Fallschirmjäger: German Paratroopers 1937-1941. Images of War series,

Fallschirmjäger: German Paratroopers 1937-1941. Images of War series,

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4.5 Mushroom Heads
François Cochet is a Belgian author whose main interest lies in the battles of the Second World War. Over the last 80 years he has met and interviewed many German ex-soldiers of the Wehrmacht and collected various memorabilia and documents. He enjoys helping others research this particular period, and this is his second image-based book. He currently lives in Flanders.

The German Fallschirmjäger (Paratroopers) were elite troops during the Second World War, regularly tasked with difficult or dangerous jobs and were regularly employed on the front line. Their famed actions include the fighting in the Scandanavian countries, the capture of the Belgian fortress of Eban-Emal in 1940 and the landings and battles of Crete a year later all demonstrate how they earned the reputation for being determined, courageous and loyal soldiers.

This excellent volume in the "Images of War" series by Pen and Sword Publications is divide into 5 main chapters, preceded by a short introduction and mini-glossary. Chapter One deals with the origins of the Fallschirmtruppen (Parachute Troops) and the introduction of Lieutenant-Colonel Kurt Student. Later to become a General, Student was inexorably linked to the Fallschirmtruppen. From his WW1service as an ace pilot, Student was outraged that the Versailles Treaty disqualified Germany from having an air force. This was countered by German pilots training Russian allies in flying skills. It was while on secondment to Russia that Student witnessed first-hand the capabilities of airborne troops. (Russia had the World's first Parachute regiment, formed in 1927).

Chapter two introduces us to consolidation of the Fallschirmjäger under the auspices of the Luftwaffe rather than the Heer. All Fallschirmjäger were gathered under the 7th FliegerDivision. During the invasion of Poland, Fallschirmjäger troops were employed on airfield defence as the rapidity of the armoured advance by the Panzer Corps negated their need in an offensive role. The invasion of the Scandanavian countries was led by the Paras, fighting with skill and tenacity, sometimes against overwhelming odds to achieve objectives or to hold until reinforcements arrived.

By far the greatest success of the early war years for the Fallschirmjäger, was the capture of the "impregnable" Fort of Eben-Emael and the Albert canal, allowing armoured troops access to the "neutral" countries of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. Although a glider assault as opposed to an airdrop, the raid was both tactically brilliant and devastatingly simple and put the Fallschirmjägers into German folk history.

Chapter three covers training and reorganization. Extra regiments were formed and with the 7th FliegerDivision were brought into the XI FliegerKorps. These new units were kept busy training for the intended Invasion of Britain, Operation Seelowe (Sea lion). Initially intended to be a mixed airdrop and glider-borne operation, the German High Command had underestimated the RAF and postponed the operation indefinitely.

Operation Merkur (The Battle of Crete) is covered in chapter 4 with what began disastrously for the Germans to the hard fighting and uncompromising stand of the Fallschirmjäger, to win at all costs. The loss off the battle co-coordinator Gen. Wilhelm Süssmann right at the star and the fact that the allies were waiting for them, led to the deaths of many Officers. Senior NCO's found themselves commanding companies, but did so with ruthless efficiency. Many Cretans openly supported the allies and many Germans were killed by gruesome means. This led to bloody reprisals and fuelled the cries of atrocities by the Germans.

The final chapter (5) tells of the invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa. Following losses of men and material on Crete, General Kurt Student famously said "Crete was the tomb of the German Paratrooper". The Fallschirmjäger were rapidly deployed to the Eastern Front, fighting as infantry soldiers and suffering appalling losses. It would seem that this was to be the death knell of the Fallschirmjäger.

I found this book excellent in it's description and narrative. It is clearly laid out with many first-class photos of the Fallschirmjäger in action. The training and uniforms of this elite fighting force are well-covered, as are descriptions of the battles fought. For a military historian and model maker, this is a must buy book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and rate it as a good 4½ out of 5.

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