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If there is a single name that even today strikes terror into the hearts of former Red "partisans" (many of whom today live comfortable lives in the U.S. as "survivors"!), it would have to be "Dirlewanger."

The so-called "Dirlewanger" formation of the Waffen-SS so devastated the partisan-terrorist bands that it was thrown up against, that its reputation was magnified out of all proportion. Every crime under the sun has been attributed to it, most of which are unverifiable, and it has proven impossible to separate fact from fiction in certain aspects of the formation’s history. In fact, almost any anti-partisan unit that functioned effectively against the terrorists was likely to be called a "Dirlewanger" force by the foe.

As far as the "Dirlewanger" formation and the eventual 36th SS Division are concerned, it is fair to say that truth is a good deal stranger than fiction. The unit had its origins in a small "special commando" of convicted poachers that was formed on a purely experimental basis. The idea cropped up in March 1940, during "speculative" conversations between Reichsführer-SS Himmler, and his "manpower" specialist, Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger, the head of the SS Main Office. The idea advanced in favor of the unit by Berger, was that poachers might come in handy in tracking down saboteurs and terrorists in wilderness areas. Himmler liked the notion, secured Hitler’s approval, and on 29 March requested a list of names of all convicted prisoners from the Justice Ministry.

The poachers were then contacted and given the option of volunteering for military service. Ninety of them did so and on 4 June 1940, they were grouped together at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp at Oranienburg for preliminary training. The unit was placed under the control of a former Sachsenhausen inmate, and recently commissioned Obersturmbannführer of the Waffen-SS, Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger, who incidentally was a close friend of Ogruf. Berger (actually more of an "old comrade in arms").

Dirlewanger’s command was officially born on 15 June 1940 with the title "Poachers Commando Oranienburg." Dirlewanger officially took charge of the unit and its training staff on 20 June 1940, and he would continue in charge of this formation as it evolved until 15 February 1945, when a disabling battle wound took him out of action. On 1 July 1940, the unit cut out the "deadbeats" and then stood at a strength of 84 "qualified" poachers. An arrangement was made to provide weapons, equipment, supplies, staff and training personnel from the SS-"Totenkopf" Standarte 5, which was stationed in Oranienburg.

Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger was somewhat of an eccentric character, who was in fact very lucky to be gainfully employed at anything at that time. He was born in Würzburg on 26 September 1895 and in his earlier years showed great promise. As a junior officer in WWI, he was awarded both classes of the Iron Cross and numerous decorations for valor. In the early 1920s he served with various anticommunist "Freikorps" groups, that staved off a Bolshevik takeover of Germany. It was during this time that he met his later benefactor, Gottlob Berger, and also commanded an early prototype tank platoon against armed Red terrorists.

Collar patch attributed both to SS-Sturmbataillon 500 and the "Dirlewanger" formation

Following his military service, Dirlewanger finished his education and matriculated with a degree in political science from the University of Frankfurt am Main. He then became a full-fledged professor at the University of Frankfurt, finding time to join the young NSDAP in 1923. He had a relatively undistinguished career until 1934, when he was arrested for molesting a female minor. As a result, he was sentenced to two years in prison and lost his teaching post at the university. His problems were no doubt abetted by what apparently had become a well-developed fondness for alcoholic beverages.

After his release from prison in 1936, Dirlewanger found himself jobless and at loose ends and was soon picked up again on the same charges. This time he was given an indefinite sentence to a concentration camp. He appealed to his old "Freikorps" comrade, Gottlob Berger (who had moved up rapidly in the SS hierarchy), to try and help him out. In mid-1936, Berger was able to get Dirlewanger posted to the Spanish Foreign Legion, which was leading the Nationalist revolt against the pro-Red government in Spain. Dirlewanger was later able to transfer into the Luftwaffe Legion "Condor," and by all accounts served well and ably, being wounded in action three times. In May 1939 he returned home to Germany and upon Berger’s recommendation, was given an officer’s commission in the General SS.

On 1 September 1940, Ostubaf. Dirlewanger reported that his poacher unit, now with a strength of 300 or so men (mostly non-poacher criminals who just volunteered to get out of the concentration camp), was fit for duty. By this time another 33 of the original poachers had been released to serve out the remainder of their sentences in prison. The unit was now retitled SS-Sonder Bataillon "Dirlewanger," and was dispatched to the Polish sector of the "Generalgovernment" (Poland and Western Ukraine), where it quickly became entangled in numerous small-scale encounters with partisans.

In late December 1940, there was a mass escape of nearly 500 violent criminals from the Warsaw Prison, who separated into small groups of bandits, and Dirlewanger and his men were set to work rounding them up. As the unit troop strength waxed and waned (poacher replacements were hard to come by!), so did the title of the battalion, which occasionally also read Sondorkommando Dr. Dirlewanger and/or SS-Sondorkommando "Dirlewanger."

In 1941, the Sondorkommando saw stints of guard duty at the Lublin Ghetto, and was in action against smugglers and Polish resistance members in the vicinity of Lublin. In the summer of 1941, the outfit was used to help construct and guard military defensive projects (mainly anti-tank ditches), along the Bug River, in what was known as the "Otto Line." The Sondorkommando’s home base at the time was at a labor camp at Dzikow.

Technically, the Dirlewanger Battalion came under the command of the Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSuPF) for the Generalgovernment, who at that time was Gruppen- führer Friedrich-Wilhelm Krueger. It soon became apparent that Dirlewanger was not particularly responsive to Krueger’s commands. Weary of authority, and living on what he felt was borrowed time, Dirlewanger decided to do things his own way. The result was that he paid attention to higher command only when he felt like it and pretty much conducted himself like a privateer on the Spanish Main. His additional "ace-in-the-hole" was that he was ultimately only answerable to Himmler, as his battalion was a part of the Field Command Troops of the RF-SS and was only "loaned" out to subordinate commands.

The friction with Krueger therefore continued to grow and in January 1942, the HSSuPF requested the removal of the Dirlewanger Battalion from his jurisdiction before he had everyone in it arrested. Krueger went straight to Himmler with his complaint and a month later the outfit was dispatched to Russia.

On 29 January 1942, the Sonderkommando was reconstituted as a "volunteer detachment," which gave it the same status as a "foreign legion," placing it in the nebulous category of not quite being a full-fledged formation of the Waffen-SS. This notwithstanding, the battalion was able to get fairly good supplies and equipment through the efforts of Ogruf. Berger.

In February 1942, SS-Sdr.Kdo. "D" was sent to Mogilev, White Russia, where it would be assigned to the control of the HSSuPF "Mitte" in Minsk, but would also serve under the Chief of Anti-Partisan Operations (Gruf. Bach-Zelewski) and the C-in-C Rear Area Forces/Army Sector 102. Over the next couple of years, it would participate in 37 major military operations against communist terrorists. It engaged in series combat action

for the first time in April 1942, when it fought to eliminate a so-called "autonomous partisan republic" in the Usakine region of Byelorussia. The ensuing conflict resulted in the complete elimination of the enemy concentration, and brought a measure of respect for the battalion.

In fact, this success caused Ogruf. Berger to request the formation of a second "poachers" battalion in June 1942, a proposal that was approved by Hitler on 20 August 1942. The fact that there were only 115 known poachers in custody was overlooked; this group was forwarded to Dirlewanger to use for replacements in September 1942.

While the authorized second battalion would not be ready for action until the spring of 1943, Ostubaf. Dirlewanger was not at a loss for personnel. On his own initiative he had been recruiting Russian and Ukrainian volunteers from among POWs, turncoat partisans and local militias. In this way he had constructed two auxiliary companies (one Russian and one Ukrainian), which in the course of 1942 became fully established combat units within the Sonderkommando. In addition, on 15 October 1942, the SS Grenadier Replacement Battalion "Ost" in Breslau, was assigned the task of coming up with regular replacements from the ranks of military delinquents, to SS-Sdr.Kdo. "D." As if it was necessary, the unit also was now occasionally referred to by another title: Einsatz-Bataillon Dirlewanger.

As of February 1943, SS-Sdr.Kdo. "D" reported a net troop srength of around 700 men, some 300 of whom were Soviet volunteers. The battalion’s composition now included two German infantry companies, along with one Russian and one Ukrainian infantry companies and the usual staff elements. As of 26 January 1943, badges of rank and collar patches were permitted in the "Dirlewanger" unit. Up until that date, rank emblems had been limited to officers and NCOs who served with the unit on a regular basis; convicts and military delinquents had been denied rank. The collar patch assigned to SS-Sdr.Kdo. "D" was supposed to feature two crossed stick grenades, although details of its issuance are not known. A collar patch featuring two crossed rifles over a grenade has long been attributed to both this formation and SS Assault Bn. 500, although veterans of the latter unit claim that this emblem belonged to them alone.

In the spring of 1943, German convicts (born 1901-on) in the Generalgovernment, who were deemed fit for military service, were used to fill out SS-Sdr.Kdo. "D."

The unit now had the following composition:

Staff

1st Infantry Co. (German)
Artillery Battery (German)
Motorcycle Recce Platoon (German)
2nd, 3rd, 4th Infantry Companies (chiefly Russian)
One Ukrainian Volunteer Platoon
Total Strength: 720 men

In May 1943, the Sonderkommando at least temporarily assumed regimental status when it received its II. Battalion, composed of 350 volunteers from assorted concentration camps and 150 more alleged poachers. This unit had been assembled and trained at the Sachsenhausen KZL then was shipped through Minsk to join SS-Sdr.Kdo. "D" in Ossipovitischi.

The Dirlewanger Regiment’s biggest action in 1943 was the subjugation of the "Lake Pelik Autonomous Partisan Republic" in August. The operation was a complete success and brought Ostubaf. Dirlewanger the award of the German Cross in Gold. A casualty report was then released for the unit listing the losses for February through August 1943 as follows: 92 killed, 218 wounded, 8 missing. On 10 August 1943 convict replacements were forwarded to the Regiment for the first time from the SS and Police Military Prison at Dachau. They were joined by additional drafts of "poachers" along with some new staff personnel from SS Replacement Bn. "Ost" (now in Zhitomir), who were to be used in the further expansion of the regiment. Unit structure now looked like this:

Staff Company

I. Bn. with lst-4th Companies
II. Bn. with 5th-8th Companies
III. Bn. with 9th-12th Companies
Replacement Company (added in 1944)

This of course was the "planned" structure, whether it actually took this exact form is open to some question. Service in the "Dirlewanger" Regiment now counted for official "military service," and those in its ranks could fulfill their national military obligation, even if they were convicts to begin with. Due to the penal nature of the formation, the enlisted personnel were still, however, given only second-rate status, and were liable to much harsher treatment and penalties than normal soldiers.

Sometime in late 1943, the first criminal replacements reached the Regiment from the Neuengamme KZL. Then in November 1943, the "Dirlewanger" Rgt. was rushed into the frontlines. As of 14 November it was in action to the south of Kosari in Army Group Center. Then at year’s end it was engaged in very costly defensive fighting at Lake Beresno with Army Group "North." To say the least Dirlewanger’s troops were inadequately trained and prepared for front operations, and within a few weeks the regiment was no longer even battalion strength in size. As of 30 December 1943 the newly re-christened SS-Sdr.Kdo. "D" could only report the following active troop strength:

Six officers, 44 NCOs, 209 men. Total strength: 259

The reformation and reconstruction of the "D" Regiment went on at a rapid pace in early 1944, due to the addition of 800 more criminals from concentration camps and more military convicts from the Waffen-SS and Police Military Prison at Danzig-Matzkau. As of 19 February 1944, the net strength of the command stood at about 1,200 men. On 15 April 1944, SS-Sonder Rgt. "Dirlewanger" (and/or SS-Bewaerhrungsverbände "Dirlewanger"), established its own replacement company in Minsk and was no longer serviced by the SS Replacement Bn. "Ost" (which had moved from Breslau to Zhitomir and back again). In addition, on 24 April 1944, the first signals platoon for the Regiment was established, drawing its personnel from the ranks of the W-SS run Berlin Postal Protection Troops (an organization directed by Staf. Dirlewanger’s patron, Ogruf. Berger). It would appear that in this case, Ogruf. Berger’s helpful hand was once again in evidence.

In the spring of 1944, SS-Sdr.Rgt. "D" carried out operations against terrorists at Uschatschi and near Lepel and then in the area to the north of the Minsk-Borrisov railroad line. The HQ Staff and I. Bn. were quartered in Usda, with II. Bn. being located in Sabolotje. More replacements arrived from the Buchenwald KZL on 6 June 1944. By this time there were no longer any Russian or Ukrainian volunteers on duty with the Regiment, although a number of military reprobates from assorted West European nations were with the unit. As of 30 June 1944, the Regiment reported the following troop strengths: 17 officers, 87 NCOs, 867 men or 971 personnel in total.

In July 1944, a Moslem Uzbek Volunteer Bn. was attached to the SS.Sdr.Rgt. "D" on a temporary basis, but it was eventually detached and sent to Warsaw where it was incorporated into Kaminski’s RONA Brigade (later briefly the 29th Waffen-Grenadier Div. der SS). In this same month the "Dirlewanger" Rgt. was caught up in the Soviet summer offensive and had to fight difficult retrograde actions to the southeast of Minsk alongside other penal detachments from the Army and Air Force. It should be noted that in this tough situation the Regiment conducted itself quite well, and was chiefly responsible for spearheading a successful breakout from an entrapment around Grodno. After successfully defending Lomscha, the Dirlewanger troops withdrew to Zicheway before being sent back to the SS Training Camp at Ayrs, East Prussia for refitting. For the outstanding performance of his command during this trying time, Dirlewanger was promoted to the rank of SS-Oberführer (senior colonel), effective 15 August 1944.

On 1 August 1944, the march of the Regiment to East Prussia was brought to a screeching halt by the uprising of the Polish Underground Army in Warsaw. The staff and I. Bn. of the Regiment, which was located near Lyck in the Generalgovernment, received orders to reroute to Warsaw. As a result, I. Bn. reached the outskirts of the Polish capital in the late afternoon of 2 August, where it was assigned to the Corps Group "Von dem Bach" (led by Gruf. Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski). For some reason the II. Bn. could not be located immediately and it did not turn up until 6 August.

On the evening of 4 August, the Regiment received its combat assignment; to re-take the city center, and got ready for action. Supported by tanks and combat engineers with flame throwers from the "Hermann Goering" Division, the "Dirlewanger" Rgt. (less II. Bn.) began its assault on 5 August from the western suburb of Wola.

On the Regiment’s left was an ad hoc Police Brigade under SS-Gruf. Heinz Reinfarth with a strength of 2,695 men (it would have been somewhat ironic if some of these policemen had originally been responsible for the arrest of some of the Dirlewanger men!), while on the regimental right was the East Prussian Grenadier Rgt. 4. This latter regiment was temporarily withdrawn from the fighting when its right-hand (southern) neighbor, the White Russian RONA Brigade began running amuck, becoming a threat to even its German allies!

The directives issued to the Dirlewanger Rgt. from Bach-Zelewski were as follows: it was to drive through the Wola district, clearing Wolska Street and Kerceli Square, then proceed down Choldona and Elekoralna Streets to rescue Warsaw’s German Commandant, Gen. Stahel, in the Saxon Gardens area. Following that, the Regiment was to attack the Polish Home Army stronghold in the medieval Old Town and then proceed to seize and clear the approaches to the Kierbedzia Bridge on the Vistula River.

The Dirlewanger troops managed to gain about 1,000 yds. against stubborn resistance on its first day of operations. But perhaps more unfortunately it was charged with misbehavior and looting by some Army observers.

However, its actions were moderate compared to the rampage by the RONA Brigade (proposed 29th SS Division). This unit was only brought under control when its commander, Col. Kaminski was lured away from his command under false pretenses, secretly court-martialed and executed. His soldiers were informed that he died in an automobile accident and they were later incorporated to an extent into the 31st SS Division (White Russian Nr.1).

At one point in the fighting, Bach-Zelewski apparently had the "Kaminski treatment" in mind for Oberfhr. Dirlewanger, and he sent his chief-of-staff to Dirlewanger’s HQ to bring him back for a "command conference." Being somewhat suspicious, Dirlewanger didn’t take the bait, and he had the chief-of-staff escorted from his command post at gun point.

On 6 August, with the addition of the until-then absent II.Bn., and the help of Stukas and captured T-34 tanks from the "HG" Div., the Dirlewanger Rgt. made the deepest penetration into rebel-held territory, establishing a foothold in the Saxon Gardens. Gruf. Reinfarth visited the Regiment’s advance positions, and with the aid of two tanks, broke through to the isolated Bruhl Palace where Gen. Stahel had been trapped. The two men then plotted the next phase of the combat operations.

Over the next several days the battle for Warsaw raged with brutal intensity. The Dirlewanger Rgt. was able to clear the Saxon Gardens, capture the Royal Castle and seize the approaches to the Kierbedza Bridge all by 19 August. But it was done at a heavy cost in casualties. During the fighting the Regiment received about 2500 replacements, some 1900 of them from the SS Military Prison Camp at Danzig-Matzkau, with most of the rest being political prisoners from concentration camps. The latter group was used to form a new III. Bn. and took no part in the battle for Warsaw.

On 27 August 1944, Dirlewanger began his all-out attack on the Old Town quarter of Warsaw. Fierce fighting raged here until 1 September, when the Polish guerrillas generally evacuated the area, using the sewer conduits beneath the cobblestone streets.

The actual battle for the city continued on until 4 October, but with the conquest of the Old Town, the issue was no longer in doubt. Dirlewanger’s troops spent much of September parked along the banks of the Vistula, waiting to repel any Soviet attack that might be made (none were, as the Reds were also eager to see the Polish Home Army destroyed), and mopping up pockets of resistance. By the time the Dirlewanger Regiment was withdrawn from Warsaw, it consisted of 648 troops (not counting the undeployed III .Bn.), out of some 3,000 or so used in the fighting.

Immediately after leaving Warsaw, the Dirlewanger Rgt. reassembled in Radom, Poland for extensive refitting. Replacements and reinforcements now poured into the unit from all branches of the services, particularly from the formations that had been shattered in the battle for France and had only just gotten around to sending their disciplinary cases to the military prisons at Torgau and Glatz. Included among these reprobates were many downgraded former Army officers. Within a couple of weeks the Regiment had gained enough new personnel to be reformed as a brigade.

By early October the Dirlewanger formation had adopted the title: SS-Sturmbrigade "Dirlewanger," which would become recognized as the 2.SS-Sturmbrigade ("Dirlewanger") on or about 15 November 1944. The surviving members of the Dirlewanger Rgt. who had participated in the suppression of the Warsaw rebellion were considered to have rehabilitated themselves, and were free to transfer to "regular" Waffen-SS units. But as far as is known, none did so. The links that had developed between the soldiers and their commander - he was very much liked by most of those that served under him - had become so strong during the battles of the previous few months, that no one wished to break them. There was also sort of the perverse pride that tended to develop in probationary units, the bond of the outcasts; all of these soldiers had gone through the same types of humiliation and this in turn brought them much closer together.

On 12 October 1944, on the advice of Ogruf. Berger (who had served briefly as Waffen-SS commander in Solvakia), the Dirlewanger Brigade was ordered to Slovakia to help fight the Slovak Army mutineers and partisans in the Lower Tatras. Part of the unit’s assignment was to protect the Carpathian German community, while also assaulting rebel-held territory. The brigade staff and HQ were based in the ethnic-German Zips region, while the combat elements were deployed against the northwest corner of the rebel-held pocket in central Slovakia. Brigade structure at this time was as follows:

Staff & Support Troops

Two Assault Regiments of three Battalions each Three Artillery Batteries formed into one Detachment One Reconnaissance Company

The roughly 4,000 troops in the Brigade could be categorized like this:
200 poachers (5%)
600 Waffen-SS/Polizei convicts (15%) 2,000 Army/Air Force convicts (50%)
1,200 assorted criminals and political prisoners (30%)

The Dirlewanger Brigade’s combat chronology for Slovakia went as follows:

Sonderkommando troops with captured partisan

"Dirlewanger" men after heavy fighting around Grodno

16 October 1944: Brigade arrival in combat zone; somewhat delayed by attacks by Red-sponsored 1st Czech Air-Fighter Regiment.

18 October 1944: Beginning of brigade assault on fortified rebel positions on Ostro Mountain; little ground gained in heavy fighting.

19-20 October 1944: Further Brigade attacks bogged down.

22 October 1944: The Brigade battled for possession of Necpaly and Biely Potok. One Dirlewanger Assault Rgt. near Necpalska Dolina, 9 km to the southeast of Turc Svaty Martin (St. Martin), made some slow progress against the "Stalin" Red Slovak Bde. being led by a Capt. Jegorov. The other Dirlewanger Assault Rgt. was unable to gain any ground against the 6th Slovak Tactical Group under a Lt.Col. Cernek to the south of Biely Potok.

25 October 1944: The Brigade captured both Necpaly and Biely Potok and broke through the rebel front to a depth of 6 km.

26 October 1944: Good progress was made against the "6th Tactical Group" and the Brigade drove to within a few kilometers of the rebel capital of Banska Bystrica.

27 October 1944: The Brigade assaulted and overran the rebel stronghold at Liptowska Osada after a protected struggle; however, the main enemy forces had largely withdrawn from the area.

28-30 October 1944: The Brigade was engaged in mop-up fighting between Liptowska Osada and Banska Bystrica in which most of the dispersed rebel forces were neutralized.

During this particular time the Dirlewanger Brigade had been assigned to the control of the neighboring 14th SS Division (1st Ukrainian), but its commander, Brigfhr. Freitag, made no effort to even contact it, much less control it. Ogruf. Hoeffle, the Higher SS and Police Leader for Slovakia, who was in charge of putting down the military mutiny, had overall command jurisdiction over the Brigade, but he was not particularly happy with that responsibility.

After the war, prior to his execution as a "war criminal" by the Czechs, Ogruf. Hoeffle was allowed to make court depositions about what had happened during the revolt. In his side of the story, Hoeffle noted that he was opposed to the deployment of the Dirlewanger Brigade in Slovakia, stating that it had only happened due to Himmler’s insistence upon Berger’s request. Once arrived, Hoeffle informed Dirlewanger that he expected his troops to be fully disciplined and do their duty whether in quarters or in the field.

But Hoeffle soon ran into trouble with him. He insisted that Dirlewanger telephoned false reports about his artillery detachment’s alleged successes (particularly around Sahy in December 1944), behind his back to Gruf. Fegelein, the Waffen-SS Liaison Officer in the Führer HQ in Berlin. Hoeffle was also troubled by the fact that Dirlewanger Brigade deserters began turning up in towns throughout Slovakia, becoming a burden to the Military Police and Secret Field Police Troops who had to track them down. It was discovered that many of these deserters had actually sold their weapons to Slovak partisans. Despite these lapses, Hoeffle admitted that the brigade had fulfilled its assigned combat mission.

"D" Rgt. machine gunners in the Saxon Gardens of Warsaw

On the plus side, two former Army officers, serving as enlisted men in the brigade, were fully pardoned and decorated for their performance during the crushing of the Slovak mutiny. As of 1 October 1944, the Brigade’s replacement company listed its address as Fischerstrasse 16 in Cracow; effective 15 November it was listed as the replacement company for the SS Assault Brigade "Dirlewanger," so it was around this time that the nominal "brigade" status for the unit became official. On 17 November the Dirlewanger Brigade received another large contingent of concentration camp prisoners, most of whom had been former Communists and Socialists. When they arrived they had to be taught how to make a proper "Hitler salute," since none of them had had the time or inclination to practice this before. At this time, it was still customary to refer to unit commanders within the Brigade by their position titles rather than their ranks (since most of them were un-ranked anyhow!); i.e., a former Hauptmann or Hauptsturmführer would be referred to only as "Company Commander" (Kompaniechef).

SS-Oberfhr. Dirlewanger after receiving the Slovak War Victory Cross. 1st Class

SS-Oberführer Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger upon receipt of the Knight’s Cross. 30 September 1944

In early December 1944, the "D" Brigade was sent to Hungary to participate in a counterattack along with part of the Panzergrenadier Div. "Feldherrnhalle" in the northern Hungarian hills in an effort to relieve the pressure being mounted against Budapest. But the Brigade was not permitted to retain what little cohesiveness it had. One Dirlewanger battalion was assigned to the 2nd Armored Div. of the Hungarian 3rd Army, while further Brigade elements were detached to Army Group "Woehler" for use in the 18th SS Pz.Gr.Div. "Horst Wessel."

Oberfhr. Dirlewanger (left) and members of his staff. 1944

On 12 December, the commander of 4th SS Polizei Div., Brigfhr. Fritz Schmedes, unexpectedly found himself canned; he had disobeyed a "Führer" attack order some- what earlier on the grounds that it would have been suicidal, and thought at best he would receive a reprimand. Such was not to be the case as the Reichsführer-SS decided to make an example of him. Himmler hurriedly promoted a junior officer, Ostubaf. Walter Harzer, to Standartenführer, and ordered him to replace Schmedes as divisional commander. But for Brigfhr. Schmedes the worst was yet to come: he was eventually posted on probation to the Dirlewanger Brigade! His exact position was that of "Tactical Officer," which was rather ambiguous. In essence he would be an advisor and second-in- command to the brigade CO, Oberfhr. Dirlewanger.

Hauptmann Otto Hafner, who commanded two "Dirlewanger" battalions with success in Hungary, late 1944

Crossed stick grenades

On 14 December 1944, a major attack by the 6th Guard Army of the 2nd Soviet Ukrainian "Front," succeeded in scrambling the Dirlewanger Brigade sector, which straddled the Slovak-Hungarian border, and created an extreme crisis for all of the German Army Group "South." One of Dirlewanger’s battalions had been committed to the defense of the key Slovakian border town of Sahy (or Ipolysag to the Hungarians), and the battalion commander apparently misdeployed his troops by placing only a thin picket line where the bulk of his command should have been located. The result was a major enemy breakthrough that cracked the German lines wide open.

The commander of Army Group "South," Generaloberst Friessner, visited the "D" Brigade command post on the afternoon of the 14th, to impress upon Oberfhr. Dirlewanger that he was to keep his troops in place. Friessner was taken aback by the unmilitary demeanor he found at the Brigade HQ, including the sight of Dirlewanger seated at his desk with a pet monkey on his shoulder. He later would refer to Dirlewanger as an "errant adventurer." In any case, Dirlewanger argued against Friessner’s orders, noting that his command would be cut off if it didn’t withdraw, but the Col.-General would have none of it. After going on to inspect the nearby 24th Panzer Div., Friessner decided to stop by the "D" Brigade HQ that evening to make sure that it was still in place. Naturally it wasn’t and Friessner barely escaped capture by the Soviets!

Part of Dirlewanger’s problems near Sahy was caused by his III. Bn./SS-Sturm Rgt. 2, which was the so-called "political prisoner" battalion composed to a large extent of Communist Party functionaries. About half of it, 160 men in total, deserted en masse to the enemy. The deserters made sure to rip-off their "incriminating" insignia in advance, however. By 15-16 December, Dirlewanger’s command was in even greater chaos than normal. One battalion had been overrun and another had virtually ceased to exist. As the Reds began expanding their foothold at Sahy between the 6th and 8th German Armies, the still functioning segments of the Dirlewanger Brigade were subordinated to officers of the 357th Inf. Div. to be used in building up a new defensive line between Kistompa and Syemerod. What developed in this area was the so-called "Gran Bridgehead," in the north part of which was located the bulk of the "D" Brigade along with units of the "FHH" Div. and the IV. Pz. Corps.

During some of the heaviest fighting in Hungary, more Dirlewanger battalions were attached to other formations. The main body of the Brigade came under the operational control of the 18th SS Div. "HW," with a battalion going to Kampfgruppe "Schenz" (until 27 December), and two battalions going to Kampfgruppe "Hafner" of the 357th Inf. Division. These detached elements, composed as they were of mostly "disgraced" ex-officers, performed well when they were adequately led. Hauptmann Hafner went out of his way to praise the steadfast conduct of the Dirlewanger men under his control. In particular he singled out for special recognition, SS-Unterscharführer (Sgt.) Momm, who distinguished himself in the fighting. Momm was a former cavalry staff officer and internationally known equestrian show-jumper from the Cavalry School in Hannover, who had run afoul of Wehrmacht disciplinary authorities.

The critical battle for northern Hungary came to a stalemate on 28 December 1944 with both sides now digging in. However, the city of Budapest along with the IX. SS Mountain Corps, had become hopelessly encircled. Much of the blame for this has been placed on the "D" Brigade for allowing the enemy to make his deep penetration near Sahy. But this may well be a case of "passing the buck"; the military powers responsible were aware of the composition of the Brigade and its lack of potential as a frontline unit to begin with and had they chosen to do so, they could have placed a more experienced combat element at this critical juncture.

On 29 December 1944, the new C-in-C Army Group "South," General-of-the-lnfantry Woehler, ordered the Dirlewanger Brigade removed from the front and sent back to Neuhaeusel/Nove Zamky, Slovakia for regrouping. The fully unreliable "communist" Hl./SS-Stu.Rgt. 2, was restocked with troop contingents from the other five assault battalions; in this way both of the regiments were brought up to strength. By this time the unit had been officially titled 2. SS-Sturmbrigade ("Dirlewanger").

As of 2 January 1945, the Brigade was still located to the north of Sahy, Slovakia in the vicinity of the 24th Pz. Div., however, in the course of the month it was reformed in the Prievidza area of Slovakia. On 2 February the Brigade was in the region to the northeast of Pressburg (Bratislava), the Slovak capital, near SS Rgt. "Schill" and two battalions of the "Tatra" Pz. Division. On this same date the "D" Brigade was ordered to relocate to the Guben area in Germany on the threatened Oder River front.

Ten days later, on 12 February, the Dirlewanger Brigade arrived near Guben and parts of it were immediately rushed into the frontlines. On the 14th, orders arrived authorizing the Brigade to expand into the 36th SS Division, which because of its probationary nature, would not be given full Waffen-SS status, but would only be designated a "Waffen-Grenadier" division, on par with the non-Germanic SS divisions. The new division was to be formed around Kottbus based upon the Brigade, using new troops from Army penal units along with probationary soldiers from the "Hermann Goering" Division. Officer cadets from the SS-Junkerschule "Braunshweig," who had been serving in a battle-group with the "HG" Div., were assigned to the 36th SS Div. to serve as NCOs. In addition some specialist personnel were provided to the new formation from the Army Engineer Brigade 681.

On the same day, the "D" Brigade was forced to evacuate positions near the town of Sommerfeld In the face of a vigorous enemy advance. Oberfhr. Dirlewanger was not happy with the situation (nor were his superiors!), so on 15 February 1945 he personally led a counterattack aimed at re-taking the town. Along with troops from SS-Polizei Brigade "Wirth" (the nascent 35th SS Polizei Div.), the Dirlewanger men regained Sommerfeld, Christianstadt and Naumburg in vigorous fighting, in the course of which Dirlewanger received his twelfth and most severe war wound. Command was then passed on to Brigfhr. Schmedes, who although he led the Brigade/Division from this point until the war’s end, seems never to have been more than a "temporary" commander.

At the end of the day, fighting for the western part of Christianstadt was reported as still in progress. To the north of this town, the Bober line was pierced by enemy forces and the Bober Bridgehead across the Oder was evacuated, with the Oder River bridges in the area subsequently being destroyed. The 16th of February was another day of fierce combat, with the Soviets unable to gain any ground in their previous penetration some 8 km south-southwest of Guben. The Dirlewanger Brigade was heavily engaged and expelled the Reds from two towns to the west and east of Sommerfeld. On the next day the fighting continued with little change, but the Brigade was credited with the destruction of one enemy tank near Sommerfeld.

On 18 February 1945 a defensive front was rapidly assembled to block a Soviet advance to the southwest of Crossen. The Dirlewanger Brigade was reinforced and advanced from Guben to occupy towns farther to the east. The Brigade’s spearhead ended up reaching a spot about 5 km east of Guben on the Guben-Crossen road. To the north, other weak Waffen-SS forces struggled valiantly (and mostly successfully) to stave off another enemy advance to the northwest.

From this point in time to the middle of April 1945, the entire Oder Front settled down into a pattern of static, but often very violent positional fighting. The enemy drive had been temporarily halted and the Soviets spent these weeks largely in regrouping huge new forces in the rear while continuing to probe the porous German frontlines. The 36th SS Div. began taking on some semblance of shape in March 1945 and its assault regiments were supposed to have been redesignated Wafffen-Grenadier Regiments of the SS 72 and 73 (this according to the Waffen-SS historian and researcher Wolfgang Vopersal). One can assume that the regimental number 74 was also set aside for the Division, since it did not appear in use elsewhere in the Waffen-SS.

Whatever the case, the 36th SS Div. was not able to fully organize itself into a division in the brief time allotted to it and by 15 April 1945 the combat-worthy portions of the formation were designated as Kampfgruppe 36. SS Division. On this day, while serving as part of V. Army Corps, it joined the 342nd Inf. Div. in throwing back several enemy attempts to cross over the Neisse River. From this time on the divisional chronology is as follows:

16 April 1945: The great Soviet Spring Offensive begins; enemy inroads are made all along the German frontlines.

17-18 April 1945: The Division participates in desperate defensive fighting around Guben.

19-20 April 1945: 36th SS Div. begins to withdraw from its Oder-Neisse positions; retrograde fighting in progress.

21 April 1945: 36th SS Div. assumed defensive positions to the southwest of Guben, between the 342nd and 214th Inf. Divisions.

22 April 1945: No change in the situation.

23-24 April 1945: The 36th SS Div. takes part in retrograde actions towards the Neu-Zauche area.

25 April 1945: The 36th SS Div. took up temporary positions to the southwest of Lake Schwieloch.

26 April 1945: Beginning of withdrawal towards Maerkish Buchholz.

27-28 April 1945: 36th SS Div. is encircled In the extreme south-southeastern part of the Halbe Pocket.

29 April 1945: With no hope of escape in sight, Brigfhr. Schmedes surrendered the bulk of the 36th SS Div. to the Red Army.

3 May 1945: Remnants of the 36th SS Div. that had gotten isolated in the fighting, crossed over the Elbe River and surrendered to the Americans.

Thus ended the somewhat unusual story of the Dirlewanger Bde./36th SS Division. It was not the end for its commander, who while recuperating from his wounds fell Into French captivity. Soon after the end of the war, Oskar Dirlewanger was murdered by French soldiers, who applied the same fate to a number of other disabled and helpless Waffen-SS officers who wound up in their hands. No investigation into this misdeed was permitted of course! Later it was rumored that Dirlewanger had been killed by ex-KZL inmates or even his own soldiers, but these seem to be feeble efforts to cover up yet another "Allied" war crime! In the post-war era, rabid "Nazi- hunters" were convinced that Dirlewanger lived in Cairo on the payroll of the Egyptian government, so his body was exhumed and positively identified in 1963.

As for the fate of the 36th SS Div. itself, details are largely lacking, though many of its soldiers did survive the war, and quite a few ended up in government positions in the DDR (East Germany). We can assume that these individuals were probably ex-members of the notorious III. Bn./SS-Stu.Rgt. 2. The claim by the alleged historian Reitlinger that the division was "put to the sword" after the surrender has never been verified.

The 36th SS Div. will probably always be the subject of some controversy due to its activities, composition and marginal status with the Waffen-SS, but it did function, occasionally with great effectiveness, as a very unique military unit!

Replacement Company/Dirlewanger Brigade 36th SS Division

This was established in Minsk in April 1944 and as of 1 October 1944 had relocated to Fischerstrasse 16 in Cracow. It moved to Breslau in December 1944 and was located at Schulplatz 2 in Bruenn-Koengisfeld as of 15 February 1945. (Note: The Cracow address was supposed to have been a former monastery.)

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