Charles V meets with the Bey of Tunis, 1535. Both Habsburg and Ottoman power in North Africa depended in part on agreements with local clients. Here the size of the Imperial expedition of 1535 is apparent. Note the lines of galleys in the bay to the upper right – projecting power across the Mediterranean took enormous resources.

Town and fortress of Herceg Novi (Ital.: Castelnuovo).

The Ottoman sultan, especially after the conquest of Mameluke Egypt in 1517 (during the first year of King Charles’s reign), enjoyed his own growing influence along the central North African coast. The sultan’s most successful client was Khayr ad-Din, the Barbary pirate better known as Barbarossa for his red beard. Fearful of the growing Spanish influence which threatened his corsairing, in 1518 Barbarossa pledged himself to the sultan Selim and in return received a title and military aid. With a large galley fleet and a mixed army of Maghrebis, Christian renegades, Moorish refugees from Spain and Turkish adventurers, Khayr ad-Din seized Algiers (1529) and Tunis (1534) from local Muslim rulers. In 1533 Süleyman made the pirate his high admiral with all the substantial resources of the Galata dockyards at Constantinople. Barbarossa continued to plague the shores and shipping of Christian Europe until his death in 1546. These were not insubstantial raids, threatening only unlucky fishermen and villagers, but major acts of war. In 1543, his most spectacular year, Barbarossa first sacked Reggio Calabria (for the second time) and then, cooperating with the sultan’s French allies, the city of Nice (a possession of the Spanish-allied Duke of Savoy). The war in North Africa and on the waters of the western Mediterranean thus became a confrontation between the emperor Charles and the sultan Süleyman.

In Charles’s first Mediterranean offensive he personally led the great invasion fleet and 25,000-man army that sailed from Barcelona to take Tunis in 1535, a direct response to Barbarossa’s seizure of the city the previous year. The fortified island of Goletta off Tunis became one of the principal Spanish forts of the Maghreb, and the southernmost position of a Habsburg cordon stretching down from Naples, Sicily and Malta to block further Ottoman expansion. Süleyman replied to the loss of Tunis with a planned invasion of Italy in 1537, landing a preliminary force of horse under the command of an Italian renegade to scour the countryside of Apulia. To secure his crossing to Italy Süleyman first laid siege to the Venetian fortress of Corfu, extensively protected by massive new-style fortifications. The Turkish besiegers proved incapable of reducing the Venetian citadel, and the entire operation had to be abandoned. The next year Charles continued the Spanish offensive, his Genoese admiral Andrea Doria taking Castelnuovo (now Herceg Novi) in Montenegro. In the late summer of 1539 Barbarossa retook Castelnuovo at a tremendous cost of life. Neither power could successfully bridge the straits of Otranto. In 1541 Charles directed an enormous fleet against Algiers, a twin to his successful operation against Tunis in 1535. Again the emperor was personally in command, and success looked certain: Barbarossa was in the eastern Mediterranean; the janissary garrison tiny. But soon after disembarking a tremendous three-day gale utterly wrecked the supporting Spanish fleet, and the invading force (reduced to eating their horses) had to be evacuated. For almost ten years following this Spanish disaster there were no major land operations in the Mediterranean.

Barbarossa (Hayreddin or Kheir-ed-Din Pasha) (c. 1476- 1546)

Ottoman admiral. Born around 1476, at Mitylene on Lesbos, Hayreddin and his older brother Oruj led a fleet of pirate galliots, or open rowing boats, in the Goletta near Tunis.

Ottoman Sultan Bayezit gave Oruj the title of bey (military commander) for his 1505 capture of a Sicilian vessel carrying Spanish soldiers. After Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria drove the brothers from the Goletta in 1512, Oruj moved his base to Djidjelli, Algeria, and Hayreddin moved to Djerba.

In 1516 Oruj and Hayreddin helped the Moriscos (Muslims expelled from Spain) push the Spanish from Algiers. In 1518, however, Spain forced the brothers and their Arab and Morisco allies from Algiers, killing Oruj. Hayreddin rallied the remaining forces, who chose him as their leader and called him “Barbarossa” for his red beard.

Ottoman Sultan Selim I sent 2,000 janissaries and 4,000 soldiers to retake Algiers in 1519, whereupon Barbarossa became beylerbeyi, or governor. King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V tried to retake Algiers in August, but a storm destroyed most of his fleet. Barbarossa then consolidated Ottoman power in Algiers, uniting the Arabs and Berbers with the coastal Moriscos and sending his galliots to raid Spanish and Italian shipping. In May 1529 he forced the Spanish to surrender their base of Penon in Algiers’s harbor. He then had Christian captives build a breakwater to connect Penon with the mainland.

Summoned to Istanbul by Sultan Suleyman I the Magnificent in December 1533, Barbarossa was appointed capudan pasha (admiral in chief). Barbarossa built a galley fleet, which he manned with Anatolian warriors rather than captives or slaves.

In July 1534 Barbarossa used this fleet to raid the Italian coast, and in August he occupied Tunis. King Muley Hassan of Tunis sought aid from Charles V, who sent Andrea Doria there in July 1535. To save his own fleet, Barbarossa withdrew from Tunis. As the Spanish and Genoese celebrated their victory, Barbarossa invaded Spanish waters, taking 6,000 slaves in a raid on Minorca. He then attacked Venetian bases in the Ionian Sea in 1536, and from September to November 1537 he added the remaining Aegean islands to the Ottoman Empire.

Meanwhile, in 1538 Andrea Doria assembled an armada of row galleys and sailing galleons from Genoa, Venice, Spain, and the Papal States to challenge Barbarossa. On 28 September 1538, Barbarossa’s smaller, more maneuverable galleys and galliots defeated the combined armada in a day of fierce fighting off Preveze in the western Ionian Sea, sinking five Spanish sailing ships and two Italian galleys. Venice made peace with the Ottomans in October 1540.

Barbarossa’s fleet supported France’s siege of Nice and forced its surrender in September 1543, then raided Catalonia and Italy, before returning to Istanbul. In establishing Ottoman naval power in the Mediterranean, Barbarossa forced Emperor Charles V to make peace in November 1545.

Barbarossa died at his palace on the Bosphorus in July 1546. For generations, no Turkish ship would pass his tomb at Besiktas in Istanbul without firing a salute to the Ottoman Empire’s “King of the Sea.”

Bradford, Ernle D. S. The Sultan’s Admiral: The Life of Barbarossa. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968.
Fisher, Godfrey. Barbary Legend: War, Trade and Piracy in North Africa, 1415–1830. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1957.
Shaw, Stanford. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Vol. 1, Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280–1808. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
Wolf, John B. The Barbary Coast: Algiers under the Turks. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979.


Panzer Brigade Kurland

The withdrawal of 4th Panzer Division from Courland substantially reduced the armoured assets of the army group. In an attempt to improve the flexibility of the remaining forces, a new formation, named Panzer Brigade Kurland, was created. Commanded first by Oberst von Usedom, then Major Graf von Rittberg, the brigade was initially termed Panzer Aufklärungs-Gruppe Kurland (`Armoured Reconnaissance Group Courland’) and consisted of the reconnaissance battalions of 12th and 14th Panzer Divisions. The group then received the personnel of Grenadier Sturmbataillon Kurland (`Grenadier Assault Battalion Courland’), another improvised formation, and a battalion of combat engineers. Two battalions of tank destroyers provided additional firepower. These were predominantly equipped with the excellent Jagdpanzer Pz. 38(t) or Hetzer, a low-slung assault gun armed with a powerful 75mm gun mounted on the chassis of the Pz. 38. This chassis had started life as the Czech Pz. 38 tank, and was used by the Wehrmacht in the early years of the war. Although it had an excellent reputation for reliability, its relatively thin armour and small turret – which prevented the fitting of a gun powerful enough to deal with modern enemy tanks – rendered it obsolete. In its new role as a tank destroyer, equipped with a similar gun to the Pz. IV and Sturmgeschütz III, it was a capable vehicle. In addition to several Hetzer tank destroyers, Panzer Brigade Kurland also had a company of ten captured T-34s. The creation of the brigade weakened 12th and 14th Panzer Divisions; their reconnaissance battalions had a powerful mixture of half-tracks and armoured cars, and were often used as independent battlegroups. However, the new brigade, effectively functioning as another battlegroup, was able to remedy some of the problems caused by the withdrawal of 4th Panzer Division.


Oberst von Usedom

Major Graf von Rittberg

Panzer Aufklärung Abteilung 12

Panzer Aufklärung Abteilung 14

Elements of schwere Panzer Abteilung 510

Grenadier Sturmbataillon Kurland (organized from infantry odds and ends)

A Panzerjäger Abteilung with Hetzer (specific unit designation not given)

Another unspecified company with 10 captured T-34

A “reinforced combat engineer battalion”

A Flak Abteilung

An artillery Battery with 4 light and 3 heavy howitzers

From NARA Microfilm T78, roll 624. The Panzer/Stug/Arty & Pak(Sfl) lage dated 14th April 1945 has Pz.Brig Kurland (actual date of report 15th March 1945) with 1x Pz III Lg, 1x Pz IV L/48, 1x Pz IV Beob wg, 2x Marder II (7,5 cm) (& 2 in repair?), 2x Pak40 75cm 38t (& 7 in repair?). Have not located a column for captured Panzers on hand. This particular roll only has army group level stats for dates earlier then 15th March 1945.

 Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 510

15 January 1945: All 22 Tigers are operational. The battalion reports directly to Heeresgruppe Kurland (Army Group “Courland”).

22 January 1945: Rail movement in two transports to Frauenburg.

23 January 1945: Third transport to Ilmaja. The remaining tanks are assigned to Panzer-Brigade “Kurland” and then employed as a blocking force for the field-army group.

19 March 1945: The remaining tanks are handed over to Leutnant Wine, who remains in Kurland. The rest of the battalion receives a warning order that it is to be reconstituted in the Berlin area and equipped with Tiger II tanks.

The Panzerjäger unit may have been the 3./Armee-Pz.Jg.Abt. 753. In its status reports dated 1.3.1945 and 1.4.1945 the Armee-Pz.Jg.Abt. 753 reported “ohne 3. Kp.” which was detached to an unnamed unit. The 3. Kp. was equipped with ‘Marder’ type self-propelled guns while the 1. and 2. Kp. had towed anti-tank guns.

Battle of La Suffel (La Souffel) 1815

Rapp’s V Corps and Wilhelm of Württemberg with the III Corps of the Austrian army, north of Strasbourg on 28 June. Wilhelm’s force is made up of a mixed bag of Allied troops with infantry brigades from Austria, Hessen-Darmstadt, and two from Wurttemberg and a Württemberg cavalry brigade. Rapp commands the 15, 16 and 17th Brigades (the later a reinforcement) and the 7th cavalry brigade.

JUNE 28, 1815

Forces Austrian: 40,000; French: 20,000.

Casualties Austrian: 2,125; French: 3,000.

Location Souffelweyersheim and Hoenheim, near Strasbourg, France. The V Corps of the French Army was deployed against the Austrians, and so was not involved in the Waterloo campaign. Although the Napoleonic cause was lost by that time, V Corps engaged an Austrian army and inflicted a defeat.

The Battle of La Suffel (28 June 1815) was a battle of the Hundred Days campaign of the Napoleonic Wars, the last battle of the Napoleonic Wars that the army of the First French Empire would win. Jean Rapp’s 20,000-strong French V Corps (also called the Army of the Rhine), which had defected to Emperor Napoleon I upon his return to France, was sent to defend the Vosges, and the 40,000-strong III Corps of the Upper Rhine Army of the Austrian Empire under Crown Prince Wilhelm of Wurttemberg met the French near Strasbourg at La Suffel.

AUSTRIA – JANUARY 01: Emperor Franz I and his Chancellor Prince Clemens Metternich crossing the Vosges on their way to Paris, July 2, 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon I. The Emperor and the Chancellor are shown in the midst of Allied Russian troops.

General Rapp’s Army of the Rhine was pursued by the vanguard of Schwarzenberg’s Army of the Upper Rhine, a multi-national coalition of over 200,000 men. On June 26 Rapp skirmished with the Austrian III Corps, buying himself just enough time to continue his withdraw toward Strasbourg. But with the allied vanguard in hot pursuit, Rapp elected to make a stand along the banks of the meandering Suffel River. Late in the afternoon of June 28, Crown Prince Eugene eagerly collected his III Corps to mount an attack against the heavily-outnumbered French.

Rapp deployed in a traditional defense over a four-mile front, with two divisions guarding the river bridges, and one central division in reserve. For his own part, Prince Eugene may have been overly eager to win some glory in the waning days of the war. Instead of concentrating his superior numbers, Eugene committed his men piecemeal as they arrived. He first directed the Austrians to seize Lampertheim. When this failed to turn Rapp’s flank, Eugene committed Franquemont to strike Souffelweyersheim. Charging headlong over the bridge, Prince Adam’s cavalry broke through the French line, only to have Rapp personally direct a counter-charge with Merlin’s division. The onset of dusk allowed Eugene to call off his engagement, and the imminent arrival of 30,000 Russians forced Rapp to fall back into the fortress of Strasbourg, where he remained until Napoleon formally abdicated. La Suffel was a tactical French victory, but strategically irrelevant. Each side lost roughly 3,000 casualties.

The arrival of Russian reinforcements for the Coalition army forced Rapp to withdraw to Strasbourg. The mayor of Souffelweyersheim and 17 bourgeois townspeople were executed by the Austrians after the battle, but Crown Prince Wilhelm pardoned the other prisoners at the behest of Pastor Dannenberger.

Notes on Sources

La Suffel was a minor engagement and a footnote in the wake of Waterloo. Research is difficult to find, and Count Jean Rapp’s biased memoir is the best source. The battlefield map was created by cross-referencing Rapp’s account with Google Maps. See Jean Rapp, The Memoirs of General Count Rapp (1823), pp352-374. For a brief account of the battle and a summary of the overall strategic refer to William Siborne’s The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 (1848).

Scourge of War: La Souffel – The Penultimate Battle of the Napoleonic Wars

Jean Rapp, comte (1771-1821)

At the Battle of Austerlitz, 2 December 1805, Rapp led a charge at the head of the Mamelukes and other Imperial Guard cavalry against a counterattack by the Russian Imperial Guard cavalry. Despite receiving several saber cuts, Rapp repulsed the Russians, capturing many of them, including Prince Repnin shown here.

French general Jean Rapp survived numerous wounds and served as one of Napoleon’s most valued aides. His reputation is one of courage and physical resilience, but Rapp was an intelligent and able administrator as well.

Rapp was born in Colmar on 27 April 1771. His father was a devout Lutheran and had hopes that Jean would someday become a pastor. The young Rapp did receive a good education in preparation for a pastoral career, but his physical strength and adventurous nature led him to join a French cavalry regiment in 1788. He worked his way up the noncommissioned ranks while establishing a reputation for toughness in battle. In two separate actions in 1793, Rapp suffered a saber cut and a bullet wound. He was made lieutenant in 1794. At Ligenfeld on 28 May 1795 Rapp received several saber cuts on his head and left arm.

His conspicuous gallantry made him a desirable aidede-camp, and he was soon on the staff of General Louis Desaix. In this role, he was wounded at Kehl in 1797, and was promoted to captain. Later that same year, Rapp accompanied Desaix to Italy and met General Bonaparte. Rapp was part of the expedition to Egypt in 1798, fighting in virtually every engagement there. He was wounded in the left shoulder at Samahoud, 22 January 1799. Promoted to colonel, he helped in negotiations with the British for the evacuation of French troops remaining in Egypt after Bonaparte’s departure in August 1799. Rapp and Desaix returned to France in May 1800, and both men fought at the Battle of Marengo, 14 June 1800. Desaix was mortally wounded in the battle, and died on the field in Rapp’s arms.

Napoleon made Rapp one of his own aides after the death of Desaix. Rapp served in a variety of roles from 1800 to 1805. He was an intelligence officer, a military inspector, and a diplomatic envoy, and he organized a squadron of Mamelukes in Marseilles for service in Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. Rapp was promoted to general in 1803. As part of Napoleon’s inner circle, he was a friend of Josephine, although plans for a marriage with one of her nieces fell through. Instead, in 1805 Napoleon arranged a marriage for Rapp with fourteen-year-old Rosalie Vanlerberghe, the daughter of an important manufacturer of munitions. Later in 1805, Rapp accompanied Napoleon on his famous Austerlitz campaign. At the Battle of Austerlitz, 2 December 1805, Rapp led a charge at the head of the Mamelukes and other Imperial Guard cavalry against a counterattack by the Russian Imperial Guard cavalry. Despite receiving several saber cuts, Rapp repulsed the Russians, capturing many of them, including Prince Repnin.

After Austerlitz, Rapp was promoted to général de division, and continued gathering intelligence and inspecting military formations. He accompanied Napoleon on the Jena campaign of 1806, and led a charge at Schleiz on 9 October. During the campaign in Poland against the Russians, he was wounded at Golymin on 26 December. The bullet wound almost necessitated the amputation of his left arm, but Rapp refused the operation. In 1807 he became governor of Danzig. Rapp’s organizational abilities were put to use in raising the Polish light cavalry regiment for Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. In 1809 the Emperor made Rapp a count and allowed him to leave his duties in Danzig temporarily, in order to serve with the staff in the campaign against Austria. The general distinguished himself at Aspern-Essling. Also in 1809 Rapp helped stop an assassination attempt on Napoleon by a knife-wielding young German named Staps. The following year, Rapp was briefly out of favor with Napoleon. The general feigned illness in order to avoid attending the marriage of the Emperor and his second wife, Marie Louise. As a friend of Josephine, Rapp did not favor Napoleon’s divorce from her. Rapp’s own arranged marriage ended in divorce in 1811, a process facilitated by the general’s relationship with Julie Boettcher, who bore him two children.

When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, Rapp initially fulfilled his duties as governor of Danzig, but later rejoined the Emperor’s staff at Smolensk. Rapp fought at Borodino on 7 September, and received three minor wounds and one serious bullet wound in his thigh. During the retreat from Moscow, Cossacks ambushed Napoleon and his staff. Rapp’s horse was killed in the ensuing melee, and the Emperor narrowly escaped being killed or captured. Later in the retreat, Rapp, though suffering badly from frostbite, fought alongside Marshal Michel Ney in the rear guard. Rapp resumed his duties at Danzig after the Russian campaign, and prepared to defend it against imminent attack. Prussian and Russian forces besieged Danzig from January through November of 1813. His garrison decimated by disease, Rapp finally surrendered on terms. He and his men were held as prisoners in and around Kiev until Napoleon’s first abdication in the spring of 1814.

Rapp commanded French forces guarding the Rhine during the Hundred Days in 1815. Napoleon had great faith in his former aide-de-camp, for Rapp had less than 30,000 men with which to face a gathering Allied army of around 200,000 troops. While Napoleon took the main French army into Belgium, Rapp organized a remarkably effective defense in Alsace, using a combination of fortified garrisons and limited counterattacks. He was able to claim a small victory at La Suffel on 28 June. Napoleon had already been defeated at Waterloo ten days earlier. Rapp resigned himself to the Bourbon restoration after Napoleon’s second abdication and exile. Rapp remarried (Mademoiselle Rotberg) and had two more children. He was given some ceremonial posts, but developed cancer and died at the age of fifty on 8 November 1821.

References and further reading

Austin, Paul Britten. 1993. 1812: The March on Moscow. London: Greenhill. —. 1995. 1812: Napoleon in Moscow. London: Greenhill. —. 1996. 1812: The Great Retreat. London: Greenhill. Lachouque, Henry. 1997. The Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and His Guard. Trans. Anne S. K. Brown. London: Greenhill. Rapp, Jean, comte. Memoirs of General Count Rapp, First Aide-de-Camp to Napoleon. Cambridge: Ken Trotman. (Orig. pub. 1823.)

Louis the Great (1342–1382) of Hungary

King of Hungary Charles I’s successor was his eldest son, the sixteen-year-old Louis. If we set to one side the details, his reign can be seen as the direct continuation of his father’s. His rule was based upon the authority that had been created by Charles and which had proved so solid that it was not in the least shaken by the change of ruler. The young Louis was surrounded by his father’s faithful and obedient barons and his lands and treasury seemed inexhaustible. He faced no serious opposition and consequently could rely on the resources of his kingdom virtually without restriction.


The times when royal authority had been constantly weakened by dynastic strife were over. Charles’s second son, Andrew, had been brought up in Naples since 1333, and Andrew’s brothers seem to have got along well with each other in Hungary. Louis and Stephen were given the titles of duke of Transylvania and duke of Slavonia respectively by their father, though this did not mean that they effectively governed their provinces. Stephen received a household of his own in 1349, when he was allotted a small region to govern with the title of ‘duke of Spis and Šaríš’. In 1350, during Louis’s second Italian campaign, he was appointed king’s lieutenant jointly with his mother. After Louis’s return, Stephen was first given the government of Transylvania; then, in 1351, he became duke of Croatia and Dalmatia and also that of Slavonia two years later. As far as we can judge, his political role was not significant. When he died in 1354, at the age of 22, his province passed to his son, John, who was under the guardianship of his mother, Marguerite, daughter of Emperor Louis of Bavaria. In the spring of 1356, when the war with Venice broke out, the court decided to put an end to the autonomous status of the duchy. Slavonia was provisionally placed under the government of a lieutenant (vicarius), who recovered the title of ban when the little prince died in 1360. Croatia and Dalmatia were likewise taken from the hands of Duchess Marguerite and bestowed upon another ban in 1357. Henceforth Croatia and Slavonia were to have separate governments until 1476, although on occasion (as between 1397 and 1409) the same ban governed both provinces.

Leaving aside the legends of the holy kings, Louis is the first king of Hungary for whom something of a portrait has come down to us. John, archdeacon of Küküllő, one of Louis’s clerics, wrote a biography of him around 1390, according to which Louis was ‘a man of middling stature, with fleshy lips and slightly bent shoulders’, whose ‘proud regard’ was the sign of his self-consciousness and authority. In contrast to his mistrustful and stingy father, Louis was amiable, open-hearted and generous. And while Charles had distinguished himself more in the work of administration than on the battlefield, Louis strove to embody the somewhat outdated ideal of the chivalrous and bellicose king. What he liked most was to go to war, ‘since it is not the kingship itself that is desirable but the fame that goes with it’, and to his search of glory he subordinated politics. Hardly a single year passed without his taking the field personally, but his expeditions often lacked a realistic goal and sometimes even a reasonable pretext. It seems that it was war itself that gave him pleasure; indeed, he could fall under its spell to such an extent that on more than one occasion he endangered his own life. When, during the siege of Canosa in Italy, he fell into the moat surrounding the castle, his barons ‘rebuked him for meddling in something that is alien to his royal dignity’.

His other favourite pastime was hunting, and in this activity he displayed no less courage than on the battlefield. Once he was attacked by a bear and his followers were hard pressed to save his life. He visited his ‘hunting places’ several times a year. He rebuilt the castle of Gesztes and constructed a magnificent palace at Diósgyőr, at the foot of the Bükk mountains. However, most of the time he spent in his immense forest of Zvolen, where three castles built by him (at L’upča, Víglaš and Zvolen itself) still bear witness to his passion for hunting. Although Petrarch suggested that he should pay more attention to the style of his Latin letters than to his favourite greyhounds, Louis was not entirely devoid of a taste for erudition. After the occupation of Naples he had King Robert’s library brought to Hungary, and he bought books himself. His copy of the pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum Secretorum can now be seen in the Bodleian Library. His liking for astrology was widely known, and he seems also to have loved history. It was upon his command that the Illuminated Chronicle, a piece of Angevin art unique in Hungary, was made. The codex, once preserved in Vienna and now kept in the National Library in Budapest, summarised Hungarian history up to 1330 on the basis of earlier chronicles. Since it has preserved texts that have disappeared in their original form, its historiographical value is inestimable. No less valuable are the 147 splendid miniatures that decorate the text. These can be attributed to a local artist of Italian education, who can possibly be identified as the German, Nicholas, son of Hertul.


It is customary to characterise Louis’s reign as Hungary’s age as a European power. In contrast to many of his fellow rulers, he was not troubled by disobedient subjects: there is no evidence of serious internal problems and we may safely conclude that there were none. Although towards the end of his reign some cleavages did appear in the regime, these had remained under the surface during his life. On the whole, he left a strong impression with his contemporaries, both within his own kingdom and, as far as we can judge, abroad as well. His biographer, who seems to have admired him, thought that ‘the perfection of his virtues made him beloved even among the barbarians and made his name seem glorious to many a nation.’ Even if this was an exaggeration, it was indeed a foreigner who first added the sobriquet ‘Great’ to his name, not long after his death.

Immediately after his accession to the throne, Louis focused all his attention upon the Neapolitan question. King Robert died on 20 January 1343 and in his testament he designated his grand-daughter, Joan, as his only heir. Her Hungarian husband had to content himself with the title ‘duke of Calabria’. Louis and his mother did their utmost to have the decision annulled and to secure the crown for Andrew. They sent one embassy after another to the Pope and Elizabeth travelled to join her son, spending nearly a year in Italy. She brought with her an enormous amount of treasure to cover her ‘expenses’, with the evident aim of creating a favourable atmosphere for her son. It appears, however, that Andrew was treated as something of a barbarian in the fine court of Naples. Joan simply could not stand him and was having an almost open affair with Robert of Taranto, one of her cousins. All that Elizabeth was able to achieve was the Pope’s consent to Andrew being crowned. However, before the papal bull containing this decision could be issued, the news arrived that the duke had been strangled at Aversa on the night of 18 September 1345.

Although the actual executants of the murder were found, the background to it was never cleared up. Suspicion fell on Joan herself and on her cousins, the princes of Taranto, especially after one of them, Louis, married Joan and was even accorded the royal title by the Pope. Unconcerned with the details, the king of Hungary held the Angevin kindred as a whole responsible for the murder. With increasing anger, Louis pressed the Pope to put Joan on trial, and at the same time demanded for himself the throne of Naples, which he considered now to be vacant. He was not satisfied with the inquisition that had been carried out by order of the Holy See, and, receiving but evasive answers from the Pope, he eventually decided to take personal revenge for his brother’s death.

One and a half years after the murder, in the spring of 1347, Louis sent off an army and followed it himself in November. Since the Adriatic Sea was controlled by Venice, he marched through Italy, his army swelling with German mercenaries en route. He met virtually no resistance. By the time Louis reached Aversa, Joan and her husband had already fled to Provence. It was to Aversa, the very site of the murder, that he summoned his Angevin relatives, but once they had arrived, Louis promptly set aside his feigned welcoming sentiments and seized them. Charles, duke of Durazzo, was executed on the spot without any formality and the others were held as prisoners. This extreme harshness was to do irreparable damage to his cause, but in the short-term Louis met no obstacle when on 24 January 1348 he marched into Naples, took the title ‘king of Sicily and Jerusalem’ and began his rule.

It soon became obvious, however, that the crown of Sicily was easier to obtain than to hold. Only three months had elapsed before Louis was forced to return to Hungary by the outbreak of the Black Death. Although he installed his mercenaries in several important castles, his rule collapsed immediately after he had left his new kingdom. Joan had returned as soon as September and somewhat later only a couple of strongholds remained in Hungarian hands. At the beginning of 1349, Stephen Lackfi, voivode of Transylvania, whom Louis had sent to Italy with a freshly-recruited army, launched a successful counterattack, but was forced to withdraw when his mercenaries abandoned him. Louis then realised that his presence was needed in order to maintain his rule.

In the meantime a treaty signed with Venice had opened the route across the Adriatic, and so on 1 May 1350 Louis disembarked in Apulia. Having reduced the coastal fortresses he took Aversa after a month’s siege. Joan sailed from Naples to Gaeta. Although the military victory was almost complete, it was impossible to exploit it, for Louis had become so unpopular by this time that he had to leave Naples in the autumn of the same year. He at first went on a pilgrimage to Rome, then returned to Hungary, completely disillusioned. Joan recovered her throne immediately and the remaining Hungarian garrisons found themselves hard pressed once again. By this time Louis was forced to realise that his plan for a union of the two kingdoms of Hungary and Naples was doomed to failure. A peace treaty was elaborated through papal mediation. Once it had been signed by his envoys on 23 March 1352, Louis recalled his remaining troops and set the Angevin princes free.

The Black Death, which struck the West between 1347 and 1352, had reached Hungary in 1349. In March Venice withheld her ambassadors because the plague had already broken out there. In the summer Louis informed the Republic that it was over, but it flared up again and carried off Queen Marguerite in September. Entire villages are known to have been depopulated around Oradea, and in Sopron the year of the plague was later referred to as ‘the time of mortality’; but it seems that the plague was less devastating in Hungary than elsewhere. Indeed, a second wave that arrived in October 1359 and lasted through the winter might well have been more destructive. A contemporary from Poland claimed that the epidemic of 1349 had mostly taken its victims in the countryside, while that of 1359 decimated the towns and the nobility, and the evidence that we have seems to support this observation. In January 1360 the Venetian ambassador spoke of the deaths of ‘many famous barons’, and in February he mentioned the live ‘under an alien roof great number of victims in Buda and Visegrád. The lists of office-holders show that the voivode of Transylvania, the Judge Royal, the magister tavarnicorum and the Master of the Cup-bearers all died during, and presumably as a consequence of, the plague, and the government had to be reorganised in the spring of 1360. Yet it is evident that neither of the two epidemics had disastrous demographic consequences for Hungary, probably because the population was sparse and much better nourished than in the West. Hungary was proverbially rich in food and, as far as we know, had been spared by the famines that had been regularly decimating the West since 1315.


Unlike the Neapolitan adventure, which offered no real prospect of success, the acquisition of Croatia and Dalmatia was an altogether more realistic proposition. From the very beginning of his reign, Louis considered it one of his most important tasks to complete his father’s work by forcing the ‘provinces’ that formerly had belonged to his crown to obedience. High on the agenda was the bringing to heel of the lords of Croatia. The first attempt by the ban of Slavonia in 1344 yielded no success. In the summer of 1345, following the summons of a general levy, Louis marched in person to Croatia and his campaign brought about the desired result. The Nelipčíć, the Šubić and the counts of Corbavia all submitted to the king without resistance. The province was to be governed from Slavonia until 1357.

The expedition to Croatia led to a conflict with Venice, which was in any case unavoidable given the disputed possession of Dalmatia. When Louis arrived in Croatia the city of Zadar shook off Venetian rule, as a result of which the troops of the Republic began a prolonged siege. In 1346 Louis returned and attempted to relieve Zadar, but on 1 July suffered a serious defeat under the walls of the city. Zadar fell soon after and in 1348 the king was forced to make peace for eight years. However, on the expiry of the peace in 1356 he took the field once again. This time he was able to secure the moral support of both Pope Innocent VI and Emperor Charles IV, while the lords of Padua joined him with their own troops. At first Louis directed his attack against the Italian provinces of Venice, but his advance was halted under the walls of Treviso and he was obliged to sign a truce at the end of 1356. The struggle was, in the event, decided in Dalmatia, where in the course of 1357 the Republic suffered a series of defeats. The cities revolted one after the other, drove out the Venetian garrisons and acknowledged the Hungarian king as their ruler. By the time Louis arrived at the end of 1357, Zadar had fallen as well, with only the citadel offering resistance. The situation of the Signoria had became hopeless. On 18 February 1358 it signed a peace at Zadar, acknowledging Louis and his successors as the only rulers of Dalmatia. It renounced ‘for ever’ its claims to rule the cities and islands, assured free movement for their trading ships in the Adriatic Sea and even consented to the doge’s abandonment of the title ‘duke of Dalmatia and Croatia’, which his predecessors had borne for centuries. Louis’s victory was complete. He relinquished his acquisitions in Italy, but was now able, unconditionally and durably, to incorporate the whole coast of Dalmatia from Dubrovnik to Rijeka into his kingdom.

Hungarian rule over Dalmatia was not to be challenged in Louis’s lifetime, but the friendship established with Padua dragged the king into two further wars with Venice. In 1373 Hungarian troops helped Francesco da Carrara in his war against the Republic, but they were defeated and their commander, Stephen Lackfi junior, was taken prisoner. In 1378 Louis entered into the alliance that had been formed by Genoa with the aim of ruining Venice. In the ensuing war another Hungarian army fought in Italy for several months, again assisting the lord of Padua. The peace of Torino, signed on 24 August 1381 and intended to last ‘for ever’, confirmed the stipulations of the Treaty of Zadar concerning Hungary. In addition, Venice agreed to pay her northern rival an annual sum of 7000 florins. At the time of Louis’s death, Hungarian rule in Dalmatia appeared more solid than it had ever been.

By the time of the Peace of Zadar, Hungarian authority had also become firmly established in Croatia, and it had even come to spread over the western part of Bosnia. Louis had seen to it from the beginning that his rule did not become purely symbolic in these parts. During his Croatian campaign of 1345, he forced the Nelipčić to hand over to him Knin and three other castles. From the Šubić he acquired Ostrovica (near Nin) in exchange for lands in Slavonia in 1347, Omiš (Almissa) in 1355 and Klis and Skradin (Scardona) in 1356. All these castles were to be governed by the Hungarian retainers of the ban.

During the time of the war against Venice in 1356, Louis began to contemplate the occupation of the neighbouring parts of Bosnia. In 1353 he had married Elizabeth, daughter of the ban, Stephen Kotromanić, ruler of Bosnia. This marriage alliance could now serve as a pretext for a move against Bosnia. In 1357 he summoned Stephen’s successor, Tvrtko I, his wife’s cousin, to Požega and compelled him to hand over the region west of the Rivers Vrbas and Neretva as Elizabeth’s dowry. The local lords, who passed under his rule as a result of the treaty, were forced to consent to an exchange of their castles. Louis took into his own hands Imotski, Livno, Glamoć and Greben, and compensated their lords with domains in Slavonia. Some lords, however, were reluctant to accept the proposed exchange and found support from Tvrtko. This was bound to lead to an armed conflict, and in the summer of 1363 two Hungarian armies marched into Bosnia. The palatine and the archbishop of Esztergom attacked Usora (Northern Bosnia), but at the siege of Srebrenik they were so hard pressed that the great seal of the kingdom was lost. (According to the official version it was stolen from the tent of the archbishop.) Louis himself advanced into the valley of the Vrbas, but was forced to turn back from Sokol and only acquired the castle of Ključ.

In spite of his success, Tvrtko was forced in 1366 to ask for Hungarian help against his rebellious brother, and in the winter of 1367–68 he was restored to his throne by a Hungarian army. Henceforth, as far as we can judge, relations between the two rulers were peaceful. In 1377 Tvrtko took the royal title, apparently with Louis’s consent.


During the reign of Louis I there were important changes in the Balkans. The Byzantine Empire was weakened by the civil war that had been sparked off in 1341. Serbia broke up after 1355, as did Bulgaria in 1365. Behind them appeared a new conqueror, the empire of the Ottoman Turks, which at the end of the Angevin period was threatening the southern frontiers of Hungary.

Ottoman expansion did not play a major part in the politics of Louis I. In 1364 he attended a congress in Cracow, along with Emperor Charles IV. At this meeting, Peter, king of Cyprus, tried to persuade his colleagues to join a crusade against the Turks; yet this campaign would have been directed against the emirates of Anatolia, which presented little threat in comparison to that offered by the Ottomans. The Byzantine emperor, John V, who came to Hungary for help in 1366 and spent several months at Louis’s court, had a much clearer view of the danger. In return for effective support, he would have been prepared to go as far as to accept the union of the Greek Church with Rome. Louis seemed willing to take the field in person against the Turks, but made the unacceptable condition that the Greek Christians should be re-baptised in the way that the Hungarian Serbs had. The consequent cooling of relations was evident when the emperor left for home in the autumn of 1366. Louis escorted him for a short distance, but turned back before John had left the country: a chilly farewell, indeed, leaving the emperor to wait alone at Vidin until, in December, Šišman of Bulgaria finally allowed him to cross his realm.

The idea of Hungarian supremacy over Serbia had not been raised for a long time. Stephen Dušan (1331–1355) had transformed Serbia into a major power in the Balkans and throughout his life his state remained an effective rival to Hungary. Louis’s aim in this period seems to have been to retain the footholds that had been secured by his father beyond the Danube and the Sava. Since these had come under serious threat in Charles’s last years, Louis consolidated them by means of a brief campaign in the summer of 1343 and strengthened Belgrade at the same time. In October 1346, on the eve of his Italian expedition, he concluded a peace with Dušan, based upon the status quo and pledged with a matrimonial alliance. Dušan’s heir, Uroš, was betrothed to one of Louis’s female relatives, presumably with a princess of Silesia. It seems, however, that the marriage never took place, and when Dušan attacked Bosnia in 1350, war broke out again. In the summer of 1354 Louis is found in Serbia at the head of his army.

The situation began to change with Dušan’s death in December 1355. Within a couple of years Serbia had broken up into semi-independent provinces and was unable to put up any resistance. The Rastislalić, lords of Braničevo and Kučevo, were the first to acknowledge Hungarian suzerainty. In the summer of 1359, perhaps at their invitation, Louis marched deep into Serbia and defeated Tzar Uroš at Kruševac. The period of the Serbian wars was concluded by a new intervention by Louis in the spring of 1361, when Lazarus, lord of northern Serbia, acknowledged his overlordship. He remained henceforth a vassal of Hungary, but in this capacity he seems to have acquired Mačva, and direct Hungarian rule in Serbia around 1380 was limited to Golubac and possibly to Belgrade.

As regards Wallachia, Charles’ defeat in 1330 served as a deterrent for some years. Albeit unwillingly, Louis had to accept the practical independence of Basarab and his son, Alexander. It seems that personal relations between the rulers were only established at the end of 1359, when Louis led an army to Moldavia. Alexander considered it advisable to submit himself to Louis, who recognised him as lord of Severin, as a result of which the ban of Severin disappeared from the lists of Hungarian office-holders. However, ‘following the wicked example of his father’, Prince Vlaicu, who acceded in 1364, was reluctant to renew his allegiance to the Hungarian king. Louis declared him his enemy, but before launching an attack against him he turned on Bulgaria to secure his flank. In May 1365 he invaded Bulgaria and took Vidin, the residence of Tzar Ivan Stracimir, whom he imprisoned in the fortress of Gomnec in Slavonia. Vidin was to be governed by a Hungarian captain, who received the title ‘ban of Bulgaria’ (banus Bulgariae) in 1366 and whose authority extended to the neighbouring Hungarian counties including Timişoara.

After the fall of Vidin, Vlaicu of Wallachia submitted himself to Louis, and received the district of Făgăraş Transylvania as a fief, with the title of duke. Nevertheless, when Šišman, brother of Stracimir and ruler of Tirnovo, attacked Vidin, Vlaicu joined him. In the autumn of 1368 Louis launched a two-pronged attack against Wallachia: he marched in by way of the lower Danube valley, while Nicholas Lackfi, voivode of Transylvania, advanced with another army through the Carpathians. The king took Severin, but Lackfi met with disaster. ‘Such a great number of Wallachians rushed upon him from the forests and the mountains’ that he perished together with his army.10 Now Vlaicu took the initiative and reduced Vidin in early 1369, thus forcing Louis to negotiate. In the autumn a treaty was agreed that put an end to the short-lived banate of Bulgaria, but allowed Louis to save face. Vlaicu submitted himself once again, in return for which he was given Severin and Făgăraş. Having promised to remain a Hungarian vassal, Stracimir recovered his freedom and Louis ‘sent him back happily to Vidin’, retaining his daughters as hostages.

While the tzar, according to John of Küküllő, kept his promise and ‘persevered in his fidelity and obedience to his Majesty’, Wallachia was not to be held in dependency for long. It was rumoured that Vlaicu had defected to the Ottomans as early as 1374, and in the summer of 1375 Louis marched once more into Wallachia. Prince Radu, Vlaicu’s successor, was supported by Turkish troops, but his army was defeated in battle. In memory of this victory, Louis founded a chapel at Mariazell in Styria. Also arising from this military success was a short-lived revival of the banate of Severin. However, Wallachia did not submit to Louis. In 1377 the king constructed the castle of Bran to protect one of the passes through the southern Carpathians. The castle of Tălmaciu had been built at the entry of the other pass in 1370, while Orşova, commanding the road to Bulgaria, was also reconstructed in 1373. All this strategic building activity indicates the extent to which the southern frontiers of the kingdom were not regarded as secure.

Important changes took place during Louis’ reign along the eastern frontiers. This region had long been dominated by the Golden Horde, which had naturally been regarded by Hungary as an enemy. Charles’s reign seems to have witnessed some Tatar incursions, but nothing is known about relations with the Horde before 1345. In this year, we are told, Andrew Lackfi, count of the Székely, led an army over the Carpathians, defeated the Tatars and placed part of their lands under Hungarian rule. Encouraged by this victory, Louis asked the Pope in 1347 to restore the bishopric of Milcovia, which had been destroyed during the Mongol invasion, and to put a Franciscan friar from Hungary at its head. Louis entrusted the government of the newly conquered territory, which was mostly inhabited by Romanians, to the local voivode, Dragoş. This event is generally regarded as the birth of Moldavia, another Romanian principality.

After the death of Khan Berdibek in 1359 the Horde rapidly dissolved and the Tatars ceased to be a significant element in political calculations. In the turmoil, Moldavia was snatched by another Romanian prince, Bogdan, voivode of Maramureş in Hungary, who expelled the grandsons of Dragoş from their principality. In January 1360, Louis marched against him and appears to have forced him into submission; but five years later, accusing Bogdan of rebellion, Louis deprived him of his possessions in Hungary. From this time on we have practically no information concerning Moldavia; but it was probably with good reason that John of Küküllő wrote that, besides the Serbs, it was against the Moldavians that Louis had to fight most frequently. There is no other evidence concerning these wars, however, and we can only surmise that they took place in 1366, 1368 and 1370, which according to Louis’s itinerary were the years that he dwelled in the land of the Székely for several weeks at a time. From the silence of Hungarian sources we may infer that none of these campaigns was successful, but there is some evidence that the situation changed in the last years of Louis’s reign. In 1374 Wladislas, duke of Opole and governor of Galicia, led an army to Moldavia and by 1377 he had apparently succeeded establishing Angevin authority there. At least this is what John of Küküllő seems to suggest when writing that around the time of Louis’s death ‘the voivodes chosen by the Romanians of this country [Moldavia] regard themselves as the vassals of the king of Hungary and are bound to pay their tax to him on time.’

There are chapters of Louis’ policy towards the Balkans that remain obscure. We do not know, for example, why and against whom a Hungarian army marched to Bosnia in 1372, to Serbia in 1378, or to Wallachia in 1382. The discovery of new sources may provide an explanation of these shadowy events.

Werewolf Operations in the East I

Nicht zu jung zum Sterben: Die “Hitler-Jugend” im Kampf um Wien 1945

Werewolf operations behind the Western Front were often carried through with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. This was caused in part by a lack of conviction among the general public, and even among some Werewolves, that the encroaching Allied powers would treat the population badly, notwithstanding Nazi claims to the contrary. On the Eastern Front, such psychological factors moderating Werewolf activity did not exist. Underpinned by years of racial stereotyping, the Nazi propaganda machine succeeded in convincing most eastern Germans of the ‘barbarity’ of the Soviet armed forces, and unhappily, these images were often reinforced by advancing Red Army soldiers, who spent much of their time pillaging and raping. Had Goebbels picked out of thin air the most garish and lurid descriptions of Soviet misbehavior that he could imagine, he could not have come up with better copy than the Soviets provided through the actual comportment of their forces. From the warped perspective of the Werewolves, however, this disastrous situation could not be played solely for advantage. Although the intense hatred of the enemy necessary for guerrilla warfare existed, more than half of the population of the eastern provinces was either so frightened or so browbeaten by Nazi authorities that they picked up and fled in the face of the Soviet advance. This mass exodus both deprived eastern Werewolves of a support base and interfered with the logistics and communication channels needed to sustain Werewolf operations. In addition, civilians left behind in the Soviet-controlled hinterland were often so shocked by Soviet outrages that they slipped into a state of numb impotence and were rendered incapable of thinking about active or even passive resistance.

Despite these impediments, Werewolves went into battle behind the Eastern Front at an early date and some units were at least intermittently active. Unfortunately, surviving accounts of these operations are scarce. The nature of Soviet anti-partisan tactics determined that not many Werewolves survived their encounters with Red Army and Soviet secret police troops; captives taken in skirmishes were apt to be shot in the nape of the neck, the treatment that the Soviet leadership deemed suitable for irregular forces. Until the final weeks of the conflict, even Volkssturm troopers were often dispatched in such fashion. As a result, interrogation records are scarce, a situation made worse by secretive Russian archival control of whatever material of this sort that still survives, and because of the typically savage treatment of Werewolf opponents, Russian veterans have usually not been eager to include accounts of Werewolf incidents in their memoirs. Thus what we know of the Werewolf in the East we know very much in part; we see through a glass darkly.


While the Rhineland HSSPf were just starting to organize Werewolf recruitment in October 1944, harried SS-police officials in East Prussia were already fielding their first Werewolf detachments, and Prützmann could report that these units were already operating ‘with some success.’ This progress was achieved despite crippling organizational problems and personnel difficulties. When Hans Prützmann had been sent to the Ukraine in 1941, he was not completely relieved of his existing job as HSSPf in the East Prussian capital of Königsberg. Rather, he was replaced by an Acting-HSSPf, Gruppenführer Georg Ebrecht. As a result, when Prützmann was chased out of the last German footholds in the Ukraine in the summer of 1944, it was unclear whether he would reclaim his old position in Königsberg. The post was still officially his, but the fact that he was an archenemy of the local Gauleiter, Erich Koch, did not suggest much chance of a happy homecoming. This ambiguity was resolved by the illness of Ebrecht, who became incapacitated in early September 1944, a situation that seemed to demand that Prützmann walk back through the door and replace his surrogate, at least temporarily. By 11 September 1944, Prützmann was back in Königsberg, functioning in this capacity. Ebrecht’s illness, originally expected to last six weeks, eventually forced his retirement, so that by October 1944 Prützmann found himself potentially saddled with his old job. Since he was concurrently appointed as national Werewolf chief and as plenipotentiary to Croatia, he lacked sufficient time for his regional duties in East Prussia, and in early December, Otto Hellwig, a hard-drinking former member of the Rossbach Freikorps in the Baltic, was appointed as the new Acting-HSSPf-North-East. Hellwig had worked closely with Prützmann in the Ukraine, although in 1943 he had been sent back to East Prussia to become SS-police commander in the newly-annexed frontier region of Bialystok. At the time, rumours abounded that Hellwig’s alcoholism had prompted the recall.

When Prützmann was in Königberg in September 1944, he began work on mobilizing small Werewolf groups, which were tasked with allowing allowing themselves to be overrun by any imminent Soviet advances into the province. As his Werewolf Beauftragter, Prützmann chose Obersturmbannführer Schmitz, a senior official with the Security Police in Königsberg. A darkhaired native of the Eifel district who constantly struggled to stay one shave ahead of his heavy beard, Schmitz had been stationed with Prützmann’s staff in Kiev and had been cultivated by the SS general as a protegé. Schmitz ran the East Prussian Werewolves until February 1945, when he was released because of illness. One Werewolf recruited during this period later remembered that the headquarters staff referred to itself as ‘First Military District Command, Abwehr Office – Königsberg.’

The pace of developments was soon forced by the Russians. In mid-October 1944, with Soviet armies already bearing down on the northern towns of Memel and Tilsit, Third Byelorussian Front suddenly sliced into the boundary regions east of Insterburg, briefly capturing Goldap and throwing the entire province into an uncontrolled panic before German forces staged a successful counter-attack, partially destroying the Red Army’s 11th Guards Rifle Corps at Gumbinnen. Goldap was retaken by the Wehrmacht on 5 November, although the Red Army retained control of several hundred square miles of German territory along the East Prussian frontier.

These events resulted in the enemy capture of the operational zones plotted for several of Schmitz’s Werewolf units. One of these, a nine-man ‘Special Kommando’, had been formed in early October and was recruited from the ranks of the Luftwaffe’s ‘Hermann Göring’ Division, a detachment of which was in the area in order to guard Göring’s country estate on the Rominten Heath. Major Frevert, the commandant of the Göring residence, was charged by the Königsberg ‘Abwehr Office’ with choosing and training a Werewolf team, and with preparing three hidden caches in the woods, each supplied with three months’ worth of ammunition and food stocks. The unit was also equipped with two radio transmitters and ten carrier pigeons. Feldwebel Bioksdorf was placed in direct command and was responsible for leading the Werewolves in battle.

Although the Soviet offensive threw Werewolf plans into flux, cutting short the time needed for training and preparations, Bioksdorf’s unit was deployed in the large area overrun by the Soviets in mid-October, and remained active in the smaller strip of territory retained by the Russians after their retreat. By November, the unit was one of six similar formations in operation behind the lines of Third Byelorussian Front. Its mission was to report on the nature of Soviet transport passing through the Rominten area and to harass this traffic whenever and wherever possible. Bioksdorf also had a mandate to organize small groups of bypassed German soldiers and thereby create new guerrilla bands. Finally, the unit was also supposed to report on relations between Soviet forces and German civilians who had failed to evacuate the frontier region. Investigations of this sort produced a shock: along with counter-attacking German troops, Werewolves were among the first Germans to see the initial evidence of atrocities in areas overrun by Soviet troops: women raped and then crucified on barn doors; babies with their heads smashed in by shovels or rifle butts; civilian refugees squashed flat by Russian tanks that had overtaken their treks. In areas recovered by the Wehrmacht, the Germans were quick to call in observers from the neutral press in order to witness what had been done. Third Byelorussian Front also evacuated almost all remaining German males and most females from areas in the rear of the front, a tactic which, according to Hellwig, was extremely effective in isolating partisans. Werewolves, he reported, ‘only [had] a very short time in which to commence their work.’ Anyone who looked to the Soviets even vaguely like a partisan was killed immediately. This paranoia was probably a factor in the deaths of fifty French POWs, dressed in semi-military garb, whose bodies were discovered in the Nemmersdorf area.

During the brief period in which the Bioksdorf Werewolves were free agents, they managed to send ten radio massages back to Königsberg and they also attempted to blow up two bridges, although in typical Werewolf fashion they lacked sufficient charges to finish the job in either case. On 14 November 1944, Soviet Interior Ministry troops spotted three guerrillas on the Rominten Heath, and although two of these men were killed, the third was taken alive and thereafter provided the Soviets with full details about the Werewolf ‘Special Kommando.’ At the same time, the Soviets also seized over fifty pounds of Werewolf explosives and twenty-five hand grenades. Shortly afterwards, soldiers of 11th Guards Rifle Corps overran the remaining members of the unit, including Bioksdorf himself.


In addition to East Prussia, Austria served as another Werewolf stronghold. After German reverses along the front in Hungary, most notably the Soviet encirclement of Budapest, Prützmann decided to prod the Austrians into taking some precautionary measures. In early January 1945, he arrived in Vienna and met with the local HSSPf, Walter Schimana, and the Gauleiter of Lower Austria, Hugo Jury. Neither of these Austrians possessed the iron will for which the Nazis were supposed to be famous. Schimana was a narrow-minded little man already on the way towards a collapse that would eventually see him sent home to rest and recuperation with his family in the Salzkammergut; Jury was a tougher nut but was strongly opposed to the recruiting of Hitler Youth boys for guerrilla warfare, a distinct impediment to the kind of local organization envisioned by Prützmann. Both men, however, gave Prützmann their grudging compliance, and they agreed to appoint a local party official and Volkssturm commander named Fahrion as Werewolf Beauftragter. Shortly after Prützmann returned home, Karl Siebel also showed up in Vienna and met with the local Brownshirt commander, Wilhelm von Schmorlemer, in an effort to get him to cooperate in the project.

In mid-January Fahrion attended a four-day Werewolf course in Berlin and returned home eager to get to work on Werewolf matters. Early in the following month, he convened a meeting of local Kreisleiter at Heimburg and requested their help in making manpower available.4 It was through the party’s subsequent recruitment campaign that a dedicated Hitler Youth activist, the son of a local party official, was swept into the movement. This young man, who was interviewed after the war by the British historian and museum curator James Lucas, had an extremely interesting story to tell. Feeling that Werewolf training would be more exciting than the alternative – serving as a Flak gunner – he volunteered in February 1945 for a special training course at Waidhofen, on the Ybbs River. Entrants into the five-week program were immediately stripped of their personal possessions and were refused any chance to maintain contact with their families; they were told that they now belonged only to the Führer. They were trained in the use of German and Soviet weapons, demolitions, survival techniques and basic radio precedure. Rigorous field exercises included prolonged night-time marches which culminated in the participants having to dig narrow foxholes, which were supposed to be so well camouflaged as to be undetectable in daylight. Trainees who performed below standard were beaten by their SS instructors.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, the failure of Wehrmacht counter-offensives in Hungary had been met in March 1945 by seemingly unstoppable drives by Second and Third Ukrainian Fronts, a turn of events which by early April had carried the Red Army into eastern Austria. Fahrion had been ordered in March 1945 to report his preparations to Wehrmacht army group intelligence officers as soon as German combat forces were pushed back into Austria, and when rear echelons of Army Group ‘South’ appeared, he sent a representative to make contact with them. The main plan, at this stage, was to field about twenty small detachments of ten persons each, although it is not clear that all of these were ready before the Soviets arrived. Fahrion’s people were also short of radio equipment because Prützmann had failed to deliver a number of devices that he had promised, all of which made it difficult for field detachments to stay in contact with a regional Werewolf signals centre at Passau. Nonetheless, some available manpower was sent to the Leitha Mountains, south-east of Vienna. Schimana later remembered that Fahrion repeatedly bragged about the exploits of a ten-member group based at Oberfuhlendorf, near the Hungarian enclave of Sopron.

When these operations were launched, Lucas’s informant was sent northward as part of a four-man group to monitor Soviet troop movements in the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia (now the Czech Republic). This was a precarious assignment because it was assumed, quite rightly, that if the guerrillas were detected by Czech civilians, they would be readily betrayed to the Soviets. As a result, the group had to stay concealed in the woods, constructing small and inconspicuous cooking fires as prescribed in the Werewolf handbook. Although they were supposed to ‘smell of earth’, their lack of bathing facilities soon left them smelling more like sweat, a danger since body odour could serve as a give-away for Soviet pursuers and tracking dogs. Supplies, however, were plentiful: when Lucas’s source was selected to accompany the group leader to a supply cache, he was surprised to see a small mountain of weapons, food, clothing and bedding – enough to keep the unit going for years. And it was so well hidden that the spot where it was stored was literally invisible from a yard away.

Reconnaissance outposts were manned by one Werewolf who maintained a tally of passing Soviet tanks, trucks and guns, while a second guerrilla kept a watch over his partner. The great masses of Soviet men and material, moving day and night, inspired nothing short of awe, particularly in view of the fact there was no local trace of any German troops or aircraft. Such was the Soviet sense of security that vehicles travelled at night with headlights blazing. In one case, however, this sense of complacency was rudely disturbed. When a small patrol of motorized infantry came too close to the Werewolves’ hideout in the woods, the guerrillas decided to use force in eliminating the threat. Mining a deep gorge through which the Soviet vehicles were expected to pass, the partisans took up lateral firing positions – once again a textbook maneouvre described in the Werewolf manual. When the small Russian convoy passed through the defile, the lead vehicle hit a mine and as the driver of the last truck shifted into reverse, he hit a mine as well. The Werewolves then shot up the trapped vehicles and the soldiers inside them.

After swinging further north one night in mid-April, the guerrillas then hooked southward, back into Austria, moving closer to the Werewolf concentration point in the Leitha Mountains. It was while observing northward-bound armour near Bruck-an-der-Leitha that the unit’s good fortune finally ran out. Three of the guerrillas were dug in foxholes on the slope of a hill overlooking the road; the fourth, Lucas’s witness, was in another hole over a thousand feet further up the slope, sending radio messages back to his Werewolf controllers. Suddenly, for reasons still unclear, some of the tanks swerved off the road and began clambering up the slope toward the Werewolf foxholes. At this terrifying sight, one of the guerrillas panicked, jumped out of his hole and began running headlong away from the tanks. He was promptly shot down and the Soviets then began methodically searching the hill for other foxholes. When the other two entrenchments in the forward line were discovered, T34 tanks ran over them and spun their treads, crushing the occupants and burying them in their own graves. Then, as the horror-struck radio operator crouched in his hidey-hole, the tanks rolled further up the hill, looking for more trenches and firing their machine guns furiously. The armoured crews got out and searched around on foot, until they finally tired of beating the bushes and drove away. Lucky to be alive, the sole survivor of this engagement stayed covered in his foxhole until dark, whereafter he crawled out and slunk away without checking on the condition of his comrades’ bodies.

Having dodged the proverbial bullet, Lucas’s informant then headed south, mainly with the intention of contacting other Werewolves operating along the Austrian-Hungarian frontier. He saw another Werewolf loitering outside a train station, and then launched into one of the cloak-and-dagger recognition rituals so beloved by secret organizations, rolling a coin over his fingers and exchanging other elaborate signs and countersigns before contact could safely be made. Once he had established his bona fides, he began operations with a new Werewolf group, the main mission of which was mining Soviet transportation routes and painting threatening mottoes in order to intimidate local civilians. ‘Slogans reminded them,’ he later recalled, ‘that the Werwolf was watching and that Hitler’s orders were still to be obeyed, even under foreign domination.’ Needless to say, such activity made the Werewolves unpopular among rural villagers, most of whom wanted the war to end and cared little about which occupying power was garrisoning the cities.

After several weeks of minelaying and sloganeering, the Werewolf group leader decided that the unit had become stranded too deeply in the Soviet-occupied hinterland, and that it was necessary to shift their zone of operations westwards. While on the move through a village east of Linz, the Werewolves were accosted by a party of drunken Russians who shouted that Hitler was dead and the war was over. To learn this ‘devastating’ news through such means was considered the ultimate humiliation, particularly since the guerrillas were encouraged to toast their leader’s death and their country’s defeat. With the final capitulation soon confirmed, the Werewolf unit disintegrated. Lucas’s narrator went to Linz and subsequently made his living trading supplies from secret Werewolf caches on the black market. ‘It was’, he claimed, ‘a miserable and ignoble end to what had begun as a glorious national adventure.’


While the HSSPf-Vienna was directly training and deploying Werewolf troops, Hans Lauterbacher, the Hitler Youth district leader in the Austrian capital, was launching efforts on a much larger scale. Two local battalions of Hitler Youth fighters were codenamed ‘Werwolf’, and although they were attached to an SS ‘Hitler Youth’ Division and were intended to serve mainly in conventional combat, some of their cadres were trained in guerrilla warfare and were available for deployment in ‘Jagdkommandos’, that is, raiding detachments formed for operations behind Soviet lines. Hugo Jury and the Vienna Gauleiter, Baldur von Schirach, were both opposed to such preparations, but Siegfried Ueberreither and Friedrich Rainer, the Gauleiter of the south-eastern provinces of Styria and Carinthia, were both strongly supportive, and much of the prospective guerrilla war was expected to be fought in their Gaue.

One of the recruits for Hitler Youth Werewolf training was sixteen-year-old Fred Borth, an enthusiastic young man from Vienna who had made rapid progress through the ranks of the Hitler Youth despite being raised by a great uncle who was a staunch Austrian republican. Although Borth had dreamed of becoming a pilot, local Hitler Youth chief Walter Melich got the Luftwaffe to release him for ‘particularly important military tasks’, and in January 1945 he sent him for training in anti-tank warfare at a camp near Hütteldorf. Once the decision was made – given the continuing Soviet threat in Hungary – to prepare all Austrian Hitler Youth boys for battlefield service, Borth, as a Hitler Youth leader, began training as an officer candidate. Melich then instructed him to attend a special Werewolf camp at a hunting lodge near Passau, a facility established under the aegis of HSSPf Schimana. Melich vaguely described the mandate of the camp as teaching ‘the art of survival’; Borth did not stop to think about why it was called a ‘Werwolf’ facility.

The young recruit got quite a surprise at Passau. The camp commandant was a psychopathic SS Sturmbannführer popularly known as ‘the Bishop’ because he was an ordained Eastern Orthodox priest. A veteran of the Austrian imperial military intelligence service, ‘the Bishop’ had later served as an advisor to the fascist dictator of Croatia and had been sent from there – through the intervention of Prützmann – to run the school at Passau. ‘The Bishop’s’ idea of training was to get his charges to lie on railway ties and let trains pass over them, or to show his students how to commit suicide by folding back their own tongues over their throats. The pièce de résistance of the training schedule was a wild run through an obstacle course that started with ‘the Bishop’ tightening a noose around the necks of the participants, so that were choked nearly to a point of unconsciousness and had to navigate the course in this condition. To add to the sport, live machine-gun ammunition was fired at the trainees, and grenades were tossed behind them in order to keep them moving.

‘The Bishop’s’ political instruction had similarly extremist tendencies. He handed out photographs of the October 1944 Soviet atrocities in East Prussia, and he showed films about Anglo-American bombing raids on German cities. He also had lots to say about rapes and unprovoked shootings, some of which were currently being reported from areas across the border in Hungary. Joseph Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt’s son, Elliot, were alleged to have talked about the need to shoot 50,000 Germans; American Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau reportedly wanted to turn Germany into a ‘de-industrialized’ medieval cowpatch, to sterilize its adult population and to ship Germans to Africa and other parts of the world in order to perform forced labour. ‘The Bishop’ admitted that the Germans themselves had made mistakes in Eastern Europe, and that the growth of anti-German resistance had been solely related to this factor. However, ‘we can’t wrack our brains about what should have been done differently.’ ‘We must,’ he argued, ‘come to terms with the facts.’ It was true that Germany would probably be overrun and that the Werewolves would eventually have to operate on an entirely ‘illegal’ basis, but ‘we presently see,’ he claimed, ‘the same prerequisites that have set the stage for partisan warfare



Having finished his guerrilla training on 7 February, Borth was returned to Hütteldorf and to his Hitler Youth company, which he accompanied into battle when the Soviets smashed into Austria in early April 1945. Borth performed well during the heavy fighting in Vienna, being awarded first and second class Iron Crosses, but he was not brought along when the Hitler Youth companies were eventually withdrawn to Bisemberg along with the rest of 6th Panzer Army. Instead, on 10 April he was ordered to report to a provisional SS Security Service headquarters in the besieged Austrian capital. There he was surprised to find some senior SS officers waiting to greet him, including ‘the Bishop’ and HSSPf Schimana. These officers told Borth that he had been selected to command a 65-man Jagdkommando’ drawn from a Hitler Youth ‘special duties’ batallion, a unit that would henceforth function under the joint control of the SS Security Service and the Prützmann organization. Several Security Service men and a Ukrainian specialist in guerrilla warfare would be attached to the company as advisors; ‘the Bishop’ would be Borth’s contact man at headquarters. The job of the unit was to create unrest in the enemy hinterland and thereby provide indirect help to beleaguered Wehrmacht forces at the front, since the Soviets would presumably have to redirect resources in order to sweep clean their own lines of communication. ‘You’ll be the game rather than the hunter’, he was told. He was instructed to operate at night, not only to protect his forces, but to make the unit’s numbers seem more significant than they really were. Contacts with the population were to be kept to a minimum, and he was expressly warned to beware of ‘spies and traitors.’ He was shown a general staff map of secret supply caches in enemy territory, but he was advised that the preparation of many dumps had not been completed in time, and that supplies were limited. Therefore, he ought to make moderate demands upon the caches, since he might need to come back to them later.

Several additional problems were also discussed. Although Borth’s formation was given a wireless set, there was no replacement for the highly trained radio operator who had been part of Borth’s former unit, and he only received one medical attendant, not much help for over sixty boys, none of whom had ever taken a first aid course. Borth confessed that he had no idea what to do with anyone badly wounded during the enterprise. His superiors expressed sympathy with Borth’s concerns, but they noted that they were not allowed to draw specialist personnel from the front, and that radio monitoring – not operating – was the only thing that SS security and police personnel were properly trained to do. In addition, there was only a small cadre of trained radio operators who had to be divided amongst various guerrilla units using the Austrian radio network. As for medical problems, it was pointed out that Wehrmacht field hospitals and dressing stations were no longer being evacuated – medical staff were now being left for Soviet captors along with the badly wounded – and this practice was causing shortages of highly trained personnel that could no longer be made good. Given this situation, it was almost a miracle that this ‘unloved Prützmann unit’ had been allotted any medical help at all from the Waffen-SS. Sending a full-fledged doctor with the ‘Jagdkommando’ was out of the question. In any case, physicians could hardly perform difficult surgery in a wood or a bunker. There was always the possibility of recruiting local country doctors to assemble ad hoc operating rooms, but the SS trusted neither the doctors nor their neighbours not to betray Nazi partisans to the enemy. As a result, Borth was told to depend on his own resources, however inadequate these might seem. In the final analysis, heavily wounded Werewolves could be given cyanide capsules rather than being allowed to suffer and die in pain.

Later in the day, Borth was directed to the Augarten section of Vienna and introduced to his new troops. Most of them were fifteen- or sixteen-year-old boys from Vienna who had already been deployed in Augarten, carrying shells for the artillery of the SS ‘Das Reich’ Division. Borth’s main advisor was a rugged Ukrainian bruiser named Petya Orlov, a man whom Borth liked but never entirely trusted, seeds of doubt having already been planted by ‘the Bishop.’ On the night of 10 April, Borth took his group to an abandoned factory near the switching yards of the North-West Railway Station, whereafter they advanced to some ruins and hunkered down to sleep. ‘The Bishop’ showed up around noon, bringing with him a police officer from the Vienna Canal Brigade who was assigned to serve as a guide to the labyrinth of subterranean Vienna. During a lull in the fighting, the company crossed the Danube Canal over a bridge partially obscured by smoke, and they then descended into a network of sewage tunnels and run-off drains, hoping to infiltrate Soviet lines by walking under the feet of Red Army troops on the surface. It was a hellish, pitch black environment, swarming with rats and contaminated with nearly unbearable odours from excrement and the bodies of dead animals dumped into the tunnels after bombing raids. A few human bodies were also floating in the slime. During the passage through this stygian maze, one of Borth’s Security Service escorts slipped in the muck and injured his knee so badly that he could no longer walk without aid. There was talk of bringing him to a civilian hospital on the surface, but the SS man knew that the Soviets were sweeping hospitals in search of wounded SS troopers, so he drew his pistol and shot himself through the head. A Hitler Youth guerrilla was bitten so badly by rats that he too required medical attention. He was led to a hospital after the Werewolves emerged from the tunnels, but the lad never escaped the impact of his subterranean tribulations; his right arm was amputated below the elbow and he later took his own life.

Werewolf Operations in the East II

Now in the Soviet-occupied hinterland, the Werewolves looked back on the roaring inferno that Vienna had become. Heavy fighting was still underway – in fact, the Werewolves’ jumping-off point in Augarten was overrun soon after they had left it – and a huge fire was raging, set either by looters, retreating German troops or other Werewolves. Much of the city’s glorious St. Stephen’s Cathedral was consumed in this blaze. Fleeing this scene, Borth’s men marched westwards, mainly by moving cross country. Near Hapsburger Warte they sighted and nearly ambushed a small unit dressed in brown uniforms and equipped with Soviet machine pistols. At the last moment, however, they spotted a German Flak gunner in the presence of the detachment, evidently acting as a guide, and they figured out that it was not a Red Army patrol, but an eight-man group of Vlassovites, that is, Russian turncoats who had been recruited into the Wehrmacht. They reported this development to their radio control station, codenamed ‘Cherusker’, and were told to pick up the Vlassovites and head for Kritzendorf, where they were to attack a large collection of Soviet armour. This was part of a German plan to hinder a further Soviet crossing to the northern bank of the Danube and thereby relieve pressure on Bisemberg-Korneuburg, one of the main assembly points for German forces retreating from Vienna. After moving through the night, the Werewolves launched this attack in the early morning hours of 13 April. Kritzendorf was poorly guarded, even though it was crowded with tanks, armoured cars, and three companies of Soviet troops, as well as being the southern anchor for a Soviet pontoon bridge across the Danube. Borth’s men launched a machine gun attack, and the Vlassovites were able to approach a column of Soviet vehicles, being mistaken for Red Army troopers, whereupon they suddenly attacked with their machine pistols and hand grenades. A number of Soviet troops were killed and three tanks and several vehicles destroyed before the Soviets began to rain down mortar rounds on Borth’s position and the appearance of a T-34 tank prompted a rapid retreat. However, Borth and company succeeded in making their getaway, suffering only one dead Hitler Youth and a lightly wounded Vlassovite.

The band kept a low profile for the next few days. On the night of 15 April, they moved to a number of forest huts near Plöcking, whence a scouting party led by Borth’s lieutenant Franz Gary was dispatched toward the St. Andrä-Hagenthale road. Things did not turn out well: one boy fell and had to be carried back to Plöcking, and in turn one of his escorts, a German-Pole named Binkowski, took the chance to desert. Since Borth did not know that Binkowski was soon after killed, there was a fear that if the lad were captured by the Soviets, he would reveal everything he knew about Borth’s ‘Jagdkommando’.

On the following night, three patrols were sent out. Only one had returned by the following morning, although it could confirm that the Soviets had set up a field hospital in Plegheim Gugging, and that in the neighbourhood of Kierling, members of a Red Army supply battalion were busy looting and raping the civilian population. At 4 a.m. Borth and company suddenly heard machine-gun fire and exploding grenades from an area to the west of their location. Waiting half-an-hour, Borth then gathered the Vlassovites and went to investigate. They found that three of their comrades had been encountered by a Russian patrol, whereafter they were killed and their bodies mutilated. This horrifying discovery precipitated some sharp comments from the Vlassovites about the supposedly barbaric propensities of ‘Siberians’, and gave rise to the suggestion that they should retaliate by burning the nearby villages of St. Andrä and Wörden. Borth in response said, ‘We aren’t in Russia’ – a comment he immediately regretted – and the Vlassovites in turn cursed him as a ‘Hitler fascist’ and blamed him for German crimes in Russia. The Vlassovites then left to scout St. Andrä, finding it full of Soviet tanks on a refueling stop, and they returned to help Borth bury his comrades.

Factional tensions continued to simmer as Borth and the Russian nationalists returned to camp, only to learn that strong Soviet armoured forces had recently been sighted headed in an eastward direction. While this movement actually involved a Soviet attempt to relieve 9th Guards Army by withdrawing troops back to the Vienna Forest, and to shift elements of 6th Guards Tank Army to another sector of the front north of the Danube, both Werewolves and Vlassovites mistakenly assumed that the Soviets were organizing a sweep of the hinterland aimed at them. The Vlassovites cursed Borth’s Ukrainian aide, Orlov, who was still out with one of the missing patrols, and denounced him as a traitor. They pointed out that Orlov had given an early fire signal at Kitzendorf, nearly ruining the attack, and they further surmised that he had probably now butchered his own men and betrayed the location of the main bivouac to the enemy. Borth replied, with a flagging sense of conviction, that Orlov and his Hitler Youth troops had probably hunkered down with the break of day. He was more than willing, however, to move his forces out of harm’s way. The group marched west and then swung south-west, eventually reaching the Eichberg area. Infighting momentarily subsided when both missing patrols, one led by Orlov, the other by Gary, managed to locate and rejoin the group. Gary explained that the three dead Germans found by Borth had been a rearguard from his patrol, and that they had been spotted by the Soviets while trying to find food in a lumberman’s house.

Meanwhile, new orders came in by radio instructing Borth to hinder the construction of a bridge near Tulln, a job which everybody agreed amounted to a suicide mission. The Vlassovites, however, were eager to get underway and headed off on their own to undertake the assignment. Apparently, they were subsequently spotted by the Soviets and massacred in a meadow near Tulln. The rest of the group held back long enough to get a message countermanding the Tulln assignment, which had been given in error. New information suggested that the Soviets were not yet working on a bridge. Instead, they were now told to march toward a nearby railway and to expect further orders along the way.

Soon after the group began its march, an advance post sighted a Soviet supply column. To take advantage of this opportunity, Borth sent his raiders to the Hängendenstein, a well-known natural feature in the Vienna Forest, where the road passed through heavy woods and it would be impossible for the Soviets to get their horses, oxen or wagons off the road or past a broken-down vehicle. It also began to drizzle, which softened the ground and suggested that Soviet chances of being able to move wagons off the road would be even more slim. There were risks involved in the operation: a mist made the objective hard to detect; the Hitler Youth troops had never been trained for close-quarters fighting; and Orlov suggested that there might be large Soviet forces in the area, particularly since some Vlassovites were reportedly holed up near Hadersfeld. However, Borth decided to proceed with the ambush and the assault went well. Although there was some fierce hand-to-hand fighting, which involved Werewolves jumping on Soviet wagons and striking the Russians with the butts of their rifles, total losses amounted to only one wounded and one killed, the latter struck down by a comrade playing with a captured Soviet machine pistol. As a reward for its efforts, the ‘Jagdkommando’ seized food, Soviet weapons, ammunition, hand grenades, German Panzerfäuste and material earlier looted by the Russians from Austrian civilians.

Between Tulbinger Kogel and Troppling, Borth received the supplemental orders promised by the ‘Cherusker’ control station. In accordance with these instructions, he sent out three patrols on extended missions in order to attack the Westbahn railway, while he moved his own rump force to Wolfsgraben, where it was to raid a Soviet supply dump. Fritz Hessler was charged with leading one of the sub-units, which had success in causing minor damage, but otherwise had an uneventful expedition.

Willy Krepp, a nineteen-year-old German-Hungarian, was dispatched with a small crew charged with blowing up a rail viaduct at Eichgraben. This task was originally supposed to have been accomplished by German pioneers in early April, but it was unclear whether it had been done, and there were worries that if the bridge was still standing the Soviets might be able to restore rail service to St. Pölton. After meeting terrified women hiding in the woods from Soviet assailants and looters – there were reports even of nuns being raped – Krepp and company approached the viaduct and saw that it was still intact. In addition to failed German efforts to blow up the structure, American bombers had also attacked it before the Wehrmacht’s retreat, although some of the bombs had not detonated. The Soviets on 16-17 April had forced local men to climb the structure and retrieve these bombs, which they then defused and threw into the stream bed. Krepp’s brainwave, which he reported back to Borth via a message runner, was to use the explosives from the defused American bombs to make a new attempt upon the bridge. There is no record of what happened, although the bridge remained intact. It is possible that Krepp detonated the bombs but that the pressure wave was not enough to collapse the structure. In any case, Krepp and his men disappeared over the night of 19 April, never to be heard from again.

Orlov was appointed leader of the third party, and achieved great success by attacking the Rekawinkel rail station. Orlov’s deputy, Franz Gary, discovered through reconnaissance that a Soviet engineering unit was billeted in the railway station and nearby houses while working on the repair of the railroad. Orlov and Gary decided to attack the main structure, as well as a nearby railway tunnel. While making preparations to launch these operations, they scouted an abandoned gendarmerie post near the mouth of the tunnel. After foraging for food, Gary came back to the post and surprised Orlov on the phone; the latter claimed that he had been checking the line, but Gary later insisted that he had heard him speaking Russian. After arguing, the two men temporarily buried their animosities and returned to their squad. Orlov ordered Gary to fire a Panzerfaust at the railway station, while he simultaneously shot a bazooka round at the entrance to the railway tunnel. Gary’s rocket hit the station and did extensive damage, destroying the signal tower and collapsing part of the roof, although the blast at the railway tunnel had less effect. Despite the fact that numerous Soviet troops swarmed into the area, Orlov and company got away and met Hessler’s group at a pre-arranged point near Steinpattl. Orlov was also ordered to check on the fate of Krepp’s unit at Eichgraben, but he refused, instead leading his and Hessler’s detachments back to Haitzawinkel, where they rejoined Borth’s group.

Early on the morning of 21 April, the reunited band paused for rest at Hainbachberg and pondered the possibility of heading east to Klausenleopoldsdorf, where the Soviets were thought to be assembling a reserve to intervene in heavy fighting at Alland and St. Corona. Borth reluctantly agreed when Orlov offered to lead a preliminary reconnaissance patrol to the area, although soon after Orlov assembled his team and left, a scout reported the approach of some Soviet supply vehicles coming from Alland to the south-west. Borth sent Hessler to the road in order to ambush the vehicles and then belatedly led half his force to reinforce this operation, while the remainder, led by radio operator Georg Matthys, was ordered to lie low on a nearby hill. Borth got as far as a local cemetery before shooting broke out on both sides. While on their foray toward Klausenleopoldsdorf, Orlov and company were sighted by a Soviet patrol, which perhaps had been alerted by an Austrian farmer. Gary and a friend had stopped to fill the squad’s canteens at a farmstead, but while coming back across a field, they were cut down from behind by Soviet fire, a sight that Borth saw from a distance. What Borth did not see was that when Orlov recovered the bodies, Gary was still alive but in great pain; Orlov finished him off with a ‘mercy shot.’

Meanwhile, Hessler had simultaneously become involved in a firefight with the small Soviet convoy he had been sent to ambush. Borth, who had since caught up to Orlov at the cemetery, ordered the Ukrainian to protect his flank while he repaired to a nearby hill and got a good a look at the road. What he saw was not good: two Red Army vehicles had been hit and destroyed, but a third was intact and surviving Soviet troops had mounted a machine gun on their vehicle and were pouring out fire without pause. In the distance, Soviet reinforcements could also be seen approaching. Hessler and company were firing from the undergrowth but had run out of machine-gun ammunition. One boy fired another Panzerfaust rocket at the remaining Soviet truck, but it missed and hit a tree, whereafter the bazookaman, now marked by his weapon’s flash and smoke, was killed by a Soviet marksman. Borth’s men swooped forward and intervened in this situation unexpectedly, knocking out the Soviet machine gun with grenades and forcing a few Russian survivors to flee the scene. On the other hand, within minutes strong Soviet reinforcements had arrived and began trying to trap Borth’s partisans in a pincer movement. The Werewolves, however, were lucky in escaping with no further losses.

A day later, a new signal message, albeit weak and broken, was received by the guerrillas, who were now hiding in the bush. ‘Congratulations for the Kritzendorf attack!’ ‘Thanks’, replied Borth, but his men desperately needed a doctor, machine-gun ammunition and general supplies. The abrupt answer was – ‘Attack Klein Mariazell!’ This order verged on the impossible, given the condition of Borth’s Werewolves. They were suffering from blisters – their regulation issue boots were too big for their adolescent feet; they were filthy; their cuts, sprains and bruises were untended; they were hungry (and therefore constipated); and their aspirin and pain killers had run out, leaving them dependent on the stimulant ‘Pervitin’ and on flasks of vodka captured from the Soviets. Hessler had been badly wounded in the shoulder, and their medical attendant had been unable to dig out the bullet. In fact, they had lost their attendant when they were forced to leave behind five wounded boys in hunting cabins, and the attendant volunteered to stay with these sufferers. In another case, Borth had wanted to leave a stretcher-borne boy in the care of a local farmer, but Orlov had given the lad a suicide capsule, which the boy had dutifully swallowed. In response, Borth promised to bring Orlov before a military court, but the Ukrainian in turn cursed the Werewolves as dilettantes who lacked the stomach for a real guerrilla war. Although warned to avoid civilians, Borth had eventually led his guerrillas to the door of a bungalow inhabited by an invalided veteran and his wife. For one night, the couple had provided a dry environment, food and some amateur medical care, and they had also agreed to look after three badly blistered Werewolves who were unable to go on. Borth disarmed these boys, tore the insignia and shoulder straps from their field blouses, and removed their identification papers and photos.

On the night of 23 April, Borth and his small band gamely attempted to execute their next mission. They tried to cross the St. Corona-Altenmarkt road, but had to take cover when a Soviet column approached. They then heard the oxen and wagons of a Red Army supply convoy, which they fired at and attacked with hand grenades while crossing the road to the Kaumberger Forest. In the woods, they next stumbled upon a Soviet bivouac and were met by a hail of bullets, since the Soviets had heard them coming. Three Werewolves were killed and several others wounded and presumably captured. By morning, the size of the ‘Jagdkommando’ was down to Borth, Orlov, Matthys and twelve other boys.

With this sorry remnant, Borth fled to Steinriegel Mountain and went to ground in the young growth around the rise. His ‘Cherusker’ controllers told him to sit tight and keep his eyes skyward, since he was scheduled to soon be provisioned through airborne means. Several days later, Borth’s Werewolves sighted some low-flying airplanes, but were unable to signal them with flashlights. As a result, they built some signal fires and shot flares, which drew the attention of the Luftwaffe airmen and showed the aviators where to drop three supply containers, two of which were recovered by the guerrillas. The Werewolves beat a hasty retreat, however, when they spotted a light shining from a farmyard about a mile from the drop zone. They fled across the highway to Hainfeld, but got lost in heavy fog and spent two days hiding in some ruins in Araburg before they seriously began to consider resuming active operations. Although strictly forbidden, they also began scavenging for food locally, fearing that their parachuted supplies would not last long.

On the night of 28 April, the boys undertook a reconnaissance and discovered the Soviets moving large numbers of men and tanks through the area west of Hainfeld. Several days later, as Soviet soldiers celebrated May Day, the Werewolves attacked a fuel dump at a factory building outside Hainfeld. They killed a number of guards with machine-gun fire and blew up barrels of petroleum with hand grenades. They also shot up an armoured car that arrived during the fight. Retreating in disarray, a few Werewolves in Borth’s company managed to elude their pursuers by taking a small footpath heading to Vollberg. When they reached a pre-arranged meeting point, however, Borth was surprised to learn from Orlov that their radio operator, Matthys, had been shot and badly wounded by a deserter, whereafter he had turned his weapon upon himself. The group’s radio had also been damaged in the skirmish and was rendered useless.

Since contact with the ‘Cherusker’ headquarters was now cut, the most practical course of action was for the battered band to fight its way back to German lines. For several days they had to lie in wait, since the Soviets had launched a large-scale counter-insurgency sweep of the area, including aerial spotting by an Ilyushian 153 biplane. After the intensity of the search diminished, the boys broke cover and found refuge in a small farmhouse, where they were helped by a farmer who told them that his son was in the SS. All the news about the outside world was bad from a Werewolf point of view: Hitler was dead, the Americans had reached Upper Austria, and an independent Austrian provisional government had been formed. Once on their way again they were shot at near Durlasshöhe, probably by a hunter, but at St. Veit an der Gölsen, they ran into a serious fight, mainly because they were sighted by a farm woman who feared they were bandits and screamed for help. A Soviet patrol showed up and in the resulting shoot-out two Hitler Youth boys were killed and Orlov was wounded. By the time that they had extracted themselves from this situation, however, the group was tantalizingly close to German lines, which they reached at Klosteralm on 5 May 1945.

Early on the following morning, Borth was debriefed by his old Werewolf instructor, ‘the Bishop’, who informed him that the new Reich President, Karl Dönitz, had just prohibited any further Werewolf activity. Interestingly, although the Dönitz cancellation order specifically excluded the Eastern Front, local SS officers nonetheless regarded it as applicable. Prützmann put Borth forward for a Knight’s Cross – his name apparently came up in the last discussion between Dönitz, Prützmann and Himmler – but the war ended before he could receive his award.

Despite everything that had happened, Borth remained an enthusiast. Flaunting the capitulation, as well as Dönitz’s prohibition of Werewolf activity, he maintained a Werewolf group of former Hitler Youth leaders in order to execute a mythical ‘Führer Decree’ for German youth to fight on in the underground. This conspiracy only disintegrated in September 1945, when the group was raided by the Austrian state police. After Borth’s subsequent release from internment, he was again arrested when testifying for the defence in the February 1948 trial of neo-Nazi conspirator Anton Fischer, mainly because he tried to use the event as a platform from which to relaunch the Werewolves. Before appearing in the witness box, he had sent letters to the Vienna newspapers inviting them to the trial, ‘where I will announce the new political program of my Werwolf group of young National Socialists.’ After his acquittal in a new trial, Borth went on to play a leading role in the Austrian neo-Nazi milieu of the 1950s and ’60s, also serving as an agent for the Austrian and Italian secret services and as a probable organizer of the NATO-supported ‘Gladio’ network of stay-behind formations intended to fight the Soviets in case of a Third World War.

Barbarossa, the Pirate Terror of Christendom

The 16th-century Mediterranean was ravaged by brutal pirates called corsairs. When the most feared of all, Barbarossa, allied with the Ottoman Empire, no Christian ship or city was safe.

From his base in Algiers, North Africa, Hayreddin Barbarossa terrorized the western Mediterranean in the first half of the 16th century. He fearlessly hijacked ships and sacked ports, loading his pirate galleys with vast hoards of treasure and prisoners fated for slavery. Yet Barbarossa was much more than a soldier of fortune. He was a skilled warrior with a political instinct that led him to found a prosperous kingdom, allied with the Islamic empire of the Ottoman Turks, and actively defy one of Christian Europe’s most powerful monarchs, the Spanish Emperor Charles V.

However, Barbarossa had modest beginnings. He was born on the Greek island of Lesbos, the son of a Christian renegade who had joined the Ottoman army. Oruç, Barbarossa’s elder brother, was the first to take to the sea in search of adventure. It is unclear whether Oruç joined the powerful Ottoman navy or a merchant vessel, but in 1503 his ship was attacked and captured by the Knights Hospitaller, a Christian military order then based on the island of Rhodes, in present-day Greece. Oruç spent two terrible years as a galley slave on one of the knights’ ships, but eventually he managed to escape. Reunited with his brother, they settled on the island of Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia. The place was a veritable den of corsairs, and they enthusiastically joined their ranks.

The brothers found they had a talent for piracy. Their attacks on Christian ships, especially Spanish ones, brought them huge amounts of loot and attracted the attention of the emir of Algiers, with whom they joined forces. Soon they commanded a fleet of about a dozen ships, which they used to launch daring attacks on Spanish strongholds in North Africa. It was while attacking one of these that Oruç lost an arm to a shot from an early musket called a harquebus.

Founding a Pirate Kingdom

Oruç had begun to dream of becoming more than a mere pirate: he wanted to rule his own North African kingdom. His chance came in 1516, when the emir of Algiers requested his help in expelling Spanish soldiers from the neighboring Peñon of Algiers, a small island fortress. Not a man to miss an opportunity, Oruç established his rule in the city of Algiers, disposing of the emir, who was apparently drowned while having his daily bath. Oruç then had himself proclaimed sultan, to the joy of his brother and a growing army of supporters.

Oruç didn’t stop there. He swiftly moved on to capture the Algerian cities of Ténes and Tlemcen, creating for himself a powerful North African kingdom that threatened and defied the authority of King Charles, just a short sail away in Spain. The Spanish reaction was not slow in coming. In 1518 a fleet set out from the Spanish-controlled port of Oran and soldiers stormed Tlemcen. Oruç fled, only to be found hiding in a goat pen, where a Spanish soldier first lanced him and then beheaded him-an ignominious end for the great corsair.

In Algiers Barbarossa took over as the leader of the corsairs. In the face of renewed Spanish pressure Barbarossa showed his political cunning and sought help from Süleyman the Magnificent, the Islamic sultan of the vast Ottoman Empire centered in Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, Turkey. Süleyman sent him 2,000 janissaries, the elite of the Ottoman army. In exchange, Algiers became a new Ottoman sanjak, or district. This allowed Barbarossa to carry on his piracy while consolidating his position by conquering additional strongholds. Nevertheless, the main threat remained right on his doorstep: the Spanish still occupied the Peñon of Algiers. In 1529 he bombarded the garrison into surrender before beating its commander to death.

Sultan versus Emperor

Barbarossa’s fame spread throughout the Muslim world. Experienced corsairs, such as Sinan the Jew and Ali Caraman, came to Algiers, drawn by the prospects of making their fortunes. But Barbarossa fought for politics as well as piracy. When Charles V’s great Genovese admiral Andrea Doria captured ports in Ottoman Greece, Süleyman summoned Barbarossa, who quickly answered the call. To impress the sultan, he loaded his ships with luxurious gifts: tigers, lions, camels, silk, cloth of gold, silver, and gold cups, as well as slaves, and 200 women for the harem in Istanbul. Süleyman was delighted and made Barbarossa admiral in chief of the Ottoman fleet.

Barbarossa now commanded over a hundred galleys and galliots, or half galleys, and started a strong naval campaign all around the Mediterranean. After reconquering the Greek ports, Barbarossa’s fleet terrorized the Italian coast. Near Naples, Barbarossa and his men attempted to capture the beautiful Countess Giulia Gonzaga, who only narrowly escaped. Barbarossa even threatened Rome, where a dying Pope Clement VII was abandoned by his cardinals, who fled after plundering the papal treasury. However, these raids were just part of a bigger strategy, a diversion to distract from Barbarossa’s true goal, Tunis. It worked; he took the port by surprise in 1534.

Barbarossa’s Revenge

However, Barbarossa’s success was brief. The following year Charles V sent a mighty military expedition that managed to recapture Tunis after a weeklong siege punctuated with bloody battles. Back in Algiers, Barbarossa was undaunted and out for revenge. He sailed to the western Mediterranean, and on approaching the Spanish island of Minorca his ships hoisted flags captured from Spain’s fleet the year before. This ruse de guerre allowed him to enter the port unmolested. When the meager garrison realized the deception, they attempted a defense, but surrendered a few days later on the promise that lives and property would be spared. Barbarossa broke this promise and sacked the city anyway, taking hundreds of people to sell into slavery.

During the next few years Barbarossa, now commanding 150 ships, raided all along the Christian coastline of the Mediterranean. In 1538, cornered in the Ottoman port of Preveza, Greece, he defeated a stronger fleet commanded by Andrea Doria. In 1541 he also repelled the great expedition Charles V personally led against Algiers. Spanish chronicles mention that Barbarossa, by then in his 70s, fell in love with the daughter of the Spanish governor of the Italian coastal fortress of Reggio. True to form, Barbarossa carried her away.

A Muslim Hero

Barbarossa headed from Italy to the French ports of Marseille and Toulon. He was welcomed with every honor, as France and the Ottoman Empire had formed an alliance, united by their rivalry with Charles V. From France, some of Barbarossa’s ships sailed along the Spanish coast sacking towns and cities.

In 1545 Barbarossa finally retired to Istanbul, where he spent the last year of his life, peacefully dictating his memoirs. He died on July 4, 1546, and was buried in Istanbul in the Barbaros Türbesi, the mausoleum of Barbarossa. The tomb was built by the celebrated Mimar Sinan, considered the Ottoman Michelangelo. It still stands in the modern district of Besiktas, on the European bank of the Bosporus. For many years no Turkish ship left Istanbul without making an honorary salute to the grave of the country’s most feared sailor, whose epitaph reads: “[This is the tomb] of the conqueror of Algiers and of Tunis, the fervent Islam soldier of God, the Capudan Khair-ed-Deen [Barbarossa,] upon whom may the protection of God repose.”

The Sultan’s Admiral: Barbarossa: Pirate and Empire Builder