Formed in 1941 from Volksdeutsche (ethnic German) volunteers and conscripts from the Banat, Independent State of Croatia (NDH), Hungary and Romania, it fought a counter-insurgency campaign against communist-led Yugoslav Partisan resistance forces in the occupied Serbia, NDH and Montenegro.
The 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division "Prinz Eugen" (7. SS-Freiwilligen Gebirgs-Division "Prinz Eugen") was a German mountain infantry division of the Waffen-SS, but was never formally part of the Wehrmacht during World War II in Yugoslavia.
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 of 1716–18. It was initially named the SS-Freiwilligen-Division Prinz Eugen (SS-Volunteer Division Prinz Eugen).
After the invasion, occupation and dismantling of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by the Axis powers on 6 April 1941, the Wehrmacht placed Serbia proper, the northern part of Kosovo (around Kosovska Mitrovica) and the Banat under a military government.
The division was formed in late 1941 following the Invasion of Yugoslavia, initially from German-speaking Danube Swabian Selbstschutz in the Banat, which was an autonomous area within the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia. A key figure in the organisation of the division was the Higher SS and Police Leader in Serbia, SS-Obergruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei (Police General) August Meyszner.
"After the initial rush of Volksdeutsche to join, voluntary enlistments tapered off, and the new formation did not reach division size. Therefore, in August 1941, the SS discarded the voluntary approach, and after a favorable judgement from the SS court in Belgrade, imposed a mandatory military obligation on all Volksdeutsche in Banat, the first of its kind for non-Reich Germans.
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One of the reasons for the forced conscription of ethnic Germans was the disappointingly low amount of volunteers for the division after the initial recruitments (no more than 5000). While the division remained "volunteer" in name, few of the conscripted ethnic Germans actively sought entry into the unit. SS Reichsführer Himmler had announced that the wishes of the Volksdeutsche were irrelevant, while in connection with the Balkan Germans the SS head of recruitment Gottlob Berger remarked: "kein Mensch [kümmert] [sich ja] darum, was wir unten mit unseren Volksdeutschen tun" ("no person cares what we do with our ethnic Germans in the South"). Ethnic Germans in the Balkans were therefore powerless and could not oppose conscription into the SS.
The unwillingness of ethnic Germans to serve in the unit is illustrated by a mutiny of 173 Croatian Germans of the division in 1943 in Bosnia. Apparently the men of mixed ancestry did not speak German and were mistreated by their superiors as a result. Himmler intervened personally in the problem and even ordered any NCO that insulted the mother of the Croatian German troops to be shot on the spot (the insulting of mothers being common in the Balkans).[verification needed] Many of these men preferred service in the Croatian Home Guard for a variety of reasons.
In 1942, the Pančevo-based unit was declared a Mountain Division. They were issued with a significant amount of non-standard German weapons and used captured equipment such as Czech machine guns like the ZB-53 and French light tanks. They were provided with excellent German-made mountain artillery such as the 10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40 howitzer and 7.5 cm Gebirgsgeschütz 36 mountain gun.
When the division was formed, it was assigned to the Balkans as an anti-Partisan mountain division.