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Fallschirmj?ger

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Fallschirmj?ger
Fallschirmsch?tzenabzeichen der Luftwaffe.jpg
Fallschirmsch?tzenabzeichen
Active 1935–1945
Country  Nazi Germany
Branch Luftwaffe
Type Paratrooper
Infantry
Part of Luftwaffe
Garrison/HQ Berlin
Engagements World War II
Fallschirmj?ger board transport aircraft for the invasion of Leros.

About this sound Fallschirmj?ger (often rendered Fallschirmjager in English; from the German Fallschirm "parachute" and J?ger "hunter" or "rifleman") are German paratroopers. Fallschirmj?ger of Germany in World War II were the first to be committed in large-scale airborne operations. They came to be known as the "Green Devils" by the Allied forces they fought against.[1] During the entirety of World War II, the Fallschirmj?ger commander was Kurt Student.

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[edit] History

A Fallschirmj?ger with the MG 42 somewhere in the Soviet Union, 1943.
A Fallschirmj?ger mortar crew firing the 8 cm Granatwerfer 34.

During the interwar years the rapid development of aircraft and aviation technology drew the attention of imaginative military planners. The idea of inserting a large body of troops inside enemy territory was first proposed during World War I by commander of the U.S. Air Corps in FranceBrigadier General Billy Mitchell.[2] However the Allied High Command was forced to abandon the idea as it was wholly unprepared for such an undertaking, both logistically and in materiel.[2] Among the first to recognize the potential of airborne forces were Italy and the Soviet Union.[3] The first effective means of supporting massed infantry airborne operations came with the development of the static-line parachute in Italy in the 1920s, whereby parachutes are attached to the inside of the aircraft and deployed automatically upon departure.[3] This technique allowed the jumps to occur at lower altitudes, limiting exposure to enemy fire, and providing a tighter drop zone grouping than individually deployed rip-cord type parachutes.[3] The Soviets were the first to demonstrate the military possibilities of airborne infantry in the 1930s with a series of maneuvers held in 1935 and 1936.[3] Though somewhat crude (the Soviet paratroopers had to exit their slow-moving Tupolev TB-3 transporters through a hatch in the roof and then position themselves along the wings and jump together), the exercise managed to land 1,000 troops through air-drops followed by another 2,500 soldiers with heavy equipment delivered via airlandings. The gathered forces proceeded to carry out conventional infantry attacks with the support of heavy machine guns and light artillery.[4] Among the foreign observers present was Hermann G?ring.[4]

Impressed, the ambitious G?ring became personally committed to the creation of Germany's airborne arm in the 1930s[5]. As the Prussian Prime Minister of the Interior, he ordered the formation of a specialist police unit in 1933, the Polizeiabteilung z.b.V. Wecke, devoted to protecting Nazi party officials. The organization of this unit was entrusted to Polizeimajor Walther Wecke of the Prussian Police Force, who had assembled a special detachment of 14 officers and 400 men within just two days.[5] On 17 July the detachment was officially renamed Landespolizeigruppe Wecke z.b.V., and was the first Landespolizeigruppe in Germany.[6] On 22 December 1933, the unit was again retitled, becoming the Landespolizeigruppe General G?ring. The unit carried out conventional police duties for the next two years under the command of G?ring's ministerial adjutant Friedrich Jakoby[6], but it was G?ring's intention to ultimately produce a unit that would match the Reichswehr.

In the spring of 1935 (March–April) G?ring transformed the Landespolizei General G?ring into Germany's first dedicated airborne regiment, giving it the military designation Regiment General G?ring (RGG) on 1 April 1935 (after Hitler introduced conscription on 16 March 1935).[6] The unit was incorporated into the newly-formed Luftwaffe' on October 1st of the same year and training commenced at Altengrabow. G?ring also ordered that a group of volunteers be drawn for parachute training. These volunteers would form a core Fallschirmsch?tzen Bataillon ("parachute soldiers battalion"), a cadre for future Fallschirmtruppe ("parachute troops").[6] In January 1936, 600 men and officers formed the 1st J?ger Battalion/RGG, commanded by Bruno Br?uer, and the 15th Engineer Company/RGG and were transferred to training area D?beritz for jump training while the rest of the regiment was sent to Altengrabow.[7] Germany's parachute arm was officially inaugurated on 29 January 1936[8] with an Order of the Day calling for recruits for parachute training at the Stendal Parachute Training School located 96 km west of Berlin. The school was activated several months after the first parachute units were established in January 1936 and was open to active and reserve Luftwaffe personnel. NCOs, officers and other ranks of the Luftwaffe were required to successfully complete six jumps in order to receive the Luftwaffe Parachutist's Badge (instituted on 5 November 1936).[8]

During World War II, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) raised a variety of airborne light infantry (Fallschirmj?ger) units. Unlike the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth, and the USA, the German paratroopers were part of the German Air Force rather than the Heer (German Army). Starting from a small collection of Fallschirmj?ger battalions at the beginning of the war, the Luftwaffe built up a division-sized unit of three Fallschirmj?ger regiments plus supporting arms and air assets, known as the 7th Flieger Division (7th Air Division).

Fallschirmj?ger units made the first airborne invasion when invading Denmark on the 9 April 1940. In the early morning hours of Operation Weser?bung, they attacked and took control of Aalborg Air Base which played a key role acting as a refuel station for the Luftwaffe in the subsequent invasion of Norway. In the same assault the bridges around Aalborg were taken. Other airborne attacks during the Battle of Denmark were also carried out, including one on a fort on the island Masned?.

The first opposed airborne attacks occurred during the Norwegian Campaign, first during the initial invasion when Fallschirmj?gers captured the defended air base of Sola, near Stavanger. The Fallschirmj?ger also had their first defeat in Norway, when a company was dropped on the village and railroad junction of Domb?s on 14 April 1940 and was destroyed by the Norwegian Army in a five day battle.[9]

Later in the war, the 7th Air Division's Fallschirmj?ger assets were re-organised and used as the core of a new series of elite Luftwaffe Infantry divisions, numbered in a series beginning with the 1st Fallschirmj?ger Division. These formations were organized and equipped as motorized infantry divisions, and often played a "fire brigade" role on the western front. Their constituents were often encountered on the battlefield as ad hoc battle groups (Kampfgruppen) detached from a division or organized from miscellaneous available assets. In accord with standard German practice, these were called by their commander's name, such as Group Erdmann in France and the Ramcke Parachute Brigade in North Africa.

After mid-1944, Fallschirmj?ger were no longer trained as paratroops due to the realities of the strategic situation, but retained the Fallschirmj?ger honorific. Near the end of the war, the series of new Fallschirmj?ger divisions extended to over a dozen, with a concomitant reduction in quality in the higher-numbered units of the series. Among these divisions was the 9th Fallschirmj?ger Division, which was the final parachute division to be raised by Germany during World War II. The division was destroyed during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945. (These divisions should not be confused with the Luftwaffe Field Divisions, a poorly organised and managed series of light infantry divisions raised from excess Luftwaffe personnel early in the war.)

Over 54,449 paratroops were killed in action and over 8,000 are still listed as missing in action.[citation needed]

Fallschirmj?ger were awarded a total of 134 Knight's Cross of the Iron Crosses between the years 1940–1945. Twenty-four KC were awarded in the west and 27 were awarded after Crete. Out of the 134 KC, 15 were with oak leaves, five with oak leaves and swords, and one with oak leaves, swords and diamonds.

[edit] Operations

A Fallschirmj?ger landing on Crete.
A heavily armed Fallschirmj?ger carrying a Panzerfaust and sporting the characteristic Splittermuster 41 "splinter" camouflage.
Fallschirmj?ger squad in Crete.

Fallschirmj?ger participated in many of the famous battles of World War II and in many theatres. As elite troops they were frequently deployed at the vanguard of attacks and as the bulwark of a defence. They would see action in the Norway and Denmark campaign and in Belgium, Holland and France in 1940. Major actions in the Balkans Campaign, Crete, Italy, and on both the Eastern Front and later the Western Front would follow.

[edit] Selection of notable battles

The skilful airborne seizure of Fort Eben-Emael allowed for the early capture of Belgium and, alongside successful operations in Holland, was crucial for the speed of the German victories in 1940. The major successful airdrops in Norway and Denmark in May 1940 was also vital to the success of the campaign there.

The Battle of Crete in 1941 saw large scale airdrops, where the entire 7th Air Division was deployed with the German 5th Mountain Division as the follow-up. Crete was captured, along with many enemy troops and weapons, but the high casualties suffered by the Fallschirmj?ger as they parachuted in convinced Hitler that such mass airdrops were no longer feasible (though unknown to the Germans surprise had been lost before the drops started due to Enigma machine cipher cracking).

Fallschirmj?ger also played a key role defending positions in France against much larger forces during the Battle of Normandy in 1944. The Battle of Carentan, as depicted in Band of Brothers saw Fallschirmj?ger fight with American paratroopers in a short but intense engagement, and also in the Brothers in Arms game series.

The Battle of Monte Cassino was one of the finest displays of the courage, tenacity and skill that the Fallschirmj?ger became known for. The 1st Fallschirmj?ger Division held the ground near the Monastery of Monte Cassino but did not occupy the building itself. The historical significance of the Benedictine monastery caused the German commander-in-chief in Italy, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, to order German units not to include the monastery in German defensive positions and informed the Allies accordingly[10][11]. The Allied high command refused to believe that the German forces would not use such a valuable position in their defences and orders were duly given for the 1500 year old building to be bombed to rubble. After the bombing, the Germans moved into positions amongst the bricks, remnants of walls and still intact cellars which provided excellent protection for the troops. This enabled the Fallschirmj?ger to hold out for months against repeated assaults and heavy bombardment. Here they gained the nickname of the "Green Devils" from the Allied forces for their distinctive 3/4-length splinter pattern camouflage jackets and the tenacious defence of the ruined town and monastery on the mountain above against far superior numbers. Inflicting huge losses on the allied forces, they only finally retreated from their positions to stave off being outflanked. After their withdrawal, Polish, Gurkha, Senegalese, Moroccan & Brazilian forces finally occupied the ruins of the monastery.

Also in Italy, a smaller but equally fierce battle occurred as the 3rd battalion, 3rd Regt, 1st Fallschirmj?ger Division fought against elements of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade during the Battle of Ortona, Italy, from December 20, 1943 to December 28, 1943. The battle was dubbed "Little Stalingrad"[12] for the deadliness of its close-quarters combat.

[edit] Uniforms and Equipment

A concealed paratrooper looking down the sights of his FG 42 automatic rifle.
The Fallschirmj?ger were the first to operationally employ recoilless weapons. The 7.5 cm Leichtgesch?tz 40 could be air-dropped and had a maximum range of 6,800 m.

Fallschirmj?ger would be awarded the Fallschirmsch?tzenabzeichen, a paratrooper insignia featuring a diving gold eagle gripping a swastika.

A special version of the German armed forces' (Wehrmacht's) modernized steel helmet (Stahlhelm), the M1935, called the Fallschirmhelm, was designed and issued to Fallschirmj?ger units. It did away with the projecting visor and deep, flared rim of the standard-issue helmet, and added further improvements. The modified shell incorporated a completely different and more substantial leather liner and chinstrap design that provided far more protection for German airborne troops; this model was known as the M1938.

The style of parachute harness used by the Fallschirmj?ger, however, is generally considered inferior to those used by the war's British and American paratroopers. Unlike the British and American models, which connected the chute at each shoulder, the German design connected the parachute to the trooper's body via a single strap in the center of the back, an Irving-type harness. Paratroopers had to throw themselves bodily forwards out of the aeroplane, and in the resulting face-down position when the chute opened, control was nearly impossible. The necessity of landing on knees and elbows reduced the amount of equipment the trooper could carry and, even with pads, significantly increased the chance of injury. As such they jumped armed only with a holstered pistol and a small "gravity knife". Rifles and other weapons were dropped in separate containers and, until these were recovered, the soldiers were relatively poorly armed (by comparison, Allied paratroopers were dropped armed with rifles or submachine guns). The Japanese copied the German system.

Fallschirmj?ger units were usually very well equipped; they had access to the best weapons of the German military. They were among the first combat units to use assault rifles and recoilless weapons in combat. Fallschirmj?ger also readily employed the best of several foreign-made small arms, including the Italian Beretta Modello 38 9 mm submachine gun,[13] and the FN Browning P-35 9 mm pistol.

A universal weapon was developed specifically for the paratroopers that could replace rifles, submachine guns and light machine guns but was also light enough to be carried during a jump. These efforts resulted in the FG 42 automatic rifle which combined the firepower of a machine gun with the lightweight handling characteristics of a standard infantry rifle. The FG 42 was built and deployed in small numbers from 1943 until the end of the war. Though an extremely advanced weapon[14][15], the design had some drawbacks. The lightweight frame was subject to considerable muzzle rise when in automatic fire and had to be fired prone to guarantee accuracy. This meant that the FG 42 was not entirely compatible with the more universal role it was supposed to play, as both a light machine gun and assault rifle. The FG 42's advanced design also meant that the weapon could not be mass-produced in a cost efficient manner, and use of certain precious metals in the gun's construction placed it in competition with other wartime projects for increasingly scarce resources.

[edit] The Parachutist's "Ten Commandments"

A revealing document captured from a German paratrooper who was taken prisoner in Greece reveals much of the Fallschirmj?gers elite attitude. Titled the Ten Commandments[16] it listed the following instructions:

  • 1. You are the elite of the German Army. For you, combat shall be fulfillment. You shall seek it out and train yourself to stand any test.
  • 2. Cultivate true comradeship, for together with your comrades you will triumph or die.
  • 3. Be shy of speech and incorruptible. Men act, women chatter; chatter will bring you to the grave.
  • 4. Calm and caution, vigor and determination, valour and a fanatical offensive spirit will make you superior in attack.
  • 5. In facing the foe, ammunition is the most precious thing. He who shoots uselessly, merely to reassure himself, is a man without guts. He is a weakling and does not deserve the title of paratrooper.
  • 6. Never surrender. Your honour lies in Victory or Death.
  • 7. Only with good weapons can you have success. So look after them on the principle—First my weapons, then myself.
  • 8. You must grasp the full meaning of an operation so that, should your leader fall by the way, you can carry it out with coolness and caution.
  • 9. Fight chivalrously against an honest foe; armed irregulars deserve no quarter.
  • 10. Keep your eyes wide open. Tune yourself to the top most pitch. Be nimble as a greyhound, as tough as leather, as hard as Krupp steel and so you shall be the German warrior incarnate.