Walloon Legion

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28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division
Wallonien
28. SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division, „Wallonien”.svg
Insignia of the 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien
Active 1941–1945
Allegiance Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Waffen-SS
Size Division (though only ever brigade-strength)
Engagements World War II
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Léon Degrelle

The Walloon Legion (French: Légion Wallonie)[lower-alpha 1] was a unit of volunteers from Wallonia, the French-speaking area of Belgium, who served in the Wehrmacht, later in the Waffen SS, during World War II. It fought on the Eastern Front, both in the rear area security operations and on the front lines.

In September 1944, the Sturmbrigade had its status raised to that of a division, but its strength never reached more than a brigade.

Concept and formation

Leon Degrelle, owner of a newspaper, and before the war known as an ardent Catholic, had founded the fascistic Rexist party in 1930. The Rexists watched the rise of Adolf Hitler's NSDAP in Germany through the 1930s and campaigned for similar changes in Belgium, some striving for the establishment of an independent Walloon nation.

When the Germans launched Fall Gelb in May 1940, the Belgian authorities placed Degrelle in custody to prevent him assisting the advancing enemy by raising dissent; he was released after Belgium's capitulation. Degrelle set about to further the Rexist party's aims of an independent Walloon state. However, the Rexists were ignored by the Germans, who focused their efforts on attracting the Flemings to their cause. In rouse German's to his side, Degrelle began publicly advocating forming a fighting force for the expected "Crusade against Bolshevism."

The unit, consisting men from the Formations de Combat, the paramilitary arm of the Rexist Party, was christened Corps Franc Wallonie (Walloon Free Corps). While Degrelle was in Paris campaigning for recognition of his party, the Germans ordered the formation of Wallonische Legion for service in the east. Command of the Legion, which had absorbed the Corps Franc Wallonie, was to go to Captain-Commandant Georges Jacobs, a retired Belgian colonial officer.

Degrelle's request to be commissioned as an officer was denied for lack of military training, and he signed on as a private. On 8 August 1941, the Legion, now 860 strong, was sent to Meseritz in East Prussia for basic training. In early October, the Legion was incorporated into the Heer as 373. (Wallonische) Infanterie Battalion. On 15 October, the Battalion was ordered to the front, to operate as a part of Army Group South currently advancing through Ukraine.

Part of the Heer

File:SS-Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade Wallonien propaganda postcard.jpg
A propaganda postcard for the Walloon Battalion

Upon its arrival in Ukraine, the Battalion was assigned to the rear area to participate in anti-partisan duties.[1] The Battalion was then attached to the 17. Armee. In May 1942, the Battalion was attached to the 97th Jäger Division. During that time, Degrelle was commissioned as a Leutnant.

During Fall Blau offensive into the Caucasus, the Walloons were positioned to guard the supply lines of the assault, seeing little action. In early August, the Walloons were called upon to clear a small village. During this battle, Degrelle was awarded the Iron Cross second class. In late August, the Battalion was posted to flank security. During this time it came into contact with Felix Steiner's SS-Division Wiking. In December, Degrelle was ordered to Berlin to coordinate the formation of a second Walloon Battalion, but Degrelle had already decided to take his unit to the Waffen-SS.

Waffen SS – Dnieper battles

In June 1943 the Battalion was transferred to SS command. Around 1,600 volunteers who had been assembled in Meseritz to form the second Army battalion were also transferred to the SS training area at Wildflecken. Over the next months, the Army Battalion was transformed into the SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien, commanded by Oberst (now SS-Sturmbannführer) Lucien Lippert, with SS-Hauptsturmführer Leon Degrelle as second-in-command. In October, the Wallonien was redesignated 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien, and was to be equipped as a fully motorized brigade with a complement of 250 vehicles. By November 1943, the Wallonien was sent to Ukraine to fight alongside Wiking, now designated 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking.

On December 24, 1943 the Soviet forces launched the Dnieper-Carpathian Offensive, an operation aimed at clearing the area west of the Dnieper. The Wallonien and the Wiking, along with eleven other German divisions of 1. Panzer Army and 8. Army were positioned in a salient based on the western bank of the river and were the first target for the Soviet operations. The Soviet forces soon encircled the forces of XLII and XI Army Corps near Korsun.

Korsun pocket – Battle of Narva

File:SSWallonie.jpeg
Recruitment poster for the Wallonien Brigade.

During the battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, the Wallonien was given the task of defending against Soviet attacks on the eastern side of the pocket. After the 105. Regiment of the 72. Infanterie Division became exhausted defending Novaya-Buda from Soviet attacks, the Wallonien was sent to relieve them. While General Wilhelm Stemmermann, the overall commander for the trapped forces, moved his forces to the west of the pocket in readiness for a breakout attempt, Wallonien and Wiking were ordered to act as a rearguard. After Lippert was killed, Degrelle took command of the Brigade and the Wallonien began its withdrawal under heavy fire. Of the brigade's 2,000 men, only 632 survived. For his actions, Degrelle was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer. A propaganda campaign was launched which portrayed Degrelle as a hero. The gravity of the Korsun disaster was downplayed, and Degrelle took an active role in promoting the Wallonien, addressing 10,000 people at the Brussels Sports Stadium. The veterans of the 6.SS Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade Langemarck, the other Belgian SS formation, remarked that they too had suffered at Korsun, but they had no Degrelle to make a fuss about it.

The remains of the Wallonien was sent back to Wildflecken to be reformed. New recruits were arriving thanks to the propaganda campaign, which had been augmented by a widely attended march of the Wallonien survivors through Brussels. In June 1944, the fighting around Narva was beginning to go badly for the German Army Group North. A 440-man battalion of the Wallonien was sent to Estonia to assist in the defence of the Tannenberg Line. Operating under SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner's III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps, the battalion participated in an attempt to halt a Soviet breakthrough at Dorpat in the vicinity of Pskov. By the end of the month, only 200 men remained. After Operation Bagration began, Army Group North began to fall back into the Kurland Pocket. The battalion escaped through the port of Tallinn (Reval) on the Baltic Sea. In early August, Degrelle was flown out of the Kurland Pocket to receive the Oakleaves to his Knight's Cross for his actions during the Battle of Narva.

The shattered remnants of the Battalion were sent back to join the rest of the Brigade, which was located at Breslau.

Final battles

Together with the Langemarck, the Wallonien Sturmbrigade was upgraded to become the 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien in October 1944. Despite this upgrade in status, the strength of the Wallonien remained that of a reinforced brigade, around 8,000 men. The division was first sent to Southern Hanover then to Braunschweig to continue training. The new Walloon recruits were joined by Frenchmen from the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism and Spaniards of the Blue Division. Most of the new recruits lacked military training, so only about 4,000 men were ready for action. These men were formed into a Kampfgruppe and sent to the region near Stargard and Stettin in Pomerania, joining the XXIX Panzer Corps, a part of Felix Steiner's XI SS Panzer Army.

The Wallonien was scheduled to take part in Operation Sonnenwende, the major offensive to relieve German troops encircled at Arnswalde. Wallonien was to cover the flank of the main attack. The offensive was launched on the 15th of February 1945, and met with initial success. However, after the III SS (Germanic) Panzer Corps reached Arnswalde, the situation changed and the Soviet defence began to solidify and the offensive stalled, forcing the Wallonien into a fighting withdrawal.

The Soviet counter-offensive, launched on 1 March, pushed the Wallonien before it, and over the next few weeks it was in almost constant combat throughout Central Pomerania until it reached the Oder near Stettin. The Wallonien, fighting alongside the Langemarck, held a thin strip of land on the eastern bank of the Oder until it was forced back across the river in early April, 1945. At this point the Walloons held a council of war and released those volunteers who no longer wished to continue to fight. 23 officers and 625 men chose to remain, and they assembled in one last battalion, equipped with machine guns, panzerfausts, mortars, and automatic rifles. The Langemarck (Flemish), who had also consolidated their remaining troops into two heavily armed battalions and an artillery section, was merged with the Wallonien under command of its tactical leader, SS-Sturmbannführer Franz Hellebaut. Joining the French- and Dutch-speaking Belgians was one German battalion and a section of tank destroyers. Langemarck's SS-Standartenführer Schellong commanded the artillery and one of the Flemish battalions.

During the final Soviet offensive of 20 April 1945, the Belgians were soon swept aside by the advancing Soviet forces. After several unsuccessful counter-attacks, the Belgian units realised all was lost and Degrelle ordered his troops to make it to Lübeck, where they eventually surrendered to British troops. Degrelle himself then drove with his bodyguard into Denmark. Degrelle then flew from Norway to Spain where he spent the rest of his life in exile. Belgium convicted him of treason in absentia and condemned him to death by firing squad. Degrelle died in 1994.

Commanders

  • Capt.Cdt Georges Jacobs (Aug 1941 – Jan 1942)
  • Hauptmann B.E.M. Pierre Pauly (Jan 1942 – Mar 1942)
  • Hauptmann George Tchekhoff (Mar 1942 – Apr 1942)
  • SS-Sturmbannführer Lucien Lippert (Apr 1942 – 13 Feb 1944)
  • SS-Sturmbannführer Leon Degrelle as political leader of the unit.
  • SS-Oberführer Karl Burk (21 June 1944 – 18 Sep 1944)
  • SS-Standartenführer Leon Degrelle (18 Sep 1944 – 8 May 1945)

Order of battle

Wallonische Legion Kompaniefahne.svg
Wallonische Legion - Erste Version.svg
Wimpel Stabsbrigade.svg

SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien

  • Brigade HQ
  • I.Battalion
    • Company
    • Company
    • Company
    • Company
  • II.Battalion
    • Company
    • Company
    • Company
    • Company
  • Artillery battalion
  • I. StuG Battery
  • II. StuG Battery
  • War Reporter platoon
  • Flak Battery (8.8 cm)
  • Flak Battery (2.2 cm)
  • Panzerjäger Company
  • Signal Company
  • 1.Reserve Company
  • 2.Reserve Company
  • I.Kollone

28. SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien

  • SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 69
    • I./SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 69
    • II./SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 69
  • SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 70
    • I./SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 70
  • SS-Artillery Regiment 28
  • SS-Reconnaissance Battalion 28
  • SS-Signal Battalion 28
  • SS-Pionier-Battalion 28
  • SS-Supply Company 28
  • SS-Flak Company 28
  • SS-Administration Company 28
  • SS-Medical Company 28
  • SS-Veterinarian Company 28
  • SS-Reserve Battalion 28
  • SS-Storm-Battalion 28
  • Kampfgruppe Capelle

Knight's Cross recipients

See also

Notes and references

  1. In its later manifestations, the formation would be termed the 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien and later the 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien

References

  1. Degrelle, Leon. Campaign in Russia. Ostara Publications, 2012. pp.17-24.

Further reading

  • Degrelle, Leon – Epic: The Story of the Waffen SS
  • Degrelle, Leon – Campaign in Russia: The Waffen SS on the Eastern Front
  • Merrian, Ray and Roba, Jean-Louis – Wallonien: The History of the 5th SS-Sturmbrigade and 28th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division
  • Nash, Douglas – Hell's Gate: The Battle of the Cherkassy Pocket, January to February 1944 (2002, RZM Publishing, Stamford, CT)
  • Eddy De Bruyne & Marc Rikmenspoel, For Rex and Belgium: Leon Degrelle and Walloon Political & Military Collaboration 1940–1945.(2004, ISBN 1-874622-32-9)
  • Завадский Р. В. Своя чужая война. Дневник русского офицера вермахта 1941–1942 гг./ред.-сост. О. И. Бэйда. — М.: Содружество «Посев», 2014. — 232 с., ил. ISBN 978-5-906569-02-8