Operation “Vulture” – German Special Forces of WW2
Operation “Vulture” (German: Greif – Vulture; pronounced [ɡʀaɪ̯f], in some sources known as “Greif”) is a German secret operation that began on December 16, 1944. German troops began the Ardennes operation on the western front, the purpose of which was to defeat the Anglo-American troops in Belgium and Holland. To support the offensive in Belgium was supposed to be a secret operation, codenamed “Vulture”. Its goals were to capture one or more bridges across the Meuse River, creating confusion in the American rear. This operation involved English-speaking saboteurs dressed in US Army uniforms moving on American military equipment. For more panic in the rear of the allied forces, false information about the goals of the operation was conveyed to the members of the sabotage groups. In particular, the assassination of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces Dwight Eisenhower and other senior officers of the Allied army was mentioned.
The idea for Operation Vulture was Adolf Hitler’s. The plan provided for the creation of a sabotage unit of up to 3300 people who speak English, dressed in the uniform of the US Army, equipped with captured American weapons and equipment. Hitler assigned Operation Vulture to Otto Skorzeny. Skorzeny requested 28 tanks, 24 self-propelled artillery, 120 trucks, 30 armored vehicles, 100 jeeps and 40 motorcycles.
Field Marshal von Rundstedt was critical of this operation and refused to assist Otto Skorzeny. Then Skorzeny turned for help to the chief of staff of the Wehrmacht high command Wilhelm Keitel. Keitel sent a directive to all parts of the Wehrmacht and the SS : “Volunteers who speak American English are recruited for a special task. Send volunteers to the disposal of SS Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, and also send all captured uniforms, equipment, weapons and equipment of the US Army to his disposal”. Skorzeny, fearing the big publicity of the operation, turned to Hitler with a request to cancel the operation. Hitler refused Skorzeny’s request, but for the sake of conspiracy, he ordered the unit to be called the 150th brigade.
Training of saboteurs
In early December, at the Grafenwöhr training ground near Nuremberg, organized a training center for saboteurs. There were few people who spoke English without an accent, they were appointed senior groups, regardless of rank. Captured American soldiers and officers were forced to teach German saboteurs American habits. The course did nothing for many. No more than 10 people spoke English without an accent; 40 people were fluent in English; 150 people could speak English; 200 people had a school level of the language. They had to answer the tricky questions of the US military police without conspicuously. The rest understood only German. They were trained to say “Yes”, “No”, “O´kay”, to crammed curses and command words of the US Army. This meant that in practice it would be necessary to portray those who, in a panic of retreat, cannot even explain themselves articulately.
Start of the offensive
By the start of the offensive, the 150th Tank Brigade had 2,676 men: 2,138 privates, 448 non-commissioned officers, and 90 officers. It was divided into three task forces: “X”, “Y”, “Z”. 160 people with the best knowledge of the English language formed the “Shtilau group”. On December 14, 1944, the German brigade had: 2 M4 Sherman tanks (out of 28 requested), 3 American M10 Wolverine self-propelled guns (out of 24 requested), 16 German armored personnel carriers (Sd Kfz 251/1, Sd Kfz 250/1, Sd Kfz 234/1) and 16 American armored personnel carriers (M3, M8, M20), 55 German and 21 American motorcycles, 28 jeeps, 177 German and 15 American trucks, 1 German and 1 American tractor, and 12 Panthers, which were repainted and redesigned so that they looked like the M10 self-propelled guns (Skorzeny later recalled: “Only a young Yankee recruit in the dark and at a great distance could take our tanks for his own”).
Shot-up Guard Post
On December 16, 1944, in the southwest of Belgium in the Ardennes, a jeep with five soldiers drove up to an American checkpoint. The American soldier asked the officer to show the pass. The officer took out a pistol and shot the soldier in the head. The machine gun on the jeep started firing, shooting down the Americans. A few minutes later, the saboteurs who had jumped out of the jeep were already finishing off the wounded guards and collecting weapons. Soon German tanks went along the road through the post.
Hitler’s last offensive
On December 16, 1944, three German armies (7th Field, 5th and 6th SS Panzer Armies) under the command of Field Marshal Walter Model broke through the front line. The tanks were moving west to the Meuse River. At the tip of the tank wedge were German sabotage groups of fighters who spoke English and dressed in the uniform of the US Army. They imperceptibly poured into the stream of the retreating Anglo-American troops, brought chaos and disorganization. “False Americans” specifically gave stupid orders, changed traffic controllers at posts, indicating the wrong direction of movement of troops, destroyed road signs, mined highways and railroad tracks, disrupted telephone communications, destroyed signs warning of minefields, blew up or seized warehouses with ammunition and fuel.
End of operation
On the first day of the operation, the commander of Unit X, Obersturmbannführer Hardik, was blown up by a mine. On the second day of the operation, one of the groups was captured. During a search, a set of the Operation Vulture plan was found in the officer’s possession; the operation ceased to be secret, the guards at the posts were strengthened. Soon, the retreat of the American troops was replaced by defensive battles and a planned withdrawal.
Arrests and liquidation of saboteurs
American counterintelligence, with the help of thousands of ordinary soldiers, caught German saboteurs. They checked the knowledge of the password and documents. They asked elementary, at first glance, questions that only a real American could answer. Army General Omar Nelson Bradley also passed this test, and one of the generals, who did not know the name of actress Betty Grable’s husband, was arrested until his identity was revealed. Only african American soldiers were exempted from the test. On December 21, 1944, the Panthers, converted to the M10, stumbled upon the outposts of the 120th American Infantry Division. Private Francis Curry, ignoring the white stars on the sides of the combat vehicles, set fire to the first tank with a bazooka shot, and fired at the rest with rifle grenades. The Shermans that soon approached finished off the tank saboteurs. As a result, Private Francis Curry was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Disbandment of the 150th brigade
On December 20, 1944, the 150th brigade was sent on an offensive against the city of Malmedy as a regular front-line unit. On December 28, 1944, the 150th brigade lost two-thirds of its personnel and almost all of its equipment. The brigade was disbanded. The survivors returned to their units. On January 3, the Anglo-American troops went on the offensive, and already the German army began to retreat.