Fall of Tobruk, a few questions

Lord Fairfax

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
Space Bat Lair
One other thing occurred to me. During the 1941 Siege of Tobruk the Royal Navy had control of the Mediterranean so it was relatively easy to run supplies and reinforcements into Tobruk. In November and December 1941, the Royal Navy suffered a series of disasters and lost control of the Med.

There were few major British warships in the Eastern Med in the spring and summer of '42.
The Royal Navy never lost control of the Med, they retained control of the Western (Gibraltar) and Eastern Med (Alexandria, Cyprus) for the entire war, it was only the Central Med that was contested.

And while the British did lose 2 battleships and a Battlecruiser (+ 2 more damaged) in Nov/Dec 1941, it didnt change the naval balence of power, or affect battleship availability in the Spring of '42, .
Germany lost two of its three capital ships in Feb 42, in the Channel Dash, leaving only the Tirpitz operational, while the Italian capital ships are starved of fuel.
Meanwhile during from Oct 41 - April 42 the British have added 4 available battleships + a battlecruiser, so the total available is almost unchanged.

Resolution (out with torpedo damage since Sept 1940) returns Oct 1941
HMS Duke of York is commissioned Nov 41
Renown (in refit since July 41) returns Nov 41
Warspite (out since May 41 with bomb damage) returns Dec 1941
HMS Anson completed and commissioned April 1942

HMS Valiant repaired by July 1942
HMS Howe commissioned Aug 1942

The withdrawal of the Japanese carriers in April 1942 after the Indian Ocean raid, and the subsequent Kido Butai involvement at Coral Sea and Midway, eliminates most of the threat to the British Indian Ocean fleet.
The Britsh have 5 battleships in the Indian Ocean (Warspite, Revenge, Resoluton, Ramillies, Royal Sovereign) + Valiant under repair, so it wouldn't be too difficult to detach a couple into the Med


Forum Staff
Aug 2016
The Royal Navy never lost control of the Med, they retained control of the Western (Gibraltar) and Eastern Med (Alexandria, Cyprus) for the entire war, it was only the Central Med that was contested.
It was the Central Med that was critical. In October '41 the Italians delivered 70,000 tons to North Africa. In November and December the Royal Navy reduced the total to about 30,000 tons/month. This was a major factor in why Rommel had to raise the Siege of Tobruk at the end of November. Then the disasters of November and December occurred. In early '42, when Royal Navy strength was lowest, supply deliveries climbed back up to 60,000 tons/month. This allowed Rommel to counter-attack at Gazala and capture Tobruk. In July, with the addition of Benghazi as a port of debarkation, Axis supply deliveries rose to 90,000 tons. Only in August, September, and October did the British make serious inroads at cutting Axis supplies again. This set up the British victory at El Alamein.

"There is a very clear relation between the events in the Mediterranean and the desert itself, as when the Axis forces virtually annihalated Force K at Malta, Rommel received his supplies and more importantly his armour, and was thus able to take the Eighth Army by surprise at Gazala in May 1942."

When we say 'control of the Med' we're talking about what the British could do in the Med and what the Axis could not do. Having lots of ships in the Eastern and Western Med doesn't really help if all of the critical action is in the Central Med. The flow of Axis supplies in early 1942 indicates that something was not going right for the Royal Navy at that time, and the clear explanation is all of the ships they had lost in November and December. Yes, the British eventually replaced those ships, and in fact, when the British did resume sinking Italian merchant ships in late summer '42 it was mostly by aircraft and submarines, not surface ships. But as to why the British did not try to hold Tobruk in the spring of '42, the Axis logistics situation did not suggest that the British would have much luck in Libya, and the recent loss of so many British ships did not encourage a naval operation like supplying a cut off Tobruk would entail.