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Werwolf (German for "werewolf") was the name given to a Nazi plan, which began development in 1944, to create a resistance force which would operate behind enemy lines as the Allies advanced through Germany itself. However Werwolf's propaganda value far outweighed its actual achievements.
After it became clear, by March 1945, that the remaining German forces had no chance of stopping the Allied advance, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels seized upon the idea of Werwolf, and began to foster the notion, primarily through radio broadcasts, that Werwolf was a clandestine guerrilla organization 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, which in reality was always intended to be a commando unit comprising uniformed troops. Another popular myth about Werwolf is that it was intended to continue fighting underground even after the surrender of the Nazi government and the German military.
No effort was ever made by the Nazi leadership to develop an insurgency to continue fighting in the event of defeat, in large measure because Adolf Hitler, as well as other Nazi leaders, regarded anyone who even discussed the possibility as defeatists and traitors. As a result, no contingency plans to deal with defeat were ever authorized. However, as a result of Goebbels' efforts, Werwolf had, and in many cases continues to have, a mythological reputation as having been an underground Nazi resistance movement, with some even claiming that Werwolf 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 dissolution of the Nazi regime.
The name was chosen after the title of Hermann Löns' novel, Der Wehrwolf (1910). Set in the Celle region, Lower Saxony, during the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), the novel concerns a peasant, Harm Wulf, who after his family is killed by marauding soldiers, organises his neighbours into a militia who pursue the soldiers mercilessly and execute any they capture, referring to themselves as Wehrwölfe. Löns said that the title was a dual reference to the fact that the peasants put up a fighting defence (sich wehren, see "Bundeswehr" - Federal Defense) and to the protagonist's surname of Wulf, but it also had obvious connotations with the word Werwölfe in that Wulf's men came to enjoy killing. While not himself a Nazi (he died in 1914), Löns' work was popular with the German far right, and the Nazis celebrated it. Indeed, Celle's local newspaper began serialising Der Wehrwolf in January 1945.
It may also be of relevance to the naming of the organisation that in 1942 OKW and OKH's field headquarters at Vinnitsa in Ukraine were christened "Werwolf" by Adolf Hitler, and Hitler on a number of occasions had used "Wolf" as a pseudonym for himself. The etymology of the name Adolf itself is Noble (adal; Mod. German Adel) Wolf, while Hitler's first World War II Eastern Front military headquarters were labeled Wolfsschanze, commonly rendered in English as "Wolf's Lair", though the literal translation would be "Wolf's Sconce".
In late summer/early autumn 1944, Heinrich Himmler initiated Unternehmen Werwolf (Operation Werwolf), ordering SS Obergruppenführer Hans-Adolf Prützmann to begin organising an elite troop of volunteer forces to operate secretly behind enemy lines. As originally conceived, these Werwolf units were intended 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 Commandos. Prützmann was named Generalinspekteur für Spezialabwehr (General Inspector of Special Defence) and assigned the task of setting up the force's headquarters in Berlin and organising and instructing the force. Prützmann had studied the guerrilla tactics used by Soviet partisans while stationed in the occupied territories of Ukraine and the idea was to teach these tactics to the members of Operation Werwolf.
Rumors of a secret Nazi guerrilla organization began to surface soon after the Allied invasion of Normandy. The January 27, 1945 issue off Collier's Weekly featured a detailed article by Major Edwin Lessner, stating that elite SS and Hitler Youth were being trained to attack Allied forces, and opened with a 1944 quote from Joseph Goebbels: "The enemy (invading German territory) will be taken in the rear by the fanatical population, which will ceaselessly worry him, tie down strong forces and allow him no rest or exploitation of any possible success."
On March 23, 1945, Goebbels gave a speech, known as the "Werwolf speech", in which he urged every German to fight to the death. The partial dismantling of the organised Werwolf, combined with the effects of the "Werwolf" speech, caused considerable confusion about which subsequent attacks were actually carried out by Werwolf members, as opposed to solo acts by fanatical Nazis or small groups of SS.
The Werwolf propaganda station "Radio Werwolf" broadcast from Nauen near Berlin, beginning on 1 April 1945. Broadcasts began with the sound of a wolf howling and a song featuring the lyrics, "My werewolf teeth bite the enemy / And then he's done and then he's gone / Hoo, hoo hoo." The initial broadcast stated that the Nazi Party was ordering every German to "stand his ground and do or die against the Allied armies, who are preparing to enslave Germans." British and American newspapers widely reported the text of Radio Werwolf broadcasts, fueling rumors among occupation forces. Armed Forces Radio reminded American soldiers that
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 Hitler Youth.
Werwolf originally had about five thousand members recruited from the SS and the Hitler Youth. These recruits were specially trained in guerrilla tactics. Operation Werwolf went so far as to establish front companies to ensure continued fighting in those areas of Germany which were occupied (all of the "front companies" were discovered and shut down within eight months). However, as it became increasingly clear that the reputedly impregnable Alpine Redoubt, from which their operations were to be directed by the Nazi leadership in the event that the rest of Germany had been occupied, was yet another grandiose delusion, Werwolf was converted into a terrorist organisation and in the last few weeks of the war, Operation Werwolf was largely dismantled by Heinrich Himmler and Wilhelm Keitel.
Werwolf agents were supposed to have at their disposal a vast assortment of weapons, from fire-proof coats to silenced Walther pistols but in reality this was merely on paper; Werwolf never actually had the necessary equipment, organisation, morale or coordination. 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 organization whose actual strategic value was doubtful.
Attempts were made to bury explosives, ammunition and weapons around the country (mainly in the pre-1939 German–Polish border region) to be used by Werwolf in resistance fighting after the defeat of Germany, but not only were the quantities of material to be buried prohibitively low, by that point the movement itself was so disorganised that few actual members or leaders knew where the materials were. A large portion of these "depots" were found by the Russians and little of the materials were actually used by Werwolf.
The tactics available to the organisation included sniping attacks, arson, sabotage, and assassination. Training was to include such topics as the production of home-made explosives, manufacturing detonators from common articles such as pencils and "a can of soup", and every member was to be trained in how to jump into a guard tower and strangle a sentry in one swift movement, using only a metre of string.
In the early months of 1945, SS Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny was involved in training recruits for the Werwolfs, but he soon discovered that the number of Werwolf cells had been greatly exaggerated and that they would be ineffective as a fighting force. Knowing, like many other Nazi leaders, that the war was lost, he decided that the Werwolfs would instead be used as part of a Nazi "underground railroad," facilitating travel along escape routes called "ratlines" that allowed thousands of SS officers and other Nazis to flee Germany after the fall of the Third Reich.
On April 28, 1945, Staff Sergeant Ib Melchior of the US Counter-Intelligence Corps captured six German officers and 25 enlisted men dressed in civilian clothes, who claimed to constitute a Werwolf cell under the command of Colonel Paul Krüger, operating in Schönsee, Bavaria. The group was captured while hiding in an underground tunnel network which contained communications equipment, weapons, explosives and several months' food supplies. Two vehicles were hidden in the forest nearby. Documents discovered in the tunnels listed US military commanders as targets for assassination, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Krüger stated that in 1943 a school was created in Poland to train men in guerrilla warfare. On 16 September 1944 it was relocated in the town of Thürenberg, Czechoslovakia. Krüger claimed that a total of 1,200 men completed Werwolf training in the school in less than two years. On 1 April 1945 the school was moved to Schönsee and a subterranean base was constructed. The students were instructed to "stay behind, evade capture, and then harass and destroy supply lines of United States troops ... Special emphasis was put on gasoline and oil supplies." According to the G-2 report:
The following day a CIC unit led by Captain Oscar M. Grimes of the 97th Infantry Division captured about two hundred Gestapo officers and men in hiding near Hof, Bavaria. They were in possession of American army uniforms and equipment, but had evidently made the decision to surrender.
In May 1945 CIC Major John Scwartzwalder arrested members of a Werwolf cell in Bremen whose leader had fled. Schwartzwalder believed that the Werwolf never constituted a threat to Allied personnel:
Historians Antony Beevor and Earl F. Ziemke have argued that Werwolf never amounted to a serious threat, and furthermore propose that the plan barely existed. This view is supported by the RAND Corporation, which surveyed the history of US occupations with an eye to advising on Iraq. According to a study by former Ambassador James Dobbins and a team of RAND researchers, there were no American combat casualties after the German surrender.
German historian Golo Mann, in his The History of Germany Since 1789 (1984) also states that "The [Germans'] readiness to work with the victors, to carry out their orders, to accept their advice and their help was genuine; of the resistance which the Allies had expected in the way of 'werwolf' units and nocturnal guerrilla activities, there was no sign."
Perry Biddiscombe has offered a somewhat different view. In his books Werwolf!: The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944–1946 (1998) and The Last Nazis: SS Werwolf Guerrilla Resistance in Europe, 1944–1947 (2000), Biddiscombe asserts that after retreating to the Black Forest and the Harz mountains, the Werwolf continued resisting the occupation until at least 1947, possibly until 1949–50. However, he characterizes German post-surrender resistance as "minor", and calls the post-war Werwolfs "desperadoes" and "fanatics living in forest huts". He further cites U.S. Army intelligence reports that characterized Nazi partisans as "nomad bands" and judged them as less serious threats than attacks by foreign slave laborers and considered their sabotage and subversive activities to be insignificant. He also notes that: "The Americans and British concluded, even in the summer of 1945, that, as a nationwide network, the original Werwolf was irrevocably destroyed, and that it no longer posed a threat to the occupation."
Biddiscombe also says that Werwolf violence failed to mobilize a spirit of popular national resistance, that the group was poorly led, armed, and organized, and that it was doomed to failure given the war-weariness of the populace and the hesitancy of young Germans to sacrifice themselves on the funeral pyre of the former Nazi regime. He concludes that the only significant achievement of the Werwolfs was to spark distrust of the German populace in the Allies as they occupied Germany, which caused them in some cases to act more repressively than they might have done otherwise, which in turn fostered resentments that helped to enable far right ideas to survive in Germany, at least in pockets, into the post-war era.
Nevertheless, says Biddiscombe, ""The Werewolves were no bit players"; they caused tens of millions of dollars of property damage at a time when the European economies were in an already desperate state, and they were responsible for the killing of thousands of people.
A number of instances of resistance have been attributed to Werwolf activity:
According to Biddiscombe "the threat of Nazi partisan warfare had a generally unhealthy effect on broad issues of policy among the occupying powers. As well, it prompted the development of draconian reprisal measures that resulted in the destruction of much German property and the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers".
In the Soviet occupation zone, thousands of youths were arrested as "Werwolves". Evidently, arrests were arbitrary and in part based on denunciations. The arrested boys were either "shot at dawn" or interned in NKVD special camps. On 22 June 1945, Deputy Commissar of the NKVD Ivan Serov reported to the head of the NKVD Lavrentiy Beria the arrest of "more than 600" alleged Werwolf members, mostly aged 15 to 17 years.
The report, though referring to incidents where Soviet units came under fire from the woods, asserts that most of the arrested had not been involved in any action against the Soviets, which Serov explained with interrogation results allegedly showing that the boys had been "waiting" for the right moment and in the meantime focussed on attracting new members. In October 1945, Beria reported to Joseph Stalin the "liquidation" of 359 alleged Werwolf groups. Of those, 92 groups with 1.192 members were "liquidated" in Saxony alone. On 5 August 1946, Soviet minister for internal affairs Sergei Nikiforovich Kruglov reported that in the Soviet occupation zone, 332 "terrorist diversion groups and underground organizations" had been disclosed and "liquidated". A total of about 10,000 youths were interned in NKVD special camps, half of whom did not return. Parents as well as the East German administration and political parties, installed by the Soviets, were denied any information on the whereabouts of the arrested youths. The Red Army's torching of Demmin, which resulted in the suicide of hundreds of people, was blamed on alleged preceding Werwolf activities by the East German regime.
Eisenhower believed he would be faced with extensive guerrilla warfare, based on the Alpine Redoubt. The fear of Werwolf activity believed to be mustering around Berchtesgaden in the Alps also led to the switch in U.S. operational targets in the middle of March 1945 away from the drive towards Berlin and instead shifted the thrust towards the south and on linking up with the Russians first. An intelligence report stated "We should ... be prepared to undertake operations in Southern Germany in order to overcome rapidly any organised resistance by the German Armed Forces or by guerrilla movements which may have retreated to the inner zone and to this redoubt". On March 31 Eisenhower told Roosevelt, "I am hopeful of launching operations that should partially prevent a guerrilla control of any large area such as the southern mountain bastions".
Eisenhower had previously also requested that the occupation directive JCS 1067 not make him responsible for maintaining living conditions in Germany under the expected circumstances; "... probably guerrilla fighting and possibly even civil war in certain districts ... If conditions in Germany turn out as described, it will be utterly impossible effectively to control or save the economic structure of the country ... and we feel we should not assume the responsibility for its support and control." The British were "mortified by such a suggestion", but the War Department took considerable account of Eisenhower's wishes.
In April 1945 Churchill announced that the Allies would incarcerate all captured German officers for as long as a guerrilla threat existed. Hundreds of thousands of German last-ditch troops were kept in the makeshift Rheinwiesenlager for months, "mainly to prevent Werwolf activity". In addition to these captives the civilian prisoners held by the U.S. alone climbed from 1000 in late March to 30,000 in late June, and more than 100,000 by the end of 1945. Also in the camps for civilians were the conditions often poor.
Prior to the occupation SHAEF investigated the retaliation techniques the Germans had used in order to maintain control over occupied territories since they felt the Germans had had good success. Directives were loosely defined and implementation of retaliation was largely left to the preferences of the various armies, with the British seeming uncomfortable with those involving bloodshed. Rear-Admiral H.T. Baillie Grohman for example stated that killing hostages was "not in accordance with our usual methods". Thanks to feelings such as this, and relative light guerrilla activity in their area, relatively few reprisals took place in the UK zone of operations. In April 1945 General Eisenhower ordered that all partisans were to be shot. As a consequence, some war crimes (summary executions without trial and the like) followed. Contrary to Section IV of the Hague Convention of 1907, "The Laws and Customs of War on Land", the SHAEF "counter insurgency manual" included provisions for forced labour and hostage taking.
The German resistance movement was successfully suppressed in 1945. However, collective punishment for acts of resistance, such as fines and curfews, was still being imposed as late as 1948. Biddiscombe estimates the total death toll as a direct result of Werewolf actions and the resulting reprisals as 3,000–5,000.
From 1946 onward Allied intelligence officials noted resistance activities by an organisation which had appropriated the name of the anti-Nazi resistance group, the Edelweiss Piraten (Edelweiss Pirates). The group was reported to be composed mainly of former members and officers of Hitler Youth units, ex-soldiers and drifters, and was described by an intelligence report as "a sentimental, adventurous, and romantically anti-social [movement]". It was regarded as a more serious menace to order than the Werwolf by US officials.
A raid in March 1946 captured 80 former German officers who were members, and who possessed a list of 400 persons to be liquidated, including Wilhelm Hoegner, the prime minister of Bavaria. Further members of the group were seized with caches of ammunition and even anti-tank rockets. In late 1946 reports of activities gradually died away.
The history of Werwolf was compared to the Iraqi insurgency by the Bush Administration and other Iraq War supporters. In speeches given on August 25, 2003 to the Veterans of Foreign Wars by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld parallels were drawn between the problems faced by the coalition's occupation forces in Iraq to those encountered by occupation forces in post-World War II Germany, asserting that the Iraqi insurgency would ultimately prove to be as futile in realizing its objectives as had the Werwolfs.
Former National Security Council staffer Daniel Benjamin published a riposte in Slate magazine on August 29, 2003, entitled "Condi's Phony History: Sorry, Dr. Rice, postwar Germany was nothing like Iraq" in which he took Rice and Rumsfeld to task for mentioning the Werwolf, writing that the reality of postwar Germany bore no resemblance to the occupation of Iraq, and made reference to Antony Beevor's The Fall of Berlin 1945 and the US Army's official history, The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany 1944–1946, where the Werwolf were only mentioned twice in passing. This did not prevent his political opponents from disagreeing with him, using Biddiscombe's book as a source.
Given the events that came to pass after the Bush Administration's comparison, the most striking difference is the fact that in Iraq, many more (over 20 times as many) coalition soldiers were killed in combat after victory had been declared by President Bush on 1 May 2003 than had been killed during the initial invasion. In Germany, not a single Allied soldier was ever proven to have been killed as a result of hostile action after the German surrender on 8 May 1945. Another is that Biddiscombe maintains that what little resistance to the occupation there was in Germany had evaporated within two to four years after the end of the war, while widespread violent opposition to the occupation of Iraq and its new government continued for more than eight years after the invasion.