Hit Fighting France: yes, but how?
But back to closer shores. Among the succession of annoyances which will persist in accumulating in the Mediterranean for the Axis between 1940 and 1943, there is a major one, more irritating than the others: France, defeated, crushed even at home, but which nevertheless persists again and again taunting the Nazi regime over the sea. On the express instruction of Admiral Canaris – who was increasingly worried about the influence that the Sicherheitsdienst SS
was gaining at his expense, notably following the fiasco of Baghdad – the Brandenburgers
received the order in October 1941 to unite all their commandos from East Africa, South West Africa and Palestine into a single ad-hoc company, the 13. Tropen-Kompanie
. This one is in the wake sent to Catania, in Sicily. For the Abwehr, it seems obvious that the desert and the long desolate shores of Africa lend themselves admirably to the tricks and the little war of the Brandenburgers
. With the help of a few light vessels, or even submersibles, it should therefore be possible to maintain a form of insecurity on the coasts of the AFN at little cost, maintaining the “diversion
” dear to the Führer, while demoralizing these damned French…
After a short period of training and information, the 1. HalßKompanie
Friedrich von Kœnen – a son of a settler from South West Africa – is finally ready. However, it is not she who takes action. On November 31, 1941, due to the lack of the initially planned Dornier 24 seaplane (which was shot down during a reconnaissance by French fighters on patrol!), a group of seven men taken from the strength of the 5. Kompanie and under the orders from Leutnant
Joseph Kiefer embarked from Genoa in U-331 bound for Chenoua Bay, to blow up the Algiers-Blida-Oran line – this was Operation Hai
. The latter takes place according to plan… until the commando, on its way to the re-embarkation point, is captured by the French. These, understanding by examining the equipment of the commandos what their target was - there is not much else to aim for in the sector ... - have plenty of time to spot and then defuse the charges. Indeed, these were scheduled to jump after 12 hours, when the group was supposed to have already left Algeria. Worse, no doubt: this failure puts the security services on alert, which will then multiply air or land patrols on the coast as well as static guards on the installations deemed the most strategic.
Informed, the new 13. Tropen-Kompanie
prefers to postpone its projects in Algeria. However, the Brandenburg
hasn't given up on hitting France - it's just made more cautious by circumstances.
The 1. HalßKompanie
(Kœnen) therefore decides for the moment to target less risky sectors than Algeria – if only with regard to the means of accessing them. Indeed, the Brandenburgers
are not spies: they are supposed to return to the base once their task is completed. And in view of the difficulties of the Kriegsmarine
in the Mediterranean, which will only get worse, and the limited confidence that the Germans have in the Regia Marina
von Kœnen finally decides to favor the land route to maritime integration.
However, to act in this way, one can hardly pass through Morocco. Indeed, the French protectorate is bordered to the north and south by two Spanish colonies – and while Spain is a little less friendly than before, it remains as understanding as ever. The Brandenburgers
can therefore try to take advantage of the vast desert expanses to infiltrate from the Spanish Sahara. The French forces cannot be everywhere… But you still have to have the means to match your ambitions! More or less complex projects are set up, involving a landing in Laâyoune (in Western Sahara), after a possible stopover in the Canary Islands. Equipped with three or four capture vehicles – including an armored SAV-41 captured in Greece! – the Brandenburgers
are supposed to go north to carry out a daring raid on the arsenal of Agadir. The operation was finally postponed and then canceled, both to take account of the extreme Spanish reservations and the execrable state of the local infrastructure – not to mention the risks. Eventually, von Kœnen's teams would have to content themselves with patrolling the desert at night on their capture vehicles, along the southern border or from Tangier * Morocco, which seemed more affordable than Algeria, turns out to be a mirage…
However, in January 1942, the Brandenburgers
present in Western Sahara were relieved by their colleagues in the Sonderkommando Winner
(or Arabische Sicherungs-Verband z.b.V.)
. This unit mounted on dromedaries is led by Leutnant
Franz Wimmer-Lamquet – an Arabist officer raised in East Africa, survivor of the Iraq affair – and forms a commando well suited to the environment, as it is essentially composed of Mauritanian and Tuareg volunteers, supervised by former legionnaires of German origin. Its two squadrons of camels will carry out numerous intelligence raids, and even some attacks on isolated French installations, even on convoys circulating between Morocco and the AEF. Then, faced with the ineffectiveness of their mosquito bites, they disguised themselves in French uniforms to massacre civilians in order to stir up the more or less constantly simmering revolt against the colonizer… Wimmer-Lamquet was finally repatriated with his Germans in March 1943 , when Spain finally decides to move away from the Axis – but its camel riders will continue their own fight against the French for a long time.
Von Koenen, the looter of Africa:
More productive is the action of Konrad von Leipzig and his 2. HalßKompanie
. Also born in South West Africa, Leipzig is a career officer. He should have been demobilized after a very serious injury received in Albania, which cost him a leg. However, refusing to be sidelined, the man has become one of the most charismatic executives of the 13. Tropen-Kompanie. He quickly understands that the AFN is too closely watched to do anything useful there – on the other hand, he plans to use the great void of the former Italian colony in Libya, which is very poorly supervised and shared rather vaguely between France and United Kingdom. Leipzig therefore proposes to target the French, then the English and to disturb the peace reigning in Egypt, by carrying out raids as far as the Nile through the desert. A particularly ambitious project… But Leipzig is cheeky, and does not hesitate to ask for the assistance of the Italians. It brings together around twenty men who all speak French, English or Arabic and disembarks them discreetly from an Italian submarine on January 22, 1942 south-east of Misrata, almost at the junction of the Allied occupation zones. – which are supposed to be guarded only by third-rate units. Going back to Tripoli in two stolen vehicles and in French uniforms, they are however hung around Al-Khums by a squadron on dromedaries – because if the garrisons present in the cities are indeed mediocre, the camel riders who patrol the desert expanses are not. no way!
Von Leipzig, the maimed who did not want to give up:
Brandenburger in the desert on a DIY Steyr 1500. OTL, they went to the Nile!
The commando then withdrew towards the coast, where it was recovered on the 29th. And Konrad von Leipzig indicated in his report that “Any action on the Libyan coast seems doomed to failure without committing large military resources, impossible to provide in the absence of a port or naval transport greater than what a submarine can offer. Despite the existence of many potential targets, our resources are still too weak to be able to act in this area. »
The veteran is not discouraged – after all, his group still wandered seven days in Allied territory without being destroyed! And from the beginning of November 1942 – when the war in the East was in full swing – he directed his action towards Sicily, on the verge of falling into the hands of the Allies. This island with steep coasts and relatively poorly controlled becomes one of the favorite playgrounds of the Brandenburgers
, who benefit from the complicity of fascist sympathizers. Leipzig creates a commando unit on Sturmboots
, called Küstenjäger-Abteilung
(battalion of coastal hunters), which harasses the Allied rear lines from Reggio di Calabria, and multiplies the blows against depots or patrols close to the coast. The most important operation - led by Kœnen in person, returned from Morocco and in American uniform - was the destruction of an ammunition depot south of Messina, on November 15, 1942. The US Army in turn suffered the blows of the Brandenburg
dagger “with the red scorpion”
… and the commando withdrew without loss, re-embarking as planned after several nights of marching to the rendezvous point.
However, in the Italy of 1942, not all contacts are necessarily reliable: a group intended to sabotage a railway work north of Taormina after an insertion in gliders was thus captured on November 25, 1942 by a British patrol arriving on the scene just after landing, and "completely by chance
"... But on the 27th, it was the turn of the Brandenburgers
to take prisoner British commandos disembarked from a submarine, on information - then from a second, two days later deceived by messages sent by the Germans using the captured radio station!
But these meritorious efforts further and further away from France would not change the fate of arms: at the end of December 1942, Italy rocked and the Axis definitively lost control of the Mediterranean, which put an end to the activities of the Brandenburgers
on this theatre.
Thus, it is more than doubtful that Germany participated in any way in the attack on Customs in Oran. And even if, according to certain historians, it is doing too much honor to the NEF to attribute to it all the paternity of this affair, the fact remains that no archive has revealed to date the slightest clue in this sense. In truth, the latter are even formal: on January 7, 1943, the last Brandenburgers
left the region for good **.
Admittedly, an Arabische Fallschirmjäger-Einheit
of about twenty men commanded by the Hauptmann
Wolf was well constituted on February 5, 1943 - but these Arab volunteers will remain in Germany, serving little more than guard of honor to the Grand Mufti before to be absorbed by the 5. Kompanie… and to go and fight far from the Mediterranean, on a front where Brandenburg
would find itself facing its Destiny.
Paratroopers of the Arabisches FJE for the review:
* Kœnen will for a time consider making contact with veterans of the Rif War, but vigorous Spanish opposition will kill this project in the bud.
** Konrad von Leipzig would finally commit suicide on January 5, 1945 – not because of the German defeat, but because of unbearable pain from his amputated leg (phantom limb