Kampfgruppen Von Koenen
by Mike Haught
In December 1942, British, American and Free French forces were closing in on the Axis forces in Tunisia from the west, while Montgomery’s Eighth Army pushed from the east. The German command needed to inflict decisive defeats on these forces before they could join up and permanently push them out of North Africa.
Operations were planned for the new year, but for now a delaying action was all they could manage as they built up their forces. This was remarkably easy to do in Tunisia owing to the complicated mountains, salt marches and wadis that crossed the country. Bridges became vitally important ways of getting through this geological mess and therefore the ideal targets for demolition.
|The trouble was getting to the choke points.
Allied troops had advanced into the western frontier of Tunisia, and
captured many of the bridges they needed to bring up further
reinforcements. If the Germans were going to eliminate these bridges,
they’d have to get their teams through enemy lines.
|The Brandenburgers of the 13. Tropenkompanie (13th Tropical Company) were first to step forward for the mission. They had fought a very successful rear action through Libya, skirmishing with the Long Range Desert Group and Popski’s Private Army, before arriving in Tunisia.
In November 1942 the company was expanded into the Tropical Battalion, commanded by Hauptmann von Koenen. For the mission he was given a handful of DFS 230 gliders. Using these he could deliver his troops over the heads of the Allies and land silently on target.
|At the end of December they launched two assaults against bridges in southern Tunisia. The first target was the railroad
bridge at Sidi bou Baker, which crossed the Wadi el-Kbir. This crossing was one of very few that the US and Free French troops could use to reach El Guettar. The second bridge was north of Kasserine, and cut the allied supply route.
|The first assault was led by von Koenen. Although three gliders had been promised for the assault, only two were provided. Leutnant Hagenauer’s assault only had one glider
available. After some readjustments and packing the gliders over their maximum capacity, the gliders took off during the
evening of 26 December.
Both glider assaults landed wide of their targets
due to Allied anti-aircraft fire, but managed to collect itself and
make its way to the bridges. The Brandenburgers demolished the targets,
but came under fire from the Free French guarding the area.
a last-minute addition of an extra MG42 to the squad helped suppress
the French long enough for the Brandenburgers to destroy their gliders
and retreat back to base on foot 75 miles (120km) east. Using their
trademark enemy disguises and relying on pro-Axis local Arabs, most of
the Brandenburgers made it back to safety.
Last Updated On Thursday, January 15, 2015 by Wayne at Battlefront