23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland

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23rd SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier
Division Nederland
23adivss.gif
Insignia of the 23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland
Active February 1941 – May 1945
Country  Nazi Germany
Allegiance Adolf Hitler
Branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen-SS
Type Panzergrenadier
Size Brigade[citation needed]
Division[citation needed]
Engagements

World War II

The 23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland was a German Waffen-SS division comprising volunteers from the Netherlands. It saw action on the Eastern Front during World War II.

In February 1945, the 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland was to be merged into the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, but after protests from the Dutch National Socialist movement, the Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (NSB), it was formed into its own SS Panzer Grenadier Division, although its strength never reached more than a brigade.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler sought to expand the Waffen SS with foreign military volunteers for the "crusade against Bolshevism". The enrolment began in April 1940 with the creation of two regiments: the Waffen SS Regiment Nordland (for Danish, Norwegian and Swedish volunteers), and the Waffen SS Regiment Westland (for Dutch and Flemish volunteers).

The recruitment drive in Denmark was given an air of respectability by the support of Dutch General Staff Officer Lieutenant-General Hendrik A. Seyffardt. The drive was successful, and by April 1941, volunteers began arriving in Hamburg. They were processed and signed up for service in the Nordwest.

By July 1941, the number of recruits meant that the Nordwest could be dissolved and several separate units formed. The Dutch were organized into SS Volunteer Unit Niederlande. By July 1941 the formation was the size of a reinforced infantry battalion, with five fully motorized companies. The unit was again redesignated, this time as SS Volunteer Legion Niederlande. On 11 July 1941, NSB Leader Anton Mussert called upon all able bodied members of the NSB to sign up for the Legion.

General Seyffardt was recruited to command the Legion, and all recruits were permitted to wear the Prinsenvlag (an unofficial Dutch national flag) on the sleeve of the uniform. When Seyffardt discovered that his formation was to come under the control of the Waffen-SS, he objected, but the Germans ignored his complaints.

The recruits went through basic training in Hamburg, before being sent on to Arys in East Prussia for further training. In November 1941, the legion was ordered to the front near Leningrad, under the overall command of Army Group North.

Battles around Leningrad[edit]

The Legion arrived at the Volkhov river in mid January 1942 and began setting up a defensive line. For the next few weeks it was engaged in operations to prevent the Soviets from establishing a bridgehead on the west bank of the Volkhov. During this period it was also engaged in several offensive operations against Red Army defensive positions, as well as anti-partisan activities. In early February, Mussert visited the front. On 10 February, the Soviets launched a major offensive aimed at the relief of Leningrad. The Legion was engaged in defensive operations until early June.

In June, the Legion had its first chance to go on the offensive, destroying a large Red Army force near Fuhovga Lake. During this battle, the Legion captured 3,500 prisoners, including General Andrey Vlasov,[citation needed] who was to become leader of the Russian Liberation Army. In late June, it was transferred north to take part in the Siege of Leningrad. The Legion was then to take part in an offensive operation code-named Nordlicht. The operation was called off to deal with the Soviet Sinyavino Offensive.

The Legion was then moved south near Lake Ladoga. At the end of 1942 it was regrouped with the 2nd SS Infantry Brigade. The Legion was moved back into the line alongside the SS-Freiwillen-Legion Norwegen, a volunteer unit from Norway. In early January, the Red Army launched another offensive. For defensive actions, SS-Sturmmann Gerardus Mooyman received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross; he was the first non-German to receive the Knight's Cross.

On 6 February, General Seyffardt, while campaigning for new recruits in Amsterdam, was assassinated by the Dutch resistance group CS-6. Soviet attacks resumed and continued throughout the spring thaw. In April 1943, the Legion was ordered back to Sonneberg in Thüringen to be reformed as a Panzergrenadier brigade.

Service in Yugoslavia[edit]

Upon arrival at Sonneberg, the Legion was dissolved and began the task of reforming as the 'SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Brigade Nederland. The brigade was to consist of two Panzer Grenadier regiments. The two Regiments were granted honour titles, the 48th SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Regiment "General Seyffardt", in honour of their dead figurehead, and the 49th SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Regiment "de Ruyter"; it was named after the seventeenth-century Dutch Admiral Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter. Added to this core force were to be Reconnaissance, Pioneer, Panzerjäger and Artillery components. The brigade was to be commanded by SS-Oberführer Jürgen Wagner.

In September 1943, the Brigade was ordered to the Independent State of Croatia (Yugoslavia) to join SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner III SS (Germanic) Panzer Corps currently forming in the area. Upon its arrival, the Brigade received 1,500 Dutch recruits, drawn from the SS Division Wiking. During its time there, elements of the brigade were engaged in operations against Yugoslav Partisans. The fighting was brutal and no quarter was given on either side; however the Brigade showed itself capable in combat. During this period, the brigade was redesignated 4th SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Brigade Nederland. At this time, its strength stood at 9,342 officers and men and was that of a weak division.[citation needed]

On 25 December 1943, the brigade was deemed ready for the front, and, along with Steiner's SS Corps, was moved to the area around Oranienbaum in Army Group North's sector.

Retreat from Oranienbaum[edit]

Upon its arrival at the front, Steiner's SS Corps was deployed to the area near Oranienbaum. the Corps was to form a part of the 18.Armee. Opposing the Corps was General Leonid A. Govorov's Leningrad Front. On 14 January, the Soviets launched the Leningrad-Novgorod Offensive aimed at driving Army Group North from the Leningrad region. Govorov was to attack in conjunction with the adjacent Volkhov Front under General Kiril A. Meretskov.

The Krasnoye Selo–Ropsha Offensive cut through the weak infantry units formed out of the 9th and 10th Luftwaffe Field Divisions defending the line, and by doing so knocked two large, if unreliable, units out of Steiner's newly formed corps.

The Nederland, fighting alongside the 11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland attempted to stem the tide of Govorov's Front, but were soon forced to fall back to avoid encirclement by Meretskov's Force.

The Nederland was involved in the 150 kilometres (93 mi) fighting withdrawal to the Narva River in Estonia, where a line of defence was to be established. The Nederland was to defend the northern and central flanks of the Ivangorod bridgehead.

Battle for the Narva Bridgehead[edit]

Further information: Battle for Narva Bridgehead

The first Soviet attacks began on 3 February; the Soviet forces were unable to dislodge the Nederland's Narva bridgehead. In early March the main focus of the Red Army assaults were directed at the De Ruyter regiment, defending the town of Lilienbach on the northern flank. In fierce hand-to-hand combat, the Dutchmen repulsed the Soviet thrusts, forcing Govorov to look elsewhere for his breakthrough.

After a feint attack towards Nordland's positions, Govorov directed his forces at the "General Seyffardt" regiment, holding the centre of the line. The regiment was forced from its positions, but a counterattack led by regimental commander SS-Standartenführer Wolfgang Jörchel retook the defensive works and averted a Soviet breakthrough.

Govorov again shifted his focus of attack back to the de Ruyter, commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Hans Collani, a veteran of the Wiking division. The Dutch line cracked; only the arrival of Nordland's Panzer Battalion saved the situation. When the Panzer counterattack bogged down, Collani ordered his men to fall back to positions closer to Lilienbach. The Soviets saw this, and began laying heavy artillery fire on the withdrawing Dutchmen. This was followed up with a major assault, and the De Ruyter suffered heavily. Company leader SS-Untersturmführer Helmut Scholz gathered a group of men and went into action, retaking De Ruyter's original positions. On 22 March another assault hit De Ruyter, this time cutting through the lines on 5 Company's front and threatening to destroy the regiment, but the Soviet forces were ultimately unsuccessful.

Withdrawal[edit]

When Govorov realised that the De Ruyter lines would not fold, he shifted his attention south to the Nordland's Danmark regiment. The launch of Operation Bagration on 22 June resulted in Govorov stepping up the pressure. Earlier in February, the Red Army had established the strong Krivasoo bridgehead on the western bank of the Narva and threatened to cut off the entire corps. On 23 July, Steiner ordered a withdrawal to the Tannenbergstellung, a prepared position 16 km to the west.

The General Seyffardt regiment and the brigade's artillery component were to provide a rearguard for the retreating troops. Govorov launched the Narva Offensive on the German lines on 24 July; in the afternoon, the Nederland's artillery battalion started withdrawing across the Narva bridge. After the unit crossed over to the other side, the Nordland's combat engineers blew up the bridge.

However, the General Seyffardt regiment would not survive the withdrawal. Attempting to avoid Red Army forces, the regiment was ordered to take a different route than that originally planned. The withdrawing unit was discovered and pinned down by fighter-bombers of the Red Air Force. Soviet ground forces were brought in to trap the unit; soon the regiment was under attack from the air and the ground. Trapped in the open, the General Seyffardt was destroyed, with only a few personnel reaching the Tannenbergstellung a week later.

With the exception of the General Seyffardt, losses were minor, and Steiner's men began to dig-in on the Tannenbergstellung. The General Seyffardt was ordered to be reformed at Schlochau.

Retreat into Courland[edit]

During the withdrawal to the Tannenbergstellung defensive line, the Nederland was involved in rearguard actions, during which SS-Rottenführer Derk Elsko Bruins earned the Knight's Cross. When the new defensive line was established, the Nederland was pulled out of combat to act as reserve.

The reaction of the brigade to the 20 July plot on Hitler's life had been one of shock and anger, several letters of sympathy and support were sent to Hitler by men from the Nederland. On 24 August, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler sent a letter to the Brigade, praising its fighting spirit.

In September, Leon Degrelle's Kampfgruppe (battle group) from 5.SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Wallonien was placed under the command of the Nederland. During the withdrawal from Estonia, the Nederland faced a new problem. Estonian soldiers, unwilling to leave their country, turned to guerilla warfare. Apart from a few skirmishes, the brigade avoided a large scale fight against its former allies.

Battles in Courland and withdrawal to Germany[edit]

Nederland began the retreat into Courland on 23 September, executing a fighting withdrawal and arriving in the area near Gumi-Wolmar in mid October. The brigade was then attacked by a large Soviet combined arms force, and suffered heavy losses. The Soviet forces cut off Army Group North in the Courland area, creating the Courland Pocket. Stationed alongside the Nordland, the brigade was involved in protecting the strategically important city of Libau, one of the embarkation points for troops to be withdrawn to Germany.

During the fighting in Courland, the brigade was subject to partisan attacks; in retaliation, Wagner ordered the reprisal executions of an unknown number of civilians.

The second Courland offensive was launched by the Soviet forces on 27 October. The next two offensives to reduce the pocket were not in Nederland's sector, and so besides minor skirmishes, the brigade saw little action for the remainder of 1944. On 26 January 1945, the brigade received orders to evacuate the pocket by sea and report to the Swinemünde (now Świnoujście)-Stettin area to participate in the defence of the Oder line. The brigade arrived in German territory on 4 February.

Final battles[edit]

On 10 February, the brigade was redesignated "23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland", although its strength at the time was barely 1,000 men. The new division was attached to Steiner's Eleventh SS Panzer Army, defending the Northern Oder region. The Nederland took part in the abortive Operation Sonnenwende, and the battles near Altdamm in February 1945.

In April 1945, the division was split into two Kampfgruppen, based on the reformed 48th SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Regiment "General Seyffardt" and the 49th SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Regiment "de Ruyter". Kampfgruppe General Seyffardt headed south, Kampfgruppe de Ruyter remained on the northern Oder front.

The final Soviet offensive of 16 April had broken the German lines by 25 April. During the attacks, both formations saw heavy fighting. The breakthrough by the Red Army cut the lines of communication between the two Kampfgruppen. "de Ruyter" was pushed back, attempting to halt the Soviets near the town of Parchim. On 3 May, the Kampfgruppe was attacked by Soviet tanks. Hearing rumours of Americans nearby, the formation broke out to the west, surrendering to the US Army and being sent to a POW Camp near Kraak.

Meanwhile, Kampfgruppe "General Seyffardt" was pushed south by the Soviet offensive, into the area around Halbe. The remnants of the Kampfgruppe were absorbed into Kampfgruppe Vieweger of the 15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Latvian). During the heavy fighting in the battle of Halbe, the "General Seyffardt" was destroyed.

After the war, the survivors were tried in the Netherlands, with several death sentences being handed down. Wagner was extradited to Yugoslavia in 1947 to stand trial for war crimes. Found guilty before the Yugoslav military tribunal, he was sentenced to death and executed on 27 June 1947

Commanders[edit]

  • SS-Sturmbannführer Herbert Garthe (? November 1941 - ? February 1942)
  • SS-Oberführer Otto Reich (SS)|Otto Reich (? February 1942 - 1 April 1942)
  • SS-Obersturmbannführer Arved Theuermann (1 April 1942 - ?)
  • SS-Standartenführer Josef Fitzthum (? - ?)
  • SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Wagner (20 April 1944 - 1 May 1945)

Orders of battle[edit]

SS Volunteer Legion Niederlande[edit]

  • I. Battalion
    • 1. Company
    • 2. Company
    • 3. Company
    • 4. Company
  • II. Battalion
    • 5. Company
    • 6. Company
    • 7. Company
    • 8. Company
  • III. Battalion
    • 9. Company
    • 10. Company
    • 11. Company
    • 12. Company
  • 13. Artillery Company
  • 14. Panzerjäger Company

4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier-Brigade Nederland[edit]

  • SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Regiment 48 General Seyffard
  • SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Regiment 49 de Ruyter
  • SS Artillery Regiment 54
  • SS Signals Battalion 54
  • SS Panzerjäger Battalion 54
  • SS Pionier Battalion 54

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Pierik, Perry - From Leningrad to Berlin: Dutch Volunteers in the German Waffen SS
  • Viccx, Jan / Schotanius, Viktor - Nederlandse vrijwilligers in Europese krijgsdienst 1940-1945 (Vol 3: Vrijw. Pantsergrenadier Brigade Nederland)
  • Tieke, Wilhelm - Tragedy of the Faithful: A History of III. (Germanisches) SS-Panzer-Korps