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"Parachutists (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A review of German parachute forces for American soldiers, from the Intelligence Bulletin, September 1942.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



a. Introduction

A good many American fighting men have said that they would like to get a clearer mental picture of German parachutists—what they look like, how they train, what their standard tactics are, and in general how they do their job.

A common mistake is to imagine that the German parachutist is an ordinary infantryman who, on landing, goes into combat as a guerrilla fighter operating by himself, with help from any fellow-parachutists he may have the luck to meet. Actually, a German parachutist is a thoroughly trained specialist who fights as part of a well-organized unit. The German Army teaches him to believe that his is the most important of all jobs—that he is even more valuable than the aces of the German Air Force. After he has had a long, tough training in a parachutists' school, he is prepared not merely to jump well, but also to fight well. In fact, teamwork is the German parachutist's guiding principle.

b. Training

In choosing men who are to be sent to a parachutists' school, the German Army selects candidates who are young, athletic, quick-witted, and aggressive. Many of them are chosen with regard to certain special abilities (medical, engineering, and so on) which are just as much needed in parachute operations as in any other kind. During the training, emphasis is placed on exact procedures; for instance, a man packs a parachute with special care if he knows that he himself is going to use it. After proper physical conditioning, the candidate works from a jumping tower, practicing landing methods under different conditions. The school also requires, and develops, fearlessness; to illustrate, in a transport plane any sign of hesitation at the command "Jump!" may cost the candidate his membership in a parachute company.

However, parachute jumping is only a small part of the candidate's training, inasmuch as the German Army hopes to make him a useful member of a crack combat organization. He must know how to take part in what is called a "vertical envelopment"—that is, the capture of an area by air-borne troops.[1]

c. Tactics

Airfields and railway and highway junctions are likely to be among the foremost objectives of vertical envelopments. Usually they begin at dawn. To make the parachutist's task less difficult, the Germans send out bombers, dive bombers, and fighters ahead of time to place fire on the defenders' gun positions and to drive gun crews to cover. Special attention is paid to antiaircraft batteries.

After an hour or more of continuous air attack, one of several possible events may take place, since German tactics at this stage are not standardized. If reconnaissance has shown that the terrain is favorable, gliders may descend and try to land their troops (usually ten to a glider) in a surprise move under cover of the air attack.

If the landings are successful, the glider-borne troops will make every effort to kill or capture the defending gun crews, thereby paving the way still further for the arrival of the parachute troops. Or, it may be that gliders will not be used at all, and that parachutists will be required to perform this operation by themselves. Much will depend on how strong the Germans think the ground defenses are.

Even though the parachutists will use tommy guns, rifles, or grenades while they are descending, experience has shown that this is the time when the defending ground forces will get the best possible results with their fire power. The Germans cannot aim effectively while they are descending. As they are nearing the ground, and for the first few minutes after they land, they make ideal targets. In Crete, for example, the Germans suffered enormous losses at this stage. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that if there is an airfield to be gained, the Germans apparently will sacrifice their parachutists freely in a concentrated effort to put the defenders' gun crews out of action. The German command will be chiefly interested in gaining enough control of an airfield to permit the landing of big transport aircraft like the Junkers 52's, which carry twelve men (plus the pilot, observer, and reserve pilot) or heavy equipment and fewer men. If the parachutists cannot overcome the defenders' gun crews, the operation is likely to be a failure from the German point of view. To put it briefly, the parachutists (perhaps supported by glider-borne troops) are shock troops, and it is upon their fighting that future control of the airfield hinges.

Different German tactics may be expected, however, when a parachute unit is dropped on an area which in itself may not interest the Germans, but which may be reasonably near an airfield, a junction, or a communications center. In this case, whatever units are dropped will quickly try to assemble as a coordinated fighting force and then advance to carry out their mission.

The German method of releasing parachutists from transport planes over any given area is so carefully worked out that very little is left to luck. The planes are likely to arrive in flights of three. Arriving over their objectives, they may circle, and then fly at an altitude of 300 to 500 feet across the area where the parachutists are to land. Jumping is carried out in formation. An officer in the leading plane shows a yellow flag[2] two minutes before jumping as a sign to get ready. Half a minute before the jump, he shows a red and white flag. When the planes are over the area he pulls in the red and white flag. This is the signal to jump. If he waves both flags, crossing them back and forth, he is signalling "Don't jump!" At night, signals are given by colored flashlights, in which case red may mean "Get ready," green may mean "Half a minute to go," and white may mean "Jump!"

A leader in each plane gives the signal to jump by sounding an instrument like an automobile horn. Before jumping, the parachutists attach the ring of their parachutes to a wire running along the interior length of the aircraft on the right-hand side. The jump is made through the right-hand door, the ring yanking the cord of the parachute, which opens automatically after a 5-second delay (equal to a drop of about 80 feet). Equipment containers are dropped through the door on the left-hand side of the plane. Each container includes the equipment of three or four men, and is thrown out when, or just after, the men jump. The twelve men and four containers carried by each plane are supposed to be dropped within 9 to 10 seconds. When there is a delay, or when all the parachutists cannot jump while the plane is over the desired area, the plane will swing around in a circle and make a second run across the area.

Jumping at an altitude of 300 to 500 feet, the parachutists will reach the ground within 20 to 30 seconds.

The Germans have found it useful to attach parachutes of different colors to different kinds of loads. For example, a soldier's parachute may be a mixture of green and brown, to make him less conspicuous on the ground and to serve later as camouflage for captured motor vehicles. On the other hand, white parachutes may be used for equipment containers[3] and pink for medical supplies. The Germans are likely to change the meaning of these colors from time to time. Since parachutists can request extra supplies by laying strips of white cloth on the ground in certain formations, there is always a possibility that the opposition will find out the code, and deceive German aircraft into dropping such supplies as ammunition, food, and medicine.

d. Organization of Division

A brief discussion of how the German Flight Division VII—nicknamed the "Parachute Division"—was organized at the time of the capture of Crete will show some of the elements that may be expected in a German parachute attack. In May 1941, Flight Division VII was composed of the following units:

Division Headquarters.
Three parachute regiments.
Parachute machine-gun battalion (three companies).
Parachute antitank battalion (three companies).
Parachute antiaircraft and machine-gun battalion (three companies).
Parachute artillery battery (three troops, four guns each).
Parachute engineer battalion.
Parachute signal unit.
Parachute medical unit.
Parachute supply unit.

Captured loading lists indicated a standard organization of 144 parachutists per company, carried in twelve aircraft, arranged in four flights of three aircraft each.

Before an attack, a parachute regiment may be reorganized to make its fire power more even. An exchange of platoons may be made between rifle companies and machine-gun and bomb-thrower companies so that, after the reorganization, each company may have, for example, two rifle platoons, a heavy machine-gun platoon, and a platoon of heavy bomb throwers.

e. The Parachutist's "Ten Commandments"

Here is a translation of a document captured from a German parachute trooper who was taken prisoner in Greece. Its title is "The Parachutist's Ten Commandments."

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.

2. Cultivate true comradeship, for together with your comrades you will triumph or die.

3. Be shy of speech and incorruptible. Men act, women chatter; chatter will bring you to the grave.

4. Calm and caution, vigor and determination, valor and a fanatical offensive spirit will make you superior in attack.

5. In facing the foe, ammunition is the most precious thing. He who shoots uselessly, merely to reassure himself, is a man without guts. He is a weakling and does not deserve the title of parachutist.

6. Never surrender. Your honor lies in Victory or Death.

7. Only with good weapons can you have success. So look after them on the principle—First my weapons, then myself.

8. You must grasp the full meaning of an operation so that, should your leader fall by the way, you can carry it out with coolness and caution.

9. Fight chivalrously against an honest foe; armed irregulars deserve no quarter.

10. With your eyes open, keyed up to top pitch, agile as a greyhound, tough as leather, hard as Krupp steel, you will be the embodiment of a German warrior.

[1] The German capture of the island of Crete was made possible by a series of these vertical envelopments.
[2] Signals are subject to change.
[3] (1' x 2' to 4' x 6', or even larger, with the bigger ones fitted with wheels for hauling.)


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