AvStop Magazine Online


Experience gained during their own air landings caused the Germans to regard attack as the only effective means of combating airborne operations. Their fight against Allied airborne operations demonstrated the wisdom of this rule. The Germans failed to crush the Allied invasion, not because this principle proved erroneous, but because the necessary forces were either lacking or could not be brought up quickly enough or because German counterattacks were not conducted properly. In many instances, however, these attacks did impede the progress of Allied airborne operations; at Arnhem they brought Allied operations to a complete standstill.

The most vulnerable period of any air landing is the interval between the jump and assembling of the forces into organized units under a unified command. In order to exploit this weakness, German field service regulations stipulated that any unit within range of enemy troops which had landed from the air should immediately attack since every moment's delay meant an improvement in the situation for the enemy. This method proved to be fundamentally sound. It led to success whenever the enemy landed in small scattered groups or whenever the landing was effected in the midst or in the immediate vicinity of German reserves ready for action. But these tactics are not successful if the defending forces available for immediate action are too weak to defeat enemy troops vastly superior in number, or if the defenders are too far from the point of landing to be able to exploit the enemy's initial period of weakness. Then there is no longer any purpose in dissipating the defending forces in small isolated attacks or in doggedly fighting the enemy. It now becomes necessary to launch a systematic counterattack.

Speed in carrying out a counterattack against enemy airborne troops is essential, because it is certain that the enemy's fighting strength will be increased continuously by means of additional reinforcements brought in by air. In general, only motorized reserves are successful in arriving in time. If the enemy's air forces succeeds, as it did in Normandy, in delaying the arrival of reserves, the chances for success dwindle. The elements which are nearest the enemy have the task of defending important terrain features against air-landed troops, maintaining contact with them, and determining the enemy situation through reconnaissance until all necessary arrangements for the counterattack have been made.

The counterattack should be conducted under unified command and, as far as possible, launched as a converging attack from several sides and supported by the greatest possible number of heavy weapons, artillery, and tanks; it is directed against an enemy who is well prepared and whose weakness lies merely in that he may be troubled by lack of ammunition and in that his heavy weapons, in general, are inferior in number since he has not established contact with those elements of the invading force which are advancing on land. To prevent the enemy from establishing contact is therefore highly important. If this fails, the defender's chances for success are considerably less. There are no cases during World War II in which the Germans succeeded in annihilating airborne enemy troops after they had established contact with their forces on the ground.

The greatest stumbling block encountered by the Germans in combating Allied airborne operations in the West was the superiority of the Allied air force. German failure to eliminate this air force, or even to clear the skies temporarily, led to the most serious delays in bringing up reserves. The general scarcity of mobile reserves, combined with the fact that they were tied down elsewhere by order of the German High Command, led to the result that in Normandy counterattacks were made too feebly, too late, or not at all. The success of the German counterattacks at Arnhem was due to the energetic action and unified command of Army Group B; the fortunate coincidence that two SS panzer divisions were in the immediate vicinity; the weather, which prevented Allied air intervention; and the resistance offered by the German troops at Nijmegen which prevented the prompt establishment of contact between Allied ground troops and airborne elements.