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Commando Order

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On 18 October 1942, Adolf Hitler issued the Commando Order, which specified an unconditional death sentence for any enemy troops, wearing uniform and otherwise meeting the requirements of lawful combatants, who operated behind enemy lines on direct action or special reconnaissance missions.

It formed the basis of numerous war crimes prosecutions. He specified the order was to be strictly secret and given only to senior commanders.

The Order

1. For a long time now our opponents have been employing in their conduct of the war, methods which contravene the International Convention of Geneva. The members of the so-called Commandos behave in a particularly brutal and underhand manner; and it has been established that those units recruit criminals not only from their own country but even former convicts set free in enemy territories. From captured orders it emerges that they are instructed not only to tie up prisoners, but also to kill out-of-hand unarmed captives who they think might prove an encumbrance to them, or hinder them in successfully carrying out their aims. Orders have indeed been found in which the killing of prisoners has positively been demanded of them.

2. In this connection it has already been notified in an Appendix to Army Orders of 7.10.1942. that in future, Germany will adopt the same methods against these Sabotage units of the British and their Allies; i.e. that, whenever they appear, they shall be ruthlessly destroyed by the German troops.

3. I order, therefore:-

From now on all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man. This is to be carried out whether they be soldiers in uniform, or saboteurs, with or without arms; and whether fighting or seeking to escape; and it is equally immaterial whether they come into action from Ships and Aircraft, or whether they land by parachute. Even if these individuals on discovery make obvious their intention of giving themselves up as prisoners, no pardon is on any account to be given. On this matter a report is to be made on each case to Headquarters for the information of Higher Command.

4. Should individual members of these Commandos, such as agents, saboteurs etc., fall into the hands of the Armed Forces through any means - as, for example, through the Police in one of the Occupied Territories - they are to be instantly handed over to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD)

To hold them in military custody - for example in prisoner of war camps, etc., - even if only as a temporary measure, is strictly forbidden.

5. This order does not apply to the treatment of those enemy soldiers who are taken prisoner or give themselves up in open battle, in the course of normal operations, large scale attacks; or in major assault landings or airborne operations. Neither does it apply to those who fall into our hands after a sea fight, nor to those enemy soldiers who, after air battle, seek to save their lives by parachute.

6. I will hold all Commanders and Officers responsible under Military Law for any omission to carry out this order, whether by failure in their duty to instruct their units accordingly, or if they themselves act contrary to it.

(Sgd) A Hitler


Among the first death sentences carried out against German officers was that of Gen. Anton Dostler, on 12 October 1945, for summary execution of a U.S. raiding unit that landed, by boat, behind German lines in Italy. The mission of the uniformed troops, operating openly, in a chain of command, was to destroy a railroad tunnel behind German lines.[1]

At Nuremberg, Alfred Jodl testufued that while Hitler wanted him to issue the Commando Order, he told Hitler's adjutant, Rudolf Schmundt, that he refused to do so. Jodl later sent out a directive, without the knowledge of Hitler or Keitel, that such captured personnel should be treated as prisoners of war.[2] A member of the prosecution staff, Airey Neave, wrote that Jodl, with the support of Keitel, argued against the Commando Order. He said "thirty-two years afterwards, I have some doubt about the execution of Jodl, though he was undoubtedly guilty of the gravest war crimes." He said Hitler sent out the Commando Order on his own. [3]

While their execution was not immediate, the principles of the Order were applied to a Royal Navy team, led by Sublieutenant John Godwin, was imprisoned at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, after being captured while raiding shipping near Haugesund, north of Stavanger, Norway. At the camp, in violation of the current conditions of the Third Geneva Convention, they were forced to march thirty miles a day, on rough surfaces, to test army boots. The Nazis decided to kill them on 2 February 1945, but, while being led to the execution site, Godwin managed to take the firing squad leader's pistol and kill him before being himself killed. [4]

The Order was a recurring theme throughout the High Command Case at the Nuremberg Military Tribunal.


  1. William Shirer (1960), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Simon & Schuster, p. 956
  2. G.M. Gilbert (1947), Nuremberg Diary, Farrar, Strauss, p. 363
  3. Airey Neave (1978), On Trial at Nuremberg, Little, Brown, p. 180
  4. M.R.D. Foote (1979), MI9 - Escape and Evasion 1939 - 1945, pp. 154-155