Introduction to Foreign Legion Stamps and Postal History


    This narration provides a historical military and postal background on Foreign Volunteer Legions that fought along Side the Germans. The first recruitment of foreigners in the German Army was during the annexation of Austria, what the Germans called the "Anschluss" (reunion).
    By early 1941, the German army drafted thousands of "Volkdeutsches" (ethnic Germans) from the "Sudetenland" (a borderland region that was located in the occupied Czech region known as Bohemia-Moravia Protectorate), Memel, Lithuania, and from the border districts of Eupen-Malmedy, Belgium and Alsace-Lorraine, France. These foreigners were considered German citizens.

    It was not until the Russian invasion of 22 June 1941, that Germany obtained full military support from its Axis partners, and the ethnic German community living in those countries. During the opening campaigns Finland, Romania, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia supplied more then 200,000 men, which were maintained up to 1942. Their numbers, however great were no substitute for the soldiers the German army had lost. As a result in the losses suffered during the opening offensive drive of 1941, there were 359,000 fewer men. By summer of 1942, another 470,000 men were lost.

    RSI stamps

    The German Army Command, new that in 1944, the Waffen-SS and army formations composed of German and western Europeans were formations shattered in Russia. In addition, the resistance warfare in Europe during 1942 and 1943, had been held in check by the use of Security Divisions and units of the occupation forces. However, this was draining the manpower required on the Eastern Front. As the Germans penetrated deep into Russian territory more Soviet nationals were being taken prisoner (because of all the different nationalities that used to form the Soviet Union, the term Russian or Soviet is use interchangeable and loosely).
    The Germans needed manpower to handle the losses, the partisan menace and the increasing numbers of Soviet POW's. As a result of this, the German Army High Command became more tolerant in receiving thousands of Soviet POWs that wanted to serve the German Army, although, they were prohibited, because they were being used as forced labors for German military plants.
    These Russian POW troops were initially used as "Hilfwilligen" (Auxiliaries), eventually, active recruitment was carried out among the fiercely anti-communist races of the Baltic Nations, Ukrainians, Caucasus, Cossack nations and other non-Russian peoples.
    What motivated these men to take arms against the Soviets? The motives of these volunteers were of a complex nature, and as diversified as the various nationalities. Needless to say there were three main aspects that influenced these foreign volunteers to join the German Forces:
    (1) To stop the expansion of communism, because of the fear of communist invading their homeland
    (2) They were influenced by the idealistic political views of their parties, such as the pro-Nazi governments in western occupied Europe.
    (3) The liberation of their homeland, as in the different nationalities that exist in the Baltic states and the rest of what used to be the Soviet Union.
    All military units from these countries retained their national uniforms, while Spain and Croatia and a substantial number of volunteers from other nationalities adopted the German Army uniform, but with a special insignia to identify their country of origin. In addition, the Germans recruited Arabs and Indian POW volunteers to serve for the German Army. These men did not serve on the Eastern Front.

    Foreigners in the Wehrmacht

    Meanwhile during 1941, the non-Germanic Legionnaires were recruited by the German Wehrmacht in France and the French speaking Walloons, from Belgium (late in 1943, they were incorporated into the Waffen-SS). In addition neutral countries such as Spain provided Germany with full military manpower support. The recruitment of foreign volunteers was a cooperative effort between the German military offices installed in occupied countries and the pro-Nazi organizations of those countries.

    Because of the vast region in the Soviet Union and the quantities of manpower needed, the Wehrmacht started recruiting eastern foreigners right from the start. The majority of volunteers came from the Baltics and the Ukraine. They were drafted into labor and construction battalions. Later these battalions under the watchful eyes of the SS, were converted into Police Units. As the war progress more and more foreigners were conscripted or joined German formations. The Luftwaffe (Airforce) and Kriegmarine (Navy) also recruited foreigners.

    All volunteers in the German Armed Forces had to recite an oath of allegiance to Hitler, and for the fight against bolshevism. When possible, German personnel fluent or capable in speaking in the respective language were attached to all foreign volunteer units for liaison and administrated control.






    FVL postcard

    FVL Postcard








    The enlistment of foreigners in the German Armed Forces were in some way successful, because of the important role that propaganda played in occupied and neutral Europe. Initially the Germans felt that western foreign volunteer Legions had significant propaganda value as symbols of a European Crusade against Bolshevism. Furthermore western European volunteers were regarded as potential leaders of their countries. The collaboration regimes under German military administration issued a number of stamps, postcards and posters encouraging enlistment of their citizens. These types of propaganda arouse much public interest because stamps, postcards and posters are colorful, imaginative, concise and provocative.

    Legion Propaganda Stamps

    Western European Legions were partially supported by the sale of Legion Postage Stamps. These stamps fell into two general classifications:

    (1) Legion stamps printed with no postal value and only used for propaganda and philatelic purposes (these were usually purchased by the Legionnaires and family members);
    (2) semi-postal stamps, produced in the country that formed the particular Legion (these stamps had postal power). The term semi-postal indicates a stamp with two values on it. The first number is the actual cost of postage, while the second constituted the surtax, used to support the Legionnaires.
    The sale of charity labels was encouraged by the German postal administration and recruiting stations. Family members or collectors often arranged for complete sets of labels to be affixed to envelopes, which were canceled to order at Waffen-SS recruiting offices. For example collectors and stamp dealers from Flanders, prepared covers with a complete set of charity labels addressed to designated SS-recruiting station at FPN 07515AP. These covers with a SASE and payment of 200Francs, were sent to the "VLAAMISCHE VOORZORGSCOMTIG" (Flemish Charity Committee), Laken- weversstraat 1, Brussels. The SS censored covers were only available for a limited time, usually for one month after the labels were placed on sale.
    It should be noted that some countries such as Latvia and Ukraine made Legion labels to support the volunteers. However, in the case of Latvia, the stamps were issued late in the war to be considered by the German postal authorities.

    RSI stamps

    Since most of the Legions were combat forces, mail went through the regular "Feldpost" (field post) offices of the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine and Waffen-SS.

    The first degree applying the usage of Feldpost for foreigners in the German forces was 17 July 1941, at the direction of the German Navy.
    Depending on the postal agreements done with the collaborating countries, postcards, letters and newspapers up to 250gms were delivered free of charge to all military personnel. Packages of 250gms to 1000gms were permitted against payment of a 20Rpf fee. To address a letter to a military member, one had only to write the individual's name and rank and his Feldpost unit number on the envelope. All such letters had to be submitted for censorship.

    Legion mail is categorized in the following groups:
    A. Legion mail sent from the homeland to the Front Lines.
    B. Legion mail sent from the Front Lines to the homeland.
    C. Legion mail sent from soldier to soldier.
    D. Legion mail using propaganda labels (philatelic or non-philatelic).
    E. Legion mail process through civilian post office.

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