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IMAGES OF WAR. Hitler's Mountain Troops. The Gebirsjäger. Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives

A Gebirsjäger unit rest on a slope of a hill. The soldier's uniforms blend well with the surrounding vegetation and local terrain. The terrain in which these troops fought was often very hazardous. Although their equipment was much the same as for other infantrymen, there were differences. The mountain troopers were provided with larger water bottles and special high-capacity rucksacks. They had heavy, sturdy climbing boots and puttees, wind jackets, snow camouflage suits, and other cold weather clothing. Specially trained troops also received ice axes, hard-lay climbing rope, pitons and piton hammers, carabiners, and avalanche marker cords and searching flags.

A mountain trooper stands on a hillside surveying the devastation wrought by a heavy enemy contact. Dead horses and soldiers can be seen lying in the vegetation. This Gebirgstruppen wears a Veterinary personnel badge on his right arm.

Mountain troops on a hillside have set-up camp utilizing their shelter quarters to protect themselves against the harsh weather. The troops all wear the distinctive Bergmütze field cap worn by all ranks of mountain units, ski units and Jager personnel. It was worn in preference to almost all other forms of head-dress permitted to be worn by these troops, almost as a form of pride.

Gebirsjäger soldiers rest on a mountain top overlooking one of the many Norwegian fjords. These men are more than likely mountain reconnaissance troops. This patrol can obviously see a great distance before them, but, in general, climbing the mountains often severely limited observation.

A mountain pioneer section has put together part of a bridge section and floated it across a river with the aid of barges. A staff vehicle and a Horch cross country car can be seen being transported across the river. A mountain pioneer battalion had two companies and a battalion train made up of munitions and medical materials section, mines and destruction section, a river crossing materials section, a workshop section and a motor air-compressor.

Gebergstruppen onboard a wooden raft, in one of the Norwegian Fjords, laden with supplies, personal equipment, bicycles and an MG34. The machine gun is seen mounted on a tripod in an anti-aircraft role in order to defend its position against low flying enemy aircraft. The MG34 was a very effective weapon and on its sustained mount in an AA role it was more than capable of warding off low flying aircraft.

A Gebirsjäger motorcyclist can be seen standing next to his motorcycle and an Hf 12 small field kitchen wagon. Beneath the tarpaulin are probably the kitchen utensils and stocks of food. Note the white national emblem painted on the tarpaulin for aerial recognition.

Two Gebirsjäger troops, one with an accordion and the other a guitar, play music for their comrades whilst they rest in a Norwegian village. The mountain troopers' main objective in Norway was the port of Narvik. The Gebirsjäger division was given the task of capturing the Narvik, under the command of Oberst Windisch. The landing was unopposed and the town was taken with a shot.

As with many roads in mountainous areas the condition of them varied considerably from solid well built structures to muddy tracks. Rain was a constant problem in Norway and it often turned some of the ruttiest of roads into a quagmire. Here, in this photograph, Gebirgs pioneers have been set to work ensuring that a dirt road is adequate for heavy traffic.

Three Gebirgs soldiers overlook a small fishing port, somewhere along the Norwegian coastline, during the occupation of the country in late 1940. Strategically and economically, the occupation of Norway was of great importance to the German military war machine. Not only could it now continue to transport vital supplies from the ports such as iron ore, but it could use the airfields to send long-range aircraft to bomb Britain. German commerce raiders too used Norway as a staging base to reach the North Atlantic with impunity. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, air bases in Norway were also used to raid Allied arctic convoys there, inflicting massive losses on shipping.

Chapter Two. Attacking France & Yugoslavia (1940-1941)

For the attack against France and the Low Countries, the German Army were divided into three army groups - Army Group A, B and C. The main strike would be given to Army Group A, which would drive its armoured units through the Ardennes, and then swing round across the plains of northern France and then make straight for the Channel coast, thereby cutting the Allied force in half and breaking the main enemy concentration in Belgium, between Army Group A advancing from the south and Army Group B in the north. The task of Army Group B was to occupy Holland with motorized forces and to prevent the linking up of the Dutch army with the Anglo-Belgian force. It was to destroy the Belgian frontier defences by a rapid and powerful attack and throw the enemy back over the line between Antwerp and Namur. The fortress of Antwerp was to be surrounded from the north and east and the fortress of Liege from the north-east and north of the Meuse.

Army Group C, which was the most southern most of the three army groups, was to engage the garrison of the Maginot Line, penetrating it if possible.

Distributed between the three army groups, the Germans deployed twenty- nine divisions under Army Group B in the north and forty-four division, including the bulk of the armour, under Army Group A in the centre. Army Group C with seventeen divisions covered the southern flank and threatened the French position on its eastern flank.

Only two mountain units, the 1.Gebirgs-Division and the newly created 6.Gebirgs-Division saw action on the Western Front. The 1.Gebirgs-Division started the campaign with the 6.Gebirgs-Division taking part during the final operations. Almost as soon as the mountain troops crossed the frontier, they saw evidence of just how badly the French had been hit by the German armoured spearheads. At the line of the Oisne-Aisne Canal, the Gebirgs-Division protected the flank of the Panzer divisions as they drove towards Amiens.

The French, together with colonial forces, confronted the mountain troops and a fierce and bloody battle ensued. The enemy was determined to hold the canal at all costs and the Gebirgs-Division found themselves under heavy bombardment. Yet again, the troops conducted an aggressive defence until they received orders to cross and take the position. Although their contribution was small in France, they still managed to influence some battles by staving off defeat against heavy enemy armour. Such was their stubborn nature that, even when some units were cut off, many mountain troopers continued to fight until they had either secured the area or been killed.

A rifle platoon runs through a village during operations in France, in May 1940. Only two mountain units, the 1.Gebirgs-Division and the newly created 6.Gebirgs-Division saw action on the Western Front. The 1.Gebirgs-Division started the campaign with the 6.Gebirgs-Division taking part during the final operations.

Gebirsjäger troops pause in their march. This is more than likely a company command group, what the Germans called the 'Kompanie-Trupp' (Company Troop). Note the NCO, seen with an unfolded map, probably conferring with his troop the course of the units advance.

By 5 June, the Gebirsjäger were fast thundering into the flanks of advancing French armour, and the following day they challenged the tanks with their anti¬tank guns. With their PaK 3.7cm 35/36 anti-tank guns, the mountain troops held and managed to know out all enemy fighting vehicles. The threat had finally been driven off. Fresh orders re-directed the division's advance to the Aisne and subse¬quent orders sent it across the river.

After crossing the river, they were suddenly pulled out of the line and rushed by truck to Lyon. Here, the Gebirgs-Division was given the objective of striking the rear of the French troops defending the Alps against the Italians. Once again, the mountain troops were posed to use their alpine techniques. But the move was immediately halted and the operation cancelled as the Franco-German armistice came into effect on 25 June 1940. Instead, the division was given the duty of guarding the frontier and carrying out the tasks of an army operation.

Following the defeat of France, the Gebirsjäger eventually returned to their home stations where their force was expanded and bolstered by additional troops and equipment. Within ten months, the German Army were once more embroiled in battle, but this time in the Balkans. Among the divisions committed to operations in the Balkans were four mountain units. The I .Gebirgs-Division took part in the attack on Yugoslavia and launched an attack from Austria. The 4.Gebirgs-Division attacked from Bulgaria, whilst the 5 and 6.Gebirgs-Division launched a series of deep probing assaults into Greece. Attached to the 18.Gebirgs-Korps, their prime objective was to smash the Greek defensive system known as the Metaxas Line.

On 5 April 1941, both the 5 and 6.Gebirgs-Division marched to their attack positions in the high mountains between Bulgaria and Greece. At times, the steep mountain slopes and appalling snow blizzards tested the ability of the Gebirsjäger.

The Greek defences posed considerable problems for the mountain troops. Many of their positions were well armed and the soldiers that manned them were determined to prevent the Germans from crossing. Despite a series of heavy bombardments by the Luftwaffe, the Greek strong points held in many places, and the Germans were compelled to take out each emplacement one by one. The opening attacks began well in most places. Along the whole divisional sector, mountain troops were moving into action against a high concentration of enemy fire. Hidden under a freezing blanket of snow, the Greek positions caused a number of casualties among the mountain troops. To make matters worse, the mixture of rain and snow cut down visibility. The cold, coupled with exhaustion, was beginning to affect some of the soldiers. The approach to the enemy emplace¬ments was devoid of cover and littered with barbed wire barricades that protected the extensive trench system. Under a merciless hail of shelling, the Gebirsjäger crawled forward, pressing themselves to the ground. Occasionally, Greek soldiers would counter-attack, storming out of their trenches in furious bayonet charges. Slowly, the weary mountain troopers began taking one pillbox after another. But still the battle continued in the freezing sleet and snow. Even when the enemy positions were finally captured, the Greeks often moved to the surrounding slopes to mount determined counter-attacks. It took the 5.Gebirgs- Division another four days of bitter fighting before they eventually overran the Greek defences.

A group of NCOs are seen listing to radio broadcasts during the invasion of France. Although it was illegal to listen to foreign radio broadcasts, troops often ignored this their quest for the latest news on the front lines, and obviously to listen to light entertainment.

A rifle group cross a stream. The group leader, or Gruppenführer, was known as an Oberjäger. He can be seen leading his men forward holding a black leather report/map case.

For the soldiers of the 6.Gebirgs-Division, their assault on the Greek defences was less of a struggle and they managed to punch their way through within a single day. The divisions then linked-up and fought a series of battles southwards, towards Corinth, against a British Expeditionary force. By 26 April, Athens capit¬ulated and the last of the British forces were withdrawn towards the seaports for evacuation. In other parts of the Balkans, the I and 4 Gebirgs-Division fought a determined battle against a spirited Yugoslavian force. Despite the dreadful condi¬tions and gallant resistance shown by the Yugoslavian Army, they were no match for the Gebirsjäger and their Wehrmacht comrades. It took the Germans just 12 days to crush the Yugoslavian force. Both the 1 and 4.Gebirgs-Divisions had played a crucial part in the Yugoslav campaign and were congratulated personally by Hitler for their achievement.

The last major operation undertaken by the mountain troops in the Balkans was the invasion of Crete. Following the Fallschirmjäger's airborne attack on the island, it was the 5.Gebirgs-Divisions objective to storm Crete in a flotilla of Greek fishing boats. Although British warships intercepted them, causing considerable damage and loss, a second attempt was made by air. The Gebirsjäger were dropped over Maleme on 22 May. Against stiff British and Commonwealth resistance, joint Fallschirmjäger and Gebirsjäger forces secured the area. In some places, the fighting was so vicious that hand-to-hand combat ensued with terrible casualties. Undoubtedly, the Gebirsjäger showed their worth during the battle of Crete and fought with skill and tenacity. In fact, their achievements were praised by the Fallschirmjäger commander, Generalmajor Student, for their 'courage under fire'.

Two photographs, taken in sequence, showing a group of NCO's leading their platoon forward into action. The majority of these soldiers hold the rank of Oberjäger. During early June, new orders re-directed the Gebirgs division's advance to the Aisne, and subsequent orders sent it across the river. After crossing the river, they were suddenly pulled out of the line and rushed by truck to Lyon. Here, the Gebirgs-Division was given the objective of striking the rear of the French troops defending the Alps against the Italians.

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