AvStop Magazine Online
Section II. GERMAN EMPLOYMENT OF TROOP-CARRIER UNITS
In Holland in 1940, the Germans came to realize the disadvantage of the parachute commander's inability to exercise any direct authority over the troop-carrier units; the two were coordinated, but neither was subordinate to the other. Consequently, before carrying out the Crete operation the troop-carrier units were incorporated into the parachute corps, of which they constituted an integral part under a special Luftwaffe officer (Fliegerfuehrer). This arrangement did not last long.
The operations in Russia and North Africa required the concentration of all air transport services directly under the commander in chief of the Luftwaffe to assure the prompt execution of any air transport operations which might become necessary, and only in the rarest cases did this involve carrying paratroops. As a result the training of troop-carrier units was also reorganized. The pilots were then trained to fly in "main bodies" (Pulk) or in a "stream of bombers" (Bomberstrom), that is, in irregular formations which were always three dimensional. However, it is impossible to drop parachutists from the Pulk or Bomberstrom formations; dropping parachutists requires a regular flight in formation at a uniform altitude, that is, a two-dimensional flight.
The close flight order of the conventional heavy bomber formation, with its effective cross fire on all sides, is desirable for approach flights across hostile territory. It provides defense against enemy fighter planes and can be maintained until shortly before the parachute or airplane landings. If there is a probability of strong antiaircraft fire, the plane-to-plane and group-to-group spacing will have to be increased. For such tactics, intensive training of the troop-carrier pilots will be necessary, especially in the proper deployment preparatory to parachute drops.
Losses during the attack on Leros in the autumn of 1943 are said to have occurred mainly because the troop carriers did not fly in regular formation and at the same altitude; during the air landing in the Ardennes in December 1944 it proved a fatal mistake that the troop-carrier units were no longer accustomed to flying in regular formation. The experience gained both at Leros and in the Ardennes has shown that it is essential for a troop-carrier unit which is to drop parachutists to be trained to do this work, since a good part of the success of an airborne operation depends on flying in regular close formation at the same altitude. It is obvious that the necessary training in formation flying is best achieved if the troop-carrier units are subordinated to the command of airborne troops from the very first. Up to the end of the war the German paratroop command continued to demand that it be given permanent control over the troop-carrier units, but this demand remained unfulfilled.
That the troop-carrier units must be subordinate to the airborne command at least for the duration of an operation is clear to everyone. The fallacy of letting non-specialists make decisions in such matters was demonstrated in the less than brilliant direction of the Leros operation by a naval officer (the Commanding Admiral, Aegean). Likewise the Ardennes operation, which was prepared by an Air officer (the Air Force Commander, West), and carried out by an Army officer (the Commanding General, Sixth SS Panzer Army); one knew as little about an airborne operation and its difficulties as did the other.
Although the problem of cooperation between the airborne command and the command of the troop-carrier units was solved at least temporarily during the Crete operation, the cooperation, or lack of it, between the individual airborne unit and the individual troop-carrier squadron continued to be the greatest cause of complaint by the airborne troops during the entire war. At best, the individual airborne battalion commander became personally acquainted with the commander of the transport group which flew his battalion only 2 or 3 days before the operation; as a rule, the individual soldier did not establish any contact with the flying crew of the machine which had to transport him.
There was no mutual understanding of peculiarities, capabilities, and shortcomings. The 2d Battalion of the 1st Paratroop Regiment was almost completely annihilated in Crete because the battalion commander of the airborne troops greatly overestimated the flying ability of the troopcarrier unit which was to carry his men, whereas the commander of the troop-carrier force, on the other hand, did not understand the extremely elaborate plan of attack of the airborne commander, who was a complete stranger to him. In former times one would not require a cavalry regiment to carry out an attack when its men had only been given a short course in riding but had not been issued any horses until the night before the attack.
Next to the pilot, the most important man in the flying crew was the airborne combat observer, or, as the troops called him, the jumpmaster (Absetzer), that is, the man who gave the signal to jump. The jumpmaster should be an extremely well-trained observer and bombardier. In the German airborne forces he was just the opposite. The jumpmasters were not taken from the flying personnel of the Luftwaffe but from the airborne troops; from time to time, the various parachute units had to release one or two men for training as jumpmasters, and with the inherent selfishness of any unit they naturally did not release their best men but rather their worst, who for some reason or other could no longer be used as paratroopers.
If this reason was a combat injury, the men might still have served their purpose, but more often than not the reason was lack of personal courage or intelligence. The jumpmasters selected in this negative manner were trained at a jumpmasters' school by instructors who had been detailed from the flying personnel of the Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe did not release its best instructors for this purpose. After this deficient training the jumpmaster waited in some troop-carrier unit, like the fifth wheel on a wagon, until he was needed for an airborne operation, meanwhile forgetting what little he had learned at the school. For, like bombing or firing a weapon, dropping paratroops is a matter of practice, of constant uninterrupted practice.
The German jumpmasters were completely lacking in this practice. In almost every airborne operation the consequences were disastrous. During the Crete operation at least one platoon of each battalion was landed incorrectly; at Maleme entire companies were dropped into the sea because the jumpmasters-out of fear, as the paratroopers afterwards claimed-had given the signal too early; during the Ardennes operation one company was dropped on the Rhine north of Bonn instead of south of Eupen, and the majority of the signal platoon of that company was dropped south of Monschau directly in front of the German lines.
Only on two occasions, the operation near Eben Emael in 1940 and the projected operation of dive-gliders against Malta in 1942, were paratroopers and troop-carrier units brought together for orientation and joint training for a considerable period prior to the operations. In both cases cooperation was excellent.