Croatian Legion Awards

    Croatian Shield

    Croatian Oficial Shield

    The oficial Croatian national shield was authorized to be worn on uniform in July 1941. The shield is a machine woven checkered shield consisting of 25 squares and the inscrption "HRVATSKA" in red on a black field at the top.

    Verstarken Kroatischen Infanterie Regiment 369

    The independent state of Croatia was formed on 10 April 1941, ten days after the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia. Croatia being the chief beneficiary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is a Muslim state. Its founder was Ante Pavelic, political leader of the Ustasha party, which had nationalistic, catholic and anti-Serb policies. During the Russian campaign, Croatians volunteered to fight alongside Germany. A Croatian Legion composed of three infantry battalions was formed, two raised at Varazdin, and the other one formed of Bosnian Croats from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
    In addition the legion had a staff company, an anti-tank company and a heavy weapons company, later an artillery group, with three batteries of 105mm guns, was added. The legion was designated as the "Verstarken Kroatischen Infanterie Regiment 369" (369th Croatian Reinforced Infantry Regiment). Reinforced because the regiment had its own artillery, beyond the regular issue infantry guns.

    The Croatians wore German Uniforms with a Chessboard shoulder badge with the word "HRVASKA" (CROATIA).

    After training at Doellersheim camp near Vienna, Austria, the 5000 troop regiment was attached to the German "100. Jager Division" (100th Light Division) on the southern sector of the Eastern Front.
    The Legion was commanded by a Croatian Colonel Viktor Vitez Pavicic eventhough it subordinated to the Germans. By September 1941, the legion moved to Kharkov and fought effectively against partisans in the Stalino sector during the Russian winter counter-offensive of 1941/42. It took part in the advance of the German 6th Army from Voronezh to Stalingrad. About 1000 Croats wounded were flown out to safety.
    On 31 May 1942, a German communique congratulated the Croatians on taking 5000 Russian prisoners.

    On 25 September 1942, the 6th Army enters Stalingrad. These Croatian volunteers fought on several of the hardest sectors inside the surrounded perimeter at Stalingrad, especially fought with extreme courage in the "Red October" factory. Very few Croatians survived after the Russians overran their positions. By January 1943, German 6th Army surrendered to the Russians, who captured the last remnants of the 369th Croatian Regiment.

    Croatian Legion Awards

    About a thousand men were evacuated from Stalingrad via air and were used to form the core of a new Croatian volunteer units of the Wehrmacht. These veterans were awarded a commemorative badge shown below, the "Croatian Legion 1941" Linden Leaf in silver.

    The Croatian Legion 1941 Linden Leaf
    Croatian Legion Badge Croatian Legion Badge

    Not much information is available on this Croatian decoration. The only thing known so far is that former veterans of the Croatian 369th Infantry Regiment who survived the battle of Stalingrad were awarded with the Army Legion Badge for the Eastern Front. The badge shown above was awarded probably in early February 1943. The Legion badge was manufactured in the form of a linden leaf with the national coat of arms shown in the center and in bold relief the words "HRVATSKA LEGIJA" (Croat Legion) with the date "1941." The reverse shows a safety style pin attached in the center by a small bronze plate. I have seen it with a German style hinge, needle pin and "C" catch going across the badge horizontally. These badges were made by the firms: "BRACA KNAUS-Zagreb" and "Me-Ba" Zagreb. These badges were made of aluminum and in silver color only. Veterans wore this badge on the left breast pocket of their German or Croatian uniform and on the side of their M-43 style German Cap.

    The Croatian Airforce Legion

    The "Kroaten-Staffeln" Croatian Air Force was formed on 2 June 1941. It was composed of a fighter squadron and a bomber squadron. The squadrons were equipped respectively with Me109bf's and the Do17's. They were attached to the German fighter groups JG52 and JG53. The fighter group was commanded by Oberst Franjo Dzal. The Air Force saw action from 6 October 1941 to July 1944 over many sectors; the bombers raiding Moscow at one point while the fighters saw action in the Caucasus. In July 1944 the Croatian airmen returned to their own country to help stop the partisan threat.

    The Croatian Airforce Legion Badge

    Croatian Air Legion Award

    Not much is known about the " Znak Hrvatske Zrakoplovne Legije" (Croatian Airforce Legion badge), except that is was worn by Croatian members of the Legion and German pilots attached to the legion. The badge is made of solid stroke silver metal with the Croatian national shield soldered in the center of the wings. Surmounted above the enameled checkerboard shield is the "Ustase" emblem. The reverse shows a long thick pin held by a hinge and a "C" style catch. The badge was made by the Croatian firms Braca Kaus and Me-Ba of Zagreb, and by the German firm Juncker.
    The badge shown is a Juncker badge that was awarded to Unteroffizier Dieter Bauer who was an air gunner in a bomber of the "Kampfgeschwader 3," which was attached to the Croatian Air Legion from 1941 to 1943.
    A Croatian Pilot cloth embroidered version was also produced. The pilots including German cadre were allowed to continue wearing these badges even when the Legion was disbanded, and assigned to the Croatian military units. The Pilot badge was probably instituted as soon as the Croatian Airforce Legion unit was formed in early June 1941. The Pilot Wings was worn on the right breast pocket..

    Croatian Legion in Italian Service

    In addition, to the Croatian regiment which fought at Stalingrad, there was a smaller Croatian unit integrated into the Italian 8th army, which fought on the river Don front-line. The legion was composed of two small battalions of more of less 500 Croatian volunteers. It was referred as the Light Mobile Regiment "Laki Prijevozni Zdrug" and was formed on July 26, 1941, which came about after a meeting between Italian General Antonio Oxilio and Poglavnik Ante Pavelic.
    The majority of volunteers came from the intended reinforcements from the 369th Regiment that was fighting as part of the Wehrmacht in the Eastern Front. The regiment was formed with 1100 soldiers, 70 NCO's and 45 officers (1215 total), divided into 3 infantry companies, 1 machine-gun company, 1 (81mm) mortar company and 1 (65mm) artillery battery. The commanding officer was Lt.-Colonel Egon Zitnik (a Croat).
    The Croats wore Italian uniforms and were awarded with Italian military decorations. On their left sleeve of their uniform they wore an aluminum metal shield with the painted checkerboard representing their national coat-of-arms surmounted by the inscription "Hrvatska" (Croatia).

    Italo-Croat Legion Shield

    Croat-Italian Legion Shield

    Members of the Croatian Light Transport Regiment Legion wore an aluminum metal shield with the bold relief inscription "HRVATSKA" and the painted red checkerboards representing the coat-of-arms. The metal shield has four corner holes were it was sewn on the right or left upper arms.

    Italo-Croat Legion Badge

    Croatian Para Badge Croatian Para Badge

    In addition, officers were also presented with a breast badge as the one shown above and were worn on the left pocket of the uniform. It was an enameled metal badge and consisted of a shield with the Italian blue Savoy background. The shield is divided vertically into two by a surmounted bronze color Fasces with an eagle on top and is tied to a rope. In the upper left corner the Italian coat of arms of Savoy and, diagonally to the bottom right, the Croatian coat of arms. Diagonally, on two lines, the two golden mottos of the Legion: the Italian, "PER L ITALIA,ALALA" and the Croat "ZA DOM SPREMNI." Above the shield, in gold letters on a white background, the words "LEGIONE CROATA" and "HRVATSKA LEGIJA."
    The reverse is a solid metal with catch, pin and hinge. In the center it has the inscription of the manufacturer "S. JOHNSON C.P. NUOVA 15. MILANO."

    In April 1942 the regiment was sent to the eastern front and was attached to the Italian 3rd Rapid Division "Principe Amadeo Duca D'Aosta."
    By July 11, 1942, the regiment was transferred to the Italian XXXVth Corps.
    On December 19th 1942, the regiment was holding Hills 210 and 168 near Hracin. Here they were surrounded by a massive Soviet attack, but continued fighting till December 21st 1942, when they ran out of ammunition and were over-run. There were no survivors and the unit was totally destroyed.

    After the destruction of the Light Mobile Regiment, the Italians sponsored the creation of a new Legion unit. It came into existence in May of 1943, only 4 months before the Italian collapse, as a 1,800 man strong infantry regiment, reinforced with its own replacement battalion and an artillery battalion of 2 batteries. This legion was sent to northern Italy, to the Lake Garda area, and then the Italo-Slovene border area. After the Italian surrender, the men of the Legion were used to reinforce the existing German-Croatian Divisions, mostly the 373rd "Tiger" Division.

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