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Assault Gliders Ascending
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Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) assaulting from a DFS-230 glider, 1943


“Revenge, at first though sweet, Bitter ere long back on itself recoils”

(John Milton, Paradise Lost).

History tells of many examples where desire for revenge has resulted in greater loss for the one enacting it. The Versailles Treaty is a perfect example and the mother of the Assault Glider and cause of the most unexpected military victory in history.

German aviation pioneer Marga von Etzdorf
receiving her pilot licence, 1927

 
 

The 1919 Versailles Treaty stipulated Germany could have no military aircraft whatsoever, however non-powered aircraft (gliders), were not specifically mentioned. Despite this, the German government was aware of the requirement for proficiency in aviation and so by 1922 establish a secret base in Lipetsk, Russia to train pilots; long before Hitler entered politics (the political situation was far different and more amicable in the 1920’s). This single base was far from adequate, so to expand flight training, glider clubs were established all over Germany, the world’s first was Rhön-Rossitten Gesellschaft (RRG). This glider program expanded so by the early 30’s it was teaching tens of thousands of Germans to fly, and it was only getting bigger.

A side effect of the joint Russian training allowed Luftwaffe Colonel Kurt Student to witness  Soviet experiments using gliders for military purposes in the mid 1930’s. The Soviets, if anything, were not afraid to try wild and radical ideas in aviation, a policy that bore some fruit. Whilst these experiments might have been focused at delivering cargo to the front instead of troublesome parachute drops, the pin point accuracy of the gliders stuck in Colonel Student’s mind.

DFS-230 glider in a landing maneuvre

The political winds changed quickly in Germany from 1933 when Hitler became dictator; once fairly positive national relations soured and tensions rose. Many countries were still struggling with the Great Depression and thinking how to contain the threat of renewed hostility; instead most chose to build massive fortifications that quite rightly intimidated offensive action. Experience at the fortified city of Verdun during World War 1 proved fortifications’ value, and many believed this was still true.

The September 1939 “Munich Dictat” was the pivotal point; while Hitler gained substantial resources more important was obtaining the “state of art” Czech fortification system modelled closely on French and Belgian designs.  Within days the Germans were developing ways to defeat modern fortresses like it. The resulting “Shape Charge” device did exactly that, but it was huge and heavy; how could anyone get past formidable defenses to attach the device?

Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium was considered the strongest and most strategically important fort in Belgium; so imposing that the German military thought it was impossible to breach, but it was noted that the top of the huge complex had a large, flat roof. At first considered an insane idea and rejected, Kurt Student was now in a position to bring his concept of airborne assault troops to reality with the perfect target. He formed an elite squad of hand picked troops, the finest the Wehrmacht had and trained with the Czech forts. The final and piece was finding a suitable glider, this was found in the scientific experimental DFS-230 glider, modified to become the world’s first production assault glider.

Fallschirmjäger pictured after capturing the
Belgian fortress Eben Emael, 12th of May 1940

 

The operation was an outstanding success, 78 paratroopers in 9 gliders surprised and neutralized the most powerful reinforced fortress in Europe and held captive 650 Belgian troops, at a loss of only 6. It was a huge point of pride for Germany, and for Hitler the best propaganda tool he could have ever dreamed of.

Within days the British started designing their own assault glider (General Aircraft GAL.48 Hotspur) and many other countries began forming or expanding their own paratroop force. It was obvious to all sides the value of rapidly inserting troops well behind enemy lines at strategic locations, forever banishing the spectre of stagnant and wasteful trench warfare. The airborne soldier was here and armies acquired an unprecedented level of mobility, this was just the beginning!


 
 
The War Thunder Team

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