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"Lessons from Crete in Antiparachutist Tactics" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report concerning tactics against German airborne landings was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 8, Sept. 24, 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.]


The following account of the parachutist attack on Crete is based on a report of a British junior officer who commanded a light antiaircraft unit during the attack on that island. The ideas expressed are those of the officer concerned, based on his own experience, and are not to be taken as official. Moreover, since this operation, certain developments have taken place in the tactics used by parachute troops.

The attack on Candia started on May 20 with a heavy air bombardment which lasted for 2 hours. At the end of this time the Ju-52's carrying parachutists arrived on the scene and proceeded to drop their cargo. The procession came in three waves, one to the east of this sector, another to the west, and the third one over the center.

The reporting officer stated that "those dropped on the central sector dropped right on top of my gun position, with the result that my small party of 25 men had to deal with vastly superior numbers of parachutists.

"We did more than deal with them, however. We almost completely destroyed them, for if an immediate attack can be made on parachutists the second they leave the plane and touch the ground, they are almost powerless to resist. By capturing and destroying their containers, which carry all their weapons, and by pulling down the distinctively colored parachutes marking the containers and rallying points, we managed to prevent them from getting any weapons and assembling.

"In my experience, the lessons that we learned were the following:

"Speed of action--you must attack them with all your available forces, however small, at the earliest possible moment, i.e., as soon as they leave the plane.

"Destruction or capture of containers and rallying points.

"By either confining them to the smallest possible area, or by widely dispersing them into small pockets, prevent them from getting supplies.

"By strict and careful camouflage, try to make them land on top of you, for the closer to a defended locality they descend, the less of a menace they become."

The mission of parachutists may be the creation of diversions, harrassment, occupation of key points, or the destruction of certain definite objectives such as factories, radio stations, antiaircraft batteries, fire-control stations, and the like.

There is always a preliminary aerial bombardment. During this bombardment the carriers approach in formation. The bombardment ceases, and the parachutists jump at heights between 300 and 500 feet. The individual parachutists land with quite a bump. Some of them are badly winded. Some have difficulty in managing their parachutes. Others may even be dragged by their parachutes. It takes an appreciable length of time to get clear of their parachute harness; then a dash is made for the arms containers which have also been dropped in parachutes, usually of a distinctive color. After the containers are opened and the arms obtained, some little time is required to rally and assemble into units.

The parachutists have a definite objective, and everything else is disregarded. In cases where a definite objective may not have been set, or where possibly a drop was not made in the right place, harrassing positions are quickly found, such as houses, trees, shrubbery, corn-fields, ditches, and sunken roads.

Intercommunication and communication between air and ground was amazingly good. After landing, contact was continuously maintained with reconnaissance aircraft by the use of Very lights, flags, and radios.

Once on the ground and collected into units, the parachutists became rather immobile, light infantry with a very high fire-power. However, as the descent is made with only limited supplies, there is a time limit to the firepower if supplementary ammunition supplies are not received.

Parachutists land with food and supplies for 48 hours. Fresh supplies are dropped in the same manner as were the parachutists. The same type of aircraft is used, and they approach in the same formation as in the actual parachute attack, dropping supplies in the occupied areas daily. Reinforcements are dropped by parachute to assist units in difficulty.

Antiaircraft artillery and pursuit-aircraft assistance is of course invaluable for the defending forces, but, as in Crete, may not always be available.

Camouflage of ground positions is most important. Troop positions, particularly antiaircraft or field artillery positions which can be identified from the air, will be subjected to merciless air bombardment.

Troop positions should be provided with slit trenches. These should be inconspicuous, and loose soil should be disposed of so as not to attract attention.

Strong points should be selected and organized for all-round fire; if possible, they should be so situated as to give mutually supporting fire.

Strong points and other positions should be wired in, but a small gap should be left to enable the garrisons to make rapid sorties to attack the parachutists promptly during the first vulnerable minutes. Such gaps should be closed with trip wires provided with bells, or tin cans that rattle, in order to provide a warning to the garrison.

When the troop carriers arrive and are dropping or about to drop parachutists, effective results can be obtained with light automatic weapons by firing at the doors of the aircraft. In general, rifle fire should be held until the parachutists hit the ground, when they become sitting targets. This is especially so with troops who are not specialists in the use of the rifle. However, particular men known to be first class shots may be given permission to "pot" the parachutists during their descent.

It is essential to attack the parachutists with all automatic arms, rifles, and bayonets immediately upon landing. Pistols did not prove particularly effective in Crete.

The time factor is of the greatest importance:

For 30 seconds after landing parachutists are incapable of action.

For 2 minutes they are more or less helpless.

From 3 to 5 minutes before they can get organized, they are very vulnerable.

Certain men must be detailed whose sole job is to collect or destroy arms containers and their contents.

(Note: Although not mentioned by this officer, other officers who served in Crete have stated that British troops, particularly service units, who were not well armed with automatic weapons, were able to do very well with the German submachine guns which they took away from parachutists or got out of captured containers.)

Another squad should be detailed to recover and hide (or destroy) the colored parachutes which are used to mark arms containers, rallying points, officers, etc. Colors vary with each attack. In this officer's opinion, submachine guns, rifles, or bayonets are the best weapons with which to attack parachutists. Revolvers were not of much use (the soldier who is a well-trained pistol shot is a rarity).

A supply of hand grenades is very useful for dislodging parachutists from houses and strong points.

Each defensive strongpoint should be self-contained, with plenty of ammunition and food and water for several days--7 to 10 days emergency rations.

Every unit and subunit from base workshops to front-line troops, every man--infantry, artillery, cook, or clerk--must have a job to do and know it perfectly. There must be no spectators--no neutrals.

The time factor cannot be overemphasized.

Each unit must be drilled and officers must have in mind several tentative plans. It is most difficult to guess beforehand exactly where the parachutists are going to land, so probably a very simple plan in the nature of a rough outline is best. But in his mind's eye, the commander must visualize every possible form of attack so that in the 30 seconds after the drop begins, he knows exactly what he is going to do.

Dispose of the first batch of parachutists as quickly as possible, as they are nearly always followed by a second batch who come down in greater force in the same area, probably about an hour later.

As soon as they land, kill everybody possible. Confine the remainder in the smallest possible area. Confuse the enemy aircraft as much as possible by firing captured Very pistols and laying out captured signal flags. (After a little experimenting with captured Very pistols isolated British units in Crete discovered the signals that brought food. As the German air transport system was quite efficient these units did not go hungry.)

When the enemy are dropping supplies, send out patrols to capture or destroy these supplies. Or, if this is not possible, cover the areas where supplies have been dropped by machine-gun or artillery fire.

Tanks are invaluable for mopping up.

Don't waste men.

Isolate them, starve and smoke them out.


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