Fallschirmjägers in North Africa
German Fallschirmsjäger forces fought across several Mediterranean battlefields, starting with the successful yet incredibly costly capturing of Crete in 1941, to the back-and-forth warfare of North Africa in 1942-43 and finally the dug-in defensive battles of Sicily and Italy in 1943-45. After the Pyrrhus victory that was Crete, the Fallschirmjägers did not fight in large formations as air-dropped troops in the Mediterranean, but rather as an elite force of infantry, often without much heavy equipment. Their most famous battles, like the battle of Monte Castillo, had little to do with parachutes.
As our first North Africa campaign is set in Gazala 1942, fielding Fallschirmjäger troops becomes a counterfactual choice. In the Spring of 1942 the German paratroopers arm was still reeling from the huge losses they suffered at Crete. The Germans didn't dare to try to use them as airdropped troops in large scale attacks against dedicated defenders again, and were left wondering how to use these elite troops, especially while still needing to reinforce and equip them. A solution was to send a smaller force, led by Generalleutnant Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke, to support the struggling Axis forces in North Africa.
This brigade of four paratrooper battalions, a parachute artillery regiment, a tank destroyer battalion and a parachute pioneer battalion was intended to arrive in North Africa in time for the battle of Gazala, but was delayed. Instead it arrived just after, and took part in the drive towards the Suez canal and eventually both battles of El-Alamein.
While the Ramcke Parachute Brigade eventually surrendered in North Africa in the general surrender of the German Panzer army in May 1943, Ramcke escaped to Germany. A fanatical Nazi supporter, he would both lead German attempts to seize Italy after their surrender to the Allies and the defence of Brest after D-Day. He remained an unapologetic defender of Hitlerism even after the war, defending various parts of the German military (including the SS) and refused to admit to the war crimes committed by his peers.
Painting Tropical Fallschirmjägers
I decided to try collecting Fallschirmjägers mainly because of their tropical camouflage style. The look of their sand-coloured loose pants and helmets, combined with the long splittermuster patterned coats is very striking, and I had at this point managed not to stray outside single-coloured uniforms for WW2.
The project started when I bought a few plastic sprues of FJ from a Warlord Games sale. Their FJ kit is clearly aimed towards the later part of the war, with a heavy emphasis on MG42's and semi-automatic FG42 rifles.
While I definitely wanted to build a force that could be used in Sicily and Italy as well, and I've found sources saying that the FJ got equipped relatively early with MG42's, the plastics didn't quite fill all my needs. On top of more rifles, I also wanted some dedicated support options for this platoon instead of just fielding generic DAK support. So these plastics needed some company.
First out, I dipped into one of Black Tree Designs recurring sales, and picked up some extra LMGs, a MMG team and some of the officers and NCOs that the plastic sprues didn't cover. as well as some odds and ends including radio operators (which I can use as mortar spotters) and a flamethrower.
Secondly, I lucked out and grabbed a few Warlord metal blisters in another seasonal sale at a local Swedish hobby store. This netted me several nice additions, including a bunch of metal riflemen, some infantrymen with looted allied SMGs, a sniper team, a MMG team, a panzershreck and a 2.8 cm sPzB 41.
So there it was, my own bargain bin Luftwaffe troop!
Next up was tackling the camouflage painting. The main advice I can give you, if you are also new to camo, is to not give up! My first, second and third test models turned out quite bad, but after that I started to get results that I was happy with. I went back and forth between a rather beige and a more grey base. In the end I think both look ok, but I think I prefer the grey version.
If there is interest I can write a more detailed tutorial, but basically I painted the entire smock in Vallejo's Deck Tan, then washed it black or brown, and went back with a deck tan highlight. After that I painted and highlighted the brown patterns, making sure to leave "paths" of deck tan. Finally I added the green parts, highlighting them as well. Keep in mind that you don't want to try to paint an exact replica of the pattern, as that will be hard to see on a 28mm scale miniature, but rather recreate the feel of the camo.
I divided my discount devils into two big lots. The first one included the basic platoon structure as well as enough support options to be a playable force. The second one consisted of extras and a lot of the late war weaponry. In this post I'll show the basic platoon, and then I'll cover support options in the next post.
Just like many other parts of the German war machine, especially when reinforcements were hard to secure, you have some leeway when it comes to how an actual platoon were organized on the battlefield. To enable as much variation in gameplay terms as possible, I decided to make enough infantrymen to be able to field the force with either three or four sections, each with either one or two LMGs. Initially I'd have to rely on MG42s, but later on I want to get enough MG34s to field them with them instead. By 1942 the FJ platoon would look very much like a mechanized german rifle platoon, and I plan to field them as regulars rather than elite as to represent the majority of the best trained members lost in Crete. While still an elite force, many were not yet veterans when they deployed in North Africa.
These are from Black Tree Design. The Oberleutnant keeps watch with his binoculars, while the others carry SMGs, pistols or rifles. The extra leaders can command sections or weapon teams.
Four NCOs with SMGs. The first three are plastic Warlord miniatures, the last one with the stolen Thompson is a Warlord metal miniature.
A lot of manufacturers make too few ammo carriers for the LMGs. In Chain of Command, you want two ammo carriers for each LMG gunner. When looking at pictures of Fallschirmsjägers, it's clear that as many other riflemen as possible would carry extra ammo belts as well. That's why I ordered some more LMG teams from Black Tree Designs, to bolster these teams. Each section comes with two LMGs, so that's six LMG teams for the platoon, and eight(!) if I want to be able to buy an additional section as support.
The Warlord plastics are pretty servicable, and form the bulk of my LMG teams initially.
The Warlord metal LMG teams are nicer though. The blister includes two prone teams, I hid them in cover behind some desert bushes.
The Black Tree Design ammo mules were sorely needed to get enough LMG crew.
While LMG crew takes up a lot of the platoon when you roll with double MG42s, there are still a lot of riflemen. These are also a mix of Warlord plastics, metals and Black Tree Design metals.
Again, the Warlord plastics are perfectly ok. Not their worst kit, but probably not their best.
However, these Warlord metal minis are just plain nicer overall. I can really see myself gradually phasing out the plastics as I'm bound to get more metal minis, either from Warlord or other ranges.
So that was the rank-and-file of the platoon. Next up we'll cover some support options. Cheers!