SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger

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This unit was rivalled in brutal depravity only by Kaminski’s RONA. Its origins lay in a bizarre suggestion made to Hitler that a unit raised from convicted poachers would have the ideal fieldcraft skills for hunting partisans. He approved the idea, and a small penal company was formed on 15 June 1940 as the `Oranienberg Poacher Commando’, made up of criminal (non-political) prisoners enlisted from various prisons and concentration camps. In September, now about 300 strong, it received equipment from the SS-Totenkopfverbände, and was renamed after its commander: `SS Special Battalion Dirlewanger’. Obergruppenführer Oskar Paul Dirlewanger was a degenerate figure, who had been imprisoned for sex offences with a minor, yet nevertheless enjoyed high level protection as a former comrade of recruitment chief SS-Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger.

In October 1940 the unit was sent to occupied Poland for security duties; reports of atrocities began almost immediately, and continued throughout 1941. Rape and murder were accompanied by looting, which is probably what drew Dirlewanger’s gang to the disapproving attention of the SS legal staff and of SS-Obergruppenführer Krüger, the Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer of the Generalgouvernement. Despite his friends in high places, Dirlewanger’s unit – now an `SS Special Regiment’ – was transferred in January 1942 to Belorussia. Immediately upon arrival it began recruiting locally for anti-partisan operations, upon which it was exclusively employed until November 1943, cementing its reputation for barbarity.

Despite its notoriety the unit was expanded to two battalions in August 1942; and Dirlewanger himself was decorated for `bravery’ in May and October. In January 1943 the unit was permitted collar patches and badges of rank (normally forbidden to penal units). The original romantic concept of it being manned by poachers was long forgotten; it accepted riff-raff of all types – German and foreign, military and civilian – and in March 1943 service in the unit was offered as a means of `redeeming’ themselves to virtually all convicted felons. Disorderliness extended to repeated shooting incidents between Russian and Lithuanian enlistees, and discipline was enforced by physical brutality, even to officers. Large scale anti-partisan operations sometimes cost the unit significant casualties (some 300 in February-August 1943); a third battalion was then authorized. For a brief period in November-December 1943 the regiment found itself in frontline combat under Army Group Centre, and suffered greatly increased casualties, reducing it to about 260 men. Dirlewanger was then awarded the German Cross in Gold, a decoration second only to the Knight’s Cross. His penal regiment was rebuilt in early 1944 with convicts from German military prisons; by February it counted 1,200 men, and in April another 800 replacements were allocated. Anti-partisan battles in Belorussia during May and June were followed by rearguard fighting during the July retreat into Poland following the Red Army’s Operation Bagration.

In August 1944, like Kaminski’s renegade Russians, Dirlewanger’s uncontrollable convicts recorded new depths of depravity when they were assigned to help crush the Warsaw uprising. They drank, raped and murdered their way through the Old Town, slaughtering fighters and civilians alike without distinction of age or sex. It is reported that a staff officer sent to summon Dirlewanger before the overall operation commander, SS-Obergruppenführer von dem Bach-Zelewski, was driven off at gunpoint. Unlike Kaminski, Dirlewanger was not executed for his atrocities, but received the ultimate accolade – award of the Knight’s Cross.

In late August an uprising broke out in Slovakia; in September Berger was named Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer Slovakia, and in mid-October his protégé’s unit was transferred there. The Dirlewanger regiment (weakened by heavy air attack while en route) saw combat against the Slovak rebels around Biely Potok, Liptovska Osada and Treicy; although successful, the unit reportedly suffered a number of desertions. In November 1944 permission was given for some members to transfer to other Waffen-SS units, and strength was built up to brigade level with further drafts of criminals.

In February 1945, while stationed in Hungary, the unit was redesignated as 36. Waffen Grenadier Division der SS, though in reality it never reached anything like divisional strength. In that month, Dirlewanger returned to Germany for hospital treatment, and was replaced by Fritz Schmedes. The division rapidly crumbled under the impact of the Soviet spring offensive in April 1945, and many men deserted before it was encircled in the Halbe pocket. On about 29 April some elements were captured by the Red Army south-east of Berlin, and were summarily executed. A few may have succeeded in surrendering to US troops. There have been many rumours as to Dirlewanger’s personal fate; recent forensic research suggests that he was captured by Polish troops in June 1945 and that, when his identity was discovered, he was beaten to death. Even for those Waffen-SS soldiers without such an execrable reputation as Dirlewanger, the final months of the war were perilous times indeed.

Dirlewanger: An Organizational History by Jim Broshot

Wilddiebkommando Oranienburg

Sonderkommando Dr. Dirlewanger (Jul 1940)

SS-Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger (1 Sep 1940)

SS-Regiment Dirlewanger (Sep 1943)

SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger (19 Dec 1944)

36. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (14 Feb 1945

10 Apr 1940 Ordered formed at Sachsenhausen concentration camp pursuant to Hitler’s wish to form a unit of convicted poachers for service at the front as “Poacher Command Oranienburg”

Jun 1940 began formation at company strength

Sep 1940 transferred to Poland and attached to SSPF Lublin

29 Jan 1942 assigned to Kommandostab SS-Reichsführer for refitting for service in Russia

10 Feb 1942 transferred to Russia and attached to HSSPF C (later HSSPF Russland-Mitte, General-Kommissariat Weissruthenien) for anti-partisan duties

Apr 1942 antipartisan operations under Polizei-Regiment Mitte with Polizei-Bataillone 32, 307

Jul 1942 – Apr 1944 various anti-partisan operations

Jul 1942 assigned to Operation “Adler” under HSSPF Russland-Mitte (von dem Bach-Zelewski)

Oct 1942 assigned to Operation “Regatta:” combat strength of 352 men; under command of Sicherungs-Regiment 36 assigned to Operation “Karlsbad;” under SS-Infanterie-Brigade (mot.) 1

Nov 1942 assigned to Operation “Frieda;” under SS-Infanterie-Brigade (mot.) 1

TO&E: two “Russian” companies, one “German” company, one reconnaissance platoon

Jan 1943 combat strength: 320 men, 2 AT guns, 11 trucks, 22 mgs, 5 mortars

Apr 1943 strength: 569 men

May 1943 strength: 612 men

Jun 1943 strength: 760 men

TO&E: three “Russian” companies; one “German” company, one “German” reconnaissance platoon, one “Ukrainian” platoon, one artillery battery [Tessin: 1943: I. 1-4, II. 5-8, III. 9-12]

10 Jul 1943 reorganized with headquarters company and five rifle companies

11 Sep 1943 strength 411 men

13 Sep 1943 assigned FpU numbers for three battalions of four companies each

Jan 1944 strength 243 to 284 men

15 Apr 1944 strength 434 men

1 Jun 1944 strength 707 men

[Tessin: reduced from three battalions to one battalion of five companies, June 1944; later reinforced to brigade of two regiments]

Jul 1944 “Eastern Muslim SS-Regiment” (strength: 4,000?) attached to Dirlewanger transferred to Neuhammer and then to Lyck to reform

4 Aug 1944 ordered to operations against Warsaw Uprising strength: three battalions with 881 men plus attached Azerbajani troops received 2,500 replacements during operations, final strength at end of Uprising: 648 men

15 Oct 1944 transferred to Slovakia for operations against Slovak Uprising; strength: 4,000 men in two regiments with artillery

[Tessin: Dec 1944: Regiment 1: I. 1-4, II. 5-8, III. 9-12

Regiment 2: I. 1-4, II. 5-8, III. 9-12

mixed company; 1-2 Batterie OR artillery

battalion, fusilier company, engineer company]

[Tessin: Feb 1945: Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment der SS 72: I. 1-4, II. 5-8, III. 9-12

Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment der SS 73: I. 1-4, II. 5-8, III. 9-12, gem Kp. 2 Bttr.?

SS-Artillerie-Abteilung 36?

SS-Fusilier-Kompanie 36?

with Army troops attached:

Panzer-Abteilung Stahnsdorf 1 (formed 1 Feb 1945 with one MkV company (16 tanks) and two StuG companies (14 StuG); MkV company transferred to Panzer-Abteilung Kummersdorf, 15 Feb 1945; 31 StuG III received between 3 – 15 Feb 1944) (Jentz)

schw. Panzerjager-Abteilung 681 (2 8.8cm Kp.) (formed 15 Sep 1944 in WK XXI; rebuilt Feb 1945 at Spremberg; attached 14 Feb 1945; absorbed into division 1 Mar 1945)

Heeres-Pionier-Brigade 687 (formed Jan 1945 with two bicycle battalions in WK III; attached 16 Feb 1945; absorbed into division 1 Mar 1945)

Grenadier-Regiment 1244 (formed 13 Feb 1945 in Potsdam from various Heeres-Unteroffizierschulen plus army personnel and Landsturm; attached first to division; then disbanded Mar 1945 and used to reform 545. Volks-Grenadier-Division)

SS Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger

Assignments as Brigade and Division:

Dec 1944 Army Group South/Fourth Panzer Army/IV AK-Hungary

Mar 1945 Army Group South/Fourth Panzer Army/XXXX PzK-Silesia

Apr 1945 Army Group Center/Fourth Panzer Army/V AK (as KGr)-Lausitz


Ostubf. Oskar Dirlewanger, (to 15 Feb 1945)

Stubaf. Franz Magill, (28 Dec 1942-20 Feb 1943 (acting))

Brigf. Fritz Schmedes (15 Feb 1945-1 May 1945)


SS-Oberführer d. R. Oskar Dirlewanger (1895-1945), commander of SS Sonderregiment Dirlewanger. Dirlewanger entered the army in 1913 and was commissioned as an infantry officer in 1915. He had a distinguished war record, fighting on both the Western and Eastern fronts in World War I, being wounded six times and receiving the Iron Cross First Class. After the war he joined the Freikorps and fought communists, found time to obtain a PhD in political science from the University of Frankfurt in 1922 and then joined the Nazi Party. After participating in Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, Dirlewanger drifted for a few years before joining the SA in 1932 and the party rewarded him with a sinecure in the Labour Department. However, Dirlewanger was a self-destructive drunk who argued with his superiors and then went on a drinking binge after the Rohm putsch in July 1934 in which he sexually molested a 14-year-old female cadet in a party-owned automobile, then crashed the car and injured the girl. It was a Chappaquiddick-style gaffe that even the Nazi Party, tolerant to the antics of war veterans, could not ignore. Dirlewanger was sentenced to two years in prison and expelled from the Nazi Party. After being released in 1936, some of Dirlewanger’s old SA cronies encouraged him to volunteer for the German Condor Legion in Spain, where he served for 16 months and was wounded three times. Dirlewanger returned to Germany at the start of the war but was not allowed to join the Waffen-SS until June 1940. Thereafter, Dirlewanger was entrusted with forming a small anti-partisan unit composed of petty criminals and this battalion-sized unit initially operated in southern Poland during 1941. In Poland and White Russia, Dirlewanger demonstrated a taste for corrupt and sadistic behaviour, including numerous atrocities against civilians. Dirlewanger was in Berlin at the start of the Warsaw Uprising and, although ordered to proceed directly to the city by Himmler, he dawdled and earned himself another reprimand. Dirlewanger was an undisciplined, degenerate butcher, but he was also a fearless sociopath who loved to fight, which made him useful to the Waffen-SS. Dirlewanger gained the Knight’s Cross for his role in suppressing the uprising. However, Dirlewanger did not escape justice and after the war he was indicted for war crimes and then beaten to death in prison.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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