elite troop


[wair-woolf, weer-, wur-]

Werwolf (German for "werewolf", the spelling "Wehrwolf" is incorrect) was a World War II Nazi plan for a clandestine resistance force which would carry out guerrilla attacks against occupying forces in the event that the Nazi regime came to an end. It is an extreme example of a stay-behind or partisan organisation.

Werwolf had a mythological reputation which was deliberately fostered by Nazi propaganda and its perceived influence went far beyond its actual operations, especially after the end of the Nazi regime; it is an unfounded allegation that Werwolf endured as a terrorist force for many years after the end of the war. Despite its historical and mythological significance, Werwolf was not the only post-war guerrilla insurgency in Europe – see the section "Similar Organisations" below.


The word "Werwolf" itself is the German cognate of werewolf, in the sense of lycanthropy; it is also a pun on Wehrwolf, the German word Wehr meaning defence (the armed forces of Nazi Germany, for example, were collectively called the Wehrmacht ("defence force"). "Werwolf" was the favoured name of the movement, although "Wehrwolf" was also sometimes used.

In the end, the name was chosen after the title of Hermann Löns' novel, Der Wehrwolf (1910). Set in the Celle region, Lower Saxony, during the Thirty Years' War (1616-48), the novel concerns a peasant, Harm Wulf, who after his family is killed by marauding soldiers, organises his neighbours into a militia who pursue the soldiers mercilessly and execute any they capture, referring to themselves as Wehrwölfe. Löns said that the title was a dual reference to the fact that the peasants put up a fight (sich wehren) and to the protagonist's surname of Wulf, but it also had obvious connotations with the word Werwölfe in that Wulf's men came to enjoy killing. While not himself a Nazi (he died in 1914) Löns' work was popular with the German far right, and the Nazis celebrated his work. Indeed, Celle's local newspaper began serialising Der Wehrwolf in January 1945.

It may also be of relevance to the naming of the organisation that in 1942 OKW and OKH's field headquarters at Vinnitsa in the Ukraine were christened "Werwolf" by Adolf Hitler.


In late summer/early autumn 1944, Heinrich Himmler initiated Unternehmen Werwolf (Operation Werwolf), ordering SS Obergruppenführer Hans-Adolf Prützmann to begin organising an elite troop of volunteer forces to operate secretly behind enemy lines. As originally conceived, these Werwolf units were intended to be legitimate uniformed military formations trained to engage in clandestine operations behind enemy lines in the same manner as Allied Special Forces such as Commandos. Prützmann was named Generalinspekteur für Spezialabwehr (General Inspector of Special Defence) and assigned the task of setting up the force's headquarters in Berlin and organising and instructing the force. Prutzmann had studied the guerrilla tactics used by Russian partisans while stationed in the occupied territories of the Ukraine and the idea was to teach these tactics to the members of Operation Werwolf.

Gauleiters were to suggest suitable recruits, who would then be trained at secret locations in the Rhineland and Berlin. The chief training centre in the West was at Hulchrath Castle near Erkelenz, which by early 1945 was training around 200 recruits mostly drawn from the Hitler Youth.

The tactics available to the organisation included sniping attacks, arson, sabotage, and assassination. Training was to include such topics as the production of home-made explosives, manufacturing detonators from common articles such as pencils and "a can of soup", and every member was to be trained in how to jump into a guard tower and strangle the sentry in one swift movement, using only a metre of string. Werwolf agents were supposed to have at their disposal a vast assortment of weapons, from fire-proof coats to silenced Walther pistols but in reality this was merely on paper; the Werwolf never actually had the necessary equipment, organisation, morale or coordination.

Werwolf originally had about five thousand members recruited from the "SS" (Schutzstaffel) and the Hitler Youth (Hitler-Jugend). These recruits were specially trained in guerrilla tactics. Operation Werwolf went so far as to establish front companies to ensure continued funding after Germany was occupied (all of the "front companies" were discovered and shut down within eight months). However, as it became increasingly clear that the Alpine Redoubt was yet another grandiose delusion, Werwolf was converted into a terrorist organisation and in the last few weeks of the war, Operation Werwolf was largely dismantled by Heinrich Himmler and Wilhelm Keitel.

Disorganised attempts were made to bury explosives, ammunition and weapons in different locations around the country (mainly in the pre-1939 German–Polish border region) to be used by the Werwolf in their terrorist acts after the defeat of Germany, but not only were the amounts of material to be "buried" prohibitively low, by that point the movement itself was so disorganised that few actual members or leaders knew where the materials were, how to use them, or what to do with them. A large portion of these "depots" were found by the Russians and virtually none of the materials were actually used by the Werwolf.

On March 23, 1945, Joseph Goebbels gave a speech, known as the "Werwolf speech", in which he urged every German to fight to the death. The partial dismantling of the organised Werwolf, combined with the effects of the "Werwolf" speech, caused considerable confusion about which subsequent attacks were actually carried out by Werwolf members, as opposed to solo acts by fanatical Nazis or small groups of SS.


Antony Beevor and Earl F. Ziemke have argued that Werwolf never amounted to a serious threat, in fact they are regarded by them as barely having existed. This view is supported by the RAND Corporation, which surveyed the history of US occupations with an eye to advising on Iraq. According to a study by former Ambassador James Dobbins and a team of RAND researchers, the total number of post-conflict American combat casualties in Germany was zero.

German historian Golo Mann, in his The History of Germany Since 1789 (1984) also states that "The [Germans'] readiness to work with the victors, to carry out their orders, to accept their advice and their help was genuine; of the resistance which the Allies had expected in the way of 'werewolf' units and nocturnal guerrilla activities, there was no sign."

In his Werwolf!: The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944–1946 (1998), historian Alexander Perry Biddiscombe asserts that after retreating to the Black Forest and the Harz mountains, the Werwolf continued resisting the occupation until at least 1947, possibly to 1949–50. However, he characterises German post-surrender resistance as "minor", and calls the post-war Werwolfs "desperadoes and "fanatics living in forest huts". He further cites U.S. Army intelligence reports that characterised partisans as "nomad bands and judged them as less serious threats than attacks by foreign slave labourers and considered their sabotage and subversive activities to be insignificant. He also notes that: "the Americans and British concluded, even in the summer of 1945, that, as a nationwide network, the original Werwolf was irrevocably destroyed, and that it no longer posed a threat to the occupation.

Biddiscombe also says that Werwolf violence failed to mobilise a spirit of national resistance, that the group was poorly led, armed, and organised, and that it was doomed to failure given the war-weariness of the populace and the hesitancy of young Germans to sacrifice themselves on the funeral pyre of the former Nazi regime. He also states that although the group failed to assume a popular character, its influence was still significant and would have implications for the future.

One often overlooked aspect of Werwolf is that the Hitler Youth component was also responsible for developing a new political youth movement which was intended to outlast the war, and which was called "neo-Nazism". Some current German neo-Nazi groups refer to themselves as "Werwolf" or "Wehrwolf", some of which use the Wolfsangel symbol (German for "wolf's hook") whose horizontal variant is known as "werewolf".

Alleged Werwolf actions

A number of instances of post-war violence have been attributed to werwolf activity, but none have been proven.

  • It has been claimed that the destruction of the United States Military Government police headquarters in Bremen on June 5 1945 by two explosions which resulted in 44 deaths was a Werwolf-related attack. There is, however, no proof that it was due to Werwolf actions rather than to unexploded bombs or delayed-action ordnance.
  • Dr. Franz Oppenhoff, the newly appointed mayor of Aachen, was murdered outside his home in March 1945, allegedly by Werwolfs, but was in fact assassinated by an SS unit flown in at the order of Heinrich Himmler.
  • Major John Poston, Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery's liaison officer was ambushed and killed a few days before Germany's surrender by unidentified assailants; in reality Poston died in an ambush by regular troops.
  • Colonel-General Nikolai Berzarin, Soviet commandant of Berlin is often claimed to have been assassinated by Werwolfs, but actually died in a motorcycle accident on June 16 1945.
  • The Werwolf propaganda station "Radio Werwolf" (which actually broadcast from Nauen near Berlin during April 1945), also claimed responsibility for the assassination of Major General Maurice Rose, commander of the US 3rd Armored Division on 30 March 1945, who was in reality killed in action by regular troops on 31 March.
  • On 31 July 1945 an ammunition dump in Ústí nad Labem (Aussig an der Elbe), a largely ethnic German city in northern Bohemia ("Sudetenland"), exploded, killing 26 or 27 people and injuring dozens. The explosion resulted in the "Ústí massacre" of ethnic Germans and was blamed on the Werwolf organization. However, research following the 1989 Velvet Revolution concluded that the explosion and massacre had in fact been perpetrated by Communists within the Czechoslovak secret services, specifically Bedrich Pokorný, leader of the Ministry of Interior's Defensive Intelligence (Obranné zpravodajství) department, as a pretext for the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia.

Allied reaction and reprisals

According to Biddiscombe's research, in April 1945 General Eisenhower ordered that all partisans were to be shot. As a consequence, some war crimes (summary executions without trial and the like) followed. Contrary to the Hague rules of War (1907) the SHAEF "counter insurgency manual" included provisions for forced labour and hostage taking.

  • At Seedorf UK forces randomly selected and burned 2 cottages on April 21.
  • At the town of Sogel the Canadian first Army evacuated the civilians from the city center whereupon it was systematically demolished.
  • In 1945, it is believed that Canadian forces set civilian houses and a church on fire in reprisal for the death of the unit's commanding officer in battle. Maj.-Gen. Christopher Vokes, commanding the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division ordered the town to be destroyed. "We used the rubble to make traversable roads for our tanks," Vokes wrote later.
  • Unless the citizens of the city of Stuppach within 3 hours produced the German officer that the U.S. forces believed was hiding there they were informed that: all male inhabitants would be shot, women and children expelled to the surrounding wilderness and the city razed.
  • U.S. combat troops destroyed the town of Bruchsal, in retaliation for SS activities.
  • At the city of Constance in the French occupation zone in mid-May 400 hostages were taken, two persons who resisted French orders had been shot, part of the city evacuated and threats were made to burn the evacuated part down.
  • French forces expelled more than 25,000 civilians from their homes. Some of them were then forced to clear minefields in Alsace.
  • Killing of hostages by the French took place amongst others in Markdorf and Reutlingen.
  • The city of Lichtental was pillaged and the female population raped by the French.
  • Jarmin was demolished by Soviet troops.
  • At the town of Schivelbein all men were shot and all women and girls raped by Soviet troops.

Due to harsh repression such as that, the German resistance movement was successfully suppressed. However, collective punishment for acts of resistance, such as fines and curfews, was still being imposed as late as 1948.

Biddiscombe estimates the total death toll as a direct result of Werewolf actions and the resulting reprisals as 3,000–5,000.

Werwolf references in recent politics

The history of Werwolf has been compared to Islamic insurgents by the Bush Administration and other American war supporters to justify the American-led occupation of Iraq.

In speeches given on August 25 2003 to the Veterans of Foreign Wars by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld parallels were drawn between the problems faced by allied occupation forces in Iraq to those encountered by occupation forces in post-World War II Germany.

Former National Security Council staffer Daniel Benjamin published a riposte in Slate magazine on August 29, 2003, entitled "Condi’s Phony History: Sorry, Dr. Rice, postwar Germany was nothing like Iraq in which he took Rice and Rumsfeld to task for mentioning the Werwolf, saying that the reality of postwar Germany bore no resemblance to present day Iraq, and referencing Anthony Beevor's The Fall of Berlin 1945 and the US Army's official history, The U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany 1944-1946, where the Werwolf were only mentioned twice in passing. This did not prevent his political opponents from disagreeing with him, using Biddiscombe's book as a source.

Similar organisations

From 1946 onward Intelligence officials noted resistance activities by an organisation which had appropriated the name of the anti-Nazi resistance group, the Edelweiss Piraten (Edelweiss Pirates). The group was reported to be mainly comprised of former members and officers of Hitler Youth units, ex-soldiers and drifters, and was described by an intelligence report as "a sentimental, adventurous, and romantically anti-social [movement]". It was regarded as a more serious menace to order than the Werwolf by US officials.

A raid in March 1946 captured 80 former German officers who were members, and who possessed a list of 400 persons to be liquidated, including Wilhelm Hoegner, the prime minister of Bavaria. Further members of the group were seized with caches of ammunition and even anti-tank rockets. In late 1946 reports of activities gradually died away.

Werwolf in fiction

  • In the manga Hellsing, a secret British organisation fights against a Nazi battalion based in Brazil. It moved there during the last months of the war and some of its officers are referred as being Werwölfe. They fight to overthrow Britain using a battalion of artificially created vampires.
  • In the Lars von Trier film, Europa (released in North America as Zentropa), Werwolf terrorist plots play a prominent role in the story.
  • Samuel Fuller directed the 1959 film Verboten! about the love between a GI (James Best) and a German woman (Susan Cummings) whose brother is active in the Werewolves.
  • In the French comic book "Anton Six" (José Louis Bocquet/Arno) the U.S Secret Service sent an agent to meet Werwolf soldiers in Ukraine which possessed information about Stalin and the Red Army.
  • In the 2007 movie, Grindhouse, Rob Zombie directed a short fictional movie preview, titled "Werewolf Women of the SS".
  • Operation Werwolf is referred to in passing in the both the book and movie The ODESSA File.
  • In the James Bond novel Moonraker, the villain Hugo Drax is described as having been part of a Werwolf operation behind Allied lines during World War II.
  • The 2008 alternate history novel The Man with the Iron Heart is premised on the idea of a successful Werwolf insurgency led by Reinhard Heydrich.

See also



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