'Airborne operations have long exerted a fascination because of their ability to vertically envelop an enemy. In theory, appearing suddenly behind enemy lines offered strategic possibilities like never before. What’s more, potential targets were theoretically only limited by the range of the transports available to the attackers. In practice, while both sides took great care over the selection, training and equipment of their airborne soldiers, finding realistic objectives proved challenging. Germany was at the forefront of the airborne arm’s development and made much publicised use of it in the early years of the war with varying degrees of success. Although they entered the fray rather late, potentially the British could benefit from the experiences of their adversary; however, their first operations in support of ground troops in both North Africa and Sicily suggested a certain fascination with potential at the expense of reality.
After discussing with Nick the possibility of comparing and contrasting these unique soldiers through the Combat format I researched whether they encountered each other on the battlefield on enough occasions to meet the series requirements. I was familiar with their clash at Primosole Bridge on Sicily in July 1943 – here German paratroopers landed, shortly before the British airborne assault, to prevent Montgomery from breaking through to Messina, which would have trapped all Axis forces on the island. Further research revealed a wealth of sources on their less-well-known North African campaign in late 1942/early 1943, a theatre of war that provided the British paratrooper with his first major test. German paratroopers were flown into Tunisia at short notice to prevent Rommel’s forces being trapped on the African shore and on two notable occasions clashed with their British counterparts.
The series format is very ambitious and wide-ranging, and the length of the book inevitably curtails the amount that can be covered. The Pegasus Archive and the Airborne Assault Museum at Duxford provided a wealth of information about the British airborne, while for the Fallschirmjäger a number of individual memoirs and biographies of notable commanders assisted in bringing to life their experiences. Nick provided guidance on what to include and the requirement to be concise entailed a focus upon the differences and similarities between British and German exponents of airborne forces. Because they shared a common bond as military elites at the forefront of military innovation, meaningful comparisons between them can be made. I hope the book, benefiting from this exciting new format, will contribute to a better historical understanding of the experiences of the paratrooper in World War II.'
CBT 1: British Para vs Fallschirmjager: Mediterranean 1942-43 is due for release in September 2013.