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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.