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1.2.2023 : 23:58 : +0100

PERRY BIDDISCOMBE: The Last Nazis. SS Werewolf Guerilla Resistance in Europe 1944-1947


The whole propaganda machinery of Goebbels, the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, was not able to prepare the Germans for the defeat in 1945.  They just heard about wonder weapons (Vergeltungswaffen), the alpine redoubt (Alpenfestung), the people`s army (Volkssturm) and the Werwolf.  The Werwolf should be a militia which operates behind the lines in territory occupied by the enemy.  One of the functions was to cut supply lines and generally cause confusion in the form of partisan actions .  The term Werwolf is the equivalent of the English 'werewolf' meaning 'man-wolf' or 'lycanthrope'.  There is, however, another term, Wehrwolf, which is pronounced about the same as Werwolf, but which means 'defense wolf'. 

Wehrwolf actually has a long association with irregular warfare in Germany.  A famous novel by that title, written by Hermann Löns and published in 1910, was a romantic treatment of peasant guerrillas in northern Germany during the 17th century.  Thus the spelling Werwolf was favoured when the Germans began planning for guerilla warfare in the last half of 1944.   Perry Biddiscombe is an expert on the Werewolf bands and his previous book is the standard history about this theme .  In the first chapters he shows that there was no movement as a whole but several pieces and parts which he delineates accurat.  The core of the Werwolf was originally the SS and the central director for Werewolf efforts was SS-Oberstgruppenführer Hans Adolf Prützmann.  He was cold-blooded, mainly interested in women and horses but he assembled a skilful and hard working staff around him.  More dynamic, and only nominally under SS command, was the Werewolf program operated by the Hitler Jugend (HJ, Hitler Youth).  Fanatic adolescents with a lack of organization but a license to kill.  They were infected with the inflamatory rhetoric of the propagandists like Joseph Goebbels and special Werewolf Radio stations.  Their general appeal sounds like: “Hatred is our prayer and revenge is our war cry.”   These voices of evil didn`t stop until the Werewolf transmitters were overrun by the Allies.  What was the concrete trouble with the Werwolf ?  Biddiscombe, who teaches at the University of Victoria, amasses an impressive body of examples for Werwolf strikes and raids in all german countries.  They sniped.  They threw ropes over power and telephone wires or injected acid into underground communication cables.  They poured sand (as surrogate of sugar that was in short supply) into the gas tanks of jeeps and were especially feared for the `decapitation wires´ they strung across roads.  They poisoned food stocks and liquor (using methanol) with which the Russians had the biggest problems .  This are all cold sabotage methods which can be summed up as “malicious interference with enemy equipment or communications, but without the aid of special material or weapons.”   The equipment for warm sabotage were mines, grenades and other explosives like Nipolit or explosive coal.  All this could be found in hidden Wehrmacht supply caches.  The targets were manifold, eg. Allied trucks and convoys, railway facilities, ships, oil and petroleum pipelines, fuel dumps and so on.  In his chapter `Man is wolf to his fellow man´ , reminding us of Hobbes` homo homini lupus, Biddiscombe deals with the killing of those fellow-countrymen who dared to show any inclination to accept defeat and “collaborated” with the Allies .  The most notorious instance of the latter behaviour was the Vehme assassination in late March 1945 of the American-appointed mayor of Aachen, the first large city in western Germany to be liberated. 

Especially after Germanys defeat there were several security threats facing the Allies.  In addition to the Werewolf movement were the liberated slave labourers who damaged german as well as allied properties.  The problem with assessing the extent of Werwolf activity is that not only official Werewolf personnel committed partisan acts. Much of the regular German fighting forces (like Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS and security services) disarticulated into isolated units that sometimes kept fighting.  In the west, the final `strategy´ of the high command was to stop even trying to halt the Allied armored penetrations of Germany, but to hit these units from behind and cut off their supplies.  In the east, even after the high command surrendered, the units that had been bypassed by the Red Army tried to fight their way west, so they could surrender to the Anglo-Americans.  There is little knowledge about Werewolves in this area because just a view survived.  Red Army soldiers had a intense hatred of the Germans and their common anti-partisan tactic was a shot in the nape of the neck .  After germanys surrender the western Allies tried also a hard occupation regime with curfews, takings of hostages and prohibition of assemblies.  The directive of June 1947 ordered the US Occupation Forces the first time to respect German civil rights.  In a report to the British they cited the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland as a proof: “(…) of the way in which machine-gun methods can convert the gesture of a lunatic fringe into a popular movement.”   Biddiscombe concludes four factors for the final collaps of the Werwolf in the late 40s.  An economic recovery in western Germany, the end of denazification and the re-entry of former Nazis into leading positions, thus an increasing tolerance of the occupying powers for right wing political parties and the “unrepairable breach between the Western Allies and the Soviets.”   The Cold-War was underway.

The Werwolf movement caused perhaps over 1000 direct victims, hundreds of Werewolves died in battle or were shot and a huge amount of equipment as well as properties was destroyed by Wolves.  This affected everyday life of thousands of Germans.  You can say that “(…) their influence at (…) the so-called `Zero Hour´ [Stunde Null], had a tremendous impact.”   The whole book is a brilliant analysis of the German Guerilla movement.  Over long stretches you can read it almost like an adventure story.  It is based on a large scale of examples but unfortunately after a while it seems to be just a repeating of the cases.  Nevertheless a book that might be able to explain the behaviour and thougts of a fanaticized german minority in the last days of the second world war.


PERRY BIDDISCOMBE; The Last Nazis. SS Werewolf Guerilla Resistance in Europe 1944-1947, Gloucestershire, Tempus Publishing Ltd. 2000, 192 pages.