Images of War Hitler’s Mountain Troops – The Gebirgsjager
By Ian Baxter
Published by Pen and Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk)
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The accomplishments of Hitler’s Mountain Troops, the Gebirgsjager, during World War 2 were significant. They became well known as experienced, battle hardened elite fighting troops that could fight as elite infantry as well as through their specialism of mountain warfare.
The Gebirgsjager were specialised and trained to fight in mountainous regions. They were raised prior to the war and their numbers swelled after the Austrian Anschluss. After the Anschluss experienced Austrian Alpine troops joined the three year old German Gebirgsjager which was enlarged to two new Gebirgs divisions. These units were trained not only as light infantry. Their training differed to most infantry as the Gebirgsjager lacked the traditional support elements such as tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery etc. Indeed the Gebirgsjager had to rely on what they could carry – on their backs or on pack animals. Their equipment was specialised too as it needed to be taken apart and carried by pack animals which is quite unlike “normal” infantry equipment.
Winter and summer survival skills were also a necessity and these skills proved invaluable during their deployments during World War 2. Also their skills in skiing, climbing and other mountain pursuits proved invaluable during combat. Sadly in some of their campaigns they were not used as mountain warfare specialists but as assault infantry in more conventional battles. They fought with extreme distinction in most of the theatres of World War 2.
They wore the distinctive Edelweiss badge which was hard earned and the book presents many photographs of this elite formation. It starts with the initial pre-war training of these troops and then illustrates their baptism of fire in Poland and Norway. It was in Norway that their specialist skills were much needed. Then as Hitler turned his attention to the West they were then employed in France. Next Hitler’s attention then became the Balkans and this was again an excellent usage of these crack troops in the mountainous Yugoslavia. Next they were employed in the horrendous Eastern Front – fighting in both specialist and non-specialist rolls - and eventually they were involved in the final eastern front battles.
The book presents interesting comments about the Gebirgsjager but its main focus is illustrative. It is an excellent “Images of War” and presents numerous rare photographs from various wartime archives. The quality of the images is outstanding and they have been arranged with the chronology of the Gebirgsjager in mind (briefly outlined above). The photos illustrate men, their equipment and the conditions in which they had to fight.
If the history of the Gebirgsjager appeals to you or you are interested in the specialities of mountain warfare then this book comes highly commended. It presents the illustrations in an easy to read format and is ideal for recreational reading on this subject.