Heaven and Hell: The War Diary of a German Paratrooper by Martin Poppel

Airborne Warfare has always been one of my favourite subjects in military history. Its probably got something to do with the fact that my Granddad was a paratrooper and an Arnhem veteran, and – not surprisingly – I have read pretty much every book I can get my hands on about the great airborne battles of the Second World War. Or at least I thought I had. I’ve read about Bruneval, Sicily, Normandy and Arnhem, but only from the British and American (and Polish!) perspectives. But considering that the allies were relative latecomes to airborne warfare, its surprising to think that I have read virtually nothing about German paratroopers. Until now, that is.

Martin Poppel joined the German Fallschirmjaeger shortly before the start of the Second World War, and went on to see action in Poland, Holland, Crete, several stints on the Russian front, in Sicily and Italy, in Normandy and finally in Holland and north west Germany during early 1945. He was wounded three times (in Russia, Italy and Normandy). Initally serving as a junior soldier, he was eventually commissioned as an Officer, and ended the war as a Company Commander. He was captured when the allies crossed the Rhine in March 1945. Whatever the political direction of their masters, there can be no doubt that many Germans – especially the paratroopers – fought tenaciously throughout the war. After capture Poppel was taken to England and held in a Prisoner of War Camp in North East England, an experience he does not seem to have minded too much. He was finally released a year later in 1946. Fortunately, his family were in the US zone in Munich – many of his comrades families were in the Russian sphere.

Poppel’s war diary is a fascinating read. We gain a unique insight into the daily life of the German soldier. Poppel gives us plenty of interesting snippets, about comradely relations, equipment, rations, attitudes to the Nazis and the war in general. Its interesting to note that the elite status felt by parachute troops was not limited to the allies – the fallschirmjaeger were very proud of their status. They seem to have preferred to jump into action (Poppel performed two combat jumps) towards the end of the war the paratroopers were used increasingly as a ‘fire brigade’ in order to reinforce weak points. Another interesting point to note is that Germany’s airborne troops came under the command of the Luftwaffe rather than the Army, unlike the allies.

Its also interesting to note how Poppel refers to British soldiers almost completely as ‘Tommy’ or ‘the Tommies’. Also, how dismissive the German troops were of British and American equipment, and their fighting prowess. However, for me the most interesting point was how Poppel – by his own admission a supporter of the Nazi party earlier in the war – began to see the Nazi ideology in different eyes as the war went against Germany. When returning to his unit after being wounded, his commander warned him that his negative attitude had been noted. But, interestingly, when in a Prisoner of War Camp Poppel remarked that, even though he was by no means an ardent Nazi, he still could not believe what had happened to Germany, and it took some time for the last vestiges of years of Nazi indoctrination to disappear. Evidence of just how politicised the youth of Germany were. No wonder they fought so doggedly.

I found this a fascinating and enlightening read. It has reinforced, above all, my feeling that very often fighting men on either side have more in common with each other than they do with their own generals, and definitely more in common than they do with their own politicians. And, no matter how unpleasant some ideologies might be, in many cases men simply did not have any choice but to fight. And if we are to curb extremism, we need to understand how it takes hold.

Heaven and Hell: The War Diary of a German Paratrooper is published by The History Press



Filed under Airborne Warfare, Army, Book of the Week, d-day, World War Two

36 responses to “Heaven and Hell: The War Diary of a German Paratrooper by Martin Poppel

  1. An oddity of the Wehrmacht was that EVERYTHING to do with a certain branch was represented – since paratroopers lept out of planes, they were Luftwaffe. The Kriegsmarine had infantry units just to guard naval bases. Goering took this to such an extreme, he managed to create an entire, elite Panzer division named after himself! – And another point, the majority of troops were not ardent Nazis prior to 1941. There are numerous diary entries and letters of soldiers expressing shock at the fact that Hitler’s tirades about the Soviets living in squalor were actually true! Prior to that, many enlisted in all branches tended to view Nazi propaganda as just that – political hogwash. After the invasion of Russia, the Wehrmacht became increasingly politicized up to July 1944, when things went crazy following the Valkyrie operation. – One final point; even though Hitler swore off large-scale para drops after Crete, the Fallschirmjaeger still did jump training through early 1944. After that, manpower needs were so desperate, the training became very rushed. Yet, the FJ still held the concept of their elite status, even though by 1945 less than 1 man in 10 knew how to parachute!

  2. James Daly

    Its a theme that is being discussed regarding the current Defence Review in the UK – is jump training still relevant? It obviously helps as part of the ‘toughening’ process, but since the UK hasn’t got the capability of dropping more than a Battalion by parachute at any one time, its a capability that might be rolled back in time. Grenadiers no longer throw genades as they used to, but they still hold that elite status.

  3. Elite status is a unique benefit – you can’t quantify it, but it doies wonders for the members given it. Our U.S. 101st Airborne hasn’t seen a parachute in decades, but they carry their swagger from their WW2 ancestry. The sister unit of my adoptive Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, your “The Rifles” is redundant – everybody with a firearm by definition carries a rifle, but when an enlisted man in the unit dies, we’ve lost a Rifleman. Part of elite status in many units is going through some particular ordeal (like the 101st I mentioned above), and jump training is definitely unique, and growing more unusual in this day of “riding into battle”. Our U.S. Marines are currently being re-examined for their utility in future combat. One point they will NOT bend on is amphibious landing capability, despite the growing improbability of a significant amphibious war. It may seem a useless expense to the bureaucrats, but anything adding that “elite” zeal to a unit is priceless when things hit the fan! Just my (very) humble opinion.

  4. James Daly

    Something we’ve had problems with over here is that whenever there is a crisis, everyone calls for the Marines and Paras. Of course, for years they were the designated fire brigade for troublespots. But I remember an ex-Senior NCO saying to me once ‘if they’re crack troops, what does that make everyone else?’ – and its a fair point. But I think infantry are slowly morphing into overarching light infantry – able to jump on vehicles, board a helicopter, or landing craft as and when necessary, but with the basis of the traditional infantry soldier at the core.

  5. I have to agree with the “crack” comment – if you look at the WW2 re-enacting community, everybody is airborne, SS, US marine, Guardsmen. Nobody seemed to want to be the “average” grunt. You know, the type that actually did most of the fighting! And you are VERY right about the changing times. Even the juggernaut that is the U.S. Army needs to shift more towards the so-called “RDF” – Rapid Deployment Force. Part of the reason for so many casualties early in Iraq and A-stan were due to last war equipment. You can carry Humvees and trucks in a C-130, but only a couple Bradleys in a C-17. That’s why we relied on the poor over-worked Stryker so much – it was the only thing light enough to move in-theatre quickly, but still have some limited protection. All armies need to look toward the RDF model, since there seems to be little chance of a grand, sweeping “Fulda Gap” scenario anywhere in our immediate future. IMHO, again!

  6. James Daly

    I’ve always had a bit of a problem with the re-enactment thing. When I worked in a WW2 themed museum, we used to dress up in uniform on a particular anniversary. I wanted to be a ww2 para as a tribute to my grandad, but i decided not to as i would just look like a glory-hunter. In my research into Portsmouth’s WW2 dead I’ve shown just how many young men fought and died in line infantry regiments, in the artillery, the engineers… real unsung heroes.

    I think the British Army has done very well with its light armoured vehicles in ‘Stan – the Cougar, Warthog, etc – nimble yet better protected than the Land Rover. Shame the replacement for CVR(T) looks pretty dubious.

    I think the days of having an infantry with all manner of specialism are a thing of the past – its not operationally viable to have units that only fly, units that only swim, etc – ‘oh sorry, we can’t do armour, we’re light infantry don’t you know…’

  7. A bit off topic, but when I was re-enacting, I had a “spare” USAAF persona for airshows. I turned down an officer’s kit (as a pilot) to be a flight engineer. At one site, two of my friends were strenuously romancing a pair of European girls (German and Czech, I think) and were strutting around in their officers’ uniforms. One of the girls asked why my uniform looked “different”. I stated that I was an enlisted man, a flight engineer as opposed to the other two lieutenant pilots. She then asked what my job was. I stated it was “to put back together what those pilots screw up”. The girls laughed and were highly impressed – my buddies were VERY unhappy to say the least! Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL aircrew, but I think engineers, radiomen, navigators, and especially ground crew get short shrift in history texts.

  8. Pingback: ikinci el eşya alanlar ankara

  9. Pingback: harga mobil honda

  10. The Iphone rumors are swirling once again. As typical, the
    most popular tech business about is dangling the chance of
    when the latest and best devices will arrive out and it currently has millions of consumers thinking of an early
    holiday present.

    Normally, there is an choice called Frash Toggle for SBSettings which is an
    app that will allow you to toggle Frash on and
    off. I generally recommend putting in that
    app also, but the presently accessible version only functions on iOS three.two.
    You’ll see a warning from Cydia about this prior to installing it.
    Ideally the author will discover some time to update the application to iOS four.1 so you
    could set up it your self later on. I skipped it for the time becoming with
    the hope of maintaining the Iphone four jailbreak steady.

    These cases protect your iPhone towards many kinds of exterior damage.
    They are accessible in all kinds of designs-from the sober types that more
    mature individuals like to the extravagant, colorful ones that young individuals enjoy.
    There are specially designed instances for females as well.
    All you need to do is method good on-line merchants.

    The coming iPad will price the same as the iPad two
    — from $499 to $829 based on storage capacity and Wi-Fi capability.
    Allows consider a look at whats new in iPad 3 compares to iPad 2.

    This is a instrument which enables you to
    access your gadget. Initial you require to install it in Cydia and then you can use a client
    (like WinSCP for home windows) to accessibility your Apple iphone or iPad from your pc.
    Using Open SSH carries some risks particularly if you forget to disable it after you are finished
    because it leaves your method open to intrusion by hackers.
    Also it can drain your battery rapidly.

    Paper Toss: We all need a little fun in our life
    and most of us get bored from time to time.
    Rather than crumbling up pieces of paper and tossing them into a wastebasket, you can now do it practically.

    This is a fun game and since it is free, it truly can’t be beaten.
    The biggest drawback to Paper Toss is that it is not a sport that you will perform for hrs on
    end. This game is much more geared in the direction of when you
    are sitting somewhere bored and have five or 10 minutes to destroy.

    On the website of the retailers who sell these Coach Apple iphone 4 Cases,
    you can appear at the complete specs of each case available.

    You can buy the products instantly by merely including them to your cart.
    The merchants also offer substantial guarantee intervals on each product.
    Furthermore, if you reside within a specific length of any of their shops,
    house shipping and delivery can be totally free for you.

  11. It is wise to find it car overheating out if you are interested in.
    Kelly Blue Book, is a good deal.

  12. Get into ann anti aging skin care routine every day and be strict
    about it. Thus, individuals can obtain better
    features that can help them make their skkn softer and smoother.

    In and of itself this blend of refined hydrocarbons is nnot considered to be
    toxic or dangerous according to safety standards in the United States.

  13. I decided to dualboot, this means running two operating
    systems in the same time. Wooden shutters offer a classic and pure turn to a space.
    No 3 You may also try defragmenting your disk to free up some room.

  14. Heya i’m ffor the primary time here. I found this board and I to find It really
    helpful & it helped mee out a lot. I hope to offer something again and help others liuke you helped me.

  15. Press the image and you’ll discover that it includes 4 pieces.
    Probably the most famous shop of iTunes constantly stays clustered with demands of download for movies.
    They give all their knowledge to you.

  16. Jennifer Love Hewitt is Melinda Gordon, a new female who are able to see spirits.

    I suppose no, since Blue Sky Studios is offering the fourth installment of our very favorite, the Ice-Age sequence.

  17. You are provided an optional plexiglass window that will protect your
    Apple iphone display; make sure to use it! The jailbreak
    iPod contact could be restored to its authentic position by restoring the device
    in iTunes.

  18. Dogs are creatures of habit and when their routine is disrupted, it can cause fear.
    Not only are these clothes protective but they are now as a status symbol as dressing up
    your dog to the best of opportunity available. Purchase or make
    decals or iron-on transfers with your name and phone number.

  19. This enables you to quickly select your contacts to message or facts by a chosen checklist of contacts and / or teams.

    I want to discover out if my girlfriend is cheating on Faceboo Is
    this something that you are saying to yourself.

  20. None of the vehicle commercials were not unmemorable.
    You could test reasoning together, or simply make a deal instead.
    There is a large amount of chance inside the gaming

  21. It had been merely a casual diversion on the weekends. Conclusions are placed whether they are intended.
    To join up for farmville, you will must have a Facebook account.

  22. The Rim PlayBook is heavier by 0.06 inches, and is 7.6″ by 5.1″ in proportions, which means, it is modest.
    Apple iPad 2 is surrounded by the fog of mysteries. Last however not
    minimal, the iPad 2 is oleophobic!

  23. excellent put up, very informative. I ponder why the
    other specialists of this sector do not understand this.
    You must continue your writing. I am sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

  24. Hi all, here every one is sharing these kinds of know-how, thus it’s good to read this web site,
    and I used to pay a visit this website everyday.

  25. I don’t know if it’s just me or if everybody else encountering problems with your site.
    It looks like some of the written text in your content
    are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment
    and let me know if this is happening to them as well?
    This may be a problem with my internet browser because I’ve had
    this happen previously. Thank you

  26. What’s up to every one, it’s really a pleasant for me to go to see this website, it contains useful Information.

  27. As of Tuesday, there is now a subscription model in place.
    It will be saved here: /sdcard/WhatsApp/Database. If the Administrator has no password,
    click on the Administrator account icon and then select >add/change password.

  28. This will retain your data completely private, even the company won’t have usage of your card number.

  29. The desktop is also shown by the slide show with all three
    panels concealed. It’s going to also show you in case your pals such as
    the same films you do. Your entire other adjustments must also be established as ‘Friends Only’.

  30. While I can understand the previous, I simply
    can’t concur with the latter purpose. Nowhere apparent does the site say
    the launch date. Have a skilled individual do
    the procedure if you are uncertain that you can do it.

  31. However, messaging is simple, convenient, and quick.
    Sometimes, following it is finish to update and restarting your computer,
    it has new updates. If this is the situation right here are two much more possible

  32. This is a ton compared to the currently laughable 720p videorecording about the iPad
    2. Processor: The processor boost is an often overlooked gem
    to the iPad. Have a look at the subsequent area to learn that.

  33. O secțiune într-adevăr fascinantă a site-ului Yahoo a
    fost în zona de cercetare .

  34. May I simply just say what a relief to uncover someone that genuinely understands what they’re
    discussing on the internet. You definitely understand how to bring an issue to light and make it
    important. A lot more people have to read this and
    understand this side of the story. I was surprised that
    you aren’t more popular since you certainly possess the gift.

  35. Consult the writer what information they require from
    you. This really is very important to the reasons that are obvious.

    The moment we got there, The Boyz made a mad dash for your

  36. The principal benefit of jailbreaking an iphone 4 is the possiblity to set a Wifi hotspot.
    But Verizonis a sizable cellphone company, and they’re very user-hostile…
    just examine their charges.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s