Order of commands

The Order of Commands (German: Kommandobefehl ) was a secret order issued by Adolf Hitler the 18 of October of 1942 . In it he ordered that all commands captured in Europe and Africa (excluding seamen) should be immediately executed if they tried to surrender. Any person or group of persons in the uniform of British commanders or any other similar unit, or any person who carried out military actions without wearing a uniform, was to be delivered immediately to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, the Nazi security service ) for summary execution .


Adolf Hitler felt a special animosity towards the commandos and paratroopers of the Allies because of its unpredictability, its effect on German morale and its successes in Europe , Norway and North Africa [citation needed ] , as well as its own inability to design Effective countermeasure. The attacks increased during 1942 and included large-scale incursions designed by the Department of Combined Operations , such as St. Nazaire and Dieppe . Although the main assault on Dieppe failed, attacks by British commanders against flank artillery batteries succeeded , such as the main assault on St. Nazaire.

It is popularly believed that the rage of Hitler peaked [ citation needed ] following an incident during the attack in Dieppe and another in a small raid on the island of Sark , made by members of the Small Scale Force Incursion together To some men of the 12th Command.

Incursion in Dieppe

The 19 of August of 1942 , during the raid a brigadier Canadian decided (against the usual procedure) take a copy of the landing operational orders. The file was consequently captured by the Germans during the surrender and ended up arriving at the headquarters of Hitler. Among the orders was an instruction on “binding the prisoners”; This was contrary to the agreements adopted at the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, signed by both the Germans and the Allied countries. Dieppe could also have captured a “manual” of Commandoes on short range combat; We must take into account that the manual assumption was not in the hands of personnel of the Commands, nor was it part of his usual orders to tie his prisoners. In this regard, there are photographs in various publications and at the Imperial War Museum , London , which show Commands returning from Dieppe without even carrying their prisoners.

Incursion in Sark

On the night of 3 to 4 of October of 1942 , ten men Raid Force Small Scale and 12º Commando raided offensive reconnaissance on the island of Sark , the Operation Basalt . Following the usual procedure, the capture of prisoners was required. Nine of the raiders stormed a local house while the tenth headed to meet with a local undercover Special Operations Executive . The occupant of the house, Frances Pittard, was very cooperative informing them of the presence of a score of Germans in the nearby Hotel Dixcart. It also declined the offer to be moved back to England.

In front of the hotel was an elongated cottage-shaped building, seemingly unguarded. This annex comprised a corridor and five rooms in which five Germans slept, none of which was an officer. The men were awakened and taken outside, at which time the commandos decided to enter the hotel to capture more prisoners. To minimize the number of guards to leave behind with the captives, the commandos tied the hands of the prisoners with climbing rope (each carrying a piece of about 1.83 m), and forced them to fasten their trousers with the hands. Removing the belts or suspenders and cutting the buttons of the pants was a common practice among the commands to make it difficult to escape their prisoners.

While this operation was being carried out, one of the prisoners shouted to alert his companions to the hotel, resulting in the act being shot by a .38 caliber revolver. Once alerted, the Germans at the hotel opened fire on the commandos , Who decided to return to the beach with the four remaining prisoners. On the way to the beach, three of the prisoners attempted to escape, resulting in deaths. Even today it is unclear whether they got their hands loose during the shooting, or whether the three attempted to escape at the same time or separately. The case is that two were shot dead and one was stabbed. The room was brought safely to England and revealed a wealth of information. The commandos also evacuated the SOE agent, who had impersonated a Polish worker among the forced laborers on the island.

German answer and climbing

A few days after the raid, the Germans issued a propaganda statement stating that at least one prisoner had attempted to escape and two had been shot while resisting capture with their hands tied. They also claimed that the practice of tying prisoners with hands had been used in Dieppe. Consequently, on October 9 Berlin announced that 1,376 Allied prisoners (mainly Canadians captured at Dieppe) would wear shackles thereafter (contrary to the Geneva Convention of 1929). The British responded by applying the same measure to German inmates interned in Canada .

This tug of war around the shackles followed until Switzerland reached an agreement with the British to withdraw the measures on 12 December , solution also adopted by the Germans after a few days. By then, however, many German camps had abandoned the measure, or reduced it to leaving a pile of shackles in a hut as a symbol.

On October 7 Hitler personally wrote a note in the daily part of the Wehrmacht :

“In the future, all the terrorist and sabotage troops of the British and their accomplices, who do not behave as soldiers but as bandits, will be treated as such by the German troops and mercilessly eliminated in battle, wherever they appear.”

The order in effect

On October 18 , after much deliberation with officers, personnel and lawyers of the German High Command, Hitler issued his Order of Commands or Kommandobefehl , in secret and with only twelve copies. The next day, the chief of staff of the army, Alfred Jodl , distributed copies of it along with an appendix which added that the order was “intended only for managers, and should not fall into enemy hands under any circumstances.” The order itself said,

From now on all men operating against German troops in so-called command raids, even if they wear uniforms, armed or unarmed, in combat or fleeing, must be annihilated to the last man … Even if such individuals are discovered … Are to be delivered as prisoners, no barracks should be offered in any case.

The order states, under supposition, that British commandos were ordered to kill their prisoners. This was not the case; The men in Sark acted as they believed fit the situation. Hitler later extended this deal to captured Allied pilots, and the SD role was transferred to the Gestapo .

Allied casualties

The Kommandobefehl was used to assassinate hundreds, possibly thousands, of Allied special forces operating behind enemy lines, integrated into the OSS , SOE and other organizations. They were usually transferred to the SD or Gestapo, transported to a concentration camp and executed there. 1 The first victims were seven officers captured during Operation carabiner , who were shot in Sachsenhausen early 23 as October as 1942 . Executions caused by the order were carried out until near the end of the Third Reich .


The Geneva Conventions stipulate that members of the armed forces , if captured, must be considered prisoners of war , and as such must be treated humanely. Moreover, if the members of the armed forces of these prisoners were questioned, they should be treated as prisoners of war until such membership is clarified. Since Germany was a signatory to that convention, the order was a direct and deliberate violation of the Convention.

Hitler and his subordinates knew that the order was illegal, as evidenced by the fact that only twelve copies were prepared and that special measures were taken to keep it secret. They also knew that the order would be unpopular with the German military’s professional military, especially the part where enforcement was enforced even if the captured commandos wore uniforms (non-uniform commands could be treated as spies or insurgents under the Law International ). The order included measures designed to force the German commanders to enforce it despite their lack of enthusiasm. However, generals like Erwin Rommel and Albert Kesselring refused to obey this order and continued to apply the Geneva Conventions .


After the war, German officers who carried out illegal executions following the order were found guilty in war crimes trials, including the Nuremberg trials . The Kommandobefehl was one of the war crimes charges against Generaloberst Jodl , who was found and convicted (both of this and other crimes) and executed by hanging.


  1. Back to top↑ The process isdescribedin detail in the citation for the George Cross of Commander Yeo-Thomas.