|Independent State of Croatia|
Introduction and History
On December 1, 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was proclaimed. This political creation of the Treaty of Versailles was purely an award to the Kingdom of Serbia for its participation in World War I on the side of the Allied powers. The new country was, in theory, to unite the Southern Slav peoples of the Balkans (except for the Bulgarians) into an equal federation under the rule of the Serbian Royal family. In reality it was completely dominated by Serbia, which treated all of the other nations in the country as vassals or colonies. Part of this new state was Croatia, whose people had enjoyed a great deal of autonomy under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its dissolution at the end of Word War I. The Croats were not asked whether they were interested in joining this new state, this was decided and imposed upon them.
Resistance by the Croats was at first peaceful and expressed through available legal means, through political dialogue, and through passive resistance. The Serbian response to this was the assassination of the Croatian political leader, Stjepan Radic, in the parliament building at Belgrade. Amazingly, this crime was further embellished by the abolition of the country's constitution in 1929, and the establishment of an absolutistic dictatorship by the Serbian King. At this time, the country was also re-named "Yugoslavia".
The dictatorship caused the creation of a Croatian separatist group – the "Ustasha" (roughly translated as "Upriser"). Led by Dr. Ante Pavelic, a Croatian lawyer, the Ustashe demanded an independent homeland for the Croatian people. They received financial and military assistance from Fascist Italy and Hungary, both of whom were hungry for a piece of Yugoslavia. The Ustashe organized an armed insurgency against the Yugoslav government, and commenced with an assassination and bombing campaign. In 1934, they managed (with the help of a Macedonian anti-Yugoslav party, the VMRO) to assassinate Yugoslavian King Aleksander, while he was in Marseilles, France.
On April 6, 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia and most of the population of Croatia greeted the Germans as liberators. The Ustashe took the opportunity, and on April 10, 1941, while the battles for Yugoslavia were still being waged, retired Colonel and secret Ustasha Slavko Kvaternik announced in Zagreb (Croatian capital) the formation of an "Independent State of Croatia" (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska, in the Croatian language - "NDH"). Ante Pavelic was declared the "Poglavnik" (Leader) of the new state, while Kvaternik became the Commander-in-Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces (of course, at that time still non-existant). On the next day, April 11, 1941, an order creating the "Hrvatsko Domobranstvo" (Croatian Homedefense) was issued. The Domobranstvo was to consist of an Army, Navy, Airforce, Gendarmerie, Railway Security and Labour Service. The Ustasha Party also formed an armed wing (a Croatian version of the Waffen SS) called the "Ustashka Vojnica". The Ustashe were highly motivated (mostly volunteers), and quickly earned a reputation for fanatical bravery, as well as brutality. They never gave, nor asked, for mercy.
From the very beginning, the Croatian military was plagued by a lack of equipment and weapons, specially heavy weapons and armor. Artillery battalions had, for example, only 2 batteries, instead of the usual 3-4 batteries. Armored units were few and armed only with a few tankettes and armored cars (they had almost no modern tanks). The meddling of Italy in Croatian affairs, poor Italian military efforts in their assigned area in southern Croatia, and Italian support for Royalist Serbian Cetniks in Croatia, posed a serious problem to the Croatian military. Another major problem for the Croatian military forces was the mass exodus of many of the best Croatian officers, NCO's and soldiers to foreign (Axis) armies. Croatia had an infantry regiment, an air and a naval legion fighting on the Eastern Front as part of the German Wehrmacht. Three German infantry divisions were also manned by Croatian volunteers, as were two Waffen SS Divisions and an SS Police Division. The Italians also formed 2 "Legions", staffed with Croatians.
The Domobranstvo was re-organized twice after the initial set-up, this happening on November 1, 1941 and on May 1, 1943. Many new units are formed, re-formed, organized, and disbanded in this time period. On November 20, 1944, the Domobranstvo and the Ustashka Vojnica were amalgamated into the "Croatian Armed Forces" (Hrvatske Oruzane Snage). This was in a large part in order to bolster Domobran moral, as well as place faithful Ustashe amongst potential "weak links", as a form of "motivation".
On May 6, 1945, with the German Army in full retreat, the Partisans taking town after town, and the Red Army swarming accross the borders, the Croatian government leaves Zagreb. Along with the remnants of the Croatian Armed Forces (approximately 200,000 troops), they retreat towards Austria in hopes of surrendering to the British. At the town of Bleiburg, Austria, the Croatians finally surrender to the British between May 15 and May 17, 1945, becoming the last European Axis army to capitulate. The British promptly returned the Croatians to Yugoslavia, and to certain death in the hands of Tito's bands of Communist partisans. The military of tiny Croatia in WW2, despite the lack of proper arms, despite fighting against a formidable anti-Fascist guerilla opponent (partisans) and a strong Serbian nationalist army (the Cetniks), and despite a meddling Italy, managed to field an army that fought hard, and to the bitter end. For this they should be saluted, and respected.
Please follow the links below to see the decorations of the Independent State
of Croatia and the Croatian Recipients of German Decorations.
|Croatian Decorations||The Croatian Legion German Awards Recipients|
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