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.

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