal transport in small vessels was of major importance.
Stuka, the most important CAS strike aircraft for the Axis, was neutralized for ground operations by the time of El Alamein.
Finally, Ehlers felt the Germans could have taken Malta and not doing so was a fatal mistake.

Efficiency of CAS was already getting quite good. Ehlers mentions response time in minutes (IIRC half an hour?) but I couldn't find the quote just now when I was making this post. Hopefully I'll find it again later.

My Conclusions
(I know this is the least interesting bit, but I'll carry on anyway)

Allies did not always have numerical superiority. Actual numbers fluctuated a lot as aircraft on both sides were moved around, diverted for convoy fights etc. Notably at some points in early 1942 the Axis actually had numerical advantage.
The losses in Allied fighters inflicted by the Luftwaffe in early 1942 were indeed a serious problem, necessitating a change in tactics, and causing a supply crisis for aircraft.
Limited range of Bf109 and ineffectiveness in fighter escort role was a major problem for the Axis throughout this campaign.
Lack of a better long range strike aircraft was also a major problem. Ju 88 was a good aircraft but it didn't seem to be good enough by the second half of 1942.
Ultimately the Kittyhawk was the solution to air superiority over the Luftwaffe in the Med, at least in 1942.
Heavy bombers - including both B-24s and B-17s did in fact play a major role, as early as June 1942, and this steadily increased. Surprisingly they even sunk some ships (I assume in harbor but that wasn't clear). The main impact was against ports and then later on, airfields. Ehlers
It was often pointed out that Axis defeat was a foregone conclusion because they were low on fuel. But a quarter to (by the time of 2nd El Alamein) half of their fuel and supplies lost was due to Allied air power.
The "high altitude" tactics change which Ehlers mentions also coincided with the switch to 'finger four', systematic tactic of turning into enemy attacks from above, improved radios, more reliable guns and some other things which changed the outcomes for the Kittyhawk units quite a bit, starting in mid 1942.
Neutralizing the Stukas was of huge importance. This was in part to a general shift in priorities toward achieving air superiority, which included hitting the Axis airbases.

The two biggest surprises for me were the sheer intensity of the tactical bombing (two and three times an hour in some cases) and the fact that it continued 24/7. This in turn brings up the significance of the Wellingtons + Albacores which Ehlers mentions over and over, flying night raids (also about every hour or even more often).
Another surprise was that apparently the US wanted to send almost all their Kittyhawks to the Pacific during the crisis there, but the British pointed out they had already put in this whole logistics system for Kittyhawks and trained thousands of mechanics to fix them, and they did not want to switch to a British type (even though they had a lot of Spitfire V in England). I think there are many reasons for this, but it looks like this is partly why US units in New Guinea and the Solomons got P-39s instead of P-40s. The British needed them more.

A third surprise to me was the very impressive rate of refurbishment and rebuilding of damaged Allied aircraft by the British. This really saved the day because it effectively doubled or even tripled their resupply of planes. I'm not sure if these were quite as good as undamaged ones but it was way better than nothing.

A great deal of very interesting stuff happens in Ehlers book after El Alamein, but that's obviously beyond the scope of this thread.

Just as a postscript though, during and after Torch, in a nutshell the Axis adapted somewhat to air attacks vs. their shipping (using ferrys and some other smaller boats to run the blockade at night) and the Americans coming in, mainly the ground commanders, had to relearn the air support lessons. As a result the Luftwaffe had a brief heyday, which coincided with German victories at Kasserine. For a moment the Axis had air superiority again and they used it to good effect. This was the last major use of the Stuka in North Africa.

Eventually Esienhower forced the American ground commanders to go along with the British model, which paid dividends.

Part of the Allied resurgence after Kasserine also involved bringing down a very (to me surprisingly) large number of 8th AF heavy bombers from England. There was a lot of debate about this but basically it was felt that they could do much more harm to the enemy in North Africa and eventually Italy, until 8th AF was really able to do deep raids into Germany and the Allied armies were ready to do D-Day, which they realized was out of reach in 1943.


Staff Sergeant
Mar 18, 2022
So as a little drill-down, I'd like to look at The Defense of Outpost Snipe. This was part of the battle of Operation Supercharge during Second El Alamein, I ran across the Wiki on it by accident but it's quite detailed.

This battle is quite complex and intense - the Wiki is good reading. British and Axis tanks, anti-tank guns and infantry dueled over this particular position - Outpost Snipe.

This was a depression in the landscape which was used by the British as a bridgehead and a strong point, with their armored units waiting to perform a breakout, and the Germans and Italians repeatedly counterattacked the position trying to dislodge them. The position was defended by initially sixteen of the (at the time new and quite effective) 6 pounder AT guns, a platoon of mortars and some infantry and sappers. Nearby British units included armor and mechanized infantry with universal aka 'bren' carriers.

The British were planning a breakthrough in this area as part of Operation Supercharge, starting with men from the 7th Motor Brigade. They brought up 19 more 6 pounders. They were mainly up against the Italian 133 "Littorio" armored division and German 15th panzer division.

The British at Snipe fended off attacks by Littorio and 15th Panzer, but was struggling. British attacked with 41st and 47th tank regiment and 24th Armored brigade. These dueled with German tanks and eventually got reduced and had to pull back to defensive positions. The number of 6 pounds were steadily worn down and ammunition for them was low.

British Artillery couldn't reach or spot the German tanks, dug in at a depression, and vice versa. They brought in some M7 "Priest" 105mm guns from the 2nd Armored Brigade but they accidentally hit Snipe instead of the Germans.

On 27th October, 1942, Rommel set up a major counterattack with the remnants of 132nd "Ariete" tank division, 21st panzer, 15th panzer, 90th light, and 164th light "Afrika", with a total of 70 Axis tanks and self propelled guns in two waves, starting 1,200 yards West of Snipe. British tanks were hiding in another depression just East of Snipe.

Air Strikes
Here's where air power enters the fray, at last.

The Germans sent in a strike with 20 x Ju 87 and 20 x CR.42s, escorted by 20 x Bf 109s. This was intercepted by 16 P-40Fs from the US 64th and 65th FS (57th FG), which claimed 6 x Bf 109s.
The Axis aircraft were then attacked by 24 Hurricanes from 33 Sqn and 213 Sqn RAF, which claimed 2 x Ju 87, 4 x CR-42 and 3 x Bf 109, losing 3 Hurricanes.

Checked this in Shores:

65th FS claimed 3 x CR 42, 64th FS claimed 3 x Bf 109, 66th FS claimed 3 "Italian Fighters" and 1 x MC 202 probable.
33, 213 and 73 Sqn (Hurricane) claimed 3 x Ju 87 and 1 x CR 42, plus 6 damaged and probable. The same day 112 Sqn (Kityhawk III) claimed 3 x MC.202 and Spitfires claimed 4 x Bf 109

Allied losses were 3 Hurricane IIc shot down, 1 crash landed, 2 badly damaged, 1 Kittyhawk III crash landed, 1 Kittyhawk I crash landed 1 shot down, 1 Baltimore III shot down by flak. (6/9)
Some of the losses were apparently to the CR 42s, one Kittyhawk to a MC 202.
No Spitfires or US P-40Fs were lost.

Germans claimed 7 x P-40s, 3 x Spitfires, 1 Hurricane, and a P-39. (12 planes)
The Italians claimed 3 x P-46, 5 x P-40, and 1 Spitfire. (9 planes)

Axis losses were 2 x Bf 109s, plus 4 x Bf 109 crash landed 40-80% damage, 2 x Ju 88 crash landed, 2 x MC 202 shot down, 2 x CR 42 shot down, and 2 x CR 42 crash landed. (6 / 14)

The Axis air strike seems to have been sufficiently disrupted that they had little effect. The Axis attack came, with one group of three Pz IIIs making it within 100 yards before a heroic British sergeant manned an abandoned six pounder and hit two of them with one shot (!), the last one retreating. 70 German vehicles were burning

Interesting that they didn't actually get any stukas.

The German commanding general Georg Stumme was inspecting the front when his staff car was strafed, blowing his driver's head off. He stuck with the car and was found the next day, apparently having had a heart attack.
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Staff Sergeant
Oct 19, 2021
What do you mean by "heavy bombers"? Most of the RAF contribution at this time was Wellingtons (about 6 squadrons worth)

108 squadron couldn't get enough Liberator Mk.II to fully equip with the type. So A flight had Wellingtons & B Flight Liberator Mk.II. Some of my sources say they had no Liberators between June and Nov 1942, thereafter the Liberator element became a special duties flight flying ops over Greece & the Balkans.

159 flew Liberator Mk.II in the Middle East from July 1942 until the end of Sept when it left for India.

160 squadron was intended for India but its aircraft & aircrews were retained in the Midde East as 160 Middle East Detachment between June 1942 and Jan 1943 when it became 178 squadron.

462 squadron formed in Egypt in Sept 1942 from detachments of 3 2 UK based Halifax squadrons that had been sent out to the Middle East in June/July 1942.

As for the USAAF their contribution was as follows:-

Brereton Detachment (otherwise the remains of 7th BG). This arrived from India at the end of June 1942.
HALPRO or Halverson Detachment (later the Hal Bomb Squadron) originally intended for the CBI but halted in the Middle East as the end of May 1942, brought 23 B-24D aircraft from the USA. Its first mission to the Ploesti refineries in Romania on 11 June 1942 was a failure resulting in the loss of 4 aircraft interned in Turkey.

On 20 July 1942 the above 2 units were formed into the 1st Provisional Group with 9 B-17 and 19 B-24D aircraft. On 19th Oct 1942 this unit became the core of the 376th BG with 4 newly activated squadrons.

The 98th BG deployed to the Middle East from the USA in the second half of July 1942, 34 of its 35 B-24D arriving safely. The ground crews didn't arrive until 20 Aug. Despite that they flew a 7 aircraft mission on 1 Aug with support from RAF ground crews. Initially they experienced malfunctions with their bomb racks on 50% of missions flown. Between mid-Oct and mid-Nov they were routinely dispatching formations of 3, 6 or 9 aircraft.

For Operation Torch the 12th AF had been allocated the B-17 equipped 97th & 301st BG from the 8th AF, which flew out to North Africa in November 1942. They were joined by a detachment consisting of most of the 93rd BG with B-24D aircraft. It returned to Britain on 20 Feb 1943 after striking at communications and shipping targets, receiving its first DUC for these operations. Further BG began arriving in theatre in April 1943 but these were coming from the USA except for the temporary transfers noted below.

In June 1943 to support Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, three 8th AF B-24D BG were detached to join the 12th AF. These were:-

93rd BG for its second deployment, sent 39 aircraft on 26 June 1943 returning to Britain in Oct 1943 after Operation Avalanche, the invasion of Italy.
44th BG sent 38 aircraft on 27th June until late Aug
389th BG sent 40 aircraft on 9 July until Oct

These 3 BG plus the 98th & 376th from 9th AF were withdrawn from operations on 19th July to practice low level flying and prepare their aircraft for the Ploesti Raid that took place on 1 Aug 1943. 179 aircraft took off, and 165 attacked. 33 were lost to flak & 10 to fighters and 56 were damaged with 8 landing in Turkey. There were a lot of awards for that raid including 5 Medals of Homor.
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Staff Sergeant
Mar 18, 2022
"Heavy bombers" seems to mean B-24s and some B-17s during the day, and Wellingtons and apparently Halifax at night.

I point to Ehlers' statistic that there were 120 B-24 missions and 45 B-17 missions already in June of 1942. By September they seem to have been playing a significant role in disrupting Axis port facilities. if you want I can look up his source on that.

The B-24s seem to be both RAF and USAAF aircraft, B-17s were USAAF. Ehlers (page 246) mentions that five B-17s attacked Tobruk in early November sinking a large merchant ship, and 21 Liberators attacked Benghazi sinking a small ship and setting a fuel tanker on fire.

One of the US heavy bomber units was 98th Bomb Group (originally 23 x B-24s), and 9th BS (B-17D and Es then B-24s) 9th Air Force USAF, as part of a unit with 'hand picked crews' called the Halverson Project / HALPRO) later expanded with the 376th Bombardment Group with four more squadrons (512th, 513th, 514th and 515th) activated on 31 Oct 1942.

No doubt it was a small number of aircraft during the second half of 1942, but they seem to have done serious damage in particular to Axis port facilities at Benghazi, Tripoli etc. Which is part of the general point I was making about El Alamein.

In summer of 1942, in 205 Group there seem to have been four squadrons of Wellingtons (37,70, 108, and 148) and one of Liberators (160 Sqn RAF, which operated from Egypt and Palestine (and was gradually moved to India in 1943).

At the time of El Alamein in Oct 1942 in 205 Group alone there were six squadrons of Wellingtons (37, 70, 108, 148, 40, 104 Sqns) two of Liberators (147 and 160 Sqn), 2 of Halifax (227 and 462), one of mixed B-26 and A-20 (14 Sqn) and something called the "Special Liberator Flight".

Tactical units at this time included

232 Bomber Wing with five sqns of light / medium bombers (two squadrons of RAF Baltimores (55 and 223) and three of USAAF B-25s (82nd, 83rd, and 434th)
3 Bomber Wing SAAF with three sqns of light bombers (two of Marylands (12 and 21), one of Bostons (24))
81st Bombardment Group (USAAF) with (I think) B-25s
204 Group five sqns light bombers (three Sqns of Blenheims (14, 45, 55) two of Marylands (39 RAF and 24 SAAF)
262 Wing four sqns light bombers (one Blenheims, two of Marylands, one of Bostons)
270 Wing six sqns of Blenheims


Staff Sergeant
Oct 19, 2021
147 squadron reformed in Oct 1941 but it was Jan 1942 before it assembled in Palestine. But a shortage of Liberators meant it never received any aircraft. It’s groundcrews formed maintenance parties supporting other squadrons. Disbanded Feb 1943.

Halley - The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth 1918-1988

Also not listed as a user in The Liberator in RAF and Commonwealth service.


Staff Sergeant
Mar 18, 2022
By the time of Anzio (1944) there seem to be quite a few RAF Liberator squadrons. Not something i was really aware of...


Staff Sergeant
Oct 19, 2021
By the time of Anzio (1944) there seem to be quite a few RAF Liberator squadrons. Not something i was really aware of...
The RAF generally or 205 Group in the Med?

In Jan 1944 205 Group only had one Liberator squadron - 178 squadron. It was from later in 1944 that more squadrons converted to Liberators in the Med.

614 (ex 462) Aug 1944
37 Oct 1944
70 Jan 1945
104 Feb 1945
40 March 1945

31 & 34 SAAF squadrons arrived in Egypt in April 1944 to equip with Liberators before joining 205 Group in Italy in July.

Other big users of Liberators were in Coastal Command in Britain and it became the principal bomber in the Far East in 1944.


Staff Sergeant
Mar 18, 2022
Yes you are right, the RAF Liberators came later in 1944. During Anzio it looks like it was mostly USAAF Liberators involved.


Staff Sergeant
Oct 19, 2021
I missed it last night but by time of El Alamein there was only one Halifax squadron in the Middle East - 462 squadron.

I'm still trying to fully unravel the full story, but it seems the 227 squadron number plate was first given to a detachment of Beaufighters in the Middle East whose aircraft were quickly absorbed into 272 squadron on 27 June 1942, and it doesn't seem to have had a separate existence.

In June 1942 detachments of 10 & 76 Halifax squadrons were sent from Britain to Aqir in Palestine. From somewhere personnel were allocated to service them. These ground echelons seem to have been known as 227 and 462 squadrons respectively but again don't seem to have had a separate existence. Then on 7 Sept 1942 all these elements (aircraft and crews from 10 & 76 and groundcrews from 227 & 462) were formally brought together as 462 squadron.

There were a number of units in the Middle East in 1941/42 where, due to aircraft shortages at different times, the ground personnel would be used to service aircraft from other squadrons. This was also happening as USAAF units moved into the theatre and sometimes had to await their ground echelons, who were travelling by sea.

Turn back the clock a couple of weeks to 20 Aug 1942, you will find the 227 squadron number plate used on the formation of a Beaufighter squadron at Luqa, Malta. The aircraft and aircrew came from a detachment of 248 squadron (some sources say 235 but that isn't in accordance with the ORBs. 16 aircraft were sent out.) that had been on the island since early Aug to cover the Pedestal convoy. 227 remained a Beaufighter squadron until 12 Aug 1944 when it as renumbered 19 SAAF squadron. On 7 Oct 1944 a new 227 was formed in Britain on Lancasters.

So by El Alamein 227 was a Beaufighter squadron based at Luqa, Malta and nothing to do with Halifax bombers.

As for 14 squadron, all the information I have shows it converting from Blenheim IV to Marauder I in Aug / Sept 1942. It flew its last Blenheim sortie on 2nd Aug, becoming non-operational, and gave up the type in Sept. It began to receive Marauders in Aug and trained on the type until flying its first Marauder operation on 26 or 28 Oct 1942 (sources vary). It was then part of 201 (Naval Co-operation) Group and not 205 (Heavy Bomber) Group. Its principal role was maritime reconnaissance and anti-shipping work with some mine laying thrown in for good measure. It was operating out across the Med during these early operations, striking around Crete. It was withdrawn in Dec 1942 to train with torpedoes.
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