SS Penal battalion 500/600:Paratroopers

German SS and Waffen-SS 1923-1945.
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SS Penal battalion 500/600:Paratroopers

Post by DesertFox » Sun May 02, 2004 11:14 pm

I have been informed that the SS had penal battalions comprised of discraced ss troops and Crimals convicted of petty crimes. One of these Battalions the 500 SS Paratrooper Battalion fought in France and the Arden offensive. Though Through their Constant fighting and Battle Field Endurance they were granted the status 600 SS Paratrooper Battalion No longer a penal battalion. My question is to what extent did the German Military use Penal battalions During World War Two? And, were the SS Penal Battalions comparable In strength and training to regular SS Infantry Battalions.
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Post by Jason Pipes » Mon May 03, 2004 6:31 am

Although SS-Fj.Btl.-500 is commonly referred to as a penal unit, there is a pejorative nuance to the term in english (ie. punishment) which the Germans disdained to use outright for this type of unit. SS-Fj.Btl.500 was a 500 series Bewährungs or probationary unit in which an enlisted soldier, NCO, or Officer who had dishonored himself by minor infractions of the military code could be given the chance to, in the words of a 2.4.1942 Hitler- decree: "..an der Front bewähren, und eine Amnestie verdienen Könnten." (ie. "...prove oneself by service at the Front, and thereby earn an amnesty."). In other words, it was a unit where officers and men convicted by courts-martial of minor infractions and currently in disciplinary straits could redeem their soldierly honour by participation in hazardous duties and operations.

The 500 series numbering system was also shared by the Heer, but should not to be confused with the post-1940 500 series designated divisional units, which were also to be found resurrected in the July-August 1944 Heer 28th, 29th and 31st mobilization waves of Grenadier and Volksgrenadier formations. Some battalion sized unit numbers of the 5xx series had also been former Bewärungs units (z.b.V.- zur besondern Verwendung - for special employment) of the Heer (also, Waffen-SS and Polizei) employed on the Eastern Front and integrated into new Grenadier formations in the course of, in this case, the July-August 1944 reorganization of the Feldheer.

In the case of the Waffen-SS men being recruited for the SS-Fj.Btl.500, it would have probably been at one of the harsh SS-Strafanstalten, such as that of the notoriously brutal SS-military prison at Danzig-Matzkau, or the punishment- section for SS personnel at Dachau. Prisons for Wehrmacht personnel directed by the OKW also existed at the Alte-Festung Gemmersheim, and after 1940 at Ingolstadt, and at Fort Alvensleben in Metz, among other places. The Luftwaffe also had a disciplinary section at Prüfungslager (testing center) Leipzig- Schünau, and later at Dedelsdorf in Kreis Gifhorn. The Kriegsmarine established a special section for their disciplinary cases at Hela on the Baltic. The Kriegsmarine also had specific battalion sized units for its disciplnary cases, the first being the Sonderabteilung der Kriegsmarine (Naval Disciplinary Unit) which after WWII began was renamed the Kriegsonderabteilung (Wartime Naval Disciplinary Unit). Another such unit was formed later in WWII named Kriegsonderabteilung Ost. Also during the War the 30.Schiffstammabteilung and 31.Schiffstammabteilung (30th and 31st Ship Cadre Battaions) were formed, the 30. for use in the North Sea area, and the 31. in the Baltic Sea area. Interestingly enough, if "further education" was not likely, problem men were transfered into a naval company of the Heer Field Disciplinary Battlion.

Besides the 500 series units for probation, the Heer also exclusively employed both 300 series .z.b.V. units, and 999 series designations for Bew&aml;hrungstruppen; though the latter units were considered soldaten Zweite- Klasse (second-class soldiers), composed of more hardened disciplinary cases that the 500 series would normally not consider for rehabilitation. These prisoners were, by their criminal nature, generally more treated to Strafvollzug, or harsher disciplinary conditioning, than of redemptive probation, that is, activities leading to restoration of rank and placement within their former units. They were, by sentence, those soldiers who had refused direct orders, had assaulted superiors, or were generally serving long terms in military gaol for presumably non-military criminal or political offenses, such as rape or black-marketeering, or active resistance to the NS regime.

The 999 series units are most popularly known to history by way of the 999.Leichte Afrika Division. This unit was formed in Wehrkreis V in October 1942 as Afrika Brigade 999. It consisted of the 961.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment, 962.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment, and 963.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment, all made up of the "verlorener haufe" (lost souls) dredged from the bottom of the Militär-Strafgefängnisse (military prisons) throughout the Reich - men stripped of rank, decorations and dignity. The 999.Leichte.Afrika Division fought well and honorably in Tunisa, and surrendered with the remnants of the DAK in May 1943. It's 963.Afrika-Schützen-Regiment was transferred to Greece from Sicily before ever reaching North Afrika. This unit went on to become the nucleus of Sturm-Division Rhodos (aka 440.Sturm-Div.Rhodos) in May 1943, with the accompanying 999. unit designations intact. After the surrender of the 999.Leicth-Afrika-Division, the Divisional replacement Ersatz u.Ausbildungs organization located at its home station of Heuberg, continued to process potentially redeemable criminal and political prisoners from the various Wehrmachtstrafslager for replacement positions within other Heer units.

The breakdown of the various types of Bewährungs troops can be more clearly established in the following order:

1.Verbände zur besonderen Verwendung (z.b.V.) - Units for special employment:

A: 500er u.a. Bataillone z.b.V. der Heerestruppe - series 500 and other battalions for special employment under command of OKW. B: Sonderstab F und 361er Afrikaschützen - Special Staff F and 361-numbered rifle, or basic infantry units deployed in North Africa. C: Feldbataillone z.b.V. der Luftwaffe - Luftwaffe special employment battalions made up of minor disciplinary cases. D: SS-Sonder und Stürmtruppen - SS Special and Assault troops created from punishment companies

2. Formationen für Soldaten Zweiter Klasse: - Formations composed of 2nd class soldiers:

A: 999er Afrika und Festungstruppe -999 numbered units deployed to Africa, and Fortress units. B: Bewährungseinrichtung der Org.Todt - Probationary hard labor cases assigned to Organiztion Todt construction details at the front

The 2nd class soldiers were stripped of rank, decorations and honor, and considered "un-Wehrwurding", or "unworthy of bearing arms" in the defense of Germany (An important distinction to consider between the types of Straf- or punishment units which only gradually shifted, and was only somewhat relaxed, as the tide of war turned against the Reich).

Perhaps the most luckless of all German military prisoners of this type relegated to Wehrmachtstrafgefangenlager (Armed Forces Punishment camps) were to be found in the Emsland camps of NW Germany at Esterwegen and Börgermoor near Papenburg. These were only two of fifteen notoriously bleak camps situated in the dank peat-bog marshes surrounding the Ems river, near the Dutch border. From their inception in 1933 as SA-manned detention centers for enemies of the new regime, these camps later went on to hold KPD and Socialist Political prisoners, habitual criminals, Jews, religious objectors, military-offenders, and after 1939, Allied prisoners of war. This was perhaps the lowest rung on the military-prison hierarchy to be found in the Wehrmacht prison system, where soldiers convicted of military, political, and civil crimes were purposely sent to be ultimately broken. In fact, once a soldier-prisoner was relegated to Esterwegen camp by the military authority, the imagined benefits of a harsh-but-fair rule of military justice evaporated, as Esterwegen and it's ancilliary camps were administered by the Reichsjustizministerium, which made it a virtual "Zuchthaus" (civil penitentiaray) type establishment subject to all the grim brutalities and deficiencies inherent in an institution ultimately under command of RFSS- Heinrich Himmler as Reichsminister des Innen.

In the harsh disciplinary milieu (Eiserne Disziplin der Truppe) of the Waffen-SS specifically, and the German Wehrmacht in general, there was a quite profound difference between the punishments accorded to the general classifications of "delinquenten", and that of "verbrecher"; (ie. delinquents and criminals.) Delinquenten were minor disciplinary cases scared into discipline by the harshness of their sentence and surroundings, while verbrecher were hard-core cases (recall 2nd class soldiers) upon whom presumably the harshest of sentences had little affect.

In a number of cases, front line commands disregarded official formalities in sending soldiers to the far-rear for proper military-judicial discipline, and simply put disciplinary cases in pre-designated Feldstrafgefangenabteilungen (FstrGAbt.) and Bewährungsabteilungen (Field-punishment and probationary detachments) which performed dangerous engineer and assault functions at the blunt edge of attacks, and anti-partisan operations - ie. the dirty work of clearing mines, fighting partisans, and other so-called himmelsfahrtkommando type duties. (Literally translated, Himmelfahrts Kommando means "Journey-to- heaven-mission" and descibes any operation with extremely high risk, although not nesseccarily suicidal. This colloquialisme is sometimes used in civil connotation also, like for mine or bomb clearing. The term is in reference to a specific type of mission, and not a unit type, such as penal battlion, although members of penal units were often sent on these types of missions. Generally, in the ranks of the Wehrmacht, this black-humor term was understood to mean a mission where the chances of survival were practically nil. Examples were rearguard actions of small groups to cover the retreat of a larger unit by holding a position and delaying the enemy as long as possible until it usually was too late for their own withdrawal, or reconnaissance and commando raids far behind enemy lines.) That is not to say that these local punishments were officially any better or worse than soldiers in a rear-area punishment camps, digging trenches or peat-bogs, cutting wood, or doing the dog construction work of the Organization Todt labor details. It can be concievably stated that life in the dangerous environment of the front only exacerbated the punishment. Depending on the severity of the individual cases, and at the discretion of the Commanding officer, these hapless men would be stripped of rank and decorations, be refused mail and packages from home, and also the ability to write home and to take leave. Another aspect of the duty in these Army, Corps, and divisional Strafabteilungen or penal-detachments is that depending on the gravity of the offense, the individual soldiers paybook (Soldbuch) was usually stamped "no decorations, awards, or promotion allowed." A good example of frontline punishment for disciplinary infractions from early on in the Russian campaign, is that of the 20.Gebirgsarmee (fighting in the far north of Finland, the Kola, and Karelia) setting up three notorious camps known as Feldstraflager I-III, whose harsh wintertime conditions can only be imagined to have somewhat increased the severity of sentence in one of the luckless punishment details.

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SS Penal Battalions

Post by DesertFox » Mon May 03, 2004 6:59 pm

Thank you for the information and time you put into answersing my question with such detail. This has been very informative to me.

Thanks again,
Jim
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Paddy Keating

Post by Paddy Keating » Thu May 13, 2004 9:07 pm

A very informative, comprehensive reply from Jason there. Just a couple of points to add for Jim's benefit regarding SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 and SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600.

Only about half of the initial intake of recruits to SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 in October and November 1943 were bewährungs-soldaten (disciplinary cases). Even then, the unit refused serious cases, hence veteran SS paratroopers' tendency to bristle with indignation when the unit is described as penal! Most of the offences involved were quite minor infractions of the draconian Waffen-SS code of conduct. However, there was a former LAH officer broken in the ranks and set to work breaking rocks for being homosexual. Another case was a young Norwegian from the Norge Regiment sentenced to ten years' hard labour for shooting himself in the hand to get out of the front line. But they were hardly hardened criminals!

The rest were officers, NCOs and men who just wanted a change, although it must be said that where many of them were concerned, their units were happy to see the back of them and the feeling was reciprocated. A typical case was Walter Scheu who served with the Wiking's prestigious reconnaissance detachment throughout Barbarossa and up to early 1944 without advancing further than corporal even though he was a party member and a brave soldier with the EK2 and NKS in Bronze. Scheu was not scared to express his opinion and had scant regard for red tape and he upset the wrong people. Yet as soon as he put in for a transfer to SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 in March 1944, after Budapest, he was commissioned and ended up as a company commander in SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600.

The SS-Fallschirmjäger never fought in France. It is sometimes stated in histories of the French Resistance that SS paratroopers carried out a parachute assault in July 1944 against French partisan forces on the Vercors plateau in the French Alps where hundreds of partisans had created a stronghold from which they were mounting operations against the German occupiers. However, they were not Waffen-SS but Luftwaffe special forces from the secretive Kampfgeschwader 200. These para-trained commandos of II./KG 200 remain a little-known arm of Germany's WW2 parachute forces and were listed on II./KG 200's ORBAT as the 3rd Staffel.

Places in which SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 fought include Yugoslavia, Albania, Lithuania, Courland and Memel. Their most famous action was the parachute and glider assault on Tito's HQ on May 15th 1944. The 500 was slated to jump on the Baltic island of Aaland at the end of June 1944 with Fallschirm Bataillon "Brandenburg" but the mission was cancelled. There were also two missions in Budapest, one in March 1944 and the other in October 1944 by which time the surviving members of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 had learned that they were to be part of the new SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600. So while the second Budapest mission, Operation Panzerfaust, involved men of the 500, it can be said to have been, officially, the 600's first mission although the new battalion was not formally mustered until November 9th 1944 in Neu-Strelitz, their garrison town. The B-Soldaten of the 500 who survived long enough to see the formation of the 600 were also given back their previous ranks and the right to wear the sigrunen on November 9th 1944.

Two companies of the newly forming SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 were then attached to Otto Skorzeny's Panzerbrigade 150 in December 1944 for the Ardennes. It was the only occasion on which SS paratroopers faced the Western Allies until, fleeing the Soviets, they surrendered to US forces early in May 1945. After the Ardennes, the 600 fought heroically on the Oder Front in the Schwedt and Zehden bridgeheads and in various epic rearguard actions across Northern Germany at the very end of the war. The battalion was virtually wiped out three times in its eighteen month existence.

Hope this helps.

Paddy Keating

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Post by Gesetz » Fri Aug 20, 2004 10:35 pm

Anyone have any pictures of any soldier from the battalions with the parachutist badge on their uniform. I remember seeing one a few years ago in a book, but since then I havent been able to find anymore.

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Post by BDietz » Sun Aug 22, 2004 3:01 pm

Per S. Milius the last commander, the Army badge was awarded. I'm sure as with all things you may find a Luft badge on someone due to logistics.
The book your looking for at this time would the Fallschirmjäger der Waffen SS im Bild by S. Milius u. Kunzmann. Agte has been working on a new book, I hope it is released this year.

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Post by wasp » Thu Aug 26, 2004 11:28 am

Hello

Thanks paddy, I've often wondered why you can see ss para's uniforms at the bastogne museum.

grtz

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Post by BDietz » Thu Aug 26, 2004 9:24 pm

What does this SS FJ uniform look like?

Paddy Keating

Post by Paddy Keating » Sat Sep 04, 2004 8:21 pm

The Waffen-SS dot pattern jump smock in the Bastogne museum is a fake and the helmet cover is a fantasy piece. A limited number of dot pattern smocks were produced in the SS clothing factory at Dachau but none was ever issued to any members of the SS-Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon.

Officers and men of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 and, later, SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 were issued with standard Luftwaffe pattern jump kit, including M38 helmets, splinter pattern jump smocks, FJ-pattern pants and boots, gloves and so on. Some SS paratroopers removed the LW breast eagles from their smocks and the LW eagle decals from their helmets - mid and late-war jump helmets nothwithstanding - while others did not bother. Otherwise they wore standard Waffen-SS uniform.

Image

In this extract from an unpublished photograph we see NCOs of the Field Training and Replacement Company of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 on a training exercise near their Serbian garrison town of Kraljevo early in 1944.

Image

This unpublished photograph of Walter Hummel, taken on a home leave with his mother just after he qualified as a paratrooper, is a classic study of an NCO of SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500. Note the jump pants and boots with the Waffen-SS combat tunic and the cloth LW pattern jump badge. From mid-1943, as a morale-boosting measure, the Fallschirmschulen gave newly qualified paratroopers a cloth badge so that they had something to wear while they waited for the metal badge to reach them. There was even a special certificate for the Fallschirmschützenabzeichen in Stoff. Note too Hummel's "Deutschland" cuff title. There was no such thing as an SS-Fallschirmjäger cuff title. SS paratroopers were allowed to wear their parent units' cuff titles. There are also photos of SS paratroopers wearing numbered collar patches from SS-Verfügungstruppe days, one of the most remarkable of which was taken in the Drvar cemetary on May 26th 1944. Hummel wears a '1' patch in the photo on his parachute licence.

Image

In this studio portrait of Hummel taken in Neu-Strelitz in November 1944 as SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600 was forming up, we see the Luftwaffe pattern Parachutist Badge very clearly. Note too the 'D' monograms on Hummel's shoulder boards.

Image

Where the Army Parachutist Badge is concerned, Siegfried Milius said that there only enough of these badges for the first two courses through jump school. Some SS paratroopers who qualified later were able to get hold of Army Para Badges but the vast majority of SS paratroopers were given the Luftwaffe pattern badge, like the holder of the above soldbuch.

Image

SS-Ustuf Walter Scheu received the Army Parachutist Badge, as the entry in his soldbuch shows: Fallschirmschützenabzeichen des Heeres. Scheu transferred into SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 from the Wiking Division and served first with the Field Training and Replacement Company. Later, on the Oder Front, after commanding Stab/SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600, he commanded 2./Fallschirmjäger-Btl 600.

Image

Above in this picture by SS-KB and trained paratrooper Adolf Kunzmann is Walter Scheu, on the far right, with fellow officers and two of Fallschirmschule III's instructors, regular Luftwaffe paratroopers. Note Scheu's panzer schiffen. The officer with the EK1 is Fritz Leifheit, who commanded the two companies who accompanied Skorzeny's Panzerbrigade 150 to the Ardennes in December 1944.

ImageImage

Finally, just for interest's sake, here is the 1943/44 pattern Army Parachutist Badge as given to some SS paratroopers. Most of these badges, however, went to Brandenburg paratroopers and there just weren't enough left over for the SS-Fallschirmjäger.

Anyway, I hope this has been helpful. I look forward to Herr Agte's book, which I believe will be very different to the one I am preparing. Of course, Herr Agte has access to information and images not readily available because of his involvement with HIAG but HIAG's archives are not the only source of information and images.

Prosper Keating

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Post by Marc Rikmenspoel » Sat Sep 04, 2004 9:53 pm

Hi Paddy, Just for the record, the first photo you show isn't unpublished. I used it 5 years ago on page 248 of my book Soldiers of the Waffen-SS. As I'm sure you know, it was taken by Norwegian Gunnar Baardseth, who was the individual you mentioned who shot himself in the hand. I have several more of his photos in my book, I got them from Tommy Natedal, who is in contact with Knut Baardseth, the brother of Gunnar (who died in the war) and a leader of the Norwegian veterans movement. FWIW, I also have a couple of pictures of Walter Hummel, but not the one you show.

Paddy Keating

Post by Paddy Keating » Sun Sep 05, 2004 1:53 am

Thanks for telling me, Mark. I didn't know that. As you will know, I have cropped the image for this thread. Tommy and Geir are both in touch in Knut Baardseth. I know the photo is one of several from Gunnar Baardseth but did he actually take it? I have a couple of photos of him. There are quite a few photos of Hummel because his assault group at Drvar was accompanied by at least two kriegsberichter. These are his private photos though. The portrait is the original print with the studio stamp on the reverse. I have his jump licence and his SS-VT driver licence. I missed his jump helmet though.

Regards,

PK

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Post by Marc Rikmenspoel » Sun Sep 05, 2004 2:21 am

Ok, good point, I'm not positive that Gunnar Baardseth took that photo, or any credited to him. But I think we agree that he was responsible for the photos reaching his family and thus being preserved for history. As to Hummel, Jess Lukens met with him while Lukens was in the US Army in Germany. Lukens met with many veterans, and since he ran a darkroom for the Army (and thus had access to professional equipment), he would take their wartime photos and modernize them. I later bought much of Lukens' collection, and with it came some shots of Hummel. These included the portrait you showed, which I have never used (but which appeared somewhere, I think in Angolia's Cloth Insignia of the SS), and the two shots I did use. One is the page from his Soldbuch that has a straight ahead portrait, the other is a shot from the same sequence as the one you show of him with a woman. I'd suggest that this is his wife, not his mother, as the photo I used showed him with a baby carriage. No photo I have of Hummel is an original, all are copies, and I have never had any contact with him. So I look forward to whatever more in-depth information you will present, here or in a book! I just mention my work to help you avoid getting any grief from anyone about what is unpublished or not.

Paddy Keating

Post by Paddy Keating » Wed Sep 08, 2004 12:01 am

Once again, thanks for the heads-up. Information gratefully received. I must go and acquire your book. Hummel is still alive but I have not yet managed to meet him. Maybe I will achieve that this winter. I have his Fallschirmschützenschein and SS-VT Führerschein along with quite a bundle of original photographs from his SS-VT days right the way through. Yes, I suppose it might be his wife. I have plenty of pictures of her, including some showing them both sightseeing in Munich.

I missed his jump helmet, which was apparently a standard M38 but with his name inside. I am on its trail. I am interested to learn of the existence of a soldbuch. A dealer acquired a lot of Hummel's stuff a couple of years or so ago but I think it was all dispersed. Fortunately, I was able to acquire Scheu's group complete but for the photo album...which was ripped apart and many of the best images sold off individually. Some good ones came with the group though but I am always appalled when dealers split up groups.

The portrait of Hummel an original, wartime print from the studio in Neu-Strelitz and has been used in a couple of books. In fact, when my friend Jean-Yves Nasse was putting his first FJ book together, he naturally included Gran Sasso. JYN contacted Paul Spitt - who served with the SS-Jagdverbände before going to the SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl - and asked him for a photo. Spitt kindly obliged...with this very photo of Hummel, complete with the crease in the corner reproduced as part of the print. In other words, a photo of the photo, rather like the ones your friend made for Hummel. So, Hummel's photo is in there with a caption describing him as Spitt. Of course, Spitt had probably run out of photos and was just being kind to JYN in sending him a photo of an SS paratrooper.

Image

Is the photo above, showing the SS-VT collar patch, the same as the one in the soldbuch? It postdates late-1942 as he's wearing the Winter War Medal ribbon.

PK

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Post by Marc Rikmenspoel » Fri Sep 10, 2004 6:03 am

Hi Paddy, that page you show with the Uscha. portrait is actually the same image that is in my book, only mine doesn't have the bluish tint. Jean-Yves Nasse is aware that the photo in his book doesn't show Paul Scheue because he e-mailed me about it after he saw my book. I assured him it was Hummel in the photo, and he concluded what he must have also told you, that Scheue simply sent him whatever photo was available. Nasse seemed like a nice man, that was the only contact I've ever had with him.

Paddy Keating

Post by Paddy Keating » Sat Oct 02, 2004 2:20 am

I don't see a blue-ish tint. You might want to check your monitor settings. There seem to be a few modern prints of this portrait in circulation but mine is Walter Hummel's original from the photographer's studio in Neu-Strelitz, from which some of these modern prints were made, showing the crease in the top corner. The photo was copied so that prints could be given or sent to friends and other people. A few of the old boys do this. By the way, I think you mean Paul Spitt.

Regards,

PK