Monday, February 25, 2013

GANZE MÄNNER - An Early Book on WWII German Fallschirmjäger

When the formation of British Airborne Forces was initiated in 1940 there was little to no knowledge, let alone an experience base to draw upon for either training or equipment. The cadre of Army and RAF leadership given this daunting task initially drew heavily from intelligence reports, and captured equipment of the German Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger. A fact I was not previously aware of was that 1,660 Fallschirmjäger were captured during the course of the German invasion of Holland. Details of the equipment captured were presented at an Air Ministry conference on 10 June 1940.

Although not believed to be readily available to British Forces at the time a small book (original copies now being exceptionally rare) was openly published in Germany in 1942. In this author's opinion its contents parallel some of the information which might have been available to British Army intelligence. The publicly published book was entitled, GANZE MÄNNER, Leben und Erleben der deutschen Fallschirmjäger (Whole Men, Lives and Experience of the German Paratroopers), authored by a Hauptmann Piehl (in all probability the name or pseudonym of a serving Fallschirmjäger officer). My copy, given its age is in excellent condition, but was published with wartime materials, consequently the photographs are not as clear as they might be. However, they do exceed the quality of other copies of some of the same photographs seen elsewhere, and attributed to the Bundesarchiv. In addition, due to the fragility of the document some of the scans are less than perfectly square in orientation. For those who might be interested, an English translation has been published, and is currently available at a very reasonable price compared to an original. (*listing*title). Not having seen the reprint I cannot comment on the quality of its photographs.

 What follows are a series of photographs from the original book showing a variety of the equipment and training techniques used by the Fallschirmjäger. Note the similarity to those adapted by early British Airborne Forces. One major exception, however, being the fundamental design difference between the German standard RZ (1, 16, 20, 36) Series of parachutes, and the GQ/Irving Statichute or X-Chute. The latter being more comfortable in opening shock, ease of controlled descent, and landing. For those interested in a more detailed description of each of the parachute systems, please see the Links listing in this blog for two excellent sites.

Please double click on any of the images to enlarge them.

One unique piece of equipment issued to the Fallschirmjäger (not shown in the book) was the Fliegerkappmesser (Flyer's Utility Knife), which while originally not specifically designed for paratroop use, was broadly issued, but very early became known as the Fallschirmjägermesser (as it is commonly named by collectors today). The Type I model was introduced into general issue in 1937. The knife was gravity activated, so could be operated with one hand, and incorporated a marlinespike. Two models were produced, the Type I which was of fixed construction, and a second Type II model capable of ready disassembly in order to facilitate replacement/repair of broken or defective parts. It so impressed British military authorities that a contract was tendered in 1943, to the renowned knife firm of George Ibberson & Co., Ltd. of Sheffield, to clone and produce 30,000 copies, but they were never issued on a broad scale, and are exceedingly rare. The knife shown below is a first model Fallschirmjägermesser, along with a reproduction of its issued lanyard, which appears to have been made of parachute shroud line. For those who might be interested, there is a definitive reference available on the knife; LUFTWAFFE GRAVITY KNIFE A History and Analysis of the Flyer's & Paratrooper's Utility Knife, M. Pattarozzi, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, PA, 2006, ISBN: 0-7643-2419-5. 

Another unique item of limited issue, which was specifically designed and built for the Fallsschirmjäger, was the Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 (FG42) automatic rifle. Its manufacture and initial issue obviously post-dates the publication of GANZE MÄNNER by approximately two years.

Its need was established based upon combat experience gained in the German airborne invasion of Crete in 1941(Operation 'Mercury'). The operation was anything else but mercuric in nature. In a precursor to the case of Operation Market Garden, the Luftwaffe intelligence staff seriously (some might even say gravely) underestimated British force strength on the island. As a result the casualties incurred by the Fallschirmjäger, both parachute and glider-borne troops, and Gibirgsjäger (mountain troops) which were air landed, were so severe that they were never committed to any subsequent significant parachute operations for the remainder of World War II, serving rather as elite infantry units.

In Crete the Fallschirmjäger found the broadly issued Erma 9mm Machinen Pistole MP38/40 (erroneously aka Schmeisser) to lack both range and accuracy. The development of the FG42 was initiated and the first model issued in 1943. First significant issue is believed to have been to the elite glider-borne Fallschirmjäger unit commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, who rescued the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, held captive in a mountain-top resort hotel (Operation 'Eiche'). Anyone interested in more detail about this weapon is referred to The rifle's then highly advanced, if not revolutionary, design is considered by many to be the forerunner of all modern military rifles, and some machine guns.

Image of prototype Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 (Type I)

The first model of the Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 (Type E)

The second model of the Fallschirmjagergewehr (Type G)
 fitted with a telescopic sight

Another view of the second model FG42 (Type G)

For those who may be interested the following is rare WWII combat film footage of the Fallschirmjagergewehr FG42 in use during Operation ‘Eiche’, at Gran Sasso, Italy to rescue Benito Mussolini. See; fallschirmjägergewehr 42

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Other Webley - An Addendum

The following article appeared in the May 1962 issue of The American Rifleman magazine, and provides a significant additional amount of information on the .455 cal. Webley & Scott Self-Loading Pistol. While in the original page this author's memory lapse caused initial confusion regarding disassembly of the weapon, better informed readers were able to correct that lapse. This article provides an illustrated sequence. For easy cross-reference to the original page please see:

Also of potential interest to the reader are a series of photographs depicting the variants of the weapon, and a comprehensive table of the quantity and respective serial numbers of both the government contracts and private sales by month and year of production.

So with full acknowledgment and expressed gratitude to both The American Rifleman, and its parent organization, The National Rifle Association, please enjoy the following definitive article. Please double click on any of the images to enlarge them.

The following photograph is of Royal Navy Officers, probably circa 1914 or later, using a dangerous combination of weapons: Webley & Scott self-loading pistols and Webley revolvers. The mighty 265 grain bullet fired by the automatics was propelled by a fast burning 7.0 grains of Revolver Cordite. This cartridge could be chambered in the .455 cal. revolver. If loaded and fired by mistake, it would blow the wall of the revolver's cylinder out.

Although the cap badges clearly connote commissioned officers, the reefer or "monkey" jackets without any rank lacing are somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps some form of working dress? Readers have responded with one plausible explanation. Individuals shown are Warrant Officers with less than ten years in rank, thus no lace, but still should have three gilt buttons, per uniform regulations in effect at the time. Perhaps all are Warrant Armourers familiarizing themselves with the then new weapon. Also note the absence of any pistol cases (holsters) and belts either web or leather.

A packet of seven cartridges as issued for the Webley self-loading pistol. Particularly note the warning, "NOT FOR REVOLVERS".

After about three decades consider myself very fortunate to have acquired an original wrapped package of seven rounds of ammunition shown above. But miracle of miracles, was more recently (May 2016) able to find an original correct magazine for the pistol (in remarkably excellent condition), in of all places Warsaw, Poland. Owners of the pistol will readily appreciate and attest to the fact that a single magazine is significantly harder to find than specimens of the pistol itself. Note the small stamped "2" on the base of the magazine, and the two magazine catch position notches allowing the weapon to be hand loaded and fired with single cartridges while maintaining 7 rounds in the offset loaded magazine. This is believed to be a unique design feature of the weapon.

In addition to the procurement of the pistols for the Royal Navy and Marines, records show there were 100 pistols issued to the Royal Horse Artillery in 1913 (some also to the fledgling Royal Flying Corps in April 1915). 50 of these were fitted with shoulder stocks. They were also fitted with an adjustable rear sight and a safety catch which could be rotated between the hammer and the back of the receiver. These weapons were designated, the .455 Mk. I No. 2. As expected this model is even rarer due to the limited number produced. Recently one of these guns was at auction for a reserve price of $12,500.00 USD, complete with shoulder stock. However it has been completely re-blued, albeit (allegedly) to original specification. With acknowledgment and full credit to the seller and, the reader can view the pistol in this configuration.

A brief bit of vintage film footage showing ships of the Royal Navy at close to its zenith during World War I, contemporary with the introduction into service of the "Other Webley".

For those possibly interested in additional information on the Webley Model 1912/1913 Pistol please see; .