Luftwaffe versus Operation Torch


Dornier Do-217M and Fritz X.


The German response to “Torch” led to a major transfer of bombers and fighters into the theater. As early as November 4, Luftflotte 4 gave up a fighter group to the Mediterranean. Moreover, the North African invasion forced the Germans to shut down attacks on the Murmansk convoys and to send additional antishipping units into the Mediterranean. German bomber and fighter forces operating from Tunisia, Sicily, and Sardinia inflicted considerable damage on Allied shipping and ground forces. The Allies faced two problems in bringing airpower to bear on the bridgehead. The first was one of logistics. Tedder’s air forces, still located on Egyptian bases, were too far away to intervene effectively, while the bases that Eighth Army captured in its march along the North African littoral took time to repair and stockpile. Similarly, the air forces in Algeria and Morocco found it difficult to marshal the logistical effort needed in eastern Algeria where it counted.

I./KG 26 left German occupied Norway in November 1942. The Gruppe was ordered to Grosseto to counter Operation Torch, the American landings in Morocco and Algeria on 8 November 1942. I./KG 26 attacked Allied shipping and lost 11 He 111s in November. On 22 December 1942, Ju-88s from III Gruppe’, KG 26 torpedoed and damaged the British troopship Cameronia. Strikes were made all along the African coast. Allied air attacks cost the unit four aircraft on 8 February 1943 when the units base at Cagliari-Elmas, Sardinia was bombed. In July 1943 the unit also contested Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. On 12 August the unit struck at Allied shipping in the western Mediterranean losing 10 machines for little result. On 8 September I./KG 26 attacked the Allied beaches at Salerno without success. In late August early September the unit moved to southern France at Salon-en-Provence. On 26 November 1943 the unit flew its last mission off North Africa. Until July 1944 I./KG 26 continued to fly anit-shipping missions off Anzio and western Italy.

In August 1942 6.III./KG 26 moved to Grosseto, Sicily. On 10 August 1942 it sank two freighters from the convoy Pedestal. 6 staffel continued operations off North Africa until May 1944.

III./KG 26 operated in the Mediterranean. Missions continued against the Torch, Anzio and Normandy landings.

I./KG 77 was reformed as I./KG 6 on 31 August 1942, after the unit ceased operations over Great Britain. However I./KG 77 was reformed again on 10 September 1942. The Kampfgeschwader carried out operations in the Mediterranean and North Africa until June 1943, taking part in the Siege of Malta and the Second Battle of El Alamein. The unit also resisted the Allied invasion of Sicily, probably destroying the U.S. Liberty ship SS Robert Rowan on 11 July. KG 77 made constant night attacks against Allied Naval forces from 10 July – 25 August 1943. After retraining naval attack methods, the unit could now operate with effective torpedo methods. I./KG 77 operated from Salon in southern France from March – July 1944, attacking American convoys of the coast of Algeria.

The II. Gruppe / KG 100

In December 1941, the III./KG 26 became II./KG 100 when the former Kampfgruppe 100 was officially transformed into Kampfgeschwader 100. The II./KG 100 served in the middle sector of the Eastern Front in early 1942 but was moved to Greece at the end of April 1942 where it operated until April 1943.

The III. Gruppe / KG 100

The III./KG 100 was not formed before September 1942 when the former Aufklärungsgruppe 126 became III./KG 100. It served in Greece in 1942 and early 1943.



The only Luftwaffe unit to deploy the Fritz-X was Gruppe III of Kampfgeschwader 100 Wiking (Viking), designated III./KG 100, the bomber wing itself evolved as the larger-sized descendent of the earlier Kampfgruppe 100 unit in mid-December of 1941. This unit employed the medium range Dornier Do 217K-2 bomber on almost all of its attack missions, though in a few cases toward the end of its deployment history, Dornier Do 217K-3 and M-11 variants were also used. Fritz-X had been initially tested with a Heinkel He 111 bomber, although it was never taken into combat by this aircraft. A few special variants of the troublesome Heinkel He 177A Greif long-range bomber were equipped with the Kehl transmitter and proper bomb racks to carry Fritz-X and it is thought that this combination might have seen limited combat service, at least with the combinations known to have been involved in test drops.

Fritz-X was first deployed on 21 July 1943 in a raid on Augusta harbor in Sicily. A number of additional attacks around Sicily and Messina followed, though no confirmed hits were made and it appears the Allies were unaware that the large bombs being dropped were radio-guided weapons.

On 9 September, the Luftwaffe achieved their greatest success with the weapon. After Pietro Badoglio publicly announced the Italian armistice with the Allies on September 8, 1943, the Italian fleet had steamed out from La Spezia and headed to Malta. To prevent the ships from falling into Allied hands, six Do 217K-2s from III. Gruppe of KG 100 (III/KG 100) took off, each carrying a single Fritz X. The Italian battleship Roma, flagship of the Italian fleet, received two hits and one near miss, and sank after her magazines exploded. 1,255 men, including Admiral Carlo Bergamini, died. Her sister ship, Italia, was also damaged but reached Malta.

The American light cruiser Savannah was hit by Fritz-Xs at 10:00 on 11 September 1943 during the invasion of Salerno, and was forced to retire to the United States for repairs. A single Fritz-X passed through the roof of “C” turret and killed the turret crew and a damage control party when it exploded in the lower ammunition handling room. The blast tore a large hole in the ship’s bottom, opened a seam in her side, and blew out all fires in her boiler rooms. Savannah lay dead in the water with the forecastle nearly awash and took eight hours to relight boilers and get underway for Malta.

Savannah’s sister ship, Philadelphia, had been targeted earlier that same morning. While it is often believed the ship was hit by a Fritz X, in fact the bomb just missed the ship, exploding about 15 meters away. Damage was minimal.

The light cruiser HMS Uganda was hit by a Fritz-X off Salerno at 1440 on 13 September. The Fritz X passed through seven decks and straight through her keel, exploding underwater just under the keel. The concussive shock of the Fritz X’s underwater detonation close to Uganda’s hull extinguished all her boiler fires, and resulted in sixteen men being killed, with Uganda taking on 1,300 tons of water. The Uganda was towed to Malta for repairs.

Two merchant ships may have been hit by Fritz X bombs at Salerno, though the evidence is uncertain. SS Bushrod Washington was hit by a glide bomb, either a Fritz-X or a Hs 293, on 14 September while offloading a cargo of gasoline. SS James W. Marshall was set afire by a conventional bomb, Hs 293 or Fritz-X on 15 September. As with the Bushrod Washington, the nature of the weapon that damaged James W. Marshall is uncertain. A witness aboard a ship nearby, Joseph A. Yannacci, attributes the attack to Ju 87 “Stuka” dive bombers, which were too small to carry glide bombs. While an attack with a Fritz-X cannot be ruled out, there is at least an equal case to suggest that, if a glide bomb was involved, the culprit was actually a Hs 293 from II./KG 100; Luftwaffe records show that II./KG 100, armed only with Hs 293 glide bombs, was active over Salerno that day.

KG 100 scored another success with Fritz-X while the British battleship Warspite was providing gunfire support at Salerno on 16 September. One bomb penetrated six decks before exploding in number 4 boiler room. This explosion put out all fires and blew out the double bottom. A second Fritz-X near-missed Warspite, holing her at the waterline. She took on a total of 5,000 tonnes of water and lost steam (and thus all power, both to the ship herself and to all her systems), but casualties were few. She was towed to Malta by tugs Hopi and Moreno, then returned to Britain via Gibraltar and was out of action for near 9 months; she was never completely repaired, but returned to action to bombard Normandy during Operation Overlord.

The last Fritz-X attack at Salerno again lightly damaged the light cruiser Philadelphia with two near misses on 17 September. This attack is sometimes reported as taking place on 18 September. However, according to US Navy records, the cruiser Philadelphia departed Salerno the night of 17/18 September. Moreover, according to Luftwaffe records, III./KG 100, the Luftwaffe unit armed with the Fritz-X, flew its last mission on 17 September. Other ships damaged by Fritz-X included Dutch sloop Flores and destroyer Loyal.

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