Georgian Volunteers in the Wehrmacht in WWII

In early 1942, Legionary training camps were set up behind the front in theUkraine, and in the General Government of Poland. At this time the fledgling GeorgianLegion was sent to Kruszyna in west Ukraine for basic militarytraining. NCO’s (termed Gruppenfuhrer in the Legions) were sent to aschool at Legionowo, while Officers (Zugfuhrer and Kompaniefuhrer,identifying lieutenant and captain respectively) were trained separatelyin command procedures under a German staff designated Kommando derOstlegionen in Polen. The Georgian volunteers were issued with standardWehrmacht/Heer basic kit. Feldgrau tunics, trousers, jackboots/stiefel, m42stahlhelm and Kar98k rifle. On their right arm, centered, was a redshield, with the upper left quadrant split black over white – GEORGIEN iswoven in white on the crest. Later on in the war, a standard Uniform wascreated for all Osttruppen – similar to the German issue but without theHoheitsabzeichen and with stylized rank tabs and epaulets in red, trimmedby white. These uniforms were never produced in quantities that allowedthem to be distributed widely.

In autumn of 1942, the first units of the Georgian Legion becameoperational. These were the 795.Ostbataillonen and the 796.Ostbataillonen.The next wave wasthe 823.Ostbataillonen and the 824.Ostbataillonen in the second half of1943. In subsequent training of new units for the Legion, the GermanArmy’s 162nd Infantry Division under General von Niedermayer, became theparent unit of the new Ostbataillonen, whose HQ was at Migorod in theUkraine until May 1943. With the 162nd, the numbering system of the Legions units was changed taking on the battalion/regimental number of the German units they were posted to. Hence subsequent units of the Georgian Legion would appear as I/1.Gebirgsjager, II/4.Gebirgsjager, I/9.Inf., II/198.Inf,etc.

As the war progressed, the 162 InfantryDivision kept its cadre German training staff, and its soldiers were drawnfrom the former depot battalions of the Ostlegionen. This mixed formationwas nick-named the Turkoman Division, and in accordance with the policyfor deploying Eastern units away from the USSR it was eventually sent,first to Slovenia and later to Italy, for anti-partisan duties. It spentthe rest of the war in Italy, only brushing against Allied regular troopson two occasions. The name Turkoman is misleading -this Division was composed of many Azerbaijanis, Georgians, andArmenians, as well as Turkistani’s – a hodge-podge of Orthodox Christiansand Muslims which the Germans were wont to call Turkische, as in an all-encompassing label of Turks, much as the British of the Empire days mightcall any non-Englishman a Wog!

It should be clear that although the name Georgian Legion conjures anintegrated military unit of many battalions and regiments – it never infact operated as such. Like the other Ostlegionen, it’s components werespread far and wide across Germany’s military fronts, and the Germans neverused these battalions for strictly front-line combat operations. They weremore likely than not to be used to fill various manpower gaps in the construction, security, and supply units. Thus no picture of a proud CombatOrganization like the Legion Volunteer Francaise (French), the LegionWallonie (Belgians), the Legion Norwegen (Norway), Freikorps Danmark (Denmark),or even the Spanish Blue Divison emerges when looking at the Caucasian volunteer units. In a racially oriented army such as was the Wehrmacht,they could never have been more than 2nd class troops because of theirbasic ethnicity and the views in which the most Germans held them, although itis unquestionable that many volunteers did so for noble reasons and hadevery intention to fight against the Soviet Union.

There were other units not necessarily associated with the Ostbataillonenthat could nonetheless be loosely designated as part of the GeorgianLegion. In addition to the Caucasian Moslem Legion, there was another Caucasian unit, but under a different command. This was SonderverbandBergmann, created by Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwehr – GermanMilitary Intelligence, in December 1941, along somewhat similar lines tothe existing Roland and Nightingale (Roland u. Nachtigall) Ukrainianbattalions. (These were special operations battalions which were part ofthe famous Brandenberg unit.) Sonderverband Bergman was a special serviceunit commanded by Captain Theodor Oberlander, with its headquarters atMittenwald in Bavaria. It was recruited from Georgian, Armenian,Azerbaijanis and other Caucasian prisoners-of-war but also included anucleus of prewar anti-Soviet emigres’ from that region. The unit wasunique in that it took it’s oath of allegiance not to Hitler (as Wehrmachtunits usually did), but to the Army (OKH) itself. Its Georgian componentwas the most pro-German, possibly because at the end of the First WorldWar, Germany had aided the short-lived Georgian Republic.

It had been the original intention of OKH/Abwehr that SonderverbandBergmann would be employed only on special assignments such as dropping byparachute behind Red Army lines to carry out acts of sabotage, but thenumber of volunteers was such that it was possible to create from the twofull strength Infantry battalions (known as Batl.Bergmann I u. II.) The twobattalions were subsequently used in a regular infantry capacity in landfighting in the Caucasus. They suffered heavy losses, especially in actionsalong the Terek River. Oberlander, a former Professor of Eastern Europeanstudies at the University of Konigsberg, was an outspoken critic of Nazioccupation policies in Russia. This resulted in Reichskommisar Koch usinghis influence with Hitler to get him not only removed from his command butalso dismissed from the army. The two battalions were not, however,disbanded, but continued to serve with the German forces in the East.

Another reference to the Georgians in service of the Germans is that of theKaukaisischer Waffenverband der SS – This was a late war composite ofOstlegionen units which for one reason or another found themselves underWaffen SS command. Formed in February 1945, this group comprised of NorthCaucasians, Georgians, Armenians and some Azerbaidjanis. At Paluzza, nearTolmezza in Northern Italy, work had already started on the creation of aCaucasian Cavalry Division for the Waffen SS. It did not get very far. Aswith other projected expansions of Himmler, the plan was extinguished bythe collapse of the Nazi Reich. In practice, the SS never succeeded ingetting its hands on more than a fraction of the Army’s multitude ofEastern volunteers. Often what authority it did exercise was only nominal,as in the case of the Cossack Cavalry Corps – At wars end, an SS-FHAcommanded formation, but for all intents and purposes a Wehrmacht/Heercultivated and trained unit.

The Statistical dept. of the German Army quoted the following manpowerfigures for non-Russian Eastern volunteers in the German Armed forces asof Sept. 1944: