German Airborne Forces

The history of the German Fallschirmjäger began when the Regiment ‘General Goering’ was created from the transfer of a Berlin Police Unit into the newly formed Luftwaffe (Air Force), which formed part of the German Wehrmacht (or Armed Forces). A parachute school was opened at Stendal-Borstal on 29th January 1936.

Visibly impressed by the Red army manoeuvres of 1936 the parachute school expanded to 12 training companies with 180 parachute instructors by 1938. The school soon produced an output of 4,000 paratroopers per year. By July 1938 an Airborne Division was established, commanded by Maj Gen Kurt Student, consisting of parachute and air-land infantry.

German paratroopers were deployed in company strength during the invasion of Scandinavia in April 1940, capturing Oslo airfield and the massive bridge connecting Falster and Seeland in Denmark.

On May 10th 1940 the 7th Flieger (airborne) Division spearheaded the German assault on ‘Fortress Holland’, capturing the key Belgian fortress at Eben-Emael and vital bridges in Rotterdam and The Hague, prior to being relieved by advancing panzer divisions. This was the first historical use of parachute and air-landed troops at division level and achieved total surprise.

Following this operational success the 7th Flieger Division expanded in one year from 5 battalions to 4 regiments (each of brigade size) and the inclusion of the 22nd Air Land Division increased the German Airborne Arm to corps size. The XI Luftlande Corps was established in January 1941.

In May 1941 it was employed against the Island of Crete, the first strategic objective to be captured by airborne forces alone. Losses were, however, so crippling the German High Command decided ironically not to deploy mass airborne formations in the future at the very time the Allies recognized the need to create just such a capability. Thereafter German paratroopers were employed in the ground role in all operational theatres for the remainder of the war. Despite expanding to army size, they were not employed from aircraft apart from battalion level reinforcements and isolated assaults.

After the war the new German Bundeswehr (or Federal Army) did not reintroduce a parachute capability until 1956. This was achieved with American instructors and the first parachute course started in April 1957. By the following year a battalion was created and at the height of the Cold War the Bundeswehr 1st Luftlande (airborne) Division had expanded to three brigades. Development has since continued at this force level.

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