The Brandenburgers were the most famous German Special Forces unit of the Second World War, but have produced few biographies. The author of this autobiography had a somewhat unusual route into the Germany army, having been raised in the south Tyrol, a largely German speaking area that became part of Italy after the First World War. Unsurprisingly the German population became fairly uncritical supporters of Hitler, whose message of a greater Germany appealed to them. However Hitler had no intention of pushing any German claim to South Tyrol, which would have alienated his only major international ally, so instead the Germans of the South Tyrol were given the choice between staying in Tyrol but becoming Italian, or moving into Germany. The Second World War prevented this agreement from being implemented, but it did mean that the author ended up joining the German instead of the Italian army. An attempt to join the German mountain troops failed, and he ended up in the Brandenburgers, Germany’s most famous Special Forces unit. His combat career began with the invasion of Greece, before he took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Towards the end of 1942 he was sent back to Germany, and never returned to the Eastern Front. Instead he underwent officer training, then took part in the anti-partisan campaign in the Balkans, where he was badly wounded, ending his combat career.
There are some fascinating snippets here. Even as they were moving into place to take part in the invasion of the Soviet Union, the author and his colleagues were convinced that they were simply going to pass peacefully through the Soviet Union to attack the British position in the Middle East from the rear (despite having moved to East Prussia!). The author’s unit specialised in seizing bridges behind enemy lines, something familiar from the SAS and Commando so it’s interesting to read about a different approach to the same problem (generally relying on bluff and subterfuge instead of airborne operations)
The only place where Giampietro rather glossed over his military career covers his period of anti-partisan warfare in the Balkans. This entire period is passed over very quickly, and probably wouldn’t have fitted in very well with his earlier claim that the front line troops always behaved properly. However this period does appear to have triggered a great deal of doubt about the rightness of the German cause, again probably in part triggered by the dubious (at best) behaviour of the Germany army in this campaign.
The last chapter is a fascinating account of his escape from American captivity at the end of the war (a remarkably audacious, but simple, escape), and the rather more difficult journey back home. Ironically, as the author acknowledged at the end of the book, the Axis defeat meant that the Germans of the South Tyrol kept their homeland, and the area is now a tri-lingual region of Italy, with a German speaking majority. If the Axis powers had won, then that German community would almost certainly have been forced to leave!
This is a compelling account of one of the less familiar aspects of the German war machine, combined with a thoughtful analysis of the author’s attitudes to the war and how they developed over time.
1 – Sterzing, 1938
2 – The Big Disappointment
3 – Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles, Berlin
4 – The Beginning was so Innocuous – The Pfeifermuhle, Allgau
5 – Zur Besonderen Verwendung, Bad Voslau
6 – The Balkan Campaign – via Romania to Greece
7 – The Vale of Tempe, Early Spring 1941, Salonica to Evangelimos
8 – Athens, Spring 1941
9 – The Invasion of Russia, Summer 1941 - East Prussia, Josvainiai, Lithuania, Kedainiaia, Lithuania, Dunaburg, Latvia
10 – Bad Voslau and Oberjoch im Allgau, Early 1942
11 – Russia, Summer 1941: Rostov to Bataisk; The Kuban Steppe: Kerch to Sussatski; At the Caucasus
12 – The End of the War, Early 1943 to April 1944 Ohrdruf and Greece to Munich
13 – The Return
Author: Sepp de Giampietro
Publisher: Greenhill Books