SS-Wachbataillon 'Nordwest' (later: SS-Wachbataillon 3)

Formed at 01-01-1942

Although SS-Wachbataillon 'Nordwest' was not a pure Waffen-SS combat unit, it was eventually incorporated into the Waffen-SS volunteer unit 'Landstorm Nederland' and therefore the history of SS-Wachbataillon 'Nordwest' deserves special attention on this site.

On January the 1st 1942 the SS raised the Wachbataillon. Its men were subject to the Waffen-SS command rules and wore the Feldgrau uniforms of Himmlers Black Soldiers. Besides Dutchmen in the age of 17-40 years a Company of Ukrainians (always called as Russen = Russians, by the Germans) served in the Batallion as well. Under command of SS-Obersturmbannführer Paul A. Helle 'Nordwest' was responsible for guarding the perimeters of German concentration camps in the Netherlands while the Sicherheitsdienst guarded the inner circle of the camps. Helle already had some experience in guarding camps as from September 1941 he had been in command of the Stabskompanie der Waffen-SS beim Höheren SS- und Polizeiführer (raised in April 1941), an all German unit that was ordered to serve in the Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort. When the SS decided to raise Wachbataillon 'Nordwest' the guardsmen of the Stabskompanie were transferred to 'Nordwest'.

The new Wachbataillon consisted of six Companies: the first and second Companies served in the Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort (the second was trained as an Einsatz Kompanie), the third Company guarded the Dutch intellectual hostages in St.Michielsgestel, the fourth and fifth Companies were responsible for the concentration camp in Vught, and the sixth Company guarded Haaren. Initially, the camp in Westerbork was to be guarded by a 'Nordwest' Company as well, but this never happened for unknown reasons. Most likely this company went to garrison fortress Scheveningen-Clingendael to be fitted with anti-tank weapons and wore the name SS-Panzerjägerkompanie 'Nordwest' on their sleeves from that moment on.

The high selection standards that applied to other Waffen-SS unit did not apply to SS-Wachbataillon 'Nordwest'. The Germans used some of the strangest methods to recruit Dutch volunteers as even psychiatric institutions and prisons were screened for potential volunteers. As a result, the Batallion became, as Dutch World War II historian Lou de Jong wrote, 'an irregular lawless mess'. The SS needed personnel to do the dirty jobs around the camps, so it did not matter in which physical shape the volunteers were. As a result, the medical examination of potential Wachbatallion members lacked every sense of reality and men who were found to be physically unfit for active service at the front were allowed to join the Wachbatallion. Serving in the Wachbatallion was also an attractive alternative to men who wanted to escape the so-called Arbeitseinsatz (the giant German forced labour project) or to avoid 'a trip' to the Eastern Front (although it was not planned, some of the 'Nordwest' volunteers were nevertheless sent to SS-Panzer-Division 'Wiking' in Russia). Obviously, the physically unfit and the forced labour evaders did not strengthen the unit and the lack of motivation and political conviction of most volunteers made the SS-Wachbatllion 'Nordwest' a unit without quality.

It was not long before the Feldgendarmerie (German military police) received complaints concerning the behaviour of the Wachmänner as certain contingents of 'Nordwest' had committed theft, robberies, and looting. Commander Helle, who was held responsible for the incidents, claimed that his men had not been sufficiently provided with liquor and other luxuries and therefore lost their minds. After a number of procedures Himmler decided to drop the charges, but unfortunately, the misconduct of parts of the Battalion became more structural. Rauters (Höhere SS-und Polzeiführer) Untersuchungsrichter (investigation judge) declared after the war:

'the battalion had a very high crime rate, even when I leave the purely military facts (desertion, absence without leave, abandoning sentry duties, and disobedience, etc.) out of consideration. If I included these facts, the number of crimes committed by members 'Nordwest' would be as high as all crimes of German Waffen-SS and Polizei units put together... The men of the Wachbataillon committed every single crime that is known in common criminal law: crimes like theft, looting, fraud, blackmail, illegal house search, etc.'. (Translated from Dutch)

Another element that worsened the situation was the transfer of 170 of the best men to Wasserschutzpolizeikommando IJsselmeer, 100 to the Landwacht, and 150 to 'Stützpunkt Clingendaal' where a second heavy weapons company was to be established. In September 1944 SS-Wachbataillon 'Nordwest' would pay a heavy price for this.

When Operation 'Marketgarden' was launched on September the 17th 1944, the southern part of the Netherlands had largely been liberated by the allied forces and the Companies of 'Nordwest' that used to fulfil their 'duties' in this part (companies 3, 4, 5 and 6) were pulled back to Amersfoort. On the day of the first allied paratrooper landings, Höhere SS-und Polzeiführer Rauter ordered 'Nordwest' to make itself ready for a battle against the allied paratroopers. The Wachbataillon, now counting 600 men, was incorporated with Von Tettaus 'Westgruppe' and had to stop allied attacks along the northern banks of the Rhine and together with some other units, the SS-Batallion was responsible for the defence of the eastern sector of the battleground.

In the inevitable fights with the allied elite paratroopers the limited combat value of 'Nordwest' became apparent. In the evening of September the 17th the Wachbataillon performed reconnaissance missions and the first casualties were reported the next day. At 5.00 hours on September the 15th near Ede, the 'Nordwest' met the seventh Batallion of Kings Own Scottish Borderers on the battlefield. The British had arrived a day before to defend the Ginkelse Heide (Ginkel heath) and were going to be assisted by the British fourth Parachutist Brigade on the 18th. In other words: 'Nordwest' faced a very strong opposition.

The camps in the Netherlands in which 'Nordwest' served (the placing of a company in Westerbork was cancelled).
The men had never really learned how to fight and had no knowledge of any combat tactics. With this in the back of their heads, many decided to flee and desert. Others were not prepared to fight against the western allies and also left without permission. It was therefore no surprise that the battle on the Ginkelse Heide against the British parachutists had a disastrous outcome for the SS-Wachbataillon. The close combat fights were definitely in the advantage of the British, who were trained in this specific way of warfare. Two hundred men of 'Nordwest' were killed and another two hundred ran away. The 1.Kompanie had fled, 3.,4. and 5.Kompanie pulled back to the north with heavy losses, and the men of 6.Kompanie were made prisoner of war. After all this, the Wachbatallion had lost 66 % of its original strength.

According to his superiors, Helle had failed in combat and lost command of the Wachbataillon on the spot. He would return to 'Nordwest' in October, this time for jobs he did know how to do: razzias, looting, and hunting down isolated allied paratroopers. The 'Westgruppe', in which 'Nordwest' was incorporated, managed to dislodge the British Airbornes from the Ginkelse Heide despite heavy losses and after a period of contributing to razzias in Amersfoort, 'Nordwest' was incorporated in another SS unit: 'Landstorm Nederland'. Former commander Helle had now become obsolete and left the Netherlands.

Some parts of the Wachbataillon had committed all kinds of crimes on several occasions. In the period between the 26th of June 1944 and the 6th of September 1944, men of 'Nordwest' executed (or assisted to execute) hundreds of prisoners in the camp Vught. The presence of the SS-Wachmänner meant pure hell for the prisoners, although some of the SS-men could be bribed. A former prisoner declared: (Translated from Dutch: L. de Jong, part 8, p. 609)

'We were on good terms with some of those guys. We were not allowed to smoke, but we did. We gave an SS-mann a couple of cigarettes and then he would keep watch. When a German SS-mann approached he warned: 'Guys, one of those bastards is approaching', then we were warned again. Those SS guys took advantage from everything they could.' (Translated from Dutch: L. de Jong, part 8, p. 609) The SS-men's need for cigarettes could also mean that more of the prisoners were killed or wounded. Whoever came too close to the fence risked getting shot by one of the guards outside the camp, while the responsible SS-mann could count on a reward for preventing an attempt to 'escape'. The SS-mann often received extra liquor and cigarettes and sometimes even got three days leave as a reward. However, if the officers ever found out what had really happened, the responsible SS-mann faced severe punishment. In some cases an imprisonment in Dachau was even sentenced.

Apparently the need for alcohol had not disappeared on August 11th 1944 when volunteers were needed to shoot 38 people in the camp Vught as a number of Dutch 'Nordwest' SS-men volunteered in exchange for cigarettes and a bottle of gin. Incidents like this gave 'Nordwest' a very bad name even within the SS itself, and the arrogance and incompetence of Helle and his staff strengthened this negative image even further.

In November 1944 the Batallion was used in a large-scale razzia in the Noord-Oostpolder. After this, the SS-Wachbataillon 'Nordwest' was incorporated in the 84.Regiment of SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Brigade 'Landstorm Nederland'. Unfortunately the crimes went on, as men of the 84.Regiment shot dozens of Dutch civilians who were caught in Sperrgebiet (forbidden areas) without any hesitation.

Totale strength: atleast 1200
Kommandeur: Ostubaf. Paul Helle
Adjudant: Ustuf. Albert Naumann
IVb: Ostuf. Dr. Gerard Dijkema
Jagdkommando (also known as Spielmannszug): SS-Uscha. Sackel
1.Kompanie: Hstuf. Ludwig Henrig, Ostuf. Wilhelm Fernau, Ostuf. Johannes Bronkhorst, sestioncommander Roskam
2.Kompanie: Hstuf. Friedrich Ziegler
3.Kompanie: Ostuf. Karl Hink
4.Kompanie: Hstuf. Ernst Bartsch (also second commander)
5.Kompanie: ? Kühne
6.Kompanie: Ostuf. Wilhelm Fernau
Schwere Kompanie: Hptschf. Einenkel
unknown: Ustuf. Paul Scheers
Rauter (in front) visits Wachbataillon Nordwest, behind him Helle.

Sources: (see also literatuur for title specifications) N.K.C.A. in 't Veld, De SS en Nederland; L. de Jong, Het koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog; J. Vincx en V. Schotanius, Nederlandse vrijwilligers in Europese krijgsdienst; Van der Zee, Voor Führer volk en vaderland; Keizer, Dienen onder het hakenkruis; C.E.H.J. Verhoef, De slag om de Ginkelse Heide 17 en 18 september 1944; John Moore, Führerliste der Waffen-SS.

  Text: EM © 2000 - 2004    Translations by: FvB © 2003
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