Black Legion (Croatia)
- Published: 02 February 2013 02 February 2013
- Last Updated: 02 February 2013 02 February 2013
Black Legion (Crna legija) (also 1. Ustasha Regiment (1. ustaša pukovnija) and Schwarze Legion)
by H.L. deZeng IV
Formed 3 September 1941 in Sarajevo to safeguard NDH interests and the pro-regime population following large-scale Chetnik atrocities against the Moslems and their villages in East Bosnia. Thousands of survivors fled to Sarajevo during the summer of 1941 as refugees from the Serbian Chetnik terror, and it was from them that most of the Bosnian Moslem and Roman Catholic Croatian manpower was assembled to develop and form the Legion. The recruiting of these men was carried out by the Legion’s first commander, Jure Francetić, assisted by Rafael Boban, Viktor Tomić and a number of other early Ustasha personalities. Once operational, it struck back reactively in retribution against not only the Chetniks, but against all Serbs (Pravoslavni) living in East Bosnia. Every new atrocity was responded to with an even worse atrocity. This beginning, which the Serbs deny to this day, was written, approved and published in Sarajevo in 1977 while Yugoslavia was still a Serbian-dominated communist dictatorship and therefore carries some authority. (1)
Sep – Dec 41: Background - During the summer of 1941, the area between Višegrad and Sarajevo, already overrun by Chetniks and a few Partisans, became a killing ground for Croatians, Serbians and Moslems in an almost senseless orgy of death and destruction. The bestial atrocities committed by both sides defy description and prompted a German officer eyewitness to compare them with those that were committed during the Thirty Year War, several centuries before. Francetić and his Ustasha began searching for volunteers in this highly volatile region, and the results were excellent. Men and boys whose families and relatives had been butchered by the Chetniks, or whose homes and belongings had been put to the torch, flocked to join Francetić’s ever-growing columns, in many cases for only one reason: revenge. By September, Francetić’s unit had been renamed the Francetićeva Ustaša Bojna and had a strength of 850 men. By early December the unit’s strength had grown to 1,200, and it was reorganized as a mobile assault formation for use in the Sarajevo region. At about this time troops were issued black shirts not unlike those worn by the Italian Camice Nere or the German SS and the unit began to go by the unofficial name “Crna Legija”, or Black Legion. Francetić was promoted to the rank of Bojnik (Major) in the Ustasha Militia on 15 November 1941, to Dopukovnik (Lt. Colonel) on 7 March 1942 and to Pukovnik (Colonel) on 25 June 1942. His unprecedented rise in rank speaks volumes for the importance and esteem that the Black Legion was held in by Poglavnik Ante Pavelić. Thus was born one of the best, but perhaps the most vicious, anti- partisan units ever formed. It was used extensively for the next year, feared by its enemies for its ferocious tactics and firm motto of no quarter asked, no quarter given.
2-10 Dec 41: first employment in a large scale operation - I Bn., operating with the Croatian (Domobran) 8th Infantry Regiment and four other Ustasha battalions, attempted to clear the Ozren Plateau of Partisan and Chetnik units. Although the operation proved unsuccessful, the I Battalion (Francetićeva Ustaša Bojna) gave a good account of itself by any standard.
Jan 42: by mid-January, the Legion stood at approximately 1,500 men, was very well armed, and was fully motorized with trucks, motorcycles and some Italian tankettes.
13-28 Jan 42: this operation was soon followed by another, operation “Süd-Kroatien.” The main forces committed were the German 342. and 718. Inf.-Divisions, the Croatian 4th and 5th Infantry Divisions and all three battalions of the Black Legion under command of Bojnik Francetić. The Italians also partici- pated with the “Ravenna” Division. The Legion was deployed as a blocking force between the towns of Visoko and Vareš to prevent the Partisans from moving west into central Bosnia. This operation was judged inconclusive, as the Partisans only lost 521 KIA and 1,400 taken prisoner. German losses amounted to 24 KIA and 131 WIA, while the Croatians suffered 50 KIA and WIA. The Legion saw only limited action in this operation. “Süd-Kroatien” did, however, succeed in bottling up large numbers of Partisans in mountainous terrain, an advantage which was exploited several days later.
28-30 Jan 42: the cleanup following .”Süd-Kroatien” was called Operation “Ozren”. It utilized essentially the same forces. I Bn./Black Legion formed part of the attacking force, advancing from the vicinity of Maglaj. “Ozren” was a success - the Partisans were driven out of their stronghold in the mountains and suffered heavy casualties.
Feb – Apr 42: the Legion operated independently during February and early March, and did not participate again in a large, planned anti-partisan sweep until 15 March, when it took up positions at Han Pijesak to anchor the eastern flank of the German 718. Inf.Div. This operation, called “Trio I”, employed the Italian divisions “Taureneese”, “Pusteria” and “Sassari”, as well as the Croatian 3rd and 4th Frontier Battalions and several battalions from the 8th, 13th and 15th Infantry Regiments. The Legion was deployed in the strength of three battalions and a battery of mountain artillery. “Trio I” was the first operation in which the Legion played a dominant role, in that it was primarily responsible for destroying and dispersing the Major Jezdimir Dangić Chetnik force of 4,500 men which infested the area and were the focal point of the sweep. During the operation, which ran until 24 April, the Legion killed many civilians that willingly or unwillingly gave support to the Chetniks and Partisans. Villages were quickly and silently surrounded, and then set afire by mortar and artillery fire. Those who tried to escape from the inferno, regardless of their age or sex, were mowed down by concentrated rifle and machine gun fire. At the conclusion of the operation, the Legion was used to mop up pockets of resistance to the north of Foča.
May 42: between 5 and 12 May, the Italians mounted a joint operations with the Germans in the vicinity of Foča, which was located in the Italian zone of occupation. Since the Italians would not permit the use of Ustasha troops in their sphere of authority, the Legion was forced to transfer out of the area before the operation could commence. Francetić moved his troops to the Vlasenica - Srebrenica region, and from here engaged in independent actions against pockets of resistance wherever found.
Jun – Jul 42: while the Legion’s main body was occupied in the Vlasenica - Srebrenica area until late July/early August, the reserve, or fourth, battalion was sent north to take part in the largest anti-partisan operation of 1942: Operation “West-Bosnien”. Tens of thousands of German and Croatian troops were assembled in early June and sent into the mountains and plateaus of western Bosnia to cleanse the area once and for all of both Partisans and Chetniks. By the end of August, the guerrillas had suffered a resounding defeat and the operation was concluded.
28 Jul – 19 Aug 42: although the men of the Legion had been engaged against the resistance for the better part of a year, the surviving veterans later pointed to the defense of Kupres as their most heroic moment. One battalion of the Black Legion (600 men) along with one battery of mountain artillery, an automobile section and local Ustasha militia, under the overall command of Pukovnik Simić, defended Kupres against four Partisan brigades between 28 July and 19 August 1942. The Partisans launched three concentrated attacks against the garrison of 1,500 men during the nights of 11/12 August, 14 August and 19 August. Although greatly outnumbered, the town was successfully defended. Partisan losses were an estimated 1,000 killed.
17-25 Aug 42: while one of the Legion’s battalions was defending Kupres, the rest of the unit was deployed between Zvornik and Drinjaca to destroy a Partisan concentration in the hills to the north of Vlasenica. During the offensive (Operation “Vlasenica”), the Crna Legija operated with its usual flair against the Partisans and the sometimes innocent villagers who happened to live in the area. The German liaison officers were so shocked by what they saw, that they strongly recommended to General Fortner, commander of the 718. Infanterie-Division, that he disband the Crna Legija since they felt in its present state it was only harming German and Croatian interests. General Fortner was disinclined to follow this advice, but he did order the disarming and arrest of one Black Legion company that had been singled out for particularly offensive acts against the Serbian population in the Romanija. Francetić was also arrested on 25 August, but during the next day he was handed over to local Ustasha authorities with a recommendation that he be severely disciplined for the mishandling of his troops. But Ante Pavelić refused to take action against Francetić, and much to the surprise and shock of General Fortner, made Francetić commander of all Ustasha operational combat units, which was the second highest post in the Ustasha Militia next to its commander, Ust. Pukovnik Gaša Balenović. Francetić then accompanied Pavelić on a September inspection tour of Croatian volunteers fighting in South Russia near Stalingrad.
Sep 42: with the loss of its commander, the Legion was broken up. The main body became the I Pokretni Ustaški zdrug (I Mobile Ustasha Brigade), while the Boban Battalion was used to form the cadre for the newly formed V Ustasha Brigade in Podravini. The final chapter in the history of the Black Legion was written on 27 December 1942 when Pukovnik Jure Francetić died in Partisan custody of gunshot wounds suffered following the emergency landing near Slunj of a plane in which he was riding in as passenger.
Former members of the Black Legion continued to wear the black uniform right up to the end of the war, probably as a sort of honorary mark of distinction. Lastly, at least 120 former Black Legion men were executed by the Partisans at Sisak in May 1945.
Ust. Bojnik Jure Francetić (Sep 1941 - Sep 1942)
Ust. Satnik Rafael Boban (Sep 1941 - Sep 1942)
HQ Ustasha Militia (Zagreb) (Sep 1941 - Sep 1942)
Order of Battle (Oct 1941)
Rgt. HQ in Sarajevo
I Bn. (Francetić Battalion)
II Bn. (Boban Battalion)
III Bn. (Sudar Battalion)
Order of Battle (11 Apr 1942)
Rgt. HQ in Sarajevo
III Bn. (redesignated this date as XXI Ustasha Bn.)
IV Bn. (redesignated this date as XXII Ustasha Bn.)
1. Hory, Ladislaus and Martin Broszat - Der Kroatische Ustascha-Staat 1941-1945 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1964), pp.130-31; Tomasevich, Jozo - The Chetniks (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), pp.206-09; Precla, John and Stanko Guldescu - Operation Slaughterhouse (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1970), pp.190 and 391; Dragojlov, Fedor – “Der Krieg 1941 -1945 auf dem Gebiet des ‘Unabhangigen Staates Kroatien”, in: Allgemieine Schweizer Militärzeitschrift, 1956, vol. 5, pp.345-364, vol. 6, pp.425-449 and vol. 7, pp.509-523, especially, pp.430-31 and 435; Brčić, Rafael – “Okupacioni system i ustaška Nezavisna Država Hrvatska u Sarajevu (1941-1943)”, in: Sarajevo u revoluciji (Sarajevo, 1977), volume 2, p.276; Aid, Matthew M. – “The Croatian Armed Forces at War, 1941-42”, Part I of an unpublished manuscript. Pages 11, 14-15, 18-21, 26, 31-33 and 35-36; Drina (publication of Ustasha veterans, Madrid, 1950-1969), various issues; NARA WashDC: RG 242 (T-315 roll 2269/073), and various after action reports found in many of these German military records microfilmed by the U.S. National Archives.
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