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