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

Fallschirmjager, Grüne Teufel, Green Devils. Part 2

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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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Apart from some initial limited fighting in Poland and Norway, it wasn’t until 1940, that the Fallschirmjager were truly launched into limelight with their famous attack on Fort Eben Emael.

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The main gate of what was supposed to be the toughest Fortress in the world.

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Fort Eben Emael, bordering the Albert Canal, occupies a position just to the east of a small village called Eben Emael.

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Forst Eben Emael, a Belgian fortification south of Maastricht

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The fort was an irregular shape, measuring 600 metres east to west and over 750 metres north to south.

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Plan of the fortress, showing the mix of armoured turrets, casemates and Anti-Aircraft guns.

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Along the eastern section of the fort was the Albert Canal, a serious barrier in itself to any attack from that direction.

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The cutting of the Albert Canal. ‘Canal-Nord’, a block imbedded into the sheer side of the wall, housed 60mm guns and protected the fort from an enemy attempting to cross the Canal.

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There were a number of blocks and casemates (9) housing 60mm anti-tank guns and machine guns. In addition, the fort housed Cupola 120, a twin 120mm gun turret with a range of just over 17 kilometres. Cupola-Nord and Cupola-Sud each had a retractable turret with two 75mm guns. A shorter range of 10 kilometres, but still capable of protecting the bridges over the Albert Canal.

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Cupola – 120. One twin 120mm turret.

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Mi-Nord and Mi-Sud were twinned blocks housing 60mm guns, Vise 1 & 2, each housed three 75mm guns facing south and Maastricht 1 & 2 contained three 75mm guns facing north.

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Maastricht-2, housed three 75mm guns.

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On the 10th May 1940, the Fallschirmjager, Group Granite, led by Oberleutnant Rudolf Witzig, were tasked with securing the supposedly impregnable fort. Seventy eight German paratroopers, Fallschirmjager, landed on top of the fort in the early hours of the morning. They landed in gliders, the first time gliders were ever used in an armed assault.

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Although the fort was well protected from a ground attack, it had very few defences against an attack from the air. Landing the traditional way, by parachute, the paratroopers would have been spread too far apart.  They also had to take heavy explosives with them to use on the concrete bunkers and armoured turrets.

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Their other secret weapon was the Hohladung, Hollow-Charged weapon. Again a first for the German Army. The 50kg charge was capable of blasting through the armoured turrets and concrete bunkers. During their 6 months training in Hildesheim, in the foothills of the Harz mountains, in complete secrecy, they weren’t even allowed to use the new explosive in anger. It was exploded on the ground and they didn’t get to see its effect until the actual assault. It was broken down into two parts. Two Fallschirmjager would carry a 25kg section each, assembling it on the target before setting the fuse.

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The effects of the Hollow-Charge weapon on one of the Eben Emael turret.

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The main force, Sturmabteilung Koch, led by Hauptmann Walter Koch, consisted of three other assault groups as well as group Granite. These three other groups, Steel, Concrete and Iron, were responsible for securing the bridges over the Canal.

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Paratroopers attacking fortress Holland.

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Fallschirmjager removing explosive charges from one of the bridges secured.

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The advancing panzer Army crosses one of the bridges held by the Fallschirmjager.

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Fallschirmjager after the battle.

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Adolf Hitler awarding members of Sturmabteilung Koch the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross.

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Re-enactors at the recent Tank Fest held at the Bovington Tank Museum.

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Tank Fest

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Fallschirmjager re-enactor at the recent Bovington Tank Fest.

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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The Parachutist’s “Ten Commandments”

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

Number 2. Cultivate true comradeship, for by the aid of your comrades you will conquer or die.

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Devils with Wings – Video by Nick Britten

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The assault on Fort Eben Emael

Devils with Wings – Glider assault on Fort Eben Emael

Fort Eben Emael is worth a visit, it has a fabulous museum.

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 airborne invasion of Crete.

 Blog is copyrighted to Harvey Black

Fallschirmjager, Grüne Teufel, Green Devils. Part 1

.

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.

.

Fallschirmjager helmet, M38 Model Fallschirmjagerhelm.

.

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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The physical training starts.

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Practising rolls on a mat.

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Putting on a show, jumping over ten of their fellow paratroopers.

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Known as the ‘Wind Donkey’, it was used to blast air into their parachutes and force them to be dragged along the ground, helping them to learn how to quickly get onto their feet and collapse the chute.

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Knee protectors and padding. They also wore cricket-pad like protection for their knees to absorb some of the force of the landing.

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Number 1 pattern jump boots, reinforced, laced up the side. The later number 2 pattern, were laced up the front.

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Thick, strong gloves to protect their hands on landing.

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Parachutes ready for packing. The long parachute packing tables can be seen below.

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The Fallschirmjager learnt how to pack their own parachutes.

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That first jump.

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Climbing into a Junkers JU-52, transport aircraft. Affectionately known as ‘Tante Ju’, ‘Auntie June’. They held their static lines in their teeth, leaving their hands free. They would do the same when standing ready to clip on, leaving their hands free as the aircraft was buffeted by wind or even flak.

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Getting ready for their first jump.

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The force of the wind is distorting the paratroopers face.

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The Absezter, Jump Master, gives the order to jump. You can see by the static lines, some have already left the aircraft.

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They were suspended by a single point from the centre of their back, making it difficult to manouevre the parachute. It also meant they had to land on their hands and knees, hence the knee pads and the gloves. As a consequence of this, they couldn’t parachute carrying their weapons and equipment, that followed them in canisters.

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My very first jump back in the 80’s

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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.

.

Fallschirmschutzenabzeichen, parachutist badge.

.

The Parachutist’s “Ten Commandments”

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

Number 1. You are the elite of the German Army. For you, combat shall be fulfillment. You shall seek it out and train yourself to stand any test.

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On Parade.

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General Kurt Student and his introduction to the book, Ganz Manner.

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The next few posts will cover some of their major battles. 

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Fallschirmjager Harvey Black 055

The assault on Fort Eben Emael

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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.

 Blog is copyrighted to Harvey Black