|The Munster Military Vehicle and Re-enactment Group are actively seeking people to re-enact German WW2 forces. We are looking for both re-enactors and people with German vehicles to join either our SS or Fallschirmjager units in re-enacting the period of WW2. Any person or group wishing to participate with us should contact Joe. If you have an interest in both Living History or Re-enactment this is an opportunity to become involved in Ireland’s largest WW2 re-enactment grouping. We host Ireland’s largest military re-enactment event at Duncannon Fort in Co. Wexford each year on the June Bank holiday weekend.|
German Airborne Forces in WW2 – Formation and History
Limited by the Treaty of Versailles following her defeat in WW1, Germany was prohibited from developing specialist military forces, including paratroops and it was left to Italy and Russia to develop the concept into a viable combat arm.
Following joint exercises in Brest-Litovsk, Russia in 1935, Herman Goering, who had already formed a nucleus of paratroops in the ‘General Goering Regiment’, later to become the ‘Hermann Goering Panzer Division’, transferred these troops, all of whom were volunteers, into a Parachute or Fallschirmjager Battalion.
The 7th Flieger Division, comprising both Fallschirmjager and Luftlande (Glider landing) troops was formed in 1938 and, by the outbreak of war, comprised two Battalions of Fallschirmjager infantry with supporting units.
Following the successful capture of vital strategic airfields and bridges in Aalborg and Copenhagen in Denmark in April 1940, 7th Flieger Division was in early May given responsibility for the seizure of airfields and bridges in Holland which they achieved, despite serious casualties. This coup de main allowed German forces to exploit Dutch confusion and to achieve a lightning victory.
Belgium and Eban Emael 1940
The seemingly impregnable fortress of Eban Emael occupied a commanding position on the Albert Canal in Belgium and would seriously hamper German attempts to negotiate the area. On May 10th, 1940 four Glider-borne sections of ‘Sturmabteilung Koch’ succeeded in landing on the roof of the fortress and neutralized it with the use of flamethrowers and the first recorded use of shaped or hollow charges.
Operation Merkur (Mercury) 1941
The first, and due to significant casualties, last large scale airborne use of Fallschirmjager troops took place during the capture of Crete in May, 1941. Three Divisions of the newly formed XI Fliegerkorps under General-der-Luftwaffe Kurt Student, namely Fallschirmjager Regiments 1, 2 and 3 seized key strategic points despite determined resistance from dug-in Greek, British and New-Zealand forces.
The lightly armed paratroops, jumping in many cases with only pistols and grenades, were required to retrieve their light weapons from containers dropped separately. As a result, many were killed in their parachutes or shortly after landing and before they could arm themselves. Reports of massacres by both Allied troops and Greek Civilians of Fallschirmjager caught up in olive trees in the olive groves which dotted the island were also documented.
Fallschirmjager as Elite Infantry
Following the Crete Operation, Fallschirmjager were utilised as Elite infantry fighting in such diverse theaters as North Africa, Russia, Sicily, France and Italy where they earned a reputation for chivalry and professionalism.
Following their deployment in Monte Cassino, Italy in January 1944 after an Allied attempt to outflank the defensive Gustav Line at Anzio, the men of the 1st Fallschirmjager Division became involved in a spirited and determined defense of the Monastery and the surrounding area which lasted until May. Despite serious attempts over four grueling months, including the complete destruction of the historic Monastery by aerial bombing, Allied forces were unable to dislodge the Fallschirmjager troops who had earned for themselves the title ‘Green Devils’ from their respectful opponents.
The Fallschirmjager units withdrew in good order in May 1944.
D-Day June 6th 1944
In the early hours of 6th June, 1944 a notable increase in aerial activity coupled with the increasing reports of parachute drops caused concern among senior staff in the newly formed 6th Fallschirmjager Regiment and attempts to contact the LXXXIV Army Commander General Erich Marcks met with failure. Obstlt. Von der Heydte put his troops on full alert and waited for the dawn.
Among the first to engage Allied troops on French soil were the Fallschirmjager of 6FJR fighting in small night-time engagements in the area around Carentan before settling into the town for a spirited defence.
Carentan 9-11th June
While the bulk of II Batallion marched on foot to Sr. Marie du Mont following reports of enemy reconnaissance patrols in the area, 9 Kompanie was transported by lorry arriving at Hill 30, one of the few vantage points in the otherwise flat Calvados Coastal plain overlooking Carentan.
US 101st Airborne Division forces were under the impression that the town was lightly defended and resolved to conduct a double envelopment. On 10th June 1944 this attack quickly became bogged down on the causeway meeting stiff resistance from 6FJR and despite several attempts could not advance.
6th Fallschirmjager Rgt. Counterattacks
Repeated counter-attacks throughout the day pushed the US forces back until they reached the last remaining hedgerow at 1815pm and it was only the intervention of co-ordinated artillery strikes from US VII Corps supported by Tactical Air Support that succeeded in frustrating the Fallschirmjager attacks.
6FJR, now out of ammunition and supplies, was forced to withdraw from the town during the night leaving a small rearguard, mainly composed of those too injured to move.
12th June Counter-Attack
Supporting units of 17th Waffen-SS Division Gotz von Berlichegen arrived in the assembly area on 12th June and the next day they and 6FJR launched a counter-offensive with the aim of re-capturing the strategically important town. Initially successful it was only the arrival of the US 2nd Armoured division and Tactical Air Support from the 9th Air Force which forced the German units to finally withdraw thus ending one of the most successful delaying actions of the Normandy Campaign and which would characterize the spirit of German defence in the coming months.
The impression given in the Band of Brothers series is one which had the 101st Airborne almost strolling into Carentan to take the town single-handed in the space of half an hour.
In reality, it took constant and massive Allied artillery barrages supported by air and armour support and two days hard fighting, primarily by the US 502nd Regt 101st Airborne Division and the US 327nd GIR before the beleaguered Jaegers of 6 FJR, who became known colloquially as ‘The Lions of Carentan’, without armour or air support and facing an overwhelming superiority in men and materiel were forced to withdraw in good order from the town into the surrounding Bocage.
Arnhem September 1944 – ‘Hells Highway’
Following the withdrawal from Carentan and having fought a bitter delaying action throughout July and August which saw the battered survivors of 6FJR, now less than 1000 strong, escaping from the Coutances Pocket, the Regiment was sent to Beverloo in Western Belgium to re-equip and re-organise.
Meanwhile, on the morning of 17th September word came in of massive Allied airborne landings near Eindhoven. Operation ‘Market-Garden’, the biggest airborne landing in history had begun.
Under heavy and direct artillery and mortar fire, Kampffgrupe Walther faced a determined Allied armoured thrust and lost contact with 6FJR who were emplaced to the western side of the infamous highway. Although by the evening of 19th Allied airborne and armoured forces had managed to take Eindhoven, 6FJR managed to hold on to their positions and exerted considerable pressure on Allied attempts to relieve the beleagured airborne forces in Nijmegen and Arnhem.
The Ardennes and Germany
Obstlt. Von der Heydte, former commander of 6FJR formed a unit under the command of the Sixth SS Panzer Army, and was ordered to drop on the main road junction 11km (6.87 miles) north of Malmédy to support the German attack in the Ardennes – the main route for US reinforcements being sent to the area. The drop would be made at night, with no photographs of the area or prior reconnaissance provided. The drop was scheduled to be made at 04:30 hours on 16 December, but transport problems resulted in the paras getting to the airfields late. Kampfgruppe Heydte eventually boarded the aircraft and took off in appalling weather. Allied flak dispersed the formation and pilot error ensured that the Fallschirmjäger were dispersed over a wide area. In fact, on the ground von der Heydte could only assemble 125 men, and all the heavy weapons were lost.
Despite fighting their way back towards German lines, their mission now unachievable, many of his men were captured and von der Heydte himself fell into enemy hands.
The last German airborne operation of World War II had ended in disaster.
Germany and the end
The 2nd Parachute Division, containing many of the men from 6FJR, was reformed in Holland in late 1944 and went into action in January 1945 in the Hurtgen/Ruhr fighting. It ended the war in the Ruhr Pocket in April 1945.
By 8 May all fighting in the West came to an end.
Fallschirmjager troops were classified as light infantry and in early operations, often jumped with just an automatic pistol and grenades, retrieving their weapons from containers on landing.
The Luger P08, the Walther P38 and the Walther PPK were the most common issue, although captured foreign weapons were issued in small numbers.
The Mauser K98 7.92mm rifle was issued as a standard sidearm. NCOs and Officers generally carried the Erma Produced MP38/MP40 9mm sub-machine gun.
A Czech version of the K98, developed specially for Gebirsjager and Fallschirmjager troops, also chambered in 7.92mm and known as the G33/G40 was also carried and was distinguished by the fact that it was shorter than the standard K98.
The MG34 and later, and more numerous MG42 were carried as squad support weapons and could produce a very high rate of sustained fire.
An automatic rifle known as the FG42 was developed specially for Fallschirmjager troops and was capable of operating in both semi and fully automatic roles. It was chambered in the standard Mauser 7.92mm cartridge and was highly popular and very reliable. Despite this only 7,000 were produced by the end of the war. However, many of its advanced design features were incorporated into modern support weapons including the M60 Machine Gun.
Fallschirmjager wore a blue-grey single breasted tunic with fly front known as the Fliegerbluse, which was initially developed for all Luftwaffe flying personnel. The Luftwaffe eagle was worn on the right breast and the collar patches, which denoted rank, were golden yellow as was uniform piping.
A rimless version of the standard Heer Stalhelm, known as the M1938, was worn and was secured with a very effective three point harness.
Special Springhosen or Jump Trousers were field grey in colour and worn with either side laced or front laced 12 hole jump boots.
A Jump Smock in either Luftwaffe B Splinter Pattern or Sumpf-Tarn camouflage was designed to be worn over the uniform in combat and after initial production as a step-in design, was produced as a standard zipped and buttoned model.
Equipment was supported by lightweight Y-straps, which lacked the standard shoulder D-rings found on army models, and were also produced in canvas tropical pattern.
Items carried include a water bottle (Sometimes 2 were carried in jump operations), a Breadbag, bayonet, shovel, cloth gas mask bag and pistol holster.
Ammunition was often carried in a specially produced cotton Bandoleer designed to accommodate either K98 or FG42 magazines/clips, although standard leather pouches were used as the war progressed.
NCOs and Officers carried an MP40 pouch designed to hold either 3 or 6 magazines.
Fallschirmjager companies also had supporting units such as Mortars and Anti-Tank units armed with a variety of weapons including the excellent Panzerfaust disposable launcher or the re-usable Panzershreck.