Book Review – Martin Poppel, Heaven & Hell, The War Diary of a German Paratrooper (Staplehurst: Spellmount, 1988)


Martin Poppel’s Heaven and Hell is his account of his service in the German Fallschirmjaeger (Parachute hunters) during the Second World War. He enlisted in 1938 as a recruit in the 1st Parachute Division and saw action in Poland, Norway and Holland before being promoted to Second Lieutenant in December 1941. 

German 1st Parachute Division symbol

Until October 1943, he saw service on the Eastern front around Sobakino and Rzhev. Transferred to Italy, he fought in Sicily and southern Italy before being transferred to the 6th Parachute Division as a company commander. He finally saw action in Normandy and Germany before surrendering to the British in March 1945.[1]

It is a standard chronological account of his service across the war with some interesting anecdotes such as being ill-disciplined during training, comradeship and accounts of action.[2] Interestingly, he suggests that he and his comrades were supporters of Hitler. On New Year’s Eve 1942, he recalled that their ‘our thoughts and conversations turn towards…our loved ones, our Fuhrer and our Fatherland. We’re not afraid to cry as we stand to remember our Fuhrer and our fallen comrades. It’s like an oath binding us together, making us grid our teeth and carry on until victory’.[3] He himself found a speech given by Goebbels on 19 February 1943 that was ‘tremendous and fantastic that I feel that I have to write home with my response. Everyone is carried away with his words, all of us were under his spell…He calls for the utmost effort from each and every one of us, for each one to do his duty in service to the Fatherland. Only in this way – we all agree – can we win the war. For us, Stalingrad was a signal, calling us to make a sacred commitment.’[4]

This is an interesting narrative given there are relatively few accounts given by members of the Fallschirmjaeger. The weakness of the book is that the tense of the text slips between present and past, suggesting that it is a combination of both contemporary diary and post-war memoir but it is difficult to tell which is which.



[1] Martin Poppel, Heaven & Hell, The War Diary of a German Paratrooper (Staplehurst: Spellmount, 1988), p.80

[2] Ibid., pp.9-18, 46-47.

[3] Ibid. p.99.

[4] Ibid., p.101.