- Series: Modern War Studies
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Univ Pr of Kansas; First Edition edition (January 1, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 070060409X
- ISBN-13: 978-0700604098
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,659,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Making of a Paratrooper: Airborne Training and Combat in World War II (Modern War Studies) First Edition Edition
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There follows a remarkably detailed account of training. The conversations are probably novelised a touch but the actual events and the para personalities seemed to have been burned into his memory. First, there is a very severe culling process. More than half his group don’t even get to paratroop school. The 513th Para Regt had been authorised to raise itself along unique, somewhat experimental lines. As a starter, the cadre really sought those with the most determined attitudes. They were then trained in the sub-units they were going to fight with, by the men who were going to lead them. Aside from the intense physical training, what stood out to me was the emphasis on concurrent activity. They were always seeking to maximise the learning that could be done. Even the five minute breaks on marches were used to rehearse lessons taught.
In September 1944, after the 513th was trained to the peak of efficiency, it went to England as part of the 17th Airborne Division. Its combat debut came in the Battle of the Bulge, when it and the other airborne units were rushed in to fill the huge gaps punched by the German offensive. Gabel’s entrance to combat is remarkably disorganised, almost bumbling. This though was more due to the monumental confusion that existed. The regiment was strongly attacked, including by tanks and suffered significant casualties. This was despite the superb condition of the men. These qualities were strongly evident in their ability to hold and to tacticly withdraw under extreme pressure. Gabel is separated from his battalion and fights with anyone who will take him. He relates some astonishing stories here. He even takes part in Lt Calhoun's famed bayonet charge. His detailed narrative is extremely engrossing, displaying the fitness, discipline and fighting spirit of the paratroops.
Though a late comer to the war, the 17th Airborne suffered significant casualties in this and it's subsequent airborne landing in Operation Varsity. The 513th suffered the most and by some measures, even more than many regiments in the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions. These details are noted by the editors as Gabel died before he could write of his involvement of his experiences in Germany. This was very unfortunate as this is one of the more informative of the airborne memoirs, including those of the 82nd and 101st. Given that very few accounts were written by men from the 17th, it would have been great to get Gabel's full story, including of his service in Korea and Vietnam.
As it is, we have an excellent contribution to the genre here. Gabel’s background as a youth in the militarised Third Reich, allows him to make some fascinating insights into the differences between the German and US armies. He could speak German (and was in Bn HQ for Varsity) and this allows him to relate details about prisoners taken. It doesn’t seem likely that Gabel recorded every day activities and conversations to an extent that allowed him to recount them to the extent that he does here, so I imagine he has taken some poetic license. It doesn’t sound like a novel though, it is just a very immediate narrative which makes for a compelling read. I would recommend this as one of the top five airborne accounts in terms of explaining the nature of a paratrooper's experience. See my list for my thoughts on many other WW2 airborne accounts. 4 stars
This a must read for any WWII buff.
Ken Martin, Castro Valley, CA