Operation Eisbär (iv)

polar bear

This was the German evacuation of Corsica (13 September/3 October 1943).

Less than 24 hours after the 8 September arrival in Corsica of Generalleutnant Fridolin Ritter und Edler von Senger und Etterlin to assume command of the German forces in both Corsica and Sardinia, the Italian government concluded an armistice with the Allies. This presented the new German commander with a major problem as the island was garrisoned by Generale di Corpo d’Armata Giovanni Magli’s VII Corps 1 as well as eight Fascist militia battalions.

Immediately after the Italian armistice, SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Karl Herrmann’s (from 18 September SS-Standartenführer Herbert von Obwurzer’s) 1st SS Sturmbrigade ‘Reichsführer-SS’, the only major German unit on Corsica, secured a beach-head at Bonifacio to allow Generalleutnant Carl Hans Lungershausen’s 90th Panzergrenadierdivision to abandon Sardinia and make the short crossing to Corsica.

In the meantime, von Senger und Etterlin attempted to maintain the status quo with the uneasy Italian garrison, most of which fell back into the interior of the island, while at the same keeping the French resistance forces under control. After an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate an Italian surrender, on 13 September von Senger und Etterlin ordered the SS brigade to attack the Italian garrison holding Bastia. The attack made only slow progress as the Italians kept the approach roads under artillery fire, but the town fell after a night attack later in the same day.

On this day, however, von Senger under Etterlin was ordered not to defend Corsica but start an immediate air and sea evacuation of the German garrison of more than 27,250 men. Over the next few weeks, von Senger under Etterlin oversaw the orderly evacuation of his garrison in the face of ‘Vésuve’ by recently landed Free French troops led by Général d’Armée Henri Honoré Giraud and heavy Allied air and submarine attacks.

After ensuring the destruction of all road bridges on the eastern coast, the wrecking the harbour installations at Bonifacio and Porto Vecchio, and the rendering all of the island’s airfields inoperable, von Senger und Etterlin departed aboard the last German ship of the Corsican evacuation on 3 October. This small-scale German evacuation recovered 21,100 men by air and other 6,250 men plus 1,200 prisoners of war by sea before its end on 3 October. The Germans lost 55 transport aircraft and 17,000 tons of shipping in the course of the operation.

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This comprised Generale di Brigata Bartolomeo Pedrotti’s 20th Divisione ‘Friuli’, Generale di Divisione Umberto Mondino’s 44th Divisione ‘Cremona’, Generale di Brigata Carlo Gotti’s 225th Divisione costiera and Generale di Brigata Attilio Lazzarini’s 226th Divisione costiera.