Book Review: Kommando


James Lucas’ Kommando takes a look, as the subtitle suggests, German Special Forces of World War Two. In one of the paradoxes of that conflict, the Germans went into that conflict with several special units, but Britain, who had to create its special capabilities on the fly arguably made better use of them. Again one has to question the veracity of the myth of German efficiency. One can also question the title. It is not clear the Germans ever used the term for their own Special Forces. Churchill coined the term in its current usage as a homage to the Boers he fought in the South African War (1899-1902).     

Nevertheless, Germany created a number of specialised military and political units in the run-up to World War Two. The most notorious was perhaps the ad hoc SD (Sicherheitsdienst) goon squad assembled to provide a pretext to invade Poland in 1939.

The ineptitude of the planning, as described by Lucas boggles the mind. For example, the planners had failed to notice that Gleiwitz radio station, to be raided by SD men disguised as Poles, was a low-powered rebroadcaster. It had no studio and only a limited range in a rural community. After much planning – but clearly not much reconnaissance – the raid took place. A microphone was eventually found, a local resident was murdered for the occasion and a bunch of thugs paraded in SD uniform – why is not certain, as the SD had made sure the area was remote and the only Germans they would encounter were other SD men. As an aside, the “Poles” also raided the nearby Hochlinden border post and a forest ranger`s house at Pitschen. These goons were the successors to agents provacateurs deployed as early as 1938 to destabilise Czechoslovakia and Austria.

More novel and useful were the so-called “Brandenburgers” established by the Abwehr, German military intelligence. The first commando company was established in the (Northern hemisphere) summer of 1939. Abwehr chief, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris “saw that Germany would need such guerrilla units: elite formations, highly skilled, highly trained and with specialist abilities. Such groups could spearhead the new campaigns. They could infiltrate the enemy`s lines before war had been declared, or before an offensive was launched and would be in a position to seize vital targets or tactical areas as soon as operations began.”

This was certainly the case in the Polish campaign where Brandenburg troops seized factories in Silesia in advance of the troops and in Holland and Russia where bridges were taken and held for the advancing spearheads. To seize the Silesian factories, the Brandenburgers had sought jobs there as labourers some time previously, while in Holland and Russia they dressed up as Dutch and Soviet soldiers. A company of Brandenburgers, most of who had lived in Africa, including at its southern tip, was dispatched there to support Rommel. Involved in one of their epic missions was the Hungarian Count Almasy, the title character in the Hollywood movie “The English Patient”. Brandenburg was eventually expanded to the divisional level, but by then Canaris had lost his private war against the SD and the formation was expended as a conventional formation on the Eastern Front, albeit as part of the Army`s elite Grossdeutschland Corps.   


Its place was taken by a variety of ad hoc units formed around the person of the charismatic SS Sturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny. This force, at one stage included two SS parachute battalions, one of which was used for a decapitation raid on the headquarters of Yugoslav Partisan leader Tito. Skorzeny also seized Hungary`s political leadership in a daring coup when that country decided to defect from the German fold and organised sabotage and diversionary teams to operate behind US lines, Brandenburg style, during the Ardennes offensive.  

The vital role of the Luftwaffe`s parachute corps is also described in some detail, as is that of the Kriegsmarine`s combat divers and midget submariners. Also deserving of mention is KG200, the special missions squadron and the Luftwaffe`s own kamikaze detachments. Lastly, Lucas pays some attention to the Volksturm, the farcical Freikorps Adolf Hitler and the Werewolf sabotage organisation.

James Lucas


German Special Forces of World War Two