Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Squadra 5 (SQA5): HQ Tripoli

Originally Aeronautica della Libia until 15 July 1940, when this split into Settore Ovest (Tripoli) and Settore Est (Tobruk) to ease administration problems over such a vast area of North Africa. Operations were carried out on Egypt and Tunisia, mainly border patrols at first, and attacks on shipping in the central and eastern Mediterranean.

On 1 September 1940 they supported the advance on Sidi Barrani, losing heavily during the subsequent retreat from 9 December to 6 February. A lack of proper ground attack aircraft meant committing even ordinary bombers to attacks at ground level where small arms fire was deadliest.

With German assistance they returned to the attack on 15 February 1941, only to retreat again in November. Once again there were heavy losses, nearly 250 unserviceable aircraft being captured on bases in Cirenaica by the advancing British. The Germans lost almost as many. Hundreds of other aircraft had been shot down, or were found in aircraft graveyards in the open desert. A counter-attack was launched in January 1942, ending in the conquest of Tobruk in June and the advance to Alamein by July.

On account of the comparatively lower combat capabilities of the Italian aircraft, combined with a low level of supply, the Germans agreed in 1941-1942 that Italian aircrew in Africa would be responsible for the protection of ports, supply lines and escort duties. The Luftwaffe would shoulder the front-line activities, calling on the large numbers of Italian aircraft only when a major offensive was launched. This doctrine was modified when the MC 202s arrived in numbers, allowing the MC 200s, G 50s and CR 42s to switch to fighter-bomber roles. A Settore Centrale was added on 15 July 1942 to cover Cirenaica.

A build-up of resources culminated in the Alamein battles which reached a pitch in October 1942, ending in a retreat from Egypt and Libya by January 1943. On 15 February the command took over the Tunisian area until withdrawn from Africa in May, when the Squadra ceased to exist.

Aeronautica della Tunisia (ATUN): HQ Tunis
This command was formed in November 1942 for the control of supply routes between Sicily and Tunisia, and for the protection of the main ports in Tunisia. These were Tunis, Bizerte, Sousse, and Sfax. Units from the Sicilian command were used until 15 February 1943, when the area was absorbed by Squadra 5 and the command ceased.

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