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Commando Order

Commando Order

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The Commando Order was issued by Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 on 18 October 1942 stating that all Allied commando
Commando
In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special operations forces units, specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and...

s encountered by German forces in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 should be killed immediately, even if in uniform or if they attempted to surrender (prompted by the success of the British Commandos
British Commandos
The British Commandos were formed during the Second World War in June 1940, following a request from the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, for a force that could carry out raids against German-occupied Europe...

). Any commando or small group of commandos or a similar unit, agents, and saboteurs not in uniform, who fell into the hands of the German military forces by some means other than direct combat (through the police in occupied territories, for instance) were to be handed over immediately to the Sicherheitsdienst
Sicherheitsdienst
Sicherheitsdienst , full title Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, or SD, was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany. The organization was the first Nazi Party intelligence organization to be established and was often considered a "sister organization" with the...

 (SD, Security Service). The order made it clear that failure to carry out these orders by any commander or officer would be considered to be an act of negligence punishable under German military law.
This was in fact the second "Commando Order", the first being issued by Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt
Gerd von Rundstedt
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war....

 on 21 July 1942, stipulating that parachutists should be handed over to the Gestapo
Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

.
Shortly after World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, at the Nuremberg Trials
Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany....

, the Commando Order was found to be a direct breach of the laws of war
Laws of war
The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...

, and German officers who carried out illegal executions under the Commando Order were found guilty of a war crime.

Background


The Commando Order mentioned violations of the Geneva Conventions
Geneva Conventions
The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war...

 by Allied commando troops and cites these violations as justification for the order. It is widely believed that an occurrence at Dieppe
Dieppe Raid
The Dieppe Raid, also known as the Battle of Dieppe, Operation Rutter or later on Operation Jubilee, during the Second World War, was an Allied attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe on the northern coast of France on 19 August 1942. The assault began at 5:00 AM and by 10:50 AM the Allied...

 and on a small raid on the Channel Island of Sark
Sark
Sark is a small island in the Channel Islands in southwestern English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. It is a royal fief, geographically located in the Channel Islands in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, with its own set of laws based on Norman law and its own parliament. It has a population...

 by the Small Scale Raiding Force
Small Scale Raiding Force
No. 62 Commando or the Small Scale Raiding Force was a British Commandos unit of the British Army during the Second World War. The unit was formed around a small group of commandos under the command of the Special Operations Executive...

 (with some men of No. 12 Commando
No. 12 Commando
No. 12 Commando was a battalion-sized commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War. Formed in 1940 in Northern Ireland, they carried out a number of small-scale raids in Norway and France between 1941 and 1943 before being disbanded and its personnel dispersed to other commando...

) brought Hitler's rage to a head.

Dieppe Raid



On 19 August 1942, during this raid, a Canadian
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 brigadier
Brigadier
Brigadier is a senior military rank, the meaning of which is somewhat different in different military services. The brigadier rank is generally superior to the rank of colonel, and subordinate to major general....

 took a copy of the operational order ashore against explicit orders. The order was subsequently discovered on the beach by the Germans and found its way to Hitler. Among the dozens of pages of orders was an instruction to 'bind prisoners'. (The orders were for the Canadian forces participating in the raid, and not the commandos.) Bodies of shot German prisoners with their hands tied were allegedly found by German forces after the battle.

Sark Raid


On the night of 3–4 October 1942, ten men of the British Small Scale Raiding Force and No. 12 Commando (attached) made an offensive raid on the isle of Sark
Sark
Sark is a small island in the Channel Islands in southwestern English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. It is a royal fief, geographically located in the Channel Islands in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, with its own set of laws based on Norman law and its own parliament. It has a population...

, called Operation Basalt, to reconnoitre, and take some prisoners.

During the raid, five prisoners were taken. To minimize the task of the guard left with the captives, the commandos tied the prisoners' hands. According to the British personnel, one prisoner allegedly started shouting to alert those in a hotel, and was shot dead. The remaining four prisoners were silenced by stuffing their mouths, according to Anders Lassen
Anders Lassen
Anders Frederik Emil Victor Schau Lassen VC, MC & Two Bars was a Danish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.-History:Anders Lassen was the son of Emil Victor Schau...

, with grass. En route to the beach, three prisoners made a break. Whether or not some had freed their hands during the firefight has never been established, nor is it known whether all three broke at the same time. Two are believed to have been shot and one stabbed. The fourth was conveyed safely back to England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. Officially-sanctioned German military accounts of the time assert unequivocally that the dead German soldiers were found with their hands bound, and later German military publications make many references to captured Commando instructions ordering the tying of captives' hands behind them, and the use of a particularly painful method of knotting around the thumbs to enable efficient, coercive, single-handed control of the captive.

German response and escalation


A few days after the Sark raid, the Germans issued a propaganda
Propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 communiqué implying that at least one prisoner had escaped and two were shot while resisting having their hands tied. They also claimed this 'hand-tying' practice was used at Dieppe. Subsequently, on October 9, Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 announced that 1376 Allied prisoners (mainly Canadians from Dieppe), would henceforth be shackled. The Canadians responded with a like shackling of German prisoners in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

.

This tit-for-tat shackling continued until the Swiss
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 achieved agreement with the Canadians to desist on December 12, and with the Germans some time later after they received further assurances from the British. However, by this time many German camps had abandoned the pointless practice or reduced it to merely leaving a pile of shackles in a prison billet as a token.

On October 7, Hitler personally penned a note in the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 daily communiqué:
In future, all terror and sabotage
Sabotage
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is...

 troops of the British and their accomplices, who do not act like soldiers but rather like bandits, will be treated as such by the German troops and will be ruthlessly eliminated in battle, wherever they appear.

In effect


On October 18 after much deliberation by High Command lawyers, officers and staff, Hitler issued his Commando Order or Kommandobefehl in secret, with only 12 copies. The following day Army Chief of Staff Alfred Jodl
Alfred Jodl
Alfred Josef Ferdinand Jodl was a German military commander, attaining the position of Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command during World War II, acting as deputy to Wilhelm Keitel...

, distributed copies too, with an appendix stating that the order was "intended for commanders only and must not under any circumstances fall into enemy hands." The order itself stated that

Allied casualties


The Commando Order was invoked to order the death of an unknown number of Allied Special Forces and behind-the-lines operators of the OSS
Office of Strategic Services
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...

, SOE
Special Operations Executive
The Special Operations Executive was a World War II organisation of the United Kingdom. It was officially formed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on 22 July 1940, to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Axis powers and to instruct and aid local...

, and other special forces elements. "Commandos" of these types captured were turned over to German security and police forces and transported to concentration camps for execution. The Gazette citation reporting the awarding of the G.C.
George Cross
The George Cross is the highest civil decoration of the United Kingdom, and also holds, or has held, that status in many of the other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations...

 to Yeo-Thomas
F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas
Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward "Tommy" Yeo-Thomas, GC, MC & Bar, Croix de guerre , Commandeur of the Légion d'honneur, was the British Special Operations Executive agent codenamed "The White Rabbit" during World War II...

 describes this process in detail.

The first victims were seven officers of Operation Musketoon
Operation Musketoon
Operation Musketoon was the codeword for an Anglo-Norwegian raid in the Second World War. The operation was mounted against the German-held Glomfjord power plant in Norway between 11–21 September 1942....

, who were shot in Sachsenhausen
Sachsenhausen concentration camp
Sachsenhausen or Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May, 1945. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used as an NKVD...

 on the morning of 23 October 1942. In November 1942 British survivors of Operation Freshman
Operation Freshman
Operation Freshman was the codename given to a British airborne operation conducted in November 1942 during World War II. It was the first British airborne operation conducted using gliders, and its target was the Vemork Norsk Hydro chemical plant in Norway which produced heavy water for Nazi Germany...

 were executed. In December 1942 Royal Marine commandos captured during Operation Frankton
Operation Frankton
Operation Frankton was a commando raid on shipping in the German occupied French port of Bordeaux in the Bay of Biscay during the Second World War. The raid was carried out by a small unit of Royal Marines known as the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment , part of Combined Operations.The plan was...

 were executed under this order and further executions were carried out through the remainder of the war.

After the Normandy landings 34 SAS
Special Air Service
Special Air Service or SAS is a corps of the British Army constituted on 31 May 1950. They are part of the United Kingdom Special Forces and have served as a model for the special forces of many other countries all over the world...

 soldiers and a USAAF pilot were captured during Operation Bulbasket
Operation Bulbasket
Operation Bulbasket was an ill-fated operation by 'B' Squadron, 1st Special Air Service, behind German lines in German occupied France, between June and August 1944...

 and executed. Most were shot, but three were killed by lethal injection while recovering from wounds in hospital.

In 1944/45, 10 OSS
Office of Strategic Services
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...

 men, including Holt Green of the DAWES mission, and others of the HOUSEBOAT mission were shot at Mauthausen
Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp
Mauthausen Concentration Camp grew to become a large group of Nazi concentration camps that was built around the villages of Mauthausen and Gusen in Upper Austria, roughly east of the city of Linz.Initially a single camp at Mauthausen, it expanded over time and by the summer of 1940, the...

 by SS Hauptsturmführer Georg Bachmayer on orders of Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Ernst Kaltenbrunner
Ernst Kaltenbrunner was an Austrian-born senior official of Nazi Germany during World War II. Between January 1943 and May 1945, he held the offices of Chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt , President of Interpol and, as a Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei und Waffen-SS, he was the...

. In 1945, Jack Taylor and the DUPONT mission were captured by the men of Gestapo agent Johann Sanitzer. He asked the RSHA
RSHA
The RSHA, or Reichssicherheitshauptamt was an organization subordinate to Heinrich Himmler in his dual capacities as Chef der Deutschen Polizei and Reichsführer-SS...

 for instructions on a possible deal that Taylor proposed, but Kaltenbrunner's staff reminded "of Hitler's edict that all captured officers attached to foreign missions were to be executed". Taylor was convicted of espionage, though he claimed to be an ordinary soldier. He was sent to Mauthausen. He survived, barely, but gathered evidence and was eventually a witness at the war crimes trials.

Legality


The laws of war
Laws of war
The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...

 as accepted by all civilized countries in 1942 were unequivocal on this point: "... it is especially forbidden ... to declare that no quarter will be given". This was established under the Article 23 of the IV Convention – The Laws and Customs of War on Land of the Hague Conventions of 1907
Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)
The Hague Conventions were two international treaties negotiated at international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands: The First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907...

. The Geneva Convention of 1929
Geneva Convention (1929)
The Geneva Convention was signed at Geneva, July 27, 1929. Its official name is the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929. It entered into force 19 June 1931. It is this version of the Geneva Conventions which covered the treatment of prisoners of war...

, that Germany had ratified, defined who should be considered a Prisoner of War
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 on capture, that included enemy soldiers in uniform and how they should be treated. While at the time under both Hague and Geneva it was legal to execute "spies and saboteurs" disguised in civilian clothes, insofar as the Commando Order applied to soldiers in uniform it was in direct and deliberate violation of both the customary laws of war and Germany's treaty obligations.

Hitler and his subordinates knew that the Commando order was illegal because only twelve copies were printed and special measures were taken to keep it secret. He also knew the order would be unpopular with the professional military, in particular the part of the order that stated that the order would stand even if captured commandos were in uniform (i.e., plainclothes commandos could be treated as insurgents or spies under international law
International law
Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...

, as the United States Supreme Court explained in ex parte Quirin
Ex parte Quirin
Ex parte Quirin, , is a Supreme Court of the United States case that upheld the jurisdiction of a United States military tribunal over the trial of several Operation Pastorius German saboteurs in the United States...

, and was confirmed in the Hostages Trial
Hostages Trial
The Hostages Trial was held from8 July 1947 until 19 February 1948 and was the seventh of the twelve trials for war crimes the U.S. authorities held in their occupation zone in Germany in Nuremberg after the end of World War II. These twelve trials were all held before U.S...

). The order included measures designed to force them to obey despite their lack of enthusiasm.

Some commanders like Rommel
Rommel
Erwin Rommel was a German World War II field marshal.Rommel may also refer to:*Rommel *Rommel Adducul , Filipino basketball player*Rommel Fernández , first Panamanian footballer to play in Europe...

 had refused to relay this order to their troops, considering it to be contrary to honourable conduct. The dishonourable nature of this command was well established and had been so for over a century before the Hague Conventions of 1907. For example: on 28 May 1794,

Aftermath



After the war, German officers who carried out executions under the Commando Order were found guilty at war crimes trials, including the Nuremberg Trials
Nuremberg Trials
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany....

.

The Commando Order was one of the specifications in the charge against Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Jodl
Alfred Jodl
Alfred Josef Ferdinand Jodl was a German military commander, attaining the position of Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command during World War II, acting as deputy to Wilhelm Keitel...

, who was convicted and hanged. Another war crimes trial was held in Brunswick
Braunschweig
Braunschweig , is a city of 247,400 people, located in the federal-state of Lower Saxony, Germany. It is located north of the Harz mountains at the farthest navigable point of the Oker river, which connects to the North Sea via the rivers Aller and Weser....

 (Braunschweig), Germany, against Colonel-General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst
Nikolaus von Falkenhorst
Nikolaus von Falkenhorst was a German General who planned Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway in 1940...

, Supreme Commander of German forces in Norway
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 1940-44. The latter was held responsible, among other things, for invoking the Commando Order against survivors of the unsuccessful British commando raid against the Vemork
Vemork
Vemork is the name of a hydroelectric power plant outside Rjukan in Tinn, Norway. The plant was built by Norsk Hydro and opened in 1911, its main purpose being to fix nitrogen for the production of fertilizer. Vemork was later the site of the first plant in the world to mass-produce heavy water...

 heavy water
Heavy water
Heavy water is water highly enriched in the hydrogen isotope deuterium; e.g., heavy water used in CANDU reactors is 99.75% enriched by hydrogen atom-fraction...

 plant at Rjukan
Rjukan
Rjukan is a town and the administrative center of Tinn municipality in Telemark . It is situated in Vestfjorddalen, between Møsvatn and Tinnsjå, and got its name after Rjukanfossen west of the town. The Tinn municipality council granted township status for Rjukan in 1996. The town has 3 386...

, Norway in 1942 (Operation Freshman
Operation Freshman
Operation Freshman was the codename given to a British airborne operation conducted in November 1942 during World War II. It was the first British airborne operation conducted using gliders, and its target was the Vemork Norsk Hydro chemical plant in Norway which produced heavy water for Nazi Germany...

). He was sentenced to death in 1946; the sentence was later commuted to 20 years' imprisonment, and he was released in 1953 for reasons of health. He died in 1968.

See also

  • Severity Order
    Severity Order
    The Severity Order was the name given to an order promulgated within the German Sixth Army on the Eastern Front during World War II by Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau on 10 October 1941....

  • Commissar Order
    Commissar Order
    The Commissar Order was a written order given by Adolf Hitler on 6 June 1941, prior to Operation Barbarossa. Its official name was Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars...

  • Adolf Hitler's Directives
  • German High Command orders for Treatment of Soviet Prisoners of War
    German High Command orders for Treatment of Soviet Prisoners of War
    These were the various orders sent out by the German High Command regarding the special treatment to be given to Soviet prisoners of war by the German military in World War II. The order was revised over time with amendments and alterations to previous versions.Among the notable instructions:* It...

  • German commando operations
    • Gleiwitz incident
      Gleiwitz incident
      The Gleiwitz incident was a staged attack by Nazi forces posing as Poles on 31 August 1939, against the German radio station Sender Gleiwitz in Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia, Germany on the eve of World War II in Europe....

      , 1939
    • Operation Greif
      Operation Greif
      Operation Greif was a special false flag operation commanded by Waffen-SS commando Otto Skorzeny during the Battle of the Bulge. The operation was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler, and its purpose was to capture one or more of the bridges over the Meuse river before they could be destroyed...

      , 1944

External links