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Arab Legionnaires in the Wehrmacht

Arab Legionnaires in the Wehrmacht

After the failed mass uprising in Iraq in the summer of 1941, Iraqi leader Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and Grand Mufti Haj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini fled to Berlin. With the help of these figures, the III Reich established close contacts in the countries of the Arab East with the leaders of many governments and the heads of the Muslim clergy, using their anti-British sentiments.

On November 28, 1941, a meeting took place in Berlin between Hitler and the Grand Mufti. In an effort to achieve independence from Hitler to the Arab countries, the Mufti proposed to form an Arab legion and include it in the Wehrmacht for a joint struggle against England. In early December 1941, Al-Gaylani met with von Ribbentrop, who on December 22 assured him of his readiness to begin discussing the terms of future cooperation between Iraq and Germany.

Soon, in accordance with Directive No. 30, it was decided to create an Arab legion consisting of 3 Iraqi, 1 Syrian and 1 Palestinian-Transjordanian divisions. To do this, at the beginning of 1942, an Arab committee was created at the German Foreign Ministry under the Special Headquarters “F”, headed by Fritz Grobba.

Also, immediately after the unsuccessful uprising in the Middle East, many Arabs were taken to Europe to Cape Sounion in Greece, where they were also united under the Special Headquarters "F". At the beginning of June 1941, two small special purpose military units "287" and "288" were created from them in Potsdam.

Special Purpose Unit 288 was transferred to North Africa in August 1942 to reinforce Rommel's Afrika Korps. Unofficially, this battalion was called the Volunteer Arab Corps.

In turn, the Special Purpose Unit 287 was supposed to become a striking force in the capture of the Middle East, for this reason it was primarily oriented for use in combat operations in the Syrian desert and Iraq.

However, in all projects with Germany, not a word was said about the leading role of Arab leaders, so the Mufti went to Rome, where on May 7, 1942 he met with Mussolini, but he was not successful there either. As a result, having received no real support in his quest for leadership in the Arab world, the Grand Mufti stopped recruiting Arabs for the Axis since the summer of 1942.

Grand Mufti al-Husseini with Adolf Hitler
Grand Mufti Haj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini with Adolf Hitler

In the middle of 1942, the Special Purpose Unit 287, immediately after the 288, was redeployed to North Africa, where it underwent special combat training for several months. Later, at the end of 1942, the Special Headquarters "F" began to transform on the basis of the Special Purpose Unit 287 into the Special Purpose Corps "F", after which the corps, consisting of 6,000 people, was transferred to the reserve headquarters of Army Group "A", advancing on the Caucasus in Stalino (today Donetsk).

The transfer of the Special Corps "F" and its combat units instead of the Middle East to the Caucasus, where it was involved in a positional war, instead of its direct duties, displeased the Grand Mufti al-Husseini. As early as August 29, 1942, he wrote a letter to Field Marshal Keitel, in which he very sharply objected to such a decision. Al-Gaylani, on the contrary, decided to go with the Germans to the end. Expressing the wish for further cooperation, he set only one condition: the granting of independence immediately after the entry of the Wehrmacht into Iraq. As a result of this, a big conflict broke out between al-Gaylani and the mufti.

Rashid Ali al-Gaylani with Adolf Hitler
Rashid Ali al-Gaylani with Adolf Hitler

On October 15, 1942, the corps under the command of General Felmi first entered the battle on the northern flank of the 1st Tank Army and entered into combat contact with the Russians to the north of Achikulak. Special Corps "F" suffered catastrophic losses. This event aggravated al-Gaylani's conflict with the mufti. At the end of October 1942, the mufti moved from Germany to Bosnia, where he offered the Croatian government his help in recruiting local Muslims to fight the partisans. For this, the Yugoslav government in 1945 declared him a war criminal and sentenced him in absentia to death by hanging, which he eventually avoided.

In January 1943, the corps, despite being reinforced with tank, motorized and cavalry units and subunits from the 1st Tank Army, was defeated by the Soviet troops. At the end of the month, the remnants of the corps were again reorganized and in February the corps was transferred to Tunisia, due to the need to strengthen the Italo-German grouping in North Africa. It was replenished with Arab volunteers and a number of separate formations from the Arabs of Iraq, Syria, Transjordan and Libya.

In addition to the Special Corps "F", in Tunisia there were already a Special Purpose Unit 288 and other Arab formations, such as the Free Arab Legion, which was formed on January 9, 1943 and consisted of 1 Moroccan, 1 Algerian and 2 Tunisian battalions, reinforced German staff. To protect Tunisia, the German command decided to unite all the Arab units mentioned above. Thus, a large formation of 5 battalions was created under the command of the headquarters of the 5th Panzer Army, known as the German-Arab Division.

In Tunisia, the Arabs preferred not to advance to the front line, after the death of their commander, Colonel Mayer Rico, since the morale of the Arabs fell sharply. Finally, on May 13, 1943, all these formations capitulated at Cape Bon with all the remnants of the Axis troops. As a result, it is obvious that the military value of the Arab formations in the Second World War was practically equal to zero.

On June 5, 1943, in Greece, on the basis of the Special Purpose Unit 288, the 3rd Arab сompany was formed, together with the German staff, called the 845th German-Arab Infantry Battalion. This was the last formation of the Wehrmacht, which included the Arabs.

Grand Mufti Haj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini and Arabs in Wehrmacht



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