Schnez-Truppe or Schnez Organisation

Albert Schnez in 1967.

The Schnez-Truppe or Schnez Organisation was a clandestine paramilitary organisation formed in West Germany in 1949 by veterans of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS under the leadership of Albert Schnez, that intended to fight against the Soviet Union in the event of an invasion. It has been reported as having been founded with a membership of some 2,000 former officers; later obtaining a total strength of up to 40,000 members.

The organisation was active in the US occupation zone in southern Germany and aimed to field up to four armored divisions in case of war. It was to become active in case of an attack by East Germany in a domestic German conflict similar to the Korean War but without outside interference.

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Konrad Adenauer in 1952.

History

The organisation was formed in secret in 1949 by Albert Schnez, who had risen to the rank of colonel in the Wehrmacht during World War II. The aim of the secret army formed by Schnez was to liberate Germany if an invasion by the Soviet Union should occur. Initially, it would retreat to a foreign country, possibly Switzerland or Spain, the latter ruled by Francisco Franco’s government.

Anton Grasser.

Schnez’s secret army was to have weapons supplied by the West German police, with the help of Anton Grasser, inspector general of the police and a former Wehrmacht general, who had been privately employed by Schnez after the war before joining the police. Schnez also organized road transport for his forces through logistics companies.

The organisation engaged in surveillance of left-leaning politicians, like the outspoken member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany faction in the German parliament, Fritz Erler. In case of war, the secret army was planned to be used against communists in West Germany. Schnez was in contact with other right-wing organizations and individuals in Germany, such as Otto Skorzeny, in relation to resistance to a Soviet invasion.

Bundesnachrichtendienst.

In 1951, Schnez offered the service of his organisation to the German intelligence service, the Gehlen Organization, the predecessor of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, providing blacklists of potentially left-leaning individuals.

German chancellor Konrad Adenauer became aware of the secret army around 1951 and informed leading opposition politicians of its activities, but did not order any decisive action against Schnez, shying away from conflict with World War II veterans. Instead, he ordered the domestic intelligence services to monitor the organisation and provide small-scale financial support. Within the Gehlen Organization, the Schnez-Truppe received the code name Unternehmen Versicherungen (Operation Insurance).

Heusinger in Bundeswehr uniform, c. 1960.

The fate of the secret army is unknown, but leading figures of the Schnez-Truppe joined the then newly formed West German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, in 1955; among them was Adolf Heusinger, first Inspector General of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 1961 to 1964, and Hans Speidel, Supreme Commander of NATO ground forces in Central Europe from 1957 to 1963. Albert Schnez also rose to the rank of Inspector General of the Bundeswehr and finally retired in 1971, having become an obstacle to the reforms of the armed forces by then-defense minister Helmut Schmidt.

Hans Speidel in 1944.

The general public in Germany was unaware of the Schnez-Truppe until 2014 when files relating to it were declassified by the Bundesnachrichtendienst after having been re-discovered in 2011. The declassified files were reviewed by German historian Agilolf Keßelring, grandson of Albert Kesselring, who was part of an independent commission to study the early history of the German intelligence service. The file on the Schnez-Truppe in the archive of the Bundesnachrichtendienst in Pullach, Bavaria, was over 300 pages long.

Gerhard von Schwerin.

The Schnez-Truppe was part of a larger movement in West Germany at the time, codenamed the Windhund-Bewegung (Greyhound Movement), based on the insignia of the 116th Panzer Division. Gerhard von Schwerin, former commander of the division, served as a consultant in military and security matters for the West German government under Adenauer. West Germany, not armed at the time, was concerned with its own inability to defend itself following the outbreak of the Korean War. The main aim was to have a counter-force to the Kasernierte Volkspolizei of East Germany in case of a Korea-like scenario should the East attack.

Standard-bearer of the Kasernierte Volkspolizei during a SED convention, 1954.

According to intelligence reports at the time, the Kasernierte Volkspolizei possessed almost 1,300 tanks, of which 47 were heavy and 480 medium battle tanks. The Schnez-Truppe was to field four armored divisions, to be deployed in case of a German-only war between East and West, with no outside interference. The tanks for these armored divisions, however, would have had to been provided by the US Army as West Germany possessed none at the time and Schnez was most active in southern Germany, particularly Württemberg and Bavaria, in the former US occupation zone. Historian Agilolf Keßelring concluded that Schnez’s activities were almost certainly known to US intelligence agencies. The Schnez-Truppe was organized down to company level and consisted predominantly of members of former German elite tank divisions. Attempts by Otto Skorzeny to establish a similar organisation to the Schnez-Truppe were seen more critically by the Gehlen Organization, as Skorzeny was considered too unpredictable.

Logo of the 116th Panzer-Division.

Assessment

The Schnez-Truppe never came close to a similar status and structure to the post-First World War Freikorps. German historian Sven Felix Kellerhoff concluded that the organisation was part of the pre-history of the Bundeswehr. In Kellerhoff’s conclusion, the organisation was known to the German government, the German political opposition as well as German intelligence agencies, and the US authorities in Germany. The Schnez-Truppe was a political risk, but given the lack of any native defensive capability in West Germany, a necessary measure to counter the perceived threat from communist East Germany.

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