13.Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS “Handschar” (kroat.Nr.1)
|The title given to this unit comes froma Handschar (or Handzar in Croatian), which is a curved Turkish sword, otherwise known as the Scimitar. This sword has historically beenthe symbol of Bosnia.|
|When the Independant State of Croatia proclaimed its independance on April10th 1941, during the German invasion of Yugoslavia, part of the land itclaimed was the former Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina(Bosna i Hercegovina). The province was an ethnic and religious mix, with aportion of the population being Catholic Croatian, a portion being OrthodoxSerbian, and a portion being Croatians of the Muslim faith. It was theseMuslim inhabitants of Bosnia that Himmler and the SS would target in theirrecruitment of a Croatian SS Division (although a portion of the futuredivision’s men would be Catholic Croatian as well).|
The reasons for the recruitment in particular of Croatian Muslims by the sswere many-fold. For one, Himmler was fascinated by the Islamic faith, andthought Muslims to be fearless soldiers. Himmler also subscribed to thepropaganda theory that Croatians (and therefore the Croatian Muslims) werenot, in fact, Slavic people, but actually of Aryan (Gothic) descent, andthereby acceptable to the racially “pure” ss. The fact that this ludicroustheory would not hold up to any kind of serious scrutiny was convenientlyignored. Finally, the Germans were hoping to rally the World’s 350 millionMuslims to their side, in a struggle against the British Empire. Thecreation of a Muslim, albeit European Muslim Division, was considered astepping stone to this greater end.
Adolf Hitler approved of Himmler’s idea on February 13th 1943. Prior tothe formation of the division, however, approval also had to be granted bythe Croatian government, as their citizens were to be recruited, and onCroatian territory. The Croatian Poglavnik, Ante Pavelic, and hisministers had many problems with the idea, but eventually agreed to thedivision’s creation on March 5th 1943. The divisional strength reached therequired 26,000 men by mid 1943, though not all men were volunteers (somebeing begged, bribed and outright kidnapped into service). Also, 2,800 ofthe men were Catholic Croatians and not Muslim.
The new division was assigned the number “13”, and originally named the “13ss Frei.Gebirgs Division (kroatien). The full name “13Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS ‘Handschar’ (kroatische Nr. 1)” was not givenuntil May, 1944. A “Handschar” (or Handzar in Croatian) is curved Turkishsword – the Scimitar. This sword has historically been the symbol of Bosnia.The Division was to have 2 Infantry Regiments (Waffen-Gebirgs-JagerRegiments der SS 27 & 28 – kroatisches Nrs. 1 & 2), an Artillery Regiment(ss-Gebirgs-Artillerie Regiment 13), a Reconnaisance Company, a PanzerjagerCompany, a Flak Company, a Pioneer Battalion, and other support units; andwas 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 June1st 1944, when Desiderius Hampel (Oberfuhrer, later Brigadefuhrer)replaced him. Hampel commanded the remnants of the division until itssurrender on May 8th 1945.
The uniform worn by the division was regular SS issue, with a divisionalcollar patch showing an arm, holding a Scimitar, over a Swastika. On theleft arm was a Croatian armshield (red-white chessboard). Headgear was theMuslim Fez, in field grey (normal service) or red (“walking out”), with thess eagle and death’s head emblazoned. Non-Muslim members could opt to wearthe normal SS mountain cap. The oval mountain troop Edelweiss patch was wornon the right arm.
The division departed for training in occupied France, where the fullcomplement arrived by September 1943. It was at Villefranche, during thisperiod 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 Germanofficers were killed during the mutiny, the fact is that only very fewsoldiers participated in the uprising. Fault can be squarely placed on 3Communists, infiltrated into the ranks of the division, and a handfull ofmalcontents. Not only did a great majority of the troops not participate inthe rebellion, but most either had no idea it was happening, or activelyhelped to quash it. 14 soldiers were executed as mutineers.
By mid-February 1944, the division finished its training (some time wasspent at Neuhammer, Germany for training), and was sent back to Bosnia foractive service (against Communist Partisans). Its area of operation wasnortheastern Bosnia, western Serbia, and southern Sirmium. The divisionparticipated in several anti-Partisan operations (such as “Wegweiser”,”Save”, “Osterei”, “Maibaum”, “Maiglockchen” etc.). Some successes wereachieved, and overall the “Handschar” showed itself as a competentanti-guerilla unit.
With the penetration of the Red Army up to the Croatian borders in late1944, the Division was trasfered to southern Hungary, and became involved infront-line fighting. Desertions plagued the Division from this point on, asmany of the Muslims decided to return to Bosnia to protect their homes andfamilies. The men who remained contiuned to fight valiantly againstoverwhelming odds, and were slowly pushed westward out of Hungary intoAustria. The remnants of the division surrendered to British troops on May8th 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