Print this page

The German Fallschirmtruppe 1936-1941

Introduction book-report

In 2006 German former General Staff officer colonel (retired) Karl-Heinz Golla published a most interesting and accurate book on the glory days of the German airbornes, 1939-1941. In fact the blossom of this German army-airforce branch lasted no more than a full year. From its first small-scale operation in April 1940 in Norway up and including the last large scale operation Merkur in Crete, May 1941. In between those two milestone events the small scale surprise attack on the strategic Belgian position Eben-Emael and surrounding bridges and the first off large scale airborne-airlanding operation of history, in the Netherlands, both events taking place on 10 May 1940 and aftermath.

After fourteen months of glory Adolf Hitler and his top brass sealed the fate of the airbornes. Notwithstanding the operational victory in Crete, the logistic burden and the operational losses couldn’t mount up against the gains. Hitler and his general staff took a decision that shocked the father of the German airborne weapon – General Kurt Student – but their decision proved of visionary value. It was about the same time that the Western Allies started building airborne formations, but wouldn't gain a single clear victory with them. Mere heroism and myths were built around those units, no true operation gains. Military-wise their worth would proof to be minimal. The glory years of airborne troops were limited to the episode that Karl-Heinz Golla has captioned in his book. And even in German hands the airborne weapon would never truly live up to the expectations. They would manage to capture our hearts though.

2006 Edition

The 2006 edition of Golla's book was written in German and as such quite limited in its exposure. Nonetheless it was quite well received, also beyond the borders of Germany, where Scandinavian, Belgian and Dutch historians often spoke German and as such were able to evaluate the book. Golla was applauded for such accurate description of the affaires, but also criticized for quite ‘traditional’ mistakes as it came to particularly the Dutch and Norwegian theatres.

As to the former it can be said that it was the basis for a very pleasant and fruitful exchange between author Golla and Dutch historian, yours truly, Allert Goossens. Golla proved to be a very constructive and open-minded author and responded most charmingly and receptively to the comments that had been forwarded to him via his publisher. As from that point on an exchange of thoughts and sources led to leaps forward in respect of the reproduction of the events in May 1940 in the Dutch theatre. Things could be set into a reliable perspective, amongst other things by newly disclosed German sources (battle reports of the airbornes) and the translation into German/English of Dutch battle reports. Particularly the ambiguities between the two sides, caused by not knowing the opposite sides intentions, could be solved. It caused many things to fall into place. Also, thorough reconstruction of particularly the first hours taught both historians that some aspects had developed quite differently than war-records and contemporary sources had recorded.

Over a period of a few years both sides grew to the next level of analysis of the events, tempting Golla to propose a new and thoroughly revised version of his book. Due to the poor economic situation of the current era, his publisher declined. But fortunately his 2006-edition had landed elsewhere too and American army historians showed interest in an English translation of the script. That posed the option to publish a second and revised edition after all, albeit in English.

The German Fallschimtruppe (2013)

The current book by Golla, published in the UK in October 2012 and - due to poor publishers work re-published in 2013, is a true jewel in its kind. It contains the fruits of the latest scholarly research on the German airborne operations. It deals with those operations on a comfortable level of detail. Not too shallow – as to the neglect of details – not too detailed – as to bore the common reader. The book is supplemented with accurate maps and interesting photographic material, partially from the collection of yours truly.

The bit about the Dutch theatre – around 150 pages – does contain the latest research results. It is much more accurate than any Dutch product on the topic and it shows many of the findings of Karl-Heinz and yours truly over the last few years. The insights and analysis of Golla has obviously been altered with the newly disclosed information and studies as well as the frequent exchanges with the editor of this website. This makes the 2012/2013 edition of the book – as it comes to the section on the Dutch front – an almost entirely new product.

The fact that Golla is not just a thorough researcher but also a talented author makes this books very readable. That is an advantage that he has over many of his fellow country-men, that have published interesting books over the last decade or so, of which many however, hardly got out of oblivion due to their dull and rigid style. Golla writes in a way that both the professional and the leisure reader shall feel well served.

Besides the obviously most interesting episode of the battle for the Netherlands, Golla elaborates the best part of his book on the most prominent German airborne operation, being the invasion of Crete. As it comes to that operation, yours truly is much less informed than on the 1940 events and therefore has to refrain from a recommendation. It is up to better informed people to advise our readers on that particular part. But let’s say this. If the first half of the book, on the genesis of the airbornes and the first operations in 1939-1940 in which they played their major part, may be considered a representation of the second half of the book, the Crete part must be of the utmost quality too.

Finally …

It may be considered or suggested that yours truly only applauds subject work as a consequence of the personal relationship with the author, Karl-Heinz Golla, or the more than pleasant cooperation between the two of us. Obviously my sympathy for Karl-Heinz is as evident as my esteem for his work and methods. But people who know me well, know of my independent mind. Like I tell my direct surroundings not to spare me in their true findings on my work (or doing), Karl-Heinz knows I wouldn’t spare him if his book would give me any reason to criticize it. That the reader finds me embracing this book, is caused by its genuine quality. And nothing else.

The German Fallschirmtruppe 1936-1941 - its genesis and employment in the first campaigns of the Wehrmacht” can be obtained from any reputed book store in the UK or USA. Also the e-book stores available to you. ISBN 978 1 909 384 56 9

Allert M.A. Goossens
Kennispunt Mei 1940 Foundation