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Battle Orders 15: German Airborne Divisions: Mediterranean Theatre 1942–45

by Bruce Quarrie

Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-828-6, 96 pages.

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Bruce Quarrie’s last book is a very good one. It deals with not only the German airborne units – paratroop and airlanding – but also their Italian counterparts. The two fought together on many occasions so this treatment means we get the full story of their campaigns. Despite popular ideas that the heavy casualties on Crete meant the end of Fallschirmjaeger ideas, their strength was in fact increased and they continued to make assault landings as well as being used as “fire brigades”.

Their combat mission, training, doctrine and command arrangements are revisited first, though more briefly than in the earlier Osprey volume on this subject since much more would be sheer repitition. Then there’s a detailed look at 7 Flieger Division as it was reconstituted after the Crete casualties, with not only a very complete organisation table for it and its sub-units but also one for the famous Ramke Brigade that fought in North Africa. A Division history gives us all the stories, from the planned assault on Malta to the Ramke Brigade’s airlanding at Tobruk in August 1942 and subsequent adventures at El Alamein and in the subsequent retreat. It’s noteworthy that the Division’s last combat drop was staged from Bizerta in December 1942, aiming to attack communications and supplies around Tebessa, behind Allied lines. None of the paratroops landed near their targets and the gliderborne men had many injuries from bad landings, so it’s not surprising that the operation came to nothing. How they were supposed to be extracted if it had been successful is not recorded.

The next chapter deals with the same Division after its reconstitution under the new title of 1 Fallschirmjaeger Division in May 1943 as well as with the newly-raised 2 and 4 Fallschirmjaeger Divisions. 1 Division fought on Sicily and Italy, 2 and 4 only in Italy. It should not be necessary to say more than that a full account of their actions at Cassino is here with the rest of their combat actions, and of course organisation tables. Then attention turns to the Italian units,185 Divisione Paracadutisti “Folgore”, 194 “Nembo” and 183 “Ciclone”. “Folgore” is of course well known for its participation at El Alamein, and we get its full story, right from the beginnings of Italian airborne troops with an assault paratroop landing at the Piave River in October 1918 to the first “Folgore” Brigade in 1940, its increase to Divisional strength and all its combats. In November 1942 some parts were split away as the cadre for a new Division, “Nembo”, and “Ciclone” was in process of formation at the Italian Armistice in September 1943. Some parts of the Divisions opted to fight with the Germans and their story is told as well though, as Mr Quarrie writes, it is somewhat confusing.

Next is the tale of an SS paratroop unit, SS-Fallschirmjaeger Bataillon 500/600. Formed in September 1943, it served first on anti-partisan operations in the Balkans before moving to Germany and being used for “special operations” such as Skorzeny’s SS-Panzerbrigade 150 deceptions in the Ardennes. After the Battle of the Bulge it returned to Germany and fought as a rearguard on the Oder River in May 1945 before surrendering to the Americans.

A short chapter on weapons and equipment includes a lot of interesting information about the special lightweight guns developed for airborne use. Finally there is a detailed analysis of German and Italian airborne unit’s actions at El Alamein, the Primosole Bridge in Sicily, Anzio, Cassino, and of course the Gran Sasso Raid to rescue Mussolini. Each is well described and shown by very good maps. The whole book is illustrated by well-chosen photographs, with even some rare colour shots of the preparations for the Gran Sasso Raid.

Highly recommended.

John Prigent
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