German Naval Activity off Dunkirk 1940

Schnellboot S31 of the same class [Schnellboot 1939  Class] as S34

So far, German naval activity off Dunkirk had been non-existent, but this situation was not to last. In the early hours of 28 May Kapitänleutnant Rudolf Petersen, commanding the 2nd Schnellboote Flotilla in Wilhelmshaven, called his officers together and briefed them for offensive operations in the Channel area. Already, on 9 May, Petersen had led four boats of his flotilla in a successful night action north of the Straits of Dover; they had encountered a force of cruisers and destroyers of the British Home Fleet, and in the ensuing brief battle the destroyer HMS Kelly had been torpedoed and badly damaged by Kapitänleutnant Opdenhoff’s S31.15

Now, three weeks later, Petersen’s orders were simple: the S-boats were to enter the Channel under cover of darkness, lie in wait and strike hard at whatever British vessels they encountered, preferably those homeward bound with their cargoes of troops. Six boats were to undertake the mission, operating in two relays of three, hugging the 200 miles (320km) of coast on the outward trip and entering the Channel after dark.

The first three boats slipped out of Wilhelmshaven that afternoon. In the lead was S25, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Wuppermann, an officer who was later to become one of the German Navy’s small ship ‘aces’ in the Mediterranean. Behind him came Leutnant Zimmermann’s S30, followed in turn by S34 under Leutnant Obermaier. The outward voyage was uneventful, the S-boats entering the Channel on schedule and spreading out, evading the slender screen of MTBs deployed by the Royal Navy from Felixstowe and taking up station, engines off, to the north of Ramsay’s cross-Channel routes. Station was kept, from left to right, by S30, S25 and S34, and after 90 minutes of pitching and waiting on the Channel swell it was Obermaier in S34 who made the first contact with the enemy. With the aid of night glasses, he picked out a vessel and identified it as a British destroyer. Starting S34’s engines, he closed to action stations and began his attack. At 0045 on 29 May, he launched four torpedoes at the target.

Among the crew of the destroyer HMS Wakeful, the tension of the day’s operations was making itself felt. Hardly had the destroyer entered Dover with her first load of troops on 28 May when she was ordered out again, and she had sailed as soon as the soldiers disembarked, still without having refuelled or taken on fresh stocks of ammunition. On her second trip across the Channel she had been attacked by Ju 87s and had sustained a hole in her side from a near-miss, but she had run the gauntlet of the attack and Commander Fisher had brought her back into Dunkirk, taking on another 640 troops. Now he was taking his ship home over Route Y, the most northerly of the evacuation routes, with the light of the Kwinte Buoy visible to port.

There was no time for evasive action. The first of S34’s torpedoes passed ahead of the destroyer but the second exploded amidships, tearing Wakeful in two. Within 30 seconds she was gone, leaving behind a few islands of wreckage and a handful of survivors, Fisher among them. Over 700 men, mostly troops crammed below decks, went to their deaths with the stricken ship.

Other vessels in the vicinity observed the disaster and closed in to give whatever help they could. The survivors had been in the water for little over 30 minutes when the first arrived: the minesweeper HMS Gossamer, closely followed by the Scottish drifter Comfort. By 0200 hours the destroyer Grafton, the minesweeper Lydd and the motor drifter Nautilus had also reached the scene, their lifeboats joining the search for the remnants of Wakeful’s crew.

A thousand yards to the east, other eyes were watching the rescue operation. They belonged to Leutnant Michalowski and they were glued to the eyepiece of a periscope in the control centre of the submarine U-62. Michalowski now focused on the largest of the English vessels, clearly visible in the periscope’s graticule as lights flickered across the water amid Wakeful’s wreckage. Michalowski quickly checked range, bearing, depth settings and running time, then ordered the launch of a salvo of torpedoes.

The destroyer Grafton was lying at rest, her rails crowded with troops who, like her captain, Commander Robinson, were watching the efforts of her lifeboat crews as they continued the search. At that instant U-62’s torpedoes struck. One tore away the destroyer’s stern; the other sent an explosion ripping through the wardroom, killing 35 officers.

What happened next amounted to panic. The other vessels in the area, their captains aware only that Grafton had been subjected to an unexpected attack, began steering in all directions, their gun crews tense and ready to fire at shadows. On the minesweeper Lydd, Lieutenant-Commander Haig saw what looked like the silhouette of a torpedo-boat moving south-westwards. Lydd’s starboard Lewis gun opened fire on it and Grafton, which was still afloat, opened up with her secondary armament. It was a terrible mistake; the ‘torpedo-boat’ was in fact the drifter Comfort, carrying survivors from HMS Wakeful. Machine-gun bullets raked her decks as the Lydd closed right in, cutting the drifter’s crew to pieces. Minutes later, Lydd’s bow sliced into Comfort’s hull, tearing her apart. There were only five survivors; among them was Commander Fisher, whom Comfort had plucked from the sea when Wakeful went down. Fisher spent a long time in the water before be was again picked up, more dead than alive, by the Norwegian tramp steamer Hird at dawn.

HMS Grafton, meanwhile, was finished. At first light the railway steamer Malines took off her survivors, and soon afterwards the destroyer Ivanhoe put three shells into her waterline. Ten minutes later she turned over and sank. Over the horizon U-62 and Wuppermann’s three S-boats were already well on their way back to base; there could be no doubt that the German Navy had won the first round.

During the late afternoon of 1 June, the French naval vessels off Dunkirk once again came in for severe punishment; at 1600 Stukas fell on a convoy of French auxiliaries, sinking three of them – Denis Papin, Venus and Moussaillon – within five minutes.

RAF Fighter Command carried out eight squadron-strength patrols during the course of the day, claiming the destruction of 78 enemy aircraft – a figure that was later officially reduced to 53. However, Luftwaffe records admit the loss of only 19 bombers and ten fighters for 1 June, with a further 13 damaged; and since the Royal Navy claimed ten aircraft destroyed and French fighters another ten, the actual score must remain in doubt. What is certain is that Fighter Command lost 31 aircraft during the air battles of 1 June, and that the evacuation fleet lost 31 vessels of all types sunk – including four destroyers – and 11 damaged. Most of the stricken vessels fell victim to air attack, but it was the German Navy that had the last word. Shortly before midnight, Leutnant Obermaier, making yet another sortie into the Channel in Schnellboot S34, sighted two ships and attacked with torpedoes, sinking both. They were the trawlers Argyllshire and Stella Dorado.

Despite the losses, the evacuation fleet lifted off 64,429 British and French troops on 1 June. Since the last stretches of beach still in Allied hands, and the shipping offshore, were now being heavily shelled, Admiral Ramsay planned to lift as many men as possible in a single operation on the night of 1/2 June. It had originally been planned to complete the evacuation on this night, but this was no longer feasible; there could be no question of abandoning the French troops who had fought so hard on the perimeter, and through whom the British had passed on their way to the beaches. Ramsay therefore decided to concentrate all available ships after dark in the Dunkirk and Malo areas, from where the maximum lift might be obtained. For this purpose he had at his disposal some 60 ships, together with the many small craft still involved in the operation; the French could provide ten ships and about 120 fishing craft.

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U-Boat Tests with Bombardment Rockets

A small Wurfkorper Spreng 42 rocket used by the Kriegsmarine to test the idea of underwater rocket launching during 1942.

Preparations for underwater rocket launching trials with U-511, a Type IXC submarine.

An hypothetical illustration of the projected modification of type XXI U-boat with a “Ursel” rocket launcher.

These images were taken from an allied report dated 1945, “German Underwater Rockets”, produced by the “U. S. Naval Technical Mission in Europe”. As you could see, of the twelve experimental rockets, five were fitted with the “bugbeluftung”, a device set at the rocket nose meant to create a layer between water and the rocket body. That was made with exhaust gas ( a small fraction diverted, like the present Russian “Skhval” ). According the report the latter designs were functioning well. Range and speed were enough for the purpose initially in mind, to defend the submarine from attacking ships. Mind the sketch, with installation aboard a U-boat. It was to be trained and launched automatically by the SP-anlage.

In 1941 scientists at Peenemunde conceived the idea of launching artillery rockets from the deck of a submarine. The Kriegsmarine showed immediate interest and this led to a series of experiments in 1942 involving U-511, a Type IXC boat. A Schweres Wurfgerat 41 rocket launcher carrying six 12in (30cm) Wurfkorper Spreng 42 rockets was fitted to the upper deck. Surface launches proved successful, but surprisingly the tests also worked well underwater to a depth of 50ft (15m).

Six rocket-launching rails were welded to the deck of the U-511, and waterproof cables were run from the rockets to a firing switch inside of the submarine. The only modification to the rockets was waterproofing them by sealing their nozzles with candlewax. The firing tests from a depth of some 25 feet (7.6 m) were entirely successful. About 24 rockets were launched from the U-511, and additional rounds were fired from a submerged launch frame. The slow movement of the submarine through the water had no effect on the accuracy of the rockets. The 275-pound (125-kg) projectiles had a range of five miles (8 km). The only problem encountered was an electrical ground that caused two rockets to fire simultaneously.

Although these were preliminary experiments, Generalmajor Walter Dornberger, the head of the Peenemünde missile facility, presented the findings to the Naval Weapons Department, contending that rocket-firing submarines could attack coastal targets in the United States. The Navy predictably rejected consideration of an Army-designed weapon, the rocket rails were removed from the U-511, and in July 1942 the submarine departed on her first war patrol.

The potential for a new anti-shipping weapon seemed good, but there were guidance issues and insufficient resources to push ahead with development. Nevertheless, some progress had been made by the end of the war under a Research and Development programme called Project Ursel.

Subsequently, as the Type XXI U-boat was being developed, a rocket system was developed for attacking pursuing surface ships. The key to this weapon was a very precise passive, short-range detection system (S-Analage passir) to detect propeller noise from ASW ships. The submerged U-boat would then launch a rocket at the target. The echo-sounding gear performed well during trials, but the rockets were still in an early stage of development when the war ended.

In 1943 Otto Lafferenz, a director of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front), suggested the idea of launching V-1 flying bombs from submarines. This was also seriously considered but finally met with rejection for technical reasons. Then in late 1943, during a visit to Peenemunde, Lafferenz put the idea to Dornberger of launching A4 rockets at sea. The missiles were too big to be carried within a submarine and he came up with the idea of developing a submersible container carrying an A4 that could be towed behind a submarine. At a distance of 186 miles (300km) from the target (the A4’s normal range) the container would be moved to an upright position and the rocket launched. The idea met with considerable interest and the codenames Project Prüfstand XII (Test Stand XII), Apparatus F and Life Vest were assigned. But priority was being given to bringing the A4 into operational service with the Army and the development of a submarine-launched missile remained on hold until the autumn of 1944.

Eventually, a submersible torpedo shaped container was designed that measured 98ft (30m) in length and weighed 550 tons (499 tonnes). Access was gained by a hinged nose cap and the A4 missile was housed in the forward section. Behind this was a small control room and fuel storage tanks for the missile and extra diesel oil for the submarine. The container was fitted with water ballast tanks and power for all systems was supplied by a cable from the submarine. When the launch position had been reached, technicians would enter the container, prepare the rocket and finally return to the submarine. Following ignition, exhaust gas from the A4 would be re-directed through conduits around the missile and emerge at the container opening. Once the launch was completed, the container would be scuttled.

It was felt that undertaking launches against targets in Northern England and America would confuse the enemy about German rocket capabilities and make it possible to strike a number of previously inaccessible targets. Several Type XXI submarines would be adapted for rocket launch missions and one of these newer U-Boats could tow three containers, all trimmed for neutral buoyancy. Conversion of the submarines would be undertaken by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg and Wesser AG in Bremen. However, development of the project faltered and only one of three experimental containers had been completed in the Schichau Dockyard at Elbing by the end of the war. The biggest concern was ensuring container stability during launch while the accuracy of the missile’s flight presented a number of challenges that were never resolved. It is also worth mentioning that twelve dismantled A4 rockets were supplied to the Japanese and these were shipped from Bordeaux during August 1944 on U-195 and U-219, arriving in Djakarta in December 1944. What became of the wartime Japanese missile programme is unknown.

Rocket U-Boat Program

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U-511

Type IXC

Laid down 21 Feb, 1941 Deutsche Werft AG, Hamburg

Commissioned 8 Dec, 1941 Kptlt. Friedrich Steinhoff

Commanders 12.41 – 12.42

12.42 – 11.43 Kptlt. Friedrich Steinhoff

Kptlt. Fritz Schneewind

Career 4 patrols 8 Dec, 1941 – 31 Jul, 1942 4. Flottille (training)

1 Aug, 1942 – 1 Sep, 1943 10. Flottille (front boat)

Successes 5 ships sunk for a total of 41.373 tons

1 ship damaged for a total of 8.773 tons

Fate Sold to Japan on 16 Sept, 1943 and became the Japanese submarine RO 500. Surrendered at Maizuru in August 1945.

Scuttled in the Gulf of Maizuru by the US Navy on 30 April, 1946.

Postscript

In the Pacific near the end of the war, a U. S. submarine commander, Medal of Honor-winner Eugene B. Fluckey, experimented with launching rockets from his submarine while on the surface. At Pearl Harbor, Fluckey had an Army multi-barrel, 5- inch (127-mm) rocket launcher welded to the deck of the fleet submarine Barb (SS 220) and took on a store of unguided projectiles. she commenced her 12th and final patrol on 8 June.

This patrol was conducted along the coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk. For the first time in U.S. submarine warfare, Barb successfully employed rockets, against the towns of Shari, Hokkaido; Shikuka, Kashiho; and Shiritoru on Karafuto. She also bombarded the town of Kaihyo To with her regular armament, destroying 60 percent of the town.

Early on the morning of 22 June 1945, the Barb surfaced off the coast of the Japanese home island of Hokkaido and bombarded the town of Shari. The rockets were launched while the submarine was on the surface, at a range of 5,250 yards (4.8 km). During the next month the Barb remained in Japanese waters, attacking ships and carrying out five additional rocket bombardments, some supplemented by gunfire from the submarine’s 5-inch and 40-mm cannon.

The Barb’s rocket attacks were the product of one aggressive commander’s action, not part of a formal Navy program.

Battle Group Fullriede in the Tunisian Mountains, spring 1943

Lieutenant-Colonel Fritz Fullriede

The war in Africa which had, from 1940, been confined to the deserts of Libya and Egypt, expanded in November 1942 out of those sandy wildernesses and into the mountains of Algeria and Tunisia. Those two countries, both French colonial territories, had been neutral since the Franco-German armistice of June 1940, and the Axis Powers had respected that neutrality. Allied planners realised however, that if they could land an army at Rommel’s back his forces could be crushed between British 8th Army in the desert and an Anglo-American host operating in French North Africa. It was obvious that the Vichy French government would never give authority for landings and military operations in its territory so, without asking for that permission, the Allies decided to breach Algerian and Tunisian neutrality. Early in November their forces began to disembark in ports along the whole North African coastline.

Hitler’s immediate reaction was to order a blocking force to be sent without delay and the speed with which this directive was carried out surprised the Allied leaders. Within a day German paratroop contingents had been flown in to secure airfields, ports and the principal cities of Tunisia. A constant trickle of men and material came in to hold the bridgehead perimeter and to ensure that Rommel’s Italo-German army, withdrawing out of Libya, could reach the bridgehead and reinforce the troops in Tunisia. Germany’s speedy reaction to the Allied invasion — and which had countered the Anglo-American strategy — was based on the simple and obvious premise that for as long as Axis forces held the capital city and Bizerta, the country’s major port, the Allies could not use Tunisia as a springboard for military operations in the western and central Mediterranean. To maintain that spoiling victory which would thwart the Allied plans, required men and supplies. Hitler supplied both.

General von Arnim, the German commander in Tunisia, had to hold back the Anglo-American forces driving into Tunisia from the West while at the same time co-ordinating operations with Field Marshal Rommel, whose Panzer Army in the south of Tunisia was being driven back by British 8th Army. Von Arnim’s most urgent military problem was to prevent the Anglo-American forces from seizing the mountain passes through which they would gain access to central Tunisia and, thereby, split Rommel’s army from that of von Arnim. The defence of those passes fell chiefly upon army divisions, but many others were the responsibility of battle groups. One of the most successful Kampfgruppen was led by Lieutenant-Colonel Fritz Fullriede. During February 1943, the colonel was flown to Africa and briefed by von Arnim on the task which his new command was to carry out. This was to defend the Fondouk passes, part of the battle group’s 65km-length of front. Battle group Fullriede was, to begin with, low in number and poorly equipped. It was made up of three companies of Italian infantry, nine German companies, 14 Italian field guns and three German infantry guns. A well-armed nucleus around which the Kampfgruppe had been built was Captain Duevers’ 334th Armoured Car Battalion which also included some engineers, a pair of 88mm guns and a few light anti-aircraft weapons.

Fullriede saw as his first task the need to make himself known to the men he would be leading in battle, as well as gaining a clear picture of their fitness for combat. For the first few days after taking up position in his allotted sector he visited each of his units. Fullriede was fortunate in that he had arrived in Tunisia during a period of comparative inactivity. Both sides were exhausted from the strain of the winter battles and in that brief lull he was able to impress upon the soldiers of his Kampfgruppe the force of his personality. Between November and January the Allies had sought to crush the German bridgehead and the German-Italian forces had fought to hold the perimeter which had been created in the earliest days of the campaign. Fighting in the Tunisian mountains had been bitter, hard and wasteful but had been brought almost to a standstill by the mud produced by the heavy rains of January and February. The energetic Fullriede was determined to give the American units on his sector no rest at all. He sent out battle patrols to dominate No Mans Land and often accompanied these, learning at first hand the advantages and disadvantages of the local area. On those sectors where aggressive American commanders mounted their own small-unit operations, Fullriede soon reached the spot to inspire his men to master the situation.

Slowly the strength of Kampfgruppe Fullriede grew. On 4 March an Arab battalion, “Tunisia”, came under command. The officers and NCOs of that unit were Germans who had served with the French Foreign Legion and had left it to serve with Panzer Army Afrika. The rank and file were native Tunisians.

The peace which had endured along Fullriede’s sector was broken on 5 March by a heavy artillery barrage which fell onto an isolated forward position in front of the small native town of Pichon. First reports from the men in the front line indicated that the artillery fire was the opening of a major new American offensive. There had been a change of command in US II Corps and the new corps commander was the aggressive George Patton. Fullriede drove into the forward positions to judge the situation on the spot. There he saw that American tanks had outflanked the German advanced strongpoint and had almost surrounded it. There was no time to lose if the men in that outpost were not to be cut off and destroyed. The commander ordered his reluctant soldiers to pull back to the main defensive positions in the village of El Ala and under heavy tank and machine gun fire the defenders withdrew. But before El Ala could be prepared for defence, US tank forces had swept down upon them and in a swift assault had captured the village.

Fullriede’s worries were a little alleviated when a group of reinforcements came up — a platoon of commandos from the Brandenburg regiment. It was exactly the type of support that Fullriede would have wished for himself, combat veterans of proven ability. Fullriede knew that the Americans had not yet had time to consolidate their positions in El Ala and that until they had done this their hold on the village was tenuous. The German Army’s standard response to the loss of ground was to counterattack immediately — and here the battle group commander had the men available to retake the lost village. There was no time to organise even a mortar barrage and to issue artillery fire orders would have taken too much time. The need to counter-attack was an immediate one and the Brandenburg commandos claimed they needed no artillery support. They fought best in close-quarter battles.

The commandos melted away into the growing darkness leaving Fullriede’s men to wait for a given signal — a Very light. Minutes passed and then there was a series of explosions from inside the village where two companies of American tanks had laagered for the night. Those explosions were followed by fires as the vehicles blew up, one after the other. The commando platoon was in action. The dark of the night was pierced at intervals by sudden brief flashes as hand grenades exploded or machine pistols fired bursts of bullets at the surprised Americans. Impatiently, Fullriede and his soldiers waited upon the signal and then, finally, it came: a green flare rising fast into the night sky. The battle group commander ordered his men to follow him and led them at the charge to where the Brandenburg platoon was driving the last American troops out of the houses which they had sought in vain to convert into strongpoints. The light of burning tanks showed a pair of American light howitzers with their crews lying dead around them. Immediately Fullriede called to a group of commandos asking whether they could operate the enemy guns. They could. Detachments of the battle group swung the weapons round, the commandos took post on the guns and within a few minutes they were in action firing at a pair of Grants which, attracted by the sound and sights of battle, had driven into El Ala. Three shots from the howitzers and both vehicles lay immobile and out of action. The remaining Americans realising the hopelessness of their position either surrendered or fled into the night.

The passes at Fondouk had been a sensitive sector since the earliest weeks of the campaign. Now, in March, their importance had increased with the build-up of Allied — chiefly American — forces facing them. The Axis High Command in Africa, aware of Allied preparations for a major offensive, reinforced Fullriede’s battle group once again, and this time with Captain Kahle’s 190th Reconnaissance Battalion.

We have seen in earlier pages that it was a favourite tactic of Field Marshal Rommel to launch pre-emptive strikes to upset his opponent’s military preparations. He determined to launch such an attack against the US troops holding the El Zhagales Pass. That pass lay in the sector of front held by Fullriede’s battle group and it says a lot for the confidence which the commander had in his men that for this spoiling attack he proposed to use just three platoons of infantry and three armoured reconnaissance vehicles. The task of that small fighting group was to advance across the 10km-wide No Mans Land, reach the mouth of the pass and then to fight a way through it.

The élan of Fullriede’s soldiers proved irresistible and after a short but intense fire-fight the US defenders, who greatly outnumbered the German attackers, were forced back. One small American group took up positions on a ridge of high ground behind the pass. Tactically, this was an unsound move and was one which Fullriede quickly exploited. Combining some armoured cars, a detachment of motor cyclists and a couple of SPs mounting 7.5cm guns, his units encircled the American group on the ridge. The only immediately available artillery to support the infantry attack was a single mortar, the crew of which fired a short barrage. Under that flimsy fire cover Fullriede led his men in a charge. Five American officers and 65 other ranks were taken prisoner, but more welcome booty was the lorry park with a number of serviceable vehicles.

Rommel’s pre-emptive attack had two consequences. The first of these was that the Americans had been forced out of the El Zeghales Pass. The second was that it woke the front on that sector and throughout the succeeding few days US troops made a series of attacks against the Kampfgruppe and the units on either flank. Slowly, that burst of American activity died away to leave reconnaissance and battle patrols as the principal activity. It was, however, a false lull. On 20 March, a US armoured thrust broke through at Maknassy and at first Fullriede was ordered to clean up the situation, but those orders were revoked two days later. Then, instead of undertaking a new attack his battle group received further reinforcements, a small battle group whose principal formation was the 961st Penal Regiment.

Fighting flickered fitfully along Fullriede’s front with US thrusts succeeded by battle group counter-thrusts. One particularly serious breach was made by the Americans on 28 March, on a neighbouring sector. That attack was the opening move of a general offensive to capture the passes. The first penetrations made by the US troops into the German positions were extended to become wide breaches. A break-through was imminent and it seemed that nothing could halt the American onrush.

Fullriede decided to swing across onto the neighbouring sector and open a counter-attack. Shortly before last light on 29 March, he explained his battle plan to the men of the two infantry companies and the 334th Battalion whom he intended to lead in person in the forthcoming battle. The mission was, he told them, to recapture a dominant hill, Jebel Gridyina, which had been lost the previous day. He led the column of infantry to the foot of the Jebel and then ordered his men to take up attack formation. He himself took post in the centre of the short line and led the companies into the attack. Swiftly and efficiently the battle group infantry swept up the hill, recaptured it and took as prisoners most of the US defenders. The remainder managed to escape into the night. Determined to recover all the ground which had been lost in the opening moves of the American offensive, Fullriede struck at the US forces holding another mountain top, Point 603, and used for this mission a battalion of the penal regiment and No 2 Company of the 334th Battalion. The attack opened at first light on 30 March and its speed and weight flung the US defenders off the peak and recaptured it.

There was a regrouping of forces on the Allied side and US II Corps was pulled out of the line at Fondouk and sent to the northern sector of the Tunisian battle front. That corps was replaced by British 6th Armoured Division and detachments from a French colonial division. Fullriede decided to launch a spoiling attack to roll up the Allied line, but his best unit, the 334th, was taken from him and posted to another sector. Now lacking the strength to undertake large scale missions, he and his battle group had to be content with local operations. Reinforcements were promised but few arrived. One which did was an Italian machine gun battalion.

The first major assault by 6th Armoured Division came in on 7 April and broke into the German main defensive line, but only at its second attempt; the first, an infantry attack, was beaten back. The second was a tank attack and succeeded. During the fighting one battalion of the Penal Regiment was almost totally destroyed. Only 150 men escaped from the battlefield. Immediately, Fullriede ordered a counter-attack using his SPs whose 7.5cm guns outranged the British tank guns. Five British machines were soon wrecked or burning and the advance by 6th Armoured was brought to a temporary halt.

By this time Rommel’s Panzer Army had been driven out of the positions it had held at Mareth in southern Tunisia and was moving into the central part of that country. In order that the desert veterans could reach and take up fresh sectors in the battle line, it was even more essential that the western passes be held. The most important of those passes was Fondouk and the little town of Pichon, through an accident of war, had now become a place of strategic importance. A town so vital to the battle plans of the Axis High Command as Pichon had now become, needed to be defended by a strong formation and the withdrawal of the 334th had left Fullriede’s battle group dangerously weak. Aware of that fact, High Command returned the 334th which took up position ready to meet the Allied offensive which would soon come in, now that 8th Army had linked up with the Allied forces in Tunisia.

It was stressed upon Fullriede that his Kampfgruppe had to hold Pichon and the Fondouk Pass until Rommel’s Army had passed through Kairouan and into the security of the central area of the bridgehead. Only then could his unit leave its positions and pull back northwards. The scale of fighting on Kampfgruppe’s front diminished for a day and then grew again. The opening moves of 6th Armoured Division’s offensive were air and ground bombardments followed by infantry probes testing for weak points in the battle group’s front. The weight of those British attacks and the fury of the artillery barrages and air- raids were too much for some of the battle group’s soldiers. The native battalions — “Tunisia” and “Algeria”, together with the Italian machine gun battalion — were the first to break and either abandon their positions or else surrender én masse to the British troops. Only the Foreign Legion NCOs and officers of the native battalions stayed to fight.

Pressure grew on the battle group’s remaining units and under that pressure Fondouk was eventually taken, but 6th Armoured’s attempts to bring their advance forward were stopped by Fullriede’s last SPs and those companies which had been with the KG since it was created. There was a brief lull as both sides regrouped after the recent bitter fighting. Then came the news that the last elements of Afrika Korps had passed through Kairouan. Kampfgruppe Fullriede could now leave the battlefield and during the evening of 9 April, the commander issued orders to the groups which had served under him, that they were to detach themselves from the enemy and were to pass through Kairouan to take up fresh positions around Enfidaville, where a fresh defensive line had been set up. Not all the groups were able to detach themselves cleanly and were overrun by Allied armour.

Although Kampfgruppe Fullriede was later employed on other sectors, chiefly in the Pont du Fahs area, it is at this point that we leave it. The end of the war in Africa was now only a matter of weeks away and with that defeat ahead lay years of captivity as prisoners of war for the veterans of the African campaign.

Colonel Fritz Fullriede took command of the fortress of Kolberg March 1, 1945.

Fritz Fullriede (4 January 1895 – 3 November 1969) was a German officer and war criminal during World War II. Fullriede fought in the German invasion of Poland, on the Eastern Front, in the Afrika Korps and the Italian Campaign. The last commander of Festung Kolberg, Fullriede received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves in 1945. After the war, Fullriede was tried and convicted by a Dutch court for his role in the Putten raid of 1944. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years.

The Wiking Division 1942

The Wiking Division would win further laurels in the drive to the Caucasus Mountains and then in the defensive fighting in the southern Ukraine during the winter of 1942-1943. The spring of 1942 was a relatively quiet time for Wiking, Steiner incorporating lessons learned from the Barbarossa fighting. Among these was an organizational change to “Westland,” converting it into a “light regiment” of two five-company battalions, the fifth company acting as the heavy-weapons unit containing pioneer, infantry-gun, and “attack” platoons.

New arrivals included a battalion of Finnish infantry and an assault-gun battery, to replace the StuG IIIs lost in the February fighting south of Kharkov. And in June, with only a few weeks to spare before the opening of the new campaign, the division received its panzer battalion (Abteilung ) under the command of Sturmbannführer Johannes Mühlenkamp. Hausser and Steiner had long campaigned for their divisions to have a tank capability, enabling them to act independently without help from other panzer units.

Mühlenkamp was an ideal panzer commander, combining an aggressive attacking impulse with sound tactical knowledge. An early member of the SS-VT, his prowess as a competition motorcycle rider led to command of “Germania’s” motorcycle company. After recovering from wounds suffered during the advance on Moscow, Mühlenkamp was given command of one of the four panzer battalions being raised for the Waffen-SS (the other three being assigned to Leibstandarte, Das Reich, and Totenkopf ).

The SS tank crews were trained by the army at Wildflecken, beginning on captured French Hotchkiss tanks before graduating to German models. Mühlenkamp’s battalion comprised just under sixty tanks divided into three companies. The 1st and 2nd Companies were equipped with the Panzer Mark III, whose new high-velocity 5cm L/60 gun gave improved battlefield performance (although still inferior to the Soviet T-34). The 3rd Company was equipped with the Panzer Mark IV, whose original low-velocity 7.5cm L/24 gun had been replaced by an L/43-armed model with a reasonable antiarmor capability (subsequently upgraded with an L/48 gun).

Hitler’s 1942 summer offensive was intended to secure the Caucasus region and provide Germany with new sources of urgently needed fuel (and correspondingly deny them to the enemy). The attack would be directed toward the oil fields of Maikop, Grozny, and then Baku, the ultimate prize on the Caspian Sea. A subsidiary advance was directed toward Stalingrad to protect the left flank of the main drive. For the offensive- code-named “Fall Blau” (Case Blue)-Hitler had assembled approximately 1 million German and 300,000 Axis soldiers, supported by 1,900 tanks and 1,600 aircraft. This was an impressive force, which tore through the Soviet lines with almost contemptuous ease. Such was the success of the initial phase of the campaign, launched on 28 June 1942, that it turned Hitler’s head toward the seizure of Stalingrad. But the attempt to capture Stalingrad would fatally divert air and ground forces from operations in the Caucasus.

On 18 July the Wiking Division readjusted its position slightly farther south along the River Mius Line near Taganrog. Its objective was the recapture of Rostov, the city on the Don that Leibstandarte had been forced to relinquish in November 1941. Steiner used an imaginative combination of combat pioneers, infantry, and armored vehicles to break through the concentric defensive lines that protected Rostov. Bombarded by artillery and massed waves of aircraft, a surprised Red Army offered little resistance so that on 24 July the city fell to the Germans. Among the wounded was the medical officer of the pioneer battalion, Obersturmführer Josef Mengele, who had previously been awarded the Iron Cross for rescuing two crewmen from a burning tank. Declared unfit for further frontline service, Mengele returned to his former interest in racial genetics, achieving lasting infamy at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Once past Rostov, Wiking’s orders were to cross the Kuban River and secure the Maikop oil fields situated in the foothills of the western Caucasus Mountains. The tanks, assault guns, artillery, and truck-borne infantry raised huge plumes of dust as they raced southward. The divisional history reported how its troops “drove through the masses of still retreating Russians who scattered before the panzers and disappeared in the fields of sunflowers.” The changing landscape also seemed to reflect Germany’s improved military fortunes:

The villages were prettier than in the Ukraine, the roads better and countryside was covered with golden corn and red tomato fields. In the village gardens the trees were heavy with ripening fruit. Everything the heart desired was there: melons of a size never seen before, apples, pears and other delicious fruit which made the soldiers’ mouths water. Every pause was used to gorge on the fruit and quench their thirst. It was very hot and dusty; so dusty that the only feature recognizable through the thick layer of dust on the faces of the young European volunteers were their eyes.

The progress of the German land forces was facilitated by the close air support provided by Colonel General Wolfram von Richthofen’s Luftflotte Four. Richthofen-a cousin of the World War I fighter ace-was an intelligent, uncompromising airman who had pioneered air-ground cooperation. The Luftwaffe’s contribution to the campaign was readily acknowledged by the Wiking officers: “Soon it became customary for the Luftwaffe commander, Major Diering, to land at dawn at the command post by Storch [light aircraft]. He would take part in the briefing and issue orders to his liaison officer accordingly. As the Panzerkampfgruppe deployed it would be accompanied by an air patrol of two ground-support aircraft. These would call up the remainder of the unit’s aircraft, which were on alert at Rostov, when heavier air support became necessary.” This period marked the high point of German air-ground cooperation, soon to be undermined by a chronic shortage of aircraft and aircrew as Hitler’s demands stretched the Luftwaffe beyond breaking point.

The physical barrier of the Kuban River was crossed in stages between 4 and 7 August. This opened the way for a direct advance on the oil fields around Maikop, occupied by German troops on the tenth. A team of oil specialists had been sent to restore the wells to production, but the retreating Soviet forces had destroyed the plant facilities so thoroughly that no oil was ever extracted.

As Wiking advanced south of Maikop, it entered the foothills of the Caucasus, whose narrow defiles and high passes impeded operations. The division was ordered to halt and await the arrival of German mountain infantry. Wiking’s last offensive action in this region was fought on 14 August, when its Finnish battalion scattered the remnants of a Red Army cavalry division during the capture of Linejuaja.

For the rest of August and into September Wiking took part in antipartisan operations against Soviet forces hiding in the hills. During this period the army-organized Walloon Legion (Legion Wallonie) from southern Belgium briefly came under Wiking control. Among the legion’s soldiers was Belgian journalist and nationalist politician Léon Degrelle, who was greatly impressed by the SS division. He would later use his influence to have the Belgian unit taken over by the Waffen-SS. When the German mountain troops arrived, they joined the Walloon Legion to drive through the mountains and capture the Black Sea port of Tuapse.

At one point-as the men of the Wiking Division awaited redeployment-they were entertained by a regimental orchestra, which set up its instruments a short distance from the front line. Sturmann Hepp, a Dutch soldier in “Germania,” found the concert-which included uplifting works by Beethoven and Wagner-a deeply moving experience. It confirmed his belief in the moral, spiritual, and intellectual superiority of the New Order: “How characteristic for the humanity and culture we were defending that it was not some fiery dance music, some libidinally charged dance hall tune that was brought to the men at the fighting front. Instead it was the most sublime and challenging music that the occidental masters had created.”

#

Orders from OKH for Wiking’s redeployment to the Chechen region of the East Caucasus were instigated on 16 September. The transfer took four days and saw the division assigned to Kleist’s First Panzer Army, now bogged down in the Terek Valley around Mosdok.

When the chief of staff of the First Panzer Army explained the objectives to Steiner- a march on Grozny to be followed by a crossing of the Caucasus Mountains to strike Baku-the SS general was openly skeptical of the whole enterprise, especially given the Germans’ limited resources and the lateness of the campaigning season. The chief of staff agreed with Steiner’s misgivings but emphasized that these were orders from OKH and were to be obeyed. This disjuncture between Hitler and his staff and the generals at the front would become ever greater, directly contributing to the failure of the campaign.

The Wiking Division was assigned to General Eugen Ott’s LII Army Corps, whose drive from Mosdok had been stopped in its tracks. Ott’s high-handed manner immediately caused friction with the bullish Steiner, and relations between the two commanders deteriorated as the campaign progressed.

Blocking any German advance to Grozny was the Malgobek ridge. A frontal attack had already been repulsed with heavy casualties. Steiner was ordered to launch a flanking maneuver along the valley of the River Kurp that ran behind the ridge. Wiking’s first objective was the fortified town of Ssagopschin, several miles farther up the valley, which was crisscrossed with steep-sided gorges (balkas) and antitank ditches. Steiner expected close air support to help him rip open the Soviet defenses, but Richthofen flew in to LII Corps HQ to inform him that the Tuapse and Stalingrad operations had priority and all he could provide were a few obsolete bombers.

The troops moved into position on 26 September, ready for the assault on the following day. The plan of attack was for the infantry from “Westland” and “Nordland” to secure the higher ground running on both sides of the valley, while the tank battalion and assault-gun battery would advance along the valley floor, reinforced by combat pioneers and infantry mounted on the armored vehicles. Fire support would be provided by the massed batteries of the Wiking artillery regiment and LII Corps.

To Steiner’s dismay, the enemy defenses were harder to overcome than even he had anticipated. The well-supplied Soviet troops fought with the utmost resolve, while the German armored advance was slowed by minefields and Soviet tank-hunter teams who raced up to attack the panzers with bundled charges. On 28 September the Germans made better progress and were within reaching distance of Ssagopschin until a Soviet counterattack forced the SS infantry to temporarily retreat.

The Wiking troops not only faced concentrated artillery and machine-gun fire but were continually bombed and strafed by Soviet aircraft roaming over the battlefield at will. The infantrymen crouching under their fire noticed that many were from the United States, transported overland through Iran to the Soviet Caucasus command. They also found themselves under attack from British-made Valentine tanks, an otherwise reliable and well-armored vehicle undermined by a woefully inadequate 2-pounder (40mm) main gun.

The Wiking armored vehicles managed to repel the Soviet counterattacks but were unable to break through to Ssagopschin. All the while they were subject to a Soviet barrage from the heights on both sides of the valley. Sturmmann Neumann, a tank crewman in a Panzer Mark III, recalled coming under this heavy artillery fire:

We were being engaged from all sides. The reports from an 15.2cm battery could be clearly distinguished. It was a damned tricky situation. The bastards were registering on us. The impacts came ever closer. Depending on where they landed we moved back and forth. The shells exploding right next to our tanks made an ear-deafening racket. In between, there was the whistling sounds of the anti-tank guns and the tank main guns. Dust and dirt penetrated the interiors of the tanks; shrapnel smacked with a clang against the steel walls of the tank. It was a terrible strain on the nerves, sitting there in the middle of artillery fire without being able to do anything, hearing the report of the guns and waiting for the impacts. There was no getting around the feeling of confinement in a tank.

Neumann and his comrades were eventually able to escape their ordeal after withdrawing into a nearby tank ditch.

Despite the best efforts of the Wiking Division, there was no escaping the fact that the advance had been halted. Kleist and Ott pressured Steiner to capture Ssagopschin without delay. Steiner also encouraged his men to press forward, but another attack on 30 September similarly failed to make headway. On 1 October Oberführer Fritz von Scholz, commander of “Nordland,” insisted his troops could not advance farther and asked to be allowed to withdraw to a better position more than a mile to the rear. Ott expressly forbade any retreat, but Steiner, on discussing the situation with Scholz at the front, overruled the order and allowed the SS troops to retire. This proved a wise decision, enabling the now disordered SS units time and space to reorganize for further offensive action.

At dawn on 2 October the combined forces of the division advanced at speed, overrunning the Soviet positions and finally capturing Ssagopschin. Despite the success, criticism of Wiking continued, with First Panzer Army headquarters suggesting that its multinational nature caused problems of command and control. This accusation was vehemently refuted by the division, which pointed out that on 1 October 1942 foreign volunteers made up around 12 percent of the division’s regulation strength and that combat had melded the various nationalities into a coherent whole.

Ott, still furious that his orders had been disobeyed, instructed Steiner to capture the Malgobek ridge, now in an exposed position following the fall of Ssagopschin. The “Germania” Regiment was chosen to lead the attack. Steiner, on being told that again there would be no air support, lost his temper and shouted at Ott that “the attack could not be executed and that he would report the matter to Reichsführer-SS Himmler.” This threatened circumvention of the chain of command was clearly a breach of regulations, and Steiner was duly reprimanded by First Panzer Army Headquarters. But Steiner’s foot-stamping did have one desired result: a flight of Stukas was promised for the attack.

“Germania” opened the assault on 5 October, supported by the rest of the Wiking Division from the south and by army units from the north. The SS troops secured a foothold on the ridge, which was cleared with comparative ease on the following day. The Red Army withdrew farther east to continue its defense of Grozny. Ott then insisted that the nearby Hill 701 be secured by Wiking and the army’s 111th Division.

Both divisional commanders expressed reluctance to continue the offensive, which brought forth a sarcastic response from Ott: “If the authority or willingness to fight on the part of subordinate leaders is not sufficient, I request the esteemed division commanders to personally take the place of the regimental commanders and conduct it.” The first assault on the position was made on 15 October, and after a series of hard-fought seesaw battles Hill 701 was captured by the Finnish battalion on the sixteenth.

Steiner’s reluctance to press forward had been informed by his firsthand knowledge of the growing weakness of the German forces in the area; any advance on Grozny without huge reinforcement was clearly impossible. In fact, the capture of Hill 701 marked the high-water mark of the German advance in the Caucasus; from this time onward, they would go over to the defensive.

Arguments between Waffen-SS field commanders and their army counterparts were extremely rare-normally confined to Theodor Eicke’s splenetic outbursts-but the ongoing dispute between Steiner and First Panzer Army caused disquiet at OKH. On 20 October General Kurt Zeitzler-Halder’s replacement as army chief of staff-flew out to the Caucasus to assess the situation. Steiner’s reservations about his division’s treatment were seemingly accepted by Zeitzler, who also tried to allay anxieties as to the overall strategic situation.

In early November Wiking was withdrawn from the Malgobek area and redeployed a few miles away in defense of German positions around Alagir. During this period of relative calm, Steiner was informed that the division would henceforth be designated as 5th SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking, in line with a comprehensive numerical overhaul of all Waffen-SS formations. (Each unit in the division was prefixed by its formation number, except for the two panzergrenadier regiments, which were all numbered sequentially, with Leibstandarte’s two regiments numbered 1st and 2nd, Das Reich’s numbered 3rd and 4th, and so on, with Wiking’s two regiments numbered 9th and 10th.)

Of rather more significance was the troubling news that a Soviet offensive had trapped the German Sixth Army in Stalingrad and was threatening to cut off Army Group A in the Caucasus. On 22 December Wiking was ordered to drive northward to help the Fourth Panzer Army’s attempt to break through to Stalingrad. This was the first stage in a wider German retreat from the entire Caucasus region.

After a relatively swift train transport north, advance elements of the division detrained on 30 December at a snowbound Simovniki, headquarters of Fourth Panzer Army. But on arrival the SS troops found the town deserted, the headquarters recently departed. Steiner was informed that Wiking was not to take part in a rescue attempt toward Stalingrad-now abandoned-but act as a rear guard for a general retreat back to Rostov. “Westland,” supported by a battalion from “Germania” and 5th Panzer Battalion, held Simovniki for seven days, buying vital time for the withdrawal, not only for the rest of the division but also for Kleist’s First Panzer Army, hurrying back to a new defensive line behind the River Don.

The harsh winter weather gave Wiking’s withdrawal a nightmarish quality. The tank drivers-inexperienced in these conditions-found travel across the icy balkas a constant challenge; on such steep gradients, the caterpillar tracks could not always find sufficient traction, so the tank slithered back to the bottom of the ditch, entailing a long-drawn-out rescue process with other tanks acting as towing vehicles. On one occasion, three Panzer IIIs had to be abandoned due to the ice-ridden conditions.

All the while, the retreating German troops faced the possibility of attack by packs of roving T-34s. Red Army units harried the retreating Wiking rear guards, but they lacked sufficient numbers to bring them to battle. By the beginning of February, Wiking approached Rostov with the major part of the First Panzer Army safely across the Don. On 5 February the battered division passed through the city to take up new defensive positions around Stalino (Donetsk). Once in place, Wiking was ordered to surrender its “Nordland” regiment, which would become the core infantry unit in a new Waffen-SS formation, the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, with Scholz as its commander. A battalion of Estonian troops was sent to join Wiking as partial recompense for the loss of “Nordland.”

Hitler’s 1942 summer offensive had ended in calamitous failure. The Wehrmacht was back in the same position it had occupied in July 1942, but now there were huge gaps in the German line across the Ukraine, which the mechanized divisions of the Red Army were intending to exploit.

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.

Brigadekommandeure:

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.

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.

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

[elsewhere]

.’

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.

Meza Kaki – SS-Jagdverbände Ostland

15th Latvian SS division, 32nd company, 2nd batallion in parade in Riga.

Latvian independence, General der Waffen-SS und Polizei Friedrich Jeckeln,  Commander of SS and Police in Courland, promised that after the war Latvia would indeed regain its statehood. Nothing concrete came of these negotiations and over the next few days Jeckeln met with the obstinate Kurelian (named after General Jānis Kurelis group (the so-called “kurelieši”)) leaders several more times with nothing to show for his troubles. Having run out of patience, early on November 14 Jeckeln ordered German security forces to surround the main Kurelian camp. They disarmed and arrested nearly 600o men, including Upelnieks and Kurelis. On November 19 a military court in Liepaja tried a number of the captive Kurelian officers and sentenced Upelnieks and six others to death, a sentence carried out the following day. Jeckeln spared the aged Kurelis, since for many Latvians he had become a national symbol, and shipped him to Danzig instead. He then dispersed the rest of the Kurelians, except for 454 deserters whom he deported to Stutthof KZ. Eventually as many as 750 Kurelians were sent to Germany, of which thirty-four of the most incorrigible remained in Stutthof and most of the rest were assigned to the 15th Division, which at that time was regrouping in West Prussia.

Not all Kurelians surrendered without a fight. A battalion of some 400 men under Lt. Roberts Rubenis resisted the Germans, and a firefight erupted, continuing intermittently for several days, peaking on November 18-19. Many Kurelians fell, including Lt. Rubenis. The fleeing survivors skirmished with the pursuing Germans until December 9, when they finally scattered and melted into the woods. Some continued to resist as nationalist guerillas, another seventy to ninety joined the communist underground. In this engagement the Germans killed some 160 Kurelians, but they had also suffered casualties of their own. The clash between the Rubenis band and German security forces was the only significant instance of armed anti-German resistance by noncommunist Latvians One should add that it came unintentionally, a spontaneous response to German attempts to disarm and liquidate the unit, not as a planned uprising initiated by the Kurelians. It was this single, accidental incident that earned for the Kurelians inclusion in the annals of the Latvian anti-German resistance

Realizing the failure of the Kurelians to become a viable anticommunist partisan band, as early as October 1944 Jeckeln organized another group for that purpose, the SS-Jagdverbände Ostland (the Hunting Commandos), popularly known as the Meza Kaki, or the (Wildkatze) Wildcats . Trained and organized in the Reich under the watchful eye of Otto Skorzeny, the legendary SS commando officer whose daring raid rescued Mussolini from imprisonment, the Wildcats, unlike the Kurelians, remained under strict SD control. With many Baltic Germans serving alongside select Latvians, the Wildcats functioned as a counterinsurgency and intelligence- gathering band. Incredibly the first group of 150 Latvian recruits left for Wildcat training in the Reich on November 16, aboard the same ship that transported the hapless, captive Kurelians to incarceration at Stutthof Kz. The Wildcats launched operations in late 1944 and continued their anti-Soviet resistance into 1945 and even after the German capitulation in May. Just as some former Kurelians fought for the pro-Soviet under- ground, other Kurelians eventually came out of hiding and joined the Wildcats. Since the Wildcats clearly were a German fabrication, by no stretch of the imagination can they be regarded as part of the anti-German resistance. After the war some of them persisted with their anti-Soviet activities as part of the nationalist partisan movement known as the Meza Brali, the Forest Brothers.

The restoration of Latvian sovereignty was one of the constant points of interest for the Latvian operative staff of the Jagdverband Ostland (including the Wildkatze). The members of the staff positioned themselves as freedom fighters who are fighting for independence along with the armed forces of the Nazi Germany and that the leadership of the Latvian operative staff of the SS-Jagdverband should be the core of the restored Latvian state, meaning that the members of the operative staff were to take leading positions in the restored Latvian state. The Latvian National Committee (henceforth — LNK) was created by the representatives of the Latvian refugees, non-governmental organizations, soldiers at the front lines and representatives of Latvians in Germany with the backing of the Reichsfuehrer H. Himmler in Potsdam on February 20, 1945. The LNK became an operative interest for the Latvian operative staff of the SS-Jagdverband even before its official creation. The Wildkatze not only followed the creation of the LNK very closely, but also paid attention to the leading personnel, the selection criteria for the leadership of the LNK as well as its actions in Kurzeme. Special emphasis was put in monitoring the disposition of the residents and their attitude towards the newly created organization. The Wildkatze also made a thorough analysis of the LNK and included the information in their monthly intelligence reports. The disposition of local residents to the LNK was a major issue and usually made up to 40-50% of the intelligence reports. One can assume that the interest in the activities of the LNK was of interest for the Wildkatze was because the restoration of Latvian independence was perceived as the basis of their existence and the LNK was one of the ways to this goal and it was also a rival. The analysis of the LNK activities made by the Information unit of the Wildkatze, based on thorough analysis of the political situation and the disposition of local population reveals the weak points of the LNK — the pro-German character of the organization and the lack of support from the local populace. The Latvians residing in Kurzeme region were skeptical and negative towards the LNK. Most of the population of Kurzeme did not believe the LNK and are very cautious in their judgments (the main reason was their general lack of confidence in Germans and the LNK was a pro-German organization). The conclusion of the Wildkatze was that the LNK has come too late and that the Germans had already ransacked Kurzeme and scattered the population. The LNK is just a pawn in the international game started by the Germans and would be used by the Germans exploit the last reserves of strength of Latvian nation. One can conclude that the materials created by the analysts of the SS-Jagdverband are no different than the modern opinion on the lack of popularity of the LNK and are fairly objective historical sources. One must also note the courage it took for the Wildkatze to criticize the LNK project and to point at the imminent defeat of the Nazi Germany for the reports were sent to the highest leadership of the SS-Jagdverband and it was a well known fact that the penalty for popularization of defeatist ideology was death.