Waffen-Gebirgsjaeger Divisionen der SS 1940-45
Gebirgsjaeger, Mountain troops, were supremely fit light infantry trained for mountain warfare supported by light calibre artillery and howitzers carried disassembled by pack mules, carrying heavy rucksacks while scaling mountains. From the high mountains of Norway to the Caucasus they fought with an élan and determination second to none.
Why write about these long gone Divisions? The savage war in Yugoslavia is not documented because of the savage, bitter nature of the protracted civil war and internecine conflict. The Serbs decimated the Croats, the Croats devastated the Serbs, the Moslems were in the middle. All the gory elements of taking no prisoners were exercised. This was total war with German Army ethnic cleansing fully implemented. Germany recruited local personnel to combat partisans which proved highly effective. The Croat Tito was favoured over Mihailovic's Chetniks who were abandoned by the British. Tito held Yugoslavia together defying Stalin and Russia until his death in 1980, within 11 years in 1991-95, the savage Yugoslav wars erupted. The savage ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Milosovic, Karadic and Mladic was the hallmark of Ante Pavelic the WW2 Croat Ustachi leader who escaped justice through a Catholic organisation that brought Pavelic and Colonel Skorzeny through Ireland. We must know history or we are condemned to repeat it.
Germany had won WW2 by June 1940, dominating Europe and European Russia until May 1945, thereby attracting one million volunteers from western democracies into the Waffen SS to the distress of their political leaders. This was the first European Army. These volunteers fought steadfastly until war's end with the SS-Wiking Division replete with Scandinavian volunteers, fighting fiercely during the battle of Berlin and inflicting 135,000 casualties on the Red Army
Waffen SS Units
First created as Kampfgruppe 'Nord' early 1941, this unit fought on the far north sector of the Eastern Front and reached almost into Murmansk. The Arctic Front, bare tundra did not suit mountain troops, supply problems with one third of troops ferrying ammunition and food reduced chances of a successful campaign. SS-Brigadefuehrer Kleinheisterkamp was in command 1942-3 when the unit defended a front of 20km when there were no large battles. Based at Keistinki the Soviets did not want to fight. Most of the time, road building even constructing a railway line occupied the troops. 6.SS-Gebirgs-Division 'Nord' was absorbed into XVIII Gebirgskorp in September 1944 in order to retreat through Lapland to Norway and exit WW2. A Soviet attack, March 1944, ended in 100 Red Army fatalities, a futile attack against well defended bunkers. An armistice between Finland and the Soviets, August 1944, disturbed the political situation with Germany forced to retreat back into Norway. A battle between German and Finnish near Rovaniemi, northern Finland, ended with the destruction of the city with much regret at having to fight former brothers in arms.
By April 1941, Germany had to prevent British forces in Greece threatening Italian troops in Albania and North Africa
so, operation Marita, the invasion of of Yugoslavia from Italy, Albania, Rumania and Bulgaria commenced April 6 1941. the Yugoslav High Command capitulated within 11 days. The ensuing conflict with Axis forces operating in Yugoslavia was complicated by the civil war between Tito's communists and Mihailovic's Chetniks.
The 'Prinz Eugen' SS Mountain Division, raised from 19,000 ethnic Germans from Banat, Rumania and Croatia along with the Bosnian-Muslim Mountain Division Kama, the Albanian Skanderberg Mountain Division served with the anti-Soviet Russian 1st Cossack Division to counter Tito's Partisans. A plethora of anti-Communist legions including the Croatian Legion, the Croatian Mountain Division, the pro-Chetnik Royalist Corps, Bulgarian and Slovenian forces, Italian forces served as garrison troops, all combined in 13 major military operations to surround and annihilate elements of the 1st Partisan Division. Operations Weiss, Schwarz, Kugelblitz, Herbesgewitter, Schneesturm, Rosselsprung, Roselein, Feuerwehr, Reubezahl and Treubruch drove Tito from his home territory inflicting catastrophic casualties on Tito's Partisan Brigades until November 1944 when the Red Army forced the retreat of German Army Group E from the Balkans.
7.SS-Freiwlligen-Gebirgs-Division 'Prinz Eugen';
This Volksdeutsche formation was the most feared in the battles against the Yugoslav Partisans in many, well organised campaigns, regularly surrounding the partisans and annihilating them. This unit was given the title Prinz Eugen after Prince Eugene of Savoy, an outstanding military leader of the Habsburg Empire who liberated the Banat and Belgrade from the Ottoman Empire in the Austro-Turkish War of 1716-1718. Their commander, SS-Gruppenfuehrer Artur Phelps, a former general in the Romanian Army, led the division in major operations in the difficult karst terrain, October 1942 fighting in Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzogovina also disarming Italian units following Italy's surrender. Under SS-Brigadefuehrer Karl von Oberkamp, spring 1944 during an attack on Tito's HQ, the 1st Partisan Division lost 13,000 men and was much weakened. In January 1945 Tito's partisans were again attacked and suffered heavy casualties proving yet again that regular army troops were superior against irregular partisan forces. The XXXIV Korps, Heeresgruppe F retreated northwards and by May 1945 most members of this division were forced to surrender to Tito's forces, those captured
did not survive the war. Milovan Djilas wrote in his memoirs the escape of partisans across the Neretva river pursued closely by young, fit Prinz Eugen troops.
SS Brigfuehrer Carl Reichsritter von Oberkamp was in command of the Prinz Eugen Mountain Division and other units tasked with containing the 16th, 17th and 36th Proletarian Brigades of Marshal Tito at his Drvar HQ in the Dinaric Alps north of Split and north west of Sarajevo between April 26 and May 5 1944. Operation Rosselsprung (Knight's Move) was well planned and executed with 7. SS- Freiwilligen Gebirgs Division moving in from north and west through rough mountainous terrain with 500 SS-Fallschirmjaeger Battalion landing by Hortha glider and parachute on Tito's HQ. The Proletarian Brigades though surprised fought back and drove off the attackers and were able to rescue Tito who was evacuated by train to a nearby town. Milovan Djilas, whom this writer met, again described this battle as continuing with the crossing of the Neretva River to avoid being annihilated by German troops
13.Waffen-Gebirgs-Division Der SS 'Handschar' (Kroatische Nr.1);
This division, formed early 1943, from Bosnian Moslem volunteers was constituted in western France due to pro-German Croat Ustachi opposition. Himmler wanted to retain the good will of the Bosnian Moslems some of whom served in the Hapsburg Army. Anti-partisan duties in northern Bosnia were poorly performed. A munity with attendant executions resulted in the division being less than reliable. When the Red Army was encountered the Moslem personnel were disbanded and the German cadre fought as battle groups under SS-Brigadefuehrer Hampel until Platensse Hungary the last German offensive of WW2.
21. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS Skanderberg(Albanische)
Raised in 1944 from Albanian Moslem volunteers it suffered fro poor quality volunteers, fighting partisans was less than impressive. 3,000 Kriegsmarine sailors wee drafted in who took part in the retreat through the Balkans, under SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer Graaf the German cadre were posted to the Prinz Eugen Division.
23.Waffen-Gebirgs-Divisiion der SS Kama ((Kroatische)
Raised from Reichsdeutsche from Hungary, 9,000 Moslem volunteers came forward and then demobilised on encountering the Red Army. Most personnel under SS-Standartenfuehrer Raithel went to 31.SS-Freiwilligen-Gernadier-Divisionor to Handschar, the Division was struck off the order of battle.
24. Waffen-Gebirgs (Karstjager) Division Der SS.
This unit originated in 1942 when Himmler ordered a mountain division raised in the Karst (limestone) border area of Italy and Yugoslavia. Karstjager was used in anti-partisan operations against Communist Italian partisans. In July 1944 the battalion expanded to a division with Reichsdeutsche from the South Tyrol and local Italian volunteers. Finally a Kampfgruppe with the Prinz Eugen and SS-Junkerschule from Klagenfurt under SS Brigadefuehrer Harmel covered the withdrawal of Army Group E and finally surrendered to the British May 9 1945.