General Manstein, one of the Wehrmacht’s top Generals. Part 1.

During the battles around southern Leningrad, in October and November 1941, in temperatures reaching -40 degrees, the 3rd Fallschirmjager Regiment, FJR3, 7th Flieger Division, commanded by General Student, was dispatched to defend parts of the River Neva and repulse any Russian attempts at creating a bridgehead. They were used in battalion sized units in a fire-fighting role and consequently some elements suffered up to 75% casualties.

This unit was just a small piece of the jigsaw of Army Group North’s push through the Balkans during Operation Barbarossa, launched by Hitler on Sunday, 22nd June, 1941.

General Manstein also had a key role to play in the invasion of Russia, taking command of LVI AK, LVI Army Corps, in February 1941, under the command of Panzer Group 4. He was assigned the 8th Panzer Division, 3rd Infantry Division (motorised) and the 290th Infantry Division and was ordered, along with Reinhardt of the XLI AK, to strike through the thinly held Russian defences and encircle the Russian 8th Army, before continuing their advance towards the Dvina River and force a crossing. The ultimate goal for Army Group North, was to destroy the Red Army holding the Baltic States, capture Leningrad and link up with the Finnish Army.

Manstein was born in Braunfels in Hesse, on the 24th November 1887, one of ten children. Although born to the Lewinski family, his father a Prussian artillery Generalleutnant, he was brought up by his mother’s sister, as they had no sons with whom to carry the Manstein name forward. Manstein was related to a number of famous Prussian Generals and naturally pursued a career in that same field. After completing his training and attending the Royal Military Academy at Schloss Engers, near Koblenz, he was attached, as a young officer, to the 3rd Garde-Regiment zu Fuss.

At the outbreak of World War 1, in August 1914, he initially served in Belgium before being transferred to the Russian Front in October, where, during the retreat from Warsaw, he was wounded and sent to Wiesbaden to recover.

After the war and under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, where the size of the Army was limited to 100,000 men, much of his time was spent in an organisational role and it wasn’t until October 1921 that he got his first command, 6th Company, 5th Infantry Regiment. He was now married to Jutta von Loesch and his second child, a son, was born.

To overcome the restrictions placed upon the Army by the Treaty small study groups were created, leading to new doctrine in infantry, armour and motorised warfare. Manstein was fortunate to be included in one of these groups helping develop new military concepts.

Promoted to Major in 1928 and Oberstleutnant, Lieutenant Colonel, in 1931, he commanded II Jaeger battalion of the 4th Prussian Infantry Regiment in Kolberg. He was at Kolberg when Adolf Hitler became Reich Chancellor in January 1933, and along with the rest of the German Military, swore an oath, pledging their loyalty to him. His Wehrmacht service had begun…

Bundeswehr – Fallschirmjäger.

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The Fallschirmjager qualification badge, WW2.

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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.

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The Fallschirmjager’s distinctive WW2 parachute helmet.

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The Fallschirmjager were formed under the command of General Student before the start of the second world war.

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Junkers Ju-52, one of their modes of transport. Known affectionately as Tante Ju – Auntie June.

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The Fallschirmjager were reinstated after the end of the second world war, and during the Cold War Years were a key part of NATOs strategic assault force.


Paratroopers beret badge of the Bundeswehr Fallschirmjager. The present day German army paratroopers. 

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T.10. Round cap Parachute.

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Close up of a Fallschirmjager gliding with a round parachute.

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Paratroopers of the Division Spezielle Operationen – Special Operations Division, jumping off a CH-53.

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The German Fallschirmjager using modern canopies.

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Bundeswehr – Fallschirmjäger.

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Fallschirmjager of the 26th Air Assault Battalion at the Bastille Day military parade, 2007.

Back to the original Fallschirmjager, who conducted the first ever glider landing assault, when they attacked the impregnable fortress of  Eben Emael.

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An aerial photograph which shows Fort Eben Emael alongside the Canal west of Maastricht.

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A DFS-230, the type of assault glider used by the WW2 Fallschirmjager to land the 79 paratroopers on top of the fort.

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The main entrance of Fort Eben Emael as it stands today. Well worth a visit.

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One of the retractable turrets that were put out of action.

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One of the Maastricht casemates, that housed three, 75mm Guns.

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Re-enactors re-living the Fallschirmjager assault on the fort.

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The first novel in my Devils with Wings Series.

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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.

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Fallschirmschutzenabzeichen, parachutist badge.

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Devils with Wings

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The Parachutist’s “Ten Commandments”

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

Number 5.  The most precious thing in the presence of the foe is ammunition. He who shoots uselessly, merely to comfort himself, is a man of straw who merits not the title of Parachutist.

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Devils with Wings- Clip by Nick Britten

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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 series of novels.

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Blog is copyrighted to Harvey Black

 

Fallschirmjager, Grüne Teufel, Green Devils. Part 4.

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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.

The airborne operation against Crete inflicted severe losses on the Fallschirmjager Division. At only a third of its original strength, there were far too few qualified troops available to conduct any large scale airborne operations at the outset of Operation Barbarossa. The Luftwaffe had also suffered considerable losses in transport aircraft and gliders. So, rather than initially being involved in Operation Barbarossa, 7th Flieger Division remained in Germany to rest and refit. But, they weren’t left out of it for long.

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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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On the 22nd June, 1941, Operation Barbarossa was launched, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Nearly 4 million Axis troops invaded the USSR along a front that extended nearly 4,000 kilometres.

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Destroyed Russian ranks.

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The German Army deployed three Army Groups, North, Centre and South. Army Group North’s ultimate goal was Leningrad. The commander of Army Group North, Ritter von Leeb, had three armies at his disposal. 16th Army, 18th Army and the powerful 4th Panzer Army, fielding 29 Divisions between them.

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Initially progress was good.

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German troops advance quickly and deep into the Soviet Union.

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Although the Russians fielded the infamous T-34’s, they were unable to stop the German onslaught.

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The T-34’s came as a shock to the German Army, unaware of their existence until they met them in battle.

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The Russian airforce was no match for Army Group North’s Luftwaffe support provided by Luftlotte 1.

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On the first day, Panzer Group 4’s 600 tanks crossed the River Neman and penetrated up to 80 kilometres.

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Horse drawn supply wagons.

Although supposedly a mechanised army, the German forces were heavily dependant on horse drawn wagons for their supplies and very quickly ran out of fuel and ammunition. By the end of the 22nd June, the German armour had penetrated 80 kilometres in their drive towards Leningrad. On the 23rd June, near a town called Raseiniai, the Soviets counter attacked. It was here that the German panzers came across the KV heavy tanks for the first time. The Panzer 35(t)’s and anti-tank weapons were practically ineffective against them. The Pak 37, 37mm anti-tank gun earned the nickname of ‘door knocker’ because it couldn’t penetrate the thick armour.

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KV heavy tanks. The later Pak 40, 75mm anti-tank gun was given a priority as they were badly needed to stop these new tanks. One tank in Raseiniai held the advance up for 24 hours.

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The advance continued with thousands of Russian prisoners being taken.

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Long columns of Russian prisoners were marched to the rear, guarded by only a few german guards.

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The Russian troops were demoralised, badly led and beaten.

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But it didn’t all go the German Army’s way. By the end of September 1941, Army Group’s North, Centre and South, ground to a halt. The worsening mud of the Russian Rasputitsa and stiffening Russian resistance ground the German forces down. Although Army Group North had surrounded Leningrad to the south, east and west and the Finnish closed the ring to  north, they made little headway.

The Russian Army was desperate to penetrate the ring of steel that isolated them from the rest of the soviet Union and fought hard to break out. They managed to get two bridgeheads across the River Neva, the German army struggling to restrain them.

The only German Strategic reserve that could be thrown into battle to stem the flow, was the 7th Flieger Division.

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The 1st and 3rd battalions of the 1st Parachute, Fallschirmjager, Regiment and the 2nd battalion of the Luftlande-Sturmregiment were dispatched to the Leningrad to fight alongside 18th Army. They were to be the Army’s fire brigade.

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Deployed east of the city, along the River Neva.

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Fallschirmjager Granatwerfer, mortar team in action.

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In mid-October, just as the Russian winter was setting in, the 7th Flieger’s Divisional Headquarters arrived at the front.

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The Fallschirmjager now had much better support under the command of their own division rather than the Wehrmacht.

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The soviets battered the Fallschirmjager troops relentlessly, desperate to escape the trap, but to no avail. The Fallschirmjager, reinforced by the Parachute Engineer Battalion, held their ground. The troops held the Red Army soldiers from the Volkhov front back, some units suffering up to 75% casualties. The weather, dropping to lows of nearly -40 degrees, also took its toll on the paratroopers.

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Although the Fallschirmjager were heavily involved in the defence of the River Neva, they weren’t involved in any attacks on Russian military armoured trains. Bearing in mind my books are novels, i have included a section where my characters do just that. Some of the armoured trains they were involved in are shown below.

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MBV2 – Russian Armoured Cruiser. Details given in Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun

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MBV-2 Armoured Cruiser

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MBV-2 Armoured Cruiser. Some were built in Leningrad and were given names.

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Anti-Aircraft guns – 4 x interlinked, Vickers water cooled machine guns

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PL-37 artillery wagons. Information can be found in Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun.

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High explosive torpedo on a battery powered rail trolley.

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T-34.

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T-34.

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T-34.

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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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Rein-actors at the Bovington Tank Museum Tankfest.

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Rein-actors at the Bovington Tank Museum Tankfest.

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Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun by Nick Britten

Devils with Wings: Silk Drop

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The Parachutist’s “Ten Commandments”

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

Number 4.  Be calm and prudent, strong and resolute. Valour and enthusiasm of an offensive spirit will cause you to prevail in the attack.

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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 Blog is copyrighted to Harvey Black

 

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Third novel in the Devils with Wings series

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