|This picture is from Der Adler (The Eagle) (published 16 August 1940). It shows the Fallschirmjäger attack on Waalhaven (Rotterdam Airport) on 10 May 1940.|
|General Kurt Student inspecting Fallschirmjäger Regiment 3, Sicily August 1943.|
|The first Fallschirmjäger working on technique at an exhibition during the 1936 Olympics. It must have been difficult to swim with those heavy packs.|
|Fallschirmjäger training in the gym.|
|Fallschirmjäger with MP.38 submachine gun.|
For starters, they needed a plane, and the Junkers Ju 52 was available. It was slow and had a large weight capacity, which is necessary for paratroopers. Unfortunately, the Ju 52 also was very vulnerable to both ground- and air-attack, but that became a problem only later.
|Alighting at Crete.|
|Fallschirmjägern in a DFS-230 glider.|
|Out we go!|
In addition, the Luftwaffe and Heer (army) both laid some claim to the Fallschirmjäger and thus credit for their successes would be dispersed - leading the Luftwaffe command to prefer to focus on other areas rather than share any credit.
Battle of DombåsAt the urging of Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Hitler decided during the winter of 1939/40 to seize Denmark and Norway. The invasion, Operation Weserübung ("Weser Exercise"), began on 9 April 1940 and went fairly smoothly. Most of the Fallschirmjäger participated on the first day of the invasion, though not as a discrete force. Copenhagen surrendered quickly, and the highly populated areas of southern Norway soon followed. The first opposed paratroop attack in history took place on the first day of the invasion when the Fallschirmjäger took the Norwegian airbase of Sola near Stavanger in a surprise assault. It was a big achievement because the airfield could protect German convoys to and from Norway, but much more important objectives loomed. The first big test for the Fallschirmjäger was at the Battle of Dombås.
|A Fallschirmjäger fell with no control over the descent, dangling like a doll.|
|Fallschirmjäger dropping near Dombås, 14 April 1940.|
|One of the Junkers Ju 52s shot down during the drop at Dombås.|
|The main objective at Dombås, a railway station.|
The Fallschirmjäger spent the night at a farm just to the south of Dombås after the main body caught up with Schmidt. The Norwegians had no idea where Schmidt and his men were, so they attacked without much preparation. Against all odds, the Fallschirmjäger beat them off.
The Norwegians had the outnumbered Fallschirmjäger cornered, but just when it seemed that the end was near, a snowstorm muddled everything. The Fallschirmjäger counterattacked and threw the Norwegians back toward Dombås. Early the next morning, the Fallschirmjäger continued along the road to Dombås. They repelled more attacks by the Norwegians and finally took refuge at a farm. Schmidt's men were able to cut the railway, but only if they made it to the railway station could they hope to do any damage with strategic value.
At that point, the Norwegians closed in and brought up artillery. Schmidt held out for a couple of days, but finally surrendered. He managed to slightly delay, but not stop, the passage of the royal family and the gold along the nearby tracks. Repatriated not long after when the advancing ground forces freed him, Schmidt recovered and later published a book of his experiences which greatly helped the image of the Fallschirmjäger within the Wehrmacht.
|Oberleutnant Herbert Schmidt upon receiving the Knight's Cross to the Iron Cross for his actions at Dombås (Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L04881).|
HollandThe coming operations in Holland and Belgium presented some unique issues that Fallschirmjäger could help solve, so Hitler called Student in. Hitler gave Student a list of nine objectives he thought that Fallschirmjäger could help achieve, and asked him to choose two. Kurt Student decided to focus on seizing bridges over the Meuse and fortresses near Ghent. However, due to a security breach, the objective changed to the Belgian fortress of Eben Emael, north of Liege. This dominated a key route to the Belgian heartland and was considered invulnerable.
|The parachute drop during the invasion of Holland and Belgium.|
|Fallschirmjager at Fort Eben Emael.|
|A Fallschirmjäger from 7./FJR 1 firing a captured Vickers machine gun at the Moerdijk bridgehead.|
|Adolf Hitler with fallschirmjäger, all showing their new Iron Crosses with which the Chancellor has just decorated them for their success at Eben Emael, Belgium May 1940 (colorized).|
CreteKurt Student was laid up until September, and in fact according to some never really made a full recovery mentally. Fortunately, his sidekick Trettner was quite capable. Goering wanted to raise four more airborne divisions quickly and try to invade England with them, but cooler heads in the Wehrmacht prevailed.
|A Fallschirmjäger - possibly also Schmeling - boards a Junkers Ju 52. He grips his static line in his teeth so that his hands are free to pull himself into the plane. Operation Mercury, 20 May 1941.|
|The armband awarded to enlisted men for service during Operation Mercury.|
|A Junkers Ju 52 coming in low over Crete, 20 May 1941.|
|Parachutists dropping on Crete, May 1941.|
|On the ground at Crete.|
|Fallschirmjäger arriving on Crete in a Lastensegler DFS 230 (Ang, Federal Archives, Bundesarchiv Bild 141-0816).|
|A Junker 52 at Crete-Maleme, 21 June 1941 (Ang, Federal Archives).|
|General Kurt Student at Chania/Crete, May 1941, with 1st Lieutenant Gerhard "Eule" ("Owl") Schacht.|
Crete has shown that the day of the paratroops is over.In the long run for the Wehrmacht, this probably was the right move. Tactics simply were not sufficiently worked out to use Fallschirmjager with high confidence of success.
|Fallschirm-Jäger armbands and badges. The left badge is the Fallschirmschützenabzeichen der Luftwaffe (Fallschirmjäger Badge), while the right one is the standard Erdkampfabzeichen der Luftwaffe (Luftwaffe Ground assault badge).|
North AfricaAfter Crete, Fallschirmjager would fight in every theater, but as an adjunct to ground troops. Never again would Fallschirmjager mount an independent operation to achieve an objective unattainable by land forces.
|A Fallschirmjager apparently in North Africa, 1942-1943.|
ItalyAfter the disaster at Tunis - or "Tunisgrad" as the Germans came to call it - the Germans mounted a very successful defense of Italy. While almost always retreating, a series of successful delaying actions made the theater a source of pride within the Wehrmacht.
|A Fallschirmjäger Unteroffizier in Italy, September 1943 (colorized by Doug).|
|A soldier of the 4 Fallschirmjäger Division (Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, sygn, 2-2164, colorized by Doug).|
|Operation Rösselsprung, 25 May 1944.|
Anti-partisan operations were not haphazard affairs. They typically included multiple regular Wehrmacht units and a well-planned assault from multiple directions on a particular area. There were several anti-partisan operations in the Army Group Center rear area in Russia, for instance, that involved real battles for control over vast stretches of territory (a Rayon/raion or oblast). Elsewhere, the anti-partisan operations generally were just as carefully planned but involved nebulous targets with no fixed defenses and partisans who could simply walk out of the area while blending in with everyone else. As an example, the Germans were determined to eliminate Tito and his partisans in Yugoslavia. Now, Yugoslavia was a special situation because there were competing communist and royalist partisans that did not particularly get along, but at various times they controlled vast sections of the region. They were a continuing problem for the Germans that drew full-scale military assaults.
Operation Rösselsprung began with a pre-assault bombardment and then an advance by ground troops of XV Mountain Corps. Then, at 07:00, 314 men of the SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon 500 jumped out Junkers Ju 52s at Drvar in the Independent State of Croatia, while 320 men landed nearby in gliders. The second wave of 220 men dropped later, accompanied by two gliders bringing in supplies at 12:00. Junkers Ju 87 Stukas attacked targets within Drvar and Bosanski Petrovac.
|The main objective of Operation Rösselsprung was Tito's mountain retreat, shown here in 1990 (Wikipedia).|
While historians don't look at these types of operations as being particularly successful in eradicating the partisan threat, it is like weeding the garden: you may not get all the weeds, but at least you keep them from taking over the entire yard.
RussiaGeneral Student proposed several major operations by his Fallschirmjäger in Russia. For example, he wanted to use his troops to capture the Crimea, and also to occupy the Kola Peninsula near Pechenga, Norway. However, the overall state of the Wehrmacht made any such operations too risky.
|A Fallschirmjäger with a Fallschirmjager Gewehr (FG) 42 with ZF4 optic sights.|
|This shot shows how the parachute opens. The plane also is dropping unit equipment.|
|Getting ready to jump.|
NormandyThe Fallschirmjäger troops were ready for the Allies. The 6th Fallschirmjäger Regiment of the 2nd Parachute Corps was near Carentan in the Cotentin Peninsula. They dug in around Saint-Lô and helped to stabilize the line after the initial Allied surge, then moved down to Brest around 13 June. On 11 July, the 9th Parachute Regiment launched a counterattack against the US 115th Infantry Regiment that caused the opposing Americans some problems. On the same day, the 3. Fliegerdivision took severe casualties, mainly from artillery, at St. Lo.
|A Fallschirmjäger during the summer of 1944 (Federal Archive).|
|Fallschirmjäger in Normandy.|
|2 Fallschirmjäger Division men and officers after surrendering at Brest, 19 or 20 September 1944 (colorized by Richard James Molloy).|
However, he eventually gained command of Wehrmacht forces in Holland - just in time for British Operation Market-Garden in mid-September 1944. He personally watched Allied airborne troops land near his headquarters house on 17 September. He captured some enemy plans and, understanding the limitations of parachute troops, organized the defense that stopped the Allies cold at Arnhem.