Operation Sonnenblume

Operation Sonnenblume

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Operation Sonnenblume was the deployment of German troops (the Afrika Korps
Afrika Korps
The German Africa Corps , or the Afrika Korps as it was popularly called, was the German expeditionary force in Libya and Tunisia during the North African Campaign of World War II...

) to North Africa
North African campaign
During the Second World War, the North African Campaign took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts and in Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia .The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers, many of whom had...

 in February 1941, during the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. These troops reinforced the remaining Italian forces in Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

 after the Italian 10th Army
Italian Tenth Army
The Italian Tenth Army was one of two Italian armies in Italian North Africa during World War II. The Tenth Army in Cyrenaica faced the British in the neutral Kingdom of Egypt...

 was destroyed by British attacks during Operation Compass
Operation Compass
Operation Compass was the first major Allied military operation of the Western Desert Campaign during World War II. British and Commonwealth forces attacked Italian forces in western Egypt and eastern Libya in December 1940 to February 1941. The attack was a complete success...


The order for the operation was issued by Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was part of the command structure of the armed forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.- Genesis :...

 (OKW; Supreme Command of the Armed Forces) to Oberkommando des Heeres
Oberkommando des Heeres
The Oberkommando des Heeres was Nazi Germany's High Command of the Army from 1936 to 1945. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht commanded OKH only in theory...

 (OKH; Army High Command) and Oberkommando der Luftwaffe
Oberkommando der Luftwaffe
The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe was the air force High Command of the Third Reich.Air Force Commanders-in-Chief* Reich Marshal Hermann Göring * Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim -History:...

 (OKL; Air Force High Command) on 6 February 1941. Two days later, the first units departed Naples for Africa and arrived on 11 February. On 14 February, the first units of the 5th Light Division (later renamed 21st Panzer Division) arrived in Tripoli
Tripoli is the capital and largest city in Libya. It is also known as Western Tripoli , to distinguish it from Tripoli, Lebanon. It is affectionately called The Mermaid of the Mediterranean , describing its turquoise waters and its whitewashed buildings. Tripoli is a Greek name that means "Three...

, Libya. These units were the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and Tankhunter Unit 39; they were sent immediately to the front line at Sirte
Sirte is a city in LibyaSirte may also refer to:* Sirte Declaration, a 1999 resolution to create the African Union* Sirte Oil Company, a Libyan oil companyIn geography:* Gulf of Sirte, alias for Gulf of Sidra on Libya's coast...


During the following months, more 5th Light Division units arrived, and in May the 15. Panzerdivision was embarked for North Africa.

5th Light Division

The 5. leichte-Divisions (mot) (5th Light Division) tank regiment—5. Panzer-Regiment—arrived in North Africa aboard two convoys between 8 and 10 March 1941. The regiment—155 tanks strong—consisted of 25 Panzer I
Panzer I
The Panzer I was a light tank produced in Germany in the 1930s. The name is short for the German ' , abbreviated . The tank's official German ordnance inventory designation was SdKfz 101 .Design of the Panzer I began in 1932 and mass production in 1934...

s, 45 Panzer II
Panzer II
The Panzer II was the common name for a family of German tanks used in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen II...

s, 61 Panzer III
Panzer III
Panzer III was the common name of a medium tank that was developed in the 1930s by Germany and was used extensively in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen III translating as "armoured battle vehicle". It was intended to fight other armoured fighting vehicles and...

s, 17 Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

s, three kleine Panzerbefehlswagens and four Panzerbefehlswagens.
While the tanks of the regiment were being loaded onto Italian cargo ships in the port of Naples, the cargo ship Leverkusen caught fire and sank, resulting in the loss of the 10 Panzer IIIs and three Panzer IVs on board. Ten replacement Panzer IIIs—a mixture of Ausf F and G models—were requisitioned from 6. Panzer-Regiment, and three newly-built Panzer IV Ausf Es were shipped to Libya between 10 and 14 April. However, they did not reach the regiment until 29 April.

A further 25 Panzer I Ausf A were shipped over to North Africa to reinforce the regiment arriving in Tripoli on 10 May.

The on paper peak strength of the 5th Light Division in North Africa was therefore:
  • 50 Panzer Is
  • 45 Panzer IIs
  • 71 Panzer IIIs
  • 20 Panzer IVs
  • 3 kleine Panzerbefehlswagens
  • 4 Panzerbefehlswagens

All the tanks in 5. Panzer-Regiment were still painted dark grey (RAL 7021 dunkelgrau) and carried the 3. Panzerdivisions divisional emblem (inverted Y with two strikes)

15. Panzerdivision

8. Panzer-Regiment was previously subordinate to the 10. Panzerdivision before being reassigned on 18 January to the newly-created 15. Panzerdivision, itself created from the 33. Infanteriedivision.

8. Panzer-Regiment was shipped across to North Africa in three convoys between 25 April and 6 May 1941. The regiment—146 tanks strong—consisted of 45 Panzer IIs, 71 Panzer IIIs, 20 Panzer IVs, four kleine Panzerbefehlswagens and six Panzerbefehlswagens. By 28 May, the entire regiment had assembled at the front.

Tank modifications

Following the fighting which had taken place in 1939-1940, the Heer was in the process of increasing the armour thickness on all of its tank designs thus factories were producing tanks with increased armour thickness. However, for those tanks already in service, field modifications were made where armoured plates were bolted onto the tanks to bring them up to the new specifications.

The majority, but not all, of tanks from the 5. and 8. Panzer-Regiments shipped across to North Africa during Operation Sonnenblume had received these field modifications and a small number were from the new factory production run.

All tanks which were sent to North Africa were also modified for the tropical conditions, this included improving the engine air cooling circulation, the speed of the radiator fan increased and holes cut into hatch covers on the rear decks on the tanks.

See also

  • North African Campaign timeline
    North African Campaign timeline
    - 1940:* 10 June: The Kingdom of Italy declares war upon France and the United Kingdom* 14 June: British forces cross from Egypt into Libya and capture Fort Capuzzo* 16 June: The first tank battle of the North African Campaign takes place, the "Battle of Girba"...

  • List of World War II Battles