|Croatian Wehrmacht Volunteers|
1.Croatian Units on the Eastern Front:
1.1.: The 369th Reinforced (Croat) Infantry Regiment:
This Wehrmacht (Heer) unit of Croatian volunteers was raised in July, 1941, for combat on the Eastern Front. This was an infantry regiment with 3 infantry battalions and its own artillery attached (therefore “reinforced”). From October 9, 1941, the regiment was attached to the 100th Jaeger Division, and fought some major engagements at Harkov, Kalatch and Selivanov. The Croatians proved to be reliable and brave soldiers, and were held in high regard by both the German command and their German comrades in arms. On September 29, 1942, the Regiment entered Stalingrad, where they were destroyed after a long and heroic struggle (a few survivors surrendered to the Red Army on February 2, 1943).
Approximately 6,300 Croatian soldiers served in this unit through its ill-fated existence. Many were awarded various Croatian decorations, and a high number received German decorations. This is an incomplete list:
Iron Cross 1st Class:
|Colonel Viktor "Vitez" Pavicic|
Staff Sergeant PODOBNIK was further decorated on October 16, 1942 with the
Iron Cross 1st Class by General Sanne (at Stalingrad). The award was recieved
for an action on September 30, 1942, where Podobnik and 18 of his men
infiltrated a fortified Soviet position in the “Red October” factory,
destroyed the defenders(even though the Russians outnumbered them), and handed
over the occupied building to the 54th German Regiment (that had been
unsuccessfully attacking this position for several hours). Podobnik and his
men also captured 3 enemy artillery pieces, 2 mortars, 1 “Maksim” machine-gun,
and a large number of rifles, pistols, grenades and automatic weapons. All of
this with only 3 lightly wounded men. Sergeant Podobnik would, unfortunately,
not return from Stalingrad (his actual fate is unknown).
|Staff Sergeant Dragutin Podobnik |
(second from left with the Schmeiser sub-machine gun)
Iron Cross 2nd Class:
[Note: this is an incomplete list of Iron Cross 2nd Class winners. As further
information becomes available, the list will be updated].
The survivors of the Regiment (approximately 1000 men), that were evacuated from Stalingrad via air, formed the core of a new Croatian volunteer unit of the Wehrmacht - the 369th “Vrazja” (Devil’s) Infantry Division. These veterans were awarded a commemorative badge, the “Croatian Legion 1941” Linden Leaf in silver, worn on the right breast pocket.
The "Devil's" Division (the 369th Infantry Division) fought hard battles
against the Communist Partisans throughout Croatia throughout '43, '44, and
early '45. On May 10/11, 1945, it surrendered to British forces in Austria, and
its men returned to "Yugoslavia" for trial. Most were killed.
1.2.: The Croatian Airforce Legion:
|Croatian Airforce Legion Badge|
This Luftwaffe unit of Croatian volunteers was formed on June 2, 1941, and had a fighter and a bomber squadron. The fighter squadron was designated ‘15.(Kroatische)/JG 52’, and served on the Eastern Front with great success from October 6, 1941 - July, 1944. The bomber squadrom was titled ‘15.(Kroatische)/KG 53’, and served on the Eastern Front from October 25, 1941 - December of 1942.
Decorations received by the Legion were as follows:
Croatian Airforce Legion Badge was worn by members of the Legion while on the Eastern Front. The pilots were allowed to continue wearing these badges upon the disbandment of their legions, and assignment to Croatian military units.
1.3. The Croatian Naval Legion:
|Croatian Naval Legion Badge|
This Kriegsmarine unit of Croatian volunteers was formed in July, 1941, and served in the Black Sea until October, 1943.
A total of 343 men served in this unit, performing security, minesweeping and small vessel combat missions. Frigate Captain Andro VRKLJAN (the Legion’s first commander) was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class. 50 other members of the Legion were decorated with the Iron Cross 2nd Class.
With the surrender of Italy in 1943, the Italian veto on a Croatian Navy in the Adriatic Sea became null and void, so the Croatian sailors were returned to Croatia for further service.
Croatian Naval Legion Badge was worn by members of the Legion while on the Eastern Front. The seamen, like their pilots counterparts, were allowed to continue wearing these badges upon the disbandment of their legions and assignment to Croatian military units.
By Allen Milcic.
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