Ustashe Militia

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Ustaše Militia
Ustaška vojnica
Ustaše symbol.svg
Badge of the Ustaše Militia
Active11 April 1941 – January 1945
Country Independent State of Croatia
AllegianceAnte Pavelić
BranchLand forces
Typevolunteer party militia
Roleanti-Partisan operations and operation of concentration camps, mostly under German command
Sizeapproximately 76,000 in December 1944
Jure Francetić
Rafael Boban
Vjekoslav Luburić

The Ustaše militia (Croatian: Ustaška vojnica) was the military branch of the Ustaše, established by the fascist regime of Ante Pavelić in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), an Axis puppet state in Yugoslavia during World War II.

The militia went through a series of re-organisations during its existence, expanding to include all armed elements of the NDH government outside of the Croatian Home Guard, Navy, and Air Force. It amalgamated with the Home Guard in December 1944 and January 1945 to form the Croatian Armed Forces (Hrvatske oružane snage, HOS), although the amalgamation did not result in a homogeneous organisation; former Ustaše militia officers dominated HOS's operations and held most command positions.

The Ustaše militia committed some of the worst atrocities of World War II, including playing a key role in the establishment and operation of about 20 concentration camps in the NDH. Its units included the Black Legion (Crna Legija), commanded by Jure Francetić and Rafael Boban, and the Ustaše Defence Brigades, commanded by Vjekoslav Luburić.

Formation and organisational changes[edit]

The Ustaše militia was created on 11 April 1941 when Marshal Slavko Kvaternik appointed a separate staff to control the various volunteer armed groups that had risen spontaneously throughout the NDH as the Yugoslav Army collapsed in the face of the Axis invasion. On 10 May 1941, Ante Pavelić issued a special order which detailed its formal organisation.[1][2] However, some of the groups that formed early were irregular or "wild" Ustaše units that were not included in the formal organisation, which initially numbered 4,500. The number of irregular Ustaše across the NDH was reportedly as high as 25,000–30,000.[3] Both formal and irregular units were soon involved in atrocities against Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and all alleged and actual opponents of the Ustaše regime.[4]

The militia consisted mostly of volunteers, and only 25% of the officer corps were professionally trained. Members were indoctrinated in Ustaše ideology and committed to defending Pavelić and the Ustaše regime. Whilst Pavelić was its titular commander-in-chief, he exercised no practical control over its military operations, as Ustaše formations and units in the field were placed under command of Home Guard or Axis forces.[2]

The militia included a significant number of Muslims, although their numbers fell after mid-1943, and there were no Muslim militia leaders and few promoted to higher ranks.[5] It also included the small Volksdeutsche militia (German: Einsatzstaffel der Deutschen Mannschaft), which was created in July 1941 and grew to 1,500 regular and 1,200 reserve troops by June 1942. The main task of the Einsatzstaffel was to protect German communities in Yugoslavia, mainly in Slavonia and Syrmia.[6]

In August 1941, the Ustaše Surveillance Service (Ustaška nadzorna služba) was created to combat anti-Ustaše activities throughout the NDH. The Surveillance Service consisted of four elements: the Ustaše Police, Ustaše Intelligence Service, Ustaše Defence Brigades, and Personnel. The head of the Surveillance Service was appointed by and directly accountable to Pavelić.[4]

The lawless behaviour of the Ustaše in general attracted some criminal elements to the militia. This was even recognised by Pavelić, although he used these elements as a convenient scapegoat for actions committed by the core of the Ustaše movement.[7]

Formation of special units[edit]

In late 1941, an Ustaše militia unit known as the Black Legion was formed mostly from Muslim and Croatian refugees from villages in eastern Bosnia, where the Chetniks and Partisans had already committed large-scale massacres. The Legion, which had a strength of between 1,000 and 1,500 men, created a fierce reputation in fighting against both Chetniks and Partisans, and was also responsible for large-scale massacres of Serb civilians. It was initially commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Jure Francetić, and later, after Francetić was killed by the Partisans in December 1942, by Major Rafael Boban. It became part of the HOS 5th Division in December 1944, with Boban promoted to general to command the division.[8]

The other special force was the Ustaše Defence Brigades, commanded by Vjekoslav Luburić, who quickly gained a reputation for extreme brutality. The Brigades ran the string of concentration camps established by the Ustaše regime. Like the Legion, they also fought the Chetniks and Partisans, and were responsible for large-scale atrocities against the Serb population.[8]

1942 reorganisation[edit]

Soldiers of the Ustaše militia from Tomislavgrad.

On 18 March 1942, a law decree organised the armed forces into the Home Guard, Navy, and Air Force; the gendarmerie; and the Ustaše militia.[9] By special decree on 26 June 1942, the gendarmerie, which had previously been part of the Home Guard, became part of the Ustaše militia and was placed under the command of a young Ustaše colonel, Vilko Pečnikar.[9] In July and August 1942, the militia took control of all armed forces of the NDH other than the Home Guard, Navy, and Air Force.

It then consisted of the regular militia, Pavelić's personal guard, the railroad security troops, the gendarmerie, the regular police, the Ustaše Surveillance Service, the Ustaše educational establishment, the Ustaše preparatory service, and the disciplinary court.[2] The Ustaše Surveillance Service included the Ustaše Defence Brigades, which had been established in late 1941.

Following the dismissal of Marshal Kvaternik from his positions of Minister of the Army and commander-in-chief in October 1942, relations between the Ustaše militia and the Croatian Home Guard deteriorated further, to the detriment of the Home Guard.[10]


In May 1943, the militia included about 30 regular battalions of varying strength. Twelve were deployed in the Italian zones of occupation, primarily in Zone III, while the remainder worked with the Home Guard light infantry and mountain brigades and the German-Croatian SS police.[2] This pattern of deployment applied until the amalgamation of the Home Guard and militia in December 1944.

In June 1943, the Ustaše Surveillance Service was abolished, and its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Interior. However, the Ustaše Defence Brigades under Luburić continued to operate independently.[8] By September 1943, shortly after the Italian surrender, the Ustaše militia included 25 battalions (22,500 men), plus Pavelić's personal guard of about 6,000 men, the gendarmerie of about 18,000 men, and many smaller armed groups.[11]

In October 1943, the German commander-in-chief in southeastern Europe, Generalfeldmarschall Maximilian von Weichs, made a proposal to the Wehrmacht operations staff which included the merging of the Ustaše militia into the Croatian Home Guard. The proposal effectively recommended removing the Ustaše from power as part of sweeping changes to the administration of the NDH. Although Hitler considered the proposal, he decided not to proceed with it due mainly to the additional German troops that would have been required to implement it.[12]

Amalgamation with Croatian Home Guard[edit]

On 1 December 1944, the Ustaše militia and the Croatian Home Guard were amalgamated and organised into 16 divisions across three corps. At the time, the militia consisted of about 76,000 officers and men. This figure did not include the Ustaše Defence Brigades, numbering about 10,000, who remained outside the armed forces.[13] Ustaše members with appropriate experience, along with some professional military officers with strong loyalty to Pavelić, were placed in all key positions.[14]

The new force was named the Croatian Armed Forces (Hrvatske oružane snage, HOS), but the amalgamation only combined existing formations such as Ustaše militia brigades and Croatian Home Guard regiments as separate elements under divisional command. Uniforms, equipment, and supply appear to have remained as they were prior to the amalgamation. In March 1945, the Ustaša Defence Brigades were incorporated into the HOS.[15]

Deployments within the NDH[edit]

When the Italians reoccupied Zones II and III in 1941, they assumed control of about one-third of the territory of the NDH, and ordered all Ustaše militia units (whom they accused of excesses against the Serb population of the NDH) and most Home Guard units to withdraw from those zones. The NDH government protested vigorously, but the Italians would not relent, and used auxiliary Chetnik units to maintain the peace in those zones instead. By September 1942, no more than about 1,000 Ustaše militia members were in Zone II, and they were under close Italian command and supervision.[16]

In mid-1942, the Germans took full command of any NDH troops operating with them north of the German-Italian demarcation line.[17]

Fighting reputation[edit]

The Ustaše militia was different in almost all respects from the mostly conscripted Croatian Home Guard. While the Home Guard was poorly equipped and subject to mass desertions from late 1942 onwards, the Ustaše militia consisted of young, well equipped and indoctrinated volunteers who were loyal to Pavelić and the NDH. Although they were ill-disciplined, they liked to fight and were tough combat soldiers. It was not until mid-1944 that Ustaše militia units began to suffer from significant numbers of desertions, although these were never on the scale suffered by the Home Guard.[18] As a result of their greater reliability, Ustaše militia units were used on the flanks of suspect Home Guard units fighting Partisans in order to discourage mass desertions during action.[19]

Anti-Partisan operations and atrocities[edit]

Ustaše militia execute prisoners near the Jasenovac concentration camp

The Ustaše militia committed many abuses and atrocities against the NDH's Serb population. In May 1941, in the town of Glina, 50 kilometres from Zagreb, militia members herded about 260 locals into a church, killed them and set the church on fire.[20] By September 1941, over 118,000 Serbs had been expelled from the NDH, many Orthodox churches had been destroyed or desecrated, and many of the Orthodox clergy had been killed or expelled.[21] The militia used promises of conversion to gather Serb peasants so they could be killed more easily.[22]

In late July 1942, all concentration camps in the NDH were officially transferred from the Ministry of Interior to the Ustaše Surveillance Service, which had been running the camps since August 1941. There were about 20 large and medium-sized camps, the largest of which was a cluster of facilities near the confluence of the Sava and Una rivers at Jasenovac. The camps there were notorious for their brutality, barbarism and large number of victims. Even after the Service was disestablished in January 1943, Vjekoslav Luburić remained in charge of the camps through most of the war.[23]

In August 1942, elements of the Ustaše militia, along with Croatian Home Guard and German forces, conducted a major anti-Partisan operation in Syrmia. During this offensive, Ustaše militia units perpetrated large-scale atrocities against the Serb population. Along with German units, they sent thousands of Serb civilians, including women and children, as well as some Partisans, to the concentration camps at Jasenovac, Sisak, Stara Gradiška, and Zemun.[24]

Ranks and insignia[edit]



  1. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 340
  2. ^ a b c d Tomasevich (2001), p. 421
  3. ^ Pavlowitch (2008), p. 29
  4. ^ a b Tomasevich (2001), p. 341
  5. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 490
  6. ^ Tomasevich (2001), pp. 283–284
  7. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 343
  8. ^ a b c Tomasevich (2001), p. 422
  9. ^ a b Tomasevich (2001), p. 420
  10. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 442
  11. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 423
  12. ^ Tomasevich (2001), pp. 315–317
  13. ^ Tomasevich (2001), pp. 459–460
  14. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 330
  15. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 460
  16. ^ Tomasevich (2001), pp. 253–254
  17. ^ Tomasevich (2001), pp. 274–276
  18. ^ Tomasevich (2001), pp. 427–431
  19. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 438
  20. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 536
  21. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 537
  22. ^ Yeomans, Rory (2015). The Utopia of Terror: Life and Death in Wartime Croatia. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 21–22. ISBN 9781580465458.
  23. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 399
  24. ^ Tomasevich (2001), p. 414


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