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Grey Wolf

SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier Brigade ‘Nederland’

History by Heath Alexander

Holding up the Nazi successes against Poland, the Low Countries and France in the early years of World War II as a model for every fascist to aspire towards, Himmler’s propaganda machine made a passionate call for Aryan volunteers to join the Schutzstaffel (SS). Late 1940 saw the formation of the SS Volunteer Standarte Nordwest, specifically to induct citizens of Holland and Belgium into the SS. Headquartered in Hamburg, Germany, the first volunteers began arriving for training in April 1941.

Backed by the Nationaal Socialistische Beweging (Dutch National Socialist Movement) the enlistment drive was wildly successful. So much so that the SS Volunteer Standarte Nordwest was split into national units with the SS Volunteer Unit Niederlande composed of the fascists from Holland.

By July 1941, the ranks had swelled to five companies of infantry requiring another designation change, the SS Volunteer Legion Niederlande.

Great pains were taken by the Nazi leadership to convince the volunteers they had joined a uniquely Dutch unit. The legion was allowed to wear the prinsevlag (Dutch tricolor) on their sleeves and the wolfsangel (symbol of the Nationaal Socialistische Beweging) on their collars in place of the traditional SS runes.

Nederland PaK40 crew
Nederland collar patches Luitenant Generaal Hendrik A. Seyffardt of the Dutch General Staff was placed in command of the new Legion. Although not a member of the Nationaal Socialistische Beweging, Luitenant Generaal Seyffardt was highly respected by the Dutch people and a staunch anti-communist. This made him a perfect figurehead around which the Nazis could rally their new recruits.
Basic training for the new Legion continued in Hamburg while the newly minted soldiers were then sent to the Truppenübungsplatz in Arys, East Prussia for specialized and technical training. High motivation characterized the new troops as did an eagerness to learn the craft of soldiery. Finally, the SS Volunteer Legion Niederlande was given operational orders and transferred to the village of Selo-Gora in the Leningrad area. Sent to replace the 20. Infanteriedivision’s Infanterie Regiment 90, the Legion joined General Field Marshall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb’s Army Group North in January 1942, ready to join the fight against the enemies of National Socialism.
Legion Combat History

Commanded in the field by SS-Obersturmbannführer Arved Theuermann, the Legion setup defensive positions on the western bank of the Wolchov River situated between Tschudovo and Novgorod. Stationed between the German 20. and 254. Infanterie divisions, the Dutch were responsible for repelling any Soviet attempts at a bridgehead in their sector. In addition to front line service, the Legion was also responsible for patrolling the roads and wooded areas near Pjatilipy and Gorenka.

Nederland officers inspecting a field gun
The forested areas along the front were littered with Soviet bunkers requiring near constant patrols to root out and replace with Dutch defensive positions. The Dutch fortifications were a direct response to the seemingly clockwork artillery bombardments of the Red Army. Legion soldiers were so adept at destroying Soviet positions that German Army propaganda broadcasts in the area singled them out for their efforts. Dutch forces also had to deal with local partisans operating out of the heavily wooded sections of the Legion’s area of responsibility. All partisans caught by the Dutch were interrogated and summarily executed.
Nederland observers February 1942 brought a new commander, SS-Brigadeführer Gottfried Klingemann, and a morale boosting visit from Nationaal Socialistische Beweging leader Anton Mussert. Mussert was instrumental in the formation of the Legion and carried the banner of the reborn Dutch military. The euphoria of Mussert’s visit quickly wore off as the horrors of war came flooding back in the form of a Red Army attack on the 10 February. Large amounts of Soviet infantry were only beaten back after the loss of dozens of Dutch soldiers. Continued attacks throughout the month returned the same results, high Soviet losses, dozens of Legion casualties and lowered Dutch morale.

Even the presentation of several Iron Crosses to Legion soldiers couldn’t raise Dutch spirits. Spring thaws did nothing to improve already dismal morale. Waist deep waters in the trenches dramatically increased the instances of disease while making front line conditions miserable. Soviet infantry did their best to compound these difficulties by making repeated forays into the Dutch sector. Elite units such as the 1002nd Rifle Regiment of the 305th Siberian Division attempted to storm the trenches in late March but were repelled with heavy losses on both sides. April brought improvement in flying conditions and with it, Soviet bombing raids. These raids were often coordinated with infantry attacks directly after, little by little whittling down the Legion’s numbers and morale.

Spirits rose again once summer rolled around; better weather coupled with the chance to finally take the fight to the communists buoyed the Dutch. A site near Fuhovga Lake witnessed the first Dutch attack on the eastern front as III Battalion tangled with the 305th Siberian Division again.

A large cache of weapons and ammunition accompanied the capture of over 3,500 Soviet prisoners of war, including Lieutenant General Vlassov of the 2nd Shock Army. Vlassov, a Hero of the Soviet Union recipient, was deported to a camp in the Ukraine and began organizing the “Russian Liberation Army”, a military organization dedicated to the elimination of Stalin’s repressive regime. After proving itself in the crucible of combat the Legion was transferred to 2. SS-Infanterie Brigade and sent from the Wolchov Front to the Leningrad Front. Nederland scouts on patrol

In July SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Josef Fitzthum took command of a Legion reduced to just 1,400 combat ready men. Of these 1,400 men, 176 were awarded Iron Crosses by their new commander. Luckily for the Dutch the remainder of July was quiet and allowed time for training and recuperation.

When Operation “Nordlicht” kicked off in mid August 1942, the Legion found itself poorly equipped and ill prepared. Morale had suffered after the unit was ambushed at Krasnoje-Selo on its way to the Leningrad Front and continued to decline as the Nederlanders were thrown into the offensive alongside the 6. Infanteriedivision and 4. SS-Polizei Division. Red Army intelligence operatives had caught wind of the summer offensive and were well prepared for the 13 divisions Army Group North sent to dislodge them from Leningrad. On the heels of the failed German attack Soviets launched an offensive at Lagoda designed to finally break the siege of Leningrad. Fierce Dutch and German resistance slowed and eventually bogged the Russian offensive late in 1942 as the weather again became untenable. On 12 January, newly appointed commander SS-Brigadefuhrer Friedrich Scholz’s first assignment was to repulse a Soviet armored assault, again aimed at Lagoda. Assisted by the Legion Norwegen (Norwegian Volunteers) and a Luftwaffe Field Division, the Dutch were able to repulse the attack. Of significant note, Gerardus Mooyman of the Dutch Legion was awarded the Knight’s Cross in February for destroying 13 Red Army tanks while crewing his 7.5cm anti-tank gun. 

A Nederland soldier stops for a drink

Withdrawn from the Leningrad Front in April 1943, the remnants of the Legion were sent to Sonneberg to train and reequip for the summer. With an influx of new soldiers and officers, the Legion was redesignated the SS-Freiwilligen- Panzergrenadier Brigade ‘Nederland’ and readied for redeployment to the Balkans.

Balkans

The newly designated brigade was commanded by SS-Oberfuhrer Jurgen Wagner and attached to the III SS-Panzerkorps for anti partisan duty in the Balkans in September 1943.

Stationed in Oroslavje and Donja Stubica, Croatia, the brigade absorbed 1,500 Dutchmen from 5. SS-Panzergrenadier Division “Wiking” in order to fill in its two new regiments, SS-Panzer Grenadier Regiment 1, “General Seyffardt” and SS-Panzer Grenadier Regiment 2, “De Ruyter.” The brigade’s stay in Croatia was brief but bloody as rooting out the local partisan forces invariably ended in the execution of all prisoners. Although not fully reequipped or re-supplied, the brigade received marching orders on Christmas Day 1943. A return to the Leningrad Front awaited the men of Holland, just in time to take the brunt of the winter offensive.

Narva

Arriving at Oranienbaum in early January 1944, the brigade was grouped with 11. SS-Freiwilligen- Panzergrenadierdivision ‘Nordland’ and 4. SS-Polizei Panzergrenadierdivision. Reinforcements were necessary in this sector as Army Group North expected the Red Army to make a breakout attempt from Leningrad. Striking at a section of front manned by Luftwaffe units, the Soviets drove a wedge into the Nazi line. So successful was the attack that the Wehrmacht defenders were forced to pull back to Narva, Estonia and setup fortifications along the Narva River. To better consolidate command & control in the area, 18. Army established “Army Group Narva”, consisting of the Dutch Brigade, 11. SS-Panzergrenadierdivision “Nordland” and the newly conscripted Estonian unit, 20. Waffen-Grenadierdivision of the SS.

The winter and spring of 1944 saw numerous attempts by Soviet forces to establish and hold bridgeheads across the Narva River and Lake Peipus. These attempts were frustrated by the skill and bravery of the multinational volunteer forces in what became known as the “Battle of the European SS”.

Narva February to April 1944

Soldiers from Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Norway fought alongside their Estonian comrades to keep the Soviets from reoccupying the small Baltic nation.

Despite dwindling supplies and manpower the Dutch SS-Brigade blocked repeated attempts by the Red Army to create a permanent bridgehead over the Narva River. 8 March saw the Soviets gain a tenuous hold on the western river bank only to have both armoured regiments sent to exploit the gap repulsed with heavy losses. It wasn’t until late March that the brigade was properly re-supplied with anti-tank and artillery shells allowing for a suitable defence of the Hitler’s newly ordered “Festung Narva.” April passed uneventfully as the bloodied Red Army regrouped for a summer offensive. The Dutch used this reprieve to re-fortify and re-arm.

A SS soldier

Like dominoes on a map, the collapse of Army Group Centre to Operation Bagration left Germany’s northern armies facing encirclement and annihilation. The 172nd Straf Battalion with the 191st Rifle Division in support flooded across the river on 12 June, hell bent on redemption at the cost of volunteer lives. ‘Nederland’ and ‘Nordland’ were both hard hit by the penal battalion, but were able to push the Soviets back across the Narva. Recognizing the desperate plight of Narva’s beleaguered defenders, Army Group North began preparations for a withdrawal to Tannenberg, just to the west of Narva. Fighting the rearguard were the soldiers of 48. Infanterie Regiment “General Seyffardt”, giving their fellows time to pull back to the new line. However, “General Seyffardt” paid dearly for their efforts, as poor leadership put them under the bomb sights of the Red Air Force. Raids from the sky wiped out the regiment almost to a man.

Now assigned to the Pernau section of the line the Dutch were still plagued by poor manning and supply. Compounding these issues was the question of Estonian loyalty. As the German forces retreated closer and closer to Germany the Estonian troops became more and more interested in liberating their homeland than defending the German Reich. Newly promoted SS-Brigadefuhrer Wagner went so far as to keep a company in reserve to stave off any perceived Estonian threat.

Kurland

Falling back again, this time to Kurland in October, the Nederlanders had barely arrived on station before having to repel a communist attack on Libau. 

Confronted by the Red Army to their front and Lithuanian partisans to their rear, SS-Brigadefuhrer Wagner resorted to the execution of civilians to keep the local populace marginally in line. Soviet forces reorganized and in late December pummelled Dutch troops in Libau and Frauenberg with massed artillery, presaging a massive infantry assault. Human waves were driven back with only minor losses to the SS forces. January 1945 saw a repeat of the December tactics with the same results.

Germany

New orders for the brigade were cut in late January; they were to sail for Stettin and be used to plug the holes in the line defending Berlin. Despite boasting only 1,000 combat ready soldiers, the brigade was re-designated the 23. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadierdivision “Nederland” on 10 February 1945. Unfortunately for the Dutch this new status couldn’t keep the Red Army from pushing inexorably towards the capital of Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich.” Even reinforcements from Kampfgruppe “Rehder” in March couldn’t keep the division at a functional combat level for long.

The division’s death knell sounded on 16 April as two Soviet Fronts smashed into the German lines surrounding Berlin. 

A Nederland soldier stops for a drink

By 3 May the Dutch had seen enough of the Red Army and, after repulsing one last communist attack, fled west and surrendered to an American tank battalion. Having seen the better part of valour, the Dutch chose to seek clemency from the Western Allies rather than to risk the tender mercies of the avenging Red Army.

In Flames Of War

The SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier Brigade ‘Nederland’ Intelligence Briefing is now in Grey Wolf.


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