Adolf Hitler’s ‘Commando Order’ was very blunt in what it stated. The ‘Commando Order’ state that any special forces soldier captured alive by the Germans was to be shot. The terms of the Geneva Convention were not going to be extended to commandos.

Why did Hitler order such a draconian measure? Two ideas have been forwarded and a combination of the two is likely to be accurate. Commandos were a very effective fighting force and units such as the British Commandos and the Special Air Service were capable of doing a great deal of damage to the Germans in small and frequently undetected raiding parties. Also on the Channel Island of Sark, some German soldiers were found with their hands tied behind their back. They had been shot. Their deaths were blamed on  commandos who had raided the island. Hitler in his fury ordered that any commandos caught after this, should be summarily shot without a trial – the ‘Commando Order’.

1. For a long time now our opponents have been employing in their conduct of the war, methods which contravene the International Convention of Geneva. The members of the so-called Commandos behave in a particularly brutal and underhand manner; and it has been established that those units recruit criminals not only from their own country but even former convicts set free in enemy territories. From captured orders it emerges that they are instructed not only to tie up prisoners, but also to kill out-of-hand unarmed captives who they think might prove an encumbrance to them, or hinder them in successfully carrying out their aims. Orders have indeed been found in which the killing of prisoners has positively been demanded of them.

2. In this connection it has already been notified in an Appendix to Army Orders of 7.10.1942. that in future, Germany will adopt the same methods against these Sabotage units of the British and their Allies; i.e. that, whenever they appear, they shall be ruthlessly destroyed by the German troops.

3. I order, therefore:

From now on all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man. This is to be carried out whether they be soldiers in uniform, or saboteurs, with or without arms; and whether fighting or seeking to escape; and it is equally immaterial whether they come into action from Ships and Aircraft, or whether they land by parachute. Even if these individuals on discovery make obvious their intention of giving themselves up as prisoners, no pardon is on any account to be given. On this matter a report is to be made on each case to Headquarters for the information of Higher Command.

4. Should individual members of these Commandos, such as agents, saboteurs etc., fall into the hands of the Armed Forces through any means – as, for example, through the Police in one of the Occupied Territories – they are to be instantly handed over to the S.D.

To hold them in military custody – for example in P.O.W. Camps, etc., – even if only as a temporary measure, is strictly forbidden.

5. This order does not apply to the treatment of those enemy soldiers who are taken prisoner or give themselves up in open battle, in the course of normal operations, large scale attacks; or in major assault landings or airborne operations. Neither does it apply to those who fall into our hands after a sea fight, nor to those enemy soldiers who, after air battle, seek to save their lives by parachute.

6. I will hold all Commanders and Officers responsible under Military Law for any omission to carry out this order, whether by failure in their duty to instruct their units accordingly, or if they themselves act contrary to it.

A Hitler

Hitler emphasised that only a few copies of the order were to be printed and that each one had to be carefully looked after. Chief of Staff, Jodl, sent a message out with the order:

The enclosed Order from the Fuhrer is forwarded in connection with destruction of enemy Terror and Sabotage-troops.

This order is intended for Commanders only and is in no circumstances to fall into Enemy hands.

Further distribution by receiving Headquarters is to be most strictly limited.

The Headquarters mentioned in the Distribution list are responsible that all parts of the Order, or extracts taken from it, which are issued are again withdrawn and, together with this copy, destroyed.

Chief of Staff of the Army


Six men from the Royal Marine Commandos were shot on the Cockleshell Raid of 1942 and towards the end of the war, the bodies of 24 Special Air Service men were found in France. They had been captured, tortured and shot by the Gestapo.