Introduction to the Railway Security Battalions (Croatia)
- Published: 17 February 2013 17 February 2013
- Last Updated: 17 February 2013 17 February 2013
by H.L. deZeng IV
The first three railway security battalions (I - III) were formed in early 1942 and deployed along the railway line between Zagreb and Karlovac, and in the Lika between Karlovac and Ogulin, although several companies were used to the north and east of Zagreb. Trained and equipped by the Italians, their task was simply to prevent railway sabotage by actively patrolling the tracks in their allotted sector.
Although comparatively small in itself with just 366 locomotives, 331 passenger cars and 6,354 freight cars (figures for 3 February 1943), the Croatian State Railway system was absolutely vital for the movement of passengers, goods and troops throughout the country. Further, long-haul German trains used the main trunk line through the country to transport troops, equipment, raw materials (minerals such as bauxite and copper) and passengers between Greece, Yugoslavia and the Reich.
By the fall of 1942, Partisan railway and train sabotage had reached such proportions that the German Commander-in-Chief Southeast decided to greatly expand the existing railway security organization. During a top level meeting held in Zagreb on 12 November 1942, the Croatian Defense Ministry agreed to make available and assemble the necessary personnel for 14 additional battalions of 800 men each and to place these under German control.
The German Railway Security Staff Croatia was officially formed on 8 December 1942 under Oberst (Colonel) von Larisch with HQ in Slavonski Brod. It was initially responsible for protecting the main rail line through Croatia from the Reich border to Zemun at Belgrade, and the feeder lines Sl. Brod to Sarajevo and Osijek - Vinkovci - Brčko. Other stretches were included later. The tracks were guarded from 240 fortified watchtowers and bunkers erected a few kilometers apart. Command at the local level was exercised through subordinate Railway Security Sectors, of which there were eventually six (A - F).
The watchtowers were constructed along the tracks at various intervals and were protected by barbed wire and minefields. Each morning the tracks were carefully inspected for mines and other means of sabotage. Additionally, the tower garrisons carried out night combat patrols between the watchtowers and, if needed, could call upon armored trains carrying infantry and tanks on flatcars as reinforcements during attacks.
Morale among the Croatian railway security troops was very poor. They were at the very bottom of the priority list for uniforms, weapons and supplies, and many deserted to join units with a higher status, particularly the Moslem SS division (13th SS-Division “Handschar”) raised in Bosnia during the late spring and summer of 1943.
By 1 September l943, a total of 18 railway security battalions were in existence with a strength of 11,800, plus one Ustasha railway security battalion with 500 men. Three battalions (XI, XII and XIII) were handed over to the German-Croatian police establishment in early December 1943, but several new battalions were formed in 1944 bringing the total to 17 (I to X and XIV to XX), plus three replacement battalions and one Ustasha railway security battalion. It should be mentioned that the rail lines through Croatia were also guarded by units of the German Army. In fall 1943 these included Landesschützen-Btle. 823, 924 and 925, and Sicherungs-Btle. 265 and 356. These German forces were considerably reinforced during 1944 with additional Army units, armored trains and police formations that came under the Höherer SS-u.Polizeiführer Kroatien. When the German Army units are added to the 1 September 1943 figures given above, there were some 16,000 troops devoted to guarding the railway in Croatia. By mid-1944 this number had doubled. (1)
Railway Security Battalion - Organization (June 1944)
Battalion HQ: (including in the composition of the 1st Rifle Co.)
1st Rifle Co.: 10/23/135
2d Rifle Co.: 4/18/122
3d Rifle Co.: 4/18/122
4th Rifle Co.: 4/18/122
Totals: 22 officers, 77 NCOs and 501 men for a total of 600. There was no table of organization for weapons. Whatever was available was provided.
1. NARA WashDC: RG 242 (T-314 roll 558/1017-19; roll 1545/852-917); (T-315 roll 1558/358-60; roll 2271/669).