Ramcke Fallschirm-brigade

Death From Above

Ramcke Brigade
Generalmajor Bernhard Hermann Ramcke and his Brigade in North Africa

Before the success of Operation Mercury in securing Crete in 1941 preparations were begun to take the British controlled island of Malta in the Mediterranean. The island acted as a supply port and a base of operations for the RAF that put them in striking distance of North Africa and Italy. Initially Italian and German parachute and air transported infantry were to take the island’s airfield before a force of Italian sea borne troops would land and secure the rest of the island and subdue the defenders.

After the high casualties suffered by the Fallschirmjäger during Crete, and fuel supply problems for the Italian Navy, the assault on Malta was cancelled and a number of Fallschirmjäger troops became available for other operations.

In early summer 1942 General Student, commander of Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger forces, was asked to form a Fallschirm-brigade to be sent to Africa. He appointed Bernhard Herman Ramcke commander of the new brigade.

Ramcke (then a Oberst) had commanded Fallschirmjäger in Crete and took command of western operations when the commander of the Sturm Regiment Oberst Meindl was wounded, dropping with the first wave of reinforcements on 21 May. He then took command of Meindl’s Kampfgruppe, overseeing the breakthrough of the New Zealand lines and linking up with German forces at Galatas.

After his promotion to Generalmajor in August 1941, he briefly served with the Italian parachute forces in preparation for Operation Herkules (the invasion of Malta) before it was cancelled and he was recalled to Berlin.

in the right foreground is Ramcke
Ramcke touring around his troops in Africa

The new Fallschirm-brigade consisted of four battalions taken from different Fallschirmjäger regiments, an artillery battalion, a signals company, a pioneer company and an anti-tank company.

Fallschirmjäger-Brigade Ramcke

Commander: General der Fallschirmtruppen Bernhard Hermann Ramcke
Brigadestab (staff/command)
I./ Fallschirmjäger Regiment 2 (Battalion Kroh)
I./ Fallschirmjäger Regiment 3 (Battalion von der Heydte)
II./ Fallschirmjäger Regiment 5 (Battalion Hübner)
Fallschirmjäger-Lehr Battalion/XI. Flieger-Korps (Battalion Burkhardt)
II./Fallschirm-Artillerie Regiment (Fenski)
Tietjen Pionier Kompanie (Hauptmann Cord Tietjen)
Panzerjäger Kompanie (twelve 3.7cm PaK36 guns)(Hasender)
Signal Company

The brigade arrived in Africa in July 1942 and took part in Rommel’s drive towards the Suez Canal, Britain’s important supply line to India. The British defence finally solidified at El Alamein and the Axis offensive ground to a halt. The Ramcke Brigade became part of the German and Italian defensive line.

The brigade was spread between Italian X and XX Corps, with battalions Hübner and Burkhardt positions with the Italian Bresscia Division and the remainder of the brigade further north with the Italian Bologna Division. To the right of Hübner’s battalion were the fellow paratroopers of the Italian Folgore Division.

Folgore... 

Ramcke giving medels to Italian troops
Fallschirmjäger with one of the few transport vehicles they had in the desert.

The British opened Operation Lightfoot on 23 October. The British planned to send their main thrust through the defensive sectors in the south, but an important diversionary thrust was to attack in the north. The British XIII Corps plan was to break through the main defensive line in the north and force the commitment of the Axis reserves there (Ariete Division and 21 Panzer Division), stopping them from involvement in the fighting in the north.

Though outnumbered by the British thrust the Italian and German troops held off the breakthrough, though the threat from the British did stop the armoured divisions being sent north. Meanwhile the British broke through in the north and troops to the south were under threat of being surrounded, the Ramcke Brigade among them, and the order was given to retreat.

Unfortunately, like many of their Italian comrades, the Fallschirmjäger had no motorised transport of their own and were forced to retreat on foot, under the risk of being left stranded in the desert while the divisions of the Afrika Korps raced into the distance. Their march began on 3 November, Battalion Burkhardt was captured near Fuka attempting to get to the road west, though the rest of the brigade escaped by continuing west across the desert.   

A few days later, on 5/6 November, during a night march the brigade came across a British supply column of trucks parked up and were able to take column without firing a shot. They then continued their journey west with enough supplies, fuel and transport to complete it.

600 Fallschirmjager of the Ramcke Brigade arrived back at the Axis lines on 6 November after a 200 mile trip across the desert. They were sent further north into Tunisia to recover from their epic journey.

Ramcke and Oberstleutnant Hans Kroh went about organising the remnants of the Ramcke Brigade into two under strength battalions. 

A Fallschirmjäger of Ramcke Brigade cleans his rifle
Ramcke takes a break by his Kubalwagen Ramcke returned to Germany and on 13 November became the 145th recipient of the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross (which he had been awarded after Crete) and was promoted to Generalleutnant. Kroh then to command of the remainder of the Brigade, which was, redesignated Luftwaffenjäger Brigade 1.

Luftwaffenjäger Brigade 1.

Commander Oberstleutnant Hans Kroh
Battalion Schwaiger (Kompanies 1-3)
Battalion von der Heydte (Kompanies 4-6)

The Brigade continued to fight in southern and central Tunisia against the veterans of 8th Army until the Axis forces surrendered in May. Some Fallschirmjäger managed to escape.

Ramcke, now in command of the 2. Fallschirmjäger Division, moved with his unit from France to Italy when the Allies invaded Sicily, where the division waited ready. When the Italian surrendered to the Allies in September 1943, Ramcke’s division were tasked with taking control and restoring order in Rome. The division was then sent to Russia in November 1943. They fought in Russia until May 1944, casualties were high, but it would be the last time the 2. Fallschirmjager would fight in Russia.

Members of the Ramcke Brigade

Ramcke and his division then moved Cologne, before being ordered to Brittany, France, to defend the peninsular on 13 June. Ramcke and his division would fight for Brittany, and finally the fortress of Brest, with American troops until finally forced to surrender on 19 September.

Ramcke

Ramcke was taken prisoner and shipped to a POW camp in the United States. For his final defiant defence of Brest he was awarded Sword & Diamonds to his Knights Cross.

Ramcke died in Germany in 1968.

Fallschirmjäger


Last Updated On Thursday, November 21, 2019 by Luke at Battlefront