SS-Standartenführer (Colonel) Léon Degrelle

Date of Birth: June 15, 1906 in Bouillon, Luxembourg Province, Belgium
Date of Death: April 1, 1994 in Málaga, Spain

Knight's Cross: February 20, 1944 as the SS-Haupsturmführer and the leader of the SS Assault Brigade Wallonien
Oak Leaves: August 27, 1944 as the SS-Sturmabannführer and the Commander of the SS Assault Brigade Wallonien
Close Combat Clasp in gold: September 14, 1944 as the SS-Sturmabannführer and the Commander of the SS Assault Brigade Wallonien
German Cross in gold: October 9, 1944 as the SS-Sturmabannführer and the leader of the 5th SS Volunteer Assault Brigade Wallonien

Léon Degrelle, certainly one of the most outstanding European volunteers, was already legendary during his lifetime.
Degrelle was born on June 15, 1906 in Bouillon, Luxembourg Province, as the eighth child of the Luxembourg Province's ambassador. His mother came from a village near Moselle River that flows through Luxembourg. Degrelle studied at a Jesuit college in Namen and attended the Catholic University of Leuven since 1925 for ten semesters to study law and political sciences. Already then he showed great rhetorical potential and was chosen to be the chairman of the Catholic students' fraternity Action Catholique de la Jeunesse Belge. He broadened his view of the world as a journalist in the USA. Degrelle's political interests arose early and he was in contact with Leuven's publishing house Rex, which issued a cultural-political programme Action francaise and its aim was to recreate monarchy in France. Degrelle and his followers joined the Catholic party Union Catholique Belge and called themselves the Rexists. In 1930 Degrelle took over the public work of Action Catholique and at the same time became the leader of the publishing house Rex. He substituted the Catholic cultural politics with subjects that interested the Belgians more, such as catastrophic social politics and issued his theses' in newspapers Rex, Vlan and Sorées. Soon Degrelle was not only a famous politician within his party in Belgium, but he was known elsewhere too. He was known for his rhetorically brilliant, witty and amusing speeches. He performed at numerous public events for big masses of people and constantly referred to the bad social position of the Walloon and Flemish mountain and steel workers. These events were formed by Degrelle's aura and attractive personality. He criticized the Catholic church being mixed with the state and capital and represented the young future-oriented politicians. In 1935 he started to act against the Catholic politicians and their favored corruption and self-profit. He was also against liberal and socialist politicians and proved these politicians were only concerned with the state's industrialization because of profit and power. Young and fast Degrelle fought in numerous mass events, for example during the elections in May 1936, against Catholics, socialists and liberals in order to renew the state nationally. He described a new moral in a new country and said that old leading elite, who is corrupt and acted as marionettes of banks and freemasons, should not be leading this country. Degrelle had very many followers among Walloon young people thanks to his politics, which was filled with Christian spirit and moral principles. He demanded to end military cooperation with France, because France agreed to cooperate with the Soviet Union on 1935. In the elections on May 24, 1936 Degrelle's Rexists won 11 percent of the votes and therefore got 21 seats in the 202-seat Belgian parliament and 12 senator seats. The other parties, however, decided to show their vision of parliamentary democracy and launched a slandering campaign against Degrelle, trying to claim he was a Fascist. Degrelle took advantage of that, met Mussolini several times and spoke in the radio Turin to Belgian people after the other radio stations decided not to let him on air anymore. In autumn 1936 he met Adolf Hitler for the first time. After this he continued with his own politics, which was attractive because of its concentration on family and socialistic points. Degrelle also won followers among the Flemish and later many of them fought in his Walloon SS-division rather than in the Flemish SS-division.

During the German attack in west, Degrelle was arrested by the Belgian police on May 10, 1940, despite the fact that he had the status of an ambassador, and was dragged through 22 prisons and eventually was given to the French who took him to their secret police headquarters in Lille. After France capitulates, Degrelle was set free and got a new permission for the Rexists to come together again. He then formed a defence organization, which was made up of 4,000 men, Garde Wallonne and started to issue a newspaper called Pays Réel. Degrelle's future goal was to establish a new Burgundy, which would be made up of Belgium, a part of the Netherlands and France, and which would reach from Amsterdam to Dijon, like Karl the Brave's country in the 15th century.(1)

After Germany began a preventive war with the Soviet Union, Degrelle realized that the Walloon people also have to participate in reshaping Europe. "What do I have to do in Belgium now that the war has gone so far?" explained Degrelle his decision. "Our destiny was decided somewhere else. On the front. In fighting against bolshevism and fighting for the new and happy Europe."(2)

In addition to the Flemish, Walloons also encouraged people to volunteer and establish a national legion to fight against bolshevism. The Walloon Infantry Battalion 373 was formed out of the first 1,000 Walloon volunteers who left Brussels on August 8, 1941, and it operated under the German Land Force. The leader of the Rexists, Degrelle, gave a send-off speech: "We are going to the front, I said, first and foremost in the name of our land, which we represent with honor and for which rights we want to protect in unified Europe, of which its people have dreamt of for more than thousand years. Our flag, that has not been used since the capitulation, will once again appear on our uniforms as a chevron."(3) Degrelle, who never before had been a soldier, fought with volunteers from the very first day, he was trained with the others in Meseritz and as a simple soldier, in the lines of the 1st company, he participated in battles since November 1941. The Walloon legion had its first battle near Karabinowka. The MG-shooter stayed with his company despite the broken leg. Being subjected to the 100th Jäger Division, Degrelle participated in rough close combats on the Donez front near Gromowaja-Balka in February 1942, after which only one third of the company survived. On March 2, 1942 the Walloons got some rest. Degrelle received the Iron Cross 2nd class on March 3 and on March 23, 1942 he was awarded with the Black Wound Badge. He was promoted to officer. In May 1942 the legion Wallonie was sent to the front near Jablenskaja, where they defeated the Russians that had come to the lands of Danez. Degrelle was promoted to Junior Warrant Officer in the meantime and on May 1, 1942 he was promoted to Second Lieutenant and received the Iron Cross 1st class on May 21, 1942. He was sent to the headquarters as the Order Officer.

After the unit received additional men, the Walloons were sent on June 1942 to the 97th Jäger Division so that they could go to Slaviansk-Kamensk front to attack Caucasus. The locals were happy because they got rid of the Russians. Degrelle wrote: "The locals greeted us with joy. Often we were the first ones to enter a village. As soon as we arrived, the locals brought out icons from their hideouts and put them on clay walls with tears in their eyes."(4) On August 15, 1942 Degrelle received a medal called the Winter Battle in East (Winterschlacht im Osten) and on August 24, 1942 he was awarded with the silver Infantry Assault Badge. Information about some battles in Caucasus can be found from the application for the German Cross in gold, which was presented later: "August 18, 1942 after a 25 kilometer march, the battalion Wallonien begins to act near Pruskaja in Caucasus, in order to defeat the invading Russians. At 1 p.m. they attack the Russians, who have taken their positions near a crossroad in the forest. The enemy keeps its higher position with two infantry battalions, one cannon unit and with the support of PAK (anti-tank gun) unit. Two trucks roll down the road, these are German ammunition trucks which have been taken over by bolshevists. Second Lieutenant Degrelle understands the situation and invades the hostile enemy's area with only four men with him. His sudden appearing causes panic and the Russians, who are under constant fire, escape. They leave behind eight trucks, machines and weapons. With a short battle we rolled the PAK's position, which was made easier by our comrades who were following us.

The battle near Tsherjakov in Caucasus, August 22, 1942. The Tsherjakov village is the target of several Russians' counterattacks and they surround the village on August 23, 1942. On August 24, 1942 they begin to attack. They manage to break in to some positions. Second Lieutenant Degrelle fights on the front line for 48 hours and gives his men strength with his brave fighting and encourages them to fight back and resists. Also, if possible, he is hoping that they will soon get the chance to take over one of Russians' PAK positions and get one of the Russians' loaded howitzers and battle until the enemy is defeated. Battle over Kaubano-Armiansk on September 9, 1942. The enemy has surrounded the Walloons once again, the supplies cannot get through the thick Caucasian forest to the Kaubano-Armiansk village. All connections have been cut and the five kilometers of thick forest make all attempts to create new connections impossible. Second Lieutenant Degrelle begins to lead the assisting colon, going ten meters in front of the others and this way restocks the unit with ammonition and food once again."(5)

Since the Wallonien was put to operate under the 97th Jäger Division, Degrelle, like many other Walloons, wore the Geibirgsjägeredelweiss on his right sleeve and on the left side of his outdoor hat. In December 1942 Legion Wallonien was removed from the front and they got some rest. In January 1943 the battalion was sent to battle once again (headed to Meseritz) from the Brussels sports palace after Degrelle's speech while thousands of Belgians were cheering for them. In the meantime thousands of new men in Belgium had decided to fight voluntarily against bolshevism, 2,000 of them were accepted to fight in the lines of Legion Wallonien. In January 1943 Degrelle gave a speech in Brussels sports palace to interested audience and the same month in Berlin's sports palace for 12,000 Belgian and French workers and stressed how important it is for Germany to win. He also stressed the Walloons' Germanic personality and brought numerous historic arguments to back this surprising claim.(6) Degrelle knew that after the win there will be a new European-Germanic nations' union in Europe which will be put together by the SS. He tried to contact Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler and found out that the Walloon legion will be transferred to the Waffen-SS and got an agreement from Himmler that the new Walloon brigade will get trained Walloon leaders, that the command language will be French and every battalion will have a clergyman.(7)

At the beginning of 1943 Degrelle came up with the idea to make the Burgundy Cross which would be issued in three classes: bronze, silver and gold. This award was meant for those who participated in the Rexists movement in Belgium and who were awarded on the front, Degrelle himself also wore this award. On October 16, 1944 the Waffen-SS officially approved wearing this award. On June 1, 1944 the legion was officially transferred under Waffen-SS and on the same day Degrelle was promoted to the SS-Obersturmführer. The same month the Walloons were sent to the training place in Wildflecken. There the SS Assault Brigade Wallonien was set up on the guidance of SS-Sturmbannführer Lucien Lippert. The brigade is made up of four grenadier companies, a panzer jäger company, infantry howitzer company, one sturmhaubitze battery and two anti-aircraft batteries.(8) Degrelle became the brigade's Order Officer and reported the following about the new volunteers, who were mainly former mountain workers and soldiers: "Numerous former Belgian army soldiers and officers, who were in the war camp in Reich, had come to offer themselves voluntarily. Hundreds of them came to us, in their old and noble uniforms in which in May 1940 they tried to stop the German attack towards the West. This way both armies became brothers: the army which valiantly defended our land in 1940, and the army which overcame the past disagreements already in August 1941 and wanted to help, wanted to save the most important thing: Europe and through Europe its homeland."(9)

The first Walloon volunteer leader's candidates returned from the SS Junker school and increased, with the subleaders and men who had been trained about several weapons, the brigade's fighting power. On November 11, 1943 the Wallonien unit was put on a train that took them to the Korsun front where they took their defence positions in the line from Starosselje to Dnepr. There they were faced with the Russians' parachute unit with strong partisan units. The Walloons were subjected to the SS-Panzer Division Wiking since the Caucasus battles of 1942. Degrelle, who then led the 3rd company which was made up of rarely young grenadiers, was in Olshanka near Baibusy. On November 30, 1943 he received the bronze Close Combat Clasp. Intelligence and attack units took part in the battles and tried to break into the wild forest that was close to their positions. One action which was led by Degrelle and his 3rd and 2nd company on December 23, 1943 was described in the application for the German Cross in gold with the following words: "Cherkassy forest: two SS Assault Brigade Wallonien companies have the order to break through the Irdõn forest and move seven kilometers into the enemy's home front so that they could attack the enemy's positions. SS-Obersturmführer Degrelle has the order to attack a strongly protected and built village as soon as he has reached his position. He and his men invade the enemy's trenches in a rough close combat and the surprise is very successful. He continues to fight with both arms being injured until after an hour long fight the enemy is finally beaten. After the last wounded soldier is taken away from the battlefield, Degrelle leaves with the medics."(10)

Degrelle received the silver Wound Badge on December 23, 1943 and was promoted to the brigade's 1st Order Officer and on January 30, 1944 was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer. At the end of January 1944 the SS Assault Brigade Wallonien, along with the Wiking Division and the Land Force's divisions, was caught in the Cherkassy Pocket. Soon 54,000 men were pressed together on the seven times eight kilometer wide area. On February 13, 1944 the brave Walloon assault brigade's Commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Lucien Lippert, was killed near Novo Buda and Degrelle took over leading the brigade. In a desperate fight, the Walloons and Degrelle reached on Febuary 17, 1944 Lissjanka and met up with the units that had got there before. The unit which at first had 2,000 men, now had only 632. On February 15, 1944 the SS Panzer Division Commander SS-Gruppenführer and Waffen-SS General-Major Herbert Otto Gille filed in an application for the SS-Hauptsturmführer Léon Degrelle to receive the Knight's Cross: "SS Assault Brigade Wallonien together with the Waffen-SS and the Land Force's units were able to count on themselves only during the battles which lasted for weeks against the hostile enemy. After the former brave brigade leader SS-Sturmbannführer Lucien Lippert was killed with a hit in the chest on Febuary 13, Degrelle took over the brigade. Degrelle, who had proved to be a good soldier before, once again stood out during the break through battles of the last days. In loyal weapon comdery he successfully stood out in moving onwards with his brave Walloons, side by side with the Land Force's soldiers and the Waffen-SS Germanic members, until the break through day. I am in favor of giving this brave leader the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross."(11)

Degrelle was flown to the leader's headquarters in Wolfsschanze, where Adolf Hitler have him the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on February 20, 1944. During this midnight chat, Degrelle received the right for his surviving men to rest for three weeks. Léon Degrelle returned to Belgium with his Walloon volunteers on April 1, 1944 and they were greeted with a delightful parade. They drove through Charleroi, Brabant and Brussels. "The march colon was 17 kilometers long. Our young Belgian Waffen-SS soldiers looked bravely at their new awards on their grey uniforms and at their people cheering for them from the tank towers. They had earned their Iron Crosses. I got to give my men 180 of them and there were quite a few 1st class ones. ... I got to greet the Légion Wallonie parade in front of the stock house on one of our vehicles. I was happier and more proud than ever before when the armored cars and other vehicles drove past me with load noise. These were lent to us by Sepp Dietrich, but they were filled with our Belgian soldiers. I greeted every single machine with my right hand high, my steel helmet on and the freshly received Knight's Cross on my chest. The other hand was intermittently holding one of my children's hand (on the photo) who were allowed to climb into the vehicle and stand next to me. The mass, which estimatedly involved around a hundred thousand people, was cheering and threw us piles of flowers."(12) After this the resettling of the brigade began in Debica, because hundreds of volunteers from Belgium had joined and more than 800 Walloon workers came from the Reich. Léon Degrelle received on March 19, 1944 for his 36 close combat days the silver Close Combat Clasp and the golden Wound Badge. On April 20 he was promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer. On July 8, 1944 Degrelle's brother Edouard was murdered by Belgian terrorists. When Degrelle was still in Belgium, a new battle unit was formed of the Walloons, who were still under training, and their teachers on July 16, 1944. This unit had two grenadier companies, one heavy weapon company and one panzer jäger unit, which was sent to the Narva front in Estonia. It was then led by Hauptsturmführer Ruelle and operated under the III (Germanic) SS Panzerkorps. Degrelle decided to get involved in this and despite his forbiddance to go to the front, he went to the Walloon battle unit near Danzig with a ship. With SS-Obergruppenführer Steiner he reached an agreement that the Walloon volunteers will be trained for three more weeks before they would go to the front. This way they were left out of the battle on Tannenberg line, where the Flemish battle group Langemarck suffered a great loss and which resulted in Remy Schrijen being the second Belgian to receive the Knight's Cross.

On August 16 the assault group Wallonien received its orders and Degrelle fought on August 19 and 20, 1944 near Patska and on August 21 and 22 near Kambja against the attacking Russians.(13) On August 23, 1944 Degrelle received the Oak Leaves for the Knight's Cross from Adolf Hitler. Degrelle was the first non-German to receive the highest German award. As he completed his 50 close combat days, he, as the first European volunteer, received the infantry soldier's higest and rarest award – the golden Close Combat Clasp. On October 9 Degrelle received the German Cross in gold and the application for it had come from Gille already on January 21, 1944. About his visit to the leader's headquarters, Degrelle wrote: "Good-byes with Hitler and the chat, which I will remember for the rest of my life, were spellbinding. After the official ceremony he came to me, grabbed my hands and told me with a flame burning in his bright eyes the classic and so often quoted words: 'If I had a son, I wish he would be just like you.' This way he had made me his wished son, perhaps even more than that.

This moment was without a doubt the highlight of my political and military life, and perhaps even of my whole life. During these rough years of war with its wins and losses, Hitler had become from his own nation's leader to one of the leading figures in Europe. The best example of it is the Waffen-SS, a non-recurrent union in the military history, made up of a million political soldiers, most of them being volunteers, selected accroding to harsh criteria, well-trained and taught and experienced in rough battles. And 60 percent of this elite were non-Germans. I am incredibly proud that I am a part of those to whom Hitler gave the highest award."(18)

While being in the headquarters, Degrelle received a message from Himmler that his newly formed brigade will become a division and he will become its Commander. On October 18 began expanding the 5th SS Assault Brigade into the 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien, which was made up of grenadier regiments no 69, 70 and 71 and two battalions, one cannon, one panzer jäger unit and one pioneers' unit were formed. 600 new volunteers came from the Rexist youth organisations and from their homes in Belgium, after escaping from the Americans, but still there weren't enough volunteers to form a new division.(19) Degrelle was named the public leader of the Wallonien. In October 1944 the Wallonien was resettled from Breslau to south of Gronau, in Honnover. During the Ardennes attack the Flemish 27th SS Volunteer Division Langemarck and Degrelle's Wallonien were on the operation area so that they would be prepared to free their homeland. Degrelle was in Limerlé and once again set his foot on his homeland. After the Ardennes attack had failed, Degrelle received an order on January 27, 1945 to form a new battle group out of the remains of the division and to direct it to Pommern to fight with the onwards moving Red Army. On January 30 Degrelle was promoted to SS-Obersturmbannführer. Degrelle fought in Pommern with his 2,000 men from February, he also fought in Kremzow, south of Stargard, and in March 1945 on the upper bridgehead in Altamm, near Stettin, where the Walloons suffered a great loss. The following battles took place in Schillersdorf, Bandelow and northwest of Prenzlau, so that they could march in Bad Segeber's direction over Schwerin. On April 20, 1945 Degrelle was promoted to SS-Standartenführer. On May 2 he met Himmler who was having peace negotiations in Malente and who promoted Degrelle to SS-Brigadeführer, there is even a comment on that in Degrelle's Soldbuch*. He then received an order to support the fight against the Russians in Denmark with Walloons and Western allies. At the end of the war Degrelle went to Norway to escape from the British, where he managed to fly with HE 111 from Oslo over the whole West Europe until San Sebastian on the coast of Spain, where the aircraft crashed into the sea because it ran out of fuel. He was rescued from the sea and was seriously injured. He was taken to a Spanish hospital.(20)

SS-Standartenführer Léon Degrelle was the most awarded European volunteer of the Waffen-SS. He was awarded the Oak Leaves for the Knight's Cross, golden Close Combat Clasp and German Cross in gold. He survived 65 close combat days. His impact on the Walloon volunteers, who called him The Chief, was legendary.

Degrelle was sentenced to death in his homeland. However, Spain refused to fulfill the angry Belgian government's demand to hand him over. Léon Degrelle lived in Madrid and published 15 books about his life, political aims and military actions. Numerous people visited Degrelle in his Spanish exile, they even came with busses from Belgium. Until his death Degrelle had warm-hearted contacts with his comrades from Légion Wallonie. After Degrelle died on April 1, 1994, Belgian government issued a special law which states that the person who brings Degrelle's ashes over the state border is faced with a fine up to one thousand francs. According to this the Belgian government was terrified of the deceased Léon Degrelle's ashes in 1994... (21)

In one of Spain's military hospitals in San Sebastian, Degrelle wrote in 1945: "The history weighs people's accomplishments. Despite all earthly imperfections we sacrificed ruthlessly our youth. We fought for Europe, its religion and culture. We stayed honestly and sacrificingly loyal until the end. Sooner or later Europe and the whole world have to acknowledge the rightfulness of our actions and our pure dedication. Because hatred dies, it dies in its own foolishness and vileness. But all that is great is forever."(22)

(1) "Denn der Hass stirbt" Léon Degrelle, Munich, 1992, "Die Kollaboration" Franz Seidler, 1997
(2) "Denn der Hass stirbt" Léon Degrelle, Munich, 1992
(3) ibid.
(4) "Die verlorene Legion" Degrelle
(5) Application for award ceremony of the German Cross in gold on January 21, 1944
(6) Degrelle on May 31, 1943, "Denn der Hass stirbt" Léon Degrelle, Munich, 1992
(7) Check point (2)
(8) "Légion Wallonie 1941 – 1945" Jean Mabire and Eric Lefčvre
(9) Check point (4)
(10) Check point (5)
(11) Application for the award ceremony of the Knight's Cross, February 15, 1944
(12) Check point (2)
(13) SS-Ogruf. Steiner confirmed the close combat fact in Degrelle's Soldbuch
(14) Application for the Oak Leaves ceremony, August 29, 1944
(15) Application for the Leon Gillis' award ceremony of the Knight's Cross, September 6, 1944
(16) Awards List III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps
(17) Check point (2)
(18) Check point (2), the statement regarding Hitler's son is confirmed by Paul Schmidt "As an extra on the political stage"
(19) Check point (8)
(20) Check points (2) and (4)
(21) "Der Freiwillige"
(22) Check point (2)

* By that time Hitler had expelled Himmler from his position, thus this rank had no official background.