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Strengths Outweigh Some Flaws
on November 14, 2011
Casemate has turned out an excellent unit history of the German 6th Fallschirmjager Regiment (FJR 6). HBO Band of Brothers fans may note that the German paratroopers depicted in the film's Carentan attack, along with Waffen SS of 17th SS-Panzer Division "Gotz von Berlichingen" were those of FJR 6. Originally published in German, this English language translation is welcomed, but not flawless. Sprinkled with testimonies of Fallschirmjager veterans, and many extremely rare photographs, most from private collections, makes this a valuable addition to one's elite unit collection.
FJR 6 had a varied combat history. Organized in February 1943, the unit fought on several fronts, each operation making up a chapter in the book. After Italy's capitulation, FJR 6 were dropped outside Rome, and fought Italian troops to ensure the city remained in German hands. Lucky to receive a mere sentence in most World War II histories, this highly detailed chapter of this bitter struggle, that lasted nearly three months is enlightening.
Sent to the Russian Front during the winter of 1943/1944, FJR 6 plugged gaps, and held off hordes of attacking Russian infantry and tanks. Always short of supplies, especially ammunition, (a theme that permeates throughout) FJR 6 troopers suffered not only enormous battle casualties, but also the affects of the infamous Russian winter.
Reorganized again at Cologne-Wahn during the spring of 1944, FJR 6 was then sent to Normandy just in time to defend against the Allied invasion. Made-up of raw recruits and personnel from other branch services, many time saving and inventive training procedures were employed, making this chapter insightful to our understanding of Fallschirmjager training methods. Written from the German perspective, it is surprising to read stories of American paratroopers losing firefights among the treacherous hedgerows, being taken prisoner, or Fallschirmjager storming a building defended by American Airborne, and killing them all to the last man. Grounded down to near ineffectiveness after the Allied breakout from Normandy, FJR 6 troopers, sometimes in small groups, or individually, escaped or delayed the advancing Allies who were right on their heels.
Hastily rebuilt once again, the unit was sent to Holland, and engaged in multiple delaying actions against British XXX Corps along the infamous "Hell's Highway" during Operation Market Garden. Replenished still once again with young boys with no military training, FJR 6 was deployed to the Huertgen Forest region. The chapter devoted to FJR 6 commander Colonel Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte's mission to parachute behind American lines during The Battle of the Bulge offers rare insight, with many excerpts of von der Heydte's memoirs. In the shadow of the infamous Malmedy Massacre, it is interesting that on several occasions, von der Heydte's troopers captured groups of Americans, only to turn them loose, because they did not have the men to guard them. Included is the seriously injured von der Heydte's touching letter to a ranking American officer offering surrender and asking that his wounded Fallschirmjager be treated in the same humane way he had treated American prisoners. A last futile attempt to replenish FJR 6 with a wound convalescing battalion in March 1945, eventually resulted in FJR 6 entering captivity on April 17.
While the many rare photographs and veteran's testimonies provide the book's strengths, there are a few critiques. Although a map is provided for each operation, they are the over simplified, computer generated type, showing a general operational area, and very little troop movements. The total absence of an index, or any semblance of a bibliography or notes are unfortunate omissions, especially for a unit history containing this much detail, and personal interviews. Appendices containing extensive Rosters of staff officers and company commanders, Iron Cross recipients, and charts containing battle dates and locales, are to be expected. Lists of military postal codes, and Identification Tag (Dog Tag) numbers, however, would seem to be of interest to only a small select few family members or researchers. Lastly, the German to English translation is dry at best, and one will notice several instances where a better word choice could have been employed.
Despite these blemishes, this book comes highly recommended to anyone interested in the German Fallschirmjager of World War II.