Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The Anti-Terror Campaign that Succeeded
The Anti-Terror Campaign That Succeeded
By: Steven Plaut Wednesday, June 27, 2007
After their military defeat by regular forces, the occupied population
produced terrorists who engaged in bombings, sniping, poisonings, and
other attacks on occupation forces and on the civilian population. They
operated as irregulars in small terror units, armed with automatic weapons
Women and minors as young as eight participated in the terror attacks.
They attempted to build weapons of mass destruction, using chemical
poisons. They assassinated officials of the occupation regime. They had a
special obsession with torturing and murdering "collaborators." They
murdered hundreds of civilians, while thousands of the terrorists
themselves were killed by the occupation armed forces. The occupiers
responded to terror with brutality and force, sometimes using collective
The above does not refer to or describe the anti-American and anti-British
terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor does it describe Palestinian terrorism
against Israel launched from the West Bank and Gaza.
What it does refer to is the campaign of terrorism directed against Allied
forces in Europe in the aftermath of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The
terrorists were members of a number of underground "resistance"
organizations attempting to punish the Allied "occupiers" and drive them
out. The most important of the terror groups was known as Werwolf (German
Until recently, relatively little was known about groups like Werwolf. But
several books, particular those authored by Perry Biddiscombe, a professor
of history at the University of British Columbia, have shed light on the
activities of the groups and on the anti-terror strategies that ultimately
Most of what follows is based on the research of Biddiscombe. There are
valuable lessons to be learned from the campaign against the Werwolf, both
for the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Iraq and for Israel in its battles
against Arab terrorism.
For many years now the conventional wisdom has been that terrorism cannot
be defeated militarily, that it can only be stopped when its underlying
grievances are redressed and appeased. Moreover, the entire strategy of
dealing with terrorism militarily has long been under assault by the
Western chattering classes as ineffective and unjust.
Anti-terror tactics used by the contemporary Allies in Iraq and
Afghanistan or by Israel against its enemies have been denounced by the
media and by countless public figures, especially in Western Europe. But
the claim that terrorism and guerilla warfare cannot be defeated
militarily is false, as illustrated by the campaign against the Werwolf.
Origins and Tactics
Nazi preparations for a campaign of terrorism against the invading Allies
were underway by 1943. At first the intention was for irregular fighters
to serve as a diversionary force operating behind enemy lines. The name
"Werwolf" (also spelled "Wehrwolf") was chosen from a book by Hermann Lons
(Der Wehrwolf) glamorizing a 17th century German guerilla fighter.
The Werwolf developed into a large full-fledged terrorist organization,
operating under the command of the SS. It operated in "groups" consisting
of 4 to 6 fighters, with 6 to 10 groups forming a "sector" and 6 to 8
sectors forming a "section." At its height, the Werwolf organization
probably had about 6,000 fighters, though it could call on the support and
cooperation of other units such as the Volksturm, a militia of the elderly
and very young set up by Hitler near the end of the war. Himmler took
personal control of operations starting in 1944.
The technology of those terrorists was of course far more primitive than
that used by modern Middle East terrorists, but some of the similarities
in technique are striking. Beheadings were a common Werwolf tactic.
Decades before the pilfering of the museums of Baghdad, the Werwolf were
under orders to sabotage and destroy art galleries, museums and other
cultural institutions. While Germany never produced a campaign of suicide
bombers, Werwolf terrorists were equipped with cyanide tablets and
expected to commit suicide rather than be taken captive.
In the campaign against the Werwolf, an estimated 3,000-5,500 terrorists
were killed. Werwolf terrorism continued well after formal hostilities
ended and Germany had surrendered. In the German area of Italy, South
Tyrol, where a German separatist movement was active, sabotage, bombings
and Werwolf guerilla violence continued into the 1960's.
As part of the campaign of terrorism, German Red Cross ambulances
routinely carried arms and munitions, long before the Palestinians
perfected that technique. Buildings thought to be designated for use as
Allied barracks were mined, especially in Lorraine (where the attacks were
directed against the U.S. Third Army). Werwolf terrorists collected caches
of poison gases and chemical weapons, most of which were discovered by
Allied forces before they could be used.
The Werwolf used death squads and assassination hit teams, often against
German civilians whom the terrorists suspected of collaboration or
defeatism. Civil authorities in German towns under Allied occupation were
favorite targets. Priests, public officials, and even German villagers
flying white surrender flags were attacked.
Werwolf terrorists were each typically equipped with 15-20 pounds of
explosives and small arms, often including bazookas. Generally they
operated stealthily without uniform, in civilian clothes. They set up
caches of armaments in farms, caves, forests, and abandoned mines.
Interestingly, there was a female contingent of terrorists, a unit of
which, equipped with bazookas, played an important role in the last weeks
of fighting around Berlin.
Children were also frequently used in terror attacks. The Hitlerjugend, or
Hitler Youth, was one of the main sources of recruits for the Werwolf.
Entire units of Werwolf consisted of minors. Teenage Werwolf terrorists
were involved in bombing the Red Army barracks near Hindenberg. Child
snipers shot and threw grenades at advancing American forces. Himmler
himself invented an incentive system for Hitler Youth serving in the
Werwolf: 100 cigarettes for ten sniper kills; 20 days' leave for twenty
kills; a watch and Iron Cross for fifty kills.
A unit of 14-year-olds attacked U.S. forces near Nuremberg. "Operation
Nursery," a campaign against Werwolf terrorism by minors, was mounted by
U.S. and British troops and continued well into 1946.
The terrorists used a variety of techniques. In addition to sniping and
bombings, decapitation wires were popular - thin piano wire stretched
across a road just at the height of the necks of drivers of Allied
vehicles or motorcycles. Allied forces sometimes retaliated against such
attacks by beheading captured terrorists. In Schleswig-Holstein, the
British lopped off the heads of a dozen terrorists.
Mass poisoning was another favorite terrorist method. It was used with
horrific success especially, but not exclusively, against Red Army troops.
Between February and July 1945, 180 American troops were murdered with
poisoned liquor. The Werwolf would spike liquor and food with odorless
poison and wait for the troops to indulge. A special entity called the
KTI, or Criminal Technical Institute, would prepare the poisons.
While the armed conflict raged, Werwolf terrorists were active in
capturing, torturing and murdering enemy troops. But as the war drew to a
close, the Werwolf began to specialize in terrorizing German civilians
suspected of collaborating with or failing to resist the Allies' advance.
Werwolf terrorism was strongest on the Eastern front, as Soviet forces
threatened East Prussia, Silesia, and other areas regarded by Germans as
part of their heartland. The Werwolf even ran its own radio station.
How were those terrorists eventually defeated? With brutal military force
and counter-terrorism combined with a long-term program of denazification
of German civilians.
The Soviets were by far the least squeamish of the Allies when it came to
suppressing Werwolf terrorism. According to a Vatican report, "Russian
reprisals were terrible. Using flame-throwers the Russians destroyed
entire blocks of houses causing the deaths of hundreds of the
Soviet troops dealt with the threat through mass executions, mass arrests,
marauding, and arson directed against German civilians. Hostages were
grabbed from areas where any Werwolf sabotage took place and often were
summarily executed. Any Germans - even hunters - possessing any weapons
were shot on the spot as terrorists. Any German witnessing terror attacks
who did not come forward to testify about them was shot. Those hiding
terrorists or weapons were shot and their homes burned to the ground.
As of October 1946, the Soviets were holding 3,336 Werwolf terrorists in
prison within the Soviet zone. The Soviets also crowded 240,000 suspected
Werwolf sympathizers into a prison camp (where fully a third simply
perished). In Jarmin in Pomerania, when German terrorists killed two
Soviet troops, the entire town was demolished. In Schivelbein, after a
Soviet general was killed by a sniper, the Soviets murdered every man in
Soviet looting and marauding in occupied German areas continued
unrestrained into 1947. While such behavior may strike us as barbarous
retaliation, Biddiscombe describes it thus: "None the less, given what the
Werwolf was doing, or trying to do, the responses of the occupiers do not
lay beyond the realm of comprehension." The Soviets were still concerned
about threats of Werwolf sabotage and terror in Eastern Europe during the
The French were second to the Soviets in the viciousness and ferocity of
their suppression of Werwolf terrorism. French soldiers pillaged German
areas as they fell under their control. Random beatings of Germans by the
French were common. The French forcibly expelled all German civilians from
numerous towns and villages in their area of control. General Le Clerc
issued an edict on November 25, 1944 to shoot five Germans for every act
of sniping near Strasbourg.
Following some Werwolf activity around Constance, French forces grabbed
400 hostages and executed two. Any building in the French zone with
Werwolf graffiti on it was immediately demolished. Owners had at most an
hour to remove such graffiti once it appeared in order to avoid such a
fate. Collective fines were imposed on German civilians for sabotage
activities in their area. Wholesale travel and curfew restrictions were
imposed on the entire German population.
While American troops generally avoided the excesses of the Soviets and
French, they were sharply criticized by the British for using excessive
brutality and force in suppressing the Werwolf. General Eisenhower ordered
the execution of all Werwolf fighters captured in civilian garb.
It was understood among U.S. troops that they had a green light for
applying frontier justice to terrorists, with no lawyers or trials. The
counterinsurgency manual issued by the Supreme Headquarters Allied
Expedition Force (SHAEF) recommended that troops simply ignore Geneva
Convention rules when dealing with the Werwolf.
SHAEF instructions allowed using captive Germans in forced labor; seizure
of German civilians as hostages; collective punishment; shooting of
hostages; and massive bombings of civilian areas containing terrorists.
Threats to shoot all curfew violators were commonly made. At Lutzkampen,
Allied troops threatened to burn down the village if there were any
violations of curfew.
When U.S. troops were attacked at Aschaffenburg in Lower Franconia, the
entire town was annihilated by Seventh Army artillery. In the fall of
1945, well after the surrender, U.S. forces still regarded Werwolf bands
as "one of the biggest potential threats to security in both the American
and Allied Zones of Occupation."
Around Stuttgart, members of Werwolf bazooka teams were shot on sight by
American troops. Massive artillery bombardment of civilian areas with
snipers was used whenever it was thought such action could prevent Allied
troop casualties. In Krefeld, one of the first towns taken by the
Americans, 120,000 civilians were rounded up and held in detention camps.
Other Allied forces were vicious in suppressing the Werwolf. The
Czechoslovaks routinely tortured and abused captured terrorists. The most
dramatic Czechoslovak actions took place in the Sudetenland. After some
Czechs were murdered by the Werwolf, local authorities threatened to shoot
all German refugees there who had arrived from Silesia.
In July 1945 a large explosion took place in Aussig an der Elbe, killing
50 people. Blaming local ethnic Germans, the authorities killed German
civilians in reprisal. The remaining German population was expelled from
the town. Slovaks and Poles often treated Germans little better.
Canadian forces were also brutal in suppressing terrorism. Canadian
General Chris Vokes carried out large-scale destruction of German property
in retaliation for guerilla activities. Towns from which sniper fire was
directed against Canadian troops were reduced to rubble. Orders were given
to demolish buildings housing snipers rather than risk the lives of
troops. German homes were bulldozed. No "solidarity" protesters picketed
the corporate headquarters of the companies manufacturing the bulldozers.
As is the case with the terrorism directed against U.S. troops in Iraq and
against Jews in Israel, Werwolf terror was never in and of itself an
existential threat, nor did it represent a serious military strategy
capable of defeating regular armies. Rather, it was designed to demoralize
- to defeat the enemy by generating growing casualties over long periods
and trigger defeatism among the enemy's home population.
While no one in his or her right mind would advocate some of the more
excessive means used to suppress the German terrorists of the late 1940's,
that era nevertheless teaches us that a determined no-nonsense campaign of
wiping out terrorism with armed force is capable of succeeding, even
against the most brutal of opponents. Determined denazification of fanatic
violent populations was also shown to work.
Such success is not easy, nor does it come cheaply.