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»Spielzeug«: 19–23 December 1944

One of the more unusual tasks carried out by Luftwaffe bombers during the Ardennes offensive was I.KG 66’s participation in a sequence of operations over Belgium with the cover name Spielzeug.

On 19 December, the Transport Fliegerführer issued a sequence of orders for the coming night to TG 30 at Zellhausen. These dealt both with supplying Oberst von der Heydte’s paratroopers dropped in the opening phases of the offensive and a new operation to be known as Spielzeug.

Seven of TGr. 30’s He 111s were to supply paratroops in a wood 6 km south of Eupen and their flying-off point would be visual beacon at 50º 38' N, 06º 36' E (between the villages of Floisdorf and Berg, about 14 km WSW of Euskirchen). There would be no ground marking on the drop zone but the aircraft could request red and white Verey lights by firing recognition signals. This resupply was to be carried out at all costs and subsequently the Gruppe was told to divert one aircraft to Bonn-Hangelar to collect a supply canister with radio equipment.

At 13.00 hours, orders were given for the remaining serviceable Heinkels — seven if possible — to operate over a target area 4 km north of Spa. There would be red ground markers and numerous white sky markers. Navigational aids would be provides “as for a supply dropping operation.”

Thirty minutes later, TGr. 30 was complaining that because fighter units had arrived in Zellhausen and Ostheim, technical servicing was inadequate. Reinforcements (presumably for the ground crews) were requested. Apparently, the difficulties were overcome for at 15.30 hours it reported immediate take off readiness for Spielzeug, with 12 per aircraft. Readiness for supply dropping would be from 17.30. At 19.15 hours, the orders for Spielzeug were changed: the target would now be 3.5 km north northwest of Verviers.

Reviewing the signals three days later, RAF Intelligence smelled a rat. The reference to “12 per aircraft” pointed to something out of the ordinary since so many fully-equipped paratroops would be hard put to squeeze into the limited space inside an He 111. What was more, the Fliegerführer had stressed the importance of the main supply operations whereas Spielzeug had appeared secondary, suggesting that perhaps here no lives were at stake. Finally, the illumination ordered for the main drop had been discreet whilst Spielzeug’s was altogether more ostentatious, as if hoping to attract attention. The conclusion was that the operation had entailed dropping dummy parachutists, a deception tactic used a number of times durung the war, most recently by the Allies in Normandy (Operation TITANIC). What would have clinched this issue, although it is not mentioned in the above assessment, was the cover name itself. Spielzeug was another example of the Germans' tendency to use code words that gave the game away: it means "toy".

Meanwhile another deception operation seems to have been flown. On his web pages, Marino M. Michetti, a veteran of the US 82nd Airborne described events on 21 December:

That evening, parachutes were dropped out of the sky, over our heads. I later learned that the Germans dropped 300 of these chutes. Everyone that had a weapon must have opened fire, including myself, on what we thought were German Paratroopers. These parachutes were found to have been holding dummies, to see where we had our firepower.

On 23 December at 17.00 hours, the Transport Fliegerführer again gave orders to drop dummy parachutists in wooded country 3 km south west of Pepinster (which lies west of Verviers) at 22.30 and this time deception was the stated objective. The I./KG 66 was to provide strong illumination between Pepinster and Height 314 from 22.00–22.45 hours. It was hoped that repeated approach flights would mislead the Allies into believing strong German forces were in the area.

How far these spoofs succeeded is difficult to assess. Undoubtedly there was much confusion behind Allied lines in the first days of the offensive, not all of it arising from German subterfuge. As in Normandy, the arrival of real parachutists caused a degree of alarm, not least because the small force involved was widely scattered (a danger inherent in night drops), never managing to regroup sufficiently to have a significant effect in combat. The way things turned out, the Luftwaffe might have been better off sticking to dummies.