First Paras in the Desert

That should be German paras, of course. The Italians had a Libyan para battalion trained prior to the war.

Prior to the arrival of the famous parachute Brigade Ramcke, a smaller unit of German paratroopers was flown into North Africa, where it helped shore up the Axis lines for a few weeks, re-captured the by now unoccupied oasis of Gialo (taken in November by Force E under Brigadier Reid) , and supported the advance during late January.

This unit was brought across in the context of the very heavy defeat that the Axis forces had just suffered east of Tobruk and their failure to be able to hold the Gazala line, and at the time of bringing it over it was not certain whether the Commonwealth forces would not make an attempt to push through the Marada – Mersa-el-Brega line which was only weakly held at this point.

The total strength of the unit was substantial, compared to what e.g. 90.lei.Afrika-Div. or the Italian divisions had to offer at this point, but it appears only less than half were actually sent to North Africa, according to information in this AHF discussion. This would explain why it was referred to as a battalion, when it was actually half-way to being a regiment in terms of size. The biggest problem was of course the complete lack of motor vehicles, which relegated it to a static role, unless trucks could be scrounged elsewhere to bring it forward into combat. While it never entered serious combat, it is interesting to speculate how it would have fared.

In terms of equipment, it would be interesting to know if the battery of 105mm guns were 10,5cm LG-40 Leichtgeschuetze (recoilless rifles), and if these were indeed sent to North Africa. I am guessing that they were, but if someone knows for sure, or even has pictures, please get in touch!

Below is the record of the unit from messages relating to it during the period January to early February 1942.

From: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 11 January 42
To:     90.lei.Afrika-Div.
With new task for Lieutenant-Colonel von Barby
Fallschirm-Lehrtruppe XI Fliegerkorps (Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps) (strength: 3 rifle companies, 1 machine-gun company, 1 AT company, 1 10.5cm battery, signals platoon, and sapper platoon, total about 1,600 men, commander Captain Burckhardt) will be subordinated to 90.lei.Div. First elements of the battalion, which is currently arriving in Tripolis, will probably arrive evening 11 January in the combat zone.
Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps is to be used in the gap between the east wing [of the Italian] X.A.K. [Army Corps] and western wing [of the Italian] XX.A.K. and has to establish itself for defense there. Instruction by 90.lei.Div. following prior reconnaissance by Lieutenant-Colonel von Barby. Following the taking over of the sector named above by Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps, the Italian mot. Korps (motorised corps) which is currently responsible is to be pulled out and to be held ready in the area 46.5 left 3 – 49.5 left 4 – 49 left 5.5 – 46.5 left 4.5 [see this older post for what these numbers mean] for mobile missions in southerly, southeasterly, easterly, and north-easterly directions.
Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps (Kampfgruppe [Battle Group] Burckhardt) holds close contact to east wing X.A.K. and XXI.A.K., as well as Artl.Kdr.104. It reports simultaneously to the command of the Panzergruppe and the 90.lei.Div. A visual depiction of the planned task of the battle group Burckhardt has to submitted to the command of the Panzergruppe by the 90.lei.Div.
Supply of battle group Burckhardt to be arranged by QM D.A.K.
For the command of the Panzergruppe

From: 90.lei.Afrika-Div. 12 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 20.00 Hours

Evening Report

[…]Nothing known concerning arrival Burckhardt.

90. lei Afrika-Div.

From: 90. lei. Afrika-Div 13 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21.20 Hours

Evening Report

[…]

Two rifle companies of Blocking Detachment Burckhardt have reached Arco dei Fileni; occupies reconnoitered position morning 14 January.  Further elements arrive by 16. January.  Remaining elements still in Sicily.

[…]

90. lei Afrika-Div.From: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 13 January 42

To:       X.A.K. – XXI.A.K. 22.35 Hours

mot. Korps. – D.A.K.

90. lei. Afrika-Div. – Art.Kdr.104

Pi.Führer – Nachr. Führer

S.R.104 (through liaison officer)

[…]4. Mot. Korps defends gap between X. and XXI.A.K. It stands ready on special order to follow the attack D.A.K. either prolonging north or as second echelon. Relief by Gruppe Burckhardt will start during 14 January.

[…]

Panzergruppe Afrika Ia

From: 90.lei.-Afrika-Div. 14 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 19.25 Hours

Evening Report

[…]

Battle group Burckhardt with staff and 2 companies since 08h00 on the march to area ordered.

[…]

90.lei.Afrika-Div.

From: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 14 January 42

To:       D.A.K. – X.A.K. 20.55 Hours

XXI.A.K. – mot. Korps.

90. lei. Afrika-Div. – Art.Kdr.104

O.Qu. – Ia/Pi – Ia/N

[…]5. Mot.Korps reports execution of relief by Battle group Burckhardt and then concentrates as ordered, to be able to follow D.A.K. at first as second echelon.

Panzergruppe Ia

From: Ital. mot. Korps 14 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21.58 Hours

Ital. mot.Korps will be relieved by Gruppe Burckhardt during the course of 15 January beginning on right wing.  Completion foreseen for 17h00. Ital. mot.Korps assembles following completed relief in the area 48.5 left 5. Current CP 48 left 4.

From: Kampfgruppe Burckhardt 15 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 19.00 Hours

Burckhardt reports executing taking over of ordered sector on 15 January 14h00.

Signed: Burckhardt

From: Panzergruppe Ia 15 January 42

To:       D.A.K. – mot. Korps. 21.00 Hours

X.A.K. – XXI.A.K.

90. lei. Afrika-Div. – Art.Kdr.104

Ia/Vers. – Pionierführer

Nachr.Führer – Flakgruppe Hecht

[…]

Addition for 90.lei.Div.: To instruct:

a) Gruppe Burckhardt to conduct constant fighting reconnaissance.

[…]

Panzergruppe Afrika Ia

From: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 18 January 42

To: All Troop Elements

Army Order for the Attack

[…]Kampfgruppe Burckhardt defends its position between eastern wing X.A.K. and southern wing XXI.A.K.

[…]

The Commander in Chief:

Signed: RommelGeneral der Panzertruppen

From: 90.lei.Div. 20 January 42

To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 20.00 Hours

Evening Report

[…]

Situation in Marada unchanged.  Reconnaissance up to 30km without result. Standing Italian patrol at 44 right 28.5 pulled back. Burckhardt reports 19 January 15h00 to 18h00 about 40 motorised vehicles, including tracked vehicles at 48.3 left 1.5 from east to west on southern edge Uadi el Faregh.

[…]

From:   Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 20.20 hours

[…] Report minimum vehicle requirements for Kampfgruppe Burckhardt and Gruppe Daumiller. […]

Panzergruppe Afrika Ia

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 22 January 42

To: X.A.K. 07.40 hours

X.A.K. prepares immediate taking over of sector Burckhardt by weaker securing forces.

Panzerarmee Afrika Ia

From:   90.lei.Div. 23 January 42

To: Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 19.00 hours

[…]From Burckhardt 23 January evening staff and 1 para company Agheila. Removal continued. Elements required 25 January there 24 January evening.  Delivery of required special equipment by 24 January questionable.

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 23 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 21.00 hours

[…]

3. […] Burckhardt assembles at Agheila. […]

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 24 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 23.42 hours

[…]

2. Kampfgruppe Burckhardt has to be ready for motorized transport from morning 26 January.

[…]

Panzerarmee Afrika Ia

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 25 January 42

To: 90.lei.Div. 09.00 hours

  1. 90.lei.Div. with Kampfgruppe Burckhardt (without Kampfgruppe Marada) in foot march and overtaking use of available motor vehicles at disposal Panzer-A.O.K. in area both sides Via Balbia southwest Agedabia between km 15 and 25. Additional vehicles can be expected to be made available from chief quartermaster.  Report when leaving and when division available at disposal in area ordered.

[…]Panzerarmee Afrika Ia

From:   Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 31 January 42

To: Kampfgruppe Burckhardt

Fliegerfuehrer Afrika

90.lei.Div.

Army Pioneer Leader – Army Signals Leader

Chief QM – Liaison Officer Major Fuchs

Ia – Ic

Order for the occupation of the Oasis Gialo

  1. Oasis group Gialo only occupied by weak enemy security forces. Recognised fires lead to conclusion that oasis is being evacuated. Aerial photographs of 30 and 31 January to be studied at Fliegerfuehrer.
  2. Gruppe Burckhardt at dawn 3 February with a special detachment of 50 men takes possession of Oasis Gialo in ground attack and holds it.
    Advance route:
    Agedabia, el Haselat, Gr. Es Sahabi. Tracks leading to oasis Gialo are to be mined. Furthermore an advance has to be carried out to the supply depot 50 km east of el Hamin (aerial photograph to be studied at Fliegerfuehrer)
  3. The detachment is to be fully mobilised with tracked vehicles and trucks by the chief quartermaster.
  4. Detachment Giaol is directly subordinated to the high command of the Panzerarmee.
  5. Fliegerfuehrer is politely requested to provide fighter cover for the operation and to support the surprise attack with bombers if enemy occupation is recognised. The retreat of enemy forces on the tracks to Siwa is to be harassed by destroyer planes.
  6. Supply: rations for four days are to be taken along. Further supply will be secured by transport planes. Fliegerfuehrer is politely requested to fly in supplies.
  7. The required number of mines (see No.2) is to be brought in by air. (Army pioneer leader organises supply of mines from Agedabia).
  8. Radio information: encoding means and radio information will be supplied to Agedabia by the Army signals leader.
  9. Reports of the Gialo detachment have to be at least twice daily from 2 February (morning and evening report) to the high command of the Panzerarmee.

For the high command of the Panzerarmee

On Behalf of the Chief of the General Staff

Signed v.Mellenthin

From:   90.lei.Div. 3 February 42

To: Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 19.30 hours

Evening Report:

III./I.R.347 and elements Kampfgruppe Burckhardt arrived in Barce. Otherwise no particular events.

90.lei.Div.

On 4 February Panzerarmee Afrika reports that Gialo has been re-taken by weaker elements of Kampfgruppe Burckhardt. With this the involvement of the paras in the winter battle of 1941/42 ends.

2 thoughts on “First Paras in the Desert

  1. “With this the involvement of the paras in the winter battle of 1941/42 ends.”

    Do you know if they subsequently stayed in Africa, or were they then flown back to Europe?

  2. Followed the link to AHF and answered my onw question:
    “their departure back to Germany at the end of March was by Ju 52s, first to Maleme, Crete then to Taranto, Italy, then by rail back home.”

    This seems like kind of the perfect operation for light airborne forces. Rapidly flown in to secure a position, moved around a bit, then sent back home when they need was no longer critical. That’s exactly how they should be used, doctrinally.

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