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Nazi Waffen Division SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian).

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21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg
21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian)
Active Raised March 1944, Disbanded Nov. 1944
Country Flag Albania Albania Albania
Allegiance Flag of Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Flag Schutzstaffel Waffen-SS
Type Mountain
Size about 6,000 - 6,500
Nickname Skanderbeg

The 21st SS Division Skanderbeg was a Waffen SS Mountain division set up by Heinrich Himmler in March 1944, officially under the title of the 21. Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS Skanderbeg (Albanische Nr. 1). It was named after George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, the national hero of Albanians who resisted Ottoman invasion for 25 years.

Formation of the 21st SS Division Skanderbeg

The 21st SS Division Skanderbeg was created following the Nazi invasion of Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941. Throughout 1942 and 1943 both the Wehrmacht and SS sought to utilise local manpower to maintain law and order, and fight off Yugoslav Partisan and communist Albanian Resistance activity in the region. For their part Albanian leaders hoped to form an "army, which will be able to safeguard the borders of Kosovo and Metohija and liberate the surrounding regions"

In 1943 a number of Albanians from Kosovo and the Sandžak region were recruited into the Waffen-SS Handschar Division. They were teamed up into Battalion I/2 (later I/28) and received first rate training in Neuhammer, Germany. This was perhaps the best trained and equipped Nazi Albanian military formation during the war but, ironically, was transferred directly from combat in Bosnia to Kosovo via rail on 17 April 1944 following the creation of Skanderbeg. The head of Waffen SS recruitment, SS Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger reported to Himmler that the Albanians "...were quite sad about leaving."

In February 1944 the decision was taken, following the modest success of the Handschar Division in Bosnia, to raise a parallel unit inside Albania. According to Bernd Fischer, the Division included 1500 Pows, "natives of Kosovo who had served in the Yugoslav army, plus remnants of the failed Albanian army and gendarmerie, volunteers from both old and new Albania." Xhafer Deva, an Albanian from Kosovo and periodically the Interior Minister under the Nazi puppet regime, helped with recruitment. The Division was called SS Skënderbeu in Albanian.

Ultimately the names of 11,398 possible recruits were submitted to Berlin. Of these, 9,275 were deemed suitable for drafting, and about 6,000 were actually inducted into the Waffen SS. The 21st Waffen SS Mountain Division was the only fully ethnic Albanian division to be recruited by the Germans during the Second World War. It was established originally to combat partisan activity with the promise that the territories with a majority Albanian population were to become an independent and unified state to include Albania, Kosovo and Western Macedonia, or what is sometimes called Greater Albania (or Ethnic Albania).doubtful, add reference

The Division was placed under the command of SS-Standartenführer August Schmidthuber, later promoted to SS-Oberführer. It fought against the Communist partisan forces of Enver Hoxha who were on the increase and consolidating their actions, both in Albania and Yugoslavia as the Second World War was drawing to an end. The Division was very poorly led with a serious dearth of instructors, Albanian officers or NCOs.

The Division was operational for only a few months (February 1944 - November 1944), with a strength of about 6,000 - 6,500 rather than the normal strength of a division (10,000-20,0000). Many recruits deserted with their new weapons and boots, and by October 1944 their number had dwindled to around 3500. It appears they often refused to fight or to take orders, and it never became a significant force.

"The Germans were forced to disarm battalions at Pec and Prizren, arresting the Albanian officers and sending them to the camp at Prishtina."

SS-Brigadefuhrer August Schmidthuber, one of the commanders of the 21st SS Mountain Division "Skanderbeg", was captured in 1945 and turned over to Yugoslav authorities. He was put on trial in February 1947 by a Yugoslav military tribunal at Belgrade, on charges of participating in massacres, deportations and atrocities against civilians. The tribunal sentenced him to death by hanging. He was executed on 27 February 1947


Albania during World War Two.
Albania during World War Two.

The division arm patch consisted of a white double-headed eagle on a black background. The recruits wore the white traditional Albanian highlander cap (pileus), and later the SS issued grey headgear in the same style, with the Totenkopf sewn on the front.


Led by German officers, in May 1944, some troops from the division were stationed in the Gjakova area to guard the mines there. In the middle of the month, under German direction, they participated in rounding up 281 Jews who were subsequently deported north to certain death.[7]. Lasting just a few months, this Waffen-SS division was "militarily useless" and declared a "fiasco". Insubordination, poor discipline, looting and violence against unarmed civilians (especially Serbs but also Albanians deemed Communistic) were constant problems. Members of the division were used, either as attachments to regular Wehrmacht units conducting sweeps for partisans, or to terrorize the local non-Albanian population in the areas of Greater Albania which are not part of Albania. The Division participated in the Wehrmacht Operation "Fuchsjagd", known to the Communists as the "Battle of Dibra", over 18 to 27 August 1944 (during the first week of Ramadan). The Division fought alongside Albanian government soldiers, tribal bands from the Roman Catholic Mirdita clan, a Albanian nationalist ceta from Dibra itself and approximately 800 men from Colonel Abaz Kupi's Zogist-Legality (Royalist) faction. The town of Dibra was not cuptured and the campaign against Communist partisans in central Albania was a failure, only leading to further desertions. The only other action partaken was assisting the orderly Wehrmacht withdrawal over October to November 1944. Over 700 men of this SS Division, along with approximately 5000 local Kosovo-Albanians recruited by Xhafer Deva, aided the Germans evacuating through Kosovo and successfully resisted incursions by both Communist partisans and Bulgarian incursions.

Order of battle

  • Waffen Gebirgsjäger Regiment of SS 50.
  • Waffen Gebirgsjäger Regiment of SS 51.
  • Waffen Gebirgs Artillery Regiment 21.
  • SS Reconnaissance Battalion 21.
  • SS Panzerjäger Battalion 21.
  • SS Gebirgs Pionier Battalion 21.
  • SS Versorgungs Battalion 21.
  • SS Signals Battalion 21.
  • SS Medical Battalion 21 .

Further reading

  • List of German divisions in WWII.
  • Waffen-SS.
  • Hermann Neubacher, Sonderauftrag Sudost (1953).
  • Haroey Samer, Rescue In Albania: One Hundred Percent Of Jews In Albania Rescued From Holocaust, Brunswick Press, California (1997). Available at: http://www.aacl.com/index11.html.
  • Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History, New York University Press; New Update edition (November 2000)..
  • Chris Bishop, Hitler's Foreign SS Divisions (2005).
  • Bernd Jürgen Fischer, Albania at War, 1939-1945, (Purdue University Press, West Lafayette 1999), ISBN 1-55753-141-2..
  • George Lepre, Himmler's Bosnian Division: The Waffen-SS Handschar Division 1943-1945, (Atlgen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1997) ISBN 0-7643-0134-9, page. 165. .

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