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Monday, May 8, 2017

How to Collect and Paint Early War Fallschirmjäger, Part 1

By Seamus,

With the release of Warlord's new Campaign Book, Unternehmen Seelöwe, I thought this would be a good time to share with you my formula for collecting and painting Early War Fallschirmjäger!

Inspiration and history 

This is one of the first armies I started for Bolt Action, and it stemmed from reading the excellent novel by Jack Higgins, plus the film adaptation, called The Eagle Has Landed. I also highly recommend the book Jump Into Hell, by Franz Kurowski, for some great setting and a look into their mentality. I was captivated by the Fallschirmjäger, their esprit de corps, and their battlefield prowess. Tales of their exploits at Monte Cassino, Carentan, and Crete are the stuff of legend. They also performed brilliantly during actions in Denmark, Norway, Greece (the Corinth Canal Bridge), North Africa, and Ortona. For me, though, their zenith was during the invasion of France and the Low Countries in 1940. If you haven't read about the attack on the massive Belgian fort of Eben Emael, please do yourself a favor and check it out. This action and the capture of numerous bridges along the rivers in Belgium and the Netherlands were what I decided to base my force on. There is also, as a side note, a really cool section about this in the Germany Strikes! book which is simultaneously one of the hardest and coolest army lists to play. Check out that list if you want a real challenge! At any rate, this type of early-war light infantry force will, I think, be perfect for the rich what-if setting of Germany invading England.

Of course there is some 'neckbeardy' stuff to consider, if you're so inclined. Early War Fallschirmjäger had a greenish-greyish jump smock, or knochensack ("bone sack" to hold your bones together when you hit the ground!). Many of us are familiar with the camouflaged Splittermuster pattern that was introduced later, right around Operation Mercury in 1941, and used through the end of the war. Since my force is for actions before this, it is that grey-green color for which I strive. Another accuracy thing to consider is that the early war jump smock didn't have snaps along the inseam. The Fallschirmjäger had to step into these smocks and pull them up and over all their kit such as canteens, bread bags, gas mask cans, y-straps with ammo pouches, grenades, and so on. This was done to prevent any of the kit getting caught on the parachute, or getting ripped away by the wind when they made the jump. Once they landed on the ground, they'd have to take a few precious moments to open up the smock, take off all their kit, put the smock back on, put their kit back on, and then go.

You know what wasn't under that smock? Weapons! These guys jumped armed only with a pistol and a knife! All of their other weapons like rifles, SMG's, LMG's, and so on were dropped in separate containers that they had to then get to on the ground before going into action. That's tough, right there!

Finding the right Fallschirmjäger miniatures

The challenge, then, is finding models that have the smocks with the part around the crotch and legs closed... the smocks with the open legs were a later addition after learning, in the heat of battle, that stepping into and out of these things wasted a lot of precious time. While the mid/late style smocks are more common, there is sufficient supply of models that work for early-war Fallschirmjäger.

My own collection is cobbled together from Warlord Games, Perry Miniatures, Crusader, Foundry, Black Tree Designs, Victory Force, and now Gorgon. As you'll see from some of these pics, they scale together quite well! There is variation, yes, but I firmly believe that this reflects real life a little better... I, myself am definitely Victory Force scale whereas my good mates like Casey would be more Crusader scale, perhaps Foundry. The biggest challenge you'll have is the rifles. For example, Victory Force rifles are almost spot-on in terms of scale with the model and have a little sharper definition, whereas Foundry are shorter and stubbier, less defined. I find this is somewhat balanced by the more static poses of Victory Force models, compared to the more dynamic Foundry or Perry sculpts. Consider, too, that once you've got a solid paint scheme down, they'll all look really good spread out across the table and that, to me, is the real win!

Here are some side-by-side comparisons of the different makes so you can see the difference in scale.

Left to Right: Warlord Games, Victory Force, Gorgon, Black Tree Designs, Foundry, Crusader

As you can see, there is some difference between the different makes. In close-up pictures like this, it's easy to be discouraged by the differences but as I mentioned before a unified paint scheme and getting them on the table en masse will help blur those differences a bit.

Playing early war Fallschirmjäger

In all the games I've played, they look really good on the table. Another really cool aspect of this style of force is the army list. Since the early war Fallschirmjäger were inserted by parachute or glider, with their weapons dropped in containers, the emphasis is on light infantry. The list from Germany Strikes! that I mentioned earlier is a good guideline, as are the Operation Mercury list in the Armies of Germany book, and the section on Crete in Duel in the Sun. One note, though... you may be tempted to take the LG 40/1 because who doesn't love a medium howitzer, especially when it's so compact!?! The LG 40/1 wasn't introduced until '41 and was only available in very limited numbers. For our early-war force, we must eschew the big guns in favor of smaller weaponry. The LG 40, with a dynamic kit available from Perry Miniatures, works well for a little HE punch. We're also not going to take any vehicles of any kind. No trucks, no jeeps, no tanks, nothing of the sort. There are rules for the DFS 230 glider in the Operation Sea Lion book, though this might be for more scenario-based games.

My typical list for early war games consists of a Veteran First Lieutenant and a friend, for which I use the Oberst Steiner model from either Warlord or Gorgon. Oh wait, Seamus! Steiner was a Colonel! Well, in the novel, it is explained that Steiner was a Lieutenant at the time of the Belgium actions and became a Captain for the Crete invasion. Therefore, we can definitely use him as a lieutenant for our Sea Lion games!

I occasionally take an Air Observer because I have a really cool Ju 87 model, 1/48 scale, on a telescoping stand and because an air strike is one more anti-tank selection from a very limited list. Given that the airstrike comes back on my own troops about 50% of the time, it's never a no-brainer.

For infantry, I used to use 9-man squads, loosely based on carrying capacity of the gliders. I do two squads with LMG's as a base of fire support, and then two squads with a couple of SMG's. I typically give these guys anti-tank grenades as well just to give my opponent something to think about. Also, given the limited amount of anti-tank options available, we have to take what we can get. To be fair, I did destroy a Panther with them once (with all the stars aligned). Finally, I like to take an assault engineers squad because they were the stars of the Eben Emael assault, and are somewhat iconic for having smeared soil or sand on their helmets to cut down on the glare.

The remainder of my list is team weapon options, such as the mandatory medium machine gun team (Black Tree Designs) or the very useful medium mortar team (Black Tree Designs). I also have an anti-tank rifle (Foundry), which at this point is more for comedic value and theme than anything effective in the game. I've also got the LG 40 from Perry Minaitures for some additional HE.

The early war Fallschirmjäger are a great force to play. They're infantry heavy, and lack the heavy-hitting units you see in mid- or late-war style lists. However, they are veterans and now that they've got the Stubborn rule baked into their entry they can be some really solid infantr,y both in defense and on the attack. Trying out this style list will give you a different style of game as well, since you don't have loads of points sunk into big tanks or artillery which forces your opponent to rethink their tried-and-true tactics. You're also able, with more infantry, to move about the table and give your opponent a real think about target priority.

To make your games using early war Fallschirmjäger even more fun, try out the optional parachute rules found on Warlord's website. Another characterful option, which I've yet to try, would be to place ammo canisters about the field and count your infantry as only armed with pistols until they can move into base contact with a drop container. There are also some very interesting scenario options in the Germany Strikes! book for this type of force, and I'm sure some will be in the Operation Sea Lion book too.

I hope you've enjoyed this little jaunt into an atypical German force for early war games. Stay tuned for an article about how I achieve the iconic look of the green-grey jump smock as well as a few alternate options from some very esteemed members of the Bolt Action community.

Seamus, out.

Seamus, often going by the nom de guerre of “Weekend General,” is a long-time wargamer and sometime contributor to various podcasts and online forums, based in Chicago. Occasionally dabbling in other miniatures games, it is Bolt Action that really captures his interest.

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