This is a long post. It's partly a point-by-point review of the SS-Fallschirmjäger section of Rob’s generally excellent website but also includes some supplementary information.
I wasn’t out to do him down and I am glad that he accepts this. I merely stated that his webpage on the unit contained inaccuracies but then, it is an extremely difficult subject to research because so little material is available to the general public.
The only two reference works that can be recommended are the 1986 pictorial history Fallschirmjäger der Waffen-SS Im Bild
(Milius/Kunzmann), containing an introduction by Siegfried Milius, former CO of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 and 600 from June 1944 to May 1945, and Antonio Munoz’s 1991 Forgotten Legions
, about obscure combat formations of the Waffen-SS.
SS-Fallschirmjäger Abteilung 500/600
The correct designation of the unit was SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon 500/600 or SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500/600. Actually, if we wish to be pedantic, we should write “SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 and 600” because they were two separate units.
The Waffen-SS first attempted to create a paratroop unit in 1937 but it wasn't until 1943 that they were able to create the SS-Fallschirmjäger Abteilung 500/600. (Some Waffen-SS histories list the SS paratroopers as belonging to 2 separate units while others list it as one. I've chosen to list it as 1 unit.
They were actually two separate units. The survivors of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500, formed in November 1943, were posted to Neu-Strelitz in October and November 1944 to form the cadre of the new SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600, which was officially called “Die SS-Jagdverbände SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600”.
It was SS-Fallschirmjäger Abteilung 500 until October 1944, by which point it had suffered tremendous casualties. Its unit number changed to "600" to reflect the fact that a unit with so many replacements becomes, in essence, a new unit.)
This statement is more reflective of the actual situation than the earlier statement “Some Waffen-SS histories list the SS paratroopers as belonging to 2 separate units while others list it as one. I've chosen to list it as 1 unit”.
One logical contention is that the Reichsführung-SS intended to have two SS-FJ units on the ORBAT but that there were so few survivors of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 by the late autumn of 1944 when the creation of the second SS Parachute Battalion was mooted that they were simply absorbed by the new unit.
The Feld-Ausbildungs und Ersatz Kompanie of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500, always held in reserve, became 1./SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600, giving the new unit a complete, trained company from the start. The other survivors of SS-FJ-Btl 500 were posted to the newly forming companies of SS-FJ-Btl 600 as cadre to help train and instill the airborne ethos into the new recruits.
The SS paratrooper unit, oddly enough, was simultaneously a penal unit and a volunteer organization.
It was not
a “penal unit”. The veterans take a very dim view of that description of their unit indeed! The Bewährungs-Soldaten offered the chance to volunteer for SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 were not penal cases but merely disciplinary cases. There is quite a difference. The young B-Soldaten one sees in pre-Drvar and Drvar photos of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 with their black righthand collar patches were just soldiers who had fallen foul of the draconian SS disciplinary code, committing such offences as falling asleep on guard, being late on duty or being insubordinate.
One man I know who is still alive, a relative of the Bechstein family, was sentenced to death as a young Waffen-SS man for listening to the BBC. It was only when Hitler intervened that Himmler grudgingly commuted his death penalty to fifteen years with hard labour. He was breaking rocks in the quarry at Mauthausen when the recruiters came around. He was found unfit for parachuting and sent to the Dirlewanger Brigade instead. He lives near Berchtesgaden and still wakes up screaming and sweating in the night.
Another, Gunnar Baardseth from Norway, was on the Eastern Front with the Norge regiment and, suffering from combat fatigue, shot himself in the hand to get out of it. He was sentenced to ten years and was in Dachau when the recruiters came. He was fit for parachute training and jumped at Drvar.
They were hardly rapists and murderers. The former SS-Fallschirmjäger I have known and know today – some of them feature in Munoz’s book and some have nothing to do with old comrades associations or HIAG/Munin – tend to react very negatively if their old unit is described as penal. They take it as a serious insult.
It was issued standard Luftwaffe paratrooper uniforms and assault weapons such as recoilless rifles and the excellent FG42 machine gun.
The Artillery or Anti-Tank Platoon certainly had the 75mm LG40 recoilless gun but the SS-Fallschirmjäger never saw the FG42.
SS-Fallschirmjäger Abteilung 500/600 is most famous for its May 1944 daring daytime assault on Yugoslavian communist Tito's headquarters in Drvar, Bosnia.
Broadly true. It was an epic engagement. The mission failed in its objective but the SS paras entered the 'Airborne Pantheon' as a result of their extraordinary fortitude and heroism during that terrible battle.
SS-Sturmbannführer Herbert Gilhofer 09/1943
SS-Hauptstrumführer Kurt Rybka 1944?
SS-Hauptstrumführer Siegfreid Milius 10/1944 - 04/1944?
Gillhofer was CO until mid-April 1944 when Rybka took over, having been nominated in mid-March. Rybka was badly wounded in Drvar on May 25th and Siegfried Milius took over with effect from June 26th, In the interim, the Bn had been temporarily commanded first by Mertely until he was wounded in Bihac and then by SS-Ustuf Witzemann.
The battalion was commanded in Milius’ absence by Fritz Leifheit in March and April 1945 when Milius was commanding KG Solar. Here, just for interest’s sake and to break things up with a picture, is the only known surviving document bearing Fritz Leifheit’s signature as CO.
If by “composition”, you mean ORBAT, this is certainly known. If you mean the parent units of the members, this is also quite well known. They came from all over the Waffen-SS.
Unit Size abteilung
Unit Type Fallschirmjäger (paratrooper)
Campaigns Served in
Anti-partisan operations, Bosnia; "Unternehmen Rösselsprung" (Operation Knight's Move)
Operation Panzerfaust Hungary
Documented Atrocities? no
Regarding nationality, we know that there were Germans, Austrians, Danes, Norwegians and Swiss in the SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon. The unit was never accused of atrocities but anti-partisan warfare is a brutal business and the torture and summary execution of partisan prisoners – and many civilians - at Drvar is a matter of record.
In fact, I have a copy of the mission order of May 25th 1944 for Drvar in which it is bluntly stated: “Enemy information is to be obtained from them [prisoners] through any means
” (My italics) and “Prisoner interrogation has to be firmly organised”.
One of the LW-Kriegsberichter intervened in the torture by an SS-FJ officer of a young partisan by mercy-shooting the boy. The SS officer and LW photographer than squared up to one another with weapons. The LW KB man was heard to yell that there were foreign correspondents present – the captured TIME jourmalist and others. So, no atrocities officially recorded but many prisoners got a pretty rough time.
No vehicle insignia known for this unit.
On Page 131 of the Milius/Kunzmann book, there is a photo of Milius in a vehicle with the battalion tactical insignia clearly visible on the door. Leonard Schaap (Signals Pln from November 1943 to May 1945) also illustrates the Signals Pln tactical insignia in his diary, which is unpublished but which has been circulated to a few people by the veterans’ association. This tactical insignia is based on the battalion vehicle insignia. This photo is published in Munoz’s book but the officer is described as Hermann Wabersich. It is clearly Siegfried Milius.
Standard SS collar patches.
Righthand collar patches known to have been worn by members of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 and 600 include the standard sigrunen patch, the blank B-Soldaten
patch, the Totenkopf patch and some early SS-VT numbered collar patches, shown in a photo from Drvar and also the studio portrait of Walter Hummel taken as Neu-Strelitz in November 1944 after he had been transferred to SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600.
No specialized armshields are known for this unit.
True. While non-disciplinary recruits wore the cuff titles - and other insignia - of their parent units, no photographs show any SS paras wearing foreign volunteer armshields. There were non-Germans in the SS Parachute Battalion so if they had worn armshields with their previous unit, they must have removed them.
As an aside, there is a photograph of the Spieß
of the Feld-Ausbildungs und Ersatz Kompanie, SS-Hauptscharführer Blum de Lorm, at Papà - the Hungarian airborne base - in the summer of 1944 wearing the embroidered edelweiss of the SS-GBJ on his fieldcap.
possibly "SS-Fallschirmjäger" - details sketchy
No cuff title was instituted for the SS-Fallschirmjäger and not one veteran ever remembered seeing one, even a locally-produced cuff title. Milius told me that any member of the unit seen wearing something like that, even as a joke, would have been in serious trouble given that the cuff title was effectively an honour award in the gift of the Reichsführer-SS or the Führer himself.
Yes, yes, I know about that bizarre photo showing an alleged Waffen-SS man with his bride, wearing his EK2 hanging off an SS Members lapel badge but I have not seen the ‘original’ print so I will simply refer to what Milius stated and to the absence from Waffen-SS files of any order for the creation of such a cuff title.
I got a ragging on another forum from several people for daring to doubt this photograph but they shut up when I asked that the current owner send the "original print" to me for examination. I just can't see a Waffen-SS man wearing a fantasy cuff title and hanging his EK2 off his civilian SS Member sigrunen lapel pin. Possible? Yes. Probable? No...IMO.
September 1943: SS-Fallschirmjäger Abteilung 500 formed in Chlum, Czechoslovakia from Waffen-SS volunteers and convicts of the Bewährngs Abteilung (penal battalion), a SS military prison at Danzig-Matzkau and punishment section Dachau.
Again, not “convicts” from a “penal battalion” but disciplinary cases.
October - November 1943: Unit undertakes parachute training at Luftwaffe Fallschirm-Schule Nr.3 at Madanrushka-Banja, Serbia/Bosnia
December 1943: Additional training in Papa, Hungary
No. Fallschirmschule 3 moved to Papà after Drvar, in June 1944 and a few courses went through but parachute training was largely finished by late July because of shortages.
Jan. - Feb. 1944: anti-partisan operations Bosnia & Serbia
The battalion was also in Albania and Northern Greece between January and May 1944.
May 1944: May 1: SS-Fallschirmjaeger Abteilung 500 compliment: 1,000
May 21-24: transferrred from Kralijevo to airports at Banja Luka and Zagreb
May 25: paraglider & parachute assault on Marshall Tito's HQ in Drvar, Bosnia; Tito escapes; unit suffers heavy casualties (possibly 650+ KIA); finally relieved by a relief column of the 7th SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen.Tito's successful escape cements his political reputation as liberator of Yugoslavia from the Nazi yoke.
It is reasonable to suggest “possibly 650+ KIA” but might be better to say "650-plus KIA and WIA" or, simply, "650-plus casualties". The figures are a matter of record. 654, a small number of whom were attached personnel, including interrogators and interpreters, went in with the first wave by parachute and glider, followed by approximately 200 reinforcements in the second wave who jumped around midday. About 195 were able to answer the rollcall after the battalion was relieved on the morning of May 26th.
June 1944: June 1: unit strength: 300; sent to Petrovac, then Ljubljana for rest & refitting.
The active strength of the unit when they arrived for a short rest period in Ljubjana (Laibach) after Drvar and mopping-up operations around Bihac and then Petrovac on in mid-June 1944 was 292 officers, NCOs and men. The 195 or so men who survived Drvar were reinforced by the return of some of the lightly wounded and by reserves from the Field Training & Replacement Company at Kraljevo, which numbered over 200. So of the 400 or so active SS paras after Drvar, over 25% were KIA/WIA in the three weeks of anti-partisan sweeps before the remnants of the battalion were sent for R&R in Ljubjana and then to Papà, their new garrison town in Hungary, albeit for a very short time.
June 22: Soviets launch Operation Bagration
June 29: transferred to Gotenhfen, East Prussia, on the Baltic for potential seizure of the Finnish Aaland Islands (Finland had just signed an armstice with the Soviet Union); operation cancelled when the paratroopers arrive.
July 1944: July 10 - 31: transferred to Lithuania; defensive actions Vilnius.
They were in Narva from July 5th to 10th, briefly under Felix Steiner’s command (III (Germ) SS-Panzerkorps/Armeegruppe Nord), where they fought as a mobile ‘fire brigade’. The Vilnius mission was more of a relief than a defensive action, mounted with I./Panzer-Rgt Großdeutschland.
August 1944: Aug 14: unit counterattacks, retakes Raseinen
Aug 15: defensive actions, near Kaunus
Aug 19: withdrawn for refitting; unit strength only 90 men!
Aug 20: withdrawl order cancelled; unit ordered back into action
September 1944: Sept 1: remnants of unit finally stand down; stationed with units from the Grossdeutchland Division
Actually, they didn’t stand down. The remnants of the battalion were in action on the Lithuania-East Prussia border until September 5th before getting a brief rest in Poland. There were just 90 men fit for duty. They then went back into the line and fought for several more days before being withdrawn to East Prussia late in September.
Sept 10: Hitler summons SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny to discuss plans for a Hungarian coup.
This is Operation Panzerfaust. There should also be some mention of the participation by elements of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 in Operation Margarethe, the earlier Budapest operation in March 1944. Munoz discusses the operation in Chapter 6 of his book but states that the battalion was not committed and that it would be the 600 “that would make its appearance in Budapest seven months later”.
Schaap, who was there, states in his diary that 500 SS paras took part in the operation to arrest Horthy and disarm the Hungarian armed forces. The main group were held in reserve but the Signals Platoon and other elements were active. The SS-FJ contingent entered the city and remained there for a few days before returning to their base.
Siegfried Milius does not discuss this in his 1986 foreword to the SS-FJ pictorial history but this is understandable as it was just a short introduction by the man who did not take over as CO until three months later, after Rybka’s departure due to wounds.
October 1944: rest, refitting, replacements; unit redesignated "SS-Fallschirmjaeger Abteilung 600" from the remaining veterans of Abteilung 500, plus volunteers. Unit outfitting, training at Deutsche-Wagram, Austria.
SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 did not train in Wagram. The survivors of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 were withdrawn from East Prussia early in September and sent to Wagram, near Vienna, for a rest. On September 29th 1944, they heard of the formation of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 and that they would be part of the new unit, which would come under the administrative control of Skorzeny’s Friedenthal commando ogranisation.
The remnants of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 were airlifted on September 27th to Deutsch-Wagram near Vienna for a planned parachute assault on the Citadel in Budapest. They were joined early in October by 1./SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 – the old Field Training & Replacement Company – to bring up the numbers.
Oct 13: Skorzeny travels to Budapest under the alias "Dr. Wolff"; meets with SS-Obergruppenführer Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski to discuss coup. Von dem Bach wants to pulverize the Hungarian government center, Castle Hill, with a huge "Big Bertha" type gun, but Skorzeny favors a more delicate operation.
Oct 15: participates in Operation Panzerfaust along with SS-JägerVerbände-Mitte
Skorzeny’s mad idea of dropping parachutists over a city was abandoned and the paras, now officially SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600, entered Budapest on October in vehicles, securing their objectives without bloodshed. They remained in Budapest for a couple of days before returning to Wagram on the 19th and thence to their garrison town of Neu-Strelitz.
November 1944: part of SS-Jagdverbände Mitte?; training;
The SS-Jagdverbände connection is often misunderstood. The new SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon came under the command of Otto Skorzeny and was administratively part of his Friedenthal organisation.
As the above paybook pages show, the official unit designation of the new parachute battalion was Die SS-Jadgverbände SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600
but while this was entered in paybooks, nobody in the parachute battalion ever used it. They considered themselves just as independent as before. Note the entries for SS-Sonder-Einsatz-Abt “Friedenthal” b. Oranienburg
. SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 spent November and December 1944 and much of January 1945 training new recruits.
December 1944: 2 companies from SS-Fallschirmjaeger Abteilung 600 assigned to Panzer Brigade 150 for the Ardennes Offensive.
Yes. 1./ SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 plus a composite company of combat-experienced men drawn from the other companies then in training, under the command of 1 Coy OC Fritz Leifheit, was attached to Panzerbrigade 150 as a special protection guard. However, as a couple of interviews I have make clear, some members of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 certainly took part in the attempts to confuse US forces by dressing as GIs.
January 1945: Jan 31: order to defend German city of Schwedt on Oder River
February 1945: Feb 4: Skorzeny rounds up 2 scratch battalions to boster the parachute unit and create "Fortress Schwedt"
Feb 7: more scratch units formed; Festung Schwedt now has 15,000 men
Feb 9: Red Army attacks Schwedt
OK. The cadre of KG Skorzeny comprised SS-FJ-Btl 600 and elements of the SS-Jagdverbände.
March 1945: Mar 3: SS-Fallschirmjaeger Abteilung 600 withdrawn Schwedt
Mar 7: defensive fighting on Finow Canal as part of SS-Kampfgruppe Solar
March 28: unit down to 36 men!
On March 5th 1945, SS-FJ-Btl 600 was sent into the Zehden bridgehead on the Oder as a fire brigade attached to the 610 Special Purposes Infantry Division, a division in name only. SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 and SS-Jagdverband Mitte formed Kampfgruppe Solar under the command of Siegfried Milius.
April 1945: unit disintegrates; some members may have surrendered to US 9th Army
Er…not quite true. SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 withdrew from the Zehden bridgehead on the night of March 27th/28th and remained in the Oderberg area for rest and refitting.
During this short respite, the battalion was brought back to something resembling effective strength. As the above certifcates show, the 610 Infantry Division commander General Lendl, decorated many of the surviving SS paratroopers during the R&R period in Oderburg. By the start of the Soviet spring offensive on April 16th, SS-FJ-Btl 600 was able to field almost 850 men.
I shan’t go into detail here about the battalion’s activities in those final weeks. Suffice to say that SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 participated in a number of courageous rearguard actions to the north-east and north of Berlin. Two weeks later on April 29th, when they entered Neuruppin, there were just four-hundred men left.
A day later, after an heroic battle against two Soviet armoured corps and two cavalry divisions, there were just 180 paratroopers. On May 1st, they found themselves about twenty kilometres west of Schwerin with, as Schaap says:
2 km weiter die Amerikaner, 6 km hinter uns die Russen. Die Amerikaner erwarten die ersten Russen. Jeder Führer drückt seinen Leuten noch mal die Hand. “Die schweren Stunden sind vorüber, vielleicht noch schwere werden kommen; haltet durch. einmal wird die Sonne wieder für uns scheinen!” Mit diesen Worten entläßt Milius sein Btl. am 2. Mai 1945.
In the early hours of May 2nd, Milius gave the order to split up into small groups and evade the encircling Soviet units under cover of night. They retreated westwards through Waren and Parchim towards the American lines. On May 2nd 1945, 180 survivors of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 surrendered to the Americans in Hagenow.
Of an estimated 3500 men - at most - who passed through the ranks of the SS Parachute Battalion during its eighteen month existence, just 180 survived. Of course, a few men left the battalion for various reasons but the fact remains that the unit was all but wiped out three times in just a year and a half.
wehrmacht-awards.com - SS-FJ Btl 500
This article is no longer extant. I ordered the webmaster to remove it. It was actually an article on the Army Parachutists Badge, incorporating an overview of the men and units eligible for it. The section on the SS-Fallschirmjäger was a brief overview.
Forgotten Legions: Obscure Combat Formations of the Waffen-SS - Antonio Munoz - Axis Europa Books – 1991
Very good book overall but contains a few errors and inaccuracies where the SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl is concerned. In a letter from Siegfried Milius dated January 25th 1991, Milius describes an article by Antonio Munoz, later incorporated into his chapters on the SS-Fallschirmjäger, as follows:
As far as the enclosed article on the Drvar operation is concerned, it comes close to what Mr Munoz thinks is “correct”. My opinion on this is that a “writer” (of fiction) has written a text on the jump at Drvar as he imagined it, and many people simply copied him. That is how wrong stories are kept alive and are finally believed to be true. Except for my description (in my book), I have not found one single correct report.
Milius, who died on August 21st 1992, was not happy about a number of things in Forgotten Legions, particularly Munoz’s depiction of him close to a tearful breakdown on the banks of the Oder. Milius was also rather put out that, once more, Skorzeny had stolen the limelight. On Page 89, for instance, there is a description of Skorzeny having a cowardly Nazi official shot. It was actually Milius who had him shot!
On Page 315, Munoz, discussing jump smocks in SS camouflage material, states:
In April 1945, the Americans found hundreds of these SS camouflage smocks in a clothing factory in Dachau. Other U.S. soldiers found more smocks in a bombed-out train; apparently these were the first of the SS parachute clothing and had been destined for SS troops. No photographs show the SS camouflage smock being worn, so it is likely that they never reached the SS parachute battalion
No more than two, perhaps three, original prototypical jump smocks in SS pea-dot material are known to survive. Only a few are said to have been found at the SS clothing depot in Dachau. George Petersen purchased one from a former 45th Infantry Division officer who said he had brought back eight. It is generally accepted by students and serious collectors that the number of SS para smocks found was very low indeed.
Page 317, caption:
Waffen-SS paratrooper cuffband was worn on the lower left sleeve of the field blouse (below). Photo: Dr Einar Himma
The SS-Fallschirmjäger cuff title is a postwar fantasy piece. But there is no doubt that Munoz’s book is the best one out there in relation to the subject matter. Personally I really like it and think he did a wonderful job given the extreme difficulty of researching the sort of units on which he focused. While he certainly communicated with several veterans of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon 500 and 600, he clearly did not have access to some of the reference material that has since become available or been ‘made available’ to certain people.
My sources include:
The account by Milius in Fallschirmjäger der Waffen-SS im Bild
Das Unternehmen “Rösselsprung” by LS-Führer Hans Sieg Minden (II./LLG1)
Red Sun (Slavic Military Studies journal) by Charles D Melson
Tagebuch des Leonard Schaap (ex-500 & 600)
Siegfried Milius (CO of 500 & 600)
Eric Brorup (ex-SS-FJ-Btl 500)
Walter Hummel (500 & 600)
Eric Berger (ex-500 & 600)
<sum> Siegfried Milius
<sum> Leonard Schaap
<sum> Karl-Heinz Gieseler
<sum> Paul Spitt
<sum> Peter Renold
<sum> Siegfried Milius
<sum> Walter Scheu
<sum> Fritz Leifheit
<sum> Walter Redeker
<sum> Heinz Jamin
There’s a lot more but this ought to do. I quote from Milius and Schaap. They were actually in the SS Parachute Battalion so I tend to take what they wrote and what SS-FJ veterans have told me a bit more seriously than some other sources. Some of the academic and military college studies by American officers are based on interviews with veterans in US captivity between 1945 and 1948. I also have a number of copies of WW2 German documents and files related to capturing or killing Tito, including the Drvar mission order of May 24th 1944 and an earlier plan by Pfuhlstein, commander of the Brandenburg Division, to kill Tito.
Two US publishers have expressed interest in the book I am doing. So have European publishers. I know that Agte of Munin/Europa/HIAG is or has been working on a book about the SS-Fallschirmjäger but I do not think that there is any conflict there. If I do a book with a militaria and collector-oriented publisher, it will a bit like my friend Eric Queen’s Red Shines The Sun
in terms of pictures of documents, equipment and photos, many of them unpublished. There will be a comprehensive text. I still have a few interviews and other tasks to do. However, I also envisage a more ‘serious’ text-led, historical book but I am not going to discuss that here because it is merely a concept at the moment.