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|28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division
|Size||Division (though only ever brigade-strength)|
The Walloon Legion (French: Légion Wallonie)[a] was a collaborationist volunteer unit recruited from Belgium's French-speaking population in Wallonia and Brussels during the German occupation of World War II. The Walloon Legion served in the Wehrmacht, later in the Waffen-SS, on the Eastern Front on both front line and reserve duties.
Concept and formation
The unit had its origins in Corps Franc Wallonie (Walloon Free Corps), consisting of men from the Formations de Combat, the paramilitary arm of the Rexist Party. The German occupation authorities ordered the formation of Wallonische Legion for service in the east. Command of the Legion, which had absorbed the Corps Franc Wallonie, went to Captain-Commandant Georges Jacobs, a retired Belgian colonial officer.
Leon Degrelle, the leader of the Rexist Party, who later became known for his service with the legion, requested to be commissioned as an officer; he was denied for lack of military training, forcing him to sign up as a private. On 8 August 1941, the Legion, now 860 strong, was sent to Meseritz in East Prussia for basic training. In early October, the Legion was incorporated into the German Army as the 373rd (Wallonische) Infantry Battalion. On 15 October it was ordered to the front, to operate as a part of Army Group South currently advancing through Ukraine.
Part of the Heer
Upon its arrival in Ukraine, the Battalion was assigned to the rear area to participate in anti-partisan duties. The Battalion was then attached to the 17th Army. In May 1942, the Battalion was attached to the 97th Jäger Division.
During Fall Blau offensive into the Caucasus, the Walloons were positioned to guard the supply lines of the assault, seeing little action. In early August, the Walloons were called upon to clear a small village. During this battle, Degrelle was awarded the Iron Cross second class. In late August, the Battalion was posted to flank security.
In June 1943 the Battalion was transferred to SS command, along with 1,600 new recruits. The unit was named the SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien, commanded by now SS-Sturmbannführer Lucien Lippert, with SS-Hauptsturmführer Leon Degrelle as second-in-command. In October, the Wallonien was redesignated 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien, and was to be equipped as a fully motorized brigade with a complement of 250 vehicles. By November 1943, the Wallonien was sent to Ukraine to fight alongside the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking.
On 24 December 1943 the Soviet forces launched the Dnieper-Carpathian Offensive, an operation aimed at clearing the area west of the Dnieper. The Wallonien and the Wiking, along with eleven other German divisions of 1st Panzer Army and 8th Army were positioned in a salient based on the western bank of the river and were the first target for the Soviet operations. The Soviet forces soon encircled the forces of XLII and XI Army Corps near Korsun.
Korsun and Narva
During the battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, the Wallonien was given the task of defending against Soviet attacks on the eastern side of the pocket. While General Wilhelm Stemmermann, the overall commander for the trapped forces, moved them to the west of the pocket in readiness for a breakout attempt, Wallonien and Wiking were ordered to act as a rearguard. After Lippert was killed, Degrelle took command of the Brigade and the Wallonien began its withdrawal under heavy fire. Of the brigade's 2,000 men, only 632 survived. For his actions, Degrelle was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer.
The remains of the Wallonien was sent back to Wildflecken to be reformed. In June 1944, a 440-man battalion of the Wallonien was sent to Estonia to assist in the defence of the Tannenberg Line. After Operation Bagration began, Army Group North began to fall back into the Kurland Pocket. The battalion left through the port of Tallinn (Reval) on the Baltic Sea. The shattered remnants of the Battalion were sent back to join the rest of the Brigade, which was located at Breslau.
Together with the Langemarck, the Wallonien Sturmbrigade was upgraded to become the 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien in October 1944. Its strength remained that of a reinforced brigade, around 8,000 men. Many lacked military training; about half were ready for action. Personnel from the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism and the Blue Division were added to the division. These men were formed into a Kampfgruppe and sent to the region near Stargard and Stettin in Pomerania, joining the XXIX Panzer Corps, a part of Felix Steiner's XI SS Panzer Army.
The Soviet counter-offensive, launched on 1 March, pushed the Wallonien before it, and over the next few weeks it retreated throughout Central Pomerania until it reached the Oder near Stettin. The Wallonien, fighting alongside the Langemarck, was forced back across the river in early April, 1945. The Walloons held a council of war and released those volunteers who no longer wished to continue to fight. 23 officers and 625 men chose to remain, and they assembled in one last battalion, equipped with machine guns, panzerfausts, mortars, and automatic rifles. The Langemarck, also consolidated their remaining troops into two heavily armed battalions and an artillery section and was merged with the Wallonien.
During the final Soviet offensive of 20 April 1945, the Belgians were soon swept aside by the advancing Soviet forces. Degrelle left his men, for fear of execution, and drove into Denmark. The unit retreated to Lübeck, where it surrendered to the British. Degrelle fled to Norway and then to Spain, where he remained in exile. Belgium convicted him of treason in absentia and sentenced him to death; Degrelle never came back to his country and died of old age in 1994.
- Capt.Cdt Georges Jacobs (August 1941 – January 1942)
- Hauptmann B.E.M. Pierre Pauly (January 1942 – March 1942)
- Hauptmann George Tchekhoff (March 1942 – April 1942)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Lucien Lippert (April 1942 – 13 February 1944)
- SS-Sturmbannführer Leon Degrelle as political leader of the unit.
- SS-Oberführer Karl Burk (21 June 1944 – 18 September 1944)
- SS-Standartenführer Leon Degrelle (18 September 1944 – 8 May 1945)
Knight's Cross recipients
- In its later manifestations, the formation would be termed the 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien and later the 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien
- Conway, Martin (1993). Collaboration in Belgium: Léon Degrelle and the Rexist movement, 1940-1944. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300055009.
- Littlejohn, David (1972). The Patriotic Traitors: A History of Collaboration in German-occupied Europe, 1940-45. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-42725-X.
- Estes, Kenneth (2013). A European Anabasis: Western European Volunteers in the German Army and SS, 1940-45. Solihull: Helion. ISBN 978-1909384521.
- Plisnier, Flore (2011). Ils ont pris les armes pour Hitler: la collaboration armée en Belgique francophone. Brussels: Renaissance du Livre. ISBN 9782507003616.