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Waffen (1st Croatian) Mountain Division.


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13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Bosnian)
Unit insignia of 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS 
      Handschar (1st Croatian)
Unit insignia of 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian)
Active 1943 - 1945
Country Flag of Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Flag Schutzstaffel Waffen-SS
Type Mountain
Role Anti-partisan operations
Size Division
Nickname Handschar
Motto Handžaru udaraj! (Handschar strike!)
Engagements Operation Wegweiser
Operation Sava
Operation Osterei
Operation Maibaum
Battle for Stolice
Battle at Lopare

The 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian) was one of the thirty-eight divisions fielded as part of the Waffen-SS during World War II. The majority of its recruits were Bosniaks (90%) and Croats (10%). Handschar (Bosnian/Croatian: Handžar) was the local word for the Turkish scimitar a historical symbol of Bosnia and Islam. An image of the Handschar adorned the division's flag and coat of arms.

The Handschar division was a mountain infantry formation, the equivalent of the German "Gebirgsjäger" (Mountain troops) units. It was used to conduct operations against Yugoslav Partisans in the Independent State of Croatia from February to September 1944.

History of the 13th Waffen SS Division

After the fall of Sarajevo on 16 April, 1941 to Nazi Germany, the extremist Croat-nationalist and Fascist Ante Pavelic (who had been in exile in Mussolini's Italy) was appointed Poglavnik or leader of a new Ustaše state - Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (NDH, the Independent State of Croatia). The Yugoslav provinces of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of Serbia were reconstituted as a pro-Nazi satellite entity under joint Nazi and Italian occupation. The Ustaše almost immediately launched a vicious campaign of violence directed at unarmed Serb civilians.

On July 6, 1941 Pavelic's Culture and Education Minister, Mile Budak, announced that the Ustaše considered the Bosnian Muslims an integral part of the NDH : "The Croatian State is Christian. It is also a Muslim State where our people are of the Islamic religion." Pavelic ordered a property in Zagreb be converted into a mosque that he modestly named after himself in his efforts to secure the loyalty of the Bosnian Muslims : the Poglavniks Mosque.

Bosnian Muslim clerics issued three declarations (fatawa), all publicly denouncing Croat-Nazi collaborationist measures, laws and violence against Jews and Serbs: that of Sarajevo in October 1941, of Mostar in 1941, and of Banja Luka on 12 November, 1941.

Despite Pavelic's assurances of equality, it wasn't long before many Bosniaks became dissatisfied with Croatian rule. An Islamic leader reported that not one Muslim occupied an influential post in the (local) administration. Fierce fighting broke out between Ustase and Partisans. A number of Ustase units believed that the Bosniaks were communist sympathizers and burned their villages and murdered civilians. Serb victims of the violence were inclined to view the Bosniaks as collaborators.

The Fall of 1942 saw SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler and SS-General Gottlob Berger approach Hitler with the proposal to raise a Bosnian Muslim SS division. Both the Wehrmacht and the SS were concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the NDH that tied down German military personnel that could be better employed elsewhere. By the New Year of 1943 over 100,000 Bosnian Muslims had been killed (9% of all Bosniaks at the time) and 250,000 had been expelled from their homes - mostly by Serb Chetniks. "The Muslims" remarked one German General, "bear the special status of being persecuted by all others".

Himmler fantasized that there was a fanatical, blind obedience in the Bosniaks. He thought that Muslim men would make perfect SS soldiers as Islam "promises them Heaven if they fight and are killed in action." Himmler was also inspired by the noted successes of Hapsburg Bosnian infantry regiments in World War I.

George Lepre wrote : "Himmler endeavoured to restore what he called 'an old Austrian' tradition by reviving the Bosnian regiments of the former Austro-Hungarian army in the form of a Bosnian Muslim SS Division. Once raised, this division was to engage and destroy Tito's Partisan forces operating in North-eastern Bosnia, thus restoring local 'order'. To be sure, Himmler's primary concern in the region was not the security of the local Muslim population, but the welfare of ethnic German settlers to the north in Srem. 'Srem is the breadbasket of Croatia, and hopefully it and our beloved German settlements will be secured. I hope that the area south of Srem will be liberated by ... the Bosnian division ... so that we can at least restore partial order in this ridiculous (Croatian) state.'

Hitler formally approved the project on 10 February, 1943 and SS-Obergruppenführer Arthur Phleps, a Romanian ethnic German commander, was charged with raising the division.

Recruitment

SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler.
SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler and SS Brigadefuhrer Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig during an inspection of Waffen SS Division Handschar (Handzar) aka. Scimitar, Sarajevo, 1943.

In Spring 1943, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, (aka Amin al-Husseini), was invited by the Nazis to assist in the organizing and recruiting Bosniaks into the Waffen SS and other units in Yugoslavia. He successfully convinced the Bosniaks to go against the declarations of the Sarajevo, Mostar, and Banja Luka clerics, who in 1941 forbade Bosnian Muslims from collaborating with the Ustaše. Croatian Foreign Minister Dr. Mladen Lorkovic suggested that the Division be named "SS Ustasa Division", not an SS Division but a Croatian unit raised with SS assistance, and that its regimental names be given regional names such as "Bosna", "Krajina", "Una" etc.

The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust states that "The Germans made a point of publicizing the fact that Husseini had flown from Berlin to Sarajevo for the sole purpose of giving his blessing to the Muslim army and inspecting its arms and training exercises". According to Aleksa Djilas in The Nation That Wasn't that al-Husayni : "accepted, visited Bosnia, and convinced some important Muslim leaders that a Muslim SS division would be in the interest of Islam. In spite of these and other propaganda efforts, only half of the expected 20,000 to 25,000 Muslims volunteered." Ante Pavelic, the Croatian leader, objected to the recruitment of an exclusively Muslim division and was concerned about a Muslim bid for independence, considering Muslim areas to be a part of the Independent State of Croatia. As a compromise the division was called "Croatian" and included at least 10% Catholic Croats.

Al-Husayni insisted that "The most important task of this division must be to protect the homeland and families (of the Bosnian volunteers); the division must not be permitted to leave Bosnia", but this request was ignored by the Germans.

According to Chris Ailsby : "Himmler convinced himself that Balkan Muslims were neither Slavs nor Turks, but were really Aryans who had adopted Islam." (Source: "SS: Hell on the Western Front. The Waffen SS in Europe 1940-1945", 2003. p. 70). He believed the Muslims of Bosnia to be the same, racially, as the Croatians, and saw the Croatians as descended of Gothic and Persian stock. See also Iranian theory about descent of Croats

Recruitment for the division fell as the war progressed and when rumors spread that the division was going to fight the Soviets, the Muslims deserted in droves.

At the end of 1944, the separate Kama division was merged into the Handschar division.

Service

The Bosnian Waffen SS units were recruited to combat Communist Partisans, including residents of villages from where many of the recruits themselves originated. They operated in north-eastern Bosnia and partly in Srem.

Training

Sent to France, they were in training until November 1943, when they were sent to the old Prussian military camp at Neuhammer, Silesia. The unit returned to Bosnia in February 1944.

Villefranche-de-Rouergue Mutiny (September 1943)

On 17 September 1943, whilst the Handschar was garrisoned in Villefranche-de-Rouergue in France, a group of communist infiltrators staged a mutiny. Led by Ferid Džanic they captured most of the German personnel and executed five German officers. Apparently the mutineers believed that many of the enlisted men would join them and they could reach the western Allies. The revolt was put down with the assistance of the unit imam, Halim Malkoc and Dr. Schweiger. Approximately 20 of the rebels were killed summarily or after a trial. The Nazis were convinced that there were communists who had infiltrated the unit in order to disrupt it. Afterwards there was a purge of members of the unit who were deemed "unsuitable for service" or "politically unsuitable". More than 800 were removed from the unit and sent to Nazi Germany for "labor service". Of those, 265 who refused to work were sent to Neuengamme concentration camp where many of them died. When the city was liberated in 1944, they decided to pay tribute to the troops by naming one of its streets Avenue des Croates. According to the wartime Mayor, Louis Erignac, Villefranche-de-Rouergue was the first free city of occupied France.

Operations against Yugoslav Partisans

Handschar participated in the largest anti partisan sweep of World War 2 : Unternehmen Maibaum. The 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen was involved in this campaign. The Handschar Division also participated in Wegweiser, Save, Osterei, Maibaum, Maiglöckchen, Vollmond, Fliegenfänger, Heidrose and Hackfleisch operations from February to September 1944.

Composition

The Handschar division was commanded by German officers, and composed of native Germans from Croatia (Volksdeutsche), and Bosniaks, who are Muslims from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was the largest of the Muslim-oriented divisions and the SS Divisions with 21,065 men[citation needed], of whom 2,800 were Croat Christians and the remainder Bosnian Muslims.[9] The number of Christians was higher than directed by Himmler, who had allowed a 10% Christian component only after the recruitment of sufficient Muslims proved difficult. The division had a Muslim Imam for each battalion other than the all-German signal battalion. Initially there was a small Albanian component. In 1943 a number of Albanians from Kosovo and the Sandžak region were recruited and teamed up into Battalion I/2 (later I/28). This was perhaps the best trained and equiped Nazi Albanian military formation during the war but, ironicly, was transferred directly from combat in Bosnia to Kosovo via rail on 17 April 1944 following the creation of 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian). The head of Waffen SS recruitment, SS Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger reported to Himmler that the Albanians "...were quite sad about leaving."

Commanders

  • SS-Obergruppenführer Artur Phelps (in charge of raising the division, from 10 February 1943).
  • SS-Oberführer Herbert von Obwurzer (1 April 1943 - 9 August 1943).
  • SS-Gruppenführer Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig (9 August 1943 - 1 June 1944).
  • SS-Brigadeführer Desiderius Hampel (1 June 1944 May-8 May 1945) .

Order of battle

  • SS-Waffen Gebirgsjäger Regiment 27.
  • SS-Waffen Gebirgsjäger Regiment 28.
  • SS-Waffen Artillerie Regiment 13.
  • SS-Panzerjäger Battalion 13.
  • SS-Reconnaissance Battalion(mot) 13.
  • Waffen-Gebirgs Pioneer Battalion 13.
  • Waffen-Gebirgs Signals Battalion 13.
  • Waffen-Flak Battalion 13.
  • SS-Nachrichten-Battalion 13.
  • Kroatische SS-Radfahr-Battalion.
  • Kroatische SS-Motorcycle Battalion.
  • SS-Divisionsnachschubtruppen 13.
  • Versorgungs-Regiment Stab 13.
  • SS-Verwaltungs-Battalion 13.
  • SS-Medical Battalion 13.
  • SS-Krankenkraftwagenzug.
  • SS-Volunteer Gebirgs Vetinary Company 13.
  • SS-Feldpostamt 13.
  • SS-War Reported platoon 13.
  • SS-Feldgendarmerie-Troop 13.
  • SS-Reserve Battalion 13.
  • SS-Training Battalion 13 .

Assignments

The Bosniak Waffen SS units were assigned to combat Tito's partisans, including residents of villages from where many of the recruits themselves originated in Bosnia. The Division was trained and armed as a German mountain division. It conducted operations against from February 1944 onwards.

Operation Wegweiser

From 10 to 13 March 1944, the target of Operation Wegweiser was a part of the Syrmia region, held by partisans who were constant threat to Zagreb-Belgrade railway in particular forests around Bosut and villages around Sava river. This was the first operation for the newly formed 13th Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS Handschar.

Operation Sava

Begun on 15 March, 1944 with the goal of clearing partisans from Semberija region, in northeastern Bosnia, across the Sava River, and was the Handschar's first offensive action. The assault was led by Sauberzweig, who wrote to the Handzar troops: "We have now reached the Bosnian frontier and will (soon) begin the march into the homeland… The Führer has provided you with his best weapons. Not only do you (have these) in your hands, but above all you have an idea in your hearts---to liberate the homeland….Before long, each of you shall be standing in the place that you call home, as a soldier and a gentleman; standing firm as a defender of the idea of saving the culture of Europe---the idea of Adolf Hitler."

Sauberzweig also ordered that as the Handzar units crossed the Sava River, each commander was to read a prepared message, which emphasized that the "liberation" of "Muslim Albania" was a goal, and appealing directly to the Albanian troops in the Handschar Division. 27th Regiment for Handschar Division crossed Sava river at Sremska Raca on 15 March, 1944 advancing across the Pannonian Plain through Velino Selo to Brodac. Disparate sources say that Bijeljina was taken anywhere between 16 March and 17 March, around noon. Regiment 27 then consolidated its position in the city whilst Regiment 28 bore the brunt of the fighting as it advanced through Pukis, Celic and Koraj at the Majevica mountains. Sauberzweig later recorded that II/28 "at Celic stormed the Partisan defenses with (new) battalion commander Hans Hanke at the point" and that the enemy forces withdrew after running out of ammunition and suffering heavy casualties.

Operation Osterei

Operation Osterei began on 12 April, 1944 at 3 a.m. with the goal of clearing the Majevica mountain. 27th Regiment quickly captured Janja and through Donja Trnova reached an important objective, the Ugljevik mine. The II./27. reported 106 dead, 45 captured and 2 deserted enemy soldiers.

A Handschar reconnaissance detachment linked up with 1st Home Defense Mountain Brigade on western slopes of Majevica. 28th Regiment moved across Mackovac and after fighting around Priboj pushed 38th Division south.

Operation Rübezahl

The German assault on Sandzak (Operation Rubezahl) was commanded by Artur Phleps, who commanded Group Kommando Sandschak - consisting of the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen, the 1st Mountain Division, and the Handschar Division. The Handschar participated in the initial stages before transfer to the 2nd Corps, in order to protect the crossing of the Drina River (in eastern Bosnia), and the Skanderbeg Division.

Operation Maibaum

Operation Maibaum's ambitious goal was to destroy the entire Third Bosnian Corps of the Communist partisans. Certain units of the attacking force were put on the river Drina to prevent the enemy's retreat into Serbia and Zvornik. Main units were to surround and take Tuzla and Vlasenica. April 25, Zvornik fell with few casualties. On 27 April the SS Division went into Kladanj and next day took Vlasenica. The 28 April would see the most bitter fighting between 13th SS and the partisans in the village of Sekovici. The battle lasted 24 hours ending with a huge human losses on both sides, as well as many captured enemy weapons and ammunitions.

Operation Maiglöckchen

17th of May 1944, the Division went south towards Stolica. Where they met with the 17th Majevica brigade which in the battle for Stolica lost average casualties of 16 dead and 60 captured.

Uniform

The uniform worn by the division was regular SS field-jacket 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). Former SS personnel who were serving in the division were entitled to wear a Sig Rune badge that was attached to the breast pocket of the tunic. Unlike other SS divisions, no cufftitle existed for members of the Handschar. Headgear was either the fez which was permitted to be worn by all ranks, while German officers had the option to wear the mountain cap (Bergmütze). The fez was chosen for the Division by Heinrich Himmler due to it having been worn by the Bosnia-Herzegovinian infantry regiments of the Austro-Hungarian Army from 1894 to 1918, as well as by the Austro-Hungarian Albanian Legion from 1916-18. There were two versions of the fez made: a field gray model to be worn in combat and while on duty, and a red colored model that was worn during parades, marching exercises, and while off duty. Both the fez and mountain cap bore the death's head and eagle of the SS, the mountain cap was also adorned with an Edelweiss flower patch, worn on the left side of the cap.

Division Hymn

(Set to the melody of "Bombs on England")


Sa Pjesmom u Boj

Into Battle With a Song

Pjesma jeci, sva se zemlja trese, A song is in the air, the entire earth is shaking,
SS-vojska stupa roj u roj, Columns of SS men march in step,
SS-vojska sveti barjak vije. SS men wave the sacred banners.
SS-vojska sve za narod svoj. SS men do everything for the people.
Daj mi ruku ti, draga Ivana, Give me your hand, dear Ivana,
oj s Bogom sad, oj s Bogom sad, oj s Bogom sad Follow God now, Follow God now, Follow God now
idem branit, idem branit, idem branit mili, I shall defend, I shall defend, I shall defend my beloved
rodni kraj, rodni kraj. Homeland, Homeland
U boj smjelo vi SS-junaci SS men are heroes in battle
pokazite domovini put! Show our homeland the way
Podjite putem slavnih pradjedova Follow the road of our glorious grandfathers
dok ne padne tiran klet i ljut. Until tyranny falls, cursed and bitter
Ljubav nasa nek u srdcu plamti, Let love burn in our hearts
i sa pjesmom podjimo u boj. And with a song let's enter battle
Za slobodu mile domovine To liberate our beloved homeland
svaki rado datce zivot svoj. For which anyone would gladly sacrifice his life.


References

  • Lepre, George. Himmler's Bosnian Division: The Waffen-SS Handschar Division 1943-1945..
  • Atlgen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1997 ISBN 0-7643-0134-9.
  • Mousavizadeh Nader The Black Book of Bosnia Basic Books, New York, 1996.
  • Munoz, Antonio J., editor.The East Came West: Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist Volunteers in the German Armed Forces. (chapters 2 and 13) Bayside, NY: Axis Europa, 2001 ISBN 1-891227-39-4.
  • Svijet: Sarajevo weekly magazine (issues 2 November, 16 November and 23 November 1997) .


  Print: Nazis 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian).  


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