Operation Greif

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Captured US M8 Light Armored Car of the Panzer-Brigade 150

Operation "Griffin" (German: Unternehmen „Greif“) was a special false flag operation commanded by Waffen-SS commando Otto Skorzeny during the Battle of the Bulge. The operation was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler, and its purpose was to capture one or more of the bridges over the Meuse river before they could be destroyed. German soldiers in captured US Army uniforms and using some US vehicles were to cause confusion in the rear of the enemy Allied lines. 3,300 men were planned, but only 2,676 mostly volun­teer men were found fit to serve in the ad hoc combat unit Panzer-Brigade 150.


It all started with this circular from Wilhelm Keitel and Siegfried Westphal after Otto Skorzeny had received the order for “Greif” from Hitler.

The Fuehrer has ordered the formation of a special force for reconnaissance and special operations in the western area in the strength of about 2 battalions. The troop is to be composed of volunteers from all parts of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS, who must meet the following requirements:

– a) Physically fully fit for war, suitable for special duty, mentally alert, strong personality value.
– b) Fully trained individual fighter.
– c) English language skills, including American dialect, especially important knowledge of military terminology.

Orders are to be announced immediately to all troops and services. Volunteers may not be held back for service reasons, but are to be sent immediately to Friedenthal near Oranienburg (Skorzeny Service Station) to have their suitability checked. Volunteers who do not meet the requirements of the examination are to be sent back to their service and troop units. The volunteers must arrive in Friedenthal by 10 November.

Reichsführer SS is requested to inform OKW/WFST by 12.11 of total number of volunteers checked and of volunteers recruited after check, separated according to Wehrmacht units. H. Gru. B, G, MOK West, Lw. Kdo. West and Gen. Kdo. röm. 30 immediately announce contents to subordinate troops and services (closed fortresses and Channel Islands as well as volunteer units excluded) in an appropriate manner.

It is important to recruit genuinely suitable men of all ranks who, if not selected after their suitability has been checked, will not suffer any harm but whose willingness to serve and attitude will be valued. Notification of all involved Kdo. authorities about volunteers According to conditions a) to c) until 3.11. under indication of rank and troop unit (service) to Ob.West.
In all, 23 German commandos from 44 wearing enemy American uniforms were captured behind American lines and 18 were executed as spies. Other sources state, only 8 men were captured and executed.
Operation Greif Charles River Editors.jpg

The operation originated with Adolf Hitler, and consisted of using specially-trained German soldiers of the SS-Jagdverband Mitte, officially now a part of the Panzer-Brigade 150 (KG 200-Fallschirmjäger of the Luftwaffe, soldiers of Heer, Kriegsmarine and Waffen-SS), in captured American uniforms and vehicles to cause confusion in the rear of the Allied defense. A lack of transport aircraft, uniforms and English-speaking soldiers limited this operation, but the confusion created by this so-called "Trojan Horse Brigade" was considerable. Overall commander for special operations Otto Skorzeny, who took over command of the brigade from Hermann Wulf on 14 December 1944, writes in his book Geheimkommando Skorzeny (1950):

We chose the code name “Greif” for the operation. Our force was to be formed in the form of a tank brigade (it was then called "Panzer-Brigade 150"). The basis of our plan was the schedule that had been drawn up for the major offensive. The first day of the offensive was then supposed to bring a complete breakthrough through the enemy front. The Meuse was to be reached and crossed on the second day. We were therefore fully justified in assuming that the remnants of the enemy troops would be in complete flight and disorganization on the first day. It was completely clear to my colleagues and I that we had to resort to improvisation. In just under five weeks – the start of the offensive was still scheduled for the beginning of December 1944 – no normal field force could be set up and coordinated. Much less a force that was intended for a special mission. It was almost impossible, we knew that. But since I had already pointed this out to the Führer when I gave the order, our consciences were reassured in this regard. We had expressed our opinion. Since we had to expect all possible incidents, we set our sights on three targets at the same time: the Meuse bridges near Engis, Amay and Huy. Accordingly, we divided the 6th SS Panzer Army's known combat strip into three strips, which gradually narrowed. They each had one of the bridges mentioned as the end point. Accordingly, we divided our Panzer Brigade 150 into three battle groups X, Y, Z.
Even the name “Panzer-Brigade 150” was an easy first bluff. In response to our first request, we immediately received an answer from the Quartermaster General that the allocation of captured tanks to an entire tank regiment, or even just to a department, would be impossible... The total strength should be around 3,300 men. There were also extensive lists of the required looted weapons, ammunition, motor vehicles, equipment and uniforms... When the first hundred volunteers reported to Friedenthal (SS-Sonderverband z. b. V. „Friedenthal“ ) after about eight days, I only saw gray on gray for the future of the “Greif” operation. How should this continue? In Friedenthal, language examiners were assigned who divided the volunteers into language categories depending on their knowledge. Category 1 for soldiers with truly perfect English language skills did not and did not want to grow. The most per day was one or two new men joining. After about two weeks, the volunteer campaign was largely completed. The end result was shocking: Category 1, men with perfect language skills and some familiarity with the American idiom, included about ten people, mostly former sailors, who were also quite numerous in Category 2. This included men with perfect English skills, but was no stronger than 30-40 men. Category 3, with soldiers who had mediocre English skills, was already stronger with 120 to 150 men. The 4th category with people with little school knowledge had 200 men.
Some of the others were completely unsuitable for physical reasons or only spoke perfect German apart from “Yes”. So I practically had to set up a "silent brigade"; because after the withdrawal of about 120 of the best people for the command company, there was almost nothing left at all. So we would join the fleeing American columns, silent with grief. Some of the English-speaking soldiers for whom it was still useful were sent to interpreting schools for a short time. Others were assigned to American prisoner of war camps for a few days. There they should hear real American slang and also become familiar with the freer tone and behavior of the American soldiers. Since these "courses" were limited to about eight days, we could not expect any miracle effect on language skills. For the bulk of the troops in Grafenwöhr, who didn't understand English at all, the speech training consisted of us teaching the soldiers some strong GI curses and the meaning of "yes", "no" and "o.k.". They also learned some of the most common American command words. This exhausted the brigade's linguistic camouflage options.
Things looked almost worse with the equipment that was gradually rolling in. We soon realized that there was no way we could get the number of American tanks we needed. To anticipate the end: the day before the offensive began, we were the proud owners of two Sherman tanks. One of the two then failed due to gearbox damage on the approach to the Eifel region. The inspector of the armored troops in Berlin assigned the brigade 12 German “Panther” tanks to replace the captured tanks that had not been procured. These were then camouflaged in Grafenwöhr with a metal dummy around the gun barrel and on the turret structure. This was intended to make the silhouette similar to that of the Sherman tank. I was clear that this deception could only be successful at night, from a further distance and then only perhaps against young American recruits. We also received about ten English and American armored reconnaissance vehicles from the various loot collection points at the front. We were relieved of our worries about what to do with the English types by the fact that they had already broken down at the military training area due to various engine failures. Four American scout cars remained, which were supplemented by German scout cars. – Two American armored personnel carriers, together with twelve German vehicles, formed an armored rifle company. Around 30 jeeps gradually arrived in Grafenwöhr by train.
We still had a small hope: that we would be able to make some loot ourselves in the last 24 hours before our deployment to the front. It was the same vague and therefore deceptive hope that the highest German command had when planning this offensive: to find large enemy fuel depots during the advance. Things weren't much better with the trucks either. At last count, we had perhaps 15 real American vehicles at our disposal. They were supplemented by German Ford trucks. The only thing that was uniform on all vehicles was the green paint, like the American army vehicles. Things almost looked worse with the weapons. Only 50 percent of what was needed for American army rifles was available. There was a lack of ammunition for the US Army's anti-tank guns and grenade launchers. When some wagons with looted ammunition arrived, they blew up on the wagon due to improper storage. So we were forced to issue practically only German weapons. Only the command company received captured weapons. But what looked worst was the clothing, which we attached particular importance to for understandable reasons, i.e. because it immediately caught the eye. At one point we were given a pile of disordered clothing that later turned out to be English uniforms. Then we were assigned coats that were practically useless because we knew that the US front-line soldiers only wore so-called "field jackets." When a shipment of such “jackets” was sent to us via the Chief of Prisoner of War Affairs, we realized that they bore the prisoner of war triangle. - It was significant for the situation in this area that there was only one American army sweater available for me, the brigade commander. – In any case, we had work to do to even fully equip the command company...
It was particularly difficult to soften the German soldier's "snappy" behavior, which was drilled into him with unnecessary harshness and persistence during his recruit training. Dealing with chewing gum and American cigarette packs was an important part of the training program. A camouflage operation in the true sense of the word was no longer an option. The bulk of our troops, dressed only in German uniforms and equipped with German weapons, had to be transported in closed trucks. Only the driver and passenger were to be equipped with American uniforms, as best as possible. People from category 3, i.e. with mediocre language skills, were chosen as co-drivers... A particular problem child for my staff was the command company and thus the second part of our mission: to cause unrest and confusion in the enemy's ranks. None of these volunteers had ever carried out such an assignment. None was a trained spy or saboteur; and they should now be trained to do so in a few weeks. They also knew how dangerous their mission was: if a soldier in enemy uniform was captured during the operation, he would have to expect a court-martial for espionage, the outcome of which could not be in doubt. The tasks intended for them could not be precisely defined. They had to leave a lot of space for the soldiers' imagination. As the forward eye of the front, they were able to carry out valuable reconnaissance work for the troops. An attempt should also be made to increase confusion among the Allied troops by spreading false rumors. False slogans about the greatest initial successes of the German divisions should be spread. – The enemy columns were to be misdirected by repositioning street signs and information signs, and the uncertainty was increased by giving incorrect orders. – Telephone connections should be interrupted, ammunition depots should be damaged or destroyed by explosions...
One afternoon, at the beginning of December, the briefing took place in the Führer's room on the first floor of the Reich Chancellery. The Luftwaffe had just reported the air situation. The enemy's numerical superiority could no longer be offset by the greatest bravery of our airmen. Adolf Hitler seemed to know this very well because he barely listened. Then I heard a number mentioned: "250 jet fighters will be made available for the Battle of the Bulge!" I couldn't believe my ears. Was that all that was left of the original number? I still had the Führer's voice in my ear as he said to me on 22 October 1944: "2,000 jet fighters will also ensure us air superiority at the time of the offensive." Even when this constantly reduced number was mentioned, Adolf Hitler's attention was no longer aroused. He had apparently written off the Luftwaffe. When I came to the table for the lecture, I remembered the aerial photos that had been promised for weeks. Then Adolf Hitler started up and made the most violent accusations against the Reich Marshal. He didn't speak at all for a long time. For me it was an extremely embarrassing situation. A lieutenant colonel does not normally attend the reprimand of a Reich Marshal. – Hermann Göring finally promised that a jet fighter equipped with a camera should now be used for reconnaissance. It had been impossible for our normal reconnaissance aircraft to fly over enemy territory for weeks, so overwhelming was the enemy's air superiority.[1]


Due to the unfavorable weather conditions and the unfavorable development of the situation on the Ourthe, the bulk of Panzer-Brigade 150 could only be deployed on 20 and 21 December 1944.

In the first wave of the operation, a company of German soldiers in captured American army Jeeps set out to penetrate the Allied lines in the initial confusion of 16 December 1944. Of these, about forty jeeps got through. The Germans began changing signposts and creating panic among American troops they encountered. One group managed to blow up a munitions depot. A second, follow-up wave using US Army tanks and trucks was aborted because of lack of equipment and the failure of conventional forces to achieve a breakthrough in the northern sector of the operation.

Many of the commando soldiers were captured by the Americans. Because they were wearing American uniforms, a number of the Germans were executed, either summarily or after court martial.

The Allies were tricked at some point into thinking that Skorzeny's aim was to go to Paris to either kill or capture overall Allied commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The latter was thus assigned a look-alike in Paris, and himself closely protected and confined to a secret place for several days. Joachim Peiper reported after the war:

At dawn on the 17th [December 1944] we surprisingly penetrated to Honsfeld. An American reconnaissance unit was stationed at Honsfeld. The vehicles were standing in front of all the doors of all the houses in town and there were plenty of weapons around, particularly tank destroyer, but the troops were not at their weapons or their vehicles, but were in the houses asleep. For that reason there was hardly any fighting at all. The first moving spearhead, at the point of which 1st Lt. Preuss was driving, merely shot at some groups of houses for preventative reasons and the town was passed without any serious resistance. At that time, I was with the point. My own command group which was in march in the convey behind the group of Poetschke had remained behind and I myself decided to personally remain with the point in order to be able to take action rapidly, to be able to encourage the troops out front and in order to be able to evaluate the results of the reconnaissance performed by the units of Knittel and Hardieck (Skorzeny), both which were to pass by me [...] But after seeing Skorzeny in the pre-attack meetings and the seemingly receiving endless reminders about the codes to prevent troops from firing on the commandos in their American garb, Peiper lost sight of them as soon as he rushed from the start line. Weren’t they supposed to fan out and seize bridges for him? “They might as well have stayed home,” Peiper grumbled, “as they were never near the head of the column were they planned to be [...]”

The Americans had already captured some documents referring to Operation Greif. In reality, the word Greif was probably used simply to mean a mythical heraldic beast, the griffin. Because Skorzeny was already well-known for rescuing Italian leader Benito Mussolini and kidnapping the son of Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy, the Americans were more than willing to believe Eisenhower was his next target.

Because of the perceived threat, Eisenhower was confined to his headquarters for several days, and thousands of American MPs were put to work trying to hunt down Skorzeny's men. Checkpoints were soon set up all over the Allied rear, slowing the movement of soldiers and equipment. Military policemen drilled servicemen on things which every American was expected to know, such as the identity of Mickey Mouse's girlfriend, baseball scores, or the capital of their state.

This latter question resulted in the brief detention of General Omar Bradley himself; although he gave the correct answer — Springfield (Illinois) - the GI who questioned him apparently believed that the capital was Chicago. Several other Allied soldiers were detained, erroneously thought to belong to Skorzeny's group.

The overall mission was regarded by Skorzeny as a failure, mostly because of lack of material and support from others Wehrmacht divisions. Because a total breakthrough wasn't achieved on the first day of the battle, Skorzeny had to use most of his panzer brigade as ordinary combat troops, in German uniform.

After the war, Skorzeny was tried by the Allies as a war criminal for allowing his men to fight in enemy uniform. He was acquitted when the British Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas of the Special Operations Executive testified in his defense that he and other Allied commandos (for example US Rangers and British SAS) had done the same thing.

Panzer-Brigade 150


  • Panzer-Brigade 150, also known as 150. SS-Panzer-Brigade (2 November 1944 to 25/28 December 1944)
    • I. Combat Group (Kampfgruppe X) under Hermann Wulf
    • II. Combat Group (Kampfgruppe Y) under Walter Scherf
    • III. Combat Group (Kampfgruppe Z) under Willi Hardieck


  • Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Wulf (4 November 1944 to 14 December 1944)
  • SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny (14 to 25 December 1944)


Under the code name “Rabenhügel,” Army Groups B, G, and H were ordered to furnish Allied tanks, vehicles and uniforms to Grafenwöhr for use by Ötto Skorzeny’s Panzer-Brigade 150 during the Unternehmen "Wacht am Rhein" (Ardennes Offensive). M8 armored cars, captured by the 116. Panzer-Division (from the Third Army’s 42nd Cavalry Squadron) and other units in late autumn of 1944, should have been turned over. Records show that Panzer-Brigade 150 was equipped with a few American scout cars and armored cars. The unit set up a training camp in Grafenwöhr, Bavaria where they managed to get a hold of only a couple captured Sherman tanks, jeeps and uniforms from U.S. POWs. They had resorted to painting their own German tanks in olive drab, drawing allied stars on them and even cutting the tops off Panther tanks to mimic the American M10 ‘Wolverine’ tank destroyers. Their objectives were divided into three Kampfgruppen (task forces or combat groups), codenamed X, Y and Z who were ordered to capture three separate bridges along the Meuse River (Amay, Huy and Andenne). These bridges were vital to the advance of the main forces of the German counter-attack. During the operation, the task forces encountered heavy traffic that had set them back two days from reaching their goal. This gave enough time for the Allied forces to respond and bombard them with artillery fire, forcing them to retreat and merge with other conventional warfare units, mainly with Josef “Sepp” Dietrich’s 6th Pan­zer Army. They were finally withdrawn between 25 and 28 December 1944.

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