Operation Werwolf (iv)

werewolf

This was a German plan to create a special forces unit to operate behind Allied lines as the Allies advanced through Germany itself (1944/45).

‘Werwolf’ (iv) remained entirely ineffectual as a combat force, and in practical terms its value as propaganda far outweighed its actual achievements.

After it had become clear, by March 1945, that the remaining German forces had no chance of stopping the Allied advance, the minister of propaganda, Dr Joseph Goebbels, seized upon the idea of ‘Werwolf’ (iv) and began to foster the idea, largely through radio broadcasts, that ‘Werwolf’ (iv) was a clandestine guerrilla organisation comprising irregular German partisans, similar to the many insurgency groups which the Germans had encountered in the nations they occupied during the war. Despite such propaganda, however, this was never the actual nature of ‘Werwolf’ (iv), which was always intended as a special forces unit of uniformed troops.

Another popular myth about ‘Werwolf’ (iv) is that it would continue to fight in an underground fashion even after the surrender of the Nazi government and the German military. In fact, no effort was made by the Nazi leadership to develop an insurgency to continue fighting in the event of defeat, largely as Adolf Hitler and many other of the Nazi leadership refused to believe that a German defeat was possible, and regarded anyone who even discussed the possibility as defeatists and traitors. As a result, no contingency plans to deal with defeat were ever authorised.

As a result of Goebbels’s efforts, however, ‘Werwolf’ (iv) exercised a mythological reputation as having been an underground Nazi resistance movement, with some even claiming that ‘Werwolf’ (iv) attacks continued for months, or even years, after the end of the war. Its perceived influence went far beyond its actual operations, especially after the end of the Nazi state.

It may also be of relevance to the naming of the organisation that in 1942 the Oberkommando des Heeres’s field headquarters at Vinnitsa in Ukraine was christened ‘Werwolf’ by Hitler. It was in the late summer and early autumn of 1944 that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler initiated ‘Werwolf’ (iv), ordering SS-Rank Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS Hans-Adolf Prützmann to assume the position of Generalinspekteur für Spezialabwehr (General Inspector of Special Defence) in Berlin and embark on the establishment and training of an elite volunteer force to operate secretly behind the Allied lines. As originally conceived, these ‘Werwolf’ (iv) units were to be legitimate uniformed military formations trained to engage in clandestine operations behind enemy lines in the same manner as Allied special forces such as the British commandos.

Prützmann had studied the guerrilla tactics used by Soviet partisans while stationed in the occupied territories of Ukraine, and planned to teach these tactics to the ‘Werwolf’ (iv) troops. Gauleiters were to suggest suitable recruits, who would then be trained at secret locations in the Rhineland and Berlin. The chief training centre in the west was at Hülchrath castle near Erkelenz, which by early 1945 was training around 200 recruits mostly drawn from the Hitlerjugend. The tactics to be used included sniping, arson, sabotage and assassination. Training included the production of home-made explosives and the manufacture of detonators from common articles such as pencils and tinned soup, and every member was to be trained in how to jump into a guard tower and strangle the sentry in one swift movement, using only a metre of string. ‘Werwolf’ (iv) troops were to have had at their disposal a vast assortment of weapons, from fireproof coats to silenced Walther pistols, but this never moved from paper to practicality. No ‘Werwolf’ (iv) soldier ever had the necessary equipment, organisation, morale or co-ordination.

Given the dire supply situation German forces were facing in 1945, the commanding officers of existing Wehrmacht and SS units were unwilling to turn over what little equipment they still had for the sake of an organisation whose operational value was at best doubtful. ‘Werwolf’ (iv) originally had about 5,000 personnel recruited from the SS and the Hitlerjugend, and the organisation extended as far as the establishment of front companies to ensure continued fighting in those areas of Germany which had been occupied: all of these front companies were discovered and shut down within eight months. However, as it became increasingly clear that the reputedly impregnable Alpenfestung (Alpine redoubt), from which their operations were to be directed by the Nazi leadership after the rest of Germany had been occupied, was yet another grandiose delusion, ‘Werwolf’ (iv) was converted into a terrorist organisation, and in the last few weeks of the war was largely dismantled by Himmler and Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel, head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. Disorganised attempts were made to bury explosives, ammunition and weapons in different places in Germany (most especially the pre-1939 German/Polish border region) to be used by ‘Werwolf’ (iv) troops in their terrorist acts after the defeat of Germany. The quantities of matériel to be buried were very small, however, and by that point in the war the movement itself was so disorganised that few actual members or leaders knew where the materials were, how to use them, or what to do with them. Most of these dumps were located by the Soviets and virtually none of the materials were actually used by ‘Werwolf’ (iv) soldiers.