Rudolf Witzig began the Second World War as a junior officer in the German airborne forces, a fallschirmjäger or paratrooper engineer, and thus a member of Germany's elite airborne forces. He rose to fame in 1940 after planning the audacious airborne assault on Fort Eben Emael, then believed to be the strongest fort in Belgium's border fortifications, and a key element in the Allied plans at the outbreak of war.
Witzig actually missed the most important part of the attack because the aircraft towing his glider was forced to take evasive action, snapping the tow rope.
Witzig was lucky to survive the fighting on Crete. He was wounded during the initial attack and the only one of the ten men in his glider to survive, after being evacuated on one of the first German flights to leave the island. After the disaster on Crete the Germans never used their paratroopers again on large scale airborne operations, and so Witzig spent the rest of the war fighting as a normal (if rather better than average) infantryman.
A lucky encounter with Witzig's son means that the author had access to Rudolf's impressive archives, which included his own diary from the war, large part of his division's war diary, and published works with Witzig's own annotations. He was also able to conduct a number of interviews with Witzig's widow and his son. As one would expect the resulting book is very well sourced, and we get a good feel for the man.
What makes this book so valuable is the impressive range of Witzig's experiences. He moved from the dramatic airborne assaults of 1940 and 1941 to the campaign in Tunisia, the Eastern Front and the final fighting in Holland, rising in rank as he went. There is also an interesting postscript on his post-war career in the new German army, and the problems his past caused him in that new career.
1 - A Child of War
2 - Fallschirmjäger
3 - Eben Emael
4 - Crete
5 - The Spearhead Shattered
6 - North Africa: First Battles
7 - North Africa: To the Last Man
8 - From Partisans to the Red Army
9 - Holland: 'No Longer War'
10 - Holland: Last Battles
11 - The New German Army and Retirement
Author: Gilberto Villahermosa