- Ian Baxter
- ARRSE Rating
- 2 Mushroom Heads
Images of War Series by Ian Baxter. ISBN:978-1-52672-142-6
Ian Baxter has produced a fine selection of highly illustrated books in the Images of War Series mainly covering Axis Forces in WW2. He is a dedicated collector of rare images and an expert in his field. He lives near Chelmsford, Essex. He has written more than forty books and over 100 articles about the World War II era.
The book tells the story of the 7th SS Mountain Division was formed in 1941 from the Volksdeutsche (ethnic German) volunteers and conscripts from the Banat, Independent State of Croatia, Hungary and Romania. It fought a brutal counter insurgency campaign against communist-led Yugoslav Partisan resistance forces in the occupied Serbia and Montenegro. It was given the title Prinz Eugen after Prince Eugene of Savoy, an outstanding military leader of the Habsburg Empire who liberated the Banat and Belgrade from the Ottoman Empire in the Austro Turkish War. It was initially named the SS-Freiwilligen-Division Prinz Eugen (SS-Volunteer Division Prinz Eugen).
In this 7th volume of the Images of War series, Ian Baxter writes about a little-studied part of the Second World War, the German led counter-insurgency campaign in occupied Serbia and Montenegro. Once again Baxter draws on his vast collection of WWII photos, detailing activities and atrocities committed by the first SS Division not to swear an oath of allegiance to the Fuhrer; instead swearing allegiance to the SS! Formed by the brutal SS Obergruppenfuhrer August Meyszner, through a conscription programme for all German speaking men in the Croatian and Banat areas of Yugoslavia; The division were not expected to match the criteria for Waffen SS Divisions fighting on the Eastern Front, they were instead, expected to cleanse the Balkans of all communist led partisans.
7th (Prinz Eugen) SS Mountain Division trained hard in atrocious conditions, learning to fight in mountains as well as forest or field. They were taught to live off the land as no resupply of rations could be guaranteed and were a l so taught to be expert mountaineer. The majority of the conscripts had an in-built hatred of both Serbia and Montenegro and needed no instructions regarding the brutality of their search for partisans. If a soldier from the division was killed, twenty villagers from the nearest habitat were rounded up and tortured and then shot. Most of these reprisals were carried out against the elderly, women or children. The division was given a free hand in how it dealt with the partisans or their sympathisers. Atrocities were committed on a daily basis with little or no control from a higher authority.
By 1942, the division had been tasked to fight Bulgarian Chetniks of the Zveno movement who were incensed at Germany forcing Bulgaria into war. This included clearing Chetniks in the Kopaonik, Goc and Jastrebac mountains plus destroying the Rasina Corps of the Yugoslav army. On 5th October 1942, SS Obergruppenfuhrer Artur Phleps, CO of Prinz Eugen, ordered the encircling of a Chetnik Corps, hoping once and for all, to eradicate them. However, the Chetniks knew the area better than the Germans and escaped the ring of steel. In reprisal, 120 civilians were marched into a church in Kriva Reka, locked in and then the church was set alight. Those escaping the flames were machine-gunned by the division. 250 civilians were murdered in the villages around Mount Goc and around 300 were executed at Kopaonik. On the March to the village, any persons found on the road was shot or hanged out of hand!
The book continues in much the same vein throughout, depicting some operational victories but mainly defeats by an enemy that were fighting for their principles and their country. The treatment of captured partisans was an incentive to fight harder. Prinz Eugen's answer to this was to hang captured partisans using barbed wire after a protracted period of torture. These grisly remains were left in full view for remaining partisans to see. By the time of the German surrender, many members of 7th SS Division headed towards the Austrian border to escape reprisals. The partisans had other ideas and ensured that very few of them actually returned home to their loved ones.
The book makes interesting reading, although some of the tales of reprisals are a little harrowing. The pictures bring the story to life but I feel some of the captions to those photos are a little weak and leave one wondering whether the author is aware of what is happening. That aside, I would recommend this book to any student of SS military history or anyone interested in the guerrilla warfare in the Balkan campaign.
I don't think this is one of the best unit histories I have ever read, it falls short in many areas. I feel this is probably due to insufficient research information available as very few allied personnel were involved in the Balkans, and that apathy becomes apparent while reading. Had the book been read in conjunction with a history of SAS/SBS operations in the Balkans, I think enlightenment would have been achieved. The Balkans campaign was complicated, tragic and brutal. Setting political factions against religious groups and historical hatred.The treatment of captured partisans was the overwhelming factor which led to the failure of the Germans to control the Balkans.
Rating, a below par 2 out of 5, but worth a read.