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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.
On 25 May 1944, 800 men of the 500th SS Parachute Battalion descended on Drvar, a town behind enemy lines in north-western Bosnia. Their aim was to kill or capture Tito, the leader of the partisan movement in the region. The plan was to land the battalion by glider and parachute in two waves which would be relieved the next day by a ground assault. Tito knew an attack was imminent but dismissed the idea of an airborne assault. The attempt to eliminate Tito was a colossal failure. The elite battalion had been decimated, with only 200 men fit for duty the next day. Inter-agency rivalry between the Abwehr and the SS had meant that intelligence was not shared, a problem exacerbated by a failure to exploit HUMINT about Tito's precise location and the adoption of a plan that did not take into account these intelligence limitations.
Ever since the 15th century Switzerland had been exporting professional soldiers to serve as mercenaries for foreign monarchies. Napoleon, therefore, was not the first to make full use of the martial qualities of the Swiss and obtained Swiss agreement to expand the recruitment of regiments for service in the French Army. Napoleon would use Swiss troops on the battlefields of Italy and Spain, and in 1812 re-organize the four original regiments into a single division for the invasion of Russia, with each regiment having three full-strength battalions. In all theatres where they were engaged, Swiss contingents would often be relied upon to act as rearguards so other forces caught in a tight situation could escape. Time and again they would be asked to save the day for the French soldiers with whom they fought, in Italy and Spain and most famously for Napoleon himself, in Russia. In November of 1812, meeting up with Napoleon's main force retreating from Moscow at the Berezina River, the Swiss on the west bank guarded the approaches to the pontoon bridges from the Russian attack to the south. 1,200 Swiss, out of approximately 8,000 that entered Russia, were left to face, along with 8,000 men from other units, the 30,000-strong Russian army. The Swiss held their ground and when their ammunition ran out they charged the Russians with bayonets. This book reveals the proud combat history of the Swiss troops of Napoleon's army as well as the colourful uniforms they wore.
At the start of World War I a new and potent threat to Britain's naval supremacy took shape in the form of the Kaiser's Imperial German submarines, thanks to their recently acquired ability to submerge and stalk their adversaries. A submarine's crew could not board and capture a merchant ship, however, and at first the German leadership was reluctant to order their U-boat captains to use gunfire or torpedoes to sink merchantmen - crewed by civilian seamen - because of the expected hostile reaction of neutral countries such as the United States. Instead, U-boat captains were ordered to surface, then check the manifest of merchantmen and allow their crews to take to lifeboats before sinking the cargo vessels, rendering the U-boat highly vulnerable to attack. This enabled the Royal Navy to counter the submarine threat with vessels whose outward appearance was that of a merchantman, but which kept hidden an arsenal of weapons that would spring to life if a U-boat surfaced - the Q-ships.Q-ships came in all shapes and sizes - coastal steamer, trawler, barque, yacht or schooner - but all had to look harmless in order to lure opponents to the surface and encourage them to attack. Armaments differed according to ship size; steamers commonly had 4in guns mounted amidships and in the bow, trawlers 3-pdrs and sailing ships 12-pdrs. Those who served on Q-ships had to accept that their U-boat opponents would be able to strike first. Q-ship captains kept ready a 'panic crew', which was trained to act out an elaborate evacuation to convince the U-boat commander that the ship was being abandoned by its crew. The Q-ship captain would remain behind with a handful of other crewmen manning the guns, which remained hidden until the most opportune time to unmask and engage the U-boat.These deceptions did not go unnoticed, however; German captains learnt to be cautious, and frequently would engage with their guns at longer range and later in the war with torpedoes. U-boat boatswain's mate Christof Lassen view of Q-ships as the 'most unpleasant object we could hope to meet' was commonly held. As the Allies condemned the sinking of merchantmen, the Germans vilified Q-ships as a crude deceit manned by pirates and contrary to the rules of civilized warfare. Encounters were often fought with bitterness and little quarter was given.The Q-ship suited the Royal Navy's preference for offensive action to counter the submarine. The Q-ship concept had emerged early in the war when no other method seemed likely to counter the U-boat threat, and flourished until new technologies and tactics were developed, tested and implemented. Q ships instilled wariness into a previously bold and seemingly invincible enemy. The usefulness of Q-ships waned as they lost their surprise factor, but they helped mitigate the U-boat menace until more effective and efficient means of defence were adopted. Featuring specially commissioned full-colour artwork and drawing upon the latest research, this engaging study brings to life the deadly duel between these two very different vessels at the height of World War I.
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