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The DFS 230 Assault Glider

The classic Fallschirmjäger workhorse achieved important successes in a handful of missions

In 1919, the Versailles Treaty declared, “the manufacture and importation of aircraft, parts of aircraft, engines for aircraft, and parts of engines for aircraft, shall be forbidden in all German territory.” But the treaty said nothing about gliders, and in the 1920s glider clubs sprang up all over Germany, training many aviators who would one day form the core of Hitler’s Luftwaffe. In 1933 German glider activity was centralized at Darmstadt under the DFS (Deutsche Forschunganstalt für Segelflug, “German Research Institute for Sailplane Flight”), and began to design combat-capable gliders. The architects of the Versailles Treaty doubtless had no conception of what a relatively small number of gliders such as the DFS 230 would achieve.

The DFS 230 was a braced high-wing monoplane, with a tubular steel frame and wooden wings. Built to make a one-way trip, construction was very light, with only basic instruments: air speed indicator, altimeter, rate-of-climb indicator, turn-and-bank indicator and compass.

In 1936 the Luftwaffe had secretly begun training parachutists for special missions. One limitation of parachute assault was the inevitable scattering of units and their vulnerability on the drop zone in the first minutes after landing. Assault gliders offered a way to overcome this problem.

DFS 230 Assault Glider

DFS 230 assault gliders being towed by Junkers Ju 87 Stukas over Italy, 1943. While a Ju-52 transport was the DFS 230’s usual tug, the glider could be towed by a variety of Luftwaffe aircraft. Bundesarchive photo

The DFS 230 was originally designed as a low-cost weather data collector, the prototype being demonstrated to Luftwaffe Gen. Ernst Udet in 1937. The concept of an assault glider that could deliver a fully-equipped infantry squad directly onto an objective led to an immediate production order.

The DFS 230 was a braced high-wing monoplane, with a tubular steel frame and wooden wings. Built to make a one-way trip, construction was very light, with only basic instruments: air speed indicator, altimeter, rate-of-climb indicator, turn-and-bank indicator and compass. It carried a pilot and nine troops on seats in a single row, six facing forward and four backward. Doors were fitted at each end for rapid exit, and the enlisted pilot fought as a rifleman after landing. Four rear seats were removable to provide cargo stowage. Wheels were jettisoned on takeoff, and landing relied on a skid under the fuselage. The DFS 230 was normally towed by the rugged, reliable Ju-52 transport. The glider was then released at an altitude of no more than 5,000 feet and 2 to 5 miles from the objective.

DFS 230 Assault Glider

A look at Fallschirmjäger packed into a DFS 230. One advantage of going into battle aboard a glider was the ability to carry small arms like the MG 34, MP 40 and Kar 98K shown here, unlike paratroopers who jumped with nothing heavier than a pistol, all other arms dropped in containers from transport aircraft. Bundesarchive photo

The DFS 230’s combat debut came early on May 10, 1940, when nine DFS 230s, carrying 78 men of the 7th Fliegerdivision (led by Col. Rudolf Witzig), landed directly on the roof of the Belgian fortress Eben-Emael.  Completed in 1935, the steel and concrete fortress was garrisoned by 1,200 troops and commanded two bridges over the Albert Canal. It was a bottleneck for the Blitzkrieg, blocking the advance of the entire German Sixth Army. Armed with shaped-charge explosives and flamethrowers, Witzig’s men knocked out armored gun positions, neutralizing the fortress, which surrendered the next day.

Nevertheless the DFS 230 continued in service, providing urgent resupply to forward elements of the Afrika Korps in Libya. And they starred in one of the war’s most daring operations, Operation Eiche (“Oak”) on Sept. 12, 1943.

70 DFS 230s were used, together with paratroops, in the German airborne invasion of Crete on May 20, 1941. The gliders landed around the Maleme airfield, and on beaches near Khania. The DFS 230s threw up clouds of dust as they landed, saving many troops from being mowed down by gunfire as they disembarked. Luftwaffe air superiority eventually won the island, but casualties to the elite German airborne units were so heavy that they would never conduct another mass airborne assault during World War II. Nevertheless the DFS 230 continued in service, providing urgent resupply to forward elements of the Afrika Korps in Libya. And they starred in one of the war’s most daring operations, Operation Eiche (“Oak”) on Sept. 12, 1943.

DFS 230 Assault Glider

A Fallschirmjäger leaves his DFS 230 during the invasion of Crete, May 1941. The dust thrown up by the skids of the DFS 230 saved a lot of Fallschirmjägers from being cut down by Allied machine gun fire. Bundesarchive photo

Following Allied landings in Sicily in July, Benito Mussolini was deposed and eventually imprisoned at a remote mountaintop hotel, accessible only by cable car from the valley below. Hitler ordered SS Lt. Col. (Obersturmbannführer) Otto Skorzeny to find and rescue the Duce. The plan was not easy: Twelve DFS 230 assault gliders, each carrying 9 troops and a pilot, were released over Gran Sasso mountain. The glider pilots faced strong, unpredictable winds around the 9,500 ft. peak. They had to land on a tiny patch of level ground beside the hotel, surrounded by steep slopes. The assault achieved surprise. Mussolini was then flown out in an overloaded Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (Stork).

The glider pilots faced strong, unpredictable winds around the 9,500 ft. peak. They had to land on a tiny patch of level ground beside the hotel, surrounded by steep slopes. The assault achieved surprise.

More than 1,500 DFS 230s were built during the war. Variants included dual control trainers, models with experimental braking rockets and a stretched 15-passenger prototype. And while the DFS 230 was replaced by more capable gliders like the Me 321 Gigant (“Giant”) and Gotha Go 242, it remains a classic of the short-lived class of transport gliders. An example of this remarkable aircraft survives in the Luftwaffe Museum at Gatow near Berlin.DFS 230 Assault Glider

 

DFS 230 Dimensions and Specifications

Length: 11.3 m (37 ft.)

Span: 21.1 m (69 ft. 1 in.)

Wing area: 38.1 sq.m. (410 sq.ft.)

Height: 2.8 m (9 ft. 4 in.)

Empty weight: 770 kg. (1,700 pounds)

Loaded weight: 2,040 kg. (4,500 pounds)

Maximum takeoff weight: 2,100 kg. (4,630 pounds)

Maximum speed: 161 km/h at 300 m. (100 mph at 1000 ft.)

Landing speed: 55-65 km/h (35-40 mph)