369th (Croatian) Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)

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369th (Croatian) Infantry Division
369. (Kroatische) Infanterie-Division
369. (hrvatska) pješačka divizija
Armband of Croatian Legion.svg
Active 1943–1945
Country  Nazi Germany
Branch German Army (Wehrmacht)
Type Infantry
Size Division
Nickname Devil's Division
Motto Što Bog da i sreća junačka
Engagements Operation Weiss
Operations Kugelblitz, Schneesturm and Herbstgewitter
Operation Rösselsprung
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Fritz Neidholdt

The 369th (Croatian) Infantry Division (German: 369. (Kroatische) Infanterie-Division, Croatian: 369. (hrvatska) pješačka divizija) was a so-called 'legionnaire' division of the Wehrmacht and was formed with about 8,500 soldiers recruited from the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) commanded by about 3,500 German officers, non-commissioned officers and specialists.

History[edit]

Formation and first battles[edit]

It was formed in September 1942 and began assembling and training at Stockerau and Dollersheim in Austria. The division attempted to cultivate the heritage of the 42. Home Guard Infantry Division, which had been known as the Devil's Division.

Although originally intended for use on the Russian Front, the division did not deploy there and was returned to the NDH in January 1943 due to the need to combat the Partisans in the territory of the NDH.[1] It was also known as the Devil's Division (German: Teufels Division, Croatian: Vražja Divizija).[2]

Anti-Partisan Operations[edit]

As soon as the division returned to the NDH, desertions from the division began to occur. On the day it arrived back from training in Austria, an average of 25 men were absent without leave from each company of the division. There were a range of factors encouraging desertion, including reverses suffered by the Germans in North Africa and at Stalingrad and elsewhere on the Russian Front, Partisan propaganda and infiltration, and the work of the Croatian Peasant Party.[3]

1943[edit]

The division participated in the first and in the second phase of Operation Weiss in late February and early March 1943.[4] Division was attacked during disembarkment in Banija, even before it was fully developed for fight. Parts of 7th Banija Division attacked its reconnaissance battalion near Kostajnica on 28 December 1942. On 3 January Partisans destroyed two trains near Blinjski Kut, one of which was carrying elements of 369th Division. On 15 January reinforced anti-tank battalion was engaged in fierce combat at Blinja. Even before Operation Weiss started on 20 January, the Division already had suffered 51 dead, 99 wounded and 8 missing.[5]

In Operation Weiss I 369th Division, reinforced with elements of the 187th Reserve Division and with 3rd Mountain Brigade of the NDH, had a task to advance from Petrinja area towards the road Slunj - Bihać, to "comb" the terrain, and to destroy partisan groups and deport the population. First it had to overcome the stiff resistance of the 7th Banija Division. Division reached Bosanska Krupa on 1 February, when 7th SS division had already taken Bihać, and partisan 7th Banija Division had to redeploy its main forces to block the advancement of the SS troops. 369th Division then continued with the operation, proceeded with circling Grmeč in close connection with 7th SS and 717th Division. After the encirclement of Grmeč was completed, 369. Division had a task to "comb" northern slopes of the mountain. After partisans and the mass of the population succeeded to break out of the encirclement, Weiss I was finished with 15 February. In the operation, 369th Division lost 110 dead, 188 wounded, and 54 missing.[6]

Operation Weiss II started on 25 February, and 369th Division with 7th SS Division constituted the southern attack group. Division advanced through Mrkonjić Grad and Šipovo, and with its reconnaissance battalion captured Livno on 5 March.

The division also participated in Operation Schwartz. During the preparatory actions for taking starting positions, the division on 6 May pushed partisans back and unblocked Italian battalion Aosta and Četniks, who were under partisan siege in Foča. During the final stage of the operation, the division was holding the part of the encirclement on the northern slopes of Zelengora, but the 1st Proletarian Brigade on 10 June successfully broke out through the division's positions, followed by other partisan units. Total reported losses of the divisions were 92 dead, 263 wounded, and 233 missing.[7]

In september 1943, total strength of the division was 12.883 men, 3.701 of which were Germans.[8]

Desertions worsened particularly after the capitulation of Italy in September 1943. For example, during October 1943, 489 men deserted from the division.[3]

In October 1943, the Germans confirmed that the division would not be utilised on either the Western Front or the Russian Front, and would continue to serve in the NDH.[9]

For several months from early December 1943, elements of the division took part in series of operations by the V SS Mountain Corps against the Partisans in eastern Bosnia known in the former Yugoslavia as the Sixth Enemy Offensive. However, the offensive failed to decisively engage the Partisans.[10]

1944[edit]

The reconnaissance battalion of the division was involved in Operation Rösselsprung.[11]

Final months[edit]

The division saw action against the Partisans until the end of the war.[1] However, by April 1945 a large part of the Croatian manpower of the division had been lost or released, with the Croatian manpower of the division only numbering between 2,000 and 3,000 soldiers.[12][13] During the last few weeks of the war, the division fought in north-west Bosnia and Slavonia and withdrew towards Austria. After moving through northern Croatia, it turned west into the area of Celje in northern Slovenia. On 11 May 1945 the division, less one company, was stopped and disarmed by Partisan forces. The Germans were allowed to proceed into Austria, but the remaining Croatian soldiers were taken prisoner. The German troops surrendered to the British and were not returned to Yugoslavia.[2]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Tomasevich (2001), pp. 267–268
  2. ^ a b Tomasevich (2001), p. 769
  3. ^ a b Tomasevich (2001), p. 428
  4. ^ Tomasevich (1975), p. 236
  5. ^ KTB Nr. 1. 369. (kroat) Inf. Div., p. 93, Division War Journal No. 1, National Archive Washington, T315, roll 2154, frame 191
  6. ^ Attachment to the Report of the Divisional Command on 12 March 1943, National Archive Washington, T315, roll 2154, frame 658
  7. ^ Report of the Commander of the German Troops in Croatia, on 20 June 1943, National Archive Washington, T314, roll 560, frame 750
  8. ^ 2nd Panzer Army Headquarters, Personnel Department Report to Operational Officer, on 19 September 1943, National Archive Washington, T313, roll 482, frame 156
  9. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 304
  10. ^ Tomasevich (1975), p. 398
  11. ^ Eyre (2006), pp. 374–375
  12. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 463
  13. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 771

References[edit]

Books[edit]

Journals[edit]