Abwehr II Department – Brandenburgers

Date Founded: October, 25, 1939
Date Disbanded: September, 11, 1944
Mission When Founded: Military special operations as detailed below.
Mission During the War: Same
Jurisdiction: Global
Headquarters: Berlin (staff). Generalfeldzeugmeister-Kaserne, Brandenburg/Havel (main barracks). Later several smaller barracks scattered over Germany and Austria, including Rathenow/Havel (airborne), Admont/Steiermark in Austria (mountain) and Swinemünde on the Baltic Sea (coastal raiders), later at Langenargen (Lake Constance). Subunits were headquartered at various times at Baden-Unterwaltersdorf (near Vienna), Freiburg im Breisgau (Black Forest), Allenstein (East Prussia), Ploesti (Romania) and Gatron (Libya)
# of Personnel: 320 in October 1939, full division with several independent smaller units attached in late 1944
Annual Budget: N/A

Hauptmann Dr. Theodor von Hippel

History/Profile: The term Brandenburger (the men from Brandenburg), while slightly sloppy, is used here to describe a German Army special forces unit that changed its size, composition and name continually during its short history. The unit had its origins in several small and secret formations which played a part in the first stages of the war, notably the invasions in Czechoslovakia and Poland. They consisted mainly of people born and raised as minorities in these countries, and operated behind the lines in advance of the main forces.

The driving force behind the creation of what was to become the Brandenburg units was Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr (the military intelligence agency operated by the Wehrmacht). Abwehr Abteilung II/Ausland, the department responsible for foreign intelligence and sabotage, created the Baulehr-Kompanie zur besonderen Verwendung 800 (construction/training company for special applications no. 800) shortly after the start of the war, incorporating men from the earlier units as well as other suitable volunteers. Since the original barracks were located near Brandenburg, a small town to the west of Berlin, the unit would soon earn the nickname “Brandenburg”, and the men “Brandenburger”. The unit was to become a tactical tool of the Abwehr. Actual command lay in the hands of the Wehrmacht, though, which sometimes led to problems, as many newly transferred officers had no real clue what the unit was doing.

At least in the early years, all men were competent in at least one foreign language, and thoroughly trained in special military operations. Specialized training was provided at the Kampf- und Abwehrschule Quenzsee near Brandenburg, a training facility operated by the Abwehr and also used for the instruction of spies and saboteurs. The curriculum concentrated on foreign languages, demolitions, communications, covert insertion including parachuting, and small-unit tactics. Furthermore, riding, driving and piloting skills were offered. Weapons familiarization included working Allied equipment such as T-34 and M-4 Sherman tanks. A few men were pilots, and one mission in North Africa used a captured Spitfire fighter as recon aircraft. Some received special instruction at the laboratories of the Abwehr in Berlin-Tegel, where secret equipment such as long-term detonators, forged papers, concealments, etc. was prepared.

Typical operations included long range reconnaissance, the destruction or seizure and protection of communication centers, bridges and supply facilities such as oil refineries, the formation of bridgeheads through insertion by overland vehicles, parachute, attack boats or U-boats, and similar missions only achievable by a small force operating in secrecy. The men often operated in disguise, which could mean anything from quickly donning foreign great coats and steel helmets to a complete disguise, down to beards, circumcised willies and forged papers.

Siegfried Grabert (11 January 1916 – 25 July 1942) was a highly decorated Major der Reserve in the Wehrmacht during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Siegfried Grabert was killed on 25 July 1942 during a commando operation to destroy a dam between Rostov and Bataisk. He was posthumously promoted to Major der Reserve and on 6 November 1943 was awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross.

Brandenburger were used in many operations, in many areas. They operated in Denmark (during the invasion), Norway (“Unternehmen Widar”, during the invasion), Finland, Spain (“Unternehmen Felix”, planned seizure of Gibraltar), France, Belgium, the Netherlands, England (notably prior to the abortive “Unternehmen Seelöwe”, the planned invasion), Italy, Greece (especially the airborne landing on Crete), Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and the rest of the Balkans, Russia, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, Afghanistan, India and South Africa.

Unit set-up varied widely according to the mission, from 2-men teams over companies (about 300 men, the most usual deployment size) to complete battalions. A squad had twelve men. Methods of insertion also varied, some of the more bizarre missions including: the flight of the Afghanische Kompanie (about 20 men) via civilian aircraft in neutral markings from Austria to Afghanistan (two tonnes of equipment, including a disassembled 20×138mmB Rheinmetall FLAK30 AA gun, had earlier been smuggled into the country in 30 diplomatic pouches!) in 1940. Another interesting one was the covert insertion of a five-man team via U-boat to South Africa in 1943.

While Admiral Canaris and other leaders of the Abwehr are believed to have created the Brandenburger as a means of getting at an efficient private army, this idea soon failed – most members of this unit, while not necessarily fanatical loyal to Hitler and his Nazi ideology, were extremely patriotic and nationalistic. Many had lived abroad when the war started, and reached Germany on dangerous and adventurous ways, breaching the British blockade, only to serve their country. These men were not loyal to the head of the Abwehr, but to their immediate commanders and their country only. In 1943, when being enlarged to division-size, its mission was changed to provide an always available force under direct command of the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH – Army High Command).

After the failed assassination of Hitler in 1944, operations of the Abwehr were delegated to the SD. In September 1944, it was decided that the unit’s special operations capability was no longer required. The Division “Brandenburg” was transformed into a conventional motorized infantry division, while 1,800 soldiers joined the ranks of Otto Skorzeny’s Jagdverbände, combat units with similar missions that were earlier carried out by the Brandenburger. When the war ended, some of those with good English-language skills were hired by the British Commandos and later given British passes. Most of these emigrated to African countries after their service with the British. Many others joined the French Légion Étrangere.

Baulehr-Kompanie zbV 800 “Deutsche Kompanie”
Founded on October, 25, 1939. Knowledge of a foreign language was mandatory. Most members were Germans who had lived in Eastern and South-eastern Europe, such as Silesia, the Sudetenland etc, and were fluent in the languages spoken there.

Baulehr-Battallion zbV 800 “Brandenburg”
On December 15, 1939, the company was enlarged to battalion-size. It consisted of four companies. A motorcycle platoon, a paratrooper platoon and several other specialized units such as the Afghanische Kompanie (undersized) were later attached.

1st Co. Baltenkompanie with ethnic Germans from Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Ukraine and Russia, all spoke Russian.
2nd Co. mainly men who had lived overseas, many being fluent in English, French, Portuguese and/or African languages.
3rd Co. Composed of Sudetendeutsche, who spoke Czech.
4th Co. Composed of Oberschlesier, who spoke Polish.

Lehr-Regiment zbV 800 “Brandenburg”
On October 12, 1940, the battalion was enlarged to regiment-size. The regiment consisted of three battalions plus some attached units.

I. Four companies (1.-4.)
1st Co. was the Baltenkompanie. Battallion Nachtigal (“nightingale”), a “legionary” unit consisting of Ukrainian volunteers, was attached. That unit’s “political leader” was Hauptmann Prof. Oberländer, Minister for Refugees in post-war West Germany. The unit was disbanded in summer 1941 as unreliable.

II. Four companies (5.-8.).
5th, 7th and 8th Co. were Gebirgsjäger. 5th Co. had three platoons, one each with men from Palestine, SW-Africa and Tyrol. 6th Co. was a Aufklärungskompanie (recon unit), and stationed undercover in Romania.

III. Five companies (9.-12., 15.).
12th Co. was the Englische Kompanie, whose members received special training for “Unternehmen Seelöwe”. In spring 1941, the Tropen-Kompanie was formed under Leutnant Fritz von Koenen from parts of the 11th Co. Most members had good knowledge of North Africa, its people and languages. The 15th (Light) Co. was made up of 127 of the best skiers of the German Army (including one gold medalist of the 1936 Olympic Games) and received further specialized training for operations in the Finnish-Russian border area against Murmansk. They also had 60 sled-dogs and 6 tracker/silent take-down dogs.

In 1941, the 13. (Sonder) und 17. (Sonder)-Kompanie were attached to regiment headquarters.

In summer 1942, the Küstenjäger-Kompanie was formed, a marine raider units composed mostly of people from the Caucasus. It was directly attached to regiment headquarters.

Arabische Brigade.
A volunteer force, fighting from 1940 onwards in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, later with Kurdish allies in the Caucasus. It had only few German officers and was attached to the Deutsche Militär-Mission, Orient.

Deutsch-Arabische Legion.
Mixed German-Arabian membership, operated mainly in Tunisia.

Lehr-Division zbV 800 “Brandenburg”
Between late 1942 and January 1943, the regiment was transformed into a division, eventually including various specialized subunits such as U-boat crews, artillery, tank, antitank, combat engineer and air defense subunits. It was declared operational on April 4, 1943.

Tropen-Abteilung “von Koenen”
Five companies, based on the former Afrika-Kompanie and led by Fritz von Koenen. 5th Co. was a coastal raider unit (1.-5.).

Küstenjäger-Abteilung “Brandenburg”
Coastal raiders, trained by and many men originally from the Kriegsmarine (1.-4.).

Fallschirmjäger-Abteilung “Brandenburg”
Four companies of paratroopers (1.-4.).

Gebirgsjäger-Abteilung “Brandenburg”
Four companies of mountain troops (1.-4.).

1. Regiment “Brandenburg”
Consisted of three battalions.
I. Three companies (1.-3.) and one legionary company (4.)
II. Three companies (5.-7.)
III. Four companies (9.-12.)

2. Regiment “Brandenburg”
2nd regiment consisted of three battalions.
I. Three companies (1.-3.) and one legionary company (4.)
II. Three companies (5.-7.) and one legionary company (8.)
III. Three companies (9.-11.)

3. Regiment “Brandenburg”
3rd regiment consisted of three battalions.
I. Three companies (1.-3.) and one legionary company (4.)
II. Four companies (5.-8.) and the Italienische Kompanie
III. Four companies (9.-12.)

4. Regiment “Brandenburg”
4th regiment consisted of three battalions and several attached volunteer units.
I. Four companies (1.-4.)
II. Three companies (6.-8.) and one legionary company (9.)
III. Three companies (11.-13.)
Montenegrinische Legion (from May 1943) and Muselmanische Legion, both made up from Albanians, Bosnians, Macedonians and Montenigrinians of Islamic faith.
Indische Legion “Asad Hind” (Free India), a regiment-sized volunteer force made up from Indian students and prisoners of war. Trained in Germany, partly transported to India, rest served in air defense units.

14. Kompanie
15. (Leichte) Kompanie (Fallschirmjäger)
16. (Leichte) Kompanie (Fallschirmjäger)

5. Lehrregiment “Brandenburg”
5th regiment consisted of two battalions and one legionary battalion

I. Lehrbattallion
Four companies (1.-4.)
II. Gebirgsjägerbattallion
Four companies (5.-8.)
III. Legionärsbattallion “Alexander”
Two companies (1.-2.). 1. Kompanie (Weiss) was made up from volunteers from Belorussia and the Ukraine, 2. Kompanie (Schwarz) was composed of men from the Caucasus.

Panzer-Grenadier-Division “Brandenburg”
From September, 13, 1944, the unit was no longer used for special operations.

Weapons: The Brandenburger used whatever was available or seemed appropriate. In the early years, they had to do with various weapons which were not standard issue with the Wehrmacht, such as the Schmeisser MP28/II submachine gun and the Steyr MP16(ö) machine pistol. As the unit grew in size, and the operations changed to large scale motorized and later mechanized infantry assaults, the armament increasingly changed to standard Wehrmacht issue. At the same time, dedicated SpecOps weaponry such as sound-suppressed guns became available. Foreign equipment was often used. For example, during operations in the Finnish-Russian border area, Finnish Suomi Model 1931 and Soviet PPSh-41 submachine guns were issued. In 1943, organic squad weapons included: Walther P38 pistol, MP40 submachine gun, Sten MkIIS sound-suppressed submachine gun, MP43 assault rifle (sometimes with sound-suppressor), Mauser Kar98k rifle, MG42 general-purpose machine gun, rifle grenades, egg and stick hand grenades. The heavy weapons platoon provided more machine guns, 81mm Rheinmetall GrW34 mortars, 105mm LG42 recoilless rifles and 20mm FlAK38 anti-aircraft guns.

Equipment: On covert operations, all men were issued a poison pill to avoid capture.

Selected Reading:
Kurowski, Franz (2000): Deutsche Kommandotrupps 1939-1945. “Brandenburger” und Abwehr im weltweiten Einsatz. Motorbuch-Verlag, Stuttgart.
Skorzeny, Otto (1973): Deutsche Kommandos im 2. Weltkrieg. Band 1: Lebegefährlich. Helmut Cramer-Verlag, Königswinter.
Skorzeny, Otto (1973): Deutsche Kommandos im 2. Weltkrieg. Band 2: Wirkämpften, wir verloren. Helmut Cramer-Verlag, Königswinter.
Spaeter, Helmuth (1982): Die Brandenburger – eine deutsche Kommandotruppe zbV 800. 2. überarbeitete Auflage. Walter Angerer, München.

 By Hans-Christian Vortisch.

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