|Monday, 03 November 2008 18:34|
Born: 4 February 1893, Willmannsdorf, Silesia
Died: 20 May 1947, Athens, Greece
Cause of death: Bullet wounds by firing squad.
Notable because: Bruno Bräuer was the first Geman paratrooper to jump from a plane. Went on to become German commander in occupied Crete, where he once released 100 Cretan prisoners including Constantinos Mitsotakis who went on to become Prime Minister. Despite being credited as the most humane of the German leaders during the Cretan occupation, was arrested after the war, and executed by firing squad at 5 o'clock on the 20 May 1947 exactly 6 years after the invasion the invasion of Crete.
Bruno Bräuer was a German paratrooper from Willmannsdorf, Prussian Silesia. In 1905 he joined the army cadets and started his military career. In World War I he received the Iron Cross first and second class whilst serving in the 7th West Prussian Infantry regiment. After joining the Reichswehr, he took command of the first Battalion, General Göring regiment. As a major commanding this battalion (the first German unit to become airborne operational), Bräuer became the first German paratrooper to jump from a plane on 11 May 1936, however, unlike later drops, he jumped from the wing and not from the side doors of transport planes. By 1938 he was in command of the first Fallschirmjäger regiment-Major Von Grazy succeeded him as commander of the 1st Battalion. He commanded this unit through Poland, France, the Netherlands and the Balkans. Later he became commander on Crete and then commanded the 9th Paratroopers division as a Major General. After the war he was executed for war crimes.
Bräuer was not similar to the usual German paratrooper, as he was quite short and had a slight stutter. He was also renowned for his gold cigarette case which he can be seen holding in one of the few pictures taken of him on Crete in 1941. Credited for being the most humane commander of fortress Crete, he seemed to look forward to the end of the war and obviously was not sure that Germany would be victorious, as when he talked to Constantinos Mitsotakis after he freed him from jail, he implied that Constantinos would one day play a big part in the running of Greece (he later became Prime Minister) which he would not have said if he thought the country would be under German occupation indefinitely.
Bräuer led the regiment in Poland, France and the Low Countries, but it was in the Netherlands where he got his reputation for outstanding bravery. His objective was to take two bridges: Moerdijk and Dordrecht. At Moerdijk his second battalion under Captain Prager captured the bridge by dropping two of his companies at each end and storming the bridge, taking it before it could be blown. At Dordrecht the first Battalion, first Fallschirmjäger regiment could only drop one company-the 3rd company under Lieutenant von Brandis . Fierce fighting took place but the bridge remained in Dutch hands and Brandis was killed.
A near by airfield, Waalhaven, was skillfully taken by the third Battalion, first Fallschirmjäger regiment by luring the defenders away from the airfield and then landing in it. As Dutch resistance increased and Dordrecht Bridge still had not been taken Bräuer commandeered Dutch vehicles and, after terrible fighting and incredible bravery from Bräuer, the bridge was taken intact. He received the Knight's Cross for this feat.
Bräuer would also have been involved with the spearhead for Operation Sea Lion, the planned German invasion of Great Britain. While Major Meindl's batalion would be dropped at Hythe, it was planned that Bräuer's regiment would be dropped over Paddlesworth and Etchinghill. Both these units' objectives would be Sandgate and while they were moving to their targets the Luftwaffe would be flying back to France to transport the second wave of paratroopers-Major Stenzler's battalion-who would support the first wave.
On 20 May 1941 Nazi Germany launched its air attack on Crete. Bräuer was to lead the first Fallschirmjäger regiment and the second battalion, second Fallschirmjäger regiment. His objective was to take the airfield at Heraklion. This was not to be a brilliant success. The second battalion, first Fallschirmjäger regiment, landed on the coast road and came under extreme enemy fire as there was little cover. Bräuer and the first battalion, who had landed to the east of the town quickly moved westwards to try and find any remnants of the second battalion. Eight days later the airfield still had not been taken but as the news that the Germans were advancing across the Island from Maleme reached the Allies, they withdrew to the harbor and were evacuated.
In November 1942 Bräuer replaced General Waldemar Andrae as commander on Crete. He tried to make his officers treat the Cretans with more respect. On 25 March, Greek national day, he released 100 Cretan prisoners from jail, one of whom, Constantinos Mitsotakis, would later become Prime Minister of Greece. He quickly got the reputation as hard but fair and the most humane commander of Crete. After German failures at Stalingrad and El Alamein, it was Bräuer who ordered the construction of underground command bunkers, more defenses around Suda Bay and increased ammunition stocks. However, in 1944 General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, renowned for his brutality when commander of the 22nd Infantry Division, replaced Bräuer as Commander of Fortress Crete.
In January 1945 the German 9th Parachute Division was formed under Bräuer. It had only five battalions. It was mainly made up of Luftwaffe ground forces and not the battle-hardened Fallschirmjäger Hermann Göring had boasted of.
In January 1945 two of his battalion were encircled by the first Ukrainian front in Breslau where it was destroyed. The rest of the division retreated all the way back to the Seelow Heights where it dug in and prepared to defend against an imminent Russian Offensive. Due to the fact that its troops had seen hardly any action many were uncontrollable when the Russian barrage began. It did not take long before the line had almost completely collapsed and many of Bräuer’s men began to desert. Bräuer was so tired that he suffered a nervous collapse and was relieved of his command.
Along with General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, he was first to stand trial in Athens for committing atrocities on Crete. He was accused of the death of 3,000 Cretans, massacres, systematic terrorism, deportation, pillage, wanton destruction, torture and ill treatment. He was sentenced to death on 9 December 1946. Bräuer was shot at 5 o'clock on the 20 May 1947 on the anniversary of the invasion of Crete. Antony Beevor describes him as 'a truly unfortunate man'.
Years later the association of German Airborne troops requested that his body be moved to Crete and buried on hill 107 with all of the other German troops killed on the island during the invasion and the occupation. He was buried by George Psychoundakis, the writer of the Cretan runner. His grave can be found in the far left corner of the cemetery next to an unknown soldier.
General Bruno BRAUER:
Former Governor of Crete. Tried by a Greek military court at Athens. Accused of being responsible for the deaths of some 3,000 persons in Crete during the German occupation, also for murders and massacres; systematic terrorism, deportations, pillage, wanton destruction and torture and ill-treatment of civilians. Sentenced to death 9.12.46; shot on 20.5.47.
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