In Chapter 32, Airborne Forces of Liddell Hart (ed), The Soviet Army, Kurt Student says, after noting the abscence of paratroop involvment in the invasion of Poland (p. 378), that

`Parachute troops are just a circus,' one of the Western air ministers remarked.

Who was this minister? A quick google search does not turn up anything.

Edit: moving this here so that people get to see it.

Clarification: the minister was Pierre Cot. Ganze Männer, p. 41:

Nach Angabe des ehemaligen französischen Luftfahrtministers P. Cot wurden sie auf Veranlassung des Generalstabes als eine ,,Zirkusangelegenheit'' abgelehnt und aufgelöst.

(Google)

According to the former French Air Ministry Minister P. Cot, they were rejected and dissolved as a "circus matter" at the instigation of the General Staff.

So perhaps not completely clear who said it was a circus.

up vote 24 down vote accepted

this quote wasn't by ONE minister, it was by the whole French General Staff.

page 3

The French military then dabbled briefly with the concept, creating two companies of paratroopers in 1936, but the experiment was dismissed by the French General Staff as “a circus act” and abolished before the war started.

Piehl, Hauptmann. Ganze Männer. Verlagshaus Bong & Co. Leipzig. 1943. p. 41

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    As opposed to stacking bunkers in the Magignot line, which would absolutely not be an useles circus – Hobbamok Sep 21 at 13:38
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    Also note that that book was written in '43, so it might be German propaganda – Hobbamok Sep 21 at 13:39
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    "this quote wasn't by ONE minister, it was by the whole French General Staff" - what is that even supposed to mean? A whole administrative department chanting the words in unison? An official report in the general staff's name saying "circus act"? This should not be the accepted answer. – user2357112 Sep 21 at 16:47
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    @user2357112: if you read my answer below all the irrelevant dross it might make more sense. I think we still don't know who contributed the epithet "circus". I accepted this answer because it contained the information I was looking for. – Tomas By Sep 21 at 18:38
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    Bunkers are effective if properly defended. Germans, Soviets, Japanese utilized them to varying success depending on how well they were defended from air attacks or infantry encroachment. – unity100 Sep 21 at 19:12

There are two questions here.

The first question is about which Western air minister former Generaloberst Kurt Student was referring to in Chapter 32 of The Soviet Army. The second is whether that claim actually had any basis in fact.

The first question is easy to answer. The claim originates in the book Ganze Männer by Hauptmann Piehl, and it is unsurprising that General Student was familiar with it. After all, he wrote an introduction to the book!

The book claimed that the remark was made by the French Air Minister Pierre Cot.


The answer to the second question is much less clear. Notwithstanding the claims made by 'Hauptmann Piehl' in 1943, and subsequently repeated by Chris Mason in his 2000/2001 thesis, it seems that there is some doubt that the comment was ever actually made.

Indeed, there is a very real possibility that the claim was simply German wartime propaganda.


On the relevant history page of the French Defence Ministry, it states that France sent a contingent of officers, including Frédéric Geille, to the Soviet Union in 1935 to attend a parachute training course. On his return Geille persuaded the French High Command to create a body of French paratroopers.

On 3 October 1936 the French Air Minister Pierre Cot signed a decree which led to the creation the following year of the 601st Groupe d'infanterie de l'air (Air Infantry Group) at Reims and the 602nd Groupe d'infanterie de l'air at Baraki near Algiers. Cot left the Air Ministry, and became Minister for Commerce in 1938.

This much agrees with the account in Piehl's book.

However, those units were not disbanded before the war started. On the contrary, in 1939, with the outbreak of war, both the 601st and 602nd returned to France, and in April 1940, an Air Marching Infantry Company was formed, under the command of Captain Henri Sauvagnac. However, the speed of the German offensive (and probably also the fact that the French High Command didn't know how to employ such a new type of fighting force) meant that the unit was never used in the Battle of France.

There is no mention of the Groupes d'infanterie de l'air being "circus acts", and it seems the units were most certainly not disbanded prior to the start of the war. A number of articles from German newspapers in the 1930s do mention Pierre Cot, however none repeat the comment about parachute troops being a circus.

Barring confirmation from an independent source, Piehl's claims do look a lot like German propaganda.


The French units were withdrawn to Oran in North Africa and then Algiers where they were subsequently disbanded.

The remnants of these units would form the basis of the 1re Compagnie d'infanterie de l'air (precursor of the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes), formed in Algiers in early 1941.

  • The claim in the book, I think, is only that they were dissolved at some point (ie before 1943). It seems they were infantry from April 1940 and then dissolved in August. – Tomas By Sep 20 at 23:36
  • @TomasBy My German may be a little rusty, but the claim that Doch danach wurde es wieder still um die französischen Fallschirmjäger ('But then it was quiet again for the French paratroopers') after 1937 doesn't match with the facts from other sources. There is no suggestion that they were deployed as infantry in 1940 (Don't mistake the term Groupe d'infanterie de l'air. An alternative translation would simply be 'Parachute Group'. Paratroops are, after all, a branch of the infantry. Airborne infantry, certainly, but infantry nonetheless). – sempaiscuba Sep 20 at 23:55
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    @TomasBy Do you have an independent source for their deployment as infantry? As for nothing more being heard of them as paratroopers, by the time the book was published in 1943, they had been reformed in Algiers as the 1re Compagnie d'infanterie de l'air, been deployed in Morocco following the allied landings in North Africa, and then re-organised into the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutiste. As I said, in the absence of any corroborating information it makes more sense just to read it as German propaganda. – sempaiscuba Sep 21 at 9:57
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    @TomasBy I don't see what point you are trying to make. What has that got to do with the claims made in Piehl's book in 1943? – sempaiscuba Sep 21 at 12:50

Clarification: the minister was Pierre Cot. Ganze Männer, p. 41:

Nach Angabe des ehemaligen französischen Luftfahrtministers P. Cot wurden sie auf Veranlassung des Generalstabes als eine ,,Zirkusangelegenheit'' abgelehnt und aufgelöst.

(Google)

According to the former French Air Ministry Minister P. Cot, they were rejected and dissolved as a "circus matter" at the instigation of the General Staff.

So perhaps not completely clear who said it was a circus.

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