Book Review: The Lions of Carentan - Fallschirmjager Regiment 6
Paul Robinson gets his nose between the pages of a book written by Volker Griesser, a former Bundeswehr paratrooper during World War II, that focuses on the Regiment's fights through Russia and in Market Garden.
This book has a good pedigree, written as it is by Volker Griesser a former Bundeswehr paratrooper. As both an airborne soldier himself and a German he is uniquely qualified to write about one of the Elite units of the Second World War.
Fallschirmjager Regiment 6 was formed in 1943 as part of the 2nd Fallschirmjager Division. The Regiment was always destined to be an elite unit as it combined the kudos of paratroopers (common to such forces whatever their nationality) with a strong leavening of veterans from other units, including the famous Ramcke Brigade that fought in North Africa. What is fascinating is that as this core of veterans decline and poor quality replacements are brought increasingly in from other parts Luftwaffe, Regiment 6 kept its fighting edge (at least compared with many other German units) almost to the end.
Herr Griesser tells an exciting and action packed story very well, from the regiment’s first combat deployment as part of the German actions to disarm Italian armed forces when Italy surrendered to the allies through to the final days of the remnants in Germany in 1945. I must say that the Regiment 6’s attacks on various Italian positions is an exciting a tale as any from this period.
Along the way part of Regiment 6 fights in Russia (taking such high casualties as to leave only a cadre remaining to help reform the unit for deployment in France); forms a key part of the German defences during the Normandy campaign (and defending the town of Carentan with such skill and tenacity so as to earn them the nickname of the book’s title - these are the Germans fighting Easy Company in the third episode of Band of Brothers); fights XXX Corps during Operation Market Garden (and the book describes their continued role in the fighting in Holland after that operation ended) and finally is broken up into small kampfgruppes during the bloody fighting in the Eifel Region. There is also an interesting chapter on the largely ineffective parachute mission during the Ardennes offensive, in which a number of Regiment 6s men took part.
The book is packed with often extensive quotes from former Fallschirmjager describing the action at first hand – as always these quotes are what make or break books like this. And in this case they do not disappoint. They are, as one might expect, a combination of describing actions under fire, the day to day issues about the frustrations with military life and the occasional bizarre episode that if in a novel one might find unbelievable (such as the time when German and American troops occupy the same farm over Christmas and the famer intervenes to stop bloodshed. Both sides spend a peaceful evening then pick up their weapons the next day and go their separate ways to continue the war!).
The book is full of back and white photos throughout. These are really part of the story rather than just a way of “breaking up the text”. They relate to the actions being described in particular chapters and in many cases the pictures are of particular Fallschirmjager we are reading about. Mainly they show the troops in action! However these pictures are especially poignant when we learn the fate of a particular soldier is a mortal one!
There are also a number of useful basic black and white maps throughout the text to help orientate you to the movements of the battalions and companies making up Regiment 6.
I hate to have to mention them but there are a few niggles with the book. The main one is in the chapter about the regiment’s deployment to Italy where, in my copy, there appears to be a textual hiccup. This hiccup takes us from the Fallschirmjager helping out with the wine harvest after battling the Italians straight to fighting US forces on the Cesima Massif. It looks as if there is at least a sentence missing and possibly a paragraph. This is only an irritation and no real reason to discard the book but still should have been avoided. The other two issues might be ones of translation perhaps. In the chapter about the Normandy campaign mention is made of the “100th Panzer Ersatz Division” and during Market Garden to the “559th Anti Tank Division” Both these were in fact battalion-sized formations. Small points perhaps and ones that should not detract from the book overall. However it is worth mentioning in passing that both these units are as fascinating as Regiment 6 – the 100th Panzer being largely equipped with French tanks and the 559th being a very heavily equipped formation with Jagdpanthers and Stugs!
These small niggles aside I would still recommend this book and I think it has a wide audience for those with an interest in the Second World War. Firstly to those interested in the actions of the German Fallschirmjager generally, secondly for those with a more general interest in that conflict it shows that the Fallschirmjager’s actions were not just confined to the early war assaults on Eben Emael or Crete and finally it gives a different insight for those with an interest in the North West European theatre of operations. Available now in hardback from Casemate, priced £19.99 or $32.95 (ISBN 9781612000060)
Review written by: Paul Robinson, Staff Writer