German Special Operations in the 1944 Ardennes Offensive


German Special Operations in the 1944 Ardennes Offensive
Major Jeffrey Jarkowsky, USA

Setting the Stages

I have just made a momentous decision. I shall go over to the counter attack, that is to say here, out of the Ardennes, with the objective Antwerp ! With a sweep of his hand, Adolf Hitler had just laid the foundation for the German counter offensive that would become more known as the Battle of the Bulge. The German generals and field-marshals surrounding the large situation map in the Fuehrer Headquarters war-room were momentarily stunned, and with good reason. Assembled at Hitler’s military headquarters, the Wolf’s Lair, they had only moments before heard the all too familiar litany of reverses and losses briefed by Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) Chief of Staff. The fortunes of war were not looking favorable for Germany on September 16 1944. Strategically, the Germans were on the run. The Allied advance across western Europe following the breakout in Normandy had carried right to the vaunted West Wall defenses of Germany’s border. American units had already penetrated on to German soil near Aachen. On the Russian front, the Soviet summer offensive had crossed into East Prussia. Allied bombing was crippling German industry and devastating her cities.

The once mighty Axis alliance was falling apart, as one by one Germany’s allies, save an isolated Japan, defected, surrendered, or were over-run. German losses in men and material were tremendous, and worse, non-recoverable. Combined German military losses during June, July, and August 1944, totaled at least 120.000 dead, wounded, and missing. Everywhere the German military was on the defensive. It was a period of crisis, and of desperation, for Germany. With this back-drop in mind, Hitler would try one last gamble : a surprise attack upon the unsuspecting Allies on the Western Front Hitler was betting that a successful operational level offensive in the west would have strategic results. The stakes were : staving off defeat just long enough for the German secret weapons to turn the tide of the war, or the destruction of the last remnants of German combat power and the hastening of her defeat. The operational situation of the Allies in the west actually presented the conditions that would favor a large scale enemy counter offensive. Although advancing ceaselessly throughout August and into September, the Allied armies were on the verge of outrunning their supply lines. The Broad Front strategy of the Allies already had the advancing army groups competing for supplies. Strains within the alliance, though personality driven, were emerging. The German West Wall Defense, the infamous Siegfried Line, would serve to fix and hold the Allies as they gathered their strength over the winter months.

By November of 1944, the Allies had reached their operational culminating point. The beginning of December, the originally planned – time for the German offensive, saw the Allied armies settled into a static front, positioned along or astride the West Wall. Although limited offensive operations were continuing, by and large, the Allies were gathering their strength for a full scale resumption of their offensive in the coming months. They expected the Germans to attempt a defense of the West Wall coupled with the usual local counter attacks. They did not anticipate a full scale counter offensive, and especially in the Ardennes area. The German operational situation, though bleak, offered the glimmer of a brief respite by November 1944. German Army units had ben in full retreat across the occupied countries since late July. However, now they were on German soil and fighting for German survival. Throughout the battered ranks this was well understood, as German fighting spirit began stiffen. Furthermore, the recent German success in Holland, where they defeated the Market Garden attacks, and the American repulse in the entire area of the bloody Hürgten Forest fighting, reduced the sense of shock from the great German rout of August. Perhaps most importantly, the German Army had fallen back on its lines of communication, and had occupied excellent defensive terrain along the German border. Additionally, there was the West Wall. Although the much vaunted Siegfried Line was a mere shell of its former self by November of 1944, it did present a formidable obstacle to the advancing Allies.

An US M-4 Sherman medium tank of the 3rd Armored Division crossing the Dragons Teeth of Siegfried Line during the month of September 1944. Roegten, Germany

As German Army units settled into their aging bunkers, just a step ahead of the Allies, their High Command steeled themselves for a defense of the West Wall. They would defend for as long as possible, attempt to rebuild their depleted strength, and delay what was now considered the inevitable defeat. Coupled with the Allied over extension and pause at the border, the German defensive activity brought a quiet along the line of opposing Armies. By December, the area of the Ardennes could be called a Ghost Front, as both sides settled in for a long, cold winter. Both, German and American Armies alike viewed the Ardennes as a quiet, non vital sector, where troops could be rotated in for a stretch of rest in the Wehrmacht’s case, or for seasoning of green units like the 106th Infantry Division or the 99th Infantry Division in the case of the Americans. The prevailing weather and terrain of the Ardennes both aided this mutual impasse. The winter Ardennes weather could be expected to be unfavorable for large scale operations. Extremely cold weather and wet conditions would make life miserable for soldiers. Snow, sleet, or freezing rain grain would be anticipated almost every other day. Overcast skies were normal, and fog was not uncommon. If the ground was not frozen solid and covered with snow, then it was a quagmire of mud. The winter of 1944 would be one of the coldest Europe was to see for years, and secret German weather stations forecast a period of cold, fog, and low clouds for December.

(Above) An M-4 Medium Sherman tank crewman finds the mud heavy going in Germany on November 24 1944. (Bellow) December 1944, heavy snowfalls and deep freezing temperatures will make more casualties as the Germans. December 1944, members of the American 82nd Airborne Division trudging through the snow behind a tank during the Battle of the Bulge. (Berterath)

The terrain was equally challenging. The Ardennes is an area of dense, coniferous forests traversed by several ranges of low mountains and hills. Although hills and trees predominate, the terrain is interspersed with the fields of local farmers. Several water courses crisscross the region Most are characterized by steep gorges and banks, and deep, swift waters. An extremely limited and restrictive road network serves to link the numerous towns and villages that dot the area. In essence, the Ardennes is rugged campaigning country. The prevailing weather and terrain would serve to negate the tremendous American advantages of overwhelming air power and masses of material. Conditions in the Ardennes, at once, would offer the Germans the conditions for a stubborn defense, and the possibility of a surprise attack.

(Above) The way the Belgian Ardennes looks during Spring, Summer and Autumn. (Bellow) The way the place can be turned into in no time. (Note from Doc Snafu : the above photos shows the Belgian Ardennes with regular Spring and Summer weather. Bellow they also shows you the Belgian Ardennes with a regular Autumn and Winter. In 1944 this turned into a freezing heel in a way that not only Pvt Snafu said it one, but a veteran, from the 2-ID who was in the Forest during the terrible week of December 16-24 1944, told me that it was so damned cold that it could have frozen the nuts off a jeep.

They had done it before. The German Army had swept through the Ardennes unexpectedly in May of 1940 during the invasion of Belgium and France. Perhaps it was this that put the idea in the Fuehrer’s head, but Hitler obviously saw the inevitable defeat of Germany, given its current situation. His strategic concept : a bold, unexpected offensive that would split the advancing American and British Army Groups on the ground, and also split what he saw as a strained Anglo-American political alliance. The goal was to delay the Allied advance and enable Germany to apply the power of her Wonder Weapons against the enemy. It was reasoned that this might result in a negotiated peace in the west, allowing Germany to turn her full might eastward for the ensuing defeat of Russia. The sleepy Ardennes front offered the ideal spot. The American sector was very lightly held as green units were stretched thin defending over-extended frontages. The Allies would never expect a major attack in the Ardennes as the sector was not considered favorable for a large-scale offensive. Besides, most intelligence reports indicated that the German Army was beaten, and not capable of an attack. The Americans were thinking Home by Christmas.

The plan conceived by Hitler and his staff was deceptively simple. Under the cover of darkness and poor weather, the Germans would launch a massive surprise attack at the weakest point in the Allied lines – the center of the Ardennes. The main effort would penetrate the center of the line and reach for operational objectives, while supporting attacks were made on the flanks to hold the shoulders of the breakthrough, fix allied forces, and protect the flanks. Within the main effort, attacking infantry divisions would first create the penetration of American lines. Then, operational-level, forward detachments, would race forward through the gaps to secure deep objectives to ensure the unhindered advance of the main attack. These critical objectives took the form of the Meuse river bridges. The main body panzer formations would pass through these detachments and then continue the attack to the decisive objective – Antwerp. One key problem existed; the Meuse bridges were almost 75 miles behind American lines. Surely, the Americans would react and deny use of the bridges through destruction or defense before the forward detachments might get to them, or counter attack the exposed flanks of the penetration.

The solution was unconventional and equally as bold as the offensive itself a pair of operations to snatch the bridges right from under the American’s noses, and block American reinforcements. German special operation forces would operate ahead of the army forward detachments to seize the critical crossings intact, before the stunned defenders could react. They would hold the bridges long enough to hand them over to the forward detachments. Airborne troops would parachute in at night behind the lines to seize key crossroads to block the expected American counter attacks. The entire plan was constructed on a delicate timeline. Speed was all important to the success of each part of the operation. The offensive had to reach its initial objectives before the Allies could react. Likewise, achieving initial surprise was equally critical. Although many senior German leaders had their doubts about the entire operation, this offensive could presumably change the course of the war. The idea of employing special operations to support Wacht am Rhein also sprang from Adolf Hitler.

Several issues motivated Hitler to consider the special operations that were to support the offensive. Most important was that of operational necessity. The Meuse River was the most formidable water obstacle between the offensive’s jumping off points and the decisive operational objective. A major, and unfordable watercourse, it posed a natural line of defense that a withdrawing army could rally upon and renew its strength, and use to delay an advancing opponent. In the summer of 1940, the assault crossing of this river was a major event for the Germans in their first offensive through this area. It would take time to cross this river, which was over 75 miles behind the front-lines. Despite the most rapid German advance, the Americans would have adequate time to defend, and very likely, destroy the bridges over the Meuse before the armored spearheads could hope to reach them. The tempo of the offensive was fast paced, and the operational objectives would have to be seized within a week so that the Allies could not effectively react. It was vital to capture the Meuse crossings intact in order to maintain the momentum of the attack. A delay at the river could spell disaster for the offensive. Additionally, the strong American forces pushing eastward the Aachen sector posed the threat of immediate counter attack from the north. Delaying this counter attack would allow the spearheads to reach the Meuse unimpeded.

German Wehrmacht soldiers sending an encrypted message via the Enigma machine.
Another reason for considering the employment of special operations were the precedents established by the Germans earlier in the war. Special operations forces had been used several times to conduct deep operations in pursuit of operational campaign objectives. The seizure of the Belgian fortress of Eben Emael is an excellent example of this technique. In May of 1940, a glider-borne commando detachment swooped down on the impregnable fortress in a surprise air assault operation ahead of the main German forces. The commandos, members of an elite special military unit, the Brandenburgers, paved the way for the conventional spearhead to continue its attack unimpeded. The small force of 86 men had accomplished a task which had significant operational-level impact. Likewise, Hitler and the German military witnessed the Allies employ just this sort of tactic successfully against them in almost every campaign of the war. The month previous to the formulation of the offensive plans, September 1944, saw the concept carried to the extreme as the Allies attempted to size the multiple bridges that lay in the path of the British XXX Corps’ advance during the airborne phase of Operation Market-Garden.

Additionally, up through October of 1944, elements of the German military had displayed a certain flair for conducting unorthodox, unilateral, strategic-level special operations as well. Of the most notable German special operations, it is of no small coincidence that a certain Otto Skorzeny was involved in them. The success and dramatic rescue of Benito Mussolini from atop the Gran Sasso in Italy, the daring, but costly, airborne raid to capture Marshall Tito in Bosnia, and the abduction of Admiral Horthy’s son in order to keep Hungary in the war on Germany’s side, all serve to illustrate Germany’s ability to conduct unique special operations when the situation warranted such an approach. Countless other smaller and less significant special operations were conducted by the Germans against both the Allies and the Soviets. Bold and daring, often conducted against the odds, the reports of these operations never failed to thrill Hitler and capture his imagination. So did the apparent American use of special operations teams in the recent successful operations to seize Aachen, Germany, just that October of 1944.

German intelligence had reported to Hitler that operatives of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had conducted operations during the advance to that city clothed and posing as German soldiers. This and similar operations of the American OSS and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) did not go unnoticed by German intelligence services nor Hitler. Hitler, always enamored with secret weapons and daring operations, and at ways willing to go ‘tit-for-tat’ with the enemy, grasped the potential utility that such covert forces offered. A force operating behind enemy lines in the guise of the enemy presented numerous opportunities to have an impact on the defenders out of all proportion to their size. This coupled with more orthodox paratroopers operations might also be a useful economy of force measure against the numerically and materially superior Allies. Although the ultimate success or failure of the offensive would not hinge upon the special operations, they would offer the potential for great increasing its probability of success. Finally, one last reason for attempting the special operations existed. For Germany, this was a time of desperation. Wacht am Rhein was a military gamble with very high stakes. The survival of Germany was at risk, and every resource that could be marshaled and thrown at the Allies was required in order to ensure a winning hand. It was hoped by Hitler that the unfolding German special operations would be one of the needed wild-cards.

OCMH – Operations Greif – Hohes Venn – Stösser

    … During the last days before the great offensive which would send the German armored spearheads plunging west, Hitler belatedly set about replicating the winning combination of rapid and deep armored penetration, paratroop attacks in the enemy rear, and infiltration by disguised ground troops which had functioned so effectively in the western campaign of 1940 and the Greek campaign of 1941. To flesh out this combination, a special operation named Greif was hurriedly organized as an adjunct to the armored operation assigned the 1.SS-Panzer-Division. The plans for the ground phase of Greif consisted of three parts: the seizure intact of at least two bridges across the Meuse by disguised raiding parties, the prompt reinforcement of any such coup de main by an armored commando formation; and an organized attempt to create confusion in the Allied rear areas through sabotage carried out by jeep parties clad in American uniforms. Later it would be rumored that a feature of Operation Greif was the planned assassination of Allied leaders, notably General Eisenhower, but there is no evidence of such plotting in the plan.

    The idea for the ground operation was probably Hitler’s and the leader, Lt Col Otto Skorzeny, was selected personally by Hitler. Skorzeny had achieved a considerable reputation as a daring commando leader, had rescued Mussolini from the Italians, and had seized the Hungarian Regent, Admiral Miklós von Nagybánya Horthy, when the Hungarian regime began to waver in its loyalties. For Operation Greif, Skorzeny formed the special Panzer Brigade 150 (or Brandenburger) numbering about two thousand men, of whom one hundred and fifty could speak English. Captured Allied equipment (particularly tanks and jeeps), uniforms, identification papers, and the like were hastily collected at the front and sent to Skorzeny’s headquarters. The disguised jeep parties did go into action with varying degrees of success on 16 December, but the Brandenburger Brigade would be engaged as a unit only in a single and abortive skirmish near Malmédy five days later.

    The airborne phase of Operation Greif, whose code name was Operation Hohes Venn, seems to have been completely an afterthought, for the orders setting up the operation were not issued until December 8. Hitler, like most of the higher German commanders, had lost confidence in airdrop tactics after the many casualties suffered by the German paratroopers in the Crete jump. Then too, in late 1944 the necessarily lengthy training for paratroop units was a luxury denied by the huge drain of battlefield losses. Apparently it was Model who suggested that paratroop tactics be tried once again, but undoubtedly Hitler seized upon the proposal with alacrity although there was no longer a single regular paratroop regiment active in the Wehrmacht. Model wanted the jump to be made in the Krinkelt area, and one may wonder what effect such a vertical attack might have had on the fight put up at the twin villages by the American 2nd Infantry Division and the 99th Infantry Divisions. Hitler, however, had one of his intuitive strokes and ordered the jump to be made north of Malmédy. His choice for commander devolved on Col Friedrich A. Freiherr von der Heydte, a distinguished and experienced paratroop officer then commanding the Fallschirm Armee Waffen school where the nominal parachute regiments were being trained as ground troops. Colonel von der Heydte was ordered to organize a thousand-man parachute formation for immediate use. Four days later von der Heydte received his tactical mission from the 6.SS-Panzer-Army commander during an uncomfortable session in which Dietrich was under the influence of alcohol. The paratroopers were to jump at dawn on D-day, first opening the roads in the Hohes Venn leading from the Elsenborn-Malmédy area toward Eupen for the armored spearhead units, then blocking Allied forces if these attempted to intervene. Col von der Heydte was told that the German armor would reach him within twenty-four hours.

    The preparations for Operation Hohes Venn were rushed to completion. The troops received their equipment and a little jump training (many had never attended jump school); 112 war-weary, Junkers troop-carrier planes were gathered with an ill-assorted group of pilots, half of whom had never flown combat missions; 300 dummy figures were loaded for drops north of Camp Elsenborn to confuse the Americans (this turned out to be about the most successful feature of the entire operation); and the pilots and jump-masters were given instructions – but no joint training. It must be said that these preparations for what would be the first German paratroop assault at night and into woods left much to be desired.

    On the evening of December 15, Col von der Heydte formed his companies to entruck for the move to Paderborn, where the planes were assembled. The trucks never arrived – they had no fuel. Now the jump was ordered for 0300 on Dec 17. This time the jump was made on schedule, although not quite as planned and into very bad cross winds. One rifle company was dropped behind the German lines fifty kilometers away from the drop zone, most of the signal platoon fell just in front of the German positions south of Monschau, and the bulk of the command and the weapons packages were scattered almost at random. Despite this bad beginning about one hundred paratroopers reached the rendezvous at the fork in the Eupen road north of Mont Rigi. Since this group was obviously too weak for open action, Col von der Heydte formed camp in the woods and sent out patrols to pick up information and harass the Americans in the vicinity. These patrols gathered in stragglers until some three hundred paratroopers had assembled, but it was now too late to carry out the planned operation. On the night of Dec 21, the paratroopers were ordered to find their way back to the German lines believed to be at Monschau. Von der Heydte was taken prisoner two days later. The tactical effect of this hastily conceived and ill-executed operation proved to be almost nil although American commanders did dispatch troops on wild-goose chases which netted little but a few paratroopers, empty parachutes, and dummies…

Special Operations Planning

Well done Skorzeny ! I’ve promoted you to Obersturmbannführer (Col) and awarded you the German Cross in Gold, a jubilant Adolf Hitler proclaimed Otto Skorzeny, commander of the Waffen SS elite commandos, had just returned from his latest triumph, Operation Panzerfaust, the successful kidnapping of the son of Hungary’s leader, Admiral Horthy, and the storming of his residence on Castle Hill. He met with Hitler in the Fuehrer Bunker at Rastenburg, the site of the Fuehrer Headquarters and thrilled him with the exciting details of the mission, for by then Otto Skorzeny had become one of the Fuehrer’s trusted favorites as a result of his daring exploits throughout the war. But on this 21st day of October 1944, Hitler had summoned Otto Skorzeny to his headquarter for an additional purpose. Hitler turned serious as he spoke next : I have perhaps what will be the most important job in your entire life. So far very few people know of the preparation for a secret plan in which you have a great part to play. In December, we will start a great offensive, which may well decide our fate.

A startled Otto Skorzeny attentively listened as Hitler continued speaking and presented the following mission guidance :

    One of the most important tasks in this offensive will be entrusted to you and the units under your command, which will have to go ahead and seize one or more of the bridges over the Meuse River between Liege and Namur. You will have to wear British and American uniforms. The enemy has already done us a great deal of damage by the use of our uniforms in various commando operations a few days ago. I received a report that the use of our uniforms by an American force had played no inconsiderable part when they captured Aachen our first city to fall into their hands. Moreover,detachments in enemy uniforms can cause the greatest confusion among the Allies by giving false orders and upsetting their communications with a view to sending bodies of troops in the wrong direction. Your preparations must be complete by the 2d of December, and you can settle all the details with General Jodl. I know that the time is very, very short, but you must do all that is humanly possible.

Such was an example of the type of initial planning guidance given to Otto Skorzeny for his upcoming role in the great offensive. With this, the special operations planning to support Wacht am Rhein began. Eventually, two operations would be planned to help the offensive reach its objectives. The guidance given in terms of specific missions and intent would be fairly clear, and planning would begin immediately. The planning conducted for the operations would suffer from problems. Inadequate intelligence, faulty assumptions, and poor coordination would result in plans that were to become nu-executable on the ground. The primary reasons for these planning deficiencies were the incredibly short amount of available planning time and the unusually strict operational security blanket thrown over the entire offensive. These problems would plague what were to become the two special missions of the offensive, Operations Greif and Stoesser. Although these problems would not be immediately apparent during the initial planning for both operations, they would soon manifest themselves during the extensive preparations required for both missions that would soon follow.

Operation Greif, or Griffin, named after the mythological winged lion, was to be the primary special operation of the offensive. It was to offer the greatest potential positive impact to the success of the overall campaign. Consisting of forces masquerading as American soldiers, the men of Operation Greif were to infiltrate into the American rear areas in order to seize the critical crossings over the Meuse River, and cause confusion throughout the enemy’s defense. The commander of Greif was to be SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny which, at that time, had become Germany’s number one special operator. As commander of his group of specially trained Waffen SS commandos, the Jadgverbande Skorzeny, had successfully conducted numerous strategic and operational level operations.

Operation Stoesser, was planned as a parachute operation in which an airborne battle group would drop behind American lines in order to secure vital crossroads along the flank of the German line of advance and block the movement of Allied reinforcements. The commander of Stoesser was to be Oberst Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte, one of the premier paratroopers commanders still alive in the German Army. He was among the best of the remaining airborne commanders to choose from. He had commanded an airborne regiment into the jump on Crete and led it through the bitter fighting that followed. He led the regiment through campaigns in North Africa and in Normandy, where he had the opportunity to come face to face with American paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division. Perhaps in contrast to Skorzeny, von der Heydte was noted for his calm and steady approach to fighting. His personal bravery and coolness under fire were beyond reproach. Like Skorzeny for Greif, von der Heydte was the right man for the job of leading Stoesser.

Newly promoted SS-Obersturmbannführer Skorzeny coordinated the details of his new mission with Gen Jodl, Chief of Staff OKW. Hitler had explained to Skorzeny why he let him in on the plan so relatively early : I am telling you all this so that you can consider your part in it and realize that nothing has been forgotten. Given the mission guidance received from Hitler, Skorzeny was left to plan the specifics of the Operation Greif’s mission analysis, if conducted in accordance with the current US Army Doctrine, would have started off with Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) followed by an assessment of his own forces and higher HQs missions. Additionally, the guidance given, and tasks assigned to him by Hitler, would have been broken down into specified tasks implied tasks, mission essential tasks, and limitations. An analysis of an this would lead to a mission statement for the operation, an intent and a concept of operation. Skorzeny would find out that he was not only fighting the Americans, but also fighting against time, terrain, and amazingly, the German military system. Skorzeny’s area of operations was in the zone of attack of Sepp Dietrich’s 6.SS-Panzer-Army, which initially was the offensive’s main effort. The area consisted of typical Ardennes countryside. Rugged ground in the eastern half of the zone was bisected by a handful of east-west running roads twisting through the hills. The dominant Hohen Venn Ridge formed a north-south running spine that lay half-way to the Meuse. Closer to the river, the terrain gradually opened up some and consisted of less severe elevation. Numerous towns dotted the area, while several rivers crisscrossed through the valleys. The terrain in the area favored the defenders.

The American defenders in the area consisted of elements of Gen Troy H. Middleton’s VIII Corps. The defense consisted of a crust of infantry divisions and cavalry forces holding an extended frontage, with some armored formations positioned in depth as a reserve. Reconnaissance conducted by the German units in the line, and signals intelligence from specialized units were able to paint a fairly clear picture of the front line defenses. The situation in the American rear areas, as well as information regarding the important bridges over the Meuse River, was not so clear. Skorzeny requested all available intelligence concerning them, and even asked that air reconnaissance photos be taken of the bridges. These were eventually received by Skorzeny for only the bridges at Huy and Amay in late November. Although they showed anti-aircraft positions near the bridges, they did not indicate any other special defensive measures. Skorzeny was forced to assume that some type of local defenses would be established at the Meuse crossings, even if only initially by rear area troops. He also fully realized that the bridges would be more heavily defended, if not out-right destroyed, if he did not reach them within the first critical days of the offensive.

One key planning assumption was that the initial conventional attacks would achieve a clean breakthrough on the first day of the offensive. It was assumed that the defenders in the area would be in disorderly flight on the first day, thereby allowing the Greif force to infiltrate to the bridges unhindered. This critical assumption upon which the nature and concept of the operation were founded was ultimately to prove faulty, and would even spell doom for the success of the mission. Skorzeny anticipated that if he was successful in seizing the bridges, it was very likely that his forces might be cut-off and isolated for a short period by Allied counter attacks until the main body of the German advance could reach him. Very importantly, Skorzeny’s assessment of the terrain and forward defenses led him to believe that his special units would not be able to break through the Americans lines on their own, but would have to exploit a penetration achieved to some significant depth by the conventional forces making the initial attacks. He knew that the available preparation time was short, he had less than five weeks to prepare for this new mission. In fact, he had voiced his concern over the lack of adequate planning and preparation time to the Fuehrer personally. The unique nature of the mission would require special equipment and soldier in the form of captured American equipment, and English speaking troops with a knowledge of American slang and idioms. His own SS commando unit, of less than a battalion strength, could provide some expertise, manpower, and leadership, but the force would bave to essentially be established and trained from scratch. His original designs for the force proposed a unit of over 3300 men dressed and equipped to pose as an American outfit. His initial task organization for the unit proposed a full sized, robust, brigade. The creation of such a force, with such a unique and unorthodox mission, would take some time to do properly.

Additionally, Skorzeny was keenly aware of the operational time line for the offensive, and knew that once committed, his forces would have only one day to reach and capture the bridges. Skorzeny also realized the limitations imposed upon his forces by the terrain. He identified the critical importance of the defensive advantage offered by the Hohe Venn Ridge along the enemy’s forward defenses. The restricted nature of the Ardennes provided little maneuver space, and confined his force to the few good roads that ran directly to the bridge targets on the Meuse. His freedom of maneuver and action with any sizable combat force was dictated by the available road network behind the American lines as much as by any possible enemy counter action. The specified tasks assigned to Skoneny were to seize a minimum of two bridges over the Meuse River between Liege and Namur to infiltrate enemy lines covertly, posing as American soldiers; and to cause confusion among the enemy by disrupting his communications and rear areas. The implied tasks that Skorzeny derived for his mission were :

    conduct coordination with the conventional forces of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army; conduct a forward passage of lines through the attacking divisions west of the Hohe Venn Ridge; exploit the confusion and disorganization within the enemy’s ranks, conduct deep reconnaissance of the bridge targets on the Meuse River for the commando force; seize the bridges at Andenne, Amay, or Huy through a surprise ‘coups de main’ attack; defend and hold two or more of the bridges until relieved by 1.SS-Panzer-Division; conduct a link-up with the 1.SS-Panzer-Regiment at the bridges; increase confusion and panic behind the lines among the defenders by circulating false reports, removing sign posts, cutting telephone lines, and blowing up ammunition dumps; conduct tactical reconnaissance forward of the Skorzeny force and the conventional armored spearheads

Two key limitations that Skorzeny was operating under were the requirement for strict secrecy and operational security (OPSEC) and the accepted laws of war. Hitler’s desire for utmost secrecy prevented Skorzeny from briefing his forces on their real mission or coordinating with the associated conventional units until only days before the offensive. Also, by wearing American uniforms his force would give up their protected status as prisoners of war (POWs) and if captured, would face execution as spies. Hitler directed that Skorzeny’s commandos were to wear their German uniforms under the American clothing, and were not to fight in American uniforms, i.e. they were to take off the American clothing before fighting. Although no record of a formal mission statement exists, if presented in current US Army fashion, Skorzeny probably would have looked something like this :

    On order, Battle Group Skorzeny infiltrates in zone to seize bridges over the Meuse River at Andenne, Amy, and Huy, in order to ensure the uninterrupted advance of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army across the Meuse, and conducts unconventional warfare operations to disrupt enemy defenses in the area of operations.

Skorzeny, after the war, presented a less formalized description of his mission : the mission of the Brigade was to seize undamaged at least two Meuse River bridges from among the following possibilities : Amay, Huy, or Andenne.

The concept of the operation was not particularly complex, but it was not necessarily easy to execute either. Skorzeny’s forces would follow immediately behind the lead spearheads of the I.SS-Panzer-Korps attacking divisions as they pushed through the initial penetration created by the infantry divisions. Once west of the Hohen Venn Ridge, Skorzeny’s battle group would side-slip or pass through the lead panzer regiments and advance to the Meuse. Special reconnaissance teams would race ahead of the main body by jeep once a penetration was achieved, conduct reconnaissance of the routes, and place the bridge targets under surveillance. The main body of Skoneny’s force, split into three smaller Kampfgruppe, would advance west along three separate directions of attack directly to the bridges, now called Objectives X, Y, and Z. One of the Kampfgruppe would each move behind the lead elements of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division, 12.SS-Panzer-Division and 12.Volksgrenadier-Division. This was to have occurred by the end of the first day of the offensive. Tactical reconnaissance teams would advance immediately forward of the attacking divisions and these groups to report on local enemy defenses. Independent teams of commandos would conduct small scale acts of sabotage ahead of and behind the main body to disrupt enemy communications and create disorganization within the defenders. Resistance would be bypassed and reported, as speed was essential and the limited combat power of the battle groups was to be preserved for seizing and defending the bridges. Once captured, the bridges were to be defended, then turned over to I.SS-Panzer-Korps. Skoneny’s force would then be prepared to continue acts of sabotage, and deep reconnaissance in support of the main attack. This was all to have occurred not later than the second day of the offensive. However, Skorzeny’s force would not be operating behind American lines completely on its own.

Concerned over the threat of reinforcement posed by the large American forces to the north of 6.SS-Panzer-Army, FM Walter Model, the commander of Army Group B, the operational headquarters for the offensive, on December 4, proposed to Hitler another special operation. It would consist of an airborne force dropped behind American lines in the area of Krinkelt, Belgium to block enemy moves south against the northern flank of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army. Although dismayed of airborne operations after the heavy casualties sustained during the invasion of Crete, Hitler seized upon the idea and approved it. However, he changed the drop location to an area north of Malmédy, Belgium, deeper behind the American front lines than Model’s original concept. This would put the paratroopers beyond the immediate reach of their panzer counterparts until a penetration was made of the American lines. The plans for this new operation were hastily drawn up on December 8, by Army Group B Headquarters. Although getting the paratroopers force would eventually pose a problem, getting the commander for this operation did not.

Fallschirmjäger Brigade Ramcke – from (left) Maj Friedrich von der Heydte marching in Hildesheim, with Stabsoffizier Oberleutnant Rolf Mager. Behind is Oberleutnant Horst Trebes.

Baron August Friedrich von der Heydte, Oberst der Fallschirmjagertruppen, was in December 1944, the commander of the German Parachute School in Aalten, Holland. Summoned to the headquarters of Gen Kurt Student on December 8, von der Heydte learned of his role in what was to be the second special operation conducted to support Operation Wacht am Rhein, an operation code-named Operation Stoesser. Von der Heydte was to be the commander of the operation but, in the effort to maintain secrecy, he was initially misled about the actual location of the mission. Student briefed von der Heydte on the plan. The Fuehrer had decided to undertake a major offensive in which a parachute detachment would be employed. Von der Heydte was to form and command this force. Von der Heydte learned that he was expected to jump behind the Soviet troops surrounding the German bridgehead on the Vistula in Poland. He also learned that Gen Student wanted his force ready by December 13, the initial planning date for the start of the offensive. Like his counterpart Skorzeny, von der Heydte was at first stunned, and then thrilled, by the prospects of this new mission. It was not until December 14, after a fortuitous mission postponement caused by the failure to assemble the attacking division in time that he was to learn the details of his real mission. The unit that von der Heydte would support, the 6.SS-Panzer-Army, received notification of the airborne operation from Army Group B on December 10. In turn, von der Heydte reported to 6.SS-Panzer-Army Headquarters on December 11 and received detailed mission guidance concerning the real objective of his operation. The 6.SS-Panzer-Army Chief of Staff, SS-Brigadefuehrer Fritz Kraemer issued the Operation Stoesser orders to von der Heydte :

    On the first day of the attack, elements of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army will take possession of Liège or the bridges across the Meuse south of the city. Then, at dawn, Kampfgruppe von der Heydte will drop into the Baraque Michel area, eleven kilometers north of Malmedy, and secure the multipleroad junction at Belle Croix (Jalhay) for use by the armored point of the 6.SS-Panzer, probably elements of 12.SS-Panzer-Division. If for technical reasons this mission is impracticable on the morning of the first day of the attack, Kampfgruppe von der Heydte will drop early on the following morning into the zone along the Amblève River or Amay to secure the bridges there for the advance of 6.SS-Panzer’s armored points. The drop was scheduled to commence at 0300, on December 16 and, consequently, it would be a night jump.

Oberst von der Heydte also met with the Army commander, SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Sepp Dietrich. This meeting did not go very well because, as according to von der Heydte, Dietrich was intoxicated. Von der Heydte attempted to work out the details of his mission, and although Dietrich appeared unconcerned over the operation, he was able to get the Army commander’s intent for the mission. Stoesser was to secure the crossroads either in the Mont Rigi or the Belle Croix areas and block American reinforcements until elements of the Army linked up with him. Dietrich assured von der Heydte that the link-up would occur within 24 hours of his drop. Von der Heydte managed to coordinate a few details then departed to set about his own preparations. The area of operations for Operation Stoesser was in the 6.SS-Panzer-Army’s zone of attack. The designated drop zone and objective area was astride the Hohen Venn Ridge. Here the steep hills, dense woods, and marshy valleys limited the available avenues of approach. One good north-south running road connected the city of Malmedy with the city of Eupen. This formed the best avenue of approach into the flank of the 6.SS-Panzer. North of Malmedy, a road junction linked the town of Verviers with this highway. The terrain did not favor the employment of massed airborne troops.

Very little was known of the enemy situation that Operation Stoesser would face. Von der Heydte’s request for an estimate of the enemy situation brought the following reply from Dietrich during their meeting : I am not a prophet … you will learn earlier than I will what forces the Americans will employ against you.. Von der Heydte attempted then to gain more information from the 6.SS-Panzer Headquarters Staff members. He did not get much and later, he observed : we had thoroughly reconnoitered the American front lines and the enemy chain of command was well known. However, we were completely without knowledge of the enemy’s strategic reserves. The distribution of his forces within the American communications zone was also unknown. Von der Heydte’s request for a personal air reconnaissance of the drop zone and target area was later rejected for fear of compromising the offensive. At the drop time, several days later, little would still be known of the enemy situation. The specified tasks given to von der Heydte were fairly clear : conduct an airborne assault, secure the road junction; block enemy reinforcements moving south along the Eupen-Malmedy road; link-up with the elements of 12.SS-Panzer; and be prepared to jump into the Amblève river or Amay areas to secure bridges for the advance elements of 6.SS-Panzer. The implied tasks for the operation were to assemble rapidly after the drop, establish defensive positions around the road junction, and be prepared to block enemy forces for up to twenty-four hours.

The key limitation von der Heydte was working under was the incredibly short amount of time available for planning and preparation for the operation. Less than five days were available. The other limitation was that of available trained forces. Fighting as conventional infantry for the past three years, by December 1944, no parachute regiments were on active jump status. Additionally, no large scale airborne drops had been conducted by the Luftwaffe, save for the costly airborne raid on Marshal Tito’s headquarters in Drvar, Bosnia, in May 1944. Ironically, the SS-Fallschirmjäger-Battalion that conducted the drop in Bosnia would be unable to conduct Stoesser as it was operating on the Eastern Front and had suffered heavy casualties. The solution would be to form an ad hoc Kampfgruppe or battle group consisting of elements from various parachute regiments in the Luftwaffe. Although this battle group concept was standard procedure for the German military, the results would be far from anyone’s standards.

Based upon the specified and implied tasks, the restated mission for Operation Stoesser might have read : On order, Battle Group Stoesser conducts an airborne assault to secure objective A (crossroads), and establish defensive positions in order to block enemy counter attacks into the northern flank of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army. The intent of Operation Stoesser was to block Allied advances against the flank of the 6.SS-Panzer, thereby allowing them to continue their advance across the Meuse unhindered. The restrictive nature of the terrain would make this possible at certain key points on the battlefield, like the road junction atop the Mont Rigi. This is what was desired by Model, and eventually understood by von der Heydte. However, the original guidance to von der Heydte from the 6.SS-Panzer’s Chief of Staff indicated securing the road junction for use by armored points, although this was not what the originators of the plan intended. This disconnect in guidance would serve to give von der Heydte some latitude on how he would conduct the mission. This issue would resurface later in the operation.

The concept of the operation was very simple. The paratroopers would conduct a mass night parachute assault into a drop zone in the immediate vicinity of their objective. They were to assemble rapidly, then secure the road junction and immediate surrounding area. At the road junction, they were to establish a blocking position astride the Eupen-Malmedy road to cut the American lines of communications to their forward defenses. The defensive position astride the road junction would then block combat units attempting to move south and reinforce the southern American defenses, or engage the flank of the 6.SS-Panzer. Link-up with the elements of the north flank division of 6.SS-Panzer, the 12.SS-Panzer-Division would occur by the end of December 16. The battle group was expected to hold their positions for two days, if necessary, until German forces could swing north and relieve them. Two days would be pushing the limits of the small battle group’s capabilities, but it was not a completely unreasonable demand. The Stoesser force was to be an airborne battle group of approximately 1200 men, equipped with airborne short barrel 8 CM mortars, anti-tank weapons (Panzerfaust), and MG-42 machine guns while the Kampfgruppe would be inserted by the conventional Luftwaffe Ju-52 transport aircraft.

Both Operations, Greif and Stoesser, appeared in concept as viable missions. As events were to show during the limited preparation, and ultimately during the execution of the operations, the problems caused by the limited amount of time that hampered the planning effort would carry over throughout the missions. Although conceptually Operation Greif and Operation Stoesser fit well into the overall campaign plan for the offensive, realistically they were to be prepared in isolation and almost considered as after thoughts by the conventional commanders of the campaign. Based upon the concept of operations for each mission, Skorzeny and von der Heydte began their preparations immediately. From the start, the problems that would plague Operations Greif and Stoesser throughout their existence began to appear.

Special Operations Preparation

The tasks of assembling and preparing the men and machines of Operations Greif and Stoesser began immediately after their inception :

    The Fuehrer has ordered the formation of a special unit of a strength of about two battalions for employment on reconnaissance and special duties on the Western Front. The personnel will be assembled from volunteers of all arms the Army and the Waffen SS who must fulfill the following requirements :

    a) Physically A-1, suitable for special tasks, mentally keen, strong personality
    b) Fully trained in single combat
    c) Knowledge of the English language and also the American dialect. Especially important is a knowledge of military technical terms

    This order is to be made know immediately to all units and headquarters. Volunteers may not be retained on military grounds but are to be sent immediately to Friedenthal near Orianenburg (HQs Skorzeny) for a test of suitability. The Volunteers that do not pass these tests satisfactorily will be returned to their headquarters and units. The volunteers are to report to Friedenthal by November 10 latest.

So read the order sent on October 25 1944 from the OKW to all units on the Western Front. It sums up in a nutshell the process for assembling the special operator trainees, that in this case, would be the heart of Operation Greif. It also serves as an example of just one part of the many and varied mission preparations that were undertaken for both operations. Special operations units require select personnel, unique equipment, and thorough training in order to success fully accomplish their high risk special missions. The German special operations forces participating in Wacht am Rhein were no exception. The unorthodox, unique and diversified nature of their tasks would place a premium on cohesive well-drained, and properly equipped forces. Unfortunately for the Germans, neither of the forces conducting the two operations would be well-manned, well-trained, or well-equipped.

The lack of available time, coupled with the ad hoc nature of the organizations, would serve to prevent the formation of units truly capable of accomplishing their assigned missions with a reasonable probability of success. Thus despite tremendous organizational efforts, and a large dose of improvisation, the special operations forces would not be the highly mission capable units that were envisioned during the initial planning of the higher command headquarters. Rather than task organizing forces to accomplish their missions, both commanders were forced to do it backwards. They tailored their organizations and missions, to what forces were ultimately made available to them. Both the lack of time, and the depleted state of the German Army, were working against them. Operation Greif suffered from a lack of qualified soldiers and from insufficient amounts of equipment. The force, by nature of its mission, required a large number of English speaking personnel. It also required a broad range of combat skill from among the soldiers. Everything and everyone from tankers to signalers would be needed. American uniforms, arms, and vehicles of all types would be required for the unit’s cover. No German unit existed that could meet all of the requirements of the Greif force. Even Skorzeny’s own SS-Jagdverbande, less than a full battalion in strength, would not fit the bill. It lacked the English speakers needed, and it was a special mission unit that had focused on primarily strategic level special operations in the past. The creation of such a large unit with the requirement to use the ruse of posing as an enemy unit was something new to the special operations planners and the conventional staffers alike. From the start, it did not go well.

Otto Skorzeny forwarded his plans and requirements for Operation Greif to the OKW Chief of Staff Generaloberst Jodl within five days of receiving his mission tasking at the Fuehrer Headquarters. Although his request for personnel and equipment might have been considered somewhat optimistic, (a 3300 man full panzer brigade in addition to the commando unit), he was promised unlimited support for his mission by the Jodl. German forces had undoubtedly captured American equipment and uniforms, and number of Germans had traveled to or even lived in America, and were thus familiar with the language. Although seemingly possible, the reality of assembling the force turned out to be a different matter. It started with material problems. Despite the pledge from Jodl, Skorzeny was obviously aware that the collection of a large quantity of captured American equipment would be no simple task, if for no other reason than the front-line units holding and using the needed tanks or jeeps would be unwilling to freely give them up. As a result he wrote to the Chief of Staff of Oberbefehlshaber West (OB West) Gen Siegfried Westphal on November 2 1944 and requested assistance in gathering the required equipment for the operation. Thus was born Rabenhugel.

Rabenhugel was the code name for the requisition and collection of the American equipment and uniforms for Operation Greif conducted on the Western front during the month of November 1944. As part of Rabenhugel, the Ober Quartiermeister of OB West, Oberst John, was tasked to locate 15 tanks, 20 armored cars, 20 SP guns, 100 jeeps, 120 trucks, 40 motorcycles, and thousands of uniforms. These would be used by the Greif forces to replicate both small and large size American forces in order to conduct their penetrations to their targets. Rabenhugel, however, did not meet with much success. Despite the promises of support, and Hitler’s outbursts of fury against various gentlemen in the quartermaster department, Skorzeny came no where near to obtaining the equipment needed his operation. On November 21, he sent a message to OB West complaining about the lack of necessary equipment for Greif. At that time, Skorzeny had at his disposal fewer than 34 jeeps, 15 trucks, one armored car, and two half-tracks. An official, full report was sent to OB West on November 24 by SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer Stromer, one of Skorzeny’s staff officers. It outlined the problems encountered in fitting the unit with equipment, and stated that the planned target date for completing the organization of the Greif force, November 25, could not be met.

Counting both American equipment, and substituted German vehicles for example, only 57 of 150 jeeps, and 74 of 198 trucks were on hand at the Greif training site at Grafenwoehr. Five tanks, all German, in addition to the armored vehicles mentioned in Skoneny’s earlier message, were the only combat vehicles for the entire Panzer Brigade 150. Two American M-4 Sherman tanks were turned over to Skorzeny. But, like most of the captured vehicles at Grafenwoehr, they were in poor running shape, both had soon broken down and proved un-serviceable. Skorzeny was forced to improvise in order to overcome the lack of vehicles. Several German tanks, assault guns, armored cars, and armored personnel carriers were received in lieu of the anticipated American vehicles. Substitute German Mark V Panther tanks were visuaUy modified to resemble American M-10 tank destroyers by cutting down their barrels and welding steel plates to their turrets and hulls. The remaining German assault guns, armored personnel carriers, and trucks were painted olive drab and adorned with painted white stars. Later Skorzeny would state All I can say is that they could only deceive very young American troops, seeing them at night, from very far away. Ultimately, the Kampfgruppe Skorzeny, Panzer-Brigade 150 would consist of five German Panther, five assault guns, six armored scout cars, and six armored personnel carriers. Added to this were four American scout cars and five half-tracks. The Stielau Commando Company fared much better, and had almost two dozen jeeps at its disposal.

Only fifty percent of the required American small arms were ever assembled, and owing to the destruction of a munitions train, they were without any quantity of ammunition. Gemran weapons again filled the void. There were only enough American arms and ammunition to equip the commando company. The situation in regards to uniforms was no better. Skoneny stated the case very clearly himself :

    but the most fantastic position of all was in respect of clothing, to which, of course, we had to attach the utmost importance. We started off by receiving a consignment of miscellaneous articles, which upon closer examination turned out to be parts of British uniforms. Then we were sent lots of overcoats, which were practically useless, because we knew that the Americans only wore so-called field-jackets in the line. When the head of the prisoner of war section sent us a supply of these jackets, it was observed that they were adorned with the triangle peculiar to prisoners and the consignment had to be returned. It was an eloquent comment on the way business was handled that the commander of the brigade – myself – got nothing but an American army pullover in my size.

It was all far from ideal, and much less than what was hoped for in the initial planning. The shortage of equipment was paralleled by shortages of personnel. The original table of organization for Operation Greif proposed a force of 3300 men. By 0-Day, closer to 2500 men filled the ranks of Panzer-Brigade 150 and it is just a commando company. Similarly to the problem of procuring sufficient quantities of American equipment for the force, finding adequate numbers of capable American speakers was also quite a challenge. Skorzeny realized early in his planning that he could never hope to get sufficient numbers of English speakers to man his entire force. More important perhaps, he also realized that with only four weeks of preparation time, he could not mold them into a cohesive, and self-contained and compact formation, but rather would require a few regular units to give them stiffening. Upon his request to OKW, Skorzeny’s original force of his SS commando company, and the 600.SS-Fallschirmjäger-Battalion, was increased with two Luftwaffe parachute battalions, one Wehrmacht tank company, and one communication company. Additionally, Skorzeny knew that to lead his ad hoc formation he would need battalion commanders with front-line experience. He requested and was granted, three such officers, SS-Obersturmbannführer Willy Hardieck, Obersleutnant Hermann Wolf, and Hauptman Walter Scherff. Skorzeny was to say of his three battle group commanders :

    Of the three allocated, Hardieck was a splendid officer, but never led this sort of operation before. The same could be said of Wolf and Scherff but the enthusiasm with which they entered into their new duties made me certain that somehow, everything would be all right. I did not forget that I had no previous experience of leading an attack in borrowed plumage.

The situation with the English speaking volunteers for the mission paralleled that of the Rabenhugel failure with material. For a force originally envisioned to masquerade as the equivalent of an American regiment numbering in the thousands, fewer than 150 competent English speakers were ultimately obtained. While it was probably unrealistic to expect such a large number of English speakers, the results still fell short of expectations. Skorzeny described the situation with these volunteers as follows :

    When the first hundred volunteers reported at Friedenthal a week later, the future of Greif looked blacker than ever. We employed a number of language experts who divided them into categories, according to their knowledge of English. After a couple of weeks, the result was terrifying. Category one, comprising men speaking perfectly and with some notion of American slang was ten strong and most of them were sailors, who at so figured largely in category two. The latter comprised men speaking perfectly, but with no knowledge of American slang. There were thirty to forty of them. The third category consisted of between 120 and 150 men who spoke English fairly well and the fourth, about 200 strong, of those who had learned a little English at school. The rest could just about say yes. In practice it meant that we might just as well mingle with the fleeing Americans and pretend to be too flurried and overcome to speak.

Of the 600 volunteers who arrived at Friedenthal, Skorzeny picked 150 of the best for the commando company. Some of the remainder were to go directly to the panzer brigade, while the many of the poorer speaker who possessed no critical or special combat skills were destined to remain at Grafenwoehr during the operation both for security considerations and for use as some type of last ditch reserve. Most of the men selected were sailors that had served in the American merchant marine prior to the war, while some were German-Americans who had lived in the United States. Most lacked any real combat training, and none had anything approaching special operations experience.

The total force ultimately available to Skorzeny for his Panzer-Brigade 150 was as follows :

    1 – Brigade HQs consisting of the Brigade Staff and a signal company, (based upon Panzer Brigade 108 elements)
    2 – Three small combat staffs, one per battle group, (drawn from Panzer-Brigades 10 and 113)
    3 – Two Army signal companies
    4 – Two Luftwaffe parachute battalions
    5 – One company of Jagdverbande Mitte
    6 – Two companies from SS-Fallschirmjäger-Battalion 600
    7 – Two tank companies, (crewed by elements from the 11.Panzer-Regiment and the 655.Jagdpanzer-Battalion
    8 – Two panzer grenadier companies
    9 – Two companies of heavy mortars
    10 – Two anti-tank companies
    11 – One pioneer company
    12 – Three vehicle repair companies
    13 – One special commando company

The overall capability of this force was something much less then originally envisioned prior to Rabenhugel. It consisted of the equivalent of an infantry regiment augmented with some tanks, rather then a full-blown panzer-brigade. However, it might still be of sufficient strength to seize a lightly defended target in a surprise attack, and hold it until link-up with header forces. If employed on a conventional mission as a whole force, it might be counted on to put up one credible fight, despite the lack of tactical unity and cohesion. This could be adequate enough to defeat a defending force of several companies in strength, but would not be sufficient to exploit such success. Lacking artillery, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and support units, and limited in supplies, the brigade could not be counted on for any sustained combat. It would need to avoid fighting until it reached its objectives on the Meuse. Skorzeny was to say this regarding the force’s capability : my detachments could not allow themselves to be involved in even a minor scuffle.

The shortages in personnel and equipment forced Skorzeny to modify his original proposed task organization for Operation Greif. The English speakers were concentrated into one special unit and isolated from the rest of the force. The headquarters for the force was small, with no liaison teams or extra personnel. The three battle groups of Panzer-Brigade 150 remained, but rather than being full reinforced battalions, they eventually were tasked organized as folows :

    Kampfgruppe X
    SS-Obersturmbannführer Willi Hardiek (KIA 17/12)
    A small battalion staff section
    One tank company, (five Mark V Panther and five assault guns)
    Two Companies from Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger Battalion
    One Company from Jagdverbande Mite
    Two Panzer Grenadier Platoons
    Two Anti-Tank Platoons
    Two Heavy Mortar Platoons
    One Engineer Platoon
    One Signal Platoon
    One Vehicle Repair Group

    Kampfgruppe Y
    Hauptmann Walter Scherf
    Identical to Kampfgruppe X, except the tank company was equipped with five assault guns instead of Mark V tanks

    Kampfgruppe Z
    Commanded by Oberstleutnant Wolf
    Similar to Kampfgruppe X and Y except that it did not have a tank company

    Commando Companny
    The forces of Panzer Brigade 150, with the exception of the modified tanks and olive drab vehicles and the soldiers of the commando company, were eventually equipped with German material and weapons. The overall result was far from what was expected. Skorzeny reported these shortages and difficulties to his higher headquarters. During several situation conferences at the FHQ, Skorzeny stated his perpetual complaints about the failure to procure the needed personnel and equipment.

At the last situation conference, he summed up the overall situation of the Operation Greif force : We are having to improvise from A to Z, but we will do all that is possible. The capability of the brigade was now split three ways. Each battle group was the size of an under-strength infantry battalion with armor attached. Clearly, each battle group lacked the combat power for any type of determined fighting prior to reaching their targets. They would have barely enough to seize and hold their objectives. Lacking artillery and anti-tank weapons, the battle groups could not be expected to realistically hold the bridges against determined American counterattacks for any long period of time. The battle groups would have to get to their targets quickly, and without fighting, and then be promptly relieved. This task organization reflected the units that each battle group would eventually support and follow. Battle Group X, the most capable, would work with the 1.SS-Panzer-Division, the I.SS-Panzer-Corps main effort. Battle Group Y would operate with the 12.SS-Panzer-Division. Battle Group Z, the least capable of the groups was destined to operate with the 12.Volksgrenadier-Division, an infantry organization lacking much armor, and given a supporting role in the attack.

The commando company, the EinheitStdelau, named after their commander, SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Stielau, was task organized into three groups based upon their assigned missions. These commandos were equipped with American jeeps and arms, and wore American uniforms. Comprised of the best of the English speakers, most commandos were credible doubles of their American counterparts. The first group within the commandos was the Reconnaissance Group which was comprised of three to four man teams mounted in jeeps. These teams were to conduct the deep reconnaissance of the bridge targets and the routes to them, as well as conduct limited acts of sabotage such as removing road signs and issuing false commands. The next group was the Demolition Group which comprised several five to six man teams. These teams were to locate and destroy bridges and munition and fuel dumps in order to spread confusion in the enemy rear. The last group was known as the Lead commandos. This group also consisted of three to four man teams who worked in direct support of the lead regiments of the attacking divisions. In addition to conducting local reconnaissance forward of the attacking forces, these teams would also disrupt enemy command and control by cutting telephone wires and issuing false commands.

Eventually a total of eleven complete operational teams were formed within the commando company. These teams were split among each of the three groups of the commando company. Each team consisted of three to five men based upon an American jeep equipped with radio gear. The individual team members performed the roles of team commander, driver, saboteur or radio operator, and interpreter. This last team member was the only one on the team who could speak perfect English including the use of American slang. The team members replicated various types of units and ranks, the highest rank used that of an American colonel. Each was given an American identity to role play, and all were from the US 5th Armored Division. Actual German rank not did figure in assignment of American rank, but language skills did. Thus, from being Obergefreiter Rolf Meyer the lance-corporal found himself promoted to Second-Lieutenant Charlie Holtzman; Leutnant Gunther Schlitz ended up as Corporal John Weller, and so on.

Training for the Greif force began at once at Grafenwoehr under SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer Willi Hardiek, who became Skorzen’s deputy. The battle groups of Panzer Brigade 150 settled into their new task organization, began familiarization training with their equipment, and conducted battle drills. Most of the training was generic in nature. Although they trained hard, the brigade was never fully prepared. As a result of difficulties experienced simply moving from Grafenwoehr to their forward assembly area in the Blankenheim Forest on December 13, shortly before the offensive, Skorzeny was to note : we were already made aware that in some respects the men’s training had not been all that it should have been. Although the men of the battle groups understood that they were to be employed in some type of special role, none, to include the battle group commanders knew of their actual mission until just days before the offensive started. For security reasons Skorzeny was not permitted to divulge any information about the actual offensive until authorized by FHQ. Skorzeny described the following cover story :

    In the middle of November I called my three group commanders together and told them that we were expecting an American offensive somewhere in the Aachen sector and that our plan was to let the Americans penetrate our lines and then cut them off. I told them that it was at this time that our brigade was to create considerable disturbances in the rear lines, and to help in the annihilation of these forces. Around December I all of the officers of the brigade were given this outline of their plans. It was not until December 10 that even the group commanders were aware of the actual plans for the attack.

This strict requirement for secrecy, with violations punishable by death, was to severely hinder the training and rehearsing of the brigade. Execution of their missions would suffer accordingly. By the time that all elements were finally briefed on their actual missions and plans of attack, the Greif force was departing its Grafenwoehr training site and moving to assembly areas for the offensive. There was no time to conduct full scale rehearsals with the units. There was no time for personal reconnaissance. Perhaps most importantly, there was no opportunity to conduct the detailed coordination required of such an operation with the conventional panzer units of I.SS-Panzer-Corps that they would be supporting and moving behind. For an operation requiring close coordination with the attacking forces, this situation was to cause several problems later in the offensive. The training of the commando company was a different matter. Although also misled about the actual nature of their mission in the name of containing security leaks, the commandos began training in earnest at Grafenwoehr in preparation for their tasks. Skorzeny naturally devoted special attention to the commando company’s training because they were charged with the second pan of the Greif mission, and because of his concerns over the capability of this force. He expressed this view : none of the volunteers selected for this unit had ever had any experience in that line. There were no trained spies or saboteurs among them. In the few weeks at our disposal we could hardly hope to teach them their job properly

But they tried. Initial training focused on becoming realistic American GIs. The commandos of the Stielau unit refreshed and reviewed their English speaking ability, with particular emphasis on learning the idioms and slang of the American GI. They worked with their American weapons and gear. The commandos read American literature, viewed American films, and even visited POW camps at Kustrin and Limburg to mix with real American soldiers and observe them first hand. The team members rehearsed their assumed American identities, and learned how to drive and operate the American jeeps. Radio operators received special training in the operation of their radio sets. For those lacking, basic combat skills were hurriedly taught. The volunteers were trained in close combat, sabotage and reconnaissance skills, the use of plastic explosive, and in employing their new silenced machine pistols. The training received was far from complete, but the commando unit would have to make do with the few weeks of training time available. While training in isolation at Grafenwoehr, numerous rumors concerning the probable missions for the unit ran wild among the men. Rather than squelch these, Skorzeny actually fueled some of them in an attempt to maintain an cover for the unit and mission. This was to have amazing repercussions once the operation commenced.

Skorzeny attempted to coordinate Operation Greif with the various players involved. However, this coordination was at the highest command levels, and not with the actual commanders of the lead units his men would be working with. This would prove to have serious repercussions later. In an attempt to get better support and coordinate some tactical details, Skorzeny met with FM von Rundstedt at his headquarters in November. The FM’s support for the Operation Greif was apparently lacking, as after briefing him on Operation Greif, Skorzeny noted his reactions as disappointing. He appeared to be luke-warm to the special operation, and was particularly concerned over the use of enemy uniforms. A similar meeting with FM Model’s Chief of Staff, General Krebs, was slightly better. Skorzny’s plans for Greif were approved and he received the promise of full support, though this would prove to be long in coming. Prior to the offensive, Skorzeny attended one last high level meeting at Model’s headquarters on December 12, where the final orders were issued to the corps and division commanders. Model asked Skorzeny to brief the assembled commander’s on Operation Greif. At this meeting the detailed measures to avoid fratricide between Skorzeny’s Americans and real regular German soldiers was discussed as the danger of inadvertently shooting Greif forces was high. As aids to identifying the Grey forces as friendly Germans, several special recognition signals were employed. In order to identify themselves as disguised German soldiers, the Greif members would remove or tap their helmets when approaching German lines or forces. Additionally, the second button of their shirts would be unbuttoned, and they would wear pink or blue scarves. At night, a blue flashlight held up in the left hand would serve as a challenge, while a red flashlight held aloft in the right hand would serve as the reply. All of the brigade’s vehicles were to display a small yellow triangle painted on their rear. Jeeps bore the letters C, D, X, Y, or Z in white letters on their hoods, while tanks were to keep their gun tubes pointed in the nine o’clock position when near German forces. These procedures seemed to work as no incidents of friendly fire casualties to the Grey.forces were reported, despite the high probability of them occurring.

These recognition signals did produce one significant drawback. Despite the counter-productive wall of secrecy surrounding the offensive, the details were distributed in writing to front line units after the meeting with Skorzeny. Although by their nature, all units would need to know the recognition signals, and hence the existence of Greif details about the mission were not essential, and should never have been carried forward of the line. Nevertheless, despite orders to the contrary, this is exactly what occurred, and inevitability as always seems to happen in these cases, the instructions were captured on the first day of the offensive. A note distributed within the 62. Volksgrenadier-Division was captured near Heckhusheid on December 16, and compromised Operation Greif soon after the first commando teams had infiltrated the lines. The note outlined the recognition signals, described the use of American vehicles, equipment, and uniforms, and even outlined the three routes the Greif forces would travel along. After months of painstaking security effort, the cat was out of the bag on the first day.

Although the training and equipping of the Greif force fell far short of what Skorzeny and the other leaders may have felt was required, the men of Panzer Brigade 150 and the Stielau unit were motivated to fight Skorzeny described his men as clearly animated by the most glowing patriotism. Skorzeny would rely on this motivation, and the audacity and initiative of these men to overcome the deficiencies in training, equipment and organization that confronted the Greif force. Midway through the preparations for Greif, just as these deficiencies caused Skorzeny to alter his task organization, it likewise forced him to modify his commander’s intent. He explained it in his own words :

    When we realized in the middle of November, that the camouflage outfit of the brigade would be very far from complete, we were forced to consider certain changes to our plans. In the absence of camouflage for everybody we must try to obtain the same results by expedients, cunning, and above all, bluff … My colleagues and I fully appreciated that we should have to rely on improvisation.

Likewise, lacking precise and detailed intelligence about the enemy, Skorzeny was unable to assign exact missions other than the bridge and route reconnaissance to the commando company. Rather, in typical German military fashion, he relied on giving the Stielau teams mission-type orders to conduct reconnaissance and learn about enemy dispositions, create confusion amongst the enemy, disrupt communications, and delay or disrupt reinforcements. We must leave them as much as possible to their own initiative stressed Skorzeny. Thus improvisation, boldness, and initiative were to be the hallmarks of Operation Greif. In comparison to their comrades of Operation Stoesser, the men of Greif were well prepared.

Operation Stoesser would have far less time compared to Operation Greif to organize, equip, and train itself in preparation for its part in the offensive. Like Greif, the necessary coordination for the mission would also be lacking. Col von der Heydte would have less than one week to organize, train, and prepare his airborne battle group for action in Operation Stoesser and accomplish his mission of blocking the Eupen – Malmédy road. Like the Greif commanders, he too was misled about the actual location and nature of his mission until only days before the offensive. Denied his immediate request to employ his former command, the 6.Fallschirmjaeger-Regiment, as an intact force, the baron would have to create a unit from scratch in just a matter of days. His request was disapproved by Heersgruppe H because it was felt that the secrecy of the offensive might be compromised by the movement of an entire parachute regiment out of the line. The 1200 man battle group would be created by each regiment in 11.Fallschirmjâeger-Korps giving up one hundred of it’s best and most experienced parachutists to von der Heydte. However, he would be able to choose his own company commanders and officers.

Von der Heydte organized his scratch force into a simple battle group consing of four light infantry companies, a heavy weapons company, and a signal and supply platoon, in addition to a small group headquarters and staff. The promised personnel were to assemble at von der Heydte’s headquarters at Aasten on December 9 1944. As perhaps as is the case in all armies, von der Heydte did not expect to receive the best men that the parachute regiments had to offer. Rather he received the usual deadbeats and trouble makers that battalion commanders normally manage to transfer to other commanders on such occasions. Von der Heydte was to say of them, Never during my entire fighting career had I been in command of a unit with less fighting spirit. But then who gives up his best soldiers to another unit? Out of all the men that arrived at Aalten, fewer than 300 were veterans with combat jump experience. The baron was buoyed by the fact that out of those with combat experience, approximately 150 of them were veterans from his old 6.Falschirmjäeger-Regiment, that had managed to sneak their way into the battle group. The soldiers who lacked even a minimum of fighting spirit were replaced with dependable volunteers that were picked from the jump school at Aalten. Some of these men, however, had yet to make their first parachute jump. Although there were adequate numbers on paper for the mission, the battle group was far from an experienced and cohesive combat force.

During his previous meeting with the 6.SS-Panzer-Army commander, von der Heydte had attempted to coordinate several issues. The lack of concern or support for Operation Stoesser, and Dietrich’s drunken state, had prevented all of the issues from being raised, but von der Heydte was able to get two items resolved. Upon inadvertently learning of Skorzeny and Operation Greif, von der Heydte requested a boundary between Skorzeny’s forces and his own men to de-conflict the two operations and avoid any fratricide. Part of his rationale seems to also stem for a distaste for the nature of the operation, the SS, and Skorzeny himself and perhaps a desire to avoid being caught up in potential war crimes. The request was approved and a boundary was drawn separating the two units, keeping the Greif forces away from Stoesser. Additionally, von der Heydte requested and received a forward observer team from the 12.SS-Panzer-Division with long range radios. This team would be able to call for much needed fire support from the division’s long range artillery battery when it got within range, as well as coordinate the link-up of force. This request was likewise approved.

One that was not was von der Heydte’s request for back-up communications. Having observed American paratroopers employ carier pigeons in Normandy, the baron requested that these be obtained for his Kampfgruppe in the event the radios were lost or damaged. Dietrich’s reply was typical of the tone of the entire coordination meeting : I am not running a zoo. I am leading my panzer army without pigeons; you should be able to lead your Kampfgruppe without pigeons. Much to his later regret, on der Heydte never got the pigeons. Anyway, the required weapons, clothing, and equipment became available, and were issued to the companies by the December 13. Long-range radio sets were issued to communicate with 6.SS-Panzer-Army headquarters and with the firing batteries of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division artillery. Parachutes for the jump were being assembled at a camp near the departure airfields for the mission. Other than being denied pigeons for back up communications, and being an inherently light force, the Stoesser units did not have significant equipment problems.

Then, on December 13, the Stoesser battle group was ordered to move to their holding area at the Senne Lager. As a result of security precautions, the parachutists were apparently unexpected at the camp; there was no room for them. Amazingly, von der Heydte was forced to contact an old civilian friend and arrange for billeting in houses in the nearby village of Oerlinghausen. To add to the confusion, von der Heydte was told he would be flying out of two airfields, Senne I and Senne II. However, these airfields were only a dream in some staff planners head, as they had yet to be built. The Stoesser battle group was not able to conduct any type of training or rehearsals for its mission in the few days available before the offensive. There was barely enough time to organize the companies and issue equipment. Many of the soldiers were recent transfers from the Luftwaffe’s ground elements, and lacked even basic infantry skills. Von der Heydte described the training status of his battle group :

    In the last five days before the operation began, many men had to be taught the most rudimentary elements of infantry combat and behavior under fire. My company commanders were constantly amazed at the lack of knowledge of the troops.

The men of the battle group finally learned of their real mission just over 24 hours before H-Hour, after they had been assembled for the jump at the departure airfields, now at Paderborn and Lippespringe. Despite von der Heydte’s problemns, his supporting Luftwaffe transport squadrons were in far worse shape. The Ju-52 transport aircraft of the Luftwaffe unit assigned on December 13 to support von der Heydte, Transport-Geschwader 3, were available in sufficient numbers to transport and drop almost the entire battle group in one lift. However trained pilots were not. Most of the pilots were fresh from flight school. Seventy percent of them were not even qualified on the Ju-52 aircraft. There had been almost no training on formation flying or conducting airborne operations for the air units, not to mention night flying and navigation. As a result of security considerations, the commanders of the hastily formed air group were told they would be supporting a training jump, and not a combat operation over enemy lines. They did not discover the truth until their first coordination meeting with von der Heydte on December 13. There was no time to conduct joint training or rehearsals for this critical part of the Operation. However, several measures were coordinated to aid the Luftwaffe pilots in navigating to the drop zone.

First, the route from Paderborn airfield to the front would be lit by ground searchlights to guide the transports on the first leg of their flight. Near the front; tracer fire from anti-aircraft batteries along the flanks would substitute for the searchlights. Additionally, the transports themselves would drop flares to illuminate their own positions and allow the pilots to form into column. A special Ju-88 bomber from a night-flying squadron would precede the transports by 15 minutes and mark the drop zone with incendiary bombs. The transports would travel the last leg with their navigation lights on, and would continue to drop flares over the drop zone itself once the drop commenced. It was hoped that the measures would overcome the handicaps of the air units and permit an accurate drop. As an added touch to assist Operation Stoesser and cause confusion as to the size and nature of the operation, over 300 dummies would be dropped after the paratroop jump, as a deception effort over the areas around Camp Elsenborn, Spa, and Stavelot. It was anticipated that these dummy paratroopers would initially draw some attention away from the real Stoesser force.

Despite these measures, Kampfgruppe von der Heydte and the supporting Lufwaffe units were not prepared to execute Operation Stoeser with any degree of success. Similar to Operation Greif, a concept that sounded great at the planning map had turned into a potential disaster. The commanders of Operations Greif and Stoesser both attempted to abort their planned missions prior to the start of the offensive. Both perceived a very low probability of success for accomplishing their missions. As a result, Skorzeny and von der Heydte both approached their higher headquarters and requested cancellation of the missions. Skorzeny was infuriated when he learned that the October 25 OKW message requesting English speaking volunteers for special duty under his command had been distributed to all front-line units in the Western Front. He correctly assumed that the message would inevitably fall into enemy hands and thus compromise and doom his mission, (the 1st Canadian Army learned of the request on November 30 1944, but surprisingly, the Allied intelligence apparatus did not react to it). He dictated a violent protest to the FHQ and recommended calling the whole thing off. His request never made it directly to Hitler. Some time later Skorzeny got the opportunity to mention the incident to Hitler. He claims to have been told by Hitler : it’s idiotic, but it has been done; we cannot hold up your operation now.

During the preparation for Greif, after the personnel and equipment deficiencies had all but rendered the original Panzer Brigade 150 mission moot, and the possibility of mission compromise was high, Skorzeny summed up his attitude when he stated that we realized we were being asked the impossible, but we had stressed the point to the Fuehrer when the plan was first mooted and so our consciences were clear. Operation Greif would go onward. Likewise, upon learning of his real mission, and assessing the combat effectiveness of his force and that of his Luftwaffe support, Col von der Heydte decided to request the cancellation of Operation Stoesser. After getting no where through Luftwaffe channels, he went directly to Army Group B headquarters at Münstereifel to speak to FM Model, his operational commander. Von der Heydte described his visit as follows :

    The field-marshal was still asleep after having worked throughout the night meanwhile, his chief-of-staff, Gen Krebs, acquainted me with the plans and objectives of the attack. When I told him that the commander of my transport groups as well as myself had serious doubts about the success of a parachute drop, he woke up the field-marshal. After listening to my report, Generalfeldmarschall Model asked me whether I gave the parachute drop a ten percent chance of success. When I answered in the affirmative, he stated that the entire offensive had not more than a ten percent chance of success. However, it was necessary to make the attempt since it was the last remaining chance to conclude the war favorably. The field-marshal concluded that if the most were not made of this ten percent chance, Germany would be faced with certain defeat.

Operation Stoesser, like Greif, would be conducted. Both lacked cohesive, well prepared combat teams, thanks to the lack of time and the ad hoc nature of their organizations. Rather than the elite, top-notch special operations units envisioned, and required, for the demanding and high-risk missions that were to follow, the forces involved in both operations were generally under-manned, ill-equipped, and poorly trained. Likewise, the special operations were not properly coordinated with their conventional counterparts. All of the problems encountered during the planning and preparation for both operations would come to a head once the offensive was to begin.

On the morning of December 16 1944, the great offensive commenced :

    A thunderous roar from thousands of guns announced the opening of the preliminary bombardment of the enemy positions at 0530. It was short, the range was lengthened and the German infantry moved to the attack. The earliest reports arrived just before seven and they were not too favorable, although they could obviously take a turn for the better at any moment … Up to midday, the only news was of violent fighting, without any considerable gain of ground. The intended collapse of the whole front had not been achieved.

So began the opening of Wacht Am Rhein. In Skorzeny’s own words this opening stage was described as something less than desirable. The problems and difficulties encountered on the first day of the offensive were to have significant impact on the conduct of the German special operations. Handicapped by faulty preparation and planning, Operations Greif and Stoesser were soon to be doomed by the events of the first day of the offensive. By December 18 1944, both Operations failed to accomplish their primary missions. Both operations, in light of the specific campaign plans, were failures. Although the special operations did have some favorable impact on the campaign, they were unable to assist the conventional forces in realizing any of the key campaign objectives. In coordination with the 6.SS-Panzer-Army, Otto Skorzeny had co-located his command post with that of the I.SS-Panzer-Corps headquarters at Schmittheim, Germany, on the day before the offensive, December 15 1944. Skorzeny, barred from taking front line command of the operation by Hitler months ago, settled for a location where he could monitor the progress of the offensive and gauge the right moment to launch his Panzer Brigade 150 three battle groups towards their objectives. Skorzeny would never get the chance to issue ta order. Although the commando company was to prove successful in infiltrating American lines and gaining valuable intelligence, the other part of Operation Greif, Panzer Brigade 150, a captive of the opening day’s events, would never see its objective.

The actions of the Stielau Commando Company were to prove the most successful of the German special operations. Tasked to conduct deep reconnaissance of the Meuse River bridges and spread confusion behind the lines through acts of sabotage, most of the disguised commando teams accomplished their objectives with a high degree of success and according to the plan. A total of nine Stielau Commando teams were actually sent through the American lines on December 16 as the opening phase of Operation Greif. These consisted of four teams of Reconnaissance Commandos, two teams of Demolition Commandos, and three teams of Lead Commandos, totaling 44 men. Per their plans, the Recon Commandos drove deep to the Meuse along multiple routes and began gathering intelligence about the Meuse River bridges for Panzer Brigade 150, and the 6.SS-Panzer-Army. The Demolition Commando teams set about conducting acts of sabotage behind the lines, and providing intelligence concerning the local enemy situation. One team each of Lead Commandos traveled with the 1.SS-Panzer-Division, the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, and the 12.VGD, all part of I.SS-Panzer-Corps, and started paving the way for the German spearheads.

The American forces defending their extended fronts were taken by surprise by the German attack. Capitalizing on the confusion, shock, and somewhat expedient withdrawals of some of the American forward units, at least seven teams initially infiltrated tough the American front lines during the initial 24 hours of the offensive. Skorzeny estimated that six to eight teams wem>really got behind the enemy lines. He stated his rationale for this quite candidly in his autobiography :

    It may sound odd that even to this day I cannot give the exact figure, but I was honest enough to have my doubts about the reports I received. One can well understand that some of these young soldiers were too ashamed to admit that when faced with their real trial – the penetration of enemy held territory – their courage and resolution had left them. The actual facts are that two teams were certainly captured and five others put in reports so clear and unambiguous that there could not be the slightest doubt that they had done what they said they had done. In the two remaining cases their reports seemed exaggerated.

The teams infiltrated the American lines both day and at night mounted in jeeps and wearing American garb. Two simple methods were used to infiltrate behind the lines. In the first technique, the jeep team would follow closely behind an attacking armored unit. When that unit engaged the Americans or penetrated their lines, the jeep team would swing off the main road and move around the battle using side roads and trails until they were behind the withdrawing or defending American troops. The other technique was quite simply to travel along small trails in the heavily wooded areas through gaps in the American defenses until the jeep team got behind the lines. They would then move onto the improved roads – and proceed with their missions. The infiltration attempts were not without risk; nor were the commando teams ignored by the Americans. Almost every team was confronted by Americans as they traveled to their objectives. Feldwebel Heinz Rohde, alias Sergeant Momis Woodahl, a member of one of the Recon Commando teams infiltrating behind the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, eloquently described his penetration of the lines in a post war interview :

    After moving barely fifty meters the panzer which we had been closely following in our jeep came to a stand still. The leading panzers made it known that we were now in no man’s land. High time to discard our para-suits. For the driver this was a real feat of acrobatics as it was impossible for us to stop and he had to carry out his undressing act while we were on the move. Our jeep jumped around like a young deer, and while the driver kicked frantically at the accelerator pedal, the co-drive tried to steer the vehicle around the obstacles with desperate wrenches of the wheel. The first burning American truck suddenly appearing behind us. It was now that we first ran up against the strong defenses of the Yankees; none to soon, as directly in front of us a group of American infantry was trying to place an anti-tank gun in position. How relieved we were to find that apart from being splattered with mud nothing else hit us.

A sergeant tried with shouts and signals to bring us into action; which was a quite unreasonable demand, as we had strict contrary orders and certainly didn’t come under his unit. So we swept past him, only to catch sight of a military police post on the road in front of us a few minutes later. An Ami as tall as a tree was standing there. The white stripes on his helmet, with the MP legend, left no doubt as to his genuineness. With a motorcycle carelessly thrown down beside him, he pulled us on to a side road and the artillery fire falling on the main road ahead left us in no doubt that his efforts were directed towards protecting us from it. I don’t know how we managed to negotiate the bend in that situation, but somehow or other we succeeded in getting away. Another commando summed up the situation during the infiltration :

    Naturally we thought at first that every Ami could spot us as Germans from a thousand meters away; but the shelling, the poor light, and the confusion of the opposition helped us through those first tense hours … gradually our nerves started to settle down.

The five teams that successfully infiltrated the lines are credited with having accomplished a great deal within the first two days of the offensive. Teams from each of the commando groups gathered valuable intelligence, spread confusion, and disrupted command and control. Two teams were eventually compromised and captured, but in their own way, they were to add to the sense of panic and confusion behind the American lines. One Recon Commando team succeeded in reaching their objective over 100 miles behind the lines. Following the tail of a withdrawing American convoy and passing through numerous checkpoints, this team entered Huy, Belgium, on the evening of December 16. There they conducted a successful reconnaissance of the bridge over the Meuse River, which was one of the primary Greif objectives for Panzer Brigade 150, as well as the I.SS-Panzer-Corps. The team conducted both mounted and dismounted reconnaissance of its target. Discovering the bridge guarded only by a sentry detachment, they radioed their reports back to the Stielau command post now near Losheimmergraben, Belgium. This team maintained surveillance of the bridge throughout the night and into the 17 of December. Fearing compromise as American searchlights had begun to sweep the banks of the river, the team requested permission to exfiltrate. Granted permission to withdraw on the 17 of December by the Stielau headquarters, the team successfully weaved their way through the columns of withdrawing American vehicles and re-entered German lines in the 5.Panzer-Army area. Along the way back they tore up telephone cables and removed unit signposts. After briefing 5.Army personnel about their trip, the team members returned to the Commando Company and rendered a full report, which included in addition to information about the general enemy situation, convoy movements and artillery positions, and the location of a munitions depot near Huy.

While in Huy, this Recon Commando team claims to have miss-directed an American armored column moving to the front. The team leader, Fritz Bussinger, while conducting a foot reconnaissance in the town of Huy, stated that the leader of the American column asked him for directions to the town of Marche. Advising them that the Germans had captured several roads in that area, Bussinger claims to have directed the convoy on a wide detour in the wrong direction. Skorzeny states in his autobiography that German signal intercept units monitored American transmissions indicating that this unit was miss-routed out of the battle area for a period of time. Another of the Recon Commando teams is claimed by Skorzeny to have infiltrated to the vicinity of Liege, Belgium, site of another principle bridge target over the Meuse River. According to Skorzeny this team reached the Meuse and discovered that the Allies had taken no special security measures at the Meuse bridges. Additionally, it reported on the general situation around Liege. Here the team observed movement of American forces south from Liege into the battle area. Additionally they confirmed that the Americans appeared to have evacuated their airfields east of the Meuse River. Also, it is this team that, according to Skorzeny, located a large munitions depot near Liège.

It was quite likely this team that also miss-routed a regiment of the 84th Infantry Division as it moved southward to reinforce the front. Wearing Military Police insignia, Wilhelm Giel, the team leader, directed one American infantry regiment down the wrong road, thereby delaying its arrival to the battle area. American accounts reinforce this claim. On its way back to German lines, in addition to gaining information about enemy movements and defenses, this team slowed down long enough to lay mines, drop trees across roads, and emplace dummy minefield markings in order to slow the movement of American reinforcements. The Lead Commando teams were equally active. On December 16, one team is reputed to have encountered an American force of two companies defending the crossroads town of Poteaux, Belgium. Accosted by an American officer wanting to information about the situation forward, the team leader presented a story indicating that the town was already bypassed on both flanks, and isolated by the Krauts. Fearing encirclement, the American force withdrew to the west, abandoning the village. This event can not be confirmed by American sources, but accounts of American activity there indicate the presence of only the 18th Cavalry Squadron from December 18 onward.

It is certain that one team actually did miss-route an American infantry regiment moving to the front. Posing as American Military Police at the Mont Rigi road junction, along the N-27 highway from Liege, this team changed the road signs and miss-directed traffic for a period of several hours on December 17. As the 16th Infantry Regiment, of the 1st Infantry Division, was moving in convoy to bolster the front in the south, the commandos miss-directed the entire regiment to Malmédy, rather than its planned destination of Waimes. As a result, the regiment was delayed in reaching its new defensive positions for that day. When real American MPs appeared later to sort out the confusion, they detected the commandos at the road junction. The commando team beat a hasty withdrawal, and as their jeep speeded out of the area, it was reported that one of the MPs was still standing on the jeep’s front bumper, clinging to the wire cutters, from where he had been directing traffic!

One unidentified team located a gasoline dump, which was reported to I.SS-Panzer-Corps headquarters by Skorzeny for possible use by the German armor. Kampfgruppe Peiper did refuel from a captured American fuel dump at Bullingen on December 17, but there is no confirmation that this was the dump that the Commando team is claimed to have located. At least one of the Demolition Commando teams appears to have conducted several significant sabotage activities. The team is reported to have discovered an ammunition dump, and blown up a large part of it on the evening of December 16. Additionally the team cut a large telephone cable at several points. This cable is reputed to have been the link between the American First Army Headquarters at Spa, Belgium, and 12th Army Group at Namur and was out for several hours, disrupting communications between General Hodges and General Bradley during a critical time of the opening battle. This team may have directly assisted the advance of Kampfgruppe Peiper. During the evening of December 17, elements of the 5th Belgian Fusilers Battalion and the 291st Engineer Battalion observed strange American soldiers preparing to blow up the bridge over the Amblève River at Stavelot, Belgium. Although a collection of engineers from the 202d Engineer Battalion had actually prepared the bridge for demolition, they did so with numerous stragglers in their midst. A pair of soldiers spotted by the Belgians near the bridge were considered suspicious, but were never challenged. It is unconfirmed by Skorzeny if these were commandos from this team neutralizing the prepared demolitions on the bridge. However it is a fact that when Peiper’s tanks began to approach the bridge a day later, the explosives charges failed to go off when the Americans attempted to blow up the span, and the bridge was captured intact by the Germans. This action allowed Peiper’s forces to quickly seize Stavelot and continue to proceed with their advance westward.

It appears that this Demolition Commando team was the only element of the Stielau Company to sustain a combat fatality during Operation Greif. While attempting to re-enter German lines on December 18, the team ran into an American unit moving to counter attack Kampfgruppe Peiper. In the attempt to race past the Americans in their jeep, the team came under fire and an officer on the team was fatally shot. The remaining three team members continued on, and were eventually able to link-up with Peiper’s forces near Wanne, Belgium on Christmas Eve. Some other teams were not as fortunate.

The Lead Commando team supporting the 1.SS-Panzer-Division successfully infiltrated American lines on the December 17, and by noon-time penetrated forty kilometers to the village of Aywaille, Belgiurm. Stopped by an MP checkpoint in the village, the team was queried to give the password for the day. They were unable to do this and were promptly detained. At first Pfcs Lawrence, Sensenbach, and van der Werth seemed unremarkable. However, a quick examination of their jeep soon proved that these three were no ordinary GIs. Wads of counterfeit money, explosives, and a German automatic in the jeep prompted a more detailed search of the trio. Their German Army pay books, which they carried on their person, identified them as Oberfahnrich Billing, Gefreiter Schmidt, and Unteroffizer Pemass. The team was arrested and sent to the rear for interrogation. It appears that this team was primarily responsible for creating the spy scare within the American army. During interrogation, the team members revealed their mission of Recon and detailed the attempts to reach the Meuse River bridges. They confirmed that additional teams were already behind the American lines. Pressed for every bit of information they held, they soon blurted out the various wild rumors that had circulated throughout Grafenwoehr during their training. Unsure of the missions of all the elements under Greif the commandos may have believed some of the rumors to be true. The Allies believed one of them too. This team told their captors that part of Skorzenys mission was to infiltrate to Paris and capture Gen Eisenhower. The news of this plot, as well as the fact that numerous German spy teams were operating behind American lines, spread like wild fire throughout the Allied camp. It was not long before Allied security was tightened in a way that no one traveling the snowy roads of Belgium was above suspicion.

Oberfähnrich Günther Billing; Obergefreiter Wilhelm Schmidt; Unteroffizier Manfred Pernass; tried and executed on December 23 1944

The third Recon Commando team did not fare well either. Although penetrating the American lines and infiltrating close to its target; the bridge over the Meuse River between Huy and Namur, the team was halted at an American checkpoint short of the bridge. Unable to produce a valid trip ticket, the Military Police arrested the four man team. A quick search revealed they were wearing German uniforms beneath their American battle dress, and their jeep was laden with German weapons and explosives. The team leader, Lt Gunther Schultz, was to talk freely to his captors. The rumors of Grafenwoehr were again to come into play with amazing effects. The news of the capture of this team was to also spread quickly, and it rapidly fueled the spy mania that had begun to grip the American rear areas.

One Recon Commando team and one Demolition Commando team are unaccounted for in records and accounts of Greif’s opening days, and they appear to have not accomplished any part of their missions. It is probable that these are the two teams that Otto Skorzeny referred to whose courage and resolution had left them. Although dispatched through the American lines they seem to have been inactive in comparison to the exploits of the other teams. They succeeded in re-entering German lines and eventually linked-up with the rest of the Commando company. However, it appears that one of these teams had entered the town of Malmédy on the 17 of December. The team leader, an elderly naval officer, Korvettenkapitan von Behr, apparently had not intended to get into the American lines, but had become lost and passed through Malmédy by mistake. He did not observe any significant defensive preparations in the town. Von Behr’s subsequent oral report to Skorzeny on December 19, after the team re-entered German lines, was to have deadly repercussions for the fate of Panzer Brigade 150. Skorzeny, still at Schmittheim with the I.SS-Panzer-Corps HQ, never received any of these reports directly by radio, as the weather and terrain disrupted effective, long range communications. He was to learn of much of this information only after the exfiltration and link-up of the teams, such as the report of von Behr.

After December 18, no more commando teams were sent behind American lines as part of Operation Greif. As the opportunity to employ Panzer Brigade 150 began to wane with the stiffening of the American defense, Skorzeny regarded the special task of the commando company at an end. After Operation Greif was over, the 6.SS-Panzer-Army still employed several teams to conduct similar clandestine missions on a local basis from December 19 onward in support of the continued German offensive. The Stielau Company was to continue local reconnaissance operations even into January 1945, long after the demise of Wacht Am Rhein, but not under Skorzeny’s command. Skorzeny, however, did not consider these activities a part of Operation Greif. A number of small units spontaneously employed Recon teams consisting of ordinary German soldiers in recently captured uniforms and vehicles. Also, many a German soldier equipped himself with some recently liberated, and warm, American clothing to supplement his kit. Although having nothing to do with Greif, to the Allies, this must have appeared as a part of a continued German plan. The Stielau Commando Company remained at the front until it was eventually withdrawn and disbanded at the end of January 1945. Several of its captured soldiers were executed by the Americans as spies, as a result of wearing American uniforms. Lt Wilhelm Wiesenfeld; Feldwebel Manfred Bronny; Stabsgefreiter Hans Reich; tried and executed on December 26 1944. Lt Arno Krause; Lt Günther Schilz; Unteroffizier Erhard Miegel; Obermaschinenmaat Horst Görlich; Obergefreiter Norbert Pollack; Obergefreiter Rolf Benjamin Meyer; Obergefreiter Hans Wittsack; tried and executed on December 30. Gefreiter Otto Struller; Gefreiter Alfred Franz; Obergefreiter Antoni J. Morzack; tried and executed on the January 13 1945 (at Huy). Lt Günther Schulz was tried and executed on June 14 1945.

Of the 44 commandos sent through the American lines, according to Skorzeny, eight failed to return. These would appear to be the two captured teams and the one fatality. Although eighteen German soldiers were tried and executed as spies, Skorzeny was to claim after the war that the majority of them were not from the Einheit Stielau commando unit or part of Operation Greif, but rather unlucky participants in local operations. Given less than two days for their tasks, those 44 men were able to accomplish the missions assigned them with a great degree of success. Two of the three key bridge targets were reached and reconnoitered by the Recon Commandos, and valuable intelligence was obtained. Numerous acts of sabotage by the teams added to the confusion spreading through the American ranks. The psychological impact of the commando operations would have profound effects. The Stielau commandos, while not perfect, were able to accomplish the missions that Skorzeny had planned for them. The boldness of their infiltration plan, and the high degree of independent initiative shown by the commando team leaders combined to achieve this success. The commandos had blazed a path for Panzer Brigade 150 to follow. It would be up to the other half of Operation Greif to seize upon this, and prevent it from being an isolated success.

Panzer Brigade 150, the second part of Operation Greif, left Grafenwoehr on December 13 en route to the front. The brigade’s battle groups were tasked to infiltrate behind the lines disguised as American armored unis. Their mission was to seize the key bridges over the Meuse river in order to allow the armored spearheads of 6.SS-Panzer-Army to continue their attack uninterrupted. Panzer Brigade 150 moved into the area of Münstereifel, Germany on December 14 and occupied an assembly area in preparation for the forthcoming offensive. Careful to maintain their security screen, no one from the brigade was allowed to move forward to the front to conduct reconnaissance or coordinate with the conventional units. Likewise, no liaison teams were established or exchanged between the Greif forces and the conventional unit headquarters. Moving to their forward attack positions during the dark morning of December 16, the three battle groups of the brigade lined up behind the rear of the attacking divisional spearheads. The disguised vehicles of Battle Groups X, Y, and Z wedged themselves into the tight columns of the 1.SS-Panzer, 12.SS-Panzer, and the 12.VGD, and prepared to race on to their objectives. They would never get to see them.

Panzer Brigade 150 failed to accomplish its primary mission; the seizure intact of a bridge over the Meuse River. In fact, it was never even committed to make an attempt for the bridges, but was destined to bleed itself in a conventional attack role. The original mission was aborted by the second day of the offensive. One key reason for this failure was the inability of the conventional attacks to create a penetration of the American lines on the opening day of the offensive. Through no fault of Greif’s units, there was no hole in the defense to slip the brigade through. The planned conditions for the employment of the brigade were never established. However, the poor coordination between the Greif units and conventional forces, distant and befuddled command and control, and the lack of adequate personnel, equipment, and training precluded the brigade from capitalizing on any windows of opportunity that would appear. The opening day of the offensive came and went without these conditions being met. By the end of December 16, the 6.SS-Panzer-Army had failed to achieve a breakthrough with the first assaults of its infantry divisions. At the close of the day, gains of only about five kilometers had been made. The Germans were still some twenty kilometers short of the Hohen Venn, and the US 99th Infantry Division was still maintaining a viable defense. The Panzer Divisions were left waiting at their jump off positions, crammed bumper to bumper on the few decent roads in the area. The battle groups of Panzer Brigade 150 were jammed in behind them, likewise unable to move at all, but nevertheless enduring American artillery fire. It was during this period that the commander of Battle Group X, Lt Col Hardieck was killed when passing through an uncleared minefield, and replaced by Skorzeny’s Chief of Staff, SS Hauptsturmfueher von Foelkersam.

Skorzany, apparently not content with fighting the war by radio from Schmittheim, moved forward to assess the situation for himself. He described the situation
as follows :

    December 16, passed without a decisive success on the front of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army, and even by mid-day it was clear that the panzer divisions would have to be sent in to effect a decisive breakthrough. I drove to Losheim to get a clearer picture of the situation. The roads were simply crammed with vehicles of every kind and, in practice, all officers had to walk beside their cars in order to help in keeping the traffic flowing. By the time I reached Losheim I must have walked at least ten kilometers. Apparently the artillery bombardment had no great effect on the enemy positions at Losheimergraben, the Americans were defending themselves particularly stoutly and the attack was progressing but slowly. The intended collapse of the whole front had not been achieved.

Already the planned conditions for committing the brigade had passed. Dubious of success even before the operation began, Skorzeny was forced to weigh the merits of continuing with the mission. By his previously established criteria, it looked as if Operation Greif would be unlikely to succeed. Skorzeny, stubborn, proud, and not one to quit, nevertheless considered cancelling the operation on that first day. However, reluctant to give in easily, he decided to continue with the operation, and attempt to seize his objectives during the following day, if a breakthrough was achieved. Skorzeny described his decision on that first day :

    I was now faced with a critical decision, as it was already plain that the day’s objectives had not been attained. The logical inference was that I must call off Operation Greif, something which was entirely against the grain, after all our tremendous preparations. I was not in the habit of abandoning my purpose so easily! I reflected that success was still possible if the panzer divisions went in that night and decided to wait another twenty-four hours. If the Höhen Venn had then been passed, the attacking wave would probably reach the Meuse and seizing of the bridges by my men could be decisive.

If the panzer units broke through the Hohen Venn area, Skorzeny would then order his battle groups to infiltrate the American lines and move to the bridges. Skorzeny’s last thought seems to indicate one additional factor concerning the commitment of the brigade. Even if Panzer Brigade 150 was able to slip through the American lines and seize the bridges, Skorzeny was not going to do so unless assured that a link-up with the panzers was possible. It would appear that Skorzeny was not going to launch the brigade on a suicide mission, even if the opportunity presented itself. Knowing the capability of his brigade, and understanding the offensive’s overall lack of success, Skorzeny was not pushing the battle groups recklessly into action.

On December 17, the commitment of the panzer divisions gained a breakthrough. The 3.Fallschirmjäeger-Division pushed open a hole through the withdrawing 14th Cavalry Group in the southern part of the attack sector. Kampfgruppe Peiper, the lead attack regiment of 1.SS-Panzer-Division, was side slipped through this hole by I.SS-Panzer-Corps, and had, by daylight of the 17, made a penetration of the American defenses at Honsfeld. By the end of the day Peiper had penetrated almost twenty kilometers to the outskirts of Stavelot, but was still east of the Hohen Venn. Although dramatic gains were achieved, Peiper’s Kampfgruppe was alone in advancing so deeply. The rest of the I.SS-Panzer-Corps was ensnared in a thirty kilometer traffic jam. Additionally, although some units were captured without a fight; some American units were putting up fierce resistance against the rest of the Panzer Corps. The battle groups of Panzer Brigade 150 were no where near the fight. Intending to pass around or through the lead spearheads like the Stielau Commando teams, the brigade could not even reach the front. While Kampfgruppe Peiper was planning its assault on Stavelot, Battle Group X, the force designated to pass through Peiper’s unit, was some ten kilometers away, still east of Malmédy, caught among the traffic jam of vehicles all clawing their way along the same road in an attempt to keep up with Peiper. Even if they had wanted to pus through Peiper’s forces, they would face a difficult time doing so from so far behind.

The absence of any real coordination between the conventional units and the special operations forces began to show. Although a fleeting opportunity existed for Battle Group X to pass forward on as mission, Peiper could not direct the battle group to move forward as he lacked command authority over the unit. It appears that Battle Group X was clearly out of close coordination with him, and not closely following the Kampfgruppe’s constantly zig-zagging spearhead. Neither unit had established any liaison teams or cells. Peiper vented his frustration after the war during an interrogation. When asked to appraise the Greif’s Group with him he replied : They might just as well as stayed at home, because they were never near the head of the column where they had planned to be.

Skorzeny jumped his command post forward with the Corps HQ to the town of Manderfeld. Once again he too experienced the tremendous traffic jams along the roads and attempted to get traffic moving himself. It must be assumed that he was out of touch with his deputy, von Foelkersan, the nominal brigade commander with Battle Group X, as well as the rest of the Greif force during these moves. Skorzeny, far beyond the front was obviously unable to direct the brigade effectively. Often out of radio contact, frequently on the move, and distanced from the front, Skorzeny and his three-man command post could not effectively control the employment of the battle groups. Although in touch with Panzer Corps Headquarters, he had no command authority over the armored units that his battle groups were following nor did they control his battle groups. Short of attempting to pass an order to commit the battle groups, once he ascertained from Panzer Corps that the Hohen Venn had been breached, it appears that there was not much that Skorzeny could do to influence the operation. Likewise, the battle groups were not receiving any instructions from the units that they were following. It is unclear who, if anyone, was actively following the status of the brigade’s battle groups and was ready to act on any fleeting opportunities. Given an opportunity to pass ahead of Kampfgruppe Peiper and race for the bridges, Panzer Brigade 150 might just have let it slip by. The lack of integrated command and control over the special and conventional elements of the offensive was beginning to doom the operation. Skorzeny attempted to gauge his situation. He moved to Losheim to the Stielau command post, and then back to Corps headquarters that evening for a council of war. His assessment of the situation that day revealed :

    It was true that surprise had been complete, but the idea of a sweep to the Meuse in a single rush, and the enemy retiring without fighting, had to be abandoned. There was no question of the panic flight which alone would have given Operation Greif a chance. Nor could we anticipate that the Meuse could be reached in our battle sector on the next day, or even the day after. The enemy was already bringing up reserves and throwing them into the fight.

With this assessment, and a good understanding of the traffic conditions based upon his trips forward, Skorzeny decided the fate of Operation Greif. The conditions for committing the brigade had still not been met. Peiper was still east of the Hohen Venn. American units were still fighting stubbornly. His battle groups were scattered and ensnared in massive traffic jams. The element of surprise had now passed. In Skorzeny’s eyes what had always been a gamble had now become the impossible. He decided late that evening of December 17 at the council of war, to abort the operation. After ripe consideration, I reported to Army Headquarters my suggestion to renounce our original intentions, and received its approval. Operation Greif was over. But the war was not over for Panzer Brigade 150. After having made his decision to cancel Operation Greif, Skorzeny recommended to the 6.SS-Panzer commander that the brigade be consolidated and employed as a normal army unit. This recommendation was accepted, and as it was still in the area of the I.SS-Panzer-Corps, Skorzeny put the brigade under the operational control of that corps, for use as ordinary infantry. The brigade was to assemble south of the town of Malmédy. Although his forces were to move and operate within the 1.SS-Panzer-Division sector, the division held no control or authority over the brigade, although Skorzeny claims to have coordinated the brigade’s movements with the divisional HQ in Ligneuville, Belgium.

Skorzeny assumed personal command of Panzer Brigade 150, and early on December 19, ordered the three battle groups to assemble in the vicinity of Ligneuville. On that day, the I.SS-Panzer-Corps requested Skorzeny to attack and seize the town of Malmédy, on the northern flank of the penetration, in order to block expected American counter attacks. As the three battle groups of Panzer Brigade 150 were still struggling through the maze of traffic jams and poor roads, Skorzeny could not assemble them for an attack on the 19, and accordingly the operation was postponed until the morning of December 21. Although by now the troops were back in German uniforms, the vehicles of the previous Operation Rabenhugel effort still sported their American disguises. Lacking artillery support, Skorzeny opted for a surprise attack on Malmédy at dawn on December 21. The brigade’s objective was the heights north of the town where a defensive position was to be prepared to fend off the expected counterattacks. Based upon the reports from the errant Commando team of Kapitan von Behr, Skorzeny believed the town of Malmédy to be lightly defended, and only by elements of the 291st Engineers Combat Battalion. In reality, since the report of that team on December 19, the town had been heavily reinforced. Elements of the American 99th Infantry Battalion attached to the 120th Infantry Regiment (30th Infantry Division), along with units from the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, had joined the stubborn engineers and established firm defenses.

Skorzeny prepared for a two prong attack. Battle Group Y was to attack on the right flank, with Battle Group X, the main effort, on the left flank, while Battle Group Z, arriving late on the 20, was to be in reserve upon its arrival. The attack kicked off at 0300, December 21. The battle groups led their attacks with
their phony US tanks and half-tracks, and some real M-8 armored cars. Although the appearance of these vehicles may have deceived some outposts in the dark, the American front had settled and the defenders were anticipating a German attack, they could not confuse the columns of men and vehicles advancing towards them as anything but enemy for very long. The lead elements of the battle groups both struck mines along the roads they advanced on, and heavy fighting quickly ensued. Despite fierce close quarters combat, some elements of Battle Group X actually, penetrated into the town. However, the determined American resistance, backed up by thousands of artillery shells, eventually halted the attack. Skorzeny, himself wounded by the shell fire, was forced to withdraw the brigade to defensive positions on the hills south of Malmédy. For the next several days, the brigade was to continue probing attacks, but despite the unexpected assistance of the US Ninth Air Force bombing Malmédy twice by mistake, the town was never taken. The brigade maintained its defense south of the town and endured the ever increasing American air and artillery attacks, but the expected American drive south never materialized.

On December 28, Panzer Brigade 150 was relieved in place by elements of the 18.VGD. The brigade moved into a temporary rest area at Schlierbach, Belgium, east of Saint Vith, and then back to Grafenwoehr beginning on January 2. There Panzer Brigade 150 was disbanded, and the men returned to their original units by January 23 1945. The losses for the brigade throughout the offensive totalled over 450 men killed, wounded, or missing from the original force of 3000. SS-Oberststurmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny returned to his original SS commando unit and was to continue conducting special operations until the end of the war. Panzer Brigade 150 had not accomplished its mission. The boldness of the plan and the desperate improvisations to mold the brigade into an effective unit were not enough. Even the success of the Stielau commandos did not help. The lack of coordination and effective command and control between the Greif units and the conventional forces, and the inadequate preparation of men and equipment, doomed Panzer Brigade 150 to failure.


All of these commissions were appointed by Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges, Commanding General of the First United States Army pursuant to authority delegated to him by the 12th Army Group CG (Omar Bradley) on the instructions of General Dwight Eisenhower, commanding the European Theater of Operations, United States Army. The first sixteen executions were all carried out by the First Army after the sentences were confirmed by General Hodges.

It is not known why the trial of Gunther Schultz was delayed until May of 1945, and nor is it clear who ordered his death sentence to be carried out. The Schultz execution was carried out by personnel of the Ninth United States Army.

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