Greg Way, Fallschirmjäger! (Helion, 2020)
In Fallschirmjäger!, Greg Way records the memories of some of Hitler’s elite paratrooper troops. He is an admirer of an almost completely volunteer force that exemplified the virtues of soldiers, their esprit de corps. He interviewed veterans and solicited more memories through a website. He soon had enough material to merit collating it in a permanent record. Fallschirmjäger! is the very worthy result.
Fallschirmjäger! is structured as a source book with just a brief introduction for ranks, a glossary of terms, and a précis of operations. Each chapter is handed over to a single veteran’s recollections, of which there are sixteen in Part I, and three war diaries in Part II. The recollections begin with a brief biography of the veteran, their wartime service, and what became of them after the war. Way sprinkles their accounts with illuminating photographs donated by the veterans and footnotes for confirmation and context. The men describe their rigorous selection process and intense training befitting an elite unit. Then they took part in the Invasions of Poland and the Low Countries, dropped on Crete in that expensive operation, and fought in Italy, North Africa, the Eastern Front, and Normandy. All of Way’s veterans, except one, were captured and spent time as POWs.
Reviewing a source book of this nature boils down to one question: does it help us understand the subject? In this case that receives a resounding, yes. Way’s sensible approach, to let these soldiers speak in their own voices without interference, brings out the immediacy of their experiences: their arduous training, jumping into the dark over enemy territory, the terror and helplessness of floating to the ground under fire, the intensity of combat, the shock of being wounded, frostbite on the Eastern Front, a comrade’s suicide, the fear of capture; the general horrors of war. Memoirs such as these can also be problematic because of what is often missing, or misremembered, such as political affiliations, thoughts on their leadership and role in the war, and the rare mentions of German atrocities, though those against them are prominent. Nevertheless, Way has performed a valuable service for the historical record of the Fallschirmjäger that will be useful for historians and general readers interested in World War II. 9/10