Ostlegionen ("eastern legions"), Ost-Bataillone ("eastern battalions"), Osttruppen ("eastern troops"), Osteinheiten ("eastern units") were military units in the Heer (army) of Nazi Germany, during World War II that were made up of personnel from countries comprising the Soviet Union. They represented a major subset within a broader use of use of non-German forces by the Wehrmacht (which, apart from the Heer, included the Waffen SS).
Some members of these units were conscripted or coerced into serving, whilst others volunteered. Many were former Soviet personnel, recruited from prisoner of war camps. Osttruppen were frequently stationed away from front lines and used for coastal defence or rear-area activities, such as anti-partisan operations, thus freeing up regular Axis forces for front line service.
They belonged to two distinct types of units:
- Ost-Bataillone were composed of various nationalities, raised mostly amongst POWs captured in Eastern Europe, who had been formed into battalion-sized units, which were integrated individually into German combat formations, and;
- Ostlegionen were larger foreign legion-type units raised amongst members of a specific ethnic minority or minorities, and comprising multiple battalions.
Members of Osteinheiten usually faced execution or harsh terms of imprisonment, if they were captured by Soviet forces or repatriated to the USSR by the western Allies.
Ost-Bataillone wore German uniforms and equipment and were integrated into larger German formations. They began as the private initiatives of individual military commanders, but eventually became formalized and by late 1943 they contained 427,000 personnel, a force equivalent to 30 German divisions. Most were utilized on the Eastern Front and in the Balkans.
During 1944, a number of Ost-Bataillone were stationed in northern France, in anticipation of a western Allied invasion. Units that fought in the Battle of Normandy were part of the German static infantry divisions 243 and 709, positioned in the vicinity of the Utah, Juno and Sword invasion beaches. Ost-Bataillone were also present in southern France, during the Allied landings codenamed Operation Dragoon (August 1944).
At least one Ost-Bataillon was still active in September 1944, during fighting north of Antwerp.
|Name of unit||Size and composition|
|Armenian Legion||11 battalions consisting of ethnic Armenians.|
|Caucasian Muslim Legion||Composed of Azeris, Daghestanis, Chechens, Ingushes, and Lezghins. Later divided into:
North Caucasian Legion.
|1. Kosaken‑Kavallerie‑Division||a cavalry division made up of Cossack volunteers; transferred in 1945 from the Heer to the Waffen SS.|
|Georgian Legion||14 battalions, consisting of ethnic Georgians.|
| Russian Liberation Army
||a. k. a. the "Vlasov Army"; a corps-sized formation composed mostly of ethnic Russian volunteers.|
|Turkestan Legion||34 battalions, composed of Turkmens, Uzbeks, Kazakhs and other Central Asian nationalities; they saw action as the 162. (Turkistan) Infanterie-Division, in Yugoslavia and Italy.|
|Ukrainian units||various Ukrainian units comprised more than 50,000 personnel.|
|Volga-Tatar Legion||eight battalions consisting of Volga Tatars.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ostlegionen.|
- The East Came West: Muslim, Hindu, And Buddhist Volunteers in the German Armed Forces, 1941-1945, edited by Antonio J. Munoz (Axis Europa Books, 2002, ISBN 1-891227-39-4).