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Fallschirmjäger is the German word for paratroopers. They played an important role during World War II, when, together with the Gebirgsjäger they were perceived as the elite infantry units of the German military. After World War II, they were reconstituted as parts of postwar armed forces of both West and East Germany, mainly as special ops troops.
German Fallschirmjäger in World War II were the first paratroopers to be committed to large-scale airborne operations. They came to be known as the green devils by the Allied forces they fought against. The word Fallschirmjäger is from the German Fallschirm, “parachute”, and Jäger, literally ‘hunter,’ which refers in this context to light infantry.
In the modern German Bundeswehr, Fallschirmjäger continue to form the core of special operations units. The division has two brigade equivalents and several independent companies and battalions. All told, about 10,000 troops served in that division in 2010, most of them support or logistics personnel.
The vast majority of division members are deployable by parachute, and all of it is at least airmobile. Almost all vehicles and heavy equipment are transportable by helicopter, including special lightly armored Wiesel heavy weapon transport vehicles adopted for this purpose. In addition to the Special Operations Division, Germany is also setting up an airmobile or air assault regiment.
The Feldjäger is the name given to the military police of the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces. Their emblem is the historic Order of the Black Eagle which has as its motto Suum Cuique (Latin meaning “To each his own,” a phrase derived from Cicero). The term Feldjäger, literally meaning field huntsmen or field Jäger, has a long tradition and dates back to the mid-17th century.
Honouring tradition, upon the creation of the Bundeswehr in 1956, the mountain infantry returned as a distinctive arm of the West German army. Until 2001, they were organized as the 1. Gebirgsdivision, but this division was disbanded in a general reform. The successor unit is Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23 which has its headquarters in Bad Reichenhall. The battalions of these mountain infantry are deployed in southern Bavaria as this is the only high mountain area in Germany touching the Northern Alps. Since 2008, the unit is officially called “Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23 Bayern (Bavaria)” as a commendation of the close relationship between the state and the Gebirgsjäger.
According to the official Bundeswehr website, the brigade has a current strength of 6,500 soldiers.
The soldiers of the mountain infantry wear a grey cap (Bergmütze) with an edelweiß on its left side, stem to the front. This distinguishes them from all other German army soldiers who wear berets and the Austrian army, whose edelweiß has its stem to the back. The formal uniform, which is based on traditional alpine mountain climbing trekking outfits (Berganzug), is also different from the standard mainstream German army uniform, and consists of a light-weight grey ski blouse (Skibluse), black Stirrup trousers (Keilhose) or especially during the summer periods “Culottes” knee-breeches (kniebundhose) similar to knickerbockers, and ankle-height mountaineering boots (Bergstiefel) or dual-use mountaineering ski boots. A soldier is allowed to wear the edelweiß on the forage cap after he has completed the “Edelweißmarsch”. This honor is only allowed for the mountain infantry.
German Gebirgsjäger traditionally share a very close comradeship and distinct esprit de corps. There is also a special perception of discipline which can for example be seen in a relatively informal relationship between officers and soldiers during normal day duty.
Tasks of the German Gebirgsjäger
The main tasks of the German mountain infantry are:
- Warfare in extreme weather conditions
- Winter warfare
- Warfare in urban terrain
- Warfare in arctic, mountain and desert terrain
Equipment and Organization
A mountain infantry battalion consists of about 900 soldiers in five companies. One company is responsible for staff and support duties and has a “Hochgebirgsjägerzug” (special platoon for high mountain fight and reconnaissance) at its disposal. Three companies are consisting of classical mountain infantry, another one is a heavy company which is equipped with the Wiesel AWC for mortar support, tank defence and supporting cannon fire with 20 mm guns. Two of the three mountain infantry battalions are equipped with the Hägglund 206S, one with the GTK Boxer.
Equipment of the Gebirgsjäger:
- Wiesel AWC
- Bandvagn 206
- Military versions of the Unimog
The Großer Zapfenstreich (Grand Tattoo) is a military ceremony performed in Germany and Austria. It is similar to the military tattoo ceremony performed in English-speaking countries and is the most important ceremonial act executed by the German federal armed forces, the Bundeswehr, and by the Austrian Armed Forces. The Zapfenstreich is performed only during national celebrations and solemn public commemorations, to honor distinguished persons present at such special events. Examples are the farewell ceremony for a German federal president, or at the conclusion of large military exercises. It takes place in the evening hours and consists of a military formation of at least one military band, two platoons of armed infantrymen, and two lines of soldiers carrying torches, in total about 400 men.
KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte (Special Forces Command, KSK) is an elite special forces military unit composed of special operations soldiers handpicked from the ranks of Germany’s Bundeswehr and organized under the Rapid Forces Division. KSK has received many decorations and awards from NATO, the United States and its affiliates and KSK operatives are frequently requested for joint anti-terror operations, notably in the Balkans and Middle East.
Rockensussra’s German Tank Graveyard & Dismantling Facility
These scenes of withdrawn armoured vehicles, lined up row upon row in a scrapyard immediately west of Rockensussra, Germany, are almost surreal to behold. At a glance the infantry fighting vehicle appear to be in reasonable condition – certainly by comparison to the decaying Soviet hulks of the Kharkov tank graveyard in Ukraine – though their days are likely numbered.
Situated 186 miles southwest of Berlin, the abandoned combat vehicles line the compound of the Koch Battle Tank Dismantling Firm, which specialises in the recycling of obsolete military equipment. The company, which is managed by Peter Koch, employs around 35 specialists at its 125,000 square metre site.
According to the Telegraph, around five vehicles arrive daily in a dismantling process which takes up to three days. The site has witnessed up to 500 withdrawn battle tanks awaiting recycling at any one time, lined up in seemingly endless rows which almost appear to have been photoshopped.
Founded in 1991 as the Cold War drew to a close, the Koch Battle Tank Dismantling Firm processes withdrawn military tech from across the world, though most of the abandoned tanks and infantry combat vehicles passing through the facility are veterans of the German armed forces, such as the Marder 1 A3.
In addition to the large numbers of battle vehicles silently awaiting their fates, rows of engines already removed from recycled vehicles are also stored on site. Useful parts are salvaged for reuse on the country’s operational fighting fleet, while the remainder is sold as scrap.
The process began in earnest with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and some 16,000 tanks and armoured vehicles are understood to have been dismantled on the outskirts of Rockensussra by 2012.
The Wachbataillon (full name: Wachbataillon beim Bundesministerium der Verteidigung (WachBtl BMVg) (Guard battalion at the Ministry of Defence)) is the German Bundeswehr’s elite drill unit. The Wachbataillon is the largest battalion of the German forces with about 1,000 soldiers in Berlin. It consists of seven active companies (see list below) and belongs to the Streitkräftebasis (Joint Service Support Command) of the Bundeswehr. The soldiers of the Wachbataillon often refer to themselves as Protter or Protokollsoldaten, meaning protocol soldiers.