PDA

View Full Version : SS Penal Paratrooper Battalions



2RHPZ
06-28-2004, 09:04 AM
I am aware of flames which may start with posting such articles and appeal to all to stay on history educative level of this.


Although SS-Fj.Btl.-500 is commonly referred to as a penal unit, there is a pejorative nuance to the term in english (ie. punishment) which the Germans disdained to use outright for this type of unit. SS-Fj.Btl.500 was a 500 series Bewährungs or probationary unit in which an enlisted soldier, NCO, or Officer who had dishonored himself by minor infractions of the military code could be given the chance to, in the words of a 2.4.1942 Hitler- decree: "..an der Front bewähren, und eine Amnestie verdienen Könnten." (ie. "...prove oneself by service at the Front, and thereby earn an amnesty."). In other words, it was a unit where officers and men convicted by courts-martial of minor infractions and currently in disciplinary straits could redeem their soldierly honour by participation in hazardous duties and operations.

The 500 series numbering system was also shared by the Heer, but should not to be confused with the post-1940 500 series designated divisional units, which were also to be found resurrected in the July-August 1944 Heer 28th, 29th and 31st mobilization waves of Grenadier and Volksgrenadier formations. Some battalion sized unit numbers of the 5xx series had also been former Bewärungs units (z.b.V.- zur besondern Verwendung - for special employment) of the Heer (also, Waffen-SS and Polizei) employed on the Eastern Front and integrated into new Grenadier formations in the course of, in this case, the July-August 1944 reorganization of the Feldheer.

In the case of the Waffen-SS men being recruited for the SS-Fj.Btl.500, it would have probably been at one of the harsh SS-Strafanstalten, such as that of the notoriously brutal SS-military prison at Danzig-Matzkau, or the punishment- section for SS personnel at Dachau. Prisons for Wehrmacht personnel directed by the OKW also existed at the Alte-Festung Gemmersheim, and after 1940 at Ingolstadt, and at Fort Alvensleben in Metz, among other places. The Luftwaffe also had a disciplinary section at Prüfungslager (testing center) Leipzig- Schünau, and later at Dedelsdorf in Kreis Gifhorn. The Kriegsmarine established a special section for their disciplinary cases at Hela on the Baltic. The Kriegsmarine also had specific battalion sized units for its disciplnary cases, the first being the Sonderabteilung der Kriegsmarine (Naval Disciplinary Unit) which after WWII began was renamed the Kriegsonderabteilung (Wartime Naval Disciplinary Unit). Another such unit was formed later in WWII named Kriegsonderabteilung Ost. Also during the War the 30.Schiffstammabteilung and 31.Schiffstammabteilung (30th and 31st Ship Cadre Battaions) were formed, the 30. for use in the North Sea area, and the 31. in the Baltic Sea area. Interestingly enough, if "further education" was not likely, problem men were transfered into a naval company of the Heer Field Disciplinary Battlion.

Besides the 500 series units for probation, the Heer also exclusively employed both 300 series .z.b.V. units, and 999 series designations for Bew&aml;hrungstruppen; though the latter units were considered soldaten Zweite- Klasse (second-class soldiers), composed of more hardened disciplinary cases that the 500 series would normally not consider for rehabilitation. These prisoners were, by their criminal nature, generally more treated to Strafvollzug, or harsher disciplinary conditioning, than of redemptive probation, that is, activities leading to restoration of rank and placement within their former units. They were, by sentence, those soldiers who had refused direct orders, had assaulted superiors, or were generally serving long terms in military gaol for presumably non-military criminal or political offenses, such as rape or black-marketeering, or active resistance to the NS regime.

The 999 series units are most popularly known to history by way of the 999.Leichte Afrika Division. This unit was formed in Wehrkreis V in October 1942 as Afrika Brigade 999. It consisted of the 961.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment, 962.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment, and 963.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment, all made up of the "verlorener haufe" (lost souls) dredged from the bottom of the Militär-Strafgefängnisse (military prisons) throughout the Reich - men *****ped of rank, decorations and dignity. The 999.Leichte.Afrika Division fought well and honorably in Tunisa, and surrendered with the remnants of the DAK in May 1943. It's 963.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment was transferred to Greece from Sicily before ever reaching North Afrika. This unit went on to become the nucleus of Sturm-Division Rhodos (aka 440.Sturm-Div.Rhodos) in May 1943, with the accompanying 999. unit designations intact. After the surrender of the 999.Leicth-Afrika-Division, the Divisional replacement Ersatz u.Ausbildungs organization located at its home station of Heuberg, continued to process potentially redeemable criminal and political prisoners from the various Wehrmachtstrafslager for replacement positions within other Heer units.

The breakdown of the various types of Bewährungs troops can be more clearly established in the following order:

1.Verbände zur besonderen Verwendung (z.b.V.) - Units for special employment:

A: 500er u.a. Bataillone z.b.V. der Heerestruppe - series 500 and other battalions for special employment under command of OKW. B: Sonderstab F und 361er Afrikaschützen - Special Staff F and 361-numbered rifle, or basic infantry units deployed in North Africa. C: Feldbataillone z.b.V. der Luftwaffe - Luftwaffe special employment battalions made up of minor disciplinary cases. D: SS-Sonder und Stürmtruppen - SS Special and Assault troops created from punishment companies

2. Formationen für Soldaten Zweiter Klasse: - Formations composed of 2nd class soldiers:

A: 999er Afrika und Festungstruppe -999 numbered units deployed to Africa, and Fortress units. B: Bewährungseinrichtung der Org.Todt - Probationary hard labor cases assigned to Organiztion Todt construction details at the front

The 2nd class soldiers were *****ped of rank, decorations and honor, and considered "un-Wehrwurding", or "unworthy of bearing arms" in the defense of Germany (An important distinction to consider between the types of Straf- or punishment units which only gradually shifted, and was only somewhat relaxed, as the tide of war turned against the Reich).

Perhaps the most luckless of all German military prisoners of this type relegated to Wehrmachtstrafgefangenlager (Armed Forces Punishment camps) were to be found in the Emsland camps of NW Germany at Esterwegen and Börgermoor near Papenburg. These were only two of fifteen notoriously bleak camps situated in the dank peat-bog marshes surrounding the Ems river, near the Dutch border. From their inception in 1933 as SA-manned detention centers for enemies of the new regime, these camps later went on to hold KPD and Socialist Political prisoners, habitual criminals, Jews, religious objectors, military-offenders, and after 1939, Allied prisoners of war. This was perhaps the lowest rung on the military-prison hierarchy to be found in the Wehrmacht prison system, where soldiers convicted of military, political, and civil crimes were purposely sent to be ultimately broken. In fact, once a soldier-prisoner was relegated to Esterwegen camp by the military authority, the imagined benefits of a harsh-but-fair rule of military justice evaporated, as Esterwegen and it's ancilliary camps were administered by the Reichsjustizministerium, which made it a virtual "Zuchthaus" (civil penitentiaray) type establishment subject to all the grim brutalities and deficiencies inherent in an institution ultimately under command of RFSS- Heinrich Himmler as Reichsminister des Innen.

In the harsh disciplinary milieu (Eiserne Disziplin der Truppe) of the Waffen-SS specifically, and the German Wehrmacht in general, there was a quite profound difference between the punishments accorded to the general classifications of "delinquenten", and that of "verbrecher"; (ie. delinquents and criminals.) Delinquenten were minor disciplinary cases scared into discipline by the harshness of their sentence and surroundings, while verbrecher were hard-core cases (recall 2nd class soldiers) upon whom presumably the harshest of sentences had little affect.

In a number of cases, front line commands disregarded official formalities in sending soldiers to the far-rear for proper military-judicial discipline, and simply put disciplinary cases in pre-designated Feldstrafgefangenabteilungen (FstrGAbt.) and Bewährungsabteilungen (Field-punishment and probationary detachments) which performed dangerous engineer and assault functions at the blunt edge of attacks, and anti-partisan operations - ie. the dirty work of clearing mines, fighting partisans, and other so-called himmelsfahrtkommando type duties. (Literally translated, Himmelfahrts Kommando means "Journey-to- heaven-mission" and descibes any operation with extremely high risk, although not nesseccarily suicidal. This colloquialisme is sometimes used in civil connotation also, like for mine or bomb clearing. The term is in reference to a specific type of mission, and not a unit type, such as penal battlion, although members of penal units were often sent on these types of missions. Generally, in the ranks of the Wehrmacht, this black-humor term was understood to mean a mission where the chances of survival were practically nil. Examples were rearguard actions of small groups to cover the retreat of a larger unit by holding a position and delaying the enemy as long as possible until it usually was too late for their own withdrawal, or reconnaissance and commando raids far behind enemy lines.) That is not to say that these local punishments were officially any better or worse than soldiers in a rear-area punishment camps, digging trenches or peat-bogs, cutting wood, or doing the dog construction work of the Organization Todt labor details. It can be concievably stated that life in the dangerous environment of the front only exacerbated the punishment. Depending on the severity of the individual cases, and at the discretion of the Commanding officer, these hapless men would be *****ped of rank and decorations, be refused mail and packages from home, and also the ability to write home and to take leave. Another aspect of the duty in these Army, Corps, and divisional Strafabteilungen or penal-detachments is that depending on the gravity of the offense, the individual soldiers paybook (Soldbuch) was usually stamped "no decorations, awards, or promotion allowed." A good example of frontline punishment for disciplinary infractions from early on in the Russian campaign, is that of the 20.Gebirgsarmee (fighting in the far north of Finland, the Kola, and Karelia) setting up three notorious camps known as Feldstraflager I-III, whose harsh wintertime conditions can only be imagined to have somewhat increased the severity of sentence in one of the luckless punishment details.

2RHPZ
06-28-2004, 09:05 AM
Only about half of the initial intake of recruits to SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 in October and November 1943 were bewährungs-soldaten (disciplinary cases). Even then, the unit refused serious cases, hence veteran SS paratroopers' tendency to bristle with indignation when the unit is described as penal! Most of the offences involved were quite minor infractions of the draconian Waffen-SS code of conduct. However, there was a former LAH officer broken in the ranks and set to work breaking rocks for being **********. Another case was a young Norwegian from the Norge Regiment sentenced to ten years' hard labour for shooting himself in the hand to get out of the front line. But they were hardly hardened criminals!

The rest were officers, NCOs and men who just wanted a change, although it must be said that where many of them were concerned, their units were happy to see the back of them and the feeling was reciprocated. A typical case was Walter Scheu who served with the Wiking's prestigious reconnaissance detachment throughout Barbarossa and up to early 1944 without advancing further than corporal even though he was a party member and a brave soldier with the EK2 and NKS in Bronze. Scheu was not scared to express his opinion and had scant regard for red tape and he upset the wrong people. Yet as soon as he put in for a transfer to SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 in March 1944, after Budapest, he was commissioned and ended up as a company commander in SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600.

The SS-Fallschirmjäger never fought in France. It is sometimes stated in histories of the French Resistance that SS paratroopers carried out a parachute assault in July 1944 against French partisan forces on the Vercors plateau in the French Alps where hundreds of partisans had created a stronghold from which they were mounting operations against the German occupiers. However, they were not Waffen-SS but Luftwaffe special forces from the secretive Kampfgeschwader 200. These para-trained commandos of II./KG 200 remain a little-known arm of Germany's WW2 parachute forces and were listed on II./KG 200's ORBAT as the 3rd Staffel.

Places in which SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 fought include Yugoslavia, Albania, Lithuania, Courland and Memel. Their most famous action was the parachute and glider assault on Tito's HQ on May 15th 1944. The 500 was slated to jump on the Baltic island of Aaland at the end of June 1944 with Fallschirm Bataillon "Brandenburg" but the mission was cancelled. There were also two missions in Budapest, one in March 1944 and the other in October 1944 by which time the surviving members of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 had learned that they were to be part of the new SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600. So while the second Budapest mission, Operation Panzerfaust, involved men of the 500, it can be said to have been, officially, the 600's first mission although the new battalion was not formally mustered until November 9th 1944 in Neu-Strelitz, their garrison town. The B-Soldaten of the 500 who survived long enough to see the formation of the 600 were also given back their previous ranks and the right to wear the sigrunen on November 9th 1944.

Two companies of the newly forming SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 were then attached to Otto Skorzeny's Panzerbrigade 150 in December 1944 for the Ardennes. It was the only occasion on which SS paratroopers faced the Western Allies until, fleeing the Soviets, they surrendered to US forces early in May 1945. After the Ardennes, the 600 fought heroically on the Oder Front in the Schwedt and Zehden bridgeheads and in various epic rearguard actions across Northern Germany at the very end of the war. The battalion was virtually wiped out three times in its eighteen month existence.

Royal
06-29-2004, 12:44 PM
The SS-Fallschirmjäger never fought in France. It is sometimes stated in histories of the French Resistance that SS paratroopers carried out a parachute assault in July 1944 against French partisan forces on the Vercors plateau in the French Alps where hundreds of partisans had created a stronghold from which they were mounting operations against the German occupiers. However, they were not Waffen-SS but Luftwaffe special forces from the secretive Kampfgeschwader 200. These para-trained commandos of II./KG 200 remain a little-known arm of Germany's WW2 parachute forces and were listed on II./KG 200's ORBAT as the 3rd Staffel.

CAG147 - can you substantiate this claim? I spent a year on attachment in the area and visited the site (and paraded at the annual memorial service). Every account I saw at the time claimed that the paratroopers were Waffen SS...

2RHPZ
06-29-2004, 02:13 PM
The SS-Fallschirmjäger never fought in France. It is sometimes stated in histories of the French Resistance that SS paratroopers carried out a parachute assault in July 1944 against French partisan forces on the Vercors plateau in the French Alps where hundreds of partisans had created a stronghold from which they were mounting operations against the German occupiers. However, they were not Waffen-SS but Luftwaffe special forces from the secretive Kampfgeschwader 200. These para-trained commandos of II./KG 200 remain a little-known arm of Germany's WW2 parachute forces and were listed on II./KG 200's ORBAT as the 3rd Staffel.

CAG147 - can you substantiate this claim? I spent a year on attachment in the area and visited the site (and paraded at the annual memorial service). Every account I saw at the time claimed that the paratroopers were Waffen SS...

Unfortunately I cannot. I quoted one German historian. I have called my friend recently, who is "a W-SS expert" and he would supports your point of view, although he is not 100% sure. I will work on it ... and maybe someone else contribute to this question ...

simple jumper
06-29-2004, 03:22 PM
I remember once seeing a picture of an SS officer with a para badge on his brest pocket...can anyone find one? I've been looking for a while for more proof they existed.

David Lehmann
06-29-2004, 04:43 PM
In June 1944 4,000 maquis members concentrated on the Vercors plateau in the foolish aim to held it like a fortified area. First a German Gebirgsdivision couldn't defeat them but then, end of July another assault with about 15,000 men, artillery support and the landing of gliders with soldiers from the Brandenburg division* defeated the defenders who had no supply and no support.
The French resistants had lost the desperate battle but mobilized important German forces. More than 600 French were killed and a little more than 100 Germans too. In reprisal, several villages (573 houses) have been burned, 200 civilians killed and 40 deported.

* In 1943, 180 French men formed the 8th company of the 3rd Regiment of the Brandenburg division. Often Engaged in Southern France, imitating resistants (with captured radios) they captured many equipments/weapons deliveries and proceeded to many arrests.
This company has also been engaged against the resistance in the Vercors battle. They organized the glider attack usually said as being a Waffen-SS attack but the French witnesses have probably taken the "Brandenburg" arm patch for a SS marking.

Regards,

David

2RHPZ
07-27-2004, 06:39 PM
SS-Fallshirmjäger-Bataillon-500

The first attempt to form an SS airborne unit was in 1937 when a small group of volunteers from the Germania Regt. of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (later Waffen-SS) gathered at the Fallschirmschule at Stendal between 23.May and 17 July for jump training. However, the idea suffered crib-death in it's infancy, and the troops were returned to their regular units. When the order came down from FHQu. to SS-FHA in late 1943 (post-Skorzeny-Gran-Sasso) to form an SS-Fallshirmjäger-Bataillon, it was decided that there would be an equal percentage of volunteers from both existing Waffen-SS units, and more specifically, for opportunities for officially disgraced officers and enlisted men wishing to redeem themselves from minor disciplinary sentences to do so under fire. Most such cases were at the time imprisoned at the Strafvollzugslager der Waffen-SS und Polizei in places like SS-Straflager Dachau, and at Danzig-Matzkau. The former military prisoners were restored their rank and standing, and integrated throughout the new unit, while being overseen by a special probationary staff attached to the Battalion HQ, known as Section III (Abt.III), which included an SS Lawyer, and a number of clerks to keep track of the records concerning the disciplinary cases in the unit.

Although SS-Fj.Btl.-500 is commonly referred to as a penal unit, there is a pejorative nuance to the term in english (ie. punishment) which the Germans disdained to use outright for this type of unit. SS-Fj.Btl.500 was a 500 series Bewährungs or probationary unit in which (as mentioned above) an enlisted soldier, NCO, or Officer who had dishonored himself by minor infractions of the military code could be given the chance to, in the words of a 2.4.1942 Hitler-decree: "..an der Front bewähren, und eine Amnestie verdienen Könnten." (ie. "...prove oneself by service at the Front, and thereby earn an amnesty."). In other words, it was a unit where officers and men convicted by courts-martial of minor infractions and currently in disciplinary straits could redeem their soldierly honour by participation in hazardous duties and operations.

The 500 series numbering system was also shared by the Heer, but should not to be confused with the post-1940 500 series designated divisional units, which were also to be found resurrected in the July-August 1944 Heer 28th, 29th and 31st mobilization waves of Grenadier and Volksgrenadier formations. Some battalion sized unit numbers of the 5xx series had also been former Bewärungs units (z.b.V.- zur besondern Verwendung - for special employment) of the Heer (also, Waffen-SS and Polizei) employed on the Eastern Front and integrated into new Grenadier formations in the course of, in this case, the July-August 1944 reorganization of the Feldheer.

In the case of the Waffen-SS men being recruited for the SS-Fj.Btl.500, it would have probably been at one of the harsh SS-Strafanstalten, such as that of the notoriously brutal SS-military prison at Danzig-Matzkau, or the punishment-section for SS personnel at Dachau. Prisons for Wehrmacht personnel directed by the OKW also existed at the Alte-Festung Gemmersheim, and after 1940 at Ingolstadt, and at Fort Alvensleben in Metz, among other places. The Luftwaffe also had a disciplinary section at Prüfungslager (testing center) Leipzig-Schünau, and later at Dedelsdorf in Kreis Gifhorn. The Kriegsmarine established a special section for their disciplinary cases at Hela on the Baltic. The Kriegsmarine also had specific battalion sized units for its disciplnary cases, the first being the Sonderabteilung der Kriegsmarine (Naval Disciplinary Unit) which after WWII began was renamed the Kriegsonderabteilung (Wartime Naval Disciplinary Unit). Another such unit was formed later in WWII named Kriegsonderabteilung Ost. Also during the War the 30.Schiffstammabteilung and 31.Schiffstammabteilung (30th and 31st Ship Cadre Battaions) were formed, the 30. for use in the North Sea area, and the 31. in the Baltic Sea area. Interestingly enough, if "further education" was not likely, problem men were transfered into a naval company of the Heer Field Disciplinary Battlion.

Besides the 500 series units for probation, the Heer also exclusively employed both 300 series .z.b.V. units, and 999 series designations for Bew&aml;hrungstruppen; though the latter units were considered soldaten Zweite-Klasse (second-class soldiers), composed of more hardened disciplinary cases that the 500 series would normally not consider for rehabilitation. These prisoners were, by their criminal nature, generally more treated to Strafvollzug, or harsher disciplinary conditioning, than of redemptive probation, that is, activities leading to restoration of rank and placement within their former units. They were, by sentence, those soldiers who had refused direct orders, had assaulted superiors, or were generally serving long terms in military gaol for presumably non-military criminal or political offenses, such as rape or black-marketeering, or active resistance to the NS regime.

The 999 series units are most popularly known to history by way of the 999.Leichte Afrika Division. This unit was formed in Wehrkreis V in October 1942 as Afrika Brigade 999. It consisted of the 961.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment, 962.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment, and 963.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment, all made up of the "verlorener haufe" (lost souls) dredged from the bottom of the Militär-Strafgefängnisse (military prisons) throughout the Reich - men *****ped of rank, decorations and dignity. The 999.Leichte.Afrika Division fought well and honorably in Tunisa, and surrendered with the remnants of the DAK in May 1943. It's 963.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment was transferred to Greece from Sicily before ever reaching North Afrika. This unit went on to become the nucleus of Sturm-Division Rhodos (aka 440.Sturm-Div.Rhodos) in May 1943, with the accompanying 999. unit designations intact. After the surrender of the 999.Leicth-Afrika-Division, the Divisional replacement Ersatz u.Ausbildungs organization located at its home station of Heuberg, continued to process potentially redeemable criminal and political prisoners from the various Wehrmachtstrafslager for replacement positions within other Heer units.

The breakdown of the various types of Bewährungs troops can be more clearly established in the following order:

1.Verbände zur besonderen Verwendung (z.b.V.) - Units for special employment:

a. 500er u.a. Bataillone z.b.V. der Heerestruppe - series 500 and other battalions for special employment under command of OKW
b. Sonderstab F und 361er Afrikaschützen - Special Staff F and 361-numbered rifle, or basic infantry units deployed in North Africa
c. Feldbataillone z.b.V. der Luftwaffe - Luftwaffe special employment battalions made up of minor disciplinary cases
d. SS-Sonder - und Stürmtruppen - SS Special and Assault troops created from punishment companies

2. Formationen für Soldaten Zweiter Klasse: - Formations composed of 2nd class soldiers:

a. 999er Afrika und Festungstruppe -999 numbered units deployed to Africa, and Fortress units
b. Bewährungseinrichtung der Org.Todt - Probationary hard labor cases assigned to Organiztion Todt construction details at the front

The 2nd class soldiers were *****ped of rank, decorations and honor, and considered "un-Wehrwurding", or "unworthy of bearing arms" in the defense of Germany (An important distinction to consider between the types of Straf- or punishment units which only gradually shifted, and was only somewhat relaxed, as the tide of war turned against the Reich).

Perhaps the most luckless of all German military prisoners of this type relegated to Wehrmachtstrafgefangenlager (Armed Forces Punishment camps) were to be found in the Emsland camps of NW Germany at Esterwegen and Börgermoor near Papenburg. These were only two of fifteen notoriously bleak camps situated in the dank peat-bog marshes surrounding the Ems river, near the Dutch border. From their inception in 1933 as SA-manned detention centers for enemies of the new regime, these camps later went on to hold KPD and Socialist Political prisoners, habitual criminals, Jews, religious objectors, military-offenders, and after 1939, Allied prisoners of war. This was perhaps the lowest rung on the military-prison hierarchy to be found in the Wehrmacht prison system, where soldiers convicted of military, political, and civil crimes were purposely sent to be ultimately broken. In fact, once a soldier-prisoner was relegated to Esterwegen camp by the military authority, the imagined benefits of a harsh-but-fair rule of military justice evaporated, as Esterwegen and it's ancilliary camps were administered by the Reichsjustizministerium, which made it a virtual "Zuchthaus" (civil penitentiaray) type establishment subject to all the grim brutalities and deficiencies inherent in an institution ultimately under command of RFSS-Heinrich Himmler as Reichsminister des Innen.

In the harsh disciplinary milieu (Eiserne Disziplin der Truppe) of the Waffen-SS specifically, and the German Wehrmacht in general, there was a quite profound difference between the punishments accorded to the general classifications of "delinquenten", and that of "verbrecher"; (ie. delinquents and criminals.) Delinquenten were minor disciplinary cases scared into discipline by the harshness of their sentence and surroundings, while verbrecher were hard-core cases (recall 2nd class soldiers) upon whom presumably the harshest of sentences had little affect.

In a number of cases, front line commands disregarded official formalities in sending soldiers to the far-rear for proper military-judicial discipline, and simply put disciplinary cases in pre-designated Feldstrafgefangenabteilungen (FstrGAbt.) and Bewährungsabteilungen (Field-punishment and probationary detachments) which performed dangerous engineer and assault functions at the blunt edge of attacks, and anti-partisan operations - ie. the dirty work of clearing mines, fighting partisans, and other so-called himmelsfahrtkommando type duties. (Literally translated, Himmelfahrts Kommando means "Journey-to-heaven-mission" and descibes any operation with extremely high risk, although not nesseccarily suicidal. This colloquialisme is sometimes used in civil connotation also, like for mine or bomb clearing. The term is in reference to a specific type of mission, and not a unit type, such as penal battlion, although members of penal units were often sent on these types of missions. Generally, in the ranks of the Wehrmacht, this black-humor term was understood to mean a mission where the chances of survival were practically nil. Examples were rearguard actions of small groups to cover the retreat of a larger unit by holding a position and delaying the enemy as long as possible until it usually was too late for their own withdrawal, or reconnaissance and commando raids far behind enemy lines.) That is not to say that these local punishments were officially any better or worse than soldiers in a rear-area punishment camps, digging trenches or peat-bogs, cutting wood, or doing the dog construction work of the Organization Todt labor details. It can be concievably stated that life in the dangerous environment of the front only exacerbated the punishment. Depending on the severity of the individual cases, and at the discretion of the Commanding officer, these hapless men would be *****ped of rank and decorations, be refused mail and packages from home, and also the ability to write home and to take leave. Another aspect of the duty in these Army, Corps, and divisional Strafabteilungen or penal-detachments is that depending on the gravity of the offense, the individual soldiers paybook (Soldbuch) was usually stamped "no decorations, awards, or promotion allowed." A good example of frontline punishment for disciplinary infractions from early on in the Russian campaign, is that of the 20.Gebirgsarmee (fighting in the far north of Finland, the Kola, and Karelia) setting up three notorious camps known as Feldstraflager I-III, whose harsh wintertime conditions can only be imagined to have somewhat increased the severity of sentence in one of the luckless punishment details.

The first gathering of recruits was at Chlum in Czechoslovakia in October of 1943. The first commander of the mixed Battalion was SS-Sturmbannführer Herbert Gilhofer, of SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt 21 (Frundsberg Div.) In November 1943 the Batallion began intensive parachute jump-training at Madanrushka-Banja,near Sarajevo,at the newly relocated Luftwaffe Fallschirm-Schule nr.3. The fledgling SS-Fallschirmjäger later relocated to Papa, Hungary for their final jump-training in early 1944. After training as a unit, the SS-Fj-Btl.500 moved into Yugoslavia in April 1944 for its baptism of fire near Tuzla in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

At this time the composition of the 1000 man SS-Parachute battalion was:

Btl.Stab.Komp (267 men):
1x -Nachrichtenzug
1x -Aufklärungs mannschaft
1x -Kradmelder abteilung
1x -Fallschirm-wartenzug

1.Fallschirm-Schützen-Kompanie
3 Züge & Nachrichten mannschaft
each of 3x Schützen mannschaften, and
1x Mörser mannschaft

2.Fallschirm-Schützen-Kompanie
3 Züge & Nachrichten mannschaft
each of 3x Schützen mannschaften, and
1x Mörser mannschaft

3.Fallschirm-Schützen-Kompanie
3 Züge & Nachrichten mannschaft
each of 3x Schützen mannschaften, and
1x Mörser mannschaft

4.Fallschirm-(schwer-waffen)-Kompanie
1x MG (h.) zug (MG.42)
1x Flammenwerfer-zug (3 x flamethrowers)
1x Mörserzug (12cm.)
1x Panzerjägerzug (anti-tank) = 4 x LG 40/75 (recoiless para/mtn.gun)

Mobility inlcuded 100 Kraftwagen & 30 Kradfahr

Operations in W. Bosnia & Unternehmen Rösselsprung (Knight's Move)

After spending close to three months moving through the rough terrain of Bosnia-Herzogovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia in anti-partisan (Bandenkampf) sweeps, SS-Fj.Btl.500 was returned to barracks at Madarushka-Banja in mid-April 1944 to prepare for a new mission. At this time SS-Sturmbannführer Gilhofer returned to the Frundsberg Division, and SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Rybka took over command. In what would be the first and only combat parachute drop (and glider-assault) made by the SS-Fj.Bataillon during the war, the unit was prepared to drop on communist Partisan leader Josef Brosz Tito's headquarters in a heavily armed mountain stronghold above the town of Drvar in western Bosnia. In a concerted effort, along with combined Lutwaffe, Heer, and Croatian troops attacking from the ground; elements of the SS- Fallsch. Bataillon 500 would boldly land near the top of the citadel and storm Tito's headquarters, situated in a well defended cave, in an attempt to kill or capture him. This was to be undertaken in an operation known as Rösselsprung, or Knights Move, and would be the highlight of a major ground sweep by 2.Panzer-Armee of Armeegruppe F, of partisan held territory in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The order of battle for the May 25, 1944 airborne operation included:

-III/LLG1 (3rd Btl.Air Landing Group 1) from Nancy, France with 17 towing detachments
-4.II/LLG1 (4th Squad.,2nd Btl.) from Strasbourg-Polygon-Mannheim,with 8 towing detachments
-II/Transportgschw.4 with Ju52's & SM79 Sparviero with RSI crew. (not confirmed)

SS-Hauptsturmführer Rybka planned for a total of 654 fallschirmjäger to drop in the first assault wave. Three hundred and fourteen (314) of these men would drop by parachute, while the remainder, organized into six assault groups, would land by DFS230 & Go-242 glider. At the heart of the mission, each glider group was assigned a specific task:

-Panther group - 110 men to neutralize Tito's bodyguard (ca.350 strong), and capture him in his headquarters.
-Greifer group - 40 men to destroy the UK military mission.
-Sturmer group - 50 men to destroy the USSR military mission.
-Brecher group - 50 men to destroy the US military mission.
-Daufnanger group - 50 fallschirmjäger, and 20 men of "Abteilung Svadil" - a special composite detail of (Abwehr) Brandenburgers, LW signals
experts, and interpreters from 7.SS-Frw.Gebirgsdivision Prinz Eugen, tasked with destroying partisan signals unit and collection of radio code books
and signal intelligence references.
-Beisser group - 20 men to sieze a specific outpost radio station,and then
assist group Greifer.

The O/B of the operation's ground units included:

-7.SS-Freiwillige-Gebirgsdivision "Prinz Eugen" (elements)
-1.Gebirgsdivision. [Heer] (elements)
-92.Infanterie-Regiment (mot.)
-373.Inf.Div.(Kroat.),incl.383. & 384.Inf.Rgtr./Aufkl.Abt.373/Pz.Jag.abt.373.

-II/1.Brandenburg Rgt. & III/1.Brandenburg Rgt.
-Ustasha - ca.300 men of Croatian Republic's Guard unit.
-Chetnik - ca.500 Serbian partisans who, while having no love for Croatian's, hated the communist Tito as well.

The airdrop/airlanding mission, which commenced at 0700 on May 25,1944, was a near debacle. While reaching the citadel in near perfect execution of their plan, and initially stunning the partisan defenders, the SS-Fj. assault group quickly came under heavy defensive fire from Tito's bodyguard detachment, which delayed thier entrance into the inner-sanctum of Tito's mountain lair. In the meantime, the ever elusive Tito, along with Slovenian partisan leader Edvard Kardelj, had escaped through a natural fissure at the top of the cave, heavily escorted by partisan echelons to a nearby mountain-railway, which steamed him west to the coast of the Adriatic, well beyond the immediate grasp of the troops detailed to capture him. The prize had escaped; but the ordeal of the attacking glider-troops of SS-Fallschirmjäger did not end there. Numerous Partisan brigades, encamped and ranging throughout the hilly fastness around the Drvar citadel quickly responded to the alarm and began to converge upon their beleaguered comrade's positions. While the assault gliders brought SS-Fj.Btl. troops directly on top of the heavily guarded mountainside, other elements of the Bataillon were at the same time, parachuting directly into and around the perimeter of the smoldering town of Drvar; which, much to the chagrin of both attacker and defender, was
still being area-bombed by the Luftwaffe in a less than elegant synchronization of the operational timetable. The fighting in Drvar was bitter, and both sides suffered heavy casualties throughout the morning and afternoon of May 25. On the hillside, Rybka and his men had finally subdued the defenders of Tito's cave, only to capture a few scattered maps and documents, and a newly tailored General's uniform, which Tito had not yet worn. The furious fight for the cave had cost Rybka both many good men, and the use of his left arm, which had been shattered by a partisan grenade. Despite an early afternoon glider landing of ammunition and medical supplies, Rybka found his position on the hillside untenable and so ordered his remaining assault force to pull back in an orderly fashion into the valley, and still contested town of Drvar. By nightfall, they ended up in the town cemetery, along with the remnants of the Bataillon which had parachuted into the village earlier that morning; surrounded on all sides, and taking heavy mortar fire from well equipped and determined partisan fighters.

Meanwhile, the ground forces of the 373.(Kroat.) Infanterie Division and the 7.SS-Frw.Gebirgs-Div. Prinz Eugen were relentlessly driving thier way from the southwest through heavy partisan defensive fire and rough valley terrain toward Drvar and the SS-Fallschirmjäger's beleaguered positions. At daybreak on 26 May, the Aufklärungs-Abteilung of the Prinz Eugen Division linked up with Rybka and his decimated command, and relieved them of their defensive burden. While SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Rybka went on to the hospital, the remaining fit members of his Bataillon were sent on to Petrovac for a subsequent anti-partisan operation. In early June 1944, the the fit elements of SS-Fj.Btl.500 were sent to barracks at Ljubljana for rest and a much needed reorganization.

On 26 June, 1944, SS-Hauptsturmführer Siegfried Milius took command of SS-Fj.Btl.500. The Bataillon's Feldersatzkompanie had only been able, by this time, to return lightly wounded men and briefly trained replacements to the ready-roster of the Bataillon. As a result of losses incurred during Unternehmen Rösselsprung, the Bataillon had been greatly reduced in size and effectiveness. Of the 1000 battle-ready men on May 25, 1944, by 30 June only 15 Officers, 81 NCO's,and 196 enlisted men remained.

Operations in the Baltic states - Summer 1944

With the opening of the Russian summer offensive of late June 1944 and the impending withdrawal of Finland from active hostilities against the Soviet Union, the 292 men of SS-Fj.Btl.500 were ordered to report directly to Marine-Oberkommando-Ostsee (Naval High Command Baltic) at Gotenhafen on the Baltic Coast in East Prussia for a special mission. On June 29, 1944 the Bataillon entrained from the Balkans for the Eastern Front. A plan had been formulated for their participation in a pre-emptive assault-landing and occupation of the Aaland Islands in the Baltic Sea, to deny them to the Russians; but by the time of their arrival at MO-Ostsee at Gotenhafen, the plan had been cancelled.

The Bataillon was then entrained for Narwa, Estonia to join the III.(Germanisch) SS-Panzerkorps. The unit's stay there was brief however, and they were further moved by airlift from Rakvere, Estonia to Kaunas, Lithuania, on the northern flank of the crumbling Heeresgruppe Mitte. Upon it's arrival in the area of 3.Panzerarmee (CO Hasso v.Manteuffel) on July 10, the Bataillon was immediately dispatched to 39.Panzerkorps, and into an ad-hoc Kampfgruppe with the I./Panzer-regiment Grossdeutschland for the relief of the 11.Armeekorps, outflanked in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

The SS-Fallschirmjäger, mounted on the tanks of the Grossdeutschland, attacked along the Kaunas-Vilnius highway the very day of their arrival at the front, helping to stem the tide of the Soviet armored thrust on Vilnius to the southeast; allowing another battlegroup (KG-Schmidt), to move in and evacuate the wounded, resupply the units fighting there, and bolster the defense of 11.Armeekorps. Despite the hard fought actions of the 39.Panzer-korps, and 3.Panzerarmee, of which the SS-Fj.Btl.500 was a part, a two-week long furious see-saw battle eventually pushed the Germans out of the Lithuanian captial for good between the last week of July and the first week of August 1944 - the SS-Fj-500 helped to evacute the last of Vilnius' defenders near the city's Airport - with the Soviet 51st Army battering it's way west toward the Baltic sea, and the eventual creation of the Kurland Pocket. On August 19, 1944, fighting alongside Panzer-Brigade von Werthen, elements of 7.Panzer Div., 212., and 252.Inf.Divisons, the much dwindled and hard-fought SS-Fj.Bataillon helped secure the front around Raseiniai, well northwest of Kaunus. Ordered to stand down for rest and re-fit that very day, an
emergency on August 20th among the units of 26.Armeekorps (6.Panzer & 561.Inf.Div's) around Sintauti, ordered the last 90 combat-fit men of SS-Fallschirmjäger Btl.500 to join up with s.Pz.Jäger-Abteilung 731 to help stem the advance of the Soviet 33rd and 11th Guards Armies. Given a few days rest after this engagement, in September 1944, the unit was again linked with the Grossdeutschland and 39.Panzerkorps.

The final battle of the SS-Fj.Btl.500 in the east was in early October 1944, north of Memel. There, along with elements of the 7.Panzer-Division, Grossdeutschland, and 58.Inf.Division, they attempted to halt the advance of the Soviet's to the sea; an unsuccessful spoiling operation which led to the eventual siege of Memel and the entrapment of the formerly named units. At this point the remnants of the Bataillon were plucked from disaster, and sent to Zichenau in East Prussia. They were recalled to Deutsch-Wagram in Ostmark (Austria) to join their Ersatz u.Ausbildungs Kompanie currently involved in the formation of a completely new SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon, to be numbered 600. The bewährungs, or probationary status of the unit was dissolved, and the new Bataillon would be composed of totally of volunteers.

2RHPZ
07-27-2004, 06:42 PM
Posted on Waffen-SS forum:


The SS Parachute Bn was larger than a Luftwaffe Para Bn, with almost 1100 men to the typical LW ORBAT of about 850 men. Roughly half the initial intake were disciplinary cases invited to volunteer to regain their honour on the battlefield, while many of the other volunteers were officers, NCOs and SS men who had problems of various kinds in their parent units. When initially formed in November 1943, SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 comprised:

Stab/SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 (HQ Coy)
Supply Coy
Motor Transport Pln
Signals Pln
Motorcycle Dispatch Section
Repair & Maintenance Pln
Parachute Equipment Maintenance Section
Legal Section (for handling the Disciplinary Soldiers)

1./SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500
Rifle Pln
Rifle Pln
Rifle Pln
Signals Detachment

2./SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500
Rifle Pln
Rifle Pln
Rifle Pln
Signals Detachment

3./SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500
Rifle Pln
Rifle Pln
Rifle Pln
Signals Detachment

4. (schw)/SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 (4 (Heavy) Coy or “Support Coy”)
Heavy MG Pln (Four MGs)
Heavy Mortar Pln (Four 80mm mortars)
Light Artillery/Anti-Tank Pln (Four 75mm LG40s)
Flamethrower Pln

Feld-Ausbildungs-Kompanie (Field Training Coy)*

*Sometimes called Feld-Ausbildungs und Erstaz Kompanie

Each of the Rifle Platoons consisted of three rifle sections, three light MG detachments, three submachine-gun detachments and a mortar squad. What made the SS Para Bn different from its Luftwaffe counterparts was its totally self-contained, self-reliany nature. The SS Para Bn even had its very own training and replacement company. Where a Luftwaffe Para Bn HQ had 138 men on its ORBAT, the SS Para Bn had 267. Additionally, the SS Para Bn had over a hundred trucks and thirty motorcycles.

When reformed as SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 in November 1944, the Field Training & Replacement Company became the new 1st Coy. The new SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 came under the administrative control of Otto Skorzeny’s SS-Jagdverbände organisation at Friedenthal. During its eighteen months existence, an estimated 3500 men passed through the ranks of the SS Para Bn, which was all but annihilated four times, first at Drvar in May 1944 and then on the Eastern Front.