General Kurt Student had a distinguished military career in World War Two. Kurt Student was involved in the attack on Western Europe in 1940, the planning for Operation Sealion and in the largest German airborne attack in the war – the attack on Crete.
Kurt Student was born on May 12th, 1890. He joined the German Army and received his commission in 1912. In 1913, he transferred into what was to become the Luftwaffe, but was then called the German Army Air Service. During World War One, he served as a reconnaissance pilot and he flew bombers.
In 1934 and with Hitler now Germany’s leader, Student joined the Luftwaffe. Within Germany, Hitler had made it clear that he wanted to expand this part of Germany’s military. Student played a key role in the development of the Luftwaffe. In keeping with the whole of Guderian’s Blitzkrieg philosophy, Student was ordered to form Germany’s first ever parachute battalion in 1938. Such a military unit was almost unheard of (though Soviet Russia had been training parachutists in the Red Army) but it was to play a major part in the whole concept of ‘lightening war’.
Student’s new fighting force was not used in the attack on Poland. In one sense, the overwhelming power of the German military meant that it really was not needed against the Poles. However, the main reason, was Hitler’s desire to keep such a new unit secret until Blitzkrieg was unleashed against Western Europe.
German paratroopers were used with success in the campaign in Norway, Belgium and Holland. In particular, the parachutist attack on Rotterdam all but took the heart out of the Dutch defence, such was its speed and ferocity. However, during the attack on Holland, Student was shot in the head and his injuries were such, that he did not return to duty until January 1941.
The input of Student’s parachutists in the various attacks on Western Europe had done a lot to convince Hitler that they were an important aspect of his military. In May 1941, they were used in the attack on Crete. Here, Student’s parachutists suffered heavy losses despite their ultimate victory on the Mediterranean island. Despite their actual success in Crete, Hitler was shocked by the number of Student’s men who were killed in action and he ordered a halt to their use in any future large-scale military operation.
As a result of this order, Student’s men were denied the opportunity for any more large scale raid by parachute. After D-Day, the 1st Parachute Regiment was used in an attempt to halt Montgomery’s advance to the Rhine – but it was action on the ground. Such was the Allies command of the air, that any chance of a large scale attack by German parachutists was effectively gone – though it was still forbidden by Hitler.
Kurt Student was put on trial in May 1946 for war crimes committed in Greece and Crete. He died in 1978.