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.
IN THE BEGINNING
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.
ANOTHER MISSION BEHIND RUSSIAN LINES
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.’
THE VIENNA FOREST DIVERSION
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.