Document Source: Battle of the Ardennes, Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Otto Skorzeny, Commanding Officer Operation Greif.
The German SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Johann Anton Skorzeny (Jun 12, 1908 – Jul 5, 1975) was an Austrian-born officer in the Waffen-SS during WW-II. During the war, he was involved in a number of operations, including the removal from power of Hungarian Regent Miklós Horthy and the Gran Sasso Raid which rescued Benito Mussolini from captivity. Skorzeny led Operation Greif in which German soldiers infiltrated Allied lines by using their opponents’ uniforms, equipment, language and customs. In 1947, he was charged at the Dachau Military Tribunal with breaching the 1907 Hague Convention, but was acquitted after a former British SOE agent F.F.E. Yeo-Thomas testified that he and his operatives had been prepared to open fire while wearing German uniforms behind enemy lines.
In 1948, Skorzeny escaped from an internment camp hiding out on a Bavarian farm as well as in Salzburg and Paris before eventually settling in Spain. In 1953, he was offered a job as a military advisor to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, which he did not take up. He was an advisor to President Juan Perón. Otto Skorzeny died of lung cancer on Jul 5, 1975, in Madrid, he was 67.
Date, August 12, 1945.
Interrogator, Lt R.E. Merriam.
Interpreter, Capt Samuel J. McCune.
Place, USFET Interrogation Center, Oberussel, Germany.
Circumstance, Inasmuch as Skorzeny’s remarks were given largely in narrative form, and questioning was only to amplify on his account as he progressed this report is presented as a narrative paraphrasing his remarks.
PLANNING FOR THE ATTACK
About the end of October 1944, Hitler called me to his Headquarters in East Prussia and told me of the plans for a Winter Offensive. Hitler said this was the decisive offensive for us and that the first step would be to reach the Meuse River between Liège and Namur. If this succeeded we were to continue on to Antwerp to cut off the Northern front. He told me about the tremendous quantity of material which had been accumulated and I recall that he mentioned that we would have 6000 artillery pieces in the Ardennes, and in addition the Luftwaffe would have about 2000 planes including numerous of the new Strahl (ME-262) planes. He then told me that I would lead a panzer brigade which would be trained to reach the Meuse River bridges and capture them intact. I told him that if I were to do this in the short time I was allotted I would have to give up all my other work. Hitler agreed to this and told me that Army would send some of its best officers for my unit. Hitler then sent me to Gen Alfred Jodl CoS-OKW. He gave me more details about the plan and the role of the Brigade. I then spoke to Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel CG-OKW and a Colonel, and they completed the details of my role.
About the end of November or first of December, I was again called to Hitler’s Hq, this time in Berlin, to discuss further plans for the attack. Hitler was not present at this conference. We were told that we would initially have three days’ supply of rations and munitions and that there was sufficient supply of truck burning wood gasoline to bring up additional supplies. We were told not to worry, but it readily became apparent to me that there were to many promises being made. I was privately told that there would only be about 140 planes in the West instead of the 2000 that Hitler had mentioned.
The offensive was postponed several times and I only knew on December 14 that it would finally begin on December 16.
Immediately after my first meeting with Hitler my troops began to arrive, and training was begun. At this time, I was the only one of our Brigade who knew about the plans for the attack. In the middle of November, I called together my three group commanders and told them that we were expecting an American offensive somewhere in the Aachen sector and that our plan was to let the Americans penetrate our lines and then cut them off. At this time, our Brigade was to create a considerable disturbance in the rear lines, and to help the annihilation of these forces. Around the first of December, all of the officers of the Brigade learned this same sketch of our plans, and it was not until December 10 that even the group commanders knew about the actual plans for the attack.
ORGANIZATION OF SKORZENY’S UNITS
My organization was composed of two main groups: the Commandos Unit and the 150.Panzer-Brigade. The Commando unit was composed of English-speaking men who had been withdrawn from various units in the armed forces. I received about 600 men initially and from these, I picked 150 ofd the best. All were equipped with American uniforms and jeeps. The were divided into three groups: (1) Explosive Groups, these were composed of from five six men in each group whose job was to blow bridges, munition dumps and gasoline dumps. (2) Reconnaissance Groups, these units with from three to four men were reconnoiter in depth East and West of the Meuse River to recognize enemy tank, artillery, and other unit movements. Some of these groups were equipped with radios with which they were to send back information of these movements. These groups were also instructed to give false commands to units they met, to reverse the road signs, to remove minefields signs, and to put white stripe in streets with no mine so that the enemy forces would believe the roads blocked. (3) Lead Commandos, These groups of from three to four men were principally to disturb enemy leadership by cutting telephone wires, wrecking radio stations, and give false commands. They were to work closely with the attacking divisions.
The 150.Panzer-Brigade was composed of twp tank and one infantry combat group, each with its own small combat staff. The total forces of the Brigade was as follows:
(1) My staff and a signal company
(2) Three small combat staffs
(3) Two signal companies from the army (200 men)
(4) Two battalions of Kampfgruppe 200 (Fall.)(Luftwaffe)(800 men)
(5) One company of Jagdverband Mitte Battalion (175 men)
(6) Two companies of Fallschirmjaeger Battalion 600 (380 men)
(7) Two Panzer Companies from the army (24 men)
(8) Two Panzer Grenadier Companies (350 men)
(9) Two Heavy Mortars Companies from the army (200 men)
(10) Two AT Companies from the army (200 men)
(11) One Pioneer Company (100 men)
(12) Three Vehicles Repair Companies (75 men)
All of these companies were somewhat weaker than an ordinary equivalent unit in the army. The two Panzer Companies had 12 tanks each, half of which were either Sherman or M-10 tanks and the other half Mark V Panther. In the Panzer Grenadier Companies from two to three of the Halftrack were American and the other ten to twelve were German.
The following is a sample organization of one of the Panzer Combat groups:
(1) A small staff
(2) A platoon of signalmen
(3) One Panzer company
(4) Three Infantry companies (120-150 men)
– a. Two Companies Kampfgruppe 200 Fallschirmjaeger
– b. One Company Jagdverband Mitte or Fallschirmjaeger Bn 600
(5) Two platoons Heavy Mortars (120-MM)
(6) Two Anti Tank platoons
(7) Two Panzer Grenadier platoons
(8) One Pioneer platoon
(9) One Vehicles Repair group
The two Panzer groups were both based on this organization while the Infantry group was the same with the exception that it had no tanks.
PLAN FOR PANZER-BRIGADE 150
The mission of the brigade was to seize undamaged at least two Meuse River bridges from among the following possibilities: Amay, Huy or Andenne. This was to be initiated when the attack of the panzer units of the Panzer Divisions reached the Hohe Venn, roughly on a line running Northeast and Southeast from Spa. At that time, my troops were to move forward in the night and reach our objective six hours later. It was originally planned that the attack would reach the Hohe Venn area on the first day and that we would move out that night. The plan could only be carried out when the area of the Hohe Venn had been reached because it was necessary to move forward with complete surprise and without having to fight. The three groups were then to move on parallel roads toward these three bridges with radio communication between the group in order that they might shift around if resistance was encountered.
EMPLOYMENT OF THE COMMANDOS
We actually sent out during the first several days of the attack four groups of reconnaissance commandos and two groups of explosive commandos. In addition, one group of leading commandos went with each of the following divisions: 1.SS-Panzer-Division, 12.SS-Panzer-Division, and the 12.Volksgrenadier-Division. Finally, one unit went with each of the group of the Panzer-Brigade 150. A total of 44 men were actually sent through your lines. Of these, all but eight returned.
In the first two or three days when your positions were extremely disorganized we were able to get some information from these commando groups. The following are some of the facts which these units brought back to us:
(1) A jeep drove through Malmédy and discovered that the town was very light held;
(2) Enemy movements were spotted south of Liège, but not on a heavy scale;
(3) We discovered that all airports East of the Meuse River had been withdrawn. This was very important to us because we then knew that the enemy Air Force would not be immediately employed (Skorzeny did not enlarge upon this point, but it is believed that he was thinking of the time which would be required to establish the fighter-bomber on new fields West of the Meuse River);
(4) We located munition depots at Liège and Huy, and one group reported that they had destroyed a small munitions dumps;
(5) We located one gasoline dump which I think was in the neighborhood of Vaux-Chavanne. This location was reported to the I.SS-Panzer-Corps;
(6) One group claimed to have misdirected an entire American regiment, but of course we cannot be sure that it is so. However, we did monitor some American broadcasts which mentioned the fact that a regiment was being sought for two or three days. (A regiment of the 84th Infantry Division was directed down the wrong road by an MP as the unit moved into the Ardennes sector. It is very possible that this was the unit referred to because no trace could be found of an American MP who had been at this particular intersection.)
We were not able to receive radio reports from the reconnaissance commandos because of the bad weather, fog, and wind, and because of the high hills between my headquarters in Schmidtheim and these units.
These jeeps units got through the enemy lines by the following means:
(1) The jeeps would follow at the rear of an attacking Panzer column and when the column got into a firefight, the jeeps would then move off the main road and travel around the battle area on side roads until they were behind the withdrawing American troops. This was very easy in the first several days of the confused fighting.
(2) Some of the jeeps moved through small trails in wooded areas until they were behind the enemy lines.
(3) Some of the units moved through at night.
Some of the units which came back through the lines were able to come back with their jeeps, while others came back on foot. During the first several days, the jeep units had no difficulty coming back with their vehicles. The last men of the commando units were sent through the lines on December 19. After this, the element of surprise had been lost and it was already apparent that the attack of the 6.Panzer-Army was not going to reach its objective. After December 19, these commando units made only normal trips through the lines to locate artillery and tank positions. These trips were made as ordinary reconnaissance, and the men were once again equipped with German uniforms.
USE OF THE PANZER-BRIGADE 150
The Panzer-Brigade moved into the area of the Ardennes on December 14 in the neighborhood of Münstereifel. We had moved into the area mainly by night and the tanks were always kept in deep woods during the day. Our soldiers were not allowed to go into town in the area, nor did we send any men to the front lines prior the attack. I considered it much more important to conceal our movements than to risk betraying the offensive by conducting reconnaissance. On the afternoon of December 16, the Brigade moved out, and from there, the combat groups moveed in behind the attacking divisions to which they were assigned, and the plan was that they were to move around the divisions on side roads once the objective Hohe Venn was reached.
The three combat groups of the Brigade were split between the 1.SS-Panzer-Division, the 12.SS-Panzer-Division, the 12.Volksgrenadioer-Division from the I.SS-Panzer-Corps. The only chance that these units had to successfully completed their mission was during the first two days, inasmuch as it was necessary that they go to the Meuse River without fighting. They were not strong combat forces and were to be used mainly to old the bridges for a short time once they had been seized.
When the 6.Panzer-Army did not reach the projected starting point for their maneuver in the first two days, I realized that the whole plan would not succeed, and that we would never be able to get our small combat group through the Meuse River bridges. I therefore went to the Commanding General 6.Panzer-Army and recommended to him that we pull my three combat groups together and use them as a normal army unit. My recommendation was accepted, and the three combat groups were together and assembled South of Malmédy. At that time, IO took personal command of the Brigade because the commander of the Brigade, SS-Obersturmbannführer Willi Hardieck, had been killed on the first day. At that time, we were working directly under the I-SS.Panzer-Corps, and although his was the 1.SS-Panzer-Division sector, the division commander could not give me any commands.
I was given the mission by the I.SS-Panzer-Corps to attack Malmédy on December 21, and early on that day, I attacked with two combat groups, one moving on the town from the East and the other from the South. The third group was hold in reserve. The attack from the East was immediately stopped and the attack from the South was halted at about 1500. In the time between our initial reconnaissance in Malmédy and this attack, strong enemy forces had been moved into the town and taken up defensive positions. I had no artillery, whatsoever with my Brigade, and wen I realized the strength of the enemy positions I ordered a withdrawal to defensive positions South of Malmédy. We remained in these positions until December 29 when we withdrew because of continuous losses to enemy artillery fire. Our lack of artillery was a great handicap.
Losses og the Panzer-Brigade 150 amounted to 15% of the strength. About 450 men were either killed, wounded, or missing of a strength of 3000. These losses were mostly due to artillery fire and some airplane attacks. A number of the men had been lost around Holzheim on the first and second days. These losses were also from artillery fire. After we withdrew from the line South of Malmédy, we went to Schlierbach and on January 2, we withdrew completely back to Germany and then we went to Grafenwoehr. There, we disbanded, and the men returned to their original units.
COMMENTS ON PLOT TO CAPTURE EISENHOWER
We did not plan to capture high American officials. This was never part of the sheme. Abut the beginning of November, when the units was organized, the soldiers began to spread rumors about the employment of this special unit. Naturally we censored all the mail, and at first we tried to supress these rumors. By the middle of November, I began to realize that it would be impossible to try to stop the rumors, many of which were spread by officers in the unit. I had a meeting with SS-Sturmbannführer Fölkersam, who was my Chief of Staff, and SS-Obersturmbannführer Hardieck and finally decided that we would let the rumors go but direct them so that they didn’t come to close to the truth. Inasmuch as the three of us were the only one to know of the plans for our deployment, this was not a difficult task.
I specifically recall that some of the men were claiming that our unit was to single-handedly capture Antwerp, and other reports that we were to use our Brigade to drive to Dunkirk and free the German troops encircled in that town. I am quite certain that rumor about capturing Gen Eisenhower was started this way. Naturally we finally began to encourage these rumors on the theory that it would conceal the true purpose of the Brigade.
Note: The highest American rank that we used was that of a colonel. We had no Brigadier General in our commandos.