In previous articles (Forces of Fame: Fallschirmjäger, Fallschirmjäger in Normandy), we’ve talked at length about the Fallschirmjäger, the elite German paratroopers of the Second World War, and how you might go about using them on the Bolt Action tabletop. We’ve looked at their overall combat record, and of course their best-known engagements against the Allied advance in Normandy, but today we’re examining a no-less crucial but oft-overlooked front – the Italian campaign! Fallschirmjäger units played a huge part in the Axis attempts to defend Italy, and with both Campaign Italy: Soft Underbelly and Campaign Italy: Tough Gut to advise us, there’s a wealth of ways we can make a Fallschirmjäger force really stand out for gaming in the Italian theatre!

Fallschirmjäger Squad

The Fallschirmjäger had been highly active in the North African and Mediterranean theatre throughout the war, with their pyrrhic parachute drop during the invasion of Crete signalling the end of their usage as ‘true’ airborne troops, earning a reputation as tough, skilled combatants, albeit frequently lacking in heavy equipment or support. In Italy, however, they found themselves as arguably the cream of the Axis forces manning the fortifications and defensive strongholds of the Gustav Line, operating alongside regular Heer, Waffen-SS, and Italian units in the mountains and valleys of central-southern Italy. Here, well-supplied and supported by armour and artillery, they were able to inflict serious damage on Allied units attempting to push north up the Italian Peninsula, often requiring enormous effort and expenditure to be evicted from their positions. The most famous of these battles is of course the epic and costly struggle for Monte Cassino in early 1944, but many less well-known engagements proliferated throughout the Italian campaign, providing plenty of inspiration for games of Bolt Action!

German paratroopers defend a vital crossing.
Paratrooper in Winter Gear – dressed for the bleak Winter of Italy in 1942, and equipped with FG 42 automatic rifle.

One of the joys of wargaming in 1943-44 is that much of the ‘cool’ late-war kit is starting to appear on the battlefield in quantity but can be fielded alongside a lot of (no less cool) early-war gear, making for some fantastic force compositions, as well as modelling and painting opportunities. The Fallschirmjäger themselves are a great painting challenge, with their camouflaged Knochensack (bonesack) jump smocks (check out this great Splinter Camouflage Painting Tutorial by Painting Panzers), and essentially the entire range is suitable for the period! In terms of modelling, you can also mix in some of the Winter German range in greatcoats (it can get chilly up a mountain in January!) – just make sure you swap the heads over to the iconic Fallschirmjäger jump helmets! You can also include the legendary Fallschirmjägergewehr 42 automatic rifle (conveniently found on the plastic sprue) in small numbers – I’d suggest no more than two per squad – and as many ‘borrowed’ Italian weapons as your chaps can get their hands on! The mountainous terrain of the campaign is also a chance to really go ham with your basing, and it’s no surprise that Italian campaign armies are a very common sight at painting competitions and on the ‘best painted’ tables at events!

The Green Devils counter-attack!

Soft Underbelly and Tough Gut are essential resources for wargaming the Italian campaign, and naturally the Fallschirmjäger are well-represented in many of the scenarios! Also included in Soft Underbelly are rules for a number of new units, including officer teams (someone has to be in charge, after all!), rear-echelon squads, and the flamethrower-toting Fallschirmpionere pioneers, at various stages in the campaign, allowing you to tailor your force to suit the particular battles you are aiming to refight in Bolt Action.

When building up a Fallschirmjäger army, the logical starting point – the Starter Army – is perfect for Italy! Netting you a platoon of plastic paratroopers that are well supported by mortar, flamethrower, and sniper teams, as well as a fearsome StuG III, and with a Hanomag for some of them to catch a ride in, plus a 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun, this great value boxed set can be assembled as a 1,500 point army right out of the box. It also serves as a great foundation for a larger collection – and who doesn’t like options? For an Italian campaign force, I’d look into adding a few machine gun teams (perfect for defending those mountain passes!), as well as the aforementioned Italian weapons to equip some of the more enterprising paratroopers – there’s also a great set of metal figures for this purpose!

One of the other great things about the Italian campaign is that the often ad-hoc nature of various formations means there’s plenty of opportunity for ‘mixed’ armies (and indeed rules for such can be found in Tough Gut!). Whether you’re adding a squad of Fallschirmjäger to bolster a regular Heer force, or adding some Italian Alpini to spice up your paratroopers, the sky’s the limit when it comes to force composition, making for some truly unique games with a very ‘Italian’ flavour!

There might not be any aeroplanes to jump out of, but there are plenty of hills that need holding – sounds like a job for the Fallschirmjäger!

German paratroopers deploy for action.
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