Azeri SS Volunteer Formations were volunteer prisoners of war, mainly from the USSR, and also from the countries annexed by Russia after 1939. They were organised to fight against the Soviets on the German side.
The sweeping initial victories of Operation Barbarossa produced hundreds of thousands of non-Russian soldier prisoners in the POW cages of the German Army. All of them were hungry, many were starving. In a mere eight months of 1941-42, the invading German armies killed an estimated 2.8 million Soviet POWs through starvation, exposure, and summary execution. Conditions in the prison camps were atrocious. "There were no barracks or permanent housing. The camps were simply open areas fenced off with barbed wire. The prisoners had to lie in the sun, then in mud, and in the fall—with temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius—faced the possibility of freezing to death."
The foreign Waffen beginnings were shrouded in great secrecy, for fear of Hitler who was categorically opposed to any form of participation of Soviet citizens in the war against Russia. But the needs of the army on the Eastern Front induced German commanders to accept the services of volunteers to fight the Soviet regime even against the clear orders of the Supreme Command.
Tens of thousands of them were Muslims, where the majority of them came from the Soviet Union. In December 1941 a top secret memorandum ordered that the OKW was to create two Muslim units: the Turkestanische Legion, consisting of Muslim volunteers from Central Asia; such as Turkomans, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, Karakalpaks, and Tajiks, and the Kaukasisch-Mohammedanische Legion from Caucasian Muslims volunteers; such as Azeris, Dagestanis, Chechens, Ingushes, and Lezgins.
The German courting of the Soviet Muslims was part of Hitler's schemes for bringing Turkey onto his side and to advance control of the oil fields in the Middle East and Baku. The most numerous of the Soviet Muslims that served the Germans were the Turkestanis. The first Turkestani volunteers were integrated as one battalion of the 444th Sicherungs Division in November 1941, and became an auxiliary force to help the Germans fight the local partisans. Major Andreas Meyer-Mader was appointed as commander of the 444th Battalion. Meyer-Mader, an Austrian, had served on the staff of Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chinese Nationalist Army before World War II.
450th Turkestanisches Battalion
The 450th Battalion was raised at the town of Legionowo, Poland and spent most of the summer patrolling the communications and rail networks between Kharkov and Stalingrad. Discipline became so bad that Meyer-Mader was removed from command of the 450th Battalion during 1943.
In November 1943, Meyer-Mader meet Himmler to offer his services to help raise and command a Turkic SS unit. Himmler approved the broad plan and then transferred him into the ranks of the Waffen SS and promoted him to the rank of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer (Lieutenant Colonel). On 14 December, a meeting was held in Berlin in the presence of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni. The Grand Mufti approved the plan to raise a Turkic-Muslim SS division and to give his "spiritual leadership" to influence the Muslim volunteers.
Between November 1943 and January 1944, there was a series of meetings between Meyer-Mader and Muslim volunteers. As a result of these meetings, on January 4, 1944, it was decided to form the Ostmuselmanisches SS-Regiment. At the same meeting, it was decided to disband the following Wehrmacht battalions who would serve as a basis for a new platform: 450th, 480th, 782nd, 786th, 790th, 791st and I/94th Turkestanische battalions, Aserbeidschanische 818th and Volga Tatar 831st. Many of the volunteers deserted at this time, and the 818th defected to Polish and Ukrainian resistance movements in 1943.
Furthermore, at the same time, Meyer-Mader made several visits to prisoners of war camps and called for volunteers to join the new Muslim SS legion. The recruits were not only Turkestani, but also Azeri, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Tadjik. By the end of January 1944 he was able to recruit three thousand volunteers who were concentrated in Poniatova. To increase the staffing regiment, dozens of German officers and non-commissioned officers were transferred there. Nevertheless, it was a very slow process, mainly due to lack of equipment, including uniforms and even shoes. Therefore, the October 1944 deadline, which Himmler appointed for the deployment of divisions in the regiment there were only four thousand people who had been formed into three battalions. The unit was formed in Trawniki, Poland, before they were transferred to Belorussia for further training. SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer Andreas Meyer-Mader was appointed as its first commander.
This unit suffered from poor discipline and poor morale, especially after Meyer-Mader was killed during a skirmish with partisans in Yuratishki, near Minsk, on March 28, 1944. The situation became worse when the replacement commander, SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer (Captain) Billig executed 78 unit members for insubordination. This incident made Himmler angry and Billig was relieved. In May 1944, the 550 men (Turkestanis, Wolgatatars Azeris, Kirghiz, Uzbek, and Tadjiks) from the Ostmuslemanische SS-Regiment were attached to the SS Dirlewanger brigade.
On January 29, 1944 Heinz Reinefarth was assigned as SS and Police Leader in Reichsgau Wartheland (Polish Great Poland Voivodeship annexed by Germany in 1939). In this post he was responsible for the organised repression against Poles and other nationalities deprived of all rights by Germany. After the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, Reinefarth was ordered to organise a military unit from the 16th Police Company and other smaller security units and head for Warsaw. Upon arrival, his forces were included in the Korpsgruppe Von Dem Bach of General Erich von dem Bach who was ordered by Himmler to quell the rebellion. From August 5, 1944 Reinefarth's group took part in fighting in the Wola area. In several days, his and Oskar Dirlewanger's soldiers executed approximately 40,000 civilian inhabitants of Warsaw in what is now known as the Wola massacre. The Wola killings were mostly inflicted by elements of Kampfgruppe Reinefarth that assaulted the area held by the insurgents from the west. It is hard to determine which specific units are to be held responsible, but the main “cleansing” tasks had been assigned to Angriffsgruppe Dirlewanger with following forces: 2 Grenadier Battalions (I & II) of SS Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger, Aserbeidschanisches Feld Bataillon I./111 (com. Hptm. Werner Scharrenberg), Ostmuselmanisches SS Regiment (without Battalion III), II Btl. "Bergmann" – (without 7. Komp.) Ltn. Mertelsmann, Gendermerie Operationsgruppe Walter (2 gendarmerie Komp.), Komp. I & II of Aserb. Feld Btl. I/111, Anti-aircraft battery of 80th Regiment, Sturmpanzer-Kompanie z.b.V. 218 (8x Brummbär) Hptm. Kellmann,a part of machine gun 4.Kompanie of Aserb. Feld Btl. I/111, 1. Platoon of 654. Pioniere Battalion, 1 KRONE flamethrower unit (8x Flammenwerfer 41) Lack of precise documentation does not allow to specify precisely which elements of the above were involved in the Wola killing. It is also possible that some units of the other assault group that operated in the Wola area (Angriffsgruppe Reck) were taking active part in the events, as they also consisted of police/gendarmerie and special assignment units (Hptm. Kirchhubel's Warschau Polizei Kompanie, Hptm. Fersemann's Polizei Wachtkompanie, platoon of SS-Röntgen MG Kompanie from Posen (Poznan), but also SS Grenadiere of SS-Schule Treskau and Aserbaijani 7.Komp/II Bt. Bergmann).
Osttürkische Waffen-Verbände der SS
On October 20, 1944 the rest of the Ostmuselmanisches SS-Regiment was transferred from Ukraine to Slovakia and renamed "Osttürkische Waffen-Verbände der SS" and reorganized into 3 battalions organized along ethnic lines.
- 1 Waffengruppe Turkestan
- 1 Waffengruppe Aserbeidschan (2851 soldiers : Gerhard von Mende archives)
- 1 Waffengruppe Idel-Ural
Each battalion would consist of staff, one staff company and five infantry companies. The Ostmuselmanisches regiment was integrated into the Osttürkische Waffen-Verbände der SS and was considered to be dissolved. In December 1944 The Waffen-Gruppe Aserbeidschan (commander W-Ostuf Kerrar Alesgerli) was transferred to the Kaukasiche Waffen-Verbände der SS. The disbanded Tatar Waffen Gebirgs Brigade der SS would replace the Azerbaijani soldiers; Commander: SS-Standartenführer Harun-el-Raschid-Bey. (Wilhelm Hintersatz (A former Austrian officer who had converted to Islam.) The reorganisations began in January 1945 as follows:
SS-Waffengruppe Turkestan SS-Waffengruppe Krim SS-Waffengruppe Idel Urals Apparently new “volunteers” were integrated, because the Osttürkische Waffen-Verbände had increased from 5,000 men in January 1945 to 8,500 men in the period of February–May 1945. As Hitler's Reich crumbled, the Waffen-SS gave up all adherence of standards for recruit selection. If they could walk and shoot a rifle, they were good enough for the SS. At this time all German military forces were scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel - for example in January 1945, Heer and Waffen-SS recruiting centers were combined. Waffen-SS troops were increasingly transfers from other military branches of the Wehrmacht from paramilitary and labor formations. The whole unit arrived in March 1945 in Merate, 20 km north of Milan, northern Italy. Assigned to the defense of the area, the Osttürkische Waffen-Verbände apparently participated in no larger operation against partisans. On the 26 April 1945 Hintersatz signed a pact with the local partisan command, according to which the soldiers would remain in the barracks in Merate, until the US troops arrived. This happened on 30 April 1945, the whole unit went into the hands of the 1st Armored Division (United States).
Kaukasischer Waffen-Verband der SS
In December 1944, while training in Slovakia, a rumor that the unit was to be transferred to Andrey Vlasov’s army dropped morale of the soldiers. Dec 24: 450 men deserted on Christmas Eve, 300 eventually did return. The Azerberjani regiment was removed from the Osttürkische Waffen-Verbände 30 Dec 1944, and transferred to Kaukasischer Waffen-Verband der SS.
Kaukasischer Waffen-Verband der SS, also known as Freiwilligen Brigade Nordkaukasien, began forming with volunteers from the Caucasus region, with the Frewilligen-Stamm-Division as a nucleus. It was transferred from the Neuhammer training camp to Paluzza in northern Italy in Jan. 1945 and was still forming when it surrendered to British forces at the end of the war.
- Commander :SS-Standartenführer Arved Theuermann
- Stab Kaukasischer Waffen-Verband der SS
- Stab Waffen-Gruppe Armenien
- Stab Waffen-Gruppe Nordkaukasus
- Stab Waffen-Gruppe Georgien
- Stab Waffen-Gruppe Aserbeidschan (1090 soldiers: Gerhard von Mende archives)
Commander Waffen-Standartenführer, Magomed Nabi Oglu Israfilov (Israfilbey) born 25 January 1893 in Azerbaijan. Israfilov was formerly a Colonel in the Russian Imperial Army. From the summer of 1943 to 1944 he was chairman of the Azerbaijan Committee. From May–September 1943 he was commander of the 314th Infantry Regiment in the 162.(Turk) Infanterie Division. On March 17, 1945, he was appointed responsible for military affairs in the Azerbaijan National Committee. He was sentenced to death on 11 July 1945 by the Baku Military District.
The Unternehmen (operation) Zeppelin was initiated in 1942 by SS-Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg, who became in the middle of May 1943 the Chief of Section E of Amt IV of the RSHA, the foreign intelligence service of the SS. The Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Georg Greife was responsible for this operation. As soon as the German troops had entered the territory of the North Caucasus members of the different Caucasus National Committees, started to set up the core of a State administration and other organizations for the eventuality that Wehrmacht would force the passage in Transcaucasia.
In the summer of 1942, the Reich ministries for Finances, Interior, Foreign Affairs as well as the RSHA created a special group, “Sonderstab Kaukasus”. The “Sonderstab” (special staff) was under the aegis of “Unternehmen Zeppelin”. The members of the “Sonderstab” were to organize units of police forces to maintain order in the territory of the North Caucasus, and would constitute the organization apparatus of State.
The Unternehmen Zeppelin had many purposes: creation of intelligence groups for the collection and transmission of information from the USSR; advocacy groups for the distribution of social, national, and religious propaganda; rebel groups to organize and conduct a rebellion; and sabotage groups for political sabotage and terror.
From wireless reports of these commandos behind the Russian lines it is possible to determine what actions were taken. It was envisaged to recruit the future civil servants among the prisoners of war of Caucasian nationality, who were in large numbers in the German camps of the North Caucasus. The Azerbaijani group was directed by Abbas Bey Atamalibekov. (There is not much informations about Atamalibekov. In 1919 he was a member of the Azeri Delegation led by Alimardan Topchubashev which participated at the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles. He actively participated in the formation of national legions from the Soviet prisoners of war in 1942, together with Abdurahman Fatalibeyli-Dudanginsky and Fuad Amirjan in Berlin. He represented Azeri SS in the Azerbaijan National committee from 1943 to 1945 and then fled to Chile) Unternehmen Zeppelin was “partially successful”. Most of the Sonderstab members were captured and executed by KGB agents. In his personal archives, member of the Ostministerium, Gerhard Von Mende gives the number of 348 people from Azerbaijani origin who participated in those operations. It is not known if anyone of them were SS.
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