21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian)

21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian)

Infobox Military Unit
unit_name=21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg

dates=Raised March 1944, Disbanded Nov. 1944
branch=Waffen SS
size=about 6,500

The 21st SS Division "Skanderbeg" was a Waffen SS Mountain division set up by Heinrich Himmler in March 1944, officially under the title of the 21st Waffen-Gebirgs Division der SS Skanderbeg (Albanische Nr. 1). It was named after George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, the national hero of Albanians who resisted Ottoman invasion for 25 years.


Hoping to form an "army, which will be able to safeguard the borders of Kosovo and liberate the surrounding regions" [Ailsby, Christopher J. 2004. "Hitler's Renegades: Foreign Nationals in the Service of the Third Reich," Brassey's Press. ISBN 1574888382. P. 169] the names of 11,398 recruits were submitted to Berlin. Of these, 9,275 were deemed suitable for drafting, and about 6,000 were actually drafted into the Waffen SS. The number however plunged quickly and morale deteriorated, forcing the Germans to disband it just 8 months after its creation.

Albanians in Kosovo saw the invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by Axis Powers as an opportunity to secede from the kingdom, and eventually merge with Albania. In 1941 Albania, Western Macedonia, and majority of Kosovo were under Italian control. Following the surrender of Fascist Italy in 1943, the territories under discussion, inhabited largely by Albanians were handed over to Nazi Germany. The 21st Waffen SS Mountain Division was the only fully ethnic Albanian division to be recruited during the Second World War. It was established originally to combat partisans with the promise that the territories with a majority Albanian population were to become an independent and unified state to include Albania, Kosovo and Western Macedonia or what Albanian nationalists called “Natural Albania” or "Ethnic Albania".

The division was placed under the command of SS-Standartenführer August Schmidhuber, later promoted to SS-Oberführer. It fought against communists who were on the increase and consolidating their actions, both in Albania and Yugoslavia as the Second World War was drawing to an end. The division was operational for a few months (February 1944November 1944). Given that most of the recruits deserted, it was declared a failure and disbanded. By October 1944, their number had dwindled to 3500, and it [http://books.google.com/books?id=Fnbw1wsacSAC&pg=PA169&dq=scanderbeg+waffen&sig=tmgLuWEJyOm4MhN0xM3xTTHjE4I "never became a significant fighting force"]

SS-Brigadefűhrer August Schmidthuber, one of the commanders of the 21st SS Mountain Division "Skanderbeg”, was captured in 1945 and turned over to Yugoslav authorities. He was put on trial in February 1947 by a Yugoslav military tribunal at Belgrade, on charges of participating in massacres, deportations and atrocities against civilians. The tribunal sentenced him to death by hanging. He was executed on February, 27th 1947. [History of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and the Development of the Laws of War p. 528, United Nations War Crimes Commission, London: HMSO, 1948)]


The division arm patch consisted of a white double-headed eagle on a black background. The recruits wore the white traditional Albanian highlander cap (plis), and later the SS issued grey headgear in the same style, with the Totenkopf sewn on the front.


Led by German troops, in May 1944, some troops from the division participated in rounding up 281 Jews who were subsequently handed to the Germans [Elsie, Robert. 2004. "Historical Dictionary of Kosova," Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810853094. P. 169] . Lasting just a few months, this Waffen-SS division was "militarily useless [Ailsby, Christopher J. 2004. "Hitler's Renegades: Foreign Nationals in the Service of the Third Reich," Brassey's Press. ISBN 1574888382. P. 169] " and declared a "fiasco. [Ailsby, Christopher J. 2004. "Hitler's Renegades: Foreign Nationals in the Service of the Third Reich," Brassey's Press. ISBN 1574888382. P. 169] ". Members of the division were used, either as attachments to Nazi units conducting sweeps for partisans, or to terrorize the local non-Albanian population in the areas of Greater Albania which were not part of Albania proper.

Further reading

* List of German divisions in WWII
* Waffen-SS
* Hermann Neubacher, "Sonderauftrag Sudost" (1953)
* Haroey Samer, "Rescue In Albania: One Hundred Percent Of Jews In Albania Rescued From Holocaust", Brunswick Press, California (1997). Available at: http://www.aacl.com/index11.html
* Noel Malcolm, "Kosovo: A Short History", New York University Press; New Update edition (November 2000).
* Chris Bishop, "Hitler's Foreign SS Divisions" (2005)


* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/partisan_fighters_02.shtml Partisans: War in the Balkans 1941 - 1945]
* [http://books.google.com/books?id=Fnbw1wsacSAC&pg=PA169&dq=scanderbeg+waffen&sig=tmgLuWEJyOm4MhN0xM3xTTHjE4I Historical Dictionary of Kosova By Robert Elsie ]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.