ccording to documents discovered in German archives, in the first years after World War II, former members of the Waffen SS and the Wehrmacht founded a secret army to protect Germany from the Soviets. Such actions by the Germans were not permitted by the treaty which had been signed by the new Democratic state of Germany, making this action a huge violation. Not to mention that in that period of time, every German soldier, especially SS troops, wanted to be sentenced to death for various war crimes.
The 321-page file had gone unnoticed in the archives of the BND (German foreign intelligence services) for almost six decades. Uncovered only a few years prior to now, the documents show us an unknown, mysterious chapter in the post-war history of Germany. They show the existence of a coalition of about 2,000 former officers — veterans of the SS and the Nazi army — who decided to organize a secret army in Germany in 1949. They trained without a mandate from the German government, without the knowledge of parliament, and, as the documents show, evading the directives of the Allied occupation forces.
A defeated Army with High Hopes
The purpose of these officers was to defend the new West Germany against Soviet aggression in the young years of the Cold War and, internally, to organize a front against the Communists in the event of a civil war. Thus, the officers gathered information about left-wing politicians such as the Social Democrat Fritz Erler, one of the key figures in the reform of the Social Democratic Party after the war, and spied on young people suspected of communist sympathies, such as Joachim Peckert, who had to become a high-ranking official at the German embassy in Moscow in the 1970s.
The documents were discovered by chance. Historian Agilolf Kesselring found these documents (which belonged to the Gehlen Organization, the predecessor of the current foreign intelligence agency) while working for an independent historical commission hired by BND to research the agency’s history. Kesselring discovered the documents registered in the archive under the name “Insurance” looking for information about the number of BND employees. But instead of coming across insurance documents, Kesselring discovered something spectacular: documents proving the existence of the secret army of post-war Germany.
However, the file is incomplete, so the information must be treated with care. Even so, its content attests to the ease with which democratic and constitutional standards could be ignored and circumvented in the early years of West Germany. According to the documents, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer found out about the existence of this paramilitary organization only in 1951, and then he decided not to abolish it.
In the event of a war, this secret army could muster up to 40,000 soldiers, and the involvement in this project of important figures from the future German army, the Bundeswehr, shows how seriously the Germans thought about the possibility of a new war. Among the personalities involved in the secret army was Albert Schnez, a former colonel during World War II and an officer in the Bundeswehr since its founding in 1955. According to documents, Schnez reportedly planned to build an army. was also supported by Hans Speidel, who would become, in 1957, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Army in Europe, and Adolf Heusinger, the first Inspector General of the Bundeswehr.
Kesselring, the historian who discovered the file and wrote a study based on it, had family ties to the field of military history and to Schnez, who worked during the war with his grandfather. Perhaps that is why, in his study, Kesselring does not present a 100% objective picture of Schnez: he does not mention his links with right-wing groups and describes espionage against leftists as “security checks.” Asked about these things, the historian said that he will deal with them in a more detailed study that he will publish in the future. But BND made public the discovered documents so that we can form our own opinion about what happened to this clandestine army.
Germany’s plan B
At first, Schnez’s group considered the option of intentional capitulation, followed by a war of partisans, before the relocation of forces somewhere outside Germany. In the event of a sudden attack from the east, Schnez would have wanted to withdraw his forces out of the country to a safe place where they could start the fight to liberate Germany. To prepare for this potential threat, Schnez considered founding an army. Even though this initiative violated Allied law because military organizations were strictly forbidden, and those who broke the law risked life imprisonment, the idea became very popular.
The military began to take shape in 1950. Schnez collected donations from businessmen and other officers, contacted veterans’ associations of other divisions, and talked to vehicle transport companies that they could put in place. available and developed an emergency plan.
Anton Grasser, a former infantry general, employed at the time in the company led by Schnez, was in charge of armament. In 1950, he began his career at the Ministry of the Interior, where he became inspector general and oversaw the coordination of police operations in the event of a war. Taking advantage of his position, Grasser wanted to use the equipment of these units to equip the secret army. However, it is not known if the then Minister of the Interior, Robert Lehr, had been informed of these plans.
Schnez planned to form combat units consisting of former officers, possibly only officers from the former elite units of the Wehrmacht, which could be deployed quickly in an emergency. According to the lists discovered in the file, all the men involved in the project worked in various fields: they were businessmen, salesmen, merchants, lawyers, and technical instructors; one of them was the mayor of a small town. We can assume that they were all convinced anti-communists and, in some cases, motivated by the desire for adventure; for example, in one of the documents, it is said that some of these former German soldiers were not happy with their current lifestyle or the position Germany was in.
According to the documents, Schnez had a list of about 10,000 names, enough to form one of the three planned divisions, but for security reasons to avoid leakage of information, he did not discuss it in detail with more than 2,000 officers. Schnez was convinced that the rest would join him without any problems, and he knew that his project did not lack potential candidates because, in Germany, there were many men with experience on the front.
One of the main problems was where this army could be relocated in case of an emergency. Schnez negotiated with the Swiss, but they were extremely cautious; other documents show that Schnez later planned to relocate to Spain. Several American documents show that Schnez negotiated with former SS leader Otto Skorzeny, considered one of the heroes of the Nazi regime during the war. He had similar plans to Schnez’s, and in February 1951, the two agreed to “cooperate immediately in the Swabian region” in case of need.
The Government was one step ahead
Seeking funding for the permanent operation of the army, Schnez sought help from the German secret services in the summer of 1951. Thus, at a meeting on July 24, 1951, Schnez offered the services of his army to Gehlen, the head of intelligence services, for “use the military ”or“ as a potential force ”for a German government in exile or for the Allies. Documents show that the relationship between Schnez and Gehlen lasted a long time and that the German secret services found out about the clandestine army sometime in the spring of 1951.
Perhaps Gehlen’s enthusiasm for Schnez’s offer would have been greater if it had come a year earlier, the year of the outbreak of the Korean War. At that time, German and American officials considered gathering members of former elite divisions in the event of a military catastrophe, arming them and including them in Allied defense troops. But by 1951, the situation had eased, and Adenauer gave up on the idea; instead, he campaigned for better integration of his country into Western politico-military structures and for the establishment of a permanent army. Schnez’s illegal group could then have endangered Adenauer’s policy if his existence had been revealed. However, she remained secret, and Adenauer did not take action against her. Thus, an important question arises: did he avoid — and if so, why? — Adenauer to enter into a conflict with veterans Wehrmacht and SS?
On the one hand, in the 1950s, in German public life, but not only, but there were also many former soldiers and SS officers who enjoyed considerable influence. On the other hand, it was clear in 1951 that it was too early to find a national army. Therefore, from Adenauer’s perspective, it was important that the loyalty of Schnez and his comrades be maintained in case of need.
Maybe that’s why the Chancellery commissioned Gehlen to oversee and monitor this group. However, it seems that Adenauer would have informed the American allies, but also his political opponents, about this plan. The documents seem to indicate that, among others, the Social Democrat Carlo Schmid was also aware of the chancellor’s plan.
From 1951 onwards, Gehlen’s men kept in touch with Schnez. The two allegedly reached an agreement to share the information obtained from the espionage actions. But Schnez never got the funding he wanted. Gehlen only allowed him access to insignificant funds, and that only until 1953. Then, two years later, the first 101 volunteers took the oath as soldiers of the new Bundeswehr. Thus, with the official rearmament of West Germany, Schnez’s grouping became useless.
It is not yet known exactly when the secret army was disbanded. Schnez died in 2007 and never spoke in public about what he did in those years, and his notes on the “Insurance Company” became clear. What we already know was deduced from the documents that arrived in the BND archive inventoried under the name of “insurance” in the hope that no one will ever be interested in their content.
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