In a final grapple against the Allied powers around Belgium, Hitler devised a special operation so secret that allegedly many German officers remained unaware of its existence until the day of its launch. The plot, dubbed Operation Greif, involved German soldiers disguised in Allied uniforms to cross into Allied lines and wreak havoc.
If it sounds like a plan just crazy enough to work, it wasn’t exactly. While Operation Greif did succeed in amassing paranoia and confusion in Allied territory, it didn’t strengthen Hitler’s last-ditch effort at the Battle of the Bulge.
Hitler’s Last Stand
Although the success of D-Day had allowed the Allies to establish a foothold in Europe, the situation on the continent was far from secure. One of the main problems was that supplies could only cross the channel at Normandy and that the further the British and Americans pushed into the interior, the thinner their supply lines became stretched. Meanwhile, across the Rhine, Hitler plotted one dramatic last stand.
Hitler intended to amass enough of his own forces in Western Europe to mount a massive counter-offensive against the thinly-spread Allied forces in the Ardennes. His ultimate goal was to slice through the Allied lines and retake Antwerp and its vital port. He first wanted to capture and then destroy the Meuse river bridges.
The plan’s only hope of success lay in taking the British and Americans by complete surprise. Hitler’s plan was therefore kept so confidential that many German officers remained unaware of its existence until the day of its launch.
Even the officers who did know about the plan were skeptical about its chances for success, with one grimly commenting, “the entire offensive had not more than a ten percent chance of success.” Hitler, however, was not one to leave things merely up to chance and he had just the man to sway the odds in his favor.
In October of 1944, SS Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny was summoned by Hitler and briefed on what the Führer described as “the most important [assignment] of your life.” Skorzeny already had an unsavory reputation among the officers of the German Army who regarded him as a “typical evil Nazi” and “a real dirty dog.”
Perhaps that’s why Hitler entrusted the SS officer with training small groups of German commandos to be sent behind Allied lines in American uniforms to sow chaos before the planned invasion of the Meuse bridges. Skorzeny was, indeed, particularly suited for this task. Skorzeny had no qualms in violating international agreements nor in risking the lives of his men.
Sending disguised soldiers behind enemy lines went beyond the bounds of conventional warfare, so when Skorzeny sent out orders demanding POW camp commandants to strip their American prisoners of their uniforms in the middle of winter, many of them refused, stating it violated the Geneva Convention.
The Convention also stated that soldiers captured behind enemy lines wearing enemy uniforms forfeited their rights as POWS and could be summarily executed. But Skorzeny would do anything it took for “the last remaining chance of concluding the war favorably.” Hitler granted Skorzeny unlimited powers and preparations for Operation Greif or “Griffin”.
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