SS Nordland

Grey Wolf

11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Nordland’

History by Heath Alexander

Hitler’s spring 1940 invasions of Denmark and Norway opened the way for Scandinavian volunteers to form national units dedicated to strengthening the Nazi hold on Europe. Whether the stated goal of these units was the repulsion of Bolshevik aggression or the creation of a core of competent soldiers for a future national army, Danish and Norwegian citizens answered the collaborationists’ call. Several national units, often competing with each other for the same pool of limited manpower, were established in 1941 to further the aims of their collaborationist regimes.

Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler established 5. SS-Panzer Division ‘Wiking’ on 1 November 1940 under the command of SS-Brigadefuhrer Felix Steiner. 

‘Wiking’ consisted of three regiments ostensibly made up of volunteers from the conquered countries of Hitler’s Europe: “Germania” with ethnic Germans from outside the Reich, “Westland” with Dutch and Belgian troops and ‘Nordland’ with soldiers from Norway and Denmark. On 12 January 1941, Norway’s Minister President Vidkun Quisling made a national appeal for Norwegian men to serve in the new division; 291 responded. A similar plea was made in Denmark during the spring garnering a further 200 men. Training commenced at Sennheim in the Alsace and Graz, Austria before the division was sent to Poland in the summer of 1941.

Complicating recruitment efforts in Norway for 5.SS-Panzer Division ‘Wiking’ was the establishment of the Volunteer Legion “Norwegen” in June 1941. Two infantry battalions were stood up initially, “Viken” and “Viking”, with the intention of heading east to Finland to help their neighbours repel the Soviet invasion. Basic Training commenced at Bad Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony in October 1941 and continued through February 1942 when the Legion was finally deployed. Although advertised as an all-Norwegian unit, early volunteers were disappointed to find out that the formation would be subordinate to the Germans and would wear SS uniforms. Further disillusionment followed when the Legion were told they’d be sent to the Siege of Leningrad instead of Finland.

Across the Skagerrak the Danes were posing their own problems for the new SS division. A Danish tradition of fighting communism dating back to the Russian Civil War when the Danes sent an expeditionary force to fight beside the White Russians against the Bolsheviks. Creation of the all-volunteer “Freikorps Danmark” on 28 June 1941 marked the Danish government’s sanctioning of military support for the Nazis in their fight against the Soviets. With many still wearing their Danish army uniforms, 480 Danes stepped forward to join the new battalion. These same men received new SS uniforms and orders to basic training in Hamburg on 19 July 1941.

These disparate units were created with the same basic goal, the inclusion of northern European citizens in the German military machine. 

SS-Troops on the eastern front
Nordland troops

Unfortunately for the home-grown units they were vying for manpower and support from the most sparsely populated part of Nazi occupied Europe. Shortages of replacement troops continued to plague the Legion “Norwegen” and “Freikorps Danmark” as their national unit status made it difficult to provide reinforcements without tapping outside sources of manpower.

Freikorps Danmark

By the end of 1941, “Freikorps Danmark” had swelled to two battalions totalling 1,160 men and was ready for deployment on the Eastern Front.

Leading the Danes to the east was Count Christian von Schalburg, a Danish noble of German descent appointed by Reichsfuhrer Himmler. Attached to 3. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision “Totenkopf” of Army Group North, the Danes arrived in Russia in time to see action around Demyansk.

Following the Wehrmacht retreat from Moscow, heavy fighting ensued to the south of Leningrad around Demyansk. Seeking to sever the rail link between the German 16. Armee and the rest of Army Group North, General Lieutenant Pavel Kurochkin ordered the Demyansk Offensive in early 1942. Trapped in the pocket were five Heer infantry divisions and the 3. SS Division. Leveraging the Luftwaffe for a massive re-supply operation, the approximately 100,000 German soldiers were able to hold out for nearly six months against 18 Soviet Rifle Divisions.

Sent with the relief forces to the Demyansk Pocket in May, the “Freikorps Danmark” was first blooded near Ramushevo. Continuous Russian assaults through the “Ramushevo Corridor” were repeatedly blunted by Wehrmacht defenders, the Danes included. Having suffered staggering losses for almost no gain, the Soviet High Command (STAVKA) decided to end the offensive and redeploy the 34th Army to protect against an expected German assault on Moscow later in the summer. This allowed the battered Nazis to re-supply and reorganize, including sending the Danes home in September for reinforcement.

Although the Freikorps returned to the Eastern Front late in October 1942, they were relieved and the unit disbanded in the late spring of 1943. Fortunately for the Danes still motivated to fight the Soviets, a newly formed SS division was accepting experienced Nordic soldiers.

Nordland on watch in a trench
Nordland officers Legion “Norwegen”

Running a parallel course to that of their southern neighbours, the Volunteer Legion “Norwegen” counted 1,300 men when it was sent to Leningrad in February 1942. Supporting the 2. SS-Infanterie Brigade and the Spanish Azul Division, the Legion saw limited action during the siege of the city until late April 1942. After replacing 1. SS Division “Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler” in the village of Urizk, southwest of Leningrad, the Norwegians were faced with a Soviet breakout attempt.

A preparatory bombardment of nearly 10,000 shells pounded the Norwegians on the morning of April 21st before Russian tanks and infantry flooded south from their Leningrad lines. A human wave choked the approaches to the Legion’s trenches as line after line of communists fell to Norwegian machine gun fire. Pioneers made quick work of tanks that ventured too near while Legion artillery helped to finally repulse the Soviet horde. All told the Legion lost less than 10 men while the Russians suffered hundreds of casualties. This action caught the attention of the Norwegian government and Minister President Quisling himself came to the medal ceremony where 13 Iron Crosses were awarded to Legion members. 

After more than a year on the Leningrad Front, the Legion was withdrawn from action in the spring of 1943. Reduced to half their peak fighting strength by casualties and attrition, the Legion was disbanded and 600 of its former soldiers were sent to Grafenwohr Training Area in May to fill the ranks of a new SS Division.

Nordland man the trenches
Nordland man the trenches

SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment ‘Nordland”

Officially sanctioned and sponsored by Himmler and the Waffen-SS, the ‘Nordland’ Regiment of 5. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Wiking’ was the most successful of the Nordic units. Since it was not considered a “National” unit, the ‘Nordland’ Regiment could more successfully recruit and replace combat losses. Like the Freikorps and Legion, the ‘Nordland’ Regiment was initially composed of Danish and Norwegian volunteers. Unlike its fellow Scandinavian formations, however, the regiment also included a battalion of 800 Finns that would stay with the unit until April 1943 when it returned home and was replaced by an Estonian battalion.

Following combat training in Heuberg, Germany, the Regiment accompanied its parent unit to the Ukraine in June 1941 in preparation for Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Although not sent across the border until the second week of fighting, the men of the ‘Nordland’ Regiment performed well in early action in Galicia on their way to the Dnieper River. The autumn of 1941 found the Regiment involved in heavy fighting near Rostov before being pulled from the line for a break.
After entrenching on the Don River for the winter, the Regiment surged across its banks towards the Caucasus Oilfields as part of Operation Maus. The spring and summer of 1942 brought unexpectedly easy gains as the Regiment helped capture the southern Caucasus down to the Caspian. Soviet resistance stiffened, however, as the Regiment approached the terrain outside Grozny. Sent on an ill-planned mission to capture Hill 701 the fighting strength of ‘Nordland’ was cut almost in half in just an hour. In spite of these horrendous losses the Regiment still managed to capture the hill and enemy positions.
Nordland trrops take a break
Once word spread of the encirclement of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, operations in the Caucasus slowed to holding actions as focus was shifted northward. As the predicament in Stalingrad became more serious, front line units, including ‘Wiking’ and its regiments, were withdrawn through the Rostov Gap in February 1943. Once through the gap, ‘Wiking’ was sent to Kharkov in the Ukraine to protect vital rail lines and recapture the city. Despite being heavily outnumbered in infantry and armour, ‘Nordland’ and her sister regiments managed to repel the attacks of Soviet Mobile Group Popov. Once Kharkov was recaptured the ‘Wiking’ Division was pulled off the front lines for refitting.
Danish officers 11. SS-Freiwilligen-
Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Nordland’


The summer of 1943 saw the final step towards consolidation of the three Scandinavian units in the Wehrmacht. The veterans of SS-Panzer grenadier Regiment ‘Nordland’ was sent to Grafenwohr Training Area in Bavaria to form the core of the new 11. SS-Freiwilligen- Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Nordland’. At first given the name ‘Varangians’, after the Viking bodyguards of the Byzantine Emperors, Hitler overruled Himmler and ordered the division to keep its regimental name, ‘Nordland’. While the division retained its old name, the two newly formed Panzergrenadier regiments received new names.

SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 was made up of Norwegian and Swedish volunteers and named ‘Norge’ while SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 was comprised of Danish troops and named ‘Danmark’. 

As ‘Nordland’ was fleshed out not all the volunteers were from Norway, Denmark or Sweden. Over 1,200 Romanian Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans from Romania) were added to the strength of SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 ‘Danmark’ alone.

Commanded by SS-Gruppenfuhrer Fritz von Scholz, the new division was attached to SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Fleix Steiner’s III (Germanic) SS-Panzerkorps and detailed for training and anti-partisan duty in Croatia.

Balkans

Now stationed in the Balkans, the ‘Nordland’ Division hunted Josip Tito’s partisans through northern Croatia in an effort to capture and kill the guerrilla forces. Regiment ‘Danmark’ acquitted itself well during pitched battles with partisans around Glina in late November. During this fighting the Division’s SS-Panzer Detachment 11 earned the honorific “Hermann von Salza,” a reference to the former Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights.

Nordland mortar team
Army Group North

Once blooded in the Balkans, ‘Nordland’ and the rest of III SS-Panzerkorps were sent north to Leningrad in January 1944, to help contain the eminent Soviet breakout. Barely had the ‘Nordland’ men dug in around the city before the Communists exploded through the beleaguered German siege force. Not even the stalwart Scandinavians could stem the tide as the ‘Nordland’ Division was forced to fight a 20-mile rearguard action to Oraniebaum. This was followed a week later by a harried withdrawal 65-miles farther west to the Baltic Sea port of Narva, on the Estonian coast. Army Group North had setup defensive positions on the Narva River to halt the Russian advance and reorganize for a counter offensive.

Nordland StuG assault guns Known to some as the “Battle of the European SS”, the Battle of Narva saw combatants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Estonia struggle to repel the vengeful Soviets. Several river and lake crossings were attempted by the attackers only to be thwarted, most notably an amphibious landing force at Merekule destroyed by ‘Nordland’ forces in February 1944. A testament to the skill and tenacity of the SS men, and ‘Nordland’ in particular, is that it took 200,000 Soviets five months to displace 50,000 defenders.

Having retreated to the Tannenberg Line, ‘Nordland’ soldiers took up already established positions on Orphanage Hill, 15 miles west of Narva in July 1944. Here the Division’s luck begins to run out; SS-Gruppenfuhrer Scholz and the commanders of both Panzergrenadier regiments were killed in combat on 29 July. In spite of these crushing losses the ‘Nordland’ troops persevered, destroying over 100 Soviet tanks on that same fateful day. Despite the staunch defence of the Tannenberg Line, a summer evacuation to Latvia was ordered for the Division.

Barely a month after arriving to defend the Latvian capital of Riga, the city fell to the Soviets and another evacuation was carried out. This time the Division was sent to the Kurland Pocket to buy time for retreating German forces. Fall and early winter 1944 found the division fighting numerous holding actions in the Kurland Pocket as other German formations were sent by sea to northern Germany. At last, in January 1945, ‘Nordland’ was withdrawn to Libau and shipped to Stettin in Pomerania.

Narva February to April 1944

Germany

Now back in Germany, the Division is re-supplied and received much needed replacements, including a small detachment of British SS soldiers in mid February. These reinforcements helped strengthen ‘Nordland’ enough to launch a counterattack towards Arnswalde to rescue an encircled garrison and bring them back to the III SS-Panzerkorps’ lines on the Oder River. These positions couldn’t be held, however, as the Soviets launched a massive offensive on 1 March that would throw the corps to the eastern side of the Oder. These engagements depleted the combat strength of the “Norge” and ‘Danmark’ regiments so much that the ‘Nordland’ Division was withdrawn from the line and sent to Bad Freinwalde for refit.

More replacements and reinforcements joined the Division before it was sent back to the line in mid April. In less than a week the Division was pushed from the outskirts of Berlin to the city centre. 

By the end of April both Panzergrenadier regiments had ceased to exist as combat units and nothing larger than a company could be scraped together. Following Hitler’s suicide, SS-Brigadefuhrer Gustav Krukenberg, now ‘Nordland’ Division commander, ordered his remaining troops to retreat west towards the Elbe River and the relative safety of the Western Allies. While many survivors made it to the Elbe, most did not and fell into the hands of the Soviet conquerors.

In Flames Of War

The 11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Nordland’ Intelligence Briefing is now in Grey Wolf.  

Nordland Shield


Last Updated On Wednesday, November 23, 2011 by Wayne at Battlefront