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PART ONE: BACKGROUND
Germany has had contemporary elite and special forces since joining NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) in 1958 in the form of Kampfschwimmers (or combat swimmers, aka frogmen). During the 1960s more units were established before the reorganisation of German Special Forces in the late-1990s and the introduction of the German Special Forces Command or Deutsche Kommando Spezialkräfte, commonly known as KSK.
Although not a military unit, GSG9 is embraced within this article. GSG9 is a special operations unit of the German Federal Police specialising in counter-terrorism and is highly regarded. The unit performs missions similar to the British SAS in regards to hostage rescue and counter-terrorism.
This article is divided into three parts for easier reading. Part One is this introduction and a brief overview of the organisational changes that have taken place, as well as an outline of Governmental and senior Army-level oversight/command. Part Two provides an outline of the units and organisations that comprise Germany’s Elite and Special Forces. Finally, Part Three will provide some direction to useful books and links to useful websites, as well as references.
The aim of this article is to provide the reader with an insight to the Elite and Special Forces units and organisations of the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr).
1.2 Reorganisation of the Bundeswehr
The Defence Policy Guidelines (DPG) of 27 May 2011 defined the political/strategic framework for the reorientation of the Bundeswehr, with an emphasis towards the (then) changed current and future security environment, defining its mission and tasks (German Army, 2013).
This framework led to a number of organisational changes which will be reflected in this article.
1.3 Federal Ministry of Defence
The German Federal Ministry of Defence (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung) is headed by the Federal Minister of Defence, a cabinet-level position, who is aided by a number of secretaries (both parliamentary and civil service).
The Ministry focuses on supporting the Federal Minister of Defence in their functions as a member of the Federal Government and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and on its central task, which is the strategic control of the Bundeswehr.
1.4 Professional Head of the Bundeswehr
Der Generalinspekteur der Bundeswehr, or the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr (aka Chief of the Defence Staff), is the professional head of the Bundeswehr and typically holds the rank of General/Admiral (OF-9).
The Chiefs of Staff of the three military branches of service (Army, Navy and Air Force) exercise command and control of their respective services outside the Federal Ministry of Defence and are administratively subordinate to the Chief of the Defence Staff.
PART TWO: UNITS AND ORGANISATIONS
This section of the article provides an outline of the Elite and Special Forces units and organisations found within the Bundeswehr.
Further information on the units and organisations, such as history, role, selection and training, can be found by clicking on the unit’s/organisation’s title [still in the process of being written].
2.1 Rapid Forces Division
The Rapid Forces Division (Division Schnelle Kräfte) is headquartered at Stadtallendorf and is commanded by a Major General (OF-7). As part of the 2011 reorganisation of the German Army, the division is a subordinate element of the German Army HQ (German Army, 2014).
Two formations of note within the division include Airborne Brigade 1 and the Special Forces Command, both discussed below.
Although the Bundeswehr has a Special Operations Command, in contrast to the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, the Bundeswehr organises its Special Forces as a component of the wider-military rather than as a ‘fourth branch’.
2.2 Airborne Brigade 1
On 01 April 2015, the 26th Airborne Brigade ‘Saarland’ was renamed Airborne Brigade 1 (Luftlandebrigade 1). The reorganisation led to all paratrooper and airborne forces being subordinated to the brigade.
The brigade, which is headquartered in Saarlouis, is commanded by a Brigadier General (OF-6) and is composed of:
- HQ and Signals Company ABB1;
- Parachute Regiment 26;
- Parachute Regiment 31;
- Airborne Reconnaissance Company 260;
- Airborne Reconnaissance Company 310;
- Airborne Engineer Company 260; and
- Airborne Engineer Company 270.
First established in 1996, and activated in April 1997, the German Special Forces Command (Das Deutsche Kommando Spezialkräfte), commonly known as KSK, is the home of the German Army’s Special Forces.
The Command, which is headquartered at Calw, is commanded by a Brigadier General (OF-6) and is composed of:
- Headquarters KSK;
- Force Development Group;
- Operational Forces (Battalion-sized); and
- Support Forces (Battalion-sized).
First established in 1958, the German Navy’s Special Forces Command or Special Forces Command of the Navy (Kommando Spezialkräfte der Marine), commonly known as KSM, is one of several units of Flotilla 1 (Einsatzflottille 1) which is commanded by a Rear Admiral (OF-7). Flotilla 1 is a formation of the German Navy.
Kampfschwimmers or Frogmen (aka Combat Swimmers) are the German Navy’s version of the German Army’s KSK soldiers. KSM acts as a Special Reconnaissance Regiment for the German Navy.
The Command, which is headquartered at the naval base in Eckernförde, is commanded by a Frigate Captain (Fregattenkapitän) (OF-5).
First established in 1957, the Bundeswehr Commando Course (Einzelkämpferlehrgang) is a 4 week course designed to test participants. To even begin the course participants have to successfully complete an arduous entrance test.
Training during the course includes personnel recovery, hand-to-hand combat (Krav Maga) and loaded marches whilst being stressed through food and sleep deprivation.
Training is conducted at a number of facilities including the “Infantry Training Centre in Hammelberg” and the Airborne Operations and Air Transport Training Facility, “the Centre is also responsible for parachute jump training as well as the Army-specific elements of air transport and airlift.” (German Army, 2013, p.60).
2.6 GSG 9
In 1972, the then German Police failed in their attempt to successfully free 11 Israeli athletes who were kidnapped in Munich during the Summer Olympic Games.
One of the lessons learned by the German Police was that they were not properly trained or equipped to handle such threats. Consequently, on 17 April 1973 the German Police officially formed Border Guard Group 9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9) or GSG9. GSG9 was chosen simply because the German Police had eight regular border guard groups at the time.
As part of the reunification process, in 2005 the German Police was renamed from the Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Guard Service) to Bundespolizei (German Federal Police). Due, in part, to its fame the GSG9 abbreviation was kept.
GSG9 is highly regarded as an elite counter-terrorism and special operations unit of the German Federal Police, performing missions similar to the British SAS (who provided expertise during its formation) in regards to hostage rescue and counter-terrorism.
2.7 Special Operations Training and Development Centre
First established in 1979, the Special Operations Training and Development Centre is part of the Army Training Command, and is headquartered in Pfullendorf. The Centre is commanded by a Colonel (Oberst) (OF-5) (Volk, 2013).
The training of Special Forces senior NCO (non-commissioned officer) candidates as well as Special Operations Forces (SOF) and personnel providing direct tactical support to Special Forces is conducted at the Specialised Operations Training Centre (German Army, 2013).
2.8 Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command
“During routine duty, the Special Forces Command is administratively subordinate to the Rapid Forces Division. On operations, it is directed to cooperate with the Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command, directly supporting its Special Operations Division.” (German Army, 2013, p.78).
“The Special Operations Division of the Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command is the only division which reports directly to the Commanding General.” (JFOC, 2013, p.39), a Lieutenant General (OF-8).
PART THREE: MISCELLANEOUS
The German Elite and Special Forces community embraces personnel from the German Army, German Navy and the German Federal Police.
The various branches are open to all eligible male and female personnel of their respective service. German Elite and Special Forces training seeks to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with the German Elite and Special Forces community. This article provides individuals with a basic insight to the various units and organisations of Germany’s Elite and Special Forces.
3.1 Useful Books
- Elite Attack Forces. German Elite Forces: 5th Mountain (Gebirgsjager) Division and the Brandenburgers (Special Forces) by Mike Sharpe and Ian Westwell, first published in 2008 by Compendium Publishing.
- German Special Forces of World War II (part of Osprey’s Elite series) by Gordon Williamson, first published in 2009 by Osprey Publishing Ltd.
- Kommando Spezialkräfte 3 – Division Spezielle Operationen (German Edition) by Heinz Duthel, first published in 2015 by Books on Demand.
- Kommando Spezial-Kräfte by Reinhard Scholzen, first published in 2009 by Motor Book.
- GSG 9 by Reinhard Scholzen and Kerstin Froese, first published in 2001 by Motorbycuhverlag.
3.2 Useful Links
- Bundeswehr Commando Course (Einzelkämpferlehrgang):
- Special Forces Untold Stories: German GSG-9 (2002).
- Official KSK Website:
- Federal Ministry of Defence:
- German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr):
German Army (2013) The Reorientation of the German Army. Second Updated Edition. Strausberg: German Army. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.deutschesheer.de/portal/a/heer/!ut/p/c4/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP3I5EyrpHK9jNTUIr3c0pySzNzUlMxEvZT88ryc_MSUYv2CbEdFAF0-8l8!/. [Accessed: 18 July, 2016].
German Army (2014) The Organisational Structure of the German Army Headquarters. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.deutschesheer.de/portal/a/heer/!ut/p/c4/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP3I5EyrpHK9jNTUIr3c0pySzNzUlMxEvZT88ryc_MSUYv2CbEdFAF0-8l8!/. [Accessed: 18 July, 2016].
JFOC (Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command) (2015) Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operations Command. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.einsatz.bundeswehr.de/resource/resource/MzEzNTM4MmUzMzMyMmUzMTM1MzMyZTM2MzEzMDMwMzAzMDMwMzAzMDY5MzY3MjZiNzc2ZDZmMzUyMDIwMjAyMDIw/150225_Broschuere_eng.pdf. [Accessed: 18 July, 2016].
Volk, S. (2013) Neue Soldaten und Neuer Name fuer Kasernenstandort Pfullendorf. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.suedkurier.de/region/linzgau-zollern-alb/pfullendorf/Neue-Soldaten-und-neuer-Name-fuer-Kasernenstandort-Pfullendorf;art372570,6397414. [Accessed: 28 July, 2016].