German Special Forces – Brandenburgers

Brandenburgers were the brainchild of Theodore Hippel, a German Commander who had served in the First World War and who had been converted to the concept of small daring units on hit and run raids.

Brandenburg Special Forces on the Greek island of Kos
Brandenburg Special Forces on the Greek island of Kos.

Like David Sterling of the SAS, the Regular German Army dismissed Hippels revolutionary ideas. However, the German military intelligence service, The Abwehr, recognised the potential in his ideas. They were, in the beginning, the very antithesis of Himmler’s elite Waffen SS Divisions, with their spotless racial and national pedigrees. The Brandenburgers recruited Volksdeutsche who spoke national languages fluently, Serbs, Poles, Russian and others. They were raised before WW2 and distinguished themselves in the initial assault on Poland. They went on to fight in most areas of Europe Russia and North Africa.

Kos

It was long recognised by the German High Command that the Balkans were an area of extreme interest to the Allies. In Yugoslavia, Tito had successfully tied down many divisions and it was acknowledged that any activity on this front could sever German supply lines to the Russian Front.

German marines in Kos
German marines in Kos.

British Forces had seized the strategic island of Kos at the commencement of Churchill’s brainchild, Operation Accolade. This had in mind the seizure of the Peloponnese Island Chain and from there conquer the Aegean and menace the Germans in Yugoslavia and northern Italy. The importance of most of these small islands is that the Italian Army, whose loyalty was questionable after their surrender on 8th September 1943, mostly garrisoned them. Additionally there were several landing grounds and airstrips, which could be utilized by the Allies for interdiction with the supply and logistics of the larger Islands like Rhodes and Crete.

After some three weeks of softening up by the Luftwaffe and several raids per day and Airborne and Amphibious insertion on to the island was conducted on the 3 October. The Brandenburger Coastal Raiding Group came ashore to the North of the town of Cos and after a short sharp fight linked up with its airborne element and cut off the town from the air head at Antimachia. There Luftwaffe elements reinforced by Kriegsmarines were forced into a long hard fight to take it, which didn’t end until after night fell.

Many men of the Durham Light Infantry and the RAF Regiment took to the mountainous interior in an attempt to escape. Some, like the remnants of 2909 Sqn evaded the Germans for over a week and some escaped using a variety of craft to Turkey.

Demise of the Brandenburg Division

The achievements of the Brandenburg Division and its soldiers were not as heavily trumpeted as the exploits of Otto Skorzny’s 502nd SS Jager Battalion However, some of the achievements of the Brandenurg Division were truly legendary including the taking of the Caucuses Oil fields at Maikop in 1942 where with complete audacity they infiltrated and duped and entire Russian Division to retreat and for the oil field to be captured by the Germans without a shot being fired. Unfortunately, because of the involvement of the Abwehr in the July 1944 plot against Hitler, involving its Head Admiral Canaris, the unit was stripped of its SF tasking and was re-equipped as a standard Panzer Grenadier Division. It was, however, still considered and elite unit as its pairing with the SS Gross Deutschland Division showed. Some of its operators transferred to Skorzny’s unit but most fought valiantly on both the Eastern and Western front until the end of the war.