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40. Fallschirmjägerbataillon Willi Sänger

Unit insignia of East German paratroopers

40. Fallschirmjägerbataillon Willi Sänger was the only airborne infantry formation of the East German National People's Army (German: Nationale Volksarmee or NVA). It was formed in 1962.[1] The battalion was based in Prora on Rügen island (1962–82) and later near Potsdam (1982–90). It had a complement of approximately 400 to 500 men.[2] A former member of the British Special Boat Service rated the East German airborne battalion the best operational airborne unit in training and active service within the Soviet Bloc.[3] Its primary assignment was to conduct commando operations against enemy military installations.[4] Other assignments included destroying nuclear weapons carriers, enemy command centers, and enemy supply lines.[5]



In 1960, four years after the founding of the East German Army, the first paratrooper unit was formed from the 5th Motorized Rifle Battalion (German: Motorschützenbataillons 5; MSB 5). On February 28, 1962, it was renamed as the 5th Paratrooper Battalion (German: Fallschirmjägerbataillon 5; FJB 5). The Number 5 identified the affiliation with the 5th Military District with headquarters in Neubrandenburg. The paratroopers were the smallest organization assigned to the land forces. The unit was seen in public for the first time on the occasion of the 1964 May Day parade in East Berlin.

In 1969 the battalion was bestowed with the tradition-based name of "Willi Sänger" an anti-Nazi resistance fighter and workers' sports devotee.

In 1971 the battalion was renamed as the 2nd Paratrooper Battalion (German: Fallschirmjägerbataillon 2; FJB 2) and then on November 8, 1972, it was renamed then 40th Paratrooper Battalion (German: Fallschirmjägerbataillon 40; FJB 40), under the direct command of the Headquarters Land Forces, based in Potsdam.

Starting in 1981, a company of paratroopers from the Battalion began guarding the headquarters of the Minister for National Defense in Strausberg.

In 1986 this unit was expanded to form the Luftsturmregiment 40 (English: 40th Air Assault Regiment.)


In time of war the battalion would be used as a commando strike unit to infiltrate and sabotage NATO command structures and supply routes.[6] Paratroopers were to be employed to eliminate nuclear weapons carriers, enemy command posts, to prevent the resupply of enemy forces, or to occupy important objects until their own forces have arrived.[7]


All of the battalion's personnel were volunteers who had to pass many selective tests before being channeled for further training. Every year a few hundred young NVA-soldiers volunteered for a place in the unit, only 8–10% passed.

The following basic prerequisites were necessary:

  • Completion of the tenth grade of the general education-providing polytechnical advanced school.
  • The making of at least twelve parachute jumps in the Society for Sport and Technology.
  • Proof of physical performance passing an "Eight-Event Test."

Since this unit required a long-term commitment, the service period of a paratrooper was generally at least 3 years.

Training took place in the unit in accordance with the requirements of commando operations similar to US Army Rangers and Special Forces. Training was rigorous as possible with physical combat and weapons drills to the point of complete exhaustion and the most rigorous kind of athletic training. At the same time paratroopers were instilled with a marked consciousness of belonging to an elite fighting unit.

The training was tailored particularly for employment in the enemy's rear area. It was intended to produce a brave, strong, persevering and independent thinking fighter.

Special training include the following subjects:

  • Daytime and night-time combat training.
  • Day-time and night-time parachute jumping under the most difficult terrain and weather conditions.
  • Handling of explosive and incendiary devices.
  • Mountain climbing, skiing, swimming and diving.
  • Military physical training with 15-kilometer runs and interval training.
  • Forced marches while wearing protective masks and 100-km marches with a complete set of equipment.
  • Close-combat training with passing the judo test for the Yellow Belt. Additionally, karate was practiced.
  • Radio operations.
  • Urban Combat operations.
  • Marksmanship training.
  • Survival training.
  • Foreign languages.

The training of non-commissioned officers took place during the first one year of their service period at a non-commissioned officer school for the career category "Noncommissioned Officers for Motorized Infantry Units," after which they performed their duties in their unit for the first time.

Prior to their assignment to the unit, officers received their normal officer training in the "Commanders of Motorized Infantry Units" section of the "Ernst Thaelmann" Officer Academy for the ground forces in Loebau/Zittau and then they get their additional special training in the unit.


The 40. Fallschirmjägerbataillon was modeled after the "Rejdoviki," the Soviet special-purpose paratrooper units which are intended to be used for commando operations and for subversion and long-range reconnaissance missions.

The basic structure of the Battalion was five Parachute Companies, a Signal Company, and a Sapper Company. In combat, the companies of the battalion were to be split up into five or six-man teams to lower its operational profile. As a force with special capabilities it remained under the direct command of the Kommando Landstreitkräfte (KdoLaSK) - the NVA high command.

Uniform and weaponsEdit

The battalion used the same 'raindrop' camouflage as regular NVA ground troops, but the battle dress was specially made to meet the demands of the unit's needs. There was also a specialised equipment items such as the large rucksack, paratrooper knife, combat vest, rain coat, jump-boots, and helmet. The paratroopers arm-of-service color was orange which was displayed on their collar, shoulder boards and beret. In the field they wore a grey beret.

NVA Fallschirmjäger uniform.

The paratroopers used practically the same weapons as the rest of the army (Landstreitkräfte):

The battalion had just a few vehicles such as jeeps and motorcycles. As an airborne unit, they parachuted from transport planes or were airlifted by helicopters to their target.


  1. ^ Gussack P.14
  2. ^ Gussack P.14
  3. ^ Gussack P.14
  4. ^ Gussack P.14
  5. ^ Gussack P.14
  6. ^ Gussack P.14
  7. ^ Gussack P.14


  • The Red Prussians by Nevin Gussack