Airborne troops were deployed on a massive scale on the battlefields of World War II. They were used in all theaters of military operations, both in small groups and in large formations with a variety of purposes: from committing sabotage to the independent solution of operational and strategic tasks. An important role was assigned to airborne assault forces in Hitler's plans for a "lightning war". They acted in the capture of Poland in 1939, Norway, Belgium, Holland in 1940 and, on the island of Crete in 1941.
On the Eastern Front, the German command landed small parachute landings and reconnaissance and sabotage groups to disorganize control, logistics, capture bridges, airfields and solve other problems. In particular, already on the first day of the war, in the zone of the Southwestern Front, paratroopers were found in the areas of Kovel, Dubno, Radekhov, Strya, Chernivtsi. In the favorable environment created by our victories on the Eastern Front, a number of airborne operations were conducted by the Allied forces in Europe. The largest of them were: Sicilian (1943), Norman, Arnhem (1944), Rhine (1945). In total, over 150 airborne assault forces were landed during the war years, of which about 10 were of operational and operational-strategic importance.
The improvement of the airborne forces and the increase in the scale of their use demanded, with the outbreak of the war, from the belligerents to find effective methods of dealing with them. It should be emphasized that the European countries - the first victims of German aggression - turned out to be practically unprepared for this task. The reason for this is the skeptical attitude of Western military specialists to the possibility of widespread use of paratroopers at the level of development of air defense systems reached by that time, as well as the high operational density of troops in Europe.
Already by the beginning of World War II, the Red Army had developed a coherent system of views on this problem, which was clarified with the accumulation of experience in military operations in the West. It assumed: the establishment of zones of responsibility for the destruction of the landing troops and the allocation of forces and the necessary funds for this purpose; intelligence, surveillance and warning; organization of protection and defense of the most important facilities; the device of various barriers and the implementation of other measures. It was envisaged to involve military aviation, units of the Red Army and the NKVD troops, armed guards for objects that could be attacked, and, finally, the local population.
The zones of responsibility of formations and formations for the destruction of landed (thrown out) enemy groups were usually located within the defensive zones assigned to them, and in depth included: for divisions - regimental rear areas up to the second zone; for corps - areas of deployment of the military rear up to the army strip. In the army zone and directly behind it, the fight against enemy airborne assault forces was carried out by army means, and further in depth - by front-line means.
Units and subunits that were part of the reserve, as a rule, were assigned a combat mission to combat paratroopers in a specific area. In accordance with it, it was required to distribute and deploy forces and means. The assigned area was divided into sectors, and the latter into sections. For each of them, his boss was responsible. The size of the sectors and sectors, their location and the composition of the forces and assets allocated for each of them were established depending on the task at hand, the importance of the facilities in the area, the number and size of the probable landing sites and the nature of the terrain. In all cases, it was recommended to allocate a sufficiently strong maneuverable reserve and place it in the central part of the sector and in the depths of the sector, in readiness for action in any direction.
Serious attention was paid to organizing communications between sectors, sectors and within the latter, as well as anti-aircraft weapons located here. The experience of the war in the West showed that the army, without the help of the population, is not able to detect and destroy small landings and reconnaissance and sabotage groups of enemy troops in places where there were no military garrisons or police officers. That is why, from the first days of the war, the local population was also involved in the fight against airborne assault forces in the front-line zone. From its number, by August 1941, more than 1,750 destroyer battalions were formed, which consisted of more than 328,000 people. In total, about 400,000 people passed through them during the war. Also, over 300,000 people were in support groups for the fighter battalions. The task of the latter was to observe and promptly notify the nearest military units, fighter battalions or militia bodies about enemy aircraft and paratroopers.
Thanks to the measures taken, the use of landings by German troops on our front did not give the effect that the German command hoped for, and did not become so widespread.
The experience of the war revealed the importance of timely opening of preparations for an airborne operation (VDO) of the enemy, to find out the timing of its start, to establish the initial areas and landing sites of the enemy, his forces and means, the possible nature of actions and targets of attack, as well as to immediately warn his troops about the impending threat. The tasks of detecting the enemy in the initial landing areas were usually solved in the course of general measures for reconnaissance of the enemy. It should be noted that the preparation for conducting a large HDV, most often, it was possible to open in advance. For example, this was the case during the invasion of the German troops into Holland and Belgium and on about. Crete. Long before the landing of the British and Americans in Normandy, German air and intelligence intelligence warned of the likelihood of their use of large airborne assault forces.
Intelligence was of particular importance. Without reliable data on the composition, landing sites and intentions of the enemy, it was impossible to make the right decision to destroy it. The fulfillment of this task was often hampered by the dispersal of paratroopers over a large area, the dropping of small demonstration groups, parachutist dummies and other misleading measures. World War II is rich in examples of this kind. In particular, the command of the Dutch army in May 1940, after the landing of numerous German groups, most of which turned out to be small and purely demonstrative, failed to fully understand the situation and did not act in the best way.
In the Normandy landing operation, American and British paratroopers scattered over large areas. In addition, the Allies in a number of places threw out dummies and used metallized tape. The disoriented German command failed to correctly assess the actual situation and delayed the introduction of its operational reserves against the landed enemy by 18-20 hours.
In our country, reconnaissance of airborne assault forces was assigned to a network of stationary air observation, warning and communication (VNOS) posts, observation posts. The latter were deployed not only among the troops, but also on collective and state farms, at railway stations, industrial enterprises and other places. In the zones of responsibility of the defending troops, tracking by mobile patrols was organized for the most dangerous areas. In the rear areas, this work was carried out by patrols from the local population. Their use as part of mobile and fixed observation posts made it possible to significantly reduce detachments from the troops and preserve their forces for the destruction of airborne assault forces. In urban areas, the likely landing sites of the enemy were monitored by the combined efforts of troops, militia, destroyer battalions, armed guards of important facilities and civilian organizations. The military communications system, the communications of the VNOS posts, the local telephone network, mobile assets and visual signals were used to notify about the enemy's drop (landing).
The war demanded the organization of reliable protection and defense of rear facilities, the capture of which was aimed at airborne assault forces. The defense was usually created in a circular manner. Firing lanes (sectors) were assigned to subunits and fire weapons in advance, the order of firing and warning signals were determined. Trenches for personnel, positions for fire weapons, mine and wire obstacles - this is the minimum that was considered necessary for organizing the defense of the facility. In the presence of time, the scale of construction expanded. On the terrain, especially suitable for landing, stakes were hammered, fences were erected, heaps of stones and other materials were poured. Special anti-landing obstacles were erected. They were pillars up to 30 cm in diameter and 2 to 3.5 m long, buried in the ground at a distance of 20-30 m from each other. These pillars were entangled with barbed wire and connected to artillery shells and mines installed for detonation.
The defense was built on the basis of repelling attacks, both those landed directly on the object itself or in the vicinity of it, and those that could appear at a significant distance. It was created, first of all, at the expense of the regular personnel of the facilities, which was preparing to perform the task in accordance with the combat schedule. For the defense of the most important of them, combat units were also allocated.
Direct coverage of objects from the air was carried out by the available anti-aircraft weapons and fire from personal small arms. Anti-aircraft weapons were installed in such a way as to hit aircraft, gliders and paratroopers above and near the covered object, as well as to ensure the possibility of using them for firing at ground targets.
Particular attention was paid to covering airfields, the capture of which by paratroopers, followed by the landing of large forces on them, was the basis of the tactics of Hitler's airborne troops. Where the defense of airfields proved to be reliable, enemy actions were usually accompanied by heavy losses. For example, in Holland, in the face of the threat of a German invasion, the defense of airfields in the Hague region was significantly strengthened. As a result, the first echelon of the Nazi airborne assault, parachuted to capture the Valkenburg, Eipenburg and Okenburg airfields, was almost completely destroyed.
British troops in organizing the defense of Fr. Crete also did much to strengthen the defenses of the airfields. Around the latter, defensive positions were set up, which made it possible to control their territory with fire. And here the first attack by German paratroopers on May 20, 1941 ended in failure.
In Normandy, German troops secured all the most important objects. Houses and buildings, near which planes and gliders could land, were adapted to conduct an all-round defense, and the anti-aircraft cover of these areas was strengthened. The dominant heights were equipped with trenches for fire weapons, trenches and shelters. However, by the summer of 1944, the plan for engineering work on the coast of the Seneca Bay was fulfilled by only 18%.
The theoretical views of the times of the war provided for the bombing of airborne assault forces in the initial landing areas and their defeat in flight by fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft artillery. It should be noted that the war did not provide examples of more or less successful actions of this kind. The main reason was that virtually all large airborne defense operations were carried out with clear air dominance of the attacking side, which deliberately doomed the defenders to passive actions. In such a situation, individual attempts to strike at the enemy in the initial landing areas did not bring the desired results. The British, for example, in May 1941, several times bombed the airfields of the military transport aviation and the German troops in the places of concentration (in the south of Greece), prepared for the invasion of the island. Crete. Since the initial areas of the Nazis were outside the range of the British fighters (120-140 km), the bombing was carried out without their accompaniment in small groups of aircraft and exclusively at night. Naturally, these strikes were not effective enough and could not prevent the start of the airborne operation.
During the flight, the landing forces were reliably covered by aviation. Thus, in the Allied Rhine Airborne Operation in March 1945, 889 fighters were accompanied by airborne planes and gliders. In addition, 1,253 fighters cleared the airspace over the landing area, and 900 fighter-bombers suppressed targets on the ground. It should be noted that in this operation, German anti-aircraft weapons provided significant resistance to the landing, which, despite massive bombing by Anglo-American aircraft, could not be suppressed. From their fire, the Allies lost 53 aircraft and 37 gliders; 440 aircraft and 300 gliders were damaged.
The limited possibilities of engaging airborne assault forces in the initial landing areas and in flight led to the fact that the main struggle against them was transferred to the drop (landing) areas. The advance preparation of artillery fire in such areas proved to be worthwhile, but it required careful coordination with the actions of other forces and means. In 1944, for example, German troops, awaiting the Allied landings in Normandy, prepared artillery fire on all suitable sites. However, at the time the paratroopers were dropped, their own patrols appeared on these sites and next to them, so the artillerymen were unable to fire, and most of them were captured without firing a single shot.
The primary role in the fight against the disembarked airborne assault forces was played by the availability of combat-ready forces to solve this problem and the speed of their deployment. Combat experience has shown that an attack by even insignificant forces, especially tanks, with the support of artillery, carried out during the dropping, gathering and putting into combat readiness of landing units, can lead to the defeat of numerically superior forces. So, the 1st British Airborne Division, which landed on September 17-18, 1944 west of Arnhem, was almost immediately attacked by the units of the German Panzer Corps who were nearby on reorganization. For eight days, she was surrounded by heavy fighting, lost up to 7,600 people and on the night of September 26 withdrew back beyond the Lower Rhine, without completing the assigned task. Conversely, the delay in taking action against the paratroopers has always helped them. It was the delay that became one of the reasons for the defeat of the British troops in the struggle for Fr. Crete, who, in anticipation of the landing of the Nazis from the sea, missed the favorable time for a decisive attack against the airborne assault. This moment arose at the end of the first day of the fighting (May 20, 1941), when the paratroopers, having suffered heavy losses (in some battalions, they reached 60% of their total number), failed to capture a single airfield to receive the landing force.
It is also extremely important in the fight against the enemy who has landed to do with minimal forces, not to give the attacker the opportunity to draw all available reserves into the sphere of hostilities and thereby achieve the goals set. The unsuccessful actions of the Dutch army command in May 1940 are typical. The German parachute detachments of various sizes, thrown out on a wide front and in large numbers, fettered the main forces of the 1st Army Corps in reserve. In the general confusion, fearing the release of significant reinforcements, the Dutch command withdrew a number of units from the front, which facilitated the advance of the advancing German troops.
In Normandy, in the area of the American and British airborne assault, the German command did not have sufficient forces. They were concentrated on the coast of the Pas-de-Calais. On a vast stretch of the coast of the Gulf of the Seine, where the Allied invasion was carried out, only three German divisions defended, two of which did not have vehicles. The presence of such insignificant and weak in terms of combat effectiveness forces, moreover, extremely stretched along the front, made it difficult to maneuver the reserves and put the Germans in a difficult situation.
The conditions for maneuvering the operational reserves located in the Paris area proved to be extremely difficult. Allied aviation destroyed or disabled all bridges across the Seine, between Rouen and the capital of the country, damaged a significant number of railway junctions and other facilities. At the same time, the Resistance fighters intensified their sabotage on the railways. As a result, by the beginning of the operation, the landing area was isolated from the rest of France.
On the night of the invasion, German headquarters, guided by the information received, sent troops to those points where the landing was landed. Due to the large dispersion of paratroopers, individual small battles unfolded over a wide area. The commanders of the German units lost the ability to control their units, which had to act independently everywhere. The paratroopers pinned down the German troops defending on the coast, destroyed bridges, violated control, delayed the approach of reserves and thereby facilitated the landing from the sea. During the war, various methods were used to destroy the landing airborne assault forces. They were determined depending on the specific situation, first of all, the nature and amount of information about the enemy (his composition, combat capabilities, actions), the presence and readiness of his troops, terrain conditions and other factors.
With a circular defense area of paratroopers, the attack on them was carried out by striking from one or more directions. An attack from one direction was carried out when there was no complete information about the enemy and the terrain, and, moreover, in those cases when the available forces did not make it possible to use a different method of action. Its advantages are the speed and simplicity of maneuver, the ability to concentrate the maximum amount of forces and resources in the selected area, and ease of control. Its main drawback was that the landed troops could transfer reserves from calm areas to a threatened direction.
If there was enough information about the composition of the landing forces and the peculiarities of the terrain, and the defending troops possessed superiority and high mobility, strikes were delivered from different sides in converging directions. This made it possible to cut the airborne assault into separate parts, isolate them and destroy them separately. However, this method led to the dispersion of forces, complicated their control and required more time to prepare for the battle.
At the same time, when the main forces of the paratroopers, after the landing, began to move towards the object of the attack, their defeat was carried out in a meeting engagement. At the same time, frontal strikes were practiced, as well as pinning down from the front with simultaneous strikes on one or both flanks. An attack from the front was planned in cases where the landed troops were advancing in a wide strip or it was impossible for them to reach the flank. The offensive of the main forces in a narrow sector was achieved by dismembering the enemy into two groups and ensuring their subsequent destruction in parts.
In conditions when the available forces could not destroy the disembarked, the main efforts were concentrated on covering the most important objects that were threatened with capture or destruction, as well as on blocking the enemy in the landing areas. This is how German troops fought against American and British airborne assault forces, because their main forces were involved in the Eastern Front.
After the Second World War, the conditions for the use of airborne assault forces and the fight against them underwent a number of changes. First of all, there have been fundamental qualitative shifts in the technical equipment of the airborne troops, their structure, and methods of combat use. The military transport aviation has become different, the equipment has been updated. The means of non-stop landing have been developed, which make it possible to send troops to unprepared sites at a high pace.
For the transfer of forces, along with military transport aircraft, helicopters began to be widely used. The new technology, in view of the sharp increase in the effectiveness of weapons, created the prerequisites for a significant increase in the capabilities and depth of the use of airborne assault forces. The simultaneous impact across the entire depth of the operational formation of opposing groupings not only by means of destruction, but also by troops (airborne, airmobile), has become a leading trend in the development of military art.
All this suggests that in modern operations the task of combating airborne assault forces is even more urgent than in the past. However, its solution continues to use the experience gained during the Second World War. Basically, in the opinion of military experts, such provisions as the territorial principle of responsibility of various command instances for organizing and conducting the fight against landed groupings retain their significance. The importance of creating an effective reconnaissance and warning system (including in the rear of one's own troops), capable of timely revealing the preparation of the enemy for airborne and airborne operations, and immediately notifying the troops of the impending threat; organization of reliable protection and defense of rear objects, the capture of which is aimed at the enemy; early creation of highly mobile anti-amphibious reserves and keeping them in constant readiness for action; preparation of artillery fire and air strikes against possible landing areas, arrangement of all kinds of obstacles and barriers there; careful coordination of the actions of all forces and means, and some others.