Oberst der Fallschirmjagertruppen Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte, was in December 1944, the commander of the German Parachute School in Aalten, Holland. Summoned to the headquarters of General 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 Stoesser. Freiherr 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. Oberst von der Heydte was to form and command this force. He 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 Operation Stoesser orders to von der Heydte :
‘On the first day of the attack, December 16 1944, elements of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army will take possession of Liege (Belgium) or the bridges across the Meuse south of the city. Then, at dawn, Kampfgruppe von der Heydte will drop into the Baraque Michel (Belgium) area, eleven kilometers north of Malmedy, and secure the multiple road junctions at Belle Croix (Jalhay) and Mont Rigi (Bevercé) for use by the armored point of the 6.SS-Panzer, probably elements of 12.SS-Panzer-Division. If for some technical reasons this mission is impracticable on the morning of the first day, Kampfgruppe von der Heydte will drop early on the following morning into the zone along the Meuse River in the vicinity of Amay (Belgium) to secure the bridges there for the advance of 6.SS-Panzer’s armored spearhead. 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 drunk. He 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 at the Mont Rigi (Sourbrodt – Malmedy – Eupen) or at Belle Croix (Sourbrodt – Eupen – Verviers) 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 Hohe 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. Oberts 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’.. Oberst von der Heydte attempted then to gain more information from the 6.SS-Panzer-Army 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’.
Oberst von der Heydte’s requested then for a personal air reconnaissance of the drop zone and target area. This was rejected for fear of compromising the entire offensive. At the drop time, several days later, little would still be known of the enemy situation. The specified tasks given to the Fallschirmjaeger 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-Division; and be prepared to jump along the Meuse River in the vicinity of Amay 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 Oberst von der Heydte was working under was the incredibly short amount of time available for the planning and the preparation of the operation, less than five days. 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.
Ironically, the SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Rybka’s 500.SS-Fallschirmjäger-Battalion that conducted the last Airborne jump in May 1944 (Operation Rösselsprung on May 25 1944, the daring but unsuccessful parachute and glider-borne assault on Josip Broz Tito’s headquarters in Drvar – Yugoslavia), would not be able to conduct Operation Stoesser as it was operating on the Eastern Front and had suffered heavy casualties.
The solution would be to form an kind of Fallschirmjaeger Kampfgruppe or Task Force with elements from various remaining parachute regiments still operational in the Luftwaffe. Although this battle group concept was a 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 Belle Croix), and establish defensive positions in order to block enemy counter attacks into the northern flank of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army. The intent of this operation was to block any allied advances against the flank of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army, thereby allowing them to continue their advance across the Meuse unhindered.
The restrictive nature of the terrain in the entire area would make this possible at certain key points on the battlefield, like the road junction at Mont Rigi (Bévercé – #5 on the map). This is what was desired by Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model, and eventually understood by Oberst von der Heydte. However, the original guidance from the 6.SS-Panzer-Army’s Chief of Staff, SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Kraemer, to the Fallschirmjäger Kampfgruppe’s commander, indicated securing the road junction for use by the armored spearhead of the 12.SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend, 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 – Verviers 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-Army. Link-up with the elements of the north flank division of 6.SS-Panzer-Army, the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, would occur by the end of December 16.
The Fallschirmjäger Group was expected to hold its 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 81-MM mortars, AT weapons (Panzerfaust) and MG-42 machine guns. 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.
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 Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe 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 and (c), Knowledge of the English language and also the American dialect and slang. 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 (Berlin) (Otto Skorzeny’s Headquarters) 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 OB West, Gen Siegfried Westphal, on November 2 1944 and requested assistance in gathering the required equipment for the operation. Thus was born Rabenhugel.
Battle of the Bulge, January 15 1945. Engineers from the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion (attached 30th Infantry Division) inspect a captured German Stug III from Skorzeny’s 150.Panzer-Brigade. They are inspecting it for booby traps.
Rabenhugel was the code name for the requisition and collection of the American equipment and uniforms for Operation Greif. Rabenhugel was conducted on the Western front during the month of November 1944. As part of the operation, the OB West Oberquartiermeister, Oberst i.G. Friedrich-Wilhelm 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. German 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 :
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 the 150.Panzer-Brigade 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-Jagdverband, 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 in 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.
(Translated Reprint – Souce RolandP – Forum der Wehrmacht)
Gert Mennigke reported on his ‘commitment to unity’ Einheit Musculus as follows :
As our unit in the fall of 1944, a Panzer-Späh-Company, belonged to General Ernst Günther Baade’s 90.Panzer-Grenadier-Division, we had left Italy for Germany and we were located at the Truppenübungsplatz Wildflecken (Armored Training Camp south of Fulda). We had, of course, no idea what was ahead of us. In Wildflecken an SS-Untersturmfuehrer took the unit over because our former Company leader allegedly did not muster the right spirit for the future missions. One day, orders arrived that our vehicles and equipment would be delivered immediately. We departed then to Grafenwoehr where we arrived there on November 11. On arrival, we noticed that almost every soldiers present, Waffen-SS, Wehrmacht and Fallschirmjäger, were all wearing a Ritter Kreuz (Knight Cross).
Some days later, highly decorated peoples, including Corvette Captain Philip v. Behr and SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer Otto Skorzeny started speeches in the Mess. They hinted at the difficult situation of the Reich and asked for 40 volunteers for an operation which was about the salvation of the motherland. It didn’t take a long time to assemble the group of 40 sorted men, myself included. Good English language skills being the main request we learned that we would be undergoing special training as American soldiers in the coming weeks.
During the first days, we were ordered to say and repeat daily : ‘Do not wear a wedding ring’, ‘Never speak German’, ‘Lightly wounded keeps fighting’, ‘Heavily wounded ZEV’ (ZEV = self-annihilation), etc. In addition to the American uniform we got some US lighters which contained a Poison (Hydrocyanic Acid) capsule instead of the reserve tank. Since our American/English language skills were not so perfect a speaker who owned a Cannery Company in the United States was added to the group. He would take over every conversation with the Americans during the mission.
There was a lack of material in every corners and ends. Light Armored Cars, Tanks, Jeeps and even basic infantry combat gears were missing. Since we only had a Greyhound M-8 that we had captured in Arnhem and main battle tanks were insufficient, the workshops worked day and night to rebuild German vehicles fro their future American combat vehicles look. They all got a new US Olive Green coat and several white stars as well as division designations etc. Our Mark V Panthers received a gun extensions made of metal sheet while large sheets metallic panels were added to look similar to the Sherman.
Secret was the major word during our preparation. One of my comrade from Kiel (Germany) had been found guilty of treason. He had written a letter to his wife about the probable assignment and had plugged the letter to be picked up by the postal service in a nearby village. Unfortunately he was arrested, trailed and the sentence that felt in no time was ‘death by shooting’. When they came to pick him up for the execution, it wasn’ no longer possible; he had hanged himself at the window latch of his cell.
After a couple weeks, we entrucked again. I took over a SPW with Tatra diesel, 220 hp. Armament was 75-MM cannon short and MG 42. The trip went via Würzburg, Frankfurt, Lorsbach to Wahn (Cologne). It was strictly forbidden to move further than 5 meters from the wagon. As a camouflage we carried the Jump Jacket of the paratroopers (Knochensack) and we called ourselves 1.Battalion 13.Fallschirmjäger Regiment. A ‘real’ Fallschirmjäger Officer Adjutant to Major Schluckebier, was also there while the new rumor was that we would be sent to capture Eisenhower.
Altogether we were about 2000 men and we were then divided into 3 Combat Groups : Kampfgruppe X, Kampfgruppe Y and Kampfgruppe Z. We, we had two SPW, were attached to Oberlleutnant Wolf, Kampfgruppe Y. Wolf was really a great guy. We learned from him, after unloading in Münstereifel, the nature of our real mission. He said that some 200 kms behind the front (Liège) we should take over a bridge crossing the Meuse River, save it from being blown up and keep it until the arrival of the SS-Panzer Speahead. It was now clear to us that the mission was an Himmelfahrtskommando (Suicide Mossion) but we had decided to take this over and their was no way to get us out of the project. I finally got the last American artifacts to accomplish the mission, pay-book, dog tags etc. I was now a real American soldier and my name was Pfc Voyle D. Buclow from Bloomington, Idiana.
As leaked, Skorzeny did not agree with the preparation of the company. The time was too short to ensure the training of the individual Groups. In addition, the opposing radio stations already sent in November messages, according to which on a southwest German Training Camp an English-speaking Kampfgruppe be set up. The adversaries certainly did not lose sight of us and the betrayal in the Wehrmacht command staff was – as became known after the war – extremely large. The actual core of the special unit was no more than 150 men, to which we also belonged. Other Groups were trained for explosive attacks in the enemy’s rears. Field Gears were filled with Donarit explosive, shoe soles and coats with explosive. Should we be really sent out we will have pipelines to blown up during, street signs to readjust and so on. (Some groups – i.e. Corvette Captain Philip v. Behr, managed to break through the front and bring from Bastogne and Malmedy valuable Recon results. But most of the troops were in constant waiting).
The total force ultimately available to Skorzeny for his 150.Panzer-Brigade was as follows : the Brigade Hqs consisting of the Brigade Staff and a signal company, (based upon 108.Panzer-Brigade elements); 3 small combat staffs, one per battle group, (drawn from 10 and 13.Panzer-Brigades); 2 Army Signal Companies; 2 Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger Battalions; 1 company of the Jagdverbande Mitte; 2 companies from 600.SS-Fallschirmjäger-Battalion; 2 tank companies, (crewed by elements from the 11.Panzer-Regiment and the 655.Jagdpanzer-Battalion; 2 Panzer-Germandier-Companies; 2 Heavy Mortars Companies; 2 AT Companies; 1 Pioneer Company; 3 Ordnance Vehicle Repair Companies and 1 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 the entire 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 the 150.Panzer-Brigade remained, but rather than being full reinforced battalions, they eventually were tasked organized as folows :
CO – SS-Obersturmbannführer Skorzeny
Adjutant – 1/Lt Gallend
Signal – Hauptmann Streckfuss
X – 2/Lt Blau
(more infos requested)
CO Oberstleutnant Hermann Wulf
Signal Section ?
Engineer Section ?
Armored Section ?
Recon Sections ? (2)(December 14 1944)
Signal Section ? (December 14 1944)
Engineer Company ? (December 14 1944)
Heavy Mortar Section ?
Fallschirmjäger Battalion, Major Max Schluckebier
4.Co. SS Obersturmführer Fritz Leifheit
Medical Section ?
(more infos requested)
CO Hauptmann Walter Scherf
Headquarters Section (2/Lt Hans Senftleben, Adjutant; , Ordnance; Engineer; 1/Lt Otto Brenner, Paymaster)
Engineer Section : 1/Lt Wetterling
Signal Section : 1/Lt Reble
Ordnance : 2/Lt Hans-Jürgen Haß
Armored Company : 1/Lt Albert Ernst
20-MM AAA Co 1/Lt Stein
Heavy Mortar Section 2/Lt Täubricht
Recon Section (2) ? (December 14 1944)
Fallschimjäger Battalion 1/Lt Rudolf (?) Bading
4.Co. SS-Oberstrumführer Manns
Medical Section ?
SS-Obersturmbannführer Willi Hardiek, KIA 17/12, then SS-Hauptsturmführer von Fölkersam
Engineer Section ?
Signal Section ?
Armored Section : 1/Lt Dreier?
Recon Sections ? (2) (December 14 1944)
20-MM AAA Section : ?
Heavy Mortar Section : ?
Fallschirmjäger Battalion : Oberleutnant Kreyenbrink
4.Co 1/Lt Grabowski
1 Fallschirmjager Battalion ?
A general military government court tried the following German officers and enlisted men (150.Panzer-Brigade) : Col Otto Skorzeny (SS); Corvett Capt Philipp von Behr (Navy)(Born in Latvia); Walter Scherf (Army); Hans Hass (Army); Wilhelm Maus (Army); Lt Dennis Muentz (Navy); Guenthier Fitze (Navy); Ralph Bellstedt (Navy); Wilhelm Kocherscheidt (Army); Arend de Bruin (Germanische SS Div.)(Dutch National).
The forces of the 150.Panzer-Brigade, 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 AT 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.
Kampfgruppe X, the most capable, would work with the 1.SS-Panzer-Division LSSAH (I.SS-Panzer-Corps main effort). Kampfgruppe Y would operate with the 12.SS-Panzer-Division HJ and Kampfgruppe 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 Einheit Stielau, named after their commander, SS-Obersturmführer Horst 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 Recon 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 and 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 did not figure in assignment of American rank, but language skills did. Thus, from being Obergefreiter Rolf Meyer the lance-corporal found himself promoted to 2/Lt Charlie Holtzman; Leutnant Gunther Schlitz ended up as Cpl 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 the 150.Panzer-Brigade 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 1, 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.
You have probably see the quality of the work in this archive. The quality of the layout and the images as well. This is only possible because some of you takes the time to put some coins in the Juke-Work. Remember that the whole thing is a one-man work. Not even some kind of US 501-C etc …! I am doing alone, a remake of Rio Bravo, just when Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan and John Wayne are singing “Just my Rifle, Pony and Me”. In fact I could sing “Just my Keyboard, my Brain and your Donations”. That’s what keep this site alive and online. One last very important point! For God’s sake, if you have anything relevant to this archive, and I repeat – anything – do not leave that treasure in the dust of an old cardboard box in the shadow of an attic. If it’s a few photos, papers, badges or whatever, send them to me. If it comes to more important things contact me.
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European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu Gillot
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Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be
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