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The unit was the brainchild of Hauptmann (Captain) Theodor von Hippel who, after having his idea rejected by the traditionalist Reichswehr, approached Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, commander of the German Intelligence Service, the Abwehr. Hippel proposed that small units, trained in sabotage and fluent in foreign languages, could operate behind enemy lines and wreak havoc with the enemy's command, communication and logistical tails. When Hippel approached the Reichswehr, his idea was rebuffed. The traditionalist Prussian officers saw this clandestine form of warfare as an affront to the rules of war, and claimed that men who fought that way would not deserve to be called soldiers. Undaunted, Hippel then took his idea to Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, commander of the German Intelligence service, the Abwehr. Hippel was employed in the Abwehr's 2nd Department, and given the task of making his vision a reality.
Regiment Brandenburg evolved out of the Abwehr's 2nd Department, and was used as a commando unit during the first years of the war. Initially the unit consisted mainly of former German expatriates fluent in other languages. Until 1944 it was an OKH unit rather than a unit of the regular army (Heer). The unit steadily expanded until it was reallocated to the Großdeutschland Panzer Korps to be used as a frontline combat unit.
World War II
The original formation, designated Bataillon Ebbinghaus, was formed mostly from Volksdeutsche from Poland who were fluent in Polish. The battalion was formed with support of the OKW, which had been arranged by Canaris, but meant that the unit fell under Wehrmacht command. A large number of the recruits were small time criminals and various thugs who fled from Poland. Prior to the Invasion of Poland (Plan White), small groups of German special forces dressed in civilian clothes crossed the Polish border the night before to seize key strategic points before dawn on the day of the invasion. Battalion Ebbinghaus engaged in mass atrocities against Poland's population and captured PoWs. On September 4, members of the Freikorps Ebbinghaus executed 17 defenders of Pszczyna among them boy scouts from the Pszczyna secondary schools, and 29 citizens of Orzesze who were tortured before execution. Further massacres happened in Siemanowice on 8 September where 6 Poles were murdered in mass execution, on 1 October 1939 Freikorps murdered 18 people in Nowy Bytom. Larger massacres happened in Katowice where hundreds of people were executed. Canaris gave Hippel the go-ahead to create an Abwehr controlled unit in 25 October 1939. Hippel recruited Slavs, Poles and others willing to fight for Germany. On 15 December 1939 the company was expanded and redesignated as the Brandenburg Battalion.
The battalion consisted of four companies, organised along ethnic lines: men from Baltic/Russian territories; those who had lived in English-speaking territories, Portuguese, and North Africa; Sudeten Germans who spoke Czech, Slovak, and Ruthenian; and Polish, Belarusian, Russians, and Ukrainians. The battalion also included a Motorcycle platoon and a paratroop platoon.  The unit took part in Fall Gelb, clearing the way for the Fallschirmjäger before the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael. On 8 May, two nights before the opening of the offensive the Brandenburgers went into action. The unit seized the Meuse bridge in the Dutch town of Gennep. On another bridge, Brandenburgers were arrested by Dutch troops and shot as spies. Following the fall of France, the Battalion was again enlarged, and redesignated "Regiment Brandenburg" and took part Operation Marita, the invasion of the Balkans.
Despite the increased size, the Brandenburgers were still highly skilled. The training was physically and mentally demanding, with focuses on foreign languages, small unit tactics, parachuting, demolitions, covert operations, swimming, secret messaging, map reading, long range scouting, use of vehicles and aircraft and familiarity with enemy weapons, including tanks. Some sub-units were specifically trained as pilots or trained in forgery or camouflage. The first German units to cross the Soviet frontier in June 1941 were the men of the Brandenburg Regiment. On the first day, Brandenburgers seized road and rail junctions, secured river crossings and wreaked havoc within the Soviet communications and supply lines. During the early days of Barbarossa, a Brandenburger unit seized the bridge over the Daugava in Dünaburg (in Latvia). In Ukraine, the Brandenburgers operated in co-operation with the volunteer Ukrainian unit Ukrainische Gruppe Nachtigall in support of Army Group South.
In early August 1942, a Brandenburger unit of 62 Baltic and Sudeten Germans led by Adrian von Fölkersam penetrated farther into enemy territory than any other German unit. They had been ordered to seize and secure the vital Maikop oilfields. Disguised as dreaded NKVD men, and driving Soviet trucks, Fölkersam's unit passed through the Soviet front lines and moved deep into hostile territory. The Brandenburgers ran into a large group of Red Army deserters fleeing from the front. Fölkersam saw an opportunity to use them to the unit's advantage. By persuading them to return to the Soviet cause, he was able to join with them and move almost at will through the Russian lines.
Units of the division were sent to the Balkans, to engage in anti-Partisan operations. On May 25, 1944, specialist members of the division, attached to SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon 500, took part in the unsuccessful Operation Rösselsprung, an airborne operation to capture Yugoslav Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito. In mid 1943, many Brandenburger units were moved from the Balkans, and took part in actions to disarm Italian soldiers. One vital area was the island of Kos, in the Dodecanese island chain off the coast of Turkey. Kos had been secured by British troops in September 1943, and a large garrison of allied Italian troops was also present. Along with Luftwaffe paratroop forces, Brandenburgers took part in the recapture of the island.
In September 1944 it was decided that special operations units were no longer necessary. The Brandenburg Division became the Infantry Division Brandenburg and transferred to the Eastern front. 1,800 men (including Fölkersam) obtained transfers to SS-Standartenführer Otto Skorzeny's 502nd SS Jäger Battalion and continue operating as special forces within SS-Jagdverband Mitte, but mostly SS-Jagdverband Ost until the end of the war.
The rest of the Brandenburgers were assigned to Panzer Corps Grossdeutschland along with its old training partner from 1940 to 1941, the Grossdeutschland Division. In late 1944, the division was equipped with a Panzer Regiment and redesignated Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg and returned to the front. The Brandenburgers were involved in heavy fighting near Memel, until their withdrawal, along with the Großdeutschland, via ferry to Pillau. The division was all but annihilated during the heavy fighting near Pillau. While some survivors surrendered to the British in Schleswig-Holstein in May, many Brandenburgers, highly skilled in evading detection, simply disappeared. Others enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and fought in French Indo-China where their skills proved an asset.
The Bergmann battalion (meaning "highlander") was a military unit of the German Abwehr during World War II, composed of five German-officered companies of volunteers from the Caucasus region of the Soviet Union. The battalion was formed of the émigrés and Soviet POWs from the Caucasian republics at Neuhammer in October 1941. Subordinated to the German commando battalion Brandenburgers and placed under the command of Oberleutnant Theodor Oberländer, the unit received training at Neuhammer and Mittenwald (Bavaria) with the Gebirgsjäger. Later a special 130-men-strong Georgian contingent of Abwehr codenamed "Tamara-II" was incorporated into Bergmann. By March 1942, there were five companies of some 300 Germans and 900 Caucasians.
In August 1942, Bergmann went to the Eastern Front, where it saw its first action in the North Caucasus campaign in August 1942. The unit engaged in anti-partisan actions in the Mozdok-Nalchik-Mineralnye Vody area and conducted reconnaissance and subversion in the Grozny area. At the end of 1942, Bergmann conducted a successful sortie through the Soviet lines, bringing with them some 300 Red Army defectors, and covered the German retreat from the Caucasus. Bergmann went through a series of hard-fought engagements with the Soviet partisans and regular forces in the Crimea in February 1943 and was dissolved – like other Ostlegionen units – at the end of 1943. The significantly shrunken ex-Bergmann companies were dispatched to conduct police functions in Greece and Poland.
Nachtigall and Roland Battalions
The Nachtigall Battalion, also known as Ukrainian Nightingale Battalion Group, officially known as Special Group Nachtigall, and the Roland Battalion, officially known as Special Group Roland, were the subunits under command of the Abwehr special operation unit Brandenburgers (1st Brandenberg Battalion). They were the two military units formed February 25, 1941 by head of the Abwehr Wilhelm Franz Canaris, which sanctioned the creation of the "Ukrainian Legion" under German command. They were manned primarily by occupied Poland citizens of Ukrainian ethnicity directed to unit by Bandera's OUN orders.
In May 1941, the German command decided to split a 700-strong Ukrainian Legion into two battalions: Nachtigall ("Nightingale") and Roland Battalion. Training for Nachtigall took place in Neuhammer near Schlessig. On the Ukrainian side, the commander was Roman Shukhevych and on the German, Theodor Oberländer. (Oberländer was later to become Federal Minister for Displaced Persons, Refugees and War Victims in the Federal Republic of Germany.) Ex-Brandenburger Oberleutnant Dr. Hans-Albrecht Herzner was placed in military command of the Battalion. The Nachtigall unit was outfitted in the standard Wehrmacht uniforms. Before entering Lviv, they placed blue and yellow ribbons on their shoulders.
In comparison to Nachtigall – which used ordinary Wehrmacht uniform – the Roland Battalion was outfitted in the Czechoslovakian uniform with yellow armband with text "Im Dienst der Deutschen Wehrmacht" (In the service of the German Wehrmacht). They were given Austrian helmets from World War I. The Battalion was set up by the Abwehr and organized by Richard Yary of the OUN(b) in March1941, prior the German invasion to Soviet Union and commanded by Yevhen Pobigischiy . Approximately 350 Bandera's OUN followers were trained at the Abwehr training centre at the Seibersdorf under command of the former Poland Army major Yevhen Pobiguschiy.
In Germany, in November 1941 the Ukrainian personnel of the Legion was reorganized into the 201st Schutzmannschaft Battalion. It numbered 650 persons which served for one year at Belarus before disbanding. Many of its members, especially the commanding officers, went on to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and 14 of its members joined SS-Freiwilligen-Schützen-Division «Galizien» in spring 1943.
Russian historian V. Chuyev states that despite the ending, OUN achieved its ultimate goals – 600 members of their organization had received military training and had battle experience and these men took positions as instructors and commanders in the structure of the newly formed Ukrainian Insurgent Army. S. Bandera wrote: "The end of OUN was such: the revolutionary columns were commanded by Roman Shukhevych with a small party of officers who had not only undergone military training, but had come to a clear understanding of military tactics. The most important, they brought with them – an understanding of organization, strategies and tactics of partisan fighting, and the German method of dealing with partisan groups. This knowledge was very useful in the formation and activities of the UIA and in its future conflicts.
- Knight's Cross
- Hauptmann Eckart Afheldt
- Oberst Erich von Bruckner
- Leutnant der Reserve Hellmut von Leipzig
- Oberstleutnant Wilhelm Walther
- Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves
- Major der Reserve Siegfried Grabert
- Oberstleutnant Karl-Heinz Oesterwitz
- Major der Reserve Max Wandrey
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- Behind Soviet Lines Hitler's Brandenburgers capture the Maikop Oilfields 1942 by David R. Higgins