Fallschirmjager, Grüne Teufel, Green Devils. Part 3.

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The Fallschirmjager qualification badge.

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I have just finished writing my third novel in the Devils with Wings series, Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun. The Fallschirmjager, after their successful battle taking Crete in only 10 days, are shipped to Poland to partake in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Leaving temperatures in excess of forty degrees to be used, not in an airborne operation, but as a fire brigade, plugging gaps in the line around Leningrad, particularly along the banks of the River Neva. They were Army Group North’s strategic reserve.  They were quickly placed into the fray, fighting along the River Neva, where temperatures dropped to below -30 degrees, sometimes as low as -40. They were successful at plugging the gaps and preventing the Soviet Union from exploiting their bridgeheads over the River Neva, but at a price. Some units suffered up to 75% casualties. Many who had survived the assault on the Fortress Eben Emael, (Devils with Wings) and the fierce fighting on the Island of Crete (Devils with Wings: Silk Drop) met their fate in this bitter struggle with the atrocious weather and the never ending Soviet hordes.

The German Army, and the Fallschirmjager, were soon to experience the hostile Russian winters.

These next few posts will fill in some of the background to these amazing airborne soldiers. Their training was particularly tough, and they were the first parachute, airborne, division in existence. After a tough physical regime, consisting of strenuous exercise, unarmed combat, weapons handling and long forced marches, culminating in bigger and bigger unit exercises, they complete their parachute training. Before they were allowed anywhere near a parachute, they to jump into a tank of water from a 45 foot tower. Their training, apart from the parachute element, was thought to be similar to that of the British WW2 Commandos.

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Fallschirmjager helmet, M38 Model Fallschirmjagerhelm.

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The front cover of Hauptmann Piehl’s Ganze Manner, the 1943 first edition, with a foreword by General Kurt Student.

The German Fallschirmjager in WW2.

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After their success in subjugating Fort Eben Emael, the impregnable fortress protecting the bridges that crossed the Albert Canal, General Student and his Fallschirmjager were assigned an even bigger task. The first ever airborne invasion of a country, Crete. Before they conducted this epic 10 day operation, they were brought in to secure the bridge that crossed the Corinth Canal.

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A view of the Corinth Canal taken by a Fallschirmjager in 1941.

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On the 6 April 1941, the German Army invaded Greece. They advanced rapidly and reached Thebes in less than three weeks. On the night of the 26 April, a Fallschirmjager Regiment were dropped onto Corinth with the task of securing the Corinth Canal bridge, cutting off the Isthmus of Corinth. The British counter-attacked, but failed to secure the bridge, although the bridge was destroyed in the process. The German Army quickly captured the Peloponnesos.

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Modern day photograph of the Corinth Canal.

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A Fallschirmjager paratrooper looks on at a pile of captured weapons

captured in Corinth.

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A Fallschirmjager guards Greek prisoners of war.

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British soldiers were also captured. They were treated well by the paratroopers, who, on many occasions during WW2,

allowed prisoners to be exchanged during lulls in battle.

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But for the Fallschirmjager, there was to be no rest.

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General Student, commander of the Fallschirmjager Division, discusses the forthcoming Operation Merkur, Operation Mercury, with General Ringel.

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Map of Crete – 20 May 1941

With the surviving Allied forces withdrawn to Crete, it was decided to conduct an air landing operation to secure the Island. The 7th Flieger Division would capture the airfields on Crete allowing the German Mountain troops, the 5th Gebirgsjager Division, to be flown in as reinforcements.

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The Fallschirmjager prepare for the operation.

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The Junkers, JU-52’s are loaded. The Fallschirmjager affectionately referred to the aircraft as Tante Ju, Auntie Jun.

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Weapons canister being loaded. Generally, the paratroopers didn’t carry any weapons, other than a knife to cut away the parachute if they got tangled up in it, and a pistol when they parachuted. The position of the ‘risers’ meant they had to land on their hands and knees, the reason they wore thick cricket like pads around their knees. As a consequence they went into battle lightly armed until they could make contact with the containers that would follow them down. The single riser also made the parachute difficult to steer.

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A flight of JU-52’s heading for Crete.

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Day 1, 20th May. Maleme-Chania sector. Group West, codenamed Comet, was responsible for securing Maleme Airfield. Paratroopers parachuted in, along with glider troops landing directly on the target. Some Fallschirmjager and gliders landed off target where they were able to dig in. Although they were initially unable to secure the airfield they were in position and a threat to the defenders.

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One company of the 3rd battalion, 1st Assault Regiment, lost over 100 men killed out of 126. The battalion of 600 men, had two thirds of the unit killed before the end of the first day.

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Group Mitte, (centre), code named Mars, assaulted Prison Valley, Chania Souda and Rethymnon. This second wave arrived in the afternoon, dropping paratroopers and gliders on Rethymnon and Group Ost (East) targetting Heraklion.

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On day 2, 21 May, the Allied forces withdrew from Hill 107, leaving Maleme effectively undefended. This allowed the German forces to finally use the airfield to fly in reinforcements. The Allies attempted a counter attack on the night of the 21st, but due to delays, the Luftwaffe were able to support the troops on the ground and repulse the attack.

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German aircraft on the battlefield of maleme airfield.

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From the 23 May, the Allies were effectively involved in a slow withdrawal along the length of the Island as the Fallschirmjager and Gebirgsjager advanced.

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A present day photo of the type of terrain they covered.

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Fallschirmjager.

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Destroyed British, Mark V1B light tanks. The British had 16 x light tanks and 9 x Matilda IIA infantry tanks.

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Matilda Tank belonging to the Bovington Tank Museum.

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Fallschirmjager.

The qualification phase to become a paratrooper consisted of 6 jumps. The first would be a t height of around 200 metres, the next two at 150 metres, but in a stick of six trainees. Their fourth jump would be from the same height, but at dusk or dawn and as part of a much larger stick, of perhaps 10 men. For the fifth jump they would be part of a Kette formation, a V-formation, a Chain of three Junkers JU-52. The final jump would be made under simulated combat conditions, up to nine aircraft flying at little over 125 metres in height.

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Fallschirmschutzenabzeichen, parachutist badge.

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Fallschirmjager advance west, using captured vehicles.

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And donkeys.

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Weapons canisters had a set of wheels, allowing them to be moved more easily.

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Captured British Camp near Chania.

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Thousands of Allied soldiers were captured.

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The Fallschirmjager suffered from a high level of casualties. Out of 29,000 troops (Mountain and Paratrooper), they suffered nearly 7,000 casualties and lost 0ver 350 aircraft.

The Allies, lost 4,000 killed and nearly 3,000 wounded out of a force of 40,000.

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Crete after the battle.

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Fallschirmjager.

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Local population.

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Then….

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…..now.

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Present day Crete.

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Some of the terrain they would have covered.

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Devils with Wings: Silk Drop – Video by Nick Britten

Check out his great Blog Site – http://readinggivesmewings.wordpress.com/

Devils with Wings: Silk Drop

The Parachutist’s “Ten Commandments”

The Fallschirmjager had ten commandments that they lived by as elite soldiers.

Number 3. Beware of talking. Be not corruptible. Men act while women chatter. Chatter may bring you to the grave.

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My intention is not to portray a particular message, but just share some of my photographs and information with you and help set the scene for my forthcoming novel. The next post will cover the Fallschirmjager in Russia.

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Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun

 Blog is copyrighted to Harvey Black

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Frozen-Sun-Devils-Wings-ebook/dp/B0099495E0/ref=pd_sim_kinc_1Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun

Third novel in the Devils with Wings series

The Invasion of Crete, WW2.

This would be the first ever airborne invasion in military history. The Fallschirmjager, supported by the famous Gebirgsjager mountain troops, are up against 40,000 allied soldiers – who will fight to the bitter end to protect Crete.

Before dawn on the 20th May 1941, the JU-52’s, “Tante Ju’s”, warmed up their engines on the Greek airfields of Corinth, Megara and Tanagra ready to undertake the first full scale invasion of a country from the air. They were to attack the 160 mile long Island of Crete.

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Loading a weapons canister into a JU-52.

Within minutes of the first few taking off, carrying their loads of paratroopers towards their objectives, a dust storm had been created by the backdraft from the three engined Junkers, playing havoc with the German’s carefully planned schedule. Eventually, waiting for the clouds of dust to settle, all were launched.

Ju-52’s and towed DFS-230 gliders on route to Crete.

On Day 1, the glider companies landed successfully on their targets, capturing the bridge over the Tavronitis and securing an area on the outskirts of Maleme airfield. The 3rd battalion, Luftlande Sturmregiment, started their drop landing directly on top of two New Zealand battalions. The 2nd battalion landed east of Spilia and the 4th battalion west of Travonitis. Once Generalmajor Meindl had secured his HQ, and dug in on the outskirts of the airfield, he sent two companies to take Hill 107, a key position overlooking Maleme airfield. Major Koch, of Eben Emael fame, the commander of  the 1st battalion, received a head wound while helping to take Hill 107.

Fallschirmjager, paratroopers, dropping onto Crete. 

The second major drop that day was around the town of Chania. A second wave of aircraft dropped more paratroopers in the afternoon, along with further gliders containing heavy assault troops. Rethymnon was attacked at 1615 hours, Heraklion at 1730. The Fallschirmjager suffered heavy casualties that day.

Day 2

The Fallschirmjager took advantage of the New Zealand forces withdrawing from Hill 107, this eventually giving the Germans control of Maleme airfield, enabling them to land aircraft and reinforce the units on the ground.

Fallschirmjager in Crete, their distinctive helmets and combat smocks clearly visible.

Before midnight, Rear Admiral Glennie’s Force D, three light cruisers and four destroyers, intercepted a water born landing by German reinforcements. Out of the 2,000 strong German force, over 1,000 managed to escape.

Warships berthed close to the Island – Crete 1941

The Germans now had a foothold on Crete and with Maleme airfield in their possession, they flew units of the 5th Gebirgsjager, Mountain, Division in to join in the attack.

A bitter battle was fought – destroyed British light Mark VI,  tanks, 1941.

It was an exhaustive battle for the Fallschirmjager

But after 10 days of battle they had their victory march – Crete 1941.

But they suffered heavy casualties and it was the last major jump completed by the Fallschirmjager in WW2

The following are pictures from my visit to Crete while writing Devils with Wings: Silk Drop. The visit helped me with my descriptions of the environment they fought in.

When you read about Max and a certain incident, this is the plant I was describing

2010

1941

This exciting fictionalised retelling of the invasion of Crete is written by an author with extensive experience in army intelligence. It’s the follow up to Devils With Wings, and continues the wartime adventures of Fallschirmjager paratrooper Paul Brand and his Feldwebel Max Grun. On a high after their successful subjugation of Fort Eben Emael, Paul Brand, now in command of his own company, and Feldwebel Max Grun, are parachuted into Greece to help capture the bridge spanning the Corinth Canal. Tough times are ahead when the German High Command decide to invade the Island of Crete. This will be the first ever airborne invasion in military history. The Fallschirmjager, supported by the famous Gebirgsjager mountain troops, are up against 40,000 allied soldiers – who will fight to the bitter end to protect Crete. Operating behind enemy lines, Paul Brand and Max Grun will face challenges that not only tests their fortitude but strains the close bond between them. Silk Drop is a thrilling sequel to Devils With Wings and is based on a factual episode.

Photographs copyrighted to Harvey Black

 

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ref=sib_dp_kd

This exciting fictionalised retelling of the invasion of Crete is written by an author with extensive experience in army intelligence. It’s the follow up to Devils With Wings, and continues the wartime adventures of Fallschirmjager paratrooper Paul Brand and his Feldwebel Max Grun. On a high after their successful subjugation of Fort Eben Emael, Paul Brand, now in command of his own company, and Feldwebel Max Grun, are parachuted into Greece to help capture the bridge spanning the Corinth Canal. Tough times are ahead when the German High Command decide to invade the Island of Crete. This will be the first ever airborne invasion in military history. The Fallschirmjager, supported by the famous Gebirgsjager mountain troops, are up against 40,000 allied soldiers – who will fight to the bitter end to protect Crete. Operating behind enemy lines, Paul Brand and Max Grun will face challenges that not only tests their fortitude but strains the close bond between them. Silk Drop is a thrilling sequel to Devils With Wings and is based on a factual episode.

Grüne Teufel – Green Devils

The battle of Crete, Operation Mercury, began on the morning of the 20th May, 1941. Greek and Allied forces defended the Island.

The Fallschirmjager, German Paratroopers, were used on a huge scale, the first ever mainly airborne invasion in history.

Up to 15,000 elite, Fallschirmjager initiated the attack by glider and parachute, later supported by up to 15,000 Gebirgsjager, Mountain Troops. Nearly five hundred transport aircraft were used, the famous Junkers JU 52, Tante Ju, Aunty June,  to the paratroopers.

Although a success, taking Crete in only 10 days, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Up to 7,000 were killed or wounded and over 350 aircraft were destroyed. They were never again used in large scale airborne operations, but as elite troops, they fought in every theatre of the war, by the River Neva near Leningrad, Monte Casino, Italy, Battle of the Bulge, Normandy and Africa.

A Video Clip of the Fallschirmjager

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