WWII Artifact in the Spotlight

Fallschirmjager Helmet and Cover

 

“Be nimble as a greyhound, as tough as leather, as hard as Krupp steel and so you shall be the German warrior incarnate.”

 From The Parachutists Ten Commandments         

In January of 1936, Germany’s WWII paratroopers, or Fallschirmjager, became a new branch of the Luftwaffe (Air Force). It was an elite force of select and very highly trained volunteers. They were to be deployed to capture critical positions behind enemy lines (such as airfields, forts and key bridges) in support of operational and strategic objectives.

When Germany invaded Western Europe in 1940, Fallschirmjager both parachuted and landed in gliders to capture priority targets. From the assault on Fort Eben-Emael (Belgium), to Norway, the Netherlands, and Greece, they played an important role in early German victories while establishing a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness. Perhaps the most remarkable operation was the capture of the Fort Eben Emael with a garrison of 1,200 men by just 68, glider-borne Fallschirmjager. In May of 1941, the island of Crete was invaded largely by German airborne troops. The primary goal of the operation was to establish an advanced Luftwaffe base, which would allow it to more easily locate and attack British warships and convoys in the eastern Mediterranean. This forward aviation posture would significantly enhance support to Rommel’s North African campaign. The Germans captured Crete after a fierce battle. German casualties were so high; however, that Hitler determined he would never conduct another such large scale airborne operation (over 3,000 Fallschirmjager killed in action and 150 valuable transport aircraft lost). For the remainder of the war, Fallschirmjager primarily functioned as elite infantry, including deployments to the Soviet Union. They remained formidable opponents, particularly at Monte Cassino (Italy), in Normandy, and the Netherlands.

The Fallschirmjager used unique uniforms and equipment. Their jump smock was designed to prevent them from getting entangled in aircraft after jumping.  They used special ammunition bandoliers and pouches, created to support self-sufficiency during combat behind enemy lines. Their steel helmet was of a revolutionary design; almost rimless. This provided protection in combat, protected their heads during difficult landings and would limit snagging on either their parachute or rigging. The helmet cover was used to enhance personal camouflage. All Fallschirmjager carried a sidearm. Interestingly, they landed armed with only a knife, a sidearm and hand grenades. Other weapons (rifles, machine pistols, machine guns, etc.) were dropped simultaneously in weapons containers that were retrieved immediately after landing. During opposed landings, this approach became problematic. Unlike Allied paratroopers, German Fallschirmjager were also taught how to pack their own parachutes. These parachutes opened using static lines, which allowed them to be dropped from lower altitudes. Their parachutes did not have risers, which meant they could not steer or change course in the air and had limited control over where they landed.

The Fallschirmjager’s primary transport aircraft were the Junkers Ju-52, which carried 17 paratroopers, and the DFS 230 glider, which carried over a ton of heavier weapons and equipment, or troops, and could be towed by an empty Ju-52 and released over the landing zone.

Recommended Reading and Videos:

Beevor, Anthony, Crete 1941, the Battle and Resistance, Penguin Books, 2014

Griesser, Volker, The Lions of Carentan, Fallschirmjager Regiment 6, 1943-1945, Casemate Publisher, 2011

Sutherland, Jon and Canwell, Dianne, Fallschirmjager; Elite German Paratroops in World War II, Pen and Sword Aviation, 2010

Watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEcyBCOFCl4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBtCfqpd9Z8