Ski-mounted alpine troops have long been a facet of mountain warfare in Europe, with specialized units such as the French Chasseurs Alpins and Italian Alpini battalions dating as far back as the 19th Century. It was after just such an encounter with the French “Blue Devils” that sparked the formation of German mountain infantry in 1915, modeled after the Austrian Landwehr’s Gebirgstruppe (mountain troops) of the latter country’s Tyrolean region.
The Germans evolved their Gebirgsjäger units over the years until no less than 16 divisions were given the title during WWII– although many were not true “mountain” troops.
Today, Germany still fields a full three-battalion brigade of high-quality mountain infantry, Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23, which consists of about 5,300 soldiers trained to fight under extreme weather conditions.
And their annual winter training, to include the Polarfuchs (“Arctic Fox”) exercise– which everyone from enlisted to the commanding officer has to complete– and the smaller International Mountain Warfare Patrol, are pretty legit. Basically, take the Winter Olympics’ biathlon and add grenades, Heckler & Koch rifles, and snow camo.
More in my column at Guns.com.
A German Gebirgsjäger (light infantry alpine or mountain troops) of the 137th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Mountain Division (2. Gebirgs-Division) with an MG 34 machine gun sits in position in the forest of Norway’s Junkerdal National Park during Operation Weserübung; Germany’s invasion of Norway. Junkerdal National Park, Nordland, Norway. May 1940. Image taken by Karl Marth.
German mountain troops (Gebirgsjägers) in World War II sawing frozen sauerkraut apart for dinner. Once you get it out of the barrel, you are only getting started. The Gebirgsjäger served on all fronts but this image was likely taken of units attached to the 20th Mountain Army under Colonel-General (Generaloberst) Eduard Dietl, which was stationed in far northern Norway in Finland opposing the Soviets 1942-45. Hattip Lone Sentry.