The Brandenburgers were members of the Brandenburg German special forces unit during World War II. Originally the unit was formed by and operated as an extension of the military’s intelligence organ, the Abwehr. Members of this unit took part in seizing operationally important targets by way of sabotage and infiltration. Being foreign German nationals who were convinced Nazi volunteers, constituent members had lived abroad and were proficient in foreign languages as well as being familiar with the way of life in the area of operations where they were deployed.
The Brandenburg Division was generally subordinated to the army groups in individual commands and operated throughout Eastern Europe, in southern Africa, Afghanistan, the Middle East and in the Caucasus. In the later course of the war, parts of the special unit were used in the fight against partisans in Yugoslavia before the Division, in the last months of the war, was reclassified and merged into one of the Panzergrenadier divisions. They committed various atrocities in the course of their operations.
In early August 1942, a Brandenburg unit of 62 Baltic and Sudeten Germans led by SS Sturmbannführer Adrian von Fölkersam penetrated farther into enemy territory than any other German unit. They had been ordered to seize and secure the vital Maikop oilfields. Disguised as NKVD men, and driving Soviet trucks, Fölkersam’s unit passed through the Soviet front lines and moved deep into hostile territory. The Brandenburgers ran into a large group of Red Army soldiers fleeing from the front. Fölkersam saw an opportunity to use them to the unit’s advantage. By persuading them to return to the Soviet cause, he was able to join with them and move almost at will through the Soviet lines Adrian von Fölkersam was killed in action on 21 January 1945, age 30 near Inowrocław,0
Poland.In September 1944 it was decided that special operations units were no longer necessary. The Brandenburg Division became the Infantry Division Brandenburg and transferred to the Eastern front. Approximately 1,800 men (including Fölkersam) were transferred to SS-Standartenführer Otto Skorzeny’s 502nd SS Jäger Battalion operating within SS-Jagdverband Mitte, but mostly to the SS-Jagdverband Ost until the end of the war. Only the Kurfürst Regiment retained its original role as a commando unit.
The rest of the Brandenburgers were assigned to Panzer Corps Grossdeutschland under command of General der panzer Friedrich Wilhelm Eduard Kasimir Dietrich von Saucken, along with its old training partner from 1940 to 1941, the Grossdeutschland Division. In late 1944, the division was equipped with a Panzer Regiment and redesignated Panzergrenadier-Division Brandenburg and returned to the front. The Brandenburgers were involved in heavy fighting near Memel, until their withdrawal, along with the Großdeutschland, via ferry to Pillau. The division was all but annihilated during the heavy fighting near Pillau and only 800 men escaped to the thin strip of land at Frische Nehrung. While some survivors surrendered to the British in Schleswig-Holstein in May, many Brandenburgers, highly skilled in evading detection, simply disappeared. Others enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and fought in French Indo-China where their skills proved an asset.