The first volume covers events leading to the formation of the fallschirmjäger* through to the beginning of Operation Barbarossa in September 1941.
*(‘useful dates for this volume’ and the text of Chapter 1 state that 29 January 1936 was the date for the establishment of the first unit of fallschirmjäger, not the 1937 of the volume’s title)
The book is ideal as an introduction to the fallschirmjäger. Every page includes interesting insights and details, beginning with the statement that the fallschirmjäger owe their origin to the collaboration between the Weimar republic and USSR, the latter which was the first to develop paratroops (the US having focussed on recreational rather than combat use).
Packed with photographs, chiefly from Cochet’s own collection, the book shows the fallschirmjäger in training, at play and in action. In addition to the photographs there are reproductions of some drawings made by German war correspondents that were published in Der Adler. In keeping with the series, the images are the key feature of the book and the number and range provided by Cochet provides the reader with a marvellous pictorial history of the fallschirmjäger and real insights into the men who served.
The photographs in the books are numerous and varied, showing the fallschirmjäger in training, relaxation and in action.
A page of images of fallschirmjägers going into action. The faces of the men tell so much.
Another page with an image of young fallschirmjägers going into action and an example of some of the harder-hitting photographs in the book.
A page with images of Crete: one of the reproduced drawings from Der Adler and a photograph.
Cochet’s text expands on the pictorial story provided by the images and is at times surprisingly controversial. He demonstrates a clear affinity with the formation and its men, which is reasonable, but statements such as “By galvanising the Cretans (who were often armed to the teeth), the Allies broke all laws of war and many paratroopers were massacred by civilians” are ‘surprising’ in the least. This is also at odds with a statement by a former fallschirmjäger, Felix Gaerte, that “their fighting was extremely fair. I… served in other parts of the war… this fairness that existed between the Germans and the Australians at nowhere else existed” (from ABC documentary “A Greek Tragedy”) and with extant monuments on Crete. Of course, warfare is not the clean thing of the wargaming tabletop, nor the honour and glory of war myth and history is generally written by the eventual winner. Guerrilla war is a particularly nasty version of the activity. Statements of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ seem to me a gross oversimplification.
A surprisingly strong caption, which is matched by statements in the text and at odds with extant monuments in Crete (below, still from the ABC documentary "A Greek Tragedy").
While I was ‘surprised’ to find such statements in a book of this kind, I’ll contradict myself and say that it was a pleasing to be challenge in such a manner! This is also an example of the way that Cochet fits a lot of content and detail into a few pages of text. As with other books in the series, I was also impressed with the fine way that the text and images/captions fit together and build a greater story. The translation into English is not always the best, which is detracts a little from the readability but does not affect the understanding.
The second volume picks up the story of the fallschirmjäger from 1942. Having suffered a high rate of casualties in the battle for Crete in 1941 and with further large losses in the USSR, by the spring of 1942, “the majority of paratroop units were brought back to the Reich to reform and rebuild” (p. 11).
Here again Cochet provides a set of detailed and engrossing photos, supported by his captions and descriptions in the text. We see photographs of recruitment demonstrations in Berlin, recruitment posters, recruits in training and during exercises in Normandy. We then follow them in action in Tunisia, Italy (including the bold mission to free Mussolini from his mountain-top hotel) and, increasingly as infantry, in the major battles of the Reich from the Aegean/Italy, to the USSR, France, the Netherlands, Germany and finally Berlin.
A page from volume two showing two of the more powerful images in the book, including one of those of a fallschirmjäger who was a casualty of war.
Once again the range of photographs is a particular feature of the book. This second volume includes a number of images of fallen fallschirmjäger. As the war moves towards the defeat of Nazi Germany the fallen are younger, or sometimes older. These brief vignettes of men who served and died adds greatly to the power and impact of the book, bringing the reader closer to those who were part of this famous unit in World War II.
Èlite units hold a particular interest for ‘students’ of the history of warfare, and the German fallschirmjäger of WWII are no exception. François Cochet’s two-volumes in the “Images of War” series are not only an excellent introduction to this force and its combat history in the war, but also much, much more.
Unlike their British counterparts which featured in an earlier post, I did not own a set of the Airfix 1/32 German Paratroops as a boy. These figures came from my friend and ‘supplier of my habit’, Mark N. from whom I have bought numerous, excellent, second hand figures over the past few years (at ‘mates rates’!).
These ‘green devils’ are an early 21stC Airfix re-release and only feature 14 figures and unfortunately not all of the possible poses. It would have been good to have had some of the poses of men using their rifles or prone, but it is of no great matter.
Above, the box from the original, 1976 edition of the 1/32 Airfix German Paratroops and (below) the rear of the early 21stC re-release.
The figures are made of hard, gloss plastic which took paint well and were enjoyable to paint. I represented them in their late-war camouflage smock, electing not to try to paint eagles or shields on their helmets. I think that they will look good on the tabletop in the near future, up against the ‘red devils’.