21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian)

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21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian)
21. Waffen Gebirgs-Division der SS „Skanderbeg“ (albanische Nr. 1)
21st SS Division Logo.svg
ActiveRaised March 1944, Disbanded Nov. 1944
CountryAlbania Albania
AllegianceNazi Germany Nazi Germany
BranchWaffen SS
TypeMountain
Sizeabout 6,000 - 6,500
NicknameSkanderbeg
Commanders
Notable
commanders
SS-Oberführer August Schmidthuber
 
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21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian)
21. Waffen Gebirgs-Division der SS „Skanderbeg“ (albanische Nr. 1)
21st SS Division Logo.svg
ActiveRaised March 1944, Disbanded Nov. 1944
CountryAlbania Albania
AllegianceNazi Germany Nazi Germany
BranchWaffen SS
TypeMountain
Sizeabout 6,000 - 6,500
NicknameSkanderbeg
Commanders
Notable
commanders
SS-Oberführer August Schmidthuber

The 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian) was a mountain division of the Waffen SS set up by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler in March 1944, officially under the title of 21. Waffen Gebirgs-Division der SS „Skanderbeg“ (albanische Nr. 1). It was named after George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, the national hero of Albanians, who resisted Ottoman invasion for 25 years.

Contents

Formation

The 21st Division of the SS Skanderbeg was created following the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941. Throughout 1942 and 1943 both the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS sought to utilise local manpower to maintain law and order, and fight off Yugoslav Partisan and communist Albanian Resistance activity in the region. For their part Albanian leaders hoped to form an "army, which will be able to safeguard the borders of Kosovo and Metohija and liberate the surrounding regions"[1]

In 1943 a number of Albanians from Kosovo and the Sandžak region were recruited into the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian). They were used to form Battalion I/2 (later I/28) and received first rate training in southern France and Neuhammer, Germany. This was perhaps the best trained and equipped Nazi Albanian military formation during the war and was transferred directly from combat in Bosnia to Kosovo via rail on 17 April 1944 to form part of the newly created SS Skanderbeg division. The head of Waffen SS recruitment, SS-Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger reported to Himmler that the Albanians "...were quite sad about leaving."[2]

In February 1944 the decision was taken, following the modest success of SS Handschar in Bosnia, to raise a parallel unit inside Albania. According to Bernd Fischer, the Division included 1500 Pows, "natives of Kosovo who had served in the Yugoslav army, plus remnants of the failed Albanian army and gendarmerie, volunteers from both old and new Albania."[3] Xhafer Deva, an Albanian from Kosovo and periodically the Interior Minister under the Nazi puppet regime, helped with recruitment. The Division was called SS Skënderbeu in Albanian.

Ultimately the names of 11,398 possible recruits were submitted to Berlin. Of these, 9,275 were deemed suitable for drafting, and about 6,000 were actually inducted into the Waffen SS. The 21st Waffen SS Mountain Division was the only fully ethnic Albanian division to be recruited by the Germans during the Second World War. It was established originally to combat partisan activity with the promise that the territories with a majority Albanian population were to become an independent and unified state to include Albania, Kosovo and Western Macedonia, or what is sometimes called Greater Albania (or Ethnic Albania).

SS Skanderbeg recruiting poster

The Division was placed under the command of SS-Standartenführer August Schmidthuber, later promoted to SS-Oberführer. It fought against the Communist partisan forces of Enver Hoxha who were on the increase and consolidating their actions, both in Albania and Yugoslavia as the Second World War was drawing to an end. The Division was very poorly led with a serious dearth of instructors, Albanian officers or NCOs.

The Division was operational for only a few months (February 1944 – November 1944), with a strength of about 6,000 - 6,500 rather than the normal strength of a division (10,000-20,000). Many recruits deserted with their new weapons and boots, and by October 1944 their number had dwindled to around 3500. It appears they often refused to fight or to take orders, and it never became a significant force.[4]

"The Germans were forced to disarm battalions at Pec and Prizren, arresting the Albanian officers and sending them to the camp at Prishtina."[5]

SS-Brigadeführer August Schmidthuber, one of the commanders of the 21st SS Mountain Division "Skanderbeg," was captured in 1945 and turned over to Yugoslav authorities. He was put on trial in February 1947 by a Yugoslav military tribunal at Belgrade, on charges of participating in massacres, deportations and atrocities against civilians. The tribunal sentenced him to death by hanging. He was executed on 27 February 1947.[6]

An illustration of the soldier of the Skanderbeg division, showing the characteristic Albanian cap which was a distinctive part of the uniform

Insignia

The division arm patch consisted of a black double-headed eagle on a red background. The recruits wore the white traditional Albanian highlander cap (qeleshe), and later the SS issued grey headgear in the same style, with the Totenkopf sewn on the front. And a collar tab with the Skanderbeg helmet[citation needed]

Participation

Led by German officers, in May 1944, some troops from the division were stationed in the Đakovica area to guard the mines there. In the middle of the month, under German direction, they participated in rounding up 281 Jews who were subsequently deported north to certain death.[7] Lasting just a few months, this Waffen-SS division was "militarily useless" and declared a "fiasco".[8] Insubordination, poor discipline, looting and violence against unarmed civilians (especially Serbs but also Albanians deemed Communistic) were constant problems. Members of the division were used, either as attachments to regular Wehrmacht units conducting sweeps for partisans, or to terrorize the local non-Albanian population in the areas of Greater Albania which are not part of Albania. The Division participated in the Wehrmacht Operation "Fuchsjagd", known to the Communists as the "Battle of Debar", over 18 to 27 August 1944 (during the first week of Ramadan). The Division fought alongside Albanian government soldiers, tribal bands an Albanian nationalist četa from Debar itself and approximately 800 men from Colonel Abaz Kupi's Zogist-Legality (Royalist) faction. The town of Debar was not captured and the campaign against Communist partisans in central Albania was a failure, only leading to further desertions. The only other action partaken was assisting the orderly Wehrmacht withdrawal over October to November 1944. Over 700 men of this SS Division, along with approximately 5000 local Kosovo-Albanians recruited by Xhafer Deva, aided the Germans evacuating through Kosovo and resisted incursions by both Communist partisans and Bulgarian incursions.

Commanders

Order of battle

See also

References

  1. ^ Ailsby, Christopher J. 2004. "Hitler's Renegades: Foreign Nationals in the Service of the Third Reich," Brassey's Press. ISBN 1-57488-838-2. P. 169
  2. ^ Lepre, George, Himmler's Bosnian Division: The Waffen-SS Handschar Division 1943-1945, (Atlgen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1997) ISBN 0-7643-0134-9, page. 165.
  3. ^ Bernd Jurgen Fischer "Albania at War", page.185
  4. ^ Elsie Robert, historical dictionary of Kosovo
  5. ^ Bernd Fisher, "Albania at War", page. 185
  6. ^ History of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and the Development of the Laws of War p. 528, United Nations War Crimes Commission, London: HMSO, 1948)
  7. ^ Elsie, Robert. 2004. "Historical Dictionary of Kosovo," Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5309-4. P. 169
  8. ^ Ailsby, Christopher J, Hitler's Renegades: Foreign Nationals in the Service of the Third Reich, 2004. P. 169".
  9. ^ Bishop, Chris. The Essential Vehicle Identification Guide - Waffen-SS Divisions 1939-1945, Amber Books Ltd. 2007, p 164.
  10. ^ Wendel, Marcus. "21. SS Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS Skanderbeg (albanische Nr. 1)". Axis History. http://www.axishistory.com/index.php?id=1927. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 

Sources