Fallschirmjäger: German Paratroopers 1942 - 1945. Images of War series, by Francois Cochet.

Fallschirmjäger: German Paratroopers 1942 - 1945. Images of War series, by Francois Cochet.

ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
This second book in the Images of War series about the WW2 Fallschirmjägers takes up from where the first finished. Following the introduction and short glossary, Chapter One brings us back to Russia and the Winter of 1941, This, however was to prove very costly with over 3,00 Fallschirmjägers killed. As soon as spring returned, the majority of the Paratroopers were brought back to the Reich to reform and rebuild.
Following their return to the Reich, the first priority was recruits. and an important propaganda campaign was launched to encourage volunteers to the Paratroopers. This is highlighted in Chapter Two under the heading Reinforcements and Various Projects. Many young Germans volunteered and to accelerate training, Feldschirmjäger Regiments 1, 3 & 4 were sent to France, more particularly Normandy.

Chapter Three - Immediate reinforcements were needed by Rommel's units retreating from the British counter-offensive in Libya. A large detachment of the Fallschirm-Lehr-Batallion (mainly an Anti-Tank unit) was despatched under command of Major Walther Burkhardt. The largely improvised engagement was hardly a success. The troops sent to Africa had fought bravely, but had a hard time coping with the harsh African climate. Malaria and Diarrhea were common and their limited supply of food led to a poorly balanced diet.

By mid-1942, Rommel had captured Tobruk's fortress but reinforcements were needed. As a result, two new divisions and a parachute brigade were despatched. Luftwaffenjäger Brigade 1 was formed and commanded by GeneralMajor Bernhard Ramcke, a very well respected veteran of Crete and WW1 and known as "Papa Ramcke" by his troops.The arrival of Ramcke and his troops, told in Chapter Four, were insufficient to prevent the eventual outcome, but at least took the pressure off the beleaguered Rommel. Having suffered some severe losses, and constant harrassment by the enemy, the Paras were able to retreat to Tunisia in good order.

Chapter Five sees the Fallschirmjägers recovering in Tunisia. In November 1942, the British landed in Algiers. Rommel needed to break out through the Tunisian enclave as soon as possible in order to maintain the Axis presence in Africa. Reinforcements were rapidly sent to Tunis, many of them Fallschirmjägers from the Eastern Front. By the 7 April, American units joined forces with the British at El Hamma. The Tunisian pocket became a shrinking bridgehead which eventually led to surrender by the Germans on 9 May 1943.

Chapter Six covers Otto Skorzeny's rescue of Benito Mussolini from a mountain top hotel. Although Skorzeny received all the credit for the operation, it was Oberleutnant Georg freiherr von Berlepsch who actually planned and executed it as Skorzeny had no knowledge of parachuting or piloting a glider!

Next stop was the Aegean sea. Chapter Seven sees the Fallschirmjägers jumping on Leros and capturing the island from the British. It was vital to Hitler's plans that access to the Balkans via the Dodecanese was kept in German hands. This was probably the last of the large scale German Para-drops.

Chapter Eight catches up with Fallschirmjägers fighting in the Soviet Union. 2nd Fallschirmjäger Division was in constant action supporting 11 Panzer Division at Shitomir and Kiriwograd and by February were engaged in attempts to break the enforcement of the Cherkassy pocket. They were removed from the area in May 1944 to prepare for new engagements elsewhere. Many units were recalled in June to meet opposition in Normandy.

Monte Cassino was the next step for the Fallschirmjägers. As part of the defences of the Gustav line, it was vital that the Abbey and eventually Rome didn't fall into enemy hands. Chapter Nine tells us of the 118,000 allied and 20,000 German lives that were lost trying to take that Abbey! When it eventually fell, the way was clear to the alps and up through Italy into Central Europe.

Chapter Ten describes the tenacity of the fighting in and around the Normandy beaches; The hedgehog battles of the blockage and the attempted escapes from Caen and Falaise. As the Allies advanced through France, The Netherlands and the Ardennes, the Fallschirmjägers fought them all the way as Chapter Eleven relates.

The final Chapter, Twelve, tells of the gradual wearing down of the Axis forces. Small pockets of resistance were finally overrun with some units sticking to Hitler's edict "the last man and the last bullet". This proud, brotherhood of airborne soldiers had come full circle. Those left alive, surrendered mainly to a sympathetic enemy, who admired the courage and determination of the true warrior.

Having reviewed both books by Francois Cochet, I have to say he has done an excellent job in his telling of the famous "Green Devils". The pair are an excellent read for the historian and model maker alike, coupled with some very rare archive black and white photos. Cochet does tend to be partisan towards the Fallschirmjägers, delicately circumnavigation atrocities committed by the units and papering over any of distasteful bits.

I rate this volume as highly as the first so it's 4½ out 5 from me.

Smeggers.

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