1944 August Schmidhuber: Summary Report on the Formation and State of the 21st ‘Skanderbeg’ Armed Mountain Division of the SS
This document was compiled by the German commander of the said Albanian SS Division, August Schmidhuber (1901-1947), from Augsburg in Bavaria, on 2 October 1944, shortly before the German withdrawal from Albania in November 1944. This SS Division of some 6,000 men was formed late by the Nazis (recruitment began in February 1944 and it only received its name in August 1944). It never reached its operational strength, and was disbanded on 1 November 1944 by which time most of the recruits had deserted and run away. Major General Schmidhuber, who expresses some none too flattering remarks about his Albanian subordinates in this text, was subsequently found guilty of war crimes by a Yugoslav military tribunal and was hanged on 27 February 1947 in Belgrade
.1.Formation Order The formation order was based on the presumption that Albania had more or less attained the general European level of civilisation and culture. In this connection, it cannot be denied that, until recently, Albania was no better known in Germany than the smaller countries of South America. This lack of “official” knowledge led to the downfall of a certain Prince Wied.
After four hundred years as a Turkish province, Albania is in every way more Turkish than Turkey itself – from women’s veils to their self-definition as a nation.
(είναι πιο τούρκοι από τους ίδιους τους τούρκους)
SS Commander August Schmidhuber speaking in Kosovo about the formation of the SS Skanderbeg Division(photo: Kriegsberichter Georg Westermann, 1944).
Since the death of their national hero, Skanderbeg (1468), the Albanians have been vegetating rather than developing. They have no particular awareness of being a nation or country, but rather still live on, like the old Germanic tribes, in a clannish, tribal mindset. The history of the Albanian people since the death of Skanderbeg could be best compared to the state of Germany if the German nation had brought forth no leaders since the death of Hermann, chieftain of the Cherusci. As to Albanian society, the people in the countryside who make up 85-90% of the population, live under the mediaeval feudal reign of their bey and aghas. Not only do the tenant farmers have to give their landlords a good portion of their produce, they also have to serve them in the defence of their tribal territory. Not only is the Albanian harshly oppressed by his landlord, he is also used and abused by the latter in local politics. There is no way he can get around it.The formation order was based on the following erroneous military and organisational assumptions:The Albanians had never had any real regular troops in the German sense. The military formations that existed in Albania, including the uniformed militia set up by the Italians, only became quasi-military bodies when they were given uniforms. There was no internal consistency. The lack of disciple, being the principal trait of the Albanian, was not gradually overcome in the Italian militia. It was willingly cultivated. For the Albanian, discipline means a restriction of his freedom, something that he naturally opposes. The Albanians live freely and independently just as nature created them, and they do what they want. They have time. They do not want to fight in military formations, but in their own bands, and there is no regulated discipline in these bands of theirs. When it starts raining, the Albanian abandons his post. When it gets dark, he leaves his position and goes back to the village for a glass of raki. When he has been on duty for 12 days, he goes back home for 4-5 days without even asking the leader of his band, and then he returns, or not… He does not like military exercise or shooting practice. His said ability to shoot accurately is a myth. What he loves most is simply firing his gun, whenever possible while sitting behind a protective barrier and shooting, trigger-happy, into the air. Even the so-called regular Albanian troops do this, although there is only one battalion of them left. The Albanian hunger for more and more ammunition knows no bounds. He has no understanding of or interest in the fact that the ammunition is produced in German factories by women and girls, while the strong young men of Albania sit around in cafés or crouch lazily in market corners. He therefore sees no reason to limit its use.The courage and heroism of the Albanian is another myth. You can more or less chase an Albanian around the globe with a light mortar. While on the attack, he will only go so far, up to where he can find something to steal or plunder. Once he has captured a goat, a ploughshare or the wheel of a sewing machine, the war is over for him and he goes home.While on the defence, the Albanians are extremely nervous at the sound of mortar fire. Under such conditions, it is absolutely essential that the officer corps be large enough. For 20 Albanians, you need two German officers – one to lead them and the other one to keep watch behind them.
Recruitment of Kosovo Albanians into the SS Skanderbeg Division(photo: Kriegsberichter Georg Westermann, 1944).
With regard to uniforms, the instructors often had the same problems as they did with the Negroes. It was the first time in their lives that most of the recruits had ever worn shoes on their feet. They were very proud of them and kept them on all night. On the other hand, whenever they were faced with a longer march, they took the shoes off and hung them around their shoulders. Whenever an Albanian has to flee, the first thing he does is to throw his shoes away so that he can run faster. Getting the Albanians used to wearing proper uniforms is a major accomplishment, if it can be done at all.All of these traits should have made it more important to set up the officer corps first and then fill the ranks with Albanian recruits. There is no alternative to this work-saving and time-saving method to set up contingents in primitive Albania in wartime.
2.The Formation of the Division
This section refers primarily to Kosovo, the region destined for the formation of the SS Skanderbeg Division. More than anything else, the formation of the Division was countered by the invisible resistance of the beys and aghas. This, in turn, was reflected in the passiveness of the prefects and mayors submissive to the beys and in hostile rumours and propaganda.
Recruitment of Kosovo Albanians into the SS Skanderbeg Division(photo: Kriegsberichter Georg Westermann, 1944).
The National Committee and the authorities did nothing to inform the population about the aims and objectives of the formation of an Albanian SS division. It was the Division Commander himself who had to explain this in public speeches on market days in all the towns of Kosovo.The promises made by the then president of the Albanian National Committee in Prizren, Bedri Pejani, that were given in writing to the Reichsführer SS, were no better than all the other Albanian promises. Bedri Pejani himself, who has since been replaced by the former minister of the interior, Deva, is a classic political impostor who, throughout his lifetime, has managed to lead the good life by interfering in politics both abroad and in the country itself. Like most so-called Albanian politicians, he doesn’t care at all where the money comes from so long as it fulfils the exorbitant demands of his lifestyle. The formation of the Division in the size originally planned would perhaps have been easier if the Division Commander had gone around with a sack of gold and distributed it among the important beys. They would then have ensured that he had enough recruits from among their tenants. If someone in Albania offers you his friendship, he will first ask you: “How much gold will you give me?” The issue was simply that there were certain people who wanted to make a profit out of the formation of an Albanian division.
Recruitment of Kosovo Albanians into the SS Skanderbeg Division(photo: Kriegsberichter Georg Westermann, 1944).
As to the call-ups, the deadlines for which were mostly not taken too seriously, only average and shabby men turned up. The muscle-bound farm boys stayed behind in their villages.Recruitment was as follows as of 25 September 1944: 11,398 men, of whom 9,275 were found fit for service. Of these, 6,491 were actually recruited.The prefects and mayors did nothing to force those called up to actually enlist. The great majority of the population interpreted this passive reaction of the prefects and mayors as an invitation to regard the formation of the Division as something unofficial and unimportant, and simply ignored it.Those who were interested in the formation of the Division were frustrated in seeing that only the poor were called up, whereas the sons of the beys and merchants in the towns were able to get out of military service by connections and bribes.
On 1 May 1944, the National Committee had promised the Division a recruitment of 10,000 men. Actually, the Division must have been secretly relieved at that time that the Albanian authorities had done so little to get the Division set up, because the accommodation facilities were all in a neglected state and there were no instructors or medical personnel available, not to speak of the lack of weapons, materiel and uniforms.The only people who were ready in that short period of time were the administration employees of the Division who, because of their broad-based training, were able to serve as instructors. In the administration, the Untersturmführer served, for instance, as a unit commander, the chief accountant served as a company commander, and the cashier served as a platoon commander. The cashier was responsible for the training of an average of 50 Albanians, and gave them the best he could. The SS Main Administrative Office thus made the greatest contribution to the formation of the Division of any service.The Division also received major assistance from the representative of the Reichsführer SS in Tirana, SS Gruppenführer Fitzthum, who provided the Division with police officers and non-commissioned officers as instructors and gave the Division Commander a cross-country motor vehicle so that he could move around. He also made sure that the Division had the funds it required in local currency. The Division always received all the support it needed from the 21st Army Corps to which it was tactically subordinate, and directly from the Supreme Command of the 2nd Tank Army. The 21st Army Corps provided one officer and 12 non-commissioned officers as instructors.Nothing could be expected from the 5th SS Mountain Corps because it had nothing to offer. The Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung transferred to the Division was considered from the date of transfer as being under the command of the 5th SS Mountain Corps.
The lead squadron of the Division initially had no Ia, Ic or military court. The Ia given to the Division only stayed around for eight days. It was only thanks to the head of the Main Office of the SS that a functioning Division staff was set up. He had command over the specially trained personnel of the SS Main Office that he transferred to the Division at the latter’s request.From the start, the Albanian battalion of the SS ‘Hanschar’ Armed Mountain Division, transferred to our Division in early May, retained a separate status as a combat-ready battalion to deal with the bands along the border.In May and June, funding in Albanian currency could only be provided to a limited extent, certainly not enough to cover wages and family support in case of a mass recruitment to the Division.
The red bandits along the Albanian-Montenegrin border were, of course, well aware of our intention of setting up an SS Skanderbeg Division. It was evident that they would not allow us to form a force opposing them without doing what they could to prevent it.One result, in the interior of Kosovo, was an increase in Communist propaganda. In two surprise operations, the Division therefore arrested all the Jews (281) and broke up a large Communist organisation that comprised a total of 210 Communist functionaries. We used the intervening pause, having eliminated many Communist agents and couriers, to carry out quick and intensive training, so that we would be functional as quickly as possible.However, the Division suffered substantially in this period from the lack of arms supplies for the following operations. The first operations were carried out immediately after the six-week training period, although the Division did not have sufficient arms: machine-guns, mortars, machine pistols, flare guns, and heavy weapons. Despite this, many elements of the Division, especially the former prisoners of war of the Yugoslav Army, performed very well. The vast majority of the men, however, proved to be cowardly in battle and, when under enemy attack, especially with heavy weapons not used by our side, they simply fled.In this connection, I suspect that the formation of the SS Skanderbeg Armed Mountain Division was the reason why the Anglo-Americans provided the partisans on the Albanian-Montenegrin border with more weapons, medical supplies and uniforms. This was evident in the first operation where the enemies were no longer bandits in the normal sense of the word, but regular disciplined and well-equipped troops with proper English uniforms, under a skilled and flexible command structure, and in superior numbers. One German machine gun was faced with about 30 English machine guns. The enemy had more machine pistols than the German side had rifles. The Anglo-Americans and Bolsheviks also had the advantage that they had Montenegrins under their command, and not Albanians.Another disadvantage on our side was the total lack of communications, in particular radios, in these operations. It could easily be said that the troops and the bandits had exchanged roles in these fights.The Division suffered the following losses in these operations:166 men missing in action, of whom 14 Germans and 152 Albanians,92 men wounded, of whom 20 Germans and 72 Albanians,56 men killed, of whom 8 Germans and 48 Albanians.
4.Political and Military Change in the Balkans and its Impact on the Division Region
Contrary to expectations, when Turkey joined the Allies, the move had no visible impact on the Muslim Albanians, although the population was constantly listening to radio programmes from Ankara and in the towns of Prizren and Prishtina most of the people spoke Turkish and not Albanian.There was, however, a great reaction when Romania and then Bulgaria betrayed the Axis, followed by Finland, although the latter country was not of much interest to the Albanians because it was so far away and relatively unknown. This reaction was seen primarily in a revival of the propaganda of the beys that was hostile to the Division. Their slogans this time were “Get away from the Germans in time!” and “No Albanians Fighting Albanians!”The Albanians remembered the end of the Great War; they experienced the swift collapse of Yugoslavia and the disgraceful implosion of Italy. They were expecting Germany to suffer the same fate. The noticeably swift withdrawal of some rearguard elements and the departure of the OT [Todt Organisation], of the mining company, and of all female German personnel etc. reinforced this perception among the Albanians because the retreat looked at times as if the Germans were fleeing. The Albanians were perched there like vultures ready to plunder and attack disintegrating German forces in order to increase their stocks of weapons and ammunition, as they had done with Yugoslavia and Italy. This objective was at the origin of a major band attack carried out by some 1,500 bandits on 11 September 1944 in Gjakovica [Gjakova]. It was later made known that many of the surrounding villages had taken part in this attack, which was put down by a counterattack on the outskirts of Gjakovica on 13 September 1944. Our side suffered 10 deaths, the bandits 104 deaths. The fighting group of the Division staff played the determining role in this venture, in view of the lack of actual troops.Nationalist Albanians hoped that the Germans would be replaced by the English before the Bolsheviks reached Albania. In its propaganda, the Division stressed that an Anglo-American occupation would actually lead indirectly to Bolshevik rule in Albania.The slogan “No Albanians Fighting Albanians!” was potentially more dangerous for us because it did much to paralyse the fight against the Communist bands. However, our propaganda won out because of how the Communist bands behaved. They rashly attacked both anti-German and anti-Communist bands and burnt down their villages. This caused the Nationalist bands to join forces and eventually to turn to the German Wehrmacht for support, which some of them are now doing.Bulgaria’s evacuation of Macedonia resulted in the Albanians extending their security border (not their political border) southeastwards to the edge of their own ethnic territory, i.e. right to Skopje and from there to Kumanovo, Presevo and Bujanovce. This expansion of territory is extremely favourable for the defence of the region against any enemy attack from the east. The Nationalist bands there have done quite well in their fighting with the Communists. One can expect resolute defence in this direction in view of their hatred of the Bulgarians.A direct consequence of the political and military crisis in the Balkans were the sudden desertions within the Division, in particular in the sector Tetovo-Gostivar bordering on Macedonia, where the main body of the men, about 1,000, deserted from the 1st SS Gebirgs-Jäger-Regiment and took their weapons and uniforms with them. The unreliability of the Albanians was particular evident in Tetovo where an anti-German demonstration took place one night right after the desertions. And this, despite the fact that the Albanian recruits in Tetovo were very well-treated as individuals by their superiors. By 1 October 1944, 3,425 Albanian SS men had deserted.Even guards on their way to relieve other guards simply disappeared. While guarding a bridge, the detachment having finished its shift abandoned the men at the two ends of the bridge and deserted en masse, ten men. All the 30 men in training to learn to ride horses deserted. A combat reconnaissance detail the size of a platoon simply departed and never returned. Here again, the lack of German personnel had a direct impact.The Albanian battalion from the SS ‘Hanschar’ Division was no exception; 697 men deserted. These men will, however, return to fight on their own territory.In view of the desertions, the strength of the Division on 1 October 1944 was 3,994 Albanians.
5.Opinion on the Situation
The task of the Division to secure the Kosovo region can, for the moment, still be carried out, despite the changed circumstances. This is due, in particular, to the fact that the broad network of Communist organizations in the region was destroyed by the Division early in its existence and the Communists were no longer able to extend their organisations and spread their propaganda. The Albanians instinctively hate Communism which they usually regard as a pan-Slavic phenomenon. The Nationalist bands, especially in the eastern part of the region, are gaining ground morally because of their resolute will to counter any Bulgarian advance.The Nationalist bands now sense that they need German protection. They are happy when they have at least ten German soldiers in their ranks.Admiration for Germany rose once again when the Anglo-American advance to the Rhine did not result in Germany’s collapse, as had been expected. Although no one really believes in a German victory, they no longer believe that Germany will be entirely defeated.The removal of the withdrawal facilities from the Kosovo region seems also to have had a purely positive impact on the population.The red bandits in the southern and western parts of Kosovo are quiet at the moment and seem to be waiting for the Bulgarian Bolsheviks advancing westwards.
6.Current Organisational Measures
The mass desertions and the rapprochement of the Nationalist band with the Germans have resulted together in the decision that the following organisational measures be taken, depending on the strength of German personnel and the availability of automatic and heavy infantry weapons:a)The 2nd SS Gebirgs-Jäger-Regiment is to be disbanded; the first and second battalions are to function as autonomous combat units in the region of Pec [Peja] and Rozaj [Rožaje].(b)The 3rd Battalion (from the ‘Handschar’) is to be disbanded and divided into two autonomous combat units, M (Mitrovica) and N (Novi Pazar), for the region from Podujevo to Tutin. All deserters from the region of the combat units who are still willing to fight are to be registered.The remainder of III/2 originating from Kosovo is to be fused with the Supplies Company and the remainder of the Pioneer Battalion as a 21st SS Field Replacement Battalion in Prishtina.(c) The 21st SS Panzer-Jäger Unit (with one functioning anti-tank gun) is to be transferred from Prishtina to Decani as an autonomous Gebirgs-Jäger combat unit (12 S Pec).(d)The 21st SS Reconnaissance Unit is to be transformed into a reinforced Reconnaissance Squadron in Gjakovica.(e) The 21st SS Intelligence Unit (without transmission equipment) is to be an autonomous combat unit with two companies in Prizren, one of which on constant surveillance duty on the Prizren-Gjakovica road.(f)The Veterinary Company is to be transformed into a veterinary platoon in Prishtina.(g)The two medical companies are to be transformed into one medical company divided into platoons in Prishtina and Pec.(h)The 21st SS Mountain Artillery Regiment is to be transformed into a unit with two batteries (without heavy guns) as an autonomous Gebirgs-Jäger combat unit in Gnjilane [Gjilan].(i)The remainder of the Staff of the 1st SS Gebirgs-Jäger-Regiment (formerly in Tetovo) is to be divided into a Railway Security Commando for Kaçanik-Skopje and a Command Staff for eastern Kosovo in Gnjilane, with subordinate volunteers and one battalion of Albanian army troops.Responsible for operations on the front are the Nationalist volunteer bands, comprising some 25,000 men at the moment.Backup and Reservists: the SS Skanderbeg combat units.The further duties of the autonomous combat units are:(a)Exerting influence on the Nationalist bands with regard to organisation, military activity, and tactics.(b)Supplying the bands as far as possible with food and ammunition.(c) Carrying out short-term training courses for members of the Nationalist bands (leaders and their deputies first) to promote military operability, in particular by showing and doing.(d)Concentration of forces in central Kosovo in case of a major enemy attack in the region.
7.Annexes(a)Overview of German personnel,(b)Overview of material and equipment.Division Commander/signed/ SchmidhuberOberführer [extract from: August Schmidhuber, Zusammenfassender Bericht über die Aufstellung und denZustand der 21. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS “Skanderbeg”. 2 October 1944, Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv, Freiburg im Breisgau, RS 3-21/1. With the kind assistance of Franziska Zaugg,author of Albanische Muslime in der Waffen-SS (Paderborn 2016). Translated from the German by Robert Elsie.