Hitler’s Paratrooper, The Life and Battles of Rudolf Witzig

B2124

This book is a gripping biography, providing a tough, gritty and compelling study of a German soldier. It is all the stronger because it spans the war in Europe and North Africa, and unusual because it also covers the rebirth of the German army. It will of course appeal to all those who have interest in airborne forces, but it will satisfy a far wider readership because of the way it portrays the growth of Nazi Germany the early victories and then the long hard defence resulting in defeat, war crimes trials and then the rebirth of the German military machine.

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NAME: Hitler’s Paratrooper, The Life and Battles of Rudolf Witzig
DATE: 081214
FILE: R2124
AUTHOR: Gilberto Villahermoza
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back
PAGES: 266
PRICE: £14.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, paratroops, assault gliders, vertical insertion, Special Forces
ISBN: 1-47382-302-1
IMAGE: B2124.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/n3r5av3
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: With a conflict stretching over five years and involving virtually every part of the world, including those nations who attempted neutrality, it is to be expected that there is much still to be adequately covered. Even seventy years on, memoirs are still coming to light for the first time. Some very worthwhile memoirs have been rejected many times by publishers. There is also a mass of archive material that has not seen the light because of its volume. As a result, there are still many stories to emerge and many fresh insights into what established wisdom considered history that was dusted and done. The author has produced a fine study of one of Germany’s earliest paratroops who played a critical role during the German invasion of neutral Belgium and went on to serve in many battles as a paratrooper, or as a light infantry officer. There is a photo plate section that includes rare and previously unpublished images, but there are also many monochrome images spread through body of the book. With the quality of reproduction in the body of the book, the photo plate section could have been avoided, with its images treated as the other images. Of course, the image quality of the originals may have required a photo plate treatment. This is a very interesting story that has been told well and supported effectively by the many images. It is also a complete story because it follows Witzig after 1945 and into his service in the new West German Army, to his retirement. The author has researched thoroughly and benefited through full support from Witzig and his family.

The parachute traces its history back at least into Medieval history, but it really only emerged as a standard piece of military equipment in WWI. Initially, it was issued to captive balloon gunnery observers to allow them to escape attack from enemy aircraft. Setting a balloon on fire was remarkably difficult, but the crew were extremely vulnerable to machine gun fire as they hung under the balloon in a flimsy basket. As it took time to winch a balloon down, the parachute provided the only means of rapid escape. Fighter pilots requested the issue of parachutes but the senior officers on both sides were reluctant to give their pilots the opportunity to evacuate their aircraft at a time to suit them. There was a widespread belief that pilots would jump when they should have continued fighting. However, the Germans began to issue parachutes to their pilots towards the end of WWI.

After 1918, several countries experimented with parachutists as a mean of inserting troops directly into enemy territory. The largest scale trials were carried out by the Soviets, and they also trained troops to jump without parachutes, relying on banks of snow to safely break their fall. There has been some debate about the German motivations of building a force of paratroopers. Some maintain that they observed Soviet paratroopers in training during the period when Germany clandestinely operated training camps in Russia for pilots and soldiers that was prohibited by Treaty. However, Germany soon advanced the concept of vertical insertion beyond anything the Soviets were planning.

Witzig began his military career in the newly formed Germany Army that was rapidly expanded under the Nazis. Paratroops were seen as important shock troops who could seize critical objectives, such as bridges, and hold them until relieved by the main invasion force. What the Germans rapidly realized was that paratroops were very vulnerable during their descent and any attempt to drop large numbers of paratroops in one drop was unlikely to avoid detection, attracting heavy fire from the ground. There was also a difficulty in adequately equipping paratroopers. They could drop with their personal weapons, initial rations and various items of equipment that might be carried by ground troops. The heaviest equipment likely to be included in the drop would be small mortars and rifle calibre machine guns. There was the option to drop supplies in containers during or after the drop of personnel, but paratroopers were still essentially light infantry. This encouraged the use of assault gliders to bring in men and heavier equipment, with the largest gliders being able to carry PAK guns and vehicles. As the war progressed, the Germans began to fit engines to their gliders to enable them to be recovered after they had disgorged their cargoes, and the largest powered gliders were pressed into service to maintain supplies from Italy to the Afrika Korps.

Witzig was to lead paratroopers in the attacks to take and disable the Belgian forts that blocked roads, canals and rivers. These forts could have prevented the rapid invasion of Belgium and France. Therefore, Witzig and his small group of paratroopers and glider troops could be seen as making victory in Blitz Krieg possible.

After that initial success, paratroopers were not used in any numbers until the Battle of Creek and the very heavy casualties suffered by the German airborne forces brought the German use of airborne troops to a halt. As highly trained infantry, the paratroopers were in much demand as light infantry, but after Crete, the use of airborne forces was to become an Allied activity, with very large numbers of paratroops and glider troops being used during the Normandy invasion and then in an attempt to take all the bridges through Belgium and the Netherlands to enable a rapid push into the German homeland.

Witzig was to shuttled around the fronts as the war began to go against Hitler. Many of his compatriots who had performed well were used to shore up German retreats and he was lucky to survive when his comrades were seriously wounded, killed, or taken into Soviet captivity from which they either failed to return or tricked back from 1950.

When the West German Government was encouraged to form a new army to defend against Soviet aggression, outstanding soldiers like Witzig were taken back into service by a grateful nation.

This book is a gripping biography, providing a tough, gritty and compelling study of a German soldier. It is all the stronger because it spans the war in Europe and North Africa, and unusual because it also covers the rebirth of the German army. It will of course appeal to all those who have interest in airborne forces, but it will satisfy a far wider readership because of the way it portrays the growth of Nazi Germany the early victories and then the long hard defence resulting in defeat, war crimes trials and then the rebirth of the German military machine.

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