AvStop Magazine Online
NOTES ON GERMAN AIRBORNE OPERATIONS By
Col. Freiherr von der Heydte.
Section I. EQUIPMENT OF GERMAN PARACHUTE TROOPS
During the war, the weapons and equipment of German parachute troops did not differ essentially from those of the infantry. The paratroop automatic rifle, which used standard ammunition, was the only special type of small arms developed. It was adopted because the automatic rifle of the infantry did not use standard ammunition. In any paratroop operation the most harassing problem was the method of carrying ammunition. Since the rifle was attached to the man while jumping, the weapons containers, most of which after 1942 were transportable, became available for carrying ammunition. In 1944 a so-called ammunition vest for each man was introduced in some parachute units and proved successful.
Immediately after the Crete operation the paratroops had requested the construction of special midget tanks (Lilliputpanzer), which could be carried along on airborne operations, as well as special light weight portable antitank guns. Experiments were begun in 1942 on a two-man tank which could be transported in a large troop-carrying glider and which because of its shape was called a "turtle." Because of difficulties in the armament production program, the experiments were discontinued toward the end of 1942 before it was possible to form a definite opinion on the usefulness of the model. In any case, it seems to have met the Army's three requirements of low silhouette, high speed, and great cross-country mobility as fully as possible.
In 1942 the paratroops were given a 48-mm./42-mm. antitank gun with tapered bore and solid projectile as a special weapon for antitank fighting instead of the impractical 37-mm. antitank gun, which was difficult to transport. The gun did not prove especially successful in Africa against the heavy British tanks and its production was discontinued in 1943. At the same time the so-called Panzerwurfmine (magnetic antitank hand grenade) was introduced as a special weapon for fighting tanks at close range, but it was soon replaced by the Panzerfaust (recoilless antitank grenade and launcher, both expendable). In autumn 1944 the German engineer Schardien was working on a new close-range antitank device for airborne use which would have been easier to transport than the Panzerfaust; he was probably unable to complete his experiments.
Some of the paratroop units used the so-called Einstossflammenwerfer (one-thrust flame thrower) of the SS, which was considerably better adapted to paratroop use than the Army flame thrower.
The greatest headache for the German paratroop command was the lack of artillery in support of infantry fighting. The German paratroops were equipped with the excellent 75-mm. and 105-mm. airborne recoilless guns; both had short barrels and carriages made of light metal alloy. In suitable terrain the 75-mm. gun could be easily drawn by two men, and its elevation was the same as that of the 37-mm. antitank gun of the Army. The maximum range was 3,850 yards for the 75-mm. Gun and 9,000 yards for the 105-mm. gun. Both had the following disadvantages:
a. A large amount of smoke and fumes was generated, and the flash toward the rear was visible at night for a great distance.
b. They could be used only as flat-trajectory weapons. Attempts to use the airborne recoilless guns as high-angle weapons were not satisfactory. Moreover, in an airborne operation it was seldom possible to carry along the necessary amount of ammunition or have it brought up later. Thus, as a rule, only important point targets could be attacked with single rounds, generally from an exposed fighting position. Besides these weapons, 150-mm. rocket projectiles were used in the Crete operation.
They were fired from wooden carrying crates, which also served as aerial delivery containers. These rockets did not prove successful; because of their high degree of dispersion they were suitable only for use against area targets and in salvo fire. However, the quantity of projectiles needed for such a purpose could not be transported on an airborne operation, and a JU-52 (German troop carrier) could carry and drop only four projectiles at a time. The parachute troops were generally forced to rely on Army signal equipment which, to be sure, was available to them in far greater quantities than it was to any other units. The "Dora" and "Friedrich" radio sets proved very successful in German air landing operations. Ever since 1942 the troops had repeatedly requested in addition a small, portable short-range radio set for communicating between companies, but no such set was introduced. Several units, therefore, made use of captured American equipment. For the projected Malta operation of one parachute battalion, the engineering firm of Siemens-Halske supplied a portable radio set for maintaining contact with the base. It had a definite range of 180 miles, could be operated without interruption for six hours, and could easily be carried by one man.
Carrier pigeons and messenger dogs proved very successful in airborne operations; the former for communicating with the base, the latter for communication within the company or from company to battalion. The dogs, equipped with a parachute that was automatically disconnected from the harness after landing, generally jumped very willingly and without accidents. In 1942 a signal cartridge, protected against misuse by the enemy by a special contrivance, was introduced on an experimental basis. However, the experiment was very soon discontinued.