British Paratrooper vs Fallschirmjager, (Combat, Volume 1)
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By late 1942 Britain had developed an airborne capability that would obtain its baptism of fire versus German airborne in North Africa and Sicily. On three notable occasions British airborne infantry fought intense battles with its German counterpart: twice in North Africa and again at Primosole Bridge in Sicily. Both forces were well trained and equipped, with a similar ethos and role, both thought of themselves as elite units, and both found themselves used by local commanders in a variety of roles that tended to be determined by the emergencies of the moment.
On 29 November 1942 Lt Col Frost's 2nd Para dropped at Depienne, Tunisia, with orders to march overnight to Oudna, destroy the aircraft there and then return to Allied lines. Finding no aircraft they retreated, repeatedly combating elements of Oberst Koch's FJR 5, deployed in a ground role. 2nd Para ambushed and drove back Fallschirmjäger riding on armoured cars. Nearly surrounded, Frost withdrew to a nearby hill; a battle ensued as both sides raced for the crest. After retreating overnight 2nd Para wiped out an attacking German platoon, and on 3 December Frost's men finally reached Allied lines; all told, they had made five night marches and fought three battles, in total covering 50 miles, and only 180 of Frost's 450 men remained effective.
Fighting as infantry, elements of 3rd Para encountered two companies of Fallschirmjäger-Pionier Bataillon, supported by elements of armour and artillery, in a strongly fortified position at Djebel Azag. On the night of 4/5 January 1943 a see-saw battle took place as the hill changed hands. The Germans were able to retain this key position. After weeks of further bitter fighting the British parachute brigade was again pulled out of the line in March 1943, but there would be no respite for any of the German parachute units; in May nearly all of those who had survived became POWs.
On the night of 13/14 July 1943, 1st Para Brigade dropped to seize the Primosole Bridge in Sicily and hold it until relieved the next day by 50th Division. Unknown to Allied planners, though, Fallschirmjager dropped nearby in the last large-scale German airdrop of WWII. The Allied airborne was badly dispersed by AA fire. However, the British successfully seized the bridge and held it until an improvised counter-attack retook it. Midway through the evening of 14 July elements of 50th Division succeeded in relieving the Paras, retaking the bridge after 2 more days of bitter fighting. The Germans withdrew after failing to destroy the bridge with a truck-borne improvised explosive device.
The battle at Primosole Bridge had immediate strategic consequences for both sides: for Britain an inquiry was held as to whether airborne forces were worth the investment, while for Germany the engagement proved the concept that elite infantry capable of being transported quickly by air to hotspots in the line could avert disaster. Featuring vivid first-hand accounts, specially commissioned full-colour artwork and in-depth analysis, this is the gripping story of the clash between airborne forces at the height of WWII.
tank’s tracks, and the No. 74 sticky (ST) grenade, which needed to be placed on the tank, were also available and engineers specialized in their use. Issued in time for Sicily, a safer option with a range of up to 110yd was the PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank), a 32lb weapon that fired a rocket-propelled hollow-charge round capable of destroying most German tanks on the island except Tigers. However, on Sicily only 60 per cent of hits were achieved at 100yd and only three-quarters of these
considerably less than elsewhere. Very fortunately this was in the direction we wanted to go, being on the route into the hills leading to Furna. The Germans, although originally encircling us, were now rather more concentrated on the eastern side with their rear towards Tunis. (Frost 1980: 96) One German machine-gun position had been stationed along the intended withdrawal route – west, then north through the hayricks – but at 1600 moved after firing a number of bursts at the farm. Frost’s plan
24 hours. Given that the division lacked motorized transport and had already covered 100 miles in three days since coming ashore on 10 July, this was an ambitious request – and the 69th Infantry Brigade failed to capture the town of Lentini that day. (IWM NA 4480) Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich (right) is seen here with Oberst Ludwig Heilmann (centre), the commander of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 3. Heidrich was an experienced paratrooper leader having previously commanded
18–19 Tunisia 8, 11, 14, 15, 18, 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 52, 53, 77 Tynan, Cpl Stanley 68–69 (70) US Army 29; 1st Armored Division 30 vehicles 24, 26, 28, 38 volunteers 13, 14–15 weaponry, British 23; anti-tank rifles 31, 59; Boys anti-tank rifle 28, 38, 50–51, 52, 63; Bren guns 8, 26, 27, 28, 51, 52, 64, 74; Colt .45in revolver 27–28; Enfield No. 4 rifle 21, 27; Gammon bombs 38, 62; grenades 27, 28, 35, 50; mortars 26, 28, 63, 65; PIAT 28, 63; submachine guns 26, 27, 37; Vickers machine gun 28,
thought that his men were ‘superior soldiers in every respect … they had first volunteered for parachute training, joined the parachute infantry battalion, and then came as volunteers into the parachute engineers’ (quoted in Villahermosa 2010: 44). Even in 1943, recruits needed to be volunteers. Major Friedrich Freiherr von der Heydte, commander of I. Bataillon/Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 3 on Crete and then in North Africa, wrote: ‘Any of three motives had induced these young fellows, who were