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Panzergrenadier Division Brandenburg
The Brandenburger Regiment was a German commando unit during World War II. The unit was originally founded by Wilhelm Canaris of the Abwehr, and until 1944 was an OKW unit rather than a unit of the regular army (Heer, OKH).
Brandenburger regiment evolved out of the Abwehr's (German military intelligence) K-units and was used as a commando unit during the first years of the war. Initially the unit consisted mainly of former German expatriates fluent in other languages. Some applicants had reached Germany through British blockade to enlist.
The original regiment, the Baulehr-Kompanie zbV 800 Deutsche Kompanie, was founded officially at October 25 1939. Command of foreign language was a mandatory requirement. On December 15 they became the Bataillon Brandenburg (The Brandenburg Battalion). Name was due to fact that at first the unit was stationed in Brandenburg and trained there.
The original battalion consisted of four companies; soldiers of the 1st company were from the Baltic countries; 2nd from men who had lived overseas in Britain, USA and Africa; 3rd company from Sudetenland; and the 4th were ethnic Germans from Poland. Later additions included a paratrooper and motorcycle platoons . On October 12 1940, the battalion was enlarged into a regiment. Although the Branderburgers were part of Abwehr, they fell under Wehrmacht's command, which sometimes caused problems.
Brandenburger training included teaching of foreign languages, small unit tactics , parachuting, demolitions, covert operations, use of vehicles and aircraft and familiarity with enemy weapons, including tanks. Some men were specifically trained as pilots or trained in forgery, demolitions or camouflage. One company was formed out of 127 German skiers, was trained to fight in northern Soviet Union and was equipped with dog sleds.
Unit shape varied according to the mission from two-man teams to 12-men squads to full 300-men company. A large number of operations took the soldiers behind enemy lines. Often they used captured equipment or disguised themselves as soldiers from the opposite side, sometimes including false identification papers. In covert operations, all the men were equipped with a poison pill.
Units of Brandenburgers operated in almost all the fronts - the invasions of Poland, Denmark and Norway, in the Western Offensive , in Operation Barbarossa, in Finland, Greece and the invasion of Crete, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Some units were sent to infiltrate India, Afghanistan, Middle East countries and South Africa. They also trained for the Operation Felix, the planned seizure of Gibraltar and the Operation Sealion.
In North Africa, Brandenburgers took part of the Afrika Korps where troops fluent in English and Arabic used captured British vehicles to infiltrate behind enemy lines in raids and reconnaissance missions. Originally Erwin Rommel frowned upon their tactics but after the raid in which a group of British commandos tried to kill him, he accepted their methods.
As the battalion expanded further, it created more mixed units. So-called Arabic brigade was nominally connected to Brandenburgers, took its orders from the German oriental mission and was composed of mainly people from the Caucasus.
In January-April 1943 Brandenburgers were expanded to the size of division and created specialized subunits for U-boat crews, air defense, artillery, tank, antitank and combat engineering. It included men transferred from Afrika Korps and Kriegsmarine and also Muslims from Yugoslavia and volunteers from India. It was later put under orders of Army High Command. After the July Plot, when Admiral Canaris and the Abwehr fell out with Nazi command, all Abwehr operations were relegated to SD.
In September 1944 the Brandenbergers were transferred from OKW to the Heer and reorganized as the Panzergrenadier Division Brandenburg, an ordinary motorized infantry division. 1800 men joined the commandos of Otto Skorzeny. Towards the end of the war, the unit was used as a kind of fire brigade and rarely served in a commando function.
After the war, British commandos recruited a number of ex-Brandenburgers with good command of English. When their service ended, many emigrated to African countries. Others joined the French Foreign Legion.
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