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"Principles of Defense Against Airborne Troops" from Intelligence Bulletin, November 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   The following intelligence report describes German principles for defense against Allied airborne troops. This report originally appeared in the November 1943 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]




The German Army is not relaxing its long-standing vigilance in the matter of taking precautions against possible attacks by United Nations airborne troops. A German Army document of 8 April 1943 discusses methods that the enemy believes we are likely to employ, and summarizes the German principles of defense against such attacks. The Germans admit that we can choose from a variety of tactics in planning an airborne offensive, and that our chances of achieving surprise are very great. Acknowledging that we may try to deceive them with ruses and stratagems, the Germans warn their soldiers to be prepared for all kinds of unexpected and unpleasant surprises. They point out that our parachute troops and air-landing troops are likely to be employed in "the most fantastic ways," and explain that for this reason each German soldier must be trained to meet any crisis decisively and with speed.

The following statements are paraphrased from the German document.


The United Nations have an excellent understanding of the two main methods of airborne attack:

(a) A raid in which landings are made in the immediate vicinity of the objective, so that a surprise attack may be undertaken.

(b) An attack in which landings are made at some distance from the objective, and at a place where no effective immediate defense is anticipated. The United Nations units then group themselves, and prepare to advance and launch a planned attack.

In the first type of attack, the opposition will attempt a number of separate small raids by parachutists, in an effort to gain possession of important objectives as quickly as possible. (The British, especially, will try to destroy these objectives at once in order to cause confusion.) These small detachments of parachutists with special tasks to perform may be dropped at night, some hours before the main attack. After landing, they will make the most of natural concealment, so as to approach their objectives unobserved.

In the second type of attack, the landings are very often preceded by air bombardment, followed immediately by the first wave of parachutists. However, it is always possible that, in order to gain complete surprise, a landing will not be preceded by bombing—or even that the opposition will try to create a diversion and deceive us by bombing an entirely different objective.

British parachute troops have been practicing night operations for a long time. Hence it is necessary to be constantly alert. It must be expected that well-trained parachutists will be ready to fight a few seconds after landing.

The United Nations can drop parachutists on terrain of virtually any type. It is quite feasible to drop parachutists on stony, irregular ground (as at Narvik); on ground covered with thick, low growth and even with orchards (as on Crete); and on ground crisscrossed by canals and ditches (as in Holland). The dropping of parachutists is out of the question only on ground where there are many high-tension cables, in deeply ravined or thickly populated: areas, or in woods where the trees are tall. It is self-evident, however, that the employment of parachute troops on a fairly large scale will call for open ground.

Since such a tremendous amount of ground is suitable for the landing of parachutists and even of transport gliders—the latter can land in remarkably confined spaces—one must select and indicate on maps only those areas which are especially advantageous for the landing of large numbers of parachutists and gliders, or which are conceivably suitable for landing transport planes.

A battalion of parachutists needs a jumping area of 800 by 300 yards. The landing and debarkation of an air-landing battalion on an airfield of medium size takes 45 minutes, provided hostile forces do not interfere. It takes longer if artillery is carried.

Since it is by no means necessary for transport gliders to land on airfields proper, these aircraft must be regarded as especially dangerous. Small gliders can dive and get beneath the fire of the defense. Also, since gliders are armed with machine guns, they can return fire effectively. Although gliders can often be used at night, they require a certain amount of light in the sky to land satisfactorily.

It must be expected that gliders will be used in carrying out isolated raids. For example, two 30-seater "Horsa" gliders were used in a British raid near Trondheim. It is known that the opposition is building a large number of these and of 60-seat "Hamilcar" gliders, as well.


a. Obstacles

We [the Germans] must erect obstacles on landing grounds and in areas likely to prove inviting to parachutists and gliders. Obstacles will be erected in front of, or all around, localities strategically important to the defense—for example, entrances to areas containing important establishments.

Mines and wire can be especially effective against parachutists and air-landing troops. (The "S" mine is excellent for this purpose.) In fact, the opposition is so aware of the danger of minefields to airborne troops that they will respect and avoid any area that they have reason to believe is mined. However, to help deter the opposition from attempting to land, dummy minefields, as well as true mines spaced far apart, must be maintained as though they were dangerous, thickly laid fields.

All types of dummy defense works should be employed. The defenders, as well as the attackers, must use imagination and cunning.

Poles, ditches, piles of wood and broken furniture, farm wagons piled with junk and with their wheels removed, and large mounds of earth, stones, or manure can also prove effective obstacles.1

b. Protection of Defenses

Defenses must have all-around protection. For this reason important defense works must be barricaded all-around against raids by airborne troops. Also, all the inhabited area within a defended work must be covered by automatic weapons. Since batteries are very inviting targets, it will be necessary to provide a sufficient number of sentries and machine guns to protect them. Vehicles must never be concentrated in areas not adequately defended.

c. Observation Posts

Observation posts must be maintained on all high landmarks (such as church steeples); this must be done everywhere, even in rear areas. Such observation posts are indispensable, especially in occupied territory, for spotting parachutists in time to give warning.

d. Communicating an Alarm

Telephone lines are extremely vulnerable to destruction by airborne troops. Therefore, there must always be an alternative method of communicating an alarm. Church bells, bugles, or drums may be employed.

e. Preparation of Mobile Reserves

As a general rule, even in preparation for minor attacks, it is best to have mobile reserves available to serve as "commando hunters." Machine guns, antitank guns, or 20-mm dual-purpose guns should be mounted on the trucks that the reserves will use, so that it will be possible to open fire from the vehicles. Machine pistols and hand grenades should be provided, and—if possible—light portable searchlights.

Flak personnel can be employed locally as combat squads.

Tanks and armored cars, if available, will offer the best possible means of combatting airborne troops.

f. Defense Tactics

The defense must be conducted offensively. Therefore, do not split up your forces, but make arrangements for a strong shock reserve. If observation posts and reconnaissance units have not supplied precise information, attack decisively whichever hostile group seems to be tactically the most dangerous. An extended period of inaction can have unfortunate consequences.

Use your reserves economically. All objectives of interest to the enemy must be adequately manned, even if your own attack is in progress. The main thing is to have an intuitive grasp of what the airborne attackers' real intentions are, and not to allow yourself to be deceived by diversionary attacks, dummy parachutists, and so on.

g. Opening of Fire

The chances of your being able to hit parachutists during their descent are very slight. It will be advisable to open fire only at close range. Experience has shown that fire is likely to be most effective just after the parachutists have touched the ground, while they are detaching themselves from their parachutes, and while they are trying to regroup themselves.

If it is not possible to cover with fire the locality in which parachutists are landing, there may be some advantage in placing sweeping machine-gun fire on the attackers while they are still in the air—even if they are not within close range.

Transport planes flying overhead should be subjected to fire as long as they are within range. Just before parachutists are to be dropped, transports slow down and become extremely vulnerable targets.

h. Conclusions

It must be recognized that the British and Americans have made great progress in developing their methods of airborne attack, and that they are capable of undertaking airborne operations on a large scale. Whenever they believe that circumstances are favorable, they will attempt to achieve decisive successes by using large numbers of airborne troops behind our coastal defenses. For this reason we must continually examine our defensive measures and keep them up to date.

When an airborne attack occurs, we must be able to estimate the situation with lightning-like speed, dispatch accurate information to the proper quarters, and launch a determined attack without regard to losses, even if we are outnumbered.

1 See Intelligence Bulletin Vol. I, No. 11, pp. 4851 for other Axis methods of obstructing airfields.

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