Role Mountain warfare
|Country Nazi Germany|
The 1st Mountain Division (German: 1. Gebirgs Division) was an elite formation of the German Wehrmacht during World War II, and is remembered for its involvement in multiple large scale war crimes. It was created on 9 April 1938 in Garmisch Partenkirchen from the Mountain Brigade (German: Gebirgs Brigade) which was itself formed on 1 June 1935. The division consisted mainly of Bavarians and some Austrians.
Poland and France
The 1st Mountain Division fought in the Invasion of Poland as a part of Army Group South and distinguished itself during fighting in the Carpathians and at Lwów.
It subsequently took part in the Battle of France and was selected to take part in the planned operations against the United Kingdom (Operation Sea Lion) and Gibraltar (Operation Felix) but both operations were cancelled. With Felix cancelled, the division took part in the Invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941 as part of the 2nd Army.
Eastern Front and Balkans
The 1st Mountain Division participated in Operation Barbarossa, (the invasion of the Soviet Union). On 30 June, the division captured Lvov. There, the Germans discovered several thousand bodies of prisoners who had been executed by the NKVD, as they could not be evacuated. As the news spread, a large-scale anti-Jewish pogrom broke out, in which the town's Ukrainian population participated, stirred up in part by the German and Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) posters and proclamations calling for revenge against the "Jewish Bolshevik murders".
The 1st Mountain Division continued its advance into the Soviet Union, participating in the breakthrough of the Stalin Line and the advance to the Dniepr and Mius rivers. In May 1942, the division fought in the Second Battle of Kharkov and then participated in the offensive through southern Russia and into the Caucasus (Operation Edelweiss).
In a symbolic propaganda move, the division sent a detachment to raise the German flag on Mount Elbrus on 21 August. Although the feat was widely publicized by Goebbels, Hitler was furious at this. After the Caucasus campaign the division was posted to Yugoslavia, where it participated in the anti-Partisan offensive named Case Black, and later Greece where it took part in anti- partisan operations. In November 1943, the division returned to Yugoslavia, where it took part in operations Operation Kugelblitz, Schneesturm and Waldrausch. In March 1944, the division was engaged in the Operation Margarethe (German occupation of Hungary). After the operation Rübezahl in Yugoslavia in August 1944, the division took part in defensive fighting against Red Army in Belgrade Offensive, and suffered severe losses. During the operation, the division commander, general Stettner, was killed in the battle on 17 October on Avala mountain near Belgrade. In late November, it was transferred in Baranja, to the most endangered spot of the German defense.
It was renamed 1. Volks-Gebirgs-Division in March 1945. Its final major operations were near Lake Balaton (Operation Spring Awakening) against the 3rd Ukrainian Front. Two months later the shattered division surrendered to the Americans in Austria.
During the Invasion of Poland, soldiers from the division assisted in the round-up of Jewish civilians from Przemyśl for forced labour. This event was documented in the divisional photographic album. Picture captions demonstrate strong anti-semitism by the authors. Photos 7 and 8 themselves.
During the Case Black operation in Yugoslavia, the division committed crimes against the prisoners of war and against civilian population, together with the other units participating in the operation. In the after battle report on 10 July, the division reported that it took 498 prisoners, 411 of whom were shot.
On 6 July 1943 a unit from the division attacked the village of Borovë in Albania. All of the village houses and buildings were completely burned or otherwise destroyed. During the massacre, 107 inhabitants were killed including 5 entire families. The youngest victim was an infant of only 4 months, the oldest a woman of 73. On 25 July 1943, soldiers from the division attacked the village of Mousiotitsa in Greece following the discovery of a cache of weapons nearby, killing 153 civilians. On 16 August 1943, the village of Kommeno was attacked on the orders of Oberstleutnant Josef Salminger, the commander of GebirgsJäger Regiment 98; a total of 317 civilians were killed. Elements from the division took part in the murder of thousands of Italians from the 33 Acqui Infantry Division in September 1943 on the Greek island of Cefalonia following the Italian surrender. Soldiers from the division took part in the murder of 32 officers and an estimated 100 soldiers from the Italian 151st Perugia Infantry Division in Albania after the Italian surrender.
Following the killing of Oberstleutnant Josef Salminger by Greek partisans, the commander of XXII Gebirgs-Armeekorps General der Gebirgstruppe Hubert Lanz issued an order of the day on 1 October 1943 calling for a “ruthless retaliatory action” in a 20 km area around the place where Salminger had been attacked. In the village of Ligiades, 92 of its 96 residents were executed.
The Division's war crimes are described in H. F. Meyer's book Bloodstained Edelweiss: The 1st Mountain Division in the Second World War.