General Hermann Bernhard Ramcke (1889-1968) was a German parachute general who fought on Crete and at El Alamein, but who is best known for the defence of Brest in 1944.
Ramcke's military career began in the German Imperial Navy. He served as a ship's boy from 1904-1907, and at the start of the First World War was serving on the cruiser Prinz Adalbert. He spent much of the war serving on land. In 1915-16 he fought with Matrosen Regiment 2 in Flanders, but was seriously wounded and spent eighteen months in hospital. He was judged fit to return to service in 1917, and served with the Marine Division, where he won the Militaerverdienstkreuz as an enlisted man, before being promoted to Leutnant.
Immediately after the war Ramcke joined the Freikorps von Brandis in the Baltic, before joining the Reichswehr in 1919 with the rank of Hauptmann.
At the start of the Second World War Ramcke had risen to Oberstleutnant, and had command of an infantry regiment. He was then appointed to the staff of 7.Fleiger Division, part of the elite airborne force. Ramcke took his new role seriously and attended Fallschirmschule III at Braunscheweig (July-August 1940), qualifying as a parachutist at the age of 51 in August.
On 1 August 1940 Ramcke officially transferred to the Luftwaffe, the branch that commanded the paratroops. His first appointment was with the staff of Fallschirmjäger Regt 3, before he moved to Regt 1. In 1941 he was appointed to command the recruitment, reserve and training units for XI Fliegerkorps.
Ramcke took a leading part in the invasion of Crete in May 1941, commanding the Parachute Assault Regiment (Luftlande Sturm Regt), which attacked Maleme airfield. Ramcke was promoted to Generalmajor in July and awarded the Knight's Cross on 21 August 1941 for his part in this costly battle, which effectively ended the career of the German airborne forces. The heavy losses suffered on Crete so appalled Hitler that he refused to sanction further major airborne assaults, and the elite paratroopers were instead used as infantry.
Ramcke spent several months in Italy, helping to form the 'Folgore' Parachute Division. In April 1942 he returned to frontline duties, as commander of Fallschirm Brigade 1 in North Africa. He performed well during the battle of El Alamein (October-November 1942). As the Axis line began to fall apart, Ramcke's brigade became isolated at the southern end of the line. He was able to avoid capture, and after a march west of 80 miles caught up with the main part of the army. On 13 November 1942 he was awarded the Oak-Leaves to the Knight's Cross for this achievement.
On 21 December Ramcke was promoted to Generalleutnant, and in February 1943 he was appointed to raise and command 2.Fallschirmjäger Division. In September 1943, after the Italian armistice, this division was flown to Rome where it was used to help take control of the city. Soon after this Ramcke was hospialised, and didn't return to service until February 1944, at which time his division was fighting in the Ukraine.
In April 1944 Ramcke and 2.FJ Div were moved to Brittany to refit and recover from losses suffered in the east. Part of the division took part in the battle of Normandy, before on 11 August Ramcke was appointed commander of 'Fortress Brest', with orders to prevent the Allies from using the port. Ramcke carried out his orders with great success. He held out until 20 September, and was awarded both the Swords and the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross on 19 September.
Ramcke surrendered to General Middleton, and was transferred to the United States. He made several escape attempts in an effort to make the American public aware of the poor treatment of German POWs in the States. He was handed to the French in December 1946, and in 1951 was charged with war crimes. An outcry followed, and he was released without trial. After his release Ramcke worked in the concrete industry, dying in 1968.