The classic Gebirgsjäger arm badgeThe classic Gebirgsjäger arm badgeIII. / Gebirgsjäger Regiment 139 / 3.Gebirgsdivision - 1938-45

 

The victors of Narvik - 1940

 

Elite Unit

Waffen SS and Parachute units were regarded as the very best units in the Wehrmacht during World War II ... but many people tend to forget the qualities of the Gebirgsjägers (Mountain Troops).

These were excellent and efficient soldiers trained in the role of fighting in difficult, mountaineous terrain. The Gebirgsjägers formed entire individual divisions in the Wehrmacht that performed superbly in a variety of campaigns throughout the war, from the Arctic to Crete, from France to Kaukasus.


Gebirgsjäger history

Gebirgsjägers on alpine trainingGebirgsjägers on alpine trainingThe Gebirgsjäger were first set up in Imperial Austria-Hungary in 1906 as the then Kaiserliches und Königliches Landwehr (The Austro-Hungarian Army) set about to create a unit that could serve in the mountainous terrain of their homeland.

It was only in 1915 that the German Army set up their first Mountain unit - the Alpenkorps. The Edelweiss became in 1907 the symbol of the Alpenjägers as they were commony known in Austria.

When Austria "joined" the German Reich in 1938, courtesy of the Anschluss, the Austrian Army was amalgamated into the Wehrmacht. Many of the former Alpenjäger Battalions formed completely "Austrian" Gebirgsdivisions in the German Army.

The Gebirgsjäger had the tough task of negotiating mountains, at the same time carrying their heavy packs and arms. They rarely had the luxury of air, tank or artillery support apart from the few specially made mountain howitzers that could be dismantled and brought up the mountains. Mules were often their trusty companions, as sturdy carriers of their equipment.

 

Garrisons and administrative locations of GJR 139 / 3 Gebirgsdivision - XVIII Wehrkreis:

3.Gebirgsdivision, HQ - Graz

I (Battalion) and HQ - Klagenfurt

II (Battalion) - Villach

III (Battalion - Wolfsberg

Ersatz (Battalion) - Völkermarkt

 

General Leutnant Dietl in NarvikGeneral Leutnant Dietl in NarvikLegendary commanders and battle history

The Gebirgsdivisions had certainly their fair share of charismatic and very popular leaders throughout the two World Wars:

During the Great War (World War I) a certain Erwin Rommel won his Pour le Mérite, or the "Blue Max" as it was popularly known, while serving as a Hauptmann (Captain) in the Alpenkorps. Through his boldness and ability to make quick tactical decisions, he enjoyed stunning success on the Italian Front.

Generalmajor (Major General) Eduard Dietl, another WWI-veteran, was a very popular commander of the 3 Gebirgs Division. After great obstacles he led his Gebirgsjägers and also the surviving seamen of the sunken destroyer flotilla to victory at the Battle of Narvik. He was awarded the Knights Cross and oak Leaves to his Iron Cross and promotion to Generalleutnant after this stunning success.

Julius "Papa" Ringel was another very efficient and popular Division commander of 5 Gebirgsdivision. His Gebirgsjägers distinguished themselves during the succesful conclusion of the Battle of Crete, having among others relieved the heavily mauled paratroops.

 

Battle campaigns ... started and ended in Poland

The Gebirgsjägerregiment 139 (3 Gebirgsdivision) was formed in april 1939, including the former Austrian 5 Kärntner Alpenjägerbattalion, Commanded by Oberst Alois Windisch (1888-1958), also from the former Austrian Army and another WWI-veteran.
The regiment took part in the invasion of Poland, advancing via Slovakia through the Carpathians into Southern Poland. Before the campaign was over the 3 Gebirgsdivision was transfered to guard the frontier with France.

Gebirgsjägers sharing a smoke in an ice-bivouacGebirgsjägers sharing a smoke in an ice-bivouacIn 1940 the Wehrmacht embarked on the risky enterprise of operation "Weserübung". Many mountain divisions and parachute detachments were used in this campaign. The 139th Regiment was given the unenvious task of taking Narvik, via a nightmarish boat transport courtesy of a destroyer flotilla through stormy seas along the Norwegian coast.

Having succesfully landed in Narvik, albeit in bad condition after the seatrip, they quickly seized the town. A British naval action saw the german destroyer flotilla wiped out along with the merchant supply ships. With them most of the units equipment was lost too. In the following battle against the British, Polish and French troops the 139th was badly mauled, to the extent that the commander, Dietl, even considered pulling out the Gebirgsjägers and taking them across to neutral Sweden.

Narvik shield in commemoration for the Victors at NarvikNarvik shield in commemoration for the Victors at Narvik2,000 Gebirgsjägers fighting along with some 2,500 surviving sailors from the sunken destroyers clung on and survived the fight against 24,500 allied troops. Sheer determination combined with allied indecision, or should I say incompetence, and also with the aid of a German supply ship that came from the Soviet Union! (Base Nord) that managed to sneak into a nearby fiord and replenish the troops, saw them win the battle of Narvik.

The Narvik shield was created to commemorate the Battle of Narvik and the capture of the vital port. Several Gebirgsjägers and their commanders received numerous awards for the campaign. among them the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Iron Cross with the Knights Cross) and promotion to Generalleutnant for Eduard Dietl.

After the succesful conclusion of the Norwegian Campaign, the unit was moved to the north of Finland ahead of the forthcoming Operation Barbarossa. They were tasked with helping the Finnish Army retake Petsamo and the push onwards towards Murmansk. After having succesfully recaptured Petsamo, the attempts at advancing towards Murmansk in the barren wilderness of the north failed miserably. The disappointed commander refused to accept promotion, but received his promotion anyway. The unit was divided and half of it moved, in Sept 1942, to the Leningrad Front. In the ensuing campaigns deep inside the Soviet Union the unit was again moved, this time to the Ukrainian battlefields, in Dec. 1942.

During the retreat from the Soviet territories the GJR139 fought in the Carpathians (South Ukraine), in Hungary, in Slovakia all the way to the German surrender in May 1945, by which time the unit was stationed inSilesia. The horrible destiny of becoming prisoners to the Soviets awaited the remnants of the GJR139. How many ever returned home from the captivity in the Soviet Union is not known, but they surely returned to their homes as broken men. The part of the regiment that remained in Finland were luckier in having surrendered to the British troops liberating Norway in 1945.

 

Marschlieder: "Es war ein Edelweiß" & Gebirgsjägerlied; "Narvik" (click on images below to listen to the marches)

3. Gebirgsdivision unit banner (click here to listen to march)3. Gebirgsdivision unit banner (click here to listen to march)

 III Battalion / Gebirgsjäger Regiment 139. (Click on image to listen to the song)III Battalion / Gebirgsjäger Regiment 139. (Click on image to listen to the song)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Jumping on the German, re-enactment, bandwagon.

German, and/or Austrian WWII-soldiers, and SS in particular, must be one of the most popular WWII re-enacting themes, all around the globe. I sometimes can't help wondering why. Maybe the simple answer is that, if someone wishes to re-enact a soldier why not pick the best there was, and in this context the Wehrmacht troops came second only to the Finnish fighting men, at least in my opinion. 

 

The background

III./GJR139 Association Badge. Designed by Christopher Ling JohanssonIII./GJR139 Association Badge. Designed by Christopher Ling JohanssonThis theme came mostly due to the fact that I was put in charge of the "enemy side" in what we hope to be a sizeable, recurring WWII-theme re-enactment at the preserved WWII Airfield 16 - Brattfors, on the theme of "Border incidents between occupied Norway and neutral Sweden". We already made a similar event in May 2012 which turned out to be quite succesful. 

So the first step was to identify a Wehrmacht unit with that actually took part during the occupation of Norway. The unit that immediately stood out was the mostly "Austrian" Gebirgsjäger Regiment 139 (GJR 139) of the 3 Gebirgsdivision - that was given the task of seizing Narvik, as it turned out, against overwhelming odds and obstacles.

Invitations were sent out and a "society" of kind was set up on the above theme ... and the result turned out to be simply amazing.

To my sheer delight I have the privilege of having some of the absolutely best members I have ever worked with before. They are keen, competent and willing to learn and teach equally and an absolute joy to work with. The standards for re-enacting Gebirgsjäger has been set very high and some of the lads are also taking the climbing part very seriously.

I also remember the words of my dad, Martti Nieminen, who as a boy of 9-11 often met Gegirgsjägers at the train station of our small home town in Finland, Kolho

"The Gebirgsjägers were so very friendly with us wide-eyed boys. We ran to the woods and picked berries to them and they duly surrendered their chocolate, and sometimes rations too, to us. They were real gentlemen!"

Our small town was the preceding station to Haapamäki, which was a vital railway junction in central Finland. Due to congestions or air attacks by the Soviet Air Force, the trains quite often stood at Kolho Station awaiting passage to Haapamäki and thence further north. I know that members of the GJR 139 MUST have passed through our town on their way to take part in the recapture of Petsamo and the Arctic war ... so there is the minimal connection I had with Gebirgsjägers.

 

Setting up the kit

Gebirgsjäger mid to late war uniformGebirgsjäger mid to late war uniform

Gathering the uniform will automatically lead You to replicas as originals are both scarce, sizes limited and if You happen to find them - they will invariably cost a small fortune ... and You wouldn't dare to risk originals in "action" due to their brittle state after such long time. There are as many suppliers as there are levels of quality, which will automatically lead to different opinions on material, finish, cut and details. The only really reliable sources are museums, specific uniform books, archives and/or period photo originals.

Many people regard the Wehrmacht as the benchmark for an "uniform" Army, an impressive appearance on any parade ... but having studied them closer, yes - there are quite a few variations and "individual touches" too, especially the further the war progressed. With material supply getting scarcer, uniforms tended to get lesser in quality and detail, materials changed and soldiers also made use of civilian garments when possible ... and this fact leaves at least some margin for choosing the equipment.

 

Camouflage pioneers

The Germans were among the first to efficiently make use of camouflage on a larger scale, from the first tentative efforts of paint patterns on their m/16 helmets during the Great War to the very impressive sets of camouflage uniforms and covers during WWII. The introduction of the Heeres Splittermuster 31 was initially meant for the shelter quarters (zeltbahns) but was being used on different garments from mid-war and onwards. Whereas mountain units used specifically designed (and field-proven) items for their specific environment, the Waffen SS units were issued with a wide and colourful array of different camouflage patterns of impressive design and usefulness, something the Allies only picked up on very late in the war.

Rank and insignia were both stylish and elaborate but maybe not so fieldworthy where shiny and colourful buttons and rank-markings were likely to attract unwelcome attention from poaching sharp-shooters and snipers. This was partially rectified for EM and NCO's with the m/40 pattern uniform and onwards alas the officers still clearly stood out with their uniforms.

We will be looking for early war Gebirgsjäger uniforms and equipment such like the unit specific Bergmütze (which was the model for the very popular m/43 Feldmütze) and Windjacke. Apart from that the uniforms will be based on the Feldgrau m/36 or m/40 uniform systems, jack-boots or ankle boots with gaiters, the m/35 or m/40 helmets, y-straps, belt with ammo pouches and naturally all the necessary Gebirgsjäger insignia ... Edelweiss arm and cap badges, litzen and schulterklappen with the light green piping.

Weapons will be the classic Mauser Kar98K and/or MP40.

 

New friends

Some new friends have been made along the way. Matej Mitja Sitar, from Slovenia, has been helping me gather some very GJR139 specific items (buttons, unit no's, stamps, flags etc, postcards) - thanks for all Your help Mitja.

Steven Hall of the GJR100 has also been a great help and support to me in this process. Natasha Robnik, from Slovenia, has supplied some fascinating information on her Grandfather who actually served in the GJR 139 in Northern Finland, and whose Great Grandfather served in the K.U.K. Armée in the Great War.

From Natasha we have gathered some very interesting accounts of his grandfathers service in the GJR139, all the way from training camps in France to the "bitter cold" surroundings of the Arctic Circle.

Aside all this we will also attempt to pick up on some basic German along the way. It would only increase the general impresion of impersonating a Wehrmacht soldier.

I have been working some time, on a very humble Wehrmacht "manual" (quick guide, if You like) to help myself and maybe also others posing as Germans, I will be happy to share this with anyone interested. It will contain basic German Army info, structure, vocabulary, drill, expressions ... all this has already been something of an eye-opener, as along the way I will divulge more and more about the German Army during this dramatic period of European history.

 

... NO, there are NO politics whatsoever!

Gebirgsjäger deipicted in WWII-period stampGebirgsjäger deipicted in WWII-period stampI know that in most countries the Swastika is literally forbidden, unclean and so forth. "Are You a Nazi?" - will be brandished out to You when adorning the Wehrmacht Uniform. So to set the record straight from the very off: I am NOT a Nazi, period! I am a military historical fanatic, YES, and I love the life-style that re-enacting invariably means! My choosing this Austrian Wehrmacht theme is very much due to my respect for the average soldier of the Wehrmacht Heer. 

The Austrian and German soldiers of the Wehrmacht were well trained and equipped, highly motivated and most often well-lead by very capable Officers and NCO's - often in stark contrast with their respective opponents. In the early stages of the war they outperformed all the allied forces to the extent that it must have seem embarrasing for the opponents as they were all swept aside by the Wehrmacht-juggernaut. Even during the late stages, when the tide had turned against them, they were more than capable of resisting the, by now, materially and numerically superior opponents.

So there it is - that is the story, the reason for this new adventure. I will do my very best to make a good impression of this Hauptmann and see where it leads me. I hope to learn, take part in new events and make more friends along the way, and if this happens it will have been worthwile.

 

Events:

Kletterübung 25-27 July - 2014

At the top of the Sörknatten Nature reserve, 27 July 2014At the top of the Sörknatten Nature reserve, 27 July 2014

We had for some months planned a training event for the summer, a form of basic recruit-training.

We had gathered the previous night at one of the members home, preparing a home made Gulasch-suppe and having a grammophone playing "Lili Marleen" as a nice setting for our dinner. After the dinner our climbing instructor, Uffz Richter, teached us how to tie a harness, necessary for the climbing the following day. Rest of the evening went to equipment checks, packing and preparing for the exercise.

The following day, a 4 man patrol set out on the trip to the unmolested surroundings of the Sörknatten Nature Reserve, in Dalsland, south-western Sweden.

We set about our climbing exercise in the most trying of conditions. In tropical heat, temperatures reaching +34-35C, we made our ascent on a quite steep wall. Always under the watchful supervision of our climbing-trainer, we also learned how to tie safety lines, always having a hand securing the climber. After the ascent we were to repell down from the top. Being a first for me - I was naturally delighted to have passed, let alone survived, the test. It was a good training and test using period equipment, rope and techniques.

After the succesful climbing exercise our reward was to have a cooling swim in the nearby lake. A forced march to the Sörknatten-peak with full packs finished the physical exercise for the day. Having reached the peak we enjoyed the breathtaking scenery, set up our bivouacs for the night and cooked our meals on the esbit cookers. The following day we had another look at the scenery and started our descent and return trips home. What a wonderul "time-journey" with the very best of company!

I will return with more reports from the next up-coming event, Brattfors in September and future training exercises. Images from the 2014 event here!


Useful information links

Lexicon der Wehrmacht - Excellent information on the Wehrmacht.

Der Erste Zug - another impressive source of Wehrmacht information.

Gliederung und Stellenbesetzung - Details on regimental units and commanders.

3.Gebirgs-Division - Detailed info on Field campaign