7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen
|7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division|
Insignia of 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen (Odal rune)
|Motto(s)||Vorwärts, Prinz Eugen!|
(Forwards, Prinz Eugen!)
|Engagements||World War II|
Karl von Oberkamp
The 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen" (7. SS-Freiwilligen Gebirgs-Division "Prinz Eugen"), initially named the SS-Volunteer Division Prinz Eugen (SS-Freiwilligen-Division "Prinz Eugen"), was a German mountain infantry division of the Waffen-SS during World War II. It served only in occupied Yugoslavia. Formed in 1941 from both Germans and Volksdeutsche (ethnic German) volunteers and conscripts from northern Serbia Banat, Independent State of Croatia, Hungary and Romania, the division fought a bloody counter-insurgency campaign against communist-led Yugoslav Partisan resistance forces in the German-occupied territories of Serbia and Montenegro, as well as elsewhere in Yugoslavia.
After the invasion, occupation and dismantling of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by the Axis powers on 6 April 1941, the Wehrmacht placed Serbia proper, the northern part of Kosovo (around Kosovska Mitrovica) and the Banat under a military government. The division was formed in late 1941 following the invasion initially from German-speaking Danube Swabian Selbstschutz in the Banat autonomous area within the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia. The 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 1716–18. A key figure in the organisation of the division was the Higher SS and Police Leader in Serbia, SS-Obergruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei (Police General) August Meyszner.
After the initial rush of Volksdeutsche to join, voluntary enlistments tapered off, and the new formation did not reach division size. Therefore, in August 1941, the SS discarded the voluntary approach, and after a favorable judgement from the SS court in Belgrade, imposed a mandatory military obligation on all Volksdeutsche in Banat, the first of its kind for non-Reichsdeutsche. One of the reasons for the forced conscription of ethnic Germans was the disappointingly low number of volunteers for the division after the initial recruitments (no more than 5,000). While the division remained "volunteer" in name, few of the conscripted ethnic Germans actively sought entry into the unit. SS Reichsführer Himmler had announced that the wishes of the Volksdeutsche were irrelevant, while in connection with the Balkan Germans the SS head of recruitment Gottlob Berger remarked: "kein Mensch [kümmert] [sich ja] darum, was wir unten mit unseren Volksdeutschen tun" ("no person cares what we do with our ethnic Germans in the South"). Ethnic Germans in the Balkans were therefore powerless and could not oppose conscription into the SS. The unwillingness of ethnic Germans to serve in the unit is illustrated by a mutiny of 173 Croatian Germans of the division in 1943 in Bosnia when apparently the men of mixed ancestry did not speak German and were mistreated by their superiors as a result. Many of these men preferred service in the Croatian Home Guard for a variety of reasons; Himmler intervened personally in the problem.
In 1942, the Pančevo-based unit was declared a Mountain Division. Its troops were issued with a significant amount of non-standard German weapons and used captured equipment such as Czechoslovak machine guns like the ZB-53 and French light tanks. They were provided with excellent German-made mountain artillery such as the 10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 howitzer and 7.5 cm Gebirgsgeschütz 36 mountain gun. When the division was formed, it was assigned to the Balkans as an anti-partisan mountain division.
In October 1942, the division led a German-Bulgarian anti-guerrilla offensive by the name of Operation Kopaonik against the Chetniks in the Kopaonik, Goč and Jastrebac mountains in Serbia. The operation was aimed at the destruction of the Rasina Corps of the Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland, commanded by Major Dragutin Keserović, whose headquarters was located in the village of Kriva Reka. In early October 1942, the division was deployed in southwestern Serbia, in Kraljevo, Užice, Ivanjica, Čačak, Raška, Kosovska Mitrovica, and Novi Pazar. On 5 October 1942, Phleps ordered the German and Bulgarian forces to destroy the enemy. A comprehensive attack was planned: 20,000 well-armed and fully trained troops would encircle the 1,500 Serb guerrillas from four directions. Because of the perceived importance of this operation and to observe the first military operations of the newly established SS Division, Himmler himself travelled to Kraljevo in the German occupation zone; Himmler was in Kraljevo from 15 to 18 October 1942 and toured the division. German and Bulgarian forces began their attack on the Chetnik territory at dawn on 12 October 1942, proceeding from four directions. However, Keserović ordered his units to regroup into smaller squads for easy maneuvering and penetration, and the Rasina Corps was able to escape from the Axis ring entrapment.
The division's first major action thus ended in a failure, as the Germans and Bulgarians cleared the Chetnik free territory (and in the process committed war crimes against the Serbian civilian population), yet the Chetniks themselves successfully withdrew beyond the reach of the occupation forces. The Prinz Eugen was next involved in counter-insurgency activities on the Serbian-Montenegro border in the mountains east of river Ibar.
Afterwards, the division took part in the Fourth anti-Partisan Offensive in Croatia's Zagreb-Karlovac area, where together with Italian forces attempted to defeat the Yugoslav Partisans commanded by Josip Broz Tito, the operation failed and most of the Partisans managed to evade the main attack. In Operation Weiss I, the division advanced from Karlovac area against the Yugoslav National Liberation Army (NOVJ) resistance and on January 29 captured informal partisan capital Bihać. In Operation Weiss II, it forced its way from western Bosnia to Mostar area in Hercegovina and also deployed units northwest of Sarajevo.
From 15 May – 15 June, the Prinz Eugen took a part in the Fifth anti-Partisan Offensive (Operation Schwartz) aiming to pin Tito's main force of about 20,000 Partisans against the Zelengora mountain, in south-eastern Bosnia. During the battle, the division received a task to move through the Italian occupation zone in order to block the possible advance of Partisans towards the Adriatic Sea and the Italian-occupied Albania, to close the south-east part of the encirclement and then advance north over mountainous terrain to crush the Partisan forces. In eleven-day fightings from May 20, division captured Šavnik. For this success, Sturmbannführer Dietsche as well as commander Phleps both received first two Knight's Crosses for the division. In the following days, the focal point of the battle shifted westward. After the main group of the Partisans headed by the 1st Proletarian Division broke out of the encirclement, two battalions of the division that were moved to cover the left bank of the Sutjeska river and block the Partisans' escape route were surprised by the attack of three battalions of the NOVJ 1st Dalmatian Strike Brigade and one from 5th Montenegro Brigade at Tjentište pushing them back. They recovered their positions during a night battle and decimated the Partisan units. In the operation Schwartz the division suffered total losses of 613 men.
In August 1943, the division became a part of the XV Mountain Corps and was sent to the Dalmatian coast, to disarm the Italian forces in September 1943 after the Italian government had surrendered to the Allies. In exploiting Italian capitulation, Tito's forces succeeded in seizing control of the most part of the Dalmatian coast. In sixteen-days long battle the division pushed back NOVJ units and on September 29 reoccupied Split. In October, division participated in Operation Landsturm, another anti-Partisan operation in Omiš, Ploče and Biokovo. In battles for Split and Biokovo coastline, the Prinz Eugen suffered losses of 1,582 killed, wounded and missing in action.
The division was reorganized on 22 October 1943 and was renamed the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen. In November, the unit was attached to the V SS Mountain Corps and took part in anti-Partisan Operations Kugelblitz and Schneesturm in Dalmatia during the next month.
In January 1944, the division was involved in more anti-Partisan actions in Operation Waldrausch. It then took part in Seventh anti-Partisan Offensive (Operation Rösselsprung) which began on 25 May 1944. This operation had the task of killing or capturing Tito, and the operation was spearheaded by the 500th SS Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon and supported by the Brandenburg Regiment. In this timespan many other ethnic groups joined the division, such as ethnic Croats, ethnic Hungarians, and over 1,000 ethnic Serbs who volunteered for the division at General Phelps' office, most of whom were either ideologically or otherwise motivated to fight against the Partisans.
During World War II, the Cetina region of Croatia lost one tenth of its population. More than five thousand people lost their lives, in combat formations or as civilians. Almost one third of that number was killed. That action was taken in the objective of cleansing the Partizan groups on Mosor and Kamešnica as a protection for German forces in case the Allied forces landed on the Croatian coast which occured in March, 1944. The casualties were strictly civilians, mostly children, women and the elderly. The killing of Croatian inhabitants was conducted mostly by closing a larger number of people in their homes, and then setting their homes alight. Apart from the killings, villages were looted and burnt. The action was conducted by a task force from the SS Prinz Eugen whose commander was general Arthur Phleps, and whose task force was commanded by general Joseph Kübler. Commander of the group whose members executed the slaughter of civilian population was major Bernhard Dietsche. There were also Chetniks soldiers in that battalion from 7th SS division Prinz Eugen, but dressed in German uniform. The protection for German forces was also given by NDH forces, but without participating in the slaughter. After the action, the German army left the Cetina region and went back in Herzegovina. The total death toll of Croatian citizens was 1,255 villagers slaughtered as well as a large number of robbed and burnt homes. All attempts of NDH government to identify and punish the perpetrator failed, and they charged nobody responsible for the crimes. Partizan commands took advantage of the discontent of the survivors and their families to increase their forces by mobilization in destroyed villages. Attacks upon German and NDH bases also increased. In one of those attacks they conquered Aržano, where a large number of soldiers and civilians were killed and imprisoned. More than hundred of them were victims of a retribution massacre by throwing in the pit at the village Podi. Additionally, liquidations were carried out on large number of civilians that Partizan commanders charged for cooperation with the enemy. Most of the liquidations by short procedure happened after the Partizan entrance in Sinj in October 1944. In the village of Ruda alone, close to 400 Croatian citizens were killed in one day. The names of the Croatian civilians massacred in these various villages and hamlets over the course of several days in late March, 1944 are listed in the Census for Victims of World War II records in Belgrade along with their ethnicity, father's name (to verify lineage) and cause of death.
In May, June and July, the Prinz Eugen saw further action in Operation Freie Jagd, Operation Rose and Operation Feuerwehr. Between 12–30 August, the division was engaged in Operation Rübezahl, aimed to prevent offensive of NOVJ forces from Montenegro into western Serbia.
In September, the Soviet Red Army had advanced to the Balkans and the division suffered heavy casualties in defensive battles against the combined Bulgarian, Soviet and NOVJ forces in the Nish region. On 21 September, Obergruppenführer Artur Phleps—the division's first commander—was believed to have been killed when en route from Montenegro to Transylvania. The division's next action was the defence of the Kraljevo bridgehead against the Soviet-led Belgrade Offensive as a part of XXXIV Army Corps (Army Corps Müller). This defence was essential for the success of Army Group E efforts to open a corridor which would allow the retreat of 350,000 German soldiers from Greece and the Aegean Sea.
In the beginning of November, the very understrength and underperforming 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg was disbanded, following widespread demoralisation and mass desertions within its ranks. It was nominally ethnic Albanian but in reality staffed mostly with the Reichsdeutsche and Volksdeutsche Germans, including ex-Kriegsmarine conscripts. Its remnants were incorporated into the 14th Regiment of Prinz Eugen, which received its honor title Skanderbeg.
In January 1945, the division was in action against the Yugoslav Army at Otok and Vukovar in Croatia. In February, it took part in Operation Wehrwolf against a Yugoslav bridgehead in the Virovitica area.
The withdrawal from Bosnia towards Austria continued as Prinz Eugen retreated through Croatia in April 1945. On 10 May, the division moved towards Celje in Slovenia. There it surrendered to the Yugoslav Army on 11 May, three days after the capitulation of Germany that marked the official end of World War II in Europe.
All Prinz Eugen personnel taken prisoner by the Yugoslav Army were then killed. Most of them have been wholesale executed without trial, disposed of through a variety of methods immediately following their surrender. The killings, which were never punished, have been ordered by local Yugoslav commanders, apparently acting directly against Tito's strict instructions to detain the captives in prison camps and screen them for war criminals. In 2010, a large mass grave containing remnants of some 2,000 Prinz Eugen soldiers was exhumed near the Slovenian village of Brežice; they have been stripped naked, bound together with telephone wire, shot, and buried in a trench in a summary mass execution on 22 May 1945. Many of their family members have also died amongst the tens of thousands of local civilians who perished at the hands of Yugoslav forces during the ethnic cleansing of German-speaking populations through the Eastern Europe.
The division was infamous for its brutality. On 6 August, 1946, during the morning session at the Nürnberg Trials, it was said that "The 7th SS Division, Prinz Eugen, is famed for its cruelty," and that "wherever it passed - through Serbia, through Bosnia and Herzegovina, through Lika and Banija or through Dalmatia - everywhere it left behind scenes of conflagration and devastation and the bodies of innocent men, women, and children who had been burned in the houses."
- The Germans and Bulgarians committed reprisals against the civilian population and burned several villages during their anti-Chetnik Operation Kopaonik. The village of Kriva Reka, the location of Keserović's headquarters, suffered the most: 120 civilians were locked in the village church and burned to death by members of the 7th SS Division. In other villages in Kopaonik 300 civilians were killed; in the villages on Mount Goč 250 civilians were executed.
- Researchers of the Institute of History in Karlovac established a number of 276 civilian inhabitants of Karlovac area, killed by the 7th SS Division during Operation Weiss I in January 1943. In February, the division conducted, together with 369th and 717th division, an assault on Grmeč. Some 15,000 civilian inhabitants, frightened and unwilling to wait for Germans, broke through the German lines together with Partisans, but those left behind were destroyed mercilessly. Another drama of an attack on a refugee column happened on late February near Resanovci, during the Operation Weiss II, and resulted with hundreds of victims. According to official postwar investigation, the three German divisions were responsible for 3,370 killed civilians, and another 1,722 deported to concentration camps during the Operation Weiss.
- In late May and early June 1943, during Operation Schwartz, the division killed large number of civilians and prisoners of war. In the villages of Dub, Bukovac, Miljkovac, Duba and Rudinci, in the Piva area, all captured inhabitants were killed, regardless of age or sex. The total number of victims from these villages was around 400.
- On 12 July in the Bosnian Muslim village of Rotimlja, near Stolac, the 7th SS Division killed 66 civilians, 25 of which were younger than 15. On the same day, other units of the division killed 68 civilians, 36 younger than 15, in the Muslim village of Košutica, near Sokolac.
- During its advancement towards Split, on 17–30 September 1943, the division killed 230 inhabitants of the villages in the Imotski, Sinj and Split area. After capturing Split, the division executed 48 Italian officers and three generals (General Raffaele Peligra, commander of the artillery of the XVIII Corps, General Poticardi, commander of the pioneers of the XVIII Corps, and General Alfonso Cigala Fulgosi, commander of the 17th Littoral Brigade). On 5 November, the division executed 25 hostages in Sinj in a retribution for losses.
- The 2nd Battalion of the 14th SS Regiment of the division killed 1,525 Croatian civilians on 26–30 March 1944, in the villages and hamlets between Kamešnica and Mosor, in an action under command of V SS Corps.
It also committed numerous atrocities in the area of Nikšić in Montenegro:
Dr. Dušan Nedeljković, Yugoslav State Commission, Document D-940
The following officers commanded the division:
- SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Artur Phleps (30 Jan 1942 – 15 May 1943)
- SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Karl Reichsritter von Oberkamp (15 May 1943 – 30 Jan 1944)
- SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Otto Kumm (30 Jan 1944 – 20 Jan 1945)
- SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS August Schmidthuber (20 Jan 1945 – 8 May 1945)
Out of the four commanders of the division, one (Phleps) was killed in battle, two of them were sentenced to death by hanging and executed in Belgrade 1947, and the fourth (Kumm) managed to avoid extradition to Yugoslavia by fleeing over the wall of the internment camp of Dachau.
Several members were decorated with high German military awards, including one Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oaks Leaves and Swords awarded to SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Otto Kumm when he was the divisional commander. Divisional recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross included the first commander of the division, Artur Phleps and five others, all regimental or battalion commanders. One was awarded posthumously.
Order of battle
October 1943 – Croatia
- Division Staff
- SS-Volunteer Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 13
- SS-Volunteer Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 14 "Skanderberg"
- SS-Volunteer Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 7
- SS-Volunteer Gebirgs Reconnaissance Battalion (mot) 7
- SS-Panzer Battalion 7
- SS-Panzerjäger Battalion 7
- SS-Gebirgs-Pionier-Battalion 7
- SS-Gebirgs-Flak Battalion 7
- SS-Radfahr-Battalion 7
- SS-Cavalry Battalion 7
- SS-Gebirgs-Signals Battalion 7
- SS-Gebirgs-Reserve Battalion 7
- SS-Medical Battalion 7
- SS-Feldgendarmerie-Troop 7
- SS-Volunteer Gebirgs Veterinary Company 7
- SS-Volunteer Gebirgs War Reporter platoon 7
- SS-Divisions Versorgungs Truppen 7
November 1944 – Balkans
- Division Staff
- SS-Volunteer-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 13 Artur Phleps
- SS-Volunteer Gebrigsjäger-Regiment 14 Skanderbeg
- SS-Volunteer Gebrigs Artillery Regiment 7
- SS-Volunteer Gebirgs-Reconnaissance Battalion (mot) 7
- SS-Panzer-Battalion 7
- SS-Gebirgs-Panzerjäger Battalion 7
- SS-Sturmgeschutz Battalion 7
- SS-Gebirgs-Pionier-Battalion 7
- SS-Flak Battalion 7
- SS-Radfahr-Reconnaissance Battalion 7
- SS-Cavalry Battalion 7
- SS-Motorcycle Battalion 7
- SS-Gebirgs-Signals Battalion 7
- SS-Reserve Battalion 7
- SS-Medical Battalion 7
- SS-Volunteer Gebirgs Veterinary Company 7
- SS-Volunteer Gebirgs War Reporter Platoon 7
- SS-Feldgendarmerie-Troop 7
- SS-Werkstatt-Company 7
- SS-Nachshub-Company 7
- SS-Reserve Battalion 7
- SS-Wirtschafts-Battalion 7
- SS-Wehrgeologisches-Battalion 7
- SS-Freiwilligen-Division Prinz Eugen
- SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division Prinz Eugen
- 7.SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division Prinz Eugen
Notes and references
- Official designation in German language as to „Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv“ in Freiburg im Breisgau, stores of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS.
- Tomasevich 2001, pp. 63–64.
- Tomasevich 2001, p. 77.
- Lumans 1993, p. 235.
- Wittmann, A.M., "Mutiny in the Balkans: Croat Volksdeutsche, the Waffen-SS and Motherhood", East European Quarterly XXXVI No. 3 (2002), p. 258–260
- Wittmann, A.M., "Mutiny in the Balkans: Croat Volksdeutsche, the Waffen-SS and Motherhood", East European Quarterly XXXVI No. 3 (2002), p. 265
- Fleming 2003, p. 41.
- Fleming 2003, pp. 52–53.
- The Chetniks were a threat to the Germans because they were able to break the German road communications and interfere with the movement of war materiel intended for Erwin Rommel's forces in the Second Battle of El Alamein—through the Morava−Vardar valley. Losses were inflicted on Keserovićev's detachments and the local population by the constantly pursuing enemy forces.
- German combat group "North" marched to the top of Željin, and a secondary group to the top of Kavalj. Combat group "South" conducted a comprehensive movement in the area around Gobelja, located 17 km northwest of Raška. Combat group "West" concentrated its forces in the valley 5 km from Banje. Combat group "East" took a position west of Brus.
- Lampe, John, Yugoslavia as History: Twice There Was a Country, 2nd ed. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 200.
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- Merriam, Ray, Waffen-SS, Volume 7 de World War II Arsenal Series, Merriam Press, 1999, ISBN 1-57638-168-4, p. 4.
- Germany and the second World War, Volume 2; Volume 5, Oxford University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-19-820873-1, p. 175.
- Otto Kumm: VORWÄRTS, PRINZ EUGEN! – Geschichte der 7. SS-Freiwilligen-Division "Prinz Eugen", Munin-Verlag, Coburg 1978, page 243.
- Mirko Novović, Stevan Petković: PRVA DALMATINSKA PROLETERSKA BRIGADA, Vojnoizdavački zavod, Beograd 1986, pages 176–211 (serbo-croatian)
- NARA records, T-314, roll 560, frame 750–751
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- Kozlica 2012, p. 155.
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- Kumm 1995, p. 273.
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- Casagrande, Thomas: Die Volksdeutsche SS-Division "Prinz Eugen", Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, 2003.