Unternehmen Dora PDF

Unternehmen Dora
Brandenburgers in Libya, 1942
by Mike Haught.

Dora the Explorers
When the war began to turn against the Italians in North Africa, Germany had to plan to send help. To do that, they needed to collect as much information as they could about Libya and the Sahara Desert.

The Abwehr, Germany’s intelligence service, sent its first mission to Murzuk in southern Libya in March 1941. This expedition was made up almost entirely with scientific personnel, including astronomers, geologists, and cartographers. The mission was code-named Unternehmen Dora, or Operation Dora. 

Only a few months before the Abwehr team arrived, the French and British had launched a series of raids against Murzuk. When the Germans arrived in the area the Italians were busy reinforcing the garrisons and were not particularly interested in helping to provide security, so the Abwehr would have to provide its own. Soon, a small security section of a few armed Steyr trucks and a pair of Sd Kfz 222 armoured cars.

On 28 October 1941 the first Brandenburger Halbkompanie (Half Company) arrived in North Africa, but these troops were diverted and used as normal troops in Rommel’s advance in January 1942.

Von Leipzig's Brandenburgers
Dora finally received its own protection on 22 January, with the arrival of Oberleutnant von Leipzig’s company of 100 men and 24 captured British vehicles (including 12 captured 2-pdr portee trucks) all taken after the Allies lost Tobruk. With their arrival, Dora took on a more military aspect with the added mission to find out if the Free French in Chad were a threat to Rommel’s Afrikakorps

Right: Brandenburger vehicles at El Gatrun.

Brandenburger vehicles at El Gatrun
The Italians, still weary of a French attack, suggested that the reinforced expedition (now called Sonderkommando Dora, or Special Force Dora) should be situated at El Gatrun. The Germans set up an airfield there and flew in a motley collection of odd aircraft, including a captured Spitfire aircraft for reconnaissance work.
Dora visiting Waw en Namus

From El Gatrun Dora sent three armed expeditions out to explore the mountains and passes of southeastern Algeria, northern Niger, and the Tibesti mountains of Chad. The first expedition led by Leutnant Becker headed into Algeria where they found a German dressed as an Arab who had deserted the French Foreign Legion when the war started.

Left: Dora visiting Waw en Namus.

He was able to give Becker’s team detailed information about the area. Becker pressed on into Algeria where his troops, dressed as British and French troops, slipped through the thin French picket line along the border.

However, the ruse failed the second time they accidentally ran into a much stronger French force. A firefight broke out and four of the Brandenburgers were killed and two trucks destroyed. The survivors piled into the remaining cars and made a run for the Libyan border, narrowly escaping and returning to Gatrun.

Right: Brandenburgers wave at a passing plane.

Waving to a spotter plane
Von Leipzig led the second expedition, dressed as British soldiers to avoid suspicion. This group moved into Niger to check out the Tümmö Pass. A French roadblock stopped the Germans, but von Leipzig was able to fool them into letting them pass. The team found the pass to be heavily manned by the French and surmised that several divisions would be required to break through. With that, von Leipzig returned to Gatrun.
2cm KwK38 gun mounted in a Steyr 1500A truck The third mission, commanded by Feldwebel Stegmann, ventured the furthest, slipping through French outposts and into the Tibesti Mountains. With the help of the local Tibbu Bedouins, who hated the French, they infiltrated the town of Bardai, a major French military base. Here they found out that the company-sized French garrison was about to be reinforced by a large number of troops. Stegmann decided to withdraw back to Gatrun, but not wanting to risk running though French lines again, the group travelled north using the mountains to cover their movement.

Left: 2cm KwK38 gun mounted in a Steyr 1500A truck.

During this these expeditions the captured Spitfire which took lots of aerial photos of the French forces in northern Chad and supported Brandenburgers if they ran into trouble.

Return to Gatrun
The missions returned to Gatrun after 14 days in the desert. The expeditions returned having accurately documented the area and mapped out roads that could be used in the future to raid the British land-based supply convoys in Egypt and the Sudan.

Right: Brandenburger vehicle in the desert.

Brandenburger vehicle in the desert
In terms of their primary mission to assess the French strength in the area, all three expeditions agreed that the French strongly held the mountain passes, and that a serious amount of troops would be needed to capture them (something that Rommel could hardly afford). However, they also determined that the French posed no real threat to the Axis forces in the north, as they possessed very little capability to move a sizable force beyond Murzuk.
Brandenburger Depot French Attack in the Fezzan
Coincidentally, this is exactly what the French were planning to do. The troop buildup that Stegmann had discovered was being amassed for a major assault on Murzuk. Colonel Philippe Leclerc, commander of the Free French, launched his attack in mid-February.

Left: Brandenburger Depot.

Italian and German forces in the region had been expecting this attack, thanks in part to the information gathered by Sonderkommando Dora. The French columns was detected by air and each defeated and sent back to Chad.
Retreat to Tunisia
When Rommel was finally turned back at El Alamein, Sonderkommando Dora was recalled to Tripoli, where it met up with Brandenburgers of Battalion von Koenen. The two combined and fought a fighting withdrawal.

At Wadi Zemzem, the Brandenburgers bloodied the nose of the British Long Range Desert Group and Popski’s Private Army before safely retreating back into Tunisa.

Download a PDF version of the Unternehmen Dora briefing here...

 Unternehmen Dora PDF

Last Updated On Tuesday, October 16, 2012 by Blake at Battlefront