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IMAGES OF WAR. Hitler's Mountain Troops. The Gebirsjäger. Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives
About The Author
Ian Baxter is a military historian who specialises in German twentieth century military history. He has written more than thirty books including Poland - The Eighteen Day Victory March, Panzers In North Africa, The Ardennes Offensive, The Western Campaign, The 12th SS Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend, The Waffen- SS on the Western Front, The Waffen-SS on the Eastern Front, The Red Army At Stalingrad, Elite German Forces of World War II, Armoured Warfare, German Tanks of War, Blitzkrieg, Panzer-Divisions At War, Hitler's Panzers, German Armoured Vehicles of World War Two, Last Two Years of the Waffen-SS At War, German Soldier Uniforms and Insignia, German Guns of the Third Reich, Defeat to Retreat: The Last Years of the German Army At War 1943 - 1945, Operation Bagration - the destruction of Army Group Centre, German Guns of the Third Reich, Rommel and the Afrika Korps, U-Boat War, and most recently The Sixth Army and the Road to Stalingrad'. He has written over one hundred journals including ' Last days of Hitler, Wolfs Lair, Story of the VI and V2 rocket programme, Secret Aircraft of World War Two, Rommel At Tobruk, Hitler's War With His Generals, Secret British Plans To Assassinate Hitler, SS At Arnhem, Hitlerjugend, Battle Of Caen 1944, Gebirgsjäger At War, Panzer Crews, Hitlerjugend Guerrillas, Last Battles in the East, Battle of Berlin, and many more. He has also reviewed numerous military studies for publication, supplied thou¬sands of photographs and important documents to various publishers and film Production Companies worldwide, and lectures to various schools, colleges and universities throughout the United Kingdom and Southern Ireland.
It is with the greatest pleasure that I use this opportunity on concluding this book to thank those who helped make this volume possible. My expression of gratitude first goes to my German photographic archivist and collector, Sebastian Ramus. He has been an unfailing source; supplying me with a number of very rare Gebirgsjäger photographs that were obtained from numerous sources. I also wish to display by debt to Franz Zeigert who researched and contacted numerous collectors all over Germany, trying in vain to find various mountain troop photographs. Unfortunately, some collectors would not part with some of their prized images, which made finding them so much harder. Photographs showing the 'Nord' division, along with later war imagery, was difficult to say the least to find unpublished. I had numerous researchers trying to locate these elusive photographs, but I am thankful, once again, to Sebastian and Franz that managed to find them in various photo collections, mainly in Germany.
Further a field in Poland I am also extremely grateful to Jann Klepacz, my Polish photographic specialist, who supplied me with a number of rare photographs that he obtained from private photographic collections in Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. The images show a host of interesting photographs showing the Gebirgsjäger fighting on the Eastern Front including fighting in Poland during the last desperate months of the war.
Finally, I wish to display my kindness and appreciation to my Gebirsjäger collector and photographic specialist, Edward Roberts, from the USA, who supplied me with a number of rare unpublished photographs showing the Gebirgs deployed both on the Eastern and Western Fronts.
The mountain soldier, or Gebirsjäger, was a relatively new member of the fighting forces, dating back to 1915, when the first of these special forces was formed in Bavaria. By 1935, the nucleus of the first new Gebirgs Division was born as Hitler begun his rebuilding of the German Army. Three years later, following Anschluss in Austria, more experienced Alpine troops from the Austrian Army joined the Gebirsjäger, which enlarged it two new Gebirgs divisions.
Training for the German recruit in the Gebirsjäger was, as with the Army, often tough and methodical. Commanders made no secret of their aim to mentally and physically break the new recruit. Every instructor put great emphasis on aggres¬sion and were trained and drilled in every possible way in which to overcome the enemy quickly and efficiently, with the least amount of friendly casualties. Each recruit was indoctrinated to fight for the Fuhrer, even if it meant shedding one's own blood on the battlefield. Those trainees successful enough to pass were rewarded with the passing-out parade, where each recruit had to swear an oath, before being ordained as a soldier of the Gebirsjäger.
The Gebirsjäger were a light infantry of well-trained soldiers. Each individual had to carry considerable personal kit in his rucksack, but he was also expected to scale mountains as well. The support elements that were available to traditional infantry divisions, such as armoured vehicles, tanks and artillery, were not supposed to be used by the Gebirsjäger. Instead, they were supplied with weapons and other equipment that could be taken apart and carried by pack animals. Each soldier had to learn survival techniques for living in the mountains. He was trained to build a primitive shield of rocks around him, which could protect him against the cold and enemy fire. The mountain soldiers became self sufficient and absolutely adapted to mountain warfare. In their eyes, to go to war meant to fight in their natural element where they enjoyed absolute dominance.
A group of mountain troops pose for the camera at a kilometre post, probably in Austria, in the summer of 1939. Since Anschluss in Austria, a large influx of troops had joined the Gebirgsjäger where it had enlarged to two new divisions.
Gebirgstruppen are seen onboard a train being transported from their home station eastwards during the summer of 1939. They can be seen holding bottles of beer. The white painted slogan written across the passenger car reads 'You will see us again at home 'Heil Jäger!' ' Such slogans as this were common in the Gebirsjäger to demonstrate their morale.
Another photograph of the mountain troops onboard the same train being transported eastwards, probably to join the build-up of forces preparing to attack Poland during the summer of 1939. The German Army had entrusted the XVIII Gebirgs-Korps in the high mountains which formed the border between Poland and Slovakia.
A Gebirsjäger company stands in formation, somewhere in Bavari ,a during the summer of 1939. The troops wear the typical standard service uniform of that associated with the mountain soldier. They wear the M36 uniform and special field grey heavyweight trousers of a full design to allow other clothing to be worn under them. They wear the mountain field cap or Bergmütze. On the right sleeve is the famous embroidered Gebirgstruppen badge displaying the Edelweiss. They wear the mountain boots with short puttees which can be seen bound around the ankles to keep foreign matter out. The majority of them carry their M35 steel helmet with its chin strap hung over the cartridge pouches. For their main armament they carry the Mauser 7.9mm Kar98k carbine, the standard issue Wehrmacht's shoulder weapon.
Two mountain troopers pause during training activities in an Austrian town, probably in the summer of 1939. The road signs point to two different Austrian towns. In the extensive alpine regions of Austria these troops would have trained in all sorts of conditions in order to allow each soldier to become self sufficient where they would be absolutely adapted for mountain warfare.
Gebirsjäger troops take what was known as a 'firebreak' beside an alpine road during training in Austria in the summer of 1939. On their right sleeve, the embroidered Gebirgstruppen badge can be seen displaying the Edelweiss. Note their mountain boots bearing thick soles and heavy hobnails which were specially designed for mountain climbing.
Two photographs showing unidentified Gebirgs units in an encampment in hilly terrain. The soldiers have used a number of shelter quarters for housing a number of troops. These field tents were of standard design and had a fly tarp erected over it to provide insulation from the sun in order to reduce intensive heat inside the tent. These shelter quarter encampments could be quickly erected by the troops, and were an important part in a soldiers training. Without adequate shelter in the mountain regions, a soldier would easily become exposed to freezing temperatures, and as a consequence, could die.
Mountain troops protect themselves from the low temperatures in a mountain region. During training, the Gebirgstruppen had to learn a variety of survival techniques for living in the mountains. These soldiers sleep in a shelter quarter on the ground, probably during the spring or summer season where high exposure to the cold was minimal.
Two mountain troopers with a young mule during training. The mule would be the Gebirgs main source of transporting equipment to the front, across rugged and mountainous terrain. These hardy pack animals were well suited for rough terrain and were used extensively by the mountain soldiers throughout the war.
Mountain soldiers can be seen in a relaxed setting, probably during a pause in operations. An accordion is being played whilst the soldiers smile and enjoy the moment before resuming their march.
Soldiers erect quarters in the rear area. Wooden quarters such as these were common in the Gebirsjäger and many would be erected on the Ostfront in Army Group North where the front lines were often stagnated for many weeks or even months.
Inside one of the mountain troop log-cabins, soldiers enjoy their rations. Inside these quarters, the Gebirgs often had plenty of provisions in order to sustain them on the battlefield. During arctic weather, the troops were well insulated from the terrors of the winter, especially on the Ostfront.
Chapter One. Baptism of Fire (Poland & Norway)
The authorised strength of a typical mountain division against Poland, in September 1939 included about 14,000 soldiers, some 5,500 to 6,000 animals, including approximately 1,500 horses, 4,300 pack animals and 550 mountain horses. A normal division also consisted of some 1,400 vehicles, which included many motorcycles and cross country cars as well as 600 horse-drawn vehicles. It was armed with 13,000 rifles, 2,200 pistols, 500 machine-guns, 416 light machine guns, 66 light mortars, 75 anti-tank rifles, 80 heavy machine guns, 44 medium mortars, 16 light infantry guns, four heavy infantry guns, 12 light anti¬aircraft, 39 anti-aircraft cannon, 12 light field or mountain howitzers and 24 light mountain guns. With these weapons the mountain troops enjoyed almost complete supremacy over their Polish enemy.
For the Polish campaign, the German Army entrusted the XVIII Gebirgs-Korps to cross the high mountain which formed the border between Poland and Slovakia. The location of the XVIII Gebirgs-Korps was situated on the deep southern flank of 14.Armee, and it meant that mountain troops had further to march than any other formations of the German Army. For every Gebirsjäger soldier, the Polish campaign would be vividly remembered by many stories of long marches from dawn to dusk, repeated day after day with fierce and frequent battles against determined Polish resistance. In some sectors, especially those covered by the 2.Gebirgs-Division, their advance was particularly exhausting with difficult terrain to cover. The roads were little more than dirt tracks and many of the Gebirgs soldiers were compelled to march ankle-deep in sandy dust. Although the first day of the invasion consisted, more or less, of continuous marching, with hardly any respite, over the next two days of the Polish campaign, the 1.Gebirgs, 2.Gebirgs, and 3.Gebirgs-Divisions underwent their baptism of fire. The divisional commander of the 1.Gebirgs-Division called the storming of the heavily defended city of Lemberg an operation of 'great daring'. On the Zboiska Heights surrounding the town, the Gebirsjäger clung to the hillside. They withstood heavy artillery fire until the city eventually surrendered and 25,000 Polish prisoners were captured.
The German invasion of Poland was swift. It was the first operational demonstration of Blitzkrieg tactics, combining the ruthless use of armour, mobile infantry and air support. The brave Polish Army was overwhelmed by this awesome display of military power as well as being taken by surprise. Although the Gebirsjäger did not play a decisive part in the campaign, it contributed to the successful conclusion with distinction.
Two photographs showing a Gebirgstruppen unit crossing the Polish border during the morning of 1 September 1939. There are a variety of vehicles, including support trucks and motorcycle combinations, along with vehicles towing the 3.7cm PaK35/36 anti-tank gun. Note the returning pack animals moving rearward to collect more supplies.
By early 1940, the 2. and 3.Gebirgs-Divisions were poised to do battle on the Western Front. But, in March, the 3.Gebirgsjäger-Division were withdrawn to Germany to prepare for an attack against Norway. Planning for the invasion of Norway also included an attack upon Denmark. The reason why the Germans needed to occupy Denmark was purely for her northernmost airfields and her harbours, which were needed as bases by the German forces.
For the attack against Denmark, planners drew up a list of strategic objectives that were all to be taken within an hour by airborne assaults, behind which would come conventional forces to occupy the country. The attack upon Norway would be undertaken by both sea and airborne attack, but it was agreed that all principal objectives would take longer to complete, but only a matter of hours.
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