Operation Greif was a special false flag operation commanded by Waffen-SS commando Otto Skorzeny during the Battle of the Bulge. The operation was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler, and its purpose was to capture one or more of the bridges over the Meuse river before they could be destroyed. German soldiers, wearing captured British & US Army uniforms and using captured vehicles were to cause confusion in the rear of the Allied lines. A lack of vehicles, uniforms and equipment limited the operation and it never achieved its original aim of securing the Meuse bridges.
Skorzeny had become one of Hitler's favorites following the success of "Operation Panzerfaust" in which he had supervised the kidnapping of Miklós Horthy, Jr., the son of Hungary's Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy to force Horthy's resignation. Following his return to Germany, Skorzeny was summoned to meet Hitler at his headquarters at Rastenburg (Ketrzyn) in East Prussia on 22 October 1944. After congratulating Skorzeny and announcing that he had been promoted to Obersturmbannführer, Hitler outlined the planned Ardennes Offensive and the role he was to play in it.
Skorzeny was to form a special brigade - Panzer Brigade 150 - whose purpose would be to capture one or more of the bridges over the Meuse river before they could be destroyed. Hitler informed him that he had decided this could be accomplished more quickly and with fewer losses if Skorzeny and his men wore US uniforms. Hitler also remarked that small units in enemy uniform could cause great confusion among the enemy by giving false orders, upsetting communications, and misdirecting troops. I want you to command a group of American and British troops and get them across the Meuse and seize one of the bridges. Not, my dear Skorzeny, real Americans or British. I want you to create special units wearing American and British uniforms. They will travel in captured Allied tanks. Think of the confusion you could cause! I envisage a whole string of false orders which will upset communications and attack morale.—Hitler, The Black Angels, 1979Skorzeny was well aware that under the Hague Convention of 1907 anyone under his command who was captured in US uniform would face execution and this possibility caused much discussion with Generaloberst Jodl and Field Marshal von Rundstedt.
Panzer Brigade 150Edit
Knocked-out Panther tank disguised as an M10 Tank DestroyerThe timing of the Ardennes Offensive meant that Skorzeny had only 5 or 6 weeks to recruit and train a brand new unit for what Hitler named Operation Greif ("Gryphon"). Within four days he sent his plans for Panzer Brigade 150 to Generaloberst Alfred Jodl. Despite asking for 3,300 men he was given an immediate go-ahead and promised full support. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht issued an order on 25 October requesting suitable soldiers for the operation with "knowledge of the English language and also the American dialect" which was passed on to every headquarters on the Western Front, and this request soon became known to the Allies.
The new brigade needed US Army vehicles, weapons and uniforms; OB West was asked to find 15 tanks, 20 armoured cars, 20 self-propelled guns, 100 jeeps, 40 motorcycles, 120 trucks, and British and US Army uniforms all to be delivered to the brigade's training camp which had been set up at Grafenwöhr in eastern Bavaria. The equipment delivered fell short of the requirements, including only two Sherman tanks in poor condition, and Skorzeny had to use German substitutes, 5 tanks (Panzer V "Panther") and 6 armoured cars. The brigade was also flooded by Polish and Russian equipment sent by units who had no idea what the request was for. As far as English-speaking soldiers went, only 10 men who spoke perfect English and had some knowledge of American idiom were found, 30-40 men who spoke English well but had no knowledge of slang, 120-150 who spoke English moderately well, and 200 or so who had learned English at school.
Faced with these setbacks, Skorzeny scaled down Panzer Brigade 150 from three battalions to two and assembled the 150 best English speakers into a commando unit named Einheit Stielau. Skorzeny also recruited a company of SS-Jagdverbände "Mitte" and two companies from SS-Fallschirmjäger-Abteilung 600, and was given two Luftwaffe parachute battalions formerly of KG 200, tank crews from Panzer regiments, and gunners from artillery units. A total of 2,500 men were eventually assembled at Grafenwöhr, 800 less than had been hoped.
The final total of equipment assembled was also less than had been hoped; only enough US Army weapons had been found to equip the commando unit, and only 4 US Army scout cars, 30 jeeps, and 15 trucks were found, the difference being made up with German vehicles painted in US olive drab with Allied markings applied. Only a single Sherman tank was available, and the brigade's Panther tanks were disguised as M10 Wolverine tank destroyers by removing their cupolas and disguising their hulls and turrets with thin sheet metal. The problem of recognition by their own forces was crucial, and they were to identify themselves by various methods: displaying a small yellow triangle at the rear of their vehicles; tanks keeping their guns pointing in the nine o' clock position; troops wearing pink or blue scarves and removing their helmets; and flashes from a blue or red torch at night.
As the brigade prepared for action, rumours began to fly that they were to relieve the besieged towns of Dunkirk or Lorient, capture Antwerp, or to capture the Allied Supreme Command at SHAEF at Paris. It was not until 10 December that Skorzeny's own commanders were made aware of the brigade's true plans. Panzerbrigade 150 was to attempt to capture at least two of the bridges over the Meuse river at Amay, Huy, and Andenne before they could be destroyed, the troops to begin their operation when the Panzer advance reached the High Fens, between the Ardennes and the Eifel highlands. The three groups (Kampfgruppe X, Kampfgruppe Y, and Kampfgruppe Z) would then move towards the separate bridges.
Einheit Stielau missionEdit
The Einheit Stielau commando unit had been assembled from the brigade's best English speakers, but few of them had much if any experience of undercover operations or sabotage. There was little time to train them properly, but they were given short courses in demolition and radio skills, studied the organization of the US Army and its badges of rank and drill, and some were even sent to POW camps at Küstrin and Limburg to refresh their language skills through contact with US POWs.
Dressed in US Army uniforms (the highest US Army rank used was that of Colonel), armed with US weapons and using jeeps, the commandos were to execute three missions:
- Demolition squads of 5 or 6 men were to destroy bridges, ammunition dumps, and fuel stores.
- Reconnaissance patrols of 3 or 4 men were to reconnoiter on both sides of the Meuse river and also pass on bogus orders to any US units they met, reverse road signs, remove minefield warnings, and cordon off roads with warnings of nonexistent mines.
- "Lead" commando units would work closely with the attacking units to disrupt the US chain of command by destroying field telephone wires and radio stations, and issuing false orders.
On 14 December Panzerbrigade 150 was assembled near Münsterreifel and on the afternoon of 16 December it moved out, advancing behind the three attacking Panzer divisions, the 1st SS Panzer Division, the 12th SS Panzer Division, and the 12th Volksgrenadier Division, with the aim of moving around them when they reached the High Fens. However, when the 1st SS Panzer Division failed to reach the start point within two days Skorzeny realized that Operation Greif's initial aims were now doomed.
As a consequence, on 17 December Skorzeny attended a staff conference at the 6th Panzer Army's HQ, and suggested that his brigade be used as a normal army unit. This was agreed, and he was ordered to assemble south of Malmedy and report to the 1st SS Panzer Division's HQ in Ligneuville.
On 21 December 1944 this brigade, under Skorzeny's command tried to take Malmedy. Several assaults of the Skorzeny brigade were eventually successfully repelled by the American defenders. This would constitute the only noticeable attempt from the Germans to take Malmedy during the battle of the Bulge.
Skorzeny described the activities of the Einheit Stielau in an interview with the US Army in August 1945 following his surrender. According to him, four units of reconnaissance commandos and two units of demolition commandos were sent out during the first few days of the attack, and three units went with the 1st SS Panzer Division, 12th SS Panzer Division, and 12th Volks Grenadier Division, with another three units accompanying Panzerbrigade 150's three groups. Skorzeny reported that one commando team entered Malmedy on 16 December, and another team managed to persuade a US Army unit to withdraw from Poteau the same day. Another team switched around road signs and sent an entire American regiment in the wrong direction. American troops began asking one another questions that they felt only other Americans would know the answers to in order to flush out the German infiltrators. This had results such as an American brigadier general being held at gunpoint for several hours after he said the Chicago Cubs were in the American league and a captain spending a week in detention after he was caught wearing German boots. General Omar Bradley was repeatedly stopped in his staff car by checkpoint guards who seemed to enjoy asking him such questions. In all, forty-four men were sent through US lines, and all but 8 returned, with the last men being sent through the lines on 19 December; after this, the element of surprise had been lost and they reverted to wearing German uniform.
It was not an uncommon practice at the time to send camouflaged reconnaissance units behind enemy lines, but because of the immense psychological impact of Operation Greif, every occurrence of this was attributed to Skorzeny's men. In addition, German infantry often salvaged any items of US Army clothing they found, thus it was not out of the question that regular German troops might be killed or captured wearing items of US uniform.
So great was the confusion caused by Operation Greif that the US Army saw spies and saboteurs everywhere. Perhaps the largest panic was created when a commando team was captured near Aywaille on 17 December. Comprising Unteroffizier Manfred Pernass, Oberfähnrich Günther Billing, and Gefreiter Wilhelm Schmidt, they were captured when they failed to give the correct password. It was Schmidt who gave credence to a rumour that Skorzeny intended to capture General Eisenhower and his staff. A document outlining Operation Greif's elements of deception (though not its objectives) had earlier been captured by the US 106th Infantry Division near Heckhuscheid, and because Skorzeny was already well known for rescuing Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (Operation Oak or Unternehmen Eiche) and Operation Panzerfaust, the Americans were more than willing to believe this story and Eisenhower was reportedly unamused by having to spend Christmas 1944 isolated for security reasons. After several days of confinement, he left his office, angrily declaring he had to get out and that he didn't care if anyone tried to kill him.
Pernass, Billing, and Schmidt were given a military trial at Henri-Chapelle, sentenced to death, and executed by a firing squad on 23 December. Thirteen other men were tried and shot at either Henri-Chapelle or Huy.
Skorzeny was tried as a war criminal at the Dachau Trials in 1947 for allegedly violating the laws of war during the Battle of the Bulge, he and officers of Panzerbrigade 150 being charged with improperly using American uniforms to infiltrate American lines. All the defendants were acquitted, the military tribunal drawing a distinction between using enemy uniforms during combat and for other purposes including deception; it could not be shown that Skorzeny had actually given any orders to fight in US uniform. A surprise defence witness was F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas, GC, MC & Bar, Croix de Guerre, a former Allied SOE agent who testified that he had himself worn German uniforms behind enemy lines.
Other Operation GreifEdit
There was an earlier military operation which used this name; an anti-partisan operation conducted by the German Army Wehrmacht Heer, begun on August 14, 1944, in the vicinity of Orsha and Vitebsk, USSR.
- Gleiwitz incident of 1939
- Hitler's Commando Order of 1942, an expression of his rage against Allied Commandos
- ^ Delaforce, Patrick (2006). The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Final Gamble. Pearson Education. pp. 56. ISBN 1-4058-4062-5.
- ^ Butler, Rupert (1979). The Black Angels. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 183–184.
- ^ Mitcham, Samuel W. (2006). Panzers in Winter: Hitler's Army and the Battle of the Bulge. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 30. ISBN 0-275-97115-5.
- ^ Pallud, p. 4
- ^ Delaforce, p. 60
- ^ Cole, Hugh M. (1965). The Ardennes : Battle of the Bulge. Washington DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army. pp. 360–363. http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/7-8/7-8_cont.htm.
- ^ Pallud, p. 14
- ^ a b Pallud, p. 15
- ^ Lee, Martin A. (1999). The Beast Reawakens: Fascism's Resurgence from Hitler's Spymasters to Today's Neo-Nazi Groups and Right-Wing Extremists. Taylor & Francis. pp. 32. ISBN 0-415-92546-0.
- ^ "Trial of Otto Skorzeny and others". Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals IX: 90–94. 1949. http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/WCC/skorzeny.htm "The ten accused involved in this trial were all officers in the 150th Panzer Brigade commanded by the accused Skorzeny. They were charged with participating in the improper use of American uniforms by entering into combat disguised therewith and treacherously firing upon and killing members of the armed forces of the United States." "All accused were acquitted of all charges"
- Pallud, Jean-Paul; David Parker, Ron Volstad (1987). Ardennes, 1944: Peiper and Skorzeny. Osprey Publishing. pp. 29. ISBN 0-85045-740-8.
- Tony Paterson (02 May 2004). "Revealed: Farce of plot to kidnap Eisenhower". The Telegraph (Berlin). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/1460846/Revealed-Farce-of-plot-to-kidnap-Eisenhower.html.
- The Battle of the Bulge on the Web, Operation Greif links