Turkestan Legion

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Unit patch

The Turkestan Legion (German: Turkistanische Legion) was the name for the military units composed of the Turkic peoples who fought in the Wehrmacht during World War II. Most of these troops were Red Army POWs who formed a common cause with the Germans (cf. Turkic, Caucasian, Cossack, and Crimean collaborationism with the Axis powers). Its establishment was spearheaded by Nuri Killigil, a Turkish theorist of Pan-Turkism, which sought to separate territories inhabited by Turkic peoples from their countries and eventually unite them under Turkish rule.

Although Turkic peoples had been perceived initially as "racially inferior" by the Nazis, this attitude officially already changed in autumn 1941, when, in view of the difficulties faced in their invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis attempted to harness the anti-Russian sentiment of Turkic peoples in Russia for political gain.

Turkmen volunteers in France.

The first Turkestan Legion was mobilized in May 1942, originally consisting of only one battalion but expanded to 16 battalions and 16,000 soldiers by 1943. Under the Wehrmacht's command, these units were deployed exclusively on the Western Front in France and Italy, isolating them from the Red Army.

The battalions of the Turkestan Legion formed part of the 162nd Infantry Division and saw much action in Axis-occupied Yugoslavia (especially modern-day Croatia) and Italy.

Much of the Turkestan Legion was ultimately imprisoned by British forces and repatriated into the Soviet Union after the war's end, where they would face prison terms from the Soviet government for having collaborated with the Nazis. Notable members of the legion include Baymirza Hayit, a Turkologist who after the war settled in West Germany and became an advocate for Pan-Turkist political causes.

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Further reading

  • Sakal, Halil Burak (2013). Başka Bir Dünya Savaşı: İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sırasında Almanya Tarafında Savaşan Türkistanlılar. Ötüken. ISBN 978-975-437-981-5.
  • Flagmaster Nr. 105, Summer 2002, Publikation von „The Flag Institute“, Mayfair, London, W1J5NS, United Kingdom

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