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The title of this article contains the character ä. Where it is unavailable or not desired, the name may be represented as Fallschirmjaeger.

De-Fallschirmjäger-pronunciation.ogg Fallschirmjäger (help·info) (often rendered Fallschirmjager in English; from the German Fallschirm "parachute" and Jäger, "hunter; huntsman" a term for light infantry) are German paratroopers. Fallschirmjäger of Germany in World War II were the first to be committed in large-scale airborne operations. During the entirety of World War II, the Fallschirmjäger commander was Kurt Student.

History German paratroopers

During World War II, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) raised a variety of airborne light infantry (Fallschirmjäger) units. Unlike the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth, and the USA, the German paratroopers were part of the German Air Force rather than the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer). Starting from a small collection of Fallschirmjäger battalions at the beginning of the war, the Luftwaffe built up a division-sized unit of three Fallschirmjäger regiments plus supporting arms and air assets, known as the 7th Flieger Division (7th Air Division).

Fallschirmjäger units made the first airborne invasion when invading Denmark on the 9 April 1940. In the early morning hours they attacked and took control of Aalborg Air Base which played a key role acting as a refuel station for the Luftwaffe in the further invasion into Norway. In the same assault the bridges around Aalborg were taken. Other airborne attacks on Denmark the 9 April were also carried out, including one on a fort on the island Masnedø.

The first opposed airborne attacks occurred in Norway, first during the initial invasion when Fallschirmjägers captured the defended air base of Sola, near Stavanger. The following Norwegian Campaign also saw the first Fallschirmjäger defeat when a company was dropped on the village and railroad junction of Dombås on 14 April 1940 and was destroyed by the Norwegian Army in a five day battle.[1]

Later in the war, the 7th Air Division's Fallschirmjäger assets were re-organised and used as the core of a new series of elite Luftwaffe Infantry divisions, numbered in a series beginning with the 1st Fallschirmjäger Division. These formations were organized and equipped as motorized infantry divisions, and often played a "fire brigade" role on the western front. Their constituents were often encountered on the battlefield as ad hoc battle groups (Kampfgruppen) detached from a division or organized from miscellaneous available assets. In accord with standard German practice, these were called by their commander's name, such as Group Erdmann in France and the Ramcke Parachute Brigade in North Africa.

After mid-1944, Fallschirmjäger were no longer trained as paratroops due to the realities of the strategic situation, but retained the Fallschirmjäger honorific. Near the end of the war, the series of new Fallschirmjäger divisions extended to over a dozen, with a concomitant reduction in quality in the higher-numbered units of the series. Among these divisions was the 9th Fallschirmjäger Division, which was the final parachute division to be raised by Germany during World War II. The division was destroyed during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945. (These divisions should not be confused with the Luftwaffe Field Divisions, a poorly organised and managed series of light infantry divisions raised from excess Luftwaffe personnel early in the war.)

Over 54,449 paratroops were killed in action and over 8,000 are still listed as missing in action.[citations needed]

Fallschirmjäger were awarded a total of 134 Knight's Cross of the Iron Crosses between the years 1940–1945. Twenty-four KC were awarded in the west and 27 were awarded after Crete. Out of the 134 KC, 15 were with oak leaves, five with oak leaves and swords, and one with oak leaves, swords and diamonds.

Operations

Fallschirmjäger participated in many famous battles, including the airborne seizure of Fort Eben-Emael and airdrops in Norway and Denmark in 1940, the bloody battle of Monte Cassino and the defence of Carentan, as depicted in Band of Brothers, during the Battle of Normandy in 1944. Their most famous airdrop was in the Battle of Crete in 1941, where the entire 7th Air Division was deployed, with the German 5th Mountain Division as the follow-up. Initially the operation was unsuccessful and it was not until an airfield was captured that they could be reinforced. Crete was captured, but the high casualties among the Fallschirmjäger convinced Hitler that such mass airdrops were no longer feasible—though surprise was lost even before the drops started, and the battle might have caused fewer German casualties otherwise. Still, the Allies would come to a similar conclusion near the end of the war, as each successive large-scale airdrop resulted in higher and higher casualties.

The 3rd battalion, 3rd Regt, 1st Fallschirmjäger Division fought against, and was defeated by elements of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division during the battle of Ortona, Italy, from December 20, 1943 to December 28, 1943.

During the Battle of Monte Cassino the 1st Fallschirmjäger Division operated as ordinary infantry. When the Allies bombed the Monastery of Monte Cassino they inadvertently created an excellent fortress of rubble. This enabled the still present Fallschirmjäger to hold out for months against repeated assaults and heavy bombardment. Nicknamed "Green Devils" by the Allied forces for their distinctive 3/4-length splinter pattern camoflage jackets and the tenacious defence of the ruined town and later of the ruined monastery on the mountain above, they finally retreated from their positions to stave off being outflanked, allowing Polish, Gurkha, Senegalese and Moroccan forces to occupy the ruins of the monastery.

Uniforms and Equipment

Fallschirmjager would be awarded the Fallschirmschützenabzeichen, a Paratrooper Insignia featuring a diving gold eagle gripping a swastika.

Fallschirmjäger units were usually very well equipped; they had access to the best weapons of the German military. They were among the first combat units to use assault rifles and recoilless rifles in warfare.

A special version of the German armed forces' (Wehrmacht's ) modernized steel helmet (stahlhelm), the M1935, called the Fallschirmhelm, was designed and issued to Fallschirmjäger units. It did away with the projecting visor and deep, flared rim of the standard-issue helmet, and added further improvements. The modified shell incorporated a completely different and more substantial leather liner and chinstrap design that provided far more protection for German airborne troops; this model was known as the M1938.

The style of parachute harness used by the Fallschirmjäger, however, is generally considered inferior to those used by the war's British and American paratroopers. Unlike the British and American models, connected to the chute at each shoulder, the German design connected the parachute to the trooper's body via a single strap in the center of the back. Paratroopers had to throw themselves bodily forwards out of the aeroplane, and in the resulting face-down position when the chute opened, control was nearly impossible. The necessity of landing on knees and elbows reduced the amount of equipment the trooper could carry and, even with pads, significantly increased the chance of injury. As such they jumped armed only with a holstered pistol and a small "gravity knife". Rifles and other weapons were dropped in separate containers and, until these were recovered, the troopers were poorly armed (By comparison, Allied paratroopers were dropped armed with rifles or submachine guns). The Japanese copied the German system.

Some[who?] would say that in an attempt to turn the Fallschirmjäger into Göring's private army, rivaling Himmler's Waffen-SS, a universal weapon was developed that could replace rifles, submachine guns and light machineguns but was also light enough to be carried during a jump. This resulted in the FG42 automatic rifle. This was built and deployed in small numbers from 1943 until the end of the war. Unfortunately, the design was flawed, as the lightweight frame was not entirely compatible with the more universal role it was supposed to play as both a light machine gun (LMG) and assault rifle, both necessitating a sustained rate of fire.

Luftwaffe parachute units

Larger units

  • Fallschirmjägerarmee
  • Fallschirmarmee
  • Fallschirmjägerkorps
  • Fallschirmkorps
  • Fallschirmkorps

Fallschirmjägerdivisionen

  • Fallschirmjägerdivision, Fallschirmjägerregimenter (FJR).1, FJR.3, FJR.4 + (as 7.Flieger-Division with FJR.1, FJR.2, FJR.3, FJR.4, FJR.5)
  • Fallschirmjägerdivision, FJR.2, FJR.6, FJR.7, FJR.23
  • Fallschirmjägerdivision, FJR.5, FJR.8, FJR.9
  • Fallschirmjägerdivision, (formed from the Italian 184th Nembo Parachute Division (Italy); destroyed at Anzio.[2]) FJR.10, FJR.11, FJR.12
  • Fallschirmjägerdivision, (the last parachute trained unit) FJR.13, FJR.14, FJR.15
  • Fallschirmjägerdivision, FJR.16, FJR.17, FJR.18
  • Fallschirmjägerdivision, (only some of its units were parachute trained) FJR.19, FJR.20, FJR.21 + (as Fallschirm-Jäger-Division Erdmann: FJR.Menzel, Grossmehl, Greve, Hübner, Laytved-Hardegg)
  • 8. Fallschirmjägerdivision, FJR.22, FJR.24, FJR.32
  • 9. Fallschirmjägerdivision, FJR.25, FJR.26, FJR.27
  • 10. Fallschirmjägerdivision, FJR.28, FJR.29, FJR.30
  • 11. Fallschirmjägerdivision, FJR.37, FJR.38, FJR.39
  • 20. Fallschirmjägerdivision, (never finished forming) FJR.58, FJR.59, FJR.60
  • 21. Fallschirmjägerdivision, (never finished forming) FJR.61, FJR.62, FJR.63
  • Fallschirmjäger-Ausbildungs-und-Ersatz-Division,

Regiments and Brigades

  • Brigades
    • Ramcke Parachute Brigade aka Luftwaffenwaffen-Jäger-Brigade 1
    • Luftlande-Sturm-Regiment with Battalions I, II, III, and IV.
    • Barenthin Regiment- formed from drafts from other units
    • Fallschirmjäger-Sturmgeschütz-Brigaden - Assault gun Units equipped with StuG III's and StuG IV's
  • Fallschirmjäger-Sturmgeschütz-Brigade XI - StuG III's only
  • Fallschirmjäger-Sturmgeschütz-Brigade XII
  • Regiments
  • Heerestruppe (Army Troops) FJR.6, FJR.31, FJR. z.b.V., FJR. Schellmann, FJR. Jungwirth
    • Fallschirmjäger-Regiment Hübner aka Fallschirmjäger Regiment (FJR) 24 and subordinated to the 8. Fallschirmjäger Division.

Other parachute units

  • Waffen SS
    • 500th SS Parachute Battalion
    • 600th SS Parachute Battalion
  • Heer
    • Schweres-Fallschirm-Infanterie Battalion
    • Brandenburger Regiment aka Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg
    • Fallschirm-Battalion Brandenburg
    • German 22nd Air Landing Division
    • German 91st Air Landing Division
  • Luftwaffe
    • Para-trained commandos of II/KG200 {aka 3rd Staffel of Kampfgeschwader 200}, they were a Luftwaffe special forces who were para-trained commandos. II./KG 200 remain a little-known arm of Germany's WW2 parachute forces and were listed on II./KG 200's ORBAT as the 3rd Staffel.

Bundeswehr Fallschirmjäger Fallschirmjäger of 26th Air Assault Bde marching in Paris

In the modern German Bundeswehr, Fallschirmjäger form the core of the Special Operations Division with two brigade equivalents and several independent companies and battalions. All in all in 2010 about 10,000 troops will serve in that division which will have the following structure:

Special Operations Division

  • Headquarters Company (stationed in Stadtallendorf)
  • Airborne Signal Battalion (Stadtallendorf)
  • Airborne Air Defence Missile Battery 100 (Seedorf)
  • Long Range Reconnaissance Training Company 200 (Pfullendorf)
    • Army Band 300 (Koblenz)
    • Airborne Brigade 26 (Saarlouis)
      • Headquarters Company (Saarlouis)
      • Airborne Reconnaissance Company 260 (Zweibrücken)
      • Airborne Engineer Company 260 (Saarlouis)
      • Fallschirmjäger Battalion 261 (Lebach)
      • Airborne Support Battalion 262 (Merzig)
      • Fallschirmjäger Battalion 263 (Zweibrücken)
  • Airborne Brigade 31 (Oldenburg)
    • Headquarters Company (Oldenburg)
    • Airborne Reconnaissance Company 310 (Seedorf)
    • Airborne Engineer Company 270 (Seedorf)
    • Fallschirmjager Battalion 313 (Seedorf)
    • Fallschirmjager Battalion 373 (Seedorf)
    • Airborne Support Battalion 272 (Oldenburg, Seedorf)
  • Special Forces Command (KSK) (Calw)

The vast majority of division members is deployable by parachute, while all of it is at least air mobile. In addition to the Special Operations Division Germany is also setting up an air mobile or air assault unit of (German) regiment size.

National People's Army

  • 40. Fallschirmjägerbataillon Willi Sänger was the only airborne infantry formation of the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA). The battalion and its airborne-commando school were based in Prora at the Rügen island (1961-82) and near Potsdam (1982-90). Officially, the battalion was an airborne unit organized as an NVA light infantry battalion, but in reality it was more considered a special force commando unit like US Army Special Forces. On mission, the companies of the battalion were to be split up in to five-six man teams to increase it's shadowbility. As a force with special capability it remained under the direct command of the Kommando Landstreitkräfte (KdoLaSK) - the army high command.
  • The reconnaissance company of the Felix Dzerzhinsky Watch Regiment (German: Wachregiment "Feliks E. Dzierzynski"), an elite motorized rifles regiment of the Ministry for State Security of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was a paratroop trained unit.

In popular culture

In the Jack Higgins book and movie adaption The Eagle Has Landed, a group of Fallschirmjäger and their leader are heavily featured in a fictional covert operation where they are secretly land on the English coast in an attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill.

In the video game Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, the main attack force in the initial Nazi invasion of New York city, are Fallschirmjäger troops. You first see them when they land on the skyscraper you are working on.

In the massively multiplayer online game World War II Online, it is possible for Axis players to play as Fallschirmjäger. Parachute drops are possible.

In the WW2 real-time strategy game Company of Heroes, Fallschirmjager are portrayed as stealthy units, able to hide in cover and infiltrate the battlefield unseen, and as extremely lethal to enemy infantry when equipped with their FG42. They are not seen actually fulfilling their namesake as paratroopers, but instead summoned from any building around the battlefield, having infiltrated it beforehand.

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