Witzig’s Pioneers in Tunisia

North Africa Cover Witzig’s Pioneers in Tunisia

Among the Fallschirmjäger rushed to Tunisia in November 1942 were the elite pioneers of Major Rudolf Witzig’s Fallschirmpionier Battalion, of the XI Fliegerkorps. They, along with two battalions of the 5. Fallschirmjäger Regiment (FJR.5), were rushed into action to stop the Allies taking Tunis.

Witzig’s pioneers were involved in some of the first fighting with the Allies on 17 November when they clashed near Jebel Abiod. They were heading to secure Tabarka when they encountered a British force pushing eastwards. The British force consisted of the 6th Battalion, West Kent Regiment, a troop of armoured cars, machine-gunners of the Northamptonshire Regiment and a battery of 25pdrs. Witzig’s battalion was motorised in 3-ton trucks and supported by a number of Panzer IVs.

Order Of Battle

Fallschirmpionier Bataillon XI Fliegerkorps and attachments
November 1942

Commander Major Rudolf Witzig
Stab (Headquarters) ~ Braun
Nachr-Zug (Signal platoon) ~ Heise
1 Kompanie ~ Ernst
3 Kompanie ~ Friedrich
4 Kompanie ~ Hart

Attached units:
4 Kompanie, Panzerabteilung 190 (Panzer IV G)
5 Battery, Artillery Regiment 190
Unknown FlaK Battery (2cm FlaK38 guns)
Unknown Panzerjager Kompanie (Marders?)

Fallschirmjager Troops
British Humber LCR III The British armoured cars spotted the approaching Germans and reported the German presence to the British column. The British forces quickly dug-in and prepared for the approaching German force. The Panzers probed forward and the West Kent anti-tank gunners held off until the tanks were a mere 200 yards away before opening fire. The anti-tank guns were soon joined by the artillery and machine-guns. Eight Panzers were knocked out during the first few minutes and  Witzig’s force was stunned and brought to a halt in a relatively open area.
Witzig soon rallied his forces and the Fallschirmjäger pioneers leaped from their trucks and advanced on the British. They soon took up positions in cover and ground folds and returned fire on the West Kent positions around the east side of the Jebel Abiod village.

The Fallschirmjäger brought forward a 2cm FlaK 38, which proved quite effective until it was silenced by the 25pdrs.

Fighting continued until nightfall, but neither force had the upper hand, the British held the village on the crossroads, while Witzig’s men held the high ground.
British attacks through Witzig’s positions
Searching for the Enemy Meanwhile German forces were gathering and Witzig’s heavy weapons and transports were withdrawn during the night to help in the forming of division von Broich in Tunis.

Witzig’s remaining companies dug-in around the area known as “Cactus Wood”. Both sides then engaged in intensive patrolling, with the more experienced Fallschirmjäger having the advantage over the fresh British troops.

During one raid on some houses on the outskirts of Jebel Abiod, Ernst’s 1st Company proved their efficiency with a lightning night raid. At midnight on November 21 the Fallschirmjäger pioneers skirted the main British positions and by 0300 hours were ready to assault the houses. Machine-guns were set up to give covering fire for the attack and withdrawal.

Two platoons were sent in to attack, moving swiftly and silently, but just as they were closing they were spotted by a British sentry and were forced to finish their approach at a run.
They stormed into the village, and despite the warning, took the defenders by surprise. They kicked open doors flinging explosive charges in to clear buildings, wrecking many of the little houses in the process.

Finally the British responded and Vickers machine-guns opened up from further inside the village, they were soon joined by the 25pdrs, but they could see little and were firing blind. The Fallschirmjäger pioneers escaped with only a few casualties.

For the moment Witizig’s men held the northern route to Tunis securely.


The 1st Company’s raid on Jebel Abiod makes for an interesting scenario, pitting the Fallschirmjäger in a Night Attack against a British First Army force.

Play this game with the Hold The Line mission (page 204 of the Flames Of War rule book), but use the Night Attack rules (page 154 of the Flames Of War rule book) with the Fallschirmjäger pioneers attacking.

Smoke 'em if you've got them
1. Kompanie,
Fallschirm-pionier Bataillon XI
Company HQ
Company Command & 2iC Teams
1 MG34 HMG team
1st Pioneer Platoon
3 Pioneer Squads
2nd Pioneer Platoon
3 Pioneer Squads 345pts
Support Platoons
2 Fallschirmjäger Squads
Company of the 6th Battalion,
West Kent Regiment
Rifle Company (1st Army, Confident Trained)
Company Headquarters
Company Command & 2iC Rifle Teams
1st Rifle Platoon
3 Rifle Squads
Light mortar team + AT Rifle 30pts
2nd Rifle Platoon  
3 Rifle Squads 110pts
Light mortar team + AT Rifle 30pts
3rd Rifle Platoon  
3 Rifle Squads 110pts
Light mortar team + AT Rifle 30pts
Weapons Platoons
Anti-tank Platoon
2 Anti-tank sections
Support Platoons
Machine-gun Platoon
2 Machine-gun sections
Field Battery, Royal Artillery
2 Gun Sections
Recce Platoon
3 Humber LRC III
MP38 at the Ready By November 20 US tanks had started to encroach into central Tunisia and British Paratroops and the 78th Division started to apply pressure to Witzig’s positions once again. The Paras attacked from Sidi Nsir, while the 78th Division continued to push forward at Jebel Abiod. Under pressure the Fallschirmjäger were slowly pushed back and in a fighting withdrawal they repositioned at Jefna where they prepared to hold.

Like the FJR.5 to the south of them, the pioneers held their ground while further reinforcements arrived. Their defence was so ferocious that the 78th Division finally turned away south-eastward to force a crossing at Medjez el Bab on the Medjerda River.
Some of Witzig’s men were involved in a number of parachute and glider drops behind enemy lines during late December, but none of the drops were successful, with rain and bad weather making piloting difficult. Many of the Fallschirmjäger pioneers had to struggle back to their own line after a long march in enemy territory. A number of Fallschirmjäger were captured and tried by the British and shot for espionage. After this Field Marshal Kesselring forbade any further air drops in Tunisia.

The wet and cold winter of 1942-43 halted all major operations in Tunisia. In the meantime Witzig’s battalion welcomed the reinforcements of Tietjen’s 2 Kompanie returning to the unit after serving in the Ramcke Brigade. The Northern sector had also been reinforced with the arrival of Fallschirmjäger “Pionier” Regiment “Barenthin” consisting of two battalions and commanded by Generalmajor Walter Barenthin, the senior pioneer officer of the XI Fliegerkorps.
Pak36 Crew
Advancing Under Fire Witzig’s battalion continued fighting in the northern sector when the Allied attacks started once again. They fought tenaciously, defending every inch of ground and by the end of April were down to two officers (including Witzig), four NCOs and 27 men.

As the Allies boxed in the Axis forces in May, Witzig and a few of his men managed to commandeer a motorboat and escaped to Italy.
Witzig in Flames Of War

The best way to field Major Rudolf Witzig is to just use the Walter Koch rules on page 22 of North Africa. Both were expert glider troops and in fact served together during the Eben Emael assault in 1940.

Rudolf Witzig was born in Westphalia, Germany, on 14 August 1916. He joined the army in 1935 as an officer cadet and had risen to the rank of Leutnant by 1938. That same year he joined the newly forming Fallschirmtruppe. At the outbreak of the war he had reached Oberleutnant and was commanding the Fallschirmpionierskompanie of the II Battalion, FJR.1.

His company was combined with that of the I Battalion under Hauptmann Walter Koch in May 1940 for the assault on Eben Emael. Witzig commanded Group Granite, but due to a glider towing line failure wasn’t able to arrive on the battlefield until later. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross for his actions during the assault.
Major Rudolf Witzig
In May 1942 he was given command of the 7. Flieger Division’s Pioneer battalion and August was promoted to Major. He was next sent with his battalion to Tunisia.
Witizig after the Eben Emael assault, 1940. He next commanded the 21. Fallschirmpionier Regiment. In July 1944 the regiment was sent to Lithuania where Witzig and his men took part in the defence of Dunaburg-Kovno road, inflicting and suffering many casualties in the process. They were eventually forced to withdraw and returned to Germany in October 1944 to recover.

He next commanded FJR.18, 6. Fallschirmjäger Division in Holland. He was awarded Oakleaves to his Knight’s Cross in November. The 18. Fallschirmjäger Regiment saw heavy action during February and March 1945 in the Reichswald Forest against British and Canadian forces. They next withdrew to the Rhine, before the threat of Allied armour forced them further back into Germany. The regiment finally surrendered on 8 May 1945.

After the war Witzig remained in Western Germany and rejoined the armed forces in his fifties, rising to the rank of Colonel in the Bundeswehr, still serving as a Pioneer. Rudolf Witzig died in 2001. 

Last Updated On Monday, October 5, 2009 by Wayne at Battlefront