Walloon Legion

The Walloon Legion (French: Légion Wallonie) was a collaborationist military formation recruited among French-speaking volunteers from German-occupied Belgium, notably from Brussels and Wallonia, during World War II. Created in July 1941 shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the unit was supported by the Rexist Party as a demonstration of its loyalty towards Nazi Germany. It served on the Eastern Front, initially as a unit of the Wehrmacht and, after June 1943, in the Waffen-SS. Though sustaining heavy casualties, the unit increased from battalion to brigade and eventually division-size before surrendering to the British in April 1945.

Walloon Legion
28. SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division, „Wallonien”
Insignia of the 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonia, created in October 1944
Active1941–1945
Country Belgium
AllegianceNazi Germany Nazi Germany
Branch Wehrmacht (1941-43)
Waffen-SS (1943-45)
TypeBattalion, brigade and later division, though never larger than brigade-strength.
RoleInfantry
Size2,000 (maximum strength)
7,000–8,000 men (total, 1941–1945)
Engagements
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Léon Degrelle

Origins

Rexist Party and collaboration

At the time of the German invasion in May 1940, Belgium had several political parties that were broadly sympathetic to the authoritarian and anti-democratic ideals represented by Nazi Germany. In Wallonia and Brussels, the largest of these groups was the Rexist Party, led by Léon Degrelle. This had originated as a faction of the mainstream Catholic Block, but split in 1935 to form an independent populist party. Ideologically, Rex supported Belgian nationalism, but its support for corporatism and anti-communism made it sympathetic towards aspects of Nazi ideology. It achieved some early success, peaking at the elections of 1936 in which it received 11.5 percent of the national vote, but experienced a decline in the following years before the German invasion and remained marginal.[1]

After the Belgian surrender on 28 May 1940, a German Military Administration was created to govern the occupied territory. Preferring a strategy of indirect rule, the administration preferred to work with established Belgian political and social elites, largely ignoring fringe political groups such as the Rexists.[2]

Creation of the Walloon Legion

You defend Belgium...
Recruitment poster for the Walloon Legion, appealing to Belgian nationalist sentiments. The caption reads "You defend Belgium... by fighting on the Eastern Front".

In order to acquire more influence and German support, Rex attempted to bring itself closer to the occupation authorities. On 1 January 1941, Degrelle announced Rex's total support for the occupation authorities and for the policy of collaborationism. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, it embraced the idea of raising a military unit, seen as "a political opportunity to increase the importance of their movements and eliminate political competition".[3] At the same time, the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV), a Flemish nationalist and rival authoritarian party in Flanders, also announced its intention to form a "Flemish Legion" to fight in the German Army in the Soviet Union. This move, combined with the Germans' favourable stance towards the VNV, meant that it would not be possible to realise Rex's preferred option of a national "Belgian Legion" on the Eastern Front.[4]

In July 1941, Rex announced that it would raise a unit of volunteers of its own, dubbed the Walloon Legion (Légion Wallonie). The unit would form part of the Wehrmacht because Walloons were not considered sufficiently "Germanic" by Nazi racial theorists to enlist in the Waffen-SS.[3] Recruitment initially met with little success, leading Degrelle personally to volunteer for the unit as a private. In total, some 850 men (mostly Rexist cadres) had volunteered by August 1941, bringing the unit up to the strength of an infantry battalion.[5] Officially designated as Infantry Battalion 373 (Infanterie Bataillon 373), it was sent for training in Meseritz, Germany. As part of Degrelle's ideal of an expanded Burgundian-style Belgium, the unit adopted the Burgundian cross as its insignia.

Initially, most of the volunteers came from the cadres of Rex and in particular its paramilitary militia, the Formations de Combat. In propaganda, Rex emphasised the anti-communist nature of the conflict and argued that collaboration was compatible with Belgian nationalism.[6] Initially, the unit encountered various internal problems with some volunteers being unwilling to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler and others being classed as medically unfit: almost a third of the volunteers were repatriated before October 1941.[7] Over the winter of 1941–1942, it participated in training and anti-partisan operations near Donetsk in the Ukraine.[8]

Eastern Front

In the Wehrmacht, 1942–1943

The Walloon Legion fought its first engagement against Soviet forces at Gromowaja-Balka, near Donetsk, on 28 February 1942 as part of the 17th Army. It suffered heavy losses, both from disease and combat, and was reduced to 150 men within its first months.[9] It continued to encounter "enormous losses" throughout 1942.[10] Its record in combat, however, was widely exploited in propaganda and increased Degrelle's legitimacy in the eyes of the German leadership, especially Heinrich Himmler who commanded the SS. In late 1942, Himmler declared the Walloons to be a Germanic race, paving the way for the unit's incorporation into the Waffen-SS on 1 June 1943. The Walloon Legion was re-organised into an SS brigade-sized unit of 2,000 men, known as the SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonia (SS- Sturmbrigade Wallonien).[11]

The high attrition rate within the Walloon Legion required increasing focus on recruitment. A second recruitment drive was started in February 1942, recruiting 450 new volunteers of whom many came from Rex's small youth wing. A third "frantic" campaign in November 1942 raised a further 1,700 men. These recruitment drives weakened many Rexist institutions by diverting manpower away from projects in Belgium. Attempts to recruit from Belgian prisoners of war proved a failure.[12] However, Degrelle became increasingly keen on the political potential of the Walloon Legion which he saw as a more effective political tool than the Rexist Party in Belgium.[10] As the war continued and the pool of Rexist members fell, the volunteers became "largely non-political 'adventurers' or desperate men", often drawn from the urban working class and the unemployed.[13]

In the Waffen-SS, 1943–1945

Léon Degrelle à Charleroi - 02
Léon Degrelle, leader of Rex and member of the Walloon Legion, pictured in Charleroi in April 1944. Degrelle saw the Legion as a political tool to gain German support

In November 1943, the new SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonia was deployed for the first time to the Ukraine in response to the Soviet Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive. There, the brigade fought as part of the SS Wiking Panzer Division in the Korsun–Cherkassy Pocket in February 1944 and suffered 70 percent casualties.[14] Among those killed was the unit's commander Lucien Lippert.[15] A detachment also fought at the Tannenberg Line in Estonia in June 1944, suffering heavy losses. Degrelle, however, was widely celebrated for his role in the battle at Cherkassy and received the Knight's Cross, becoming "the poster boy for all European collaborators" and being featured in Signal magazine.[14] The remnants of the unit returned to Belgium where parades were held in Brussels and Charleroi in April 1944. Ahead of its return, largely to encourage more enlistments, the unit was even loaned armoured vehicles by other German units to make it seem more prestigious.[15]

In the aftermath of the Allied Liberation of Belgium in September 1944, Degrelle managed to get the brigade upgraded to division-status, after drafting Rexist refugees fleeing the Allied advance and Walloon volunteers from the paramilitary National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK). The new 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division "Wallonia" (28. SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division Wallonien) was created in October 1944, but only numbered approximately 4,000 men, making it considerably understrength.[14] French and Spanish soldiers from the Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism (LVF) and Blue Division were folded in increase its numbers.[15] The "division" saw action during Operation Solstice in February 1945 and was forced to retreat through Central Pomerania near Stettin on the Oder river. After mass defections in April the remaining 400 personnel of the unit fled to Lübeck where they surrendered to the British Army.

Altogether, between 7,000 and 8,000 men served in the Walloon Legion between 1941 and 1944, slightly less than the number of Flemish who served in comparable formations. Some 1,337 were killed,[16] representing about a fifth of its total strength.[15] However, its maximum field strength had never exceeded 2,000 men.[15] Fearing execution for treason in Belgium, Degrelle escaped to Denmark and Norway and then fled to Francoist Spain where he remained in exile until his death in 1994.[15]

References

  1. ^ Wouters 2018, p. 261.
  2. ^ Wouters 2018, pp. 262–263.
  3. ^ a b Wouters 2018, p. 266.
  4. ^ Dictionnaire 2008, p. 243.
  5. ^ Wouters 2018, p. 267.
  6. ^ Wouters 2018, pp. 266–268.
  7. ^ Wouters 2018, p. 270.
  8. ^ Dictionnaire 2008, p. 244.
  9. ^ Plisnier 2011, p. 100.
  10. ^ a b Wouters 2018, pp. 271–272.
  11. ^ Wouters 2018, p. 272.
  12. ^ Plisnier 2011, p. 101.
  13. ^ Wouters 2018, p. 286.
  14. ^ a b c Wouters 2018, p. 273.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Dictionnaire 2008, p. 245.
  16. ^ Wouters 2018, p. 274.

Bibliography

  • Plisnier, Flore (2011). Ils ont pris les armes pour Hitler: la collaboration armée en Belgique francophone. Brussels: Renaissance du Livre. ISBN 9782507003616.
  • Wouters, Nico (2018). "Belgium". In Stahel, David (ed.). Joining Hitler's Crusade: European Nations and the Invasion of the Soviet Union, 1941. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 260–287. ISBN 978-1-316-51034-6.
  • Aron, Paul; Gotovitch, José, eds. (2008). "Légion Wallonie". Dictionnaire de la seconde guerre mondiale en Belgique. Brussels: André Versaille. pp. 243–245. ISBN 978-2-87495-001-8.

Further reading

  • Conway, Martin (1993). Collaboration in Belgium: Léon Degrelle and the Rexist movement, 1940-1944. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300055009.
  • De Bruyne, Eddy (1991). Les Wallons meurent à l'est: la Légion Wallonie et Léon Degrelle sur le Front russe, 1941-1945. Paris: Didier Hatier. ISBN 9782870887400.
  • Littlejohn, David (1972). The Patriotic Traitors: A History of Collaboration in German-occupied Europe, 1940-45. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-42725-X.

External links

27th SS Volunteer Division Langemarck

The Flemish Legion (Dutch: Vlaams Legioen) was a collaborationist military formation recruited among Dutch-speaking volunteers from German-occupied Belgium, notably from Flanders. It fought on the Eastern Front during World War II. The Flemish Legion was notionally an independent formation attached to the Waffen SS until May 1943 when it was disbanded and reformed as the SS-Sturmbrigade Langemarck within the Waffen SS itself. It was subsequently reorganised on several occasions and was officially designated as a division in September 1944, though the unit never expanded beyond brigade-strength.

From the outset, the Flemish Legion was closely associated with the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV), a collaborationist and Flemish nationalist political party in Belgium.

Battle of Tannenberg Line

This is a sub-article to Battle of Narva (1944).

The Battle of Tannenberg Line (German: Die Schlacht um die Tannenbergstellung; Russian: Битва за линию «Танненберг») or the Battle of the Blue Hills (Estonian: Sinimägede lahing) was a military engagement between the German Army Detachment Narwa and the Soviet Leningrad Front. They fought for the strategically important Narva Isthmus from 25 July–10 August 1944. The battle was fought on the Eastern Front during World War II. The strategic aim of the Soviet Estonian Operation was to reoccupy Estonia as a favorable base for the invasions of Finland and East Prussia. Waffen-SS forces included 24 volunteer infantry battalions from the SS Division Nordland, the SS Division Langemarck, the SS Division Nederland, the SS Division Nordland, and the Walloon Legion. Roughly half of the infantry consisted of the personnel of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) motivated to regain Estonian independence rather than support Nazi power. The German force of 22,250 men held off 136,830 Soviet troops. As the Soviet forces were constantly reinforced, the casualties were 170,000 dead and wounded, and 157–164 tanks.

Belgium in World War II

Despite being neutral at the start of World War II, Belgium and its colonial possessions found themselves at war after the country was invaded by German forces on 10 May 1940. After 18 days of fighting in which Belgian forces were pushed back into a small pocket in the north-east of the country, the Belgian military surrendered to the Germans, beginning an occupation that would endure until 1944. The surrender of 28 May was ordered by King Leopold III without the consultation of his government and sparked a political crisis after the war. Despite the capitulation, many Belgians managed to escape to the United Kingdom where they formed a government and army-in-exile on the Allied side.

The Belgian Congo remained loyal to the Belgian government in London and contributed significant material and human resources to the Allied cause. Many Belgians were involved in both armed and passive resistance to German forces, although some chose to collaborate with the German forces. Support from far right political factions and sections of the Belgian population allowed the German army to recruit two divisions of the Waffen-SS from Belgium and also facilitated the Nazi persecution of Belgian Jews in which nearly 25,000 were killed.

Most of the country was liberated by the Allies between September and October 1944, though areas to the far east of the country remained occupied until early 1945. In total, approximately 88,000 Belgians died during the conflict, a figure representing 1.05 percent of the country's pre-war population, and around 8 percent of the country's GDP was destroyed.

Collaboration with the Axis Powers

Within nations occupied by the Axis powers in World War II, some citizens and organizations, prompted by nationalism, ethnic hatred, anti-communism, antisemitism, opportunism, self-defense, or often a combination, knowingly collaborated with the Axis Powers. Some of these collaborators committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, or atrocities of the Holocaust.Collaboration has been defined as cooperation between elements of the population of a defeated state and representatives of a victorious power. Stanley Hoffmann subdivided collaboration into involuntary (reluctant recognition of necessity) and voluntary (exploitation of necessity). According to Hoffmann, collaborationism can be subdivided into "servile" and "ideological"; the former is deliberate service to an enemy, whereas the latter is deliberate advocacy of cooperation with a foreign force which is seen as a champion of desirable domestic transformations. In contrast, Bertram Gordon uses the terms "collaborator" and "collaborationist", respectively, in reference to non-ideological and ideological collaborations.The term "collaborator" has also been applied to persons, organizations, or countries that were not under occupation by the Axis Powers but that ideologically, financially, or militarily, before or during World War II, supported Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, or World War II-era Imperial Japan.

Cross of Burgundy

The Cross of Burgundy (Spanish: Cruz de Borgoña; Aspa de Borgoña) or the Cross of Saint Andrew (Spanish: Cruz de San Andrés), a saw-toothed (raguly) form of St. Andrew's cross, was first used in the 15th century as an emblem by the Valois Dukes of Burgundy, who ruled a large part of eastern France and the Low Countries as effectively an independent state. The Duchy of Burgundy was inherited by the House of Habsburg on the extinction of the Valois ducal line. The emblem was then assumed by the monarchs of Spain as a result of the Habsburgs bringing together, in the early 16th century, their Burgundian inheritance with the other extensive possessions they inherited throughout Europe and the Americas, including the crowns of Castile and Aragon, where the cross got a global impact, being found nowadays in different continents.

The Spanish monarchs continued to use it in their own arms after the Burgundian house was part of the Spanish Crown, and even after due to the extinction of the House of Burgundy. From 1506 to 1701 it was used by Spain as a naval ensign, and up to 1843 as the land battle flag, and still appears on regimental colours, badges, shoulder patches and company guidons. The emblem also continues to be used in a variety of contexts in a number of European countries and in the Americas, reflecting both the extent of Valois Burgundy and the former Habsburg territories.

German occupation of Belgium during World War II

The German occupation of Belgium (French: Occupation allemande, Dutch: Duitse bezetting) during World War II began on 28 May 1940 when the Belgian army surrendered to German forces and lasted until Belgium's liberation by the Western Allies between September 1944 and February 1945. It was the second time that Germany had occupied Belgium in under thirty years.

After the success of the invasion, a military administration was established in Belgium, bringing the territory under the direct rule of the Wehrmacht. Thousands of Belgian soldiers were taken as prisoners of war, and many were not released until 1945. The German administration juggled competing objectives of maintaining order while extracting material from the territory for the war effort. They were assisted by the Belgian civil service, which believed that limited co-operation with the occupiers would result in the least damage to Belgian interests. Belgian Fascist parties in both Flanders and Wallonia, established before the war, collaborated much more actively with the occupiers; they helped recruit Belgians for the German army and were given more power themselves toward the end of the occupation. Food and fuel were tightly rationed, and all official news was closely censored. Belgian civilians living near possible targets such as railway junctions were in danger of Allied aerial bombing.

From 1942, the occupation became more repressive. Jews suffered systematic persecution and deportation to concentration camps, as measures were taken against potential political opposition. Despite vigorous protest, the Germans deported Belgian civilians to work in factories in Germany. Meanwhile, the Belgian Resistance, formed in late 1940, expanded vastly. From 1944, the SS and Nazi Party gained much greater control in Belgium, particularly after the military government was replaced in July by a Nazi civil administration, the Reichskommissariat Belgien-Nordfrankreich. In September 1944, Allied forces arrived in Belgium and quickly moved across the country. That December, the territory was incorporated de jure into the Greater German Reich although its collaborationist leaders were already in exile in Germany and German control in the region was virtually non-existent. Belgium was declared fully liberated in February 1945. In total, 40,690 Belgians, over half of them Jews, were killed during the occupation and the country's pre-war gross domestic product (GDP) was reduced by eight percent.

Hergé

Georges Prosper Remi (French: [ʁəmi]; 22 May 1907 – 3 March 1983), known by the pen name Hergé (; French: [ɛʁʒe]), was a Belgian cartoonist. He is best known for creating The Adventures of Tintin, the series of comic albums which are considered one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century. He was also responsible for two other well-known series, Quick & Flupke (1930–40) and The Adventures of Jo, Zette and Jocko (1936–57). His works were executed in his distinct ligne claire drawing style.

Born to a lower middle-class family in Etterbeek, Brussels, Hergé began his career by contributing illustrations to Scouting magazines, developing his first comic series, The Adventures of Totor, for Le Boy-Scout Belge in 1926. Working for the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, he created The Adventures of Tintin in 1929 on the advice of its editor Norbert Wallez. Revolving around the actions of boy reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy, the series' early installments – Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Tintin in the Congo, and Tintin in America – were designed as conservative propaganda for children. Domestically successful, after serialisation the stories were published in book form, with Hergé continuing the series and also developing both the Quick & Flupke and Jo, Zette and Jocko series for Le Vingtième Siècle. Influenced by his friend Zhang Chongren, from 1934 Hergé placed far greater emphasis on conducting background research for his stories, resulting in increased realism from The Blue Lotus onward. Following the German occupation of Belgium in 1940, Le Vingtième Siècle was closed but Hergé continued his series in Le Soir, a popular newspaper controlled by the Nazi administration.

After the Allied liberation of Belgium in 1944, Le Soir was shut down and its staff – including Hergé – accused of having been collaborators. An official investigation was launched, and while no charges were brought against Hergé, in subsequent years he repeatedly faced accusations of having been a traitor and collaborator. With Raymond Leblanc he established Tintin magazine in 1946, through which he serialised new Adventures of Tintin stories. As the magazine's artistic director, he also oversaw the publication of other successful comics series, such as Edgar P. Jacobs' Blake and Mortimer. In 1950 he established Studios Hergé as a team to aid him in his ongoing projects; prominent staff members Jacques Martin and Bob de Moor greatly contributed to subsequent volumes of The Adventures of Tintin. Amid personal turmoil following the collapse of his first marriage, he produced Tintin in Tibet, his personal favourite of his works. In later years he became less prolific, and unsuccessfully attempted to establish himself as an abstract artist.

Hergé's works have been widely acclaimed for their clarity of draughtsmanship and meticulous, well-researched plots. They have been the source of a wide range of adaptations, in theatre, radio, television, cinema, and computer gaming. He remains a strong influence on the comic book medium, particularly in Europe. Widely celebrated in Belgium, a Hergé Museum was established in Louvain-la-Neuve in 2009.

Léon Degrelle

Léon Joseph Marie Ignace Degrelle (French: [dəgʁɛl]; 15 June 1906 – 31 March 1994) was a Belgian politician and Nazi collaborator. Degrelle rose to prominence in the 1930s as the leader of the Catholic authoritarian Rexist Party in Belgium. During the German occupation in World War II, he enlisted in the German army and fought in the Walloon Legion on the Eastern Front. After the collapse of the Nazi regime, Degrelle went into exile in Francoist Spain where he remained a prominent figure in neo-Nazi politics.

Rexist Party

The Rexist Party (French: Parti Rexiste), or simply Rex, was a far-right Catholic, nationalist, authoritarian and corporatist political party active in Belgium from 1935 until 1945. The party was founded by a journalist, Léon Degrelle, and, unlike other fascist parties in the Belgium of the time, advocated Belgian unitarism and royalism. Initially the party ran in both Flanders and Wallonia but never achieved much success outside Wallonia and Brussels. Its name was derived from the Roman Catholic journal and publishing company Christus Rex (Latin for Christ the King).

The highest point that the Rexist party had achieved was its success on sending 21 out of 202 deputies (with 11.4% of the vote) and twelve senators in the 1936 election. Never a mass movement, it was on the decline by 1938. During the German occupation of Belgium in World War II, Rex was the largest collaborationist group in French-speaking Belgium, paralleled by the Vlaams Nationaal Verbond (VNV) in Flanders. By the end of the war Rex was widely discredited, and was banned following the liberation.

Initially modelled on Italian Fascism and Spanish Falangism, it later drew closer to German Nazism. The Party espoused a "right-wing revolution" and the dominance of the Catholic Church in Belgium, but its ideology came to be vigorously opposed by the leader of the Belgian Church Cardinal van Roey, who called Rexism a "danger to the church and to the country".

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