23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland
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|23rd SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier
Insignia of the 23rd SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nederland
|Active||February 1941 – May 1945|
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 from November 1941.
In February 1945, the 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland was 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 Panzergrenadier Division, although its strength never reached more than a brigade.
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 The Netherlands was given an air of respectability by the support of Dutch General Staff Officer Lieutenant-General Hendrik 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, Nordwest was dissolved to form separate units. 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.
General Seyffardt was recruited to command the Legion, and recruits were permitted to wear the Prinsenvlag (an unofficial Dutch national flag) on the sleeve of the uniform. In November 1941, the legion was ordered to the front near Leningrad, under the overall command of Army Group North.
Battles around Leningrad
The Legion arrived at the Volkhov river in mid January 1942 and, for several 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 the Red Army, as well as anti-partisan activities. 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 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, which was ultimately 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 and 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.
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
Upon arrival at Sonneberg, the Legion was dissolved and began the task of reforming as the SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland. The brigade was to consist of two Panzergrenadier 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", named after the seventeenth-century Dutch Admiral Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter. 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. During this period, the brigade was redesignated 4th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland. At this time, its strength stood at 9,342 men.
Retreat from Oranienbaum
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 18th Army. 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. The Nederland, fighting alongside the SS Division Nordland 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 against the Soviet Kingisepp–Gdov Offensive to the Narva River in Estonia, where a line of defence was established. The Nederland defended the northern and central flanks of the Ivangorod bridgehead.
Narva battles and retreat
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. The attacks continued through late March.
The launch of Operation Operation Bagration on 22 June threatened the German positions. 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 Tannenberg Line, a prepared position 16 km to the west.
The Red Army 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, which was then blown up. The withdrawing General Seyffardt regiment was discovered and pinned down by fighter-bombers of the Red Air Force. The General Seyffardt was destroyed, with only a few personnel reaching the Tannenberg Line a week later. The General Seyffardt was ordered to be reformed at Schlochau.
Withdrawal to Germany
Nederland arrived in the area near Gumi-Wolmar in mid October. 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 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.
On 10 February, the brigade was redesignated 23rd SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nederland, with a strength of 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 Regiment "General Seyffardt" and the 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. The breakthrough by the Red Army cut the lines of communication between the two Kampfgruppen. "de Ruyter" was pushed back to the town of Parchim. On 3 May, the Kampfgruppe, hearing rumours of Americans nearby, the formation broke out to the west, surrendering to the US Army.
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). The "General Seyffardt" was destroyed in the Halbe pocket.
After the war, the unit personnel were tried in the Netherlands, with several death sentences 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.
- SS-Sturmbannführer Herbert Garthe (? November 1941 - ? February 1942)
- SS-Oberführer 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)
- 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)