Fallschirmjager: German Paratroopers 1937 - 1941
Pen & Sword - Images of War
Author: Francois Cochet
ISBN 9781526740663, published April 19, 2019
Soft Cover, 7.5" x 9.5"; 176 pages with 160 black and white illustrations
What's between the covers?
The book is divided into a brief introduction, a mini-glossary of terms, and five chapters. As noted above, there are only black and white illustrations, mostly photographs with a few war-time drawings by combat artists. This is not a book for figure modelers, although there are some illustrations that might inspire a vignette or diorama. Many of the photos are blurry, or did not age well, and thus do not show a lot of detail of uniforms or weapons. The lack of color plates especially limits the usefulness of this book for modelers, and the omission of maps of various battles limits the usefulness for historians.
Mr. Cochet, in his introduction, states that the Third Reich's airborne units were regularly engaged at the forefront of the fighting, mentioning famous victories at the Belgian fort Eben-Emael and Crete. He continues that the "great age" of the fallschirmtruppen ended in 1941, and from 1942 until the end of the war, German paratroopers were deployed as ground troops.
The mini-glossary gives brief translations of German terms and abbreviations used in the text, as well as a short "Useful dates for this volume" from 11 November 1918: end of the First World War, to 21 December 1941: withdrawal of German troops in the East to their winter positions.
The Origins of the Fallschirmtruppen
This chapter briefly describes in three pages the aftermath of WW I and the limits placed on Germany for military size and equipment; credits the Soviets with creating paratroopers around 1928 and how the cooperation of Germany and the Soviet Union lead to Germany embracing and developing an airborne force. The author mentions that the German Air Ministry ordered the transfer of volunteers from the Regiment General Goering to a school to serve as parachute instructors, then continues with General Kurt Student taking command of the new 7. Flieger (Fallschirm-) Division on 1 July 1938. This is followed by a brief description of the mandatory service requirements placed on all young men in the Third Reich, what type of training the recruits underwent, and how the trooper earned the parachutist's metal badge, a diving eagle.
This is followed by 16 pages of black and white photos with short captions, showing the commanders, recruits, training, and jumps.
The Beginnings of the Second World War
(Poland and Scandinavia)
In a brief 1 1/2 page introduction to this chapter, Mr. Cochet informs us that the German airborne troops did not see much combat in the invasion of Poland, due to the rapid advance of the armored units. However, part of the first airborne regiment was used to occupy airfields, leading to a "serious engagement" at Demblin resulting in airborne casualties.
According to the author, the Scandinavia campaign in April 1940 showed the potential of the airborne arm, when 1st Fallschirmjager Regiment's fourth company jumped into Denmark and captured the key Storstrom bridge and holding it for the ground troops advancing on Copenhagen. The third company captured the Norwegian airfield at Stavanger-Sola, providing a base for the Luftwaffe to attack other targets. The first company tried unsuccessfully to prevent British and Norwegian from joining up, and after four days of "valiant fighting", surrendered.
The following 23 pages depict paratroopers flying to Polish airfields, unloading supplies, examining damaged Polish aircraft, and relaxing. This is followed by airborne troops parachuting into the Scandinavian countries. There is a 2-page description of the attacks on Belgium and the Netherlands in May 1940, followed by the remaining pages of photos, showing paratroopers preparing to board their Ju-52s, aerial photos of the Eben-Emael fort, graves and Hitler posing with a group to whom he just awarded medals. Next up are photos showing the paratroopers boarding their aircraft enroute to the attack on the Netherlands; guarding a bridge (which must be the inspiration for the Alpine figure depicting a Fallschirmjager standing near a bridge), more gravesites, manning a mortar, group photos, and more award ceremonies.
July 1940 - April 1941:
Reorganization and Resumption of Fighting
In this short chapter (only six pages), Mr. Cochet briefly touches on German plans after the defeat of France to "drop all available paratroopers in the south-east of England and occupy the various aerodromes in the region". Instead, the paratroopers returned to their bases and reorganized and expanded with two new regiments. He continues with brief mention of airborne use in the Balkan campaigns, ending with an airborne attack that successfully captured a Corinth-area bridge between the Peloponnese and the rest of mainland Greece.
Training makes you hungry
May 1941: The Battle of Crete
In 2 1/2 pages, Mr. Cochet briefly describes the preparation for and conduct of the German airborne assault on Crete, probably the most well-known of the few airborne attacks carried out by the fallschirmtruppen. He informs the reader that the defenders knew the assault details due to information gleaned from intercepted and decoded Enigma messages; despite this foreknowledge, the German attack succeeded, although with heavy casualties, both in men and machines. Other facts that were new to me, was the participation of German mountain troops who were ferried in by aircraft once the Maleme airfield had been captured, and the (according to the author) illegal actions by Australian and New Zealand troops who lied to the local population about the Germans not taking prisoners; this allegedly lead to "many paratroopers were massacred by civilians".
The next forty pages depict preparations for and the attack on the Corinth bridge; preparations for the assault: Ju-52s and DFS-230 gliders assembled for the attack; paratroopers moving in to the Balkans; paratroopers preparing equipment and boarding Ju-52s for the Crete assault; the mass airborne jump, fighting positions, destroyed and damaged gliders and Ju-52s, captured ANZAC troops, mountain troops landing and moving out, paratroopers standing, sitting, walking, riding motorcycles, paratrooper graves, and the return to German bases after the island had been secured.
Fighting position, memorial to a fallen comrade, awaiting attack orders, the attack
September 1941: The USSR
In this final chapter, the paratroopers, who suffered heavy losses in the Crete invasion, are deployed to the Soviet Union in order to fill gaps in the line. Units participated in reducing the Soviet salient in Petruschino (no map), the Leningrad sector (no map), the Mius Front (no map), and the Moscow Front (no map, but we know where that is, right?). The author concludes that although it could be suggested that the airborne troops would be merged in to the regular army, "the year 1942 would experience a revival of the German paratrooper, which like the phoenix, would be reborn from the ashes". I take that comment that the author plans at least one more volume to cover the fallschirmjager's battles in North Africa, Italy, Europe, and Russia between 1941 - 1945.
Recommended for those interested in the early history of WW II German Fallschirmjagers.
Thanks goes out to Casemate Publishers and Pen & Sword for this review book.
Reviewed by Joseph "Mac" McDaniel
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