The symbol of the organization Werwolf, the Wolfsangel
Werwolf was a World War II German plan for a clandestine resistance force which would carry out guerrilla attacks against occupying forces in the event that the German government came to an end. It is an extreme example of a stay-behind or partisan organisation.
The word “Werwolf” itself is the German cognate of werewolf, in the sense of lycanthropy; it is also a pun on Wehrwolf, the German word Wehr meaning defence (the armed forces of Germany, for example, were collectively called the Wehrmacht (“defence force”). “Werwolf” was the favoured name of the movement, although “Wehrwolf” was also sometimes used.
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 National-Socialist (he died in 1914) Löns’ work was popular with the German far right, and the National-Socialists celebrated his work. Indeed, Celle’s local newspaper began serialising Der Wehrwolf in January 1945.
It may also be of relevance to the naming of the organisation that in 1942 OKW and OKH’s field headquarters at Vinnitsa in the Ukraine were christened “Werwolf” by Adolf Hitler.
In late summer/early autumn 1944, Heinrich Himmler initiated Unternehmen Werwolf (Operation Werwolf), ordering SS Obergruppenführer Hans-Adolf Prützmann to begin organising an elite troop of volunteer forces to operate secretly behind enemy lines. As originally conceived, these Werwolf units were intended to be legitimate uniformed military formations trained to engage in clandestine operations behind enemy lines in the same manner as Allied Special Forces such as Commandos. Prützmann was named Generalinspekteur für Spezialabwehr (General Inspector of Special Defence) and assigned the task of setting up the force’s headquarters in Berlin and organising and instructing the force. Prutzmann had studied the guerrilla tactics used by Russian partisans while stationed in the occupied territories of the Ukraine and the idea was to teach these tactics to the members of Operation Werwolf.
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 Hülchrath 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 (Hitlerjugend). 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.reference required
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, Dr. 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 National-Socialists or small groups of SS.
Poster of the organization “werwolf”; “Who does not participate is against us”
Antony Beevor and Earl F. Ziemke have argued that Werwolf never amounted to a serious threat, in fact they are regarded by them as barely having existed. This view is supported by the RAND Corporation, which surveyed the history of US occupations with an eye to advising on Iraq. According to a study by former Ambassador James Dobbins and a team of RAND researchers, the total number of post-conflict American combat casualties in Germany was zero.
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.”
Allied reaction and reprisals
According to Biddiscombe’s research, in April 1945 General Eisenhower ordered that all partisans were to be shot. As a consequence, some war crimes (summary executions without trial and the like) followed. Contrary to the Hague rules of War (1907) the SHAEF “counter insurgency manual” included provisions for forced labour and hostage taking.
- At Seedorf UK forces randomly selected and burned 2 cottages on April 21.
- At the town of Sogel the Canadian first Army evacuated the civilians from the city center whereupon it was systematically demolished.
- In 1945, it is believed that Canadian forces set civilian houses and a church on fire in reprisal for the death of the unit’s commanding officer in battle. Maj.-Gen. Christopher Vokes, commanding the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division ordered the town to be destroyed. “We used the rubble to make traversable roads for our tanks,” Vokes wrote later.
- Unless the citizens of the city of Stuppach within 3 hours produced the German officer that the U.S. forces believed was hiding there they were informed that: all male inhabitants would be shot, women and children expelled to the surrounding wilderness and the city razed.
- U.S. combat troops destroyed the town of Bruchsal, in retaliation for SS activities.
- At the city of Constance in the French occupation zone in mid-May 400 hostages were taken, two persons who resisted French orders had been shot, part of the city evacuated and threats were made to burn the evacuated part down.reference required
- French forces expelled more than 25,000 civilians from their homes. Some of them were then forced to clear minefields in Alsace.
- Killing of hostages by the French took place amongst others in Markdorf and Reutlingen.reference required
- The city of Lichtental was pillaged and the female population raped by the French.[24
- Jarmin was demolished by Soviet troops. 
At the town of Schivelbein all men were shot and all women and girls raped by Soviet troops. 
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, were 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.
- Watt, Roderick H. (October 1992). “Wehrwolf or Werwolf? Literature, Legend, or Lexical Error into National socialist Propaganda?”. The Modern Language Review 87 (4): pp. 879-895.
- Neumann, Klaus (2000). Shifting Memories: The National socialist Past in the New Germany. University of Michigan Press, p. 50. ISBN 047208710X.
- Warlimont, Walter (1964). Inside Hitler’s Headquarters, 1939–45. F.A. Praeger, p. 246.
- Klemperer, Victor; Roderick H. Watt (1997). An Annotated Edition of Victor Klemperer’s LTI, Notizbuch eines Philologen. E. Mellen Press, p. 305. ISBN 077348681X.
- Cite error: Invalid
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- Dearn, Alan; Elizabeth Sharp (2006). The Hitler Youth 1933–45. Osprey Publishing, p. 16. ISBN 184176874X.
- Beevor, Antony (2002). The Fall of Berlin 1945. Viking, 490. ISBN 978-0670030415.
- Dobbins, James; McGinn, John G.; Crane, Keith; Jones, Seth G.; Lal, Rollie; Rathmell, Andrew; Swanger, Rachel M.; Timilsina, Anga (PDF), America’s Role in Nation-Building From Germany to Iraq, RAND Corporation, retrieved 2007-08-03
- Mann, Golo (1984). The History of Germany Since 1789. Vintage/Ebury, 560. ISBN 978-0701113469.
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 275)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 151)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 80)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 197)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 152)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 115)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 51)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 254)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 256)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 257)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 258)
- Canadian Legion – The End Of Darkness
- 22.0 22.1 (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 259)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 261)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 263). In the footnote further referred to Hillel, “L’Occupation Francaise en Allemagne“, p.85
- 25.0 25.1 (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 270)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 263)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 265)
- (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 276)