Commando Order

The Commando Order (German: Kommandobefehl) was issued by Adolf Hitler on 18 October 1942 stating that all Allied commandos encountered by German forces in Europe and Africa should be killed immediately without trial, even in proper uniforms or if they attempted to surrender. Any commando or small group of commandos or a similar unit, agents, and saboteurs not in proper uniforms, who fell into the hands of the German military forces by some means other than direct combat (through the police in occupied territories, for instance) were to be handed over immediately to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, Security Service). The order, which was issued in secret, made it clear that failure to carry out these orders by any commander or officer would be considered to be an act of negligence punishable under German military law.[1] This was in fact the second "Commando Order",[2] the first being issued by Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt on 21 July 1942, stipulating that parachutists should be handed over to the Gestapo.[3] Shortly after World War II, at the Nuremberg Trials, the Commando Order was found to be a direct breach of the laws of war, and German officers who carried out illegal executions under the Commando Order were found guilty of war crimes.


three British soldiers take cover at the corner of a house
Commandos during Operation Archery – the man on the left is armed with the Thompson submachine gun

The Commando Order mentioned violations of the Geneva Conventions by Allied commando troops and cites these violations as justification for the order. It is widely believed that occurrences at Dieppe and on a small raid on the Channel Island of Sark by the Small Scale Raiding Force (with some men of No. 12 Commando) brought Hitler's rage to a head.

Dieppe Raid

Main article: Dieppe Raid
Canadian prisoners being led away through Dieppe after the raid. Credit: Library and Archives Canada / C-014171

On 19 August 1942, during this raid, a Canadian brigadier took a copy of the operational order ashore against explicit orders.[4] The order was subsequently discovered on the beach by the Germans and found its way to Hitler. Among the dozens of pages of orders was an instruction to 'bind prisoners'. The orders were for the Canadian forces participating in the raid, and not the commandos. Bodies of shot German prisoners with their hands tied were allegedly found by German forces after the battle.[5][6]

Sark Raid

Main article: Operation Basalt

On the night of 3–4 October 1942, ten men of the British Small Scale Raiding Force and No. 12 Commando (attached) made an offensive raid on the isle of Sark, called Operation Basalt, to reconnoitre, and take some prisoners.[7]:26

During the raid, five prisoners were taken. To minimize the task of the guard left with the captives, the commandos tied the prisoners' hands. According to the British personnel, one prisoner allegedly started shouting to alert those in a hotel, and was shot dead.[7]:28 The remaining four prisoners were silenced by stuffing their mouths, according to Anders Lassen, with grass. En route to the beach, three prisoners made a break. Whether or not some had freed their hands during the firefight has never been established, nor is it known whether all three broke at the same time. Two are believed to have been shot and one stabbed. The fourth was conveyed safely back to England. Officially-sanctioned German military accounts of the time assert unequivocally that the dead German soldiers were found with their hands bound, and later German military publications make many references to captured Commando instructions ordering the tying of captives' hands behind them, and the use of a particularly painful method of knotting around the thumbs to enable efficient, coercive, single-handed control of the captive.

German response and escalation

A few days after the Sark raid, the Germans issued a propaganda communiqué implying that at least one prisoner had escaped and two were shot while resisting having their hands tied. They also claimed this 'hand-tying' practice was used at Dieppe. Subsequently, on October 9, Berlin announced that 1376 Allied prisoners (mainly Canadians from Dieppe) would henceforth be shackled. The Canadians responded with a like shackling of German prisoners in Canada.[8]

This tit-for-tat shackling continued until the Swiss achieved agreement with the Canadians to desist on December 12, and with the Germans some time later after they received further assurances from the British. However, before the Canadians ended the policy, an uprising of German POWs occurred at Bowmanville POW camp. At any rate, by this time many German camps had abandoned the pointless practice or reduced it to merely leaving a pile of shackles in a prison billet as a token.

On October 7, Hitler personally penned a note in the Wehrmacht daily communiqué:

In future, all terror and sabotage troops of the British and their accomplices, who do not act like soldiers but rather like bandits, will be treated as such by the German troops and will be ruthlessly eliminated in battle, wherever they appear.

In effect

Alfred Jodl (between Major Wilhelm Oxenius to the left and Generaladmiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg to the right) signing the German Instrument of Surrender at Reims, France 7 May 1945

On October 18 after much deliberation by High Command lawyers, officers and staff, Hitler issued his Commando Order or Kommandobefehl in secret, with only 12 copies. The following day Army Chief of Staff Alfred Jodl distributed copies with an appendix stating that the order was "intended for commanders only and must not under any circumstances fall into enemy hands." The order itself stated that:

1. For a long time now our opponents have been employing in their conduct of the war, methods which contravene the International Convention of Geneva. The members of the so-called Commandos behave in a particularly brutal and underhanded manner; and it has been established that those units recruit criminals not only from their own country but even former convicts set free in enemy territories. From captured orders it emerges that they are instructed not only to tie up prisoners, but also to kill out-of-hand unarmed captives who they think might prove an encumbrance to them, or hinder them in successfully carrying out their aims. Orders have indeed been found in which the killing of prisoners has positively been demanded of them.
2. In this connection it has already been notified in an Appendix to Army Orders of 7.10.1942. that in future, Germany will adopt the same methods against these Sabotage units of the British and their Allies; i.e. that, whenever they appear, they shall be ruthlessly destroyed by the German troops.
3. I order, therefore:— From now on all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man. This is to be carried out whether they be soldiers in uniform, or saboteurs, with or without arms; and whether fighting or seeking to escape; and it is equally immaterial whether they come into action from Ships and Aircraft, or whether they land by parachute. Even if these individuals on discovery make obvious their intention of giving themselves up as prisoners, no pardon is on any account to be given. On this matter a report is to be made on each case to Headquarters for the information of Higher Command.
4. Should individual members of these Commandos, such as agents, saboteurs etc., fall into the hands of the Armed Forces through any means – as, for example, through the Police in one of the Occupied Territories – they are to be instantly handed over to the SD
To hold them in military custody – for example in P.O.W. Camps, etc., – even if only as a temporary measure, is strictly forbidden.
5. This order does not apply to the treatment of those enemy soldiers who are taken prisoner or give themselves up in open battle, in the course of normal operations, large scale attacks; or in major assault landings or airborne operations. Neither does it apply to those who fall into our hands after a sea fight, nor to those enemy soldiers who, after air battle, seek to save their lives by parachute.
6. I will hold all Commanders and Officers responsible under Military Law for any omission to carry out this order, whether by failure in their duty to instruct their units accordingly, or if they themselves act contrary to it.[9]

Allied casualties

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp memorial plaque for British and Commonwealth forces

The Commando Order was invoked to order the death of an unknown number of Allied special operations forces and behind-the-lines operators of the OSS, SOE, and other special forces elements. "Commandos" of these types captured were turned over to German security and police forces and transported to concentration camps for execution. The Gazette citation reporting the awarding of the G.C. to Yeo-Thomas describes this process in detail.

War crime

The laws of war as they stood in 1942 were unequivocal on this point: "... it is especially forbidden ... to declare that no quarter will be given". This was established under Article 23 (d) of the 1907 Hague Convention IV - The Laws and Customs of War on Land.[24] The Geneva Convention of 1929, which Germany had ratified, defined who should be considered a prisoner of war on capture — that included enemy soldiers in proper uniforms — and how they should be treated. While at the time under both the Hague and Geneva Conventions, it was legal to execute "spies and saboteurs" disguised in civilian clothes[25][26] or uniforms of the enemy,[27][28] insofar as the Commando Order applied to soldiers in proper uniforms,[29] it was in direct and deliberate violation of both the customary laws of war and Germany's treaty obligations.[lower-alpha 2] The execution of Allied commandos without trial was also a violation of Article 30 of the 1907 Hague Convention IV - The Laws and Customs of War on Land, provided that: "A spy taken in the act shall not be punished without previous trial."[24] This provision only includes soldiers caught behind enemy lines in disguises, and not those wearing proper uniforms. Soldiers in proper uniforms cannot be punished for being lawful combatants and must be treated as prisoners of war upon capture, except those disguised in civilian clothes or uniforms of the enemy for military operations behind enemy lines.[27][31][32]

The fact that Hitler's staff took special measures to keep the Order secret, including the limitation of its printing to only twelve copies, strongly suggests that they knew it to be illegal.[33] He also knew the order would be unpopular with the professional military, in particular the part of the order that stated that the order would stand even if captured commandos were in proper uniforms (in contrast to the usual provision of international law that only commandos disguised in civilian clothes or uniforms of the enemy could be treated as insurgents or spies, as stated in the Ex parte Quirin, the Hostages Trial, and the Trial of Otto Skorzeny and others). The order included measures designed to force military staff to obey despite their lack of enthusiasm.[1]

Some commanders like Rommel had refused to relay this order to their troops, considering it to be contrary to honourable conduct.[34]


Anton Dostler tied to a stake before his execution

After the war, German officers who carried out executions under the Commando Order were found guilty at war crimes trials, including the Nuremberg Trials.

See also


  1. Taylor was forced to work on a crew that built a crematorium. His weight fell to 112 pounds and he developed dysentery. Taylor tried to memorize atrocities told to him by other prisoners, in the mutual hope that he could eventually bring justice to the perpetrators. He survived the camp only because a friendly Czech 'trustee' of the Nazi guards, Milos Stransky, had seen his execution order and burned it. After liberation, he returned to the camp to document and gather evidence, including the 'death books' that recorded made-up and true versions of each prisoner's death. The evidence was later used at war crimes trials. He was also a witness at those trials. The rest of the mission, Graf, Ebbing, and Huppmann, were not technically 'foreign soldiers' so the Commando order probably didn't technically apply to them, although they were sentenced to death for being traitors. They escaped and survived.[23]
  2. The Hague regulations were found to be customary law by the judges sitting at the Nuremberg Trials[30]


  1. 1 2 USGPO Translation of order, UK: UWE, archived from the original on 2007-06-18.
  2. "The Commando Order", History learning site, UK.
  3. CAB/129/28, British National Archives, ... under which parachutists who were taken prisoner not in connection with battle actions were to be transferred to the Gestapo by whom they were, in fact, killed.
  4. Robertson, Terence, The Shame and the Glory.
  5. Waddy, Robert (September 1, 2002). "Horror Beyond Dieppe". Legion Magazine.
  6. Poolton, V; Poolton-Turvey, Jayne (1998). Destined to Survive: A Dieppe Veteran's Story. Dundrun Press. p. 57.
  7. 1 2 Marshall, Michael (1967). Hitler envaded Sark. Paramount-Lithoprint.
  8. Vance, Jonathan F (July 1995). "Men in Manacles: The Shackling of Prisoners of War, 1942–1943". The Journal of Military History. 59 (3): 483–504. JSTOR 2944619.
  9. "Hitler's Commando Order". Combined Operations. Retrieved 9 May 2010.
  10. Bird, Keith (2006), Erich Raeder, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, p. 201.
  11. Thomas, Charles (1990), The German Navy in the Nazi Era, Annapolist: Naval Institute Press, pp. 212–13.
  12. Nøkleby, Berit (1995). "MTB 345". In Dahl, Hans Fredrik. Norsk krigsleksikon 1940-1945 (in Norwegian). Oslo: Cappelen. Retrieved 28 October 2012.
  13. "SAS veterans honour wartime comrades who died". The Times. UK. 27 September 2008. p. 32.
  14. 12 O'Clock High Forum
  15. fields of Honor
  16. 1 2 Axis History Forum
  17. Find a grave memorial
  18. Moczarski (1981), pages 276-277.
  19. Moczarski (1981), page 250.
  20. Moczarski (1981), pages 251-252.
  21. Persico 1979, pp. 222, 285, 279.
  22. Persico 1979, p. 140.
  23. Persico 1979, pp. 225, 310–13.
  24. 1 2 "Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land. The Hague, 18 October 1907.". International Committee of the Red Cross. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  25. "The hostages trial, trial of Wilhelm List and others: Notes", United Nations War Crimes Commission. Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals, VIII, University of the West of England, 1949.
  26. ex parte Quirin
  27. 1 2 "Rule 107. Spies". International Review of the Red Cross. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  28. TRIAL OF OTTO SKORZENY AND OTHERS Archived October 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  29. International Military Tribunal (1946). The trial of German major war criminals: proceedings of the International military tribunal sitting at Nuremberg, Germany, Volume 4. H.M. Stationery. p. 8.
  30. "Judgement: The Law Relating to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity", Avalon Project, Yale Law School.
  31. George P. Fletcher (September 16, 2002). Romantics at War: Glory and Guilt in the Age of Terrorism. Princeton University Press. p. 106. ISBN 0-691-00651-2.
  32. Jan Goldman, ed. (December 17, 2009). Ethics of Spying: A Reader for the Intelligence Professional. Scarecrow Press. p. 149. ISBN 0-8108-6198-4.
  33. Blue Series, 4, International Military Tribunal, p. 445.
  34. Walzer, Michael (2006). Just and unjust wars: a moral argument with historical illustrations (4th, revised ed.). Basic Books. p. 38. ISBN 0-465-03707-0.
  35. 1 2 Goda, Norman (2007), Tales from Spandau, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 139.

External links


This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/28/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.