Schnez-Truppe

According to documents released by the Bundesnachrichtendienst in 2014, around 2000 veterans of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS decided in 1949 to establish a secret army in Germany called the Schnez-Truppe (Schnez troup). The preparations were carried out without a mandate from the German government and without the knowledge of the parliament.

The goal was to defend nascent West Germany against Eastern aggression in the early stages of the Cold War.1 The stay-behind army was foreseen to be deployed against the Soviet army in the event of a civil war, in which, the documents claimed, it would include 40,000 fighters.2

Logo of the 116th Panzer-Division and 16th Panzer-Grenadier-Division, Germany, 2nd World War ("Greyhound Division")

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 (1950-1953). 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.3

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 armoured divisions, to be deployed in case of a German-only war between East and West, with no outside interference. The tanks for these armoured 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.34 The Schnez-Truppe was organised down to company level and consisted predominantly of members of former German elite tank divisions.

Declassified documents reveal that US intelligence agencies were well aware of Schnez' activities at least as of 1952. They furthermore show that Schnez maintained contacts with the "League of German Youth" (Bund Deutscher Jugend) and its paramilitary arm, the Technischer Dienst (Technical Service), which both included former Nazi officers as members, and were preparing themselves for a partisan war against the Soviets.5 Secretly funded by the United States, both groups were banned by the West German federal government in 1953 as radical right-wing organizations. A declassified CIA document reveals the front organization of the Schnez-Truppe was operating as Soldatenselbsthilfe in Süddeutschland (Soldier self-aid in Southern Germany), or short Selbsthilfe.

The central figure of the secret organization was Albert Schnez, who served as a Wehrmacht colonel in World War II, before ascending the ranks of the West German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, founded in 1955. By the end of the 1950s Schnez was part of the entourage of then Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss (CDU), and later served as German army chief under Chancellor Willy Brandt and Defense Minister Helmut Schmidt (both of the SPD).

Anton Grasser, a former infantry general of the Wehrmacht and after the war inspector general of the German police, took care of the weapons. In 1950, he began his career at the Federal Interior Ministry in Bonn, where he became inspector general and oversaw the coordination of German Police Tactical Units in the German states for the event of war. He wanted to use these police assets to equip the Schnez-Truppe in case of an emergency. There is no sign that then Interior Minister Robert Lehr had been informed of these plans. Schnez also organised road transport for his forces through logistics companies.6

The project to build a clandestine army was also supported by future leading figures of the Bundeswehr, among them 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 1963.76 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-defence minister Helmut Schmidt.6

Most of the members of the Schnez-Truppe lived in southern Germany. An overview in the documents shows that Rudolf von Bünau, a retired infantry general, led a "group staff" out of Stuttgart. There were further sub-units in Ulm (led by retired Lieutenant General Hans Wagner), Heilbronn (retired Lieutenant General Alfred Reinhardt), Karlsruhe (retired Major General Werner Kampfhenkel), Freiburg (retired Major General Wilhelm Nagel) and many other cities as well.

US documents viewed by Der Spiegel indicate that Schnez negotiated with former SS Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny.6 The SS officer became a Nazi hero during World War II after he carried out a successful mission to free deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who had been arrested by the Italian king. The former SS man had pursued plans similar to those of Schnez. In February 1951, the two agreed to "cooperate immediately in the Swabia region." It is still unknown today what precisely became of that deal.

The Schnez-Truppe collected information about left-wing politicians such as Social Democrat Fritz Erler, a key player in reforming the SPD party after World War II, and spied on students like Joachim Peckert, who later became a senior official at the West German Embassy in Moscow during the 1970s. When in 1951 Schnez offered the service of his organisation to the German intelligence service, the Gehlen Organization, the predecessor of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, he provided those black lists of potentially left leaning individuals. In one case a member of the police was profiled as Halbjude (half-Jew).6

According to the papers, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer did not find out about the existence of the Schnez-Truppe until 1951, at which point he evidently did not decide to break it up. He 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.6 Within the Gehlen Organization the Schnez-Truppe received the code name Unternehmen Versicherungen (Operation Insurance).3

The general public in Germany was unaware of the Schnez-Truppe until 2014, when files relating to it were declassified by the BND after having been re-discovered in 2011.3 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.2 He subsequently authored a book on the topic, evaluating the over 300 pages long file on the Schnez-Truppe in the archive of the BND in Pullach, Bavaria.34

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.3