One of the most amazing aspects of WWII, and one of the least well known, is the incredibly large number of foreign volunteers that joined the German Armed Forces between 1939 and 1945. During WWII, nearly 2,000,000 foreigners served within the German fighting forces, many as willing volunteers, others through varying degrees of conscription. The reasons these volunteers joined the German Wehrmacht were varied, but a simple look at the numbers begins to tell the story - in the East alone nearly 1,000,000 men volunteered for service with Germany. This number is a direct result of the situation millions faced under the brutal rule of the Soviet Empire. Many foreign volunteers and conscripts were anonymously intergrated into all areas of the military, while a great number of others formed distict units consisting either partly or entirely of volunteers of specific ethnic, cultural or political backgrounds. These units were employed in all varieties of combat tasks from carrying wounded and supplies, to fighting partisans, to serving on the front line. Some of these units would prove to be tenacious and elite formations - the match of any regular German units - while others would prove worthless in serious combat. Some units even mutinied and resisted the Germans after having been fully trained and armed! In the end, many volunteers were openly slaughtered by the partisans, and in some cases by the Allies themselves, while most others were handed over to their respective former homelands. In most cases, as with those sent to the former Soviet Union, these volunteers would never be seen again
|rmacht in WWII by Allen Milic|
|On April 6th, 1941, Germany launched a massive assault on Yugoslavia. Within 12 days of the assault Yugoslavia was crushed. Four days after the German assault, on April 10th, 1941, Slavko Kvaternik came forward from the region of Croatia and proclaimed "a free and independent State of Croatia" under the direction of Ante Pavelic. At the time of the German assault and later during Kvaternik's declaration, Pavelic was in Italy. He arrived in Croatia on April 14th and took up control of the newly formed independent State of Croatia. On April 17th, Croatia declared war on the British, thus making Croatia a formal Axis partner.|
Over the course of the Second World War many Croatians choose not to serve in the various branches of the Armed Forces of the Independant State of Croatia, but instead volunteered for service in one of the military forces of Croatia's Axis allies, namely with Germany, or to a lesser degree, with Italy. Croatians served in all branches of the German Wehrmacht the Waffen SS and the SS Police. The following listings is of the units and formations known to have been made up of Croatian volunteers in the service of the German Armed Forces: (Many Croatians served within other units on an individual basis, but their numbers and exact stories are not known to history due to the nature of their individual service.) The 369th Reinforced Infantry Regiment, 369th "Devil's" Division, 373rd "Tiger" Division, 392nd "Blue" Division, the Croatian Airforce Legion, The Croatian Naval Legion, the 13th Waffen SS Mountain Division "Handschar", the 23rd Waffen SS Mountain Division "Kama", "Croatia" Police Regiments 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, Police Anti-Tank Company "Croatia", and Gendarmerie Division "Croatia". As well, the Light Transport Brigade and Croatian Legion both served under Italy during WWII.
The Croatian 369th Reinforced Regiment
On the day of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, June 22, 1941, the "Poglavnik" (Leader) of the Independant State of Croatia, Ante Pavelic, met with the military and civilian leadership of Croatia to decide how best to support their German ally. All present were strongly in favour of the German attack, seeing the invasion as a battle between the progressive forces of Europe against the Communist forces in the East. All present agreed that Croatia should participate in the invasion alongside Germany. To this end the representative of the German military in Croatia, Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, was contacted.
Von Horstenau suggested that Pavelic prepare a letter to Adolf Hitler, offering the service of Croatian troops on the Eastern Front. Pavelic prepared this letter the following day, on June 23rd, 1941. In his letter, Pavelic explained to Hitler the wishes of the Croatian people to join the battle of "all freedom loving nations against Communism". Pavelic offered ground, sea and air forces, to be committed "as soon as possible" to fight alongside Germany. Hitler responded to Pavelic's letter on July 1st 1941, accepting the Croatian offer and thanking them for their service. Hitler was of the opinion that ground forces could be sent quickly, while air and sea forces would need a longer time to be properly trained and equiped. On July 2nd, 1941, Pavelic ordered that volunteers be called for from all branches of the Armed Forces of Croatia to join the struggle in the East.
The ground contingent of the planned Croatian formations was the first to be formed. The Croatians hoped for a total of 3,900 volunteers in order to form a regimental sized unit, but by the 15th of July 1941, 9,000 men had already stepped forward and volunteered for service! In light of such high numbers the criteria for acceptance was raised considerably.
When finally organized on July 16th 1941, the Regiment was given the title Verstarken Kroatischen Infanterie-Regiment 369, or 369th Reinforced Croatian Infantry Regiment. The Regiment had 3,895 officers, NCO's and men. As part of the Wehrmacht the men of the unit were to wear German uniforms and use German rank insignia. A Croatian armshield consisting of 24 red and white checkers with the title Hrvatska (Croatia) above it was to be worn on the left arm and on the left side of the helmet.
The Regiment consisted of a regimental staff, 3 infantry battalions and an artillery staff company. Each infantry battalion had a battalion staff, 3 infantry companies, a machine-gun company, an anti-tank company, a supply company, and an artillery battery. The Regiment was termed "reinforced" because of the attached artillery which was not normally organic in a unit of regimental size. The commander of the Regiment was Colonel Ivan Markulj. A training battalion for the Regiment was also organized at this time. It was based in the town of Stokerau in Austria shortly after its formation. Its main function was to process replacements for the Regiment fighting on the front.
Once fully organized, the Regiment was transported to Dollersheim in Germany where it was equipped and the men gave their oath to the Fuhrer, the Poglavnik, and to Germany and Croatia. This was followed by three weeks of training after which the Regiment was sent by train through Hungary to Dongena in Bessarabia. From there the Regiment set off on a 750km forced march through the Ukraine to reach the front lines. The march lasted 35 days with only one day of rest. After the 35 day march, the destination of Budniskaja in the Ukraine was reached and the Regiment received one week of respite. During the forced march, 187 members of the Regiment were sent back to Croatia for various health related reasons and two soldiers were executed for leaving their sentry positions. In Budniskaja, a group of experienced German NCO's joined the Regiment to assist in its final training and aclimatizing in the front lines.
On October 9th 1941, the 369th Regiment was assigned to the 100.Jäger-Division. On the 13th of October the Regiment participated in its first battle east of the Dnjeper River. From here on in battles were fought around the villages and towns of Petrusani, Kremencuga, Poltava, Saroki, Balti, Pervomajsk, Kirovgrad, Petropavlovsk, Taranovka, Grisin, Stalino, Vasiljevka, Aleksandrovka, Ivanovka, and Garbatovo. One particular aspect of the fighting during these battles that shocked the Croatians was the sheer numbers of surrendering Soviet troops. Literally thousands surrendered to the Croatians. It actually came to the point where the Regiment was so swamped they considered releasing some of their PoWs! Many of the Soviet soldiers, and especially the Russians and Ukrainians, prefered to surrender to the Croatians feeling that they would get better treatment from fellow Slavs.
After nearly a year in existance, In July of 1942, the Regiment fought towards the northeast, and then turned to the southeast along the Don River. Heavy losses were sustained by the Croats on the 25th, 26th and 27th of July in battles around the Collective Farm (Kolhoz) known as "Proljet Kultura" near the town of Selivanova. 46 Croatian soldiers were killed and 176 wounded. Much of the fighting was fierce hand to hand combat. A Croatian military cemetary was built next to the Kolhoz and the soldiers killed in action were buried there. On August 26th 1942, the first reinforcements arrived from the training battalion in Stokerau and the Regiment was sent to Glaskov for rest and refitting.
Between the end of August and the end of September 1942 the Regiment took part in various training and refitting duties behind the lines. On September 22nd 1942, Colonel Viktor Pavicic, until that time commander of the Croatian Military Academy, replaced Colonel Markulj as the CO of the Regiment. On September 24th 1942, Ante Pavelic made a visit to the Regiment to bestowe decorations upon various men of the unit and to lunch with General von Paulus of 6.Armee. Finally, on September 26th 1942, the Regiment received orders to move out. A forced march to the south-east through Gomcar and Gumnik followed. After a 14 hour march, the Regiment arrived in the fateful suburbs of Stalingrad. At 11:30pm of that same day, the 1st Battalion of the Regiment entered the front lines in Stalingrad itself. Early the next morning, the remaining portions of the Regiment also entered the front lines around Stalingrad. The 369th Regiment thus became the only unit of non-Germans to participate in the attack on Stalingrad. This was actually viewed as a great honor - a reward for its hard fought battles and excellent successes to this point. Some talk was even heard about re-naming the 100.Jäger-Division as the 100th German-Croatian Jager Division! None of this was to come to fruition though, as the streets of Stalingrad were to be the final resting place for the Regiment.
The Regiment's men participated in some of the hardest battles in the attempt to take Stalingrad. A typical day of fighting in Stalingrad for the men of the Regiment was described by the Commander of a platoon of the 3rd Company, Lt. Bucar:
"...When we entered Stalingrad, it was ruined and in flames. We took cover in trenches and bunkers, as the enemy was hitting us with artilley, Katusha rockets, and with aircraft. I was lucky not to lose any men, but the Second Platoon lost one man dead and 5 wounded, and the Third Platoon 13 dead and wounded. Around 6:00am, German Stuka aircraft bombed the area ahead of us, and an attack was ordered towards the northern part of the city. My platoon's mission was to, in conjuction with a German unit, clear the Freight Station, and then the railroad dike, and reach the Volga River. Night fell under constant bombardment. I didn't lose any men, but our transport unit was hit badly, and lost 10 men, 40 horses, and an equipment truck with ammunition..."
The Commander of the 2nd Battalion, Captain Ivan Coric, described the fighting in Stalingrad as follows:
"...During the night of 26/27 September, Russian aircraft flew extremely low, and bombed the area where my battalion was supposed to be encamped. However, expecting that this section might be hit, we had taken cover in ditches around the area. At 6:00am on the 27th of September, receiving fire from only one part of the city, I re-deployed my men in various deep ditches, and in covered areas. We remained in reserve until 1:00pm, when the Regimental commander ordered that my battalion move out towards the German 227th Regiment's positions. I requested that this move be postponed until dark as the Soviets were bombing the area with heavy artillery and Katusha rockets and I worried about the heavy casualties we would take moving in the open through this barrage. The Commander refused to consider my request, and at 2:00pm, under the heaviest of bombardments, I moved out with my Battalion towards the 227th Regiment, about 10km away. We moved in groups of 3-4 men, with myself and my Adjutant in the lead. After only a few hundred meters, we were hit by immense artillery fire, and my men began to die, one after another. Company Commander Tomas was wounded. About half way to the 227th, we were ordered to stop and for myself and my Adjutant to report to the Commander of the 227th Regiment. I arranged my men in ditches and cover in the surrounding area. The Commander of the 227th Regiment, Lt.Colonel Mohr, ordered my battalion to reinforce his weakened regiment, and for myself and my staff to remain in the vicinity of his HQ. Upon receiving these orders, and returning to my men, darkness had fallen. We moved out towards the positions of the 227th, crawling through ditches. Under a moonlight sky, Soviet airplanes easily noticed us and bombed us with Phosphorus bombs that burn upon explosion. Many of my men were in flames. It was a horrible sight. Healthy and wounded jumped in to try and save our burning comrades... My Battalion, now attached to the 227th Regiment, advanced with great difficulty, taking house by house. During the night of the 28th of September 1942, I was forced to leave my men due to a serious head wound I received from an airplane bomb. My Adjutant, Lt. Tomislav Jelic, was wounded in this explosion as well. I later heard that my men continued to fight heroically until the last man of the 2nd battalion had fallen."
By the 13th of October the 369th Regiment was down to one weak battalion and 2 weak independent companies consisting of only 983 men total out of the original Regiment, including all reinforcements arrived from Stokerau. Still on this day, the Regiment managed to advance a further 800 meters into the northern sector of Stalingrad.
On the 16th of October 1942, Colonel-General Sanne decorated Croatian Sergeant Dragutin Podobnik with the Iron Cross 1st Class for extreme heroism during the taking of the Red October factory on the 30th of September. Colonel Pavicic is also decorated with this medal for his excellent leadership of the Regiment.
During the remaining days of October 1942 the Regiment fought hard and its losses accumulated. The Red October factory was continously the center of fighting during this time. A Soviet counter-attack along the railway tracks near the Red October factory was just barely contained, and Russian civilians were even seen shooting Croatian and German soldiers, prompting an order to fire indescriminately on all civilians found in the battle zone. October 31st 1942 was spent defending Building number ten of the Red October factory.
On November 3rd 1942, the 369th Regiment had the following troops still available: 1 infantry company with 98 men and 8 light machine-guns, a heavy machine-gun company with 73 men and one operational heavy machine-gun, and an anti-tank company with 20 men and 6 cannon - only enough men to serve two! The total remaining Croatian soldiers was 191. Of this, only 4 were officers. This number does not include the artillery battery, whose men and weapons were scattered throughout various German units. On the 4th of November, a battalion of replacements arrived from Stokerau, but even these much needed men barely made the "reinforced regiment" a reinforced battalion!
On the 6th of November the remains of the unit were attached to the German 212th Infantry Regiment. Fighting continued in and around the Red October factory. On November 21st 1942, news of a Soviet attack on the flanks of the 6.Armee was heard. By November 25th 1942, the lines being held by the Regiment were so thinly manned that Soviet scouts were able to pass through poritions of the front into the Gemran rear. Every available man, including the sick and lightly wounded, were therefore sent to hold the line.
There were 5 officers, 9 NCO's and 110 soldiers left fighting at the end of November, 1942. Food was carefully rationed and consists of 120 grams of horse meat per meal along with some bread. Of the 3 daily meals, only one was considered large, and this consisted of only 1/2 of the required amount to sustain troops from day-to-day.
As December arrived, the few remaining Croatian soldiers were frozen, hungry and in the midst of a general lack of ammunition and weapons. The commanding officer, Colonel Pavicic, was by now living in his own world writing out irrelevant daily orders to troops and units that no longer existed. On the 17th of December, the Volga River froze over allowing the Soviets to open another front on that side of the city as well.
On Christmas Day, 1942, Lt. Korobkin wrote:
"...Today, December 25, 1942, around noon, the enemy attacked from Building number 4 into Building number 2 (Red October Factory), which is our left flank. The enemy fought his way into number 2. Our defenders are under constant fire from the 'small white house' accross from Building number 2. A cannon shot by the enemy has destroyed our heavy machine-gun. At the same time as this attack on our left flank, the enemy attacked our right flank. Despite cross-fire and artillery support, this attack was thrown back. This success is mostly due to the heroism of Corporal Ivan Vadlje. In the evening we received a message from Lt.-Colonel Eichler, congratulating us for holding out. When night fell, we took advantage of the dark, and counter-attacked on our left flank. Using hand grenades, we destroyed the enemy unit, and re-took our previous positions. Lt-Colonel Eichler, upon hearing of this success, sent us a new message, in which he says that the Grenadiers of the 212th Regiment are proud to have warriors like us Croats in their midst. Sergeants Ante Martinovic and Franjo Filcic were killed in this counter-attack. 12 men are wounded."
On January 10th, 1943, Colonel Pavicic, in his report to the 100.Jäger-Division, wrote:
"I must say that, in the period from September 27, 1942, when we arrived at Stalingrad, till today, my men have had only 4 days of rest. The last day of rest, on the 30th of December for 24 hours, was insufficient even for required sleep, as after 3 days and nights of constant battles in and around the Red October, they were so over-tired, that they slept like they were dead, and never even had time to wash, shave, or cut their hair. Immediately after this short rest, they were again thrown into the thick of battle, holding a small salient in our lines. They held this position until the 9th of January, 1943, when they were pulled back into our current position. We are under attack here again today."
On the 16th of January 1943, the Soviets launched an attack from three sides of the Croatian positions. They were pushed several streets back and a group led by Lt. Fiember was cut off. Under heavy attack, this group ran out of ammunition and was later over-run. Lt.Colonel Kuhlwein attempted to save young Fiember and his men by counter-attacking, but all of the men of this attack were killed, including Lt.-Colonel Kuhlwein. Lieutenants Zubcevski, Korobkin and Vadlja, with a few surviving soldiers, continued to battle against this Soviet attack and soon all three were seriously wounded. The German command then ordered that the last survivng Croats be pulled from the battle lines and be employed in digging fortification lines around the former Soviet Airforce Academy, which would serve as the last defense point of the unit.
Shortly after, Colonel Pavicic requested from the 100.Jäger-Division that he be replaced. As he has no more men, just a few wounded, he felt he was useless. He suggested that Lt.-Colonel Mesic (Commander of the artillery battery) replace him, and that he (Pavicic) be flown out of Stalingrad back to Stokerau where a German-Croatian Division was being formed to fight the partisans in the Balkans (This would be the 369th "Devil's" Division, see below). On the 20th of January 1943, Colonel Pavicic attempted to fly out of Stalingrad. It is a complete mystery what happened to him. Two possibilites exist, one that his plane was shot down and the other that he had attempted to leave without the orders of the Divisional Command and was executed in those last mad days of the Stalingrad pocket. The former is more likely the truth, as there is a witness (Sergeant Ervin Juric) amongst the surviving Croatians that claims to have seen the orders arrive for Pavicic from General Sanne.
On the 23rd of January 1943, 18 wounded Croatians were flown out of Stalingrad. They were the last Croatians to leave Stalingalive. Amongst these lucky souls was Croatian Sergeant Juric, who wrote and carried with him to safety the Kriegstagbuch (unit war diary) of the 369th Reinforced Regiment, thereby saving for posterity the ultimate memorial to these brave men. The only entry in the diary after January 23rd 1943 is "February 2, 1943, Stalingrad has fallen".
Lt.-Colonel Mesic remained in Stalingrad after January 23rd 1943 with the few surviving men of the Regiment. Most died in the desperate battles at the end. Mesic and a handfull of soldiers survived and surrendered to the Soviets. They were forced to walk with no warm clothes and no food, all the way to Moscow. Here, they were thrown into a fenced field where they had to dig holes in the snow for protection from the elements. They were fed once a day and in 1945, Mesic was sent to Yugoslavia where the Communists government had him liquidated.
The remnants of the 369th that had been evacuated by air from Stalingrad due to wounds, sickness, etc, were sent to Stockerau where they alongside the replacement battalion of the former Regiment, formed the core of a new Croatian infantry unit, the 369th Vrazja Division, or Devil's Division. There were approximately 1,000 of these former veterans of the original Croatian Regiment. They were all awarded a special honor badge called the "Croatian Legion Badge - 1941" shaped as a Linden leaf with the Croat checkerboard and the words "Hrvatska Legija - 1941" on it.
The 369th (Croat) Infantry Division
In mid-1941, seeing the success of the Croatian soldiers on the Eastern Front, and begining to need as many men as possible for the ongoing war, the German Army decided to raise a Croatian Legion Division. The plan was to send this division to fight in Russia as well.
The Division began formation on August 21st 1942 in Stokerau, Austria. Training Battalion personnel and recovered wounded of the Croatian 369th Regiment were the nucleous of the Division. By December of 1942, about 1,000 veterans of the 369th Regiment were in this new unit. Added to these men were a group of fresh volunteers from Croatia. The Commander of the Division became German Lt.-General Fritz Neidholt, and a sprinkling of German officers and NCO's served to bolster the Division's ranks.
The men were organized into two Infanterie-Grenadier Regiments, the 369th and the 370th Croatian Regiments. Each consisted of three infantry battalions and a mortar company. An artillery regiment, the 369th Croatian Artillery Regiment, itself of two light battalions of three batteries and one heavy battalion of 2 batteries each, was also formed alongside various support units such an engineer battalion, a signals battalion, a supply troop, a maintenance company, three administration companies, a medical company, a veterinary company, and a military police detachment. The division received the title "369th (Croat) Infantry Division", but was referred to by its members as the "Vrazja" ("Devil's") Division. The "Vrazja" name dates back to a Croatian division (the 42nd) of the Austro-Hungarian Army in WWI. The Germans, on the other hand, preferred to call the division the "Schachbrett" or "Chessboard" Division, due to the distinctive armshield of the Croatians. The Division wore German uniform and rank insignia, and only the Croat armshield to identify it as a unit of Croatian volunteers. Unlike the former 369th Regiment, the new 369th Division wore its armshield on the right sleeve. Note that, with the original 369th Regiment destroyed at Stalingrad, the new division titled one of its regiments "369" to honor their fallen comrades on the Eastern Front.
In January 1943 it was decided that the situation in Croatia was becoming critical due to the Communist Partisan uprisings in the region and the Division was instead sent to the Balkans rather than the Eastern Front. Upon arrival in Croatia, the Division had approximately 14,000 men in its ranks.
The first operation it participated in was titled "Weiss" (White), in northern Bosnia. This battle is sometimes referred to as the Battle of the Neretva. Begining on January 20th 1943, and lasting until the end of March 1943, the operation turned out to be a tactical victory for the Axis, but failed to destroy the Partisans. The Division fought well from the area of Sisak-Kostajnica south to Prijedor towards Bosanski Petrovac, where it hooked up with the SS "Prinz Eugen" Division. Unfortunately, the Partisans escaped the planned trap at the Neretva River by fighting their way through Italian areas of operation and destroying a Serbian Cetnik blocking force.
After this first battle the 369th Division was assigned an area of operation that ran roughly from the city of Karlovac in the west, to the Croatia-Serbia border on the Drina River in the east, and from the Croatian Adriatic coast in the south, to the Sava River in the north. Most operations, however, were in the Sarajevo-Mostar regions within this area.
The next major operation the 369th Division participated in was "Schwarz" (Black), in May of 1943. The operation is also referred to as the "Battle of the Sutjeska". Large Partisan forces, numbering 4 divisions and 2 brigades, were surrounded in the Montenegro-Bosnian border area. The Partisans made several breakout attempts, and managed to break through the surrounding forces at Foca on the Sutjeska River. Escaping in a northwesterly direction, 3 divisions of Partisans ran into a blocking force of the 369th Division near the town of Balinovac. A heavy battle ensued, with the Communist guerillas managing to tear several gaps in the Division's lines and escape. Losses were heavy on both sides.
After resting and rebuilding, the 369th next fought the Partisans in December of 1943 in the area of Travnik (central Bosnia). Operations "Kugelblitz" (around the town of Visoko, central Bosnia), "Schneesturm" (eastern Bosnia) and "Waldrausch" (also eastern Bosnia) were then participated in. Ending in late January 1944, these operations netted over 11,000 Partisan dead, but failed to destroy the guerilla movement. Smaller scale operations continued throughout 1944.
By November the military situation in Croatia had become critical for the Axis. The 369th Division was in the Mostar region trying to defend a large area with only a few fortress battalions added as reinforcements. In late January of 1945 a large Partisan offensive on Mostar threatened to overwhelm the outnumbered 369th, and February 15th 1945, Mostar was abandoned. The 369th was forced to retreat westwards, leaving much of its heavy equipment behind. The slow, terrible fighting withdrawl of the Axis forces from Croatia into Austria continued, and the 369th Division was a part of this movement. Heavy losses were incurred by the division and by late April of 1945 it had only about 500 men per regiment remaining!
On May 11th, 1945 the 369th Division surrendered to British armored forces near Bleiburg, Austria. Most of the Croatian soldiers were promptly sent by the British into Partisan hands where they were for the most part executed.
The 373rd (Croat) Infantry Division
On January 6th 1943, the German Army formed a second German-Croatian Division at Dollersheim (Germany), for service in Croatia on anti-Partisan duties. Titled 373.Infanterie-Division (Kroat.) or 373rd Infantry Division (Croat), the Division was nicknamed "Tigar" (Tiger) by its men. The Commander was German Lt.-General Emil Zellner. Most of the officer cadre was German, as were a large number of NCO's. Uniforms and rank insignia were German, with the Croatian armshield on the right sleeve.
The Division was organized into 2 Infantry-Grenadier Regiments - the 383rd and the 384th Croatian Regiments (of 3 Infantry Battalions and a Mortar Company each), an Artillery Regiment - the 373rd Croatian Artillery Regiment (2 Light Battalions of 3 Batteries and 1 heavy Battalion of 2 Batteries), and support units (Pioneer Battalion, Signals Battalion, Supply Troop, Maintenance Company, 3 Administration Companies, Medical Company, Veterinary Company and a Military Police Detachment). The Supply Company was horse-drawn.
The 373rd Division was assigned an Area of Operation, reaching from Karlovac in the east, to Sarajevo in the west, and from the Adriatic coast of Croatia in the south, to the Sava River in the north. Most of the anti-Partisan drives were in the Banja Luka - Bihac areas.
In May of 1944, the 373rd participated in Operation "Rosselsprung" (Knight's Move), the attempt to capture the Communist Partisan leader Tito. In the Fall of 1944, the Division absorbed the 2nd Jager Brigade of the Croatian Army as its 3rd Regiment (385th Croatian Infantry Regiment). On December 6th 1944, the 373rd participated in the defence of Knin, where it was heavily mauled. Survivors retreated to the northwest towards Bihac. By January of 1945, the Division's remnants were fighting in the Bihac area as part of German XVth Mountain Corps. Battles continued with the Division moving to the Kostajnica region in late April of 1945. Survivors surrendered to the Partisans west of Sisak in May of 1945.
The 392nd (Croat) Infantry Division
On August 17th 1943, the German Army formed the last of the German-Croatian Divisions. Like the 373rd before it, the 392nd was founded at Dollersheim (Germany) for service in Croatia on anti-Partisan duties. Titled 392 Infanterie-Division (Kroat.) or 392nd Infantry Division (Croat), the Division was nicknamed "Plava" (Blue) by its men. The Commander was German Lt.-General Hans Mickl. Most of the officer cadre was German, as were a large number of NCO's.
Uniforms and rank insignia were German, with the Croatian armshield on the right sleeve. The Division was organized into 2 Infantry-Grenadier Regiments - the 364th and the 365th Croatian Regiments (of 3 Infantry Battalions and a Mortar Company each), an Artillery Regiment - the 392nd Croatian Artillery Regiment (2 Battalions with 3 Light Batteries each), and support units (Pioneer Battalion, Signals Battalion, Supply Troop, Maintenance Company, 3 Administration Companies, Medical Company, Veterinary Company and a Military Police Detachment). The Supply Company was horse-drawn.
The 392nd Division was assigned an Area of Operation, reaching from southern Slovenia, along the Croatian Adriatic coast, to the city of Knin. The Division fought mostly in the northern coastal area of Croatia, with its islands. It also took part in the German attempt to construct a security line around the Otocac - Bihac area, in January, 1945, after the fall of Knin.
Under severe Partisan attack, the 392nd made a fighting withdrawl westward until April 24th 1945 when north of Rijeka (Fiume) the German cadre released the Croatian soldiers from further service and surrendered to the Partisans.
The Croatian Airforce Legion
When Ante Pavelic's call on Croatian volunteers for the Eastern Front went out (July 2nd 1941), an airforce unit was quickly organized. A large number of volunteers had come forward, mostly from the already existing Croatian Airforce, and many had to be turned away.
Colonel Ivan Mrak was selected as the Commander of the Legion. The Legion itself was organized into a Fighter Squadron (commanded by Lt.Colonel Franjo Dzal) and a Bomber Squadron (commanded by Lt.Colonel Vjekoslav Vicevic). The Fighter Squadron was itself further divided into 2 Wings, as was the Bomber Squadron. The Air Legion departed from Croatia for training in Germany on July 15th 1941.
The Fighter Squadron:
One Wing of the Fighter Squadron was sent to the area of Furth, Germany, for training, the other to Herzogen Aurah Airfield, nearby. Training commenced on July 19th 1941, on Arado 96 and Me D aircraft, and lasted to the end of September 1941 at which time the Legionnaires were deemed ready for the Eastern Front and received Messerschmitt Bf109 fighter planes. During the course of their training, the men had been issued Luftwaffe uniforms adorned with the Croatian armshield and the Croatian Airforce Legion badge on the right breast pocket.
The Squadron received the official designation '15.(Kroatische)/JG 52', and arrived to its first Eastern Front airfield on October 6th 1941, near Poltava. On October 9th 1941, the Squadron has its first taste of action, when, in the Ahtijevka-Krasnograd area, a Soviet R10 was shot down. The kill was given to the German liason pilot to the Squadron, Lt. Baumgarten. The Squadron was transfered at the end of October 1941 to Taganrog, and stayed in this area till December 1st 1941. The first kill by a Croatian pilot occured in this time period by Captain Ferencina, and the second by Lt.Colonel Dzal.
On December 1st 1941, the Squadron transfered to Marinpol. Attacks were made on Soviet armoured columns around Pokorovskoje, Matvejeva, Kurgan, Jeiska and Uspenskoje, and on the railway line Marinpol-Stalino. As well, the Squadron escorted German bombers on their missions. By the end of January 1942, the Squadron had shot down 23 Soviet airplanes (of this, 4 were MIG-6 fighters). At the end of March 1942, the Squadron received a telegrams from the Commander of 4.Fliegerkorp, General Flugbeil, and the Commander of 4.Luftflotte, Colonel-General Lohr, congratulating them on their successes. In April 1942, the Squadron flew escort missions for Stuka bombers, guarded the Marinpol airfield, and strafes Soviet troops in the Azov Sea area. Nine more Soviet airplanes were shot down in this period.
In May, the Squadron was transfered first to the Krimea, and shortly thereafter, to the Artemovka-Konstantinovka region. From this base of operation, the Squadron flew escort missions for bombers attacking Sevastopol and patrolled the Azov Sea area. Four more Soviet planes were downed, and a Soviet patrol boat was also sunk. From the end of May, till June 21st 1942 (the date of the Squadron's 1000 flight), 21 more Soviet planes were shot down. From this date till the end of July 1942, 69 more planes are shot down.
The Squadron continued with its fine performances until July 1944 when it was returned to Croatia to combat the increasing Partisan menace. By this time, the Squadron had tallied 283 kills, had 14 pilots with Ace status, and 4 pilots (Culinovic, Galic, Milkovic and Kauzlaric) that had been decorated with the EKI and EKII.
The Fighter Squadron's losses during their service on the Eastern Front totaled an incredibly low 2 planes and 5 pilots!
The Bomber Squadron:
Officially designated '15.(Kroatische)/KG 53'., the bomber squadron was equipped with Dornier Do17 aircraft. It arrived on the Eastern Front on October 25th 1941, after training at the Grosse Kampfflieger Schule 3, in Greifswald, Germany. Their first area of operations was near Vitebsk. The rest of the Bomber Squadron's assignments were in the Northern Sector of the Eastern Front, including the bombing of Leningrad and Moscow. On November 9th 1941, the Squadron was congratulated by Fieldmarshall Kesselring for its actions thus far. After flying 1247 sorties on the Eastern Front, the Squadron was disolved in December of 1942, and integrated into the Croatian Airforce for battle against the Partisans. During the time it was active, 5 aircraft and 20 men were lost by the Squadron.
The Croatian Naval Legion
Soon after Pavelic's call for Croatian volunteers to fight on the Eastern Front went out on July 2nd 1941, enough naval officers and men came forward to form the Croatian Naval Brigade. This Brigade had all together 343 members, of which 23 were officers, 220 NCO's and 100 sailors.
It is interesting to note that Italy had vetoed the forming of a Croatian national Navy that would serve in the Adriatic Sea, so all of the best naval personnel in Croatia stepped forward into German service. (The Italians had no problems with the formation of a Croatian Legion unit that would serve on the Eastern Front).
Shortly after formation, the Brigade received the title "Croatian Naval Legion" (Hrvatska Pomorska Legija), and became a part of the German Navy (Kriegsmarine). The first commander was Frigate Captain Andro Vrkljan. He was later replaced by Battleship Captain Stjepan Rumenovic.
The Naval Legion was sent for training to Varna, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea. Upon arrival in Varna on July 17th 1941, the Croatian Legionnaires received their uniforms and started with training on German minesweepers and submarines, as they were to be the future crews of these ships in the Black Sea. The training during this period, over and above the required naval training on the boats, consisted of infantry training, signals training, rowing, and German language instruction. German Admiral Schuster was one of the dignitaries that paid a visit to the Croatian Legionnaires during their training in Bulgaria.
Training was completed on September 22nd 1941, and on the same day the Legion set off for the Soviet Union, where they arrived on the 30th of September 1941. The official military designation for the Legion was 23.Minesuch-Flottilla, or 23rd Minesweeping Flotilla.
At the end of September 1941, the Legion was stationed in Geniscek. The town was fortified shortly after the unit arrived and patrolling commenced - both shore patrols and patrols along the coastline. A report from this period indicated that the Croatian sailors were "eager to do battle".
An attack on Geniscek in late 1941 by the Soviets was destroyed thanks to Luftwaffe intervention. At the time only the Croatian Legion, a squad of Romanian cavalry and a small German garrison were present to defend the town. The Winter was passed in digging bunkers, and keeping warm. During this period Captain Vrkljan of the Legion was travelling with a German inspection team throughout the region. Amongst other adventures, the Inspection team fought as infantry in the town of Teodozija during a Soviet attack. During these long, cold, boring Winter months, the Soviets attempted to destroy the troop moral by continuously dropping propaganda leaflets, which, among other things, poked fun at the Germans for having a bad Christmas, and trying to convince them that only surrender will bring about the possibility of ever having another good one. All leaflets ended with "Long live Moscow! Down with Hitler". The Croatian Legionnaires used the leaflets in their stoves.
At the begining of April 1942, the ice in the Geniscek harbour finally began to loosen, and the Croatians prepared to depart from Geniscek. Being well liked by the locals, the Town Council of Geniscek named a street "Hrvatska" (Croatia) in their honor.
By mid-April, the ice was almost gone, and the Croatian ships could once again set sail. Mines were ordered placed around the harbour entrance as a defense against possible Soviet attack, however, in a catastrophic accident during the laying of the mines, 25 Croatians were killed and 2 boats destroyed. On May 25th 1942, the Croatian naval flotilla sailed out of Geniscek. They had manned their positions in this small town for 8 months, and had defended it from all attacks with poise and courage, and had sustained minimal losses.
In August of 1942, the Legion was at Marinpol. The Legion at this time had 31 MFK's (Motorfischkuter), and 35 other motor boats under their command. Including the command ship "Tovaris" (captured from the Soviet navy) and other smaller boats, the Legion was 130 boats strong. The Legion's commander, besides his Croatian crews, also commanded 200 German sailors that had been assigned to the Legion. The German contingent was commanded by Ensign Plautz.
Just prior to New Years Eve, 1942, the Legion transfered their ships to new crews, and were sent to Croatia for rest. After this, they were sent to Germany for further training, and after this back to Varna. In October of 1943, the Legion was transferred to Trieste, where men of the Legion were assigned to various Kriegsmarine ships, thereby officially ending the Croatian's service as a single unit of the German Navy.
It is interesting to note that, during their tour of duty in the Crimea, Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, the Croatians managed to recruit into their ranks several former Red Army sailors of Ukrainian nationality. Some of these Ukrainians brought their ships with them to the Croatians!
A Croatian Coastal Artillery Battery was also attached to the Legion in the summer of 1943.
The Croatian Legionnaires wore regular Kriegsmarine uniforms with only the red-white checkerboard shield of Croatia on their left arm to distinguish them. The coastal artillery wore German field grey, with the arm-shield.
The 13th Waffen SS Mountain Division "Handschar" (Croatian Nr.1)
When the Independant State of Croatia proclaimed its independance on April 10th 1941, during the German invasion of Yugoslavia, part of the land it claimed was the former Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bosna i Hercegovina). The province was an ethnic and religious mix, with a portion of the population being Catholic Croatian, a portion being Orthodox Serbian, and a portion being Croatians of the Muslim faith. It was these Muslim inhabitants of Bosnia that Himmler and the SS would target in their recruitment of a Croatian SS Division (although a portion of the future division's men would be Catholic Croatian as well).
The reasons for the recruitment in particular of Croatian Muslims by the SS were many-fold. For one, Himmler was fascinated by the Islamic faith, and thought Muslims to be fearless soldiers. Himmler also subscribed to the propaganda theory that Croatians (and therefore the Croatian Muslims) were not, in fact, Slavic people, but actually of Aryan (Gothic) descent, and thereby acceptable to the racially "pure" SS. The fact that this ludicrous theory would not hold up to any kind of serious scrutiny was conveniently ignored. Finally, the Germans were hoping to rally the World's 350 million Muslims to their side, in a struggle against the British Empire. The creation of a Muslim, albeit European Muslim Division, was considered a stepping stone to this greater end.
Adolf Hitler approved of Himmler's idea on February 13th 1943. Prior to the formation of the division, however, approval also had to be granted by the Croatian government, as their citizens were to be recruited, and on Croatian territory. The Croatian Poglavnik, Ante Pavelic, and his ministers had many problems with the idea, but eventually agreed to the division's creation on March 5th 1943. The divisional strength reached the required 26,000 men by mid 1943, though not all men were volunteers (some being begged, bribed and outright kidnapped into service). Also, 2,800 of the men were Catholic Croatians and not Muslim.
The new division was assigned the number "13", and originally named the "13 SS Frei.Gebirgs Division (kroatien). The full name "13 Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS 'Handschar' (kroatische Nr. 1)" was not given until May, 1944. A "Handschar" (or Handzar in Croatian) is curved Turkish sword - the Scimitar. This sword has historically been the symbol of Bosnia. The Division was to have 2 Infantry Regiments (Waffen-Gebirgs-Jager Regiments der SS 27 & 28 - kroatisches Nrs. 1 & 2), an Artillery Regiment (SS-Gebirgs-Artillerie Regiment 13), a Reconnaisance Company, a Panzerjager Company, a Flak Company, a Pioneer Battalion, and other support units; and was designated an SS "mountain" division. The first commander (from March 9, 1943 till August 1, 1943) was SS Standartenfuhrer Herbert von Obwurzer. Oberfuhrer (later Brigadefuhrer) Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig took over till June 1st 1944, when Desiderius Hampel (Oberfuhrer, later Brigadefuhrer) replaced him. Hampel commanded the remnants of the division until its surrender on May 8th 1945.
The uniform worn by the division was regular SS issue, with a divisional collar patch showing an arm, holding a Scimitar, over a Swastika. On the left arm was a Croatian armshield (red-white chessboard). Headgear was the Muslim Fez, in field grey (normal service) or red ("walking out"), with the SS eagle and death's head emblazoned. Non-Muslim members could opt to wear the normal SS mountain cap. The oval mountain troop Edelweiss patch was worn on the right arm.
The division departed for training in occupied France, where the full complement arrived by September 1943. It was at Villefranche, during this period of training, that the division became the only SS Division to mutiny. Much has been made of this, however, while it is true that some German officers were killed during the mutiny, the fact is that only very few soldiers participated in the uprising. Fault can be squarely placed on 3 Communists, infiltrated into the ranks of the division, and a handfull of malcontents. Not only did a great majority of the troops not participate in the rebellion, but most either had no idea it was happening, or actively helped to quash it. 14 soldiers were executed as mutineers.
By mid-February 1944, the division finished its training (some time was spent at Neuhammer, Germany for training), and was sent back to Bosnia for active service (against Communist Partisans). Its area of operation was northeastern Bosnia, western Serbia, and southern Sirmium. The division participated in several anti-Partisan operations (such as "Wegweiser", "Save", "Osterei", "Maibaum", "Maiglockchen" etc.). Some successes were achieved, and overall the "Handschar" showed itself as a competent anti-guerilla unit.
With the penetration of the Red Army up to the Croatian borders in late 1944, the Division was trasfered to southern Hungary, and became involved in front-line fighting. Desertions plagued the Division from this point on, as many of the Muslims decided to return to Bosnia to protect their homes and families. The men who remained contiuned to fight valiantly against overwhelming odds, and were slowly pushed westward out of Hungary into Austria. The remnants of the division surrendered to British troops on May 8th 1945.
In conclusion, one must say that the "Handschar" Division was certainly not a top-of-the line, elite SS unit. However, when engaged in the areas and battles its men were promised to fight in (that is, in Bosnia, against Communist forces) the division fought well. Certainly, the majority of claims in much of the WW2 literature that the "Handschar" was "bad, prone to attrocities" etc, as claims by authors who have not studied the subject fully, but rather parrot one another without proper research. Men of the "Handschar" won 5 Knight's Crosses, 5 Crosses in Gold, and 1 Cross in Silver.
The 23rd Waffen SS Mountain Division "Kama"
Adolf Hitler gave approval for the raising of a 2nd Croatian Waffen SS division on June 17, 1944, giving this fledgling division the honorary title "Kama" (a short Turkish sword), and assigning the divisional number 23. The full title of the division was therefore: 23.Waffen-Geb.Div. der SS "Kama" (kroatische Nr. 2). The decision was also made to raise a Corps command that would eventually lead the 13th SS Division ("Handzar") and the 23rd SS Division ("Kama"). Actual recruitment for the "Kama" Division had started on June 10th 1944. A sizeable number of German officers and NCO's were made available to the division. Croatian officers and men from the "Handzar" Division were also transfered to "Kama", including the entire Reconnaissance Battalion. To this core of troops was added a new batch of Croatian/Croatian-Muslim recruits.
At its peak strength in September 1944, "Kama" had 3,793 men. Fearing Partisan disruption of the new division in training, the assembly site chosen for the division was the Backa Region. Backa had been annexed by Hungary following the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, and was far enough from negative outside influences on the troops.
The division began to take shape in July and August of 1944. During the month of September 1944, the Red Army made dangerous advances into the Balkans and Hungary. The training bases for the "Kama" Division were suddenly precariously close to the front lines. The SS-FHA attempted to get the division ready for combat, citing the unrealistic date of September 24 as when the unit would be ready for frontline service. The training state of the recruits was still in the basic stage, however. It would be sheer suicide to commit the division to front-line service!
The unrealistic date of committal passed. The SS-FHA soon realized that no time was left for the "Kama" Division to form. As the Red Army moved into Hungary, German military leaders decided to disband the unit and make as much use of the personnel as possible by transferring them as replacemetns to other divisions. The decision was made in October, 1944, and most of the divisional elements went ot the 31st SS Division.
The Muslims of "Kama" were ordered to report to the "Handzar" Division. Some of them deserted on the way to "Handzar" headquarters, most reported for duty. Divisional number "23" was then given to the Dutch Panzer-Grenadier Division just being formed.
During its short, 5 month existence, "Kama" commander was SS-Stardartenfuhrer Hellmut Raithel. A collar patch depicting a sun was designed for the division, but few were actually produced.
The "Kama" Division was envisioned as an anti-Partisan unit, but the worsening German military situation required that the division's organization be aborted.
Croatia Police Regiments 1-5, Police Anti-Tank Company "Croatia", and Gendarmerie Division "Croatia"
On July 15th 1943, an agreement was signed between the Independant State of Croatia and Germany, by which a German-Croatian Police Force (Deutsch-Kroatische Polizei), under German Police & SS command, was to be raised and organized. The Commander of this new force was SS Major-General Konstantine Kammerhofer, and was intended for "internal security duties". Initially, one regiment, consisting of 2 battalions, was formed, but the strength of this force continually grew. By the Spring of 1944, 15 Battalions had been formed, organized into 5 regiments. These regiments were named "Polizei Freiwilligen-Regiment" and numbered 1-5. As well, 15 Independant Police Battalions were raised, titled Polizei-Freiwilligen-Bataillon 'Kroatien', and numbered 1-15. In early 1945, 12 of these battalions were joined into a "Gendarmerie Division Croatia", but by all accounts, this was a "paper division", as the battalions were scattered all over Croatian territory, and the new headquarters couldn't possibly gather them together under the logistical and strategic circumstances of the time.
The BdO (Befelshaber der Ordnungspolizei) in Zagreb, in December of 1944, raised a "Polizei Panzer-Jaeger Kompanie Kroatien", that was independant of the above regiments and division.
All together, 32,000 Croatians served in these German police units, and, while not frontline troops, helped keep order and defend strategic positions throughout the Independant State of Croatia.
The Light Transport Brigade (Italian-Croatian)
In July 1941, Italian General Antonio Oxilio requested an audience with Croatian Poglavnik Ante Pavelic. During their meeting, General Oxilio presented Pavelic with a letter from the Italian High Command, asking that a Legion, even a symbolic one, be formed by Croatia for service in the Italian Army, on the Eastern Front. The fact was that the Italians felt hurt. The Croatians were serving with Germany in the Soviet Union, and yet, no one had advised the Italians of this, let alone asked for their permission. The Croatians, although not pleased with this request, decided not to insult an ally, even a dubious one. Therefore, on July 26th 1941, the Croatian Army Command issued the appropriate orders, and the "Light Transport Brigade" (Laki Prijevozni Zdrug) came into being. The majority of the troops for the unit came from a battalion of volunteers that were intended as reinforcements for the 369th Regiment in Russia.
The Brigade was formed with 1100 soldiers, 70 NCO's and 45 Officers (1215 total), divided into 3 Infantry Companies, 1 Machine-Gun Company, 1 (81mm) Mortar Company and 1 (65mm) Artillery Battery. The Commanding Officer was Lt.-Colonel Egon Zitnik (a Croat).
The Brigade's first posting was in the city of Varazdin, in Croatia, where they trained, and awaited the Italians to organize their expeditionary force. The wait stretched on, as the Italians had many organizing problems. In the meantime, the Brigade performed sweeps in the Kordun, Banija and Bosanska Krajina regions of Croatia, searching for small groups of Yugoslav soldiers and bands of outlaws that were hiding in the forests and fighting against the new Croatian state.
On December 17th 1941, the Italians finally ordered the Brigade to travel to Italy where they received their full complement of weapons and transports. 3 Months of intense training exercises followed. At the end of the training schedule, the Legionnaires were visited by General Ugo Cavallerio of the Italian Headquarters Staff, and the Minister of Defense of Croatia, Slavko Kvaternik. The Brigades battle flag was presented at this ceremony, and the men took their oath to Italy, Croatia, the Duce, the Italian King, and the Poglavnik.
The Brigade arrived at the Eastern Front on April 16th 1942, near the town of Harcjusk. Here they were attached to the Italian 3rd Rapid Division "Principe Amadeo Duca D'Aosta", and received the remainder of their equipment and transports (44 trucks, 3 automobiles and 6 motorcycles). On the 11th of May, near the town of Pervomajska, the Brigade fought its first battle, alongside the 63rd Blackshirt "Tagliamento" unit. 5 men were lost in this minor engagement.
The Brigade, during the next 10 months, fought around the towns of Stokovo, Greko-Timofejevka, and Veseli-Nikitovo. On July 11th 1942, the Brigade was transfered to the Italian XXXVth Corps. The very next day, with a battle-group of Blackshirts, the Brigade fought its way 30km deep into Soviet lines. Battles follow around Vladimirovka, Krasna Poljana and Fjodorovka. On July 28th 1942 the Brigade crossed the Donjec River at Lubanskoje. On August 25th 1942, the Soviets counter-attacked and the Brigade was involved in heavy fighting. The Croatians managed to hold their lines, inflicting 20 casualties and capturing 101 Russian soldiers. The Croatians lost 8 dead and 12 wounded. For this battle, the Brigade was awarded the "Sul Campo" decoration by the commander of the XXXVth Corps.
On December 19th 1942, the Brigade was holding Hills 210 and 168 near Hracin. Here they were surrounded by a massive Soviet attack, but continued fighting till December 21st 1942, when they ran out of ammunition and were over-run. There were no survivors and the unit was totally destroyed.
The Italian Croatian Legion
After the destruction of the "Light Transport Brigade", the Italians sponsored the creation of a new "Legion" unit. It came into existance in May of 1943, only 4 months before the Italian collapse, as a 1,800 man strong Infantry Regiment, reinforced with its own Replacement Battalion and an Artillery Battalion of 2 Batteries. This "Legion" was sent to northern Italy, to the Lake Garda area, and then the Italo-Slovene border area. After the Italian surrender, the men of the Legion were used to reinforce the existing German-Croatian Divisions, specially the 373rd "Tiger" Division.
|Feldgrau.com - research on the German armed forces 1918-1945|
|Finnish Volunteers in the Wehrmacht in WWII by Jarto Nieme, Jason Pipes|
|The story of Finnish volunteers in the service of the Third Reich began with a series of behind the scenes diplomatic negotiations between Germany and Finland at the post-March 1940 negotiated end of her "Winter War" with the Soviet Union. Because of their well proven fighting qualities, Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler expressed interest in having a Finnish contingent become a part of his growing Waffen-SS. While the Finns were open to such a suggestion, both parties were quite aware that any open recruitment into Germany's armed forces of Finnish soldiers and citizens would certainly be interpreted as a belligerent provocation by the Soviets. Subsequently, every effort was made to disguise the enrollment of active-duty Finnish soldiers and other volunteers into the ranks of the Waffen-SS. There was also a stipulation made in a secret protocal by the Finnish government that no Finnish volunteers in the service of Germany would fight against Great Britain or Greece (this reflects the time-frame of the contract signing - Spring 1941, when the German incursion into the Balkans made these two governments the only active combatants against Germany); or any other nation, "except the Soviet Union." Clearly, the Finns wanted to respect the differences that western governments, (who had been generously forthcoming with critical military and logistical aid during the winter-war), had with Germany; but at the same time, wanted to align a major continental power in their corner against the threat of further Soviet hostilities. In this sense, the Finns decision to pursue a pro-Axis stance in the early months of 1941, well before the onset of an actual German-Russo conflict would reflect both self-interest, and an astute strategic grasp of their current geo-political situation.|
In February, 1941, Himmler's Waffen-SS recruitment chief, Gottlob Berger, worked with the "Auslands-Amt" of the German Embassy in Helsinki to receive the first complement of 1000 Finnish volunteers into German service. These conscripts were publicly announced as "workers for German Industry" to avoid international complications. Because of minor differences, such as the Finnish objection to take the Waffen-SS oath to the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler - the bulk of the initial contingent of 125 Officers, 109 NCO's,and 850 other ranks of Finnish soldiers were held up, and wouldn't reach German soil until June 5, 1941. Five batches of Finns were sent to Germany between May and June, 1941. The first three batches of men were those with previous military training experiance, and they were direcetly incorporated into the 5.SS Wiking Division (mot) already on the Eastern Front for the initial stages of the invasion of the Soviet Union on June, 22nd, 1941. The remaining 2 batches of Finnish recruits were those without previous military training and they were sent to Wien outside of Vienna to form the basis of the new Finnish Battalion. Fresh drafts of volunteers from Finland joined those at Wien to train as Waffen-SS combat infantrymen. This first contingent of Finns were organized as the SS-Freiwilligen Bataillon Nordost, but the unit was later renamed in September of 1941, to the Finnisches Freiwilligen Bataillon der Waffen-SS. The Finns liked to refer to themselves as the "Jagerbataillon" (light infantry battalion) in commemoration of the Finnish 27.Jagerbataillon that served with the Kaiser's forces on the Eastern front during the Great War.
After initial training at Wien, the Finnisches Freiwilligen Bataillon der Waffen-SS was transfered to Stralsund in July, 1941. In August, 1941, the Finnisches Freiwilligen Bataillon der Waffen-SS was moved to the troop training ground at Gross-Born, otherwise known as "Zum Truppenlager Gross Born." A well known image of the "Drie Grenadier" greeted all those that entered the troop training grounds at Gross Born. On October 6th, 1941, after many months of training, the ceremonial 'nailing' of the Bn flag took place, and on October 15th, 1941, the new Battalion flag was officially presented to the Finnisches Freiwilligen Bataillon der Waffen-SS during a ceremony at the Gross Born training grounds. After the official ceremonies, the Bn left Gross Born on December 3rd, 1941, and was transfered to the Eastern Front on five rail transports, arriving at Vinnitsa on December 8th, 1941. The Battalion was then sent towards the lines of the Mius River on January 8th, 1942, where it was offically attached to the 5.SS Wiking Division (mot) that was already holding positions along the Mius River. The Finnish Battalion was attached as the III Battalion of the Nordland Regiment of the Wiking Division. The new III Battalion of the Nordland Regiment offically entered combat in the end of January, 1942, when it took up positions along the Mius River. Attached to SS-Wiking's motorized-infantry Regiment Nordland, the Finns would distinguish themselves as reliable soldiers during the division's summer 1942 thrust deep into the Caucases. They would in fact, be in the vanguard of the deepest investment south made by the German army during the campaign, reaching the Grozny oil-fields before being pushed back by the Soviets.
From January 21st, 1942 to April 26th, 1942, the Finnish Bn saw action along positions on the Mius River against elements of the 31st Soviet Guards Division. During much of the defensive, positional fighting, the Finnish Bn fought along side of the Slovak Mobile Division that was also positioned along the Mius River to the North of the Finnish Bn lines. On the 23rd of January, 1943, the Bn experianced its first known combat fatality when Onni Martikainen of the 3rd Company was killed by a Soviet sniper. The main focus of fighting for the next many weeks until sometime in April, 1942, was on reconaissance raids, small assualt group attacks, and scouting of the enemy lines. A great deal of artillery duels and sniper attacks also took place. In April, 1942, the Bn was withdrawn from its previous positions along the Mius River and sent to Alexandrovka. This new position was also situated along the Mius River, although in a new location from the one last held by the Battalion. "West of the Mius the battalion sector was dominated by tow hills, numbered by compass as 115.2 and 114.9. The town of Demidovka lay about in the center of the Finnish lines and it was surrounded by fruit orchards which had begun coming into bloom. The battalion command post was situated in a farm house in the middle of the village. Upon the roof of the house an observation post with trench binoculars was set up and this provided a good view deep into enemy territory." It was in these positions, still fighting against sniper and raiding parties, that all waited until the eventual German Summer offensive was launched in late June, 1942. The objective of this offensive was the conquest of Stalingrad, and on July 13th, the southern wing of Army Group South was directed to attack towards the region of the Caucasus Mountains, with the 1st Panzer Army in the vanguard of the attack. For this assualt, the 298th, 73rd and 125th Infantry Divisions were scheduled to make the initial assault into the Soviet lines, while the Wiking Division was pulle back from the lines to await a break though by the initial assualting units, after which it would thust into the lines and attempt to smash deep into Soviet territory. When the Wiking Division was pulled back to await its breakthrough assault, the III/Nordland Regiment had all of its motorized transport and equipment removed and sent to the other two battalions of the Regiment. The Finnish Bn was then sent for rest and relaxation to Mokryj Jelantshick. The Finnish Bn stayed there from July 13th until August 10th, 1942, while the other elements of the Wiking Division took part in the storming of Rostov and in the breakthough assualt into the Caucasus region. On August 9th, 1942, the Finnish Bn recieved orders to finally join the rest of the Nordland Regiment now located near Maikop south of the Caucasus Mountains. From here, the Finnish Bn took part in fierce and bloody fighting in the south Caucasus region. Later, in October 1942, the Bn took part in fighring near Hill 711.
The Finnish Battalion was unique from the other Freiwilliger of the Wiking division, such as the Dutch or the Norwegian contingents in Westland and Nordland, by the fact that it's Officer's and NCO's were ex-Finn Army veterans, and fully in charge. The Finns were always an independent breed, and their first introduction to German 'parade-ground' discipline was met by a steely disregard for German language "befehle." (orders). The Finns held out for Finnish language NCO's, and it was there and then that the Germans realized that this contingent might be formed up and kitted out as a Waffen-SS unit, but would ultimately be commanded only by Finnish speaking Officers.
In March 1943, after many bitterly contested ordeals on the southern Eastern Front, members of the Finnisches Freiwilliger der Waffen-SS, facing the end of their two-year contractual agreement with Germany to fight against the Soviet Union, would, upon the advisement of their government, choose not to stay as combat troops in the service of the German armed forces. The Finnisches Freiwilliger der Waffen-SS were pulled from the lines in May, 1943, and transfered to Auerbach/Grafenwohr, and then sent on to Ruhpolding, Bavaria, for rest. On May 28th, 1943, the Finnisches Freiwilliger der Waffen-SS were loaded up and arrived at Tallinn on June 1st, 1943. An offical ceremony was held to greet the arrival and disbandenment of the unit at Hanko on June 2nd, 1943, and another unoffical ceremony was held the next day on June 3rd, 1943, and Tempere. The troops of the Bn were then given a one month leave, after which they returned to Hanko to await the final fate of the Bn. In negotiations that the RFSS-Kommandostab and the Finnish High Command held during this period it was made quite clear to the Germans that because of the distinct threat to the Northern front implied by the massive buildup of Soviet forces, that any continued consignment of Finnish soldiers to any other sector would be dangerous to the protection of Finnish sovereignty. The unit was offically disbanded on July 11th, 1943, and members of the Bn were transfered into the ranks of the Finnish Army. The last offical ceremony for the fallen members of the Bn was held on September 19th, 1943 in Helsinki. An offical state sponsered memorial to the fallen of the Finnish unit stands in Helsinki.
Back in June of 1943, RFSS Himmler disbanded the Finnish volunteer formation altogether from the Waffen-SS order of battle, but allowed any voluntarily remaining Finnish volunteers from Nordland to continue to serve in Waffen-SS combat units. Many accounts describe Finns serving in the W-SS well beyond the June 1943 disbandment of the so-called officially sanctioned Finnish "Jagerbataillon", and it has been universally confirmed that Finns served in the German armed forces until the end of hostilities in May of 1945 with the 11.SS-Pz.Gren.Divison Nordland, and with the SS-Kriegsberichter-Regiment Kurt Eggers ( war-correspondents), on the Eastern Front.
Also back in early 1943, the Regiment Nordland to which the Finnisches Frw.Bttln.d.-SS was then attached, was detached from the Wiking Division to become the nucleus of another West-European/Scandanavian Divisional entity, the 11.SS Nordland Division.
After the Finnisches Freiwilligen-Bataillon der Waffen-SS was stood down in March of 1943, and disbanded in June and July of the same year, the Estnisches SS-Freiwilligen Bataillon Narwa (Estonian) was used to replace the Finns as the third Battalion within the SS-Pz.Gren Regiment Nordland. The Estonians stayed with the Wiking Division when the Nordland Regiment was detached to become the nucleus of a new eponymously named divisional entity. The Estonians attached to Wiking were actually one of 3 battalions then forming up at the Heidelager SS-Truppenubungsplatz (training ground) in Debica, Poland in early 1943 as the 1.Estnisches SS-Frw.Grenadier Regt. They lost the I (Narwa) battalion, but later aquired sufficient manpower to constitute a 2 regiment strength (45 & 46.SS-Frw.Rgt.) Brigade (3.SS-Frw.Brigade) before being formed into a full SS-Grenadier division in January 1944.
In October 1943, the Wiking was reorganized as a full Panzer Division. The Estonians became III/10.SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. Westland. By April of 1944 the Narwa Battalion would be detached from the Wiking and renamed 20.SS-Fusilier-Btln. as part of the Estonian 20.SS-Frw.-Grenadier Division. During it's tenure with Wiking the Estonian battalion was commanded by (German) SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Georg Eberhardt, and it's Feldpostnummer was 48 314. Reports of the Battalion's strength vary, but it was said to have been as great as 1280 men when attached to SS-Pz.Gren. Rgt. Westland. The honorific title Narwa was also reported to have been unofficially continued as part of it's new SS-Fusilier-Btl. designation.
The casualty rate for Finnish volunteers in the Geman Armed Forces is a reported 222 killed and 557 wounded (See below for more info on this).
Complete Order of Battle and list of commanders
Commander: Ostub. Hans Collani
Adjutant: Ostub. Helmut Hirt
6.15.41 - 10.13.42: Ostuf. Hoy
10.13.42 - 10.17.42: Ostuf. Pallesche
10.17.42: Ostuf. Karl-Heinz Ertel
6.15.41 - ??: Ostuf. Pallesche
?? - ??: Hstuf. Ladau
4.11.42 - 8.13.42: Ostuf. Hilker
8.14.42 - 10.08.42: Ostuf. Porsch
?? - ??: Ostuf. Pohjanlehto
?? - 1.19.43: Ostuf. Porsch
1.19.43 - 3.12.43: Ostuf. Pohjanlehto
3.12.43 - 3.26.43: Hstuf. Tenomaa
3.26.43: Ostuf. Sartio
6.15.41 - 11.23.41: Ostuf. Hartmann
?? - 8.13.42: Hstuf. Schnabl
?? - 8.16.42: Ustuf. Luttgens
?? - 10.17.42: Ostuf. Muhlinghaus
?? - ??: Ostuf. Eugen Deck
6.15.41 - 7.04.42: Ostuf. Franz Pleiner
7.04.42 - 8.08.42: Hstuf. Bruckner
?? - ??: ??
?? - ??: Hstuf. Ladau
A replacement company was formed in September, 1941, with SS-Obersturmfuhrer Schroder as the company commander. It was formed in Radom, and then later transfered to Granz.
The Finnish Bn disbanded its 4th Machine Gun Company on May 12th, 1942. The MG platoons of the former 4th Company then then became MG platoons for each of the other 3 Companies of the Bn. They were also joined by mortar squads, each squad with two 80mm mortars. This new arrangement gave each of the 3 Companies of the Bn better fire support. This change was finished by May 15th, 1942. When the original 4th Heavy Weapons Company was disbanded, a new one was formed, this time consisting of engineer, anti-tank, infantry gun, and signals platoons.
The Bn was offically made a part of the Wiking Division on May, 23rd, 1942. When this occured, the Komapanie 1, Kompanie 2, Kompanie 3, and Kompanie 4 of the Bn were renamed as Kompanie 9, Kompanie 10, Kompanie 11. and Kompanie 12 of the new III/Nordland Regiment. When the Finnish Bn became the III/Nordland/Wiking, the previous III/Nordland was split up and seperated into the other two battalions of the Nordland Regiment.
Battalion Strenght on 1.09.42: 34 Commanders/786 NCOs & men
Battalion Strenght on 4.29.43: 16 Commanders/353 NCOs & men
Battalion Strenght on 5.08.43: 18 Commanders/740 NCOs & men
Battalion Strenght on 7.11.43: 14 Commanders/234 NCOs/534 men
Ideological & social background of the first draft of Finns
Finns were not originally consider to be of Nordic race. Therefore the goal of the SS recruiment office was to recruit Swedish speaking Finns (preferably National Socialists), whom they regarded as Nordic. The Finnish governement realized that the recruiting to SS could be politically problematic. Therefore the goal of the governement was to have volunteers from all classes and political circles (including social-democrats). The final result was something between these contradictory goals.
12% of the volunteers were swedish speaking, (9.6% whole population) 20% were supporters of IKL (fascist oriented party) (6.6% whole pop.)
There is some evidence that the upper and middle class and farmers were presented in greater numbers than in the whole population.
Germans wanted volunteers that are 17-30 years old. They got men that were 15-36 years old. Average was 21.6 years, about 50% of men were 18-20 years old.
Military background of the first draft
The first draft was sent to Germany in five batches (departures 6th May -5th June), total 1197 officers and men. Note, the figures 125 officers +109 NCO's +850 men are based on Standartenfuehrer Tack's report on 20th May 1941, figures are not final, especially the number of officers decreased.
From the first three batches men that had combat experience were attached directly to the Wiking division. These men are called division men in the finnish litterature and the rest are called battalion men.
About 60% of the division men had combat experience in the front line, on the other hand 8% didn't have proper military training at all when they went to combat.
About 22% of the battalion men had been in the front line during the winter war. These men as well as the other trained men had to go trough the whole training.
Status of the officers and NCO's
The finnish officers got corresponding SS-ranks but initially they didn't get organization positions as officers (i.e no platoon leaders or company commanders). First the NCO's were not recognized at all. Later the situation improved, but the finnish battalion was newer completely led by Finns. Many officers and NCO's were released and returned to Finland before the main disbandment in July 1943.
The Second Draft
The second draft consisted of 201 men that were recruited by the army. All men had combat experience more than 6 month. They left for Germany in September 1942. These men got an ironical nickname 'the 200 brave ones'.
Casualties & disbandment & later service in the Waffen-SS
In addition to the two drafts there were about 10 men that served in the Wiking division, among others one man that probably was not a Finn, and other man that was a double defector/spy.
The exact number of men that served in SS after the main disbandmet is not known but probably the men whose disbandment date is unknow continued serving in the SS.
There were Finns in three courses at the SS Officers school Bad Toelz. Course 1, Spring, 1942 to December, 1942 had 7 participants, with 6 graduates. Course 2 from January, 1943 to July, 1943 had 18 participants with 15 graduates. Course 3 from June, 1943 had 17 participants but none actually graduated, all participants were sent to Finland after the general disbandment of the Finnish battalion. The participants of the second course were all privates and not NCO's. When Steiner realized that, he promoted them all to Unterscharfuehrers, the lowest NCO rank, before sending them to the Junkerschool.
There are no offical documents concerning the decorations, but Veikko Elo (ref 2 below) has tried to solve the question. His data consists of about 1000 cases.
EK = Eisernes Kreuz = Iron Cross
KVK = Kriegsverdienst Kreuz = War Service Cross
About 25% of the men got some form of decoration. No one was awarded the Knight's Cross or the German Cross during their service before the disbandment. Two men received the Iron Crosse and in addition, their names were mentioned in the bulletin "Ehrenblatt des Deutschen Heeres". They receieved diplomas signed by Adolf Hitler as well. After the disbandment in July 1943, some men continued service in the SS. It seems that at least one of them, Obersturmfuehrer Ulf-Ola Olin, received some form of higher decoration.
The Finns were not much more distinguished from other non-Germans with respect to military achievments and awards. See below the German statistics concerning the foreign volunteers in the Wiking Divsion. These statistics were formed on the 19th of September, 1941 (ref 1).
|Feldgrau.com - research on the German armed forces 1918-1945|
|French Volunteers in the Wehrmacht in WWII by Daniel Laurent|
|French military history has a long and varied history that is both passionate and with varied tones of brilliant success and bitter failure. At no time in recent history has this been more true than during WWII when France was soundly defeated and soon after occupied by Germany. |
The defeat of France in May 1940 was a tragic event that still ripples though French social and political life. The ensuing period between June of 1940 and May of 1945 saw Frenchmen volunteer for service in dozens of units and formations under the auspices of the German Wehrmacht and their related auxiliary services. The foreign volunteers of French origin that joined the German Wehrmacht or auxiliary forces were numerous, wide-spread, and uniquely colorful. With numbers in the tens of thousands, they were by far the largest single volunteer force from Western Europe that fought with Germany during WWII.
This article will detail the history of all those formations within the German Wehrmacht or auxiliary services of French origin that existed during WWII (for the history of the French Axis Allied or Collaboration forces, see those individual sections).
The French volunteer units and those organizations that included French volunteers that will be detailed here include the Légion des volontaires francais contre le bolchévisme (Franzosischer Infantry-Regiment 638), Bretonishe Waffenverband der SS, Phalange Africaine, Brigade Frankreich, Legion Speer, NSKK Motorgruppe Luftwaffe, Organization Todt, Division Charlemagne, and many other unique and colorful units.
Légion des volontaires francais contre le bolchévisme
On June, 22 1941, the very same day the attack of Germany against the USSR was announced, Jacques Doriot (1898-1945, Iron cross 1943), leader of the PPF, Parti Populaire Francais (French Popular Party, the most active of all the French fascists organizations) launch the idea of a Legion of French volunteers to help fighting the Red Army. On June 23, one of his political competitors, Marcel Deat, met Otto Abetz, the Ambassador of the 3rd Reich in France, to discuss the topic. Abetz reports to Berlin and receives on July 5 the telegram No. 3555 from the Counselor Ritter, confirming the approval of Von Ribbentrop.
This initiative coincides with the policy of the Reich who wishes to create volunteers units in several European countries. So, Berlin accepts to "engage French citizens in the battle against the Soviet Union". But there are numerous limitations to this approval: Recruitment limited to the occupied zone, number of recruits limited to 15,000 (Figure never achieved). Hitler doesn't want to find himself owing something to the French.
On July 6, a meeting takes place at the German Embassy in Paris. On July 7, a second meeting is help at the Majestic Hotel, HQ of the Wermacht in France. All the leaders of the French fascist and collaborationist groups are there: Doriot, Deat, Bucard, Costantini, Deloncle, Boissel, Clementi. That day, a Central Committee of the LVF is created with all the attendants being members. A recruitment center is set and Abetz offers for such the former offices of the… Intourist, the Soviet tourism agency, 12, rue Auber in Paris!
Immediately, the LVF is embarked in the Franco-French political competition, each collaborationist organization trying to lead the show, hoping to increase its own influence. The most successful are the MSR (Deat) and the PPF (Doriot), using extensively the "Anti-Bolshevik crusade" propaganda to which part of the French opinion is receptive. On August 5, the LVF is officially created as a private association. Fernand de Brinon, delegate of the Vichy government, accepts to be President of the support committee to which several influential people will adhere, such as Mgr. Baudrillart, catholic cardinal.
From July 1941 to June 1944, 13,000 volunteers applied, but only about half of them will be accepted by the tough selection team composed of by German military doctors.
The first unit reached Deba, LVF rear base in Poland, in September 1941. With those 2,500 volunteers, 2 battalions and regimental units are created. The first LVF commander is the Colonel Roger Labonne (1881-1966), former commander of a French colonial army unit, the RICM. The LVF is registered by the Wermacht as the Franzosischer Infantry-Regiment 638. The volunteers have to wear a German uniform with a blue-white-red French shield on the right arm. The regimental flag is also blue-white-red and the orders are given in French. But all the volunteers must take an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler and that creates several problems.
They will be pacified by Mgr. Mayol de Lupe (1873-1975, Iron cross 1942), general chaplain of the LVF, who celebrates a mass in the morning of the October 5, day of the oath. On November 5th, the Marechal Petain sends them a message: "Before your battle, I am happy to know that you don't forget that you are holders of a part of hour military honor". The 2 battalions leave Deba on 28 and 30 October 41, the first battalion under command of Captain Leclercq, then of Commandant de Planard, the second one with Commandant Girardeau. They reach Smolensk from where they take the road to Moscow on November 6, walking in the freezing Russian winter. The heavy equipment is transported with great difficulties in horse-driven carriages. This trip is a tragedy: The uniforms and individual equipment are not fitted for winter temperatures, blizzard and icy rains are blowing, one third of the men are affected by dysentery. Before reaching the front line, the LVF lost 400 men, sick or getting lost.
They eventually reached the extreme end of the German front, at 63 Km from Moscow. The 639 Infantry Regiment is there joined to the Infantry Division 7 of General Von Gablenz.
On November 24, 1941, the 4 platoons of the 1st battalion are heading to the front line near the village of Djukovo. The regimental HQ reaches Golowkowo. The ground is frozen. After several days waiting in horrible conditions, attack order is given on December 1st in a horrible snowstorm, with temperatures that dropped 20 Celsius overnight, without winter equipment, with no Panzer support.
On the opposite side, the 32nd Siberian Division, well equipped, well trained, supported by heavy artillery. Dead and wounded French are spilling the ground; automatic weapons are blocked by the frost. At the medical post, Doctor Captain Fleury struggles to treat all the wounded, the sick and the men with frozen members. After a week, the 1st battalion is almost dislocated and must be replaced. Lieutenants Dupont and Tenaille, the best platoons commanders have been killed by the same artillery shell, Captain Lacroix is severely wounded. More to the north, the second battalion is less afflicted by the battle, but as much by the climatic conditions. While the 7th infantry division remains on the front line, the whole 638 regiment is pulled out between the 6 and 9 of December. It lost 65 dead, 120 wounded, more than 300 sick or with frozen members. The reports issued by the German military inspectors are not sweet: "The men generally show good will but are lacking of military training. NCO are generally good but cannot really be active, as their superiors are inefficient. The Officers are incapable and recruited only as per political criteria" (Oberstleutnant Reichet, commander of the 7th Division operational office).
Then came the conclusion: "The Legion cannot be engaged in combat. Improvement can only be obtained by e renewal of the officer Corp and a strong military training."
The retreat was done in really horrible conditions, the men having lost any confidence in their officers. The LVF is removed from the front line and regrouped in Poland to be severely re-organized and trained, 1,500 recruits being removed and sent back to France, including most of the officers.
Built with the arrival of new volunteers, the 1942 LVF will be tougher, more qualified and more homogeneous. Its military efficiency will be based on an excellent NCO group.
Now organized in 3 battalions of about 900 men each, the LVF will be engaged rear of the front, fighting against Soviet Partisans. There, the LVF will apply with some success methods issued from the French colonial army. A new commander is appointed in June 1943: Colonel Edgard Puaud (1889-1945, first and second class Iron Cross, 44-45), former Foreign Legion officer, who is appointed as Brigade General. We will find him, again, at the head of the French Waffen SS Brigade and, later Waffen SS Division.
From July 42 till December 43, the 1st battalion (Commandant Lacroix, Captain Poisson, Commandant Simoni) is engaged at Borissov, Smolensk, Sirsch, Kotovo where 150 Legionnaires resist to 1,000 Soviet partisans on May 22, 43, and Murovo. The 2nd battalion (Commandant Tramu) will be constituted only in November 1943. Its companies are operating around Michaelkovo.
The 3rd battalion (Captain Demessine, Commandant Pane) participates in June 1943 to the Kolmi operation. After tough fights against the Soviet partisans in the Briansk forest, the battalion is sent in the Mohilev area to fight the guerilla till February 1944. This is when Commandant Pane, generally considered as the best LVF officer, is killed. Those who came back alive from the Eastern Front will all praise the German soldier attitude. Let's hear from them: "A German soldier weight 5 or 6 Russians. The Soviet can win only when they have a huge numerous superiority" Francois Gaucher, 30 March 1944.
"We were all comrades. Those who were there were living and acting only in function of the life and the action of their unit. A Whermacht General could eat next to a Corporal the same ration he just got from the same Schwester with the same smile and the same "have a nice meal"." Eric Labat in "Les places étaient chéres", Paris, 1969. During spring 1944, the rupture of the central eastern front will provide the LVF with an opportunity to redeem the failures of the 1941 winter. One June 22, 1944, the German front is horribly weakened by the assault of 196 Soviet divisions. While the Wehrmacht retreat everywhere, a LVF battalion, formed in a Kampfgruppe, is asked to cut the Moscow-Minsk road in front of Borrisov, near from the Beresina river.
Lead by Commandant Bridoux, son of the Vichy war Minister, the Kampfgruppe is composed of 400 men, all veterans. Mgr Mayol de Luppe, 71 years old, is with them!
Their positions are equipped with MG42 machine guns, anti-tanks 37 guns and some Tiger Panzers. At dawn on this June 22nd, the Red Army luach a heavy infantry offensive, seconded by tanks. Thje battle will last till the 23rd at night. The Soviet didn't passed. The LVF retreated as no more ammunitions were available. 41 dead, 24 wounded but, in that opposite side, several hundred of dead and about 40 destroyed tanks.
Two weeks later, exhausted and starving, the survivors are gathered at Greifenberg camp, in Pomerania. The Legionnaires discover there that their French comrades have been taken into the Waffen SS. Here is the end of the LVF history, as all the Legionnaires were incorporated into the French Waffen SS Brigade.
Bretonishe Waffenverband der SS "Bezzen Perrot"
In 1940, there were a rather strong Nationalist movement in the French Brittany, lead by the PNB (Parti National Breton, National Breton Party), seeking independence from "colonialist France". The German occupation authorities will always have some sympathy for them, in spite of the heavy protest of the French Vichy government. But the French Resistance was also strong in Brittany. On September 4, 1943, Yan Bricler, Administrator of the Nationalist magazine Stur is assassinated in Quimper. On December 12, a communist group assassinates a priest, Jean-Marie Perrot, leader of the catholic group of the PNB. Celestin Laine, an activist who organized several anti-French bombing in Brittany before the war, calls for revenge. With the help of the local branch of the Sipo-SD, he creates the Bezen Perrot (Perrot Group) registered by the Germans as the Bretonishe Waffenverband der SS. 80 volunteers only were recruited, wearing SS uniforms and the Celtic Cross as a distinctive insignia. They will be engaged in operations against the French guerrillas and resistance from March 44. Early August, as the Allied forces approach Brittany, some of them "disappear" while a group will join the German retreat up to Germany. They will be incorporated in some SD special units. When Germany surrendered, some, like Laine, managed to take refuge in Ireland, some remained in Germany, protected by German civilians, some were arrested.
Casualties: 38 dead from combat or assassination in Brittany, 9 executed after the war, such as Leon Jasson and Marcel Bibe.
21 Panzer Division
The 21.PzD in 1944 had over 50 different softskin types, most of them French, including Citroën, Laffly and Renault trucks as well as Somua French tanks and Hotchkiss French armored vehicles. Logically, French mechanics were needed to maintain them. The 2nd Werkstattkompanie (logistics, reparation) is composed of 230 French volunteers. No national insignia.
The regiment, then division Brandenbourg, is a special unit of the Abwher, the Wehrmacht intelligence service. Intelligence, infiltration, sabotages, the underground fighters.
In 1943, 180 French men formed the 8th company of the 3rd Regiment, based in Eaux-Bonnes, near from the Pyrenees mountains in Southwest France. Often Engaged in Southern France, imitating resistants (with captured radios) they captured many equipment's/weapons deliveries and proceeded to many arrests.
This company has also been engaged against the resistance in the Vercors battle. They organized the glider attack usually said as being a Waffen-SS attack but the French witnesses have probably taken the "Brandenburg" arm patch for SS insignias.
The Kriegsmarine opened recruitment offices in several large seaports in France in 1943. Training courses in French are organized in Seenheim in Alsace. The volunteers are integrated in German units and don't bear any particular national insignia.
93 officers, 3,000 NCO and men, 160 engineers, 680 technicians and 25,000 civilian workers are accounted in a German report dated February 4, 1944 as serving in the Brest, Cherbourg, Lorient and Toulon Kriegsmarine bases in France.
In January 1943, the Kriegsmarine started also to recruit about 200 French volunteers to protect the naval installations in La Rochelle, called the Kriegsmarinewerftpolizei "La Pallice", under command of Lieutenant Rene Lanz, veteran of WW1 and of the LVF. Possibly the same kind of units existed in Saint Nazaire and Bordeaux, not confirmed.
On June 30, 1944, the German Commander of La Rochelle gave them a choice between staying to defend the base or joining the French Waffen SS. The same attitude prevailed with other Kriegsmarine commanders in France during this critical period. About 1,500 French Kriegsmarine volunteers reached Greifenberg in Germany to be incorporated into the Waffen SS Division Charlemagne.
Founded on July 18, 1933 by Engineer Fritz Todt, genial organizer, the OT (Organization Todt) is in charge of the main infrastructure projects of the third Reich: It started with the German Highway network, revolutionary at that time, then the blockhaus of the Siegfried line in 1938.
At the beginning of the war, the OT is reorganized as a military structure with uniforms, officers and NCO. After F. Todt death, killed in an aircraft accident on February 2, 1942, the OT passes under Albert Speer command.
In France, the OT is in charge of the building of submarines bases and coastal fortifications, For the "Atlantic Wall", it employed 112,000 Germans, 152,000 French and 170,000 North African workers and technicians. About 2,500 French volunteers joined the armed Schutzkommandos, in charge of the protection of the construction projects, after training at la Celle Saint Cloud near Paris.
Those SK are wearing a feldgrau uniform with the NSDAP Svatiska armband.
End 1944, those French were dispersed up to some projects in Norway. Several hundreds will reach Greinferberg in Germany and, from there, the Waffen SS Division Charlemagne.
The Speer Legion is created in 1942 and bears the name of the Reich minister Albert Speer, in charge of armament. Originally composed of Russian POW, THE Speer Legion in sent in September 1942 in Atlantic Ocean military seaport for some non-combatant works. But at end of 1943, the Legion is militarized and monitored by the NSKK. At the same period, about 500 French were recruited, mainly as drivers for the Arbeitsamt. During the summer 44, the Legion is engaged in Normandy and later in Italy. Some of the French Legionnaires will join the Waffen SS, some will be recruited by the Technishe Nothilfe, a technical group in charge of repairs for communication and transportation network.
NSKK (= Nationalsocialistische Kraftfahrkorps) Motorgruppe Luftwaffe, a Luftwaffe logistic unit (drivers, engineers). 2,500 French men integrated since 21st July 1942 to form the 4th NSKK regiment in Vilvorde, Belgium. NSKK Rgt 4 is monitored by Alsacian Volkdeutsche NCO and is first affected to the eastern front (Luftgau Rostov/Don) early 1943.
In 1944, the French of the NSKK are formed Kampfgruppen and are fighting the guerillas in Northern Italy and Croatia. Some are sent in Hungary and finally Austria against the Red Army. The son of Philippe Henriot, a prominent French collaborationist, is with them.
In July 1943, 30 young NSKK, lead by Jean-Marie Balestre, desert and join the Waffen SS. All, NSKK and Waffen SS will fight till the end in their units. Their complete history is still to be written.
The Allied forces land in French Morocco and Algeria in November 1942. Immediately, German and Italian reinforcement troops land in French Tunisia. On November 14, the idea of an "African Phalange" is launched in Paris with the support of the 3rd Reich Ambassador Otto Abetz. In December, German authorities approve the plan and the related logistic.
330 volunteers are recruited and instructed in the Bordj-Ceda camp, ending with the constitution of a 210 men Company, called Franzosische Freiwilligen Legion and incorporated into the 2nd Battalion, 754. PzG Rgt, 334. PzG Division, 5. Panzerarmee (von Arnim).
The Company is engaged on the 7th April 1943 in the Medjez-El-Bab area against British forces (78th infantry division), under command of Captain Dupuis. Its value earn it the congratulations of the German General Weber who distributes several Iron crosses.
9 days later, allied forces launch a general offensive on the sector. The Phalange positions are destroyed by artillery and tanks fire. In one hour, the unit lost half of its men. However, the survivors resist and retreat in order. It is the end of the battle, allied forces are at the gates of Tunis.
The 150 survivors have the choice between "disappearing" or placing themselves under the protection of the Tunis Bishop. The officers are evacuated with the retreating Germans.
But most of the volunteers are arrested by the Gaullist troops entering Tunis. A dozen will be executed, other condemned to heavy jail sentences.
Amazingly, about 40 survivors of the Phalange, who had the luck to surrender to non-Gaullist troops, were incorporated in the Free French Army and fought well up to Germany.