|SS-Hauptsturmführer Léon Degrelle|
|Signal Magazine Heft 5 1944|
Léon Joseph Marie Ignace Degrelle was born in 1906 in Bouillon, a small town in the Belgian Ardennes. He was a devout Catholic and his family was of French origin. Degrelle joined the Walloon legion of the Wehrmacht, which was raised in 1941, to combat against the Soviet Union. Initially, the group was meant to represent a continuation of the Belgian Army, and fought as such during Operation Barbarossa. Degrelle’s knowledge of tactics were somewhat dubious but his ability to lead and his unflinching courage were beyond question. He proved this time and time again during the fierce mountain warfare at Gromovaya-Balka. During the summer and autumn of 1942 Degrelle was involved in numerous battles with considerable success capturing one objective after another and it was not long before his Walloon brigade caught the attention of the officers of the Waffen-SS. The Walloons were transferred to the control of the Waffen-SS in 1943. Degrelle was awarded the Knight's Cross for his part in the breakout of the Cherkassy Pocket in January 1944 where he was severely wounded. Hitler commended him on his bravery saying "if I had a son, I wish he'd resemble you". He was later awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, a distinction only earned by two other foreigners, the Estonian Waffen-Standartenführer der SS Alfons Rebane and the Spanish commander of División Azul (the Blue Division) and later vice-president General Agustín Muñoz Grandes. Against Hitler’s wishes Degrelle returned to combat on the Eastern Front, fighting all the way back to Berlin in the face of the Russian onslaught. The Wallonien Sturmbrigade was upgraded to become 28.SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division Wallonien in October 1944. Degrelle steadily climbed in the Schutzstaffel hierarchy being made an SS-Obersturmbannführer in the early months of 1945. After Germany's defeat, Degrelle fled to Denmark and eventually Norway, where he commandeered a Heinkel aircraft, allegedly provided by Albert Speer. He was severely wounded in a crash-landing on the beach at San Sebastian in Northern Spain. The government of Franco in Spain refused to hand him over to the Allies, Francisco Franco permitted his escape from hospital, while handing over a look-alike. In 1954, Spain granted Degrelle Spanish citizenship under the name José León Ramírez Reina. He continued to live undisturbed when Spain became democratic after the death of Franco. Asked if he had any regrets about World War II, his reply was - Only that we lost! SS-Standartenführer Léon Degrelle died in Málaga in 1994. Decorations & awards among others: Eichenlaub zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes, Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes, Deutsches Kreuz in Gold, Eisernes Kreuz I, Nahkampfspange in Gold, Infanterie-Sturmabzeichen in Silber, Verwundetenabzeichen in Gold. External link: German Newsreel Excerpt: The homecoming of Léon Degrelle and the Walloon volunteers (Bruxelles, Belgium 1944) after the breakout from the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket. Source: Campaign in Russia - The Waffen SS on the Eastern Front and germandaggers.info. Left image: SS-Hauptsturmführer Léon Degrelle. Fair use. Right image: Léon Degrelle on the front cover of the illustrated magazine Signal Nr 5 1944. It was produced and distributed in wartime Europe. Public domain.