The pre-war German Army rejected Captain Theodore von Hippel’s idea of using small units of highly trained men to penetrate enemy defenses before main actions began. They felt it was beneath the dignity of true soldiers to engage in such renegade conduct and so sent the young Captain packing. Down but not out, he ended up joining the German intelligence agency known as the Abwehr, in whom he found its commander, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, a willing listener.

His ideas, much of which were learned from studying World War 1 guerilla leaders, were approved and forwarded to the German High Command (OKW), who agreed to the formation of a battalion of men trained in the arts of combat and espionage. These troops were tasked with capturing bridges and roadways ahead of advances and holding them until relieved.

Theodore von Hippel
Theodore von Hippel

This first unit became known as the Ebbinghaus battalion. And when it went to war on September 1st, 1939 in the Polish campaign, it performed as expected, slipping across enemy lines, holding vital roads and crossings, as the columns of panzers rumbled triumphantly past, unaware many of those who waved them on had been wearing Polish army uniforms a short while before.

Strange but true, just as they destroyed any lingering doubts to their effectiveness, the order came to disband. Ebbinghaus had been assigned to OKW and no more need was seen for it.