Information: Fallschirmjager Units: Fallschirmjaeger Battalion 500 / 600
In 1943 that orders were given by Führer HQ to raise an SS airborne formation. This unit was often referred to as a penal unit but was in fact made up of both volunteers and SS military prisoners who had been charged of minor offences. Dishonoured men of all ranks of the SS could redeem themselves in this Battalion and once joined had their rank restored. The Battalion’s number designation stood for probationary unit, although more than half of the Battalion was made up from volunteers.
SS Fallschirmjäger Battalion 500 under the command of SS Sturmbannführer Herbert Gilhofer carried out jump training at the Kralyevo parachute school in Yugoslavia during November 1943, training was completed in Hungary, early in 1944.
In February 1944 the Battalion was given its first operation, not an airborne assault but an anti partisan sweep in Yugoslavia. In April 1944 the Battalion returned to its base and was given orders to prepare for another mission, this time it was an airborne operation. Command of the Battalion was handed over to SS Hauptsturmführer Kurt Rybka.
They were to play a primary role in Unternehmen Rösselsprung (knights move) which had the objective of capturing Tito, the Yugoslav partisan leader at his HQ in the mountains surrounding the town of Drvar in Bosnia. They were also tasked with destroying allied military missions in the area as well as capturing the allied military liason officers.
Due to a shortage of JU-52's and Gliders the SS Para Battalion would have to be dropped in two waves, one at 7am and one at midday. Other forces involved in the operation were the XV Gebirgs Korps (7th SS Gebirgs Division & 1st Gebirgs Division) who were to surround the town itself, also members of Yugoslavian anti-Tito factions and the 373rd Infantry Division (croatian). The paras would be accompanied by Brandenburgers and a Luftwaffe signals unit, for intelligence purposes.
At 7am on the 25th May 1944 (Tito's birthday), Hauptsturmführer Rybka and 313 para's (in 3 groups) jumped from their transport aircraft over the town of Drvar. They met no resistance and within minutes they had secured their landing zone.
Next it was the turn of the gliders to land. They carried 320 men who were organised into 6 gruppen, each assigned an objective, Panther (to capture Tito), Griefer (British military mission), Sturmer (Soviet military mission), Brecher (US military mission), Daufnanger (intelligence group) and Beisser (radio station). Rybka was to attach himself to Gruppe Panther and he and his men made their way to the landing zone. The 6 gliders of Gruppe Panther had landed on target but had met heavy resistance from Tito's men firing down from the mountainside. Many of the group lay dead or dying in the wreckage of their gliders.
Rybka signalled the para's in the town and with these men attempted to take the mountain stronghold. The attack collapsed almost immediately under heavy partisan fire from well prepared defensive positions. Little did Rybka know that Tito and his entourage had already escaped by railway and were heading to the coast.
Rybka directed several attacks but they were in vain. Meanwhile the partisans were being reinforced and launched their own counter attack taking back ground won by the para's.
At midday as planned the second wave dropped into the battle zone, suffering heavy casualties to fierce partisan MG fire.
The survivors of the midday drop linked up with the rest of the Battalion at the foot of the mountain and tried once again to take the stronghold. Partisan forces were still being reinforced, threatening the Battalion's tenuous foothold on the mountain. By late afternoon Rybka decided to withdraw his forces back into the town. Under cover of dark they made their way to the town cemetery to await relief. They should have been relieved by men of the 373rd Infantry Division (Kampfgruppe Willan) in the afternoon of the 25th. Little did they know that the whole area had been surrounded by Tito's forces.
All through the night of the 25th/26th May, the Para Battalion fought off repeated partisan attacks. The men were exhausted, many men were wounded including Rybka. It was a long night but at daybreak on the 26th, a reconnaisance unit of the 13th Regt, 7th SS Gebirgs Division "Prinz Eugen" managed to break through the encirclement to relieve them.
This battle was over for the survivors of SS Fallschirmjäger Battalion 500, only 200 men remained unwounded at the end of it.
There was to be no break for the survivors, they were sent to carry out another anti partisan operation elsewhere in Yugoslavia. It was not until early June 1944 that the Battalion now under the command of SS Hauptsturmführer Siegfried Milius, was sent for rest and refitting.
At the end of June the Battalion was again mobilised and sent to the Eastern Front, its depleted ranks bolstered by volunteers.
It was sent to the Baltic but the operation it was to carry out was cancelled and so they entrained once more and headed to Estonia then airlifted to Lithuania.
On the 10th July 1944, the Battalion along with a regiment from the Großdeutschland Division was sent to relieve German forces trapped in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Together this Kampfgruppe parried a Soviet armoured thrust on the city, allowing the evacuation of the wounded and the resupply of the defenders. The Russian advance was stalled for over two weeks until the Germans were forced to withdraw from Vilnius.
After Vilnius the Battalion was used as a Fire Brigade being rushed to hot spots all over the northern area of the Ostfront.
In November 1944 the Battalion was renamed the SS Fallschirmjäger Battalion 600. It no longer had criminals within its ranks and so the probationary status was dropped.
The renamed Battalion would next see action in the ill fated Ardennes Offensive when 2 Kompanies were part of Otto Skorzeny's 150th Panzer Brigade. After this unsuccessful operation the remainder of the Battalion was rushed to the Oder front to take up positions on the eastern bank to help stem the flow of Soviet forces. The Battalion stayed on the eastern bank until the 1st April 1945 when it was forced to withdraw to the western side under heavy Russian pressure.
They were once again used as a fire brigade even though their ranks had been seriously depleted. It fought north east of Berlin and at the end of April 1945 provided the rearguard for German forces pulling back from the Oder front.
As the end of the war approached, SS Fallschirmjäger Battalion 600 found itself isolated in one of the many pockets in Northern Germany. They managed to surrender to American forces in early May 1945 and did not suffer in the hands of the Russians.
Reference courtesy of "Gateway to WW2."

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