In the area of counter-terrorist and counter-revolutionary warfare the experience of the German occupying forces in WW2 one of the earliest (non-colonial) instances of modern counter-terrorist warfare it is also in many ways a unique one, firstly because of the geographic area that the ‘Reich’ covered (both in the large size and the European location), secondly because of the Ideological basis of the differences in treatment of the various national and ethnic groupings. Counterinsurgency warfare is among the most difficult for a regular (i. e. occupying) force to win.
The occupying force is subject to much stress – hatred of the governed, an enemy that operates outside the rules of warfare and amid the civilian population, or operates out of remote locations and difficult terrain. Occupying forces, from any era and any nation, face the same set of challenges and difficulties attempting to suppress a guerrilla movement, and often adopt similar stratagems. Though less brutal in scale, the counterinsurgency tactics used by the USA in Vietnam (search & destroy mission, free-fire zones, forced evacuations, etc. ) had their precedents in the German campaigns against the partisans in Eastern Europe.
Counterinsurgency in this model will tend to become very bestial – and endless cycle of atrocity and reprisal. Yugoslav partisan leader Milovan Djilas recounts in his 1977 memoir “Wartime” of personally executing a prisoner of the ‘Prinz Eugen’ division in a fit of rage. Although counterinsurgency warfare can seesaw between severity (destroying a village) and mercy (winning their hearts and minds), the German units reacted with the utmost, even exponential, severity. Most of these war crime occurred in the eastern front, although several did happen in the West.
As is common with many areas of Nazi organisation the tasking of organisations to deal with the various types of partisan threat is marked by confusion. Theoretically the responsibility for “security” operations was divided up as follows: The various police units were to handle security and political operations within Germany (and later Greater Germany). The SS (already a blurred distinction since the SS had control of the police) were tasked with the ‘protection of the Reich from external enemies’ as Himmler put it “The SSVT1 is created to go into the field, to go to war.
. In practise it was envisaged that this would mean the SS security (and its associated ‘specialist’ units) units dealing with the enemies of the Reich (including of course the Jews) in territory that was already occupied and secured by the German Armed Forces.
The Wehrmacht had responsibility for its own “rear-area security” in areas that were still under military control, and also for large-scale (in eastern Europe this could involve entire Korps3). In practise however relations between these organisations broke down very quickly into a struggle for power, often in order to further the ambitions of the personalities involved. These distinctions break down relatively quickly, the differences between the SS and police units operating in occupied territory in particular become mainly cosmetic.
Prior to the outbreak of war the Police can be divided into four distinct organisations, Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo), the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) and the Ordnungspolizei (Orpo). ). However In 1939 the police were heavily reformed, during the reorganization of the German armies, the Sipo and Gestapo were joined with an intelligence branch of the military called the Sicherheitsdienst (“SD,” meaning Security Service). After this merger, the Sipo became known as the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (“RHSA,” meaning Reich Security Central Office), and was headed by Reinhard Heydrich.
The RSHA rapidly became the central office through which the Nazis’ fight against the “enemies of the regime” was organized. The RHSA consisted of seven departments, the most significant of these being Amt IV, under Heinrich Muller, which was divided into fourteen divisions, plus the border police. The divisions dealt separately with political “enemies” and sabotage, counterintelligence, treason, and the like. (Section IV B 4, under Adolf Eichmann, was responsible for evacuations and Jews. ). Amt IV was able to obtain a wide degree of autonomy.
Field Gestapo, SD, and mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen) were largely able to operate without interference. Himmler was also able to establish an alternate line of command on May 21, 1941, through the Hoherer SS- und Polizeifuhrer (Higher SS and Police Leaders), who could bypass the normal chain of command, cutting out the RSHA. Himmler assigned a HSSPF officer to every Wehrkreis, or military district of Germany, and each section of occupied Europe. Their job was to act as Himmler’s personal representative and to coordinate the efforts of the various SS, police and security organizations in the region.
The RHSA units had to adapt to a broad range of circumstances, Early RHSA/Gestapo operations in France were characterised by the need to subdue resistance activities, while maintaining an appearance of the “rule of law”. Arrests carried out by the Gestapo fell broadly into two categories; firstly individual arrests of persons suspected of anti-German activities. Secondly the collective arrests carried out by means of police raids, the victims of these mostly being either Jews and those destined for forced labour.
Those arrested individually were usually tortured, given a show trial and then deported to a Concentration Camp. Prisoners who were not deported were usually used as hostages, and executed on the orders of the military rather than the Gestapo in reprisal for resistance activities. 5 In the East (on July 27 1942) the OKW gave responsibility to Himmlers RHSA for “keeping order in Russian-occupied territory with absolute powers to take any measures he chose, and on his own responsibility. The practical implementation of this was left to Heydrich, he expanded the Einzatzgruppen (who had been created for the invasion of Czechoslovakia) after negotiation with the Wehrmacht, who agreed to provide support and assistance. He created 4 Einzatzgruppen (divided geographically).
The contained about 1,000 to 1,200 men with a careful combination of skills. Around 350 were Waffen-SS troops, 150 were drivers, mechanics and armourers, 100 members of the Gestapo, 80 members of the Police reserves, 130 ordinary police, 50 from the Kripo and 30-35 from the S. D. 6 Details of the Einsatzgruppen Anti-partisan activities are hard to distinguish from what became their primary role in the liquidation of Jewish communities in the occupied territories. For example in the notorious “Operation COTTBUS” carried out by SS General von Gottberg claimed that 9,500 ‘enemy’ were killed (4. 500 partisans and 5,000 killed “suspected of belonging to partisan bands”) seems to be a notable success, especially when you consider that this was achieved for the loss of only 59 German dead.
The Fact that only 492 small arms were captured, suggests the level of resistance encountered was minimal, and that the SS dubbed any Russian that they encountered as being a partisan, a German report put it thus ” this discrepancy shows that among these enemy dead were numerous peasants from the country. The battalion Dirlewanger especially has a reputation for destroying many human lives. Among the 5,000 people suspected of belonging to bands, there were numerous women and children. “Another Complication comes with the use of ‘dedicated’ Waffen-SS formations in anti-partisan operations. Waffen-SS units operated under the military command structure of the Heer and the OKH. However, Hitler could and often did give direct orders to Waffen-SS units via the OKW. Himmler gave direct orders to Waffen-SS units or assigned them under the command of a HSSPF. Indeed, Himmler created an incredibly complex chain of command while maintaining the right to give orders to any SS commanding officer.
It is the purpose of this complexity and confusion seems to be to give him absolute authority rather than create efficiency in the Waffen-SS command structure. The units that operated in anti partisan sweeps were often low quality “Second string” units; the armament for these units was usually captured or substandard equipment. Their training tended to be more haphazard. They were also a mix of Reichdeutsche, Volksdeutsche and other ethnic groups without a shred of resemblance to the Nazi Aryan ideal.
There were also the so-called “Savage” units. These were unreliable units, often no more than armed groups of thugs, such as the 29th SS (Russian) and 36th SS better suited to hunting partisans and executing civilians. The Tasks of the Heer (army) units responsible for security and anti-resistance varied broadly depending on the geographical location.
In the east, Army units tasked to occupy territory had a number of responsibilities including the preparation and direction of a coordinated defence against attack, the suppression of internal unrest, the conduct of relations with the Italian and other Axis military authorities in the area, the security of German supply routes through the area and the military administration of the German-occupied areas8 these concerns combined with the need to ensure the rapid and efficient extraction of natural resources, meant that scant attention was paid to the proper treatment of civilian populations.
Due to this treatment and the “attitude of the local populations” Resistance (partisan) activity quickly grew to such an extent that the SS/Police infrastructure was unable to cope alone, and the need to speed up the deportation and execution of Jews and the deportation of slave labour left the Einzatzgruppen and other RHSA units unable to cope with the expanding Partisan activity. The Heer soon took over much of the burden of large-scale anti-partisan activity.
A typical anti-guerrilla operation of the period was conducted in Croatia from 15 to 26 January 1942, with the 342d and 718th Infantry Divisions, as well as Croatian national forces, participating. The guerrillas were estimated at 4,000, concentrated about Sarajevo and Visegrad and the area to the north. Meeting strong resistance, the Germans suffered a total of 25 dead, 131 wounded, and almost 300 cases of frostbite, against 521 guerrilla dead and 1,331 captured.
Booty included 855 rifles, 22 machine guns, 4 field pieces, 600 head of livestock, and 33 draft animals. A tactical success, the operation failed to achieve its purpose when the Italian forces against which the guerrillas were to be driven did not arrive in time to prevent the escape of large numbers of the guerrillas into the Italian zone of interest in Croatia. The principle difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of these various units and institutions comes with the problem with assessing the damage done by the resistance.
While the number of troops tied up in these operations is significant, the quality of the troops (and therefore the impact their ‘absence’ on the combat effectiveness of the frontline units) is open to question. The principle barriers to the efficiency of these units is twofold, firstly the obstacles inherent in the command structure and secondly the attitude that was taken to the effectiveness of the partisans by the Germans.
If you take the example of the operations in the Balkans It becomes clear that the system of parallel commands caused a great deal of problems. While the Army, on the one side, was responsible to the Armed Forces High Command for the security of the Balkans, the SS was answerable to Himmler and his SS representatives except when engaged in field operations, SS units on occasion operated without Army control even in the field, and would cooperate in anti guerrilla operations only when it suited the individual commander and higher SS headquarters.
Understandably, there was also considerable confusion and wasted effort in the operational and particularly in the clandestine intelligence field, with Wehrmacht and SS agencies trying to accomplish similar missions for their respective commands. This situation was further complicated by the activities of the German Foreign Office, which maintained its own version of a High Commissioner and was heavily staffed with personnel to accomplish political aims not always consonant with the directives given the military commanders.
A single supreme authority representing the Reich, with clearly defined responsibilities, would have prevented much needless friction and waste of effort. The German tendency to underestimate the guerrillas also played its part in the undermining of the occupation. At first, commanders felt the suppression of the guerrillas to be a function of the police.
Later, when it became obvious the police could not restore order, the military commanders were forced to take the field. However, even after guerrilla activities had turned the Balkans into a theatre of war, only intelligence reports carried the designations of guerrilla units; commanders still referred to these forces in their headquarters diaries as “bands. For Example it was not until 1944, did the commanders in Yugoslavia acknowledge their strength and direct that reference be made to the guerrilla units as divisions, corps and other designations, rather than as “bands. ” Too, many of the demolitions and other technical operations of the guerrillas were ineffective and aroused the contempt of the Germans, but these were offset by their great number and the total amount of damage done