|Traditions||The title given to this unit comes from a Handschar (or Handzar in Croatian), which is a curved Turkish sword, otherwise known as the Scimitar. This sword has historically been the symbol of Bosnia.|
When the Independant State of Croatia proclaimed its independance on April
10th 1941, during the German invasion of Yugoslavia, part of the land it
claimed was the former Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina
(Bosna i Hercegovina). The province was an ethnic and religious mix, with a
portion of the population being Catholic Croatian, a portion being Orthodox
Serbian, and a portion being Croatians of the Muslim faith. It was these
Muslim inhabitants of Bosnia that Himmler and the SS would target in their
recruitment of a Croatian SS Division (although a portion of the future
division's men would be Catholic Croatian as well).
The reasons for the recruitment in particular of Croatian Muslims by the SS were many-fold. For one, Himmler was fascinated by the Islamic faith, and thought Muslims to be fearless soldiers. Himmler also subscribed to the propaganda theory that Croatians (and therefore the Croatian Muslims) were not, in fact, Slavic people, but actually of Aryan (Gothic) descent, and thereby acceptable to the racially "pure" SS. The fact that this ludicrous theory would not hold up to any kind of serious scrutiny was conveniently ignored. Finally, the Germans were hoping to rally the World's 350 million Muslims to their side, in a struggle against the British Empire. The creation of a Muslim, albeit European Muslim Division, was considered a stepping stone to this greater end.
Adolf Hitler approved of Himmler's idea on February 13th 1943. Prior to the formation of the division, however, approval also had to be granted by the Croatian government, as their citizens were to be recruited, and on Croatian territory. The Croatian Poglavnik, Ante Pavelic, and his ministers had many problems with the idea, but eventually agreed to the division's creation on March 5th 1943. The divisional strength reached the required 26,000 men by mid 1943, though not all men were volunteers (some being begged, bribed and outright kidnapped into service). Also, 2,800 of the men were Catholic Croatians and not Muslim.
The new division was assigned the number "13", and originally named the "13 SS Frei.Gebirgs Division (kroatien). The full name "13 Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS 'Handschar' (kroatische Nr. 1)" was not given until May, 1944. A "Handschar" (or Handzar in Croatian) is curved Turkish sword - the Scimitar. This sword has historically been the symbol of Bosnia. The Division was to have 2 Infantry Regiments (Waffen-Gebirgs-Jager Regiments der SS 27 & 28 - kroatisches Nrs. 1 & 2), an Artillery Regiment (SS-Gebirgs-Artillerie Regiment 13), a Reconnaisance Company, a Panzerjager Company, a Flak Company, a Pioneer Battalion, and other support units; and was designated an SS "mountain" division. The first commander (from March 9, 1943 till August 1, 1943) was SS Standartenfuhrer Herbert von Obwurzer. Oberfuhrer (later Brigadefuhrer) Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig took over till June 1st 1944, when Desiderius Hampel (Oberfuhrer, later Brigadefuhrer) replaced him. Hampel commanded the remnants of the division until its surrender on May 8th 1945.
The uniform worn by the division was regular SS issue, with a divisional collar patch showing an arm, holding a Scimitar, over a Swastika. On the left arm was a Croatian armshield (red-white chessboard). Headgear was the Muslim Fez, in field grey (normal service) or red ("walking out"), with the SS eagle and death's head emblazoned. Non-Muslim members could opt to wear the normal SS mountain cap. The oval mountain troop Edelweiss patch was worn on the right arm.
The division departed for training in occupied France, where the full complement arrived by September 1943. It was at Villefranche, during this period of training, that the division became the only SS Division to mutiny. Much has been made of this, however, while it is true that some German officers were killed during the mutiny, the fact is that only very few soldiers participated in the uprising. Fault can be squarely placed on 3 Communists, infiltrated into the ranks of the division, and a handfull of malcontents. Not only did a great majority of the troops not participate in the rebellion, but most either had no idea it was happening, or actively helped to quash it. 14 soldiers were executed as mutineers.
By mid-February 1944, the division finished its training (some time was spent at Neuhammer, Germany for training), and was sent back to Bosnia for active service (against Communist Partisans). Its area of operation was northeastern Bosnia, western Serbia, and southern Sirmium. The division participated in several anti-Partisan operations (such as "Wegweiser", "Save", "Osterei", "Maibaum", "Maiglockchen" etc.). Some successes were achieved, and overall the "Handschar" showed itself as a competent anti-guerilla unit.
With the penetration of the Red Army up to the Croatian borders in late 1944, the Division was trasfered to southern Hungary, and became involved in front-line fighting. Desertions plagued the Division from this point on, as many of the Muslims decided to return to Bosnia to protect their homes and families. The men who remained contiuned to fight valiantly against overwhelming odds, and were slowly pushed westward out of Hungary into Austria. The remnants of the division surrendered to British troops on May 8th 1945.
Oberführer Herbert von Obwurzer, 4.1.43 - 8.9.43
Gruppenführer Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, 8.9.43 - 6.??.44
Brigadeführer Desiderius Hampel, 6.??.44 - 9.??.44
??, 9.??.44 - 1.??.45
Brigadeführer Desiderius Hampel, 1.??.45 - 5.8.45