THE ANTI-PARTISAN WAR BADGE: HITLER’S MOST GROTESQUE DECORATION
By Eric Johansson and Brian Bowerman
During its years of struggle to obtain control or hegemony over the world, Germany produced many beautiful and magnificent war badges, most of them, as can be seen in previous articles, were clearly attributed to a well known artist or production firm. By and large these are very attractive badges featuring war vessels, tanks, eagles, infantry weapons and the like. They are beautifully sculpted and reflect a high form of military war art.
Unfortunately, this cannot be said of the Anti-Partisan War Badge, known in German as ‘der Bandenkampfabzeichen.’ Perhaps the very brutality of the unique warfare which this badge honors may hold some key to its macabre and bizarre configuration!
Following the Occupation of Western Russia and the Balkans, the brutality of German ‘administration’ raised a viper’s nest of partisans who often operated with their national forces or as ‘independents,’ all engaged in destroying German supplies, disrupting troop movements, assassinating pro-German politicians and generally creating havoc for the occupiers.
The Germans returned the savagery of these attacks and soon were engaged in ‘unofficial’ wars where no Geneva conventions were respected, few prisoners were taken and those that did fall into the hands of the foe were brutally tortured and murdered. Partisans returned the ‘favors’ and it took hardy soldiers or civilians on both sides to continue this brutal, unconventional war.
There were many badges to honor combatants but Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfűhrer-SS, desired a special war badge to recognize outstanding performance in this most terrible of wars. On January 30, 1944 Hitler approved such a badge, noting that it should be given out for bravery and also achievement in the eradication of partisan bands.
The rules pertaining to issuance of the award were very broad, considering that the ‘unofficial’ war had brought together elements of the SS, Army, Air Force, Navy and even irregular military units in the countries involved in such fighting.
In order to avoid a complete breakdown in the command issuing the badge, it was decided that the highest organs of the SS, Army, Air Force and Navy would be responsible for approval of the badge to their forces operating in partisan theatres of operation. The badge was also available to pro-German national forces occupied with anti-partisan warfare and, to broaden the field, it could be issued to all ranks—officers, NCOs and enlisted personnel.
The badge was to be issued in three grades—gold, silver and bronze. To qualify for it, ground personnel of whatever branch had to fight for 20, 50 or 100 days against enemy irregular forces. Air Force flying personnel would be qualified after flying 30, 75 and 150 missions aimed at suppressing partisan targets. Should an aircraft be shot down during such operations, this would count for 3 missions (I am sure this would be a comfort to a downed pilot facing capture by partisans!).
In addition to the regular grades, Dr. Klietmann and LTC John R. Angolia (ret.) mention that a special grade of the badge was conceived. This was to be in silver gilt, set with diamond chips. Dr. Klietmann notes that 20 examples of this badge were produced at the end of 1944 but none has ever surfaced and there are no records of any being issued.
Himmler was so pleased with the new badge that he expressed the desire to personally give out the gold grade to those who qualified for it.
The first company to produce the badge was that of Fa. C.E. Juncker of Berlin; after the factory was compromised by severe bombing, other companies continued production but this ironically created two versions of the war badge, a thing that is definitely uncommon. Fortunately, both versions were period made and only a perfectionist would actually find any ‘fault’ between the two.
The C.E. Juncker version has the heads of the serpents in distinct silhouette; the second version has the oak leaves in the oak wreath being larger than pattern A; in addition the sun-wheel on the ricasso of the sword has a slight variant angle as does the skull.
One should note that the size variants also exist for patterns A and B. They are given here for the benefit of study and prevention of purchase of reproductions.
Type A: 58mm tall
42.4 gr. weight
Type B: 59.2mm tall
61.9 gr. weight
Copies of the badge were produced by the RS Souval firm according to Dr. Klietmann. They are 58.5mm tall and 49.2mm wide. Sometimes they bear the RS hallmark or ‘L/58.’ Because the badge was issued so late in the war, it is more than probable that the base metal is zinc as the Germans were certainly no longer using tombak or brass at that late date. Anti-partisan badges made of brass or tombak would be highly suspect.
The badge itself displays an oval wreath with a grinning skull set at the base, resting on femur bones. Above the skull there is an inverted Viking sword, which plunges down into a hydra’s nest, impaling a large hydra. On the ricasso of the sword, below the wrapped handle and plain guard, there appears a sun-wheel swastika, angled slightly. The whole badge is one color without reference to any separation of gilt or silver such as is seen on other war badges.
The inclusion of the skull may well be attributed to Himmler’s invention as the skull personified SS personnel. The hydras certainly are bizarre and though, in terms of heraldry, they reflect on the demonic nature of the foe, they are a macabre adornment to a military badge. Robin Lumsden contends that the original design for the badge sprang from the insignia of the Silesian Freikorps of 1919.
Himmler was undoubtedly pleased that the first four recipients of the badge in gold were members of the Waffen SS: they received the 3rd class Gold badge on 15 Feb. 1945 for operations in the coastal areas of the Adriatic theatre of operations. The party newspaper, ‘VOELKISCHER BEOBACHTER,’ gleefully reported this in the Berlin-Munich edition of Feb. 21, 1945; it was also echoed in the pages of the ‘DAS 12 UHR BLATT’ on the same date.
The badge was worn on the left breast, below the Iron Cross 1st class, if that had also been won. Its close proximity to one of Germany’s most esteemed badges of military valor gives the reader some idea of the esteem also granted to the anti-partisan badge.
In its role as an official ‘combat’ badge, the anti-partisan badge was resuscitated in 1957 by the West German government and reissued, this time without the swastika or skull, to those who had won it in the Second World War. It proudly stood among the other ‘correct’ badges that were recognized by post-war Germany as being honorable and not tainted by the Party or SS.
Regardless of its past, the badge certainly reflects on an almost psychotic compulsion with death (the skull), violence (the sword) and utter evil (the hydras). Perhaps, silently, it says more about the true nature of guerrilla war than any words could ever form….
Certainly it is a favorite badge for Third Reich collectors to seek after, bringing as it does, $600 or more in sales and this for the lowest issue, in bronze!
In closing, I would like to relate, in paraphrase, a story that Lumsden offers to illustrate the ‘popularity’ of this odd badge. Non-SS personnel who wore it were not very public about it, according to him; many times though authorized to wear the insignia they disdained to wear it on their uniforms for fear of the odium that would be associated with the brutal battles against partisans. On the other hand, SS personnel liked it very much and frequently gave it primacy in the order of their decorations, feeling that this was ‘their’ badge.
A late war soft cover, large format publication, “Der Lohn der Tat” (The Reward of Deeds), published for the Hitler Youth, illustrates the Anti-Partisan badge as one of the most prestigious, rewarded for safeguarding the occupied areas of captured countries. Interestingly enough, the accompanying illustration to the badge shows grenadiers surprising two Russian partisans, one armed with a captured 98K Mauser rifle and the other with a Soviet PPSH-41 submachine gun.
Angolia, LTC. John R. FOR FUHRER AND FATHERLAND: MILITARY AWARDS OF THE THIRDREICH.
“Der Lohn der Tat.” 1944.
Klietmann, Dr. Kurt-Gerhard. DEUTSCHE AUSZEICHNUNGEN.
Littlejohn, David & Col. C.M. Dodkins. ORDERS, DECORATIONS, MEDALS AND BADGES OF THE THIRD REICH.
Lumsden, Robin. “The German Guerrilla Warfare Badge, 1944.” MILITARY ILLUSTRATED. Nov. 1993, 12-14.
Note: A special ‘tip of the hat’ to Bryan Bowerman, advanced badge collector, for sharing a great deal of information with this writer.