by Phil Froom with the kind support of Allen Milcic

A new Wehrmacht unit comprised of Croatian volunteers, initially slated to be sent to the Eastern Front upon formation, began mustering in Stokerau on 21st August 1942. The nucleus of the new Division was formed both from recovered wounded of the original 369th Regiment, and from the Stokerau Training Battalion personnel. Slowly they began to build the core of a new Croatian (Legionnaire) infantry Division - the 369th Infantry Division (Croat). In honour of their feats in Russia, and in memory of their fallen comrades and their destroyed original 369th Regiment, veterans were awarded a special honour badge called the "Croatian Legion Badge 1941". The badge is shaped as a Linden leaf with the Croat checkerboard and bears the words "Hrvatska Legija 1941" (Croatian Legion 1941).

award-ndh-legion
(Courtesy of Emedals)

By December of 1942, surviving veterans of the 369th Croat Reinforced Regiment, complemented with an influx of new Croatian volunteers, were under training as part of the newly formed 369 Infanterie Division (Kroat), led by its German commander Lt.-General Fritz Neidholt. The Division had the following Order of Battle (OOB):

369th INFANTRY DIVISION
Divisional Staff (2 LMGs)
369th (mot) Mapping Detachment
369th Grenadier Regiment with:
- 1 Regimental Staff
- 1 Regimental Staff Company
- 1 Signals Platoon
- 1 Pioneer Platoon (3 LMGs)
- 1 Cavalry Reconnaissance Platoon
- 3 Infantry Battalions each with
-- 3 Grenadier Companies (12 LMGs & 3-50mm mortars)
-- 1 Machine-gun Company (12 HMGs & 6-80mm mortars)
-- Infantry Gun Company:
-- (4-47mm Russian guns)
-- (tmot) Panzerjäger Company:
-- (4 LMGs & 12-37mm PAK 36)
-- Mortar Company:
-- (8-80mm mortars)
370th Grenadier Regiment with:
- 1 Regimental Staff
- 1 Regimental Staff Company
- 1 Signals Platoon
- 1 Pioneer Platoon (3 LMGs)
- 1 Cavalry Reconnaissance Platoon
- 3 Infantry Battalions each with
-- 3 Grenadier Companies (9 LMGs & 1-50mm mortar)
-- 1 Machine-gun Company (8 HMGs & 6-80mm mortars)
-- Infantry Gun Company:
-- (4-47mm Russian guns)
-- (tmot) Panzerjäger Company:
-- (4 LMGs & 12-37mm PAK 36)
-- Mortar Company:
-- (8-80mm mortars)
369th Reconnaissance Battalion:
- 1 (mot) Company
- 1 Pioneer Platoon (4 LMGs)
- 1 Panzerjäger Platoon (2-37mm PAK 36)
- 1 Infantry Gun Sections (2-75mm lelG)
- 2 Bicycle Companies (3-50mm mortars, 2 HMGs & 12 LMGs)
369th Panzerjäger Battalion:
- 2 (motZ) Panzerjäger Companies (equipment unknown)
369th Artillery Regiment:
- 1 Regimental Staff & Staff Battery
- 1st Battalion:
-- 1 Battalion Staff & Staff Battery
-- 3 Batteries (3-105mm leFH & 2 LMGs each)
- 2nd Battalion:
-- Same as 1st Battalion
- 3rd Battalion:
-- 1 Battalion Staff & Staff Battery
-- 2 Batteries (3-150mm sFH & 2 LMGs each)
369th Pioneer Battalion:
- 1 Battalion Staff (2 LMGs)
- 1 (bicycle) Pioneer Company (9 LMGs & 2-120mm mortars)
- 2 Pioneer Companies (9 LMGs & 2-120mm mortars)
- 1 Light Pioneer Supply Column (2 LMGs)
369th Signals Battalion:
- 1 (tmot) Telephone Company (6 LMGs)
- 1 (mot) Radio Company (4 LMGs)
- 1 (tmot) Signals Supply Column (1 LMG)
369th Supply Troop:
- 1 Supply Troop (2 LMGs)
- 1/369th (mot) Light Supply Column (2 LMGs)
- 2, 3, 4, 5/369th Light Supply Company Columns (4 LMGs each)
- 6, 7/369th Light Supply Columns
- 369th Supply Company (6 LMGs)
Maintenance Troops:
- 369th (mot) Maintenance Company
Administration:
- 369th (mot) Bakery Company
- 369th (mot) Butcher Company
- 369th Administration Platoon
Medical:
- 369th Medical Company (2 LMGs)
- 1, 2/369th Ambulance
Other:
- 369th Veterinary Company
- 369th (tmot) Military Police Detachment (1 LMG)
- 369th (mot) Field Post Office

Like its ill-fated predecessor, the division wore German uniform and rank insignia, and had a backbone of German officers and NCO's, but was now titled the "369th (Croat) Infantry Division". The Division also wore the distinctive Croatian red and white chessboard arm shield, but now on their right sleeve (as opposed to the 369th Reinforced Regiment, who had worn theirs on the left). The arm shield earned the Division the nickname of "Schachbrett" or "Chessboard" Division with their German allies, while the Croats nicknamed their division “Vražja” (Devil’s) in remembrance of the well-respected 42nd (Croat) Division of the Austro-Hungarian Army during WW1, that had carried that nickname due to its fighting spirit and élan (“they fought like devils”).
Following training, the division was to gain some combat experience in Croatia (fighting the local guerrilla uprising) prior to being sent to fight on the Eastern Front. On 18th December, 1942, the first elements of the 14,000 strong 369th Division left by rail transport for Croatia, moving through Zagreb to Sisak, and on 5th January 1943 the Division took its first casualties when the train carrying the reconnaissance section was ambushed 8 km south of Sisak near Pračno, the engine and four wagons derailing after hitting a mine on the track. Following the derailment the train was swept by Yugoslav Partisan fire from both sides of the crash site, killing 11 men and one of the train crew.

In January 1943, the original plan to send the 14,000 men of the newly formed 369th Division to the Eastern Front was cancelled due to the deteriorating tactical situation in the NDH, and in the Balkans in general. Communist Partisan uprisings in the region were becoming more and more bold and successful, and the guerrillas held large swaths of land in mountainous regions of Bosnia-Herzegovina (part of the NDH during WW2) and in Montenegro, and were successfully attacking Axis forces throughout the region. The Division was ordered to remain deployed in the area in an attempt to counter this escalation in Partisan activities.
Various Axis units were active in this part of the Balkans on Anti-Partisan operations, yet they varied significantly in capability and, in many ways, this contributed to the resulting failure to totally destroy the Partisan forces. Some German units, especially of the Waffen-SS, were well motivated and committed to fierce combat, while others, consisting mostly of older soldiers and intended mainly for rear-area security, did not perform as well. Italian Forces were often demoralized and generally performed poorly, especially as the war dragged on and as the military situation across the Adriatic Sea in Italy grew worse. All-volunteer military units of the Fascist party ruling the NDH state, the so-called ‘Ustase’, fought the Partisans fiercely and with great motivation, but they were not numerous and were prone to ultimately counter-productive excesses against civilians; meanwhile the conscripted regular armed forces of the NDH (the Domobranstvo) generally saw little reason to fight on the side of foreign powers against their own people, and these units generally suffered from collusion and whole-scale desertion with and to the Partisan forces. Other collaborationist forces in the region (in Serbia, Slovenia etc.) were generally of little worth in combat, due both to a lack of armaments/training and motivation, they were plagued by desertions, and were prone to pillaging and committing war crimes. Bloody internecine conflict between various nationalities in the region, based often on ages old wrongs both real and imagined, religious strife, and a bloody civil war between groups for or against Communism, Monarchy or Fascism, added to the general confusion. It was into this hornet’s nest that the 369th Division entered.

The first major combat operation in which the 369th – with a small independent Tank unit (the 202nd Panzer Abteilung) attached to provide light armoured support - participated in was "Unternehmen Weiss" (Operation White, known also as the “Battle of the Neretva” or the Fourth Axis Offensive). The operation was planned as a three-phase attack which, as its goals, had the elimination of territories under Partisan control in western Bosnia and parts of Croatia Proper, the destruction of the central command of the Partisan movement, the Central Committee of Communist Party of Yugoslavia, the main Partisan hospital, and the main-force Partisan units defending the ‘liberated’ territories. The operation (Phase I – the attack on the Partisan held areas from the west) commenced on January 20th 1943, with the 369th Division originally moving on Cazin which was taken in early February, 1943. The Partisans fought the Axis advances fiercely, but were ultimately forced to withdraw. Phase II officially commenced on February 25, 1943, and the 369th was heavily committed, from Cazin moving to the area of Sisak-Kostajnica, then fighting south-east to Prijedor, then south towards Bosanski Petrovac and Kluj. Here the Division joined forces with the 7th SS "Prinz Eugen" Division (with whom it fought alongside in many future operations and formed a close professional relationship) in the continued pursuit of the Partisan main forces and hospital, which were trying to escape in a south-eastern direction towards Montenegro. The Partisans managed to crush a blocking force consisting of the Italian ‘Murge’ Division and reach the area west of the Neretva River by the end of February, 1943. The 369th are then shown to be active west of Ribinik and Mliniste and then in the area of Glamoc, Malovan. In early March they were active in the Duvno, Scit, Prozor, Rama and Jablanica areas, as the Axis forces attempted to squeeze the Partisans against the Neretva River where they could finally destroy them in a head-to-head encounter by applying superior forces. Unfortunately for the Axis forces, the Partisans held off further advances by successfully counter-attacking in the Gornji Vakuf area, while at the same time occupying the town of Konjic and securing a river crossing at that location as well as at Jablanica. Once across the river, the Partisans brushed away blocking forces consisting of Italian and collaborationist Serb Cetnik forces, and made their way to temporary safety in northern Montenegro. For all intents and purposes, Phase III of Operation White, the final destruction of the surrounded Partisan forces, never occurred.
Operation Weiss was a tactical victory for the Axis Forces, clearing the important bauxite mining area of Yugoslavia of Partisans, and inflicting huge casualties amongst them in the process, but it failed to meet its goal of destroying the Partisan forces in a single decisive blow. The Partisans were able to fight their way through the lightly defended Italian lines and engage and destroy the Serbian Cetnik blocking force, escaping toward the south and southeast into the more desolate mountain regions of Herzegovina, Montenegro, and eastern Bosnia, saving their main-line units, their central command and their hospital in the process.

After Weiss, the 369th Division was assigned a tactical area of operations (TAO), running roughly from the Sava River in the north to the Croatian Adriatic coast in the south, and from the city of Karlovac in the west, to the Croatian-Serbian border on the Drina River in the east. However, within this TAO, the Division was typically most active in the Sarajevo - Mostar region.
Following Weiss, the Division next took part in ‘Unternehmen Schwarz’, (Operation Black), taking place between 15th May and 16th June 1943. Schwarz was a plan to destroy the main battle group and central HQ of the Yugoslav Communists, situated in south-east Hercegovina and north-western Montenegro, and led by Josip Broz “Tito”. A large Axis force was mobilised for the operation, and included the 7th Waffen SS Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen", 1st German Mountain Division, which had arrived from the Russian front, the 369th (Croat Legion) Division, the 118th Jaeger Division, the lst Motorized Regiment of the Brandenburg commando formation. The Italians assembled the "Taurinense" Infantry Division, the 23rd Infantry Division "Ferrara", and the 19th Infantry Division "Venezia". Other Axis forces available for this offensive included the Croat 4th Jaeger Brigade and the Bulgarian 61st and 63rd Infantry Regiments.
Constant Partisan attacks from their ‘liberated’ area on Axis communication and transport routes formed a significant threat to the supply of German and Italian troops in south-eastern Europe, and the transport of raw materials to Germany. The Commander-in-Chief, Southeast, directed that Operation Schwarz, under the Commander of Troops in Croatia, be launched in May, concentrating on the elimination of the Partisan central command (including Partisan leader “Tito”), the main Partisan battle-group (consisting of the 1st and 2nd Proletarian Divisions, the 2nd and 3rd Assault Divisions and the 7th Banija Division), and the main Partisan hospital. This was one of the largest Anti-Partisan sweeps of the entire war, with over 117,000 Axis troops deployed against an estimated 16,000 able-bodied Partisans and about 3,500 wounded and ill.
This battle - also referred to as the “Battle of the Sutjeska” (after the river valley in which the Partisans were encircled) - was the fifth Axis offensive against Tito’s Partisan forces. The Axis forces managed to surround the Partisans in the Sutjeska River Valley, and for almost a month the Partisans were mercilessly bombed while they attempted to break out. On June 9th, lead by the 1st Proletarian Division, they succeeded in breaking through the German lines and crossed the Sutjeska River. The fleeing Partisan units withdrew north-westerly but were constantly harried by Axis forces that made repeated attacks against their flanks. Between June 3rd and 15th the bulk of the Partisan Army ( 1st, 2nd Proletarian, 7th Banija and 3rd Assault Divisions) fell back through Vucevo, Suha, Tjentiste, Bare, Lucke, Kolibe, Vrbnica, Balinovac and finally Rataj where they were able to begin dispersing northwards. During this fighting withdrawal, on June 12th, the Partisan forces ran into a blocking force of the 369th Division close to the town of Balinovac. An intense and bloody battle ensued costing both sides dearly. After repeated attacks, the Partisans finally succeeded in forcing a number of breaks in the 369th Divisional lines on June 15th, crossing the River Bistrica, and escaping. It is of note that Tito himself was in this battle, protected together with his HQ by the 2nd Proletarian Division.
Losses were heavy on both sides during “Schwartz”, with Axis forces claiming over 6,000 Communist dead on the battlefield. Tito himself had been wounded during the engagement (on May 9th during an aerial bombardment that killed his dog and his personal bodyguard). With the exception of their Reconnaissance Battalion, the 369th Infantry Division was deployed in the area of Foča, Ustikolina and Goražde. Divisional records also show the Division engaged north-west of Balinovac and Rataj.
The famous Prinz Eugen Waffen SS Division was also deployed during this operation. In the book by Otto Kumm "Prinz Eugen" - The History of the 7th Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen" – it states “The 369 Croat Division fought side-by-side with the 7th SS from this point on until the end of the war, and was a highly respected and very capable unit. The 369 was one of the few units that the 7th SS actually held in high esteem and valued as a fighting partner” – praise indeed from Kumm.

The 369th had been seriously mauled during operation Schwarz, and the trend continued in the next few months, with 40 killed, 58 wounded and 14 missing during September alone. October was worse, with 49 killed, 167 wounded and 137 missing. November was just slightly better with 9, 63 and 4 respectively. Throughout this period, the 369th was essentially operational in the Sarajevo area.
The 369th participated in the huge operations resulting from the capitulation of the Italy on the 8th of September 1943, together with the 373rd Croat Infantry Division, the 7th SS “Prinz Eugen” Division and the 24th SS (Karstwehr) Division, taking part in the disarming of the surrendered Italian garrisons in Dalmatia and Herzegovina. The 7th SS Prinz Eugen and the 369th Division took the surrender of the entire Italian garrison in Mostar (capital of Herzegovina), and then moved on towards Split on the Dalmatian coast, where they took the surrender of the Italian “Bergamo” Division. November was mostly spent resting and re-equipping following their battering over the past few months.
After resting and rebuilding, the 369th next fought the Partisans (as part of the 5th SS Mountain Corps) in early December of 1943 in the area of Travnik (central Bosnia). Operations "Kugelblitz" (Lightning Ball) around the town of Visoko in central Bosnia, "Schneesturm" (Snowstorm) in eastern Bosnia, and "Waldrausch" (Forest Run), also in eastern Bosnia, were then participated in. The operations were aimed at destroying the 2nd and 3rd Corps of the NOVJ (Narodno Oslobodilacka Vojska Jugoslavije – the People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia). Ending in late January 1944, these operations netted over 11,000 Partisan dead, but were overall a failure as they did not destroy the guerrilla movement. Major Partisan units retained their cohesion and Tito's Army of National Liberation could still be considered a very effective fighting force. Smaller scale operations against the Partisans continued into 1944, with the 369th based in the Mostar area, but operating throughout Herzegovina and southern Dalmatia with its islands.

Facing a better-armed and more numerous enemy than the German forces in Greece, Army Group F and its NDH allies were all but forced on the defensive in the opening months of 1944. The Partisans, now receiving substantial military assistance from the Western Allies, had grown to a force able to hold large areas of the country by themselves, their forces including transportation and sophisticated communications capabilities. They also set up a provisional government in the mountainous area of western Bosnia. Small scale operations by the various divisions and smaller units met with some success, but the centre of the Partisan “Republic”, in the Jajce-Bihac-Banja Luka area, remained a refuge to which Tito's units could withdraw when German pressure became too great in any other particular area. Accordingly, to regain the all but lost initiative and to strike the Partisans a blow from which they would not soon recover, Marshal von Weichs ordered the Second Panzer Army to destroy the Tito forces in their main stronghold.
On 25th May 1944, a reinforced Reconnaissance Battalion of the 369th Division took part, together with elements of the 1st Mountain Division, a regimental group of 7th SS Mountain Division ''Prinz Eugen'', elements of the 373rd “Tigar” Croatian-German Division, SS Parachute Battalion 500, a platoon of the Brandenburg Division, the 202 Tank Battalion, the 92d Motorised Infantry Regiment, and a number of Croatian and Cetnik units, in what was called Unternehmen “Roesselsprung” (Operation Knight’s Move), or the “Seventh Axis Offensive in Yugoslavia”. The operation was an attempt to capture the Communist Partisan leader, Tito, at his headquarters near the town of Drvar in western Bosnia. The attack would open with a surprise airborne (parachute and glider) assault by the elite SS paratroopers on the town and Tito’s nearby cave-HQ, followed-up quickly by a conventional ground attack. The attack came very close to succeeding, and did result in the capture of a large amount of Partisan equipment, but ultimately failed in the capture of Tito or the destruction of his forces. This was mainly due to fanatical resistance by Tito’s bodyguard battalion, and the timely arrival of Partisan reinforcements (“Lika” Brigade). Both sides suffered substantial casualties, and the SS paratroop unit was decimated in the heavy fighting.
Though the operation did not provide a fatal blow to the Partisan forces, it did achieve a temporary break in the Partisan chain of command whilst Tito was forced to flee. He was first taken from Kupresko Polje by plane to Bari, Italy (May 25, 1944), and then by British Navy destroyer (June 7, 1944) to the Island of Vis in the Adriatic, where he was able to re-establish his headquarters under British protection. The high losses of personnel and equipment also forced the guerrillas to withdraw from the area to regroup.

Following Roesselsprung, the 369th took part in Unternehmen “Wolfshölle” (Operation Wolf’s Hell) between 18th and 20th August 1944, on the Peljesac Peninsula. It is not entirely clear what the aim for this operation was, though there are indications it was related to a failed attempt to lay telegraph lines.
The military situation in Croatia was becoming critical for the Axis by November 1944, with Partisan (NOVJ) forces becoming a genuine field army rather than groups of small guerrilla bands. Supplied by the Allies, the Partisans were engaging the Axis forces frontally, and more often than not both outgunned and outnumbered the Axis forces. German and NDH forces were struggling desperately to hold on to southern Herzegovina and the crucial city of Mostar, whose loss would potentially cut-off German troops retreating from Serbia and Greece northward, and the situation was becoming critical. On 19th December 1944 the 370th Regiment of the 369th Division took part in “Unternehmen Heuschober” (Operation Coil), whose goal was the capture of the high ground around the village of Lise, an important stronghold in the defence of Mostar. The resulting operation forced Partisan forces from the Jara and Biogradica peaks, giving the defenders of Mostar temporary respite. The operation was difficult for Divisional commanders, as, due to supply shortages, only two shells per gun were authorised by Corps command for the operation, leaving the regiment with little offensive firepower.
Immediately following Heuschober, “Unternehmen MARS” was launched. After the success of Heuschober, on 21st December 1944, this more ambitious operation was planned against NOVJ forces in the area southwest of the village of Kocerina, west of Mostar. The 370th Regiment of 369th Division, together with the NDH 9th Ustasa Active Brigade and an Ustasa militia company, managed to push parts of 13th Dalmatian Brigade of the 9th Division and 10th Herzegovina Brigade of the 29th Division (NOVJ) back to a line at Kocerin. At the same time, the 2nd battalion of 370th Regiment advanced into Buhovo, thereby buying time for the defenders of Mostar. As the 369th was by now the only major German unit still operational in the Mostar region, the Commander-in-Chief Southeast moved a number of Fortress Battalions from the 964th Fortress Brigade as reinforcements for the Division (essentially to replace the 118th Light Infantry Division, which had since been withdrawn).

As part of the ongoing defence of critically important Mostar, on 23rd January, 1945, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 370th Regiment took part in Operation “Schlageter”. The operation was a surprise attack by the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 370th Regiment on NOVJ position near Lise. The Germans captured 27 prisoners, 1 antitank rifle, 2 mortars, 4 heavy machine-guns, 12 light machine-guns, 32 rifles and significant amount of munitions. They also killed two Partisan battalion commanders.
Between 27th and 29th January 1945, Kampfgruppe Becker; Comprising the HQ Regiment, First and Third Battalions of the 370th Regiment, and two Battalions of the 369th Artillery Regiment, together with units from 9th NDH Mountain Division, commenced “Unternehmen BURA” (Operation Northern Wind). This was a large operation carried out from Mostar and Siroki Brijeg (Listica), attacking towards Citluk and Capljina, then towards Ljubuski and Metkovic. The goal of the operation was to cut communications for NOVJ forces moving south of Mostar towards the west, potentially cutting off the German-Croatian defenders of Mostar from the remaining Axis-held territories in Croatia and Bosnia. The operation appears to have taken NOVJ forces by surprise, and three bridges over the Nervetva River were captured at Capljina, Gabela and Metkovic and quickly destroyed. This effectively, though only temporarily, cut NOVJ land communications East-West, as, except for at Capljina, the Axis forces immediately retreated back to their lines around Mostar. The outcome of the operation saw the 4th Split Brigade report casualties of 30 killed, 40 wounded and 276 missing on 11 February 1945, with the heaviest casualties suffered by the brigade's 5th (Italian) Battalion. Also, 6 mountain guns from the NOVJ 9th Division’s Artillery Battalion were lost. German units took 18 prisoners, captured 5 armoured vehicles (belonging to 3rd Battalion of the 1st Tank Brigade), 8 field artillery pieces and significant other weapons were also captured.
In direct response to “Unternehmen Bura“, in late January 1945, Tito ordered his Partisan forces to launch a concerted offensive against Mostar, which threatened to overcome the weakened 369th Division. Mostar still guarded the left flank of Axis forces in South-East Command and Army Group 'E', retreating from Serbia and Montenegro through Sarajevo and North along the Bosna River to Slavonski Brod.
The 369th, supported by a mixture of NDH units, defended the Mostar area fiercely, but by the 15th of February, 1945 they were losing ground to the overwhelming Partisan onslaught and were forced to abandon Mostar, the town being fully under Partisan control by the 16th. From this point on, the 369th Croat Division began its slow and bloody retreat westwards, abandoning more and more of its heavy equipment as it went. Perhaps more importantly, the Division had lost an extremely high percentage of its German Officers and NCO’s, further lowering its effectiveness. Around this time the German OKW war diary reports that the 369th Division had been wiped out, alongside the 9th NDH Mountain Division, and cites the loss of the majority of its German Officers as a contributing cause.
On 17th April the Division’s remnants – described as being a Kampfgruppe of the 369th - arrived in an area north of Brod, as the entire Axis front line fell back towards the west. Sarajevo had been evacuated on the 6th of April, 1945, and Tito’s forces, now over 650,000 strong, were on an offensive everywhere against the weak German and NDH defenders. The remnants of the Division moved with the retreating forces of the NDH westward, hoping to secure a final line of defence around Karlovac (the “Zvonimir” Line), and, once this was abandoned, around the Croatian capital Zagreb. On the 28th of April, 1945, the entire 370th Infantry Regiment of the 369th Division comprised no more than 515 men, and other regiments of the Division were no better off. On May 6th, 1945, the German military command surrendered control of the Divisional remnants to the Croatian (NDH) Armed Forces in Velika Gorica just south of Zagreb. On May 7th heavy fighting occurred around Ljeskovac and Jastrebarsko near Zagreb, and members of the Division were in the thick of it, attempting to keep open the retreat route towards Austria for Axis forces. On May 8th, remaining members of the Division retreated to Samobor (just west of Zagreb), and on the 9th and 10th joined the columns of the Croatian (NDH) Armed Forces, various collaborationist units from Serbia and Montenegro, as well as masses of civilians attempting to reach Allied (British) troops and surrender, expecting better treatment at the hands of the Western Allies than at the hands of Tito’s Communist troops. It would appear that members of the Division split up in this time period, as reports of surrender by units of the 369th are reported at various locations in Slovenia and Austria after May 10th. For example, on May 11th, 1945, elements of the 369th ‘Devils’ Division are reported to have surrendered and were disarmed by the British 6th Armoured Division between Loricica and Prosenisko. According to the memoirs of Milan Basta, a Political Commissar in the NOVJ, a battalion strength force of the 369th reached the Austrian border west of Dravograd on May 16th, 1945, scaring the wits out of the weak local detachment of the NOVJ as it moved to surrender to British forces. Members of the Division are also reported to have surrendered at Bleiburg, Austria, where the majority of the Croatian Armed Forces troops laid down their arms on May 15th, 1945. Altogether, 160 Officers and 2,876 NCO’s and men managed to surrender to the British. Their relief at not having fallen into Partisan (or even Soviet hands) was, however, short-lived. The British forces, in an act of apparent deceit, retribution, or possibly simple ignorance, had promised the Croats that they would be given asylum in Italy if they surrendered peacefully. Instead, they were promptly handed over to Tito’s Communist Partisans - the terribly predictable outcome being that most of them were brutally executed. Most members of the 369th shared the fate of their NDH comrades-in-arms. The last Commander of the 369th, Lt. General Neidholt, survived the war, but was extradited to Yugoslavia and tried by a military court in Belgrade for alleged massacres of civilians and other atrocities committed by his men. Neidholt was sentenced to death, and hanged on 27th February 1947; with him finally perished the last of the 369th Division.

This unit took part in anti-partisan operations in Croatia.

Known war crimes

On 28 March 1944 elemets from the 7. SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division Prinz Eugen and 369. Infanterie-Division killed 80 civilians in the town of Blazevici. (1)

Commanders

Generalleutnant Fritz Neidholdt (1 Sep 1942 - 5 Oct 1944)
Generalleutnant Georg Reinicke (5 Oct 1944 - 8 May 1945)

Area of operations

Croatia & Balkans (Sep 1942 - May 1945)

Nicknames

Teufels-Division (Vražjja Divizija, Devil Division)

Holders of high awards

Holders of the German Cross in Gold (3)
- Geissert, Wilhelm, 11.12.1943, Oberleutnant, Pi.Btl. 369 (kroat.)
- Holschbach, Albert, 04.09.1944, Major, Aufkl.Abt. 369 (kroat.)
- Schumann, Peter, 23.01.1944, Hauptmann, II./Gren.Rgt. 369 (kroat.)
Unit-Level Commendation Certificate of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army for Shooting Down Aircraft (1)
- Aufklärungs-Abteilung 369 (kroat.)
-- Date/Place of Downing: 09.07.1944 bei Kalinovik
-- Award Date: 00.00.0000 (574)

Holders of other notable badges & decorations

Holders of the Anti-Partisan Badge in Silver (1)
- Beckers, Heinz, 04.05.1945, Unteroffizier, I./Pi.Btl. 369 (Kroat.)
Holders of the Anti-Partisan Badge in Bronze (1)
- Schwalbach, Helmut, 15.03.1945, 2./Pz.Jg.Abt. (Kroat.) 369

Order of battle

Grenadier-Regiment 369 (kroatische)
Grenadier-Regiment 370 (kroatische)
Artillerie-Regiment 369
Pionier-Bataillon 369
Feldersatz-Bataillon 369
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 369
Aufklärungs-Abteilung 369

Insignia

Personnel of this division wore German army uniforms and rank insignia with the checkered red/white arm shield of Croatia.

flag-de-inf-div-369
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Footnotes

1. "Murderous Elite: The Waffen-SS and its complete record of war crimes" by James Pontolillo, page 35.

Sources used

Peter Abbott - Germany's Eastern Front Allies
Christopher Ailsby - Hitler's Renegades: Foreign nationals in the service of the Third Reich
Carlos Jurado - Foreign Volunteers of the Wehrmacht
Ivan Kosutic - Hrvatsko Domobranstvo u Drugom Svjetskom Ratu, I dio (The Croatian Army in WW2) Part I
Otto Kumm - Prinz Eugen
Mikulan/Pogacic - Hrvatske Oruzane Snage 1941-45 (The Croatian Armed Forces 1941-45)
Antonio Munoz - For Croatia and Christ: the Croatian Army in WW2
George Nafziger - Foreigners in Field Gray: the Russian, Croatian and Italian Soldiers in the Wehrmacht
James Pontolillo - Murderous Elite: The Waffen-SS and its complete record of war crimes
Georg Tessin - Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht 1933-1945
Nigel Thomas - Axis Forces in Yugoslavia 1941-45
Nigel Thomas - Partisan Warfare 1941-45
Krivci i Zrtve, Povlacenje 1945 (The Guilty and the Victims, the Retreat of 1945), Collection of memoirs

Reference material on this unit

Franz Schraml - Kriegsschauplatz Kroatien: Die deutsch-kroatischen Legionsdivisionen 369., 373., 392. Infanterie-Division, ihre Ausbildungs- und Ersatzformationen

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