SLASHING THE JUGULAR
Steven Morewood's excellent article, Protecting the Jugular Vein of Empire provides solid answers.
In November 1940, the Suez Canal was inadequately protected and lacked searchlights and anti-aircraft batteries.
The Germans made their first bombing raid in January 1941 and followed this up with mine-laying sorties.
Damaging attacks over the next three months threatened to choke the Canal traffic. Several ships were sunk by delayed action mines. These setbacks prompted the British to rush in minesweeping equipment and set up 200 observation posts along the Canal. As the raids intensified, Churchill warned his generals that the Suez Canal must be kept open. According to Morewood, “The mine sweeping organisation was improved, further AA guns installed, a gun zone established between Port Said and Kantara and air fighter zones between the latter and Ismailia. Formidable barrages from heavy and light guns became available at the terminal ports. In the crucial rocky section between Ismailia and Deversoir barrage balloons and AA guns were concentrated in an effort to keep attacking aircraft at a high altitude. Ultimately, this sector was to be covered at night by a huge net, penetration of which allowed the positions of mines dropped during darkness to be pinpointed. Divers then went down to deal with the mines. The Canal was regularly walked along its bottom by six navy divers, three from each end, after which ships were allowed to proceed. On 15 May, Cunningham was delighted to report that Suez’s defences had claimed an enemy aircraft for the first time and probably two more. Two days later half the raiders were brought down.”
From July to October 1941, German attacks continued, but the British gained the upperhand. Enigma decrypts sometimes provided advance warning of specific raids. The British brought in an anti-aircraft cruiser and more fighter aircraft. Sophisticated radar was introduced. Mine sweeping operations were tightened.
There were four failed enemy air raids in the first ten days of November. “Thereafter, there were no further serious incidents. By 1942 Suez’s defences were such that the Luftwaffe preferred to send reconnaissance aircraft rather than raiders over Suez.”
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