World War II: German Non-Ethnically German Forces--Yugoslavia Bosnia and Croatia

Figure 1.--This photograph shows soldiers of the 13th SS Handschar Division deployed in the Balkans, perhaps the most famous Muslim formation of the War. Note the lapel patch with a Swastica and Handschar. Most of the soldiers were Bosnian and Croatian Muslims with German officers. Its formation marked the expansion of the Waffen-SS into a multi-ethnic military force, a sign of how desperate the race obsessed Germans had become. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild148-1973-116-11.

The Grand Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini spent much of World War II in Berlin, encourging Hummler to kill more Jews and mking prpsgnda broadcadts for the NAZIs. As the War turned against the NAZIs, the Mufti offered to recruit Muslim units to volster the German cause. The Grand Mufti went to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia (April 1943). Bosnis was a multi-ethnic province of occupied Yugoslsavia. It had a substantial Muslim population which was threatened. The Mufti was greeted by cheering crowds who saw him as a oprotector. Journalists photographed on the balcony of the presidency building with Bosnian Muslim leaders. His objective was to organize the formation of the Muslim SS units. He met with prominent Bosnian Muslim leaders Uzeiraga Hadzihasanovic and hadzi-Mujaga Merhemic. He and spoke to the faithful in the Begova Djamija or Beg Mosque, asking that they volunteer to serve in the Waffen SS. Bosnian Muslim muftis and imams, such as Mustafa and Halim Malkoc followed up by demnding Muslims in front of mosques to volunteer for the Muslim Waffen SS Division being formed. Bosnian Muslims as a result formed two SS Divisions. The 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS Handzar (Handschar) was named after the Turkish hancher or dagger based on the Arabic khangar. The 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS Kama was nammed after the Turkish kama, a short sword. During the war, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, was photographed reviewed the Handzar Division for a German newsreel (1943). The Division was being formed and trained in Germanm Silesia, at the Neuhammer Waffen SS Training Camp. Some 20,000-25,000 Bosnian Muslims joined the Waffen SS and police. This was about 4 percent of their total population. This was one of the highest ratios of membership in German military formations of any nonn-Germamn AXIS population. Only the relatively small population of Bosnia prevented them from being a substantial; fore in the War.

Handschar Division: 13th Waffen SS Mountain Division -- 1st Croatian

Perhaps the nost notorious of the German Muslim divisions was the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian). It was a Waffen-SS mountain infantry division. It was committed to the anti-partisan campaign in German occupied Yugoslabia (Bosnia and Croatia) during March-December 1944. This ws a time in which German military force was collapsing and the Red Army was entering the Balkans and the Allies landing in Normandy. The Division helped cover the German withdraw from Greece and the Balkans (September-December 1944). Croatia was a Fascist state and German-ally which declared its independence from Yugoslavia and included much of what is now Bosnia (after the Italian surrender) as well as part of Serbia. Handschar was a traditional combat knife or sword carried by Ottoman policemen who occupied the Balkans for several centuries. While the Whermact has begun using Muslims soon after the Barbarossa invasion (June 1941), the Handschar Division was the first non-Germanic Waffen-SS division. Its formation marked the expansion of the Waffen-SS into a multi-ethnic military force, a sign of how desperate the race obsssed Germans had become. The SS recruited Bosnian Muslims (ethnic Bosniaks) and some Catholic Croats. German and Yugoslav Volksdeutsche (ethnic German) served as officers and non-commissioned officers. The men took an oath of allegiance to both Adolf Hitler and the Croatian leader Ante Pavelić.

Kama Division: 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division -- 2nd Croatian

The KJam Divisin was the sister division to the 13th SS Handschar Diviision. And like the Handschar Division was given the name of a traditionl nTurkish weapon--the kama which was a short Turkish sword or fighting knife. Himmler approved forming a 2nd Croatian Waffen SS (June 17, 1944). Recruitment began a few days earlier. German officers and NCO's were assiugned to organize the division. Croatian officers and men from the 13th SS were reassigned to Kama so that the Dividion woukld not be entirely inexperienced. This included the entire Reconnaissance Battalion. This was the dividion's core. New Croatian and Muslim recruits arrived for training. This was not a propitious time to form a new division. The Partisans were griowing instrength. The Allies had landed in Normandy and estanlished a beachhead. And the Soviets were about to launch Operation Bagration which would would destroy German Arny Group Center the most powerful German formation. As a result, Kamas never approached divisional strength. Even at peak strength it could muster only 3,793 men (September 1944). Anbd by that time the Germans had decided to evacuaye the Balkans. The asembly and training site was the Backa Region. This was an area of central Yugoslavia annexed by Hungary after the German invasion (1941). The PPartisans were not active there so it was a location safe for training. Kama was intended to join the anti-Partisan operations underway in Bosnia. The steadily deteriorating German military position required a change in plans. As a result the Division's was never fully formed or activated. The division had began to take shape and train (July-August 1944). But this was when the Red Army decimated Army Group Center and moved into Polsnd. Other Red Army operations advanced into the Balkans and Hungary, threatening to cut off German units in Greece and Yugoskvia. The SS-Führungshauptamt (SS Leadership Main Office, SS-FHA) did their best to get the Division operationa, but ghere just was not nough time. A provisional date of September 24th was set, but it came and went. The recruits still had only basic combat skills. SS-FHA was forced to admit that Kanma could not be activated. With the Red Army moving into Hungary, the Germans decided that plans to form the Divion had to be abandoned. The personnel were reassigned to other units (October 1944). By this time Poland was in Sioviet hands and the Red Army had enter eastern areas of the Reich. The Western Allies has liberted France and were also on the biorders of the Reich. Most of the division went to help form the 31th SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division. The Muslims of Kama were reassigned to the 13th SS. Some deserted, but most of the mnen reported s ordered. The assignef divisional number 23 was reasigned to the newly forming Dutch Panzer-Grenadier-Division.


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Created: 8:44 AM 8/17/2014
Last updated: 1:00 AM 11/2/2018