369th (Croatian) Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)

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369th (Croatian) Infantry Division
369. (Kroatische) Infanterie-Division
369. (hrvatska) pješačka divizija
Coat of arms of Croatia (white chequy).svg
Active 1943–1945
Country  Nazi Germany
Branch German Army (Wehrmacht)
Type Infantry
Size Division
Nickname(s) Devil's Division
Motto Što Bog da i sreća junačka
Engagements Operation Weiss
Operations Kugelblitz, Schneesturm and Herbstgewitter
Operation Rösselsprung
Mostar Operation
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] The division had low combat value in anti-partisan fighting, but distinguished itself with indiscriminate brutality.[3]

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.[4]

1943[edit]

The division participated in the first and in the second phase of Operation Weiss in late February and early March 1943.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]

After the Operation Schwarz, strong Partisan battle group penetrated into eastern Bosnia, destroying Ustasha garrisons Vlasenica, Srebrenica, Olovo, Kladanj and Zvornik on its way. 7th SS and 369th Division were tasked with fighting this forces. 369th Division had a number of clashes with the Partisans, especially in the area of Zvornik in early July.

In September 1943, total strength of the division was 12.883 men, 3.701 of which were Germans.[9]

During September, after the capitulation of Italy, the Partisans gained the momentum. Most of German reinforcements were engaged in operations aimed to seize positions on the Adriatic coast. 7th SS Division was used for the attack on Split, by which the zone of responsibility of the 369th Division was expanded. On 10 September Partisans took Gacko, on 11 September Vlasenica, on 24 September Gračanica, on 29 September Zvornik, and in the neighbouring zones Partisans took Modriča, Šamac, Bijeljina, and other towns. On 29 September Partisans attacked Tuzla, an important garrison held by 369th Division and Home Guard units. After four days of street fighting, Tuzla fell to Partisans, and the commander of the 369th Artillery Regiment lieutenant colonel Kuchtner saved himself by escaping to the Chetnik territory.[10] Battle Group Fischer (main force of the 369th Infantry Regiment reinforced with artillery, 187th Reserve Division elements, and Home Guard formations) defended Doboj and sought to recapture Tuzla, in cooperation with the parts of the LXIX Corps from Brčko. In early October 3 Battalion of the 370th Regiment in Višegrad fell under attack of the strong Chetnik battle group from Serbia. After Višegrad, the Chetniks took Rogatica on 13 October, but after 20 October their short-lived anti-German activity ceased. The Division recaptured Tuzla from Partisans on 11 November.

Desertions worsened particularly after the capitulation of Italy in September 1943. For example, during October 1943, 489 men deserted from the division.[4]

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.[11]

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.[12]

1944[edit]

In early March 1944 the Division replaced the 7th SS Division in Herzegovina, with Division headquarters seated in Mostar. Towns and communications in eastern Herzegovina were defended together with local Chetnik units. While taking new positions, 1st Battalion of the 369th Regiment was on 6 March ambushed by Partisans at Zavala near Trebinje, with loses of 58 dead.[13]

Over the following months the Division, together with the NDH forces and the Chetniks, fought the Partisans without decisive success. On 26 and 28 March Anti-Tank Battalion with artillery elements, the NDH police unit, and Chetnik detachment, carried out an attack from Stolac towards Ljubinje.[14] On 5 April an attack with similar forces was carried out towards Žegulja,[15] and 13 May from Stolac to Hrgud.[16]

The reconnaissance battalion of the division was involved in Operation Rösselsprung.[17]

From 13 to 31 July main forces of the Division, reinforced with 3rd Battalion of the 4th Regiment Brandenburg, and with six Chetnik brigades and a battalion of the 9th Home Guard Brigade under the Division command, have carried out operation Sonnenstich against the Partisan 29th Herzegovina Division in eastern Herzegovina. The operation was completed without significant results.[18][19] During the operation, a mutiny occurred in 2nd Battalion of the 370th Grenadier Regiment. The battalion was withdrawn from the combat and disarmed, with a number of soldiers court-marshaled and shot.[20]

On 21 September Trebinje garrison, consisting of the reinforced 1st Battalion of the 369th Grenadier Regiment, Italian Fascist Legion San Marco, and parts of the 9th Home Guard Brigade, came under an attack of the Lukačević's Chetnik group. At that time, Lukačević decided to start hostilities with the Germans, and assembled a formation of some 4.000 men. Since fortifications of outer defence of Trebinje were held by mixed German and Četnik crews, the Četniks used one routine crew change to disarm and capture German personnel.[21] With outer positions secured, Lukačević issued an ultimatum, demanding garrison surrender. After the Četnik assault on Trebinje that followed had failed, the Četnik held Trebinje under the siege until 25 September. On that day, a reinforced battalion of the 118th Jäger Division attacked from Dubrovnik, and pushed Četniks away from Trebinje.[22]

After Četniks left, outer defence zone of Trebinje remained unoccupied. Partisans took advantage of that to infiltrate into the void, and the position of the garrison became critical. The Partisan attack begun on 4 October, and only small groups from Trebinje garrison managed to evade death or capture. 18 men strong group of sergeant Teimer reached Dubrovnik, and sergeant Müller's group of twelve crossed over the mountains and reached Mostar.[23] Some 350 soldiers from 369th Division, and around 80 soldiers of 9th Home Guard Brigade were killed or captured.[24]

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.[25][26] 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. ^ Shepherd 2009, pp. 87-89.
  4. ^ a b Tomasevich (2001), p. 428
  5. ^ Tomasevich (1975), p. 236
  6. ^ KTB Nr. 1. 369. (kroat) Inf. Div., p. 93, Division War Journal No. 1, National Archive Washington, T315, roll 2154, frame 191
  7. ^ Attachment to the Report of the Divisional Command on 12 March 1943, National Archive Washington, T315, roll 2154, frame 658
  8. ^ Report of the Commander of the German Troops in Croatia, on 20 June 1943, National Archive Washington, T314, roll 560, frame 750
  9. ^ 2nd Panzer Army Headquarters, Personnel Department Report to Operational Officer, on 19 September 1943, National Archive Washington, T313, roll 482, frame 156
  10. ^ Schraml 1962, p. 69.
  11. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 304
  12. ^ Tomasevich (1975), p. 398
  13. ^ Schraml 1962, p. 81.
  14. ^ Schraml 1962, pp. 82-83.
  15. ^ Schraml 1962, p. 83.
  16. ^ Schraml 1962, p. 85.
  17. ^ Eyre (2006), pp. 374–375
  18. ^ Schraml 1962, pp. 88-92.
  19. ^ Komnenović 1979, pp. 270-293.
  20. ^ Komnenović 1979, p. 293.
  21. ^ Schraml 1962, pp. 94-95.
  22. ^ Komnenović 1979, p. 344.
  23. ^ Schraml 1962, p. 99.
  24. ^ Komnenović 1979, p. 350.
  25. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 463
  26. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 771

References[edit]

Books[edit]

Journals[edit]