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.
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). 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.
In October 1942, the division led a German-Bulgarian anti-guerrilla offensive against the Chetniks in the Kopaonik, Goč and Jastrebac mountains of the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia. The operation was aimed at the destruction of the Rasina Corps of the Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland, commanded by Major Dragutin Keserović, whose headquarters was located in the village of Kriva Reka. Germans and Bulgarians cleared the Chetnik free territory and in the process committed war crimes against the Serbian civilian population. The Chetniks successfully withdrew from the German-Bulgarian ring to territory that was beyond the reach of the occupation forces.
Keserović and his troops had been participating in military operations against the Bulgarians and Germans for the previous year. The Chetniks were a threat to the Germans because they were able to break the German road communications and interfere with the movement of war materiel intended for Rommel's forces on the African front—through the Morava−Vardar valley. Losses were inflicted on Keserovićev's detachments and the local population by the constantly pursuing enemy forces. The Germans, worried about a potential attack on the Trepča mine near Kosovska Mitrovica, from which they pulled significant amounts of lead and zinc, decided in the spring of 1942 to launch an attack involving some 20,000 soldiers.
In early October 1942 the division was deployed in southwestern Serbia, in Kraljevo, Užice, Ivanjica, Čačak, Raška, Kosovska Mitrovica, and Novi Pazar. Elements of the 9th Bulgarian Infantry Division were also assigned to the attack. The Rasina Corps at that time had about 1,500 fighters under arms.
On 5 October 1942 Phleps ordered the German and Bulgarian forces to destroy the Chetnik forces. A comprehensive attack was planned: 20,000 well-armed and fully trained German troops would encircle the Serbians from four directions using a precisely defined plan of fire. Because of the perceived importance of this operation and to observe the first military operations of the newly established SS Division, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler travelled to Kraljevo in the German occupation zone. Himmler was in Kraljevo from 15 to 18 October 1942 and toured the division.
German and Bulgarian forces began their attack on the Chetnik territory at dawn on 12 October 1942. As planned, the attack proceeded from four directions. German combat group "North" marched to the top of Željin, and a secondary group to the top of Kavalj. Combat group "South" conducted a comprehensive movement in the area around Gobelja, located 17 km northwest of Raška. Combat group "West" concentrated its forces in the valley 5 km from Banje. Combat group "East" took a position west of Brus. Germans and Bulgarians made a ring around the Chetnik territory and forced the peasants into hiding.
German combat groups "North", "West", and "South" proceeded along a front through the Chetnik territory in the direction of combat group "East", which was assigned the role of forming a wall to stop the Chetniks. However, Keserović had intelligence about the preparations and the movement of large German forces for an attack, and did not consider it useful to meet the German and Bulgarian forces on a wide front. He ordered his units to regroup into smaller squads for easy maneuvering and penetration. His tactic meant the Chetnik Rasina Corps was able to escape from the ring of enemy soldiers. The Germans and Bulgarians committed reprisals against the civilian population and burned several villages. The village of Kriva Reka, the location of Keserović's headquarters, suffered the most: 120 civilians were locked in the village church and burned to death by members of the 7th SS Division. In other villages in Kopaonik 300 civilians were killed; in the villages on Mount Goč 250 civilians were executed. The Germans killed a total of 670 civilians during this operation.
The division's next action was in the Serbian-Montenegro border in the mountains east of the Ibar River and afterwards it took part in the Fourth anti-Partisan Offensive in the Zagreb-Karlovac area, where together with Italian forces attempted to defeat the Partisans commanded by Josip Broz Tito, the operation failed and most of the Partisans managed to evade the main attack.
In Operation Weiss I, the Division advanced from Karlovac area against NOVJ units resistance and on January 29 captured informal partisan capital Bihać. In Operation Weiss II it forced its way from western Bosnia to Mostar area in Hercegovina and also deployed units northwest of Sarajevo.
In May the Division took part in operation against Chetniks. The Operation was successful and Draža Mihailović was forced to retreat to Serbia with his headquarters.
From 15 May – 15 June, the division took a part in the Fifth anti-Partisan Offensive (Operation Schwartz) aiming to pin Tito's main force of about 20,000 Partisans against the Zelengora mountain, in southeastern Bosnia. During the battle, the division received a task to move through the Italian zone in order to block the possible advance of Partisans towards the Adriatic sea and Albania, to close the south-east part of the encirclement and then advance north over mountainous terrain to crush the Partisan forces. In 11-day fightings from May 20 division captured Šavnik. For this success major (Sturmbannführer) Dietsche as well as commander Phleps received first two Knight's Crosses for the division.
In the following days the focal point of the battle shifted westward. After the main group of the Partisans headed by 1st Proletarian Division broke out of the encirclement, two battalions of the division that were moved to cover the left bank of the Sutjeska river and block the Partisan's escape route were surprised by the attack of three battalions of 1st Dalmatian and one from 5th Montenegro Brigade at Tjentište pushing them back. They recovered their positions during a night battle and decimated most Partisan units. In the operation Schwartz the division suffered total losses of 613 men.
In August 1943, the division became a part of the XV Mountain Corps and was sent to the Dalmatian coast, to disarm the Italian forces in September 1943 after the Italian Government had surrendered to the Allies. In exploiting Italian capitulation, NOVJ succeeded in seizing control of the most part of the Dalmatian coast. In sixteen-days long battle the division, together with 92nd Motorized Regiment, pushed back NOVJ units and on September 29 reoccupied Split. In October, division participated in Operation Landsturm, another anti-Partisan operation in Omiš, Ploče and Biokovo. In battles for Split and Biokovo coastline, division suffered losses of 1582 killed, wounded and missing in action.
The division was reorganized on 22 October 1943 and was renamed the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen. In November, the unit was attached to the V SS Mountain Corps and took part in anti-Partisan Operations Kugelblitz and Schneesturm in December 1943.
In January 1944 the division was involved in more anti-Partisan actions in operation Waldrausch. In May division took part in Seventh anti-Partisan Offensive (Operation Rösselsprung) which began on 25 May 1944. This operation had the task of killing or capturing Tito, and the operation was spearheaded by the 500th SS Fallschirmjäger-Bataillon and supported by the Brandenburg Regiment.
In May June and July, the division also saw action in operations Freie Jagd, Rose and Feuerwehr. In August (12–30 August) the division was engaged in operation Rübezahl, aimed to prevent offensive of NOVJ forces from Montenegro into western Serbia. In September, the Soviet Red Army had advanced to the Balkans and the division suffered heavy casualties in defensive battles against Bulgarian, Soviet and NOVJ forces in the Nish region.
On 21 September, Obergruppenführer Artur Phleps—the division's first commander—was believed to have been killed when en route from Montenegro to Transylvania.
The division's next action was the defence of the Kraljevo Bridgehead (Brückenkopf Kraljevo) as the part of Army Corps Müller. This defence was essential for the success of Army Group E efforts to open a corridor which would allow the retreat of 350,000 German soldiers from Greece and the Aegean.
In the beginning of November, the SS 1st Albanian Skanderbeg Division was disbanded and its remnants incorporated into the 14th Regiment of Prinz Eugen, which received its honor title Skanderbeg.
In January 1945, the division was again in action against the Yugoslav army at Otok and Vukovar. In February it took part in Operation Wehrwolf against Yugoslav bridgehead in the Virovitica area.
The retreat from Bosnia continued and Prinz Eugen retreated through the NDH in April 1945. On 10 May, the division retreated towards Celje in Slovenia where it surrendered to Yugoslav forces on 11 May.
Researchers of the Institute of History in Karlovac established a number of 276 civilian inhabitants of Karlovac area, killed by 7. SS Division during Operation Weiss I in January 1943. In February, the division conducted, together with 369th and 717th division, an assault on Grmeč. Some 15.000 of civilian inhabitants, frightened and unwilling to wait for Germans, broke through the German lines together with Partisans, but those who left behind were destroyed mercilessly. Another drama of an attack on a refugee column happened on late February near Resanovci, during the Operation Weiss II, and resulted with hundreds of victims. According to official postwar investigation, the three German divisions were responsible for 3,370 killed civilians, and another 1,722 deported to concentration camps during the Operation Weiss.
The division is infamous for its cruelty and massive atrocities committed in the area of Nikšić in Montenegro:
In late May and early June 1943, during the Operation Schwartz, the division killed large number of civilians and prisoners of war. In villages Dub, Bukovac, Miljkovac, Duba and Rudinci, in Piva area, all captured inhabitants were killed, regardless of age or sex. Total number of victims from these villages is around 400.
On 12 July 1943. in Muslim village Rotimlja near Stolac 7th SS Division killed 66 civilians, 25 of which were younger than 15. On the same day, other units of the division killed 68 civilians, 36 younger than 15, in Muslim village Košutica near Sokolac.
During its advancement towards Split, on 17–30 September 1943, the division killed 230 inhabitants of the villages in Imotski, Sinj and Split area. After capturing Split, the division executed 48 Italian officers, 3 generals included (General Raffaele Peligra, commander of the artillery of the XVIII Corps, General Poticardi, commander of the pioneers of the XVIII Corps, and General Alfonso Cigala Fulgosi, Commander of the 17th Littoral Brigade). On 5 November, the division executed 25 hostages in Sinj in a retribution for losses.
2nd Battalion of the 14th SS Regiment of the division killed 1,525 civilians on 26–30 March 1944, in the villages between Kamešnica and Mosor near Split, in an action under command of V SS Corps.
Out of the four commanders of the division, one (Phleps) was killed in battle, two of them were sentenced to death by hanging and executed in Belgrade 1947, and the fourth (Kumm) managed to avoid extradition to Yugoslavia by fleeing over the wall of the internment camp of Dachau.
The following officers commanded the division:SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Artur Phleps (30 Jan 1942 – 15 May 1943)
SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Karl Reichsritter von Oberkamp (15 May 1943 – 30 Jan 1944)
SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Otto Kumm (30 Jan 1944 – 20 Jan 1945)
SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS August Schmidthuber (20 Jan 1945 – 8 May 1945)
Several members were decorated with high German military awards, including one Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oaks Leaves and Swords awarded to SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Otto Kumm when he was the divisional commander. Divisional recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross included the first commander of the division, Artur Phleps and five others, all regimental or battalion commanders. One was awarded posthumously.Division Staff
SS-Volunteer Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 13
SS-Volunteer Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 14 "Skanderberg"
SS-Volunteer Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 7
SS-Volunteer Gebirgs Reconnaissance Battalion (mot) 7
SS-Panzer Battalion 7
SS-Panzerjäger Battalion 7
SS-Gebirgs-Flak Battalion 7
SS-Cavalry Battalion 7
SS-Gebirgs-Signals Battalion 7
SS-Gebirgs-Reserve Battalion 7
SS-Medical Battalion 7
SS-Volunteer Gebirgs Veterinary Company 7
SS-Volunteer Gebirgs War Reporter platoon 7
SS-Divisions Versorgungs Truppen 7
SS-Volunteer-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 13 Artur Phleps
SS-Volunteer Gebrigsjäger-Regiment 14 Skanderbeg
SS-Volunteer Gebrigs Artillery Regiment 7
SS-Volunteer Gebirgs-Reconnaissance Battalion (mot) 7
SS-Gebirgs-Panzerjäger Battalion 7
SS-Sturmgeschutz Battalion 7
SS-Flak Battalion 7
SS-Radfahr-Reconnaissance Battalion 7
SS-Cavalry Battalion 7
SS-Motorcycle Battalion 7
SS-Gebirgs-Signals Battalion 7
SS-Reserve Battalion 7
SS-Medical Battalion 7
SS-Volunteer Gebirgs Veterinary Company 7
SS-Volunteer Gebirgs War Reporter Platoon 7
SS-Reserve Battalion 7
SS-Freiwilligen-Division Prinz Eugen
SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division Prinz Eugen
7.SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division Prinz Eugen