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.
Nordafrika.- Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, Generalmajor Bernhard-Hermann Ramcke, Oberleutnant (vlnr); XI. Fliegerkorps – the picture is dated to early 1942, which makes it possible that the Oberleutnant is Burckhardt.
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
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
for what these numbers mean] for mobile missions in southerly, southeasterly, easterly, and north-easterly directions. Parachute Instruction Unit XI. Fliegerkorps (
[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
[…]Nothing known concerning arrival Burckhardt.
90. lei Afrika-Div.
From: 90. lei. Afrika-Div 13 January 42
To: Panzergruppe Afrika Ia 21.20 Hours
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
Battle group Burckhardt with staff and 2 companies since 08h00 on the march to area ordered.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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)
- The detachment is to be fully mobilised with tracked vehicles and trucks by the chief quartermaster.
- Detachment Giaol is directly subordinated to the high command of the Panzerarmee.
- 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.
- 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.
- The required number of mines (see No.2) is to be brought in by air. (Army pioneer leader organises supply of mines from Agedabia).
- Radio information: encoding means and radio information will be supplied to Agedabia by the Army signals leader.
- 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
From: 90.lei.Div. 3 February 42
To: Panzerarmee Afrika Ia 19.30 hours
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.
Ronnie, author of the Coleraine Battery website linked to the right has very kindly made his chapter on the activity of the battery in the Western Desert available. I uploaded it for distribution as a PDF at this link.
Happy reading, and many thanks to Ronnie for his generosity!
There is a bit of info in Brett-James’ “Ball of Fire”, the history of 5th Indian Division in WW2. Force ‘E’, or Oasis Force as it was also known as far as I know, was the southern hook of the Crusader operation, aiming for the southwestern corner of Cyrenaica. In the end it was too weak to achieve much more than a serious headache for Axis commanders, although its presence in the rear of Panzergruppe Afrika may have contributed to the decision to abandon the Gazala line on 17 December 41.
Read about mid-page here.
The whole book is worth reading too.
Start from here.