Operation Lehrgang

training course

This was the German evacuation of forces, principally General Hans-Valentin Hube’s XIV Panzerkorps, from the island of Sicily to the Italian mainland in the face of the imminent Allied victory at the end of the ‘Husky’ (i) campaign (11/17 August 1943).

The operation was planned and controlled by Oberst Ernst Baade, the German district commandant of the Strait of Messina, together with Fregattenkapitän Gustav von Liebenstein of the German navy. With great efficiency and under circumstances of overwhelming Allied air superiority, these two officers managed to effect a very competent evacuation with limited resources, using ruthless discipline and highly flexible planning to make maximum use of their transports (nine Siebel ferries, seven ferry barges, one naval ferry, 12 landing boats, 41 assault boats and 50 rubber boats) to lift men, equipment and supplies from 12 separate evacuation points.

As a preliminary to the evacuation proper, in the period 1/10 August Baade arranged for the movement of some 12,000 men, 4,500 vehicles and 5,000 tons of supplies to the Italian mainland, and all was ready for the main operation to begin at 18.00 on 11 August under cover of powerful Flak defences (Oberst Werner Anton’s 3rd Flakbrigade and Oberst Max Müller’s 22nd Flakbrigade of Generalmajor Julius Kuderna’s 5th Flakdivision) on each side of the strait, while defences against warship attack included as many as 150 pieces of artillery in calibres between 75 and 280 mm (2.95 and 11 in) excluding the heavy artillery battalion of Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt’s 15th Panzergrenadierdivision with two batteries of 170-mm (6.7-in) guns.

The strength of the evacuation flotilla varied with time, and Allied air operations forced frequent changes in the Germans’ operational procedures and actual ferry routes. The evacuation was completed at 06.35 on 17 August, and it is believed that during the 1/17 August period Baade’s organisation was responsible for the salving of some 39,569 and 4,444 wounded of the 60,000 German troops together with a very high proportion of their equipment (9,605 vehicles, 47 armoured fighting vehicles, 94 pieces of artillery, more than 2,000 tons of ammunition and fuel, and about 15,000 tons of other supplies).

A comparable evacuation of the Italian forces brought some 62,000 men, 227 vehicles and 41 pieces of artillery back into Calabria. The primary vessel for the Italian undertaking was the 932-ton train ferry Villa to carry as many as 3,000 men per trip. The Italians also loaded the disabled 2,800-ton train ferry Cariddi with heavy artillery, intending to tow her across the Strait of Messina, but there were no tugs with which to undertake the tow and Cariddi was therefore scuttled.