Hermann Bernhard Ramcke
During 1942 the parachute arm was expanded, and was able to provide ad hoc formations for service in North Africa. In mid-July 1942 Generalmajor Ramcke arrived in Africa with his staff soon to be followed by the rest of his 'Fallschirmjäger-Brigade Ramcke'. The brigade fielded four rifle battalions I, Maj. Kroh: 11, Maj. von der Heydte; III, Maj. Hubner, and IV Fallschirmjäger-Lehr-Bataillon, , Maj. Burkhardt with an artillery battalion and anti-tank and pioneer companies. Arriving by air without transport of its own, it was forced to share the vehicles of Flak-Regiment 135. The brigade was placed in the front line on the Alamein front, in a southern sector between the Italian 'Bologna' and 'Brescia' Divisions. After a limited attack during the battle of Alam el Haifa, the brigade was engaged in heavy defensive fighting during the Battle of EI Alamein. Written off as lost when Panzerarmee Afrika fell back in the face of Montgomery's breakthrough, 600 men of the brigade performed an astonishing fighting withdrawal across open desert, capturing British transport and driving in to rejoin Rommel's forces near Fuka after crossing 200 miles of enemy-dominated wilderness.
Fallschirmjäger were also heavily committed to the fighting in Tunisia. In November 1942 FJR 5 was flown from Naples to El Aouina airport, Tunis; this was a unit of unblooded volunteers built around a cadre from the Luftlande-Sturm-Regiment and commanded by Oberstleutnant Koch. Another ad hoc unit was the 'Barenthin-Regiment', named after its commander Oberst Walther Barenthin and formed from drafts of paratroopers from various units. The assault pioneers of Witzig's Pioniere-Bataillon 21 were also sent to Tunisia. These units. alongside Ramcke's brigade, fought with great determination against the closing jaws of the Anglo-American forces at Mateur, Medjez-el-Bab and Tebourba, before being captured with the remainder of the Axis forces in Africa early in May 1943·
One incident which has not been related elsewhere deserves a mention, as it indicates that even under conditions very different from those of their early victories the Fallschirmjäger continued to display qualities which won the respect of their enemies. At Depienne in Tunisia in November 1942 'Green Devil' met 'Red Devil' for the first time. Major John Frost - in 1944 the hero of Amhem Bridge-commanded the British 2nd Parachute Bn. of 6th Parachute Bde., tasked with the capture of three airfields in the area. Several paras were injured in the drop on to sun-baked ground; since they could not march they were left in the shelter of a nearby building. There they were found by I/FjR 5, who stormed the building in a hail of fire and took the surviving British paras prisoner. The Fallschirmjäger treated their counterparts with great decency, giving them medical aid, food, drink and tobacco before handing them over to another unit and pressing on.
Whether the guard unit was the 19th Reconnaissance Company of 10.Panzer-Division; the Italian 557th SP Artillery Group; the 3rd Company, 1st 8n., Italian 92ud Infantry Regt., or a mixture of men from all three, has never been established. What is certain is that a German officer in command gave orders for the British prisoners to be dragged up against a wall, and that an Italian machine gun crew were ordered to murder them.
At that moment, as if warned by a premonition. Oberstleutnant Walter Koch returned to the scene. He enforced the release and proper treatment of the prisoners, and they eventually found themselves in PoW camps in Italy. Koch himself suffered a severe head wound shortly thereafter; and while convalescing in Germany the hero of Eben Emal died in a mysterious road accident. Surviving members of his regiment attribute his to Gestapo revenge for refusing to observe the Führer's directive designating enemy parachutists as saboteurs who were to be summarily executed.