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"German Gliders and Gliderborne Troops" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on German airborne troops was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 14, Dec. 17, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. 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.]


a. Organization of Gliderborne Troops

Gliderborne troops constitute one of the two German Air Force components operating under the Fliegerkorps XI. They are known as Sturmtruppen (assault troops) and are organized into a Sturmregiment. Although technically airlanding units, they must not be confused with the airlanding Army troops, which are infantry units.

Troops transported by gliders function in close conjunction with parachute troops and the Army airlanding detachments. In the general pattern of operations, they precede the parachute troops and, by their noiseless approach, utilize to the fullest the element of surprise. Their mission is to neutralize antiaircraft and other defenses, and to disrupt all communication systems. They thus prepare the way for the parachutists who seize landing ground for the transports bearing the airlanding Army troops.

The assault regiment has a full strength of almost 2,000 men and is organized into 4 battalions having a total of 14 companies. Each of the first 3 battalions is broken down into a headquarters and signal unit, a heavy weapons company, and 3 rifle companies of 120 men each. A rifle company consists of 4 platoons, plus a headquarters and signal unit. Each platoon is divided into 3 sections of 10 men each. The fourth battalion includes a headquarters unit, a signal section, and 2 companies, infantry-gun and antitank.

The DFS-230 gliders, in which the assault troops are normally carried, are organized into a special air transport unit known as the Luftlandung Geschwader, the smallest operational unit of which is a Kette of 3 gliders. Each glider carries a complement of 10 men, which is a section of a platoon. Three flights or Ketten make up a Gruppe. The Geschwader is, therefore, composed of 4 Gruppen with a total of 192 gliders and can transport the entire Sturmregiment of approximately 2,000 men.

b. Training

Glider pilots generally have had previous experience in civilian glider flying, although this does not qualify them for handling a freight-carrying glider. A 6 weeks' course in gliding is given in special training schools, particular stress being placed on spot landings. Training on large gliders is conducted within the glider unit itself. The troops carried by a glider are graduate parachutists; however, they do not normally wear parachutes in gliderborne operations. It is debatable that they parachuted from gliders over Crete as has been reported.

Training gliders are believed to fall within three classes according to wing span. The "A" class glider has a wing of high aspect ratio with 55- to 60-foot span and usually a very short nose. It is possible that some gliders in this class may be high-performance sailplanes. Gliders in the "B" or intermediary class, having a span of 35 to 50 feet, are probably the most widely used. The "C" class gliders, with a span of 33 to 35 feet, are believed to be used for primary training.

c. Types of Gliders

Up to the present time the DFS-230 mentioned above is the only troop-carrying glider that has been identified as carrying assault troops during operations. The Gotha-242 (see following sketch), which has often been referred to as one of the principal troop transport gliders, is used almost entirely for carrying freight. This high-wing, dual-controlled glider is reported, however, to be capable of carrying 21 fully equipped men in addition to 2 pilots.

[German Glider -- Gotha-242]

The Merseburg, which has been mentioned as a tank-carrying glider, has been estimated to accommodate 40 to 50 men, while the Goliath is veritably the giant glider that its name implies. This twin-fuselage glider is believed to have a wing span of 270 feet and a wing area of 7,500 square feet, and to carry 17 to 20 tons or 140 fully equipped men, 70 in each fuselage. These gliders are in a more or less experimental stage and are therefore not considered for the purpose of this discussion as a part of the Geschwader organization.

The DFS-230 used in the Cretan campaign is a high-wing monoplane with a wing span of 71 feet 5 inches and a length of approximately 36 feet. It has fabric-covered wings and a fuselage of steel tubular construction. The wheels can be jettisoned after the take-off, and a landing is effected on a central skid. The empty weight of this glider, fixed equipment included, is approximately 2,200 pounds, and the (tare) fully loaded weight 4,600 pounds. Weight varies according to the assignment involved; a useful load is probably about 2,400 pounds.

This glider will carry nine fully equipped men and one pilot. Seats are arranged in a single line on a boom running along the center of the fuselage, six facing forward and four backward. The rear seats are detachable in case more space is needed for freight. A 24-volt storage battery installed in the nose of the glider furnishes power for navigation, cabin, and landing lights. A fixed light machine gun (LMG-34) is believed to be attached externally to the starboard side of the fuselage and fired by the man in the seat behind the pilot. Instruments on the panel of the DFS- 230 include altimeter, compass, and airspeed, rate-of-climb, and turn-and-bank indicators.

The DFS-230 is ordinarily towed by a Ju-52 aircraft, which normally flies empty. Towing planes usually fly in a Kette; but when two or three gliders are towed, each is attached directly to the tug in V-formation. The glider is towed by means of a rope or a steel cable attached to a hook in the tail of the aircraft and fitted with a quick-release mechanism. The length of the towing line depends on the airfield space available; the longer the rope the easier the handling. A multiple tug arrangement probably would be necessary to tow a glider the size of the Goliath or the Merseburg. Three or four Me-110's or three Ju-52's might give a reasonable performance, although this would be a difficult operation.

d. Glider Operations

Gliders do not require large landing areas, runways being desirable but not essential. The landing run of a DFS-230 is said to have been shortened by wrapping barbed wire around the skids. Flaps are used to steepen the angle of the glide. In case of Me-110's being used as tugs, rocket-assisted take-off may be necessary when using airdromes with runways less than 2,000 feet.

The range of operations of a glider is obviously dependent on the range of the towing aircraft. The total range for the Ju-52 with 530 gallons of fuel in still-air conditions when towing one DFS-230 is about 780 miles, or 600 miles for three gliders. This will allow an approximate radius of action of 250 miles. With extra fuel a Ju-52 is reported to be able to tow a DFS-230 more than 1,000 miles.

The distances which gliders can cover after the release vary according to altitude of release, direction and force of wind relative to line of flight, navigation errors, and evasive action. The gliding distance for the DFS-230 has been calculated in the ratio of 1 to 16 in still air, i.e. for every foot of descent, the glider theoretically covers 16 feet measured horizontally. In Crete, gliders are believed to have been released at not more than 2 to 5 miles from shore and at altitudes not more than 5,000 feet, permitting a gliding range of 8 to 10 miles. Normally gliders are never released directly over the objective but at a sufficient distance so that towing aircraft need not fly over the point of attack.

While the Germans were apparently successful in glider operations in Belgium,* the glider performance in Crete resulted in many casualties due to premature release, short turns, navigation errors, and rocky terrain. The troop glider, like all aircraft, is extremely vulnerable to small-arms fire when gliding low near ground defenses. Although it is not clear how light tanks if brought by air would be employed, it is believed that gliderborne units are not equipped to follow up tank advance, at least in the early stages. They lack motor transport and are, therefore, not mobile. Darkness is also a deterrent to gliderborne operations. So far as is known, glider attacks have been limited to dawn and dusk operations.

When a glider attack is made a part of large-scale airborne operations, it is important that glider airdromes should not be located too near the objective, since concentrations of aircraft are conspicuous and likely to receive attention from hostile aircraft before the units get on their way. It is, on the other hand, impracticable to conduct glider attacks from airdromes more than 200 miles away. Over longer distances, decisions at the rear take progressively longer to affect the action and thus make operation more difficult for the pilots. Furthermore, it is desirable that troops going into action not be kept seated in aircraft for longer than 2 or 3 hours, the time required for the 200-mile flight. Finally, since dawn is the usual time of attack, and such attacks cannot be made unless the planes take off at night, it would follow that they should depart early in the day and not spend too much time on the journey.

* In the comparatively small (but important) operation at Fort Eben Emael.

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