Did Germany Have a Resistance Movement Called Werewolf?

The legend of the Werewolf movement is one of many myths of the Second World War. It is often claimed that a German civilian resistance group tried fighting off the Allies and continued fighting them even after the war had ended. Here’s the kicker, though – there was no true resistance movement in Germany at the time. This only makes the issue more complex – if nobody was fighting, why was everyone convinced that the Allies were facing civilian resistance?


Did the “Werewolf” exist?

“Werewolf” did exist, But not as a resistance movement. It’s a common misconception that Werewolf was a resistance movement comprised of everyday men and women turned partisan warriors who wanted to keep fighting the Allied forces even after Germany’s defeat.

Werewolf resistance wasn’t led by civilians but trained soldiers. Goebbels awards a 16-year-old Hitler Youth, Willi Hübner, the Iron Cross .Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J31305 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

This is the literal opposite from the truth. Werewolf was a military unit, established in 1944 and active until the end of the Second World War. The words military unit must be stressed – Werewolf wasn’t a resistance movement full of German civilians, but a trained unit, comprised of professional soldiers.

The misconception was created by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s right-hand man, who was also Germany’s Minister of Propaganda. When Himmler got the idea for Werewolf, he ordered Hans-Adolf Prützmann, who was one of the highest-ranking German officers at the time, to recruit and train a group of elite soldiers to operate behind enemy lines.

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Himmler and Hitler knew that the Allies would advance towards Berlin, and that fighting them head-on could slow them down, but not stop them. Allied forces were simply overwhelming them in every imaginable way.

The idea was to arrange for large groups of well-trained soldiers to hide and get left behind on purpose. The Werewolves would then fight the Allies from behind enemy lines, thus forcing them to fight on two fronts. Given how desperate Germany was at the time, this sounded like a solid plan, and they quickly started recruiting. Goebbels, however, had plans to turn the Werewolf program into something more.

Hans Adolf Prützmann
Head of the Werewolf organisation was Obergruppenführer Hans-Adolf Prützmann (right) seen here with Heinrich Himmler.

Joseph Goebbels fuelled the myth of a post-war civilian resistance group. This divide et impera strategy made enough sense for the Germans to actually go through with it, but Joseph Goebbels wanted to build a myth around the unit and discourage the Allies from advancing. True to character, Goebbels said that the Allied forces would be “…taken in the rear by the fanatical population…” and that the Werewolves would “…tie down strong forces and allow them no rest or exploitation of any possible success.”

This had nothing to do with reality. Goebbels was trying to strike fear into the minds of Allied leaders, claiming that even if Germany falls, the German people will keep fighting the Allies from the inside and they’ll never accept another regime. As we now know, this is completely false, as most Germans saw the Allies as liberators towards the end of the Second World War. However, Goebbel’s propaganda worked, as the Allies believed that a resistance movement existed at the time!

It’s presumed that high-ranking German officers would never actually organise a post-war resistance movement for one simple reason. The Nazis never prepared for defeat. Partly because of military doctrine and troop morale, and partly because of Adolf Hitler’s arrogance, the Nazis only prepared for victories, not defeats. Creating a resistance movement for post-war insurgencies would go against everything Nazi leadership believed in.

Goebbels was allowed to continue with his propaganda because it confused the Allies, but it was never actually true, and Goebbels knew this. Despite that, he kept saying that the Germans would rise up against the ‘invaders’, and on March 23rd, 1945, when defeat became truly inevitable, Goebbels gave a speech on Radio Werewolf, ordering German civilians to fight the Allies even if they lost the war. Needless to say, the German people didn’t really care about what Goebbels had to say at that point.

Interestingly, the radio station itself, while called Werewolf, was not in any way related to the military unit Werewolf. It’s presumed that Goebbels himself named it to manipulate the Allies into thinking that the Werewolf was a resistance movement, thus moving the attention away from the guerrilla groups. It’s also possible that Goebbels, despite not being a military leader, wanted to assume control over the unit.

What did Werewolf actually do?

The Allied troops were indeed confused by the propaganda. Although the Allies didn’t know it at the time, the Werewolf was no resistance movement, but a large group of well-trained partisan fighters hiding in Germany’s liberated areas. In 1944 and 1945, Werewolf was very active, despite not dealing much damage to the Allies. However, when you take the propaganda into account, it’s no wonder the Allies were afraid. They constantly thought that civilian groups were conducting guerrilla attacks, not knowing that the attacks were pre-planned and conducted by small groups of soldiers.

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Even Allied media reported that the Germans would organise a resistance and fight off the Allied forces even if the country’s leadership was neutralised. Because of this confusion, the Allies focused on the wrong targets – they tried controlling the civilian population instead of finding the hiding spots of Werewolf groups.

Despite their poor success and organisation they did have their own pennant. This added to the Allies fear of the Werewolf.

This led to the destruction of German property and thousands of civilian deaths. Although it’s easy to blame the Allies for this in retrospect, it must be noted that they were suffering attacks and losses from partisan forces and that the German media insisted that the German people were fighting back, and that they would continue to fight back even if they lost the war.

The Soviets arrested thousands of young people, claiming that they were members of the Werewolf unit. Since Werewolf commanders recruited many soldiers from the Hitler youth, these arrests are nothing more than examples of age-based jumping to conclusions.

German Werewolf propaganda convinced Eisenhower that they’d have to deal with civilian resistance, maybe even a civil war, if Germany lost. He thus requested not to be held responsible for establishing and maintaining respectable living conditions in Germany. As we’re about to learn, most of these actions were caused by fear, as the Werewolf unit never posed a big threat to Allied forces.

How successful were the Werewolves?

Despite the hype around it, Werewolf didn’t actually do much to hurt the Allies. They conducted a few minor operations, and since they hid well, it was difficult for the Allies to realise that the culprits were a trained partisan unit, not the civilians. These operations, however, weren’t very damaging and they were just stirring fear in the minds of Allies – not dealing any real damage to them. For example, Werewolf assassinated the new mayor of Aachen in March of 1945, and the new mayor of Meschede around the same time.

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They claimed responsibility for several attacks on Allied troops, but these were confirmed to be the fault of other German troops or were simply accidents. In reality, the unit wasn’t dangerous for the Allies, but they wanted everyone to believe that they were, so they lied about their actions. At the same time, Nazi propaganda lied that Werewolf was a civilian-backed resistance movement that would fight for Germany as long as they lived.

It might seem silly in retrospect, but this strategy worked as the Allies were always on the lookout for resistance movements. There was, however, no organised resistance movement in Germany and the only pockets of resistance were actually groups of self-organised radical Nazis.

Werewolf armament and operations

The original idea for the Werewolf unit would see them equipped with all the weaponry seen in the rest of the Wehrmacht. This idea never materialised, though, as the army simply didn’t have enough weapons, tanks, aircraft, and supplies in 1944 and 1945. Germany was fighting a losing battle at the time and frontline units couldn’t spare weapons and ammo for a sketchy unit with its main purpose being a propaganda apparatus to distract and demotivate the Allied forces.

Some weapons and ammo were buried around the country, left for the Werewolf to dig them up. However, the weapons were very few and the Werewolves were so disorganised that very few people knew where the caches actually were.

SS Officer Otto Skorzeny,
SS Officer Otto Skorzeny, trained the paramilitary “werewolf”. Success was limited. Photo: Alonso de Mendoza CC BY-SA 4.0

Since their firepower was essentially non-existent, they had to focus on quick guerrilla attacks, usually focusing on sniping, use of explosives, and sabotage. This has quickly proven to be ineffective against larger, better armed forces.

How did the Werewolf unit end?

Factually incorrect statements were spread around Germany and among Allied forces after the fall of Nazism. One such rumour was claiming that the Werewolf unit was still alive and kicking, and was going to fight so long as they live.

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There are some people who claim that the unit was active until 1950! This is, however, very untrue. Werewolf was disbanded towards the end of the war by SS Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, who trained the recruits. He quickly concluded that the unit was ineffective in combat, and aside from destroying property and taking out small, isolated groups of Allied soldiers, they were mostly useless.

He also believed that the war was lost, so he ordered the Werewolves to work on the underground escape routes that would allow the Nazis to escape Germany after the inevitable end of the regime.

They stopped being active after Hitler’s suicide, marking the fall of the Third Reich.

During its activity (if you can call it that, given how inactive it really was), the Werewolf unit caused millions in property damages and was indirectly at fault for the wrongful imprisonment and execution of German civilians, given that both Werewolf and Goebbels often claimed that the attacks were conducted by a civilian resistance group, which, in reality, didn’t even exist.

However, they were nothing more than a non-existent product of propaganda ,a ruse, a distraction, a poorly thought out, and even more poorly carried out plan to attack the Allies from behind and scare them. This only resulted in Allied troops being a bit nervous and extra suspicious of civilians, but it didn’t slow their advancements down by a noticeable margin.

The story and myth lived on for a little while however and unlike the werewolves of legend, men who turn into wolves during a full moon, the German resistance group faded into the darkness forever.