Kurt Student was born in Birkhonz, Germany, on 12th May 1890. He joined the German Army and was commissioned in 1912. The following year he moved to the German Army Air Service and during the First World War he piloted reconnaissance and bomber aircraft.
After the war Student remained in the armed forces and in 1934 he joined the Luftwaffe. As a senior adviser he played an important role in creating the new German air force. Promoted to major general he was instructed to form Germany's first parachute battalion in 1938. The 7th Air Division was not used in Poland because Adolf Hitler wanted to keep its existence secret until the Western Offensive.
Student's parachute troops were employed successfully in Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1940. This included the dropping of 4,000 parachutists around Hague and Rotterdam. During the operation Student was shot in the head and he was unable to return to duty until January 1941.
Student was involved with Hitler in planning Operation Sealion but eventually plans to drop parachute units in England and Northern Ireland were abandoned. So also were plans to carry out an airborne invasion of Gibraltar after General Francisco Franco refused to allow support troops to go across Spain.
The airborne assault on Crete between 20th May and 1st June, 1941, was very costly when 4,000 parachutists were killed. Adolf Hitler was shocked by the scale of these losses and decided that no more large-scale airborne operations should be undertaken. The invasion of Malta was cancelled and it was decided that airborne units should be used as ground troops.
Student's troops were used in Italy, Belgium, Holland and France during 1944. After the Normandy landings his 1st Parachute Army attempted to halt the advance of General Bernard Montgomery and his allied troops to the Rhine. Just before he committed suicide, Adolf Hitler named Student to replace Gotthard Heinrici as commander of AG Vistula. Kurt Student died in 1978.
On January 10th a major detailed by me as liaison officer to the and Air Fleet flew from Munster to Bonn to discuss some unimportant details of the plan with the Air Force. He carried with him, however, the complete operational plan for the attack in the West. In icy weather and a strong wind he lost his way over the frozen and snow-covered Rhine, and flew into Belgium, where he had to make a forced landing. He was unable to burn completely the vital document. Important parts of it fell into the hands of the Belgians, and consequently the outline of the whole German plan for the Western offensive. The German Air Attaché in the Hague reported that on the same evening the King of the Belgians had a long telephone conversation with the Queen of Holland.
It was interesting to watch the reactions of this incident on Germany's leading men. While Goering was in a rage. Hitler remained quite calm and self-possessed. At first he wanted to strike immediately, but fortunately refrained and decided to drop the original operational plan entire. This was replaced by the Manstein plan.
Altogether, we had 4,500 trained parachute troops in the spring of 1940. To give the offensive against Holland a fair chance it was necessary to use the bulk of them there. So we allotted five battalions, some 4,000 men, to that task, supplemented by an air-transported division, the 22nd, which comprised 12,000 men.
The limitations of our strength compelled us to concentrate on two objectives - the points which seemed the most essential to the success of the invasion. The main effort, under my own control, was directed against the bridges at Rotterdam, Dordrecht and Moerdijk by which the main route from the south was carried across the mouths of the Rhine. Our task was to capture the bridges before the Dutch could blow them up, and keep them open until the arrival of our mobile ground forces. My force comprised four parachute battalions and one air-transported regiment (of three battalions). We achieved complete success, at a cost of only 180 casualties. We dared not fail, for if we did the whole invasion would have failed.
The secondary attack was made against The Hague. Its aim was to get a hold upon the Dutch capital, and in particular to capture the Government offices and the Service headquarters. The force employed here was commanded by General Graf Sponcck; it consisted of one parachute battalion and two air-transported regiments. This attack did not succeed. Several hundred men were killed and wounded, while as many were taken prisoner.
At first Hitler developed in detail his general views, political and strategical, about how to continue the war against his principal enemy. Herein he also mentioned the issues in the Mediterranean. After that he turned to the question of invading England. Hitler said that during the previous year he could not afford to risk a possible failure; apart from that, he had not wished to provoke the British, as he hoped to arrange peace talks. But as they were unwilling to discuss things, they must face the alternative.
Then a discussion followed about the use of the 11th Air Corps in an invasion of Great Britain. In this respect I expressed my doubts about using the Corps directly on the South coast, to form a bridgehead for the Army - as the area immediately behind the coast was now covered with obstacles. These doubts were accepted by Hitler. I then proposed that, if it proved absolutely necessary to use the 11th Air Corps on the south coast, then airfields in the hinterland (25 to 35 miles distant from the coast) should be captured, and infantry divisions landed on them.
Suddenly Hitler pointed to the Cornwall - Devon Peninsula, and drew a big circle on his map round Taunton and the Blackdown Hills, saying: 'Your airborne troops could be used here as flank protection. This is a strong sector and, besides, this important defile must be opened.' He then pointed to Plymouth and dwelt on the importance of this great harbour for the Germans and for the English. Now I could no longer follow his thought, and I asked at what points on the south coast the landing was to take place. But Hitler kept strictly to his order that operations were to be kept secret, and said: 'I cannot tell you yet'.
Although we succeeded in capturing the island, our casualties were heavy. We lost 4,000 killed and missing, apart from wounded, out of 32,000 men we dropped on the island -14,000 of these were parachute troops and the rest belonged to the Mountain division. Much of the loss was due to bad landings - there were very few suitable spots in Crete, and the prevailing wind blew from the interior towards the sea. For fear of dropping the troops in the sea, the pilots tended to drop them too far inland - some of them actually in the British lines. The weapon containers often fell wide of the troops, which was another handicap that contributed to our excessive casualties. The few British tanks that were there shook us badly at the start - it was lucky there were not more than two dozen. The infantry, mostly New Zealanders, put up a stiff fight, though taken by surprise.
Hitler was very upset by the heavy losses suffered by the parachute units, and came to the conclusion that their surprise value had passed. After that he often said to me: "The day of parachute troops is over.' He would not believe reports that the British and Americans were developing airborne forces. The fact that none were used in the St. Nazaire and Dieppe raids confirmed his opinion. He said to me: 'There, you see! They are not raising such forces. I was right.' He only changed his mind after the Allied conquest of Sicily in 1943. Impressed by the way the Allies had used them
there, he ordered an expansion of our own airborne forces. But that change of mind came too late - because by then you had command of the air, and airborne troops could not be effectively used in face of a superior air force.
When the Allies landed in Sicily, on July loth, I at once proposed to make an immediate airborne counter-attack there with both my divisions. But Hitler turned this down - JodI, in particular, was against it. So the 1st Parachute Division was merely flown (from the South of France) to Italy in the first place - part to Rome and part to Naples - while the 2nd Parachute Division remained at Nimes with me. The 1st Parachute Division, however, was soon sent on to Sicily - for use as ground troops to reinforce the scanty German forces which were there when the Italian troops began to collapse en masse. The division was flown by air, in successive lifts, and dropped behind our front in the eastern sector south of Catania. I had wanted them to be dropped behind the Allied front. The first contingent was dropped about 3 kilometres behind our front, and by a strange coincidence it landed almost simultaneously with the British parachute troops who were dropped behind our front to open the bridge across the Simeto river. It overcame these British parachute troops and rescued the bridge from their hands. This was on July 14th.