Skip to comments.Minutemen of the Third Reich ("Werewolf" guerilla movement - postwar sabotage & terror not new)
Posted on 07/04/2003 1:47:18 AM PDT by Stultis
Minutemen of the Third Reich.(history of the Nazi Werewolf guerilla movement)
AS WORRIES INCREASE about neo-Nazi and skinhead violence in Germany, it is worth remembering that this type of terrorism is a nasty constant in the history of the German radical-right. A case in point is the Nazi Werewolf guerrilla movement founded by Heinrich Himmler in 1044, which fought the occupying forces of Britain, America and Russia until at least 1047.
The Werewolves were originally organised by the SS and the Hitler Youth as a diversionary operation on the fringes of the Third Reich, which were occupied by the Western Allies and the Soviets in the autumn of 1944. Some 5,000 -- 6,000 recruits were raised by the winter of 1944-45, but numbers rose considerably in the following spring when the Nazi Party and the Propaganda Ministry launched a popular call to arms, beseeching everybody in the occupied areas -- even women and children -- to launch themselves upon the enemy. In typical Nazi fashion, this expansion was not co-ordinated by the relevant bodies, which were instead involved in a bureaucratic war among themselves over control of the project. The result was that the movement functioned on two largely unrelated levels: the first as a real force of specially trained SS, Hitler Youth and Nazi Party guerrillas; the second as an outlet for casual violence by fanatics.
The Werewolves specialised in ambushes and sniping, and took the lives of many Allied and Soviet soldiers and officers -- perhaps even that of the first Soviet commandant of Berlin, General N.E. Berzarin, who was rumoured to have been waylaid in Charlottenburg during an incident in June 1945. Buildings housing Allied and Soviet staffs were favourite targets for Werewolf bombings; an explosion in the Bremen police headquarters, also in June 1945, killed five Americans and thirty-nine Germans. Techniques for harassing the occupiers were given widespread publicity through Werewolf leaflets and radio propaganda, and long after May 1945 the sabotage methods promoted by the Werewolves were still being used against the occupying powers.
Although the Werewolves originally limited themselves to guerrilla warfare with the invading armies, they soon began to undertake scorched-earth measures and vigilante actions against German `collaborators' or `defeatists'. They damaged Germany's economic infrastructure, already battered by Allied bombing and ground fighting, and tried to prevent anything of value from falling into enemy hands. Attempts to blow up factories, power plants or waterworks occasionally provoked melees between Werewolves and desperate German workers trying to save the physical basis of their employment, particularly in the Ruhr and Upper Silesia.
Several sprees of vandalism through stocks of art and antiques, stored by the Berlin Museum in a flak tower at Friedrichshain, caused millions of dollars worth of damage and cultural losses of inestimable value. In addition, vigilante attacks caused the deaths of a number of small-town mayors and, in late March 1945, a Werewolf paratroop squad assassinated the Lord Mayor of Aachen, Dr Franz Oppenhoff, probably the most prominent German statesman to have emerged in the occupied fringes over the winter of 1944-45. This spate of killings, part of a larger Nazi terror campaign that consumed the Third Reich after the failed anti-Hitler putsch of July 20th, 1944, can be interpreted as a psychological retreat back into opposition, even while Nazi leaders were still clinging to their last few months of power.
Although the Werewolves managed to make themselves a nuisance to small Allied and Soviet units, they failed to stop or delay the invasion and occupation of Germany, and did not succeed in rousing the population into widespread opposition to the new order. The SS and Hitler Youth organisations at the core of the Werewolf movement were poorly led, short of supplies and weapons, and crippled by infighting. Their mandate was a conservative one of tactical harassment, at least until the final days of the war, and even when they did begin to envision the possibility of an underground resistance that could survive the Third Reich's collapse, they had to contend with widespread civilian war-weariness and fear of enemy reprisals. In Western Germany, no one wanted to do anything that would diminish the pace of Anglo-American advance and possibly thereby allow the Red Army to push further westward.
Despite its failure, however, the Werewolf project had a huge impact, widening the psychological and spiritual gap between Germans and their occupiers. Werewolf killings and intimidation of `collaborators' scared almost everybody, giving German civilians a clear glimpse into the nihilistic heart of Nazism. It was difficult for people working under threat of such violence to devote themselves unreservedly to the initial tasks of reconstruction. Worse still, the Allies and Soviets reacted to the movement with extremely tough controls, curtailing the right of assembly of German civilians. Challenges of any sort were met by collective reprisals -- especially on the part of the Soviets and the French. In a few cases the occupiers even shot hostages and cleared out towns where instances of sabotage occurred. It was standard practice for the Soviets to destroy whole communities if they faced a single act of resistance. In the eastern fringes of the `Greater Reich', now annexed by the Poles and the Czechoslovaks, Werewolf harassment handed the new authorities an excuse to rush the deportations of millions of ethnic Germans to occupied Germany.
Such policies were understandable, but they created an unbridgeable gulf between the German people and the occupation forces who had pledged to impose essential reforms. It was hard, in such conditions, for the occupiers to encourage reform, and even harder to persuade the Germans that it was necessary.
By the time that this rough opposition to the occupation had started to soften, the Cold War was under way and reform became equally difficult to implement. As a result, both German states created in 1949 were not so dissimilar to their predecessor as might have been hoped, and changes in attitudes and institutions developed only slowly. Thanks partly to the Werewolves there was no German revolution in 1945, either imposed from above or generated from below.
The Last Nazis by Perry Biddiscombe, is published this month by Tempus. The book explores the background to the movement, its operations and its wholly negative legacy to the history of reconstruction in postwar Germany.
The Last Nazis is available in bookshops, priced 19.99/$32.50 [pounds sterling], or by calling 01453 883300 (UK) or 001-888-313-2665 (North America).
Werewolf staff HQ was set up at Schloss Hulchrath; a castle near the Rhinish town of Erkelenz. The first two hundred trainees arrived there in late November, and Skorzeny's men dealt out intensive lessons in sabotage, demolitions, small arms, survival and radio-communications. Prutzmann was also to set up training centres in the Berlin suburbs and Bavaria. At the same time, special bunkers were prepared for use by behind the lines werewolves- loaded with supplies and munitions, before being left to be overrun by the allies. Werewolves were issued false papers and passes by the Gestapo, so they would be able to mingle with ordinary German civillians during the day;assuming their Werewolf identities only at night. Despite these extensive preperations, however, Werewolf's actual effectiveness was limited, to say the least.
The assasination of the Allied appointed Burgomeister of Auchen, Dr Franz Oppenhoff in March, 1945 was hailed by Goebbels and Bormann- broadcasting on 'Radio Werewolf'- as a sign of a mass uprising by the German people against the allied oppressors- signifying a great wave of resistance that would sweep the occupying forces back. Goebbels was to say;- "We Werewolves consider it our supreme duty to kill, to kill and to kill, employing every cunning and wile in the darkness of the night, crawling and groping through towns and villages, like wolves, noiselessly, mysteriously." In reality however, the Werewolves had been led into action by one Herbert Wenzel, an experienced soldier from the ranks of the SS-Jagdverband. Indeed, it appears that the assasination was more or less orchestrated by the Jagdverband and several other military units, detracting somewhat from the Werewolves' supposed ability to act independently from the military. Werewolf can, however, be considered a highly succesful propoganda excercise; especially when considered against the background of Allied paranoia about the 'Alpine Redoubt' from which the Nazi's would allegedly make their final stand.
Allied unease about the possibility of an 'Alpine Redoubt' in Bavaria had been gradually increasing since late 1944, when OSS reports predicted that as the war neared its end, the Nazi's would transfer key government and military departments to Bavaria- which was where the Nazi party had its origins- where a final stand would be made with Adolf Hitler at the helm (Intelligence reports would continually place Hitler in this region almost right up to the date of his eventual suicide).
OSS reports painted a frightening picture;- An elite, 300,000 strong force of SS troops was said to be in the area; up to five long trains were arriving in the Alpine region every week, and all manner of exotic weaponry had been (allegedly) spotted aboard them. It was believed that the Nazi's maintained an underground factory, capable of producing Messerschmitts, and that a vast underground network of tunnels and railways connected the various fortifications that had been constructed. Given the terrain, assaulting these fortifications would be difficult if not impossible, and the existence of the Werewolf organisation was proof positive that the Nazi's would not be content to sit and stew in their mountain hideaways. The broadcasts of Goebbels and Bormann attributed to the Werewolves both a central command structure and support network they did not in reality actually have. Logically, the Allies reasoned- part accepting the broadcasts- this central command would be located in the Alpine Redoubt.
By March 1945, the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) were taking the possibility seriously enough for Eisenhower to downgrade the strategic importance of Berlin, instead focusing on Bavaria. Even those who doubted the validity of the original OSS reports accepted it was wisest to act as if there were an Alpine Redoubt- just in case.
These illusions came to an embarrasing end in late April, when three German soldiers crossed the Elbe near Magdeburg and surrendered to the Allies, one of which was Leiutenant-General Kurt Dittmar. When asked about the Alpine Redoubt at his debriefing, Dittmar laughed and called it "...a romantic dream. It's a myth". Although initially sceptical, SHAEF soon came to accept the truth of his words. Meanwhile, Stalin steamrollered his way towards Berlin.
The Werewolves were largely unsuccesful due to the lack of the central command structure that the Allies and Propagandists attributed to them erroneously. Bormann and Goebbels talked as if they in some way controlled Werewolf's activities; the fact of the matter was, however, that only Prutzmann excercised any kind of central control over the organisation, and the resources he had at his dispoal were insufficient to establish the kind of support network the organisation needed. When Schloss Hulchrath was overran in April, 1945, Prutzmann moved to Mecklenberg, and Werewolf effectively ceased to exist as an organisation. Facing capture and execution at the hands of the advancing Allies, Prutzmann was then to commit suicide in May, 1945.
Sporadic Werewolf attacks would be made on Allied forces and German 'collaberators' for months to come- notably the murder of three American civillians in Passau, 1946- but with little tangible success. Before long, even these died out, as the last remaining Werewolf partisans surrendered, were captured, or killed.
"The Death of Hitler" - Ada Petrova and Peter Watson
"The Werewolf Organisation" - Russ Folsom
"Werewolf" - Charles Whiting
The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-1946
by Perry Biddiscombe
University of Toronto Press, 1998
455 Pages, US$ 39.95
Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and Gauleiter of Berlin, showed no signs of slacking in the months before he killed himself in Hitler's bunker on May 1, 1945. According to the selections from his diary edited by Hugh Trevor-Roper and published as "Final Entries 1945," he not only attended to his ordinary duties regarding national editorial policy and the defense of the city, but also found time to do things like review the new tax code and to arrange for an annoying colleague to be drafted. Of all these activities, however, perhaps the most surreal was his enthusiastic support for the "Werwolf" movement.
Goebbels spoke of the Werwolf almost as if it were an electoral campaign. Despite the other things he had on his mind, he exerted himself to create a new Werwolf radio station, and even tried to found a newspaper. (The radio station actually operated for a few weeks.) Propaganda for and about the Werwolf were among the last products of the regime. In retrospect, some commentators have tended to dismiss the Werwolf as something of a Nazi hoax, one whose primary effect was to induce the western Allies to invade Germany on a broad front, rather than go directly for Berlin. Still, I for one have sometimes wondered just what this "Werwolf" effort was, and how seriously the Nazis took it.
Perry Biddiscombe, an assistant professor of history at the University of Victoria, answers in "Werwolf!" all the questions you are likely to have about the movement, and in a very readable form. (Don't be intimidated by the apparent size of the book, by the way: the text ends at page 285, followed by notes and appendices.) "Werwolf!" provides valuable insights into the "polyarchic" nature of the Nazi regime, both in its salad days and in its dissolution, as well as a general overview of the last few months of the war in Europe. Finally, though the author does not address this matter, the book may provide some useful ideas for counterfactual speculation about the possible evolution of National Socialist society, had it survived the war.
The term "Werwolf" is the equivalent of the English "werewolf," meaning "man-wolf" or "lycanthrope." There is, however, another term, "Wehrwolf," which is pronounced about the same as "Werwolf," but which means "defense wolf." "Wehrwolf" actually has a long association with irregular warfare in Germany. A famous novel by that title, written by one Hermann Loens and published in 1910, was a romantic treatment of peasant guerrillas in northern Germany during the 17th century. Though this novel was in fact promoted by the Nazi government, particularly the Hitler Youth, the spelling "Werwolf" was favored when the Germans began planning for partisan warfare, because the Nazis had had a competitor on the Right in the 1920s called the "Wehrwolf Bund." Besides, "Werwolf" sounded more feral.
As with so much else the Nazi government did, the Werwolf initiative was something of a pillow fight, with different actors competing for control of Werwolf organizations and with different ideas for what the Werwolf was supposed to do. The original concept was clear enough, however.
"Clausewitzian partisans" are part of orthodox military doctrine. They are militia who operate behind the lines in territory occupied by the enemy. Their function is to cut supply lines and generally cause confusion, but their operation presupposes the continued existence of a national government and a conventional army. The Germans had experience fielding irregular forces of this nature, both against Napoleon and in the form of the independent "Freikorps" units that operated in eastern Germany during the chaotic period just after the First World War. The Germans started thinking about them again as soon as the situation on the Russian front began to deteriorate, and in fact anti-Communist partisans did the Red Army appreciable damage. It was only in the last half of 1944, however, that the Germans began to focus on the possibility that the Allies might have to be resisted within Germany itself.
This was a job that no major player in the German government or the military wanted to be associated with until the last moment. Thinking about the penetration of Germany, even the extended Germany of Hitler's annexations, implied a fair amount of defeatism. Additionally, the military was not keen on sharing its dwindling resources for training and material with civilian stay-behind groups. In principle, the Werwolf was commanded by SS Chief Heinrich Himmler, through a back channel consisting of local chiefs of police. These middle-aged men tended to regard partisan activity as somewhat disreputable, and in any case had no idea how to go about it. Far more dynamic, and only nominally under SS command, was the Werwolf program operated by the Hitler Youth. The story of the Werwolf proper, in fact, is largely a cautionary tale about what happens when you give teenagers a license to kill.
Despite all obstacles, training programs were improvised for youths and adults, though the courses sometimes lasted just days. Underground bunkers were prepared in isolated areas, from which the Werwolf were supposed to emerge to strike terror into the enemy. Werwolf was supposed to mesh into the larger project of establishing an "Alpine Redoubt," a base in Austria and mountainous southern Germany to which conventional forces might retreat. Certainly the major Werwolf training bases were located in that area. The last-minute attempt to build underground facilities in the Alps were too little, too late, and the armies ordered to go there never arrived, for the most part. In the final few days, Hitler decided to stay in Berlin, rather than go south and try to organize the Redoubt from Berchtesgaden. Still, it was not quite just a propaganda ploy.
What did the Werwolf do? They sniped. They mined roads. They poured sand into the gas tanks of jeeps. (Sugar was in short supply, no doubt.) They were especially feared for the "decapitation wires" they strung across roads. They poisoned food stocks and liquor. (The Russians had the biggest problem with this.) They committed arson, though perhaps less than they are credited with: every unexplained fire or explosion associated with a military installation tended to be blamed on the Werwolf. These activities slackened off within a few months of the capitulation on May 7, though incidents were reported as late as 1947.
The problem with assessing the extent of Werwolf activity is that not only official Werwolf personnel committed partisan acts. Much of the regular German fighting forces disarticulated into isolated units that sometimes kept fighting, even after the high command surrendered.. In the east, units that had been bypassed by the Red Army tried to fight their way west, so they could surrender to the Anglo-Americans. In the west, the final "strategy" of the high command was to stop even trying to halt the Allied armored penetrations of Germany, but to hit these units from behind and cut off their supplies. Perhaps the most harrowing accounts in the book are those relating to the expulsion of the ethnic German populations from the Sudetenland and the areas annexed by Poland. The latter theater in particular seems to have been the only point in the European war in which a civilian population was keen about a "scorched earth" strategy.
Very little Werwolf activity was directed with an eye toward political survival after the complete occupation of Germany. The Nazi leadership could not bring themselves to think about the matter. Certainly Himmler could not. In the last days before his own suicide, he tried to close the Werwolf down, the better to curry favor with the western Allies. Still, elements of the movement did make some plans for after the war. The Hitler Youth branch devised a political platform for a peaceful, postwar, Werwolf political organization. They also took steps toward ensuring financing for these efforts. In the last days of the war, forward-looking Nazis scurried about Germany with funds taken from the Party or the national treasury, buying up businesses "at fire-sale prices," as Biddiscombe dryly puts it. These enterprises prospered slightly in the months following the end of the fighting, but were wrapped up by the occupation authorities by the end of 1945.
This brings us to the role of the Nazi Party in the Werwolf movement. An aspect of the Third Reich on which Biddiscombe lays great stress is the surprisingly derelict state of the Party itself. When the Party was new, it was in many ways a youth movement, or perhaps a brilliant propaganda machine that mobilized a youth movement. Even before the war began, however, it had become little more than a patronage organization, notable mostly for its corruption. The old guard, who had come to power with Hitler, had no new ideas themselves and stubbornly refused to make way for new blood. The Gauleiter, or district leaders, were not an elite, and the organizations they commanded did not attract persons of the first quality.
This situation particularly frustrated the "old fighters" like Goebbels and Robert Ley, the labor chief, and Martin Bormann, Hitler's party secretary. Though they continued to have considerable influence on policy because of their strong personal relationships with Hitler, nevertheless they had long been losing institutional power as the Party was eclipsed by the SS. That organization could make some claim to being an elite. At the very least, it was still more feared than despised. Thus, in the closing months of the regime, some of the Party leaders saw the Werwolf as an opportunity to wrest power back from the Reich's decaying institutions.
Goebbels especially grasped the possibility that guerrilla war could be a political process as well as a military strategy. It was largely through his influence that the Werwolf assumed something of the aspect of a terrorist organization. Where it could, it tried to prevent individuals and communities from surrendering, and it assassinated civil officials who cooperated with the Allies. Few Germans welcomed these activities, but something else that Goebbels grasped was that terror might serve where popularity was absent. By his estimate, only 10% to 15% of the German population were potential supporters for a truly revolutionary movement. His goal was to use the Werwolf to activate that potential. With the help of the radical elite, the occupiers could be provoked into savage reprisals that would win over the mass of the people to Neo-Nazism, a term that came into use in April 1945.
Bizarre as it may seem, Goebbels saw the collapse of the Reich as the opportunity to put through a social revolution, particularly a social revolution manned by radicalized youth. Always on the left-wing of the Party, Goebbels felt that Hitler had been mislead by the Junkers and the traditional military into bourgeois policies that had corrupted the whole movement. With Germany's cities in ruins and its institutions no longer functioning, the possibility had arisen to start again from scratch. Biddiscombe notes that Hermann Rauschning , a former Nazi official who defected to the West before the war, called Nazism a "revolution of nihilism." Biddiscombe suggests that the radical wing of the Party, freed by defeat from the responsibility for actual government and the constraints of a conventional war, reverted in the final days to the nihilistic essence of Nazism.
In some ways, Goebbels' policy resembled what Mao Zedong did in China. Even the plans for the Alpine Redoubt are reminiscent of the Long March to the base at Yennan. Before the Long March, the Chinese Communist Party was a fairly conventional Stalinist organization. It presupposed the facilities of civilization for its operation. When it descended from the mountains after the war with Japan ended, however, the Communist Party was something like a new society in itself. Goebbels hoped for something similar in Europe, counting on the sudden outbreak of a war between the western and eastern Allies to provide the strategic breathing room for a renewed regime to coalesce. When no such war broke out, and the Alpine Redoubt proved to be just another Nazi pipe dream, the Werwolf simply evaporated.
While perhaps one should not press the Chinese comparison too far, still it is probably significant that the most radical manifestations of Chinese Communism appeared a good 15 or 20 years after the Party came to power. They appeared in time of peace, as old party hands tried to retake control from the conventional organs of government. If the Nazi state had won its war with the Soviet Union and fended off invasion from the West, might something similar have happened? The early Nazi enthusiasm for socialism and social solidarity had become largely rhetorical by 1939, but the ideas always remained, ready to the hand of bold Party officials who might someday find the arrogance of the SS too threatening.
Perhaps the Werwolf is the dim reflection in our world of another future. In that world, the 1960s see Brown Guards take over the streets of Germania, the new Nazi capital. Egged on by Old Fighters behind the scenes, they demand that the aristocrats of the SS get off their high horses and learn from the Volk. Ancient universities are closed down or turned into schools of indoctrination. Elderly scholars are sent to country districts to raise pigs. Gullible journalists arrive from abroad, and send home admiring articles about how the Germans must be understood on their own terms.
Any scenario in which the Third Reich lasts longer than it did is unpleasant to think about. In this one, however, there is at least a built-in consolation. The Nazi empire, held together by coercion, would probably have blown up as soon as the effectiveness of its military was degraded by revolutionary fervor.
HELLO!!!! The German Radical right? I don't think so! Someone here define "radical right" and "radical left" for me! The author tries to slip it by, but not on me!
I won't necessarily defend the thesis -- but certainly wars do not end neatly as soon as a peace treaty is signed somewhere.
To put it in context, suppose Hellary Clinton became president and put the country under marshal law to "combat terrorism", and directed the rounding up of people and putting them into camps (targeting FReepers, for example). Suppose she fired all senior military personnel "to save money". Suppose further that the UN or the Euroweenies decided to "rescue us" from the evil Hellary (yeah, that's the highly unlikely part -- so maybe you can imagine space aliens or something). Don't you think a lot of people would fight that invading power -- even though that power deposed the witch queen Hellary?
To be sure, some Germans, Wolverines, etc. took potshots.....but I have seen no evidence to indicate it was on a scale even close to the current bloodletting of Americans in Iraq.
I have called the Center for Military History (the main federal military history agency) and they too think it is fallacious.
It is *you* who is making the claim that the situations are comparable. I am perfectly willing to admit I am wrong....but can't possibly do that if the folks who make this comparison don't even try to present evidence!