Company griffin

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Overview map of the Battle of the Bulge

Operation Greif was the code name for a commando company during the Ardennes offensive in December 1944. Wehrmacht soldiers under the command of the Austrian SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny wore US uniforms and used enemy equipment. They were supposed to create confusion among American troops behind American lines and thus contribute to the success of the Battle of the Bulge. At the beginning of the company's planning in autumn 1944, the units were set up under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Wulf, and on December 14, 1944, he handed it over to SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny.

Background and preparation

Targets of attack

The company was to begin in the morning hours of December 16, 1944 at the same time as the Battle of the Bulge.

The balance of forces was unfavorable from a German perspective: In any German soldiers came up to eleven Allied, in any tank the Wehrmacht up to eight British or American. It was still hoped to push the enemy back to the west in the event of a surprise attack. The long-term goal of the Ardennes offensive was to retake Antwerp . With such a demonstration of strength, Hitler hoped to secure a favorable position for special peace negotiations with the Western Allies.

The combat units of the company Greif were supposed to conquer bridges and Allied supply depots in the Ardennes and hold them until the arrival of German front-line units, issue false orders to US units, shut down divisional command posts and create confusion among the opposing troops in every other way.

The German tank units were supposed to refuel their vehicles at enemy fuel depots and advance further.

The whole company resembled a house of cards: if it was not possible to achieve a single goal, everything that followed was also almost impossible. But even if the associations had really achieved all the individual goals of the early phase, there was no way of achieving the ambitious end goal. The company's goals are seen as an indication that Hitler had lost touch with the reality and the military situation in Germany. Even without the overwhelming superiority of the Allies, it would have been a complicated undertaking to get to the French coast, because the German fuel reserves were not even enough to advance to Antwerp without a fight. It was utterly impossible with Allied resistance.

Teams and equipment

About 3,000 soldiers of the Wehrmacht were to be placed under Skorzeny's command, and 2,676 had reported by November 1944. Since the soldiers were operating in enemy uniforms, it was foreseeable that if they were captured by Allied troops they would be shot as spies . Therefore only volunteers were recruited. Of them, only 30 could speak fluent English . They should take command of the combat units and act as spokespersons in the event of a peaceful encounter with the Americans or the British.

The soldiers were provided with uniforms, equipment and weapons from US booty. This also included identification tags of fallen and captured US soldiers as well as forged pay and deployment books.

The latter were made by a special department of the SS in Lower Saxony. In fact, the exact same paper was used on which the real US Army ID cards were printed. Paratroopers had captured it a few weeks earlier in local counter-attacks in Holland and near Aachen . Specialists had already examined captured US ID cards beforehand and scrutinized every detail so that they could later reproduce the papers down to the last detail.

In order to avoid confusion with enemy forces, those taking part in Operation Greif identified themselves to their own troops by removing their steel helmets during the day and by means of red and blue lights from flashlights at night.

Otto Skorzeny later described the equipment of the Panzer Brigade 150 with booty material as "extremely questionable" and "catastrophic". When marching into the staging area, the unit had only two Sherman tanks, one of which broke down on the way due to engine failure and could only be returned to the troops on December 26th. There were also problems with the uniforms. First British instead of American uniforms were supplied, then it was uniforms from prison camps with the symbol of the prisoners of war printed on them. At the start of the offensive, only 40 percent of the brigade were equipped with American equipment.

Sherman tanks in action

Team strength:

  • 90 officers
  • 448 NCOs
  • 2138 volunteers
  • Total: 2676

Combat formation of the commandos:

Combat group X (under SS-Obersturmbannführer Willi Hardieck, later SS-Hauptsturmführer Adrian von Foelkersam)
  • 3 infantry companies (Ford trucks)
  • 2 armored infantry platoons
  • 2 anti-tank companies
  • 2 heavy grenade launchers
  • 1 repair train
  • News department
  • 5 Panther and 5 StuG III
Combat group Y (under Captain Scherff)
  • 3 infantry companies (Ford trucks)
  • 2 armored infantry platoons
  • 2 anti-tank companies
  • 2 heavy grenade launchers
  • 1 repair train
  • News department
  • 5 Panther and 5 StuG III
Combat group Z (under Lieutenant Colonel Wolf)
  • 3 infantry companies (Ford trucks)
  • 2 armored infantry platoons
  • 2 anti-tank companies
  • 2 heavy grenade launchers
  • 1 repair train
  • News department
  • 5 Panther and 5 StuG III

No association was even close to its nominal strength. In addition to the personnel, there was also a lack of heavy equipment from prey stocks. The main problem was the lack of battle tanks, without which such an operation was impossible. After all, the enemy had a large number of armored vehicles against which nothing could be done without their own heavy tanks or at least armor-piercing weapons.

Equipped on December 14, 1944

Vehicles (total)

  • 2 operational American Sherman and another under repair
  • 3 operational American M10 Wolverines
  • 5 operational German panthers
  • 5 operational German StuG III
  • 4 operational German Sd.Kfz. 250 / 1- armored
  • 6 operational German Sd.Kfz. 251/1 infantry fighting vehicle
  • 6 usable American M3 halftracks
  • 6 operational German SdKfz 234 / 1s
  • 4 operational American M8 Greyhound armored vehicles
  • 6 operational American M20 armored vehicles
  • 12 German sidecar motorcycles
  • 1 American sidecar motorcycle
  • 43 German motorcycles
  • 20 American motorcycles
  • 28 American jeeps
  • 6 light German civil vehicles
  • 36 medium German civil vehicles
  • 9 heavy German civil vehicles
  • 64 light German transport trucks
  • 56 medium German transport trucks
  • 8 medium American transport trucks
  • 6 heavy German transport trucks
  • 1 heavy German tractor
  • 1 heavy American tractor

Infantry weapons (total):

  • 226 light machine guns (including submachine guns and semi-automatic and fully automatic rifles of German and American production)
  • 31 heavy machine guns (German and American production)
  • 24 German 8 cm grenade launchers
  • 24 American 4.2-inch grenade launchers
  • 5 American 3-inch anti-tank guns
  • 14 American 57mm anti-tank guns

Of the 28 Sherman tanks that were promised , Skorzeny received only two, of the 24 M10 Wolverines only three. Only every third of the promised trucks was delivered, as well as every second half-track armored personnel carrier of the type M3 . Only the ten M8 Greyhound and M20 Armored Utility Car types were delivered in full strength. However, despite the reconnaissance vehicles, there was a lack of effective firepower, as they only had cal. 0.50 MGs (both) and only some of them had light 3.7 cm cannons (only M8 "Greyhound").

When it came to ammunition and the provision of infantry weapons, the commandos suffered from a serious shortage, which could only be remedied to some extent by forays, albeit mostly meager, behind the American front line.

In order to enable the soldiers to pass unhindered through checkpoints without lengthy checks, the troops were given forged passes, which allowed access to almost all western allied army buildings and passage through all checkpoints. They were so well faked that few were recognized as fake by guards. This also applied to the pay and deployment books.

A tank for Skorzeny

M10 Wolverine tank destroyer , which the Germans tried to imitate with the G version of the V Panther tank
Panzerkampfwagen V Panther Ausf. G

In order to fill up the thinned out rows of tank units at least to some extent, twelve German Panthers (Ausf. G) were converted into US M10 tank destroyers. Steel plates were welded to the front, sides and rear of the hull and the turret in order to imitate the silhouette of the American tank destroyer. However, the distinctive box drive remained unchanged, so that many "Panther G / M10 'replacement", as the semi-official name was, were recognized by the US troops. The converted Panthers were assigned equally to the three tank companies. The real US tanks were used as command and command vehicles of the tank companies and should seek first contact in the event of a peaceful encounter with US units. Therefore, the crews of the command tanks were English-speaking throughout.

Skorzeny later strongly criticized the usefulness of these conversions. He said that the illusion "can only work at night from a distance and then only perhaps towards young American recruits".

Weather situation in December 1944

One of the prerequisites for the company's success was suitable weather. In December 1944 there was a severe low pressure area over the Ardennes . The consequences were sometimes heavy snow and freezing rain. The sky was dominated by a mighty field of clouds that made it practically impossible for the Allied air force units to operate. The weather-insensitive German aircraft could still take off and fly. However, they were outnumbered by the Allied aviators in direct combat. The German pilots ruled the skies over the battlefield one last time, if not for very long.

Therefore, the danger that threatened the German attack formations from the air was relatively small. The bad weather also had negative consequences for the Wehrmacht units: The mostly unpaved roads in the Ardennes were soaked through rain and snow, and the vehicles passing through them turned them into fields of mud. Driving through the streets became more and more difficult. The partly constant ground frost threatened another danger. It was not uncommon for vehicles to simply freeze to the ground when stationary.

The infantrymen on both sides also suffered from the inhospitable weather conditions. The coats soaked up the precipitation, barely warmed up and became heavier, making the soldiers slow down. Metal parts of weapons froze together. The cold crept through the clothes and led to faster fatigue. In addition, there was the constant commitment on the front line. Hundreds of soldiers on both sides were sidelined due to weather-related illnesses and weaknesses. The main cause was foot burn , a disease caused by prolonged, severe hypothermia of the feet.

The operation behind the enemy front

Since the American front failed to break on the first day of the Ardennes offensive and the tank brigade could not act in the rear of the enemy, the deployment of the brigade had to be postponed by 24 hours.

On December 17th, only a few jeep teams were sent behind the enemy front to observe the prevailing situation. They were also supposed to spread false orders and rumors about the German advance and remove signposts. Of the nine deployed teams, six to eight probably reached the rear of the American front, two of which were captured. In total, the brigade lost 25 men in action.

The tactical successes achieved were limited: a US tank regiment was sent astray and an infantry company was encouraged to retreat through false information. A command group captured an ammunition store that was partially blown up.

The following day, the 150 tank brigade was assigned to attack Malmedy . The city was on the northern flank of the offensive and was held by the Americans. On the 19th a commando team entered the city and left it after a short time without contact with the enemy.


After initial successes, some of the German commandos were captured, who pretended during the interrogations that followed that their actual mission was to get to Paris and kidnap or kill the Allied Commander in Chief Dwight D. Eisenhower . The origin of this theory were the guesses made by the soldiers in advance of the operation due to the high level of secrecy. Even after the Greif operation began, only a handful of soldiers knew of the real target.

Eisenhower was then given increased protection at his headquarters for several days , and several thousand soldiers were assigned to search for the German commandos. At times, a double from Eisenhower was also used on visits to the front. In the following weeks, the security measures at roadblocks were drastically increased again and again. Dog tags and papers were considered worthless as it was now clear that they could easily be forged. In order to convert German commandos, therefore controlled soldiers (eg. Were asked questions about the typical social life in the US Which baseball team has won the championship in 1934? , What is the girlfriend of Mickey Mouse? Or How many presidents had the US? ) . If someone was unable to answer a question, they were suspected of being a German spy and were arrested. Most of the time, however, the suspects were actually US soldiers who simply weren't prepared for such questions. Almost 2,500 American soldiers were wrongly arrested as Germans, but were later released. Only 13 actual German soldiers were captured at these roadblocks. Five of them, including Lieutenant Günther Schulz, commanding officer , were later executed for sabotage . Two days earlier they had tried to make a bridge that was being held by US troops unusable with tank fire. The attempt had been foiled. Eight attackers were killed in the battle. The other captured soldiers were transferred to a prison camp.

Since a breakthrough on the first day of the Battle of the Bulge did not succeed despite the commando operation, Skorzeny assessed the operation as a failure.


Both the army and the air force suffered heavy losses from the last major offensive in the west. Hundreds of dead and wounded were recorded by the associations deployed. Countless soldiers were taken prisoner. The lost arsenal was missing from the fighting units and could not be replaced during the war. This weakening contributed to the faster demise of the "Third Reich" , because the Allied units were replenished with men and material within three weeks.


  • Michael Schadewitz: Between the knight's cross and the gallows. Skorzeny's secret company Greif in Hitler's Ardennes offensive 1944/45. Helios, Aachen 2007, ISBN 3-938208-48-1 . - content text .
  • Danny S. Parker: Battle of the Bulge. Da Capo Press, Cambridge (MA) 2004, ISBN 978-0-306-81391-7 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Hitler's Sixth Column. Offensive on the German espionage front. (...) “Company Greif”. In: Aufbau / Reconstruction . January 5, 1945, No. 1/1945 (Volume XI), New York City 1945, ZDB -ID 2188065-7 , p. 1.
  2. ^ Parker: p. 198
  3. Rylan Sekiguchi, Stephen John Stedman: An examination of war crimes tribunals. Leland Stanford Junior University Board of Trustees, 2005, p. 103.