For other uses of the word Brandenburg, see Brandenburg (disambiguation).

Cufftitle of Division Brandenburg.

The Brandenburgers were members of the Brandenburg German Special Forces unit during World War II.[1]

Units of Brandenburgers operated in almost all fronts - the invasion of Poland, Denmark and Norway, in the Battle of France, in Operation Barbarossa, in Finland, Greece and the invasion of Crete, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Some units were sent to infiltrate India, Afghanistan, Middle East countries and South Africa. They also trained for Operation Felix (the planned seizure of Gibraltar), and Operation Sea Lion (the planned invasion of Great Britain). The unit had stunning successes early in the war acting as advance units that captured strategic bridges, tunnels and rail yards in Poland and the Netherlands.

Brandenburger Regimen
Bataillon Ebbinghaus
Lehr und Bau Kompanie z.b.V. 800
Bataillon Brandenburg
Regiment Brandenburg
Division Brandenburg
Infanterie-Division Brandenburg (mot)
Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg

The unit was the brainchild of Hauptmann (Captain) Theodor von Hippel who, after having his idea rejected by the traditionalist Reichswehr, approached Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, commander of the German Intelligence Service, the Abwehr.

Regiment Brandenburg evolved out of the Abwehr's 2nd Department, and was used as a commando unit during the first years of the war. Initially the unit consisted mainly of former German expatriates fluent in other languages. Until 1944 it was an OKH unit rather than a unit of the regular army (Heer). The unit steadily expanded until it was reallocated to the Großdeutschland Panzer Korps to be used as a frontline combat unit.

Origins – the Abwehr[edit | edit source]

During World War I, General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, Commander of the East African theatre, conducted a brilliant guerrilla war against the Allied colonial troops. At the same time in the Middle East, T. E. Lawrence was enjoying great success using Arab hit-and-run tactics against the Turks. Hauptmann Theodor von Hippel had served under Lettow-Vorbeck in Africa, and after the war became a strong advocate of the tactics pioneered by his former commander and the British Lawrence.

Hippel's vision was reminiscent of that of David Stirling, founder of the British SAS. Hippel proposed that small, élite units, highly trained in sabotage and fluent in foreign languages, could operate behind enemy lines and wreak havoc with the enemy's command, communication and logistical tails. When Hippel approached the Reichswehr, his idea was rebuffed. The traditionalist Prussian officers saw this clandestine form of warfare would be an affront to the rules of war, and claimed that men who fought that way would not deserve to be called soldiers. Undaunted, Hippel then took his idea to Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, commander of the German Intelligence service, the Abwehr. Hippel was employed in the Abwehr's 2nd Department, and given the task of making his vision a reality.

Bataillon Ebbinghaus – Poland[edit | edit source]

The original formation, designated Bataillon Ebbinghaus was formed mostly from Volksdeutsche who were fluent in Polish. The battalion was formed with support of the OKW, which had been arranged by Canaris, but meant that the unit fell under Wehrmacht command.

Fall Weiss (Plan White), involved small groups of German special forces dressed in civilian clothes crossing the Polish border the night before the German invasion and seizing key strategic points before dawn on the day of the invasion. The secret Abwehr battalion detailed to undertake these operations was given the euphemistic title of "Training and Construction Company 800 for Special Duties". A group under the command of Lieutenant Hans-Albrecht Herzner had to capture a railway station at Mosty in the Jablunkov Pass to prevent the destruction of a railway tunnel. Crossing the border on August 26, 1939 Herzner's group managed to capture the railway station at Mosty later that afternoon. Out of contact with the Abwehr, Herzner did not know that the previous evening, after the British and French hinted at further appeasement of Hitler's demands, Adolf Hitler had postponed the invasion; every other commando unit had been informed of this except his. It was not until 9.35am the following day that the Abwehr finally managed to get through to Herzner and order him to release his Polish prisoners and return (see Jabłonków Incident).

The Ebbinghausers also had created confusion in the Polish rear by capturing or destroying major road and rail junctions, as well as helping the advancing troops by securing vital bridges and other strategic targets and preventing their demolition. Despite the success of the Bataillon Ebbinghaus, it was disbanded immediately after the campaign.

Abwehr takes control – Brandenburgers[edit | edit source]

Canaris gave Hippel the go-ahead to create an Abwehr controlled unit along the lines of the Ebbinghaus Battalion. Basing the new formation on many of the former Ebbinghausers, Hippel formed the original regiment, Lehr und Bau Kompanie z.b.V. 800 (or Special-Purpose Training and Construction Company No. 800) on 25 October 1939.

Recruitment for the company was almost directly contrary to those of Heinrich Himmler's SS. Rather than recruiting only those who embodied the Aryan ideal of the übermensch, Hippel scoured the Reich to find Slavs, Poles and other ethnics willing to fight for Germany. Every recruit had to be fluent in at least one foreign language. However, many recruits were fluent in several. The recruits were also schooled in the customs and traditions of their specific region. Knowing every habit and mannerism in their area of operations would enable the men to blend in and operate as effective saboteurs.

The formation was barracked at Stendal in the old Mark of Brandenburg, Berlin, and had training grounds nearby in Friedenthal (Oranienburg). The influx of new recruits meant that on 15 December 1939, less than three months after its founding, the company was expanded and redesignated Bataillon Brandenburg (Brandenburg Battalion). The men of the Bataillon came to be known as the Brandenburgers.

The original battalion consisted of four companies; organised along ethnic 'Front' lines, as shown below. The battalion also included a Motorcycle platoon and a Fallschirm-platoon.

As the battalion expanded further, it created more mixed units. The so-called Arabic Brigade was nominally connected to the Brandenburgers, took its orders from the German oriental mission, and was composed mainly of men from the Caucasus.

France and the Low Countries – Yugoslavia[edit | edit source]

The Brandenburgers saw extensive action in Fall Gelb. On 8 May, two nights before the opening of the offensive the Brandenburgers went into action. Donning the enemies' uniforms over their own German ones (so they could quickly change in case of capture and be treated as POWs rather than spies and facing execution), small groups began to cross the border into the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

One of many actions from the opening days of the campaign was the seizure of the Meuse bridge in the Dutch town of Gennep. An 8 man team, led by Leutnant Wilhelm Walther, was given the task of capturing the bridge intact. At 2am on May 10, Walther's team, now disguised as Dutch military police escorting German prisoners, made their assault. Two guard posts were destroyed, but three Brandenburgers were wounded and the team was pinned down. Dressed in a Dutch uniform, Walther advanced across the bridge. The confused defenders hesitated, allowing the rest of the team to take them out, seizing the bridge and disabling the detonators. Many more operations like this took place over the course of the campaign. However on another bridge, Brandenburgers were arrested by Dutch troops and shot as spies.

After the capitulation of France, the Brandenburgers (along with the elite Infantrie-Regiment Großdeutschland) were moved to northern France in preparation for Operation Seelöwe. After the invasion was called off, the Battalion moved to southern France and began training for another operation that was not to be, Operation Felix, the proposed assault on Gibraltar.

During this time, the Battalion was again enlarged, and redesignated Regiment Brandenburg. Along with the increase in size, the Regiment also received Coastal Raider and specialist Tropical components.

After Benito Mussolini's botched invasion of Greece, Hitler was forced to postpone his invasion of the Soviet Union and invade Yugoslavia and Greece – a plan codenamed Operation Marita – and to be launched on 6 April 1941. Again, the Brandenburgers were to play a role, with a large 54 man team from III./Regiment Brandenburg (the Sudeten and Slavic battalion) seizing the vital dockyards at Orşova on the Danube a day before the opening of the campaign.

Training and structure[edit | edit source]

Despite the increased size, the Brandenburgers were still highly skilled. The training was physically and mentally demanding, with focuses on foreign languages, small unit tactics, parachuting, demolitions, covert operations, use of vehicles and aircraft and familiarity with enemy weapons, including tanks. Some sub-units were specifically trained as pilots or trained in forgery, demolitions or camouflage. One company was formed from 127 expert cross country skiers, and was specially trained to fight in the frozen wastes of the northern Soviet Union. The company was also equipped with dog sleds.

In action, a Brandenburger unit could consist of two-man teams, to 12-man squads, to full 300-man companies, depending on the mission requirements. At this stage in the war, virtually all Brandenburger operations took place behind enemy lines.

Despite these precautions to remain within the rules of war, all Brandenburgers carried a suicide pill when operating behind enemy lines.

North Africa[edit | edit source]

Main article: Operation Salaam

When the Afrika Korps shipped to Libya, Brandenburgers did also. The men, raised as four companies of special Tropical Units, were fluent in either English or Arabic and used captured British vehicles to operate behind enemy lines in raids and reconnaissance missions, mirroring the actions of the British LRDG. Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel at first disapproved of the Brandenburgers, but after he saw the damage being inflicted by the LRDG and Stirling's SAS, he realised their value and accepted their unorthodox methods. The unit was charged with disrupting British supply lines, but it was difficult to resupply them or provide transportation, so most men were either killed or captured.

Operation Barbarossa - Ostfront[edit | edit source]

Main article: Operation Barbarossa

The first German units to cross the Soviet frontier in June 1941 were the men of the Brandenburg Regiment. On the first day, Brandenburgers seized road and rail junctions, secured river crossings and wreaked havoc with the already inadequate Soviet communications and supply lines.

During the early days of Barbarossa, a Brandenburger unit seized the bridge over the Daugava in Dünaburg (in Latvia). This prevented a halt in the advance of Heeresgruppe Nord on Leningrad.

Meanwhile, the "Küstenjäger-Abteilung" (or Coastal Raiders Battalion) performed many amphibious raids along the coasts of the Black Sea, The Baltic and the Sea of Azov.

In Ukraine, the Brandenburgers operated in co-operation with the volunteer Ukrainian unit Ukrainische Gruppe Nachtigall in support of Heeresgruppe Süd. The units enjoyed overwhelming success, despite the questionable actions of some of the Ukrainian units.

In early August 1942, a Brandenburger unit of 62 Baltic and Sudeten Germans led by Freiherr Adrian von Fölkersam penetrated farther into enemy territory than any other German unit. They had been ordered to seize and secure the vital Maikop oilfields. Disguised as dreaded NKVD men, and driving Soviet trucks, Fölkersam's unit passed through the Soviet front lines and moved deep into hostile territory. The Brandenburgers ran into a large group of Red Army deserters fleeing from the front. Fölkersam saw an opportunity to use them to the unit's advantage. By persuading them to return to the Soviet cause, he was able to join with them and move almost at will through the Russian lines.

Operating under false identity of NKVD Major Truchin based in Stalingrad, Fölkersam explained his role in recovering the deserters to the Soviet commander in charge of Maikop's defenses. The commander not only believed Fölkersam, but the next day gave him a personal tour of the city's defenses. By August 8, the German spearheads were only 12 miles away. The Brandenburgers made their move. Using grenades to simulate an artillery attack, they knocked out the military communications center for the city. Fölkersam then went to the Russian defenders and told them that a withdrawal was taking place. Having seen Fölkersam with their commander and lacking any communications to rebut or confirm his statement, the Soviets began to evacuate Maikop. The German spearhead entered the city without a fight on August 9, 1942.

This is only one example of the hundreds of missions performed by the Brandenburgers during the advance into Russia.

By 1943, the most common mission assignment was long range reconnaissance. During the 1942 advance of Heeresgruppe Süd in Ukraine, the Brandenburgers revived their role from the early days of the campaign, forging ahead of the Panzer columns, seizing bridges, road and rail junctions, and attacking the Soviet command and control structure. Mostly, these missions were performed by units of 20-60 Brandenburgers, dressed as Soviets and driving captured Red Army vehicles.

Between January and April 1943, the Brandenburgers were expanded to the size of a division, and specialized subunits for U-boat crews, air defense, artillery, tank, antitank and combat engineering were created. Men were transferred from the Afrika Korps and Kriegsmarine.

Brandenburg Division - the Balkans[edit | edit source]

By late 1942, the majority of the Brandenburg regiment was being used in fire brigade duties, acting as elite infantry and plugging gaps in the German lines. In February 1943, the Brandenburgers were pulled out of the line and moved back to Germany. The Regiment was being expanded again, this time to become Division Brandenburg. The division's first commander was to be Generalmajor Alexander von Pfuhlstein. The division was to be formed by four regiments. One regiment was returned to the Eastern front, to resume duties as a fire brigade, One battalion was sent to Africa to continue harassing the Allies in the Mediterranean. The remainder of the division was sent to the Balkans, to engage in anti-Partisan operations.

On May 25, 1944, specialist members of the division, attached to SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon 500, took part in Operation Rösselsprung, an airborne operation to capture Yugoslav Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito at his headquarters near Drvar, thereby ending communist resistance in the Balkans. Tito escaped just before the SS-Fallschirmjäger reached the cave in which he made his headquarters and the SS-Fallschirmjäger were forced to withdraw to the town cemetery, where they dug in and endured a night of ferocious partisan assaults. German casualties were 213 killed, 881 wounded, and 51 missing, with a total of about 6000 on the Partisan side (German wartime estimates). SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 was all but wiped out, one of four times this happened to the unit and its successor, SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600, in the eighteen months from November 1943 to May 1945.

Dodecanese Islands[edit | edit source]

Main article: Battle of Leros

In mid 1943, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy ousted the Fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini and changed sides. Following this, many Brandenburger units were moved from the Balkans, and took part in actions to disarm Italian soldiers and secure regions vital to the German war effort.

One vital area was the island of Kos, in the Dodecanese island chain off the coast of Turkey. Kos had been secured by British troops in September 1943, and a large garrison of allied Italian troops was also present. The island had a vital airstrip, and had to be recaptured. Along with Luftwaffe Fallschirmjägers, men of the Küstenjäger-Abteilung along with the Fallschirm-Kompanie of the Brandenburg Division took part. The Brandenburgers, under command of Leutnant Langbein, landed at night on the southern coast of the island, and quickly subdued the beach defenses, controlled by Italian troops. The unit then advanced to the town encountering no resistance, and began clearing the town. The British and Italians attacked later in the evening, the Brandenburgers repulsed them and then assaulted and captured the British and Italian positions, linking up with the Fallschirmjägers and securing the island.

Loss of Abwehr control - transfer to the Front[edit | edit source]

Since the beginning, Admiral Canaris and the Abwehr had been watched closely by Himmler's SS and in particular by Walter Schellenberg, Chief of Amt VI, Ausland-SD that made up the foreign intelligence branch of the SD.

The anti-Nazi views of the Abwehr came to a head in July 1944, when several high-ranking Abwehr officials, including Canaris himself, were implicated in the July 20 plot to kill Hitler. Control of the Brandenburg division was passed to the SD, but in September 1944 it was decided that special operations units were no longer necessary. The Brandenburg Division became Infanterie-Division Brandenburg (mot), was equipped as a motorised infantry division and transferred to the Eastern front.

1,800 men (including Freiherr Adrian von Fölkersam) managed to obtain transfers to SS-Standartenführer Otto Skorzeny's 502nd SS Jäger Battalion and continue operating as special forces till the end of the war.

For the rest of the division, the return to conventional operations damaged morale, but despite this, the Brandenburgers were still considered élite, and so was assigned to Panzerkorps Großdeutschland along with its old training partner from 1940 to 1941, the Großdeutschland division. The Brandenburg fought well in the Eastern front, being involved in the fighting retreat through the Baltic States and into East Prussia.

In late 1944, the division was equipped with a Panzer Regiment and redesignated Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg and returned to the front. The Brandenburgers were involved in heavy fighting near Memel, until their withdrawal, along with the Großdeutschland, via ferry to Pillau. The division was all but annihilated during the heavy fighting near Pillau, and while some survivors surrendered to the British in Schleswig-Holstein in May, many Brandenburgers, highly skilled in evading detection, simply disappeared.[citation needed]

Orders of battle[edit | edit source]

Battalion Brandenburg - December 1939

  • 1. Company
  • 2. Company
  • 3. Company
  • 4. Company
  • Motorcycle platoon
  • Parachute platoon

Division Brandenburg – February 1943 - March 1944

  • Division staff
  • Jäger Regiment - 1 Brandenburg
  • Jäger Regiment - 2 Brandenburg
  • Jäger Regiment - 3 Brandenburg
  • Jäger Regiment - 4 Brandenburg
  • Tropische Einheiten Brandenburg
  • Coastal Raiders Battalion Brandenburg
  • Parachute Battalion Brandenburg
  • Signal Company Brandenburg
  • Independent Companies -
    • 14.Company
    • 15.Parachute Company
  • Auxiliary Units -
    • Lehrregiment Brandenburg z.b.v Nr.800 (Training Regiment)

Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg - 1944-1945.

  • Division Staff
  • Panzer Regiment Brandenburg
  • Jäger(mot) Regiment 1 Brandenburg
  • Jäger(mot) Regiment 2 Brandenburg
  • Panzerjäger Battalion Brandenburg
  • Artillery Regiment Brandenburg
  • Heeres Flak Battalion Brandenburg
  • Reconnaissance Battalion Brandenburg
  • Pionier Battalion Brandenburg
  • Signals Battalion Brandenburg
  • Supply Train

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Spaeter, Helmut (c1990s). The History of the Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland Vol I-III. Winnipeg, Canada: J.J. Fedorowicz. ISBN 978-0-921991-50-2. 
  • Westwell, Ian (2004). Brandenburgers: The Third Reich's Special Forces (Spearhead 13). USA: Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7110-2979-8. 
  • Kurowski, Franz (c1990s). The Brandenburgers: Global Mission. ISBN 978-0-921991-38-0. 
  • Kurowski, Franz (2005). The Brandenburger Commandos: Germany's Elite Warrior Spies in World War II. ISBN 978-0-8117-3250-5. 
  • Spaeter, Helmut (1984). Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland: Panzergrenadier-Division Grossdeutschland, Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg und seine Schwesterverbände, Führer-Gren ... Träger des Ritterkreuzes : Bilddokumentation. ISBN 978-3-7909-0214-3. 
  • Lefevre, Eric (1999). Brandenburg Division: Commandos of the Reich (Special Operations Series). ISBN 978-2-908182-73-6. 
  • Lucas, James (1998). Kommando - German Special Forces of World War Two. ISBN 978-0-304-35127-5. 

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