In his book "Kommando - German Special Forces of World War II", James Lucas makes the following claim:
Later in his chapter on the Skorzeny operation during Wacht am Rhein, Lucas writes the following:In the campaigns against Poland, Denmark and Norway, Brandenburg men had disguised themselves in enemy uniforms in order to gain a tactical advantage, and it might be thought that such a ruse was forbidden under international law. This is not so and it does not contravene article 23 of the Geneva convention.* Post war trials, notably the Nuremberg Process, have since confirmed that it is lawfull for a soldier to disguise himself in the uniform of his enemy and in that disguise to approach objectives which he intends to attack. What he may not do is to carry out an armed assault while still wearing disguise. Before he opens fire he must first discard the enemy clothing and must be seen to be wearing the uniform of his own Army. A similar situation has allways been accepted in naval warfare. The true identity of a ship may be concealed both by structural alteration or by flying the enemy's flag, but before action begins the false ensign must be hauled down and correct one flown. International laws also lays down that soldiers captured while wearing enemy uniform may not be tried as spies if the purpose of their mission was merely to gain information. The firing of weapons while wearing that uniform, however renders them liable to trial and to execution if they are found guilty.
(Lucas p. 45)
* James Lucas wrote "the Geneva Convention", but clearly he is thinking of the art. 23 of Hague Convention.
Charles MacDonald in his book, The Battle of the Bulge also points out that Skorzeny was lead to believe that his men would be exonerated from any punishment for wearing enemy uniform, as long as they did not use them while engaging in the use of firearms.Of Skorzeny's nine teams, seven were able to infiltrate succesfully and one reached the Meuse. The remaining two were quickly intercepted and caught. Men from one of the captured groups, the Einheit Steilau, were court martialed and shot. Believing that the wearing of an enemy's clothing was not a capital offense unless accompanied by the carrying of weapons, Skorzeny was angered at the American Army's action
Lucas: p. 131-132
MacDonald p. 87
Now I am a bit confused.
Article 23 of the Hague Convention reads:
Now it is obviously forbidden to misuse enemy uniforms, but article 24 of the Hague Convention does permit ruses of war to obtain information:
To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;
To destroy or seize the enemy's property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;
To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent's service before the commencement of the war.
Ruses of war and the employment of measures necessary for obtaining information about the enemy and the country are considered permissible.
As a curious sidenote, Jack Higgins in his book "The Eagle has Landed" also used german soldiers in polish uniforms, with their german uniforms underneath, which would be removed during combat in order to make the operation legal.
James Lucas hints that the reason why Skorzenys men were executed by the US, was because the US was of the idea that the SKorzeny men where out to execute Eisenhower. The execution was thus seen as a way of discouraging any further operation of the sort.
So my question is this, what are the general consensus on the use of enemy uniforms? was it or was it not legal to use them in non-combat situation?