11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland

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11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland
11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division „Nordland“.svg
Divisional insignia of the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland
Active July 1943 – May 1945
Country Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Allegiance Adolf Hitler
Branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen-SS
Type Panzergrenadier
Size Division
Engagements Battle of Narva (1944)
Battle of Berlin
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Franz Augsberger
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[edit]

By 1943, the foreign formations of the Waffen-SS had an established record in combat, including the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, which had been in action since 1940. These foreign units, however, were commanded by German officers.

In February 1943, Hitler ordered the creation of an SS division which would be officered by foreign volunteers. In March 1943, the Wiking's SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Nordland, a Scandinavian volunteer regiment, was separated from the Wiking Division and pulled out of the line to be used as the nucleus for the new division.[1] The Nordland's two Panzergrenadier regiments were also given titles that referenced the location where the majority of the regiment's recruits were from, SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 Norge (Norway) and SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark (Denmark). Both regiments had addition men made up of conscripts from Hungary.[2]

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, where the SS Volunteer Legion Netherlands was attached to it. The division began combat operations against Josip Broz Tito's partisans in September 1943.[3] In late November, the Danmark regiment was involved in heavy fighting 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).

In January 1944, the division was transferred to the Oranienbaum front near Leningrad, under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model's Army Group North.

Leningrad to Narva[edit]

Nordland, along with the rest of III. (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps arrived at the front near Leningrad and was put into action against the Red Army attacks aimed at breaking the German encirclement of the city.[4] The Red Army forced the Nordland to withdraw to Oranienbaum. On 14 January 1944, the Soviet Krasnoye Selo–Ropsha Offensive succeeded in collapsing the German front, forcing the Nordland to retreat and fight "rear-guard" actions back to the city of Narva in northeastern Estonia to a new defensive line.[5]

In early February, Soviet forces began their attacks towards the city and the Battle of Narva began. The participating units included the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps, the 5th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Wallonien, the 6th SS Volunteer Sturmbrigade Langemarck, the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian), as well as regular German army formations.

The Kingisepp–Gdov Offensive was launched on 13 February, with Soviet forces attacking across the front-line, as well as launching an amphibious assault from the Baltic near Mereküla. Over the next five months, the Waffen-SS units fought in defensive actions against the Soviet Army attacks. The launching of Operation Bagration in June 1944 led to the Narva Offensive. The German forces moved 16 kilometres west to the Tannenberg Line.

Tannenberg Line – Courland Pocket[edit]

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. During these battles the Nordland Division's commander, Gruppenführer Fritz von Scholz, was killed in action, along with the commanders of the Norge and Danmark regiments.

The III SS Panzer Corps suffered heavy casualties defending the Tannenberg Line. In September, the unit took part in the abandonment of the Estonian territory, a retreat codenamed Operation Aster (German: Unternehmen "Aster"). The division was pulled back into Latvia to defend the capital, Riga. The city fell on 12 October; by the end of the month, the Waffen-SS units had been withdrawn into what was known as the Courland Pocket.

From late October to December 1944, the Nordland remained 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 evacuated by sea.[6] 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[edit]

In early February 1945, the refitted Panzer Battalion returned to the division along with other reinforcements. On 16 February, the division participated in Operation Sonnenwende, the plan to destroy a Soviet salient and to relieve the troops encircled in the town of Arnswalde. Initially, their attack achieved a tactical surprise and the division soon advanced to the banks of Lake Ihna. However, the Soviet forces offered stiff resistance and the advance began to slow. On 17 February, the division reached Arnswalde and relieved the garrison.

Strong Soviet counter-attacks soon halted the division's advance, and Steiner pulled 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).[7]

By 21 February, Steiner ordered a general withdrawal back to the north bank of the Ihna. Between the 23rd and 28th, III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps withdrew 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 III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps, before them. By 4 March, the division was falling back to Altdamm, the last defensive position east of the Oder. On 19 March, Nordland fell back behind the Oder. The division was ordered back to the area west of Schwedt-Bad Freinwalde for a refit. During this time, the Spanish Volunteer Company of the SS No.101 was attached to the division. The division's strength was further replenished with the addition of vehicles and personnel from the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine.

Defence of Berlin[edit]

On 16 April, Nordland was ordered back into the line east of Berlin. Despite recent replenishment, the division was still grossly understrength. From 17 to 20 April, the division was involved in combat all along its front, and withdrew into the city. On 24 April, the main Soviet assault was towards the Treptow Park area, which the rest of the Pioneer battalion and the 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. However, by midday, the 5th Shock Army was able to advance again.[8] A later counter-attack by three assault guns was stopped by a Soviet soldier named Shulzhenok with three captured German Panzerfausts.[9]

Later in the evening of 24 April between 320 and 330 French troops from the 33rd Waffen-Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne arrived in Berlin after a long detour to avoid Soviet advance columns.[10] 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 earlier the same day. The French Waffen-SS troops now known as Sturmbataillon "Charlemagne" was attached to the Nordland Division. The arrival of the French bolstered the Nordland Division whose "Norge" and "Danmark" Panzergrenadier regiments had been decimated in the fighting. They each roughly equalled a battalion.[11]

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 Charlemagne 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.[12] 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.[13]

The Soviet forces advance into Berlin followed a pattern of massive shelling followed by assaults using house-clearing battle groups of about 80 men in each, with tank escorts and close artillery support. On 27 April, the remnants of Nordland were pushed back into the central government district (Zitadelle sector) in Defence sector Z. Krukenberg's Nordland headquarters was a carriage in the Stadtmitte U-Bahn station.[14] Thereafter, the defenders of the government district were pushed back into the Reichstag and Reich Chancellery.[15][16]

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.[17] 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 northwest towards Mecklenburg.[18]

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.[19] 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.[17] Krukenberg made it to Dahlem, where he hid out in an apartment for a week but then had to surrender.[20]

On 2 May hostilities officially ended by order of Helmuth Weidling, Kommandant of the Defence Area Berlin and General of Artillery.[21] All remaining pockets of resistance were mopped up by the Red Army and 80,000 or so prisoners of war were marched east. Of the few SS men who reached the Western Allies' lines during the break-out, most were handed over to their respective countries and tried as traitors, some serving prison time and a few receiving the death penalty.

Commanders[edit]

Order of battle[edit]

  • 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

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Littlejohn (1987) p. 52.
  2. ^ Littlejohn (1987) p. 54.
  3. ^ Littlejohn (1987) p. 54.
  4. ^ Littlejohn (1987) p. 54.
  5. ^ Littlejohn (1987) p. 54.
  6. ^ Littlejohn (1987) p. 54.
  7. ^ Wilhelm Tieke, In the Firestorm of the Last Years of the War
  8. ^ Beevor (2002) p. 297.
  9. ^ Beevor (2002) p. 301.
  10. ^ Forbes (2010) [2006] pp. 396-398.
  11. ^ Beevor (2002) pp 301, 302.
  12. ^ Beevor (2002) p. 303.
  13. ^ Beevor (2002) p. 319.
  14. ^ Beevor (2002) p. 323.
  15. ^ Forbes (2010) [2006] p. 425.
  16. ^ Beevor (2002) pp. 321, 323, 351-352.
  17. ^ a b Fischer (2008), p. 49.
  18. ^ Tiemann, Ralf (1998), p. 343.
  19. ^ Beevor (2002) p. 382, 383.
  20. ^ Beevor (2002) p. 384.
  21. ^ Fischer (2008), pp 49–50.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Beevor, Antony (2002). Berlin – The Downfall 1945. Viking-Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0670030415. 
  • Fischer, Thomas (2008). Soldiers of the Leibstandarte. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-0921991915. 
  • Forbes, Robert (2010) [2006]. For Europe: The French Volunteers of the Waffen-SS. Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-3581-0. 
  • Hillblad, Thorolf – Twilight of the Gods: A Swedish Waffen-SS Volunteer's Experiences with the 11th SS-Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, Eastern Front 1944–45
  • Littlejohn, David (1987). Foreign Legions of the Third Reich Vol. 1 Norway, Denmark, France. Bender Publishing. ISBN 978-0912138176. 
  • Tieke, Wilhelm – Tragedy of the Faithful: A History of III. (Germanisches) SS-Panzer-Korps
  • Tiemann, Ralf (1998). The Leibstandarte–IV/2. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz. ISBN 0-921991-40-1.