Monday, March 11, 2013

Airborne attack lessons from Crete

The Germans overreacted to the problems with the airborne attack on Crete and decided to not make such an attack again. I would say that at least Hitler misread the situation. Yes, making a daylight parachute attack on defenders who expect the attack does not work well. The casualties among German paratroops at Crete were high because they were dropped onto defending troops who then shot the paratroops during the descent. The Allies were so impressed by the concept that they formed their own airborne divisions, including parachute-equipped paratroops.

The glider-borne troops were much more successful. They were largely dropped and landed near, not on, the targets to be attacked. A few gliders were dropped too far at sea and were lost with their passengers, but most were able to land on the island. They were in numbers large enough to form cohesive units that were able to capture the airfield at Maleme. After the airfield was secured, transport aircraft were able to bring in a large number of mountain troops who were then able to overwhelm the defending force. The defenders were at a disadvantage due to the poor command communications systems. General Freyberg often was uninformed about the course of the battle, until the battle was lost.

The capture of the bridge over the Corinth canal in Greece in April 1941 was a good example where paratroops were used with the element of surprise. There was considerable secrecy involved (apparently), and the paratroops were dropped and caught the largely undefended area by surprise and took the bridge. To achieve a degree of surprise needed for the successful use of paratroops was why the British and American airborne troops were dropped at night at Normandy in June 1944. The operation still went awry due to the air transports totally ignoring the need for navigation. The paratroops ended up being scattered across Normandy in small parties, not able to reform units.

Now, special forces are dropped by parachute with an eye to achieving surprise and a degree of stealth. That is what is needed for any successful use of parachutists.

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