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Section VII. GERMAN AIR LANDINGS AFTER CRETE
The airborne operation against Crete resulted in very serious losses which in percentage greatly exceeded those sustained by the Germans in previous World War II campaigns. The parachute troops were particularly affected. Since everything Germany possessed in the way of parachute troops had been committed in the attack on Crete and had been reduced in that campaign to about one-third of their original strength, too few qualified troops remained to carry out large-scale airborne operations at the beginning of the Russian campaign. Air transportation was also insufficient for future operations.
Furthermore, the German High Command had begun to doubt whether such operations would continue to pay-the Crete success had cost too much. The parachute troops themselves, however, recovered from the shock. Their rehabilitation was undertaken and lessons were drawn from the experience, so that a year later a similar undertaking against the island of Malta was energetically prepared. At this point, however, Hitler himself lost confidence in operations of this nature. He had come to the conclusion that only airborne operations which came as a complete surprise could lead to success.
After the airborne operations against Holland and Crete, he believed surprise attacks to be impossible and maintained that the day of successful airborne operations were over. The fact that the Cretan operations came so close to defeat strengthened his opinion. Moreover, the Malta operation would have to be prepared in Italy and launched from there. Prior experience with the Italians had proved that the enemy would be apprised in advance regarding every single detail of the preparations, so that even a partial surprise was impossible. Since Hitler had no confidence at all in the combat value of the troops, which with the exception of the German parachute troops were to be of Italian origin exclusively, he did not believe the undertaking could be successful and abandoned its execution.
The special circumstances prevailing at that time may have justified this particular decision, but the basic attitude in regard to airborne operations later turned out to be wrong According to General Student, Hitler and the commander in chief of the Luftwaffe were so thoroughly convinced that the day of successful airborne operations were over that they believed that not even the enemy would engage in any more large-scale preparations for airborne operations. When the attack by British and American paratroopers on Sicily proved the contrary, the Wehrmacht was itself no longer in a position to carry out large-scale airborne operation. The main essential, superiority in the air, was lacking.
The Luftwaffe, no longer a match for the Allied air forces, was unable to assemble enough planes to attain the necessary local superiority in the air and to maintain it for the time required; nor was the Luftwaffe able to make available sufficient transport space. It is true that airborne units were available, but because manpower was so scarce they were constantly being committed in ground operations. The special nature of their mission was retained only to the extent that they were transported by air to point that were threatened and that in some cases, as in Sicily, they were also dropped-by parachute. Aside from this, their training in their special field suffered from a lack of aircraft required for the purpose.
At the time of the Allied invasion of France the commander in chief of the Luftwaffe proposed to link up the planned counterattack with airborne operations in force. The OKW turned him down because first, the parachute troopers available were already fighting on the ground; second, their training was inadequate for such a purpose; and third, even if the needed troop carriers could be provided, the hopeless inferiority of the Luftwaffe made it impossible to achieve control of the air either in space or in time.
The lesson based upon German operations may then be summarized as follows: In airborne operations cheap successes cannot be achieved with weak force by mean of surprise and bluff. On the contrary, airborne operations which are to achieve success on a large scale require a great outlay of materiel, outstanding personnel, and time for training and preparation. Such operation are accordingly "expensive." From 1941 on Germany, in comparison to its enemies, was "poor".