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I The Blitzkrieg
in the Low Countries
THE Germans are bound to attack in the late spring or early summer. They simply cannot
wait until we and the British attain superiority in manpower and materials. It is the
French Minister at the Hague speaking, the clever and charming Baron de Vitrolles, and
the date of my conversation with him is January 1940. He continues: Where will the
battle be fought out? There are two traditional battlefields in Europe Lombardy and
Flanders. The second will be the scene of the big battle of the present war, just as it was of
another great war Waterloo. The Germans will attack via the Netherlands and Belgium
and the decisive battle of this war will develop somewhere within a radius of fifty miles
from Waterloo. It will be a war of movement. And in this kind of warfare we always have
been superior to the Teutons. The Ministers words, except the last sentence, were almost
prophetic. They showed that responsible French quarters knew that the attack on their
country was bound to come and that it would come via the Low Countries.

Why did France and the Low Countries not do everything in their power to forestall the
German move? The answer is a sad one. It is a tragic story of lack of statesmanship in
Belgium and the Netherlands, where King Leopold and Queen Wilhelmina refused to
conclude an alliance with the Western Powers or to make military arrangements between
the respective general staffs. It is a story, moreover, of incompetence, inefficiency and
fifth column activities both in the Low Countries and in France.
For two years the Low Countries had been living in constant fear that their mighty
neighbor, Nazi Germany, might launch a sudden attack against them and would start its
advertised Blitzkrieg against France across their territories. Though this fear had existed
for a long time, both Belgium and the Netherlands refused to make alliances or initiate
staff talks with the Western Powers. And though they refused to make arrangements for
the crisis, they expected these two Powers to help them when it came. As far back as the
end of March 1939 the world press published alarming reports of Germanys intention to
launch an attack against Switzerland and Holland. All the small neutrals felt it necessary
to take certain military precautions. Then in August 1939 the war clouds started to gather
in earnest. Again the small countries were compelled to effect precautionary measures.
Both Holland and Belgium took for granted that if war should break out over Danzig, the
Western Powers would try to help Poland by moving against Germany; whereupon
Germany, to counteract this move, would launch her motorized divisions into the Low
Countries with a view to pushing through into Northern France. Now Belgium had been
constructing considerable defense works ever since 1931. As the threat of war became
more imminent she increased the pace. Holland, owing to Socialist and other pacifist
influences and a long tradition of neutrality, had considerably neglected her defenses. Yet
she also started to develop fortifications and defense works, coupled with inundation
When I arrived in Holland in October 1939 there were persistent rumors, based on the
concentration of forty Nazi divisions opposite the Low Countries, of an imminent German
attack. At the beginning of November the situation became so tense that King Leopold,
tipped off by German friends, rushed to The Hague to see Queen Wilhelmina in the hope
that the two countries might avoid an invasion by making a conciliatory offer to Berlin
jointly. The meeting of the two rulers took place on November 6. The next day steelhelmeted police, armed with carbines and revolvers, suddenly appeared around all public
buildings in Dutch cities. Today we know that the Dutch Nazis had organized a putsch for
November 11. But the authorities discovered the plan in time and arrested many Nazis,
among them several score officers and soldiers. Furthermore, the head of the British secret
service, Captain Stevens, and his assistant, Sigismund Payne Best, were kidnapped on
November 9 by the Gestapo at a Dutch frontier village, Venloo. The next day the German
troop concentrations were augmented. Holland mobilized all her forces in readiness to
repel what seemed an imminent attack.
While I realized the seriousness of the situation, I was of the opinion at that time that this
German move was partly a measure of intimidation, but that most of all it was tactical.
One of the probable purposes of the German feint seemed to me to find out how Belgium
and Holland would act in case a Blitz attack really occurred; but more than that, its
purpose was to find out what the French and the British would do.

If this was the aim of the Germans they succeeded in attaining it. In November of last year
they knew exactly where and when the Dutch were going to flood their territories and
what regiments would be rushed where. They knew how quickly the first line of the Dutch
defenses could be manned in a crisis. The same occurred in Belgium. This was the
information the Germans needed to enable them to calculate the moves of their own army
so as always to be hours or even only a few minutes ahead of the respective
defensive moves of their opponents.
The Germans also learned through their spies about the movements of the French and
British troops along the extension of the Maginot Line. They came to the conclusion that
the French and British could not send help fast enough to Belgium and the Netherlands to
be effective if no special arrangements had been concluded in advance between those four
countries. They also wanted to find out whether the Allies were going to rush important
air forces to Holland. From their knowledge of Allied dispositions in the November 1939
crisis in the Low Countries the German Staff came to the conclusion that neither Holland
nor Belgium could count on really substantial arial help from Britain, and that almost
none would come from France.
Nevertheless, there were factors in both the Dutch and the Belgian defense moves the
Belgian especially which necessitated certain alterations in the original Blitzkrieg
plans. The Germans noticed that Belgium had been feverishly improving her defenses
along the Albert Canal. Yet the German plan was to launch the first blow at exactly the
same spot as in August 1914. It was a return to the original Schlieffen Plan, which did not
make the 1914 mistake of leaving out Holland. In 1914 the first Uhlans crossed the Meuse
south of Vis; in 1940 the German motorized divisions crossed the river north of Vis,
only a few miles distant. On revient toujours son premier amour.
But before actually launching their blow the Germans wanted to make a further rehearsal
which would also serve the purpose of attracting the Belgians attention to a part of their
defenses where the Germans had no intention of attacking. For this purpose an incident
was shrewdly staged. An airplane with two German staff majors landed near the Belgian
frontier, allegedly because of lack of gas. In the plane were found the plans of an
impending attack, presumably scheduled for January 13, 1940. According to these plans
the Germans contemplated piercing the Belgian defense lines between Andenne and Huy
on the Meuse River. The subterfuge worked. The Belgians now started feverishly to fortify
their positions in that sector, diverting their attention from the Lower Meuse and the
Albert Canal where four months later the decisive German attack was actually launched.
After this second alerte in Belgium in January 1940, came a third at the beginning of
April. It, too, turned out to be another feint, this time designed to divert attention from the
German movement of troops in preparation for the attack against Denmark and Norway.
Two days afterwards that attack took place. The alerte of January 1940 had already caused
Belgium to take a further step towards completing her mobilization. The Belgian
mobilization consisted of five phases, of which D was the last. By it virtually all men
who could carry arms or were experts were mobilized. Belgium had now put phase D
into operation. In April Holland also took further mobilization measures and continued
feverishly working on her defenses.
Hardly had the excitement caused by the start of the Norwegian campaign died down

when it was renewed by fresh rumors of an impending attack on the Low Countries. It
became known that the Germans had constructed concrete piers in the Moselle and Sauer
Rivers opposite Wasserbillig and Echternach (both in Luxembourg), and it seemed
obvious that these piers were part of a construction by which German tanks were to ford
the two rivers. The fright in the city of Luxembourg reached such proportions that many
persons fled into neighboring Belgium. There also were great German troop movements
which obviously were intended to intimidate the Netherlands and Belgium. Along the
whole stretch of German frontier from the North Sea down to the Saar that is, facing
the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg the Germans had by then concentrated
eighty divisions (including, as I said above, fourteen of their seventeen motorized
divisions). About May 6 there was every evidence that the German attack was soon to be
launched. All leaves in the Dutch and Belgian Armies were stopped and for three nights
Dutch patrols had to stay constantly in their foremost defense positions in a state of
complete readiness.
May 9 apparently brought some alleviation of the strain. Military circles in Brussels
became convinced that the attack was postponed, at least for a few days. Why did the
Belgian General Staff think the Germans had postponed the date of the attack? According
to a semi-official Belgian explanation, the relaxation of tension came from the fact that
several of the German motorized divisions were known to have been moved away from
the district of Aix-la-Chapelle. (Where they were taken was not then known. We found out
later that they had been moved overnight to positions opposite Luxembourg!) The fifth
column in Belgium helped to emphasize this change for the better by talking about the
new disposition of the German tank corps. Some of my Belgian friends have openly said
that members of the Belgian General Staff must have been, knowingly or unknowingly,
tools of the German secret service. At any rate, they accepted the illusion of a dtente to
such a degree that on May 9 leaves were restored in the Belgian Army.
Only a few hours later the truth was known. About 4:30 A.M., when dawn was just
breaking, more than a hundred German bombing planes appeared over Brussels and
discharged their deadly cargoes. At the same time an attack was launched against the
frontiers of the three Low Countries from the North Sea to the Saar. But the brunt of the
attack was directed at two points: against the undefended small Grand Duchy of
Luxembourg, and against the Maastricht appendix. The old Schlieffen Plan! The chief
attack did not come where the Germans feigned it was coming in January, namely between
Namur and Lige on the Meuse, but on the Meuse above Lige and on the Albert Canal.
Undoubtedly the Germans knew that this Maastricht corner was probably the weakest spot
in the Albert Canal defenses. They had laid their plans well to subdue it. The bridge on the
Meuse (Maas) at Maastricht, in Dutch territory, fell into their hands through treason. The
bridge across the Albert Canal which continued the railroad and highway coming from
this Maastricht bridge was also of great strategical importance. It fell to them intact. The
Belgians alleged that the officer in charge of the dynamite chamber was killed by a
German arial bomb, and thus was unable to carry out the blowing up of the bridge. The
Germans openly boast that they bought the whole group which was to blow up the bridge.
As a matter of fact, much the same thing happened twenty miles to the northwest, where
another important bridge on the Albert Canal was not blown up. It is given as an
extenuating circumstance that this bridge was full of refugees and that the officers were

hesitant to blow up their own compatriots. This may or may not be true. But if it is true,
then their hesitation contributed heavily to bring about the downfall of their whole
Another bad case was that of the fortress Eben Emael. This formidable group of strong
forts was one of the strongest parts of the Lige system. That system consisted of the
Lige fortress proper and of the four other fortresses of the Lige plateau: Neufchteau,
Pepinster, Battice and Eben Emael. Battice was the mighty fort which dominated Aix-laChapelle; Eben Emaels function was to rule the road from Aix-la-Chapelle to Maastricht
and beyond. It was put out of action by the Germans as early as noon on the very first day
of the campaign, May 10.
According to the Belgian semi-official version, Eben Emael was taken so soon because the
Germans concentrated all their surprise technique on it
an extraordinarily violent barrage of heavy guns and vigorous arial bombardment, in
combination with an attack by parachutists. Now it is true that this sudden onslaught on a
garrison not yet tried in war must have confused the defenders; but Eben Emael consisted
of a whole series of forts and pillboxes. The Germans made similar extremely heavy
attacks on other fortresses in the Lige district, and these fortresses were still holding out
five and six days later. Why did the strongest and most modern of them all surrender so
quickly? One cannot help feeling that what was believed by some military attachs must
have been true, namely that Flemish traitors contributed to the result.
The capture of the key fortress of Eben Emael and of three bridges on the Meuse and the
Albert Canal opened the way to the German motorized columns. When I visited the Albert
Canal defenses in April of this year, Belgian staff officers told me that they calculated
these defenses could hold out for twenty days. Other more conservative foreign observers
believed that the Belgians would be able to hold on at the Albert Canal for at least five
days. Five days were considered enough to bring French and British troops up to the
second line, Antwerp-Louvain-Namur. On the very first day of the German invasion, the
Germans had succeeded in piercing the defense line which was expected to hold out
anywhere from several days to several weeks.
While German motorized troops were pouring into Belgium through the gap thus created,
German bombing planes (allegedly numbering about two thousand, and in any event many
hundreds strong) were busy all the morning bombing the remaining Belgian positions
between Hasselt and Lige, as well as the rest of the Belgian lines. It seems that the
material damage caused by these German bombers was small in proportion to the numbers
used, but the moral effect was devastating. According to Belgian officers who participated
in the last war, the air bombardments of this year were not nearly so deadly and efficient
as the old heavy-artillery barrages used to be. But German propaganda succeeded in all
countries in creating such a psychosis about arial bombardments that when the deadly
cargoes of the bombing planes were released on the Belgian troops their morale
completely collapsed; and by the afternoon of May 10 the Belgian line between Hasselt
and Lige was already in dissolution. This bombardment was carried through with the
evident aim of spreading fear. According to what I learned from Belgian officers, many of
the German flyers were quite young and had only had from four to eight weeks of training.
Their machines were inferior. All this was by design. The Germans did not think it
necessary to sacrifice good machines to spread frightfulness. Any young aviator who

knew how to fly in formation and had been taught how to release bombs was good
enough; there was no need for dive bombing or even for flying low. It was different with
the airplanes sent to bomb Brussels or military objectives behind the lines. Those were
excellent Heinkels or Dorniers, with highly trained crews.
When I visited the eastern suburbs of Brussels in the morning of May 11 I found to my
great amazement that they were filled with Belgian soldiers, in full equipment, already
back from the front. They were surrounded by anxious crowds inquiring what had
happened. They told of a complete dbcle. In exaggerating the magnitude of the German
attack they helped create further uneasiness amongst the Brussels population, already
panicky as a result of the constant bombardment of the city by German planes. Soon the
streets of Brussels itself were full of returning soldiers, mixed with refugees coming from
northeastern Belgium. I saw trucks bearing the inscriptions of various cities Lige,
Verviers, Tongres. Three Belgian divisions were in complete dissolution, and others had
been badly affected by desertions.
What I saw on this the second day of the totalitarian war in Brussels was a replica of the
debacle of the Italian Army described by Ernest Hemingway in his book Farewell to
Arms. It was another Caporetto. Half-hearted attempts were made to collect the
demoralized troops and reform them at the Cinquantenaire exhibition grounds. The
effort was in vain. Most of them continued their hasty retreat and I encountered some of
them again a few weeks later in southern France.
A remaining section of the Belgian Army tried to reorganize on the second line of defense,
namely on the line Antwerp-Louvain-Namur. By May 12 two British divisions and some
French troops had arrived on this line and tried to bolster up the badly shattered Belgian
forces. Though many of the British were unexperienced territorials, they fought bravely
against heavy German odds, standing up heroically under the devastating massbombardments of the German airplanes. British fighting planes were still absent, or
present in very small numbers. The Germans were able to bomb the British troops
On this day, May 12, the Germans repeated their technique of the first day, sending an
incredibly large number of planes (arriving in groups of 300 every half hour) to bomb the
Belgian-British positions between Louvain and Namur. The bombardment along the center
of the line was done by inexperienced flyers who loosed bombs in masses just to terrorize;
but on the two wings expert bombers were working on the two fortress cities of Namur
and Louvain. Within a few hours they were reduced to smouldering ruins. The destruction
of Louvain and Namur, and the partial destruction of Antwerp, deprived the British of
important pivotal points; for by the time larger numbers of British troops reached these
places there were no depots, stores or billets left. This made their continued defense
almost impossible.
At this juncture an important question of responsibility must be raised. The dbcle of the
Belgian Army in the northeast during the very first hours of the war must have been
known to the British and French General Staffs. What a newspaper man like myself knew
in the first 48 hours, British and French military observers must certainly have known too.
Why was no urgent warning issued to dissuade the respective staffs from sending further
troops into positions which were bound to prove traps? Or if such a warning was issued,

why was it not heeded?

This is a question of judgment and responsibility in the field. The underlying
responsibility rests largely with King Leopold as Commander-in-Chief of the Belgian
armies. It is almost impossible to send troops suddenly into a foreign country to assist an
untried army efficiently if no previous plan has been concluded between the respective
general staffs. King Leopold had absolutely refused to conclude such an agreement. It was
the death blow to his country. Even so, when the British heard (and they must have heard
it, despite the optimistic reports sent out by the Belgian Army) that the Belgian troops had
experienced a Caporetto on the Albert Canal, they should have desisted from sending
further reinforcements into Belgium. Had they rested in their fortifications which formed
an extension of the Maginot Line, they might have withstood the German attack with a
fair chance of success. I believe (and some military experts share this view) that resistance
was possible on the extension of the Maginot Line, despite the gap made by the Germans
near Sedan. But let us now turn our attention to the southern part of the Belgian lines.
While the divisions of the British Army were extremely quick in reaching eastern
Belgium, the French Army organization failed completely in getting its reinforcements
fast enough to those places in Belgium which, according to the plans of the French
General Staff, were to be protected by French troops. The British calculation had been that
it would take them five days to reach the Louvain-Namur line; many British troops,
however, reached this line on the second day. The French calculated that they could take
over the Namur-Givet line within 48 hours; but after that period had passed they still were
far from their positions.
Before examining what happened south of Namur, we must make an excursion to the
Ardennes part of Belgium, a hilly, rough country, broken by many woods and rivers. This
part was fortified by a system of pillboxes and small forts. At the beginning of the
Blitzkrieg the Germans did not concentrate their attack on the Ardennes. Instead, they
rushed their troops into undefended Luxembourg. The Luxembourg Army consisted of
156 men and the city was already full of German fifth columnists disguised as tourists.
But everybody in Brussels believed that the French could launch their divisions into
undefended Luxembourg just as quickly as the Germans could. In actual fact, the Germans
succeeded in occupying almost the entire Grand Duchy within a few hours without
meeting any serious resistance from the French. And when Luxembourg had been
occupied, the Germans were able to rush their troops into southeastern Belgium. With
their artillery they mowed down the first defenses. Instantly, German motorcyclist troops
rushed cross-country into the Belgian Ardennes at a speed of sixty miles an hour. The
motorcyclists did not wait to attack the pillboxes. That was left for the tanks that followed.
These passed the pillboxes and attacked them from the rear. The Ardennes was thus
occupied within 48 hours. This done, the German motorized troops were able to proceed
to the attack on the upper reaches of the Meuse, south of Namur.
It had been calculated, as I said above, that the French could take over the Belgian section
of the Meuse between Namur and Givet within two days. Here happened the other tragedy
of the war: the folding up of the French Ninth Army. It was this army, under the command
of General Corap, which was supposed to take up the positions between Namur and Givet.
Ever since the beginning of May extreme vigilance had been ordered along all the Allied

fronts. Yet General Corap was absent from his headquarters when the war began and
arrived back only some hours later. Six bridges on the Meuse were not blown up. By May
12 the whole Ninth Army was supposed to have taken over the defense of the Meuse
below Namur. But only fractions of it had arrived. Over the unblown bridges, German
motorized troops were pouring into France. No doubt, the German effort near Sedan was
carried through with a large number of motorized divisions. But where were the French
tanks? Where were the French troops, the French artillery, the French anti-tank guns? Is it
any wonder that the word treason was spoken openly among the rank and file? And it
either was treason or unforgivable incompetence. For General Corap and his staff failed
absolutely to carry through a plan drafted and calculated in minute detail by the experts in
Paris. It is true that there proved to be much inefficiency in the French Army. There also
was a surprise element in the German attack. Granted. But there is no excuse for six
unblown bridges, for troops far behind their schedule, for artillery unused.
Whatever the reason, on May 12 the German armored and motorized divisions were
pouring into France. In a few hours the breach was fifty miles wide and almost as deep.
Tanks, spreading fire and destruction, supported by airplanes with which they were
connected by radio contact, were rapidly advancing. The task of bringing up French
reinforcements was being impeded by the desperate flight of refugees from the invaded
districts. German fifth columnists had been planted in advance in the border regions to
induce panic. Others mingled with the refugees and carried the alarm from one town and
village to the next.
Nevertheless, I still maintain that this breach between Dinant and Sedan could have been
filled up (just as the breach at Verdun in the March offensive in 1918 was filled up) if
there had been a firm and continuous front along the Belgian-French border. But this front
was in movement, because large numbers of British troops were still pouring into
Flanders, not realizing that their right flank was in danger. On May 15 the French
evacuated Namur, and on May 16 the British fell back on Brussels.
We heard the sound of the heavy guns in Brussels, and saw more and more British troops
coming in to the defense of the Belgian capital. By that time the Seventh French Army,
which had been sent to operate in the Zeeland part of Holland, was obliged to withdraw to
Antwerp. Its able commander, General Giraud, was later captured by the Germans.
On May 17 I left Brussels, which now was in the war zone. The same day the British
troops fell back to the Dendre River, a day later to the Scheldt River, where they offered
heroic resistance. Only on May 20 did they give up their positions on the Scheldt. They
then fell back on the Lys, the river where they fought so well 23 and 22 years ago. Their
subsequent retreat and evacuation via Dunkerque is too well known to need description
here. While the British put up a magnificent fight, the behavior of the French divisions
was irregular. Though some disappointed the friends of France, others upheld the best
French traditions, and one heard of decimated regiments and companies offering
resistance over and over again to the invaders. But nobody could make good the mistake
committed by the British and French General Staffs in unwisely sending their troops too
far into Belgium, and nothing could repair the Belgian catastrophe on the Meuse in the
first hours of the campaign.
Let me now revert briefly to the causes of the defeat of the Netherland Army. The Dutch,

unlike the Belgians, fought really heroically. When in February of this year I visited the
Dutch defenses, one of the high officers told me confidentially that the Dutch expected to
hold out two days on the first line, two days on the second the Grebbe Line and that
altogether they hoped to resist the attacker for six or seven days. They kept the timetable
in the first five days (except only at Maastricht) and capitulated only after the fifth. By that
time fifth column activities had weakened their resistance, especially in the rear, and no
more supplies could reach the fighting forces.
The fifth column in Holland was organized in part directly by the Germans, in part by the
Dutch Nazis under the leadership of A. Mussert and Rost van Tonningen working with the
Germans. Mussert was a man of small abilities; the deputy leader, Rost van Tonningen,
formerly League of Nations Commissioner for Austria, was an ambitious and more able
man who coperated very closely with Baron von Hahn, an official of the German
Legation in The Hague.
Baron von Hahn was the putsch expert of the German Nazis. He had fled from Austria
after helping to organize the putsch which ended Chancellor Dollfusss life. He was asked
to leave his posts in Hungary and Belgium, but the unfortunate Dutch Government
allowed him to be installed as a member of the German Legation at The Hague. There he
exploited to the full the pacifism of the ruling house and of the ruling class. Queen
Wilhelminas pacifism made her sympathize with the Oxford Movement. The
representative of that movement for Scandinavia and Holland an American, the
Reverend Mr. Blake was not only popular in high society in The Hague, but was seen
in company with Baron von Hahn. Another and unsuspecting link between the Nazis and
Dutch higher circles was Prince Bernhard, a good friend of the German Minister, Herr von
In all, the German Legation in The Hague had 43 members entitled to extraterritorial
privileges, five of them with the rank of counsellors. In addition, there were the staffs of
the German consulates in The Hague and other Dutch towns. In these headquarters the
plans for fifth column activities were made and from them the various orders were
distributed. In addition, the Germans had able journalists to help in their propaganda work.
To The Hague they sent Herr Aschmann, the former Chief of the Press Bureau in the
Wilhelmstrasse; and the present German press chief, Dr. Dietrich, repeatedly visited
The Dutch Nazis had their representatives in the army, navy, air force, meteorological
institute, as well as here and there throughout the government offices; in addition fifth
columnists in large numbers were supplied direct from Germany in the form of tourists
and businessmen. Some of these were actually camouflaged soldiers. Thus, just prior to
the outbreak of hostilities three large Rhine barges arrived in Rotterdam, supposedly laden
with German goods. In reality they contained German soldiers who on the morning of
May 10 spread out to undertake various assigned jobs in the city. These first troops were
soon reinforced by Nazi officers and noncommissioned officers arriving on transport
planes. In coperation with parachutists and Dutch Nazi fifth columnists they captured a
section of Rotterdam and the aerodrome of Waalhaven. Desperate attempts were made by
the Dutch, and later by the British, to take Waalhaven back. But even with the help of the
R.A.F. they never succeeded.

In Belgium, where the fifth column was not organized on the same scale as in the
Netherlands, many parachutists were shot down descending from the air; the few who
landed unnoticed in woods during the cover of the night proved no more dangerous than
fifth columnists already present in the country. After all, resident fifth columnists can
destroy railroad junctions and stores and put communications out of order even more
effectively than parachutists. The parachutists become deadly when they can be advertised
to such an extent that they create a psychosis. In Brussels and other Belgian towns I saw
people shouting parachutists at a swallow, and the police and soldiers would have to
abandon important jobs to scour the neighborhood.
Nor were the Germans particularly successful with their troop transport planes in the
Netherlands except in cases where they managed to land on an uncontested flying field
with fifth columnists ready in the neighborhood to help. Many of the Junker trooptransports, very bulky and heavy, were wrecked by antiaircraft gunfire or by mishaps in
landing on the soft Dutch soil.
The causes of the German successes in the Netherlands, as in Belgium and Northern
France, were partly superiority in numbers of planes and tanks, partly better armament,
such as double-breasted armorplate on tanks and rapid fire large-caliber antitank guns. But
all this, I believe, would not have availed them had they not already enlisted other allies
incompetence, treason and fifth column sympathizers.
Back of these immediate factors was, in the case of Holland, the one I have mentioned
already the fact that the De Geer government always followed a policy of absolute,
consistent and blind neutrality. It refused to treat on military and political matters, not only
with England and France, but even with Belgium.
In Belgium the methods employed by the Germans were similar. They aimed at
undermining civil government and at creating unrest in the army and air force as well as
among the police. They also promoted pacifism. King Leopold was a weak and
sentimental man, affected by a melancholy strain inherited from both his father and his
mother. His mothers Bavarian family had produced many gifted but abnormal people,
among them Louis II of Bavaria and the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. He also disliked
the English intensely. During the World War he was an exile in England, and it is an
accepted axiom that a foreigner learns either to love or to hate England in an English
public school. Leopold was not a success in his school days, and never got over it. The
friendship of a brilliant German lady also helped to increase his pro-German sympathies.
So did the advice of General van Overstraeten, his aide-de-camp, who always counselled
him to blind neutrality. The Roman Catholic Premier, Hubert Pierlot, and the Socialist
Foreign Minister, Paul-Henri Spaak, were definitely pacifists. Both also opposed military
understandings with Britain and France. They fought with all the means at their disposal to
maintain Belgian neutrality. This suited the Germans perfectly.
All these currents of pacifism were of course exploited by German agents. Otto Abetz, the
well-known German agent who had such a part in influencing various French politicians
and is now Hitlers diplomatic representative in France, was very active in Belgium also,
both in spreading propaganda and in distributing funds. At the outbreak of the war, Abetz
went back to Berlin to become the head of the propaganda section against France. His
colleague, Liebe, then took over the management of German propaganda in Belgium.

The Germans also naturally used the pro-Nazi elements among the German minorities in
Eupen, Malmdy and St. Vith. They exploited to the full the divergences between the
Flemish and the Walloon populations, and gave moral and financial support to the Flemish
extremists, the V.N.V. under the leadership of Declerq, as well as to the French-language
Fascist movement of the Rexists, led by Lon Degrelle.
If in the case of both countries I have seemed to overemphasize the rle of enemy agents
and domestic sympathizers and pawns, this is because their activities were better
organized than in other wars in modern times and because they were so astoundingly
successful. I do not underestimate the other factors. I only say that the organizing skill and
lavish expenditures of Nazi Germanys agents contributed directly to the defeat of the
Netherlands, Belgium and, subsequently, France.
Chapter II Fort Eben Emael
The German invasion of Belgium at the outbreak of World War I con
firmed General Brialmonts earlier assessment in 1887 that a fort was necessary to protect
the town of Vise through which General von Glucks powerful First Army swept in
August 1914. However, of equal importance was a fort to dominate the bridges connecting
Belgium and Holland over the newly created Albert Canal.
This was inaugurated on 30 May 1930, connecting Antwerp with Liege by a modern,
uninterrupted waterway within Belgiums national boundaries. The actual site for the new
fort was determined by the course of the Albert Canal itself. This began at the Lanaye
locks on the Meuse River and ran through a channel carved out of a massive hill feature
known as Mount St Peter that was some 40m high and dominated the surrounding terrain
as far as the German border. Known as the Caster cutting and some 1,300m long, it was a
remarkable engineering feat by the standards of the day and its high sheer sides created a
natural defensive position on the heights.
Planning for the fort continued through 1931 and construction began on 1 April 1932,
under the supervision of Commandant Jean Mercier of the Corps of Engineers. Major
works were completed in 1935 when the fort was declared operational, although
modifications and improvements continued until May 1940. The fortress was shaped like a
diamond with the narrowest point at its northern tip some 40m above the surrounding
terrain and directed towards the city of Maastricht. From north to south it was some 900m
long and 700m wide with an area of approximately 66 hectares (the equivalent of 70
American football pitches) of which some 40 were fairly level ground. It was here that the
forts main weapon systems were situated. To the north-east, the fortress was protected by
the sheer face of the Caster cutting. To the west lay the Geer River, which allowed the
approaches from that direction to be flooded. In addition, a 450m-long, lOm-wide
concrete-lined anti-tank ditch was dug along the side of the fort that ran southwards from
the Albert Canal. This anti-tank ditch was rendered a greater obstacle to tanks and infantry
by being filled with water fed from the Geer River. A 10m-wide, 4m-deep concrete
antitank ditch with extensive barbed-wire entanglements and steel anti-tank obstacles
bordered the southern flanks of the fortress and covered all approaches. Needless to say,
all these defences were covered by fire from various blockhouses located around the
perimeter of the fortress at ground level.

The blockhouses
At the south-western point of the fortress was Bloc 1. This two-storey structure was the
only entrance into the heart of the fortress. It was armed with two 60mm anti-tank guns
and three machine guns, as well as two searchlights. The entrance itself featured a heavy
gate, and the roadway into the fortress incorporated a retractable wooden section that
created a 4m-deep gap impassable to men and vehicles. This in turn was protected by a
further machine-gun emplacement in a protective embrasure to engage any enemy that
penetrated the outer defences. Anyone who tried to scale the gap in the roadway could
also be eliminated by grenades dropped through special slots in the wall. The fields of fire
of the weapons of Bloc 1 interlocked with those of Blocs 2 and 6 to cover the approaches
from the south and west. On top of Bloc 1 was an armoured observation dome covering
the surrounding terrain. The manpower for Bloc 1 comprised five NCOs and 23 soldiers.
Bloc 2 was located some 200m north of Bloc 1, and was situated at the head of the waterfilled anti-tank ditch on the western flank of the fortress. It also was armed with two
60mm anti-tank weapons and three machine guns, as well as two searchlights and an
armoured observation dome ontop. In addition, it featured a sally port to allow personnel
to counterattack from the position. The fields of fire of Bloc 2 extended from the Albert
Canal to the north and Bloc 1 to the south. The gun crew of Bloc 2 numbered four NCOs
and 22 soldiers. Although planned, there was no Bloc 3, but two special emplacements
were built on the banks of the Albert Canal covering the approaches along the waterway
and its towpaths. These were two-storey structures built into the sheer wall of the Caster
cutting. They were known as Canal Nord and Canal Sud and, being some 800m apart, they
were mutually supporting. Canal Nord was armed with a 60mm anti-tank gun, one
machine gun and a searchlight covering the Albert Canal towards the village and bridge at
Kanne, and two machine guns pointing in the other direction towards the ianaye locks and
Canal Sud. The latter had the same weapons but with the converse arrangement of its
60mm anti-tank gun covering the Lanaye locks and Meuse River.
Both emplacements featured an armoured observation dome on top incorporating firing
ports for an FM 30 machine gun and a flare gun, either for signalling or illuminating the
canal. These domes were considerably larger than Bloc 6 completed the ring of gun
emplacements circling the fortress, and it could also only fire in one direction, towards
Bloc 1. It was armed with two 60mm anti-tank guns, two machine guns, and a searchlight.
It also had an armoured observation dome. The latter weighed 6,700kg with a height of
150cm and an interior diameter of 80cm, which gave only sufficient room for a single
observer. The armour thickness was 20cm, and each dome incorporated four observation
slits of armoured glass that could be covered with metal shutters. The dome was designed
to be proof against artillery bursts of up to 22cm calibre. The searchlights were of two
types and were housed in a revolving armoured cylinder. The Willocq-Bottin model had
an effective range of 225m and the GZ33 type a range of 700m. Bloc 6 had a crew of three
NCOs and 17 soldiers.
The gun emplacements
These perimeter defences were designed to thwart attack from any direction, but the
fundamental purpose of the fortress was as an impregnable artillery battery that dominated
the surrounding terrain as far as the German border. To this end, a variety of gun
emplacements were landscaped into the top superstructure of the fortress.

As the three bridges over the Albert Canal carrying the roads and their approaches from
the Dutch town of Maastricht were the priority targets for the fort, two casemates, each
containing three 75mm quick-firing cannons, were configured in their direction. They
were known as Maastricht 1 and Maastricht 2. Maastricht 1 was landscaped into the hilly
north-western flank of the fortress, while Maastricht 2 was on top of the superstructure.
The latter also incorporated
The principal weapon systems of Fort Eben Emael were the four triple 75mm gun
casemates covering the towns of Maastricht and Vise. None of the other forts in the
Position Fortifiee de Liege had such gun emplacements.The latter were configured on
three levels with the main ammunition magazines on the intermediate level of the fortress
separated from the actual gun emplacement by two pairs of armoured double doors. The
ammunition rounds were transported from the magazines by handcarts through the
armoured doors and by means of lifts to the lower gallery of the gun emplacement. This

level contained the ammunition storerooms and preparation areas for the rounds such as
cleaning and fusing as well as the latrines for the gun crew that comprised five NCOs and
28 soldiers.The rounds were then passed up to the top level by three lifts two of which
were situated in the centre of the stairwell that allowed the crew access to the gunroom.
The 75mm quick-firing guns were based on the Krupp 1905 model that had been in
service with the Belgian army since before the Great War. The guns had a field of fire in
azimuth of 70 degrees with an elevation of-5 to +37 degrees.They had a maximum range
of I I km and a rate of fire of ten rounds a minute per gun. Royales de Canons) 75mm gun
was specially designed for this weapon system. With an elevation of -8 to +38 degrees, it
had a range of 10km and a maximum rate of fire of 25 rounds a minute, with a sustained
rate of half that. The guns fired two types of high explosives and a special canister round.
Similar to a giant shotgun cartridge, the latter was designated Boite a balles, and contained
205 lead balls each of 1.5cm diameter for engaging personnel on top of the fortress. With
a range of 200m, it was a devastating weapon against troops in the open an armoured
observation dome on its roof to allow direct vision over the Albert Canal and into the
Maastricht enclave. However, by the terms of Belgian neutrality, the guns were not
allowed to fire onto Dutch territory. The guns had a field of fire of 70 degrees, with an
elevation of -5 to +37 degrees, a range of llkm and a rate of fire of ten rounds a minute per
gun. There were two similar casemates configured to fire to the south towards the town of
Vise to cover the bridges across the Meuse River. These casemates were known as Vise 1
and Vise 2. Again, Vise 2 was landscaped into the southern flank of the fortress while Vise
1 was on top. These casemates each had a crew of five NCOs and 28 soldiers, although
Maastricht 2 had an additional three personnel who acted as observers for EBEN 3, the
armoured observation dome on top of the position.
Each of the casemates had two floors, with the upper gallery containing the three 75mm
guns and their crews as well as telephonists to relay the fire direction orders from the
fortress command post. The gunners of these casemates had limited direct vision with the
outside world and relied on preplanned fire orders that gave the bearing and elevation to
engage the requisite target, be it a bridge or an approach road. On the lower floor were the
ammunition store and the lift mechanisms to convey the rounds to the guns. The
casemates were built of reinforced concrete up to 2.75m thick, capable of sustaining
prolonged bombardment from 22cm artillery rounds and all contemporary aerial bombs.
Furthermore, the chances of being struck through the bombing techniques of the day were
negligible, and reduced further by the clever landscaping of the casemates, which were
painted to conform with the surrounding vegetation and concealed behind permanent
camouflage netting to disguise them from aerial observation by reconnaissance aircraft.
Throughout the late 1930s civilian Ju52s of Lufthansa, the German national airline,
regularly carried aerial cameras to photograph installations of interest to the German High
Command across Europe, including Fort Eben Emael.
While these four casemates were configured to bombard the specific targets of the bridges
to the north and south of the fortress, there were further gun emplacements to engage
targets of opportunity. Two of these were heavily armoured retractable cupolas armed with
twin 75mm guns. These were known as Coupole Nord and Coupole Sud due to their
geographical location on top of the fortress. Despite its name, Coupole Nord was located
on the south-eastern tip of the fortress where the diamond shape is at its broadest. Its twin,

Coupole Sud, was installed above Bloc 5 at the southernmost point of the fortress. Both
emplacements were capable of 360-degree rotation to allow their 75mm guns to fire in any
direction. On a given fire mission, the armoured cupola rose 53cm out of the ground to
reveal its twin 75mm guns and the aiming periscope in between. Once the fire mission
was complete, the cupola sank into the ground where its armoured carapace made it
immune to attack by conventional explosives. The outer shell was a single armoured
casting 38cm thick, with two inner layers of steel plates, each 2.5cm thick, interspersed
with a felt material lining. This configuration reduced the shock effect on the inside
following any explosion on the exterior of the cupola. The interior was also sealed against
gas attack. The gun crew comprised three NCOs and 22 soldiers.
The revolving cupola and gunroom weighed 120 tons and was raised by a counterweight,
with the power for elevation and rotation provided by electric motors with a manual
override in case of malfunction. Five men operated the guns, two loaders per gun and a
gunlayer seated between them manning the periscope and receiving fire orders through his
The Modele 1934 FRC (Fonderies
Above each gun was a telescopic sight for direct vision of the fortress roof in case of
infantry attack but most artillery engagements relied on preplanned fire orders that gave
the bearing and elevation to engage the requisite target be it a bridge or an approach road.
This type of fire mission was known as feu dinterdiction as it was intended to deny all the
approaches of the Albert Canal bridges to the enemy. The fire orders came from the
command post and were relayed to the gun crew by two telephonists in the upper level.
The 75mm guns fired three types of rounds with two being high explosive and the other
canister. The earlier model 75mm HE round had a range of 8km and contained 800g of
explosive while the later round had a range of I I km and contained 650g of
explosive.Accordingly, these rounds were not heavy enough to cause any serious damage
to the bridges themselves; for this reason the bridges were rigged with demolition charges
if their destruction was necessary. The third type of round was a canister round that
contained 234 I2g lead balls for engaging troops in the open. The casemates were built of
reinforced concrete up to 2.75m thick capable of sustaining prolonged bombardment from
22cm artillery rounds and all contemporary aerial bombs. The exteriors were painted in
green and brown stripes and all the gun emplacements were masked from aerial
observation by camouflage netting.
At the level below the gunroom, the ammunition was prepared by 14 soldiers and an NCO
and then loaded into hoists that served the guns. The third level comprised a machinery
room to power the cupola with an electrician and three other artificers in attendance. The
fourth and last level housed the main ammunition magazine, where ten soldiers and an
NCO retrieved the types and quantities of rounds required by the gunroom. These were
transported by handcarts to the ammunition lifts that conveyed them to the second level.
The two cupolas were thus able to engage targets anywhere within a 10km radius and even
targets on the fortress itself. Coupole Nord also incorporated an armoured door with an
integral machine gun to cover the open spaces atop the fortress and allow a counter-attack
in the unlikely event of enemy troops managing to gain the ground. It cannot be said that
the designers of Fort Eben Emael did not foresee the need to defend the top of the fortress
from infantry attack.

Two additional gun emplacements named Mi-Nord and Mi-Sud reaffirmed this: Mi
standing for mitrailleuse or machine gun. Their designation reveals their very purpose the defence of the top of the fortress against enemy infantry. Mi-Nord was located to the
north-east of the fortress, with most of its guns dominating the level ground to the south. It
was connected to Mi-Sud to the south-west by an earth rampart and barbed wire
entanglements. Mi-Nord was also connected by an earth rampart to the Vise 1 casemate to
the southeast. These earth ramparts or berms were designed to obscure any direct vision
from the top of Mount St Peter, which was slightly higher than Fort Eben Emael.
Accordingly, no observer or direct fire weapon on the hill was able to see or fire at any of
the gun emplacements on top of the fort. Mi-Nord featured three machine guns and two
searchlights, as well as an armoured observation dome known as EBEN 2 that allowed
unimpeded vision over the Albert Canal to the north and towards its vital bridges. Like
EBEN 1 and 3, this dome incorporated a revolving periscope manufactured by the French
firm Societe dOptique Mecanique, which was also used on the Maginot Line. One of MiNords machine guns pointed northwards towards the Albert Canal, with an additional
machine gun protecting the armoured entrance door to the bunker that allowed troops to
exit and mount a counter-attack if necessary. Mi-Sud was similarly configured but had an
additional searchlight. The interlocking fire of these machine guns, combined with the
deadly canister rounds of the 75mm gun emplacements, was more than sufficient to deal
with any enemy troops on top of the fortress, even at night when they would be
illuminated by the various searchlights. Beside the three personnel manning EBEN 2, MiNord had a crew of three NCOs and 12 soldiers, while Mi-Sud had a crew of three NCOs
and 11 soldiers.
In addition, at the southern end of the fortress was an anti-aircraft gun emplacement
comprising four Maxim 7.65mm machine guns (MICA or Mitrailleuse contre avions) with
each in a separate open gun pit some 25m apart. In the middle of the position was a small
hut with a telephone operator who was connected to the command post. The MICA crew
comprised one officer, four NCOs and 13 soldiers. Also nearby was a large wooden
building known as Baraque Graindorge that acted as a workshop for the armourers form
the Foneries Royales de Canons who serviced the guns of the various casemates and
cupolas. An additional two machine guns were held in the MICA hut, with another two at
the garrison accommodation barracks in the village of Wonck, Many of the machine guns
defending the fortress were versions of the Maxim 08 and 08/15 that were the spoils of
war from Germany. MAE {Manufacture dArmes de 1Etat) modified these to fire the
Belgian 7.65mm round. A special reversible mounting incorporating two machine guns,
one over the other, was designed for installation in forts. This allowed sustained firing,
with one gun being reloaded with a 250-round ammunition belt as the other continued
firing. The empty cartridge cases were ejected down a tube into a container filled with a
caustic soda solution to reduce the build-up of toxic fumes from the spent rounds. All
these aspects are indicative of the attention to detail by the designers for the defence of
Fort Eben Emael.

But that was not all. Located centrally atop the fortress was its heaviest armament of a
massive armoured cupola mounting twin FRC Model e 31 120mm guns. Unlike Coupoles
Nord and Sud, it was not retractable but instead featured two embrasures in the massive
casting for the two 120mm guns. This gave rise to its name of Coupole 120. The armoured
cupola was 5.75m in diameter and weighed 230 tons. It was anchored in a huge reinforced
concrete pit with an additional 210 tons of armour plate protecting the actual gunroom. 1
Coupole 120 rotated through 360 degrees on 36 conical rollers to allow firing in any
direction. The armoured dome comprised a 21 cm-thick outer steel alloy shell attached to
a 4cm iron shell, followed by a 5cm thick layer of felt padding and another 4cm iron shell,
to which was attached the 25cm-thick inner steel alloy shell giving an overall thickness of
59cm. The cupola was on three different levels, with the gunroom at the top and the guns
dividing it down the middle. The commander was located on the right-hand side, from
where he could observe through the cupola periscope. With him was a gun layer who
operated the elevation controls and maintained the right-hand gun. On the other side was
another gun layer, who laid the guns in azimuth and maintained the left-hand gun together
with a telephonist relaying the fire mission from the command post. On the middle level
were the hydraulic pumps and rams to power the heavy cupola and its weapons, as well as
11 soldiers to pack the separated ammunition and set the fuses. On the bottom level was
an NCO and another four soldiers, who collected the various projectiles and charges from
the ammunition magazine and passed them upwards by hoists. Coupole 120 had a crew of
four NCOs and 24 soldiers.
The separated ammunition comprised the projectile and a shell case containing the
propellant. The range to target was thus a combination of the elevation of the gun and the
amount of propellant packed into the shell case. Two types of high-explosive projectiles
were used. The first was a 22kg round containing contact fusing of various delays
depending on whether detonation was required on the surface of a target or after
penetration. The explosive content was 2.875kg and was colour coded in yellow. The
second type of projectile was blue in colour and weighed 20kg. It contained 2kg of
explosives and was designed as an airburst weapon against troops in the open. The shell

case had a maximum weight of 13kg and held up to five charge bags of nitrocellulose
propellant. Coupole 120 had a maximum range of 17.5km and was thus able to engage
targets as far as the German border, as well as giving mutual supporting fire to several of
the forts in the PFL to the south. It was obviously capable of supplementing the volume of
fire of the fixed casemates in their primary mission of destroying the three bridges of the
Albert Canal. However, one of its principal roles was to provide counter-battery fire
against the kind of siege artillery that had been the cause of the demise of the Liege forts
in 1914. As siege artillery howitzers are relatively short-range weapons that rely on highangle plunging fire for their devastating effect they would become vulnerable to the long
reach of Coupole 120. However, these powerful weapons required periodic cooling during
sustained fire missions, and there was no provision for water-cooling. Accordingly, the
rate of fire was notionally restricted to no more than two rounds per minute for the first
five minutes and one round every 40 seconds for the next 15 minutes. To confuse hostile
aerial reconnaissance, three dummy cupolas similar in dimensions to Coupole 120 were
located atop the fortress with two at the north-west and one to the east near the
observation post EBEN 1 overlooking the Albert Canal and the Lanaye locks. These were
simply sheet steel domes on a concrete base, but from the air they were indistinguishable
from Coupole 120.
Armoured doors
Another lesson drawn from the experiences of World War I and the fate of the Brialmont
forts was that instead of grouping all the major weapons and ammunition magazines in
close proximity, all the casemates and cupolas of Fort Eben Emael were well dispersed,
with most being at least 150m apart and their ammunition magazines buried deep in the
bowels of the fortress itself. In the unlikely event that an individual casemate was
destroyed or invested by ground attack, its crew could withdraw to a lower level and seal
off the fallen position entirely from the interior of the fortress. This was achieved by a
system of heavily armoured doors. These came in two pairs that were 2m apart, with both
sets of doors closing inwards on themselves. Between the two pairs of doors were slots to
accommodate a series of 20cm steel girders that then formed another complete barrier
behind the pair of doors closest to the casemate. The gap between the steel girder barrier
and the second pair of doors was then filled with sandbags. Finally, the inside doors were
closed and locked, creating an obstacle that was virtually immune to conventional
explosives, thus denying an enemy any access to the interior of the fortress if a casemate
should actually fall. Ordinarily, one set of doors was free of girders and sandbags to allow
access for the gun crew to the casemate and the free passage of ammunition. The
magazines were located below each gun emplacement. There were 2,000 120mm rounds,
19,200 75mm rounds and 6,000 60mm rounds available for the various guns.
Caserne Souterraine
The defences of Bloc 1 have been recounted above, but once past the re
movable wooden roadway there were decontamination rooms to the right for troops who
may have been exposed to gas attack. Next there was the machine-gun embrasure and
armoured door that barred entry to the fortress itself. This comprised a gallery some 200m
long with various workshops, fuel stores, the penitentiary, and separate latrines for officers
and other ranks. There then came a slight bend to the left with the electrical powerplant
immediately on the right. This comprised six diesel-powered generators of 140 KVA each,

of which any two was sufficient to provide the power needs of the fortress at any one time.
The cooling water from the generators was used for the central heating system and to heat
the showers for the troops. Their washrooms were located nearby and beyond them were
the kitchen, canteen and associated storerooms, as well as the fortress commanders
administrative offices and the barbers shop. There was sufficient fuel and food to last the
garrison for two months.
An intersection divided the gallery with the hospital, operating theatre, and dental surgery
to the left and access to the main staircase and elevators to the intermediate level on the
right, as well as the extensive accommodation facilities for the officers and other ranks.
Access to the intermediate level was through hermetically sealed armoured doors and via a
116-step staircase with an elevation of 21m. The elevators to the intermediate stage were
only used for officers and ammunition. The other ranks were obliged to use the staircase
and walk everywhere throughout the fortress, whereas the officers were allowed to use
bicycles to venture from point to point. The intermediate level comprised all the
interconnecting galleries and tunnels to the various gun emplacements and casemates of
the fortress, with a total length of some 4km underground. At various intersections, there
were machine-gun posts in armoured embrasures to dominate all avenues, making any
enemy infiltration a suicidal mission. Also on the intermediate level were the main inlets
for the forts air ventilation system. These were situated on the sheer wall of the Caster
cutting overlooking the Albert Canal. The air was vented through a series of filters as
protection against poisonous gas. The purified air was then fed into the fortress at
atmospheric overpressure to further inhibit the ingress of noxious gases and preclude the
garrison from having to wear gas masks during combat action. The major exhaust outlet
for the ventilation system and power plant was located above and behind Bloc 1,
equidistant between casemates Maastricht I and Vise 2. Also on the intermediate level was
the paste de commandement, or command post, from where all the gun emplacements on
the top level were issued fire missions based on information from various observation
posts on top of the fortress and in the surrounding countryside, as well as other army units
in the region.
Observation posts
The most important of these on the fortress was Bloc 01 although it was situated just
outside the main complex overlooking the Albert Canal, Meuse River and Lanaye locks
with a view all the way to the German border. Its armoured observation dome was
designated BEEN 1. From its dominating position, Bloc 01 was able to observe all
movement over a wide area as far south as Vise and thus provide fire missions for Vise 1
and Vise 2 as well as Coupoles 120, Nord and Sud as necessary. Beside EBEN 1, it
featured one 60rnm anti-tank gun, three machine guns, and three searchlights. Bloc 01 had
a crew of four NCOs and 18 soldiers, as well as three observers for EBEN 1. EBEN 2 on
top of Mi-Nord had a field of view northwards over the Albert Canal towards the village
of Kanne, as did EBEN 3 on top of Maastricht 2, although being at a lower elevation its
field of view was not so extensive northwards. It did, however, have unimpeded direct
vision over much of the top of the fortress and thus was able to coordinate the response to
any infantry attack in the vicinity. These armoured observation domes formed the eyes of
Fort Eben Emael and were vital for its proper functioning as an artillery battery.

Equally important were the observation posts (OP) in the surrounding countryside. Bloc
PL 19 was a concrete bunker located at Hallembaye. It incorporated three machine guns
and an armoured observation dome. Its crew comprised four NCOs, and 14 soldiers.
Facing the strategic bridge over the Albert Canal at Kanne was the emplacement ABRI 0
with a 47mm anti-tank gun, a machine gun, a searchlight, and an armoured observation
dome. It had a crew of three NCOs and nine soldiers. There were an additional six
observation posts, although these were in unprotected positions, each with three personnel.
All eight of these OPs were connected by telephone with the command post at Fort Ehen
Emael. There were also 14 foxholes dotted around the highest points of the fort, each with
two armed men who also acted as observers for the fortress itself. In times of high alert,
they were to be equipped with field telephones to communicate with the command post in
case of attack or suspicious movement.
The garrison
The full complement of the garrison was 1,322 men under the command of an artillery
major. Many of these were support and administrative personnel responsible for the
smooth running of the fortress, including specialist armourers, signallers, and medical
staff. The actual gun crews were all artillerymen and consequently had little infantry
training. During World War I, every fort had its own complement of infantry, but, due to
manpower shortages, this precaution had lapsed during the inter-war period. For
administrative simplicity the artillerymen were divided into two batteries - ler Batterie and
2e Batterie. The personnel of ler Batterie manned the long-range artillery while the 2e
Batterie was responsible for the perimeter defences. The garrison rotated its personnel on
a weekly basis so at any one time there were approximately 750 men in the fortress.
However, what with leave, courses, illness, et al, the complement was often less. Some
half of the garrison were obliged to sleep inside the forts cramped and dank interior, with
the remainder billeted in the surrounding villages, the majority at Wonck some 4km away.

For the same reason, a pair of large wooden buildings was constructed just outside the
entrance at Bloc 1 to house the administrative staff and the command element in more
agreeable surroundings. In time of war, the buildings were to be evacuated and razed to
the ground so as not to impede the fields of fire of Blocs 1 and 2.
In all, there were some 5km of underground galleries and tunnels to serve the totally selfsufficient garrison. On foot, it took 20 minutes to reach Bloc 01 from the entrance at Bloc
1, 14 minutes to Mi-Nord, 13 minutes to Coupole Nord, seven to Coupole Sud, and nine
minutes to reach the MICA anti-aircraft position over the top of the fort. To visit every
position took some three hours of walking. The fortress comprised in all some 17 powerful
gun emplacements with ten on top and seven around the perimeter. As one Belgian officer,
Colonel Albert Torreele, recalled of a visit from the Ecole Royale Militaire in 1938: An
officer of the garrison of the fort led us to many of the outer defences and showed what
each was intended for. We went to the walls and looked over the countless rows of barbed
wire. He led us to the only door on the surface set deep in concrete. It appeared like the
heavy steel door of a bank vault. From here [Coupole Nord] infantry in reserve would
issue to repel any enemy fortunate enough to get by the tough ground defences.
He took us deep into the interior and we trudged many miles to the end of the tunnels,
visiting the crews and the guns of the emplacements we had seen on the surface. Crews
gave us their missions and detailed characteristics of their guns. All was very professional.
Later, we assembled in the command post. The commandant gave a detailed account of
how he proposed to defend the fort in the event of an attack. I got the impression of
tremendous power and first-rate efficiency. I was convinced nothing could happen!
By now Fort Eben Emael had gained a formidable reputation, as the famous American
journalist and historian William L Shirer, wrote at the time: This modern, strategically
located fortress was regarded by both the Allies and the Germans as the most impregnable
fortification in Europe, stronger than anything the French had built in the Maginot Line or
the Germans in the West Wall.
Chapter III Battle for Eben-Emael
The Battle of Fort Eben-Emael was a battle between Belgian and German
forces that took place between 10 May and 11 May 1940, and was part of the Battle of the
Netherlands, Battle of Belgium and Fall Gelb, the German invasion of the Low Countries
and France. An assault force of German Fallschirmjger were tasked with assaulting and
capturing Fort EbenEmael, a Belgian fortress whose artillery pieces dominated several
important bridges over the Albert Canal which German forces intended to use to advance
into Belgium. As some of the German airborne troops assaulted the fortress and disabled
the garrison and the artillery pieces inside it, others simultaneously captured three bridges
over the Canal. Having disabled the fortress, the airborne troops were then ordered to
protect the bridges against Belgian counter-attacks until they linked up with ground forces
from the German 18th Army.
The battle was a decisive victory for the German forces, with the airborne troops landing
on top of the fortress via the use of gliders and using explosives and flamethrowers to
disable the outer defences of the fortress. The Fallschirmjger then entered the fortress,
killing a number of defenders and containing the rest in the lower sections of the fortress.
Simultaneously, the rest of the German assault force had landed near the three bridges

over the Canal, destroyed a number of pillboxes and defensive positions and defeated the
Belgian forces guarding the bridges, capturing them and bringing them under German
control. The airborne troops suffered heavy casualties during the operation, but succeeded
in holding the bridges until the arrival of German ground forces, who then aided the
airborne troops in assaulting the fortress a second time and forcing the surrender of the
remaining members of the garrison. German forces were then able to utilize two bridges
over the Canal to bypass a number of Belgian defensive positions and advance into
Belgium to aid in the invasion of the country. The bridge at Kanne was destroyed.
On 10 May 1940 Germany launched Fall Gelb, an invasion of the Low Countries. By
attacking through the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium, the German
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht believed that German forces could outflank the Maginot
Line and then advance through southern Belgium and into northern France, cutting off the
British Expeditionary Force and a large number of French forces and forcing the French
government to surrender. To gain access to northern France, German forces would have to
defeat the armed forces of the Low Countries and either bypass or neutralize a number of
defensive positions, primarily in Belgium and the Netherlands. Some of these defensive
positions were only lightly defended and intended more as delaying positions than true
defensive lines designed to stop an enemy attack. However, a number of them were of a
more permanent design, possessing considerable fortifications and garrisoned by
significant numbers of troops. The Grebbe-Peel Line in the Netherlands, which stretched
from the southern shore of the Zuider Zee to the Belgian border near Weert, had a large
number of fortifications combined with natural obstacles, such as marsh-lands and the
Geld Valley, which could easily be flooded to impede an attack. The Belgian defences
consisted of one delaying position running along the Albert Canal, and then a main
defensive line running along the River Dyle, which protected the port of Antwerp and the
Belgian capital, Brussels.
This delaying position was protected by a number of forward positions manned by troops,
except in a single area where the canal ran close to the Dutch border, which was known as
the Maastricht Appendix due to the proximity of the city of Maastricht. The Belgian
military could not build forward positions due to the proximity of the border, and therefore
assigned an infantry division to guard the three bridges over the canal in the area, a
brigade being assigned to each bridge. The bridges were defended by blockhouses
equipped with machine-guns, and artillery support was provided by Fort Eben Emael,
whose artillery pieces covered each of the two bridges. Having become aware of the
Belgian defensive plan, which called for Belgian forces to briefly hold the delaying
positions along the Albert Canal and then retreat to link up with British and French forces
at the main defensive positions on the River Dyle, the German High Command made its
own plans to disrupt this and seize and secure these three bridges, as well as a number of
other bridges in Belgium and the Netherlands, to allow their own forces to breach the
defensive positions and advance into the Netherlands.
Belgian Preparation
The Belgian 7th Infantry Division was assigned to guard the three bridges
over the canal, supplementing the troops who garrisoned Fort Eben Emael at the time of
the battle. The bridge defences consisted of four large concrete pillboxes on the western

side of the canal per bridge, three equipped with machine-guns and a fourth with an antitank gun; the bunker containing the anti-tank gun was positioned close to the road leading
from the bridge, with one machine-gun equipped bunker immediately behind the bridge
and two others flanking the bridge a short distance either side. A company position existed
on the western bank of the canal by each of the bridges, with a small observation post on
the eastern side which could be quickly recalled, and all three bridges could be destroyed
with demolition charges set into their structures, triggered by a firing mechanism situated
in the anti-tank bunkers. Fort Eben Emael, which measured 200 by 400 yards (180 by 370
m) had been built during the 1930s, and completed by 1935, by blasting the required space
out of marl and possessed walls and roofs composed of 5 feet (1.5 m) thick reinforced
concrete, as well as four retractable casemates and sixty-four strongpoints.
The Fort was equipped with six 120mm artillery pieces with a range of ten miles, two of
which could traverse 360 degrees; sixteen 75mm artillery pieces; twelve 60mm highvelocity anti-tank guns; twenty-five twinmounted machine-guns; and a number of antiaircraft guns. One side of the fort faced the canal, whilst the other three faced land and
were defended by minefields; deep ditches; a 20 feet (6.1 m) high wall; concrete pillboxes
fitted with machine-guns; fifteen searchlights emplaced on top of the Fort; and 60mm antitank guns. A large number of tunnels ran beneath the Fort, connecting individual turrets to
the command centre of the Fort and the ammunition stores. The Fort also possessed its
own hospital and a number of living quarters for the garrison, as well as a power station
that provided electricity to power the guns, provide internal and external illumination, and
to power the wireless network and air-purifying system used by the garrison. Belgian
plans did not call for the garrison of the fort and the attached defending forces to fight a
sustained battle against an attacking force; it was assumed that sufficient warning of an
attack would be given so that the detachment on the eastern side of the canal could be
withdrawn, the bridges destroyed and the garrison ready to fight a delaying action. The
defending force would then retire to the main defensive positions along the River Dyle,
where they would link up with other Allied forces.
German Preparation
The airborne assault on Fort Eben Emael and the three bridges it helped protect was part
of a much larger German airborne operation which involved the 7th Air Division and the
22nd Airlanding Division. The 7th Air Division, comprising three parachute regiments
and one infantry regiment, was tasked with capturing a number of river and canal bridges
that led to the Dutch defensive positions centered around Rotterdam, as well as an airfield
at Waalhaven. The 22nd Airlanding Division, which was composed of two infantry
regiments and a reinforced parachute battalion, was tasked with capturing a number of
airfields in the vicinity of The Hague at Valkenburg, Ockenburg and Ypenburg. Once these
airfields had been secured by the parachute battalion, the rest of the division would land
with the aim of occupying the Dutch capital and capturing the entire Dutch government,
the Royal Family and high-ranking members of the Dutch military. The division would
also interdict all roads and railway lines in the area to impede the movement of Dutch
forces. The intention of the German OKW was to use the two airborne divisions to create
a corridor, along which the 18th Army could advance into the Netherlands without being
impeded by destroyed bridges. General Kurt Student, who proposed the deployment of the
two airborne divisions, argued that their presence would hold open the southern

approaches to Rotterdam, prevent the movement of Dutch reserves based in north-west

Holland and any French forces sent to aid the Dutch defenders, and deny the use of
airfields to Allied aircraft, all of which would aid a rapid advance by the 18th Army. 400
Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft would be used to deploy the parachute elements of the
airborne troops, as well as transport the elements of the two airborne divisions not landing
by parachute or glider.
The force tasked with assaulting the Fort and capturing the three bridges was formed from
elements of the 7th Air Division and the 22nd Airlanding Division, and was named
Sturmabteilung Koch (Assault Detachment Koch) after the leader of the force, Hauptmann
Walter Koch. The force had been assembled in November 1939 and was primarily
composed of parachutists from the 1st Parachute Regiment and engineers from the 7th Air
Division, as well as a small group of Luftwaffe pilots. Although the force was composed
primarily of parachutists, it was decided that the first landings by the force should be by
glider. Adolf Hitler, who had taken a personal interest in the arrangements for the assault
force, had ordered that gliders be used after being told by his personal pilot, Hanna
Reitsch, that gliders in flight were nearly silent; it was believed that, since Belgian antiaircraft defences used sound-location arrays and not radar, it would be possible to tow
gliders near to the Dutch border and then release them, achieving a surprise attack as the
Belgian defenders would not be able to detect them. Fifty DFS 230 transport gliders were
supplied for use by the assault force, and then a period of intensive training began. A
detailed study of the Fort, the bridges and the local area was made, and a replica of the
area was constructed for the airborne troops to train in.

Joint exercises between the parachutists and the glider pilots were carried out in the early
spring of 1940, and a number of refinements made to the equipment and tactics to be used,
such as barbed wire being added to the nose-skids of the gliders to reduce their landing
run, and the airborne troops trained with flamethrowers and specialized explosives, the
latter of which were so secret that they were only used on fortifications in Germany and
not on fortifications in Czechoslovakia similar to Fort Eben Emael.
Secrecy was also maintained in a number of other ways. When exercises were completed
gliders and equipment would be broken down and taken away in furniture vans, the subunits of the force were frequently renamed and moved from one location to another, unit
badges and insignia were removed, and the airborne troops were not permitted to leave
their barracks or to take leave.
Hauptmann Koch divided his force into four assault groups. Group Granite, under

Oberleutnant Rudolf Witzig, composed of eighty-five men in eleven gliders whose task
would be to assault and capture Fort Eben Emael; Group Steel, commanded by
Oberleutnant Gustav Altmann, and formed of ninety-two men and nine gliders, would
capture the Veldwezelt bridge; Group Concrete, commanded by Leutnant Gerhard Schacht
and composed of ninety-six men in eleven gliders, would capture the Vroenhoven bridge;
and Group Iron, under Leutnant Martin Schchter, composed of ninety men in ten gliders,
who would capture the Cannes bridge.
The crucial element for the assault force, and particularly Group Granite, was time. It was
believed that the combination of a noiseless approach by the gliders used by the assault
force, and the lack of a declaration of war by the German government, would give the
attackers the element of surprise. However, German estimates believed that this would
last, at the most, for sixty minutes, after which the superior numbers of the Belgian forces
defending the Fort and the bridges, as well as any reinforcements sent to the area, would
begin to come to bear against the relatively small number of lightly armed airborne troops.
The German plan, therefore, was to eliminate within those sixty minutes as many antiaircraft positions and individual cupolas and casemates as was possible, and at all costs to
put out of action the long-range artillery pieces which covered the three bridges. The
destruction of these guns was expected to be completed within ten minutes; within this
time the airborne troops would have to break out of their gliders, cover the distance to the
guns, fix the explosive charges to the barrels of the guns and detonate them, all while
under enemy fire.
The finalized plan for the assault called for between nine and eleven gliders to land on the
western bank of the Albert Canal by each of the three bridges just prior to 05:30 on 10
May, the time scheduled for Fall Gelb to begin. The groups assigned to assault the three
bridges would overwhelm the defending Belgian troops, remove any demolition charges
and then prepare to defend the bridges against an expected counter-attack. Forty minutes
later, three Ju-52 transport aircraft would fly over each position, dropping a further
twenty-four airborne troops as reinforcements as well as machine-guns and significant
amounts of ammunition.
Simultaneously, the force assigned to assault Fort Eben Emael was to land on top of the
Fort in eleven gliders, eliminate any defenders attempting to repel them, cripple what
artillery they could with explosive charges, and then prevent the Garrison from dislodging
them. Having achieved their initial objectives of seizing the bridges and eliminate the
long-range artillery pieces possessed by the Fort, the airborne troops would then defend
their positions until the arrival of German ground forces.
For reasons of security, Sturmabteilung Koch was dispersed around sev
eral locations in the Rhineland until it received orders for the operation against Fort EbenEmael and the three bridges to begin. Preliminary orders were received on 9 May,
ordering the separated detachments to move to a pre-arranged concentration area, and
shortly afterwards a second order arrived, informing the assault force that Fall Gelb was to
begin at 05:25 on 10 May. At 04:30, forty-two gliders carrying the 493 airborne troops
that formed the assault force were lifted off from two airfields in Cologne, the armada of

gliders and transport aircraft turning south towards their objectives. The aircraft
maintained strict radio silence, forcing the pilots to rely on a chain of signal fires that
pointed towards Belgium; the radio silence also ensured that senior commanders of the
assault force could not be informed that the tow-ropes on one of the gliders had snapped,
forcing the glider to land inside Germany. Another pilot of a second glider released his
tow-rope prematurely, and was unable to land near its objective. Both gliders were
carrying troops assigned to Group Granite and were destined to assault Fort Eben Emael,
thereby leaving the Group understrength; it also left it under the command of Oberleutnant
Witzigs second-in-command, as Witzig was in one of the gliders forced to land.
The remaining gliders were released from their tow-ropes twenty miles away from their
objectives at an altitude of 7,000 feet (2,100 m), which was deemed high enough for the
gliders to land by the three bridges and on top of the Fort, and also maintain a steep dive
angle to further ensure they landed correctly. After the Ju-52s released the gliders and
began turning away, Belgian anti-aircraft artillery positions detected them and opened fire.
This alerted the defences in the area to the presence of the gliders.
All nine gliders carrying the troops assigned to Group Steel landed next to the bridge at
Veldwezelt at 05:20, the barbed-wire wrapped around the landing skids of the gliders
succeeding in rapidly bringing the gliders to a halt. The glider belonging to Leutnant
Altmann had landed some distance from the bridge, and a second had landed directly in
front of a Belgian pillbox, which began engaging both groups of airborne troops with
smallarms fire. The non-commissioned officer in charge of the troops from the second
glider hurled grenades at the pillbox whilst another of his men laid an explosive charge at
the door to the pillbox and detonated it, allowing the bunker to be assaulted and removed
as an obstacle. Simultaneously, Altmann gathered his troops and led them along a ditch
running parallel to the Bridge until two men were able to reach the canal bank and climb
onto the girders of the bridge and disconnect the demolition charges placed there by the
Belgian garrison. Thus the airborne troops prevented the Belgians from destroying the
bridge, though they still faced the rest of the Belgian defenders. The defenders held on
until the a platoon of reinforcements arrived and forced them to retire to a nearby village.
However, the assaulting force could not overcome two field-guns located five hundred
metres from the bridge by small-arms fire, thus forcing Altmann to call for air support.
Several Junkers Ju 87 Stukas responded and knocked out the guns. Group Steel was to be
relieved by 14:30, but Belgian resistance delayed their arrival in strength until 21:30.
During the fighting, the attacking force lost eight airborne troops dead and thirty wounded.
Ten of the eleven gliders transporting Group Concrete landed next to the Vroenhoven
bridge at 05:15, the eleventh glider having been hit by antiaircraft fire en-route to the
bridge and being forced to land prematurely inside Dutch territory. The gliders were
engaged by heavy anti-aircraft fire as they landed, causing one of the gliders to stall in
mid-air. The resulting crash severely wounded three airborne troops. The rest of the
gliders landed without damage. One of the gliders landed near to the fortification housing
the bridge detonators. This allowed the airborne troops to rapidly assault the position.
They killed the occupants and tore out the wires connecting the explosives to the detonator
set, ensuring the bridge could not be destroyed. The remaining Belgian defenders resisted

fiercely by mounting several counter-attacks in an attempt to recapture the bridge. They

were repelled with the aid of several machine-guns dropped by parachute to the airborne
troops at 06:15.Constant Belgian attacks meant that Group Concrete were not withdrawn
and relieved by an infantry battalion until 21:40. They suffered losses of seven dead and
twenty-four wounded.
All but one of the ten gliders carrying the airborne troops assigned to Group Iron were
able to land next to their objective, the bridge at Canne. Due to a navigation error by the
pilots of the transport aircraft towing the gliders, one of the gliders was dropped in the
wrong area. The other nine gliders were towed through heavy anti-aircraft fire and
released at 05:35. As the gliders began to descend towards their objective, the bridge was
destroyed by several demolition explosions set off by the Belgian garrison. Unlike the
garrisons of the other two bridges, the Belgian defenders at Canne had been forewarned,
as the German mechanized column heading for the bridge to reinforce Group Iron arrived
twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Its appearance ruined any chance of a surprise assault
and gave the defenders sufficient time to destroy the bridge. As the gliders came in to
land, one was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed into the ground killing most of the
occupants. The remaining eight landed successfully, and the airborne troops stormed the
Belgian positions and eliminated the defenders.
By 05:50 the airborne troops had secured the area as well as the nearby village of Canne,
but they were then subjected to a strong counter-attack which was only repulsed with the
aid of air support from Stuka divebombers. The defenders launched several more counterattacks during the night, ensuring that the airborne troops could not be relieved until the
morning of 11 May. Group Iron suffered the heaviest casualties of all three assault groups
assigned to capture the bridges with twenty-two dead and twenty-six wounded. One of the
airborne troops assigned to the Group was taken prisoner by the Belgians. He was later
freed by German forces at a British Prisoner of War camp at Dunkirk.

Fort Eben-Emael
The nine remaining gliders transporting the airborne troops assigned to Group Granite
successfully landed on the roof of Fort Eben-Emael, utilizing arrester-parachutes to slow
their descent and rapidly bring them to a halt. The airborne troops rapidly emerged from
the gliders and began attaching explosive charges to those emplacements on the top of the
Fort which housed the artillery pieces that could target the three captured bridges. In the
southern part of the Fort, Objective No. 18, an artillery observation casemate housing
three 75mm artillery pieces was damaged with a light demolition charge and then
permanently destroyed with a heavier charge, which collapsed the casemates observation
dome and part of the roof of the Fort itself.
Objective No. 12, a traversing turret holding two more artillery pieces was also destroyed
by airborne troops, who then moved to Objective No. 26, a turret holding another three
75mm weapons; although explosives were detonated against this and the airborne troops
assigned to destroy it moved off, this proved to be premature as one of the guns was
rapidly brought to bear against the attackers, who were forced to assault it for a second
time to destroy it. Another pair of 75mm guns in a cupola were disabled, as was a barracks
known to house Belgian troops. However, attempts to destroy Objective No. 24 proved to
be less successful; the objective, twin turrets with heavy-calibre guns mounted on a
rotating cupola, was too large for airborne troops from a single glider to destroy on their
own, forcing troops from two gliders to be used. Shaped charges were affixed to the

turrets and detonated, but whilst they shook the turrets they did not destroy them, and
other airborne troops were forced to climb the turrets and smash the gun barrels.
In the northern section of the fort, similar actions were taking place, as the airborne troops
raced to destroy or otherwise disable the fortifications housing artillery pieces. Objective
No. 13 was a casemate housing multiple machine-guns whose arcs of fire covered the
western side of the Fort; to destroy the casemate, the airborne troops used a flamethrower
to force the Belgian soldiers manning the weapons to retreat, and then detonated shaped
charges against the fortification to disable it. Another observation cupola fitted with
machine-guns, Objective No. 19, was destroyed, but two further objectives, Nos. 15 and
16 were found to be dummy installations. Unexpected complications came from Objective
No. 23, a retractable cupola housing two 75mm artillery pieces. It had been assumed that
the weapons in this fortification could not stop the airborne assault, but this assumption
was found to be false when the weapons opened fire, forcing the airborne troops in the
area to go to cover. The rapid fire of the weapons led to air support being summoned, and
a Stuka squadron bombed the cupola. Although the bombs did not destroy the cupola, the
explosions did force the Belgians to retract it throughout the rest of the fighting. Any
exterior entrances and exits located by the airborne troops were destroyed with explosives
to seal the garrison inside the Fort, giving the garrison few opportunities to attempt a
counter-attack. The airborne troops had achieved their initial objective of destroying or
disabling the artillery pieces that the fort could have used to bombard the captured bridges,
but they still faced a number of small cupolas and emplacements that had to be disabled. A
number of these included anti-aircraft weapons and machine-guns.

As these secondary objectives were attacked, a single glider landed on top of the Fort,
from which emerged Oberleutnant Rudolf Witzig. Once glider had landed in German
territory, he had radioed for another tug, and it landed in the field with a replacement
glider. Once the airborne troops with had broken down fences and hedges obstructing the
aircraft, they had boarded the new glider and were towed through anti-aircraft fire to the

fort. Having achieved their primary objectives of disabling the artillery pieces possessed
by the fort, the airborne troops then held it against Belgian counter-attacks, which began
almost immediately. These counter-attacks were made by Belgian infantry formations
without artillery support and were uncoordinated. This allowed the airborne troops to repel
them with machine-gun fire. Artillery from several smaller Forts nearby and Belgian field
artillery units also targeted the airborne troops, but this too was uncoordinated and
achieved nothing and often aided the airborne troops in repelling counter-attacks by
Belgian infantry units. Patrols were also used to ensure that the garrison stayed in the
interior of the fort and did not attempt to emerge and mount an attempt to retake the fort.
Any attempt by the garrison to launch a counter-attack would have been stymied by the
fact that the only possible route for such an attack was up a single, spiral staircase, and any
embrasures looking out onto the Fort had either been captured or disabled. The plan for
the assault had called for Group Granite to be relieved by 51st Engineer Battalion within a
few hours of seizing the Fort, but the Group was not actually relieved until 7:00 on May
11. Heavy Belgian resistance, as well as several demolished bridges over the River Meuse,
had forced the battalion to lay down new bridges, delaying it significantly. Once the
airborne troops had been relieved, the battalion, in conjunction with an infantry regiment
that arrived shortly after the engineers, mounted an attack on the main entrance to the fort.
Faced with this attack, the garrison surrendered at 12:30, suffering sixty men killed and
forty wounded. The Germans took more than a thousand Belgian soldiers into captivity.
Group Granite suffered six killed and nineteen wounded.
The airborne assault on the three bridges and Fort Eben-Emael had been an overall
success for the Fallschirmjger of Sturmabteilung Koch; the artillery pieces possessed by
Fort Eben-Emael had been disabled, and two of the three bridges designated to be
captured by the sub-units of Sturmabteilung Koch had been captured before they could be
destroyed. The capture of the bridges, and the neutralization of the artillery pieces in the
Fort allowed infantry and armour from the 18th Army to bypass other Belgian defences
and enter the heart of Belgium. In a post-war publication, General Kurt Student wrote of
the operation, and the efforts of Group Granite in particular, that It was a deed of
exemplary daring and decisive significance [] I have studied the history of the last war
and the battles on all fronts. But I have not been able to find anything among the host of
brilliant actionsundertaken by friend or foethat could be said to compare with the
success achieved by Kochs Assault Group. A number of officers and non-commissioned
officers were awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross for their participation in the
operation, including Lieutenant Rudolf Witzig who led the assault on Fort Eben-Emael in
the absence of Koch. Sturmabteilung Koch was expanded after the end of Fall Gelb to
become 1st Battalion of the newly formed 1st Airlanding Assault Regiment, which itself
consisted of four battalions of Fallschirmjaeger trained as a gliderborne assault force.
Hauptmann Koch was promoted to the rank of Major for his part in the operation and
assumed command of the 1st Battalion.
Chapter IV A New Method of Attack: The 1940 German assault on Eben Emael
did our high-tech equipment really work? Beyond our wildest expectations General
Norman Schwartzkopf, It Doesnt Take a Hero (Bantam, 1992)

On 10 May 1940, German forces attacked into Belgium and Holland. Blocking their way
was the Belgian fort of Eben Emael, accepted as one of the most powerful single
fortifications in Europe with a garrison of 1,200 men. It was rendered inoperative in less
than two hours by a German force of only 56 men armed with man-portable weapons.
How was this Achieved?
The accepted wisdom at the time, and still prevalent, is that the element of surprise gained
by the use of gliders, and the use of emerging technology, in the shape of the hollowcharge, were the reasons for success. The Commander of this Lilliputian detachment,
Lieutenant Rudolf Witzig, supported this view in his own account of the raid.
Hohlladungwaffe hollow-charge explosive: The shaped or hollow-charge explosive
principle was discovered in 1888 by an American, Charles Edward Munroe and it has
become known as the Munroe Effect. In 1910, it was improved by a German scientist
named Egon Neumann. A Swiss chemical engineer, Henry Mohaupt, further refined the
idea in the late 1930s and offered it to the French army, which was due to accept a hollowcharge anti-tank weapon on exactly the same day that the Germans first used their own
version in anger, 10 May 1940. The largest 50kg Hohlladungwaffe came in two parts for
easier handling by two men.The 50kg charge was delicate and any damage could result in
a lesser explosive effect, which was one reason why they were delivered by glider rather
than parachute. Also any damage to the seal between the two halves diminished the
penetrative force significantly.
Nevertheless, the Hohlladungwaffen proved highly effective on the day both militarily and
psychologically. The priority targets were the armoured observation domes on the various
gun emplacements. Although none was fully penetrated by the detonations, the blast and
spalling from fragments being detached from the interior surface of the domes were
sufficient to kill and injure the Belgian observers and render the positions useless.The
spalling effect and blast overpressure are shown to good effect in the artwork.The charges
were also used to gain entry into the reinforced concrete gun emplacements by the assault
pioneers of Sturmgruppe Granit.Thereafter, the remaining charges were used against
targets of opportunity that further demoralised the Belgian garrison with their awesome
destructive power.
In March 1991, I was taking a party of soldiers in a guided tour over the Belgian fort of
Eben Emael, with the help of the Belgian Friends of Eben Emael (FEE) an association of
veterans and local historians.
At one point during the tour on the outside of the fort, the party was grouped around one
of the steel cupolas that formed the basis of the forts armament. Standing on the cupola,
to address the group more easily, I gave a short explanation on the theory of the hollow
charges used by the Germans in their attack, and pointed to the characteristic marks left
on the armour plate from their operation. One of the soldiers then asked what sort of effect
the charge had on the men working inside. I indicated the veteran standing to one side, and
said Why dont you ask him? He was inside one of these turrets during the attack. The
soldier did so; but the veteran merely shrugged expansively and said I suppose it made
me more religious He then pointed out that the hollow charge had not in fact
knocked out the turret, but merely temporarily jammed the traversing mechanism. The
knockout blow came from a number of smaller conventional charges thrown down the

barrels of the guns.

This account was a surprise and appeared to be quite opposite to the accepted view. It was
not, however, the first time that it has come to light. It has been mentioned, and dismissed
as apocryphal, in other accounts of the attack on the Fort. But if this veterans account did
turn out to be true, it raises a number of interesting questions. Why has there been this
tendency to exaggerate the value of technology?
If it was not the use of some secret weapon that contributed most to the defeat of the Fort
in 1940, then was it something else?
Planning and Training
In 1939 the German Army Group B was given the task of planning the breakthrough of
the Belgian defences between Venlo and Aachen in a lightning operation, and destroying
the Belgian forces before they could occupy the defensive line constructed across the
centre of Belgium. When the Army Commander, General von Reichenau presented his
operational plan to Hitler and the Supreme Army Command (OKH), in October 1939, the
Fuhrer was not satisfied with the idea of taking the bridges over the Meuse and Albert
Canal by the advance guard of the 6th Army. He was concerned that the defenders would
have enough time to blow the bridges. This would slow down the mechanised units,
allowing the Belgians time to withdraw as they had in 1914 and extend the enemy front as
far as the coast. The whole operational concept hinged on the destruction of Fort Eben
Emael and the capture of the Albert Canal bridges, at the very beginning of the campaign.
On 27 October 1939, General Kurt Student, Commander of 7 Fliger Division was ordered
to visit the Fuhrer, alone and without delay. On arrival, the thoroughly puzzled General
was immediately led in to see Hitler. At the far end of the long walnut panelled room, the
Fuhrer raised his eyes and beckoned the General to look at the map on his desk. For the
war in the West Hitler paused, seeming to consider how to begin, I know you
have made some tests with gliders. You have some in your Division. I have a job for you
and I want to know if you can do it. The Belgians have a fort here The top is like a
grassy meadow. They have heavy artillery in cupolas and casemates. I think some of our
silent gliders could land on top of the fort and your men storm the works. Is that possible?
To Student the idea sounded both incredible and simple. He said that he was not sure and
would have to go away and think about it. He returned the next day, still not sure. He said
to Hitler, It may be possible under very special circumstances: the landing must be made
in daylight, or at least morning twilight and not before; and I am uncertain about the
amount and type of explosives needed to be used against the fortifications.
Hitler then revealed that German munitions experts had developed a new and fantastic
explosive charge, the Hohlladung or Hollow Charge. It was capable of blowing a hole in
any known military armament, be it steel or concrete. The problem was that it weighed
50kg and could not be fired from a gun, but had to be emplaced, fused and exploded, by
two or three men. If it could be placed like this, nothing could withstand it.
Student had been considering how a few glider loads of men could really capture such a
vast fortification with conventional explosives. With the hollow charge the whole
operation took on a new meaning and chance of success. The combination of gliders and
hollow charges seemed unbeatable to him. Hitler then said I order you to take Fort Eben-

All aspects of the operation must remain absolutely secret. The code name for this
operation will be GRANIT (Granite). Later Student was to say that this was perhaps the
most original idea of this richin-brain-waves man.
Now that the decision had been made, the preparations for the attack went ahead. General
Student carefully screened his airborne forces and selected Hauptmann S. A. Koch, a
highly talented officer, renowned for his incredible ideas and schemes, to lead the attack.
On 3 November 1939, Koch Storm Detachment was formed in Hildesheim, composed of a
number of units. These were formed into groups, including GRANIT who consisted of 11
gliders, two Officers and 88 men.
The GRANIT force was formed from the Engineer Detachment of the Division, under the
command of Lt. Witzig. This was the only parachute unit composed entirely of sappers.
Many of these had long records of disciplinary infractions, but they were all individualists
with a reputation for fearlessness. Amongst them were some of the best pre-war amateur
glider pilots.
This detachment was constantly moved around under a bewildering array of codenames.
Glider practice in the Hildesheim area was carried out on only the smallest scale. When
necessary, the gliders were dismantled and moved about in furniture vans. Despite their
extensive sport experience, most of the pilots had never seen the DFS 230 before, and they
entered into an intensive training programme.
By March 1940 they could take off at night, towed by a JU-52 aircraft, and cast off to land
within 20m of the target. They used a piece of terrain in Stolberg that was similar to the
plateau at Eben-Emael.
Each section, one glider, was given two emplacements to destroy, with plans to take over
another sections task, should it fail to arrive. The glider pilots were also fully integrated
into the sections.
Practice assaults and trial demolitions were carried out on Polish fortifications near
Gleiwitz. Secrecy was of paramount importance. From November 1939 until May 1940,
for six months, the men of the operation were virtual prisoners. No mail, no leave, no
contact with other units and all parachute insignia was removed from their uniforms. Two
men, found discussing the operation with men of another unit, were sentenced to be shot,
but were reprieved to take part on the day of the operation. Eventually, trains moved the
planes by night to two airfields near Cologne. The hangars were continuously guarded and
surrounded by barbed wire. Even the base commanders were not told what was going on
in the hangars.
The operation was scheduled to start at 0300hrs on 10 May 1940. Two Luftwaffe
personnel who were curious, and were found wandering in the vicinity of the hangars the
evening before, were arrested and held until the operation was over. By 0335hrs on 10
May 1940 all of Witzigs gliders had taken off and their tow planes circled to gain height
before following the route marked by searchlights and signal
The Fort

Before World War I, the Belgian fort designer Henri Alexis Brialmont had identified the
Gap of Vise as being of vital strategic importance, and stated that the decision not to
construct a fort in this locality was one over which the Belgian nation would weep tears
of blood. The events of 1914 proved him right.
Later, during the construction of the Albert Canal (1927-29) a cutting was driven through
a hill in the area, known as the Kaster, over 80 metres deep. This feat of engineering,
equal in magnitude to the cuts at Suez and Panama, was to connect the canal to the Meuse
River. This produced a site with the near-vertical walls of the cutting to the northeast, a
natural cliff to the south and unparalleled views towards Germany. With the lesson of the
First World War behind them, and the engineering works producing nearideal conditions,
the Belgians decided to construct a fortification near the village of Eben Emael. The Fort
was constructed in only three years (between 1932 and 1935) at a cost of Bf 24M (1935
prices), and occupied an area of 75 hectares.
The armament consisted of two batteries, one for protection of the fort itself, and the other
designed to cover the vital bridges over the Meuse and Albert Canal. The latter was made
up of a number of cupolas and casemates. The three cupolas had all-round traverse. Two
of them were of the disappearing variety, capable of being completely retracted between
In addition to these real cupolas, three fake cupolas (identical to the largest) were added as
a deception plan to confuse attackers. The four casemates each consisted of three-gun
batteries with a limited arc designed to cover specific bridges. The defensive battery
included anti-aircraft positions and machinegun emplacements on the roof of the fort, as
well as a defensive ring of blockhouses and outworks. The fort itself benefited from the
latest technology. It possessed a sophisticated fire-control system and network of outlying
observer stations to co-ordinate
defensive fire tasks. The chemical threat was addressed with a protection system of
unparalleled ingenuity, involving purified air overpressure maintained in the gun positions
and a huge filtration chamber. Gas-tight doors separated the various parts of the fort and
each section had, in theory, three separate modes of communication with the command
post. The fort was supported by six massive generators and even had its own deep
borehole well.
The Assault
As dawn was breaking on 10 May, the German gliders landed on the surface of the fort.
Despite the months of planning and training, there were a number of potentially fatal
mishaps. One of the gliders was damaged at the take-off and another, carrying Witzig who
was commanding the operation, was forced to land near Cologne due to the towing cable
breaking. The wind changed; the gliders could not be released until they had passed into
Dutch airspace, where they were detected and fired on by the anti-aircraft batteries around
Maastricht. This alerted the Belgian defenders, who were already at their posts after an
alert had been called at 0030hrs. In addition the Belgian deception plan worked perfectly
and the Germans wasted 30 per cent of their force attacking the dummy cupolas.
The Belgians, however, had problems of their own.
The fort itself was regarded as something of a punishment posting, and was not popular.

The full garrison was indeed 1,200 men. However, this was made up of about 200
technicians and support staff and 1,000 gunners. These were split into two weeklong
shifts, with the off-duty shift billeted at Wonck.
They had no transport and it usually took over an hour to march the 6km to the fort, and in
the past few months of the Phoney War a great many alerts had been called, all of which
turned out to false alarms - until now. The total of 500 gunners actually in the fort was
further depleted by sickness (the fort was not a particularly healthy place to work) and the
policy of allowing fathers with large families, and those from agricultural areas, extra time
off at home.
In fact, on 10 May 1940 the total garrison was only 883. Furthermore, much of the
administration for the garrison was carried out from two wooden huts situated outside the
main entrance. In the event of an attack, classified documents and other materials had to
be moved into the forts command post. The men allocated to this task were the crews of
the machine gun emplacements on the upper level of the fort. Despite this, the commander
of the fort, Major Jean Jottrand acted swiftly. When he heard the sound of the anti-aircraft
batteries firing he ordered the transfer of papers and the demolition of the huts that limited
the arcs of fire for the outer blockhouses.
When the demolition guard at the nearby bridge at Kanne contacted him, because they
were unable to contact their superiors, Jottrand ordered them to open fire even though this
was exceeding his orders. Despite not being under his command, they obeyed him and
eventually destroyed the bridge in the face of the attacking German ground forces.
Jottrand did organise a number of counter-attacks, but these were ineffectual. The soldiers
moving the documents into the fort were the crew on the machinegun emplacements on
the roof, so were absent from their posts for the vital moments that they were needed.
The Fort commander did not have formal communication links with the surrounding
ground units and, anyway, they were not under his command. Any requests for assistance
were supposed to be relayed through the superior headquarters at Liege. The off-duty shift
at Wonck was contacted and ordered to attack, but the Germans on the Fort called down
Stuka and artillery attacks and the attack petered out. Only 12 men reached the fort
unwounded and capable of mounting an attack. They were used in counter-attacks, but
after running out of their stock of grenades Jottrand called them back.
What About the Hollow Charges?
While all this was going on, however, it is generally accepted that the German hollow
charges were making short work of the Belgian guns and emplacements. But was this
really the case? I am an Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO) by training, and not
unfamiliar with the effects of explosives. I examined the other turrets and casemates
during this visit, and later. In only one case, out of a total of 14 gun positions, was it
possible that the hollow charges achieved the destruction of the gun concerned. In all other
cases the demolition was achieved either by a smaller conventional charge. These were
placed near the barrels of the guns themselves, or by wedging the hollow charge at an
angle in the embrasure and relying on the force of the explosion rather than the hollow
charge effect to destroy the gun. The charges only appear to have been truly effective in
shattering the tiny observation cupolas that were mounted on the top of some of the

In the days after the attack, the alarmist contemporary accounts of German secret
weapons, spies, and sabotage were easy to understand. One newspaper even offered the
fantastic theory that Germans, living in that part of Belgium, had managed to stack
explosives in caves under the Fort so they only needed to detonate them when the attack
started. Later speculation focused on the Belgian consortium, United Enterprises, which
received the contract to build the Fort. They sub-contracted some of the work to German
firms. Not surprisingly, this led to much speculation about espionage, despite the fact that
their work was limited to the canal walls. In any case the Belgian Government, of course,
made details of the armament of the Fort, as well as its level of protection public. How
else were they to provide a deterrent to any potential attacker?
In the final analysis, the fort itself was the embodiment of the latest military defensive
technology and the only readily acceptable explanation for its defeat was the invention of
some more advanced technology that made resistance impossible. Furthermore, the
comprehensive German security precautions and unusual treatment of the Forts garrison
after the attack (they were completely isolated in a separate prison camp for six months)
did nothing to dispel the rumours and mythology that built up. But, if it was not the
advantage of technology that proved the deciding factor, what did?
On 10 May 1940, the German Paratroopers of Assault Force GRANIT were some of the
finest soldiers in the world. They had a great many advantages on their side: the rigorous
physical selection, the months of practice attacks and training carried out in the strictest
secrecy, and the long record of fighting and other disciplinary infractions that is supposed
to demonstrate aggressiveness and high morale in a unit. There were additional factors.
The German soldiers believed themselves to be superior to their enemy. The invasion of
Poland had been a stunning success, the latest in a line of German political and military
triumphs. The enemy were 40 yearold conscripts, wearing uniforms little changed from
the last time the German Army had defeated them. They were armed with Belgian copies
of German First World War rifles and had received minimal infantry training. The Belgian
leadership lacked focus and direction. They were unprepared for war, both physically and
When the tow cable snapped on his glider, forcing Lt. Witzig down, most normal men
would have accepted that their part in the operation was over. Witzig, however, did not
allow this setback to deter him. He hijacked a bicycle from a passing civilian and set off to
his base. After meeting up with a German unit, he commandeered transport and drove to
the airfield some 70km away.
There he picked up a spare cable, a set of wheels for the glider (these were jettisoned on
take-off) and arranged for a new JU-52 tug aircraft from the airfield at Goetersich. He then
took off and flew back and landed where his glider had been forced down, the JU-52 was
capable of landing on unprepared fields. In the meantime his men had not been idle.
They cut down the hedges dividing the fields, allowing room for the landing and take-off.
When Witzig arrived they fitted the cable, lifted the glider onto the new wheels and took
off again for the Fort. They finally arrived only two hours late. By then, however, it was
all over. Yet they were not content to rest on their laurels.

They took on the Forts garrison itself, 80 men against 800. They blasted their way into
Maastricht 1 & 2, and MG Nord by wedging hollow charges at an angle in the embrasures
of the guns. In Maastricht 1 the gun was thrown back off its mounting, and the surviving
crew fled down to the safety of the interior of the Fort. The Germans then squeezed
through the hole caused by the explosion and into the casemate. The dismounted gun had
blocked the door to the telephone point, trapping two of the Belgian gun crew, and these
were freed by the Germans.
The attackers then decided to press on after the retreating Belgians. The connection to the
intermediate level of the Fort is via a steel spiral staircase that winds its way around the
ammunition hoists, over a vertical distance of 40 metres. The Germans made their way
down the stair to the intermediate level, and up to the blast doors.
These blast doors were heavy gas-tight double steel doors, 2 metres apart and closing
towards each other.
Between the locked doors were 20cm slots in the concrete, into which fitted a number of
steel I beams completely blocking the passage. Sandbags were available to fill up the
remaining space between the beams and the second set of doors further backed these.
Finally the doors themselves were capable of being locked. This formidable arrangement
was supposed to defeat any attempts to get into the interior of the Fort.
German soldiers carried hollow charges all the way down the winding stairs, to the blast
doors. It is worth remembering that the charge alone weighed 50kg, and the steel stairs are
too narrow to allow two fully equipped soldiers to pass each other. At the bottom they set
the fuses and retreated to the surface. How long was that fuse? Lt. Witzig states that the
standard fuses were only 10 seconds. The soldiers must have fitted nonstandard fuses,
something that is always to be avoided in the heat of battle, where a simple slip would
cause instant disaster or embarrassing failure. Neither of these happened, and the resulting
explosion, confined as it was deep underground, had only two routes for the expanding
gases to escape; up the shaft containing the stair and ammunition hoists, and through the
blast doors.
Behind the doors in Maastricht 1 were six Belgian soldiers on guard. They were killed
instantly as the door and the steel beams were blasted across the passage. Also in the
corridor were a number of drums containing a chlorine-based disinfectant. These burst
sending the smell of chlorine, via the forced air system, throughout the Fort. The
concussion and the smell of gas caused a panic among the remaining defenders.
Unfortunately for the Germans, the force of the explosions also destroyed the steel stairs
and ammunition hoists, leaving them an impassable mass of twisted metal, preventing
access to the intermediate levels. Nevertheless they continued to attack the various
embrasures until they ran out of explosives.
Even the crew of the glider that was damaged on take- off did not return to base, but
instead commandeered various vehicles and joined the ground forces for the link-up
attack. Some crossed the canal in advance of the attacking forces, over the wreckage of the
demolished bridge at Kanne. One of them, Private Walter P Meier, stole a bicycle and
cycled right up to the fort, where his comrades who didnt recognise him promptly fired
on him. He returned to German lines with a copy of the Orders for the Day, taken from a

notice board outside the main entrance, and 121 Belgian prisoners (the POW Camp receipt
for the prisoners he attached to his battle report to prove he hadnt been slacking). The
Belgians, in contrast, limited themselves to ineffectual counter-attacks (despite
outnumbering their foe by odds of 10:1) and calling down artillery fire onto the
superstructure of the Fort.
Operation GRANIT was a plan based on the technological possibilities of the hollow
charge. It was carried out with overwhelming success, despite the fact that this technology
proved almost completely ineffectual, because of the fighting qualities of the German
attackers, and the lack of those qualities in the Belgian defenders. Ultimately, the Germans
were simply better soldiers than their foes.
But if this was the case, why did even veterans of the assault feel compelled to exaggerate
the value of the technology, and why we are still doing so 50 years later?
I feel the answer lies in the fact that western society has a technological foundation. We
are used to technology, and technical explanations are easy for us to understand. We find
comfort in machines, lacking as they are supposed to be in human failings and they give
us confidence. Also, in the post-colonial era, there is a natural unwillingness for a
westerner to compare himself with his enemy man to man, person to person. It smacks of
arrogance, overconfidence and ultimately racism. It just isnt done.
Furthermore, the soldier is well aware that, although technology is only one factor in the
reason for victory, it is a factor over which he has little control. It is within his power to
change the emphasis on training, organisation and doctrine but it is the politician that will
ultimately decide whether he receives the latest piece of equipment or not.
If this is true of the victors, then it is doubly so of the losers. It is only human nature to put
the blame for failure on something over which you have no control.
Thus we end up with both sides appearing to agree on the reason for success, when the
reality was somewhat different.
In the end it is inevitable that technology will receive inflated importance. It is also only
natural that accounts of the event will pay less emphasis on long and complicated
explanations about morale, aggression, team spirit and esprit de corps, in favour of a
sophisticated illustration showing the way a hollow charge is supposed to work.
Technological factors can never be ignored, but Operation GRANIT offers a classic
example of how their significance has been greatly exaggerated and served to obscure the
real reasons for the success of the operation.
Which brings me back to the quote by Swarzkopf at the start of this article. Did our hightech equipment really work beyond our wildest expectations? by Major T N Mouat MBE
Chapter V General der Flieger Kurt Student
Dates: 12 May 1890 1 July 1978
A German Luftwaffe general who fought as a fighter pilot during the First World War and
as the commander of German Fallschirmjger (paratroopers) during the Second World

Student was born in Birkholz (today Borw), a village in the Landkreis of ZllichauSchwiebus in the Prussian province of Brandenburg, in a region now located in Poland.
World War I
Student entered the Imperial German Army as an officer candidate in 1910 and was
commissioned a lieutenant in March 1911. After serving initially with a light infantry
(Jger) battalion, he underwent pilot training in 1913. He served from the beginning of
World War I until February 1916 with Feldflieger-Abteilung 17 on the Galician front,
rising to command of the unit on 1 June 1916. On 5 July, he became a charter member of
the Fokker Scourge when he scored his first confirmed victory, forcing Nieuport 11 no.
1324 to land behind German lines. Student re-equipped the French plane with a Spandau
machine gun, and seems to have flown it in combat.
He then switched to the Western Front in aerial units of the Third Army, including
Jagdstaffel 9 (Jasta 9), which he commanded from October 1916 May 1917. He scored
six air-to-air victories over French aircraft between 1916 1917 before being wounded.
Interwar years
During the interwar period, Student tried to keep German military avia
tion from becoming technologically obsolete, since under the Treaty of Versailles,
Germany was forbidden to maintain an air force. In the immediate post-war years, he was
assigned to military research and development. He became involved in military gliders,
since gliding was not forbidden by the treaty. He also attended the Red Army Air Forces
maneuvres, where he first came in contact with the idea of airborne operations.
After Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, the Luftwaffe was secretly reestablished.
Student transferred from the Army to the Luftwaffe and was appointed by Hermann
Gring to be the head of its training schools, a position which became official when the
Treaty of Versailles was renounced in 1935. In July 1938, he was named commander of
airborne and air-landing troops, and in September commanding general of the 7. FliegerDivision, Germanys first Fallschirmjger division.

World War II
The division played no part in the invasion of Poland. In their first action, his troops failed
to achieve even the least of their objectives in the Battle for The Hague on May 10, 1940,
taking and losing three airfields on the first day of the battle (an operation in which the
German air force also incurred enormous losses). Student was almost taken prisoner there,
and was shot in the head by a sniper in Rotterdam following the Battle of Rotterdam. His
capture was halted only when Rotterdam was bombed on the 14th of May. However, in
another operation during the Blitzkrieg, capture of the Belgian fortress of Eben-Emael,
Students troops proved their value by defeating the 1,200 defenders with less than 100
men. He was decorated with the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross for his leadership and
bravery in these operations. Nonetheless it took the Fallschirmjger a full year to recover
from these operations, as a result of which they were not available for the planned
invasion of England.
In January 1941, Student was named commanding general of the XI. Fliegerkorps, the
newly formed command for the expanding German airborne forces. In this capacity,
Student directed Operation Mercury (Unternehmen Merkur), the airborne invasion of the
island of Crete in May 1941. In January 1941, he is known to have proposed a similar
operation in Northern Ireland along the same lines of Plan Kathleen, at the time Gring
told him that his focus should be on the airborne conquest of Gibraltar via Operation

Felix. Crete was taken, but the high casualties caused Hitler to forbid future airborne
operations. Acting as the temporary commander of the island, immediately after the
surrender of Crete on 31 May 1941, on Grings order Student issued an order for a
launching of a wave of brutal reprisals against the local population with the Massacre of
Kondomari and Razing of Kandanos being typical cases.
In 1942, Student was identified as the commander of Operation Hercules (Unternehmen
Herkules) the planned invasion of Malta. However, this plan was never carried out.
In 1943, Student ordered Major Harald Mors to plan Operation Oak ( Unternehmen
Eiche), the successful raid conducted by a special Fallschirmjger unit to free Italian
dictator Benito Mussolini. They landed with gliders and STOL aircraft on a hilltop. The
well-known Waffen SS commando Otto Skorzeny took part in this operation. Student
received the Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross for his role in the
operation. Student was transferred to Italy and later to France, where he was involved in
the defence of Normandy in 1944. He was put in charge of the First Paratroop Army and
took part in countering the Allied Operation Market Garden, near Arnhem. After a brief
time at the Eastern Front in Mecklenburg in 1945, he was captured by British forces in
Schleswig-Holstein in April of that same year, before he could take command of Army
Group Vistula.
In May 1947, he came before a military tribunal to answer charges of mistreatment and
murder of prisoners of war by his forces in Crete. Greeces demand to have Student
extradited was declined. Student was found guilty of three out of eight charges and
sentenced to five years in prison. However, he was given a medical discharge and was
released in 1948. Student was never tried for crimes against civilians.
Iron Cross (1914) 2nd Class (26 September 1914)
1st Class (29 August 1915)
Wound Badge (1914) in Black
House Order of Hohenzollern (5 June 1917)
Cross of Honor (30 January 1935)
Wehrmacht Long Service Award 4th to 1st Class (2 October 1936) Sudetenland Medal
with Prague Castle Bar (5 June 1939)
Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
2nd Class (20 September 1939)
1st Class (20 September 1939)
Wound Badge (1939) in Silver
Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
Knights Cross on 12 May 1940 as Generalleutnant and commander of 7. Flieger-Division
305th Oak Leaves on 27 September 1943 as General der Flieger and commander of XI.
Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds (2 September 1941)
rmelband Kreta
Chapter VI Walter Koch
Walter Koch (10 September 1910 23 October 1943) was a highly-decorated commander

of the Fallschirmjger during World War II who died in mysterious circumstances after
openly criticising Adolf Hitler. Koch, who was the recipient of the Knights Cross of the
Iron Cross for his actions during the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael in May 1940 had publicly
denounced the Fhrers infamous Commando Order, which ordered that all captured
enemy commandos were to be executed. Shortly afterwards the Oberstleutnant and
commander of Fallschirmjger-Regiment 5 died in Berlin from injuries allegedly resulting
from a motor vehicle collision.
Early career
Walter Koch joined the Landespolizei as an officer in 3 April 1929. As a
Leutnant he had served in the state police and a police battalion for special purposes
(Polizeiabteilung z.b.V. Wecke). In 1935 the new commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe,
Hermann Gring, transferred this police unit into the reformed Luftwaffe and renamed it
the Regiment General Gring.
Airborne service
Koch was promoted to Hauptmann (Captain) on 20 April 1938. He was then tasked with
training a special commando unit dubbed Koch Parachute Assault Battalion
(Fallschirmjger-Sturm-Abteilung Koch) for operations in the west.

When Fall Gelb began in May 1940, his troops saw action during the opening phase of the
Battle of France during assaults on the Belgian fortress Eben-Emael, the Maas river and
Albert Canal bridges. Kochs commandos successfully captured Fort Eben-Emael and the
bridges in Veldwezelt and Vroenhoeven. Only the bridge at Kanne, which was blown up
by the Belgian defenders, was not taken by the German paratroopers. For these successful
operations, Walter Koch along with ten other Wehrmacht officers received the Knights
Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes).
By May 1941, Koch was promoted to Major and given the command of the re-designated
I Battalion, 1st Parachute Assault Regiment (I./Fallschirmjger-Sturm-Regiment 1) The
battalion was part of the first attacking airborne waves during the Battle of Crete. Koch
led the attack using 53 DFS 230 troop-carrying gliders. Their target was the village of
Maleme on the western coast of Crete because its small coastal airfield and Hill 107
commanded the approaches to the islands capital. The German troops faced the New

Zealanders of 5 Brigades 22nd Battalion, with other battalions close behind, under the
command of Brigadier Edward Puttick. Although Koch was wounded in the head in the
battle for Hill 107 on the first day, his airborne troops quickly achieved their targets.
Koch was promoted to Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) on 20 April 1942. He and the
5th Parachute Regiment (Fallschirmjger-Regiment 5) were transferred to Tunisia in mid
November 1942.
Opposition to the Commando Order
In his regiments first African engagement two weeks later, Kochs troops encountered the
British 2nd Parachute Battalion under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Dutton
Frost at Depienne Airfield 53 km southwest of Tunis. Frost had left a number of injured
men under the protection of a single platoon behind at the airfield while he and his forces
went on to other targets. On their discovery, the British paratroopers were quickly
captured by Kochs troops and made prisoners of war (POW). The German commander
then ordered his medics to treat the wounded. Before leaving, he ensured that the prisoners
were given food and water, and even cigarettes, before handing them over to other Axis
ground forces.
However Koch and the commander of the I Battalion, 5th Parachute Regiment Hauptmann
Hans Jungwirth returned just in time to stop the machine gunning of the captured British
soldiers. After a heated debate with another German officer about the Commando Order,
Koch managed to obtain adequate treatment for the allies prisoners who were instead
transferred to a POW camp.
Shortly after stopping the killing of POWs in North Africa, Koch was wounded in the
head. The highly-experienced combat leader was sent back to Germany to recover from
his wounds; while there he was placed in the Fhrerreserve. While convalescing he was
involved in car accident, he died in a Berlin Hospital from these injuries in October 1943.
However many in his regiment believed that this was no accident and he had been most
likely killed by the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt because of his outspoken criticism of
the Commando Order.
Iron Cross (1939)
2nd Class (12 May 1940) 1st Class (12 May 1940)
German Cross in Gold (31 March 1942)
Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 10 May 1940 as Hauptmann and commander of
Fallschirmjger-Sturm-Abteilung Koch
Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht on 9 June 1941
Chapter VII 7th Flieger Division
By the spring of 1938 Hitlers ambitions for expanding Greater Germany
were well under way, starting with a covert plan to annexe Czechoslovakia, finalised as
Fall Grim (Case Green) in May.This necessitated some hasty military planning and ne use
of airborne troops was seen as a way of getting behind the strong Czech ::rder defences.To
organise the airborne arm from the forces already available, the experienced Kurt Student
was appointed with the rank of Generalmajor and inthe way the Luftwaffe had of

designating their air combat commands, the Luftwaffe airborne forces became 7. FliegerDivision from 1 July 1938, and Students command became effective from that date.
However, he had to work fast because the division was required to be combat-ready by 15
September in time for Case Green to start. Student, enthusiastic and hard-working was up
to the task, which was why he had been selected, but he also had the advantage of
commanding Gorings respect and confidence which allowed him to plan, train, and
organise in the way he thought best. This freedom of action was almost certainly helped
by the fact that at the time nobody else of high rank knew anything about the subject!
Student set up his divisional HQ at Berlin-Tempelhof airfield with Hauptmann
HeinzTrettner as chief of staff and a small planning team picked from trusted Luftwaffe
colleagues. Such directives on airborne operations that had by then emanated from the
Armed Forces High Command (OKW) saw the use of paratroops largely for securing
airfields to allow the Luftwaffe to fly in troops, or sabotage or raiding operations in small
units behind enemy lines. Student started planning afresh, however. His conception was
that airborne operations would ideally take place in three phases. First would be the
landing of shock troops by glider to take out key positions and defence posts. Secondly
paratroops would secure airfields or areas big enough to land aircraft, or attack defence
lines from the rear. Thirdly air landing troops would be brought in to the landing zones
already secured by the paratroops to pave the way for the arrival of regualr infantry and
heavy weapons. Student described these as shock tactics deliberately intended to cause
surprise, fright and panic combined with speed of events.
For the Case Green operations the Army parachute battalion was taken under command of
7. Flieger. At the time the division comprised Division HQ; 1st Battalion of 1. FJR
(Oberstleutnant Brauer), the Army Parachute Infantry Battalion (Major Heidrich), Air
Landing Battalion Regiment General Goring (Major Sydow), an infantry gun company
(Oberleutnant Schram), a medical company and a signals company. Also included was a
newly formed glider company commanded by Leutnant Weiss. This was equipped with
the new DFS 230 glider which had been ordered in 1937 after a demonstration in front of
Kesselring, Milch, Udet and other senior Luftwaffe officers. The famous test pilot Hanna
Reitsch had flown the prototype on that occasion and impressed the watchers with her fast
precise landing from a 1,000m cast-off by the towing Ju 52. Eight soldiers demonstrated a
fast exit from the aircraft. All other tests were successful and a small initial order was
placed. The DFS 230 had been designed in 1933 for meteorological research but when the
influential aviator Ernst Udet saw it he recognised its potential as a load or personnel
carrier for military use and used his contacts to secure development of a sturdier military
prototype. For Case Green six wings of Ju 52s were put under command, but the division
was still short of men for the air landing component and the Army could not be persuaded
to put more units under Luftwaffe control. To make up the numbers Student asked Goring
if the Nazi Partys top SA unit, the Regiment Feldherrenhalle, could be assigned and
quickly be given some field training.This was done, though its fighting value would have
been doubtful had the invasion of Czechoslovakia gone ahead.

Goring, with his SA rank and connections, was honorary colonel of the Feldherrenhalle
and during the military element of their training, some young members of this SA
regiment were given ; | parachute and airborne experience and the regiment was affiliated
to the Luftwaffe to the extent that the men wore Luftwaffe field dress when on annual
manoeuvres. By this connection the regiment became, in effect, a reserve Luftwaffe unit
and as soon as the war started the Feldherrenhalle members were absorbed into the air
landing assault battalion and the new 2nd Parachute Regiment of the expanding 7. FliegerDivision. Others went to the Armys Feldherrenhalle Battalion.
Student and his men worked hard and he was able to report 7th Flieger combat ready on 1
September 1938, two weeks ahead of the deadline. These two weeks were used for
intensive air landing exercises. However, as is well-known, Case Green never took place,
for the crisis talks that led to the Munich Agreement at the end of September resulted in
Hitler being allowed to take over the German-speaking Sudetenland area of
Czechoslovakia in October 1938 and war was averted for another year. Goring was keen
to show off the Luftwaffes air landing capability, anyway, so as part of the Czech
occupation he had 7. Flieger fly into the key area around Freudenthal (their Case Green
objective in fact) using an impressive fleet of 242 Junkers 52s.This was actually more of a
demonstration than a realistic exercise for there was no opposition and no critical time
factor, and a good deal of showing off. But Goring liked what he saw and said afterwards,
This business has a great future.
This event gave a good deal of new impetus to the build-up of a Luftwaffe airborne force,
and Students stock was high. From 1 January 1939, the Army Parachute Battalion was
transferred to the Luftwaffe (not without much arm-twisting by Goring) and it became the
2nd Battalion, FJR 1, still commanded by Major Heidrich. The Air Landing Battalion
became the 3rd Battalion, FJR 1 (Mayor Sydow) and Brauer now commanded the newly
expanded regiment with the rank of Oberst (colonel). His place as 1st Battalion
commander was Jaken by Major von Crazy. The Army agreed to commit the 22nd
Infantry Division as the designated air landing component for future operations,
essentially an ordinary infantry division which would be carried in by the Ju 52 transports
and would train in this role. Moreover it agreed the division would come under 7. Flieger
command in battle. During 1939 the establishment of 7. Flieger-Division expanded
considerably with the addition of 7th Howitzer Battery, 7th Anti-Tank Company, 7th
Intelligence Company, 7th Medical Company and smaller support and logistics units.
Student was given extra responsibility by being appointed, additionally, as InspectorGeneral of Airborne Troops. A highlight of 1939 was the appearance of 7. Flieger troops

in Hitlers huge 50th birthday parade in Berlin under the command of Oberst Brauer.
They made a big visual impact, not only with the German people but with Germanys
potential enemies. For, unlike all the units in parade dress, the parachute battalions wore
full combat kit with their distinctive jump smocks, helmets, and slung rifles. They looked
as though they meant business.
In October 1938, the decision was made to raise the 7th Flieger (Air) Division. This was
to be a well-trained paratroop formation intended for vertical envelopment operations
against enemy defenses. The commander chosen to lead the 7th Flieger Division was the
then Major-General Kurt Student.
Organizationally, a Fallschirmjger Division was intended to be organized along the lines
of a German infantry division, with three parachute rifle regiments, an artillery regiment,
and divisional support units. However due to various reasons the Division was not brought
up to full strength before 1941. Nevertheless, elements of the division played significant
roles during the Wehrmacht operations in 1940 in the West. At the start of World War II,
the Division consisted of the 1st and 2nd Parachute Regiments and some support units.
Battle of Crete (Operation Merkur)
With the surviving Allied forces withdrawn to Crete, the Germans decided upon an airlanding operation to capture the island. Operation Merkur (Mercury) would use the 7th
Flieger Division to capture airfields on Crete, then German mountain troops from 5.
Gebirgs-Division would be flown in as reinforcements. The 7th Flieger Division began
parachuting onto the island on 20 May, landing as follows:
Maleme Luftlande-Sturmregiment (Generalmajor Eugen Meindl); 3. Kompanie
(Oberleutnant Wolf von Plessen), 4. Kompanie (Hauptmann Kurt Sarrazin)/ I. Battalion
HQ (Major Walter Koch), and a regimental HQ force of the Luftlande-Sturmregiment
under Major Franz Braun. All of these forces landed by glider, with Von Plessen and
Brauns detachments successfully landing in the river bed, securing the Tavronitis Bridge,
destroying nearby anti-aircraft batteries and gaining a foothold in the RAF camp at
Maleme airfield, although both commanders were killed. Koch and Sarrazins
detachments came down on the southern slope of Hill 107, directly onto the positions of A
& B companies, 22nd New Zealand Infantry Battalion. They suffered heavy casualties
with Sarrazin killed and Koch wounded in the head, whilst the survivors were scattered
across the hillside.
The rest of the forces dropped at Maleme were all part of the LuftlandeSturmregiment and
jumped from Ju-52 transport aircraft. These forces consisted of:
II. Battalion/ LLSR (Major Edgar Stentzler); This battalion landed unscathed around
Rapaniana, with one platoon under Leutnant Peter Mrbe being dropped further west to
secure an unfinished airfield near Kastelli.
Meindl later sent 5. (Oberleutnant Herterich)& 7. Kompanie (Hauptmann Barmetler) to
attack Hill 107 in a flanking manoeuvre from the south. III. Battalion/ LLSR (Major Otto
Scherber); The 3rd battalion dropped in the area east of Maleme airfield, right on top of
the New Zealand defensive positions south of the coastal road.

The battalion suffered high casualties with many Fallschirmjger being

killed as they came down and struggled out of their harnesses, or whilst
searching for weapons containers. Nevertheless, small groups of survivors
went into action and carried out hit-and-run attacks on enemy positions
or held their ground against local counterattacks.
IV. Battalion/ LLSR (Hauptmann Walter Gericke); 4th battalion landed in good order west
of the Tavronitis river together with II. Battalion. Only the 16. Kompanie (Oberleutnant
Hfeld) landed elsewhere, namely south of the main force near Polemarhi, to act as a flank
Canea and Suda Bay - 3rd Regiment
Retymnom - 1st and 3rd battalions of 2nd Regiment
Herakleion - 1st Regiment; 2nd battalion of 2nd Regiment
During the approach, General Sssmann was killed and General Sturm assumed
command. The Allied forces on the island put up a stubborn defense and the troops of the
7th Flieger Division took heavy losses, with
over 6,700 killed and wounded out of 22,000 men. With the aid of the follow on
reinforcements, however, the Allies were forced to evacuate the island by 29 May.
Order of Battle
7th Fallschirmjager Division
Formed on 10/9/44 from the Erdmann Fallschirmjger Division. The Erdmann Division
had been formed from part of the 6th Fallschirmjger Division and Fallschirmjger School
forces in Germany, the Menzel Regiment, Grossmehl Regiment, Laytved-Hardegg
Regiment, the Greve Regiment, and the Schager and Schluckebier Battalions, and the
Grunwald Panzerjager Battalion near Bitsch. On 9 September 1944 it was sent to Arnhem
where it was to fight the Allied landings. It had:
1/,2/,3/19th Fallschirmjger Regiment (from Menzel Regiment) 1/,2/,3/20th
Fallschirmjager Regiment (from Grossmehl Regiment) 1/,2/,3/21st Fallschirmjager
Regiment (from Laytved-Hardegg & Greve Regiments)
7th Fallschirm Panzerjger Battalion (3 companies) (from Grunwald Battalion)
1/,2/,3/7th Fallschirm Artillery Regiment (from Staff/1,1/6th Fallschirm Artillery
7th Fallschirm Flak Battalion (5 batteries)
7th Fallschirm Granatwerfer Battalion (3 companies)
7th Fallschirm Pioneer Battalion (4 companies)
7th Fallschirm Signals Battalion (2 companies)
7th Fallschirmjager SupplyTroops
The 19th Fallschirmjager Regiment was formed on 11/25/44 from the Menzel
Fallschirmjager Regiment. The Staff/,1/,2/19th Fallschirmjager Regiment were formed
from the Staff/, 1/,2/Menzel Fallschirmjager Regiment. The 3/19th Fallschirmjager
Regiment was formed from scratch. The 20th Fallschirmjger Regiment was formed on
11/25/44 from the Grossmehl Fallschirmjger Regiment. The Staff/, 1/,2/20th
Fallschirmjger Regiment were formed using the Staff/, 1/,2/Grossmehl Fallschirmjger
Regiment. The 3/20th Fallschirmjger Regiment was newly raised. The 21st
Fallschirmjger Regiment was formed on 11/25/44 from the Laytved-Hardegg and GreveFallschirmjgerRegiments.

The Staff/,1/,2/21st were formed from the Staff/, 1/, 2/Laytved-Hardegg and the /21st was
formed from the 1/Greve Fallschirmjager Ersatz und Ausbildungs-Regiment. All three
regiments were organized as follows: Organization 1944
1st Battalion (1st-4th companies)
2nd Battalion (5th-8th companies)
3rd Battalion (9th-12th companies)
13th (Panzerjger) Company
14th (120mm mortar) Company
15th (Pioneer) Company
The 7th Fallschirm Panzerjger Battalion was formed in November 1944 from the
Grunwald Fallschirm Panzerjger Battalion. In theory it contained 484 men and 3
companies, 1st company with 16 75mm towed AT guns (later only 12 guns), 2nd company
with 4 StuG III (later increased to 14 StuG III) and the 3rd company with 12 20mm AA
guns (self-propelled). The 7th Fallschirm Flak Battalion was formed in November 1944 in
Holland from the 6th Fallschirm Flak Battalion. In theory the battalion contained 824 men
and consisted of five batteries with a total of 18 88mm AA guns and 18 20mm AA guns.
Replacement troops were provided by 3rd Fallschirmjger Ersatz Battalion.
Between 11/30/44 and 2/20/45 it absorbed the XXIV and XXVIII Luftwaffe Fortress
Battalions. On 2/8/45 the artillery was formed with the 1st Battalion formed from the 1/6th
Artillery Regiment, the 2nd Battalion from the 2/3rd Artillery Regiment, and the 3rd
Battalion coming from the 1/7th Artillery Regiment. The division was captured near
Oldenburg and went into British captivity.

Generalmajor Alfred Sturm

Dates: 23 August 1888 8 March 1962
A general of the Fallschirmjger during World War II and recipient of the Knights Cross
of the Iron Cross for his actions during the Battle of Crete.
When World War I broke out, he is in the 144th Infantry Regiment. He was wounded in
action January 26, 1915 and remains in a convalescent hospital until 31 May 1915. Upon
graduation, he attended pilot training in the fourth pilot training battalion of June 1, 1915
February 28, 1917 . He ended the war as a pilot in the 5th fighter Squadron (March 1,
1917, to December 31, 1917) and the 89th fighter Squadron (from 1st January 1918 to
December 1918).
At the end of the war, he returned in the 144th Infantry Regiment until May 1, 1919. He

was then seconded to the Commission of the Reichswehr where he was appointed to the
rank of Leutnant and remains there until 30 September 1919, to be then transferred to T5
department of the Reich Ministry for the Economy (RWM) to March 31, 1921.
He returned to active duty by becoming a company officer of the 8th Infantry Regiment
from April 1, 1921, to December 31, 1925 and the company commander of the same
regiment from January 1, 1926, to October 31, 1928.
He retired from active service October 31, 1928 for further secretly pilot training from 1
November 1928 to 31 July 1930.
From 1 August 1930 to 30 September 1933, he is back in the 8th Infantry Regiment first
in the Staff until August 30, 1930, and company commander.
He was transferred to the Luftwaffe as an officer of special services at the Air Ministry
Reich (MLR) from 1 October to 30 October 1933. Then, he held various leadership
positions in various fighter pilot training schools in parallel to the command of air bases
Schleissheim and Magdeburg until 30 September 1936. from 1 January 1936 to 31 March
1939, he is also the commander of the air base in Detmold.
World War II
At the beginning of the Second World War, he was commander of the 72nd pilot training
regiment April 1, 1939 to March 31, 1940, and Head of Department at RLM until 30 June
From 1 July to 30 September 1942, he took command of the Fallschirmjger-Regiment 2
with which he was awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. In the same period, from
May 20 to May 31, 1941, he was the general commander of the 7th Air Division. Then he
has several functions: commander fighting school ground from October 1, 1942 to January
3, 1945, General with special services from 1 December 1943 to 3 January 1944, General
with special services in the OKW from January 4 to March 11 1944 Chief Sturm division
battle group in the year 1944. After its multiple command caps, he was seconded to head
motorized transport business Wehrmacht OKW January 4 to February 28, 1945. Then he
is being available to the third game reserve battalion, and later from March 1 to April 23,
1945, section commander division Sturm, and Thale Harz.
He was captured April 23, 1945 and remains a prisoner of war until June 5, 1947, when he
is released.
Iron Cross (1914)
2nd Class (18 June 1916)
1st Class (17 January 1917)
Imperial Prussian Pilots Badge Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe Wound Badge (1914)
in Black
Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918 Wehrmacht-Dienstauszeichnung 4th to 1st
Class Pilots Badge
Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)

2nd Class (28 October 1940)

1st Class (25 June 1941)
Cuffband Crete
Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 9 July 1941 as Oberst and commander of
Fallschirmjger-Regiment 2
Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht on 9 June 1941
Wehrmachtbericht reference

Generalleutnant Erich Petersen

Dates: 25 August 1889 Heidelberg 4 July 1963 Allmannshausen am Starnberger See
A German general during the Second World War. Petersen served as commander of the 7.
Flieger-Division, until being tapped for promotion to commanding general of the IV.
Erich Petersen resigned after his cadet training on 22 March 1909 when the character as a
midshipman in the Royal Prussian Army. The son of an active officer came here for the
4th Lorraine Infantry Regiment. 136. In this he was promoted on 19 November 1909
Ensign. After attending military school, he was promoted on 22 August 1910. Lieutenant.
As such, he was now used as a company officer in the 4th Infantry Regiment Lorraine.
136. From the spring of 1914 he was then employed as a platoon leader at the SchleswigHolstein Infantry Regiment Nr. 163. As such, he served until the summer of 1914. As a
platoon leader in the Reserve Infantry Regiment 31. He then came at the outbreak of
World War 1 in the summer of 1914 to the front. On January 27, 1916, he was promoted to
first lieutenant. As such, he was then used as a company commander in his regiment. On
October 5, 1916, he married Maria Reuther.
In 1918, he was then added 18 more to spare Rifle Battalion.. In the 1st World War, he was
not only wounded. During World War I he next two Iron Crosses also other awards were
presented. After the war he returned with his regiment back to its homeland. On October
1, 1919, he was then taken as a first lieutenant in the Imperial Army. He was now assigned
to the Reichswehr Infantry Regiment 18. Even when 200,000 men transition army in the
spring of 1920 he was further used in the Reichswehr Infantry Regiment 18. In the
formation of the 100,000 man army of the Reichswehr he was then transferred to the 6th
Infantry Regiment. In this he was then used in the coming years as a company officer. On
April 1, 1922, he was appointed captain for the company commander of the 11th
Company of the 6th Infantry Regiment under his simultaneous transport. As such, he was
then employed for several years in Flensburg. On April 16, 1927, he was appointed
regimental adjutant in Lbeck on 6th Infantry Regiment. Then he kept several years also
this position.
On January 1, 1932, he was then treated for his leader assistants training to the staff of the

2nd Division of the Reichswehr to Szczecin. There he was promoted on October 1, 1932.
Major. The expansion of the Reichswehr to the Wehrmacht, he was on October 1, 1934,
commander of the III. Appointed by the Battalion Infantry Regiment Rostock. As such, he
was promoted on July 1, 1935 Lieutenant Colonel. In the unmasking of associations on 15
October 1935, he was appointed commander of the III. Battalion of Infantry Regiment
appointed 27 in Rostock. Even when he was promoted to colonel on 1 January 1938, he
was still commander of the battalion. On November 10, 1938, he resigned his command.
He was named a Commander of the new border Infantry Regiment 125. In the
mobilization for World War 2, his regiment was then renamed Infantry Regiment 125, he
remained the commander. At the beginning of the 2nd World War, he was then placed
under the border with his regiment commander St. Wendel. Later, his regiment was then to
Army troops. In early 1940 he led his regiment in the western campaign. In the spring of
1941 he led his regiment in the Balkan campaign. There he remained with his regiment
then in the summer of 1941. He was now both clasps to his Iron Crosses. In midSeptember 1941, he resigned his command of the infantry regiment 125. He was then
placed in a reserve driver.
On October 1, 1941, he was then added under his simultaneous promotion to lieutenant
general, under skipping of Major General, the air force. He was appointed to this day
appointed commander of the 7th Air Division. On 2 April 1942 the German Cross he was
awarded in gold. In August 1942 he gave up his leadership on the 7th Air Division to
Colonel Richard Heidrich. He was doing apparently placed in the reserve leaders. On
November 1, 1942, he was then treated with simultaneous promotion to General of the Air
in the Air Ministry in Berlin. He now became inspector of the inspection of the Luftwaffe
Field-organizations appointed (in 18). The end of June 1943, he was ordered to IV.
Luftwaffe Field Corps. On August 1, 1943, he was appointed commanding general of the
IV. Luftwaffe Field Corps. With this he was employed in the West. On 17 September 1944
he was named in the supplements to the Wehrmacht in particular: In the area south and
southwest of the Burgundian Gate has in the struggles of the last days of the IV Luftwaffe
Field Corps under the command of General der Flieger Petersen, in particular. 198th
Infantry Division under Colonel Schiel, through exemplary fortitude repeatedly proved to
be excellent. He was the renaming of its General Command in adopting the army in midNovember 1944, Commanding General of the Lxxxx. Army Corps appointed. This he then
led to the end of the war in the West. After the surrender of the German Wehrmacht in
May 1945 he came west in Allied hands. He was accused of war crimes and sentenced by
a court in Colmar. It went to the measures in early November 1944 in the space Raon
lstage St. Di - La Bresse. It was arranged by the commander of Army Group G, General
of Panzer Troops Hermann Balck, the evacuation and sustainable destruction of this area.
It was early 1950, he was then released.
He also served as commanding general of the LXXXX Army-Corps, before being
captured, tried and acquitted of war crimes by the French, from 8 May 1945 18 January
Decorations & Awards
Iron Cross (1914)
2nd Class

1st Class
Hanseatic Cross of Hamburg
Wound Badge (1918) in Black
Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918 Wehrmacht Long Service Award 4th to 1st
Class Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class
1st Class
German Cross in Gold: on 2 April 1942 as Generalleutnant and commander of the 7.
Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht (17 September 1944)
General der Fallschirmjger Richard Heidrich
Dates: 27 July 1896 22 December 1947
A highly decorated German Fallschirmjger and general during World War II. He was also
a recipient of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (German:
Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern). The Knights Cross of
the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise
extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.
Richard Heidrich volunteered for military service in World War I. He became an officer
and won the Iron Cross 1st Class (Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse). After the war he was
accepted by the Reichswehr, where he served in a number of posts in the infantry.
In 1938 Heidrich commanded the parachute battalion which he had formed as a Major in
the infantry. Heidrich and his unit were transferred into the Luftwaffe on 1 January 1939.
The Fallschirmjger, while still in an early stage of formation, were thus augmented by a
2nd Battalion for the 1st Parachute Regiment. Heidrich was transferred to the staff of the
7th Air Division, but then left the Luftwaffe to lead the 514th Infantry Regiment in the
Battle of France.
In June 1940 General Kurt Student was able to persuade Heidrich to transfer back to the
Luftwaffe. He then formed the 3rd Parachute Regiment which he led with great success in
the Battle of Crete.
In November 1942 Heidrich commanded the 1st Parachute Division, which was deployed
on the Eastern Front. Starting 12 July 1943, the 1st Parachute Division was deployed to
Sicily to counter the Allied invasion of the island. The division was directly involved in
fighting around the Primosole Bridge.
The 1st Parachute Divisions toughest fighting came after the Allied landings on the Italian
mainland, particularly in the three battles of Monte Cassino. Elements of the division
under Heidrichs command also participated in the fighting at Anzio-Nettuno. As
commanding general of the I Parachute Corps, Heidrich oversaw the corps withdrawal up
the entire length of Italy.
Richard Heidrich was captured by the Americans on 2 May 1945 and was later handed
over to the British. He died in a hospital in Hamburg-Bergedorf on 22 December 1947.
Wound Badge (1914) in Black

Iron Cross (1914), 2nd and 1st class

Knight 2nd class of the Civil Order of Saxony, with Swords
Knights Cross Second Class of the Albert Order with Swords Honour Cross of the World
War 1914/1918
Sudetenland Medal with Prague Castle Bar
Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
2nd Class (25 May 1941)
1st Class (25 May 1941)
German Cross in Gold on 31 March 1942 as Oberst in Fallschirmjger-Regiment 3
Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Knights Cross on 14 June 1941 as Oberst and commander of the FallschirmjgerRegiment 3
382nd Oak Leaves on 5 February 1944 as Generalleutnant and commander of the 1.
55th Swords on 25 March 1944 as Generalleutnant and commander of the 1.
Mentioned four times in the Wehrmachtbericht (9 June 1941, 24 December 1943, 25
March 1944, 29 June 1944)
rmelband Crete
Wehrmachtbericht references

Generalmajor Hans Korte

Hans Korte (16 December 1899 8 April 1990) was a highly decorated
Generalmajor in the Luftwaffe during World War II. He was also a recipient of the
Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knights Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to
recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Hans Korte was
captured by British troops in May 1945 and was held until October 1947.
Awards and decorations

Iron Cross (1914)
2nd Class

Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918

Iron Cross (1939)
2nd Class
1st Class
German Cross in Gold (1 January 1945)
Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 30 September 1944 as Generalmajor and commander
of the 2.(Torpedo)/Flieger-Division
Generalmajor Karl-Lothar Schulz
Karl-Lothar Schulz (30 April 1907 26 September 1972), was a highly decorated German
Fallschirmjger and general during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knights
Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen
Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern). The Knights Cross of the Iron Cross and its
higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield
bravery or successful military leadership.
Karl-Lothar Schulz was born in Knigsberg, East Prussia. He joined the Army on leaving
school and briefly served with an Artillery regiment, though his own personal training was
as a pioneer. He joined the Police in 1925 and in 1933 was transferred to the newly formed
Polizei Abteilung z.b.V. Wecke, the forerunner of the elite Hermann Gring Division. He
was commissioned as a Police Lieutenant in 1934 and remained with the unit as it evolved
into Landespolizeigruppe General Gring. In September 1935 the unit was transferred into
the Luftwaffe as Regiment General Gring.
Gring decided that amongst his new elite troops would be a body of men trained as
paratroopers. A call for volunteers went out, and Schulz was one of the first to come
forward. He subsequently underwent paratrooper training and served as company
commander of 15 (Pionier) Kompanie, a component of the parachute-trained IV.
Battalion/Regiment General Gring.
In March 1938, a further re-organisation took place and IV. Battalion was separated from
the Regiment and became I. Battalion of the newly formed Fallschirmjger-Regiment 1.
By 1940 Schulz had been promoted from company commander and was serving as
commander of III. Battalion/ Fallschirmjger-Regiment 1.
During the campaign in the West, Schulz and his men dropped into Holland to seize the
airport at Waalhaven near Rotterdam, in order to allow the rapid landing of more German
air-landing troops. The airport was defended by a battalion of Dutch troops supported by
an AA battery of 7.5 cm guns, two light armoured vehicles [Vickers universal carriers] and
a platoon of 2 cm anti-aircraft guns. The Dutch defenders opened fire on the German
paratroops as they descended but the Fallschirmjaeger suffered only relatively light
casualties. Shortly after the paratroopers had landed, elements of two companies of
Infanterie-Regiment 16 (22. Infanterie-Division) arrived on the scene to give support, and
with their help the Schulzled paratroops secured the airfield. Schulz was able to send out a
message giving the all clear for German aircraft to begin landing elements of 22 Air
Landing Division
The RAF attacked with six light bombers the German positions, before being driven off by
the Luftwaffe with all but one of them shot down. A further Dutch counter-attack during

the first war-night was repelled before it even started. A large scale RAF night raid involving six Vickers Wellington medium bomber squadrons - caused quite some damage
on landed German material, but hardly paid out operational gains.
On the second day of the invasion Schulz and his III.Battalion (of 1.Fallschirmjaeger
Regiment) were transferred to the Dordrecht areas, where another set of bridges was held
by German airbornes. Schulz and his battalion got tied up in a series of battles and
skirmishes with Dutch elements countering the German bridgehead. On the third day of
the invasion the 9th Panzerdivision crossed the bridges at Moerdijk linking up with the
airborne regiment holding these crossings. From then on the airbornes were more or less
released of their duties, although few would still see some more action in the consecutive
fights remaining during the last two days before the Dutch capitulation.
During his command of III./Fjr.1 in the Netherlands campaign Schulz was accused by the
Dutch of several cases of infringements of the international law. On the first day he was
accused of abusing POWs at Waalhaven AFB and on the second day of using POWs as
human shields provoking the surrender of a Dutch infantry battalion. The accusations were
dismissed by the German Luftwaffe.
For the part played by the troops under his command in seizing and holding the vital
airfield against strong enemy counter-attacks, Schulz was decorated with the Knights
Cross of the Iron Cross on 24 May 1940.
He was promoted to Major on 19 July 1940, took part in the Battle of Crete, and
subsequently served with great distinction on the Eastern Front, first as a battalion then as
a regimental commander. He was awarded the Oak-Leaves to his Knights Cross on 20
April 1944 as Oberst in command of Fallschirmjger-Regiment 1. Subsequently promoted
to command 1. Fallschirm-Division, he fought in Italy on the Anzio-Nettuno bridgehead
and at Monte Cassino. On 18 November he received the Swords addition to his OakLeaves. He was promoted to the rank of Generalmajor on 17 January 1945.
Karl-Lothar Schulz died of natural causes on 26 September 1972 in Wiesbaden.
Iron Cross (1939)
2nd Class (12 May 1940)
1st Class (12 May 1940)
Wound Badge in Black
German Cross in Gold on 26 February 1942 as Major in the III./Fallschirmjger-Regiment
Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords Knight Cross on 24 May
1940 as Hauptmann and commander of the III./Fallschirmjger-Regiment 1
459th Oak Leaves on 20 April 1944 as Oberst and commander of the FallschirmjgerRegiment 1
112th Swords on 18 November 1944 as Oberst and leader of the 1. FallschirmjgerDivision
Chapter VIII German Fallschirmjager
Though Germany only started to become interested in the raising of air

borne forces in the mid-1930s, under the auspices of the Nazis the foundations were
established upon which an entire airborne division could be created. But first an air force
and air industry had to be created from scratch following defeat in World War
The development of the German Fallschirmjger (parachutists) formations can be traced
back to the years preceding World War I. During the years between 1900 and 1914, two
major revolutionary military developments emerged. The first was the submersible; the
second, and more junior, was powered flight. All Europe was fascinated by the latter,
being beguiled by the fantasies and hysteria that surrounded it. In Germany in particular
there was much interest shown in powered flight, although in Great Britain the relevant
authorities were sceptical. In 1909, for example, the British Committee of Imperial
Defence reported that it had yet to be shown whether aeroplanes are sufficiently reliable
to be used under unfavourable weather conditions. The committee has been unable to
obtain any trustworthy evidence to show whether any great improvement was to be
expected in the immediate future. The high cost of an aeroplane, 1000, was noted and
the committee concluded that 45,000 should be invested in airship research instead. The
War Office soon announced that aeroplane experiments had ceased as the cost has proved
too great: 2500. Meanwhile, by 1909 the French had expended the equivalent of
47,000 on aeroplanes for the army. The Germans, wishing to dominate the fledgling
science, spent the equivalent of 400,000 on aeroplane research alone.
In Germany an aviation test project was set up, overseen by Captain de le Roi of the
German War Ministry, and a technical section was established under a staff officer, Major
Hesse. To link the efforts of the army with those of private industry, an inspectorate was
established under the command of Lieutenant-General Freiherr von Lyncker. The result of
this unification between government and industry was the establishment of an aircraft
design agency. In 1909, aircraft were used by the military for the first time during
manoeuvres watched by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The following year saw the establishment of
the first flying schools, and on 8 July 1910 Captain de le Roi assumed command of the
provisional flying school at Dberitz. The Flying Command Dberitz consisted of Captain
de le Roi, together with Lieutenant Geerdtz, and Second Lieutenants Mackenthun and von
Tarnoczy. A week later the four began their flying instruction, and by the middle of
December the next six officers had completed their course of instruction. The German War
Ministry, impressed by the promising results of the flying school, allocated a sum of
110,000 Marks for the purchase of aircraft - the first step towards a German air force had
been taken. A system of pilots licences had also been introduced in 1910, administered by
the German Aviation Association and the Inspectorate of Transport for Military Troops
and Civilian Pilots. The first to gain one was August Euler on 1 February 1910. To reward
military pilots and to give an outward recognition of their prowess, the Kaiser introduced
the Military Pilots Badge on 27 January 1913.
World War I
With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 the importance of aerial warfare was
initially overlooked. The general staffs of the combatant nations considered it a toy of
dubious use, and those in the infant air services were looked upon as backsliders who
had found a way of avoiding real action. Speaking as Commander-in-Chief, Aldershot,
just one month before the outbreak of war, for example, Sir Douglas Haig, later

commander of the British Expeditionary Force, told a military gathering: I hope none of
you gentlemen is so foolish as to think that aeroplanes will be able to be usefully
employed for reconnaissance in the air. There is only one way for a commander to get
information by reconnaissance and that is by the use of cavalry.
First faltering steps
The British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) went to war with just 197 pilots. Two weeks later
Sefton Brancker, Director General of Military Aeronautics, compiled a list of all those left
in the country able to fly, and discovered that only 862 men held the Royal Aero Clubs
certificate. Of these, just 55 were sufficiently advanced to undertake active service
immediately. Such meagre resources were considered no great handicap, however, as each
side discounted aerial combat (no aircraft mounted any guns) and thus any losses were
expected to be small. By the summer of 1915, there were only 200 pilots undergoing
training in Great Britain and so it was assumed that weekend gentlemen aviators would
top up the supply. In its wisdom the War Office decreed that members of the RFC who
own their own aeroplanes should be encouraged to bring them to the Central Flying
School when they undergo their training. In addition, before RFC acceptance all the
candidates had to obtain the necessary Aero Club certificate of competence, and had to
pay the 75 fee. Entry qualifications to the RFC were eccentric: individuals were asked if
they could ride a horse, a motorcycle or sail a boat. Then, after picking out strands of
differently coloured wools, individuals were pronounced medically fit to fly.
During the course of the war the knights of the air of the fledgling air forces were to
prove their military worth, especially after the introduction of synchronised machine guns,
which enabled them to fire through the propellers of their aircraft. Aerial dogfights
became common, and a disturbing degree of visibility often accompanied death in the air.
On the ground, among thousands of other men in a vortex of deafening noise, a shot
infantryman would fall unnoticed, and a few lumps of red meat would be all that remained
following a direct hit by an artillery shell. High in the sky, however, encased in canvas and
wood, the dying airman seem to amplify his death by falling in slow motion and often in
flames, a sight watching pilots never forgot. Later in the war, it was always made worse in
the minds of British pilots by the fact that the enemy had a better chance of surviving a
jump. They used parachutes of British design, modified only by a cord attached to the
fuselage which ripped open the chute when needed. Many German pilots survived, such
as the aces Ernst Udet (jumped once) and Josef Jacobs (jumped twice). Nevertheless,
neither the RFC nor the later Royal Air Force (RAF) were ever issued with parachutes.
The fact that they weighed as much as a machine gun might have had some bearing on the
Early parachute experiments
In Great Britain it was not until 1935 that serious parachute testing took place under
official Air Ministry supervision, although a demonstration jump from an airship, using
this design of parachute, had taken place in 1913. In addition, an unauthorised jump from
the parapet of Tower Bridge in London, by Major Orde-Lees in 1917, showed that
parachutes could open successfully from a height of only 46.6m (153ft).
As well as saving lives, parachutes could be put to a more offensive use. To break the
deadlock of the Western Front, Brigadier-General Billy Mitchell, commander of the US
Air Corps in France in 1918, proposed that parachute battalions should be raised and

dropped behind the German lines at Metz. The Allied High Command concluded that such
unique operations would take at least six months to plan, organise and equip. In addition,
there were insufficient aircraft to transport the paratroop battalions in a single lift,
combined with the problem of the immediate availability of parachutes. The idea was
therefore abandoned, and the cessation of hostilities in the West in November 1918
brought the war to an end.
German aviation after World War I
By 1918 aircraft had changed the nature and conduct of war (by the Armistice, the original
197 British pilots had become 26,000), even if conservative elements within military
hierarchies chose to believe otherwise. Haig, for example, saw no reason to change his
general opinion on the military value of aircraft. In his personal draft for a final despatch,
just two sentences were given to the air: Though aircraft and tanks proved of enormous
value, their true value is as ancillaries of infantry, artillery and cavalry. The reason he
gave for this poor rating was that the killing power of the aeroplane is still very limited as
compared to the three principal arms. However, the architects of the Treaty of Versailles
in June 1919 acknowledged the potential of military aircraft, and its clauses stated that the
German Air Force was to be dissolved, its aircraft confiscated or broken up. Furthermore,
the production of aircraft and aero engines in Germany was forbidden. However, these
measures failed to halt developments in military aviation in Germany.
Sports clubs sprang up all over Germany after the war, which undertook to teach
aeronautically minded Germans the art of flying. In addition, the Reichswehr (the
100,000-strong army allowed to the new Weimar Republic by the Treaty of Versailles),
fearing that it was being left behind in military developments, secretly negotiated with the
Soviet Red Army in early 1923 regarding training facilities. It finally signed an agreement
in April 1925 which made Lipezk Airfield in Russia available for German military
training. In 1926, besides the fighter pilot training that was already underway there,
observer training began. Added to this, a special unit for testing new aircraft, weapons and
equipment was also included.
Hitler boosts the aviation arm
Between 1925 and 1933 approximately 120 officers returned from this flying school in
Russia, having been fully trained as fighter pilots. Those who returned during this period
maintained their skills by being incorporated as civilian pilots flying for the fledgling
Lufthansa airline. The airline also employed the best veteran pilots from World War I, and
so the two sets of pilots flew together and gained experience from each another. Adolf
Hitler, leader of the National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist
German Workers Party) - NSDAP or Nazi Party - became Chancellor of Germany in
January 1933. Within months he had assumed absolute power within Germany, and began
a ruthless campaign to transform Germany into a military machine to implement his
expansionist policies. In the same year he created the Deutscher Luftsport-Verband (DLV),
an organisation designed to stimulate interest in aviation. The club offered its members,
most of whom had previously been in the armed forces, the active disciplined life for
which they yearned, to such an extent that on 10 November 1933 Hitler granted the DLV
its own uniform with rank and trade insignia. Under the direction of this organisation the
members learned three main aeronautical skills: ballooning, glider-powered flight and
parachuting. In 1933 Hitler also abandoned the school at Lipezk, and thus placed reliance

on the DLV to train new personnel for his clandestine Luftwaffe (Air Force).
The Luftwaffe flexes its wings
As the Nazi Party assumed an iron grip over Germany Hitler became more confident on
the international stage, and on 26 February 1935 he announced the official formation of
the Luftwaffe. All the secrecy that had surrounded it was blown away. The DLV was
disbanded and all its former members encouraged to join the new National Sozialistische
Flieger Korps (National Socialist Flying Corps) - NSFK - which was introduced in its
place. In this manner the Nazi Party brought together under its control all of the countrys
flying clubs into one, essentially paramilitary, organisation. The NSFK could thus operate
side-by-side with the fledgling Luftwaffe, and both were able to grow and gather strength
In April 1935, the first German fighter squadron emerged under the command of Major
Ritter von Greim, bearing the title Jagdgeschwader Richthofen 2. The fighters made their
first public display during the occupation of the Rhineland (which had been demilitarised
under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles) on 7 March 1936. The first Luftwaffe fighter
school was established at the Deutsche Verkehrsfliegeschule (German Commercial Pilots
School) at Schlelssheim, thus completing the formation of the new Luftwaffe and the
NSFK. Through skilful propaganda and deception it appeared that Hitler had created a
force as technically advanced as the Luftwaffe virtually out of thin air. This feat tended to
add to Hitlers international diplomatic aura, the more so during the Luftwaffes
involvement in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), where its reputation as a terror
machine was confirmed during such incidents as the bombing of Guernica in April 1937.
As mentioned previously, the idea of placing a large body of troops inside enemy territory
was first mooted during World War I. In the interwar period Germany was a late starter in
the development of airborne forces, though far in front of Britain, the United States and
Japan. The potential of airborne forces was, perhaps surprisingly, first recognised in Italy
and the recently created Soviet Union. The first effective static-line parachute was
developed in Italy during the 1920s. Static-line parachuting, whereby parachutes are
attached to the inside of an aircraft and are opened automatically when troops leave the
aircraft, was essential for massed paratroop operations. Individual rip-cord opening would
have required drops from higher altitudes, with the inevitable higher casualties and worse
scattering. Training would also have been more complex and dangerous. The Soviet Union
demonstrated the military potential of airborne forces in the early 1930s, though its
methods were crude. The troops had to leave their slow-moving ANT-6 aircraft through a
hole in the fuselage roof, then gingerly edge their way out along the wings, before
jumping together and immediately pulling their rip-cords. This was hardly a safe
arrangement, though it did result in a very tight grouping on the drop zone, especially
when one considers that the aircraft had to slow to a speed of 96km/h (60mph), not much
above stall, in order to make the operation feasible! At such a speed surprise was hardly
possible, and the aircraft themselves would have been especially vulnerable to ground fire,
even from small arms.
German military thinkers also appreciated the flexibility in attack which airborne forces
could provide, and turned their thoughts to what could be accomplished at home.
Perhaps they were thinking of the smiling remark which Red Air Force Marshal Michal

Schutscherbakov had made to the French Marshal Ptain during a tour of the Maginot
Line defences along the Franco-German border: Fortresses like this may well be
superfluous in the future if your potential adversary parachutes over them. Hermann
Gring, head of the Luftwaffe, was among the German observers to the Russian
manoeuvres in 1935 and 1936, and had witnessed parachuting onto an objective by a
regiment of 1000 troops, followed by the airlandings of transport aircraft carrying
reinforcements of another 2500 fully armed men together with their heavy weapons. These
two types of airborne soldiers had then carried out conventional infantry attacks covered
by fire from machine guns, mortars and light artillery.
Parachuting and airlanding
All the invited observers were undeniably impressed. One of the British Armys highly
experienced and much-decorated soldiers of World War I, Major-General Archibald
Wavell, wrote at the end of those exercises: If I had not seen it for myself, I should not
have believed such a thing to be possible. However, Wavell also expressed reservations
as to their tactical value: how would lightly armed, sparsely supplied paratroops hold out
against forces deployed to repel them, especially tanks? Nevertheless, the Red Army had
demonstrated that conflagrations of the future would have a new dimension. It is
axiomatic that in times of war a nation will deploy its land forces to counter perceived
threats - along borders, coastlines and the like - and will leave its heartland relatively
lightly guarded. The means had been developed to attack an opponents vulnerable rear
areas in strength: height would now be added to those of width and depth (the concept of
vertical envelopment).
At this point a distinction must be drawn between the two main types of airborne soldier.
Parachute troops are trained to jump from aircraft, whereas airlanding troops are flown
into the drop zone in aircraft and disembark once on the ground. On the eve of World War
II, for example, the Luftwaffe possessed the 7th Flieger (Airborne) Division, composed
primarily of paratroopers, whereas the army possessed the 22nd Infantry Division, which
had been trained and equipped to operate with aircraft. Designated Airlanding Division,
none of its men were parachute trained. Their specialist training consisted of being able to
disembark from aircraft on the ground at speed.
Blitzkrieg and the use of airborne forces
By the late 1930s, Germanys armed forces were trained and equipped for the tactical and
strategic concept of the Blitzkrieg (Lightning War). This theory of attack was based on the
premise that it is simpler, easier and cheaper to destroy an opponents armed forces by
cutting off its supplies or by severing its lines of communications and control than by
frontal assaults. Allied to this premise were the elements of speed and shock.
On the ground armoured spearheads, supported by artillery and divebombers, would
smash through the points of least resistance, fan out, bypass enemy strongpoints, and
sweep around road and rail junctions, paralysing enemy supply, reserve and command
elements. Follow-on units would capture or encircle defenders as the spearheads plunged
deeper into enemy territory towards towns and cities. Surprise and large-scale attacks on
the enemys air force and airfields at the beginning of the campaign would ensure total
German air superiority throughout the Blitzkrieg attack. The use of airborne troops to
seize key points ahead of the armoured spearheads fitted well into this strategy. They

could take and hold key points until the attacking ground forces arrived. During the war
German airborne forces also proved that they could capture islands and hold them
independently of ground forces. But such airborne missions required special training,
equipment and personnel, as well as commanders and junior leaders with vision and drive.
Organisation and Training
The growth of the Fallschirmjger was a rather haphazard affair throughout the 1930s, but
the ambitions of the head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Gring, was to have a beneficial
effect on the airborne arm, which meant that by the outbreak of World War II Germany
possessed a fully fledged airborne division.
The development of Germanys airborne forces prior to World War II was haphazard,
though by the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Luftwaffe possessed a highly
motivated and trained airborne division, albeit understrength.
Less than one month after Hitlers ascension to power in January 1933, Hermann Gring,
at the time Prussian Minister of the Interior, ordered the creation of a special police unit
which in complete devotion to the Fhrer, would be capable and willing to stamp out any
spark of resistance before it could become a threat to the young National Socialist
movement. On 23 February 1933, the formation of this unit was entrusted to Polizeimajor
Wecke of the Prussian Police Force (during the early 1930s, police battalions were
organised to protect and support Nazi leaders on political tours and during engagements).
Two days later, Major Wecke reported that his police detachment for special purposes,
with a strength of 14 officers and 400 men, had been established. On 17 July the
detachment was officially retitled Landespolizeigruppe (Land Police Group) Wecke z.b.V.,
becoming the first landespolizeigruppe in Germany. It was awarded a special land police
standard by Gring on 13 September 1933, who stated: It is my objective to transform
the Prussian Police Force into a sharp-edged weapon, equal to the Reichswehr, which I
can deliver to the Fhrer when the day comes for us to fight our external enemies. On 22
December 1933, the unit was again retitled, becoming the Landespolizei General Gring.
Oberstleutnant Friedrich Jakoby, Grings ministerial adjutant, assumed command of the
unit on 6 June 1933.
The Fallschirmjger are born
The personnel of the Landespolizei General Gring initially served in a po
lice capacity, but in March-April 1935 Gring reconstituted his Landespolizei General
Gring to become the first fledgling airborne regiment. It was incorporated into the new
German Luftwaffe on 1 October of the same year, and training commenced at
Altengrabow. The landespolizeigruppe banner was retained as the official regimental
banner, and a new General Gring sleeveband was established to wear on the lower right
sleeve. Hitler introduced general conscription on 16 March 1935, and on 1 April the
Landespolizei General Gring adopted the more military designation of Regiment General
Gring. In September, regimental commander Oberstleutnant Jakoby received the
following order from Gring dated 23 September: The Regiment General Gring [RGG]
will be transferred into the Luftwaffe on 1 October 1935. From volunteers of the regiment,
a Fallschirmschtzen Bataillon [Parachute Soldiers Battalion] is to be established as a
cadre for the future German Fallschirmtruppe [Parachute Troops].
The General Gring Regiment was considered an lite unit and was paraded throughout

Germany as an example for other military organisations to follow. After a demonstration

parachute jump, during which the jumper injured himself and had to be carried off on a
stretcher, sufficient officers and men - 600 - volunteered for parachute training. The
amalgamation, in November 1935, of these 600 volunteers into the lite General Gring
Regiment constituted the nucleus of the first German airborne battalion, and in January
1936 the Ist Jger (Rifle) Battalion/RGG, commanded by Major Bruno Bruer, and the
15th Engineer Company/RGG were transferred to training area Dberitz for parachute
training, while the remainder of the regiment was sent to training area Altengrabow.
The official inauguration of the German paratroop arm dates from an Order of the Day
signed by Inspector General of the Luftwaffe Erhard Milch on Grings behalf on 29
January 1936. This called for the recruitment of volunteers for parachute training at the
Stendal Parachute Training School, 96km (60 miles) west of Berlin. The school had
opened a few months after the institution of the Luftwaffe parachute units in January
1936. Both active and reserve personnel of the Luftwaffe were qualified to attend the
Stendal Parachute Training School. On 5 November 1936 the Luftwaffe Parachutists
Badge was instituted. It was awarded to all officers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs)
and other ranks of the Luftwaffe who had successfully completed six parachute jumps and
other required tests. It was worn on the lower left breast to denote qualification as a
military parachutist of the Luftwaffe. In order to retain the badge, it was necessary to
requalify each year. In an order dated 2 May 1944, award of the badge was extended to
medical, administrative and legal personnel who made a single combat jump. When the
army parachute units were transferred to the Luftwaffe, qualified parachutists who had
earned the Army Parachutists Badge were required to retain the army badge. Members of
the Waffen-SS assigned to the 500th, 501st or 502nd SS Parachute Battalions received the
Luftwaffe Parachutists Badge upon qualification. In the mid-1930s, Gring and the
Luftwaffe were not the only parties interested in the potential of airborne forces. The
Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) - Army High Command - quickly recognised the
importance of parachute units to the success of the Blitzkrieg strategy, and had formed its
own Schwere-Fallschirm-Infantrie-Kompanie (Heavy Parachute Infantry Company) in
1936 under the command of Major Richard Heidrich, a former tactics instructor at the
Potsdam War School. The company took part with distinction in the autumn 1937
Wehrmacht military manoeuvres at Mecklenburg, becoming the star of the show and
providing impetus for the consolidation of the German parachute arm. It was expanded
and reorganised in the spring of 1938 into the second Fallschirmjger battalion, and was
organised like a support battalion with heavy machine guns and mortars. The Commanderin-Chief of the Army, Generaloberst Freiherr Werner von Fritsch, introduced the Army
Parachutists Badge on 1 September 1937. It was awarded to all members of the armys
Parachute Infantry Battalion who had satisfactorily completed a parachute training course,
which required the successful completion of six parachute jumps. Once qualified,
individuals had to maintain their parachute skills by making a minimum of six jumps per
year. However, the armys attempt to retain its own paratroop force was quashed by
Gring, who brought all the Wehrmacht paratroopers under the control of the Luftwaffe
(the army unit becoming the 2nd Battalion, 1st Parachute Regiment). When the battalion
was transferred to the Luftwaffe on 1 January 1939 awards of this badge ceased. However,
former recipients were authorised to continue wearing the badge in place of the Luftwaffepattern badge. Award of the army badge was resurrected again on 1 June 1943, with the

only personnel on jump status being the 15th Light Company (Parachute Company),
Brandenburg Division. This company sized unit was later enlarged to battalion size.
Roles on the ground
Quite apart from the continuing haggling between the army and the air force over
jurisdiction, opinion was divided over Fallschirmjger function. The Luftwaffe at this time
believed in a policy of using paratroopers in small units as saboteurs behind enemy lines
to disrupt enemy communications and morale, while the army felt they should be used in
strength, almost like conventional infantry. In the end, exponents of both viewpoints were
to see their ideas tested, and it is to the credit of the Fallschirmjger and their instructors
that they were able to fulfil both roles.
The next stage in the development of the Luftwaffes paratroop arm, in July 1938, was the
detachment of Bruers battalion from the General Gring Regiment. The Fallschirmjger
Batallion of the General Gring Regiment was split from its original unit and became the
Luftwaffes new 1st Battalion, 1st Parachute Regiment. It was to be the nucleus of the new
7th Flieger Division under Major-General Kurt Student, who was ably assisted by Majors
Gerhard Bassenge and Heinrich Trettner. The general was admirably suited for such an
appointment, having served both as an infantryman and later as a fighter pilot and
squadron leader during World War I. After the war he had been one of the staff officers
closely involved with building up Germanys clandestine air force prior to Hitlers
accession to power. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Student was both trusted by the
Nazi hierarchy and liked by the men under his command. Although a Luftwaffe
appointment, he was acceptable to the army because he disagreed with the air forces
doctrine of using paratroops in penny packets as saboteurs. He was a tireless officer
with great organisational ability whose ideas on the employment of airborne troops in a
strategic capacity were revolutionary at the time.
The next few years saw the remainder of the General Gring Regiment, which now
consisted of an infantry battalion, motorcycle company, engineer company and a light flak
unit, evolve into the mighty Fallschirm Panzer Division Hermann Gring. As stated
above, the army battalion became the 2nd Battalion, 1st Parachute Regiment, as part of
Students 7th Flieger Division.
Although the German occupation of the Sudetenland (the mountainous area between
Bohemia and Silesia) in the autumn of 1938 did not require the use of military force,
Students new division took part as an exercise. Gring was so impressed by the
outcome that army objections were overridden, and Heidrichs 2nd Battalion was
amalgamated into the Luftwaffe. At the same time, in January 1939, instructions were
issued for the raising of a second regiment, and Heidrichs pride was salved by promoting
him to command this unit. Both regiments were to be operational by the time of the
Norwegian campaign in the spring of the following year. They were organised along
standard infantry lines, with each regiment comprising three battalions (though in 1940 the
2nd Parachute Regiment only had two) and each battalion having four companies.
Though Germanys airborne forces were now under the control of the Luftwaffe, the
differences of opinion between the army and air force as to their employment continued.
The army saw their role as being akin to what General Mitchell had proposed in World

War I: the landing of a large body of men behind enemy lines to carry out conventional
infantry attacks in the enemys rear. To this end the 22nd Infantry Division was selected
and trained for airlanding operations. For its part the Luftwaffe continued to advocate
commando-type units which would attack and destroy important targets. Basing its
training around that premise, it laid stress on military engineering skills, particularly
The debate continues
When the two parachute arms of service amalgamated, each submitted its own evaluation
of airborne techniques and employment to the Armed Forces High Command (OKW). The
latter, having weighed up the evidence, then issued a directive in 1938 which did nothing
to resolve the divergence of opinion. The directive stressed two types of airborne mission.
First, there were strategic airlanding missions carried out in conjunction with the army:
The scope and execution of an airlanding operation depends upon both the military
situation and the intention behind the operation. In addition to the airlanded troops, other
Luftwaffe units, fighters and fighter-bombers are to be employed. This type of mission
must be closely linked to army operations. The Luftwaffe will be responsible for the
preparation and execution of the battle plan as well as for air supply drops. The army will
only assume command of airlanded formations once contact has been established between
those men and our own ground forces. Second, airlanding operations within the
framework of a Luftwaffe mission: In this connection what is implied are sabotage or
demolition units landed onto objectives which have been nominated by the Luftwaffe
because it had not been possible to totally destroy or severely damage them by aerial
While the conceptual differences were being discussed, there was a continuing expansion
of the airborne force and amalgamations of its units until a point was reached at which the
disparate groups needed to be formed into a single major formation. On 1 July 1938, the
Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) - Luftwaffe High Command - ordered that the
parachute, glider and air transport units under its command be combined into the 7th
Flieger Division. Tempelhof in Berlin became the headquarters for the new formation and
Student was designated its commander.
Airlift capacity
Despite Students drive and the fact that the building of German airborne forces was
pushed forward as quickly as possible, by the outbreak of World War II neither the 7th
Flieger Division nor the 22nd Division were at full strength.The roles and purposes of the
two formations were as follows: the 22nd Division was a conventional army infantry
formation whose regiments would be transported to the target in Junkers Ju 52 aircraft.
There was sufficient aircraft on the strength of 7th Flieger Divisions Special Operations
Air Transport Group to move 5000 men in a single lift. The operational method was for
the aircraft to land units of the 22nd on airfields behind enemy lines which had been
captured by paratroops and/or glider units. Once the soldiers of the 22nd Division had
deplaned, they would operate as conventional infantry.The parachute-trained units of the
7th Flieger Division would be landed by parachute or brought in by glider.
Fallschirmjger training was vigorous and tough, emphasised by Hitlers own 10

commandments to the Fallschirmjger, the first of which stated: You are the chosen
fighting men of the Wehrmacht. You will seek combat and train yourselves to endure all
hardships. Battle shall be your fulfilment. One commandment was typically Hitlerite:
Against an open foe, fight with chivalry, but extend no quarter to a guerrilla. All recruits
to the Fallschirmjger were volunteers, both before and during the war, which meant they
responded well to arduous training and maintained a high level of morale throughout the
course. All volunteers had to be relatively lightweight - 85kg (187lb) - and not suffer from
dizziness or air sickness. Recruits had to have no fear of heights, which was tested by
making individuals jump from a height of 15.2m (50ft) into water. Next, they were taken
aboard aircraft for flight testing, during which they were given a feel of the air and to
determine whether they suffered from air sickness or not. Throughout the induction
process instructors looked for courage, initiative and intelligence in recruits.
Fallschirmjger training
The training course itself lasted eight weeks, divided between four weeks of ground
training and four weeks of airborne training. During the latter period each recruit would be
required to make six jumps, after which he would qualify for the Parachutist Qualification
Badge (it was usual, in those early days, for the paratrooper to be armed only with a pistol
and hand grenades; other weapons were carried in containers which were dropped at the
same time as the soldiers). During the war years, training for parachute qualification was
relegated to regimental training schools where personnel were instructed in parachute
techniques and eventual qualification. However, fuel and aircraft became more scarce as
the war progressed and qualification became more difficult (there was also little time for
training as manpower demands increased). For example, Generalmajor Heinrich Trettner,
commander of the 4th Parachute Division, did not attend parachute school, and was thus
not awarded the Parachutists Badge.
The West, 1939-40
The Blitzkrieg campaigns in Europe in 1939-40 were to prove that the Fallschirmjger
could play a vital part in the Germany Armys plans. Though they saw limited action in
Poland, Students men were to prove their worth in Scandinavia and would be pivotal in
giving Hitler victory over the British and French in May 1940, when they unlocked
Holland and Belgiums defence lines.
At the end of August 1939, the 7th Flieger Division was far from complete. True, rifle
battalions and divisional troops had been added to the formation, but it would not be until
after the campaign in the West in 1940 that it would approach full strength.
The German Blitzkrieg was unleashed on Poland on 1 September 1939. By the second day
the Polish Air Force had been destroyed on the ground, and Germanys panzers were
streaming east. The combination of surprise, speed and terror tactics destroyed the Polish
armed forces of 3,000,000 men at a cost of 10,000 German dead. Warsaw surrendered on
27 September and the last Polish troops ceased fighting on 6 October. Though the
Fallschirmjger were briefed for a number of airborne missions, the speed of the German
advance made such operations superfluous. Nevertheless, elements of the 2nd and 3rd
Battalions of the 1st Parachute Regiment engaged Polish troops in a number of small but
hard-fought ground actions between 14 and 24 September. In addition, troops of the 2nd
Parachute Regiment also fought in Poland, seeing action at Deblin and the Dukla Pass.

Following the Polish surrender all paratroopers returned to their depots in Germany.
Hitler next turned his attention to Norway and Denmark. Germanys iron ore came via two
sources: via the Baltic Sea and down the coast from Narvik in northern Norway. The
British Royal Navy had established a naval blockade that threatened the latter route.
German possession of Norway would not only allow land-based aircraft to be used against
the blockade, but would also provide a springboard for aerial attacks against the British
Isles themselves. The invasions of Denmark and Norway were carried out with great
daring, and not a little audacity. An example of the latter occurred in February 1940, when
a German transport aircraft landed at Fornebu airport in Norway. Around 30 passengers
disembarked and began taking photographs, making sketches and writing notes. This
episode, which took place at the height of the so-called Altmark incident (when British
warships violated Norwegian neutrality to capture a German vessel holding British
prisoners), went almost unnoticed. But the intelligence gathered was later put to good use.
The invasion of the two countries began on 9 April 1940, the aim being to overwhelm
resistance by bold initial strikes and to quickly seize airfields and ports to deny any Allied
assistance to the two states. Throughout, the campaign was characterised by excellent
army, navy and air force cooperation, though interestingly it violated the principle of
concentration and invited the German forces to be defeated in detail (though only if the
Allies could react quickly). Denmark and Norway had to be attacked simultaneously
because the use of Denmarks air bases and the control of her coastal waters would
facilitate the occupation of Norway.
The first Fallschirmjger drops
The first airborne operations of the war were carried out by men of the 1st Battalion, 1st
Parachute Regiment, under the command of Major Erich Walther. The objectives in
Denmark were seized effortlessly: one company (the 4th Company under the command of
Hauptmann Walther Gericke) less a platoon dropped to seize the Vordingborg bridge
linking Copenhagen with its ferry terminal; the remaining platoon parachuted onto the two
airfields at Aalborg and secured them without a fight.The next day Denmark surrendered.
Things went less smoothly for the paratroopers in Norway, though.
The 2nd Company was ordered to take Fornebu airfield near Oslo and hold it until troops
of the 163rd Infantry Division could be airlanded. The 3rd Company, commanded by
Oberleutnant von Brandis, was ordered to secure the Sola airfield at Stavanger. At
Fornebu thick fog obscured the target and the paratroopers had to abort the drop. By the
time the transport aircraft carrying the airlanding units reached the airfield the fog had
started to clear and they were able to land. They suffered heavy casualties but took the
objective. At Sola the paratroopers successfully dropped close to the airfield. Though they
met resistance they secured the airfield with the assistance of fighter-bombers, and the
airfield was ready to receive Ju 52s containing infantry within 20 minutes of the airborne
assault. The most costly Fallschirmjger operation in the Norwegian campaign involved
the 1st Company under the command of Oberleutnant Herbert Schmidt, which was
dropped 144km (90 miles) north of Oslo. The men landed among strong Norwegian
defensive positions and took heavy casualties, including Schmidt himself. Surrounded and
fighting in appalling weather conditions, the Fallschirmjger were forced to surrender
after four days when their ammunition ran out.

Notwithstanding this setback, the Blitzkrieg in Norway had been a stunning success, and
by 5 May the Germans under the overall command of General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst
occupied the whole of southern Norway. Though French and British forces had been
landed at Namsos, Andalsnes and Narvik, the German attack against France and the Low
Countries which began on 10 May 1940 made the Norwegian deployment a luxury the
Allies could ill afford. The last Fallschirmjger operation in Norway was undertaken by a
battalion of the 1st Parachute Regiment, when it was dropped into Narvik to reinforce
General Dietls besieged forces located there. A few days later the 137th Regiment of the
German 3rd Mountain Division was dropped around Narvik following a crashcourse in
parachute jumping. There were a number of jump injuries and a wide dispersion on the
ground, but amazingly most of the men linked up with the German forces at Narvik. Dietl
withdrew from Narvik at the end of May, but between 7-9 June the Allies pulled their
forces out of the town, and by 9 June Norway had been cleared of all organised Allied
resistance. The Germans had seized a state of three million people in a campaign that had
lasted two months. The campaign had also demonstrated to the world the viability of using
small parachute detachments to seize airfields as a prelude to the landing of large numbers
of troops from aircraft.

The greatest success of Germanys parachute arm was arguably the campaign in the West
in May 1940. Though only comprising one division - 7th Flieger Division - the skilful use
of the airborne troops played a large part in the German victory. In fact, Hitlers armies
were inferior in numbers to those opposing them, and he had fewer tanks and less
powerful ones than his opponents had. Only in the air were his forces superior. But the
campaign would be decided by only a fraction of his units - 10 armoured divisions, one
parachute division and one airlanding division - out of the 130 which the Wehrmacht had
for the campaign. A vital part of the German attack was an assault against key points in

the defences of Holland and Belgium, which would focus the Allies attention away from
the main thrust: through the wooded country of the Ardennes. To make the secondary
threat convincing and lure the British and French to the Belgians aid, the Germans would
have to overcome the Belgian and Dutch defences. To do so Student only had 4500 trained
Of these, 4000 were used against Holland and the rest against Belgium. The key to
cracking the defences in Belgium were the bridges over the Albert Canal and the fortress
of Eben Emael, which was constructed of concrete and steel and whose artillery
dominated the whole area. Against Holland Student deployed the majority of his 7th
Flieger Division and General Graf von Sponecks 22nd Airlanding Division. Dutch
defences rested on three successive lines: a lightly fortified delaying position at the border;
the main Grebbe-Peel line, which made use of natural defensive barriers; and Fortress
Holland - Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague - which was protected by
estuaries, rivers and flooded areas. Bearing in mind that there had never been a large-scale
airborne operation in warfare before, Student may have been tempted to minimise risks by
using his men to support the ground attack directly. However, what he proposed was
radical: to use his men to crack open Fortress Holland and paralyse the nerve centres of
the Dutch government, thereby destroying the Dutch will to continue fighting. Though this
plan was opposed by Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Jeschonnek, it was approved by a delighted
Students plan
The operation against Holland had two elements. First, von Sponecks division would land
at the airfields at Valkenburg, Ockenburg and Ypenburg after they had been taken by
parachute assault, then two infantry regiments would enter The Hague and capture the
government and royal family, or at least disrupt Dutch defence plans. Second, south of
Rotterdam Students division would land by parachute to seize crossings over the major
water obstacles that protected Fortress Hollands southern flank. An infantry regiment
would also airland at Waalhaven to provide a reserve. The campaign in the West began on
10 May, and wherever the Fallschirmjger landed in Holland they encountered stiff
resistance from a Dutch Army determined to defend its country. However, Students
welltrained men captured all but one of their objectives, and the unit that landed at
Waalhaven captured the bridge intact. Paratroopers landed in Rotterdams football
stadium, and then advanced and captured the Meuse bridge. The Dordrecht and Moerdijk
bridges were captured intact and held in the face of heavy resistance. After two days the
leading panzers of General Georg von Kchlers Eighteenth Army reached the intact
Moerdijk bridge - Fortress Holland had been cracked.
Von Sponecks 22 Division had a tougher time north of Rotterdam. He had just enough
paratroopers to take the three airfields, and only 15 minutes between the parachute drops
and the arrival of Junkers bringing in his infantry. Things began to go wrong from the
start. The flat, patchwork landscape confused the pilots, who dropped the paratroopers
wide of their objectives. Thus when the Junkers touched down at Valkenburg they did so
in the face of intense fire. The aircraft got bogged down in soft sand and couldnt be
moved, thus successive waves had to turn back. At Ypenburg, 11 of the 13 Junkers
carrying the first assault company of the 65th Regiment were shot down by antiaircraft
fire. Wrecks of aircraft littered the ground at Ockenburg, where a similar story unfolded.

Nevertheless, enough troops had been landed to adversely affect Dutch morale and
contribute to their surrender on 14 May.
The fortress of Eben Emael and the bridges over the Albert Canal had to be taken to allow
the advancing German Sixth Army to pass unhindered into Belgium. Student later wrote:
The Albert Canal venture was Hitlers own idea. I used 500 men under Captain Koch.
The commander of the Sixth Army, General von Reichenau, and his chief of staff General
Paulus, both capable generals, regarded the undertaking as an adventure in which they had
no faith. A parachute assault against Eben Emael had been ruled out due to the limited
space and the chance of some men missing the drop zone. It was thus carried out in
gliders. The attack on the fortress and bridges was planned and practised in utmost
The assignment went to Hauptmann Walter Koch, who was to form a Parachute Assault
Detachment from men of his 1st Battalion, 1st Parachute Regiment, and Oberleutnant
Rudolf Witzigs pioneer company from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Parachute Regiment. Group
Granite would assault the fortress. This unit consisted of two officers and 83 men, 11of
whom were glider pilots. Group Granites 11 gliders and their Ju 52 tows took off from
two airfields outside Cologne at 04:30 hours on the morning of 10 May 1940. They were
released inside German territory and were left to glide to their target. Only nine gliders
landed on top of Eben Emael at 05:20 hours, the other two, including Witzigs, had to
abort shortly after take-off and land back in Germany. Witzig later reached the target with
a new tow.
Success at Eben Emael
The defenders were taken completely by surprise, which turned to consternation when the
paratroopers started to blow open the gun emplacements with hollow-charge explosives.
They blasted their way through the concrete, disabled the guns and neutralised the
Meanwhile, paratroop drops secured the bridges at Vroenhoven, Cannes and Veldvezelt
with relatively small losses, thereby breaching the Belgian defence line and allowing the
Sixth Armys units to pour across. The breakthrough in Belgium was not the decisive
stroke in the campaign in the West, but it had a vital effect: it drew the Allies attention in
the wrong direction and attracted the most mobile part of their forces to the area, which
meant they could not be deployed to meet the greater threat that then developed in the
For the Fallschirmjger the campaign had been a vindication of their doctrine and training.
This was especially true in Belgium, where on the entire invasion front the bridges were
blown up by the defenders except where airborne troops were used. But the campaign had
an unhappy footnote. General Student and his staff had flown to the captured Waalhaven
airfield and had then proceeded into Rotterdam on 14 May, where he conducted peace
negotiations before the Dutch capitulation on the same day. It was during these
negotiations that Student suffered a non-fatal gunshot wound to the head inflicted by a
passing unit of the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, which was unaware of the surrender and
raced into the city firing wildly at all and sundry. And as the Dutch were signing the
surrender terms, Rotterdam was bombed due to a breakdown in communication between
ground forces and the Luftwaffe. Nevertheless, the campaign in the West had been a

resounding triumph for Hilters sky warriors.

The Invasion of Crete
The conquest of Crete stands as a lasting tribute to the professionalism,
courage and tenacity of Germanys airborne forces. But victory was bought at a heavy
price, and when the battle was over a shocked Fhrer, who was not usually unduly worried
by losses, forbade any more large-scale airborne operations.
Following the successful conclusion of the campaign in the West, Hitler turned his
attention to the East: the invasion and conquest of the Soviet Union. Before he could so,
though, he needed to secure his southern flank. Hungary and Romania were German
satellites, and by using severe diplomatic pressure Hitler was able to bring Yugoslavia into
the Axis alliance. However, the deployment of 57,000 British troops to Greece encouraged
an anti-German coup in Yugoslavia in late March 1941, and thus the Fhrer was forced
into a Balkan campaign. For the airborne forces it would mean their biggest and most
celebrated operation. But beforehand they would carry out a smaller operation that was a
complete success.

The Germans invaded Yugoslavia and Greece on 6 April 1941, and immediately the
Blitzkrieg began to sweep all before it. In Greece, by mid-April, the German Army was
advancing in three columns: one from Larissa, one through Thebes towards Elensia and
Athens, and the third from Larissa and Arta towards Lepanto. Greek resistance had all but
collapsed and the British under General Maitland Wilson were withdrawing through the
Corinthian Isthmus towards the Peloponnesus. The Corinthian Isthmus is cut by a canal
whose sides are deep and steep. It was decided to capture the Corinthian pass to establish a
bridgehead to assist the crossing of German ground troops and cut off the British retreat.
The Fallschirmjger units assigned to the mission were two battalions of the 2nd
Parachute Regiment, reinforced by one parachute engineer platoon, artillery and one
parachute medical company. On 25 April, more than 400 Ju 52s and numerous gliders
were transferred from the Plovdiv area in Bulgaria to the airfield at Larissa. The drop was
scheduled for 07:00 hours on 26 April.

The aircraft flew over the Pindus Mountains and dropped to an altitude of 45.7m (150ft)
over the Gulf of Corinth, which was covered in a haze that masked their approach. The
pilots pulled up to a height of 122m (400ft), reduced speed and released their loads above
the objectives. The first to land were the gliders, which touched down on both sides of the
isthmus. The parachute troops jumped at the same time, landed north of the canal, seized
the bridge and captured a large number of British troops in the process.
The aim of seizing the bridge intact had been achieved, but then a stray anti-aircraft shell
detonated the demolition charges on the structure after German engineers had cut the
detonating cord. The bridge blew up, killing several paratroopers in the process. However,
on the same day engineers constructed a temporary span adjacent to the one that had been
destroyed to allow traffic between the mainland and the Peloponnesus to flow unhindered.
If the drop had been made earlier, large numbers of the British Expeditionary Force
(which had completed its evacuation by 27 April) would have been trapped.
Objective - Crete
After the fall of Greece all eyes turned to Crete. For both sides the island
was of importance: for the British to maintain naval supremacy in the eastern
Mediterranean from the base at Suda, while for the Germans Crete would provide an ideal
forward base for offensive air and naval operations in the Mediterranean. It would be able
to support Axis ground offensives in Egypt, and its capture would deny Allied aircraft
potential bases for striking at Germanys Ploesti oil fields in Romania.
General Student, commander of XI Flieger (Air) Corps, had advocated using the whole of
Germanys airborne forces to take Crete and Cyprus. Oberstleutnant Freiherr von der
Heydte, who fought on Crete, relates the story: This suggestion was submitted to Gring
by the Commander-inChief of Luftflotte IV [General Alexander Lhr] - under whose
command was General Student - on 15 April, and Gring ordered General Student to
report to him on 20 April. On 21 April Hitler saw Student, and on 25 April Directive 28
ordered the immediate preparation of Operation Merkur - the surprise attack on Crete.
All units to take part in the operation were assembled within two weeks. However,
because of logistical problems the date of the attack was put back to 20 May. For the
attack Student deployed 500 Ju 52 aircraft and 80 DFS 230 gliders to airlift the attacking
forces from the airfields in Greece. The assault force consisted of the LuftlandeSturmregiment (Airlanding Assault Regiment) under Generalmajor Meindl, 7th Flieger
Division (Generalleutnant Sssmann) and the 5th Mountain Division (Generalmajor
Ringel). The latter replaced the 22nd Airlanding Division, which could not be transferred
in time from Romania, and was in any case guarding the Ploesti oil fields.
Crete itself is 256km (160 miles) long and between 12.8-56km (8-35 miles) wide. The
interior of the island is barren and covered by eroded mountains. Water is scarce and roads
are few. The only usable port on the south coast is at Sfakia. The main towns on the island
are in the north: Maleme, Canea, Retimo and Heraklion. For the Royal Navy, the only
adequate port was in Suda Bay, also in the north.
Risk assessment
The original Luftwaffe plan proposed airborne landings in the western
part of the island between the airfield at Maleme and Canea (the location of various

bridges, roads and antiaircraft positions), followed by an eastward thrust. It meant German
airborne forces could concentrate within a small area and achieve local air and ground
superiority relatively quickly. The main disadvantage was that it might lead to extensive
mountain fighting, and the enemy would remain in possession of the Heraklion and
Retimo airfields to the east. The plan of XI Flieger Corps advocated simultaneous
parachute drops at seven points, including Maleme, Canea, Retimo and Heraklion. This
plan had the advantage of capturing all strategic points on the island at once. A subsequent
mopping-up operation would clear the rest of the island. However, the operation was risky
because the units dropped would be dispersed over a wide area, making them vulnerable
to counterattacks. The plan involved Students so-called oil spot tactics, whereby a
number of small airheads would be created in the area to be attacked, at first without any
point of main effort. These airheads would be continually reinforced until they finally
linked up. A post-war German assessment of airborne operations described how they
nearly failed on Crete: At one time, the whole operation was within a hairs breadth of
disaster because the airheads, which were too weak and too far apart, were being whittled
The Kriegsmarines (German Navys) Admiral Schster was responsible for landing
reinforcements of troops and heavy equipment by sea, but had no German naval units
under his command for his task. His transport vessels were small caiques that had been
captured during the Greek campaign and were assembled in the port of Piraeus.
The final plan
The attack plan finally adopted by Gring was a compromise solution:
10,000 troops were to be dropped by parachute, 750 transported by glider,
5000 airlanded in aircraft and 7000 brought in by sea. The first wave had two objectives.
First, men of the 1st, 2nd 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Luftlande-Sturmregiment would
land at Maleme airfield in gliders and by parachute. Second, the 3rd Parachute Regiment
would drop near Canea, the capital of Crete, and take it, and also seize the port of Suda.
The second wave would come in some eight hours later on two other objectives:
Fallschirmjger of the 2nd Parachute Regiment would drop on Retimo and its airfield, and
the 1st Parachute Regiment would drop on Heraklion and its airfield.
On the second day, follow-on troops of the 5th Mountain Division would be airlifted to the
three airfields (Maleme, Retimo and Heraklion) which had been, hopefully, taken by the
first wave. Admiral Schsters convoys would off-load men and supplies at Heraklion,
Suda Bay and other minor ports that had been captured. Throughout the operation the
fighters and bombers of VIII Flieger Corps would maintain German air superiority
The state of the garrison
On the eve of the invasion of Crete, the island garrison consisted of around 27,500 British
and Commonwealth troops and 14,000 Greeks, all under the command of Major-General
Bernard Freyberg, the commanding general of the 2nd New Zealand Division. The
original garrison - 5000 men was fully equipped, but the troops that had been evacuated
from Greece were tired, disorganised and only lightly equipped. The Cretans offered their
assistance to the Allies, even though they had suffered from air raids and many of their

young men had been taken prisoner during the Greek campaign. The only armour
available to the defenders consisted of eight medium and 16 light tanks, plus a few light
personnel carriers. Allied artillery consisted of captured Italian guns, 10 3.7in howitzers
and some antiaircraft batteries.
Despite the defenders deficiencies, it was obvious to the British High Command that a
full-scale invasion of Crete would take place, and so General Freyberg disposed his forces
accordingly: to guard against airborne landings on the three airfields at Maleme, Retimo
and Heraklion, and seaborne landings in Suda Bay and on adjacent beaches. His main
force was assigned to the defence of the vital Maleme airfield. His air cover was woeful,
though: 36 aircraft, of which less than half were operational (German preparatory
bombing raids damaged the airfields, and the aircraft were withdrawn from the island the
day before the invasion began).
The British naval presence in the area was much stronger. The fleet was split into two
forces: one consisting of two cruisers and four destroyers, which was detailed to intercept
any seaborne invader north of the island; and the other made up of two battleships and
eight destroyers, which was to screen the island against a possible intervention by the
Italian fleet northwest of Crete. Decoding of German Enigma traffic meant the British
were aware of German plans to invade Crete, but they believed an airborne invasion could
not succeed without the landing of heavy weapons, troops and supplies by sea. If the
Royal Navy could intercept these reinforcements, therefore, the battle would be won.
Preceded by large-scale dive-bombing attacks, the invasion began on 20 May 1941. At
Maleme, elements of the Sturmregiments 1st Battalion landed their DFS 230 gliders west
and south of the airfield at 07:15 hours. The 3rd Battalion became badly dispersed and
dropped into the middle of New Zealand defenders, where they were destroyed in a matter
of minutes. The 4th Battalion dropped without too much difficulty just west of Tavronitis,
while the 2nd Battalion dropped as planned into the area east of the Spilia and encountered
no opposition. A reinforcement platoon that dropped farther west near Kastelli was
annihilated by Greek troops and armed civilians.
Generalmajor Meindl had parachuted in with his regimental staff in the 4th Battalions
sector at 07:15 hours, but he was seriously wounded when he was shot through the chest
and so command of the regiment was passed on to Major Stentzler, commander of the 2nd
Battalion. A gliderborne assault by Kampfgruppe (Battle Group) Altmann (the 1st and 2nd
Companies of the Sturmregiment) landed to secure vital objectives near Canea, but
suffered heavy casualties. Hauptmann Gustav Altmann was captured on Crete on 22 May
and was held in captivity throughout the rest of the war. The 3rd Parachute Regiment was
dropped to the southwest of Canea, and many men were killed by New Zealanders. In the
face of heavy fighting the paras succeeded in securing Agia, and the prison there was used
as a headquarters for Oberst Richard Heidrich and his regimental staff, who had dropped
to the southwest of the village (at this time Generalleutnant Wilhelm Sssmann, who was
to meet up with the staff of the 7th Flieger Division, was killed when his glider crashed on
the island of Aegina).
By midday on 20 May, the 3rd Parachute Regiment was unable to reach Canea because of
the enemy and was suffering heavy casualties, and the Luftlande-Sturmregiment failed to
take Hill 107 (to the south of and overlooking Maleme airfield) and the airfield itself. To

compound the crisis, aircraft losses, problems with refuelling the Ju 52s and dust on the
Greek airfields affected the timetable of the second wave. This forced the second drop to
fly in small groups instead of en masse.
Oberst Alfred Sturms 2nd Parachute Regiment dropped onto Retimo at 15:00 hours.
Widely scattered, the men immediately encountered resistance from the Australian 19th
Brigade. Progress was slight. It was a similar story at Heraklion, where the 1st Parachute
Regiment met a determined defence and failed to take the airfield. Receiving news about
the initial landings, Student decided to try to land the mountain troops at Maleme instead
of Heraklion in an effort to save the whole operation.
On 21 May, the Fallschirmjger were able to take control of the vital Hill 107 due to a
mistaken withdrawal by the New Zealanders. This left the way open for the Germans to
capture Maleme airfield. German air strikes against New Zealand positions east of the
airfield began at 14:30 hours, followed by parachute drops by reserves from the 1st and
2nd Parachute Regiments. These, together with the men already on the ground, managed
to overrun the airfield defences. With the airfield still under artillery fire, the first Ju 52
carrying mountain troop reinforcements landed at Maleme at 16:00 hours. Many aircraft
collided or were destroyed by enemy artillery fire, but the troops were off-loaded
On 21 May the Royal Navy intercepted the German flotilla transporting troops and
supplies. Though many boats managed to escape back to Greece, many others were sent to
the bottom of the sea. On a more favourable note for the Germans was a failed British
attack on Maleme, which turned out to be the first decisive battle on the island. The
commander of the 5th Mountain Division, General Ringel, took command of the units
around Maleme and reorganised them. Meanwhile, the paratroopers around Retimo and
Heraklion were still fighting to maintain their positions. However, by 23 May the crisis of
the campaign had passed, and units of Ringels force had linked up with the remnants of
the 3rd Parachute Regiment near Canea. But the British continued to put up a dogged
resistance, especially around the fortified positions of Kastelli and Galatas. Indeed, the
battle there lasted for 48 hours and was among the most intense of the whole operation.
On the evening of 25 May, the mountain troops took the British positions at Kastelli and
Galatas and two days later the Germans, now receiving reinforcements flown into
Maleme, launched an assault against Canea itself. The 1st Battalion of the 3rd Parachute
Regiment outflanked the British rearguard positions and entered the town. The same unit
took Suda on 28 May, and from that date the battle turned into a chase. The next day
Ringels forces linked up with the parachute units at Retimo and Heraklion, which had
been badly mauled in the campaign. British forces were now retreating south to be taken
off the island by the Royal Navy, Freyberg having been authorised to evacuate on the
Mopping up

The Germans now controlled the whole of the north coast, and detachments of the
mountain division were pushing forward to prevent the evacuation. The last battle in Crete
was fought near the village of Sfakia, where the British rearguards fought to keep the
Germans away from the evacuation beachhead. By 1 June the campaign was over and the
island was in German hands. The price of victory had been high: one in four of the
paratroopers dropped on the island had been killed, with many more wounded.
Von Der Heydte later gave one reason for the losses suffered by the Fallschirmjger: the
lack of tactical experience of the German paratroopers particularly of their junior officers must be mentioned. Courage, enthusiasm and devotion cannot make up for lack of
experience and training. Student himself commented that Crete was the grave of the
German Paratroopers. Hitler was shocked at the losses incurred in taking Crete, and a
combined German-Italian airborne assault to capture Malta, which was much smaller and
more lightly defended, in 1942 was cancelled on his orders: The affair will go wrong and
will cost too many lives. In effect the Fallschirmjger had been grounded on Hitlers
orders - there would be no more large-scale airborne operations in the war. From now on
the paratroopers would fight as infantry, first in Africa and then in Europe, but would do
so brilliantly.
The Eastern Front
On the Eastern Front the Fallschirmjger fought as infantry, but soon earned a reputation
for courage and steadfastness in a series of vicious and unrelenting battles against the Red
Army. But the parachute divisions were to discover to their cost that courage and audacity
are no substitute for superior armoured and artillery firepower.
The usual reason given for the lack of any large-scale airborne operations after the Battle
of Crete in 1941 was that Hitler, horrified at the losses incurred, would not sanction risky
airborne missions. While this is true, a post-war study on German airborne operations
commissioned by the US Army provides another reason. The contributors to the study
included von der Heydte, Kesselring, Meindl and Student, and their comments are
pertinent: The airborne operation against Crete resulted in very serious losses The
parachute troops were particularly affected. Since everything Germany possessed in the
way of parachute troops had been committed in the attack on Crete and had been reduced
in that campaign to about onethird of their original strength, too few qualified troops
remained to carry out large-scale airborne operations at the beginning of the Russian
campaign. Air transportation was also insufficient for future operations. Thus when
Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, opened on 22 June
1941, the 7th Flieger Division was back at its bases in Germany for rest and refitting after
the losses suffered on Crete.
The German advance in Russia slowed at the end of September 1941, as Army Groups
North, Centre and South ground to a halt in the mud and against stiff Soviet resistance,
and units of the division were mobilised for service in the East. The 1st and 3rd Battalions
of the 1st Parachute Regiment and the 2nd Battalion of the Luftlande-Sturmregiment
(Airlanding Assault Regiment) were sent to the Leningrad area to fight with Army Group
Norths Eighteenth Army.
The Fallschirmjger were deployed to the east of the city on the River Neva, where Red
Army troops of the Volkhov Front were pushing west to relieve Leningrad. The fighting

on the Neva in October 1941 was bitter, but the paratroopers managed to hold off the
Soviet attacks. The 7th Flieger Divisions headquarters arrived at the front in mid-October,
and the Parachute Engineer Battalion shortly after. The latter went straight into action in
woods on the west side of the Neva. For the next two months the Red Army battered the
Fallschirmjger, to no avail. In December 1941, the Fallschirmjger in the Leningrad area
were pulled out of the line and sent back to Germany for rest.
The 2nd Parachute Regiment, a battalion of the Assault Regiment and units of the
Antitank and Machine Gun Battalions were sent to the Ukraine to bolster Army Group
South. This force - Kampfgruppe Sturm, commanded by Oberst Alfred Sturm - defended a
sector along the River Mius around the town of Charzysk throughout the winter of 1941
and into early 1942.During this period the Russians and the weather inflicted heavy
casualties on the paras.
Battles of attrition
The new year witnessed a number of Soviet offensives, against which the paratroopers
showed their true worth. As lite troops they were ideally suited to holding ground in the
face of overwhelming odds, as they had displayed on Crete. This certainly endeared them
to Hitler, who was obsessed with not yielding an inch of territory. Kampfgruppe Sturm
held all Soviet assaults, and Kampfgruppe Meindl (formed from the Assault Regiments
1st Battalion, units of the Artillery Regiment and the Regimental Headquarters) was
rushed south to reinforce Sturms men. A series of battles developed in the Yuknov sector
which lasted for weeks, with the paras holding back the Soviets and inflicting heavy
casualties on the attackers. Once the attacks abated, Kampfgruppe Meindl was sent north
to an area around the River Volkhov, southeast of Leningrad. In March 1942, the 2nd
Parachute Regiment was also moved to the Volkhov Front, being placed under the
command of the 21st Infantry Division.
The Soviet forces of the Volkhov and Northwest Fronts launched a massive offensive east
of Leningrad to try to break the siege on 8 May. The 2nd Parachute Regiment, located in
and around the small town of Lipovka, put up a desperate resistance and threw back waves
of Soviet tanks and infantry. The paras held, but were so depleted that in July they were
back in Germany for some well-earned rest.
In the summer of 1942 the majority of the 7th Flieger Division was resting and refitting in
Normandy, where a 4th Parachute Regiment was added to its order of battle to make up
for the transfer of the 2nd Parachute Regiment to North Africa. This unit was commanded
by Oberst Erich Walther. During this period OKW devised a plan for an airdrop in
southern Russia to capture a number of oil fields. This operation was cancelled in
September, though, and the 7th Flieger Division was allocated to Army Group Centre. The
division moved into positions near Smolensk, being tasked with defending a 90km (56mile) sector north of the Smolensk-Vitebsk highway. The winter was fairly quiet, as the
Wehrmacht and Red Army were locked in combat in and around Stalingrad farther south.
The lull lasted until March 1943.
Expansion of the airborne arm
At the end of the month the Soviets opened their offensive against the positions held by
the 7th Flieger Division. Massive artillery barrages and infantry and tank attacks failed to

overrun the Fallschirmjger. Generalmajor Richard Heidrich was allowed to pull his men
out of the line once the attacks had petered out. Transferred to southern France, it was
joined by the newly raised 2nd Parachute Division, and both divisions were grouped under
XI Flieger Corps. The 7th Flieger Division now became the1st Parachute Division. All
other para units fighting on the Eastern Front had been withdrawn for refitting by July
1943, but the worsening situation in Russia meant that it would not be long before they
were again sent east.
Away from the front there was a major expansion of the German airborne arm in 1943. As
well as the two divisions mentioned above, the 3rd Parachute Division was formed in
October 1943 and the 4th Parachute Division was created in November 1943. The new
divisions were needed: by end of the year the Germans had lost the Battle of Kursk and
the strategic initiative in the East.
In early November 1943, the 2nd Parachute Division was ordered to the Eastern Front to
take up positions near the Russian-held town of Zhitomir. Arriving between 17-27
November 1943 under the command of Generalleutnant Gustav Wilke, it was placed
under the command of XXXXII Corps and deployed east of Zhitomir. The Red Army aim
was to take Kiev, destroy the Fourth Panzer Army, seize communications centres west of
the Dnieper, including Zhitomir, and eventually annihilate the entire German southern
wing. By December the Red Army had massed a large force northeast of the city to breach
the German defences and reach the Dniester, though German units managed to plug the
gaps created by the Soviet advance. On 15 December the 2nd Parachute Division was
airlifted to Kirovograd and put into the line at Klinzy. It was supported by the 11th Panzer
Division and the 286th Self-Propelled Brigade. Fierce fighting developed around
Novgorodka and the surrounding hills. By 23 December the division had stabilised the
line, but had taken many casualties.
In early January 1944 the Red Army renewed its offensive against the 2nd Parachute
Division, and numbers began to tell. The 2nd Battalion of 5th Regiment was destroyed,
and by 6 January the 7th, 5th and 2nd Regiments had been forced to pull out of the
Novgorodka area due to Red Army pressure. Taking up positions near Kirovograd, the
paras dug in and waited for the next attack. It came in March, when Russian forces near
Kiev struck south towards the 2nd Parachute Divisions positions. By the last week of
March the Fallschirmjger had been forced across the River Bug where they set up
defensive positions on the opposite bank. Being pushed back all the time, by May they
were on the River Dniester. They had been decimated in the fighting, and so at the end of
the month the division was transferred to Germany for rest and refitting. It was the last
time that the 2nd Parachute Division would see action on the Eastern Front.
The only other paratrooper unit to see action in 1944 was the 21st Parachute Pioneer
Battalion under the command of Major Rudolf Witzig of Eben Emael fame. In mid-1944
Army Group Centre had been shattered by the Red Armys Operation Bagration, and by
July the Soviets were approaching the Baltic. On 25 July 1944, Witzigs engineers were
positioned on the road between Dunaburg and Kovno in Lithuania. The Soviet tanks,
supported by infantry and artillery, attacked the next day. Despite fighting heroically the
engineers were soon encircled, and Witzig was forced to retreat to the main German lines.
Witzigs battalion stayed on the Eastern Front until October 1944, but by then it had been
decimated by combat and was disbanded, the survivors being sent to other parachute units.

By the beginning of 1945 the Red Army was about to commence the final operations that
would bring about victory on the Eastern Front. The Wehrmacht scraped together its last
reserves for this final campaign, but at this stage of the war many units were very depleted
both in personnel and equipment. The newly raised 9th and 10th Parachute Divisions, for
example, were both understrength. The 9th was deployed outside Stettin on the Baltic, and
in April it was containing a Russian bridgehead on the west bank of the River Oder. On
the 16th the 9th was subjected to an intense artillery barrage, and from then on its units
began to disintegrate. The 2nd Battalion, 27th Regiment, and the 3rd Battalion, 26th
Regiment, were wiped out. The rest of the division pulled back, but was then overpowered
by Soviet tanks.
By late April 1945 the Red Army had surrounded Berlin itself. What was left of the 9th
Parachute Division withdrew to the central district of the city to defend the Fhrerbunker
and surrounding ministry buildings. When the city surrendered the remnants of the
division went into Soviet captivity.
The 10th Parachute Division was sent to southern Austria to contain a developing crisis
early in April 1945: Soviet forces were flooding through Hungary, and Army Group South
desperately needed reinforcements. On 3 April advance units of the division reached Graz.
Digging in around the town of Feldbach, the paras held off T-34 tanks with infantry
antitank weapons and 88mm guns. However, losses were high and the Artillery Battalion
was all but destroyed.

On 27 April, the 10th Parachute Division was pulled out of the line (though the 30th
Regiment remained in the Danube Valley) and transported by railway to Bruenn in the
Sudetenland to join what was left of the Eighteenth Army. The remnants of the 10th
Parachute Division made their last stand to the north of Bruenn, where they were wiped
out. The 30th Regiment managed to surrender to US forces, but was subsequently handed
over to the Russians. The Fallschirmjger war on the Eastern Front was over.
Italy, Part 1
As Italy started to waver as a member of the Axis, then collapsed alto
gether in the autumn of 1943, Hitler was forced to commit more and more troops and
material to protect his southern flank. These resources included the 1st and 4th Parachute
Divisions, which fought superbly in defence of Sicily and the Italian mainland.
Before the campaign in Africa had ended, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British
Prime Minister Winston Churchill met at Casablanca, Morocco, to devise future military
strategy. The next target agreed upon was Sicily. It was not the first choice, and it
represented a compromise between US and British strategists. Britain had long-standing
political and strategic interests in the Mediterranean, and believed that Sicilys conquest
would reopen Allied sealanes to the eastern Mediterranean, provide a base from which to
launch further offensives in the region, and might provoke the war-weary Italians into

dropping out of the war.

US strategists, led by Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, were keen on a
direct thrust against Nazi Germany, specifically a crossChannel attack. However, the two
Allied leaders wished to divert Germanys attention away from the war against the Soviet
Union, and were anxious to exploit the momentum of the impending victory in North
Africa. In addition, the mass of men and equipment that would be available after the end
of the war in Africa made an operation in the Mediterranean attractive and logical. After
considering actions in Greece, the Balkans, Crete and Sardinia, the Casablanca conference
chose Sicily as the next phase of the war against the Axis.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower was selected as the supreme Allied commander for
Operation Husky, the codename for the attack on Sicily, with General Sir Harold
Alexander as his deputy and actual commander of Allied land forces during the campaign.
Alexanders Fifteenth Army Group would direct Lieutenant-General George S. Pattons
US Seventh Army and General Sir Bernard Montgomerys British Eighth Army, the
veteran formation of the North African war.
The invasion took place along the islands southeastern shore due to the preponderance of
favourable beaches, ports and airfields. The key strategic objective of the campaign was
the port of Messina in the northeastern corner of the island. The main transit point
between Sicily and the Italian mainland, it is surrounded by extremely rugged terrain with
narrow beaches. Moreover, it had been heavily fortified and was beyond the range at
which Allied Africa-based fighters could provide effective air cover for bombers. It was
therefore ruled out as an initial objective.
The plan for the invasion of Sicily
The final Allied plan involved seven divisions: the Eighth Army would land four
divisions, an independent brigade and a Commando force from the Pachino Peninsula to
just south of the port of Syracuse (a glider landing would assist the amphibious troops in
taking Syracuse itself); the Seventh Army would land three divisions in the Gulf of Gela,
which would be aided by paratroopers from the US 505th Parachute Infantry Regimental
Combat Team and the 3rd Battalion, US 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Once ashore,
the Eighth Army would drive north to take Augusta, Catania, the airfields at Gerbini and
finally Messina. The Seventh Army, in a supporting role, would take airfields between
Licata and Comiso, then protect the west flank of the Eighth Army as it headed towards
The Axis defenders were under the overall command of General Alfredo Guzzonis Italian
Sixth Army. The 200,000 Italian troops were organised into six coastal divisions, four
infantry divisions and a variety of local defence forces. Many were poorly trained and
equipped, and their morale was questionable. The 30,000 German troops were grouped in
the 15th Panzergrenadier Division and the lite Hermann Gring Panzer Division.
The invasion of Sicily
Guzzoni realised his only chance of success was to crush the Allies on the shore before
they could consolidate their beachhead. He therefore spread his coastal units in a thin line
around the islands perimeter and placed two Italian infantry divisions in the islands
western and southeastern corners. He wanted to concentrate the German divisions in the

southeast, too, but Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, Hitlers representative in Italy,
transferred the bulk of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division to western Sicily before the
invasion to cover the eventuality of the Allies landing there. As a result, only the Hermann
Gring Division was in a position to launch a counterattack during the first few hours of
the invasion.
The invasion took place during the night of 9/10 July 1943. Opposition from the dispirited
and ill-equipped Italian coastal units was negligible, and by the end of the first day the
Eighth Army was on its way to Augusta, having taken Syracuse easily. Resistance in the
US sector was not much stronger. The next two days saw resistance stiffen as Guzzoni
committed the Hermann Gring Division, but by the 13th the Eighth Army had still
advanced as far as Vizzini in the west and Augusta in the east. There, progress slowed due
to a combination of difficult terrain and the arrival of the 1st Parachute Division.
The 1st Parachute Division, under the command of Generalmajor Richard Heidrich, was
formed from the 7th Flieger Division in May 1943. From the end of May it was stationed
in Flers near Avignon, France, coming under the command of XI Flieger Corps, Army
Group D. On 11 July the division was ordered to prepare for a move to Sicily, and the next
day the first units were airlifted to Rome. These units were the 1st and 3rd Battalions of
the 3rd Parachute Regiment, the 4th Parachute Regiment and the divisions machine-gun
battalion. Once they arrived in Rome, the 4th Parachute Regiment and the machine-gun
battalion were loaded onto gliders and Ju 52 aircraft and dropped around Syracuse and
Catania. It would be two days before the 3rd Parachute Regiment was despatched to the
island, while the 1st Parachute Regiment was sent to a holding area near Naples to await
further orders.
The Fallschirmjger in Sicily
On Sicily, the German paratroopers set about preparing defensive positions. The machinegun battalion, backed up by Fallschirmjger antitank and artillery elements, dug in around
Primasole Bridge over the River Simeto in the east of the island. The bridge was an
important objective for both sides, highlighted by the fact that several hours after the
German paratroopers arrived their adversaries in the British 1st Parachute Brigade (under
the command of Brigadier C. W. Lathbury and consisting of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd Battalions
and 21st Independent Company - Pathfinders) jumped in on 13 July. A savage battle
began, in which the British paras were forced to retreat with some loss.
Fallschirmjger of the 3rd Parachute Regiment jumped onto Catania airfield on 14 July,
which at the time was under fire from Allied aircraft and naval artillery. Meanwhile, the
men of the Fallschirmjger machine-gun battalion, expecting relief, mistook British paras
for their own side, and in the confusion the British captured Primasole Bridge. However,
the machine-gun battalion and the newly arrived 3rd Parachute Regiment mounted a
counterattack a few hours later which retook the bridge.The Germans crossed the river to
the east, and under attack from three directions the remnants of the 1st Parachute Brigade
were forced to withdraw into a small perimeter to the south.
The loss of Primasole Bridge
During the night of 14/15 July the two Fallschirmjger engineer companies jumped onto
Catania airfield. They marched to Primasole Bridge and took up positions on the south

side of the bridge. During the morning the British, with the support of tanks of the 4th
Armoured Brigade, attacked the bridge again. Again they were flung back by a
combination of antitank, machine-gun and mortar fire. The paras came back again, this
time reinforced by troops of the Durham Light Infantry, but again they were beaten off by
the Germans. The latter had brought up an 88mm gun, but this was subsequently
destroyed by intensive Allied artillery fire. The engineers on the south side of the bridge
were badly mauled, and by the afternoon Fallschirmjger casualties had reached a point
whereby further defence of the bridge was untenable. Another British attack finally
wrested the bridge from the paras. Two days later the Fallschirmjger retook Primasole
Bridge, before finally losing it on the 18th.
As the remnants of the two engineer companies amalgamated with the 4th Parachute
Regiment and retreated, the 3rd Parachute Regiment was cut off and embroiled in fighting
around the town of Carlenini. Breaking through the British encirclement, the unit managed
to reach the relative safety of German lines. But now time was beginning to run out for the
Germans in Sicily. By 24 July the US Seventh Army was in control of the entire western
half of the island. Most Italian units were showing little inclination to fight, and even less
so when the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was deposed on 25 July and replaced by
Marshal Pietro Badoglio.
Though fighting continued in Sicily, de facto Italian participation ended. Those Axis
forces still fighting had decided to make a stand in the islands rugged northeast corner,
around the strongpoints along the so-called Etna Line, and Guzzoni still talked of putting
up resistance. But his units were disintegrating, and Berlin made the decision to withdraw
from the island. From this point General Hans Hube, commander of the newly formed
XIV Panzer Corps, led Axis units in Sicily. He began to pull his forces back to evacuate
them across the Strait of Messina to the Italian mainland. The paratroopers were detailed
to plug any gaps in the Axis line as the evacuation commenced. Elements of the 1st
Parachute Regiment were evacuated on 11 August, while all other Fallschirmjger units
had left the island by the 17th, only hours before the first Allied units entered Messina.
With the relatively easy victory on Sicily, Allied planners began to look at an invasion of
the Italian mainland. Eisenhower authorised a landing by the Eighth Army, codenamed
Baytown, on 16 August. The assault would take place across the Strait of Messina
between 1 and 4 September to tie down enemy units that might interfere with US landings
farther north. The latter, Operation Avalanche, would take place on 9 September when
the US Fifth Army went ashore in the Salerno area. Both armies were grouped under the
Allied Fifteenth Army Group, commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander.
German plans for the defence of Italy
In view of the wavering Italian war effort, Hitler had given Kesselring, Commander-inChief South, the responsibility of defending southern Italy. Kesselring at the time was
thinking of fighting a delaying action until he could establish a permanent defensive line
in the Apennine mountains north of Rome. However, in the event of Italy deserting the
Axis, Hitler had given Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of Army Group B,
responsible for the defence of northern Italy, the task of occupying all important mountain
passes, roads and railways and disarming the Italians. Kesselring, meanwhile, would
disarm the Italians in the south and continue withdrawing north.

In mid-August 102,000 Axis troops withdrew from Sicily to the mainland, and on 8
August the German Tenth Army was established under the command of General Heinrich
von Vietinghoff. Its 45,000 men had the task of defending the toe of Italy in conjunction
with the Italian Seventh Army. Vietinghoff had three German divisions: the Hermann
Gring Division, 15th Panzergrenadier Division and 16th Panzer Division.
The British Eighth Army crossed the Strait of Messina on 3 September, and on the same
day the Italian Badoglio government signed a secret armistice agreement. The formal
announcement of the Italian surrender was made on 8 September, prompting German units
to move quickly to disarm their former allies (they had moved into jumping-off positions
In late July, the newly raised 2nd Parachute Division had been moved from its base in
southern France to a coastal area between the Tiber estuary and Tarquinia. This was in
anticipation of any unrest in Rome. Under the command of Generalmajor Bernhard
Ramcke, it was composed of the 2nd Parachute Regiment, an artillery battalion from the
remnants of Ramckes brigade that served in North Africa, and the 4th Battalion of the
Luftlande-Sturmregiment (Airlanding Assault Regiment). In addition, the Fallschirmjger
Lehr Battalion (Parachute Training Battalion) was used as a cadre to form the new 6th and
7th Parachute Regiments. On 9 September the 2nd Parachute Division was ordered into
the city to undertake Operation Student: restore order, disarm the Italian troops of the
Rome garrison and occupy the city. This had been achieved by the 10th.

Resistance was heavier at Monte Rotondo, northeast of Rome, which was the headquarters
of the Italian Army and its general staff and who refused to surrender to the Germans. A
drop by Major Walter Gerickes 2nd Battalion, 6th Parachute Regiment, onto the Italian
headquarters brought all resistance to an end. Casualties were light.
The US Fifth Army went ashore at Salerno on 9 September, and despite German pressure
the beachhead was firmly established by the end of the month. By that time the Allies had
brought 190,000 troops ashore and were pushing north. In response, Kesselring had
established a series of defensive lines across the Italian peninsula. The first was the
Barbara Line, a hastily built number of fortifications along the River Volturno, 40km (25
miles) north of Naples. The second was through Migano, extending east from the coast to
Monte Camino, Monte Maggiore and Monte Sammucro. It was called the Bernhard or
Reinhard Line. The third line, 19.2km (12 miles) north of the Bernhard Line and anchored
on Monte Cassino and the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers, was called the Gustav Line.
Composed of interlocking bunkers and fortifications, it was the strongest of the three lines.
The formation of I Parachute Corps
On 21 November 1943, Kesselring was made commander of Army Group C responsible
for the whole of Italy (Rommel was transferred to France). At the same time, two German
armies were formed under Army Group C: Tenth Army under General von Vietinghoff,

and Fourteenth Army under General von Mackensen. The parachute units in Italy also
underwent a reorganisation at this time. I Parachute Corps was formed in January 1944.
Under the control of General Alfred Schlemm, it would control the 1st and 4th Parachute
Divisions throughout the war in Italy. The 4th Parachute Division began forming in
November 1943. It was created around the 1st Battalion, 2nd Parachute Regiment; 2nd
Battalion, 6th Parachute Regiment; and the 1st Battalion, Luftlande-Sturmregiment. In
addition, Italian troops from the Nembo and Folgore Parachute Divisions joined it. The
division was complete by January 1944.
Meanwhile, the month-long struggle from Salerno to the Bernhard Line had all but
exhausted the Fifth and Eighth Armies by mid-November 1943. To break the stalemate, it
was proposed to land the US VI Corps behind enemy lines at Anzio. The Allied offensive
in Italy resumed on 20 November, but bad weather and German resistance inhibited
progress. Nevertheless, in mid-January the Allied armies were through the first two
German defence lines and were facing the Gustav Line. To facilitate the amphibious
landings, the Fifth Army would attack towards the Rapido and Garigliano Rivers.
Operation Shingle, the landings at Anzio, commenced on 22 January 1944 unopposed.
The US Fifth Armys offensive, however, encountered stiff resistance, especially around
Cassino and the Benedictine monastery on Monte Cassino above the town.
At Anzio, Major-General John Lucas dug in to secure the bridgehead before launching an
offensive. This meant that by 30 January the Germans were able to mass 70,000 troops
around Anzio and effectively stall the attack on Rome (had the Allies pressed forward
immediately from the beachhead, the Germans might have been hard-pressed to stop
them). As it was, von Mackensen was able to deploy his Fourteenth Army to contain the
beachhead. In addition, Kesselring ordered that all combat troops that could be spared
from the Tenth Army should be transferred to the Anzio Front. These included the
Headquarters of I Parachute Corps, the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Parachute Regiment, 1st
Parachute Division, and the Machine Gun Battalion of the 1st Parachute Division.
Hard-fought actions at Anzio
Around Anzio three divisional sectors were initially established - Western Sector, Centre
Sector and Eastern Sector - all under the command of I Parachute Corps. The 4th
Parachute Division was in command of the Western Sector, and was deployed south of the
River Tiber near Terracina. At this time the staff of the division was still being activated.
By the end of the month I Parachute Corps had devised an attack, but the Germans were
already feeling the effects of Allied air superiority, as a Fourteenth Army report dated 29
January makes clear: The main mission of the Fourteenth Army is to annihilate the
beachhead, which the enemy is reinforcing. The attack must be made as soon as possible;
the date depends on the arrival of the necessary forces, which is being delayed, as the
railroad system in Italy has been crippled by enemy air raids. On 30 January, US Rangers
were forced back from Cisterna, leaving supporting British troops in an exposed position.
Further German attacks between 3-4 February inflicted heavy losses on the Allies, and by
the 13th the invaders were virtually back on their last defence lines along the AlbanoAnzio road.
A period of relative inactivity then descended as Mackensen prepared his last great attack.

Morale among the Allied troops was very low, and it seemed possible to the Germans that
the beachhead could be eliminated. The main attack began at dawn on 16 February. The
4th Parachute Division, along with the 65th Infantry Division, seized the ridge south of
Cle Buon Riposo. Allied artillery and air attacks were heavy, but the Germans forged on,
seemingly oblivious to casualties. However, massive Allied air and artillery strikes halted
the attack on 19 February. Further fighting continued, but by the end of the month
Mackensen had halted his attacks at Anzio. He complained to Kesselring of the
insufficient training of troops, and your replacements, who are not qualified to meet the
Allied troops in battle. Due to this, the Army will be unable to wipe out the beachhead
with the troops at hand.
Battles of attrition
The beachhead had been saved but the fighting continued. A German operational report
dated 2-4 March, for example, recorded: Due to strong enemy counterattacks, one
company of the 4th Parachute Division, which had occupied the eastern part of the Ciocca
gorge, was wiped out by the enemy. Four days later, the 10th Parachute Regiments right
flank was hit by two enemy companies, and the attack was only beaten off after heavy
fighting. By the beginning of April, the 4th Parachute Division had been weakened so
much by the fighting that a Fourteenth Army summary concerning the fighting qualities of
its units placed it in Combat Quality Classification II.
Farther south, the Allies had failed three times to break the Gustav Line: in January
against the Rapido River; in February with the attempt to outflank Cassino; and in March
with the attempt to drive between the monastery on Monte Cassino and the town below.
However, the Fifteenth Army Group embarked upon a massive build-up and intensive
aerial campaign to prepare the ground for a fresh offensive. Codenamed Operation
Diadem, it opened on 11 May 1944 with a massive barrage by 1600 artillery pieces
along the entire front, followed by an assault by 25 Allied divisions. Progress in the Eighth
Armys sector was slow, but the Americans made better headway. On 25 May Allied
troops from Anzio linked up with patrols of the US Fifth Army north of Terracina - four
months after the original landing. The 4th Parachute Division fought a series of savage
rearguard actions as Mackensen retreated north, but the momentum was with the Allies
and there was nothing the Germans could do to stop Rome falling on 4 June. The first
Axis capital had fallen. But there was still a lot of fighting left to do in Italy.
Monte Cassino
At the beginning of 1944, the US Fifth Army and British Eighth Army were ready to
launch their first major effort against the Gustav Line, link up with a projected amphibious
landing at Anzio and then sweep on to Rome. Five months of bitter fighting ensued, as the
Fallschirmjger refused to budge from a place that would enter military legend - Monte
Of all the Fallschirmjger actions in World War II, it was the battles to hold the monastery
of Monte Cassino and the town of Cassino below that have entered military folklore. The
men of the 1st Parachute Division earned the title The Green Devils of Cassino for their
performance during a battle described by Hitler as being a battle of the First World War
fought with weapons of the second.

At the beginning of 1944 the Allies accelerated plans for an amphibious landing behind
German lines at Anzio, to be undertaken by the US Fifth Armys VI Corps (see Chapter
7). In the same month the newly formed French Expeditionary Corps under General
Alphonse Juin had arrived and took up position on the Fifth Armys eastern flank, with the
US II Corps in the centre and the British X Corps in support. The Fifth Army was ordered
to break through enemy lines to link up with the beachhead, but to do so it had to breach
the Gustav Line. The latter lay along two rivers - the Garigliano and the Rapido - and the
Fifth Army would draw enemy forces away from Anzio by attacking towards the two
rivers, crossing them, taking the high ground on both sides of the Liri Valley, and then
driving north to link up with the beachhead. The British Eighth Army, commanded by
Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, would support these operations by crossing the River
Sangro and taking Pescara, further tying down the enemy.
First assault on Monte Cassino
The Liri Valley is a long, flat plain through which flowed Highway 6, the main northsouth road to Rome. Unfortunately for the Allies, the Germans had fortified every key
point in the valley and they held the heights which guarded the mouth of the valley: Monte
Cassino and Monte Majo. The Allied assault began on 17 January. II Corps 36th Infantry
Division spearheaded the crossing of the Rapido near SantAngelo, but the failure of X
Corps and the French Expeditionary Corps to dislodge the Germans from the heights on
both sides of the Liri Valley meant the attack failed with heavy casualties. All attempts to
cross the Rapido had ended by 22 January, but the necessity of relieving the Anzio
beachhead forced Clark to renew his attacks.
The new assault took place over the high ground northeast of the town of Cassino. The
British X Corps resumed its attack from the Garigliano bridgehead, while the US 34th
Infantry Division, with the help of the French Expeditionary Corps and a regiment of the
36th Infantry Division, endeavoured to outflank Cassino and storm the Benedictine
monastery on Monte Cassino above the town. The result was that US and French units
gained a precarious foothold on the northeastern slopes of Monte Cassino itself, while the
34th Infantry Division had crossed the Rapido by 26 January.
In early February 1944, the 34th Infantry Division renewed its attacks on Cassino to
prepare for another attempt at the Liri Valley by the recently created New Zealand Corps
under Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Freyberg. However, after days of savage fighting
the Germans still held the town, and the New Zealand Corps relieved the Americans.
Thus far the Allies had spared the monastery from air, artillery and ground attacks, even
though it was a crucial strategic point. However, sightings of German troops within its
walls, plus enemy emplacements and strongpoints nearby, prompted Freyberg to request
its reduction by air and artillery attack. This took place on 15 February, when 230 bombers
and II Corps artillery pounded the historic site. However, though much of the monastery
and its outer walls were destroyed, the bombing did not destroy the subterranean chambers
where the defenders were sheltering. Thus when the 4th Indian Division attacked on the
night of 15 February it was repulsed with heavy loss. The next three days witnessed
further Indian assaults, all to no avail and with considerable casualties. Though the 2nd
New Zealand Division, supported by the artillery of the 34th and 36th Infantry Divisions,
had made some headway into Cassino itself, the terrible losses halted further operations.

The ensuing lull in the fighting gave the Germans an opportunity to reorganise the
defences. On 20 February, Generalmajor Richard Heidrichs 1st Parachute Division
moved into Cassino and the monastery. The town itself was occupied by the 3rd Parachute
Regiment under Oberst Ludwig Heilmann. The division itself was not at full strength,
having suffered in the fighting round Ortona. The average fighting strength of its
battalions, for example, was around 200 men.
Citadel of stone
Monte Cassino stands 518.2m (1700ft) above sea level, and it dominates the surrounding
countryside and what was Route 6, which snakes around Monastery Hill. It looks down on
the town of Cassino, but is not the only high point in the area. In fact it is surrounded by
other peaks and hills, all of which were to be the scene of heavy fighting. Directly behind
the town stood Castle Hill, on the top of which was a dilapidated fort known to the Allies
as Point 193, or Rocca Janula. Hangmans Hill, or Point 435, was on the slopes of Monte
Cassino itself, while 1km (.625 miles) to the northwest was Point 593, or Calvary Hill. To
the north of Calvary stood Snakeshead Hill, or Point 445.
For the next offensive the Allies assembled a massive arsenal. The commander-in-chief of
Allied air forces in the Mediterranean, General Eaker, had been instructed to use every
available bomber in theatre in the attack, while the quartermaster of the US Fifth Army
had gathered 600,000 artillery shells for ground support purposes. Freyberg intended to
use both the 4th Indian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division in one small area for
the attack. The New Zealanders were to take Cassino and Point 193. The Indians were
tasked with storming the steep sides of Monte Cassino and capturing the monastery. The
British 78th Division was to cross the Rapido each side of SantAngelo in Theodice and
push ahead into the Liri Valley.
The Third Battle of Cassino
The aerial bombardment began at 08:30 hours on 15 March and ceased at 12:30 hours. It
was followed by a mass artillery barrage involving 746 guns, which fired over 200,000
shells on the town and hill. The 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Parachute Regiment, commanded
by Major Foltin, was stationed in the town and took the brunt of the attack. Out of 300
men around 160 were killed, wounded or buried under the debris. The 2nd New Zealand
Division, supported by armour, then began its assault, and immediately ran into intense
and heavy fire. This was totally unexpected, as the Allies had believed that any defenders
still alive after the air and artillery attack would be so shattered psychologically that they
would be incapable of further resistance.
By the evening the New Zealanders had captured Point 193 but had failed to dislodge the
Fallschirmjger from the town, especially those in the Hotel Excelsior and around the
railway station. In addition, the bombardment had churned up the ground so much that
Allied tanks were unable to support the infantry. In addition, Heidrich directed fire from
the divisions artillery regiment and the 71st Mortar Regiment around Cassino. The latter,
plus a detachment of 88mm antiaircraft guns near Aquino, were particularly useful in
blunting the New Zealand attack.
The 4th Indian Division advanced over Point 193 during the evening of 15 March and up
to Point 165. This created a gap in the defences of Monte Cassino, at the time in the hands

of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Parachute Regiment, as the 2nd Company of the battalion had
been wiped out on Point 193. Indian troops tried, and failed, to take Point 236, while a
detachment of Gurkhas captured Point 435, within 400m (1312ft) of the monastery itself.
In Cassino the railway station was captured by Allied troops on 17 March, which meant
the town was all but encircled. The Fallschirmjger mounted a counterattack from the
monastery on the night of 18/19 March when the 1st Battalion of the 4th Parachute
Regiment attacked Point 193. After heavy fighting, however, the paras were forced to
The savage resistance prompted Alexander to hold a conference on 21 March to consider a
halt in the offensive. Freyberg opposed this, but fresh New Zealand attacks the next day
brought no success and so Alexander halted the battle the same day. The temporary
cessation of hostilities allowed both sides to reorganise. The Allies launched Operation
Strangle in the third week in March: an air campaign designed to disrupt German supply
routes by bombing bridges, roads and railways. Meanwhile, the German Tenth Army was
regrouped. The overall command from the Tyrrhenian coast up to the River Liri was
entrusted to XIV Panzer Corps, commanded by General von Senger-Etterlin, while the
divisions between the Liri and Alfedena were placed under General Feuersteins LI
Mountain Corps. The Cassino area was still defended by the 1st Parachute Division, but
the 4th Parachute Regiment now occupied the town and monastery hill itself. The 3rd
Parachute Regiment was deployed to the northwest. The 1st Parachute Regiment, with two
panzergrenadier battalions attached, was held in the rear as a divisional reserve.
The Allied Fifteenth Army Group also regrouped its units. The French Expeditionary
Corps was moved to the upper reaches of the Garigliano, where it had taken over the
British X Corps bridgehead. General Anders Polish II Corps moved into the hills north
of Cassino, while the US II Corps (the 85th and 88th Divisions) stood ready on the lower
Garigliano. The New Zealand Corps was relieved by the British XIII Corps with the
Canadian I Corps behind it. The British X Corps was shifted to the upper Rapido, and so a
major part of the British Eighth Army was assembled in the Cassino area.
Preceded by the usual massive aerial and artillery bombardment, the Fifth and Eighth
Armies began their attacks on 11 May 1944 - the Fourth Battle of Cassino had begun.
Allied gains to the south of the Cassino area were good, especially in the French sector.
However, Anders corps was having a hard time of it. His 5th Division had attacked on the
night of 11/12 May towards SantAngelo but was repulsed with loss. His 3rd Division had
taken Point 593, but throughout 12 May the German paratroopers attacked the Poles and
threw them off the hill. The Poles attacked again on 13 and 14 May, but a combination of
Fallschirmjger doggedness and German artillery defeated them. In addition, the German
gunners had observation posts on the 914m (3000ft) peak of Monte Cifalco, which
commanded a view of the entire offensive area of II Polish Corps. Developments on the
right flank of the 1st Parachute Division, though, were causing the Germans concern.
On 17 May units of the British XIII Corps took Piumarola and reached the Via Casilina,
effectively severing the rear communications of the parachute division. Worse were the
activities of the French, who had taken Monte Petrella by 16 May and were just south of
Pico on 19 May. The Germans were reeling as the US II Corps took Formia (17 May) and
Monte Grande (19 May). Monte Cassino was now the last pillar in the German defence

General Anders resumed his attack on 17 May, heralding the beginning of a 10-hour battle
for possession of Mount Calvary. All Polish attacks were defeated by the paratroopers,
who likewise destroyed all attempts by the British 4th Division to take the town below.
The Green Devils of Cassino were putting up an heroic fight. The irony was that Monte
Cassino had long lost its tactical significance. Due to deep penetrations by the French
Expeditionary Corps and US II Corps, the Tenth Army was threatened by encirclement
from the south (it had lost 40 percent of its combat strength in three days). On 17 May
Kesselring issued orders that the entire Cassino front be evacuated, and during the
following night the 1st Parachute Division began its retreat west over the mountains.
When troops of the Polish 12th Podolski Regiment stormed the ruins of the monastery
early in the morning of 18 May, all they found was a group of seriously wounded paras
who could not be evacuated.
Losses had been heavy: the Germans had lost 25,000 men in the defence of the Cassino
sector, while the Poles had lost 1000 killed in the attacks on Monte Cassino alone. The 1st
Parachute Division, battered but defiant, was able to make a successful withdrawal to fight
farther north as Germans forces retreated. It left behind a legend.
Italy, Part 2
After their heroics at Cassino and Anzio, the Fallschirmjger divisions in Italy retreated
north to take up positions alongside their German Army companions on the Gothic Line.
By the second half of 1944 the Allies enjoyed heavy superiority in manpower and material
in Italy, but there was still a lot of hard fighting to do, especially against the veteran
By the end of the first week of August 1944, the British Eighth Army stood on the Ponte
Vecchio, bridging the Arno River in recently liberated Florence, Italy. In conjunction with
the US Fifth Army it had just completed a campaign that had kept Axis forces in Italy in
full retreat, and Allied leaders were optimistic that they were on the verge of pushing the
Germans out of the northern Apennines, sweeping through the Po Valley beyond, and
advancing into the Alps, the Balkans and perhaps Austria.
The Allies had liberated Rome in June 1944, and in a two-month summer campaign had
pushed the enemy 240km (150 miles) north to the River Arno. Allied forces then ran into
the Gothic Line, a series of fortified passes and mountain tops 24-48km (15-30 miles) in
depth north of the Arno, stretching east from the Ligurian Sea through Pisa, Florence and
beyond. Farther east, along the Adriatic coast where the northern Apennines slope down
onto a broad coastal plain, Gothic Line defences were anchored on the many rivers,
streams and other waterways flowing from the mountains to the sea. The city of Bologna
was the key to the line, being a major rail and road communications hub just to the north
of the defensive belt.

With the loss of several veteran divisions to the northwestern theatre after the Allied
invasion of France on 6 June 1944, once the British and Americans had reached the
Gothic Line they might have remained there for the rest of the war. However, this would
allow Axis commanders to hold their positions with a minimal force, thus freeing units for
duty elsewhere. In addition, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was becoming
increasingly alarmed at the speed of Soviet advances on the Eastern Front, which he felt
threatened Western interests in Eastern Europe and British interests in the Mediterranean.
He therefore wanted to press on into the Po Valley, push east into the Balkans and north
through the Ljubljana Gap, reaching the Danube Valley, Austria and Hungary before the
Red Army (at this time the Americans did not share Churchills concerns about Soviet
intentions or his enthusiasm for campaigns in Eastern Europe). However, the Allies did
plan to continue offensive operations in the northern Apennines in the hope of breaking
through the Gothic Line.
In August 1944, Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander commanded the Fifteenth Army
Group. This comprised Lieutenant-General Mark Clarks US Fifth Army, made up of IV
Corps and II Corps, which held the western portion of the Allied line from the Ligurian
Sea at the mouth of the Arno River to a point just west of Florence. To the east was
Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leeses larger Eighth Army, made up of the Polish II Corps,
Canadian I Corps, and British V, X and XIII Corps. It held a line from the Florence area to
just south of Fano on the Adriatic coast.
Axis forces in Italy, grouped under Army Group C, were commanded by Field Marshal
Albert Kesselring. Opposing Clarks US Fifth Army was Lieutenant-General Joachim
Lemelsens Fourteenth Army, which contained 10 divisions belonging to I Parachute and
XIV Panzer Corps. Farther east, opposite the British Eighth Army, was the Tenth Army
under General Heinrich von Vietinghoff. It consisted of 12 divisions belonging to LXXVI
Panzer and LI Mountain Corps. Other Axis forces in northern Italy comprised the Ligurian
Army and the Adriatic Command, which undertook numerous anti-partisan and reserve
General Leese advocated the Eighth Army attacking up the Adriatic coast to Rimini to

draw Axis units away from the Fifth Armys front. Clark could then attack the Gothic Line
in a secondary assault from Florence directly north towards Bologna, and both armies
could then converge on and capture Bologna itself and move to encircle and destroy Axis
forces in the Po Valley. The operation was codenamed Olive.
The operation began on 25 August 1944 with the British V Corps and Canadian I Corps
attacking along the Adriatic. Supported by the British Desert Air Force, the offensive
rapidly gained ground and Allied forces had penetrated the Gothic Line near the coastal
town of Pesaro by 30 August. However, Kesselring soon plugged the breach with the 26th
Panzer, 29th Panzergrenadier and 356th Infantry Divisions. The seemingly endless rivers
and ridges, plus bad weather, meant Axis units had stalled Eighth Army forces short of
their Rimini and Romagna Plain objectives by 3 September.
Clark planned to open his phase of Operation Olive on 10 September 1944 with an
assault by the two corps under his command. As expected, the Germans began
withdrawing to the Gothic Line several days before the advance and initial resistance was
light. However, as the advancing forces reached the mountains, the intensity of the
fighting increased. The Eighth Armys attack in the east had succeeded in diverting most
enemy units away from the Futa Pass and II Giogo Pass areas, except for three regiments
of I Parachute Corps 4th Parachute Division. In the west only the 362nd and 65th Infantry
Divisions faced the US IV Corps.
The terrain of mountain peaks, streams, deep valleys and ridges meant small-unit actions
predominated, and the paras put up their usual dogged resistance. The Fallschirmjger had
heavily fortified the Futa Pass, but were surprised by the US attacks against the Il Giogo
Pass and nearby Monticelli Ridge and Monte Altuzzo. By 18 September, after heavy
fighting, I Parachute Corps withdrew to the next set of ridges to establish another defence
line. Encouraged at having breached the Gothic Line in at least one sector the Americans
continued their offensive, and in response the paras defended each position in a series of
intense small-unit actions.
As the Fifth Army continued its offensive, the British Eighth Army resumed Operation
Olive on 12 September. With overwhelming superiority in tanks, aircraft and troops, the
British V and Canadian I Corps smashed through defence lines manned by the 29th
Panzergrenadier and 1st Parachute Divisions to capture Rimini, the gateway to the
Romagna Plain, on 21 September. In the face of stubborn resistance, heavy rain and mud,
the Eighth Army continued its attack and began a three-month operation called the battle
of the rivers. Against adverse weather conditions and fanatical resistance, the Eighth
Army made only slow progress.
The weather deteriorates
Poor weather was also having an affect on Clarks progress, that and Ger
man resistance. Fog and mist drastically decreased visibility, and torrential rains swelled
streams, washed out bridges and created quagmires that made troop and supply
movements over mountain trails treacherous. Between 5-9 October, for example, Fifth
Army units advanced only 4.8km (three miles) for the loss of 1400 casualties. The
Germans were paying a high price for their tenacity, though, especially when they
mounted counterattacks. Kesselring therefore ordered his subordinates to conserve their

manpower by digging in and conducting a defence in depth rather than trying to retake lost
mountain tops (he knew that if the Americans advanced out of the Apennines and entered
the Po Valley before winter, Axis forces in Italy would be doomed).
A vicious battle was fought on the Livergnano Escarpment, a steep eastwest line of
solitary mountain peaks constituting the enemys strongest natural position in the northern
Apennines. The US II Corps assault began on 10 October. The 85th Division led the
primary attack against Monte delle Formiche in the centre of the escarpment, while the
91st and 88th Divisions maintained pressure on the enemys flanks. The defending units
were the 4th Parachute, 94th, 362nd and 65th Infantry Divisions. Supported by air strikes,
the 85th Division succeeded in taking Monte delle Formiche that day, while the 91st
Division outflanked the Livergnano Escarpment from the west, forcing the Axis units in
the area to withdraw on 13 October. However, Axis resistance, rugged terrain and poor
weather halted II Corps advance 16km (10 miles) south of Bologna.
The Allies run out of steam
Kesselrings staff were urging him to retreat to the more defendable Alps. Hitler, however,
facing Red Army gains on the Eastern Front and Allied successes in northwest Europe,
ordered the field marshal to hold his current positions. As far as the Fallschirmjger were
concerned it was business as usual, as the Americans battled their way from mountain to
mountain, and Polish, Canadian, Indian and British troops of the Eighth Army attacked
north of Rimini on 15 October in a continuation of the battle of the rivers. However, not
even the Allies could sustain high-intensity operations indefinitely. Between 10 September
and 26 October, for example, the US II Corps four divisions had suffered over 15,000
casualties, and during the same period Eighth Army casualties neared 14,000 men.
In early January 1945 the Allies in Italy ceased large-scale military operations. In addition
to the bad weather, five Eighth Army divisions and one corps headquarters had been
moved to northwest Europe and Greece, further diminishing Allied capabilities in Italy.
Alexander, Clark, Truscott and McCreery, therefore, agreed to go on the defensive and use
the winter months to prepare for new offensive operations, scheduled to begin on 1 April
1945. Despite two months of planning and limited offensives, Allied units came to rest on
a winter line that had changed very little since late October 1944. The approaching spring
would bring a fresh effort by the Fifteenth Army Group as it prepared to renew the
offensive in a campaign to take it into the Po Valley. Despite being inferior in manpower,
aircraft, armour and artillery, the Germans had displayed remarkable courage and
As 1945 opened the Allies still faced an organised and determined foe in Italy consisting
of 24 German and five Italian fascist divisions. Among the best were those in the German
Tenth Armys I Parachute Corps. The Fallschirmjger were by this time experienced
veterans who belonged to relatively intact units. That said, they lacked vehicles, air
support and were experiencing shortages of equipment. The first Axis defensive line,
along the northern Apennines, protected Bologna and blocked entry into the eastwest Po
Valley, about 80km (50 miles) farther north. The second defence line was anchored along
the River Po, which from its source in northwestern Italy meanders east to the Adriatic
Sea. The third line, in the Alpine foothills, extended east and west of Lake Garda. Dubbed
the Adige Line, after the river of the same name, these defences were designed to cover a

last-ditch Axis withdrawal into northeast Italy and Austria.

The final push
The last Allied offensive in Italy opened on 5 April 1945. On the Adriatic coast, the 26th
Panzer, 98th Infantry, 362nd Infantry, 4th Parachute and 42nd Jger Divisions battled units
of the Eighth Army. The Argenta Gap fell on 18 April, which threatened to turn the entire
Axis flank.
In the US sector, during the afternoon of 15 April, over 760 heavy bombers of the
Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force pounded positions held by the 65th Division and
8th Mountain Division of XIV Panzer Corps and the 1st Parachute and 305th Infantry
Divisions of I Parachute Corps. The Germans continued to fight, but wavered in the face
of a massive ground and aerial onslaught. By 18 April, as Axis defences cracked, the bulk
of the US Fifth Army passed west of Bologna. Two days later both the Fifth and Eighth
Armies launched high-speed armoured advances from the Apennine foothills towards the
River Po crossings. It was now a race between Allied and Axis forces to reach the river
first and the Alpine foothills beyond.
A hopeless task
The 1st and 4th Parachute Divisions desperately tried to buy time for small
detachments of their comrades to escape. But the Allied onslaught swept aside their
defences and annihilated Axis rearguard detachments. Now that the Allies were in the
open their overwhelming airpower, which the mountain fighting had negated to a certain
extent, could add massive support to ground forces. The rapid advance had created many
pockets of Axis soldiers, and special task forces had to be created to mop them up.
Eventually over 100,000 Axis troops were forced to surrender in the areas south of the
By 24 April the entire Fifth Army front had reached the Po, while to the east Eighth Army
units were within a few miles of the River Po by nightfall on 23 April. The Germans had
nothing left to stop the Allies crossing the river. The capture of Verona on 26 April
brought the Allies up to the final Axis defensive line in Italy: the Adige Line. Though
imposing, the Germans now lacked the materiel and manpower to organise a cohesive
barrier. Indeed, by this time most Axis units had disintegrated into small groups of harried
soldiers retreating as best they could in the face of intense Allied pressure.
Resistance was very light now as the Allies advanced, and the towns of Parma, Fidenza
and Piacenza were captured in quick succession. Tens of thousands of Axis prisoners now
fell into Allied hands, and the ragged survivors of the battered 1st and 4th Parachute
Divisions surrendered at the beginning of May. On the afternoon of 3 May 1945,
Lieutenant-General Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin, Vietinghoffs representative,
formally surrendered the remaining Axis forces in Italy.
North Africa
Though the Fallschirmjger contribution to the war in North Africa was
small, during the later part of the campaign in Tunisia paratrooper units had an influence
out of all proportion to their size in staving off defeat in the face of heavy odds. When the
Axis war effort in North Africa collapsed in May 1943, many paratroopers were left
behind and entered captivity. Because Hitler had lost confidence in large-scale airborne

operations after the fall of Crete, Operation Hercules, the planned assault on the island
of Malta, never took place. One reason for this was that the operation would have been
prepared and launched from Italy, and by 1942 the Fhrer had little confidence in the
quality of Italian troops. In addition, he was convinced that the enemy would get to know
of the operation beforehand, therefore destroying the element of surprise.
Despite the High Commands misgivings about Hercules, the airborne arm was
confident about the operation and had even organised a unit for the Malta operation. The
so-called Ramcke Parachute Brigade, under the command of Generalmajor Bernhard
Hermann Ramcke, consisted of Battalion Kroh (formed from the 1st Battalion of the 2nd
Parachute Regiment), Battalion Hbner (formed from the 2nd Battalion of the 5th
Parachute Regiment), Battalion Burckhardt (formed from a demonstration battalion), the
newly raised Battalion von der Heydte, an Artillery Battalion (formed from the 2nd
Battalion of the 7th Flieger Divisions artillery regiment), Antitank Company, Signals
Company and Pioneer Company. Training continued apace, and the paratroopers started to
receive new airborne equipment. First, there was a 48mm antitank gun with a tapered bore
that fired a solid projectile. However, though it was a marked improvement on the 37mm
model, it proved to be ineffective against British tanks in North Africa and production was
discontinued in 1943. Far more useful was the Panzerwurfmine (magnetic antitank mine),
which was introduced as a special weapon for fighting tanks at close ranges, though it was
soon superseded by the Panzerfaust antitank grenade launcher. For the Malta operation the
firm of Siemens-Halske developed a portable radio set that could be easily carried by one
man. It had a range of 288km (180 miles) and a battery life of six hours.
Deployment to North Africa
But the drop on Malta never took place, and instead in July 1942 the Ramcke Parachute
Brigade was sent to bolster the Axis war effort in North Africa. At this time Field Marshal
Rommel was at the height of his success, having smashed the British Eighth Armys
armour at the Battle of Gazala (28 May-13 June) and taken the port of Tobruk (21 June).
He had then invaded Egypt and forced the British back to the Alamein gap, but had there
been held in July. And such were his logistical problems that he needed to defeat the
Eighth Army decisively to prevent the collapse of his Afrika Corps.
Tobruk had been a disappointment, being able to handle only 610 tonnes (600 tons) a day.
Moreover, British bombing raids in early August reduced its capacity still further, and
British naval and air units intercepted and destroyed thousands of tons of Axis military
cargo before they reached port. From 1-20 August, Axis forces used twice as many
supplies as successfully arrived in North Africa. This meant that German units alone were
understrength by 16,000 troops, 210 tanks and around 1600 other vehicles by the end of
September. The men of the Ramcke Brigade were some of the 24,000 troops and 11,000
Luftwaffe personnel airlifted to North Africa in Ju 52s during July and August, but these
men could not be supplied with heavy weapons, artillery, troop carriers, tanks or
ammunition. In fact, they imposed a greater strain on already overstretched essential
For the Eighth Army, under the command of Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery,
the reverse was true. During August it received 386 tanks, 446 artillery pieces, 6600
vehicles and 73,200 tonnes (72,000 tons) of supplies. Rommel was placed in an

uncomfortable position: he could await the British attack with all its overwhelming
superiority, or he could forestall it by striking as soon as possible (his window of
opportunity would exist until September, when the balance of forces would be so heavily
weighed against him that his chances of mounting an offensive would be gone).
His plan was to launch a feint attack in the centre while his armour would outflank British
positions to the south, after which Axis forces would wheel north and head for the sea,
encircling enemy forces in the El Alamein position. An integral part of the operation
involved the Ramcke Brigade, which, together with the Italian Folgore Parachute
Division, was to capture the bridges over the Nile at Alexandria and Cairo.
Rommels attempt to break through at El Alamein resulted in the Battle of Alam Halfa (31
August-7 September), where his tanks were defeated by a combination of fuel shortages
and the tactics of the Eighth Armys new commander. There was no parachute drop on the
Nile, and German Fallschirmjger took no part in the action.
In late October the Ramcke Brigade was part of the Afrika Corps commanded by General
Hans Stumme (Rommel, ill, had flown back to Germany), and was deployed on the Axis
right to meet the coming British offensive. It came on the 23rd, when 1000 guns opened
the 2nd Battle of El Alamein. Though Axis forces fought with skill and determination,
Montgomerys superiority in tanks and men, plus the acute Axis shortage of fuel, began to
wear down Italian and German armoured strength. By 2 November, for example, only 35
German tanks remained in action. With his fuel nearly spent and most of his tanks and
artillery knocked out, Rommel, having flown back from Europe, decided to retreat. He had
started the battle with 104,000 men, 500 tanks and 1200 guns. At the end of the battle he
had lost 59,000 men killed, wounded or captured, almost all of his tanks and 400 guns.
Ramckes men had been involved in heavy fighting during the battle, but once the order to
withdraw was given the brigade was effectively abandoned. Indeed, all those Axis infantry
who had no transport were quickly overrun by the Eighth Army. The Ramcke Brigade had
no organic transport, but rather than surrender its commander decided to break out to the
west. The breakout cost him 450 men alone, but in the process the brigade captured a
British supply column which provided it with trucks and supplies. It was an amazing piece
of good luck, and enabled 600 men of the Ramcke Brigade to rejoin the Afrika Corps,
though not before an arduous trip across the desert.
The Allied Operation Torch landings commenced on 8 November 1942, designed to
seize Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia as bases for further operations against the Axis
alliance. In response, Hitler began sending German troops by air into Tunisia (1000 men
per day would arrive between 17 November and the end of December). Although the
amount was relatively small, it was enough to check the leading troops of the Allied First
Army when they reached the immediate approach to Tunis two-and-a-half weeks after the
amphibious landings. The result was a five-month deadlock in the mountainous region
covering Bizerta and Tunis.
A small part of these reinforcements were the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 5th Parachute
Regiment under the command of Oberstleutnant Walter Koch, the hero of Eben Emael.
They were flown into Tunis to protect its airfields and take up defensive positions to the
west and south of the city. Koch, however, fell ill in Tunisia and had to be ferried back to a
German hospital. The 5th Parachute Regiment was closely followed by the 11th Parachute

Pioneer Battalion under the command of Major Rudolf Witzig. This unit was an airborne
light engineering battalion composed of three field companies (each of three platoons and
a machine-gun section) and a signals platoon. First raised in 1942, its strength on arrival in
Africa was 716 men. It was used to bolster the Axis defences to the west of Tunis, directly
in front of the Allied approach route. On 17 November, the battalion made contact with
the advance guard of the Allied spearhead and a series of battles developed.
Over the next few days Witzigs men were slowly reinforced, allowing them to pull out of
the line and become a reserve unit. Parts of his command then received special training
and were given the job of slipping behind enemy lines to carry out reconnaissance and
gather intelligence. This intelligence led to the last parachute drop to be carried out by the
Fallschirmjger in North Africa.
The men of the 3rd Company, 11th Parachute Pioneer Battalion, were chosen for the
operation and began immediate training. The objectives were airfields and bridges behind
Allied lines in the Souk el Arba and Souk el Ahras areas, which were being used by the
Allies to transport supplies and reinforcements to the front for an assault on Tunis itself.
Though the idea of an airdrop was militarily sound, the actual operation was a disaster.
The Ju 52 aircraft took off from airfields outside Tunis in early December 1942. The night
was cold and windy and there was no moon. The aircraft were manned by inexperienced
and poorly trained pilots, and consequently the Fallschirmjger were dropped well away
from their targets. This meant a long walk once on the ground. In fact the paratroopers
never reached their targets, for as soon as they landed they were rounded up by the many
British patrols in the area. Within a few days all the pioneers had been captured, many
suffering from the effects of the sun. The airborne operation to disrupt the Allied advance
on Tunis had been a fiasco (following the fall of Tunisia, the 11th Pioneer Battalion was
reformed around a cadre of survivors of the North African campaign, the unit being
expanded to become the 21st Parachute Pioneer Regiment, which fought on the Eastern
Front and in the West in 1944-45).
Another airborne failure
The failure of the parachute drop did not deter the High Command, who authorised
another airborne assault a few days later. This was carried out by gliders on 26 December
1942, when men of the Parachute Company of the Brandenburg Regiment took off to
destroy bridges being used as supply routes by the British. This assault also ended in
disaster. Some of the gliders were shot down as they passed over enemy lines, while others
were downed as they approached their targets. Most of the men were killed in the
At the beginning of 1943 the Axis strategic position in Tunisia was grim. To the west were
the British First Army and US II Corps, which were shadowed by Colonel-General Jrgen
von Arnims Fifth Panzer Army. Rommels Panzer Army Afrika had made a masterful
withdrawal from Egypt and now held the fortified zone at Mareth, with its left flank on the
Gulf of Gabes and its right resting on the almost impassable salt marshes of the Chott
Djerid. Rommels attack against the US II Corps at Kasserine (14-22 February) and von
Arnims assault on the First Armys positions in northern Tunisia gained some time, but at
the beginning of March Rommel was repulsed before Mareth (he was then to leave Africa
due to illness) and the Germans lost the subsequent Battle of Mareth (20-26 March).

Axis forces continued to fight tenaciously, and the paras especially so. There were savage
actions at Medjez-el-Bab (where there is a cemetery containing the graves of many fallen
Fallschirmjger) and Tebourba, but it was now impossible to halt the Allied tide.
Reinforcements were still being flown into Tunisia, among them the Barenthin Parachute
Regiment. This unit was an ad hoc formation made up of three battalions and supporting
elements drawn from various units. As its commander was Colonel Walter Barenthin, a
senior paratrooper engineer, it seems likely that a high proportion of his men were also
engineers. Once in Tunisia it was allocated to the Manteuffel Division.
The final battle for Tunisia took place in May 1943, when Allied forces pierced the Axis
perimeter: II Corps north and south of Lake Bizerta and the First Army east from Medjezel-Bab.Von Arnim had committed all his reserves and the Luftwaffe was in the process of
withdrawing to Sicily, and was therefore unable to halt the Allied advance. Allied units
entered Tunis on 7 May, and French and British forces surrounded the Italian First Army.
Axis units began surrendering in droves, and by the end of the campaign (13 May)
275,000 prisoners had been taken. Most of what was left of the Ramcke Brigade,
Barenthin Regiment and 11th Pioneer Battalion entered captivity. Ramcke himself,
together with Witzig, Koch and other senior Fallschirmjger commanders, were airlifted
out of Tunisia before the surrender. In the great scheme of things the loss of a few hundred
Fallschirmjger was insignificant, for the Wehrmacht had lost an entire army group in
North Africa - Germanys next great military disaster after Stalingrad. On Hitlers
southern flank the fighting would now move to Sicily and Italy.
The West, 1944-45
In the face of massive Allied firepower and aerial superiority, the parachute divisions in
the West fought valiantly to try to contain the Normandy bridgehead, and then hold the
borders of the Third Reich itself. But, along with other German divisions, the
Fallschirmjger were exhausted by relentless combat and a deluge of enemy manpower
and resources.
On 3 November 1943, Hitler issued his Directive No 51 for the defence of occupied
France. It began: For the last two and one-half years the bitter and costly struggle against
Bolshevism has made the utmost demands upon the bulk of our military resources and
energies. This commitment was in keeping with the seriousness of the danger, and the
overall situation. The situation has since changed. The threat from the East remains, but an
even greater danger looms in the West: the Anglo-American landing! In the East, the
vastness of the space will, as a last resort, permit a loss of territory even on a major scale,
without suffering a mortal blow to Germanys chance for survival. Not so in the West! If
the enemy here succeeds in penetrating our defences on a wide front, consequences of
staggering proportions will follow within a short time. The directive went on to detail the
proposed buildup of forces in the West to meet the invasion. Though fanciful in parts, it
contained a statement that was to come all too true for many German formations: other
available personnel are to be organised into battalions of replacements and equipped with
the available weapons, so that the anticipated heavy losses can quickly be replaced.
The German order of battle
Despite the Fhrers orders, the German Army in the West on the eve of Operation
Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy, was considerably weaker than planned in

terms of equipment, quality and numbers. In June 1944 the commander of the Western
Theatre, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, had 58 combat divisions divided between
four armies. These armies were the First (commanded by General Joachim Lemelsen)
holding the Atlantic coast of France, the Seventh (commanded by General Friedrich
Dollmann) occupying Brittany and most of Normandy, the Fifteenth (commanded by
General Hans von Salmuth) between Le Havre and Flushing, and the Nineteenth
(commanded by General Georg von Sodenstern) deployed along the French Mediterranean
coast. The Fifteenth and Seventh Armies were grouped under Army Group B, commanded
by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The First and Nineteenth Armies were grouped under
Army Group G, commanded by Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz.
Because of units being stripped of troops and hardware for service on the Eastern Front,
plus the policy of allocating the best weapons and equipment to the same theatre first,
many German infantry, panzer and panzergrenadier divisions in the West immediately
prior to the D-Day landings were understrength and equipped with second-rate captured
tanks. This meant that the Fallschirmjger divisions in the West were among Rundstedts
best units when the Allies landed. In fact, the Luftwaffe had been carrying out a
restructuring of its parachute divisions since November 1943 (administratively under the
Luftwaffe, in the field by this stage of the war parachute units were always tactically
controlled by the army) as a result of the severe losses suffered in Italy and on the Eastern
Front. The result was the formation of I Parachute Corps in Italy and II Parachute Corps,
which on 26 April 1944 was transferred to Brittany to reinforce local defence forces in the
area. In May the corps was made up of the following units: the 3rd Parachute Division
(headquarters at Huelgoal, Brittany), 5th Parachute Division (headquarters at Rennes,
Brittany), and 2nd Parachute Division (this much-weakened unit was at Kln-Wahn in
Germany undergoing rest and refitting). In addition, the 6th Parachute Regiment under
Major Freiherr von der Heydte was in Normandy in the LessayMont Castre-Carentan area.
Briefly attached to the 2nd Parachute Division, this unit was the only Fallschirmjger
formation in Normandy in May 1944.
The formation of the two parachute corps was only one part of a grand scheme devised by
Gring for the formation of two parachute armies with a total strength of 100,000 men.
The plan was approved by Hitler. Despite the fact that the days of large airborne
operations were over, the various parachute units could still be classed as lites.
Composed entirely of young volunteers from the draft (the average age of enlisted men in
the 6th Parachute Regiment, for example, was 17 and a half), they were well armed and
highly motivated. By May 1944, for example, the strength of the 3rd Parachute Division
stood at 17,420 men, having been only formed in Reims in October 1943. Another factor
that made the para units so potent, especially in defence, was that they usually had a
higher percentage of support weapons than infantry divisions. The rifle companies of the
6th Parachute Regiment, for example, had twice as many light machine guns as infantry
rifle division companies.
II Parachute Corps, commanded by General Eugen Meindl, was part of the Seventh Army,
and in April Hitler had begun to show an interest in Normandy as a potential invasion site.
In response to this, the Seventh Army had moved the 6th Parachute Regiment to the
Lessay-Periers area, where it was subordinated to the 91st Division. Its immediate mission
was defence against airborne landings.

On 6 June 1944, the Western Allies launched the greatest amphibious operation in history.
The statistics for the invasion force were staggering: 50,000 men for the initial assault;
over two million men to be shipped to France in all, comprising a total of 39 divisions;
139 major warships used in the assault, with a further 221 smaller combat vessels; over
1000 minesweepers and auxiliary vessels; 4000 landing craft; 805 merchant ships; 59
blockships; 300 miscellaneous small craft; and 11,000 aircraft, including fighters,
bombers, transports and gliders. In addition, the invasion force had the support of over
100,000 members of the French Resistance.

D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, codenamed Operation Overlord, began with
the assault of three airborne divisions - the US 82nd and 101st on the right flank of the
American forces, and the British 6th Airborne on the left flank of the British - while
seaborne forces landed on five beaches. The main components of the invasion force,
grouped under the umbrella of General Bernard Montgomerys Twenty-First Army Group,
were the British Second Army under General Miles Dempsey and the US First Army
under General Omar Bradley. Utah Beach was the target of the US 4th Infantry Division
(part of the US VII Corps); Omaha Beach was the target of the US 1st Infantry Division
(part of the US V Corps); Gold Beach was the landing site of the British 50th Infantry
Division (part of the British XXX Corps); Juno was the target for the Canadian 3rd
Infantry Division (part of the British I Corps); and the British 3rd Infantry Division was
tasked with seizing Sword Beach (also part of the British I Corps). The initial parachute
and seaborne landings had mixed results: on Utah resistance was light and the troops were
off the beach by 12:00 hours; on Omaha the lack of specialised armour meant the
Germans could pin down the troops on the beach, with great slaughter; on Gold and Juno
the specialised armour of the British and Canadians allowed the troops to get off the
beaches quickly, and by the afternoon they were probing inland towards Bayeux and
Caen; and on Sword the troops were able to link up with airborne units farther inland. The
general Allied strategy was to capture Cherbourg for use as a port, prior to advancing
south into Brittany and east across the River Seine. By the end of the day 155,000 Allied

troops had been landed, backed up by massive aerial superiority and naval gunfire support.
The initial German response
The Germans were in a dilemma with regard to the landings, as they were
unsure whether they were secondary to the main effort in the Pas de Calais. Hitler for one
believed so, and he refused to release the mobile reserves from Panzer Group West until
late in the afternoon of 6 June. In addition, von Rundstedt refused to allow two panzer
divisions located north of the Seine to be switched to Normandy. In a sense this was
largely irrelevant, for even when the mobile reserves were deployed Allied air power
meant movement took longer than anticipated and units were committed to the battle
piecemeal. This meant that effective counterattacks against the beachhead could not be
mounted, and the panzer units consequently found themselves in an infantry support role.
On 6 June itself II Parachute Corps was ordered to Normandy immediately to repel a
reported Allied airborne drop near Coutances. When this proved untrue, the corps was
ordered to mount a counterattack in the area of St. L, together with the 352nd Infantry
Division and the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Gtz von Berlichingen, which was at
the time some distance away. At this time II Parachute Corps was at Les Cheris, 10km (six
miles) southeast of Avranches, and under the tactical command of LXXXIV Corps. The
condition of the various corps units was as follows: the 3rd Parachute Division was
positioned midway between Quimper and Brest; the 5th Parachute Division was not ready
for combat, and so only its 15th Parachute Regiment was transferred to the front.
In response to the invasion, Fallschirmjger units were ordered to seize strategic locations
that had not yet been taken by US forces. Von der Heydte ordered his 2nd Battalion to take
St. Marie-Eglise, the 1st Battalion to take St. Marie du Mont and the 3rd Battalion to take
Carentan. In fact, the 6th Parachute Regiment was one of the first German units to engage
Allied forces in Normandy, when it was involved in heavy fighting against the US 1st
Infantry Division around Carentan. The 1st Battalion was all but wiped out and the other
two battalions had to fight desperately to hold on to the town. With the Americans
controlling all the surrounding roads and the air, the paras received just one airdrop of
ammunition to enable them to break out of the town. On 12 June, following heavy losses
and the refusal of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division to provide reinforcements, the 6th
Parachute Regiment was withdrawn and redeployed to the Vire sector to fight under the
2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich.
Meanwhile, the 2nd Parachute Division under General Bernhard Ramcke had been
ordered to hold Brittany and had travelled from Germany by rail. The journey was long
and hazardous, being frequently interrupted by Allied air strikes and partisan attacks. The
first elements of the division reach Brittany on 19 June, but the rest did not join them until
July. This area was relatively calm, which gave the division time to work up those units
manned by inexperienced replacements. It was the lull before the storm, for by 12 June
alone the Allies had 326,547 men ashore in Normandy. Montgomery was determined to
make his breakout attempt with the US First Army on the right flank, pivoting around the
British Second Army at Caen. The Americans launched their offensive to cut off the port
of Cherbourg, which fell to the US VII Corps under Lieutenant-General J. Lawton Collins
on 29 June. For the Americans and Germans, and especially the Fallschirmjger, the
Normandy campaign was about to enter its bloodiest phase.

Following the fall of Cherbourg, the US First Army sought to win the line CoutancesMarigny-St. L, which would allow it to launch an offensive south and east to break out of
Normandy. Opposed to the Americans were the paras of II Parachute Corps. Though
outgunned and outnumbered, the Germans were greatly aided by the terrain of the socalled Bocage. A US Army report describes it thus: But the Germans greatest advantage
lay in the hedgerows which crisscrossed the country everywhere, hampering offensive
action and limiting the use of tanks. An aerial photograph of a typical section of
Normandy shows more than 3900 hedged enclosures in an area of less than eight square
miles. Growing out of massive embankments that formed dikes up to 10 feet high, often
flanked by drainage ditches or sunken roads, the hedges lent themselves easily to skillful
organization of dug-in emplacements and concealed strongpoints. St. L was the hub of a
road network that spread in every direction, and thus had to be taken.
The US attack began on 3 July, and a combination of the terrain and fanatical German
resistance made the going slow and costly in terms of lives. The close-quarter nature of
the fighting largely negated Allied air power, so that the Battle of the Hedgerows
became a multitude of small-scale actions. German troops did not try to form a continuous
line, but rather relied on a number of strongpoints that could support each other by
interlocking fields of fire. In addition to defending, the paras also launched effective
counterattacks. On 11 July, for example, the commander of the US 1st Battalion, 115th
Infantry Regiment, reported a beautifully executed and planned attack by the 1st
Battalion, 9th Parachute Regiment (part of the 3rd Parachute Division). The paras laid
down a barrage of mortar and artillery fire and then followed at a distance of 46m (150ft).
Achieving almost complete surprise, the 115ths outposts were immediately overrun.
However, the attack was held and the paras retreated. The US battalion had lost 100 men,
but so had the paras, and these were losses the Germans could ill afford. Indeed, the
Americans actually welcome these attacks, as a US soldier who fought in the Bocage
states: German counterattacks in the hedgerows failed largely for the same reasons our
own advance was slowed. Any attack quickly loses its momentum, and then because of
our artillery and fighter bombers the Germans would suffer disastrous loss. In fact, we
found that generally the best way to beat the Germans was to get them to counterattack provided we had prepared to meet them.
The fall of Hill 192
Gradually the Americans fought their way forward, suffering heavy losses
in the process, until they were on the outskirts of St. L itself. The key to the town was
Hill 192, a commanding height 4.8km (three miles) to the east. The defence of this feature
was initially in the hands of the 3rd Battalion, 9th Parachute Regiment, and the 1st
Battalion, 5th Parachute Regiment. Following a heavy artillery barrage, the US attack
began at 06:00 hours on 11 July. Resistance was its usual fanatical self, and soon the
Germans were feeding in new units to hold their positions: the 12th Parachute Gun
Brigade, 3rd Parachute Reconnaissance Company and 3rd Parachute Engineer Battalion.
However, all the Fallschirmjger units were badly mauled in the fighting, and by the next
day the 3rd Parachute Division was desperately scraping together its last reserves to form
a new defence line south of the St. L-Bayeux highway. The nature of the fighting for the
hill is described by a para who fought there, and shows that even lite troops have their
mental and physical limits: Carried my machine gun through the enemy lines into a

slightly more protected defile and crept back again with another fellow to get the
wounded. On our way back we were covered again with terrific artillery fire. We were just
lying in an open area. Every moment I expected deadly shrapnel. At that moment I lost my
nerve. The others acted just like me. When one hears for hours the whining, whistling and
bursting of shells and the moaning and groaning of the wounded, one does not feel too
well. Our company had only 30 men left (out of 170). In three days of fighting the 3rd
Parachute Division had lost 4064 men. By 14 July II Parachute Corps had no reserves left,
and Meindl informed Rommel that, as he had received no replacements, he could not hold
his present positions. But hold the paras did, at least until 27 July when US forces finally
broke through at St. L. The Battle of the Hedgerows cost the US First Army 11,000
dead, wounded and missing between 7-22 July.
The Normandy Front collapse
On 25 July US forces began their breakout from Normandy. The newly arrived Third
Army under General George S. Patton advanced west into Brittany, while Montgomerys
Twenty-First Army Group also broke out from Normandy. The German Seventh Army
was reeling, and much of it was destroyed around Falaise, in the so-called Falaise
Pocket. Ramckes 2nd Parachute Division was involved in the defence of Brest, fighting
the US VIII Corps as it advanced to invest the port. The Americans lost 4000 men, but the
Fallschirmjger also suffered heavy casualties. Ramcke was ordered to send a battle group
to support the weakened 5th Parachute Division, but on the way it was badly mauled by an
American armoured column before reaching St. Malo. Brest and the majority of the 2nd
Parachute Division fell into US hands on 20 September 1944.
What was left of II Parachute Corps was sent to Cologne after Falaise for rest and
refitting, while von der Heydtes 6th Parachute Regiment (which had lost a staggering
3000 men killed or missing since 6 June) was moved to Guestrow-Mecklenburg to form
the cadre of a new regiment. German forces in France had in the meantime lost cohesion
and were retreating east in disorder. The Allies secured their first crossing over the River
Seine on 19 August, and six days later they entered Paris. Allied forces had also landed in
southern France on 15 August, and the US Seventh and French First Armies were
advancing rapidly north. The shattered German armies were unable to halt the Allies, as
Brussels and Lyons fell on 3 September. General Dwight Eisenhower, supreme Allied
commander, ordered that Montgomery was to pursue the German armies into the Ruhr
while Bradley was to move into the Saarland. As Allied patrols crossed the German border
near Luxembourg on 11 September, it appeared that the Allies would be in Berlin by the
end of the year. However, fuel shortages resulted in the advance grinding to a halt all
along the front. The Germans had a breathing space.
The First Parachute Army was initially used as a training command attached to Army
Group D in France (the army grew out of XI Flieger Corps, being reorganised as the First
Parachute Army in January 1944). After the Allied breakthrough in France it took control
of the defensive lines in Belgium and eastern Holland between Antwerp and Maastricht.
Though called an army and commanded by General Student, it included Luftwaffe
signallers, navigators, observers and other men who had no proper parachute training and
no combat experience.
The 3rd and 5th Parachute Divisions were in a weakened state after their retreat from

Normandy, and had left most of their heavy weapons behind in the general rout. The 5th
was commanded by Generalmajor Heilmann and the 3rd by Generalmajor Walter Wadehn.
In addition, von der Heydtes 6th Parachute Regiment was being reformed - just in time to
meet Operation Market Garden.
Montgomery had proposed to Eisenhower that the First Allied Airborne Army be used to
turn the German flank by thrusting across the Lower Rhine in Holland. Three airborne
drops would be made to secure bridges over canals in the Eindhoven area, the River Maas
at Grave and River Waal at Nijmegen, and over the Rhine at Arnhem. On the ground, the
British XXX Corps would advance into Holland and link up with the airborne forces.
Market Garden was launched on 17 September. It went well at first, with the US 82nd
and 101st Airborne Divisions taking the Grave, Eindhoven and Nijmegen bridges.
However, the Germans were quick to respond.There were two SS divisions refitting in the
area - the 9th and 10th plus army and Fallschirmjger units, and these quickly moved to
isolate the Allied paratroopers. Fallschirmjger formations were involved against the US
101st Airborne at Eindhoven and Grave, and von der Heydtes 6th Parachute Regiment
also moved against their airborne opponents, though it was halted west of Eerde after
heavy fighting on 23 September. Meindls II Parachute Corps launched an attack southeast
of Nijmegen, but it was beaten back by units of the US 82nd Airborne Division.
Preparations for the last offensive in the West
During this period of the war parachute units were forced to make long marches on foot,
having inadequate transport. The 6th Parachute Regiment, for example, had to make a
60km (37.5-mile) march to reach its attack line near Boxtel. Allied air superiority made
such marches hazardous, while the distances covered meant the troops attacked in an
exhausted condition. Nevertheless, the paras did contribute to blunting Market Garden,
and de facto wrecked the last chance the Allies had of ending the war in 1944. In October
1944, the depleted II Parachute Corps was rebuilt once more to prepare for Germanys last
great offensive in the West.
Hitlers counteroffensive in the West was designed to split British and US forces by
thrusting towards Antwerp. Hitler launched Operation Watch on the Rhine, his attempt
to break though the US VIII Corps on the Ardennes Front, reach the Meuse River and
capture Antwerp, on 16 December 1944. The German units - 200,000 men in total formed Army Group B under the overall command of Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt.
This force comprised the Sixth SS Panzer Army, Fifth Panzer Army and Seventh Army.
US forces amounted to 80,000 men. Surprise was total and the dense cloud and fog
negated Allied air superiority. However, the Germans failed to immediately take the towns
of St. Vith and Bastogne, which narrowed their attack front. By the 22nd, the Americans,
having lost 8000 of 22,000 men at St. Vith, pulled back from the town, but the men of the
28th Infantry, 10th and 101st Airborne Divisions continued to hold out in Bastogne
against one infantry and two panzer divisions. On the same day the Germans launched
their last attempt to reach the Meuse.
Fallschirmjger units saw extensive action in the Ardennes Offensive, especially the 3rd
Parachute Division, part of the Fifteenth Army deployed to the north, and the 5th
Parachute Division, part of the Seventh Army. Though the paras of these units fought in

the infantry role, there was to be one last airborne operation. Student devised the
operation, codename Stosser, to support the offensive. He placed the mission under the
command of Oberst von der Heydte, who was instructed to form a group of 1200 men
drawn from the First Parachute Army and formed into four infantry companies, plus a
heavy weapons company, and a signals and engineer platoon. Unfortunately, the various
battalion commanders within the army had no wish to part with their best men, and so von
der Heydte was sent mediocre troops at best. This would not augur well for the mission.
His unit was 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 Malmdy - 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 at Lippespringe and Padeborn late. Kampfgruppe (Battle Group) Heydte
eventually boarded the aircraft and took off in appalling weather. Allied flak dispersed the
formation and pilot error ensured that the Fallschirmjger 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.
By the 17th a further 150 men came in to him. It was pitiful, but the widely dispersed
drops convinced the Allies that whole enemy airborne divisions had been dropped. They
therefore diverted units to search for them instead of sending them to the front. Von der
Heydte, cut off, unable to make contact with the Sixth SS Panzer Army and receiving no
supplies from the Luftwaffe, decided to form an assault group and break through Allied
lines to reach safety. The attack failed, and so on 21 December he formed his command
into two- and three-man groups to increase the likelihood of getting through enemy lines.
However, many of his men were captured, and von der Heydte himself also fell into
enemy hands. The last German airborne operation of World War II had ended in disaster.
On the ground, the 9th Parachute Regiment, part of the 3rd Parachute Division, fought its
way to Lanzerath. Some paras were attached to Kampfgruppe Peiper (which was to
achieve infamy in the Ardennes by massacring American prisoners of war at Malmdy),
while the rest of the regiment joined other SS units and had reached Schoppen by 19
December. Other elements of the 3rd Parachute Division had reached Ligneuville by 20
December, but increasing US pressure then halted their progress.
The 5th Parachute Division, protecting the southern flank of the Fifth Panzer Army as it
advanced to the River Maas, ran into heavy US resistance almost immediately and had to
rely on the assault guns of the 11th Self-Propelled Parachute Brigade to aid the advance.
The paras took Wiltz on 20 December, along with 1000 prisoners, 25 Sherman tanks and a
number of trucks. However, it was their last success. By the 23rd the division was being
attacked by Allied aircraft, suffering from fuel shortages and assaulted by elements of the
US Third Army and the US 4th Armored Division. It was pushed back to Bastogne, where
the US 101st Airborne Division was still besieged by surrounding German units. The 5th
took part in an abortive attack on the town on Christmas Eve, but afterwards, together with
other units, was pushed back to the offensives start line. Watch on the Rhine was over.
This plate recreates the appearance of a three-man mortar team from SSFJ Btl 500 on the

Baltic front in summer 1944. The 8cm schwere Granatwerfer 34 fired 3.5kg (7.7lb) high
explosive or smoke projectiles out to ranges of about 2,600 yards, and a practised crew
could average some 15 rounds per minute - if the available ammunition held out. The
loader (1) wears, again, the splinter-pattern Luftwaffe bone-sack, this time complete with
the Air Force breast eagle. The mortar gunner (2) has not bothered to remove the factoryapplied Luftwaffe decal from his helmet. He has received an issue of the new Waffen-SS
two-piece pea pattern combat fatigue uniform introduced from March 1944; no insignia
were authorized for wear on the four-pocket tunic other than the SS sleeve eagle and the
February 1943 system of stylized sleeve rank patches, and the latter are rarely seen in
photos of enlisted ranks. The team leader (3) has discarded his jump smock but retains the
field-grey jump trousers and jump boots, with his standard field-grey service tunic. The
collar shows the Tresse braid of senior NCO status and the left collar patch of his rank,
SS-Scharfuhrer; again, he displays a shoulder-strap cipher and cuff title from his previous
unit, in this case the Germania Standarte of the Das Reich Division.
Collapse in the West
The last vestiges of the German bulge in the Ardennes was wiped out on
28 January 1945. The total cost to the Germans in manpower for their offensive was
100,000 killed, wounded and captured. The Americans lost
81,000 killed, wounded or captured, the British 1400. Both sides lost heavily in hardware:
up to 800 tanks each. The Germans also lost up to
1000 aircraft. The Fallschirmjger divisions were now shadows of their former selves,
being depleted in both manpower and hardware. Nevertheless, their morale was still high
and they continued fighting.
The 2nd Parachute Division was reformed in Holland in late 1944 and went into action in
January 1945. It ended the war in the Ruhr Pocket in April 1945. The 3rd Parachute
Division, having been mauled in the Battle of the Bulge, was decimated in the defensive
battles in Germany in 1945. It too surrendered in the Ruhr Pocket, together with the 5th
Parachute Division. The 1st Parachute Army continued its defence of Holland and the
approaches to the Rhine into 1945, before being deployed to defend the east bank of the
river. It surrendered in the Oldenburg area in April 1945.
In the last few weeks of the war parachute divisions in name only were raised, along with
numerous battalions recruited from Luftwaffe training or ground units. They were thrown
into action to shore up tattered defence lines or launch hopeless counterattacks. Invariably
young, the members of such units fought with determination and courage against hopeless
odds, and maintained the Fallschirmjger spirit to the end. The 11th Parachute Division
was formed in March 1945 in the Linz area, though this unit was a division in name only.
By 20 April only 4450 men had been collected. These personnel were committed to the
battle in the West piecemeal, fighting on to the surrender of Germany in early May. The
division was commanded by Oberst Walter Gericke. The 20th Parachute Division was
apparently formed in northern Holland in March 1945, though its actions and fate are
unknown. Even less is known about the 21st Parachute Division, which was formed in
April 1945. By the end of April there was little fuel, ammunition or weapons left to equip
these units, much less transport to get them to the battle areas. By 8 May all fighting in the
West came to an end.

Special Paratrooper Actions

As well as large-scale missions, airborne forces could also be used for
small, precision insertions that could be stunning successes. However, such missions
carried a high risk, and the margin between success and failure was slim. As the Germans
discovered to their cost, the price for audacity could be disaster and high casualties.
During the war there were a number of small-scale Fallschirmjger actions that
characterise the spirit of Germanys airborne forces. The first, and most spectacular, was
the rescue of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from Gran Sasso in Italy.
Successive Axis reverses in North Africa and Sicily had weakened the credibility of
Mussolinis fascist regime, which he himself recognised. He met Adolf Hitler at Feltre in
the Veneto on 17 July 1943 with the intention of announcing to the German Fhrer that
Italy was withdrawing from the war. However, he was overawed by his fellow dictator and
stayed silent. Events were now taken out of his hands: on 24 July the Italian Fascist Grand
Council met and voted military powers to the king. The next day, after an interview with
the king, Mussolini was arrested and Marshal Pietro Badoglio formed a government.
Upon hearing of Mussolinis fall, Hitler decided that Italy would not be allowed to
withdraw from the war. His troops were in control of Rome and north Italy, and they
would be staying (see Chapter 7). As for Il Duce, the Fhrer decided that he should be
rescued. He therefore summoned SS Captain Otto Skorzeny to his headquarters in East
Prussia, declaring he would not fail Italys greatest son in his hour of need.
Though Skorzeny was in the Waffen-SS, for the purposes of the mission he was
subordinated to the Luftwaffe. His immediate problem was to find Mussolini, which was
solved when German radio intercepts pinpointed his whereabouts to the Gran Sasso
plateau in the Apennines, 128km (80 miles) northeast of Rome. Il Duce was being held in
a hotel on top of the plateau, which made his rescue a tricky problem. Skorzeny had three
options: a ground assault, a parachute landing or a glider attack. A ground assault was
ruled out because of the large number of troops required, and a parachute landing was
impractical due to the very real possibility of the troops missing the plateau altogether.
This left the glider option.
The operation is launched
On the afternoon of 12 September 1943, 12 fully manned DFS 230 gliders took off from
the Practica de Mare airfield near Rome. On board were men drawn from the Waffen-SS
and 7th Parachute Regiment (other paratroopers were despatched to capture the nearby
airfield at Aquila), plus a proGerman Italian officer named General Spoleti who was taken
to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. Four of the gliders were lost to Skorzeny during takeoff and the flight, and as the remaining gliders approached their landing area behind the
hotel he discovered it was totally unsuitable. In fact, it was a very steep hillside, and so the
gliders had to land in front of the building. The aircraft made a crash landing in quick
succession. Skorzeny sprinted towards the hotel, burst in and kicked the chair from
beneath a wireless operator on the ground floor to prevent any communications with the
outside world. The shocked Italian guards didnt fire a shot as the Waffen-SS and
Fallschirmjger troops secured the plateau and freed Mussolini. The only casualties were
those troops in a glider that suffered a heavy crash landing.

Having rescued Il Duce, Skorzeny evacuated him and himself in a Fieseler Storch aircraft.
The party travelled to Rome, then Vienna and on to East Prussia. For his part in the
operation Skorzeny was awarded the Knights Cross, while Mussolini exchanged one form
of imprisonment for another.
Waffen-SS airborne units
As well as the Luftwaffe, the SS (Schutz Staffel) - Protection Squad - became involved in
developing a parachute arm, and maintained a tiny organisation right up to the end of the
war. The 500th SS-Fallschirmjger Battalion was officially formulated on 6 September
1943, and was composed of personnel of the SS-Bewhrungs Abteilung (SS Punishment
Battalion). A penal unit, it was officered by volunteers from various WaffenSS divisions,
with half the other ranks being genuine volunteers. The other half were paroled
prisoners from SS penal companies. These men were offered the chance to redeem their
honour and clear their records by volunteering for service in the battalion and undertaking
particularly dangerous missions. This newly formed unit was not held in high esteem,
however, because of its high rate of personnel with questionable records. At this juncture,
it is important to examine the implications of being on penal detention.
SS-Oberfhrer Horst-Bender was a professional lawyer who spent his later career in legal
posts with the Waffen-SS, SS Central Office and SS Legal Department. He ended the war
as head of the legal detachment assigned to Himmlers personal staff and head of the
Waffen-SS judge advocates department, and was instrumental in the formulation of the
policy that provided the powers to inaugurate the unit.
On 20 August 1942, Hitler gave Otto Thierack, who had been appointed Minister of
Justice, a brief empowering him to deviate from any existing law to establish a National
Socialist Administration of Justice. Josef Gbbels, Minister of Propaganda, suggested that
in addition to Jews and gypsies, many more could be exterminated by work. Martin
Bormann, Nazi Party Minister, gave his approval for Thierack to see Himmler at Zhitomir.
Here, in the presence of Bender and SS-Gruppenfhrer und Generalleutnant der Polizei
und Waffen-SS Bruno Streckenbach, they reached an agreement on a principal entitled
the delivery of asocial elements to the Reichsfhrer-SS to be worked to death. The
initial proposal was to be applied to all Jews and gypsies, to Poles imprisoned for three or
more years, and to Czechs and Germans serving life sentences.
Himmlers meeting refined this to all Germans serving sentences of eight years and over
and all persons already in protective custody. Bender then made other recommendations
on penal detention. Himmler regarded the Dirlewanger penal unit, another Waffen-SS
formation, as an essential component of Waffen-SS discipline, linking it with the 500th
SS-Fallschirmjger Battalion as a way to redeem lost honour. Bender objected when, in
March 1944, SS-Obergruppenfhrer Gottlob Berger wanted to transfer all the SS men in
detention at Marienwerder to the Dirlewanger unit. Bender advised Himmler to send only
those convicted of criminal offences who would not be accepted by the parachute unit.
By early 1941, the planning for the German attack on the Soviet Union made it essential
for Yugoslavia to be brought under Axis control and, as had happened so often before, the
breakdown of diplomacy heralded a German onslaught (see Chapter 4). The whole
operation was not so much a victory for German arms as for German staff planning and
organisation. Operation Punishment, as it was called, began on Palm Sunday: 6 April

1941. Belgrade must be destroyed by continuous day and night air attacks, Hitler had
decreed. He was to have his swift victory as the Wehrmacht achieved another easy
triumph over an inferior enemy.
However, during the subsequent German occupation the Yugoslav partisan forces, the
Jugoslav National Army of Liberation (JANL), grew in strength and numbers to such an
extent that it seriously undermined the German military presence. Whole regions of the
country had been recaptured, threatening the other German-occupied areas. German
offensives using ground troops had had little military success. The tactics of the partisan
forces were to avoid direct confrontation: when faced with a superior enemy force they
simply dispersed and took refuge in the mountains. In the early months of the occupation
these tactics had worked well. When the organisation of corps and divisions had been
achieved and a National Headquarters established, however, such evasion was no longer a
plausible strategy. The efforts to disperse, then reconstitute, National Headquarters not
only consumed time and effort, but led to disruption of partisan operations.
The German offensive operations in 1942 and 1943 had given rise to several such moves
by JANL Headquarters. A fifth offensive opened in the autumn of 1943, codenamed
Operation Fireball, and the inconvenience was again repeated. In this operation, the
German 1st Mountain Division was deployed along with the Croatian 369th Division,
elements of the 187th Division, and the 7th SS Freiwilligen-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen,
part of V SS Mountain Corps. The Bulgarians contributed one division. Also included in
the order of battle were detachments of a Brandenburg battalion who were specialists in
intelligence and counterintelligence operations. The offensive was called off on 18
December, due to bad planning and after the Bulgarians had refused to carry out their
orders (they were now desperate to extricate themselves from their disastrous alliance with
Tito - elusive foe
In 1944, in an attempt to keep up the pressure, the offensive was resumed
under the codename Snow Flurry, though without the Bulgarians or the 7th SS
Freiwilligen-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen. These had been withdrawn for further training
and regrouping in the Dubrovnik region. Himmler felt assured that he could count on his
Moslem SS men to deal mercilessly with the Serbs, and so ordered in the 13th SS WaffenGebirgs Division Handschar to replace them. His trust was not misplaced. The division
distinguished itself by the scale of the atrocities it committed in this, its first major action.
Atrocities included SS men cutting out their victims hearts to ensure that they were
indeed dead. This offensive ground to a halt, as did all previous ones, without achieving
much more than moving the enemy from one region to another. Josip Tito, leader of the
partisans, divided his army into four, sending one corps to each quarter of the country.
Thus no single offensive could hope to eliminate his movement. Snow Flurry forced
Tito to yet again relocate his headquarters, this time from Jajce to the small town of Drvar
in the Bosnian highlands. Here, it was established in a cave situated in a narrow crack in
the mountains that surrounded the town. The cave was not only concealed from the air,
making it an almost impossible target to detect and hit, it also had an exit through which
the partisan leader could make good his escape if enemy forces were about to trap him. By
the spring of 1944, the German High Command decided that the only way to deal the

partisans a mortal blow was to kill or capture their commander. To accomplish this they
devised an audacious plan using an airborne assault. Since their costly victory at Crete in
May 1941, the German parachute formations had been mainly employed as lite infantry
rather than airborne troops. It was the SS, newcomers in this aspect of warfare, which was
to provide the strike force for this projected operation, codenamed Knights Move. A
particularly hazardous venture, the choice of date for the operation, which may have been
deliberate, was 25 May 1944 - Titos birthday.
The skies over Yugoslavia at this time were still owned by the Luftwaffe, thus suspected
or known partisan strongholds could be strafed and bombed almost at will. To offset this
undoubted tactical advantage, German airborne troops would go into battle with no heavy
weapons and limited quantities of ammunition. The SS-Fallschirmjger Battalion also had
the handicaps of being outnumbered and fighting an enemy who was well equipped and
armed. The SS airborne troops could also only rely on supplies dropped from the air, and
the aircraft would have to fly through a corridor of flak to deliver the supplies.
All ranks of the 500th SS-Fallschirmjger Battalion had been trained or given refresher
training at the Kralyevo Parachute School in Serbia, and their first mission would be
bloody and have a slim chance of success. It was just the sort of operation in which
desperate men could redeem their lost honour, those who survived, that is. Under SSHauptsturmfhrer Rybkas leadership, the unit was to be landed by parachute and glider
onto a hillside plateau that afforded sufficient flat ground to allow for a glider landing. The
location was the Bosnian industrial area of Drvar, the site of Marshal Titos mountain
headquarters. The aim of the operation was to capture the guerrilla leader and destroy his
partisan movement. The 500th SS-Fallschirmjger Battalion, numbering over 600 men,
was to be landed in the centre of an area held by at least 12,000 partisans. Unfortunately,
the paratroopers could not be transported in a single lift due to lack of aircraft. The initial
drop would be made at 07:00 hours and the second, a reinforcement wave, would arrive at
approximately midday. The paratroopers initial task would be to seize and hold the
ground. That accomplished, the gliderborne element, of which there were insufficient DFS
230 gliders available to make more than one assault, would land and capture the partisan
commander. The battalion would then hold the area until relieved by a battle group of
army and Waffen-SS units. The battle group was under orders to carry out the relief
operation during the first day of the airborne drop.

The attack goes in

According to plan, just after 07:00 hours on 25 May, a flight of Junkers Ju
52 transport aircraft began to disgorge their cargo of paratroopers of SSHauptsturmfhrer
Rybkas battalion over Drvar. The first wave had been divided into three detachments;
Rybka dropped with the first group. These were followed by waves of glider-towing
aircraft, numbering about 40 in all. Having flung themselves from their transport aircraft,
the paratroopers landed and within minutes had captured the deserted town and its
surrounding areas. With the landing area secured, the circling gliders descended and
disembarked the 320-man assault detachment. This was subdivided into six groups, each
being assigned a special objective. The task of attacking the Citadel, Titos cave
headquarters, fell to Panther, the largest glider group, which consisted of 110 men. It was
to this unit that Rybka and his group of paratroopers were to attach themselves. They
marched from the town towards the area on the hillside where Panther Groups six gliders

had come to a halt. The attack undoubtedly took the defenders by surprise, but the
Germans still ran into problems. Several gliders had crashed on landing, killing all their
occupants. Fortunately, the pilots of the six gliders of Panther Group had each landed
within yards of the objective: the mouth of the cave. Rybkas initial observation was that,
seeing how close the gliders had landed to the target, he would be able to organise the men
to mount a speedy assault that would result in the capture of Tito. The omens for success
looked good.
The reaction of the guerrilla leaders escort battalion and other Yugoslav troops positioned
around the cave entrance was prompt, though, and even as the flimsy wooden gliders
skated across the rocky terrain they were riddled with gunfire. When Rybka arrived he
found that the site had been turned into a slaughterhouse. He summoned the SS
paratroopers in the town, firing a red flare that brought most of them to him at the double.
Possessing heavy weapons and superior in numbers, the partisans had the advantage of
holding ground extensively strengthened with field defences. To combat those fearful
odds, the SS paratroopers were armed with nothing more than their personal courage,
training and their unshakeable believe in the SS ethos. They rallied and mounted a
concentrated effort to take the Citadel, but it was to be an unequal battle. Due to the
defenders superior firepower, the first assault collapsed. The SS group reformed, though,
and throughout the morning attacked continuously, throwing wave upon wave against the
enemy. Some attacks gained ground, while in others ground was lost. During the
mornings furious encounters the SS never managed to enter Titos cave. As midday
approached it was obvious to all that Knights Move had no chance of obtaining its
Now heavily reinforced, the partisan units began to take the initiative and counterattacked.
At midday, a second air drop of SS paratroopers took place, but by this time Allied air
units at Bari in Italy had been alerted to what was going on and were now flying sorties
over the battle zone. The arrival of the SS paratroopers second wave brought little change
to the now grave situation. The landing zone itself was swept by machine-gun and mortar
fire, which meant the paratroopers suffered heavy losses. Yet another assault was made on
the cave after the survivors had linked up with the main body of the battalion. This also
failed. Fresh units were arriving on the Yugoslav side all the time, and were put into the
line to relieve those who had borne the brunt of the first German attack.
The collapse of Knights Move
The decision to withdraw from the cave area was taken reluctantly by Rybka late in the
afternoon. The remnants of the battalion were to be concentrated inside the walls of the
town cemetery until relieved. This, however, was not achieved until long after dark, by
which time the SS paratroopers were exhausted. The 1st Mountain Division and the 7th SS
FreiwilligenGebirgs Division Prinz Eugen, scheduled to link up with their airborne
comrades within the first 24 hours, had failed to do so. Distances which appeared short on
the battle maps at German Headquarters became much longer when every yard of the way
was contested by partisan obstacles and ambushes.
Encircled by an enemy who was now supremely confident of being able to engage and
annihilate them, at Drvar the men of the SS battalion held their breath. However, the
Allies believed Titos position to be so desperate that a decision was taken to airlift him

out. On 3 June, therefore, an RAF Dakota flew him to Italy, and a week later he set up new
headquarters on the British/partisan-held island of Vis.
At Drvar, the SS battalion had been weakened by the losses it had sustained in killed and
wounded, but its morale was still high. During the ensuing cold, dark night, each partisan
attack was fought off valiantly. As dawn approached, in the distance could be heard a
noise drawing closer: the ripping-sheet sound of MG 42s at work. Then, the throaty cough
of engines was audible near the cemetery, heralding the approach of a group of
Schwimmwagen vehicles. They carried a battle group from the 13th Regiment of the 7th
SS Freiwilligen-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen, which had penetrated partisan lines. The
short but disastrous battle was over. The outcome of operation Knights Moves was that
the partisans had suffered approximately 6000 casualties. On the other hand, when the
battalion roll call was held after the fighting was over only 200 men responded to their
names. The rest were dead or wounded. The Germans had failed in their main objective of
capturing Tito. However, as a consolation prize, they had relived him of his new debonair
Marshal of Yugoslavia uniform!
Due to the excellent fighting ability displayed in the Drvar operation, Himmler, delighted
by its courage and steadfastness, especially when surrounded in the cemetery, restored the
ranks and insignia of the men with questionable records. The unit was retitled to become
the 600th SS-Fallschirmjger Battalion. Not only did this new title sever any connection
with Battalion 500, but it also eliminated confusion with the SS-Jger Battalion (SS Rifle
Battalion) 500. On 10 November 1944, the 600th SS-Fallschirmjger Battalion became
part of the SS-Jagdverbande (SS Hunting Units - used for anti-partisan operations and the
like). It did retain its identity, however, and continued to operate as a separate unit. Within
the SS-Jagdverbande, sub-units existed such as SS-Sturmbataillon (SS Assault Battalion)
500, which had two parachute-trained companies attached to it: Dora I and Dora II. The
600th SS-Fallschirmjger Battalion continued to serve as a combat unit on the Eastern
Front until the end of the war. Needless to say, it suffered heavy casualties as the German
armed forces tried to stem the advance of the Red Army.
Chapter IX Airborne forces
Airborne forces are military units, usually light infantry, set up to be moved by aircraft and
dropped into battle. Thus they can be placed behind enemy lines, and have the
capability to deploy almost anywhere with little warning. The formations are limited only
by the number and size of their aircraft, so given enough capacity a huge force can appear
out of nowhere in minutes, an action referred to as vertical envelopment.
Conversely, airborne forces typically lack the supplies and equipment for prolonged
combat operations, and are therefore more suited for airhead operations than long-term
occupation; furthermore, parachute operations are particularly sensitive to adverse weather
conditions. Advances in helicopter technology since World War II have brought increased
flexibility to the scope of airborne operations, and air assaults have largely replaced largescale parachute operations, and (almost) completely replaced combat glider operations.
However, due to the limited range of helicopters and the limited number of troops that can
be transported by them many countries retain Paratroopers as a valuable strategic asset.
General information

Airborne forces can be divided into three categories:

Paratrooper Airborne Infantier Infantry soldier landed by parachute from aircraft,
Military Parachutist Soldier [Non-Infantry i.e. signaler, artilleryman, medic]landed by
parachute from aircraft
Airlanding troopslanded by aircraft (usually glider),
Air assault troops or airmobile infantrytransported to the battle by helicopter or by
The basic premise of the Airborne is that they can arrive with such speed that a coherent
defence cannot be mounted quickly. It is assumed that this tactical advantage cannot be
sustained for very long, so paratroopers must either use the supplies of the enemy, be
continuously resupplied by air or wait to be relieved by ground troops. Though Airborne
troops are usually defenceless in transit, their sudden appearance can surprise or shock
defending forces for a short time.
Airborne forces are generally composed of infantry and light, non-armored vehicles and
guns. In World War II light motorcycles were used by paratroopers; the American
Cushman Model 53 and the British Welbike. After the Korean war, vehicles light enough
to be dropped by parachute were developed, such as the M551 Sheridan tank. The Soviets
developed the BMD-1 and BMD-3 fighting vehicles. Helicopters can transport light
armored vehicles such as the German Wiesel AWC, LAV-25 and British CVR(T) series.
Large transports can carry only small numbers of main battle tanks or heavier infantry
fighting vehicles.
The idea of Sky Soldiers is by no means a recent thought; Benjamin Franklin envisioned
a time when soldiers would be delivered from the sky, with a crude, rudimentary
understanding of parachutes:
Where is the prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defense, so
that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not, in many places, do an
infinite deal of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?
Benjamin Franklin, 1784
Although Winston Churchill, had proposed the creation of an airborne force to assault
behind the Germans lines in 1917, the first modern operation dates to late 1918. Major
Lewis H. Brereton and his superior Brigadier General Billy Mitchell suggested dropping
elements of the United States 1st Infantry Divisionbehind German lines near Metz. The
operation was planned for February 1919 but the war ended before such an attack could be
seriously planned. Mitchell conceived that US troops could be rapidly trained to utilise
parachutes and drop from converted bombers to land behind Metz in sychronistaion with a
planned infantry offensive.
The first true paratroop drop was by Italy in November 1927. Within a few years several
battalions had been raised and were eventually formed into two Folgoreand Nembo
divisions. Although these would later fight with distinction in World War II, the divisions
were never used in a parachute drop. Men drawn from the Italian parachute forces were
dropped in a special forces operation in North Africa in 1943 in an attempt to destroy
parked aircraft of the USAAF.
At about the same time, the Soviet Union was also experimenting with the idea, planning

to drop entire units complete with vehicles and light tanks. To help train enough
experienced jumpers, parachute clubs were organized with the aim of transferring into the
armed forces if needed. Planning progressed to the point that Corps-size drops were
demonstrated to foreign observers, including the British Military Attache Archibald
Wavell, in the Kiev military district maneuvers of 1935. By the late 1930s, the USSR
possessed the largest Airborne forces in the world, but development stagnated prior to
World War II as a result of the Great Purge.
One of the observing parties, Germany, was particularly interested. In 1936, Major F. W.
Immans was ordered to set up a parachute school at Stendal(Borstel), and was allocated a
number of Junkers Ju 52 aircraft to train on. The military had already purchased large
numbers of Junkers Ju 52 aircraft which were slightly modified for use as paratroop
transports in addition to their other duties. The first training class was known as
Ausbildungskommando Immans. They commenced the first course on May 3, 1936.
Other nations, including Japan, France and Poland also organized airborne units around
this time. France became the first nation to organize women in an airborne unit. Recruiting
200 nurses who during peace time would parachute into natural disasters but also reservist
would be a uniformed medical unit during war time.
World War II
German operations
Several groups within the German armed forces attempted to raise their
own paratroop formations, resulting in confusion. As a result, Luftwaffe General Kurt
Student was put in overall command of developing a paratrooper force to be known as the
During the invasion of Norway and Denmark in Operation Weserbung the Luftwaffe
dropped paratroopers on several locations. In Denmark a small unit was dropped on the
Masnedfort on the small island of Masned to seize the Storstrm Bridge linking the
islands of Falster and Zealand. A paratroop detachment was also dropped at the airfield of
Aalborg which was crucial for the Luftwaffe for operations over Norway. In Norway a
company of paratroopers was dropped at Oslos undefended airstrip. Over the course of
the morning and early afternoon of April 9, 1940, the Germans flew in sufficient
reinforcements to move into the capital in the afternoon, but by that time the Norwegian
government had fled. In the Battle of France, members of landed by Fieseler Fi 156 Storch
light bridges immediately to the south of the 10th Panzer Divisions route of march
through the southern Ardennes. In Belgium, a small group of German glider-borne troops
landed on top of the Belgian fortress of Eben Emael on the morning of May 10, 1940 and
disabled the majority of its artillery. The fort held on for another day before surrendering.
This opened up Belgium to attack by German Army Group B.
the Brandenburg Regiment were
reconnaissance planes on the
The Dutch were exposed to the first large scale airborne attack in history. During the
invasion of the Netherlands, the Germans threw into battle almost their entire
Luftlandekorps, an airborne assault army corps that consisted of one parachute division
and one division of airlanding troops plus the necessary transport capacity. The existence

of this formation had been carefully kept secret until then. Two simultaneous airborne
operations were launched. German paratroopers landed at three airfields near The Hague,
hoping to seize the Dutch government. From one of these airfields they were driven out
after the first wave of reinforcements, brought in by Ju-52s, was annihilated by antiaircraft fire and fierce resistance by some remaining Dutch defenders. As a result,
numerous crashed and burning aircraft blocked the runway, preventing further
reinforcements from landing. This was one of the few occasions where an airfield
captured by paratroops has been recaptured. The other two airfields were recaptured as
well. Simultaneously the Germans dropped small packets of paratroopers to seize the
crucial bridges that led directly across the Netherlands and into the heart of the country.
They opened the way for the 9th Panzer Division. Within a day the Dutch position was
hopeless. Nevertheless, Dutch forces inflicted high losses on the German transportation
aircraft. Moreover, 1200 German elite troops from the Luftlandekorps taken POW around
The Hague, were shipped to England just before the capitulation of the Dutch armed
The Fallschirmjgers greatest victory and greatest losses occurred during the Battle of
Crete. Signals intelligence, in the form of Ultra, enabled the British to wait on each
German drop zone, yet despite compromised secrecy, surviving German paratroops and
airlanded mountain troops pushed the Commonwealth forces off the island in part by
unexpected fire support from their light 75 mm guns though seaborne reinforcements were
destroyed by the Royal Navy. However, the losses were so great that Adolf Hitler forbade
their use in such operations in the future. He felt that the main power of the paratroop was
novelty, and now that the British had clearly figured out how to defend against them, there
was no real point to using them any more.
There was one notable exception to this and that was the use of airborne forces in special
operations. On September 12, 1943, Otto Skorzeny led a daringglider-based assault on the
Gran Sasso Hotel, high in the Apennines mountains, and rescued Benito Mussolini from
house arrest with very few shots being fired. On May 25, 1944, paratroopers were dropped
as part of a failed attempt to capture Josip Broz Tito, the head of the Yugoslav Partisans
and later postwar leader of Yugoslavia.
Japanese operations
Before the Pacific War began, the Imperial Japanese Army formed Teishin
Dan (Raiding Brigades) and Imperial Japanese Navy trained marine (Rikusentai)
paratroopers. They used paratroops troops in several battles in the Dutch East Indies
campaign of 194142.
Rikusentai airborne troops were first dropped at the Battle of Manado, Celebes in January
1942, and then near Usua, during the Timor campaign, in February 1942. Teishin made a
jump at the Battle of Palembang, on Sumatra in February 1942. Japanese airborne units
suffered heavy casualties during the Dutch East Indies campaign, and were rarely used as
parachute troops afterward.
On 6 December 1944, a 750-strong detachment from Teishin Shudan (Raiding Division)
and the Takachiho special forces unit, attacked U.S. airbases in theBurauen area on Leyte,
in The Philippines. The force destroyed some planes and inflicted casualties, but was

eventually wiped out. Japan built a combat strike force of 825 gliders but never committed
it to battle.
Soviet Operations
The Soviets mounted only one large-scale Airborne operation in World War Two, despite
their early leadership in the field in the 1930s. Russia also pioneered the development of
combat gliders, but used them only for cargo during the war.
The Axis air superiority early in the conflict limited the ability of the Soviets to mount
such operations, whilst later in the conflict ongoing shortages of materiel, including silk
for parachutes, reduced the ability of the Soviet airborne to operate. Nonetheless, the
Soviets maintained their doctrinal belief in the effectiveness of airborne forces, as part of
their concept of deep battle, throughout the war. The largest drop during the war was
corp-sized (the Vyazma Operation, the 4th Airborne Corps). It was unsuccessful.
Airborne formations were used as elite infantry units however, and played a critical role in
several battles. For example, at the Battle of Kursk, the Guards Airbourne defended the
eastern shoulder of the southern penetration and was critical to holding back the German
penetration. The Soviet military sent at least one team of observers to witness British and
American airborne planning for D-Day, but took pains not to reciprocate the liaison.
Chapter X 22nd (Air Landing) Infantry Division

THE FORMATION WAS ESTABLISHED as a Standard infantry unit and
was given the designation of 22.Infanterie-Division at Bremen in 1935. As part of the
standing army before the outbreak of war, it was brought from a peacetime footing to full
combat strength with the Wehrmachfs 1. Welle (first wave) of mobilization in August
1939. One infantry regiment, 16.Jnfanterie-Regiment, took part in the fighting in Poland
along the Bzura River; the rest of the division was garrisoned on the Westwallto guard
against a preemptive French attack.
In October 1939, after the end of the Polish campaign, the 22nd Division was withdrawn
from active service and sent to the Truppenbungsplatz (troop training area) at Sennelager,

where it was to undergo preparation for a special role. It emerged retrained and
redesignated as 22.LuftlandeInfanterie-Division (22nd Air Landing Infantry Division), and
it was the only formation of its type in the Wehrmacht. The division was intended for rapid
tactical deployment in transport aircraft or gliders to quickly reinforce enemy airbases
captured by the Luftwaffes Fallschirmjager.
The division was flown into Holland in the early hours of 10 May in the van of the attack
on the Low Countries following the airborne assault of 7.Flieger-Division. The divisions
47th Infantry Regiment and the 65th Infantry Regiment were flown to three landing zones
north of Rotterdam in the Hague region, while the 16th Infantry Regiment landed nearer
Rotterdam. At each location a combination of factors, including heavy Dutch resistance,
poor coordination and unsuitable landing zones, led to very heavy losses. Withdrawn for
quick reinforcement and refitting, the division was ready for action early in June in time
for the Battle of France. It took part in the advance into France as an ordinary infantry
formation, fighting at Dinant, and Rocroi and Saint Quentin.
Fighting in Russia
The 22.Luftlande-Infanterie-Division took part next in the invasion of the Soviet Union as
a part of Field Marshal von Rundstedts Army Group South, fighting in southern Russia
and the Ukraine with the Eleventh Army. Attacking out of Romania, again as an ordinary
infantry division, it crossed the Pruth River, advanced to the Dniester River and fought its
way through the Stalin Line.
Moving on to cross the Bug and Dnieper Rivers, the division eventually took part in the
the Crimea campaign, where it was involved in the fierce and bloody fighting for
Sevastopol. The division led the assault against the heavily defended fortress city in its
sector and stormed numerous Soviet positions, notably taking the Stalin and Volga
THOUGH PLANNED FOR USE in its air-landing role for the invasion of Crete, the
22nds involvement in the Crimean battles meant that it was replaced by another division
at the last minute. In July 1942, after the end of the fighting in the Crimea, the division
was transfered to Crete, where it performed security and occupation duties around
Rethymnon and Heraklion until 1944. On arrival on Crete, the formation was converted
into a light motorized division, and was given the designation 22.Luftlande-Division (mot
trap), or 22nd Air Landing Motorized Tropical Division.
During its period in Crete, the 22nd Division provided a pool of highly trained personnel
available for use on special operations. Some units were detached for service in North
Africa, where they were destroyed in the German defeat in Tunisia in March 1943. The
division provided the main assault force in a number of amphibious operations in the
Aegean in 1943 and 1944, most notably against the islands of Kos, Kalymnos, Leros and
Samos. The unit is well known for its role in the occupation of Leros againsr British and
Italian resistance in November 1943.
On 26 April 1944, the divisional commander, Generalmajor Heinrich Kreipe, was
abducted by a British Special Operations Executive team led by Major Patrick Leigh
Fermor. Kreipes car was ambushed on the way from Knossos to the divisional
headquarters at Ano Arkhanais and he was taken over the mountains to the south coast,

where the general and his captors were picked up by a British vessel on 14 May and
transported to Egypt.
Retreat to the Balkans
Even as the German position in the eastern Mediterranean worsened through the first half
of 1944, the 22nd Division was re-equipped before being transferred from Crete and the
Aegean to Greece in August. It spent the rest of the war in anti-Partisan operations in
southeastern Europe.
The division was renamed the 22. Volksgrenadier-Division in March 1945. At that time,
the division was part of the general withdrawal of German forces in the Balkans, who
were making a fighting retreat northwards towards Austria. The division had reached
northwestern Yugoslavia by the end of the war in May, when surviving units surrendered
to Yugoslav forces.
22nd (Air Landing) Infantry Division
Mobilized on 18 August 1939 with:
22 Infantry Division
22nd (mot) Mapping Detachment
22nd Motorcycle Messenger Platoon
47th Infantry Regiment
1 Signals Platoon
1 Regimental Band 3 Battalions, each with
3 Infantry Companies (9 LMGs, 2 HMGs and 3 50mm mortars ea)
1 Heavy Company (8 HMGs and 6 80mm mortars) 1 Pioneer Company (9 LMGs) 1
Infantry Gun Company (2 150mm sIG and 6 75mm leIG) 1 (mot) Anti-Tank Company (12
37mm PAK 36 and 4 LMGs)
1 Light Infantry Supply Column
1/2/3/16th Infantry Regiment same as 47th Infantry Regiment
1/2/3/85th Infantry Regiment same as 47th Infantry Regiment
22nd Panzerabwehr Battalion
1 (mot) Signals Platoon
3 (mot) Anti-Tank Companies (12 37mm PAK 36 and 4 LMGs ea)
46th (mot) Heavy Machine Gun Company (12 20mm)
22nd Reconnaissance Battalion
2 Bicycle Squadrons (9 LMGs and 2 LMGs ea)
1 Anti-Tank Platoon (3 37mm PAK 36 and 1 LMG)
1 (mot) Infantry Gun Section (2 75mm leIG)
22nd Artillery Regiment
1 Signals Platoon
1 (mot) Weather Detachment
1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions, each with 3 Batteries (4 105mm leFH and 2 LMGs ea)
4/22nd Artillery Regiment
3 Batteries (4 150mm sFH and 2 LMGs ea)
22nd Pioneer Battalion
1 Pioneer Company (9 LMGs ea)
1 (mot) Pioneer Company (9 LMGs ea)

1 (mot) Bridging Column

1 (mot) Light Pioneer Supply Column
22nd Signals Battalion
1 (tmot) Telephone Company
1 (mot) Radio Company
1 (mot) Light Signals Supply Column
22nd Feldersatz Battalion
3 Companies (9 LMGs, 2 HMGs and 3 50mm mortars ea)
22nd Divisional Supply Troops
l-8/22nd Light (mot) Supply Columns
9/22nd (mot) Light Fuel Column
22nd (mot) Maintenance Platoon
22nd (mot) Supply Company 22nd (mot) Field Bakery 22nd (mot) Field Butcher
Company 22nd Divisional Administration 22nd (mot) Field Hospital 22nd Medical
1/2//22nd (mot) Ambulances
22nd Veterinary Company
22nd (mot) Military Police Detachment
22nd (mot) Field Post Office
OKH records for 20 July 1940 show that the division had the 47th and 65th Infantry
Regiments attached to it. Each regiment had three rifle companies (twelve LMGs and
three 50mm mortars) and a heavy company (twelve HMGs and six 80mm mortars). The
regimental pioneer platoon was replaced by a mounted reconnaissance platoon (no heavy
weapons).The 46th Heavy Machine Gun Company (20mm guns) was no longer present
with the division. The 22nd Flak Battalion was assigned to the division. It contained two
companies, the 2/52nd and 3/31st Self-Propelled Flak Battalions.
During the winter of 1940/41 each assigned infantry regiment re-formed its 13th, 14th and
Staff Companies into 4th Battalions. The records of the 16th AOK indicate that the three
rifle companies in each battalion were equipped with twelve LMGs and three 50mm
mortars. The heavy machine guns were concentrated in a heavy company that had twelve
HMGs and six 80mm mortars. The reconnaissance battalion had a bicycle company (two
HMGs and nine LMGs), a cavalry company (two HMGs and nine LMGs) and a heavy
company that had a Panzerjager platoon (three 37mm PAK 36 and one LMG), an armored
car platoon (two armored cars) and an infantry gun section (two 75mm leiG).The pioneer
battalion added a third (horse-drawn) pioneer company.
On 10 May 1941 the division and consisted of:
Divisional Staff
1/2/3/16th Infantry Regiment (four companies per bn, plus 13th and 14th Companies)
1/2/3/47th Infantry Regiment (four companies per bn, plus 13th and 14th Companies)
1/2/3/63rd Infantry Regiment (four companies per bn, plus 13th and 14th Companies)
1/2/3/4/22nd Artillery Regiment (three light and one heavy bn) 22nd Reconnaissance
22nd Signals Battalion
22nd Pioneer Battalion
22nd Panzerjager Battalion

22nd Flak Battalion

22nd Divisional Support Units
On 29 July 1942 the division was reorganized and renamed Air Landing Motorized
Tropical. The l/58th Artillery Regiment was detached and the 4/207th Artillery Regiment
temporarily became the 4/22nd Artillery Regiment. The heavy machine gun and anti-tank
battalions were broken into four equal-strength companies and distributed by platoons to
the battalions. The 2/22nd Artillery Regiment and 47th Grenadier Regiment became
Kampfgruppe Buhse and were sent to Africa, where they were destroyed in 1943. The
22nd Reconnaissance Battalion became the 122nd Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion. The
716th Heavy Artillery Battalion became the 4/22nd Artillery Regiment.
In 1943 the 2/22nd Artillery Regiment and the l/47th Grenadier Regiment (formed from
the 22nd Feldersatz Battalion) were rebuilt. In March 1943 the Sturmbrigade Rhodes was
formed in the division; it contained a single, reinforced battalion. In February 1943 a
battalion was reorganized as the Rhodos Fusilier Battalion.
During 1942 and early 1943 the infantry regiments contained a staff company, three
battalions and a motorized infantry gun company.There was no Panzerjager company. The
reconnaissance battalion was the 122nd Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion. It contained an
armored car company, three motorcycle companies and a heavy Panzer reconnaissance
company. The Panzerjager battalion contained a (motZ) and two self-propelled companies.
The 22nd Flak Battalion, with three self-propelled 20mm batteries, was added to the
division. The artillery regiment was reorganized with three battalion staffs, two mountain
gun batteries, five (mot) 105mm leFH batteries and three horse-drawn 150mm sFH
batteries. The pioneer and signals battalions were fully motorized. The division was
reduced to a single medical company and there was no Feldersatz battalion.
In September 1943 the division was organized and equipped as follows: 22nd Infantry
Divisional Staff (2 LMGs)
22nd (mot) Mapping Detachment
16th Grenadier Regiment
65th Grenadier Regiment
122nd Reconnaissance Battalion
1 Armored Car Company (24 LMGs and 18 20mm)
3 Motorcycle Companies (2 80mm mortars, 3 light
anti-tank rifles, 4 HMGs and 18 LMGs ea)
1 (mot) Reconnaissance Company
1 Pioneer Platoon (4 LMGs)
1 Panzerjager Platoon (3 LMGs and 3 75mm PAK 40)
1 Infantry Gun Platoon (2 75mm leIG)
22nd Panzerjager Battalion
22nd Artillery Regiment
22nd Flak Battalion
1 Battalion Staff (1 LMG)
3 (motZ) Flak Batteries (12 20mm and 7 LMGs ea)
22nd Pioneer Battalion
1 Battalion Staff (2 LMGs)

3 (mot) Pioneer Companies (9 LMGs and 3 heavy antitank rifles ea) 1 Light Pioneer
Supply Column (2 LMGs)
22nd Signals Battalion
1 (mot) Telephone Company (6 LMGs)
1 (mot) Radio Company (4 LMGs)
1 (mot) Signals Supply Column (1 LMG)
1st Supply Troops
1 Supply Troops Staff (2 LMGs)
22nd (mot) 120-ton Transportation Company (4 LMGs) 22nd (tmot) Supply Company (6
22nd (mot) Maintenance Company
22nd (mot) Bakery Company
22nd (mot) Butcher Company
22nd (mot) Administration Platoon
2/22nd Medical Company (2 LMGs)
1/2/22nd Ambulance Companies
22nd (mot) Military Police Detachment (1 LMG)
22nd (mot) Field Post Office
In May 1944 the division appears to have been fully reformerd.
Generalleutnant Adolf Strau (15 Oct 1935 - 10 Nov 1938)
Generalleutnant Hans Graf von Sponeck (10 Nov 1938 - 10 Oct 1941) General der
Infanterie Ludwig Wolff (10 Oct 1941 - 1 Aug 1942) General der Infanterie FriedrichWilhelm Mller (1 Aug 1942 - 15 Feb 1944)
Generalmajor Heinrich Kreipe (15 Feb 1944 - 26 Apr 1944)
Generalleutnant Helmut Friebe (1 May 1944 - 15 April 1945) Generalmajor Gerhard
Khne (16 April 1944 - 15 May 1945)
Hitlers Secret Attack on the Worlds Largest Fort
By C. G. Sweeting
JUST BEFORE DAWN, more than 80 elite German paratroopers gathered in an airfield
hangar to listen to final instructions from their commander. Their mission? A bold attack
on the worlds strongest fortress and an enemy that outnumbered them nearly 10 to 1.
Airplanes are overhead, one Belgian soldier reported. Their engines have stopped! They
stand motionless in the air
It was May 10, 1940, and all across Germany thousands of troops were preparing to
invade Belgium and the Netherlands, the first strike of Adolf Hitlers blitzkrieg into the
west. Yet the campaigns success hinged in large part on this small unit. At 3 a.m., the
hangars lights were extinguished, its doors rolled open, and the troops marched onto the
tarmac. Loudspeakers filled the air with the stirring tones of Richard Wagners Ride of
the Valkyries, and the men climbed into gliders. Eleven planes stood ready, packed with
guns, ammunition, grenades, and five tons of a new, powerful explosive. The glider had
never been used in combat; indeed, the Germans had cloaked their new weapon in great
screcy. Now they were about to unleash it with devastating effects.

Hitler and the German High Command began to plan an invasion of Belgium, the
Netherlands, and France soon after taking Poland in September 1939. The main thrust was
to go through the Ardennes region that stretches into Luxembourg, southern Belgium, and
northern France. But the attack was to start farther north, in northeast Belgium.
Tactically, one of Hitlers biggest obstacles was Fort Eben Emael. Looming over
Belgiums border with the Netherlands, Eben Emael sat astride the planned invasion route.
Its guns protected the city of Maastricht to the north, the roads leading west from
Maastricht, and, most important, three bridges over the Albert Canal. Hitlers tanks and
armies would have to cross those bridges to strike the heart of Belgium.
Located just miles from Germany and designed specifically to defend against that
menacing neighbor, Eben Emael seemed impregnable. It was the worlds biggest and
strongest fortress, covering more than 175 acres and housing some 1,200 men. Built into a
ridge, it had nearly five miles of underground tunnels, reinforced-concrete walls, and an
earthen roof almost impervious to artillery fire or aerial bombing. The east wall of the
triangular fort ran atop the Albert Canal and soared 200 feet above the water level, making
a tank assault impossible. A 450-yard antitank ditch offered similar protection along the
west wall. Barbed wire, hedgehogs, and minefields defended the remaining approaches.
The fort also bristled with steelreinforced casements and armor-reinforced cupolas; its
armament included 120mm and 75mm artillery pieces, 60mm antitank guns, antiaircraft
guns, and mounted machine guns, all coordinated to provide mutual cover.
According to glider historian Robert Mrazek, the Germans had concluded that a
conventional assault on Eben Emael would cost thousands of lives and take monthstoo
long for a blitzkrieg. Hitler is said to have come up with the idea of landing a commando
force of paratroopers on the forts earthen roof to take out the enemy guns and trap the
Belgian soldiers inside, ensuring a safe crossing of the Albert Canal for the Wehrmacht
tanks and troops. General Kurt Student, commander of Germanys airborne forces,
decided to use gliders, which could approach the fort silently. At Hitlers urging, Student
devised a four-pronged surprise attack that would simultaneously target the three vital
bridges and Eben Emael.
TRAINING BEGAN IN NOVEMBER 1939 in a large, remote area at Hildesheim, near
Hanover in north Germany. Student chose Captain Walter Koch, an experienced
paratrooper and commander of 1st Company, Parachute Regiment 1, to lead the 480-man
mission. Koch created four assault groupsone to take each of the three bridges, and a
fourth to capture Eben Emael. This last detachment, given the code name Granite, was led
by 23-year-old First Lieutenant Rudolf Witzigan unusual assignment for such a junior
Preparations began under tight security. The men did not wear air force insignia. No leave
was granted, and calls and mail were screened. Once we ran into some girls we knew and
the whole unit had to be transferred, recalled Sergeant Major Helmut Wenzel, Granites
senior enlisted officer. Any man who leaked word would be executed.
Witzig had 85 men in his command11 glider pilots and 74 veteran combat engineers
qualified as paratroopers. Yet everyone had to be trained on the DFS 230 glider, which had
been specifically built for the Luftwaffe. With a steel-tube fuselage nearly 40 feet long and

a 72-foot wingspan, the DFS 230 had a maximum gliding speed of 180 miles an hour. The
roof of Eben Emael afforded only a short landing space, so the gliders wheels were
dropped after takeoff and the nose skid was wrapped with barbed wire and metal strips. In
training, the pilots found they could land in just over 20 yards.
Each glider would carry a squad of seven or eight men armed with weapons and
equipment that included 9mm MP 38 submachine guns, 7.9mm MG 34 light machine guns
(most with bipods and 75-round saddle drum magazines), 7.9mm Kar 98k rifles with
detachable grenade launchers, and M35 flamethrowers. The men would also have a new
weapon: the hollow charge, a dome-shaped explosive with a concave bottom that focused
the blast in a single direction. The biggest of these charges weighed 110 pounds and had to
be carried by two men; there was also a 27.5-pound version.
Rehearsals for the raid were meticulous. The men studied aerial photos of the fort as well
as a large sand-table model. A German contractor who helped build the fort provided
blueprints that were used to construct a scale mockup, complete with large guns and fields
of fire. Witzigs men ran through their assignments there, and at the lieutenants urging,
they were quietly taken to the Sudetenland to practice on former Czech fortifications.
BY MARCH 1940, Kochs detachments were ready. The gliders had been secretly moved
west in furniture vans to heavily guarded hangars at the departure airfields, near Cologne.
Tension was high; the men knew that the time for attack was near and much depended on
them. They would land at their targets only minutes before the army stormed across the
Dutch-Belgian frontier.
Finally, on the evening of May 9, the men received the fateful command: Tomorrow at
dawn. They had a final hot meal of sausages, potatoes, and coffee. Ju-52/3m aircraft that
would tow the gliders to their target began to arrive and taxi up to the hangars. Ground
crews pushed the gliders out to the runway, where they were hooked up to the Junkers.
As they waited, the men drank coffee, smoking and talking nervously. Sergeant Wenzel
distributed energy pills and made sure each man completed his will.
Finally, Witzig ordered them to fall in and head to their gliders. The Junkers sputtered and
roared to life, taxied out, struggled down the runway, and took off into the dark sky.
EBEN EMAEL WASNT TOTALLY UNPREPARED for the attack. Engine noise from
the Ju-52s had roused Dutch antiaircraft guns around Maastricht, and their blasts were
heard at the fort. But the Belgians were startled by these strange, silent apparitions
emerging from the darkness. Airplanes are overhead, one reported. Their engines have
stopped! They stand motionless in the air.
An antiaircraft gunner on the roof began firing. Tracers and bullets tore through the fabric
covering of the gliders. The first plane to land leveled off in a flat glide and put down at
4:25 a.m. on top of an antiaircraft machine gun pit. The startled Belgians threw up their
hands in surrender, but the Germans came under fire from another gun and scrambled to
silence it with grenades and submachine gun fire.
Within minutes, eight other gliders swooped in and landed; two were missing, including
Lieutenant Witzigs plane. Sergeant Wenzel took command, but the squads needed little
direction. Each had been assigned casements or cupolas to neutralize. The first target for

the squad led by Sergeant Hans Niedermeier was the forts observation cupola, from
which spotters would direct artillery fire. Niedermeier ran to it carrying the top section of
a 110-pound hollow charge; another man followed carrying the bottom part.
They centered the charge on the steel dome, set the fuse, ran down the slope, and threw
themselves on the ground. The charge punched through, killing the men inside and
wrecking the equipment.
Niedermeiers squad next attacked a 75mm gun in a casemate, this time placing a 27.5pound hollow charge under the guns barrel. The explosion blew the Belgian gunners from
their seats and against the wall, killing two. The Germans entered through the breach, ran
through the smoke to the casements stairwell leading inside the fort, then sent long bursts
of submachine gun fire down into the interior.
Clearly, the hollow charge was a devastating weapon. During the first 10 minutes of the
assault, the men successfully attacked nine positions. The hollow charges destroyed nine
75mm cannons. Despite heavy fire from the Belgians, the men carried out their mission
bravely and with great skill. When one of the hollow charges failed to penetrate an
armored dome housing twin 120mm cannons, they dropped small charges down the
barrels, destroying the guns. When machine guns opened up from an embrasure in the
forts southern corner, they cut through the barbed wire and silenced the gunfire with a
Within 15 minutes, Sergeant Wenzel later recalled, the Germans had disabled all of the
guns that threatened the canals and the roads leading from Maastricht. At 5:40, he radioed
Koch: Object reached; everything in order.
THE GARRISON ITSELF, meanwhile, was in chaos. When the attack began, only about
750 soldiers were in the fort; most of the others were on leave or quartered in nearby
villages. The besieged soldiers tumbled into the fort from the roof and told of planes with
no engines appearing silently out of the night sky. What is going on above us? wrote a
Belgian chaplain in his diary. Adding to the confusion, the Germans had dropped
explosive charges and smoke bombs down ventilation shafts into the forts interior. The
Belgian fortress commander, Major Jean F. L. Jottrand, ordered artillery in the area to fire
onto the top of the fortress. Wenzel in turn radioed for air support, and in 20 minutes Ju87B Stukas were screaming down on enemy artillery.
At about 6:30, two hours after the assault began, another glider swept in and landed on the
fort. Out leaped Lieutenant Witzig. According to the Granite leaders postwar account, the
tow rope on his plane had broken shortly after takeoff. After landing in an open field,
Witzig seized a car, drove to a village, and contacted base. A Ju-52 soon arrived, hooked
up Witzigs glider, and towed it into the air to complete the mission.
Together, Witzig and Wenzel determined that the squad had achieved most of the
missions objectives. Now, they had to keep the Belgian defenders bottled up until German
ground forces arrived. The paratroopers fought alone through the morning and into the
afternoon and night, sheltering in the destroyed casements and cupolas as the Belgian
artillery continued to lob shells on the roof. To block the Belgians exits, they exploded the
110-pound hollow charges at stairways leading into the fort. Sparks flew as bullets and
grenade fragments ricocheted off the forts interior walls, and men fought hand to hand in

the dark, smoky tunnels.

The Belgians launched counterattacks, only to be beaten back. Between midnight and 2
a.m. the next day, May 11, advance elements of the German army reached the fort. But it
wasnt until 8:30 a.m.28 hours after the assault beganthat the 51st Engineer Battalion
arrived and relieved Witzigs unit. The fight for Eben Emael was all but over. Around
noon the Belgian commander Jottrand opened surrender talks with the Germans. Not
willing to wait for the result, his troops began filing out of the fort under a white flag to
lay down their weapons.
The success of the mission was breathtaking. The other glider assault detachments had
captured two of the three vital bridges over the Albert Canal, giving the German armys
motorized units access into Belgium. The Belgians had blown up the third bridge, at
Kanne, but German engineers repaired it. At the fort, the Granite detachment had
destroyed most of the casements and cupolas; Belgian casualties were 25 dead and 63
wounded. Witzig, meanwhile, counted 6 Germans dead and 15 wounded. Perhaps the only
glitches in the operation came early, with Witzigs late arrival and the absence of a second
glider. But like Witzig, the troopers on the second glider had improvised. Released from
its tow early, their plane had landed in Germany, well short of the fort. The men
commandeered a truck and drove to one of the three targeted bridges, where they captured
121 Belgians.
Several days after the assault, Hitler met Kochs officers and presented each with the
Ritterkreuz, the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, then Germanys highest award for valor.
Each enlisted man received the Iron Cross 2nd Class; some men and NCOs, including
Sergeant Wenzel, were awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class. While Hitlers passion for
paratroopers would cool a year later with the costly airborne attack on Crete [see Dead on
Arrival, Winter 2010], he was buoyed by this success.
The Allies, meanwhile, were shocked by the fall of the mighty Eben Emael. They were
also mystified. Publicly, the Germans said nothing of the gliders or the hollow charges,
announcing only that they had deployed a new method of attack. Rumors swirled
suggesting Hitler had developed a paralyzing nerve gas.
Life magazine gave readers a fanciful account by a Dutch officer that claimed German
endive farmers married to Belgian women had planted explosives, having built tunnels
beneath the fort under the guise of fertilizing their crops. At the push of a plunger, the
soldier wrote, the fertilizer was detonated and whole sections of the fort were flung
skyward. Few would know the truth until years after the war.
C. G. Sweeting is the author of several books, including Hitlers Personal Pilot: The Life
and Times of Hans Bauer.
Fort Eben-Emael
Fort Eben-Emael is an inactive Belgian fortress located between Lige and
Maastricht, on the Belgian-Dutch border, near the Albert Canal, and designed to defend
Belgium from a German attack across the narrow belt of Dutch territory in the region.
Constructed in 19311935, it was reputed to be impregnable and at the time, the largest in
the world. The fort was successfully neutralized by glider-borne German troops on 10
May 1940 during the Second World War. The action cleared the way for German ground

forces to enter Belgium, unhindered by fire from Eben-Emael. Still the property of the
Belgian Army, the fort has been preserved and may be visited.
The fort is located along the Albert Canal where it runs through a deep cutting at the
junction of the Belgian, Dutch and German borders, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) northeast
of Lige. A huge excavation project was carried out in the 1920s to create the Caster
cutting through Mount Saint Peter to keep the canal in Belgian territory. This created a
natural defensive barrier that was augmented by the fort, at a location that had been
recommended by Brialmont in the 19th century. Eben-Emael was the largest of four forts
built in the 1930s as the Fortified Position of Lige I (Position Fortifie de Lige I (PFL
I)). From north to south, the new forts were Eben-Emael, Fort dAubin-Neufchteau, Fort
de Battice and Fort de Tancrmont. Tancrmont and Aubin-Neufchteau are smaller than
EbenEmael and Battice. Several of the 19th century forts designed by General Henri
Alexis Brialmont that encircled Lige were reconstructed and designated PFL II.
A great deal of the forts excavation work was carried out on the canal side, sheltered from
view and a convenient location to load excavated spoil into barges to be taken away
economically. The forts elevation above the canal also allowed for efficient interior
drainage, making Eben-Emael drier than many of its sister fortifications.
Fort Eben-Emael was a greatly enlarged development of the original Belgian fortifications
designed by General Henri Alexis Brialmont before World War I. Even in its larger form,
the fort comprised a relatively compact ensemble of gun turrets and observation posts,
surrounded by a defended ditch. This was in contrast with French thinking for the
contemporary Maginot Line fortifications, which were based on the dispersed fort palm
concept, with no clearly defined perimeter, a lesson learned from the experiences of
French and Belgian forts in World War I. The new Belgian forts, while more conservative
in design than the French ouvrages, included several new features as a result of World War
I experience. The gun turrets were less closely grouped. Reinforced concrete was used in
place of plain mass concrete, and its placement was done with greater care to avoid weak
joints between pours. Ventilation was greatly improved, magazines were deeply buried
and protected, and sanitary facilities and general living arrangements for the troops were
given careful attention. Eben-Emael and Battice featured 120mm and 75mm guns, giving
the fort the ability to bombard targets across a wide area of eastern Lige region. EbenEmael occupies a large hill just to the east of Eben-Emael village, bordering the Albert
Canal. The irregularly-shaped fort is about 600 metres (2,000 ft) in the east-west
dimension, and about 750 metres (2,460 ft) in the north-south dimension. The fort was
more heavily armed than any other fort in the PFL I. In contrast to the other forts whose
main weapons were in turrets, Eben-Emaels main weapons were divided between turrets
and casemates.
Block B.I, entrance block with two 60mm anti-tank guns and machine guns.
Blocks B.II, B.IV and B.VI flanking casemates disposed around the perimeter ditch to
take the ditch in enfilade with two 60mm guns and machine guns.
Block B.V similar to II, IV and VI, with one 60mm gun.
Cupola 120, one twin 120mm gun turret, with a range of 17,5 km. There were also three
dummy 120mm turrets.

Cupola Nord and Cupola Sud each had one retractable turret with two 75mm guns, with a
range of 10,5 km.
Vis I and II each house three 75mm guns, facing south.
Maastricht I and II each house three 75mm guns, firing north in the direction of
Canal Nord and Sud were twinned blocks housing 60mm guns and machine guns covering
the canal. Sud was demolished when the canal was enlarged.
Mi-Nord and Sud are machine gun blocks (mitrailleuses) in the main surface of the fort.
They were crucial in defending the top of the fort. Block O1 overlooks the canal and
guarded the locks of Lanaye. It housed a 60mm gun and machine guns.
Underground galleries extend over 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) beneath the hill, connecting the
combat blocks and serving the underground barracks, power plant, ammunition magazines
and other spaces. Fresh air was obtained from intake vents over the canal.
The 12 Liege forts comprised six on the eastern side of the Meuse River with, from north
to south, Fort Barchon, Fort Evegnee, Fort Fleron, Fort Chaudfontaine, Fort Embourg and
Fort Boucelles, while on the western side were, from north to south, Fort Pontisse, Fort
Liers, Fort Lantin, Fort Loncin, Fort Hollogne and Fort Flemalle. The forts contained a
total of 400 heavy-calibre weapons with a garrison of approximately 500 men per fort.
The perimeter of the fortress ring was 52km with the average distance between the forts
being 1,900m and the largest gap being 6,400m between the forst of Boucelles and
The Brialmont forts
Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the Belgian government
undertook a comprehensive review of the countrys defences against the threats posed by
both the German Empire and the French Republic. Static field fortifications were much in
vogue across Europe in the late 19th century, despite the emergence of evermore powerful
and accurate artillery weapons. Only the city of Antwerp featured any modern
fortifications, built in response to the threat posed by Napoleon III in 1859. The Belgian
engineer General Henri Alexis Brialmont was tasked with updating the defences of
Antwerp and creating a ring of forts around the cities of Liege and Namur that lay astride
the natural invasion routes from the east and west. These were completed by 1890, with
Liege surrounded by a ring of 12 forts and Namur by nine.
The Brialmont forts were of modular design made up of four basic elements: a gorge front,
a central redoubt connected by a gallery to a counterscarp coffer. The whole structure was
landscaped into the surrounding terrain, thus presenting a much lower profile to direct fire
weapons. The central redoubt incorporated the ammunition magazines and the forts
principal weapons, which were large-calibre guns, ranging from 120mm and 150mm to
210mm howitzers, located in retractable armoured steel cupolas. Therein lay one of the
fundamental design flaws of the Brialmont forts, whereby all the major weapons were
concentrated in the central redoubt with their high explosives magazines nearby. This was
compounded by the use of inferior concrete and construction techniques that weakened the
overall integrity of the structure. Furthermore, the two fortress rings of Liege and Namur
were not mutually supporting, and neither were several individual forts within each ring.
None of the forts was modernized between 1890 and the outbreak of war in 1914. General

Brialmont also proposed a fortress to cover the approaches to the town of Vise, north of
Liege, but this was declined by the Belgian government2. It was to be the invasion route of
the German First Army in August 1914.
The Schlieffen Plan
In November 1913, Belgium reaffirmed her status of neutrality that had been guaranteed
by the Great Powers since it was first declared in 1839. These countries included Great
Britain and Prussia, which was superseded in 1871 by the German Empire. In the first
years of the 20th century, the latters economic and military strength grew at a prodigious
rate, threatening the stability of Europe. As early as 1905, the Chief of the Great General
Staff, Graf Alfred von Schlieffen, devised an operational plan for the defeat of France. In
the event of a simultaneous war against both France and Russia, the Schlieffen Plan
advocated a pre-emptive strike against France before the unwieldy Russian Army had time
to mobilize fully. As the French were determined to recapture the lost provinces of Alsace
and Lorraine in time of war with their much-heralded Plan XVII, Schlieffen determined
that the bulk of the German Army should attack through Holland and Belgium and
envelop Paris from the north-east as the French Army advanced into Alsace and Lorraine.
Only screening forces were to hold the line in the two disputed provinces and along the
borders of Prussia and Russia to the east. Little consideration was given to Dutch or
Belgian neutrality as the German High Command presumed that the French would be
equally dismissive of such diplomatic niceties and advance their own forces to the Meuse
River at the outbreak of war3
Once France was defeated, the German Army would be redeployed to the eastern front to
confront the Russians. Fundamental to the whole Schlieffen Plan was that the vast
majority of the German Army be committed to the concerted attack through Holland and
Belgium and into northern France. The ratio of forces for this attack as against troops on
other fronts was deemed to be 9:1. On his deathbed in 1913, Graf von Schlieffen was
reputed to have demanded Keep the right wing strong!
Between its formulation in 1905 and the outbreak of war in 1914, the Schlieffen Plan was
modified by General Helmuth Moltke, Schlieffens successor as Chief of the Great
General Staff, with the fine tuning left to the dour and humourless General Erich von
Ludendorff, who in the best traditions of the Prussian military caste believed that peace
was merely an inconvenient interval between wars. The plan now called for stronger
forces in Alsace and Lorraine as well as Prussia, thus weakening the right wing that was to
attack through Belgium and Luxembourg, but not Holland. The main axis of the assault
was now directed over the rolling plains north of Liege, with the city itself to be captured
by a coup de main as its railway facilities were vital to sustain the German advance and
had to be taken undamaged. By August 1914, five German armies (First to Fifth) were
poised to attack through Belgium and Luxembourg with a further two armies (Sixth and
Seventh) forming the left wing. The original Schlieffen Plan had called for just two corps.
Only time would tell whether the right wing had been fatally weakened.
The battle of Liege
On 2 August 1914, Germany delivered an ultimatum to the Belgian government
demanding free passage for the German Army through Belgium and on to France. When
this was denied, the German Army invaded Belgium two days later. As a guarantor of

Belgian neutrality, Great Britain declared war on Germany on the following day and
immediately despatched the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to the beleaguered
country. On the same day, General Carl von Bulows Second Army began its assault on
the city of Liege in the first battle of the World War I. The attack by 30,000 men under
General Emmich suffered heavy casualties from the defending forts and the assault
faltered. General Ludendorff, who had returned to the colours in July 1914, assumed
command and resumed the offensive with Zeppelin raids against the city to terrorize the
populace while he personally led the 14th Brigade through the largest gap between the
forts where the supporting fire was at its weakest. The city fell on 7 August, but the
surrounding forts remained unvanquished and capable of interdicting German supply lines
into Belgium. It was essential that they be captured or destroyed.
Siege artillery was demanded directly from the Krupp works in Essen. On 12 August, two
massive 42cm howitzers, nicknamed Dicke Bertha, arrived outside Liege and were
assembled prior to the onslaught. The heavy howitzer was capable of firing a projectile
weighing over 775kg (l,7001b) and the first target was Fort Pontisse threatening the
advance of General Alexander von Klucks First Army to the north. At 1830hrs, the first
ranging shell was fired at the fort. The report was heard over 5km away in the heart of the
city. Other rounds followed until they found their mark. The fort was pummelled to
destruction. One by one the forts were destroyed with methodical precision. The defenders
suffered untold hardship as the ventilation systems failed and the gun emplacements
collapsed around their heads. By 15 August, only the forts of Flemalle and Hologne
remained intact. A German delegation approached the forts to discuss surrender terms.
The Belgian commanders were advised to see the destruction wrought on the other forts to
forestall further futile bloodshed.. The defenders refused and the merciless bombardment
continued throughout the day. At 0730hrs on 16 August, the final position surrendered.
The battle of Liege was over4.
On the following day, the victorious German Second Army, together with the First and
Third, continued the advance, forcing the remnants of the Belgium Army back towards
Antwerp. The capital, Brussels, was captured on 20 August. However, the rigid timetable
of the Schlieffen Plan had been severely compromised by the determined Belgian
resistance. The arrival of the BEF at Mons caused further setbacks to the plan, and it
faltered irretrievably on the Marne River. A portion of Belgium around Ypres remained in
Allied hands. There followed four years of bitter trench warfare, with all sides suffering
horrendous losses. Of the 267,000 men mobilized into the Belgian army, 13,716 were
listed as dead with 44,686 wounded and 34,659 as prisoners of war or missing in action - a
casualty rate of almost 35 per cent. Another 50,000 Belgians died during the oppressive
German occupation that only ended with the Armistice on 11 November 1918.
The Versailles Treaty
There were many military lessons to be drawn from World War I. By 1917, the Allies had
developed sophisticated combined-arms tactics employing artillery, aeroplanes, tanks and
infantry in coordinated attacks that, by the end of 1918, had battered the German Army
into submission. But the cost was beyond measure. Rapid demobilization quickly led to
the loss of such capabilities and expertise. It had been the war to end wars, and any
repetition was inconceivable. To many, the power of the defence now so outweighed that

of the offensive arms that attack was futile. To the French, the answer lay in a refinement
of the field fortifications that had proved so effective during the Great War. Marshals
Ferdinand Foch, Henri Philippe Petain and General Joseph Joffre favoured such a scheme.
As the saviours of France in World War I, there were few who would argue against them.
In January 1930, the Minister of War and former Minister of Veterans Affairs, Andre
Maginot, proposed that a powerful line of fortresses be built from Switzerland to the
Ardennes and from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea barring any invasion from the east.
Named the Maginot Line, construction was undertaken in five phases during the 1930s.
Most of the forts were deep underground and thus impervious to conventional artillery fire
with interconnecting tunnels stretching for scores of kilometres. Thousands of men lived
subterranean lives for months at a time to service the Maginot Lines formidable array of
artillery weapons and machine guns. The line stretched as far as the Ardennes Forest,
which the French believed to be impassable to conventional forces. Similarly, the line did
not extend along the Franco-Belgian border, although a very basic string of pillboxes and
strongpoints was later built along the frontier. The construction of such massive
fortifications consumed a large percentage of the defence budget, but more significantly it
gave rise to a belief that the Maginot Line was impregnable against conventional assault.
Furthermore, funds were diverted from the creation of modem mechanized forces as
advocated by younger officers, such as Colonel Charles de Gaulle. Tanks remained
subordinate to the infantry as they had been during World War I. Worst of all, it
engendered a mentality of positional warfare among the French High Command that
infected the Belgian Army as well.
The other victors of World War I drew different conclusions from the French, beyond the
common desire not to repeat the slaughter in the trenches.
Britain retreated behind her bastion of the English Channel, her most effective fortification
line, and her forward defence of the Royal Navy. Eventually, with war clouds in Europe
looming once more, Britain embarked on the creation of a strategic bomber force that
would allow her to strike at her enemies without recourse to the commitment of ground
troops on the Continent. In the 1930s, there was a belief that the bomber will always get
through to wreak havoc on the enemy as shown to devastating effect during the Spanish
Civil War of 1936-39. The British promptly negated their own argument by inventing
radar. To America, any future conflict in Europe became anathema and she withdrew into
a self-imposed period of isolationism that effectively emasculated the ability of any
international body like the League of Nations to constrain expansionist powers such as
Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. The common denominator of all the victors of World War
I was that none was prepared mentally or materially for the next war.
By the terms of the Versailles Treaty of 1919, 5Germany was made to pay dearly for her
war of aggression between 1914 and 1918 - the French demanding LlAllemagne paiera!
- Germany will pay! - through reparations. Parts of the Rhineland were occupied and
other economic assets were appropriated. The German army was reduced to 100,000
volunteers, and much of the High Seas Fleet, as well as all 150 submarines, was seized by
the Royal Navy. Over a third of the armys artillery, some 5,000 pieces and 25,000
machine guns, was surrendered to the Allies. It signalled a humiliating defeat for the
German people. Many veterans of the war felt that the German Army had not been

defeated by force of arms but had been betrayed by deceitful politicians at home. The
myth that the German Army had been stabbed in the back was born. It was a recipe for
resentment and revenge; embodied in the figure of Adolf Hitler.
Position Fortifiee de Liege
As one of the victorious Allies, Belgium received a proportion of the war
booty, including many of the aforementioned artillery weapons and machine guns. On 7
September 1920, France and Belgium signed a defensive pact, transforming their
temporary wartime alliance of necessity into a lasting treaty. In 1923, after Germany failed
to deliver reparation shipments on schedule, Belgian troops joined the French army in the
occupation of the Ruhrgebiet. However, they encountered determined passive resistance
and the occupying troops gradually withdrew from the Rhineland over the coming years.
It was a portent of the resurgence of the German nation, compounded by the rise to power
of the Nazi party in 1933. Once more the threat from the east became apparent to the
Belgian government and once more it undertook a comprehensive review of the nations
With the economy shattered by the war and the brutal German occupation, Belgium was in
no position to lavish large quantities of public money on defence, ranging from 11.23 per
cent in 1921 to just 3.73 per cent in 1926. The Belgian Chief of the General Staff during
the early 1920s, General Maglinse, supported the French doctrine of strong fortifications
along the border regions while another school of thought within the Belgian High
Command and political establishment favoured a mobile defence based on a strategic
withdrawal to the Scheldt to conform with their French ally in time of war. Neither faction
prevailed and the continuing schism ultimately led to compromise. On 22 January 1926,
General Emile Galet replaced General Maglinse as Chief of Staff. On 18 October 1926,
General Galet proposed to the Minister of National Defence, M. De Broqueville, that a
commission be created to investigate the rebuilding of the Belgian fortification system that
had been largely destroyed during World War I. The commission delivered its report on 24
February 1927 with the recommendation that a fortified defensive line be constructed on
the eastern border along the Meuse River - the Position Fortiftee de Liege.
In the best bureaucratic tradition, the defence minister appointed a new Commission for
the Study of National Fortification on 21 March 1927 under General Borremans, the
inspector general of the infantry. Its initial meeting was held on 2 April 1927, and the very
first mention of the new defensive structure that was to become Fort Eben Emael appeared
in a report on the defence of the Limburg region on 24 January 1928.
On the other hand, faced with the specific danger menacing the area near Maastricht
where the Meuse leaves Belgian territory for eight kilometres of its length and where the
enclave grows to a width of four kilometres west of the river and faced with the
considerable extension of the lines of communication between Aix-la-Chapelle [Aachen]
and Maastricht, the Commission has unanimously decided that all the main
transportation roads and railways converging near Maastricht, the roads leading out of the
city and the enclave must be kept within the line of fire of permanent defensive artillery,
capable of opening fire within seconds to avoid a surprise attack via Zuid Limburg and all
its consequences for the Liege defences.

The Commission has also agreed that these permanent armed defensive structures
(estimated to contain a battery of four guns of 150 or 105mm) must be part of a larger line
to be erected on the flanks of the Loen and that this group of structures should be
supported by a permanent garrison
The report calling for the construction of this new fort, as well as the refurbishment of the
forts around Liege and Namur, was accepted in principle on 7 January 1929. On 14 May
1929, instructions were issued for the modernization of the six Liege forts on the eastern
bank of the Meuse River. These were rearming with modern artillery weapons as well as
the refurbished German guns of World War I vintage; improved ventilation systems; and
enhanced protection for the ammunition magazines, as were seven of the nine forts around
Namur. Interestingly, the first actual document naming Fort Eben Emael appears in a
secret report dated 12 June 1929 of the Deuxieme Bureau [French military intelligence]
filed by General Chardigny, the military attache at the French embassy in Brussels, in
which he revealed plans for a fort to be constructed to the north of Liege, in the area of
Vise. Indeed as stated previously, it was to be just north of the invasion route of General
von Glucks First Army in 1914, and close to where General Brialmont had suggested the
construction of a fort in 1887: the aphorism of horses and stable doors springs to mind. In
a subsequent report to the Ministry of War in Paris on 5 November 1929, General
Chardigny provided specific details of Fort Eben Emael as to its exact location and
proposed armament.
The new forts
On 30 June 1930, the occupation of the Rhineland ended and, although now supposedly
demilitarized, it no longer provided any buffer zone for the Franco-Belgian alliance, from
a resurgent Germany. The state of Belgiums defences became evermore critical. As if the
dichotomy in the high command was not enough, Belgian domestic internal politics also
had a significant influence on defence expenditure and allocation. The country was
divided between two distinct ethnic groups that spoke either French in Wallonia, the
southern part, or Flemish in the northern part. It was, and remains, a seriously divisive
issue. On 10 December 1930, the findings of the Commission for the Study of National
Fortification were presented to the cabinet and subsequently to parliament on 11/12
March 1931. They proposed the continued modernization of the forts around Liege
together with those of Namur and Antwerp, as well as the construction of a new fort near
the village of Eben Emael and defence works around Ghent.
None of the various factions was overly happy with the plan and intense political lobbying
ensued with the Walloons being particularly incensed that their region close to
Luxembourg remained virtually undefended. Their cause was embraced by the liberal
politician Albert Deveze (formerly and subsequently Minister of National Defence). It
provoked a political crisis that engulfed King Albert I. Compromises were sought but
eventually the Superior Council for National Defence under the direction of King Albert
promulgated its decision on 21 April 1931. It endorsed the modernization and extension of
the PFL with several new forts including Eben Emael; the abandonment of new
fortifications for Antwerp and Ghent; and the creation of a new army formation, the
Chasseurs Ardennais, tasked with the defence of the Ardennes region. The modernized
forts around Liege were known as Position Fortifiee de Liege 2 or PFL 2 and the new

forts, Position Fortifiee de Liege I as they were closer to the border with Germany.
In the following year Albert Deveze became the Minister of National Defence once more.
He was determined to implement the plan for strong fortifications along Belgiums eastern
border and his promise to the Walloons to defend their interests. The debate as to the
allocation of defence funds was rekindled. The Minister of National Defence was adamant
that any invasion from the east must be contained at the border. When his Chief of the
General Staff, General Galet, disagreed he was forced to retire on 26 December 1932 to be
replaced by General Nuyten. In the meantime, military engineers conducted field
reconnaissance trips to determine the best locations for the defensive fortifications. On the
Herve Plateau, Battice and Tancremont were chosen as sites for two new powerful forts
that greatly enhanced the defences of Liege and Vise. Meanwhile, on 1 April 1932, the
first construction works began on the site for the fort of Eben Emael.
On 25 June 1932, an appropriation of 50 million Belgian Francs was sought from the 1933
defence budget for the initial construction of new forts at Battice and Tancrernont.
However, on 18 August 1932, a budgetary crisis effectively denied this request and on 7
September it was decided to postpone further expenditure on the new defence line,
although the purchase of the land at Battice was undertaken. Nevertheless, the
Commission for the Study of National Fortification continued its deliberations. Besides
the two large forts at Battice and Tancrernont, it recommended a further two smaller ones
near Mauhin and Les Waides for the defence of the Herve Plateau. In addition, there were
to be numerous infantry bunkers and machine-gun pillboxes to supplement the major forts.
The delays in the construction of the new forts and the defences of the eastern border were
now a cause of serious concern, compounded by a failure of communications between the
various army departments tasked with the enterprise. To remedy the situation, the
Technical Committee for Fortifications was formed on 9 January 1933 with the backing
of the Minister of National Defence, Albert Deveze. The latter also forced a bill through
parliament to expedite the appropriation of funds. Throughout the year construction work
at Fort Eben Emael continued apace. Following a council of ministers presided over by the
King on 11 October 1933, definitive plans emerged for the defence of the realm. The
construction of the forts of Battice and Tancremont was the priority, together with another
major fort at Aubin-Neufchateau in place of those at Mauhin and Les Waides. This
allowed greater coverage of the major road running between Aachen in Germany and
These forts were built between 1935 and 1940 and featured weapon systems similar to
those of Fort Eben Emael, although their armoured protection was greater as they were
closer to the German border. In all, the cost of construction of these forts together with
Fort Eben Emael was in the region of 250 million Belgian Francs. Nevertheless, there still
remained a vociferous faction within the army that believed the money would be better
spent on a radical reorganization of the army and the mechanization of the cavalry with
modern armoured fighting vehicles. Defence procurement has always been dependent on
many, often conflicting, factors that must assess potential threats and seek
countermeasures to them. The Belgian forts were a prime example of facing the realities
of a previous war, yet the actual threat of another invasion from the east seemed genuine
and the prime responsibility of any government is to ensure the security of its people. The

construction of the most powerful fortresses in the world seemed to fulfil that obligation.
Belgium Fortifications
Born out of revolution in 1830 when it successfully broke away from the Netherlands,
Belgium quickly gained recognition from other European nations, which guaranteed its
neutrality. The last battle it fought in Europe in the nineteenth century was when it drove a
Dutch invasion force from Antwerp. After that, Belgium saw no necessity to modernize its
armed forces. However, twice in the twentieth century, its neutrality failed to keep it safe.
Unlike Switzerland, Belgium could not rely on its geography for its security even though a
1839 treaty had removed the Dutch threat. The fact remained that its other borders
continued to be vulnerable to its more aggressive neighbors. To complicate the situation,
Belgium occupied a major invasion route between the German states and France.
The southern part of Belgium, occupied by French-speaking Walloons, was dominated by
the hilly wooded terrain of the Ardennes. The rest of the country, occupied by the
Flemish-speaking Germanic population, lay in the open North European Plain where some
wooded regions and a few watercourses offered some limited defense and where most of
the industry was located.
After the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, Belgium, concerned about future relations with the
newly formed German Second Reich, decided to take steps to ensure its security. The task
was assigned to the military engineer Henri Brialmont, who soon became one of the most
prominent designers of fortifications of the century.
After 1871 rings of forts were created to protect Liege, which blocked the invasion route
from Germany, Namur, which guarded the road from France, and Antwerp, which was not
only the largest city in Belgium but also a vital seaport. The capital, Brussels, located near
the center of the triangle formed by these three fortresses, had no major defenses. Each of
the fortress cities received a ring of new forts by the end of the nineteenth century.
Although Antwerp already had an older ring of forts, it got a newer ring by 1914 to keep
the city outside the range of newer models of enemy artillery. The Brialmont forts of
Liege and Namur, mistakenly believed the best of the time, did not, in fact, compare
favorably with the French and German forts of the period. In the first place, the Belgian
method for pouring concrete and the lack of reinforcement made their forts vulnerable to
heavy artillery. Secondly, Brialmont made the fatal error of concentrating all the heavy
gun cupolas in a central citadel, making them easy targets for enemy fire. Infantry
positions, added to the surface of the forts, had a limited value. The army neglected to set
up defensive positions in the gaps between forts, which allowed an enemy to pass between
the forts unhindered.
By 1914 Belgiums defenses were virtually complete, but its armys equipment was
obsolete. Despite all these precautions, the new forts failed to deter the Germans. In fact,
the Germans, having every intention of violating Belgiums neutrality in order to outflank
the French, designed heavy artillery such as the 420-mm Big Berthas to smash the Belgian
fortifications. In August 1914 the Schlieffen Plan was implemented and the German
armies raced through Belgium, investing Liege by penetrating the undefended gaps
between the forts. On August 8, the first of the Belgian forts fell to German artillery, even
before the Big Berthas arrived from Germany. The arrival of the 420-mm guns on August
12 only speeded up the process. On August 18 the central citadel of Fort Loncin suffered a

hit by a shell that penetrated an ammunition magazine and detonated it, creating a huge
crater across the right center of the fort. Several gun turrets were shattered, popping out of
their shafts, and/or toppling into the crater. The commander of the Liege defenses was
pulled from the rubble and forced to surrender. The remaining forts of Liege fell soon after
this debacle. Namurs forts resisted only four days. Antwerp lasted a little longer, but also
succumbed to the heavy German guns. After the Great War, Belgium remained an active
ally of France to secure its future. In the late 1920s, as France completed plans for the
Maginot Line, Belgium committed itself to its own security. If both countries had worked
in concert on the new defenses, and Belgium had not returned to neutrality in 1936, the
course of World War II might have been different.
Major Fortifications
The Liege Defenses
After World War I Belgiums situation changed little, since Liege remained on the most
convenient invasion route from Germany into France. Thus the Belgians resolved to
establish their main defenses in the area, taking advantage of the surrounding terrain. The
region to the north and east was mostly open with some woods and rolling terrain, but the
Meuse River, which flowed east from Namur through Huy and Liege, created a steep
sided and narrow valley cutting through the heart of the city before turning on a northerly
route toward Maastricht. It served as a major anti-tank obstacle and was incorporated into
the defensive scheme. To the south of the city the terrain became rougher as it neared the
Ardennes, also facilitating defense. Fortified Position of Liege II (Position Fortifiee de
Liege or PFL II), the second line of defense, consisted of revitalized forts of the World
War I era and new bunkers to fill the intervals. These forts occupied the rolling terrain that
surrounded the city. The main line, the PFL I, was anchored on the Meuse river behind the
Dutch frontier, opposite the roads to Maastricht, swung southward toward Verviers in the
gentle terrain astride the Aachen to Liege highway, then curved westward towards a point
south of Liege where the terrain had more relief, was more heavily wooded, and easily
defendable. The entire line covered about 50 km and was situated mainly on the Herves
Plateau. It acted as an outer defense line for Liege and a major barrier blocking not only
the approaches from Aachen, but also Maastricht in the event of Dutch neutrality being
The Namur Defenses
Namur, like Liege, sat on a major road junction that included the main route from Aachen
to France via Belgium. The main defenses consisted of old forts that occupied the high
ground around the city. Here the Meuse River created a well defined valley as it passed
through the steep-walled city. Although it might appear that the Belgians refortified this
city to deter French aggression, the decision was made while the two countries were still
allies. It appears, therefore, that Namur was intended to be a final block against a German
penetration along the main highway from Aachen. The Meuse River continued on to Huy
and Liege, forming steep sided banks rising an average of about 100 meters above the
valley floor. Although, less pronounced than in many places in the Ardennes, it still
presented a formidable obstacle. This well-defined valley continued on towards the Dutch
border past Liege.
Albert Canal Line

This line picked up where the Meuse defenses of Liege ended as the river entered the
Netherlands. The main part of the Albert Line ran from Liege to a point north of
Maastricht, and from there relied upon a series of canals and the Campine between
Maastricht and Antwerp. The new canal formed a formidable anti-tank obstacle opposite
the Maastricht Appendage (the narrow strip of Dutch territory separating Belgium from
Germany). The Albert Canal turned back and ran west to Antwerp where the Meuse
returned to form the Dutch-Belgian border near Lanaken. At the point where the Albert
Canal turned away, another canal, the Schelde-Maas (Meuse) continued to parallel the
Meuse River and then turned northwestward almost again paralleling the border where it
was replaced by a barrier formed by the marshes and woods of the Campine region, after
the Meuse turned into the Netherlands. The canal and this rough terrain formed a good
defensible barrier along the Dutch border all the way to Dessel. It covered a large part of
the Dutch border up to the point where the canal turned toward Antwerp. Although the
ground was level here, much of it was heavily wooded, especially in the vicinity of the
Dutch border. This was the region where Allied troops got bogged down as they attempted
to relieve the airborne troops dropped at Arnhem in 1944.
Antwerps Defenses and the National Redoubt
Antwerp, a major urban center, served as Belgiums main port. In the
1920s, Belgium undertook a dredging operation up to Flushing in order to turn Antwerp
into the largest seaport in Europe. The old forts of the inner ring, already obsolete, could
no longer adequately defend the growing city. New positions had to be created in the outer
ring. The main component of the outer ring was the new anti-tank ditch that defended the
eastern half of the city. These defenses formed the Fortified Position of Antwerp (PFA).
The terrain around Antwerp was relatively level but dipped to the northwest of the city,
near the Schelde River. The Schelde flowed through Antwerp, gave access to the sea, and
formed marshes that served as a major obstacle and last line of defense.
The army created the Tete de Pont de Gent (TPG), or Bridgehead of Ghent, on the Schelde
River and linked it to the defenses of Antwerp to form the Reduit National or National
Redoubt. This line, which ran through low terrain, had few natural obstacles to back it up
beyond the low sandy terrain and polders along the coast.
The KW Line
The KW Line extending from Koningshooikt to Wavre, included the Dyle River to the
east of Brussels and was linked to the PFA and to the PFN. Its northern section ran
through a lightly wooded area and its southern part passed through mostly open level to
rolling terrain.
Coast Defenses
The coastal region of Belgium was limited since the wide mouth of the
Schelde River was entirely in Dutch territory. As long as the Netherlands remained
neutral, the approaches to Antwerp along the Schelde would remain open for sea going
ships. Ostend was the only sizable port on the Belgian coast. A second, smaller, port on
the entrance to the Leopold Canal was Zeebrugge of World War I fame. The coastal region
consisted mainly of dunes followed by polders (land reclaimed from the sea). Canals

crisscrossed the area.

Ranks in German Army
A cadet is a trainee. The term is frequently used to refer those training to become an
officer in the military, often a person who is a junior trainee. Its meaning may vary
between countries. The term is also used in civilian contexts and as a general attributive,
for example in its original sense of a branch of a ruling house which is not currently in the
direct line of succession.
Fhnrich is an officer candidate rank in the Austrian Bundesheer and German
Bundeswehr. However, Fhnrich ranks are often incorrectly compared with the rank of
ensign, which shares a similar etymology but is a full-fledged (albeit junior)
commissioned officer rank. The word Fhnrich comes from an older German military
title, Fahnentrger (flag bearer), and first became a distinct military rank in Germany 1
January 1899.
A lieutenant (abbreviated Lt., LT., Lieut. and LEUT.) is a junior commissioned officer in
many nations armed forces.
The meaning of lieutenant differs in different military formations (see comparative
military ranks), but is often subdivided into senior (first lieutenant) and junior (second
lieutenant) ranks. In navies it is often equivalent to the army rank of captain; it may also
indicate a particular post rather than a rank. The rank is also used in fire services,
emergency medical services, security services and police forces.
Lieutenant may also appear as part of a title used in various other organizations with a
codified command structure. It often designates someone who is second-in-command,
and as such, may precede the name of the rank directly above it. For example, a
lieutenant master is likely to be second-in-command to the master in an organization
using both ranks. Notable uses include lieutenant governor in various governments, and
Quebec lieutenant in Canadian politics.
Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Czech
Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it
dates from the early 19th century. Translated as senior lieutenant, the rank is typically
bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty service.
Oberleutnant is used by both the German Army and the German Air Force. In the NATO
military comparison system, a German Oberleutnant is the equivalent of a first lieutenant
in the Army/Air Forces of Allied nations.
Other uses
The equivalent naval rank is Oberleutnant zur See.
In Nazi Germany, within the SS, SA and Waffen-SS, the rank of Obersturmfhrer was
considered the equivalent of an Oberleutnant in the German Army.

Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is
used as an officers rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While haupt in
contemporary German means main, it also has the dated meaning of head, i.e.
Hauptmann literally translates to head man, which is also the etymological root of
captain (from Latin caput head). It equates to Captain in the British and US Armies, and
is rated OF-2 in NATO.
More generally, it can be used to denote the head of any hierarchically structured group of
people, often as a compound word. For example, a Feuerwehrhauptmann is the captain of
a fire brigade, while the word Ruberhauptmann refers to the leader of a gang of robbers.
Official Austrian titles incorporating the word include Landeshauptmann,
Bezirkshauptmann, Burghauptmann and Berghauptmann. In Saxony during the Weimar
Republic, the titles of Kreishauptmann and Amtshauptmann were held by senior civil
It might cognates with the Swedish word Hvitsman that have the same root meaning
Head man or the man at the head and that are closely related to the word hvding
meaning Chieftain. Both titles are since medieval times used for titles within the
administration of the state rather then within the military.
Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in many
military forces. When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank,
the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an army captain and just below the rank of
lieutenant colonel. It is considered the most junior of the field ranks. In some militaries,
notably France and Ireland, the rank is referred to as commandant, while in others it is
known as captain-major. It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank
structures, such as the New York State Police, New Jersey State Police and several others.
As a police rank, Major roughly corresponds to the UK rank of Superintendent.
When used in hyphenated or combined fashion, the term can also imply seniority at other
levels of rank, including general-major or major general, denoting a mid-level general
officer, and sergeant major, denoting the most senior NCO of a military unit.
It can also be used with a hyphen to denote the leader of a military band such as in pipemajor or drum-major.

Oberstleutnant is a German Army and German Air Force rank equal to Lieutenant
Colonel, above Major, and below Oberst.
There are two paygrade associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant. Paygrade A14 is the
standard level paygrade whereas A15 is assigned to senior Oberstleutnant personnel.
Oberstleutnant of the General Staff or Reserve have the words im Generalstabsdienst
(i.G.), der Reserve (d.R.) after their rankthus: OTL i.G., OTL d.R.
Oberstleutnant who are definitely retired are described as auer Dienst (a.D.)
During World War II, the SS maintained an equivalent rank known as

Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian
countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of
Austria, Germany, Switzerland DDenmark aand Norway. The Swedish rank verste is a
direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti and the Icelandic rank ofursti. In the
Netherlands the rank overste is used as a synonym for a lieutenant colonel.
The German rank of general most likely saw its first use within the religious orders of the
Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, albeit in modified forms and usage from the
current understanding of general. By the 16th century, with the rise of standing armies, the
German states had begun to appoint generals from the nobility to lead armies in battle.
A standard rank system was developed during the Thirty Years War, with the highest rank
of General usually reserved for the ruling sovereign (e.g. the Kaiser or Elector) and the
actual field commander holding the rank of Generalleutnant. Feldmarschall was a lower
rank at that time, as was Generalwachtmeister.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, the rank of general was present in all the militaries of the
German states, and saw its greatest usage by the militaries of Bavaria and Prussia. It was
these two militaries that created the concept of the general staff, which was often
manned entirely by members of the nobility. To be a general implied membership in the
noble class as a count or Graf, baron or Freiherr (this also accounts for most German
generals of this era having the prefix von before their names)
Lieutenant General is a military rank used in many countries. The rank traces its origins to
the Middle Ages where the title of lieutenant general was held by the second in command
on the battlefield, who was normally subordinate to a captain general.
In modern armies, lieutenant general normally ranks immediately below general and
above major general; it is equivalent to the navy rank of vice admiral, and in air forces
with a separate rank structure, it is equivalent to air marshal. A lieutenant general
commands an army corps, made up of typically three army divisions, and consisting of
around 60,000 soldiers. The term major general is a shortened version of the previous term
sergeant major general, which was also subordinate to lieutenant general. This is why a
lieutenant general outranks a major general, whereas a major is senior to a lieutenant.
In many countries, the rank of corps general has replaced the earlier rank of lieutenant
general (e.g. France, Italy). (The ranks of corps general and lieutenant colonel general are
intended to solve the apparent lieutenant general / major general anomaly). However, for
convenience, this is often translated into English as lieutenant general.
In a number of states, the rank of lieutenant general is the highest army rank in use. In
Lithuania and Latvia, the chief of defence is a lieutenant general, and in the Irish Defence
Forces and Israeli forces the Chief of Staff holds this rank.
General der Artillery
General of the artillery may mean:
1. a rank of general in the Imperial Army, Reichswehr or Wehrmacht - the second-highest

regular rank below Generaloberst. Cavalry officers of equivalent rank were called general
of the cavalry, and infantry officers of equivalent rank general of the infantry. The
Wehrmacht also had General der Panzertruppen (tank troops), General der
Gebirgstruppen (mountain troops), General der Pioniere (engineers), General der
Fallschirmtruppen (parachute troops), General der Nachrichtentruppen (communications
troops). Today in the Bundeswehr, the rank of lieutenant general corresponds to the
traditional rank of general of the artillery. There was no equivalent rank in the army of
East Germany, where it was merged into that of Generaloberst.
2. in the Bundeswehr, the position of an artillery officer responsible for certain questions
of troop training and equipment, usually with the rank of Brigadegenerals. The position of
general of the artillery is connected with that of commander of the artillery school.
Corresponding service positions also exist for other branches of the army. Since in this
usage it refers to a position not a rank, an Oberst is sometimes General of his respective
type of troops. The form of address is usually Herr General and/or Herr Oberst ; the form
of address Herr General der Artillerie is unorthodox, since it does not refer to a rank.
A supreme general or senior general ( Generaloberst, sometimes mistranslated colonelgeneral by analogy to Oberst, colonel) was the second highest general officer rank
below field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall)in the Prussian army as well as in the
Deutsches Heer of Imperial Germany (1871-1919), the Reichswehr Reichswehr 1933),
and the Wehrmacht (which included the Luftwaffe, established in 1935) of Nazi Germany
The rank was created originally for Emperor William Ithen Prince of Prussiabecause
traditionally members of the royal family were not promoted to the rank of a field
Since the rank of Generalfeldmarschall was also reserved for wartime promotions, the
additional rank of a supreme general in the capacity of a field marshal the
Generaloberst im Range eines Generalfeldmarschalls was created for promotions
during peace. Such generals were entitled to wear four pips on their shoulder boards,
compared to the normal three.
The equivalent ranks of a colonel general were in the:
Kriegsmarine Generaladmiral (general admiral)
Schutzstaffel (SS) SS-Oberst-Gruppenfhrer
Sturmabteilung (SA) - no equivalent
Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) Generaloberst der Polizei (colonel general of police)
Generalfeldmarschall in German (usually translated simply as General Field Marshal),
was the highest military rank in the armies of several German states including the Austrian
Empire and Kingdom o PPrussia (later the German Empire).
Originally used in the Holy Roman Empire, the rank of Generalfeldmarschall became the
highest military rank in the Habsburg Monarchy equivalent to that of Marshall in France
or Field Marshall in England. Following the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, it was kept
in the armies of the Austrian Empire (1804-1867) then in these of the Austro-Hungarian

Empire (1867-1919). The Prussian army also used it as the army equivalent to a navy
Grand Admiral (German: Groadmiral) and was later used as a rank on the Wehrmacht
and Luftwaffe of Germany during WWII.
In Germany
In the German-Prussian Army and later in the Wehrmacht, the rank had several privileges,
such as elevation to nobility, equal rank with ministers of the royal cabinet, right of direct
report to the monarch, and a constant escort/protection. In 1854, the rank of ColonelGeneral (German: Generaloberst) was created in order to promote then Prussian prince
William (William I, German Emperor) to senior rank without breaking the rule that only
wartime field commanders could receive the rank of field marshal for a victory in a
decisive battle or the capture of a fortification or major town. In 1870 Prince Friedrich
Karl of Prussia and Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelmwho had commanded armies
during the Franco-Prussian Warbecame the first Prussian princes appointed field
Panzer Battles: Major General F.W. von Mellenthin Attacks: Fieldmarshal Erwin Rommel
Panzer Leader: General Heinz Guderian
Panzertruppen: Thomas L. Jentz
Tobruk 1941-Osprey Military
Kursk 1943 : Tide Turns in the East /Osprey Military
Kingtiger Heavy Tank, 1942-45/ Osprey Militaryi
Achtung Panzer H.W. Guderian
Operacion Bragation 1944-Osprey Military
La ofensiva de las Ardenas-Osprey Military
THE GERMAN ORDER OF BATTLE- Panzers and Artillery George F Natzinger
The German Army 1939-45 (1)-Osprey
THE GERMAN ORDER OF BATTLE- Infantry en WW2 George F Natzinger
The German Army (2)-Osprey
IMAGES of BARBAROSSA-Christopher Ailsby
Arnhem 1944/Osprey Military
SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler MB
The Russian Front - Cassell
Scorched Earth - Paul carrelL
Panzers on the Eastern Front - General Erhard Rauss
Stopped At Stalingrad - Joel S Hayward
Assault on Moscu - Werner Haupt
SS Leibstandarte Adol Hitler - Rupert Buttler
SS Hitlerjugend - Rupert Buttler
SS Das Reich - Gregory L Matson

SS Wiking - Rupert Buttler

Chapter I The Blitzkrieg in the Low Countries .. 5
Chapter II Fort Eben Emael
The blockhouses. 18
The gun emplacements .. 19
Armoured doors . 26
Caserne Souterraine. 27
Observation posts..28
The garrison .
Chapter III Battle for Eben-Emael. 31
Belgian Preparation . 32
German Preparation 33
Fort Eben-Emael 40
Aftermath ..
Chapter IV A New Method of Attack: The 1940 German assault on Eben Emael
How was this Achieved?. 44
Planning and Training 45
The Assault
What About the Hollow Charges?.50
Conclusions ..
Chapter V General der Flieger Kurt Student. 54
World War I..
Interwar years .
World War II
Chapter VI Walter Koch ..

Early career ..
Airborne service .
Opposition to the Commando Order ..60
Chapter VII 7th Flieger Division . 61
Battle of Crete (Operation Merkur) . 64
Order of Battle.
Generalmajor Alfred Sturm . 67
Wehrmachtbericht reference. 69
Generalleutnant Erich Petersen. 69
Decorations & Awards..71
General der Fallschirmjger Richard Heidrich . 72
Wehrmachtbericht references .. 74
Generalmajor Hans Korte 74
Awards and decorations. 74
Generalmajor Karl-Lothar Schulz. 74
Chapter VIII German Fallschirmjager . 77
World War I..
First faltering steps .. 78
Early parachute experiments .. 79
The Luftwaffe flexes its wings . 81
Parachuting and airlanding .82
Blitzkrieg and the use of airborne forces ..83
Organisation and Training84
The Fallschirmjger are born..84
Roles on the ground .86
The debate continues ..88
Airlift capacity
Fallschirmjger training 89

The West, 1939-40 90

The first Fallschirmjger drops.. 91
Students plan..
Success at Eben Emael 95
The Invasion of Crete .. 96
Objective - Crete ..98
Risk assessment 99
The final plan .. 100
The state of the garrison 100
Mopping up.. 103
The Eastern Front .. 104
Battles of attrition. 105
Expansion of the airborne arm 106
Italy, Part 1 .
The plan for the invasion of Sicily .110
The invasion of Sicily 110
The Fallschirmjger in Sicily 111
The loss of Primasole Bridge 111
German plans for the defence of Italy . 113
The formation of I Parachute Corps .. 115
Hard-fought actions at Anzio.116
Battles of attrition..116
Monte Cassino . 117
First assault on Monte Cassino ..118
Citadel of stone 119
The Third Battle of Cassino . 120
Italy, Part 2.
The weather deteriorates 125
The Allies run out of steam.. 126
The final push . 126
A hopeless task.127
North Africa
Deployment to North Africa 128
Another airborne failure. 131
The West, 1944-45 . 132
The German order of battle . 133
The initial German response .. 136
The fall of Hill 192. 138
The Normandy Front collapse 139
Preparations for the last offensive in the West 140
Collapse in the West 143
Special Paratrooper Actions.. 144

The operation is launched 145

Waffen-SS airborne units 145
Tito - elusive foe
The attack goes in . 149
The collapse of Knights Move . 151
Chapter IX Airborne forces ..152
General information152
World War II .
German operations .. 154
Japanese operations 156
Soviet Operations.. 156
Chapter X 22nd (Air Landing) Infantry Division .157
Fighting in Russia . 158
Retreat to the Balkans 159
22nd (Air Landing) Infantry Division 159
Commanders .
. 163
Hitlers Secret Attack on the Worlds Largest Fort . 163
Fort Eben-Emael . 169
Description 170
The Brialmont forts. 171
The Schlieffen Plan .172
The battle of Liege173
The Versailles Treaty..174
Position Fortifiee de Liege ..176
The new forts.
Belgium Fortifications
Major Fortifications 181
The Liege Defenses 181
The Namur Defenses .. 182
Albert Canal Line .. 182
Antwerps Defenses and the National Redoubt. 183
The KW Line 183
Coast Defenses 183
Ranks in German Army.

Fhnrich ..
Lieutenant ..
Oberleutnant .
Major .
Oberstleutnant . 186
Generalleutnant .. 187
General der Artillery . 188
Generalfelsmarschall 189
In Germany .. 189

1 Hitler and Fallschirmjger after Assault on Eben Emael
2 On hearing the decision, General Brialmont declared - Vous pleurerez des larmes de

sang pour navoir pas construit ce fort - You will shed tears of blood for not building this
3 The German Imperial Chancellor, Dr. Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, famously
dismissed the 1839 Belgian neutrality act as a scrap of paper, and it was for a scrap of
paper that the British Empire went to war in 1914.
4 The psychological effect on the Allies of the destruction of the Liege forts was

considerable, leading the French to remove many artillery pieces from their static
fortresses that were now deemed to be too vulnerable. These included those from Forts
Douaumont, Souville and Vaux with almost catastrophic consequences during the Battle
of Verdun in 1916. See Osprey Campaign 93: Verdun 1916 by William Martin (Osprey
Publishing Ltd: Oxford, 2001)
5 Versailles Treaty