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

Soldiers from the 6.SS-Gebirgs-Division appear to be on a boat, crossing one of the many lakes or rivers that crisscrossed the forested regions in Finland. In late August and early September 1944, the 6.SS.Gebirgs-Division formed the rear guard for the three German corps withdrawing from Finland, in what was known as 'Operation Birch'.

6.SS-Gebirgs truppen carry a wounded comrade on a stretcher to one of the hastily erected field dressing stations in the area. Losses to the division were high, especially during its withdrawal from Finland, as it fought in a vicious rear guard action in order to allow three German corps to retreat.

Three photographs, taken in sequence, showing an SS-Rottenführer from the 6.SS-Gebirgs-Division 'Nord' being presented the Iron Cross 2nd Class by his commanding officer. In the first photograph, the soldier stands to attention as the officer approaches, they then shake hands, and the Rottenführer is presented with the cross, with the ribbon worn through the tunic's second button hole only.

Here, in this photograph, during the same decoration ceremony, an SS-Schutze is presented with an Iron Class 1st Class from his company commander who holds the rank of an SS-Untersturmführer. The Iron Cross 1st Class was worn centered over the right breast pocket.

Epilogue

By the spring of 1945, what was left of Hitler's mountain troops were carrying out a fighting withdrawal through Hungary and Austria, while on the receding Eastern Front those Gebirgs units still in action were ad hoc forma¬tions, fighting alongside Hitlerjugend, Volkssturm, Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS personnel. Even by this late stage of the war, the level of determination and courage shown by the Gebirsjäger formations was quite exceptional, considering many soldiers were totally aware that there was no prospect of victory. However, in the closing days of the war, most mountain soldiers were determined to with¬draw west and surrender to the Anglo-American forces rather than the Red Army. Few of them harboured any illusions as to the kind of treatment that they would receive from the Russians. It was for this reason that many of the remaining units decided to take their fate in the west.

Although by early May 1945, the Gebirsjäger was all but destroyed, in the eyes of these once elite mountain men they marched into captivity and laid down their arms in the sound knowledge that no military formation in history had achieved more. They had battled across half Russia, they had shown their skill and endurance in all types of warfare, and gone on and fought bitter battles as they slowly withdrew westwards to the very gates of Berlin, and beyond.

Nobody could deny that these men, in their brief and extraordinary existence, had won a reputation for their skill and gallantry in combat. Throughout the war, each Gebirgs soldier had looked upon himself as an elite fighting machine. Even in defeat, as many dispirited troops shuffled off to the prisoner-of-war camps, scores of Gebirsjäger soldiers retained a measure of composure and defiance for they knew they were Hitler's mountain troops.

Gebirsjäger Formations

In addition to the Army's standard Jäger divisions, were the units of the Gebirsjäger divisions, which were initially outside the standard divisional numbering system. These mountain troops had their own series of numbers and were as follows:

1st Gebirgs Division
2nd Gebirgs Division
3rd Gebirgs Division
4th Gebirgs Division
5th Gebirgs Division
6th Gebirgs Division
7th Gebirgs Division
8th Gebirgs Division
9th Gebirgs Division

(Gebirgs Korps of the Army)
XV Gebirgs Korps
XVIII Gebirgs Korps
XIX Gebirgs Korps
XXI Gebirgs Korps
XXII Gebirgs Korps
XXXVI Gebirgs Korps
XXXXIV Gebirgs Korps
LI Gebirgs Korps

1.Gebirgs-Division

Organization
Gebirsjäger-Regiment 98
Gebirsjäger-Regiment 99
Gebirsjäger-Regiment 100
Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 79
Gebirgs-Jager-Bataillon 54
Gebirgs-Aufklarung-Abteilung 54
Gebirgs-Panzerjäger-Abteilung 44
Gebirgs-Pionier-Bataillon 54
Gebirgs-Nachrichten-Abteiliung 54
Gebirgs-Sanitats-Abteilung 54
Gebirgs-Feldersatz-Bataillon 54
Gebirgs-Trager-Bataillon 54

Campaigns

Poland 1939
Western Campaign 1940
Balkan Campaign 1941
Eastern Front 1941-1943
Balkan/Italian Fronts 1943-1945

2.Gebirsjäger Division

Organization

1,3 Abteilung, Gebirsjäger Regiment 136
1,2,3 Abteilung, Gebirsjäger Regiment 137
2 Abteilung, Gebirsjäger Regiment 140
2,3 Abteilung, Gebirgs Artillerie Regiment 111
1.Abteilung, Gebirgs Artillerie Regiment 113
11.Reconnaissance Abteilung
47.Panzerabwehr Abteilung
82.Gebirgs Pionier Abteilung
67. Nachrichten Abteilung
67. Divisional support units

Campaigns

Poland 1939
Yugoslavia 1941
Russia 1943
Balkans 1944
Hungary 1945

3.Gebirsjäger-Division

Organization

Gebirsjäger Regiment 138
Gebirsjäger Regiment 139
Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 112
Aufklarungs-Abteilung 12
Panzerabwehr-Abteilung 48
Gebirgs-Pionier-Bataillon 83
Gebirsjäger-Feldersatz-Bataillon 68
Gebirgs-Divisions-Nachschubtruppen 68
Gebirgs-Divisions-Nachrichten-Abteilung 68
Radfahr-Abteilung 68
Aufklärungs-Abteilung 83

Campaigns

Poland 1939
Norway 1940
Finland 1941
Russia (Northern) 1942
Balkans 1944
Hungary 1945

4.Gebirsjäger-Division

Organization

1,2,3 Abteilung, Gebirsjäger-Regiment 13
1,2,3 Abteilung, Gebirsjäger-Regiment 91
1,2,3,4 Abteilung, Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 94
94.Panzerjäger-Company
94.Gebirgs-Pioneer-Company
94.Reconnaissance-Abteilung
94.Nachrichten-Abteilung
94.Divisional support units

Campaigns

Yugoslavia 1941
Russia 1941-1944
Hungary 1945

5.Gebirsjäger-Division

Gebirsjäger-Regiment 85
Gebirsjäger-Regiment 100
Gebirsjäger-Artillerie-Regiment 95
Gebirgs-Panzerjäger-Abteilung 95
Gebirgs-Aufklarung-Abteilung 95
Gebirgs-Pionier-Abteilung 95
Gebirgs-Nachrichten-Abteilung 95
Gebirgs-Sanitats-Abteulung 95
Gebirgs-Feldersatz-Bataillon 95

Campaigns

Greece, Crete 1941
Occupation of Crete 1941-1942
Eastern Front 1942-1943
Italian Front 1943-1944
Western Front 1944-1945

6.Gebirsjäger Division

Organization

Gebirsjäger-Regiment 141
Gebirsjäger-Regiment 143
Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 118
Divisionseinheiten 91

Campaigns

Occupation Duty France, Poland, Yugoslavia and Greece Norway and Finland 1941-1944

7.Gebirsjäger-Division

Organization

Gebirsjäger-Regiment 206
Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 82
Divisionseinheiten 99

Campaigns

Finland 1941-1944
Norway 1944

8.Gebirsjäger-Division

Organization

Gebirsjäger-Regiment 296
Gebirsjäger-Regiment 297
Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 1057
Divisionseinheiten 1057

Campaigns

Italy 1945

9.Gebirsjäger-Division

Organization

No data available

Campaigns

Austria 1945

188.Gebirgsjäger-Division

Organization

Gebirsjäger-Regiment 901
Gebirsjäger-Regiment 902
Gebirsjäger-Regiment 903
Gebirsjäger-Regiment 904
Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 1088
Divisionseinheiten 1088

Campaigns

Balkans 1944
Yugoslavia 1944-1945
Gebirsjäger-Korps

Organization

No data available

Campaigns

A number of Gebirgs-Korps commands were formed through the war on a number of fronts. Much of them were used to control mountain and other light units and anti-partisan operations.

Gebirsjäger Uniforms

The Gebirsjäger wore the regular army service uniform Model 1936 (M1936), which was specifically issued for battlefield conditions. This service uniform, which was almost identical to the Wehrmacht, was field- grey in colour and manufactured from wool/rayon mixed material. It had four box-pleated pockets, with a single metal finish button sewn to each of the four three pocket flaps. There were also five metal buttons sewn down the front of the tunic. The collar of the tunic was faced with dark blue-green material and sewn into this was the German Army collar-patch indicating NCOs and other ranks. The shoulder straps, made from dark blue-green material, was sewn into the shoulders of the tunic at the arm end and positioned at the other with a single metal button. This allowed easy access to unpin the shoulder strap in order for the soldier to remove and replace it, pending of course on the wearer's rank as well as his branch of service. The shoulder strap could also be used to hold the soldiers military equipment in place on the shoulders.

The ends of the sleeves of the tunic were not cuff turned and were specially cut in order that the sleeve ends could be wrapped tighter around the soldier's wrist and this allowed it to be buttoned into position.

Stitched on the right of the tunic, above the breast pocket, was the national emblem of Germany. This silver emblem consisted of an eagle with outstretched wings, clutching in its claws a wreath containing a swastika. One item of the tunic that distinguished itself from the Army tunic was the edelweiss arm badge, which was sewn on the right upper sleeve. This badge design was again repeated on the headdress. Another item of cloth normally sewn onto the uniform was the German Army rank chevron and occasionally the specialist insignia, trade and specialist badge. These items were sewn directly onto the left sleeve of the field service uniform without any backing cloth. All types of arm rank chevrons and specialist badges were worn on the upper left arm of the uniform tunic, the service and field service tunics as well as the greatcoats.

Worn around the tunic waist was the army service brown leather belt with silver metal or aluminium buckle. When the soldier had his personal equipment, the wearer's leather support straps, ammunition pouches, and other important field equipment, needed to sustain him on the battlefield, were attached to the main tunic belt.

Apart from the tunic, the other item of clothing worn to accompany the service uniform was the trousers. These were normally field-grey in colour and were high waisted with a top button. The trousers had four fly buttons, two of which were stitched at a slanted angle and designed either with pocket flaps or no flaps at all, depending on the manufacturer. They were worn with a single button sewn into each pocket opening or pocket flap. Stitched on the right side of the trouser front was a 'fob pocket', and positioned just above this was a metal ring designed for the pocket watch chain.

The trousers worn were specially designed for the wearer with mountain and ski boots, where they were able to move more freely whilst undertaking specialist activities like mountaineering and skiing. The trousers were stone grey in colour, but were to be later replaced with field grey due to the demand for standardisa¬tion of the war economy. The boots could be tucked into the standard issue marching boots or slightly tapered at the ends and worn bound round with puttees.

The footwear for the service uniform was usually worn with the short lace-up ankle boots.

As for headgear worn by the mountain troops, they wore the standard army issue M1935 steel helmet, and the general service field cap known as the moun¬tain cap or Bergmütze. The mountain cap was worn by all ranks of mountain units, ski units and Jäger personnel.

The cap was field grey in colour and positioned on the front was the German national emblem, the cockade, and two buttons. Sewn on the left side was a metal edelweiss badge. During snow conditions, this mountain cap had a special white wool knitted cover, which could easily be pulled over the cap.

Gebirsjäger Winter Uniforms

By the time the first winter period had been endured, there were a number of winter camouflage uniforms hastily put into service. The quality of them varied, but generally they were properly manufactured. In an attempt to restore morale in the troops following the first Russian winter, the German High Command produced a handbook on winter warfare and issued it to the troops. Whole chap¬ters dealt with building various primitive shelters, like igloos and various other constructions, whilst other parts of the book was on the subject of suitable winter clothing for the Russian winter. It admitted that winter garments, particular those of late 1941, had not reached the front until the worst of the weather had passed, but went on to reassure the reader that there would be adequate winter clothing for future operations, if victory was not attained by then. As a result of the winter handbook, it hoped to reassure the soldier that he would not freeze to death in the snow, like so many of his comrades had in late 1941. They hoped by manu¬facturing massive quantities of winter camouflage clothing, the troops would not only remain warm, but would be well concealed in the snow against the growing might of the Red Army. During the summer of 1942, manufacturers set an unprecedented goal to produce hundreds of thousands of winter camouflage uniforms. If the German Army were compelled to fight again in the winter, they would be ready to deal with the harsh elements, which would, in turn, increase the survivability of the soldier in sub zero temperatures.

In 1942, a new winter garment was designed, tested and then manufactured. The piece of winter clothing was a special German Army snow camouflage uniform, very similar to that worn by the Red Army. As a uniform, it was not only especially designed to keep out the harsh winter weather and keep the wearer warm, but it provided ample camouflage in the snow. German troops that wore this uniform, during the winter of 1942, tended to wear it for very long periods, both during the day and night. Due to this reason, the white side of the jacket and trousers tended to become soiled in dirt, thus defeating the whole idea of the white camouflage. Soldiers did attempt to try and clean these items of clothing but soon found that the thick blanket lining did not clean well, or took too long to dry out. For this reason, German troops wearing the reversible, continued to wear the white camouflage garments already mentioned, for these cotton covers, capes or suits could easily be washed and cleaned.

For the second winter of 1942, a German Army reversible winter uniform was manufactured and supplied to the front lines. When the troops were issued with these garments, in October and November 1942, they found the clothing extremely warm and comfortable. The uniform also provided the wearer with greater freedom of movement, especially with personal equipment. This uniform not only helped combat the severity of the cold, but helped prevent overheating during physical exertion.

The reversible clothing itself consisted of a heavy reversible double-breasted over jacket that was designed for extra frontal warmth. It had double buttoned overlaps to the flaps of the jacket to the front, which when closed were wind resistant. The bottom edge of the jacket had drawstrings attached, and the ends of the cuffs were also adjustable as well. The trousers worn were thick, as was the jacket, and was completely reversible. They were shorter in length to normal standard issue uniformed trousers but could be either worn over the top of the leather marching boots or tucked inside. The ends of the trousers were gathered in by drawstrings and tied in around the boots.

The winter reversible was normally mouse-grey on one side and winter white on the other. The soldiers wore the reversible garment pending on the terrain. If the area was snow covered, the wearer wore the uniform on the winter white side out, and during operations where there was no snow, it was worn mouse-grey side out. However, there were other variations of the reversible, which included the green splinter pattern and the tan water pattern.

The reversible uniform was designed large enough to be worn over the service uniform, including personal equipment. However, troops did favour wearing most of their equipment over the winter jacket.

For the next four years of the war, the Gebirsjäger was seen wearing these popular winter camouflage garments. By the early winter of 1943, the winter reversible had become one of the most popular items of winter clothing worn by the troops. Soldier survivability had actually increased, in spite of the major mili¬tary setbacks. In the winter of 1941, more than half the cases of casualties were caused by the extreme sub zero temperatures like frostbite. By the end of 1942, this figure had reduced considerably. A year later, in the winter of 1943, it was less than a quarter of the casualties.

Gebirsjäger Weapons

3.7cm PaK35/36 anti-tank gun
5cm PaK38 anti-tank gun
5cm leGrW36 light mortar
8cm mGrW34 medium mortar
8cm kzGrW42 short mortar
12cm sGrW42 heavy mortar
7.5cm 1G18 light infantry gun
15cm slG33 heavy infantry gun
7.5cm GebK15 mountain cannon
7.5cm GebG36 mountain gun
10.5cm GebH40 mountain howitzer
10.5cm leFh 18 light field howitzer
15cm sFH 18 heavy field howitzer
2cm FlaK30, FlaK38, and GebFlaK38 anti-aircraft guns

Conventional personal infantry weapons

7.92mm Kar98K carbine (bolt action rifle)
7.92mm Gew33/40 rifle
7.92mm Gew33(t) rifle
7.92mm Gew43 rifle
7.92mm MG34 machine gun
7.92mm MG42 machine gun
7.92mm MP43 assault rifle
7.9mm MP44 (Stg44) assault rifle
9mm MP38 pistol (Luger)
9mm P08 pistol (Walther)
Panzerfaust 30, 60 and 100 anti-tank rocket launchers
8.8cm RPzB43
8.8cm RPzB 54 anti-tank rocket launchers

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