Friday, August 19, 2016

Oberstleutnant Wilhelm Walther

The Brandenburg German special forces saw extensive action in Fall Gelb (German invasion of France and the Lower Countries), clearing the way for the Fallschirmjäger before the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael. On 8 May 1940, two nights before the opening of the offensive, the Brandenburgers went into action. Donning the enemies’ uniforms over their own German ones (so they could quickly change in case of capture and be treated as POWs rather than spies and facing execution), small groups began to cross the border into the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. One of the few actions that was successful in the opening days of the campaign was the seizure of the Meuse bridge in the Dutch town of Gennep. An eight-man team, led by Oberleutnant Wilhelm Walther, was given the task of capturing the bridge intact. At 02:00 am on 10 May 1940, Walther’s team, now disguised as Dutch military police escorting German prisoners, made their assault. Two guard posts were destroyed, but three Brandenburgers were wounded and the team was pinned down. Dressed in a Dutch uniform, Walther advanced across the bridge. The confused defenders hesitated, allowing the rest of the team to take them out, seizing the bridge and disabling the detonators. Many more operations like this took place over the course of the campaign. However very few were successful and on another bridge, Brandenburgers were arrested by Dutch troops and shot as spies. For his action at Gennep, Walther received the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) in 4 Juni 1940 as an Oberleutnant and Stoßtruppführer 4.Kompanie / Bau-Lehr-Bataillon z.b.V. 800 "Brandenburg" / Heeresgruppe B. He was the first Brandenburgers to receive the coveted medal!

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