During World War II, tens of thousands of Bosnian best youths joined with Himmler's private army, the Waffen SS. Reichführer SS believe that as Muslims they would became great fighters. But the truth was disappointed him.
During spring 1944, Yugoslavian Partisan under Tito became stronger than before. Although the Germans, with their's Bulgarians, Hungarians, and local peoples allies, still occupied more than half of Yugoslavia, the Partisan strength had been rose up to 300,000 men and women. Beside, the British and the American supported them by sending almost 3,000 tons weapons and other equipment a month.
While the Partisan become stronger and more confident, the Germans become arduously. To overcome the Partisan threat, the Germans need more troops than they had. But crisis at other fronts made the German High Command could not spare more troops to Yugoslavia. The only solution was to recruit more pro-Nazi elements from local people to help their cause. The pro-Nazi Croatia Independent State was a good spot for that objective, and the Croat Muslims from Bosnia were the best potential recruits. After all, they had been formed into an SS division that specialized to fight the partisan. So, Hitler ordered the formation of the second Waffen SS division from Croatia.
The Formation of SS 'Kama' Division
Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler was known as Islam most willing promoter and collaborator among the Nazi leadership. Himmlers hatred the soft Christianity was equal for his liking for Islam, which he saw as a masculine, martial religion based on the SS qualities of blind obedience and readiness for self-sacrifice, untainted by compassion for ones enemies. His admiration for Islam made him ready to throw-out his racial Aryan pure fantasies to receive more Muslim volunteers for his private army, Waffen SS.
Yugoslavia furnished him a great pool of Muslim volunteers. After formed two Muslim divisions from local people (13.Waffen Gebirgsdivision der SS 'Handschar' from Bosnia and 21. Waffen Gebirgsdivision der SS 'Skanderbeg' from Albanian Kosovo), Himmler thirsty for more men became irrepressible. In his letter that he wrote on May 22, 1944 to SS-Obergruppenführer Artur Phleps, Himmler stated: "My goal is clear: The creation of two territorial corps, one in Bosnia, the other in Albania. These two corps, with the Division 'Prinz Eugen', as an army of five SS mountain divisions is the goal for 1944."
The Reichsführer SS came one step closer to the realization of his plan on May 28, 1944 when Hitler ordered a second "Croatian" division to be formed. Himmler's recruitment chief, SS-Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger, traveled to Croatia and met with the government officials at Novi Dvori on 13 August to work out the particulars. He conceded that this new division could not be an all-Muslim formation, reporting to Himmler that "the induction of 10,000 Croatian citizens of the Islamic faith (was) not possible, for such a number of reliable youngsters (was) simply not available, and thus Catholic Croatians will be (accepted)."
Approval was giving for the raising of the division on June 17, 1944. The new division was given the honorary title 'Kama', according the word for a short Turkish sword that used as fighting knife. Later, the division got the full name as 23.Waffen Gebirgsdivision der SS 'Kama' (kroatische nr. 2). In addition, a corps headquarters element, the IX.Waffen-Gebirgs-Korps der SS (kroatisches), was to form to assume tactical command of the two divisions from Croatia.
Although the order to raise the 'Kama' Division had been made on 17 June, actual transfers and recruitment for the cadre personnel had already begun on 10 June. A sizeable number of German officers and NCOs were available to the division. To reinforce them, orders were issued directing 'Handschar' Division to hand over cadres for the new division, a slew of personnel, including three NCOs from every company. To this core of troops was added a new batch of Croatian Muslim recruits.
At first, Hitler planned to form the 'Kama' Division in northern Croatia, but then he changed his mind. Fearing the Partisan would do everything in their power to disrupt and destroy the newly forming division, the Fuehrer decided to move the assembly site to the Bacska Region, a Yugoslavia area that had been annexed by Hungary. The area was far enough from Partisan influences on the troops but was close enough with their homeland to made them calm.
The large regimental units of the 'Kama' were located in the following areas: 1) Recruit Depot – Sambor; 2) Recruit Depot – Bosujaci; 3) 55.Waffen-Gebirgsjaeger-Regiment der-SS (kroatische Nr. 3) and 56.Waffen-Gebirgsjaeger-Regiment der-SS (kroatische Nr. 4) were located between Sambor and Verbas; Waffen-Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment der-SS (kroatische Nr. 2) was located around Kula, between Sambor and Verbas (Vrbas); the old 13.SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung, now redesigned the 23.SS-Aufklärungs-Abteilung, initially located at Centamas.
This area encompassed the Danube-Tiza Canal. During its brief history, the division's area of operations would change only slightly, ending just southeast, between Vrbas and Novi Sad.
Like its sister, majorities of 'Kama' recruits were Bosnian Muslims. So, once again, the division was Croat in name only - although the Bosnian Muslims were NDH citizens. As what had happened in 'Handzar', frictions between cultures were also appeared in 'Kama'. Fredo Gensicke, a Reichdeutsche SS sergeant who was transferred to the 'Kama' on July 20, 1944, described the Bosnian Muslim soldiers in his unit as follows: "There were forever complications with the Bosnian soldiers...On the other hand, there were those Muslims so fanatical in their religion that one could get a knife stuck in the back if you would twist your hand around, forcing the tassel on the Fez hat to move around".
The division began to take shape in earnest in July and August 1944. 'Kama' Division was to be structured identically to 'Handzar' with two regiments gebirgsjäger, each with four battalions; an artillery regiment, also of four battalions; battalions of engineers, flak and reconnaissance, and the customary support units. However, 'Kama never received enough men to flesh out any of its units. At its peak strength in September 1944, it only had 3,793 men within its total ranks. The main reason of this was the decline of the Third Reich positions on all fronts.
During the months of August and September1944, the Red Army made some dangerous advances in the Balkan and Hungary. The training bases for the 'Kama' Division was suddenly precariously close to the front lines. The SS-FHA attempted to get the division ready for combat, citing the unrealistic date of September 24th as when the unit readies for frontline service. It would have been sheer suicide to commit the division to the front line service, especially since it had always been intended for service against Yugoslavian partisan and not the crack troops of a victorious Red Army.
Meanwhile, the disaster that struck Germany made Bosnian soldiers morale wane in the division itself. As they entered the final phase of their training, one German reported: "(our) company was quartered in a Stiechowice school. I bunked with (two NCOs), Werner Rauner from Thuringia and a Muslim. One day this Muslim departed; he had been given a furlough. His last words to us were that he would not be returning. We took it as a joke. We in fact never saw him again".
SS-Gruppenführer Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, the commander of the IX.Waffen Gebirgskorps (kroatisches) that command both 'Kama' and 'Handzar' divisions, was alarmed with the mass desertions of his Bosnian soldiers. He suggested the Reichsführer SS to disarm the Bosnian and to dissolved their's divisions. Himmler rejected the plea but agree to make some changes to the corps, insisted that the Bosnians remain in service.
According an order that issued on 24 September, the Bosnians of the 'Kama' (about 2,000 men) under SS-Standartenführer Hellmuth Raithel were to be transported to Bosnia, where they and the 'Handzar' Division would be reorganized into two small divisions of about 10,000 men each. These 'Kama' elements were to be moved by rail to the area between Gradiste, Zupanja, and Bosnjaci, where the "new" division of 'Kama' was to be formed.
To reinforce the moral of Bosnian troops, Himmler send the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to address imams of the corps. The mufti planned to meet all IX.Waffen Gebirgskorps imams near Budapest on 11 October. But the 'Kama' Division imams were unable to attend due the heavy fighting on the Tisza River. And so the Mufti.
Meanwhile, the unrealistic date of committal 'Kama' Division passed. If all of this wasn't bad enough, the Bosnians of the division, who had been disengaged from the front line in Hungary and had begun the planned move into Bosnia, mutinied on 17 October. One German officer allegedly killed. Raithel managed to gain quick control of the situation but for all practicals purposed this spelled the end of his division. Thereafter, the SS-FHA realized that no time was left for the 'Kama' Division to form.
As the Red Army moved into Hungary, the German military leaders decided to disband the unit and make as much use of the already formed personnel as possible by transferring them as replacements to other divisions. The decision was made in October 1944, and most of the divisional elements went to help form the 31.SS Freiwilligen-Grenadier Division. The Muslims of 'Kama' were ordered to report to the 'Handzar' Division. Some of them deserted on the way the 'Handzar' headquarters, but most reported for duty. The divisional number 23 were then handed over to the newly forming Dutch SS.Freiwilligen Panzergrenadier Division 'Nederland'.
During its brief five-month life, the 'Kama' commanders were SS-Standartenführer Hellmuth Raithel and SS-Oberführer Gustav Lombard. The SS was supposed had been prepared a symbol for the divisions collar tab and vehicle identification shield, depicting a round sun with its rays radiating from the center.
Copyright © Nino Oktorino 2004