When German General Rommel and the lead elements of what would become the Afrika Korps landed in Libya in February 1941, nobody could have foreseen the legendary status they would achieve. Sent to support the faltering Italians, they were eventually able to drive the Allies to the very gates of Egypt. Fighting over hostile and rugged terrain, often outnumbered and outgunned, they were only finally undone by their defeat at El Alamein and Allied landings to their rear.
This collection of photographs is taken from the albums of three members of the vaunted Afrika Korps. For the first time the daily reality of the North African campaign can be seen from the German point of view. With numerous photographs of vehicles and men at work, this collection paints a portrait of the rugged and dangerous conditions as well as the harsh and brutal nature of desert warfare.
This is a photograph of German and Italian shipping in the harbour of Tripoli. Tripoli and Benghazi were incredibly important as they were the main resupply ports for the Afrika Korps, as well as the Italian forces. The monthly capacity of Tripoli was around 45,000tons, although in times of emergency this could have been increased. Tripoli would have been able to manage around 1,500tons a day with Benghazi coping with slightly less than twice that. ln the last three months of l94l Italian and German shipping losses in the Mediterranean reached almost unsustainable levels. Not only that, but both ports were under almost continual attack from the RAF. This led to the loss of storage facilities, the sinking of smaller boats to help unloading and the vital trucks that were needed to transfer the supplies from the ports to the front line units. Both of the ports had relatively limited berthing facilities. Benghazi, for example, could handle two large vessels, a small vessel and one tanker at the same time.
Men are queuing up for inoculations in this shot. Sickness was the major cause of casualties, even compared to fairly heavy battle engagements during the North African campaign. At various stages during the campaign the numbers of men that had to be repatriated to Germany were greater than men making the reverse trip to replace them. Some of the biggest debilitating diseases were sand sores, dysentery, jaundice, a host of bowel complaints and diphtheria. Particularly when the units were static the diseases spread very quickly and medical supplies were also limited. Lice were a particular problem and Afrika Korps troops were not keen to occupy positions that had been previously manned by Italian units. They were believed to be infested with lice and ﬂeas. German troops also tried to avoid desert Arabs for the same reason.
This is a Panzer II moving at speed across the desert. The Panzer II was something of a stop-gap tank and it was used extensively both in Poland in 1939 and in France in 1940. It had a relatively short front line service, as it ceased to be used by combat units by the end of 1942 and production ceased in 1943. In 1940 it was the most numerous type of German tank. This was really its high point, as it was relegated soon after to a reconnaissance role. Panzer IIs sent to North Africa had been modiﬁed so that they had a ventilation and ﬁltering system, making them able to operate in the dry and dusty climate. When the 5th Light Division was deployed to North Africa it had forty-ﬁve Panzer IIs. It was also equipped with twenty-ﬁve Panzer Is, seventy-ﬁve Panzer IIIs and twenty Panzer IVs. In North Africa the Panzer II stayed in service throughout 1941, but by August 1942 there were just fourteen left. They were not replaced and we must assume that they had either been knocked out or been shipped back to Germany. Many ofthe chassis were actually used to build self-propelled guns, notably the Howitzer carrying Wespe.