“God protect you Pannwitz and I wish you all further soldier’s luck!” — Adolf Hitler to Helmuth von Pannwitz as he left to take command of the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division in April 1943.
The Beginnings of the Cossack Units
During the bitter winter of 1941/1942, depleted German Army units began adding Russian volunteers (both civilian and POW) to their supply and transport services to free more German soldiers for frontline duty. Within a very short time this became a standard procedure, and there were very few German formations of any size in the East that did not have their own contingents of “Hiwis” (Hilfswillige). But even before this policy became common, some other volunteers had already made their presence felt. These were the Cossacks, who from the very beginning of the Russian campaign on the southern part of the Eastern Front, had gone over to the Germans in large numbers, often in completely intact formations.
The Cossacks were willing to offer their services against those they considered to be their real mortal enemies: the Bolsheviks. But they were not interested in being baggage tenders or transport workers; they were warriors first and foremost and this was the function they wished to fulfill. In the territory occupied by 17th Army and the 1st Panzer Army, numerous Kuban and Terek Cossack units were quickly thrown into action against the Reds in 1941. But it was not until 1942 that a broader policy towards the Cossacks was formulated by the Germans. This was thanks in large part to a sympathetic officer attached to the Führer’s HQ: Lt. Col. Helmuth von Pannwitz. Von Pannwitz, born to a noble family in Upper Silesia, had served as a cavalry officer in World War I, and had led a regimental strength advance task force during the opening days of the Russian campaign in 1941. His contacts with the Cossacks and the realization that they had an intense hatred of communism for having crushed their freedoms and traditions, led von Pannwitz to become an advocate for their proper use by the German side.
After having been badly wounded, von Pannwitz was assigned to the staff of the Führer’s HQ during his period of recuperation, and he used his influence there to expand on the potential value of the Cossack forces. His biggest ally in the formation of a Cossack Army came in the person of the Reichsführer-SS Himmler, the man whose racial policies von Pannwitz had seen as a hindrance to realizing the military potential of the “Eastern Peoples.” But Himmler could also be a clearsighted and flexible individual, and in 1942—prior to Germany’s battlefield setbacks —he already began removing some of the “colonial” barriers the SS had built in the East. It was the resistance of some of the occupation functionaries in the eastern territories that had to be broken. They saw their job as one of “plantation overseer,” and tolerated Cossack units only for display or parade purposes.
It was not until 8 November 1942, when von Pannwitz was promoted to Colonel and named commander of all Cossack formations, that progress really began to be made. All of the Terek, Kuban and Don Cossack units were transferred to his control (Kalmuch Cossacks remained in their own independent formation). But the Wehrmacht was not yet ready to form an equitable alliance with the “Ostvolk” and von Pannwitz’s command was “disguised” under the title: “Rider Formation von Pannwitz.”
Before long, Col. von Pannwitz began assembling his Cossack troops in the rear area of Army Group “A” (South), but the unfolding disaster at Stalingrad and the subsequent deep enemy penetrations, soon had him back in action leading a special Cossack task force. For his deeds during the month of December 1942, von Pannwitz was decorated with the Oakleaves to his Knight’s Cross. Over the next few months, the Cossacks were regrouped at an assembly area in Cherson, where many entire families, now fleeing from the advancing Red Army, also had to be housed.
In early April 1943, von Pannwitz was summoned to the “Wolfsschanze” (Führer’s HQ) in Rastenburg, East Prussia and given the good news that his Cossacks could now be formed into fighting divisions on an equal basis with their Wehrmacht counterparts. Von Pannwitz also won the right to have the formation of the Cossack divisions take place inside the Reich at the Troop Training Grounds “Mielau” (Mlawa) in south East Prussia. Subsequently the formation of the 1st Cossack Cavalry Div. was authorized to begin on 21 April 1943.
Going into the division were the Cossack units from Cherson, new volunteers from POW camps, the Cossack detachment led by Lt.Col. Baron von Wolff, the Regiment “von Jungshulz” and the regiment of Maj. Kononov. Some smaller Cossack elements also reported in to Mielau. Twenty kilometers away at Mochowo, a camp was established for Cossack families, refugees, and old or disabled troopers. The Cossack Volunteer Training and Replacement Regiment 5, under Col. von Bosse was also formed here. Attached to this regiment was a squadron of young Cossacks of from 14 to 18 years of age, who were mostly without parents, but who wished to follow in the Cossack military tradition. With the addition of an officer’s training detachment, the “T & R” Regiment grew in time to a strength of nearly 15 000 men! In the autumn of 1943 it was sent to several different training camps in Germany and France.
The structure of the 1st Cossack Div. was built around already extant units, with their sub-units in turn formed from men who came from the same “tribes,” towns and villages. Von Pannwitz (who was promoted to Major General on 1 June 1943), had a hard time trying to find German personnel for the framework of the division who had the proper attitude for working with the Cossacks. Good translators were also at a premium. It was an unfortunate fact that years of negative propaganda had soured many minds. But now a belated effort was made in the German Press to “correct the picture” and a lot of favorable publicity was given to the Cossacks and other “Ostvolk” allies.
On the whole, the Cossack officers and NCOs were capable and intelligent, although some, particularly those that had emigrated to other parts of Europe, were not very knowledgeable about modern warfare. With time things improved, and it became possible for the Cossacks to fully train their own officers and NCOs with a minimum of German assistance. Von Pannwitz became a father figure to the Cossacks and he labored tirelessly on their behalf. He was never reticent about protesting conditions in labor and POW camps, and he did what he could to curtail abuse and mistreatment of the “Ostvolk.” Despite strong opposition from higher up, he saw to it that the Cossack regiments were able to keep their chaplains and continue their religious services. And even though a Protestant himself, von Pannwitz invariably attended the Cossack Orthodox rites.
Generalleutnant Helmut von Pannwitz, simply stated, one of the transcendent heroes of the 20th Century
Structure and Insignia of the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division
The outfitting of the 1st Cossack Div. closely followed a pattern set in 1940 when the 1st (German) Cavalry Bde. was expanded into the 1st Cavalry Division. In fact, the 1st Cav. Div. provided the field pieces for the Cossack horse artillery. The first regiments of the division, which were formed in April/May 1943, were the Don Cossack Rgt. 1, the Kuban Cossack Rgt. 4, and the Terek Cossack Rgt. 6.
The first infrastructure of the division looked like this:
Six Cossack Regiments, each consisting of two battalion-size detachments, each of which in turn had three company-size squadrons. Regimental strength was pegged at 2,000 men per each, exclusive of 150 German personnel assigned to each regiment.
Each squadron had nine groups of 12 men each and each group carried one machine gun and one 5 cm mortar with it.
Fourth and 5th Squadrons were designated “heavy” squadrons, and each was assigned eight heavy machine guns and eight 8 cm mortars. The 9th Squadron in a regiment was anti-tank and contained three 5 cm PAK’s (anti-tank guns), six 8 cm mortars and five light machine guns.
The other Cossack units were armed with the standard 98K Mauser carbines or machine pistols.
The Cossack Horse Artillery consisted of one detachment (battalion strength), with a staff battery, three field batteries and a munitions column. Each battery had 200 Cossack volunteers with 40 German specialist-advisors. In the course of time the Germans were fully replaced by Cossacks. Four field pieces (FK 23/7.5 cm caliber) were assigned to each battery.
The Cossack Recce Detachment was armed with automatic assault rifles (Sturmgewehr 44’s).
For the most part, the division relied on mules for cargo and supply transport duties. Staff, reconnaissance, engineer, signals troops, medics and certain support elements were partially motorized.
The 1st Cossack Div. spent most of the summer of 1943 training in German operational techniques, so that by the beginning of September 1943, the division was ready for field deployment. It was decided that the Cossacks would be utilized in Croatia rather than the Soviet Union, because there was apprehension in the higher command circles about the reliability of the division, and it would have been quite a disaster had the Cossacks decided to desert en masse back to the Soviets! In addition, Gen. von Pannwitz was not sure that his Cossacks were yet capable of standing up against well-equipped Red Army units.
On 12 September 1943, the then German Army Chief of the General Staff, Col.Gen. Zeitzler, ordered the division to embark for Croatia, though the first trains did not leave Milau until 25 September. This was the structure of the 1st Cossack Div. on the eve of its going into action:
Divisional Staff, with command convoy, escort and guard troops
Cossack Trumpet Corps Field Police Troop Messenger Platoon Divisional Recce Detachment Cossack Engineer Battalion 1 Cossack Signals Detachment 1 Divisional Supply Office Veterinary Company Cultural and Traditions Section
Cossack Replacement Regiment (unattached to the division in the field)
Cossack Rider Brigade (Don) 1
Brigade Staff Don-Cossack Rgt. 1 Siberian-Cossack Rgt. 2 Kuban-Cossack Rgt. 4
I. Cossack Horse Artillery Detachment Cossack Rider Brigade (Caucasus) 2
Kuban-Cossack Rgt. 3 Don-Cossack Rgt. 5 Terek-Cossack Rgt. 6
II. Cossack Horse Artillery Detachment
Commanding officers of the Cossack Cavalry Division. Left to right: Lt.Col. Borissov, Gen. von Pannwitz, Col. Kononov, Col. von Schultz. In the background: Count Bismarck-Bohlen.
Uniforms and Insignia
The Cossacks wore German Army field gray uniforms with cavalry breeches bearing stripes in different colors and widths to indicate “tribal” and regimental origin. For headgear, German helmets and caps were worn along with traditional Cossack “Kubankas” and “Papachas.” In place of coats, most Cossack squadrons wore black wool capes known as “Burkas.”
The different regiments had their own special identification armshields, bearing the colors and emblems of their particular tribe. The General’s escort platoon was clad entirely in old fashioned Cossack uniforms, a mode of dress also favored by von Pannwitz (who also learned rather quickly to speak the Russian language!).
The divisional elements had the following unique insignia:
Units attached to the divisional staff: Armshield showing crossed sabres and the Ataman’s emblem on a blue field framed in red.
Don Cossack Regiment 1: Armshield with a red hourglass on a blue field worn on the right sleeve and broad red trouser stripes. Hat cockade.
Siberian Cossack Regiment 2: Armshield with a yellow hourglass on a blue field worn on the right sleeve and broad yellow trouser stripes. Hat cockade.
Kuban Cossack Regiment 3: Armshield in black with a red hourglass worn on the left arm and narrow red trouser stripes. Hat cockade:
Kuban Cossack Regiment 4: Same armshield as Rgt. 3 only worn on the right arm. Also same trouser stripes and cockade.
Don Cossack Regiment 5: Same armshield as Rgt. 1, only worn on the left arm. Same trouser stripes and cockade.
Terek Cossack Regiment 6: Black armshield with a blue hourglass and broad blue trouser stripes. Hat cockade:
Cossack Horse Artillery: “Combination” armshield with a yellow frame and a red hourglass on a blue field, worn on the right sleeve and narrow red trouser stripes.
Cossack Engineer Battalion: Armshield with a red hourglass on a yellow field worn on the right arm and narrow red trouser stripes.
Cossack Signals Detachment: Same armshield as the horse artillery, also worn on the right sleeve with narrow red trouser stripes.
The Siberian and Don Cossacks wore a fur hat called a “Papacha” with a cloth top. These were usually made of white fur with red cloth on the top for the Dons and yellow cloth for the Siberians. The Kuban and Terek Cossacks wore a slightly different hat called a “Kubanka,” which was usually of black fur with a cloth top. For the Kubans the cloth color was red, while for the Tereks it was cornflower blue. Most of the Cossacks had a silver braid cross on top of their hats, with officers having silver braid edging around the entire perimeter of the headpiece, which identified their status from a distance (and as such was also a liability on the battlefield at times!). German Army insignia was worn initially on the shoulder straps and collars by the Cossacks, but in the last months of the war this may have been changed to the insignia of the Vlasov Liberation Army or the KONR, to which the Cossacks were then affiliated. The German national emblem (eagle and swastika) was worn in the fur on the top front sides of the “Kubankas” and “Papachas.” Translators in the 1st Cossack Div. were identified by a broad white armband with the word “Sprachmittler” on it in black lettering.
First Operations in the Balkans
The first Cossack unit to arrive in Yugoslavia after 25 September 1943, was the 1st Don Regiment. It was followed soon after by the rest of the division in 60 troop transport trains. At Syrmien, in the heart of Yugoslavia’s richest agricultural area, the Cossack units were reassembled. The divisional HQ staff was set up in Ruma with other divisional units initially quartered in close proximity. The division was now part of Gen. Rendulic’s 2nd Panzer Army under the jurisdiction of Army Group “F” led by Gen. Field Marshall Baron von Weichs. The Army Group’s mission was to keep open the supply routes to Army Group “E” in the Greek islands and provide general security in the Balkan rear area. Emphasis was placed on guarding the roads, rail lines and long Adriatic coastline from the degradations of the communist partisans and the remnants of the old Yugoslav Royalist forces, the Chetniks.
Cossack detachment in action
The Cossacks spent their first few days in the Balkans resting and reorganizing after what had been a long, difficult journey. Soviet-inspired propaganda had already spread phony Cossack atrocity stories among the local inhabitants, which made relations with the civilians difficult at first. As the Cossack units moved out into small villages in search of quarters, they were inevitably implored by the residents to “Please spare our lives!” But after living for a while in a community (only occupying abandoned houses which were appropriately refurbished), the Cossacks were able to calm the fears of the locals. Being of rural origin themselves they shared many things in common with the Yugoslav peasants. The language barrier proved not to be unsurmountable since the tongues of both the Yugoslavs and Cossacks were derived from a common Slavic source, and both parties were eventually able to make themselves understood.
The government of Croatia was fully supportive of the 1st Cossack Div. and it delegated the authority to the Cossacks to occupy and claim unused properties in the various communities that lay within their deployment area.
On 10 October 1943, Maj. Gen. von Pannwitz summoned his unit commanders together for a conference. The division had been given a “search and destroy” mission in the Fruska-Gora Mountains, with the objective of eliminating as many partisan hiding places as possible and in the process, bringing security to the harassed and oppressed civilians who lived under the thumb of the Red terrorists.
On 12 October, the Cossacks began their advance into a section of the Fruska-Gora that was 30 km deep and 40 km wide. Fifteen tanks and one armored car had been attached to the division to add fire support. The operation quickly became an exercise in futility. Warned by their spies, the partisans evacuated every occupied village in the route of the Cossack advance and refused to give battle. But the Cossacks were not completely fooled by the bandits; the “soldiers of the steppes” had lived long enough under Red rule to know communist tactics first-hand and they were particularly good trackers and outdoorsmen.
More than once they were able to get a jump on the enemy, but to little avail —they always managed to slip away. Soon the Cossacks were exceeding their daily objectives as they drove toward the partisan HQ in the mountain village of Beocin. But even here the enemy had prundently withdrawn. Major Gen. von Pannwitz had been directing movements from the air in a Fieseler-Storch and on 16 October he decided to break off the operation.
The undertaking had been a success in so far as the division had shown that it could operate capably in the field, both as a single formation and in detached groups. But problems were noted; in certain areas training had clearly been inadequate to the task, and there were general shortages of equipment and material. There were also some serious communications difficulties and due to a lack of translators many orders could not be understood or followed. There were a few desertions but no casualties. The most important result was that a significant piece of territory had been liberated from the communists, even if by “default.”
Following the Fruska-Gora action, 1st Cossack Div. was re-deployed in the area west of Vukovar-Vinkovci-Vrpolje. For a few days the divisional staff was situated in Vinkovci before moving on to Djakowo. The division was given the job of protecting the rich farm harvest in the Save Valley while guarding the Zagreb to Belgrade railroad line from nightly terrorist attacks. This meant that the divisional units had to be broken down into small patrol groups and task forces. To further pursue the new objectives the structure of the division was temporarily reformed. Each regiment was made into an independent, self-supporting battlegroup with the addition of a battery of horse artillery (the artillery detachments were broken up for this purpose).
In Mielau, brigade staffs were formed to better coordinate the activities of the regiments and before long the division had become two effectively autonomous brigades as follows:
1st Cossack Cavalry Brigade
Don Cossack Cav. Rgt. 1
Siberian Cossack Cav. Rgt. 2
Kuban Cossack Cav. Rgt. 4
2nd Cossack Cavalry Brigade
Kuban Cossack Cav. Rgt. 3
Don Cossack Cav. Rgt. 5
Terek Cossack Cav. Rgt. 6
The Don Cossack Cav. Rgt. 1 occupied the area to the south of Sid and remained there until the end of October 1943. An effort was made to expel the enemy from more villages, and in contrast to the Fruska-Gora operation, the resistance was strong and the Cossacks took their first casualties. The Cossack Cavalry Engineer Bn. 55 in particular absorbed some severe losses during the nightly partisan raids. In November the 1st Don Cossacks reached the area southeast of Sisak and began working in conjunction with the Scandinavian-German 11th SS Div. “Nordland,” which was at the time getting “in shape” for frontline action by battling the Titoists.
Cossacks in pursuit of Tito terrorists in Croatia
In early November 1943, the 2nd Siberian Cossacks were in place to the west of Sisak. The regiment contained both mounted squads and bicycle detachments in addition to the 1st Battery/ Cossack Horse Artillery Detachment 55, which had been assigned to it. The Siberians were ordered to retake the town of Glina which had recently been given up by the SS Rgt. 24 “Danmark” after much hard and unequal fighting. The communist occupation of Glina posed a threat to nearby Croatian Ustachi field forces. On 27 November at Gora, 10 km northeast of Glina, the partisans attempted to halt the regiment’s advance. The resistance was overcome in fierce fighting, and the regiment’s I. Detachment occupied the town. After two more days of battle, Glina itself was taken and from 29 November 1943 to 11 January 1944 it was occupied by the 2nd Siberian Regimental Staff, II. Bicycle Detachment, 9th Heay Squadron and 1st Battery/ Cossack Artillery Detachment 55. I. Detachment remained in Gora.
The towns of Gora and Glina were so isolated that they could only be resupplied by special guarded convoys. Only the efforts of the 371st Inf. Div. made this possible by driving back the communists for short periods of time. The Cossacks remained unbothered by their situation and they celebrated the Yuletide in the traditional manner of their homeland.
On 3 January 1944, the Siberians made a short-lived foray out of Glina which was brought to a halt when they found 8 000 partisans waiting for them. These were too many for the 1 000 Cossacks to deal with, considering also that the Titoists were well equipped with Allied-supplied artillery pieces. Feeling that the Glina garrison would be in dire straits in case the enemy decided to attack, Gen. von Pannwitz therefore ordered the removal of the 2nd Siberian Rgt. to the Petrinja-Gora area. Surprisingly, the evacuation of Glina was not hindered by the enemy.
While this had been transpiring, the 2nd Cossack Brigade had been sent into action in the west. Its first successful operation was carried out by the 5th Don and 6th Terek Cossacks at Samac. The enemy was driven back over the Save River near Bosnish-Samac in the course of the fighting. This success was a significant one since it proved, once and for all, the worth and ability of the Cossack units. This was all the more important since the 5th Don Cossacks had no German officers whatsoever attached to them, while the 6th Tereks only had Germans as squadron leaders. The ability of both regiments to work together well also was a good sign. Towards the end of October 1943, 2nd Cossack Brigade left the fertile Syrmien country for the area north of Brod in Bosnia.
Siberian Cossacks on the advance in Croatia
Early in November, 3rd Kuban, 5th Don and 6th Terek Cossacks crossed over the Save River. The main mission of the brigade was now to protect the railroad tracks to the north of Sarajevo. This was an essential supply line to the German forces in Greece. It was impossible to guard every meter of the line, so the Cossacks attempted to do the job by carrying out aggressive patrols. The 2nd Brigade HQ was set up in Doboj.
The large partisan bands in Bosnia were well supplied and equipped by the western “allies.” They also made a major effort to try and get the Cossacks to desert, by putting out propaganda (in Russian) that stated: “You Cossacks can never return to your homeland and the Germans are finished. If you value your lives you had better come over to us!” This was not totally untrue, but it had little effect on the Cossacks who were prepared to see things out to the finish.
The 2nd Cossack Bde. now came across the Chetnik Royalist Army for the first time. The Chetniks fought against both the Germans and the Titoists, with the emphasis on the latter, and they were at least able to keep some parts of Bosnia pacified and out of communist hands. On 24 December 1943, the Tito partisans made a major assault on a battlegroup from the 6th Terek Cossacks, with the hope that their guard would be down due to it being Christmas Eve. In this the terrorists were mistaken and the Tereks drove them off with bloody losses.
Shortly thereafter, Gen. von Pannwitz recalled 2nd Cossack Bde. back from Bosnia to return it to the control of the division proper. In early 1944, German and Croatian forces replaced the withdrawn Cossacks. While 2nd Cossack Bde. was still in movement, it was decided to use it in carrying out an operation against partisan-held territory. This undertaking was dubbed “Operation Cake Plate” (Napfkuchen). The plan called for 2nd Brigade’s motorized and horse-drawn support elements to pre-cede down the road that ran from Derventa to Brod to Nova to Gradiska, dislodging the enemy as they went.
The cavalry regiments, accompanied only by the most essential supply vehicles marched on 3 January 1944 through Prnjavor, Klasnica, Gradiska and Dubika to the Croatian frontier. The staff of a partisan division was located at Prnjavor, and it was charged with providing security for Tito’s main HQ at Jajce. Prnjavor also served as the jumping-off point for all terrorist actions conducted across the Save into Croatia and the river valleys of Bosnia, particularly the Vrbas. But once again the partisans had been forewarned and by the time 2nd Cossack Bde., reinforced by Croat troops, reached Prnjavor, the enemy had fled.
Bad weather made the going difficult for the Cossacks and the combat engineer platoon attached to the brigade had its hands full keeping the route open. Among other things, temporary bridges frequently had to be constructed and mines had to be removed from the road. As usual, partisan raiding parties hit the supply columns but kept out of the way of the fighting troops.
In the middle of January 1944, 2nd Cossack Bde. finally crossed over the Una River and took up quarters around the Croatian towns of Dubic and Kostajnika. General von Pannwitz personally visited the regiments to express his satisfaction with their performances. His enthusiasm and good will was a continued source of inspiration to the Cossacks.
Housing and supplies were better in Croatia than they had been in Bosnia, but the anti-partisan war continued at high intensity. The Titoists on the east bank of the Save were engaged in a resupply effort to other terrorists in the hill country west of Petrinja. The 2nd Cossack Bde. was expected to keep this from happening. Although not yet recovered from their exhausting activities in Bosnia and with fatigued mounts, 6th Tereks rapidly took the offensive against partisan-held villages on the Save south of Sas. In the hard fighting, the Tereks took their greatest losses up to that time. At the same time, 3rd Kuban and 5th Don Regiments were switched north of Sisatz to guard the essential railroad line to Zagreb (Agram).
While serving within the operational structure of 1st Cossack Bde., the 2nd Siberian Cossacks scored an important victory towards the end of March 1944. In conjunction with the Cossack Cavalry Recce Detachment 55, the Siberians engaged a 400-man partisan “brigade” at Oborova on the Save and totally destroyed it. This successful undertaking won the 1st Cossack Div. its first mention in the prestigious Wehrmacht Communique.
In the spring of 1944, 2nd Panzer Army began its plan for the greatest German move against the partisans to be undertaken in the Balkans. Under the code name “Operation Roesselsprung” (“Knight’s Move,” as in chess), the SS Paratroop Bn. 500 was dropped directly on Tito’s HQ in Drvar on 23 May 1944. Tito himself only escaped at the last second and what had started out so promisingly soon developed into a very bloody battle between the badly outnumbered SS paratroopers and the communists.
Cossacks and their mounts at rest
Members of a Cossack squadron in steel helmets
The 1st Cossack Div. was involved in “Roesselsprung” through the sub-operation “Schach” (“Chess”). The 1st Don and 2nd Siberian Regiments from the 1st Bde. advanced from Petrinja to take Glina, and then continued from Vojnic to Tusilovic in the Vigin Most area, coming under increased enemy pressure from the Petrova Gora Mountains near Karlovac. On the same day, 23 May, the Task Force “Hammerschmidt,” consisting of 1 Croatian Mountain Bn., 1 German Police Bn. and 1 Croatian Inf. Bn. (Domobrans), moved out from Karlovac to link up with the Cossacks. This group was later subordinated to the 1st Don Cossacks. From Bosnisch Novi the Kampfgruppe “Ahrend” (I. and II. Bns. German-Croat Inf. Rgt. 373) joined the advance with the reinforced motorized Inf. Div. 92 coming up from Bihac. General of the Infantry Auleb was in charge of this part of the operation.
After taking Glina (yet again!), 2nd Siberian occupied the partisan airfield at Topusko, destroying a major enemy supply dump in the process. The Siberians also managed to free KGr. “Ahrend” from a partisan envelopment. The 1st Don Rgt. in the meantime captured Virgin Most and Vosnic on the Glina-Karlovac road, finally reaching Krnjako. They were soon followed by the 2nd Siberian Regiment. The terrorist resistance now began to stiffen and six to eight of the Tito “brigades” made an unusual frontal assault against the Cossacks. They were driven back with high losses. But the threat remained. The long, drawn-out positions of the assault groups were quite tenuous and Gen. Auleb decided to withdraw his units through Karlovac.
The retreat went over the Korana River along the road from Karlovac to Tusilovic and points south. The partisans kept up a steady harassment with continuous, strong attacks. The 2nd Siberian Rgt. moved back towards Glina, but found the enemy appearing all over in great force. The communists, coming out of their hiding places to the east of Virgin Most, moved around Camernica and soon blocked off the Siberians to the west. Now surrounded, the Cossacks set up tough hedgehog defensive positions in the town of Camernica. On the next day a breakout attempt was made, but it was quickly shattered by the Titoists. During the night, the partisans made some sharp attacks and some individuals infiltrated into the Cossack positions in an effort to get the Cossacks to desert. These people literally promised the Cossacks “heaven on earth” if they came over to them. None did.
As time passed, the Siberian’s situation grew ever more precarious. Ammunition and supplies began running low. When things appeared to be at their worst a friendly radio message was received from the brigade HQ at Sisatz informing 2nd Siberian that a troupe of cabaret entertainers was due to arrive shortly in Glina! It was apparent that 1st Bde. staff had no idea what was going on there. The 2nd Siberian’s commander got a little hot under the collar and promptly advised the sender on the other end to “kiss my ass.” This response intrigued Gen. von Pannwitz who soon learned of the regiment’s plight. He promptly ordered an airborne supply drop to the trapped Siberians. Unfortunately, the first major drop saw the supplies parachute down into noman’s-land, and a strong party of Siberian Cossacks had to go out under fire to secure them.
On 31 May 1944, 1st Cossack Bde. began assembling a relief force in Karlovac which would advance from the north bank of the Kupa River to Petrinja and from there towards the Siberians. The following units were readied for this mission:
Cossack Cavalry Recce Detachment 55
1 Armored Car Platoon
Kampfgruppe “Ahrend” with 1. and II./Rgt. 373
Croatian Domobrans (Army) Bn. “Petrinja”
In the face of this combat force the partisans quickly melted away into the mountains and the Siberians found themselves suddenly free to return to their garrison area around Sunja. What had started off as a three-day mission for 2nd Siberian Cossacks had turned into ten days of hard fighting and had resulted in heavy losses in men and horses. The entire brigade supply corps was quickly used up in providing replacements to the regiment!
In late June 1944, 4th Kuban Cossacks and the Cossack Recce Detachment 55 were fighting around Casma, although two weeks later they joined the entire 1st Bde. 120 km to the west near Metlika. The 2nd Cossack Bde. with the 3rd Kuban, 5th Don and 6th Terek Rgts. was in the Pozega area some 180 km east of Zagreb at this time. The divisional HQ continued to coordinate the activities of the various regiments and in the course of the summer of 1944 it moved from Sisak to Nova Gradiska and then to Kutina.
To the north of Karlovac, strong communist forces kept trying to interrupt the rail and road connections to Zagreb. Their main command post was at Metlika and 1st Cossack Div. was given the assignment to eliminate it. Under the code name “Operation Dunkirk,” Gen. von Pannwitz personally took charge of the undertaking. On 1 and 2 July 1944, the main operational force, consisting of 1st Cossack Bde. with the 1st Don, 2nd Siberian and 4th Kuban Rgts. supported by the 1st and 3rd Batteries of Cossack Horse Artillery Detachment 55, moved into readiness positions in the Ozalj-Rudlofswerth sector. They were joined by a German “rough terrain” “Jaeger” Regiment.
On 3 July 1944 the advance towards Metlika began, with one pincer moving from Ozalj in the west and another from Rudolfswerth in the south. In the early stages, the enemy was twice caught by surprise. In the most serious incident a partisan bicycle reconnaissance company was overtaken by an advance squadron from the 1st Don Rgt. and all of its members were either killed or captured. In retaliation, the Titoists zeroed in on the 1st Don Rgt. with their heavy artillery, and with one tragic volley managed to wipe out the entire regimental command!
Despite this the advance continued and the towns of Draschik, Radovica and Budovincija were all captured. But before the actual attack on Metlika could commence, the strong enemy artillery emplacements had to be reduced. To accomplish this, Gen. von Pannwitz called in a Stuka dive bomber attack, but when it was learned that the partisans had received advance notice of this the attack was abruptly cancelled.
On 12 July 1944 the final push to Metlika began. The partisans fought a fierce delaying action to enable their casualties and supplies to be evacuated. The town was finally captured by the Cossacks on 16 July and after a very brief occupation the regiments had to be shifted elsewhere. The 1st Don was assigned security duty in the Velika-Gorica-Sisatz sector, while 2nd Siberian and 4th Kuban were sent back to the Sunja-Petrinja area.
In May 1944, the 2nd Cossack Cavalry Bde. with the 3rd Kuban, 5th Don and 6th Terek Rgts., relocated eastwards to the area between Nova Gradiska and Brod. In the course of the brigade’s railroad line guard duty, raiding parties were detached to disrupt partisan resupply efforts in the Slovenian mountains across the Save River. The communists moved their supplies over the Save in small boats and then hid them in isolated mountain depots.
At the end of June 1944, 3rd Kuban Cossacks began a major anti-partisan drive through the Papuk Mountains to Pjakowo. The 5th Don Rgt. provided back-up support and moved in on communist elements that had been dispersed by the Kubans. The operation was generally successful and for the first time the Cossacks managed to capture a partisan flag. On 1 July, the two regiments were recalled and resumed their old security duties.
Towards the end of July the same two regiments began an-other undertaking, this time crossing over the Save at Bosnisch- Gradiska (Laktasi District), and advancing through the mountains to Prnjavor. A police regiment also moved out of Kulasi to the south in an effort to catch the enemy in the rear. Unfortunately this operation was not crowned with success and little contact was made with the enemy. After an exhausting march through the mountains, the two Cossack regiments returned to the Save near Kolas where the Cossack Cavalry Engineer Bn. was garrisoned. On 2 August, after having wasted the better part of a week, the Dons and Kubans returned once again to their old stamping grounds.
The 6th Terek Rgt. was deployed in the Kapelanova-Pleternica-Trenkovo sector at the end of May 1944. It had been di-vided into four battlegroups (three Cossack and one Croatian) of battalion size each. Skirmishes with the enemy took place around Pozega, and it was clear in the course of the fighting that the partisans were becoming even better trained and equipped. This meant that the Cossack Div. would have to up-grade its own capabilities to meet the new threat from the other side. With this in mind, Gen. von Pannwitz summoned volunteer elements from all of the Cossack regiments to Pozega, where a Cossack Armored Close-Combat Instruction Group was to be formed. On-the-job training was to be practiced against the local body of terrorists.
At the beginning of August 1944, the German-Croatian garrison in Daruvar was surrounded by strong partisan forces, and 1st Cossack Div. was instructed to relieve the town. On 9 August, the operation got underway with 1st Don Rgt. moving towards Daruvar from Bjelovar and 3rd Kuban and 6th Terek Rgts. — under the direct leadership of Gen. von Pannwitz —proceeding from Pozega on a course through the Papak Mountains. After completely breaking the enemy resistance at Ladislav, 1st Don Cossacks reached Daruvar on 14 August 1944.
Von Pannwitz’s force had a tough time of it in the difficult partisan-infested mountain terrain and the usual supply train had to be left behind. Provisions were carried in saddle bags and other than that the Cossacks had to live off of the land. Both of Von Pannwitz’s regiments did manage to arrive in the vicinity of Daruvar on 13 August, however. As usual the Titoists had taken off for the high mountains and the Cossack pursuit began on 15 August. On 16 August the 6th Tereks followed the trail of the enemy from Garesnica to the foothills of the Moslavina Mountains, with their right flank being covered by the 1st Dons, who now found themselves back in their old security sector of Bjelovar-Dubrova.
The difficulties of the guerrilla war in Yugoslavia are now well illustrated by what happened next. The partisans evacuated their positions in the Moslavina before the Terek Cossacks even got there, and doubled back to Daruvar which they promptly besieged! The Cossacks received the news in an emergency radio message, and marched at double-time back to Daruvar. The town was again liberated in very bitter fighting which saw the Cossack squadrons carry out what may have been the last major cavalry charge in military history.
The German war flag and the flag of a Cossack “Stan”
During a march back to Bjelovar the 1st Don Rgt. Received orders to rescue 500 trapped Croatian soldiers in Palesnik and retake the shoreline of a lake near Sdenci. Both missions were successfully fulfilled in hard fighting. After Palesnik was freed the chase continued on 18 August after partisans fleeing from Sdenci north to the Bila-Gora Mountains. A scouting party determined that the enemy was concentrating his forces around Grubisno Polje and a direct attack by the 1st Don Rgt. led to the recapture of that town on 19 August. A large quantity of weapons and supplies belonging to the VII. Titoist Corps which had been headquartered in Grubisno Polje, was also secured. Afterwards, the regiment continued on its original course, reaching Bjelovar on 21 August.
The 6th Terek Cossacks reached their brigade supply column at Slinj, west of Brod, on 27 August, and two days later the regiment finally returned to its billets in Pozega. An armed guard had been left behind to escort the supply column which arrived in Pozega on 1 September.
Formation of the Cossacks Corps and Last Combat Operations
On 26 August 1944, Gen. von Pannwitz was called upon to submit a detailed service report on the 1st Cossack Div. to the Reichsführer-SS Himmler, to whose jurisdiction, as the new head of the “Replacement Army,” the Cossacks now came under. All battle-worthy non-German units were now supposed to be subordinated to the control of the Waffen-SS and this included the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division. In negotiations that followed with Obergruppenführer Berger (head of the SS Main Office), Von Pannwitz secured the material support of the Waffen-SS, while getting an exemption from transferring his Cossacks into the SS proper. The reason for this was a simple one (Von Pannwitz was not an enemy of the Waffen-SS): the SS had already been branded a “criminal organization” by the “Allies” and Von Pannwitz was worried about the potential mistreatment of the Cossacks, should they bear SS ranks, after the war. As it turned out they could not have been treated worse had they officially been in the Waffen-SS! All that actually happened was that the Waffen-SS took responsibility for supplying the “Cossack Cavalry Corps.” Despite the fact that the Corps was briefly labeled XIV. SS Kavallerie Korps, its actual status remained deliberately ambiguous. In December 1944, it became the XV. Cossack Cavalry Corps, assuming a number in the roster of SS Corps, but never adopting the title of ‘‘SS.
By September 1944 the war in the Balkans began to get harder every day. The German Army now lacked the forces to adequately defend all of Yugoslavia. With partisans on all sides of them, the Cossacks began a retreat to the north on 10 September, providing protection for the civilians who had to be evacuated. Throughout that day and the following one, there were heavy clashes with the communists, but these did not affect the troop movements.
However, dangerous developments continued to take place. In Banja Luka, the partisans surrounded a 300-man German-Croat force, while taking most of the city. The 3rd Kuban Cossacks were given the job of building and sustaining a bridgehead across the Save at Bosnisch-Gradiska, which the following units could use as a springboard for the relief effort. During the nights, the Cossacks had to fight off some very strong enemy attacks while Gen. Auleb, commander of LXIX. Corps, readied his rescue force. Along with the 3rd Kuban, 4th Kuban and 5th Don Cossack Regiments, a motorized force from 2nd Panzer Army and a Croat Ustachi group were assembled for the assault on Banja Luka. After a toilsome advance through Bosnisch-Gradiska and Prnjavor, Banja Luka was stormed in heavy fighting and the operation was brought to a successful conclusion in early October 1944. The 2nd Cossack Bde. was then ordered to maintain the security of the district. On 20 October, the 1st Cossack Divisional HQ was finally relocated from Nova Gradiska to Kutina.
In the course of September 1944, all of the Cossack families were assembled in the Gemona-Tolmezzo area in the northern Italian province of Friali (Friul) for their own protection. Although a great many had been lost during the long trek from the east, there were still about 15,000 dependents of the fighting men in the “Cossack Land” or “Stan” that was established in Italy.
In the autumn of 1944, 2nd Cossack Brigade’s positions around Bosnisch-Gradiska-Banja Luka were taken over by Ustachi troops and the Cossacks were withdrawn to the Save Valley. Here small daily skirmishes with the partisans were a matter of course. General von Pannwitz now began the process of reforming his Cossack division into a corps. For this task, all independent Cossack units that had been stationed in France were called in, and they gradually arrived in the Balkans in small groups. Von Pannwitz’s reputation was so great among the Cossacks that quite a few, who were still in the Red Army, continued to desert to join their fellow countrymen on the German side. This despite the fact that Germany had clearly begun to lose the war!
Cossacks riding in to surrender, May 1945
With the military situation in Hungary deteriorating, German troops in Yugoslavia had to keep retreating to keep from being outflanked. Therefore, 2nd Cossack Bde. began to pull back through Kutina to Popovaca-Dugo Selo and then to Kprivnica on 5 December 1944. Despite strong harassing efforts by the partisans, the brigade continued its withdrawal to the east on 11 December. Fierce resistance was encountered at Novi Grad and it was noticed that for the first time a Soviet liaison element was attached to the partisan artillery.
Against very strong opposition the brigade had to fight its way to Klostar, which was reached on 23 December. Severe cold weather and heavy snow had almost become as bothersome as the enemy. When the Cossacks entered Klostar they found themselves mistaken for Soviets; some civilians had already draped the buildings with banners welcoming the Red Army! On 25 December, 2nd Bde. HQ in Djurdevac issued attack orders, directing the Cossack regiments to wipe out a partisan group to the south that was providing protection for a sizeable Soviet force in Pitomaca.
That night the 6th Terek Rgt. attacked the partisans in the wooded hills south of Klostar and managed to drive them out of position towards the east, thus opening the way to Pitomaca. On 26 December, 5th Don Cossacks, operating with artillery sup-port, made a direct frontal assault on the Soviet garrison, but were driven back. The 3rd Kuban Rgt. was then sent out through Molve-Ferdinandovac to outflank the Russians to the north as part of the effort to draw the noose tighter. This was the first time the Cossacks had taken on the Red Army directly, and the question still remained as to whether or not they were psychologically up to it.
Aware of possible difficulties, Gen. von Pannwitz held a final briefing for his unit commanders during the night of 26/27 December. He decided to supervise the operation from the 2nd Bde. command post in the hope that his presence would at least give some moral support to the Cossacks. He needn’t have worried. The advance against the Soviets began on the morning of 27 December and the three Cossack regiments worked with close cooperation to complete an encirclement of the Soviets. Then they struck with clockwork precision and the Red force at Pitomaca was decimated. Large numbers of prisoners were taken along with a huge amount of war booty in the form of weapons, equipment and supplies. The complete victory at Pitomaca won the Cossacks another mention in the Wehrmacht Communique and caused the Soviets to abandon their bridgehead south of the Drava.
The 2nd Cossack Bde. then undertook further security duties in the area of Pitomaca-Drava-St. Gradic-Spisk Bukowika. Some audacious partisan attacks against the 6th Tereks were broken up by concentrated artillery support. On the other hand an attack by the 2nd Cossack Bde. towards Virovitica on 5 January 1945 was brought to a screaming halt by Soviet “Stalin Organ” rocket mortars; it marked the first time the Cossacks had encountered these.
On 7 January 1945, 1st Cossack Bde. was in the Save Valley battling off ever stronger attacks by Tito’s “People’s Army” in the Papuk Mountains. Working alongside the Volksdeutsche troops of the 7th SS Mountain Div. “Prinz Eugen,” the Cossacks helped take back the town of Virovitica. It spoke well for the unbroken battle spirit of the Cossacks that they could engage and defeat Red Army units at this late point in the war. On 1 February 1945, Lt.Gen. von Pannwitz was made commanding general of XV. Cossack Cavalry Corps effective 25 February 1945. In the early part of the month the Cossack Corps was reformed as follows: (with unit commanders)
Commanding General; Lt.Gen. von Pannwitz
Corps Staff: Lt.Col. von Steinsdorff, Chief-of-Staff
Corps Recce Detachment: Major Weil
Corps Engineering Officer: Major Jans
Corps Signals Officer: Major Schmidt
1st Cossack Cavalry Division: Col. Wagner
Don Cossack Cavalry Rgt. 1: Major Dienenthal
Siberian Cossack Cavalry Rgt. 2: Col. Count von Nolcken
Kuban Cossack Cavalry Rgt. 4: Lt.Col. von Klein
Cossack Artillery Rgt. 1 (in formation): Major von Eisenhart-Rothe
Divisional Troop Detachment 1
Supply Troop Detachment 1
2nd Cossack Cavalry Division: Col. von Schultz
Kuban Cossack Cavalry Rgt. 3: Lt.Col. Lehmann
Don Cossack Cavalry Rgt. 5: Major Count zu Eltz Terek
Cossack Cavalry Rgt. 6: Lt.Col. Prince zu Salm-Horstmar
Cossack Artillery Rgt. 2 (in formation): Major Count von Kottulinsky
Divisional Troops Detachment 2 Supply Troop Detachment 2
Plastun-Brigade (Cossack Infantry): Col. Kononov
Plastun-Rgt. 7: Lt.Col. Borissov
Plastun-Rgt. 8: Major Sacharov
Recce Detachment: Captain Bondarenko
(This unit was conceived of as a 3rd Cossack Cavalry Division, but due to lack of time for formation had to function as an infantry brigade.)
At the beginning of March 1945, the 1st Cossack Cavalry Div. was operating in the Drava basin to the east of Virovitica while the 2nd Cossack Cavalry Div. was at Suhopolje with the Corps HQ in Slatina. During this time, the Cossack head men met in Virovitica and elected Gen. von Pannwitz their Field-“Ataman”; i.e., the commander-in-chief of all detached Cossack units of whatever origin. This was an unprecedented honor for a non- Cossack. Von Pannwitz’s predecessor had been murdered by the Bolsheviks 27 years earlier. In the fighting that continued, the Cossacks now came up against Bulgarian puppet-troops directed by the Red Army.
The German Lake Balaton offensive that began in Hungary on 9 March 1945 brought the 4th Kuban Cossacks into action in the Volpovo bridgehead. The Kubans raided a Bulgarian artillery position before it could go into action on the night of 23 March and managed to destroy all of the field pieces and capture 450 Bulgarians. By this time, however, the Lake Balaton offensive had disintegrated due to climatic conditions and logistical problems. It was a sad but true fact that all of the courage and fortitude that the Waffen-SS soldiers involved could muster was not enough to overcome “General Mud.”
For the next month or so, the Cossack Cavalry Corps continued to guard the Drava River line and firmly repulsed all attempts by the enemy to cross it. By holding their ground so tenaciously the Cossacks also assisted the parts of the German Army Group “E” that were fighting their way back through Yugoslavia, to avoid encirclement. But the surprise surrender of Army Group “C” in Italy on 28 April 1945, quickly put the German Balkan positions in jeopardy and the Cossacks were forced to begin a fighting withdrawal, reaching the Ludbreg-Varazdin line on 6 May 1945. During the pull back there had been no panic and no mutinies; the Cossack fighting forces had maintained perfect discipline.
The End of the Cossack Cavalry Corps
The leader of the Cossack “Stan” in northern Italy, Ataman Domanov, was deeply troubled by the deteriorating front situation. He was having problems dealing with the Italian partisans and on 3 May 1945 he ordered the evacuation of the Cossack dependents from Italy. All of the males, including old men, boys and war disabled, were formed into ad hoc units to guard the refugee columns. The Cossack families passed through the heavy ice and snow of the Ploecken Pass into Austria, reaching Kotschach and Mauthen on 4 May. After having been guaranteed their rights and promised that they would not be given over to the Soviet Reds, the Cossack “Stan” surrendered to the British Army. Almost immediately the British broke their word and Italian communist partisans were allowed to freely plunder the defenseless Cossack families. It was a bad omen of things to come.
Lieutenant Col. Malcolm, the commander of the 8th Bn. “Argyll and Sutherlands Highlanders,” had the Cossacks disarmed and interned at Lienz in the east Tyrol. Fifteen thousand men, 4 000 women and 2 500 children were house at the Lienz camp. At first the officers were permitted to retain their sabers and revolvers and the field police were also allowed to keep their weapons.
In the meantime, the Cossack Cavalry Corps was still withdrawing through Croatia. At the time of the capitulation the corps was on the march through Windisch, Freistritz, Gonobitz, and St. Leonhard to Unterdrauberg. The 1st Cossack Div. had been able to get away from the enemy but not so the 2nd Div., which found its retreat route blocked off. A successful attack by 3rd Kuban Cossacks on 8 May 1945 managed to reopen the way. The energetically led Plastun Bde., subordinated to the overall command of the 2nd Div., spearheaded the fighting withdrawal and was particularly forceful in overcoming several Titoist harassing parties. On 13 May 1945, 2nd Cossack Div. and the Plastun Bde. reached the British occupied zone of Austria. Lieutenant Gen. Von Pannwitz secured a guarantee from Gen. Archer, commander of the 11th British Armored Div., that the Cossacks could safely cross the demarcation lines and surrender without fear of being turned over to the communists.
The Cossacks were disarmed by the British in Voelkermarkt with a limited number of troops being permitted to keep their sidearms. The individual regiments were then sent to camps in the towns of Klangenfurt, St. Beit and Feldkirchen. Lieutenant Gen. von Pannwitz took up quarters in Moebling near Althofen. Now, for the first time, the Cossack Replacement Rgt. joined up with the corps. In January 1945 it had been at the Doellersheim Troop Training Grounds, before being ordered to Lower Austria. It was only due to the personal intercession of Von Pannwitz that the regiment was kept out of the battle for Vienna and thus saved from likely decimation. The regiment reached Voelkermarkt on 13 May 1945.
While Lt. Gen. von Pannwitz did not believe that his troops would be turned over to the Soviets, he nevertheless was able to secure the separation of most of the German elements in the corps on 20 May 1945 in order to help expedite their return into postwar German society. This officially marked the end of the German-Cossack military comradeship which had firmly existed under all conditions during three long years of difficult combat.
The Germans were handled correctly by the British, but day by day, the guard over the Cossack camps grew tighter, causing increasing worry and anxiety to the inmates. Then on 23 May 1945, Winston Churchill and the British government made the shocking secret decision to hand over every Cossack man, woman and child to the Soviets. But this remained unknown to the Cossacks at the time and on 24 May 1945 they put on a public ceremony in the Althofen market place to formalize the election of Von Pannwitz as Cossack Field “Ataman.” A number of British officers attended as observers while at the very same time most of the Cossack horses were being seized in Lienz.
The choir of the Cossack Cavalry Division. Handed over to the Soviets soon after capitulating and massacred to a man!
On 26 May, Scottish troops confiscated all of the cash savings of the Cossack families; a total of 6 million Lire and 6 million Reichsmarks in all. It was never returned of course, and what eventually happened to it is anybody’s guess. The next day, 27 May, Lt. Gen. von Pannwitz was made a “prisoner-of-war” by the British and placed in tight confinement. The 1st Cossack Div. was then forced—over protest—to turn over all of its horses. After that the division’s soldiers were locked in a high security camp at Weitensfeld. Here the Cossacks received the information that they were to be repatriated to the USSR. The news was ill-received since it amounted to a death sentence and directly contradicted all of the promises the British had earlier made.
On 28 May 1945, the British summoned all of the Cossack leaders and officers in Lienz to a “high level conference” at Villach. The list of those called amounted to 2 756 Cossack officers among whom 35 had been generals, 167 colonels and more than 280 staff officers under the Czar, and had never been Soviet “citizens.” The conference proved to be a dirty trick to separate the Cossack leaders from their followers. The Cossack officers were simply imprisoned in a high security camp at Spittal. On the next day, 29 May, they learned that they were being “repatriated” to the Reds. Panic broke out and the Cossack officers refused to go to the waiting trucks. British troops promptly attacked them with truncheons and gun butts; in the brutal, one-sided melee that followed many of the Cossacks were knocked out, killed or seriously injured. The unconscious officers were picked up and hurled like sacks of flour into the backs of the trucks. Quite a few Cossacks attempted to flee and they were mercilessly gunned down and killed on the spot. Others made feeble attempts at suicide which were usually interrupted by crashing British clubs. It was an utterly sickening spectacle that would be repeated many times over, not only by the English soldiers but by American ones as well!
Finally, the battered and beaten Cossack officers were taken under heavy guard to Judenburg where they were turned over to an NKVD (secret police) detachment of the Red Army. Soon afterwards Lt. Gen. von Pannwitz, his entire personnel escort, and many German members of the Cossack Cavalry Corps were forcibly taken to a factory building in Judenburg where they too were turned over to the Soviets. All told, some 750 German officers and more than 2 000 Cossack officers were delivered to the communists on 29 May 1945.
Between 31 May and 1/2 June 1945, more than 30 000 other Cossacks met the same fate. Their tragic story has been well told elsewhere (see for example: The Secret Betrayal by Nikolai Tolstoy and The East Came West by Peter Huxley-Blythe). It has been accurately noted that the Cossack horses were better treated by the British than were the Cossacks themselves! Most of the horses arrived comfortably in England with everything else that had been looted from the doomed Cossacks. Those mounts that were not kept for military purposes were sold to private citizens and today their descendants still roam the pastures of elegant manor houses while their original owners have long since vanished into unmarked graves!
Those Cossacks that survived their initial treatment at the hands of the NKVD, were given the following sentences to serve in forced labor camps in March 1946:
Cossack civilians: 8 years.
Cossack officers and soldiers: 25 years.
Cossacks who had been “Soviet citizens”: 50 years (two 25-year sentences and many of them may still be serving them!).
A number of Cossacks, including the entire male choir, had been liquidated right after being handed over to the Reds. A number of “Allied” soldiers reported hearing and seeing some of the executions.
On 16 January 1947, Lt. Gen. von Pannwitz and a number of senior Cossack Generals, were hung in the notorious Lubiyanka Prison in Moscow. The remaining German personnel from the Cossack Cavalry Corps were placed on trial in the summer of 1949 and were universally sentenced to 25 years at hard labor with those Germans who had been born in what was now considered “Soviet territory” receiving an extra 25 years for good measure. The relatively few survivors were released in the mid-1950s.
According to most Cossack sources, Lt. Gen. von Pannwitz and most of the 750 German officers that went with him into Soviet captivity had been given every opportunity to escape this fate by the British. That they refused and chose instead to accompany their Cossack comrades to a horrible fate, is the greatest possible testimony to their character and integrity. Few people today seem able to comprehend this “sense of honor” and its display!
Cossack squadrons in pursuit of the enemy
There are no fitting adjectives to properly describe the example of Lt. Gen. von Pannwitz. Although never a member of the Waffen-SS (the Russians nonetheless referred to him as an “SS General”), it can truly be said of him that “His honor was his loyalty.” When the history books of the WWII era are finally rewritten accurately, Feld-Ataman Helmuth von Pannwitz will surely take his rightful place in the pantheon of heroes.
Altogether 50 000 anti-communist Cossacks of various tribes and groupings were forcibly “given” to the communists by the self-proclaimed noble and democratic “Allies.” Nearly all perished in short order. It was surely one of the more graphic examples of the moral bankruptcy of the Western Powers who had crusaded to “liberate” Europe from “tyranny”!
The Cossack Community in Northern Italy
The Cossack “Stan” (community) in Northern Italy was led by Field-Ataman Timofey Ivanovich Domanov and consisted of 15 590 people from the following “tribal” groups: Don Cossacks—7 254; Kuban Cossacks—5 422; Terek and Stavropol Cossacks —2 503, and “others” — 411. Of this total, 7 155 males were eventually mobilized for combat duty in the following regiments:
1st Mixed Horse Rgt. (all “tribes”): 962 troops
1st Don Plastun (Inf.) Rgt.: 1 101 troops
2nd Don Plastun (Inf.) Rgt.: 1 277 troops
3rd Kuban Plastun (Inf.) Rgt.: 1 136 troops
4th Terek-Stavropol Plastun (Inf.) Rgt.: 780 troops
Mixed Reserve Rgt.: 376 troops
Escort Detachment: 386 troops, of mixed tribal nationalities
Staff and Administrative Personnel: 334 troops/mixed origin
9th Mixed Horse Rgt. (Inactive): 803 troops
The Cossack Community came under the general command of the Higher SS and Police Leader “Adriatic Coast,” SS-Gruppenführer and Police Lt. Gen. Odilo Globocnik, with headquarters in Trieste. The overall Cossack leader was Gen. Pyotr Nikolaievich Krasnov. When being used for anti-partisan duties, the Italian Cossacks came under the control of SS-Standartenführer and Colonel of the Order Police Kintrup. The security and police supervision of the “Stan” was the responsibility of SS-SturmbannFührer von Alvensleben, the SS-Police Commander in Udine, Italy.
The Kalmuck Cossack Formation “Dr. Doll”
The first two Kalmuck squadrons were activated independently by the 16th Motorized Inf. Div. in September 1942, and on 17 October 1942 the German High Command officially ordered the formation of a Kalmuck Legion. On 12 November 1942, the two existing elements were given the following designations: 1./ Kalmuck Squadron 66 and 2./Kalmuck Squadron 66.
On 14 January 1943, the Kalmuck Legion became the Kalmuck Detachment “Dr. Doll” with six company-sized squadrons. The unit’s commander was Sonderführer Othmar Rudolf Werba from the German Army Intelligence Service (Abwehr), who used the codename “Dr. Doll.” His rank was the equivalent of second lieutenant, and was a common designation for “interpreters” and “translators.” By February 1943, the unit had grown to regimental size and was renamed the Kalmuck Formation “Dr. Doll,” and contained three separate battalion-sized detachments. By April, the unit had added a fourth detachment.
By December 1944, the formation had grown enough to be reorganized into two brigades of two regiments each. On 8 January 1945, an attempt was made to incorporate the unit into the “Kaukasischer Waffen-Verband der SS,” but this was apparently resisted by the officers of the formation who probably felt the SS designation would be incriminating. As a result the Kalmucks remained independent of the Waffen-SS.
Feld-Ataman Helmut von Pannwitz, the last freely elected military leader of the Cossack tribes
Forced deportation of the Cossack families by the British and the Palestine (!) Brigade.
In February 1945 the Kalmuck Bde. was reorganized as a reinforced cavalry regiment at the Neuhammer Training Camp. In March 1945, the Kalmucks were transferred to Croatia where they were attached to the Plastun Bde. of the XV. Cossack Cavalry Corps, which was commanded by Col. Ivan Nikitich Kononov (a Don Cossack).
On 25 March 1945, at a congress of the Cossack tribes held in Vienna, the Kalmuck Formation “Dr. Doll” joined the Vlasov Liberation Movement together with the rest of the Cossack Cavalry Corps. At the same time it became part of the VS- KONR: Armed Forces of the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (“Vooruzhennye Sily Komiteta Osvobozhdeniya Narodov Rossii”).
During the withdrawal towards Austria in late April 1945, the Kalmuck Formation splintered into small segments most of which were captured by the Tito partisans. The few Kalmucks who surrendered to the British were later forcibly handed over to the Red Army.
Organization of the Kalmuck Formation “Dr. Doll”
I. Detachment: 1st, 4th, 7th, 8th and 18th Squadrons plus Detachment I Pursuit Squadron (Jagdschwadron der Abt. I).
II. Detachment: 5th, 6th, 12th, 20th and 23rd Squadrons plus Detachment II Pursuit Squadron (Jagdschwadron der Abteilung II).
III. Detachment: 3rd, 14th, 17th, 21st and 25th Squadrons plus Detachment III Pursuit Squadron (Jagdschwadron der Abt. III).
IV. Detachment: 2nd, 13th, 19th, 22nd and 24th Squadrons plus Pursuit Squadron of the Detachment IV. (Jagdschwadron Abt. IV).
Special Squadrons: 9, 10, 11, 15, 16.
October 1942 to July 1944: Sonderführer Othmar Rudolf Werba (“Dr. Doll”)
August 1944 to December 1944: Lt.Col. Pipgorra (code name: “Bergen”)
January 1945 to May 1945: Col. Raimund Hoerst
January 1943: Dordzhi Arbakov
February 1943 to June 1943: Sanchir Konokov
July 1943 to March 1944: Baldan Metabon
May 1944 to July 1944: Mukeben Khakhlyshev
August 1944 to April 1945: Dordzhi Arbakov
Titles of the Unit
Kalmuecken-Verband Dr. Doll (German)
Doktor Dollin Khal’mg Moertatserg (Kalmuck)
Kalmytskiy Kavaleriyskiy Korpus (Russian)
A national armshield was worn on the upper right sleeve and it erroneously bore the title “Kalmueken.”