5th SS Panzer Division Wiking

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5th SS Panzer Division Wiking
5th SS Division Logo.svg
Unit insignia
Active 1941–45
Country  Germany
Allegiance Adolf Hitler
Branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen-SS
Type Panzer
Role Armoured warfare
Size Division
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner
Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille
Oberführer Eduard Deisenhofer
Standartenführer Johannes Mühlenkamp
Oberführer Karl Ullrich
Insignia
Identification
symbol
SSWiking.svg
Identification
symbol
Divisional insignia

The 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking was a Panzer division among the thirty eight Waffen-SS divisions. It was recruited from foreign volunteers in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, the Netherlands and Belgium under the command of German officers. During the course of World War II, the division progressed from a motorised infantry formation to a Panzer division and served on the Eastern Front during World War II. It surrendered in May 1945 to the advancing American forces in Austria.

Formation and training[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).[1][2]

The Nordic formation, originally organised as the Nordische Division (Nr. 5), was to be made up of Nordic volunteers mixed with ethnic German Waffen-SS personnel. The SS Infantry Regiment Germania of the SS-Verfügungs-Division, which was formed mostly from ethnic Germans, was transferred to help form the nucleus of a new division in late 1940.[3][4] In December 1940, the new SS motorised formation was to be designated SS-Division (mot.) Germania, but after its formative period, the name was changed, to SS-Division (mot.) Wiking in January 1941.[5] The Wiking division was formed around three motorised infantry regiments: Germania, Westland, and Nordland; with the addition of the SS Artillery Regiment 5. Command of the newly formed division was given to Brigadeführer Felix Steiner, the former commander of the Verfügungstruppe SS Regiment "Deutschland".[6]

After formation the division was sent to Heuberg in Germany for training and by April 1941, SS Division Wiking was ready for combat. It was ordered east in mid-May, to take part with Army Group South's advance into the Ukraine during Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.[7]

In June 1941 the Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS was formed from volunteers from that country. After training, this unit was attached[citation needed] to the SS Regiment Nordland in January 1942. About 430 Finns who fought in the Winter War served within the SS Division Wiking division since the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. In spring 1943, the Finnish battalion was withdrawn. During that same timeframe, the Wiking's SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Nordland was removed to help form the core of the new 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland. They were replaced by the Estonian infantry battalion Narwa.[8]

Operation Barbarossa[edit]

Main article: Operation Barbarossa
Wiking soldiers deployed to Soviet Russia observe the front in 1941. In the background is a Sd.Kfz. 232 reconnaissance vehicle.

The division was ready for combat on 29 June 1941, one week after the launch of the invasion. It first saw action near Tarnopol in Galicia, Ukraine. In August the division fought for the bridgehead across the Dniepr River. Later, the division took part in the heavy fighting for Rostov-on-Don before being ordered back to the Mius River line in November.

After holding the line over the winter of 1941–42, Wiking was ordered to retake Rostov-on-Don and advance into the Caucasus. This attack was known as Operation Maus, and formed a part of Army Group South's offensive Case Blue, aimed at capturing Stalingrad and the Baku oilfields. Launched at the height of summer, the offensive was unexpectedly successful. Within six weeks, Rostov and the entire Don region had been captured, and Wiking was advancing deep into the Caucasus.[citation needed]

The Caucasus[edit]

A Panzer III from SS Wiking in the summer of 1942; the divisional insignia can be seen on the tank's mudguard

In late September 1942, Wiking participated in the operation aimed to capture the city of Grozny, alongside General der Panzertruppen Traugott Herr's 13th Panzer Division.

The division captured Malgobek on 6 October; however, the objective of seizing Grozny and opening a road to the Caspian Sea was not achieved. The closest point to Grozny, Hill 701, was captured by the Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS Nordland. During this operation, Wiking lost over 1,500 men.

In the first week of November 1942, the division was transferred from the Terek bend to the Urukh-Alagir sector to participate in the renewed attack eastwards, which was attempted in the direction of Ordzhonikidze rather than via Grozny. Upon its arrival there, the unit extricated the 13th Panzer Division from encirclement at Gisel, and then took up defensive positions behind the Fiagdon river. The encirclement of the 6th Army at Stalingrad brought a halt to all further advances in the Caucasus.

After Operation Winter Storm, the aborted attempt to relieve the 6th Army, faltered in the face of further Soviet advances on the middle Don, the Caucasian position itself came under threat. Erich von Manstein, the commander of Army Group South, proposed another attempt towards Stalingrad. To that end, Wiking entrained on 24 December; however, by the time it arrived on 31 December, it was forced to plug the gap made by the destruction of the Romanian corps on LVII Panzer Korps’ right flank on the 26th and to cover the withdrawal of Army Group A from the Caucasus towards Rostov. The division escaped through the Rostov gap on 4 February.

Battles for Kharkov[edit]

A captured motorbike with "SS Wiking" insignia – Ukraine front

In late-November 1942 the division was redesignated the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking. In early 1943, it was ordered to fall back to Ukraine south of Kharkov, recently abandoned by Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser's II SS Panzer Corps.

In the remaining weeks of February, the SS Panzer Corps, including Wiking, under the command of Erich von Manstein's Army Group South, engaged Mobile Group Popov, the major Soviet attacking force named after Markian Popov. The losses of Mobile Group Popov halted the Soviet offensive which followed the Battle of Stalingrad and stabilized Manstein's front. After the recapture of Kharkov, Wiking was pulled out of combat to be refitted as a Panzergrenadier division.

In 1943, Steiner, now a Gruppenführer, was transferred to command the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps, currently forming in Croatia. His replacement was Herbert Otto Gille. The remnants of the SS Regiment Nordland, along with its commander Fritz von Scholz, were removed from the division and used to build the new 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland. The Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS was disbanded, as the agreed two years' service of the Finnish volunteers had ended. In an attempt to offset the loss of the Finns and the Nordland regiment, the newly formed Estonian volunteer unit Narwa was attached to the division.[citation needed]

Kursk: battles on the Mius[edit]

While the division was refitting, it was involved in minor skirmishes with partisans. The reorganization was completed by late June, and the division was moved to Izyum where it, along with the 23.Panzer-Division was to form the reserve force for Manstein's Army Group during the approaching Operation Citadel. While the operation was in effect, several Soviet formations attacked towards Orel and Kharkov simultaneously. Wiking was engaged against the forces near Kharkov.

Further to the south, on the Mius-Front, a major Red Army offensive, Operation Rumyantsev, threatened to break the German lines. Wiking was joined by the 3rd SS Totenkopf Panzer Division and the 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich and sent to the Mius-Bogodukhov sector. The Soviets took Kharkov on 23 August and began advancing towards the Dnieper. In October, the division was pulled back out of the line, to be restructured as a panzer division, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking.

Korsun Pocket[edit]

To bolster the strength of the division, the 5th SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonien was attached to the division, under the command of Leon Degrelle. A second panzer Battalion was also ordered to begin forming in Germany.

On January 24, Red Army tank formations encircled the German forces of XLII and XI Army Corps near Korsun, including the division. During the battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, Wiking fought on the eastern side of the pocket. While General der Artillerie Wilhelm Stemmermann, the overall commander of the 'pocket', moved his forces to the west in readiness for an attempt to breakout, Wiking, along with the 5th SS Sturmbrigade were ordered to act as the rearguard.

After fighting near the town of Novaya-Buda, Wiking rearguard split up and began withdrawing under cover of darkness. Advancing through "Hell's Gate", Wiking came under heavy fire. The division suffered heavy losses in men and materiel during battles in the Korsun Pocket. Afterwards, the Wallonien brigade was withdrawn from the division.

Kovel encirclement[edit]

After a brief period of rest and refit, Wiking was sent to assist in the defence of Kovel. Gille's unit advanced towards the town and began setting up a defensive perimeter, which was soon encircled by the Red Army. The 2nd Battalion, SS Panzer Regiment 5 Wiking, equipped with newly arrived Panther tanks, along with the 3rd Battalion, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment Germania, well equipped and up to strength, arrived at the front from Germany and began to form a relief formation. After the relief force had established a corridor to the trapped forces, the withdrawal began. Unlike the previous encirclement at Korsun, Wiking managed to escape with most of its equipment intact.

Warsaw battles[edit]

Warsaw Uprising insurgents inspect war trophies including an armband with the Wiking name
A German SdKfz 251 armoured fighting vehicle of the Wiking Division captured by the Polish insurgents

In late-August 1944, the division was ordered back to Modlin Fortress on the Vistula River line near Warsaw where it was to join the newly formed Army Group Vistula. Fighting alongside the Luftwaffe's "Hermann Göring" Panzer Division, the division participated in the Battle of Radzymin. The German counterattacks brought the Soviet offensive to a halt and the front line stabilized for the rest of the year.

The division remained in the Modlin area, grouped with the 3 SS Totenkopf and the IV SS Panzer Corps. Gille was promoted to the command of the new SS Panzer Corps, and after a brief period with Oberführer Dr. Eduard Deisenhofer in command, Standartenführer Johannes Mühlenkamp, commander of the SS Panzer Regiment 5 Wiking, took command. Heavy defensive battles around Modlin followed for the rest of the year, and in October, Mühlenkamp was replaced by Oberführer Karl Ullrich. Ullrich lead the division for the rest of the war.

In late-December 1944, the German forces, including IX SS Mountain Corps, defending Budapest were encircled and the IV SS Panzer Corps was ordered south to join Hermann Balck's 6th Army (Army Group Balck), which was preparing for a relief effort, codenamed Operation Konrad.

Budapest relief efforts[edit]

As a part of Operation Konrad I, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking was committed to action on 1 January 1945, fighting alongside the 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf. Near Tata, the advance columns of the Wiking attacked the 4th Guards Army. The Soviet forces halted the German advance at Bicske, 28 kilometres from Budapest. Gille pulled Wiking out of the line and moved it to the south of Esztergom, near the Danube bend.

The second relief attempt, Operation Konrad II, got under way on 7 January. Wiking advanced south towards Budapest. By 12 January, the SS Panzergrenadier Regiment Westland had reached Pilisszentkereszt, 20 kilometres from Buda. Despite initial successes, the division was unable to exploit its breakthrough and was ordered to pull back and regroup.

A third attempt, Operation Konrad III, in cooperation with the III Panzer Corps, took place 100 kilometres to the south. It went underway on 20 January and achieved initial tactical success. The quick redeployment of more Red Army troops prevented a German breakthrough, turning the German forces back by 28 January. By the end of January, Wiking and Totenkopf had suffered almost 8,000 casualties, including over 200 officers.

On 13 February, Budapest capitulated, and Wiking was ordered west to Lake Balaton, where Oberstgruppenführer 'Sepp' Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army was preparing for the Lake Balaton Offensive.

Final battles[edit]

After the failure of Konrad III, Wiking began defensive operations, falling back west of Budapest and moving into Czechoslovakia. Gille's corps was too depleted to take part in Operation Spring Awakening (Frulingserwachen) near Lake Balaton, and instead remained as a support to the 6th SS Panzer Army during the beginning of the operation.

Wiking performed a holding operation on the left flank of the offensive, in the area between Lake Velence-Székesfehérvár. As the operation progressed, the division was engaged in preventing Soviet efforts at outflanking the advancing German forces. However, as the offensive stalled, the Red Army launched a major offensive, the Vienna Operation, on 15 March.

Balck recommended moving the I SS Panzer Corps north to prevent the encirclement of the IV SS Panzer Corps. However, it was too late. On 22 March, the Soviet encirclement of Totenkopf and Wiking was almost complete. Balck ordered 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen to hold open a small exit, the Berhida Corridor. In the battle to hold it open, Hohenstaufen suffered heavy casualties, but Gille's corps escaped.

On 24 March, another Soviet attack threw the IV SS Panzer Corps back towards Vienna; all contact was lost with the neighbouring I SS Panzer Corps, and any resemblance of an organised line of defence was gone. Wiking withdrew further into Czechoslovakia. The division surrendered to the American forces near Fürstenfeld, Austria on 9 May.

War crimes[edit]

Members of the division's bakery column, led by Obersturmführer Braunnagel and Untersturmführer Kochalty, assisted Einsatzgruppe A in rounding up Ukrainian Jews.[when?] Witnesses report that the Jewish victims were forced to run a gauntlet formed by soldiers who would beat them as they passed, and when they reached the end of the gauntlet, Einsatzgruppen officers murdered them and their bodies were pushed into a bomb crater. The German 1st Mountain Division is also suspected of being involved. Between 50 and 60 Jews were killed in this manner, as a part of the larger Einsatzgruppe operation which resulted in over 700 murders.[9]

In addition historian Eleonore Lappin from the Institute for the History of Jews in Austria, has documented several cases of war crimes committed by members of Wiking in her work The Death Marches of Hungarian Jews Through Austria in the Spring of 1945.[10]

On 28 March 1945, 80 Jews from an evacuation column, although fit for the journey, were shot by three members of Wiking and five military policemen. On 4 April, 20 members of another column that left Graz tried to escape near the town of Eggenfeld, not far from Gratkorn. Soldiers from Wiking that were temporarily stationed there apprehended them in the forest near Mt. Eggenfeld and then herded them into a gully, where they were shot. On 7–11 April 1945, members of the division executed another eighteen escaped prisoners.[10]

Modern reports[edit]

In 2013 the NRK quoted "the first Norwegian [to publicly admit] that he participated in war crimes and extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe"[11] during World War II, former soldier of the division, Olav Tuff, who admitted: "In one instance in Ukraine during the autumn of 1941, civilians were herded like cattle—into a church. Shortly afterwards soldiers from my unit started to pour gasoline onto the church and somewhere between 200 and 300 humans were burned inside [the church]. I was assigned as guard, and no one came out."[11]

The 2014 Norwegian book Morfar, Hitler og jeg (Grandfather, Hitler and I) quotes the diary of a division soldier from 1941-1943: "and then we cleaned a Jew hole".[12]

Josef Mengele[edit]

Main article: Josef Mengele
Josef Mengele in 1956. This picture was taken by a police photographer in Buenos Aires for Josef Mengele's Argentine identification document

The notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, served with the SS Division Wiking during its early campaigns. He served as a combat medic and was awarded the Iron Cross for saving two wounded men from a tank. After being wounded himself, Mengele was deemed unfit for combat and was absorbed into the SS Nazi concentration camp system. Mengele was proud of his Waffen-SS service and his front-line decorations. As the horrors of his crimes came to light, former personnel of the division attempted to have his name removed from its rolls.[13][page needed]

Commanders[edit]

Orders of battle[edit]

SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Wiking, February 1943

  • SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Germania
  • SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Westland
  • SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Nordland (Withdrawn 1943)
  • SS-Panzer-Abteilung Wiking
  • SS-Artillerie-Regiment Wiking
  • SS-Panzerjäger (anti-tank) – Abteilung Wiking
  • SS-Aufklärungs-(reconnaissance) – Abteilung Wiking
  • SS-Sturmgeschütz (assault gun) – Batterie Wiking
  • SS-Flak (anti-aircraft) – Abteilung Wiking
  • SS-Pionier (assault pioneer) – Battalion Wiking
  • SS-Nachrichten (military intelligence) – Abteilung Wiking
  • SS-Feldersatz (replacement) – Battalion Wiking
  • SS-Versorgungseinheiten (supply unit) – Wiking
  • Finnisches Freiwilligen-Battalion der Waffen-SS (Withdrawn 1943)

5. SS-Panzer-Division Wiking, April 1944

  • SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 9 Germania
  • SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 10 Westland
  • SS-Panzer-Regiment 5
  • SS-Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 5
  • SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Bataillon Narwa (Withdrawn 1944)
  • SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonien (Withdrawn 1944)
  • SS-Panzerjäger-Abteilung 5
  • SS-Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 5
  • SS-Flak-Abteilung 5
  • SS-Werfer- (mortar) – Abteilung 5
  • SS-Panzer-Nachrichten – Abteilung 5
  • SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs – Abteilung 5
  • SS-Panzer-Pionier – Battalion 5
  • SS-Instandsetzungs (repair) – Abteilung 5
  • SS-Nachschub (supply) – Abteilung 5
  • SS-Wirtschafts-Battalion 5
  • SS-Sanitäts (field medical) – Abteilung 5
  • SS-Feldlazarett (field hospital) 5
  • SS-Kriegsberichter-Zug 5
  • SS-Feldgendarmerie-Trupp (military police unit) 5
  • SS-Feldersatz-Battalion (replacement) 5

Manpower strength[edit]

June 1941 19,377
Dec 1942 15,928
Dec 1943 14,647
June 1944 17,368
Dec 1944 14,800

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ripley, p. 51
  2. ^ McNab, pp. 167, 178
  3. ^ Ripley, p. 52
  4. ^ McNab, p. 167
  5. ^ Stein, pp. 103, 104
  6. ^ Stein, p. 103
  7. ^ McNab, p. 178
  8. ^ Littlejohn (1987) p. 53.
  9. ^ Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. p. 63 Richard Rhodes. Vintage; Reprint edition (Aug 12 2003)
  10. ^ a b Lappin
  11. ^ a b Olav Tuff (91): Vi brente en kirke med sivilister
  12. ^ Ei ny fortid [A new past] "Bestefaren Per Pedersen Tjøstland var frontkjempar i 5. SS Panzer-divisjon Wiking frå 1941–1943, og skreiv for bladet Germaneren. Hans eigne dagbøker og artiklar er ei hovudkjelde, men Jackson skriv at det er umulig å vite nøyaktig kva han var med på. Kanskje seier det sitt at han bruker uttrykket «så rensket vi et jødehull»"
  13. ^ Clifton

References[edit]