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Scraping the BarrelThe Military Use of Substandard Manpower, 1860–1960$

Sanders Marble

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780823239771

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823239771.001.0001

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The Ethnic Germans of the Waffen-SS in Combat: Dregs or Gems?

The Ethnic Germans of the Waffen-SS in Combat: Dregs or Gems?

Chapter:
(p.225) 10 The Ethnic Germans of the Waffen-SS in Combat: Dregs or Gems?
Source:
Scraping the Barrel
Author(s):

Valdis O. Lumans

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823239771.003.0011

Abstract and Keywords

Combat performance of the ethnic Germans in the Waffen-SS is a complex question. When manpower standards were high, performance was high. As standards declined performance dropped. However, where the troops' own homes were threatened they performed well; meanwhile the average performance of the Waffen-SS dropped so performance by the ethnic units roughly approximated performance by men born in Germany.

Keywords:   World War II, Waffen-SS, Himmler, Heinrich, Balkans, Germany, Prinz Eugen Division

The armed formations of the Nazi Schutzstaffel SS, the Waffen-SS, earned a reputation as the toughest and most effective of all German forces in World War II. Its soldiers sported an esprit de corps comparable to that of elite American units such as the Marines and Army Airborne. The principles of voluntarism and elitism prevailed.1 The most ardent promoter of Germany's Waffen-SS was the Führer himself, Adolf Hitler, who extolled its praises and nicknamed it his “fire brigade,” capable of plugging holes in front lines, seizing impregnable targets, and halting enemy offensives. Hitler once confided to a group of generals: “I am proud when an army commander can tell me that his force is based essentially on an armored division and the SS Reich Division.”2

Paradoxically, Hitler thought poorly of a portion of the Waffen-SS, the so-called Volksdeutsche, or ethnic Germans of non-Reich origin, though by the end of the war, according to some, they constituted its largest element. His opinion dropped so low that he used the ratio of Volksdeutsche to Reich Germans in an SS division as its measure of quality: the more Volksdeutsche, the lower the unit's combat proficiency. When in July 1944 he inquired about the composition of two new SS divisions, he was relieved that although Volksdeutsche constituted 40 percent in one and 70 percent in the other, at least the rest were Reich Germans.3

What accounts for the Führer's confidence in the Waffen-SS generally but contempt for one of its components? Was his disrespect justified by poor combat performance on the part of Volksdeutsche soldiers? At least a partial answer lies in their recruitment, the coerced inductions presented publicly as voluntarism (as discussed in Chapter 9). But if truth be told, by war's end the Führer's confidence (p.226) in the Waffen-SS as a whole had waned, as he questioned the ability of even the “classic” SS divisions to halt the Allied tide.4 Had the Volksdeutsche improved—or perhaps the elite had dropped in quality? By then, the entire Waffen-SS, including the elite units, stooped to what metaphorically is called “scraping the barrel”—whatever is left in the “barrel” will have to do. But did dredging up manpower remnants both inside and outside the Reich yield only human “dregs,” or could one also discover “gems,” competent, effective, or even exemplary soldiers to form effective units? As the Waffen-SS's wartime expansion and the need for replacements diluted its prewar quality, compromised its elitism, and negated claims of voluntarism, what role, if any, did the Volksdeutsche play in this deterioration?5

The Waffen-SS and Volksdeutsche at War: The Early Phase

This author assumes readers have some familiarity with the Schutzstaffel SS, its origins and nature, particularly of its early armed units, which Hitler officially designated as the Waffen-SS in 1940 in recognition of their metamorphosis in Poland from “asphalt soldiers”—good only for the parade ground—to the Reich's elite wartime combat force.6 As for the Volksdeutsche, it suffices to say that they played a relatively small, indistinguishable role in the prewar armed SS. It is not until the outbreak of war that one can begin to evaluate these foreign Germans as SS soldiers, and even then their profile remained too low for meaningful comparisons. Nevertheless, the attack on Poland is an appropriate opening, since their anonymity in this stage of the war contrasts sharply with their much-enhanced role beginning in June 1941, with the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Although armed SS troops had participated in the incursion into the Rhineland, the Austrian Anschluss, and the occupations of the Sudetenland and Bohemia-Moravia, their first combat test came in Poland. Their numbers amounted to a drop in the overall Blitzkrieg manpower bucket, and SS units were dispersed among various Wehrmacht divisions and corps. As for postcombat reviews, Wehrmacht generals commanding SS units in the field found little to commend and plenty to criticize, particularly their high casualty rates—which became a regular combat feature of the armed SS.7 As for the few Volksdeutsche scattered across the SS units, having enlisted as volunteers meeting the same strict qualifications as Reich Germans, little distinguished their collective performance.

(p.227) Following the Polish campaign, the SS consolidated these units into three divisions: the SS Verfügungstruppe became the SS Verfügungstruppe Division, ultimately the 2nd SS-Panzer Division Das Reich; the SS Totenkopfverbände emerged as the SS Totenkopf Division, later the 3rd SS-Panzer Division Totenkopf; and the armed police units turned into the SS Polizei Division, eventually the 4th SS Polizei Panzer Grenadier Division.8 The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH), which originated as the elite-of-the-elite detachment guarding the Reich Chancellery, fought as a reinforced regiment until its 1942 upgrade to the 1st SS-Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler.9 These elite (or “classic”) divisions formed the core of the Waffen-SS.

In the spring of 1940, the reorganized Waffen-SS joined in the attack in the West. No Waffen-SS units occupied Norway and Denmark in April; all fought in the Low Countries and France in May as the unofficial “fourth branch of the Wehrmacht.”10 As in Poland, no separate appraisal of the Volksdeutsche—still dispersed across all units—is possible, and short of examining individual records, one may only assume that these soldiers did no better and no worse than their Reich counterparts. Following this campaign, the SS leaders constructed the first non-German SS division, ultimately the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, intended for Scandinavian and other Germanic volunteers, such as the Dutch and Flemish. Since disappointingly few stepped forward, the SS supplemented this nominally Germanic division with Reich Germans and some Volksdeutsche, resulting in a German majority.

The next phase of war came unexpectedly in early April 1941, after Yugoslavia defied Hitler with a regime change that tilted this briefly Axis ally away from Germany. The attack on Yugoslavia substantially enhanced the role of Europe's Volksdeutsche within the Waffen-SS for the remainder of the war, as a native armed insurgency soon appeared, challenging the Reich's occupation and threatening the civilian Volksdeutsche of the former Vojvodina, eastern Croatia, and much of mountainous Bosnia-Herzegovina. Insurgents targeted German communities as exponents of the ethnic arrogance and atrocious behavior of the Reich German conquerors. The most effective were the Partisans, a multiethnic movement united both against the invaders and by their communist ideology. From this initially inchoate movement coalesced the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (PLA), whose leader was the Croatian communist Josip Broz, commonly known as Tito.11 As guerilla action escalated, (p.228) the Reich had no choice but to devote more troops than planned to pacifying and securing the land. Hitler regarded the Balkan theater as little more than a sideshow, an annoying digression delaying his main event, the invasion of Russia. As his first-line divisions left the Balkans for the main stage, inferior garrison divisions, police units, and the like replaced them, an Axis force including Italians, Croats, and Bulgarians of more than twenty divisions and at least one hundred autonomous smaller units.12 It would be in the Balkans and southeastern Europe in general that ethnic Germans would play their most important military role in the war.

Operation Barbarossa and the Volksdeutsche

On June 22, 1941, Hitler launched his assault on the Soviet Union, codenamed Operation Barbarossa. The Waffen-SS would come of age on the eastern front and in Hitler's eyes would justify his praise and confidence. The operation stoked SS demands for manpower replacements and pushed expansion to unprecedented levels, raising the issue of a mandatory Volksdeutsche military obligation, especially as it became evident that Barbarossa would not be another swift Blitzkrieg success. The targeted Volksdeutsche would mainly be those of southeastern Europe. Ironically, dipping heavily into the ethnic German manpower pool of the region, which some critics claim compromised the overall quality of the Waffen-SS, paralleled the apotheosis of the wartime Waffen-SS to legendary status. Given increased SS reliance on Volksdeutsche and their pronounced concentration in certain units, for the first time their performance became distinguishable and observable.

Operation Barbarossa set in motion an estimated three million Germans and half a million allies, a force including 160,405 men of the Waffen-SS.13 Early reports on SS performance were tentative but improving, although when the recently organized SS Kampfgruppe Nord took on the Red Army in Karelia, its men reportedly fled at first contact. Units of Das Reich, on the other hand, advanced within twenty kilometers of Moscow.14 As for the Volksdeutsche, still mostly scattered across the Waffen-SS, little marked their performance one way or another in the elite divisions. Nord, however, with numerous Volksdeutsche from mountainous areas of Europe, was an exception. It attracted undesirable attention with its poor showing, which may have raised allegations about the inferior fighting qualities of its Volksdeutsche. Reports and rumors may have (p.229) also reached the Führer and impressed on him an enduring, negative image of his non-Reich SS soldiers.15

As the 1941 campaign literally cooled down by late fall, it was clear the days of Blitzkrieg were over. The Waffen-SS had once more taken high casualties. By the end of 1941, of the original 160,405, the dead numbered 407 officers and 7,930 men; 816 officers and 26,299 men were wounded; thirteen officers and 923 men were missing. One may assume that Volksdeutsche casualties were proportional to their numbers. Although the Reich's forces thawed out and resumed their offensive in the spring of 1942, casualties continued to mount.16 These losses had to be replaced, and Volksdeutsche from the southeast increasingly replenished the Waffen-SS.

The Southeast: Building SS Division Prinz Eugen

As the SS stepped up recruitment for replacements in 1942, it also created more divisions. For the Volksdeutsche, by far the most important of these new creations was the almost exclusively ethnic German 7th SS Freiwillige Gebirgs Division Prinz Eugen—named for the late seventeenth/early eighteenth-century Habsburg commander who rolled back the Turks in the Balkans. If any single Waffen-SS unit embodied and represented the Volksdeutsche wartime experience, for better or for worse, it was Prinz Eugen. The results of the “barrel scraping” from 1942 to 1945 manifest themselves in this unit more graphically than in any other.17 With the growing insurgency in the Balkans, it made good sense to exploit local German familiarity with the terrain, peoples, and languages of the region. Henceforth, most Volksdeutsche from Serbia, Croatia, the Banat, and even far away as Transylvania—whether true volunteers, coerced draftees, transfers from non-German armies, German militias, or whatever—would serve in Prinz Eugen.18 Formed in March 1942, it initially operated within the Balkans under General Alexander Löhr's Army Group E.19

For its division commander, Himmler turned to the most accomplished Volksdeutscher available, General Arthur Phleps of Romania, possessing both impressive credentials and experience for the task. Born in Transylvania in 1881, Phleps began his military career in the Habsburg Army, served throughout the Balkans, fought in World War I, continued his career in the Romanian army as a member of its General Staff, and even advised King Carol on military matters. He retired prior to World War II but in 1941 heeded the völkisch call (p.230) and volunteered for the Waffen-SS. Assigned to Wiking in Russia, Phleps received a general's rank and fought to the Caucasus, and in January 1942 he returned to the Balkans to construct Prinz Eugen.20

Phleps set up headquarters in the occupied Banat, home to the largest number of accessible Volksdeutsche in the southeast, and started from scratch. He found plenty of enlisted men, thanks to nearby recruitment efforts in Croatia and Serbia-Banat, but qualified officers and NCOs (noncommissioned officers) were harder to procure. He gathered some from existing SS units, including Wiking, but throughout the war securing competent cadre remained a chronic problem. Phleps nevertheless collected several top-flight SS officers, including fellow Volksdeutscher Desiderius Hampel of Croatia, also a veteran of the Habsburg World War I armies.21 Of the officers, most were Volksdeutsche, not Reich Germans. Otto Kumm, one of Phleps's eventual successors as commander, estimated that in 1942 the ratio of Volksdeutsche to Reich German company-grade officers in Prinz Eugen was three to one, the same for battalion commanders; for regimental commanders, the ratio was two to one. Volksdeutsche NCOs outnumbered Reich counterparts five to one.22 Based on Hitler's yardstick, these proportions did not bode well.

Though bountiful in numbers, the rank and file left much to be desired—they were mostly simple farmers unaccustomed to military discipline and alien even to basic hygiene. An officer described one encampment as a “pig-sty”—indeed “the greatest pig-sty of all time.” He also complained about transforming Banat peasants into “Prussian parade soldiers.”23 Otto Kumm recalled the division's low initial reputation and how most SS officers deemed an assignment to Prinz Eugen “no great honor,” hardly above disciplinary action, even tantamount to a demotion. The word spread quickly that it did not belong with the elite. At Junkerschule Bad Tölz the image of Prinz Eugen was so dismal that graduating officers ordered to Prinz Eugen immediately requested transfers. An SS ditty caught on reviling the new division: “Prinz Eugen, the noble troop, it must scuffle with Serbs, our trash division.”24 Chief SS recruiter Gottlob Berger thought little of Phleps's leadership and believed rumors he was an Allied agent.25

A few sympathizers appreciated the simplicity of Prinz Eugen's men: “Often stood father and son in the same formation. What these men lacked in peacetime education, they replaced with daring and toughness … through knowledge of the enemy's way of waging war.”26 (p.231) Kumm, a converted critic, eventually became the division's chief advocate: “Few divisions could boast such willing, unpretentious, persevering, self-sacrificing and extremely brave soldiers. In spite of such a difficult beginning, they fulfilled the high standards of an SS Division.”27 Two prominent wartime SS commanders, both postwar apologists, Paul Hausser and Felix Steiner, later praised Prinz Eugen for its prowess, usually under the most difficult circumstances.28 At least, according to some, these simple Volksdeutsche soldiers of Prinz Eugen loved their “Papa Phleps.”29

The equipment allocated to Prinz Eugen was also substandard. Most weapons were captured and obsolete, an assortment of Czech, Yugoslav, and Polish issue—many left over from the previous war. As for transportation, horses, oxen, and mules were standard, and except for occasional railway rides, Prinz Eugen knew little of the mechanized Blitzkrieg way of war. All things considered, these primitive ways suited waging anti-Partisan warfare in the rugged Balkans—and “no-one, except for their adversaries, knew the terrain better.”30 As for preparation, after some basic instruction the trainees practiced “on-the-job-training,” patrolling as soon as they were armed.31

The issue of quality aside, Prinz Eugen left in its wake a legacy of rapine and a shameful record of atrocities. One of its major detractors, the historian George H. Stein, notes that “the most shocking evidence against the Waffen SS” submitted at the postwar Nuremberg Tribunal came from Yugoslavia. He refers to Prinz Eugen's “criminal activities” coming to light, including “burning villages, massacre of inhabitants, torture and murder of captured partisans.”32 The critic Robert L. Koehl concurs that the division “gained a horrible reputation for cruelty.”33 For instance, though Otto Kumm denied ever following the infamous order requiring a “hundred to one” ratio of hostages to be shot in retaliation for the deaths of German soldiers, Prinz Eugen most assuredly did: “Bandits seized in battle are to be shot. All other bandit suspects, etc., are to be seized and deported for labor purposes to Germany.”34

Blame for atrocities in this theater cannot be ascribed solely to Prinz Eugen, although as the war progressed, a strong case can be made for it being the chief perpetrator. As Robert Herzstein amply documents, the Wehrmacht also executed tens of thousands of Yugoslavs, including innocent civilians, in ruthless, cold-blooded reprisals.35 Most SS apologists concede that the monstrous Prinz Eugen reputation exists, but they attribute it to the historically cruel (p.232) and savage nature of Balkan warfare, the resumption of ethnic, tribal warfare—an allegation holding some truth, since the crimes of the Croatian Ustasha against Serbs were at least as terrible as those of the Germans. In 1941 alone, the Ustasha murdered some two hundred thousand Serbs.36

Others allude to the inherent barbarity of all guerilla warfare and indict both sides for perpetrating a ceaseless, unforgiving cycle of brutality.37 Certainly no one can deny that the Partisans executed most enemies regardless of ethnicity and, in the case of Volksdeutsche, civilians as well as combatants.38 Milovan Djilas, Tito's wartime right-hand man, acknowledged savagery on both sides, matter of factly and without remorse admitting to Partisans executing their prisoners. He also candidly compliments the local SS division as the “famous Seventh SS Prinz Eugene Division.” When referring to an impenetrably dense stretch of forest, he notes, “Not even these SS men from the Seventh” were willing to enter.39 Several postwar advocates for the SS tend to agree with Djilas on the fierce image of Prinz Eugen and proudly accept that its men were feared and hated by their enemy.40

By October 1942, enough of Prinz Eugen was combat ready to move out on its first operation, according to its motto, “Vorwärts, Prinz Eugen!” Its first assignment took the division to the mountainous Serbia-Montenegro border, where its men launched the first of many anti-Partisan actions. Through the rest of 1942 and into 1943, Prinz Eugen operated through, around, and over rivers, mountain ranges, cities, towns, and villages that became familiar names fifty years later during the Balkan warfare of the 1990s: Sarajevo, Mostar, Karlovac, Dubrovnik, Tuzla, Srbeniza, and many others—for the same reasons as before: indiscriminate bloodshed, widespread arson, mass murder, and repeated cruelties.41 In this borderless conflict, the Volksdeutsche of Prinz Eugen devised an apropos second slogan: “Wherever we are, that is the front.”42

The SS Cavalry Units and Antipartisan Warfare

The second Waffen-SS division formed in 1942, the SS Kavallerie Division, which evolved into the 8th SS Kavallerie Division Florian Geyer, was also known for its Volksdeutsche majority and its counterinsurgency mission. Originating in Poland in 1939 as a collection of SS riding units, it performed police duties, including protecting ethnic Germans, hunting Polish stragglers, and rounding up Jews. (p.233) In 1940, it helped evacuate Volksdeutsche resettlers from Volhynia, then evicted Poles from their farms to make room for these Germans. At one point Himmler augmented this formation with South Tyrolean Volksdeutsche, all cavalry veterans of the Italian campaign in Ethiopia.43 Its first commander was the accomplished SS equestrian Hermann Fegelein, who later served as a special SS adjutant to Adolf Hitler.44 In June 1941, the unit, now the SS Kavallerie Brigade, “mopped up” in the rear of Army Group Center.45

Although the SS primarily relied on Einsatzgruppen killing units for clean-up missions, it learned that cavalry could hunt suspects more effectively in rugged, “bandit”-infested terrain such as the forests and swamps of the Pripet Marshes. Since many Volksdeutsche hailed from rural backgrounds and working with animals and riding came as second nature to them, the cavalry was a fitting assignment. Under the pretense of counterinsurgency, they and their Reich comrades routinely perpetrated the most insidious SS duties, the shooting of women, children, the elderly, and even a few genuine partisans.46 For example, in one week in November 1941 the SS Kavallerie Brigade shot 281 partisans and suspects, meaning civilians. These horsemen continued their bloody campaign in western Russia into 1942, shooting 239 prisoners and 6,504 more civilian “suspects.”47 The brigade received another supplement of Volksdeutsche in June 1942, several thousand recruits with equestrian experience from the Hungarian Batschka, expanding into the SS Kavallerie Division, ultimately the 8th SS Kavallerie Division Florian Geyer, named for a sixteenth-century Franconian defender of Martin Luther.48 By late 1942, the new division had a strength of 161 officers, 677 NCOs, and 5,471 men (by another count 10,879), 80 percent of them Volksdeutsche, mostly from Hungary.49

Although Fegelein's successor Willi Bittrich complained about his ethnic German soldiers' poor German and inadequate military training, by February 1943 the unit had earned five Knight's Crosses, 115 Iron Crosses First Class, and 939 Iron Crosses Second Class—not a bad haul for a relatively new division away from the front, and one with mostly ethnic Germans.50 Into 1943 it continued to patrol behind the eastern front. In August, the SS ordered raising a fourth cavalry regiment, to be filled by Volksdeutsche from occupied areas of the Soviet Union. When ordered to the front lines for conventional combat—where the enemy shoots back—the division suffered heavy casualties and in December had to be withdrawn and transferred closer to home—at least for its Volksdeutsche—to Croatia. (p.234) One regiment, however, remained in Russia fighting partisans until it too was later expanded into a division.51

One may reasonably conclude that since Volksdeutsche eventually comprised the majority of Florian Geyer, they must share complicity in the most heinous deeds of the SS, the murder of civilians, specifically Jews—after all, it was commonly understood in the SS that “partisan” was often synonymous with “Jew.” But this indictment, though it mirrors a certain moral turpitude, does not necessarily reflect on soldierly qualities. One related development does, however, shed more light on the quality of antipartisan troops. A batch of trainees arrived at Bobruisk in Belarus (on the Minsk-Bobruisk railway line, a favorite target for saboteurs) in July 1943.52 They were Transylvanians just released from the Romanian army. The cadre was appalled at their condition—pathetic! At least half were unfit for soldiering, crippled by an assortment of maladies, from hernias to dental problems requiring extraction of as many as sixteen teeth. Although most had combat experience, many were previously wounded and partly disabled. The majority were “farm laborers, dull-witted and inept in speaking standard German because of their local dialects. More than two-thirds suffered from bad teeth, which caused … stomach and bowel disease.” The least capable were collected in one company and assigned the simplest chores, a unit of “useless men … intellectually deficient … failing basic cognitive tests … clumsy.”53 Truly dregs? Not so fast. After about three weeks, a few showed signs of becoming “useful soldiers.”54 Nonetheless, the Waffen-SS had sunk quite a distance, from the exemplary prewar “Praetorian guards” at the Reich Chancellery to the Volksdeutsche guards at Bobruisk.

After Stalingrad: The Manpower Crisis

The war continued for nearly two and a half more years after Stalingrad, but most combatants, on both sides—with the exception of the Führer and a few zealots—realized the tide of war had shifted. Germany's armed forces would still eke out some victories, but sooner or later all roads and military columns pointed toward the Reich. All the Germans could do was to continue fighting, trust their Führer, replenish themselves as they could, and hope for the best. This sentiment permeated the Waffen-SS fighting in Russia, seven divisions in all, with a total of 221,000 men. One solitary SS division, Prinz Eugen with its nearly twenty thousand ethnic Germans, carried on in the Balkans—albeit alongside several lower-quality Wehrmacht units.55

(p.235) The elite SS had doggedly fought along the Russian front, earning accolades from SS superiors, begrudgingly from their Wehrmacht field commanders, and above all from their Führer. But glory had come at a heavy price in casualties. Replacements filled the gaps, including draftees from the Reich, but increasingly from the Volksdeutsche “barrel” of the southeast. Moreover, a planned expansion in 1943 would more than double the size of the Waffen-SS in the numbers of divisions and manpower—at least on paper, if not in the field.56 Expansion drew heavily on the Volksdeutsche, but with one major exception, Prinz Eugen—and increasingly the Kavallerie Division—the SS still distributed recruits across divisions as needed. Another facet of enlargement was the creation of non-German, non-Germanic SS divisions of so-called Eastern peoples, as Hitler finally discarded his racial reservations about arming non-Germanics. The results were mixed, with outstanding performances from one Estonian and two Latvian divisions, but the rest were hopeless failures—far worse than the scoops from the dwindling Volksdeutsche barrel.57 Indeed, in the Balkans Prinz Eugen experimented with building a Bosnian Moslem division, the 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS Handschar, and providing its cadre, but these Bosnians proved unreliable and made ethnic Germans look like paragons of SS elitism.58

The price of expansion was dilution in quality of SS men and units. Most experts concur that by 1943 the Waffen-SS, except for the “classic elite” units, was no longer what it used to be.59 Although some blame the decline on the increased use of Volksdeutsche after 1942 and the wholesale enlistment of non-Germanic “Eastern peoples” beginning in 1943, others point to the 1942 extension of Waffen-SS conscription to ordinary Reich Germans as a factor.60 The practice of transferring entire units from the navy and the Luftwaffe to the Waffen-SS in the last two years of the war also diminished quality. The SS hoped to preserve its elitism and esprit de corps by spreading veterans throughout the new units, but this did little to correct the deterioration and further weakening the older formations.61

The Southeast Theater: Prinz Eugen in Action, 1943

Having examined the Volksdeutsche experience at the heights of German success, one turns to its slide downhill. As the Battle of Stalingrad reached its denouement, its repercussions rippled to the Balkans, where Tito's fighters, encouraged by Red Army victories, (p.236) intensified their activity.62 Prinz Eugen continued chasing them across the western Balkans, inflicting heavy casualties but doing nothing to discourage enlistments. By late 1942, PLA and Partisan strength had grown to around 150,000, organized into nine divisions and numerous local units.63 Taking the matter more seriously, Hitler summoned the highest Reich and Italian diplomats and commanders to his Rastenburg headquarters in December to plan a strategy for wiping out this menace once and for all. He declared the “bandits” not only a tactical nuisance but also a strategic threat, possibly linking up with an Allied invasion of the Balkans.64

The result was Operation Weiss, Prinz Eugen's first major offensive, launched in January 1943 in bitter winter weather. The Axis collected five German divisions (four Wehrmacht and Prinz Eugen), several Italian divisions, and the Croatian Ustasha. All prisoners and suspected accomplices were to be shot and some ninety thousand civilians deported to Italian and German camps.65 But as would repeatedly be the case, instead of destroying the enemy, the Axis merely dislodged and scattered a few Partisan units.66

The Germans ordered yet another offensive, to be launched on May 15, labeled Operation Schwarz; if “White” failed, try “Black.” They gathered another superior force, 120,000 troops in all, including 67,000 Germans, 43,000 Italians, and 11,000 Croats, against some 16,000 Partisans. By then, the Axis alliance showed strains, with Reich commanders deploring Italian reluctance to take the fight to the Partisans. The ruffled feelings were mutual, since Italians took umbrage at the Germans appropriating the name of Phleps's division's namesake, “Prince Eugene of Savoy,” who, although a Habsburg general, ethnically was Italian. But there was more to the tension than Prince Eugene's birthplace. One of the most exasperated Germans was Arthur Phleps, who decried the lack of Italian cooperation in Operation Schwarz—for example, the Italians denied the Germans use of the Mostar airfield—and demanded the transfer of Herzegovina from Italian to German occupation.67

This Axis quarrel climaxed in a heated exchange during a meeting in Podgornica on May 22, where Phleps (never hesitant to speak his mind) appalled his Wehrmacht interpreter, Lt. Kurt Waldheim, by calling his Italian counterpart General Roncaglia a “lazy macaroni” and nearly coming to blows with his ally. After the encounter, Phleps scolded young Waldheim, whose translations evidently were toning down Phleps's vitriol: “Listen, Waldheim, I know some Italian and you are not translating what I am telling this so-and-so.”68 (p.237) Another time, Phleps, on his way to meet with an Italian general, threatened to shoot the Italian sentries that kept him waiting at a checkpoint.69

Despite Italian intransigence, the operation—especially the men of Prinz Eugen—blazed a swath of destruction through the central Balkans, destroying villages, shooting Partisans, but mostly murdering civilians—even burning buildings with live people locked inside. In one instance, they crammed locals into a church in Kniwaja Reka and then blew it up.70 But as in Operation Weiss, Tito's forces slipped away to fight another day.71 The Germans did manage to replace the Italians as the occupiers of Herzegovina, an act celebrated in German newsreels picturing Phleps ceremoniously riding into Mostar on horseback.72 Shortly afterward, Phleps assumed command of the newly established 5th Mountain Corps and devoted most of his energies to organizing the Bosnian division Handschar, turning Prinz Eugen over to Carl von Oberkamp.73 Following Operation Schwarz, Prinz Eugen continued skirmishing the Partisans, all the while terrorizing the civilian population, murdering, destroying, and burning.74 In retaliation for an ambush on an SS patrol requisitioning cattle and food in the Bosnian countryside, men of Prinz Eugen ordered the people of nearby Popovaca from their homes and, unable to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent, shot one hundred civilians at random.75 Would this behavior be that of dregs or gems?

Then, in early September 1943 Prinz Eugen received an unexpected duty—accepting the surrender of Italian troops along the Adriatic coast. Anticipating a total Italian collapse after Mussolini's overthrow on July 26, the Reich military had drawn up plans for disarming the Italians, Case Axis.76 Following Italy's capitulation to the Anglo-Americans on September 8, Reich forces occupied Italy north of a line drawn across the peninsula south of Rome. Prinz Eugen disarmed Italians along the Dalmatian coast, from Split in the north to Dubrovnik in the south.77 Not all of the seven hundred thousand Italians in the Balkans surrendered meekly. On the Greek island of Cephalonia alone the Germans killed some four thousand resisting Italians. For the Volksdeutsche of Prinz Eugen, however, rounding up Italian POWs in picturesque locations such as Dubrovnik, Split, and the Dalmatian islands amounted to a much-needed respite. The 18,000 Italians Prinz Eugen captured in Split alone undoubtedly were among the 426,000 Italians the Germans deported to labor camps.78 It is also estimated that as many as twenty (p.238) thousand Italians defected to the Partisans, accounting for the large numbers of Italians noted in subsequent German reports on captured “bandits.”79

Following the roundup of Italians, Prinz Eugen returned to chasing Partisans and in mid-November 1943 launched yet another major offensive, Operation Kugelblitz. Phleps had personally met with Hitler to discuss the plan. The offensive got off to an ominous start when Prinz Eugen's new commander, Carl von Oberkamp, bowed out, claiming physical and emotional stress. His replacement, August Schneidhuber, was barely up to the task. After struggling across rugged terrain, fighting in ice and snow, and suffering a rash of foot maladies inflicted by the horrendous weather, Kugelblitz smoked the Partisans out of their winter lairs but accomplished little else.80 The Germans regarded this action a success, since the Partisans discarded much equipment and suffered more losses, an estimated—by German count—two thousand killed, 2,280 wounded, and 2,330 captured, along with 1,900 Italians. German losses were much lower.81

In his postwar account of this action, Phleps's chief of staff Otto Kumm mentions no German wrongdoing. He never refers to the general order to shoot all captured “bandits,” an action that surely followed. Instead, sensitive to postwar charges of SS misbehavior and in an attempt to exonerate Prinz Eugen, he recalls captured Partisans on their knees thanking their German captors for bread.82 Kumm also cites seizing an American flier, whom Prinz Eugen purportedly turned over chivalrously to the Luftwaffe in Sarajevo as a POW.83 From the perspective of the adversary, the Partisan commander Milovan Djilas saw things differently—captured Partisans, except for those important enough for prisoner exchanges, had virtually no chance of survival.84

1944: Replenishing the Two Major Fronts

The year 1944 heralded German reversals all along the eastern front. In the coming year, the Red Army would drive German forces off all Soviet territory except the Kurland pocket in western Latvia. The Reich's forces could only muster defensive delays and a few brief counteroffensives. More than ever before, the Führer called on the Waffen-SS to stem the Red surge. In this futile effort, the Waffen SS truly earned its sobriquet “fire brigade,” as Hitler frantically shuffled its units back and forth all across the front, hoping that his elite SS (p.239) could halt the enemy's advance once more. Both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS endured horrific casualties, with entire divisions obliterated. It would be under these deteriorating circumstances that the proportion of Volksdeutsche to Reich Germans in Waffen-SS units jumped in leaps and bounds.

One after another, in early 1944 several Waffen-SS divisions, including the elite Totenkopf and Wiking, turned westward from the eastern front after suffering debilitating losses. Many SS units by then had been replenished with ethnic Germans from the southeast, such as the large group from Batschka retreating with Wiking. Other ethnic German remnants joined Florian Geyer.85 Another division with a large ethnic German contingent was the 11th SS Panzer Grenadier Division Nordland, which withdrew along with Army Group North from Leningrad through the Baltic States.86 One of its surviving brigades was upgraded in early 1945 as the 23rd SS Freiwillinge Panzer Division Nederland, with its 2,500 Dutchmen augmented by two thousand Volksdeutsche.87 One more SS division to appear in 1944 with a heavy infusion of Volksdeutsche, mainly inductees from the German-occupied Banat, was the 18th SS Panzer Grenadier Division Horst Wessel, which had trained briefly in Croatia by scrimmaging partisans. In March 1944, both Horst Wessel and Florian Geyer arrived in Hungary to hold its wavering regime in the Axis alliance—an assignment much closer to home for their southeastern Volksdeutsche.88

As the eastern front receded westward, in June the Anglo-Americans landed in northern France at Normandy and opened up the long-awaited second major front. Hitler frantically dispatched Waffen-SS “fire brigades” to Normandy to do what they could not do in the east—stop the enemy. Most of the SS divisions rushed to France contained sizeable contingents of Volksdeutsche; some were veterans of earlier campaigns, but most were recent conscripts from the southeast.89 Although Volksdeutsche continued to fight on the two major fronts, for the majority, their principal effort in the last year of the war would be expended closer to home, in the Balkans and Hungary. Beginning in late summer 1944, SS divisions converged on the region, all well below strength but hoping to glean local ethnic German replacements. Several altogether new divisions would also arise in the area from the refuse of destroyed units—nearer to home but also closer to the battlefields.

At the start of 1944, the most experienced SS division fighting in the Balkans, engaged mostly in anti-Partisan hunting, remained (p.240) Prinz Eugen, which had steadily improved its image up to the status of a reliable, if not quite elite, SS formation. George Stein wryly comments that Prinz Eugen becoming a centerpiece of German defenses in the southeast was a sad commentary on the level to which Reich armed forces had sunk.90 But just as it was about to take center stage, Prinz Eugen faced a leadership crisis. Its most recent commanders, Carl von Oberkamp and August Schneidhuber, who had taken turns at leading the division, had allowed it to run down. After an inspection in January 1944, prompted by an encounter in which a battalion was overrun and had fled, Phleps, as commander of the 5th Mountain Corps, was appalled at the generally poor condition, low morale, and scruffy appearance of his former unit. Attributing the less than stellar outcome of Operation Schwarz and recent reversals to its commanders, he asked Himmler for a replacement. Meanwhile, Phleps ordered Prinz Eugen to the Adriatic coast for rest and refitting and to await its new commander. The replacement in February was none other than Otto Kumm, a sharp critic of the division and Phleps's chief of staff.91 Kumm steadily came to appreciate his new unit and sought to set it on par with the SS elite, capable of facing any crisis or contingency.92

In April, Prinz Eugen and its new commander returned from the Adriatic beaches and resumed hunting Partisans. Tito meanwhile had secured Allied recognition as a co-combatant warranting a British military liaison. When German intelligence in Belgrade discovered the location of Tito's political and military headquarters in Drvar in western Bosnia, Field Marshall Alexander Weichs ordered an assault for May 25—Tito's birthday—under the code name of Rösselsprung, the tricky knight's jump in chess. The Wehrmacht again assembled a huge force, hoping to wipe out the Partisans. The SS contribution included Prinz Eugen as well as its elite 500th SS Airborne battalion. The plan envisioned surrounding Tito along with the British mission and his highest political and military officers and then annihilating them, along with several PLA divisions, all in one swoop. The assault would begin with the Luftwaffe bombing the base, followed by the SS airborne jumping right on top of Tito's camp.93

The attack unfolded as planned with the Luftwaffe raid and the airborne assault, but then all hell broke loose: the defenders resisted fiercely, and Tito managed to escape, though just barely—leaving behind some twenty British dead and hundreds of other casualties, including on the German side a nearly destroyed SS airborne battalion.

(p.241) A wounded Tito and his entourage fled to Kupresko Polje—an arduous journey of about a week—with Prinz Eugen in close pursuit. On one occasion the fugitives barely escaped, leaving behind Tito's marshal's uniform draped over a chair. Another war souvenir was the rucksack of Randolph Churchill, the British prime minister's son and a member of the Allied mission. Along the way, Prinz Eugen destroyed an entire Partisan division in rear-guard skirmishes, but Tito flew the coop: on the night of June 3–4, a Soviet-flown DC–3 lifted Tito and his party from Kupresko Polje to an Allied airfield at Bari in southern Italy.94

Although Prinz Eugen and its German partners failed to snag Tito, they claimed success, at least in the body count and in dispersing enemy forces. Otto Kumm, who had criticized his predecessors and blamed them for recent Prinz Eugen failures, placed as positive a spin as possible on this latest exercise in futility—since the major Partisan breakout from the encirclement had come through his sector. He blamed anything and everything—except for his own leadership—for the failure to close the trap: disruptive Allied air support for Tito, hasty and incomplete planning from above, inadequate communications and coordination, insufficient weaponry.95 On the other hand, Kumm discerned improved performance from his men. He boasted how the Army's 15th Mountain Corps, a partner in the assault, commended both the 5th SS Mountain Corps and above all Prinz Eugen for distinction. Kumm also cited a wounded Wehrmacht soldier: “We were lucky soldiers to have comrades from Division Prinz Eugen, who were mostly Volksdeutsche, come save us.”96

While still pursuing Tito, Phleps threw a victory party along the way and declared “free hunting,” which in the context and parlance of counterinsurgency could mean only one thing—shoot everything and everyone in sight.97 Before the men of Prinz Eugen could get back to “free hunting,” they enjoyed some more downtime near the coast. It was during this interlude in the first week of June that a dismayed Kumm informed his troops of disturbing events hundreds of miles away in France:

The great decisive battle of this war has begun with the invasion … the combat we are conducting here is also important for the overall outcome of the war. Continue to fight courageously and decisively. These fateful weeks and months will decide whether Germany survives or perishes. If each of us bravely commits his (p.242) life, then victory will be ours. Long live Germany! Long live the Führer! Forward, Prinz Eugen!98

Despite Kumm's optimism, the war was about to take a very different turn in southeastern Europe, especially for the men of Prinz Eugen. Having returned to the combat zone, they discovered new partners, no longer their old friends of the Army's elite 1st Mountain Division but rather the new Handschar, which, except for its mostly Volksdeutsche officers (including its Croatian Volksdeutscher commander, Desiderius Hampel), consisted of Bosnian Moslems.99 The Bosnians, however, preferred getting even with ethnic enemies to fighting Partisans, and in combat they deserted at the first opportunity. In September, the SS dissolved Handschar, sent most of the Moslems home, and transferred the German cadre to other SS units.100 The same fate soon befell a second Bosnian division, the 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS Kama, with most Moslems released and its Volksdeutsche officers, many from Hungarian Batschka, recycled as the cadre for the new 31st SS Freiwilligen Panzer Grenadier Division Böhmen-Mähren.101

One final attempt at employing Balkan Moslems alongside ethnic Germans was the 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS Skanderbeg, formed of Kosovo Albanians whose only inclination was murdering Kosovo Serbs. As their desertion rate approached one-half, in December Skanderbeg went the way of the other two Moslem divisions, with its rank and file sent home and its mostly Austrian and Volksdeutsche officers reassigned—many in this case to the new 32nd SS Panzer Grenadier Division 30 Januar.102 The only redeeming consequence of this dismal experiment in Balkan Moslems fighting for the Reich was having a ready-made German cadre available for the new, heavily Volksdeutsche SS divisions appearing at this late stage in the war.

The Southeastern Front: The Soviet Invasion

As the Red Army fought westward in a two-pronged assault toward Germany, one force along the Baltic coast and a second farther south through Poland, starting in the summer of 1944 a third Soviet thrust pushed into the Balkans, threatening to engulf the region and ultimately setting its sights on the Reich from that direction. Consequently, Prinz Eugen abandoned counterinsurgency and adopted an unaccustomed style of combat—conventional warfare, (p.243) engaging regular armed forces, including the massed Red Army. By mid-July 1944, the Red threat attracted Hitler's attention to the Balkans as never before. Although the prospects of an Allied invasion in the southern Balkans still obsessed him, the real threat came from the northeast, where on August 19 the Red Army cut loose its offensive, quickly crossing the Dniester into Romania with nearly one million troops.

As Soviet forces advanced deeper into Romania, disillusioned and war-weary officers in Bucharest overthrew the wartime leader Marshall Ion Antonescu on August 23. They denounced the German alliance and defected to the Soviet side, trapping some sixteen German divisions in Romania. Two days after the reversal, some seven thousand German troops in Bucharest surrendered. Others tried to fight their way out of Romania, which resulted in heavy German casualties. Conversely, the Romanians granted the Soviets free passage into the Carpathians and Transylvania, home to one of the largest Volksdeutsche communities—at a time when most of their men were elsewhere, fighting in the ranks of the Waffen-SS.103 By the end of August, the Red Army had occupied most of historic Romania and much of Transylvania. In early September, the Axis partner Bulgaria also defected.104

As the Soviets occupied Romania, in late August Arthur Phleps bid farewell to the men of Prinz Eugen as well as to his 5th Corps cadre and left for his native Transylvania—parts of which were already controlled by the Soviets, others by Romanians—to rally any remaining ethnic German men into a viable self-defense force. He arrived at Brasov (Kronstadt), hoping to use his friendship with Romanian officers to his advantage. Although cordial, his former Romanian colleagues denied his requests for organizing a militia as well as for evacuating the civilian population. In early September, while on a reconnaissance mission with only his driver, he mistakenly ran into a Soviet patrol and was captured. Evidently, he was taken to a local Red Army command post and then shot—though the Soviets claim it was a misunderstanding and not their intent.105

As if two defecting Axis allies were not enough, on August 29 Slovakia, emboldened by Romania's reversal, staged a rebellion.106 The uprising caught both the Reich military and the Carpathian Volksdeutsche unprepared. Thousands of ethnic German civilians suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of rebelling Slovaks, particularly in central Slovakia. It was at this point that Germans who had remained loyal to Slovakia and had not yet switched to the SS, (p.244) such as Col. Rudolf Pilfousek, did so. The first line of German defense was the Heimatschutz, the local ethnic German paramilitary self-defense force, along with available odds and ends from the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS. Several SS replacement units were tossed into the battle, as were two SS panzer grenadier battalions, organized as SS Kampfgruppe Schill. Himmler appointed none other than the chief Waffen-SS recruiter Gottlob Berger to command these German forces. Berger, accustomed to mustering troops from the most unpromising sources, was the right man for the job.107

Berger pulled together the aforementioned units as well as three nearby SS formations, Horst Wessel, elements of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division der SS Galizien, and the infamous Dirlewanger Brigade—none by reputation among the elite, far from it. Horst Wessel arrived from Hungary, where it had joined in the Reich's military occupation of March 1944. It consisted overwhelmingly of Volksdeutsche draftees from Hungary, some eight thousand in all, reluctant and desertion-prone soldiers—true military dregs, at least in spirit if not physically.108 Galizien had been refitting in Silesia after a drubbing in the Ukraine, and its ethnic Ukrainians and Galician Volksdeutsche added numbers, if not much else, to the fray.109 The lowest of the low the Waffen-SS mustered were the thugs of the Dirlewanger Brigade, mostly convicted criminals who had applied their antisocial experiences to antipartisan operations on the eastern front. Few of the gathered troops were Reich Germans; the majority comprised Volksdeutsche from nearby Hungary, the Protectorate, and Slovakia itself.110

By November, this motley assembly had quelled the Slovak revolt. Some remained behind as security forces; others moved on to more urgent assignments or to one of several SS divisions under construction. Hungary henceforth became a staging area from where SS divisions or component parts deployed throughout southeastern Europe as expediency dictated. For better or for worse, the majority of Volksdeutsche from the southeast were finally fighting closer to home, and once they realized the immediacy of the threat to one's family and homeland, even the “dregs” became respectable if not quite elite soldiers. The war had finally become their battle, not just the Reich's.

While Berger's forces were suppressing the Slovak uprising, nearby areas heated up. One source of volatility was the rejuvenated Partisan movement. Tito was back in Yugoslavia, eager to fight but no longer satisfied with waging guerilla war in remote mountains.

(p.245) He anticipated finishing the war leading a national liberation army and claiming both postwar authority and recognition.111 But the paramount determinant remained the Red Army, which held the initiative. The Reich military, stretched thin across the region, could only react, scurrying between crises. Hitler ordered more “fire brigades” to the region, but the SS discovered that its knack for success had fizzled. Furthermore, as more divisions arrived, expecting to replenish manpower needs by dipping into the “barrel” of local Volksdeutsche, the bottom had come into view, leaving little but offal to scoop.

Meanwhile, Prinz Eugen was about to try its hand at conventional warfare. In late September, Army Group F Commander Weichs summoned Otto Kumm to Belgrade and ordered his division to Nish, close to the Bulgarian border, to halt the Red Army and its new Bulgarian allies. Kumm glumly noted that Prinz Eugen was about “to begin its next, most difficult page in its history.”112 Unaccustomed to fighting conventional forces and grossly outnumbered, the division took extremely heavy casualties but held its ground into October.113 Indeed, the Partisans reported that at Nish they and their Soviet and Bulgarian allies had destroyed the main body of Prinz Eugen.114

The reports of Prinz Eugen's destruction were premature, and its mission to hold Nish led into another, even more demanding assignment—securing a bridgehead at Kraljevo on the Morava River until the end of November, long enough to allow for the evacuation of Löhr's Army Group E from Greece. This fiercely contested withdrawal of some 300,000 to 350,000 German troops across Macedonia and the central Balkans covered more than one thousand kilometers and took several weeks—a monumental accomplishment often referred to as a “German Dunkirk.” Kumm's division disengaged at Nish in mid-October, and its remaining four thousand soldiers marched over rugged terrain to Kraljevo. Here, these ethnic German veterans held on until November 28, when the tail end of Army Group E crossed the Morava. Sappers blew up the bridges, and Prinz Eugen's survivors covered the retreating German columns, engaging in rear-guard action all the way. Several times they foiled traps and escaped annihilation, but with losses so heavy that the pronouncements of their demise were approaching truth.115 Kumm, who received the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, declared Kraljevo his division's most illustrious wartime accomplishment. Erich Schmidt-Richberg, chief of staff of Army Group E, (p.246) acknowledged Prinz Eugen's heroism: “If Kraljevo was lost, Army Group E would have been lost.”116 Having earned copious accolades and a trove of decorations, Prinz Eugen returned to Bosnia then withdrew into Croatia.117

Prinz Eugen's Volksdeutsche had fought a conventional operation against tremendous odds and fulfilled their mission. Whatever their record may have been in terms of hunting guerillas (with all the concomitant atrocities, cruelties, and inhumanities charged to them), at Kraljevo, whether dregs or not, they performed at the highest level anyone could have asked of German soldiers at this low point in the war. While entire Wehrmacht divisions were being obliterated and other Waffen-SS units rendered useless, these Volksdeutsche continued fighting, and effectively at that. Prinz Eugen's determined resistance at Kraljevo raised its status within the Waffen-SS, at least for the moment on par with those of the elites fighting on the other fronts.

The men of Prinz Eugen were not the only ethnic Germans battling across the expanding southeastern theater. Earlier, Florian Geyer and its mostly Hungarian Volksdeutsche troops had retreated from southern Russia across Romania, westward through Transylvania, eventually to Hungary.118 In September, units of Horst Wessel stationed in Hungary briefly moved into northern Transylvania, as did the newly formed Kavallerie Division Maria Theresia, also encamped in Hungary—only to be repulsed by the Soviets. Survivors of these three SS divisions, mostly Volksdeutsche, limped back to Hungary to defend Budapest.119

While Prinz Eugen briefly had deployed eastward and southward in the fall, Tito's forces occupied more of the central Balkans and much of the Dalmatian coast and islands. Meanwhile, the Soviets advanced, targeting Belgrade as their principal goal; by mid-October, they had nearly surrounded the city. Concluding that resistance was folly, the Germans evacuated on October 19 and relocated west to Sarajevo and toward Croatia.120 The Soviet “liberation” of Belgrade on the following day was part of a choreographed act—not entirely to Tito's liking—with the main Partisan force arriving two days later. The Soviets, however, had agreed to leave Belgrade in Tito's hands and turned north into Hungary, reserving the final defeat of the Germans in Yugoslavia for his indigenous forces.121 Actually, Tito's maneuvering worked to the German advantage, since the Partisans, once outside their familiar mountain environment, were not as adept at conventional combat. (p.247) The Germans far preferred fighting Tito's “conventional” forces to the Red Army.

The Volksdeutsche and the Siege of Budapest

With the Soviet decision to concentrate on Hungary, the defense of Budapest became the Reich's top priority in the southeast—arguably equal to that of the Reich itself on its western and eastern borders. The situation turned particularly alarming for the Germans when in early October Hungary's wartime leader, Admiral Miklos Horthy, sought an armistice with the Soviets. Hitler, getting wind of this potential treachery, ordered SS supercommando Otto Skorzeny, along with men from Maria Theresia, many of them local Volksdeutsche, to arrest Horthy and replace him with a more malleable puppet regime.122 As of October 15, the Reich totally dominated its Axis partner.

Hitler determined to defend Budapest at all costs and transferred divisions, including several “classic” Waffen-SS divisions, from the defense of the Reich itself to Hungary to reinforce the two predominantly Volksdeutsche divisions already there, Maria Theresia, with an estimated strength of eleven thousand and Florian Geyer, with another eight to twelve thousand, and Kampfgruppe Ney, mostly ethnic Germans formerly of the Honved.123 In addition, the SS “dredged” up local German civilians who so far had evaded the roundup. In early November, one more scrape of the barrel resulted in a Home Guard of mostly overage Volksdeutsche.

On the last day of October, the Red Army had crossed the Tisza in eastern Hungary in force, and by November 2, Soviet tanks rumbled through Budapest's suburbs. With the Soviets at the gates, Hitler and his generals knew that once Budapest fell, the road to Vienna and the Reich lay open. The Führer also realized time was running out on another wartime objective, the annihilation of Europe's Jews. With all haste, SS police authorities in Budapest deported the city's remaining thirty-eight thousand Jews to the Reich and certain death. When one assesses the eleventh-hour German defense of Budapest, including the exploits of the two doomed Volksdeutsche-laden divisions, Maria Theresia and Florian Geyer, one must weigh not only their stubborn stand but also the costs of their foolhardy defense: the destruction of this magnificent city and, above all, facilitating the eleventh-hour murder of the city's last Jews.

(p.248) An estimated fifty thousand Germans defended “fortress” Budapest—first and foremost the two predominantly ethnic German SS cavalry divisions, which fought alongside local police units, three Wehrmacht divisions, various headquarters and supply units, and thirty thousand demoralized Magyars, whose devotion to the Axis cause was suspect at best. Complicating the effort was the presence of eight hundred thousand entrapped civilians. Through November, the besieging Soviet forces, as many as 250,000 organized into two fronts—the Soviet equivalent of a German army group—tightened the noose around Budapest and by Christmas closed it completely. The mobility of the two SS cavalry divisions could no longer be exploited, though the presence of horses ensured that hunger would not be a problem for some time to come.124

Hitler threw in one Waffen-SS division after another to relieve Budapest, but they all failed to break the siege. In December, he sent two crack divisions, Totenkopf and the rebuilt Wiking, followed in January by the “Phoenix” version of the Sixth Army, the one destroyed at Stalingrad but later resurrected.125 Two more “classic” units arrived—Das Reich and eventually LSSAH, with Otto Kumm, the erstwhile commander of Prinz Eugen, at its helm. Also on the scene were two below-strength units with large Volksdeutsche contingents, Nordland and Nederland. Others converging on Budapest included the 16th SS Panzer Division RFSS, the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen, and Horst Wessel.126 Despite repeated probes by these relief columns, the Soviets did not yield. By February, only some sixteen thousand defenders survived within the city, and on the night of February 11, they attempted a breakout, but only around eight hundred managed to breach the Russian encirclement and reach German lines. The survivors included 170 men of Florian Geyer and Maria Theresia; the rest had perished or had been taken captive.127

One cannot attribute this spiritually and strategically disastrous defeat to the incompetency of the Volksdeutsche soldiers defending Budapest, though many were recent inductees from Hungary and other parts of the southeast with little incentive to fight except basic survival. At this point, quality no longer differentiated divisions such as Maria Theresia and Florian Geyer, consisting mostly of Volksdeutsche, from the “classic” divisions, including the elite of the elites, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, which by April 1945 was down to 1,500 men and, according to some, “wandering aimlessly.”128 It is noteworthy that at Budapest five Volksdeutsche of Florian Geyer (p.249) earned the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, the Reich's highest military honor. Their military service converged at Budapest but coincidentally originated in distant, disparate homelands—Slovakia, Latvia, South Tyrol, the Dobrudja, and Bessarabia.129

From Budapest to the Final Surrender

With the fall of Budapest, the bloodied and depleted Waffen-SS divisions began a fighting withdrawal westward toward Austria. In the first week of March 1945, a number of these undermanned SS divisions, including the elites LSSAH and Das Reich along with Hitlerjugend and Hohenstaufen, rallied long enough for a counterattack near Hungary's northern oilfields along Lake Balaton. Nothing came of this futile sortie except more casualties. These demoralized SS “firemen” limped toward Vienna and their final stand. By then, desertions had became commonplace, as soldiers understood the war was lost—especially the ethnic Germans of the southeast, who realized that after finally fighting close to home, retreat only carried them farther away.130

In March, the Red Army started its final push toward Vienna, with Waffen-SS remnants alongside Wehrmacht bits and pieces still resisting. By April 7 the Soviets had reached Vienna, and on April 13 the city fell. The badly mauled SS troops, including tens of thousands of ethnic Germans, abandoned Vienna and fled westward and northward, fighting only for survival and hoping to reach the Anglo-American lines to surrender. Remnants of Totenkopf surrendered to the Americans, but relief turned to shock when their captors handed them over to the Soviets to face execution or lengthy captivity in Soviet slave-labor camps—the common misfortune of Soviet prisoners. Similar fates awaited the men of Das Reich, LSSAH, Wiking, Hitlerjugend, and Reichsführer SS.131 As for Horst Wessel, also containing large numbers of Volksdeutsche, some ended up in Czechoslovakia, others in Silesia—the former surrendering to Czechs and Soviets, the latter to the Soviets alone.132 The ethnically diverse Nordland, whose Scandinavians and Volksdeutsche had one more fight left in them, defended Berlin to the end but was ultimately wiped out by the Russians.133 Grim too was the denouement of non-Germans, including the Ukrainians of Galizien, who reached Anglo-American lines but in accordance with wartime diplomacy were repatriated as “Soviet citizens.”134 All were either executed as traitors or shipped to Siberia.

(p.250) The men of the newly formed “paper” SS divisions, the majority being the most recent recruits, fared no better. Böhmen-Mähren, with its Czechoslovakian ethnic Germans as well as coerced Hungarian Volksdeutsche from Batschka, retreated to central Czechoslovakia only to be destroyed by the Russians on the last day of the war.135 Another patched-together unit with many Volksdeutsche was 30 Januar, assembled near Frankfurt and sent to defend Berlin; only a few escaped alive.136 The 33rd SS Division, the sorriest of all, was made up of Volksdeutsche well beyond their prime. Known derisively as the “Slouch Hat Division,” it hardly fought, but many of its elderly Volksdeutsche ended up imprisoned in Austria.137 Another last-second creation was the 37th SS Freiwillige Kavallerie Division Lützow, with hardly more than a few hundred cavalry survivors of Budapest. Some surrendered to the Soviets in Austria; others made it west to American lines.138 The last of these so-called divisions, the 38th Nibelungen, created in southern Germany, skirmished Americans along the upper Danube before surrendering in early May.139 One should mention the fate of another mostly Volksdeutsche division, the 24th SS Gebirgs Division Karstjäger, operating in northeastern Italy. Never more than a brigade, these Tyrolean mountain troops had fought Italian and Slovenian partisans as well as the British before capitulating to the latter in May.140

The End of Prinz Eugen

While much of the Waffen-SS converged on Budapest in late 1944, the men of Prinz Eugen continued a running battle with Soviet, Bulgarian, and Partisan forces in eastern Croatia.141 By December, this much-reduced division remained the only SS “fire brigade” still operating in the Balkans and into 1945 doggedly held its own between the Save and Drava Rivers in the vicinity of Osijek and Vukovar. Evidently, that many of these Volksdeutsche were fighting closer to their homes had strengthened their will to fight. Division Commander Kumm observed proudly: “They had lost fear of the enemy,” and their battle cry had become, “We want our Banat back!”142 By tying down the enemy in eastern Croatia, they relieved pressure on the German position in Hungary. This final mission, following their heroic stand at Kraljevo, entitled the men of Prinz Eugen to claim equality with the elite units of the Waffen-SS, which, after all, had failed to break the Soviet siege of Budapest.

(p.251) After losing their former commander Arthur Phleps as a casualty in September, in January 1945 Prinz Eugen lost a second, Otto Kumm, who was transferred to LSSAH in time to command it at Budapest. August Schmidhuber resumed command, holding it until final capitulation.143 Being the sole Waffen-SS force still operating south of the Danube, Prinz Eugen dispersed its men to douse fresh “fires” in the region. In February and March, units returned to Bosnia to check the advancing Partisans near Sarajevo and Mostar. But the situation in Croatia required their return, and in mid-April they abandoned forever their familiar Bosnian battlegrounds.144

Unable to hold eastern Croatia for long, Prinz Eugen packed up for Zagreb for yet another installment of their incremental hold-fight-retreat from the Balkans. By April's end, they left the Croatian capital and turned northwest toward Maribor and Ljubljana.145 As they departed, they moved even farther from their homes. Not knowing the state of their families and leaving rather than defending their homelands, these ethnic Germans finally and bitterly acknowledged their tragic fate. Dismay struck hard, and even the most optimistic lost hope; many at long last deserted and reversed their paths, back to homes and families, heedless of the consequences—shot as deserters if caught by Germans or as traitors if captured by Yugoslavs. Others, already resigned to loss of homes and loved ones and fearing the horrendous prospects of capture by the enemy, resolved to fight on.

In the first week of May, the remnants of Prinz Eugen reached Celje (Cilli) in Slovenia, not far from the Austrian border, where on May 8 they received orders to lay down their weapons and capitulate.146 Four days later, just before their surrender, a regimental band struck up the “Deutschlandlied” for the last time.147 Officers tried to negotiate surrender to the British at Villach, but the latter remained insistent that German forces in Yugoslavia must surrender to the Partisans. Expecting the worst, the officers released their men from all further obligations, leaving them to do as they pleased. Some decided to fight their way to Austria or the Reich; others hoped to blend in with the ragtag multitudes of retreating soldiers, civilians, and refugees; still others surrendered to the Partisans and prayed for the best. According to reports, the Partisans summarily executed some 1,600 captured men of Prinz Eugen and thousands of other German POWs. In all, the Yugoslavs accepted the surrender of some 150,000 German combatants, including many of Löhr's two hundred (p.252) thousand men still with Army Group E. Löhr too had tried to surrender to the British, with the same result. The Partisans drove their mass of captives southward in what survivors referred to as a “death and hunger march,” in which an estimated one-third perished.148

For the men of Prinz Eugen reaching British and American zones of occupation, the war was not over, since their captors complied with all Yugoslav requests for the extradition of alleged German war criminals. The Yugoslavs subsequently held show trials of the extradited, found all guilty, and executed them—hanging August Schmidhuber, its last division commander. Otto Kumm escaped Tito's rope thanks to American insistence on retaining him for interrogation. Incarcerated at Dachau, Kumm escaped and surfaced only after postwar tensions between the Western Allies and the Soviets, along with their communist partner Tito, precluded any further cooperation.149

In his wartime memoirs, Milovan Djilas confessed without remorse to the maltreatment of German POWs as well as civilian captives but declared it was “foreordained”—retaliation for German wartime atrocities perpetrated against the Yugoslav population. He admitted to the deplorable conditions in detention camps for combatants as well as civilian Volksdeutsche but added that these were understandable and justifiable—as were the postwar expulsions of all surviving ethnic Germans.150 In the minds of most Yugoslavs, all Germans, above all the men of Prinz Eugen, deserved no mercy—a judgment having nothing to do with their fighting qualities. Yugoslav vengeance cared little whether they had been “dregs or gems”; they all wore the same gray uniforms. This was consequence for the Volksdeutsche of Hitler's rise to power.

This survey suggests that as the quality of the Reich's overall fighting forces went, so did the Volksdeutsche. In the prewar years and in the pre-Barbarossa phases of the war, little distinguished them from the Reich Germans in the Waffen-SS. With the 1942–1943 reversal of Germany's military fortunes and the concomitant growth of SS ambitions, the SS dipped into its manpower pool much deeper than limited resources allowed, diluting its quality. As it turned increasingly to the ethnic Germans of the southeast, the SS ignored all restraints and grabbed as many Volksdeutsche as fast as it could, going beyond reasonable limits and resorting to ruthless measures to dragoon as many men as possible. It stands to reason that the overall quality of ethnic Germans declined. But just as the (p.253) “scraping of the barrel” in the southeast eroded Volksdeutsche competence, the simultaneous drawing from the dwindling Reich manpower pool likewise resulted in poorer Reich German soldiers. One must keep in mind that the classic Waffen-SS divisions, just as much as the 1943 expansion divisions, lost their luster and combat prowess as the war ground on—hardly different from Prinz Eugen, Florian Geyer, and other units relying mostly on Volksdeutsche.

By 1944, as the eastern front collapsed and, as of June, a viable western front came into being, divisions on both fronts, Wehrmacht as well as Waffen-SS—experienced destruction and disintegration while failing to halt the enemy's relentless drive. At the same time, the Volksdeutsche of Prinz Eugen continued to fight, as evidenced in their covering the retreat of three hundred thousand German troops from Greece, and then as the last Reich forces south of the Danube. One must also recall the siege of Budapest, where the doomed ethnic Germans of Florian Geyer and Maria Theresia fought to their end, while the elite “fire brigades” tried but failed to break Soviet entrapment. Indeed, when comparing collective performance, by the end of the war it was impossible to distinguish Reich from ethnic Germans in the Waffen-SS, and, as the Yugoslavs concluded, as they wreaked vengeance, all Germans had worn the same field-gray uniforms. In the cautious estimate of this author, though much research on the subject still lies ahead, it seems doubtful that fresh results will disclose any significant differences between the combat effectiveness of the two sets of German Waffen-SS men, the Reich Germans and the Volksdeutsche.

Notes:

(1.) For an introduction to the background and nature of the Waffen-SS, see notes 2 and 3 of the previous chapter. Notes to this chapter continue the short form from the previous chapter.

(2.) Adolf Hitler, Secret Conversations with Hitler, ed. Edouard Calic, trans. Richard Barry (repr., 1969; New York: John Day Co., 1971), 178; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 199, 212–213; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 197.

(3.) Stein, The Waffen-SS, 192–193, 296–297; Wegner, Hitlers Politische Soldaten, 281.

(4.) Stein, The Waffen-SS, 242–243; Williamson, Loyalty, 13; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 198, 204; Mark Axworthy et al., Third Axis Fourth Ally: Romanian Armed Forces in the European War, 1941–1945 (London: Arms and Armour, 1995), 116.

(5.) Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 25; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 224–228; Williamson, Loyalty, 29; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 45.

(6.) Stein, The Waffen-SS, 9–10; also Syring, “Hausser,” in Smelser and Syring, Die SS, 190–207; Keegan, Asphalt Soldiers; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 195–199, 251–252.

(7.) Stein, The Waffen-SS, 28, 56–57; Williamson, Loyalty, 12.

(8.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 18–20, 197; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 32–34; Hausser, Soldaten, 90–91.

(9.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 16–17; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 32–34.

(10.) Stein, The Waffen-SS, 56, 60; Williamson, Loyalty, 12; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 16–24.

(11.) Ahmet Donlagic, Zarko Atanackovic, and Dushan Plenca, Yugoslavia in the Second World War, trans. Lovett F. Edwards (Belgrade: Interpress, 1967), 21. This book provides an official, approved communist interpretation of events. See also U.S. Army, German Anti-Guerilla Operations in the Balkans, 1941–1944 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1954; 1989), 21–22. One Yugoslav Volksdeutsche to fare poorly under the Germans was Herta Has, a communist and former wife of the partisan leader Josip Broz, better known by his nomme de guerre as Tito. The Germans imprisoned Has, who had a German father, releasing her in a 1943 prisoner exchange. Milovan Djilas, Wartime, trans. Michael B. Petrovich (New York: Harcourt … Brace Jovanovich, 1977; 1980), 242.

(12.) Christopher R. Browning, “The Wehrmacht in Serbia Revisited,” in Crimes of War: Guilt and Denial in the Twentieth Century, ed. Omer Bartov, Atina Grossmann, and Mary Nolan (New York: The New Press, 2002), 31–40; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 64–65, 76–77.

(13.) Williamson, Loyalty, 52–53; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 501; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 21–22.

(14.) Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 73; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 26; Williamson, Loyalty, 52–53.

(15.) Bishop, SS, 166.

(16.) Williamson, Loyalty, 53.

(17.) Hausser, Einsatz, 68; Bishop, SS, 122; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 15–16, 22–26, 43, 53–54.

(18.) Bishop, SS,19, 90, 115; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 19; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 78; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 151–153; Otto Kumm, Prinz Eugen: The History of the 7. SS-Mountain Division Prinz Eugen (Winnipeg: J. J. Federowicz, 1995), 16–17. See also original German version, Otto Kumm, ‘Vorwarts Prinz Eugen!’ Geschichte der 7. SS Freiwillien-Division ‘Prinz Eugen’ (Osnabrück: Munin Verlag, 1978), 38–45; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 87, 203; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 170; Hausser, Einsatz, 103–104; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 45.

(19.) Herzog, Die Volksdeutsche in der Waffen-SS, 86; Donlagic et al., Yugoslavia in the Second World War, 48–49, 87–89.

(20.) Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 509–512; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 45, 178, 219–220; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 8–10, 16–17; Hausser, Soldaten, 58; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 322; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 170; Hausser, Einsatz, 103–109; Marc C. Yerger, German Cross in Gold: Holders of the SS and Police, vol. 2, “Das Reich” (p.338) (San Jose, Calif.: R. James Bender, 2005), 365; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 109, 322; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 85–86; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 38.

(21.) Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 899–901; Steiner, 219–220; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 200; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 10, 16; Blood, Hitlers Bandit Hunters, 109; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 38; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 78; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 170.

(22.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 17.

(25.) Rempel, “Gottlob Berger,” 45–46.

(26.) Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 219; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, vii; Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 509–510.

(27.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, viii,

(28.) Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 219; Hausser, Einsatz, 194.

(29.) Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 510–511.

(30.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 20–21; Bishop, SS, 19–20; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 170; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 39.

(31.) Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 152–53; Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 509–510.

(32.) Stein, The Waffen-SS, 273–274; Karl Sauer, Die Verbrechen der Waffen-SS: Eine Dokumentation der VVN Bund der Antifaschisten (Frankfurt a. M.: Roderberg Verlag, 1977), 35.

(33.) Koehl, Black Corps, 207.

(34.) Herzog, Die Volksdeutsche in der Waffen-SS, 96–97. Browning, “The Wehrmacht in Serbia Revisited,” 36.

(35.) Robert E. Herzstein, Waldheim: The Missing Years (New York: Arbor House/William Morrow, 1988), 67; Browning, “The Wehrmacht in Serbia Revisited,” 31–33.

(36.) Sauer, Die Verbrechen der Waffen-SS, 46.

(37.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 269–270; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 237, 322, 394–95; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 8; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 45, 219; Hausser, Einsatz, 106; see also Browning, “The Wehrmacht in Serbia Revisited,” 31–33.

(38.) Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 395.

(39.) Djilas, Wartime, 215,

(40.) Bishop, SS, 20, 90, 122; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 270; Erich Schmidt-Richtberg, Der Endkampf auf dem Balkan: Die Operationen der Heeresgruppe E von Griechenland bis zu den Alpen (Heidelberg: Scharnhorst Buchkameradschaft, 1955), 52–53.

(41.) Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 21; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 322; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 22; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 28; Bishop, SS, 123; Hausser, Einsatz, 106; Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 509–510.

(42.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 122; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 226–227.

(43.) Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 6–9, 11–16, 27.

(44.) In April 1945, Hitler ordered Fegelein shot as a suspected traitor, even though Fegelein's wife was Eva Braun's sister, thereby making Fegelein posthumously Hitler's brother-in-law. For a biographical sketch, refer to Volker Riess, “Hermann Fegelein: Parvenu ohne Skrupel,” in Smelser and Syring, Die SS, 160–172; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 320; Bishop, SS, 125; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 6–9.

(45.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 28–30; Bishop, SS, 20, 97, 125–126; Klietmann, 157–159; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 323–324; Georg Tessin, Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht und Waffen SS im Zweiten Weltkrieg, 1939–1945, Dritter Band: Die Landstreitkrafte 6–14 (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag E. S. Mittler und Sohn, 1967), 119–120.

(46.) Blood, Hitlers Bandit Hunters, 121, 140, 297; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 324.; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 200; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 29–30; Bishop, SS, 125–126.

(47.) Sauer, Die Verbrechen der Waffen-SS, 33–34,

(48.) Bishop, SS, 97, 125; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 85.

(49.) Bishop, SS, 125–126; Kleitmann, Die Waffen-SS, 157–159; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 28–29, 77; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 202–203; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 82–88, 789.

(50.) For a biographical sketch of Willi Bittrich, see Horst Muhleisen, “Wilhelm Bittrich: Ritterlicher Gegner und Rebel,” 79–80, in Smelser and Syring, Die SS, 77–87; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 93.

(51.) Bishop, SS, 126; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 325; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 275; Kleitmann, Die Waffen-SS, 157–161; Rikmenspoel, 29–30; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 99,101.

(52.) Blood, Hitlers Bandit Hunters, 153–156,

(55.) Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 505; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 203.

(56.) Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 505–509; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 191, 224; Bishop, SS, 20.

(57.) Stein, The Waffen-SS, 171; Keegan, Asphalt Soldiers, 104; Bishop, SS, 23.

(58.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 10, 74; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 11–12; Hausser, Einsatz, 104; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 9; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 141–142, 322; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 204.

(59.) Stein, The Waffen-SS, xxxi, 204; Keegan, Asphalt Soldiers, 91, 143; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 80–81.

(60.) Wegner, Hitlers Politische Soldaten, 291–292; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 171, 204, 287; Hausser, Soldaten, 91–92; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 80; Keegan, Asphalt Soldiers, 91, 143; Bishop, SS, 21.

(61.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 80–81; Wegner, Hitlers Politische Soldaten, 291–292; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 157; Axworthy, Third Axis, 116.

(62.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 94.

(63.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 30–31; Blood, Hitlers Bandit Hunters, 102; Redzic, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Second World War, 35–37; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 25–26, 41–43.

(64.) Donlagic et al., Yugoslavia in the Second World War, 107–09; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 30–31; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 102; Redzic, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Second World War, 35–37.

(65.) Donlagic et al., Yugoslavia in the Second World War, 107–109, 113; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 36–37.

(66.) Djilas, Wartime, 215–216; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 259; Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 510; Herzstein, Waldheim, 85; Kumm, Vorwärts!, 56–72.

(67.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 86–87; Redzic, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Second World War, 39–40; Donlagic et al., Yugoslavia in the Second World War, 116–117, 124; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 37–38.

(68.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 88.

(70.) Sauer, Die Verbrechen der Waffen-SS, 35,

(71.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 91; Donlagic et al., Yugoslavia in the Second World War, 126–127.

(72.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 91,

(73.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 43, 57; Djilas, Wartime, 247, 282–283; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 204–205; Hausser, Einsatz, 208; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 21.

(74.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 43, 47; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 49–50.

(75.) Sauer, Die Verbrechen der Waffen-SS, 46–47, DOK D-578 (GB 553); Sauer, Die Verbrechen der Waffen-SS, 58–49 DOK D-944 (GB 566).

(76.) Army, Anti-Guerilla, 41–42

(77.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 58–59; Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 510–511; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 21; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 109, 244; 78. Hausser, Einsatz, 107; Bishop, SS, 123.

(78.) Hausser, Einsatz, 107.

(79.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 85, 93–97, 102–105; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 44.

(80.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 89–90; Kumm, Vorwärts!, 139–148; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 49–50.

(81.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 89–90, 90, 96; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 21.

(82.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 89, 96–97.

(84.) Djilas, Wartime

(85.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 21–26; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 260–261; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 136–37, 141–147.

(86.) Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 123.

(87.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 43–44, 92–94, 98; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 331; Bishop, SS, 29.

(88.) Bishop, SS, 138, 166; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 39; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 215–217; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 344; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 141; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 87.

(89.) Keegan, Asphalt Soldiers, 119; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 33–38; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns” 327–330, 341; Williamson, Loyalty, 80–83; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 181–183.

(90.) Stein, The Waffen-SS, 221; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 89; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 110.

(91.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 106–107, 250; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 219; Yerger, German Cross in Gold, 365.

(92.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 100–101; Bishop, SS, 123, 250.

(93.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 117–144; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 260–262; Kumm, Vorwärts!, 178–224, for a full discussion of this operation; also U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 65–66.

(94.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 124–26,144–45; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 65–66.

(95.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 121–129; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 261–262.

(96.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 125, 144, 148.

(97.) Ibid.Hitler's Bandit HuntersVorwärts!

(98.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 128.

(99.) Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 899–901; Kumm, Vorwärts!, 335–336.

(100.) Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 24–25; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 233; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 337; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 259; Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 899–901; Redzic, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Second World War, 41–42, 53.

(101.) Kleitmann, Die Waffen-SS, 510; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns”, 350; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 43.

(102.) Bishop, SS, 142–144; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 236; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 42; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 229–231; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 28; Williamson, Loyalty, 106.

(103.) Axworthy, Axis, 190–191; U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 66–67.

(104.) Axworthy, Axis 198–199; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 171; Herzstein, Waldheim, 127–128.

(105.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 11; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 292; Hausser, Einsatz, 160; Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 512; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 323; Blood, Hitler's Bandit Hunters, 322.

(106.) For more on the Slovak uprising, see note 17 of the previous chapter.

(107.) Rempel, “Gottlob Berger,” 54.

(108.) Axworthy, Slovakia, 293–300, 316; Hausser, Einsatz, 161; Bishop, SS, 138, 166; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 344–345; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 137, 143–144, 165.

(109.) Bishop, SS, 134; Axworthy, Slovakia, 310.

(110.) Axworthy, Slovakia, 289, 293, 307, 312–313.

(111.) Donlagic et al., Yugoslavia in the Second World War, 164–165, 179–180.

(112.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 171–173; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 21; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 152–153; Herzstein, Waldheim, 127; Erich Schmidt-Richberg, Der Endkampf Auf Dem Balkan: Die Operationen der Heeresgruppe E von Greichenland bis zu Alpen (Heidelberg: Kurt Vauinckel Verlag, 1955), 27–28.

(113.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 127,147; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 152–53; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 171–76, 198–215; Kumm, Vorwärts!, 256–294; Schmidt-Richberg, Endkampf, 51–52.

(114.) Donlagic et al., Yugoslavia in the Second World War, 179.

(115.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 198–199; Kumm, Vorwärts!, 295–336.

(116.) Kumm, Vorwärts!, 316–317.

(117.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 128, 147–150; Hausser, Einsatz, 111–117; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 153; Yerger, German Cross in Gold, 365; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 219; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 323; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 21; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 176,159–60, 209, 219–224; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 206.

(118.) Tessin, Verbände und Truppen, 6, 119–120; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 143–147, 154–155; Axworthy, Third Axis, 200; Karl Cerff, Die Waffen SS im Wehrmachtbericht (Osnabrück: Munin Verlag, 1971). 77.

(119.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 111, 171–79; Axworthy, Third Axis, 194–200; Bishop, SS, 145; Hausser, Einsatz, 160; Cerff, Die Waffen SS im Wehrmachtbericht, 77.

(120.) U.S. Army, Anti-Guerilla, 69.

(121.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 147.

(122.) Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 143–147, 150–151, 165–169, 172–175.

(123.) Two understrength divisions of pro-Nazi Hungarians were also formed, the 25th and 26th Waffen-Grenadier Divisions.

(124.) Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 301–307; Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 835–836; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 233; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 293; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,”317.

(125.) Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 107, 133–137; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 25–26; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 292–293; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 233; Hausser, Soldaten, 117–118.

(126.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 22–26, 33, 37–39, 94–95; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 292–293; Bishop, SS, 130, 138, 166; Tessin, Verbände und Truppen, 6, 257; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 96–98,107, 133–137, 181–183, 203–205, 215–217; Stein, The Waffen-SS, 233; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 309–310; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 340–345; Hausser, Einsatz, 161; Axworthy, Slovakia, 310.

(127.) Bishop, SS, 127; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 304–305; Hausser, Einsatz, 160; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 233–234; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 30, 43; Williamson, Loyalty, 106; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 141–147.

(128.) Williamson, Loyalty, 106,126–27.

(129.) Krätschmer, Die Ritterkreuzträger der Waffen-SS, 789, 839–840, 843–844.

(130.) Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 314–317; Williamson, Loyalty, 106; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 22; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 96–98, 107.

(131.) Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 96–98, 107, 133–137, 181–183; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 22, 25–26; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 317; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 318; Tessin, Verbände und Truppen, 257; Williamson, Loyalty, 106.

(132.) Bishop, SS, 138; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 39; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 215–217; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns”, 344–345.

(133.) Bishop, SS, 130.

(134.) Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 338.

(135.) Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 275–276; Bishop, SS, 159; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 51; Hausser, Einsatz, 161; Ripley, The Waffen-SS at War, 88; Antonio J. Munoz, The Last Levy: Waffen-SS Officer Roster, March 1st, 1945 (Bayside, N.Y.: Axis Europa Books, 2001), 68.

(136.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 52; Bishop, SS, 145.

(137.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 52; Williamson, Loyalty, 108; Trang, La Division Florian Geyer, 175–179.

(138.) Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 303; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clowns,” 359; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 56; Bishop, SS, 163.

(139.) Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 56–57.

(140.) Hausser, Einsatz, 158; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 34; Theile, Beyond “Monsters” and “Clown,” 351; Bishop, SS, 149; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 44; Klietmann, Die Waffen-SS, 247–248.

(141.) Hausser, Einsatz, 193; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 245–246; Kumm, Vorwärts!, 351–356, 365; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 306–307; Schmidt-Richberg, Endkampf, 92–95.

(142.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 250–255.

(143.) Ibid.; Bishop, SS, 124; Hausser, Einsatz, 193; Rikmenspoel, Waffen-SS: The Encyclopedia, 28.

(144.) Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 306–307; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 22; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 265; Kumm, Vorwärts!, 371–375; Schmidt-Richberg, Endkampf, 105–108, 124.

(145.) Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 22; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 256, 263.

(146.) Hausser, Einsatz, 194; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 265–266; Kumm, Vorwärts!, 376–379; Kaltenegger, Mountain Troops, 22; Tessin, Verbände und Truppen, 82; Schmidt-Richberg, Endkampf, 130–131; Donlagic et al., Yugoslavia in the Second World War, 211–212.

(147.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 265; Kumm, vorwärts!, 382–383.

(148.) Herzstein, Waldheim, 153–155; Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 266–69; Blood, Hitlers Bandit Hunters, 273.

(149.) Kumm, Prinz Eugen, 272–273; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen, 308–309.

(150.) Djilas, Wartime, 423–424.