11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland
|11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland|
Divisional insignia of the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland
|Active||July 1943 – May 1945|
|Engagements||Battle of Narva (1944)
Battle of Berlin
Fritz von Scholz
The 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, also known as Kampfverband Waräger, Germanische-Freiwilligen-Division, SS-Panzergrenadier-Division 11 (Germanische) or 11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland, was a Waffen SS, Panzergrenadier division recruited from foreign volunteers. It saw action in Croatia and on the Eastern Front during World War II.
Concept and formation
By 1943, the foreign formations of the Waffen SS had an established record in combat. The 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, a volunteer formation, had been in action since 1940.
The 5 SS Wiking, however, was composed of enlisted men who were predominantly volunteers from Nordic countries, commanded by German officers. In February 1943, Hitler ordered the creation of an SS Division which would be officered by foreign volunteers. The Wiking's SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Nordland, a Scandinavian volunteer regiment, was pulled out of the line to be used as a cadre for the new division. The division was originally to receive the name Waräger (Varangians) but the name was rejected by Hitler himself. It was decided that the division was to continue using the already-existing regiment's name, Nordland. The Nordland's two Panzergrenadier regiments were also given honour titles, with reference to the location where the majority of the regiment's recruits were from, SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 Norge (Norwegians) and SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark (Danes).
Despite most volunteers hailing from Scandinavia, the Nordland carried the widest range of nationalities found in any single division. By the end of the war, Danish, Hungarian, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, French, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss and British volunteers and Estonian conscripts had either served in the division or been attached to it.
After its formation in Germany, the division was attached to the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps under the command of Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner and was moved to Croatia for training and to complete its formation. Soon after its arrival, the SS Volunteer Legion Netherlands was attached to the division and it began combat operations against Josip Broz Tito's partisans. In late November, the Danmark regiment was involved in heavy fighting with a force of 5,000 partisans near Glina. During this period, the Nordland's Panzer Battalion, SS Panzer Battalion 11, was given the honour title Hermann von Salza in honour of the fourth Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights (b.1179-d.1239).
Leningrad to Narva
Nordland, along with the rest of III. (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps arrived at the front near Leningrad and was almost immediately put into action against the Red Army attacks to break the German encirclement of the city. After they escaped from being surrounded, the Nordland effected a fighting withdrawal over 60 kilometres to Oranienbaum. On 14 January 1944, the Soviet Krasnoye Selo–Ropsha Offensive succeeded in collapsing the German front, and the Nordland fought its way back again to the city of Narva in Estonia, where a new line of defence was being organized. In early February, Soviet forces began their attacks towards the city and the Battle of Narva began. The battle has come to be known as the Battle of the European SS because a large proportion of the defenders were European volunteers. Joining the Nordland were elements from all over Europe. The Dutchmen of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps, the Walloons of the 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien, the Flemings of the 6th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Langemarck, the Estonians of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian), as well as regular German formations. Altogether, the defenders of the Narva River line amounted to 50,000 men. Against them, the Soviets threw 200,000 soldiers of the Leningrad Front.
The Kingisepp–Gdov Offensive was launched on 13 February, with Soviet forces attacking right across the line, as well as launching an amphibious assault from the Baltic near Mereküla. The Nordland units were among the forces that annihilated the Soviet landing force. Over the next five months, the Waffen SS held out against the Soviet attacks, the Nordland seeing very heavy fighting. On 6 March, Soviet aircraft managed to destroy the Narva bridge in the Battle for Narva Bridgehead, cutting off the troops on the far side of the river in Ivangorod. The men of Nordland's Pioneer Battalion quickly rebuilt the bridge while under heavy fire. The launching of Operation Bagration in June 1944 inspired the Narva Offensive. The highway bridge over the Narva was blown up and the defenders were moved 16 kilometres west to the Tannenberg Line.
Tannenberg Line – Courland Pocket
The Tannenberg Line anchored on three strategic hills. Running west to east, these were known as Hill 69.9, Grenadier Hill and Orphanage Hill. From Orphanage Hill, the rear side of the town of Narva could be protected. From 27 July 1944, Nordland fought alongside the 20th SS Grenadier Division (1st Estonian), Sturmbrigade Langemarck and Kampfgruppe (Strachwitz) from the Grossdeutschland Division to keep control of Orphanage Hill. Despite the death of the Nordland Division's commander, Gruppenführer Fritz von Scholz, (killed in action) and the subsequent deaths of the commanders of the Norge and Danmark Regiments, the division helped to hold onto Orphanage Hill and it destroyed 113 tanks between 27 and 29 July.
On 4 August, men from Penal Company 103, were reinstated and absorbed into the Danmark Regiment. The III SS Panzer Corps bled itself white defending the Tannenberg Line, until on September, the headquarters of the Army Group North pulled it back into Latvia to defend the capital, Riga. The city fell on 12 October; by the end of the month, all Waffen SS units had been withdrawn into what was known as the Courland Pocket.
From late October to December 1944, the Nordland fought fierce defensive battles in the pocket; by early December the divisional strength was down to 9,000 men. In January 1945, the division was ordered to the Baltic port of Libau, where it was shipped out of the pocket to Pomerania. The division disembarked at Stettin, with the Panzer Battalion Hermann von Salza being sent on to Gotenhafen for refitting. In late January, Nordland was assigned to Steiner's 11th SS Panzer Army, which was now forming in anticipation of the defence of Berlin.
East Prussia and Pomerania
In early February 1945, the refitted Panzer Battalion returned to the division, and a trickle of reinforcements began arriving. Among these was the platoon-sized Free Corps, a British Waffen-SS unit. On 16 February, the division was ordered onto the offensive as a part of Operation Sonnenwende, the plan to destroy a Soviet salient and to relieve the troops besieged in the town of Arnswalde. The offensive had been conceived by Generaloberst Heinz Guderian as a massed assault all along the front but had then been reduced by Hitler to the level of a local counter-attack. Initially, Nordland's attack achieved a total tactical surprise and the division soon advanced to the banks of Lake Ihna in all sectors. However, as the Soviet forces realized what was happening, resistance grew stiffer and the advance began to slow. On 17 February, the division reached Arnswalde and relieved the exhausted garrison. Over the next few days the town was secured and the surviving civilians were evacuated. Soon however, strong Soviet counter-attacks halted the division's advance, and Steiner called off the attack, pulling the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps back to Stargard and Stettin on the northern Oder River. The 10. SS-Panzer-Division "Frundsberg", led by Brigadeführer Heinz Harmel, also took part in the operation after being detached from the II SS Panzerkorps in December 1944 (at the time engaged on the Western Front).
By 21 February the conclusion was arrived-at that no more useful gains could be made against an increasingly powerful enemy without incurring undue casualties, so Steiner ordered a general withdrawal back to the north bank of the Ihna. Between the 23rd and 28th, III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps made a slow withdrawal to the area around Stargard and Stettin on the northern Oder River.
The Soviet offensive of 1 March, pushed Nordland, along with the rest of the depleted III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps, before them. In a desperate fighting withdrawal, the Nordland and the rest of III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviet forces; but by 4 March, the division was falling back to Altdamm, the last defensive position east of the Oder itself. During the next two weeks, Nordland grimly held onto the town, inflicting and suffering heavy casualties. On 19 March, the battered defenders fell back behind the Oder, the Danmark and Norge regiments had fought virtually to the last man. The division was ordered back to the area west of Schwedt-Bad Freinwalde for a refit.
During this time, the 33rd Waffen-Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne, a 300-man unit of French SS volunteers and the Spanish Volunteer Company of the SS No.101, a company of Spanish SS men were attached to the division. The division's strength was replenished with the addition of several vehicles and some personnel from the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine.
The final battle
On 16 April, Nordland was ordered back into the line east of Berlin. Despite recent replenishment, the division was still grossly understrength and, with the exception of the French and Spanish, many of the new recruits had little, if any combat experience.
From 17 to 20 April, the division was involved in constant combat all along its front, and was pushed back into the city itself. On 24 April, the main Soviet assault was towards the Treptow Park area, which the rest of the Pioneer battalion and the few remaining Tiger tanks of Panzer battalion Hermann von Salza were defending. Obersturmbannführer Kausch led the few tanks and armoured vehicles in a counterattack and succeeded in temporarily halting the enemy advance at the cost of some of his last vehicles. However, by midday, the 5th Shock Army was able to advance again. A later counter-attack by three assault guns was stopped by a Soviet soldier named Shulzhenok with three captured German Panzerfausts.
On 25 April, Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg was appointed the commander of (Berlin) Defence Sector C which included the Nordland Division, whose previous commander, Joachim Ziegler, was relieved of his command the same day. The arrival of the French SS men bolstered the Nordland Division whose "Norge" and "Danmark" Panzergrenadier regiments had been decimated in the fighting. They each roughly equalled a battalion.
By 26 April, with Neukölln heavily penetrated by Soviet combat groups, Krukenberg prepared fallback positions for Sector C defenders around Hermannplatz. He moved his headquarters into the opera house. As the Nordland Division fell back towards Hermannplatz the French SS and one-hundred Hitler Youth attached to their group destroyed 14 Soviet tanks with Panzerfausts; one machine gun position by the Halensee bridge managed to hold up any Soviet advance in that area for 48 hours. The Nordland's remaining armour, eight Tiger tanks and several assault guns, were ordered to take up positions in the Tiergarten, because although the two divisions of Weidling's LVI Panzer Corps could slow the Soviet advance down, they could not stop it.
On 27 April, after a spirited but futile defence, the remnants of Nordland were pushed back into the central government district (Zitadelle sector) in Defence sectore Z. There Krukenberg's Nordland headquarters was a carriage in the Stadtmitte U-Bahn station. Thereafter, the defenders of the government district were pushed back into the Reichstag and Reich Chancellery. For the next few days, the few survivors of the division held out against overwhelming odds. On 30 April, after receiving news of Hitler's suicide, orders were issued that those who could do so were to break out. Prior to that Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke briefed all commanders that could be reached within the Zitadelle sector about the events as to Hitler's death and the planned breakout. The break out from the Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker started at 2300 hours on 1 May. There were ten main groups that attempted to head north west towards Mecklenburg.
Fierce fighting continued all around, especially in the Weidendammer Bridge area. What was left of the Nordland Division under Krukenberg fought hard in that area but Soviet artillery and anti-tank guns were too strong. The Nordland's last Tiger was knocked out attempting to cross the Weidendammer Bridge. Others such as the 3rd (Swedish) Company of the Reconnaissance battalion fought a desperate and ultimately useless battle to escape the surrounding Soviets, as described by Erik Wallin in his book Twilight of the Gods. Several very small groups managed to reach the Americans at the Elbe's west bank, but most (including Mohnke's group and men from Krukenberg's group), could not break through the Soviet ring. Krukenberg made it to Dahlem, where he hid out in an apartment for a week but then had to surrender.
On 2 May hostilities officially ended by order of Helmuth Weidling, Kommandant of the Defence Area Berlin and General of Artillery. All remaining pockets of resistance were mopped up by the Red Army and the 80,000 or so Prisoners of War were marched east. Many SS men, loyal to their oath to Hitler, had already either fought to the death or taken their own lives. Of the few survivors who reached the Western Allies' lines, most were handed over to their respective countries and tried as traitors, some serving prison time and a few even receiving the death penalty.
- SS-Brigadeführer Franz Augsberger (22 March 1943 – 1 May 1943)
- SS-Gruppenführer Fritz von Scholz (1 May 1943 – 27 July 1944)
- SS-Brigadeführer Joachim Ziegler (27 July 1944 – 25 April 1945)
- SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg (25 April 1945 – 8 May 1945)
Order of battle
- SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 Norge
- SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark
- SS-Panzer Battalion 11 Herman von Salza
- SS-Panzer Artilleree Regiment 11
- SS-Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion 11
- SS-Sturmgeschutz Battalion 11
- SS-Panzerjäger Battalion 11
- SS-Signals Battalion 11
- SS-Pionier Battalion 11
- SS-Nachrichtung Abteilung Truppen 11
- SS-Supply troop 11
- SS-Repair Battalion 11
- SS-Wirtschafts Battalion 11
- SS-War Reporter platoon 11
- SS-Feldgendarmerie Troop 11
- SS-Reserve Battalion 11
- SS-Bewährungs-Company 11
- SS-Medical Battalion 11
- SS-Werfer Battalion 521
- SS-Jäger Regiment 11
- "My father the war traitor". BBC News. 29 March 2002. Retrieved 15 October 2008.
- Wilhelm Tieke, In the Firestorm of the Last Years of the War
- Beevor (2002) p. 297.
- Beevor (2002) p. 301.
- Beevor (2002) pp 301, 302.
- Beevor (2002) p. 303.
- Beevor (2002) p. 319.
- Beevor (2002) p. 323.
- Fischer (2008), p. 49.
- Tiemann, Ralf (1998), p. 343.
- Beevor (2002) p. 382, 383.
- Beevor (2002) p. 384.
- Fischer (2008), pp 49–50.
- Waffen-SS foreign volunteers and conscripts
- List of Knight's Cross Recipients 11th SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Norland
- Panzer Division
- Division (military), Military unit
- List of German military units of World War II
- Beevor, Antony. Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Viking-Penguin Books (2002). ISBN 0-670-88695-5.
- Fischer, Thomas. Soldiers Of the Leibstandarte. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. (2008). ISBN 978-0-921991-91-5.
- Hillblad, Thorolf – Twilight of the Gods: A Swedish Waffen-SS Volunteer's Experiences with the 11th SS-Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, Eastern Front 1944–45
- Jean Mabire – La Division Norland
- Michaelis, Rolf – Die 11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division "Nordland"
- Tieke, Wilhelm – Tragedy of the Faithful: A History of III. (Germanisches) SS-Panzer-Korps
- Tiemann, Ralf. The Leibstandarte IV/2, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. (1998). ISBN 0-921991-40-1.
- "11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division 'Nordland'". German language article at www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de. Retrieved 11 April 2005.
- "Nordland: A Brief History (Archived 19 October 2009)". Includes photo of the unusual curved Swastika worn by the division. Retrieved 11 April 2005.
- Wendel, Marcus (2005). "11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland". Retrieved 11 April 2005.
- Danish re-enactor group. "SS Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 ”Danmark”".