German Airborne Divisions: Mediterranean Theatre 1942-45 by Bruce Quarrie

By Bruce Quarrie

Following the conflict for Crete in might 1941, Hitler refused to adopt any more large-scale airborne operations as a result excessive casualty expense. The Fallschirmjäger thus took up a brand new function as elite 'line' infantry, they usually served within the Mediterranean from 1942 to 1945, playing the clash in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. Their functionality in such hard-fought battles as El Alamein and Monte Cassino bolstered their attractiveness as a number of the hardest troops of global warfare II. This publication explores their altering function in service provider, education and doctrine because the paratroopers built into Germany’s best frontline infantrymen.

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However, although the concept was not abandoned, it then languished until Russian demonstrations revived interest in the early 1930s. Even so, little more constructive was done other than a shortlived decision taken in 1937 that any future parachute forces should fall under the command of the Regia Aeronautica rather than the Regio Esercito, just as the Fallschirmjager would come under the Luftwaffe rather than the Heer. As in Germany, there were widespread misgivings about the whole idea, although given their origins it was thought that paratroops might be useful for sabotage operations behind enemy lines, particularly Italian paratroopers of the 'Folgore' Division line up at Tarquinia airport to have their parachutes checked before a training jump.

Here, in the first place, less than half the men were convicts, and the recruiting officers were highly selective so those paroled were men sentenced for relatively minor offences such as striking a superior officer, black market activities or being overheard speaking out against the Party or the Fuhrer. Additionally, they regained their former ranks before, not after, proving themselves in battle. Medals and other decorations that may have been stripped from them were also usually restored. Many men had already served out most of their sentences at Dachau or Danzig SS military prisons in any case, while the bulk of the battalion comprised genuine volunteers from throughout the Waffen-SS attracted by a new challenge.

Student's task was complicated by the fact that on 23 November the new Aeronautica Repubblicana had appropriated 900-odd men of the former Arditi battalion into a Raggruppamento Paracadutisti at Tradate, and on 1 December a similar number into the Battaglione Arditi Paracadutisti Aeronautica Repubblicana. This left just approximately 750 men of the old XII/184° and III/185° as combat-ready troops plus some of the XX/183 0 volunteers who were still only partially trained; one contemporary account describes them as 'schoolboys and college students'.

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