Theodor von Hippel
Theodor von Hippel was the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 army and intelligence officer responsible for the formation and training of the Brandenburgers
The Brandenburgers were members of the Brandenburg German Special Forces unit during World War II.Units of Brandenburgers operated in almost all fronts - the invasion of Poland, Denmark and Norway, in the Battle of France, in Operation Barbarossa, in Finland, Greece and the invasion of Crete,...

In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special operations forces units, specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and...

 unit. As a Hauptmann
Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

 (Captain), von Hippel had served under General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck during the First World War in the East African theatre
East African Campaign (World War I)
The East African Campaign was a series of battles and guerrilla actions which started in German East Africa and ultimately affected portions of Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia, British East Africa, Uganda, and the Belgian Congo. The campaign was effectively ended in November 1917...

, where Lettow-Vorbeck had conducted a brilliant guerrilla
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

 campaign against Allied colonial troops. At the same time in the Middle East, T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO , known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18...

 was enjoying great success employing similar guerrilla style hit-and-run tactics against Germany's Turkish
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...


Inspired by these examples, von Hippel proposed that small, élite units, highly trained in infiltration and sabotage and fluent in foreign languages, could operate behind enemy lines, wreaking havoc on the enemy’s command, communication and logistical chains. He approached the Reichswehr
The Reichswehr formed the military organisation of Germany from 1919 until 1935, when it was renamed the Wehrmacht ....

, with his unconventional idea but it was rejected by the traditionalist Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n officers. Von Hippel then approached the Abwehr
The Abwehr was a German military intelligence organisation from 1921 to 1944. The term Abwehr was used as a concession to Allied demands that Germany's post-World War I intelligence activities be for "defensive" purposes only...

 (German Intelligence service) and its commander Admiral Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Franz Canaris was a German admiral, head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944 and member of the German Resistance.- Early life and World War I :...

. Canaris approved and put von Hippel to work turning his vision into a reality.

Von Hippel was promoted to Oberstleutnant
Oberstleutnant is a German Army and Air Force rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel, above Major, and below Oberst.There are two paygrade associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant...

(Lieutenant Colonel
Lieutenant colonel
Lieutenant colonel is a rank of commissioned officer in the armies and most marine forces and some air forces of the world, typically ranking above a major and below a colonel. The rank of lieutenant colonel is often shortened to simply "colonel" in conversation and in unofficial correspondence...

) and appointed head of Section II the Abwehr branch dealing with clandestine operations. Within weeks Hippel had organized a force of carefully selected men. Since the project was deemed top secret, this crack outfit was designated "Special Duty Training and Construction Company" (Lehr und Bau Kompagnie) to mask its true function.

The unit's missions would be determined by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was part of the command structure of the armed forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.- Genesis :...

 (OKW). The company was headquartered at Stendal in the old Prussian province of Brandenburg
Brandenburg is one of the sixteen federal-states of Germany. It lies in the east of the country and is one of the new federal states that were re-created in 1990 upon the reunification of the former West Germany and East Germany. The capital is Potsdam...

 from whence it would derive its name. Here, at an old country estate on the city's outskirts, von Hippel's commandos were taught the techniques of stealth and self sufficiency; how to move silently through the woods, to live off the land and navigate by the stars. They also learned to handle kayaks, skis and parachutes, and even how to create explosives from potash, flour and sugar.

The Brandenburgers did make one concession to the old, Prussian chivalric
Chivalry is a term related to the medieval institution of knighthood which has an aristocratic military origin of individual training and service to others. Chivalry was also the term used to refer to a group of mounted men-at-arms as well as to martial valour...

 code, however- they never attacked without first revealing their true uniforms, which they wore underneath their disguises. Though not always practical, this did give them the advantage, if captured, of being treated as uniformed enemy combatants rather than spies and thus being summarily executed. After achieving impressive early results in their training exercises, the company was expanded into a battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

, which was code named Ebbinghaus.

The Brandenburgers' first real test would come in mid-1939. Small teams of these commandos, disguised as miners and laborers, sneaked into Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 to begin infiltrating key factories, mines and power stations. The Germans now had a large, covert force of saboteurs deep behind Polish lines. The X-Day
Military designation of days and hours
The military designation of days and hours within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation , is specified in AAP-6 , NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions, and marked in what follows...

 for Case White was set for September 1.

On the evening of August 31, a team of the Brandenburgers in civilian disguise prepared to go into action at Danzig. At 4:17 local time, they surrounded and attempted to seize the city's post office. A shootout then commenced between the commandos and armed postal workers which would last all day. This was, in effect, the opening engagement of the Second World War. Around the same time the old German battleship Schleswig-Holstein
German battleship Schleswig-Holstein
SMS Schleswig-Holstein, one of the five s, was the last pre-dreadnought battleship built by the German Kaiserliche Marine. The ship was laid down in the Germaniawerft dockyard in Kiel in August 1905 and commissioned into the fleet nearly three years later in July 1908...

, supposedly in port on a "goodwill" visit, began shelling the city at point-blank range. There remains some debate on whether the war's first shots were fired by the Holstein, the Brandenburgers or by Polish Postal Workers. But regardless, by nightfall on X-Day both the city and its post office had fallen to the Germans.

Simultaneously, the saboteur teams began to blow up their target facilities where they had been, up until then, employed. Meanwhile, other Brandenburgers slipped across the frontiers, infiltrated behind Polish defensive positions and seized crucial bridges across the river Vistula
The Vistula is the longest and the most important river in Poland, at 1,047 km in length. The watershed area of the Vistula is , of which lies within Poland ....

. At 5:00 AM local time on X-Day, the Panzer
Panzer Division
A panzer division was an armored division in the army and air force branches of the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II....

 spearheads of five German armies would charge across these bridges. But von Hippel's Brandenburgers themselves had been the real spearheads for this first blitzkrieg
For other uses of the word, see: Blitzkrieg Blitzkrieg is an anglicized word describing all-motorised force concentration of tanks, infantry, artillery, combat engineers and air power, concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines, and, once the lines are broken,...

 operation. Poland was unprepared not only for the conventional war but for the unconventional one which had preceded it. Within 27 days, a nation of 33 million would become the first, and perhaps most unfortunate, of the Third Reich's conquests. Von Hippel's commandos had passed their first test with ruthless efficiency.

Although Bataillon Ebbinghaus was disbanded at the end of the Polish campaign, they had performed well enough to be reconstituted, under their old Lehr und Bau Kompagnie codename, as a regiment
A regiment is a major tactical military unit, composed of variable numbers of batteries, squadrons or battalions, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant colonel...

 in time to serve with distinction in the 1940 campaign in France and the low countries
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

. By this time, Admiral Canaris had begun to push von Hippel aside and take a direct role in the Brandenburgers' operations himself. The unit continued to grow from a single regiment into one of the most feared and effective division
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

s fielded by Germany in World War II, participating on every front and in nearly every important campaign.

Lieutenant Colonel von Hippel was captured in 1943 by US troops, while commanding a german-arabic unit in Tunis
Tunis is the capital of both the Tunisian Republic and the Tunis Governorate. It is Tunisia's largest city, with a population of 728,453 as of 2004; the greater metropolitan area holds some 2,412,500 inhabitants....


Dates of rank

  • Leutnant
  • Oberleutnant
    Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it dates from the early 19th century. Translated as "Senior Lieutenant", the rank is typically bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty...

    : 1935
  • Hauptmann
    Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

  • Major
    Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

    : October 1, 1940
  • Oberstleutnant
    Oberstleutnant is a German Army and Air Force rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel, above Major, and below Oberst.There are two paygrade associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant...

    : June 1, 1942

Notable decorations

  • Cross of Honor
    Cross of Honor
    The Cross of Honor, also known as the Honor Cross or, popularly, the Hindenburg Cross, was a commemorative medal inaugurated on July 13, 1934 by Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg for those soldiers of Imperial Germany who fought in World War I...

  • Wound Badge
    Wound Badge
    Wound Badge was a German military award for wounded or frost-bitten soldiers of Imperial German Army in World War I, the Reichswehr between the wars, and the Wehrmacht, SS and the auxiliary service organizations during the Second World War. After March 1943, due to the increasing number of Allied...

     in Black (1918)
  • Colonial Badge (Elephant Order)
  • Iron Cross
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

     Second (1914) and First (1939) Classes
  • Clasp to the Iron Cross
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

    Second Class
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