Fallschirmjäger

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Fallschirmjäger landing on Crete.

Fallschirmjäger (Fallschirmjager or Fallschirmjaeger in English) is the German word for paratroopers. They played an important role during World War II, when, together with the Gebirgsjäger they were perceived as the elite infantry units of the German military. After World War II, they were reconstituted as parts of postwar armed forces of both West and East Germany, mainly as special ops troops.

German Fallschirmjäger in World War II were the first paratroopers to be committed in large-scale airborne operations. They came to be known as the "green devils" by the Allied forces they fought against, as well as for their uniquely distinct Esprit de corps.[1]

Etymology[edit]

The word Fallschirmjäger is from the German Fallschirm, "parachute", and Jäger, literally 'hunter,' which refers in this context to light infantry.

Nazi Germany (1935–1945)[edit]

Pre-war[edit]

The 'diving eagle' FJ badge

In the 1930s Hermann Göring, after having observed Soviet airborne infantry maneuvers, became committed to the creation of Germany's airborne infantry.[2][3] He ordered the formation of a specialist police unit in 1933, devoted to protecting Nazi party officials. The unit carried out conventional police duties for the next two years,[4] but in 1935, Göring transformed it into Germany's first dedicated airborne regiment.[4] The unit was incorporated into the newly formed Luftwaffe later that year and training commenced. Göring also ordered that a group of volunteers be drawn for parachute training. These volunteers would form a cadre for a future Fallschirmtruppe ("parachute troops").[4] In January 1936, 600 men and officers formed a Jäger and an engineer company.[5] Germany's parachute arm was officially inaugurated in 1936[6] with a call for recruits for a parachute training school. The school was open to Luftwaffe personnel, who were required to successfully complete six jumps in order to receive the Luftwaffe Parachutist's Badge.[6]

World War II[edit]

Fallschirmjäger board transport aircraft for the invasion of Leros.

During World War II, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) raised a variety of airborne light infantry (Fallschirmjäger) units. The Luftwaffe built up a division-sized unit of three Fallschirmjäger regiments plus supporting arms and air assets, known as the 7th Flieger Division.

Fallschirmjäger 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, the Netherlands 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.

The skillful airborne seizure of Fort Eben-Emael permitted the early capture of Belgium and, alongside successful operations in the Netherlands, was crucial for the speed of the German victories in 1940. The major airdrops in Norway and Denmark in April 1940 were also vital to the success of the campaigns there, although they, along with the amphibious forces, suffered heavy casualties.

The Battle of Crete in 1941 saw large-scale airdrops in which the entire 7th Air Division was deployed with the German 5th Mountain Division as the follow-up. Crete was captured, after fierce fighting against Greek and Commonwealth troops, but the high casualties suffered by the Fallschirmjäger as they parachuted in (like the brothers von Blücher) convinced Hitler that such mass airdrops were no longer feasible.

In the Battle of Monte Cassino, 1st Fallschirmjäger division[7] held the ground near the Monastery of Monte Cassino. After the monastery had been bombed by the Allies, the Germans moved into protected positions among the bricks and cellars. The Fallschirmjäger held out for months against repeated assaults and heavy bombardment. Here they gained the nickname "Green Devils" from the Allied forces for their distinctive jackets and their tenacious defence. Inflicting huge losses on the Allied forces, they ultimately retreated from their positions only to avoid being outflanked.

Fallschirmjäger also played a key role defending positions in France against much larger forces in 1944, even holding on to some of the German-occupied regions until the surrender of Germany.

After mid-1944, Fallschirmjäger were no longer trained as paratroops due to the strategic situation, and fought as infantrymen. Near the end of the war, the series of new Fallschirmjäger divisions extended to more than 12, with a reduction in quality in the later units, which, however still inflicted moderate losses on the advancing Allied troops. The last parachute division to be raised by Germany during World War II was destroyed during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945.

Throughout World War II, the Fallschirmjäger commander was Kurt Student.

Thousands of German paratroopers were killed in action. Fallschirmjäger were awarded a total of 134 Knight's Crosses between 1940 and 1945.

Uniforms and equipment[edit]

A concealed paratrooper looking down the sights of his FG 42 automatic rifle.

Fallschirmjäger were awarded the Fallschirmschützenabzeichen, a paratrooper insignia featuring a diving gold eagle gripping a swastika.

A special version of the German armed forces' steel helmet was issued to Fallschirmjäger units.

The parachute used by the Fallschirmjäger in World War II is suspended from the harness via a single strap, meaning that the paratrooper had much less control of his descent than with the twin-strap harnesses used by British and American paratroopers. Paratroopers had to throw themselves forward 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 increased the chance of injury. To remove their parachute harness, required the paratrooper to stand stationary upright for up to 80 seconds. As a result, 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 poorly armed. After the Crete invasion, these faults were rectified, with the parachute harness modified to allow it to be released while prone in under 10 seconds; and the paratroopers jumped while armed with personal automatic weapons.[8]

Fallschirmjäger 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. Fallschirmjäger also readily employed the best of several foreign-made small arms. The MP 40 and the FG 42 automatic rifle, which combined the firepower of a machine gun with the lightweight handling characteristics of a standard infantry rifle, were developed specially for the paratroopers.

Bundeswehr Fallschirmjäger (after 1945)[edit]

Badge of the Fallschirmjäger (Bundeswehr)
See also:
Fallschirmjäger of 26th Air Assault Battalion at the 2007 Bastille Day Military Parade.

In the modern German Bundeswehr, Fallschirmjäger continue to form the core of Special Operations. The Division has two brigade equivalents and several independent companies and battalions. All told, about 10,000 troops served in that division in 2010, most of them support or logistics personnel. The Division has the following structure:

The vast majority of division members is deployable by parachute, and all of it is at least air mobile. Almost all vehicles and heavy equipment are transportable by helicopter, including special lightly armored Wiesel fighting vehicles adopted for this purpose. In addition to the Special Operations Division, Germany is also setting up an air mobile or air assault regiment.

National People's Army (East Germany)[edit]

Badge of the Luftsturmregiment 40, the only East German airborne regiment.

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Ailsby, Christopher (2000). Hitler's Sky Warriors: German Paratroopers in Action, 1939-1945. Staplehurst, UK: Spellmount Limited. ISBN 1-86227-109-7. 

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Green Devils: German Paratroopers 1939-1945 By Jean-Yves Nasse, W. Muhlberger, G. Schubert, Jean-Pierre Villaume,
  2. ^ Ailsby, 16
  3. ^ Ailsby, 21
  4. ^ a b c Ailsby, 22
  5. ^ Ailsby, 23
  6. ^ a b Ailsby, 26
  7. ^ http://www.feldgrau.com/1FJD.htm
  8. ^ Comparison of the Invasion of Crete and the Proposed Invasion of Malta, by S Kavanaugh, 1994 http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA452022