German Air Force
For the campaign in the West the Luftwaffe deployed 3,902 aircraft (1,482 bombers and dive-bombers, 42 ground-attack planes, 1,016 fighter planes and 248 Me 110 twin-engined fighters).
Colonel-General Kesselring commanded Luftflotte 2 with I, IV and IX Fliegerkorps (Air Corps) in support of General von Bock’s Army Group B.
Colonel-General Sperrle commanded Luftflotte 3 with II, V and VIII Fliegerkorps in support of General von Rundstedt‘s Army Group A.
German Airborne Forces
The formation of parachute troops began almost simultaneously in both the German Army and Air Force. On 1 October 1935, General Goering’s personal guard regiment, which originally had belonged to the Prussian Police, was transferred to the Luftwaffe as the General Goering Regiment. At the same time volunteers from the regiment were sent to Altengrabow training ground where the formation of the Luftwaffe’s parachute rifle regiment was taking place.
In Spring 1936 the Army established an experimental staff with 15 officers and 80 other ranks, which was to become the Army’s parachute rifle battalion. During the occupation of the Sudetenland the battalion came under the tactical command of the Luftwaffe, and on 1 January 1939, the battalion was transferred to the Air Force. From then on the Luftwaffe assumed total responsibility for the recruitment, training, equipment and operational control of parachute troops, and Germany became the only country in which parachute troops were exclusively part of the Air Force.
Although paratroops were part of the Luftwaffe, the other component element of Germany’s airborne forces, the air landing troops, remained as part of the Army. Air landing troops were infantry soldiers trained in the skills of rapid airborne landings (as indeed their name suggested) and equipped with a number of specialized lightweight weapons.
In July 1938 Major-General Student was transferred to the Luftwaffe from the Army, to undertake the development of the parachute troops, but by the time the Germans went to war in September 1939, the 7th Airborne Division was still in the process of formation.
After a winter spent in further specialist training an air landing corps was formed from the 7th Airborne Division and the 22 (Air landing) Infantry Division.
Germany’s parachute troops played a small, though successful, role in the Norwegian campaign which included the relief of General Dietl’s beleaguered command at Narvik. Some ‘paratroopers’ dropped during this operation were mountain soldiers who had undergone a seven-day parachuting course. The invasion of Holland and Belgium in 1940 saw the most spectacular triumph of this new arm when paratroops under the command of Major-General Student captured the modern Belgian fortress of Eben Emael and the bridges over the Albert Canal, the key points in the line of Belgian fortifications.
References and literature
The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
Luftwaffe Handbook (Dr Alfred Price)