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Thread: Question about German Paratroopers

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    Default Question about German Paratroopers

    This is an idle question and off topic, but perhaps someone may be able to help me with it.

    A family friend of ours. now deceased, was in the Luftwaffe. His story, which is rather dreadful, was partly as follows. In the 1930s he was a left wing university student (I am not sure whether he was actually a communist, but something along those lines) and was arrested by the Nazis as being an undesirable. He spent two years in a political prison. When the war broke out, he was told that he had the choice of enlisting or being sent to a forced labour camp. He knew the camp would kill him, so he took the chance and joined the Luftwaffe as a paratrooper. I believe that the casualties in this unit were so high that by the end of the war only three of them had survived all the way through.

    Can someone shed some light on the background to this man's career, or perhaps point me in the direction of further information?

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    I have no idea of the truth behind the stories, but the author Sven Hassell wrote several books outlining his "experiences" in a German Penal Battalion. I think it was a Panzer unit in the main (when they had tanks, that is). From memory, his story indicates that only 2 or 3 of them survived the war.

    [/s]I'm not qualified to comment, but I wouldn't have thought that the Luftwaffe (air force) had paratroops (infantry)[/s].
    Last edited by AdrianR8; 25th June 2009 at 12:40. Reason: Ddin't realise that paratroopers were in Luftwaffe - learned something new today!
    Interests include Spitfires in Malta 1942 and 460 Sqdn 1943-44 (including Black Thursday)

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    Natalie,
    Sven Hassell wrote fiction, although at least his earliest works were reputed to be based in part on experience. I read many of his tales a long, long time ago and although they may ring true in some areas,his stories (especially those of the penal battalions) should not be seen as a source of information, as is the case of any fiction.

    Having said that, there are a couple of points in the story of your family friend that are of interest. I would defer to someone with expert knowledge, but at the outbreak of war the Fallschirmjager were an elite unit and it would be a surprise if they were accepting recruits in the fashion described. The unfortunate lad may have been given the choice of enlisting or going to the labour camp, but it is unlikely that he went straight to the FJ, more likely as part of general intake into the Luftwaffe with a transfer later. It might be worth pointing out as well that the Fallschirmjager troops employed in the invasion of Crete in May 1941 suffered appalling casualties, and caused Hitler to take the decision not to use them in that fashion (airborne spearhead) again. Thereafter they were used as elite ground troops and suffered accordingly high casualties.

    Also, if you are going to pursue the story, be aware there were SS Fallschirmjager battalions, and this may be a distraction when looking for records.

    I am certain you will find help on the forum here...

    www.feldgrau.net

    Hope this helps,

    Bruce

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    Hi
    Not a particularly good source but Wikipaedia has the German Paratroops as always being part of the Luftwaffe commanded by Gen Kurt Student.
    Regards
    Dick

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    I have read elsewhere that unlike the Allied armed forces, German paratroopers were indeed part of the Luftwaffe, so I know this detail is correct. The story as I remember it, was that the chaps who were enlisted out of the prison were put into this particular unit because they were so likely to get killed--they were undesirables and basically used as cannon fodder. Our friend was injured several times, and suffered damage to his knees, but did survive against the odds. I agree though, that they would not have put a prisoner into an elite unit, so it must have been something less exalted. I seem to remember that he served in North Africa, but at the end of the war the surviving dregs of his unit had been drafted into other outfits, and he was caught up in the retreat back across Europe. He only used to refer to this when he got drunk, as some of what happened to him was so horrific I don't think he ever recovered from it. I suppose having heard the stories I was just curious about the background to them.

    I remember Sven Hassall's books from when I used to work as a public librarian many years ago. I never read any of them--they always looked pretty ghastly to me!

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    "The story as I remember it, was that the chaps who were enlisted out of the prison were put into this particular unit because they were so likely to get killed--they were undesirables and basically used as cannon fodder."

    This may be accurate, but it does not reconcile with his recruitment at the beginning of the war. I am sure there is more to the story, but the 'cannon fodder' image of the FJ didn't begin until Crete. After that, as in my earlier posting, they were thrown into ground battles, often using tactics similar to WW1 Stormtroopers. Yes, that would have been traumatic, and fits with his story as told. Perhaps he simply 'edited' the story, but my strong impression of surviving FJ troops was of pride in their corps. So, if he was straight out of political prison at the outbreak of war (late '39) and allowed into the Luftwaffe, and then got into the FJ afterwards, he was potentially involved in some of the nastiest fighting of any unit in the German Forces. If he joined FJ after the Crete operation, then this too would fit with the resentment and 'cannon fodder' comments: the FJ were still seen as an elite, but it must not have seemed that way to it's members thrown into North Africa, Italy and Russia. This involvement in the ground campaigns is often not appreciated when studying Luftwaffe history, but goes a long way to understanding many of their late-war problems.

    I don't want to carry on guessing, and I certainly don't want to undermine his version of events, but simply to highlight what is evident from the tale as told here. The 'penal battalion' image he portrayed in his stories would fit with a FJ recruit from the era after Crete, and who knows? Maybe he was in trouble after joining the Luftwaffe (guessing again, but this was my first thought when seeing the timeline) and was allowed to enter the FJ as an alternative to punishment, which was a common enough event from (I believe) mid-1942 onwards.


    "I remember Sven Hassall's books from when I used to work as a public librarian many years ago. I never read any of them--they always looked pretty ghastly to me!"
    Quite right.

    Regards,
    Bruce

    I
    Last edited by bruce dennis; 25th June 2009 at 21:50.

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    Hi Bruce. Thanks for your suggestions. Part of the problem is that, as this man is dead, I am remembering and no doubt misremembering stuff that was told to me probably fifteen or twenty years ago. So it may well be that he was in some other unit first and went into the paratroopers later on. Or maybe, in line with what you say, it was a little later in the war that he was drafted into the services, but I did have the idea that he was in prison for two years fairly firmly in my head. This is what I am trying to work out from the bit I can remember of the story.

    If I am speaking to my father I will ask if he remembers any more details, but not surprisingly, it was not something that was talked about much. I am pretty sure I remember being told that he was arrested at some particular event prior to the war (I think it was a demonstration of some sort that turned nasty). Actually, I suspect the gentleman was a member of the communist party, but didn't like to admit to the fact in later life.

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    It's an interesting story!
    Interests include Spitfires in Malta 1942 and 460 Sqdn 1943-44 (including Black Thursday)

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