View Full Version : Battle for Leros

02-04-2009, 01:08 PM
We hear much about the German airborne operations on Crete, and how Hitler, after hearing of the losses, was deterred from using airborne forces in such a situation again, mainly using them as elite infantry or stormtroops.

However, the German airborne forces were used in the airborne role again, to invade the stategically important island of Leros.

The British defenders of the island considered the island terrain to be too rocky for an airborne assault, as they had tested it by having a British paratrooper sergeant dropped onto the island. The sergeant broke a leg on landing.

When the Germans invaded, they suffered from much of the same problems as with the invasion of Crete.

Account of the battle by Colonel Cowper of the !st battalion KLing's Own Royal regiment (Lancaster):

September 26 - November 16 , 1943

With the surrender of Italy 3/09/1943 the islands of the eastern Mediterranean were of vital strategic importance to the Allies, the Axis and neutral Turkey. Although Churchill recognised this, the Americans did not and refused to help. Thus once more the British went into battle against the Stuka dive bombers and crack parachutists of the German Luftwaffe and suffered a heavy defeat despite some spectacular sea and land battles.On the 26 0f September 1943 the Germans attacking the Naval base of Laki with 25 airplanes JU88 and sank the Greek battle ship QUEEN OLGA causing also great damages to the British HMS INTREPID.After almost 50 days of continuous air strikes they attempt the first landing on Leros on the 11 of November 1943.The island finally surrenders to the Germans on the 16 of November 1943.

The following account is taken from "The King's Own -- The Story of a Royal

Regiment" by Col Cowper

At the conclusion of its course of combined operations 1/King's Own had returned to Syria, no more than twenty-five miles from Beirut, where Brigadier Barraclough was commanding. Here, on November 1 1943,the battalion received orders to go to an unknown destination which later turned out to be Leros, considered by H.M. Government to be of paramount importance. All ranks embarked in destroyers at Alexandria on November 3 and arrived at Leros at 2 a.m. on the 5th. On that day, when 8/King's Own left Malta for Egypt, the garrison of Leros consisted of 4/Buffs, 2/Royal Irish Fusiliers and 1/King's Own, with some light A.A. gunners and Indian engineers. The Italians were manning coast defence guns, reinforced by four eighteen- pounders. As nothing bigger could use the narrow roads the transport consisted of a few jeeps with trailers. Deep bays broke up the island into a shape not unlike a butterfly flying northeast with a varying span of some eight miles and a body two miles long. 4/Buffs held the northern wing with 'C' Company, 1/King's Own, under Major W. P. T. Tilly, located as "Fortress Reserve" just north of Gurna Bay. 2/Royal Irish Fusiliers with a company of Royal West Kent defended the centre portion, which included the neck of land between Gurna and Alinda Bays and Leros town. 1/King's Own was responsible for the southern area.

On the day that Cos fell the Admiralty had ordered strong naval reinforcements, including five cruisers, to the Aegean from Malta, and General Eisenhower sent two groups of long-range fighters to the Middle East as a temporary measure, but they had been withdrawn on October 11 and throughout the week in which the Regiment was preparing to resist the impending attack there was no air support of any kind. 1t was therefore only by night that Allied ships could operate without crippling kits. By day, in spite of continuous air attacks, there were remarkably few casualties, but the effect on morale was considerable. Telephone wires were constantly cut and this, together with the unreliability of the wireless, made control difficult. The main air attack was directed against the Italian gun positions which were effectively silenced. Captain H. P. J. M. Burke was on a course in the Middle East when he heard that the battalion was going into action, and he applied for and obtained permission to rejoin. He had to make his own way in a minesweeper and succeeded in reaching the Regiment a few hours before the action began.

It was about 4.30 a.m, on the morning of November 12, when the light was beginning to grow in the east, that the German invasion fleet was sighted. The Italian coastal guns were powerless to prevent the German troops from being put ashore in Palma Bay and near Pasta di Sopra on the north-east coast of the Buff's' sector, also in Tangeli Bay near Leros town, This last landing was staunchly resisted by the Royal Irish Fusiliers, but although they prevented the capture of the two features of Castle Hill and Mount Appetici, they were not strong enough to drive the enemy back into the sea.

The Buffs had insufficient troops to cover the whole of their area and during the morning the enemy secured a footing on Mount Clidi. Major Tilly's company of King's Own was hurried to the scene in jeeps. When it deployed to attack, the fire of its machine guns was smothered by that of the German mortars and the first effort was checked. The men rallied and gained a little ground, but in the confused fighting which followed they were slowly forced back westward. They were struggling, not only against numerical superiority on the ground, but also against persistent and almost unhindered air attack. In the early afternoon Major Tilly sent a platoon to his right to occupy a small ridge running towards Alinda Bay and so to join up with the Roya1 Irish Fusiliers, No sooner was this move completed at about 2 p.m. than fighter-bombers swept over the island from the south- west. They sprayed fire from the machine guns in their wings and pounded the rugged slopes with high explosive. Behind them flew the slower Ju.52's and from these bellied out mushroom-like puffs. Some five hundred parachutists descended on the neck of land between Gurna and Alinda Bays which had so recently been vacated by Major Tilly's company. A few German parachutists were shot down by small-arms fire and a Bren gunner of 'C' Company claimed a spectacular hit when his victim fell like a driven partridge into the sea, but in spite of a stiff breeze the majority dropped successfully from a low height. In this position they effectively divided the island in two and isolated the Buffs and 'C' Company King's Own from the rest of the garrison. While a fight ensued in the centre with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, Major Tilly launched a counter-attack on Mount Clidi with the survivors of his company. In hand-to-hand fighting the enemy was pushed down the forward slope and in the course of the advance Major Tilly was wounded. With the arrival of enemy reinforcements the company was forced back thirty yards before it could consolidate and hold on. Lance Corporal J, Hall noticed that Major Tilly was not there so he went back under fire from close range and within throwing distance of hand grenades. He found his company commander and brought him back to safety. In its new position the company was reinforced next day by a platoon of Buffs.

In order to dislodge the enemy paratroops train their position on the neck, it was the brigadier's intention to counter-attack with two companies of Fusiliers and 'B' Company, King's Own. The two companies of Fusiliers had already been fighting hard and to reorganise them and ensure their concentration in the darkness proved difficult indeed. Of the three companies only one arrived at the rendezvous, so the operation had perforce to be postponed. During the night more German troops were landed to strengthen the forces attacking Mount Appetici.

November 13 dawned with cloudy skies, high wind and heavy seas, but this did not prevent the enemy from landing more parachutists to reinforce the others. The resistance on Clidi that day was overcome and the Germans were able to concentrate on the built-up area along Alinda Bay. The paratroops attacked from the north east while those in Tangeli Bay took Mount Appetici and Castle Hill at about noon. For the rest of the day the heavy attacks or the Luftwaffe prevented further action, but at 2 a.m. on November 14 a counter-attack was delivered. In spite of every effort only one company of Fusiliers and 'A' and 'D' Companies King's Own, could be collected for it. 'A' Company, commanded by Captain D. J. P. Thirkell-White of the Suffolks with Captain C. J. Blyth as his second-in-command. was directed on to the searchlight and gun position at the top of the hill. 'D' Company had to cover dark ground which abounded in caves, each one of which had to be assaulted separately, and platoons therefore were forced to act independently. Touch between the companies was soon lost. 'A' Company reached the first gun position, after which it came under heavy fire from the flanks, the company commander and two of the platoon commanders were killed. Blyth also was wounded and in great pain, but he continued to lead the company into the attack until he was again wounded in the neck and died on his way back to the regimental aid post.

In spite of heavy machine-gun fire from the left flank, 'D', Company was able to gain ground and eventually, step by step, forced its way to the top of the slope where the situation was much confused. Here Major M. R. Lonsdale was wounded, Burke and Mathieson killed. Meanwhile the Germans launched an attack under cover of the fire of their mortars which threatened the safety of Fortress headquarters. 'A' Company was withdrawn from Mount Appetici. 'D' Company, with the Fusiliers, continued to hold the crest until well after dawn when, after heavy mortar fire, the Germans, "every man a Tommy gunner,'' attacked in their turn. They could not be held and the King's Own and Fusiliers were forced back down the hill amid showers of grenades.

02-04-2009, 01:12 PM

'C' Company and the Buffs retook Clidi and, after capturing a hundred and thirty prisoners, re-established control of their part of the island. 'B' and H.Q. Companies attacked the German paratroopers from the south-west. O.C. 'B' Company, Major G. H. Duxbury, went forward alone at one point, bombed two enemy rnachine-gun posts and was mortally wounded while going on to deal with a third. This made it possible for the two companies to gain ground and take prisoners When all other officers of his company were killed, Captain R. L. P. Maxwell, on being ordered to send out a patrol, led it himself and was also killed. Many of these casualties were caused by accurate bombing and machine-gunning by the German aircraft. Confused fighting continued in many quarters after dark when two more companies of the Royal West Kent Regiment were put ashore in Portolago Bay from Samos. On the 15th there was more fighting on Clidi during which the hill was once more lost, but elsewhere the Germans were kept in check. The fourth company of Royal West Kents landed that night. A hundred and seventy German prisoners were sent to Samos; but the Germans were, at the same time, bringing in important reinforcements at Alinda Bay. They were estimated at a thousand fighting troops and certainly had 88-mm. guns, tractors and other heavy equipment, On the 16th, 'A', 'B' and 'D' Companies having re-formed, the battalion concentrated for a final attack on the area occupied by brigade headquarters near Appetici Hill, but before it could be launched news was received of the island's surrender. The total number of casualties is not known. Fifteen officers were killed; of those wounded, five were evacuated and three were included among the fifteen taken prisoner.* Some sixty other ranks were killed and an unknown number wounded and prisoner.

The withdrawal of the American fighters had sealed the fate of Leros. With no air support and heavily attacked by enemy aircraft, the three battalions had fought for five days until they were exhausted and could fight no more. The Commander-in- Chief, Ninth Army, General Wilson, reported to the Prime Minister: "Leros has fallen, after a very gallant struggle against overwhelming air attack. It was a near thing between success and failure. Very little was needed to turn the scale in our favour and to bring off a triumph." Everything was done to evacuate the garrisons of the other AEgean islands and to rescue survivors from Leros, and eventually an officer and fifty-seven other ranks of the King's Own rejoined the details in Palestine...

Pictures form the battle:

02-04-2009, 01:14 PM
An LRDG account of the battle from the book - The Long Range Desert Group In The Mediterranian:

Only part of A Squadron was withdrawn from, Leros before the invasion began. Lieutenant Aitken and twenty men from R1 patrol and squadron headquarters left for Palestine by destroyer on 7 November. R2 patrol, reconstituted with eight New Zealanders and two Englishmen under Second-Lieutenant R. F. White,54 relieved T1 at the Scumbardo coastal-defence battery position on 8 November, and T1 moved to an olive grove on the northern side of Alinda Bay, where they were joined by T2 when they returned from Seriphos next day...


History of the battle:


02-04-2009, 04:35 PM
I consider the Brandenburg Division worthy of their own link:


02-05-2009, 12:01 AM
After Crete the German parachute force was never airlanded in large numbers again. However there are other landings, Heydte in the Ardennes and the SS in Yugoslavia are the only others that spring to mind.

02-05-2009, 01:19 AM
The Leros drop was performed by 1st Battalion/Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 2 under Hauptmann (Captain) Martin Kühne (strength of the battalion: 470 paratroopers). One company of "Brandenburgers" were dropped later as reinforcement.

02-05-2009, 03:01 AM
Thank you, chaps, very interesting. Perhaps I'll do more reading on this.

By the way, was brousing a book 'It Never Snows in September' - Market Garden from the German perspective, can any of you recommend it?



For an alternative view of Market Garden, 4 April 2001
By A Customer

Kershaws book is phenomenally enlightening from the Axis perspective of operation Market Garden. This is pure military history entwined with personal accounts of German soldiers who fought either the British, Polish or American airborne troops in the three 'theatres' of the airborne landings or XXX Corps advance through the corridor.
Whilst most contemporary western accounts depicte Market Garden as an heroic and desperate battle by airborne troops overwhelmed by superior German armoured forces, Kershaw has taken great pains to project the alternative view in terms of the rapid organisation and improvisation of ad-hoc German forces that were committed to the various combat areas in order to stem the tide.

Kershaws book effectively conveys the suffering and loss of a variety of German military personal who were unexpectively thrown into a major battle that they had neither expected nor were initially prepared to deal with.

For any student truly interested in "the full picture" of Market Garden, not only from the generally accepted allied synopsis of the battle but also from the lessor known Axis perspective (especially in terms of the rapid ad-hoc improvisation and organisation that the German command structure implemented to deal with this major threat to the Rhine) this is a book that will certainly not disappoint.

02-05-2009, 03:58 AM
I haven't read it yet since the German version is tough to find (unless you pay a huge amount for it) but the critics say it would be an excellent addition to Ryan's "A bridge too far".

02-05-2009, 06:36 AM
I haven't read it yet since the German version is tough to find (unless you pay a huge amount for it) but the critics say it would be an excellent addition to Ryan's "A bridge too far".

I think I'll pop out and acquire copy.

Don't think I'd fancy this, though:


Corinth Canal Operation - April 1941:

At the Corinth Canal on April 25 German paratroopers were tasked with seizing the bridge that spanned the deep ship canal dividing the North and South Peloponnese. If the Germans could hold it they would speed the advance of the XII Army and also cut off the retreat of British and Commonwealth forces. The troops assigned to the task were commanded by Colonel Sturm and consisted of 52 parachute engineers (Fallschirmpioniere) under Leutnant Haffner supported by the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Fallschirmjager Regiment 2 (FJR 2) under respectively Hauptmann Kroh and Hauptmann Pietzonka with signals and medical detachments. It would be a classic attack with Kroh's battalion landing to the north of the bridge and Pietzonka's to the south. The engineers would then move in to remove any demolition charges that might be in place.

The force of 270 Ju52s took off from Larissa at 05.00 and the gliders carrying the engineers landed accurately at 07.00 with the engineers racing to capture the bridge. They held it but were strongly counter-attacked and the situation was only resolved by the late arrival of the 2nd Battalion.

There are indications that ULTRA intercepts may have alerted the British troops at the bridge, however there is no explanation for what happened a few moments later. The engineers had removed the charges, but then a British anti-aircraft shell happened to strike the demolition charge after it had been removed, and the resulting explosion flung the bridge to the canal bottom, thus blocking the tanker's passage. XI Air Corps' quartermaster, Lieutenant-Colonel Seibt, had divers flown out from Kiel, and finally on May 17th the waterway was cleared. Next day at Piraeus, the time-consuming process of transferring the fuel into barrels began in feverish haste.

German losses were light, only eight engineers were killed, and a temporary structure was built across the canal by the morning of April 28. The capture of the Corinth Canal cut off the rearguard of the 4th New Zealand Brigade at Erithrae, but they were eventually evacuated from Port Raphti.

Corinth Jump Para OoB

Corinth Canal jump by Sturm's 2nd Para Regt.

Detached for the landing at the canal-bridge:
Commander FJR.2 Oberst Alfred Sturm
-- 6.Kp. Chef Hptm.Schirmer takes command of II./FJR2 after the commander is wounded
1 Pionierkompanie
1 le.Gesch.Kp.
1 Nachr.Kp.
1 San-Kp.


02-05-2009, 07:35 AM
Leros - The Brandenburgers:

Leros was defended by an Anglo-Italian force of more than 8550, commanded by the British General Tillney and supported by heavy artillery. The German forces, under the command of Luftwaffe General Müller, comprised the 1st Bn, 2nd Parachute Regiment - I./FJ-R2 - commanded by Hauptmann Martin Kühne, and 15 (Parachute) Coy, backed by 22 Airlanding Division and the 3rd Bn, commanded by Leutnant Max Wandrey, of the Brandenburg Division’s 1st Light Infantry Regt, would come in by sea, accompanied by elements from the Küstenjäger-Abteilung, the Brandenburger’s coastal raiders.

Just after 1300 hrs on November 12th 1943, 15 (Parachute) Coy jumped on Leros from a height of 600 feet with the 2nd and 4th Companies of 1/FJR2. Once on the DZ, they formed up and moved out quickly, capturing Monte Rachi, one of the island’s dominant heights.

The next day, the defending forces in the north and south having been cut off from one another by the Germans, a second drop of reinforcements from FJR2 came in. Meanwhile, other reinforcements were landing by sea. But the defenders were putting up a ferocious resistance and there were times when the German position looked very shaky indeed. On the 14th, a Stuka-supported attempt by I./FJR2 and 15 (Parachute) Coy to take the British HQ on Monte Meroviglia in the north-west of the island was beaten off and the paras had to retreat back to their SP on Monte Rachi.

But the next day, I./FJR2 and the Brandenburgers rose out of their positions on Monte Rachi and stormed Monte Meroviglia, routing the British. On the 16th, Leutnant Wandrey, who would go on to win the Knight’s Cross in 1944 and then the Oakleaves in 1945, captured General Tillney and it was all over bar the shouting. By nightfall on the 17th, the Allied forces on Leros had all surrendered.

02-05-2009, 07:37 AM
I haven't read it yet since the German version is tough to find (unless you pay a huge amount for it) but the critics say it would be an excellent addition to Ryan's "A bridge too far".

Have my copy, £4.99, paperback, at Sussex Stationers.

Will review later.

02-12-2009, 08:18 AM
A sharp reminder that even in 1943 the Germans were capable of turning us out of positions of our own choosing in the Dodecanese. Brigadier Tillney carried the can for this disaster, and was not employed again.
See also Long Road To Leros by Marsland Gander

02-12-2009, 08:39 AM
A sharp reminder that even in 1943 the Germans were capable of turning us out of positions of our own choosing in the Dodecanese. Brigadier Tillney carried the can for this disaster, and was not employed again.
See also Long Road To Leros by Marsland Gander

Brigadier Tillney made mistakes, underestimating the German capability for airborne landings, comes to mind.

Low priority and under recoursed, particularly reagarding air cover.

The troops on the ground put up a good show :a near run thing - to coin a phrase. :)

Ta for the tip on the book.