ith the continuous offensive of the German Army, there was a more demanding need of soldiers on the front in order to protect the occupied countries and to keep pushing forward the offensive. As the point of desperation was imminent there was no other choice then to turn to the worst mankind had to offer by recruiting all the violent criminals imprisoned within Germany into a new Brigade named the SS-Stumbrigade Dirlewanger. This brigade was formed of the worst humans, from murderers to rapists.
The major fear that the German Army had recruiting these delinquents was that they would end up turning their guns onto the German Army rather than fighting for them. From records, such actions only happened on very rare occasions or mainly with the younger criminals that had a life ahead of themselves if they would survive the war. The Dirlewanger Brigade was formed with the aim to resupply the major losses that the German Army was suffering in the Eastern Front.
The birth of the Dirlewanger penal brigade
The name of the brigade does not have a meaning as it is actually named after the creator of the Brigade, Oskar Paul Dirlewanger. A war criminal from WWI served himself as a penal unit, therefore he came with the same idea to the Third Reich. His name is linked to some of the most notorious war crimes in history such as massacres of whole villages and even cities.
Other SS officers described him as “mentally unstable” because he was a fanatic of violence and torture. Some historians say that his poor mental health was caused due to an excess of various drugs as well as the abuse of alcohol which made him erupt into violence. In his ill mind, he knew that the Third Reich would not be able to beat its enemies just with blitzkrieg tactics, they needed a type of soldier that would intimidate the enemy on a psychological level.
With this idea, Hitler actually praised the Dirlewanger brigade as they were using a different type of tactic whilst putting fear into the enemy. The main problem with the Dirlewanger brigade was that they would end up killing more civilians rather than enemy soldiers.
A different bread of soldiers
What makes these soldiers very different from the rest of the German Army is their criminal mentality. They had no fear of death or war, they enjoyed the war and especially killing. These soldiers were never really supporters of Fascism but they did comply with the ideology as forced by the Third Reich. The criminals were given a Waffen-SS uniform so they could be distinguished by other troops in the German Army and a weapon to fight on the Eastern Front as a Counter-insurgency operation.
The History behind this brigade is terrifying, to say the least, they made a very big push towards the defense to the counter-offensive of the Soviet Army. Their favorite targets were civilian partisan fighters as they saw them as weaker targets because of poor training and equipment. The fighting tactic they used was “ Bandenbekämpfung” which translates to bandit fighting. Most of the divisions were given a higher commander which was also a criminal, even so, they did not follow such orders. Their main aim was to kill anyone that wasn’t their kind in the best way they knew.
As seen in the picture above, some of them wore masks in order to protect themselves from being identified for their brutal aggression against the partisans and civilians if they were to survive the war. With this, I also have to mention that these soldiers did not take into account the meaning of war crimes or their existence. They would kill and even rape civilians in masses and some would even torture the civilians in sadic ways before killing them.
The worst of the German Army
Their nature was to be very relentless and aggressive on the battlefield, this is why their tactics were seen as unfair and most of the time taking advantage of the weaknesses of their enemies. In early 1944 when the Germans were still pushing the Soviets back, this brigade would action by burning and killing whole villages, some historians state that the brigade was responsible for mass murders in the 100.000’s.
The Wehrmacht couldn’t stand them, nor control them. The only two people that these delinquents would listen to was Heinrich Himmler himself not only because of his fierce persona as a commander but also because they knew that Himmler would have them executed on sight and Oskar Dirlewanger, the founder and commander of the Dirlewanger penal brigade. Dirlewanger’s ideology worked, but by the end of 1944, the Soviet Army was so fed up that their burning need for revenge would not be scared by any crazy criminal.