Translate

Τρίτη, 10 Νοεμβρίου 2015

Autumn 1943: Operation "Taifun", the Battle for Leros, the tragic end of the LRDG and the defeat of the British


SWASTIKA OVER THE AEGEAN is a limited edition book by acclaimed author Antony Rogers, a photographic record of events that occurred in and around the Dodecanese in the autumn of 1943. 

Those events resulted in the last decisive German victory of the Second World War. 


Text by Anthony Rodgers

British and Dominion forces and their new Italian allies were subjected to a resounding defeat: 234 Infantry Brigade ceased to exist, and key Aegean islands remained under German occupation until the final Allied victory. 



The Eastern Aegean was the setting for a series of German air-sea landings, something not normally associated with the Wehrmacht. German infantry carried out beach assaults and, unusually, Fallschirmjäger were deployed in their intended role as paratroopers, more than two years after sustaining frightful losses in Crete. 



Both sides relied on air and naval forces, as well as conventional and unconventional ground forces. 

German paratroopers were drawn from the Luftwaffe and Division Brandenburg; the latter also fielded coastal raiders and assault troops. 



The Allies had on call a battalion of The Parachute Regiment, several infantry battalions, and Raiding Forces, which included the Long Range Desert Group, Special Boat Squadron, Commandos and Ieros Lohos (Greek Sacred Squadron). 



This limited edition book is published in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the battle for the Dodecanese and features more than 500 images including:

Rare wartime documents

Some 350 wartime photographs

Colour photographs of the islands today

Maps of Kos, Leros and the Dodecanese 




What happened in the Aegean, in the autumn of 1943?

Leros has so far escaped the mass tourism that typifies much of the Mediterranean.

One reason, perhaps, is the island terrain.

The landscape is rugged and hilly with an indented mainly rocky coastline and few sandy beaches.

Hotels are limited and fairly small but sufficient to cater for the few summer visitors. 



They include an ever dwindling number of returning war veterans who come to pay tribute to fallen comrades, most of whom were killed in five days of fighting in November 1943.

In 1912 Leros and the Greek Dodecanese came under Italian rule.

The decision by Italy to unite with Germany in 1940 would change everything.

By summer 1943, Hitler’s Wehrmacht was faltering as it fought a war on too many fronts.


In Russia the Soviets had finally halted the German advance; Axis forces had surrendered in North Africa; the Allies had landed in Sicily and Italy and American-led forces were pushing north towards occupied Europe. 



In July the Italians turned against Il Duce Benito Mussolini, replacing him with Maresciallo Pietro Badoglio. The Italian armistice followed in September.

In the First World War Winston Churchill had been obliged to resign as First Sea Lord as a consequence of his role in the disastrous Allied effort in the Dardanelles. 

It fostered in him a dangerous obsession with the region. Now, as Britain’s Prime Minister, Churchill seized upon the opportunity to open a new front in the eastern Mediterranean. 
It was felt that such a move could only add to the pressure being applied against Germany; furthermore it might provide encouragement for Turkey to join the Alliance. 



It was a strategy fraught with difficulties and considered by the Americans in particular as a waste of time and resources. Churchill was undeterred.

For the operation to have any chance of success it was imperative that Rhodes be seized together with the island’s all-important airfields. 

Italian co-operation was essential. Accordingly, a military mission was tasked with preparing the way for the main assault. 

Raiders of the Special Boat Squadron (S.B.S.) would spearhead the occupation of other islands. 

Churchill approved the plan on 9 September

Before the British could act, however, the German Sturmdivision Rhodos, with around 7,500 officers and men, seized control of Rhodes. 

Up to 40,000 Italians were taken prisoner, thus ending British hopes of an assisted take-over. 



Nevertheless, there was hope in the British camp that even without Rhodes some islands might be occupied. 

Kos, Samos and Leros were duly secured and garrisoned primarily by troops of 234 Infantry Brigade, the battalions of which had recently arrived in the Middle East after enduring the siege of Malta. Island outposts were also manned by detachments of the S.B.S. and the Long Range Desert Group (L.R.D.G.). 

There were already on Kos 3,500–4,000 Italians including the majority of two infantry battalions. 

As air defence there were Spitfire Vs of 7 South African Air Force Squadron and 74 Squadron with approximately 500 ground support personnel. 

There were also about 680 British soldiers on the island, consisting mainly of 1st Battalion The Durham Light Infantry. 

Plans were afoot to improve the island’s defences, but any proposals were purely academic for events were taking place that would soon place Kos firmly under German control.

In mid-September the Germans in central Italy were forced to pull back in the wake of the successful Allied landing at Salerno. In the eastern Mediterranean it was altogether different. 



On 23 September Generalleutnant Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller commanding 22. Infanteriedivision was ordered to make preparations for the seizure of Kos and Leros. 

Müller intended to make Kos his first objective in a combined sea and airborne assault. Accordingly, the first wave landed at Marmari on the north coast at 05:00 hours on 3 October. 

Further landings took place along the rugged south coast. Soon after 07:00, paratroopers of the Division Brandenburg were dropped. 

The Germans pushed towards their objectives overrunning each in turn until arriving on the outskirts of Kos town later the same day. 



That night, the demoralised remnants of the British defence withdrew into the hills. The battle was concluded the next day. 

For the Italians, Kos was the latest in a series of defeats. For the British, it was a disaster. Without Kos there was no longer any possibility of providing air support for the remaining islands in British hands.

The main efforts of the Germans now turned to Leros, with the Luftwaffe concentrating on targeting key installation and shipping. 

It was Malta all over again, or so it must have seemed to many including the commander of 234 Brigade Major General F. G. R. Brittorous. 

He had arrived to take charge after commanding 8th (Ardwick) Battalion The Manchester Regiment (T.A.) in Malta. If Brittorous had ever been a popular and well-respected figure, this was not the case on Leros. 



As air raids worsened, he disappeared for hours at a time. But it was his punctilious observance of parade ground discipline that most remember. 

While taking a break during training, a number of L.R.D.G. were harangued for failing to salute Brittorous as he drove past in his jeep. According to one who was there, the General was apoplectic and assured the men

One can only hope the threat had nothing to do with the decision by Brittorous shortly afterward to send nearly fifty L.R.D.G. thirty miles by sea to occupy the island of Levitha. 

The ill-conceived operation went ahead without prior reconnaissance or preparation. 

It was a disaster that cost the lives of at least five L.R.D.G. 

Most were taken prisoner. 

Only two officers and five other ranks managed to return to Leros.

Eventually, a senior officer was sent on a pretext to Cairo to report on the relationship between Brittorous and his subordinates. 



On 5 November Brigadier Robert Tilney arrived as the new Fortress Commander.

Lieutenant Colonel Maurice French commanding 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers (the Faughs) is credited with having deployed troops on the dominating high ground. 

Tilney has been criticised for ordering a drastic reorganisation of the established defensive system. In fact Tilney was acting on the instructions of his superior, Major General H. R. Hall. 

The revised strategy was designed to deny the beaches to the enemy. But it was a plan flawed in design and, ultimately, in practice. 

Troops were deployed on a dangerously wide front thereby aggravating the already poor line of communications.

By this time there was on Leros a substantial British presence including the Faughs; ‘B’ Company of 2nd Battalion The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment; 4th Battalion The Royal East Kent Regiment (the Buffs) and 1st Battalion The King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster), plus artillery and supporting sub-units and detachments of the L.R.D.G. and S.B.S.; in all some 3,000 officers and men.

The Italian garrison numbered approximately 5,500 and included an infantry battalion, two machine-gun companies and part of a maritime reconnaissance squadron equipped with Cant seaplanes. 

The Italians manned gun emplacements and occupied positions overlooking likely landing areas.

Ultimately control of the Dodecanese was dependent on those fighting on the ground. But the crews of merchantmen, warships and submarines also had a vital role. 

Shipping was crucial, not least for transporting men and equipment. Both sides paid dearly for their efforts.

On the eve of Operation ‘Taifun’ (‘Typhoon’), the German codename for the capture of Leros, Generalleutnant Müller had at his disposal a force of experienced and motivated combat troops. 

They were divided into three sub-divisions: the initial wave comprised four seaborne Kampfgruppen (combat groups) and a Luftwaffe parachute battalion. 

A second wave stood by with anti-aircraft and artillery units, as well as heavy weapons for the infantry. Assault troops and paratroopers of Division Brandenburg were held in reserve near Athens (on 13 November the Fallschirmjägerkompanie would conduct its third operational jump within six weeks). 

In the early hours of 12 November, Allied air reconnaissance reported two groups of ‘barges’ inside a minefield east of Kalymnos. 

It was assumed that the enemy was assembling in preparation for a daylight assault on Leros. However, the threat posed by mines precluded a pre-emptive strike by the Royal Navy. 

Only later was it realised that this was the main (eastern) force en route to Leros. 

It has been since argued that even if the Navy had reacted, the enemy would have received sufficient warning to avoid an attack and to respond with retaliatory action. 

The only certainty is that the last real chance of halting the invasion was now irrevocably lost.

It had been the intention of Generalleutnant Müller to land each group simultaneously and to seize control of central Leros before the garrison could react. 

Unforeseen circumstances and a determined resistance ensured that on the first day only part of the invasion force reached shore and not all at the designated points. 

At about 14:30 hours the air armada with Kampfgruppe Kühne began its final approach: some three-dozen Junkers Ju 52 transports in line ahead escorted by bombers and cannon-armed floatplanes. 

There can be no doubt that the decision by the Germans to deploy paratroopers decisively affected the outcome of the battle. 

By the end of the first day, units under Major Sylvester von Saldern had achieved its objectives and held, albeit temporarily, the high ground on and around the dominating Clidi feature to within 500 metres of the coast at Alinda Bay. 

With Hauptmann Martin Kühne’s paratroopers in control of most of the key points south of Clidi, the Germans had effectively divided the island in two.

Fighting continued for five days as both sides lost and re-took ground in a series of seesaw actions. German and British reinforcements were ferried to Leros until the very end, but the latter were greatly disadvantaged by not having air support. 

The Germans, on the other hand, had Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers on call from dawn till dusk.

Both sides had problems with inadequate signalling equipment. 

The Germans attempted to overcome this by adhering to their original plan of attack, whereas the British constantly had to adapt to the changing situation, using runners to try to maintain contact. 

Invariably, messages got through too late, if at all. Officers received conflicting and confusing orders and men were flung into the attack sometimes with little or no idea of their objectives. 

Communications eventually broke down altogether and, with it, command and control.

On the morning of 16 November it seemed that the Germans were on the verge of overrunning Brigade Headquarters on Mount Meraviglia. 

Signallers were ordered to destroy secret ciphers to prevent their being captured and compromised. Tilney withdrew with his staff, hoping to relocate his command post at Lakki in the south.

At 08:25 the Germans intercepted a signal from Fortress Headquarters to General Headquarters (GHQ) in Cairo. It advised that the situation was critical; 

German forces supported by Stukas and machine gun fire were reinforcing the Leros peninsula, and defensive positions on Meraviglia had been neutralised leaving troops demoralised and facing a hopeless situation. 

When the message was translated and relayed to Kampfgruppe Müller it was duplicated in leaflet form and airdropped over German positions, with a few words of encouragement from the German commander:

But Meraviglia’s defending troops managed to stem the German advance. Tilney returned to his headquarters and attempted to restore order out of the chaos. It was hopeless. 

That afternoon a renewed effort by the Germans resulted in the capture of Tilney and his staff. Elsewhere, British troops still felt they retained the upper hand. 

The Brigadier, however, concluded that further resistance was futile and in a controversial move agreed to end the fighting.

Samos, the final obstacle to Germany’s conquest of the Aegean, was abandoned by the British and fell without a fight on 22 November 1943.


In the wake of events in the Aegean, New Zealand was quick to make known her anger about the use, or misuse, of her countrymen. 

Remembering, perhaps, the losses suffered in the Dardanelles by the Dominions nearly twenty-eight years before, the New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser wrote to the High Commissioner in London on 27 November 1943



The circumstances surrounding the loss of Leros have already largely destroyed my own faith in the present Mid East command, if it was responsible, and when it becomes known that a number of New Zealanders were stupidly sacrificed without even consent for their inclusion in the task force being asked from our Government, the disappointment and bitterness here will be intensified many times over...

... the decision to leave the force of Leros to become the easy prey of German air and land forces combined was wrong, and indeed most reprehensible. 

The useless sacrifice of fine men in such a fashion is proof that the tragic lesson of Greece and Crete has not been fully assimilated and understood by some of those in the high command, or else they are prepared to take a risk, as stated by [Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister] Mr Attlee, as to gamble on a poor chance with men’s lives.

I strongly protest against any of our men being sacrificed in such a fashion.

A few days after the loss of Leros and only too aware of the backlash to be expected from his critics, Winston Churchill recommended that the Foreign Secretary adopt an evasive policy when the issue was raised in Parliament

Generalleutnant Müller recorded German casualties during the battles for Kos and Leros as 260 killed, 746 wounded and 162 missing. Actual figures are probably higher. 

The Italians suffered most of all. According to German Naval sources, of nearly 4,000 mainly Italian prisoners of war on board the transports Donizetti and Sinfra, close on 3,400 went down when both ships were sunk in Allied actions. 

Many more men were lost while in transit outside Aegean waters. 

A report by M.O.1 for the period 11 September to 17 November 1943 puts Allied casualties at more than 5,000 Army personnel; another 500 Naval personnel were reported killed or missing. 

One submarine was listed as missing (in fact three were lost), fifteen ships and various other craft had been sunk or remained unaccounted for; ten vessels were damaged (the latter figure does not appear to include submarines); 100 aircraft, including eleven American machines, were written off and twenty-eight more were damaged. 

Aircrew casualties were not mentioned.

German forces had unknowingly undertaken their last successful operation to seize and occupy foreign soil. 

But soon, events were overshadowed by the situation elsewhere, not least in Italy. 

Attention turned to fighting at the Anzio beachhead and along the German Gustav line especially in and around Cassino.

Then, as now, Leros was all but forgotten.

Those who survive remember. 

And the cemeteries and memorials continue to bear silent witness.

This book is dedicated to all involved in the battle for the Aegean, military and civilian, whatever their nationality and allegiance.

Hardcover: 208 pages

Publisher: Toro (November 2013)

Language: English

ISBN: 978-3-00-042962-0

Product dimensions: 290mm x 240mm

€29.99 + postage & packing


SWASTIKA OVER THE AEGEAN is a photographic record of events that occurred in and around the Dodecanese in the autumn of 1943. 

Those events resulted in the last decisive German victory of the Second World War. 

British and Dominion forces and their new Italian allies were subjected to a resounding defeat: 234 Infantry Brigade ceased to exist, and key Aegean islands remained under German occupation until the final Allied victory.

The Eastern Aegean was the setting for a series of German air-sea landings, something not normally associated with the Wehrmacht. 

German infantry carried out beach assaults and, unusually, Fallschirmjäger were deployed in their intended role as paratroopers, more than two years after sustaining frightful losses in Crete. 

Both sides relied on air and naval forces, as well as conventional and unconventional ground forces. 

German paratroopers were drawn from the Luftwaffe and Division Brandenburg; the latter also fielded coastal raiders and assault troops. 

The Allies had on call a battalion of The Parachute Regiment, several infantry battalions, and Raiding Forces, which included the Long Range Desert Group, Special Boat Squadron, Commandos and Ieros Lohos (Greek Sacred Squadron).

This limited edition book is published in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the battle for the Dodecanese and features more than 500 images including:



Rare wartime documents

Some 350 wartime photographs

Colour photographs of the islands today

Maps of Kos, Leros and the Dodecanese


Available from: toro.enquiries@gmail.com

Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια:

Δημοσίευση σχολίου

WW2 Wrecks welcomes and encourages readers to comment and engage in respectful conversation about the content posted here.
We value thoughtful, polite and concise comments that reflect a variety of views.