Norwegian Volunteers in the German Wehrmacht in WWII
|During World War II a great number of volunteers from Norway served within the ranks of the German Wehrmacht. Prior to 1940, there were few such volunteers, but after the invasion, their numbers increased dramatically totaling around 50,000 by wars end. Nowhere did Norwegians serve in greater numbers than in the ranks of the Waffen-SS, but equal mention should also be made of those who served in the Kriegsmarine, Luftwaffe, Heer and in the various auxiliary forces such as Organization Todt and even the Reichsarbeitdients.|
Starting with the German Kriegsmarine, although no national unit consisting of Norwegians was ever formed, it is known that a number did indeed serve in its ranks. In 1944, an official order was drafted pertaining to the issue and wear of a Norwegian National Shield for volunteers in the service of the Kriegsmarine, although as of this time, no photographic evidence of its use has ever been found. The collaborationist Norwegian NS party version of the Naval Hitler Youth, the Hirdmarinen, and the Unghirdmarinen provided young recruits for the German Navy much like their German counterpart. An accurate total of the number of Norwegians in the Kriegsmarine is not currently known, but somewhere between 400-500 is close to the actual total.
In the German Army, most Norwegian volunteers served independently in various units, and much like those in the Kriegsmarine, an accurate total will likely never be known. Most likely between 1-5,000 Norwegians served in various German Heer units. An interesting and unique national unit actually formed by the German Heer was the Wachdienst Norwegen, formed in 1942 as an auxiliary guard unit of older Norwegian men. Its history is very obscure, and its combat value obviously very insignificant, but the fact that is was formed at all is interesting enough. Other than the Wachdienst Norwegen, no other national units consisting of Norwegian Volunteers was formed by the German Heer.
Norwegians in the service of the German Luftwaffe were much the same as those in the Kriegsmarine. No national unit was ever formed, and an accurate total is, once again, not known. There were likely between 1-3,000 such volunteers. Much like the Norwegian NS party Hirdmarinen and Unghirdmarinen, there also existed an air-related youth branch, the equal of the German Flieger-Hitlerjugend, called the Hirdens Flykorpset. It too provided young recruits to the German Luftwaffe, the first batch being transferred in 1943.
Norwegians also served in various German auxiliary organizations, in this case, those serving in the ranks of the Organization Todt being the largest group. The Organization Todt was an auxiliary construction group employed in the building of roads, forts, and other military-oriented structures. Partly responsible for the building of the Westwall fortifications in Germany and the Atlantic Wall in France, the Low Countries, and Norway, Org. Todt was very valuable to the German Wehrmacht. As such, a large number of volunteers were incorporated into it, the total number of Norwegians believed to be many thousands. Norwegians also served in the NSKK and NSFK, although here they served in much smaller numbers than in Org. Todt. Photographic evidence also proves the existence of Norwegians in the Reichsarbeitdienst, an auxiliary service not widely-known for accepting foreign volunteers.
As stated earlier, the largest single source of Norwegian volunteers was in the Waffen-SS, and it is with the Waffen-SS that we will now focus. Other than the brief mention throughout this article of the various Norwegian collaborationist organizations from which many volunteers were gathered, their history and organization are dealt with separately in the section on Norwegian Collaborationist forces.
Norway was invaded by Germany on April 9, 1940. The attack was a surprise, and the 50,000 man Royal Norwegian Army fought back as best it could, aided eventually by British, French, and Polish troops. By June of that year, the German hold on the country was secure.
After the Germans occupied Oslo, Vidkun Quisling announced himself as the head of a new, pro-German Norwegian government. Hitler ordered him to step down soon after. Quisling was a career soldier in the Norwegian Army. During 1931 and 1932 he had served briefly as the Minister of Defense in the cabinet of the ruling Agrarian Party. He was considered a failure at this post, and then cut his ties with the Agrarians. During 1933 Quisling started his own right-wing party after witnessing the ascension to power of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. Quisling called his party Nasjonal Samling, Norwegian for National Unity.
The NS movement never gained a wide following, but the support it did receive came principally from conservative army officers. The party placed the good of Norway above all other concerns. Most of those members of the Norwegian Army who belonged to Nasjonal Samling fought against the Germans during the 1940 campaign.
The Germans practiced a “divide and rule” policy after the occupation. Josef Terboven was appointed Reichskommissar for Norway. He and Quisling detested each other, and both vied for authority among pro-German Norwegians. There had always been a few dissenters among the ranks of Nasjonal Samling and their number would grow during the war.
The Germans declared Nasjonal Samling to be the only legal political party in Norway. Quisling’s authority grew, and during 1942 he was appointed Minister-President of his country. He had earlier asked the highly regarded Norwegian soldier Jonas Lie to become Norwegian Minister of Justice. Lie was a pre-war friend of Terboven and was not close to Quisling. He declined the post but did become Chief of Norwegian Police.
Lie and Terboven sought to undermine Quisling and did so on May 21, 1941, by establishing the Norwegian branch of the Allgemeine-SS. This was called the Norges-SS, before settling on the name Germanske-SS Norge. This attracted young men and disaffected members of NS. It preached a Pan-Germanic message, which saw Norway as a part of a Greater Germanic Europe. The GSSN members saw the NS as an old-fashioned (and Free Mason influenced), a near-sighted movement that placed the good of Norway ahead of the good of Europe as a whole.
Quisling officially approved of the creation of the GSSN, though it cannot have pleased him much. Almost all of the members of the GSSN were also NS members, so the rivalry only became extreme in a few cases. The NS maintained its own “active” or “stormtrooper” section to which most able-bodied male members belonged. This was called the Hird, and there were also separate women’s (Kvinehird), youth (NSUF), and other auxiliary branches. Almost all Norwegian volunteers for the Waffen-SS belonged to the Hird, and many also held GSSN membership. Many of the women who volunteered to become Red Cross Front sister nurses belonged to the Kvinehird. Thus the background is set for the story of the Norwegian Waffen-SS.
On April 20, 1940, the Regiment Nordland was ordered to begin forming. This unit was to incorporate Norwegians, Danes, and ethnic-German Nordschleswigers into a regiment of the Waffen-SS. This was despite the fact that Norway was not fully occupied, and that Denmark had only been occupied for 11 days. Only a few hundred men from each country volunteered, so German citizens formed the bulk of the unit. Few, if any, Norwegians are known to have joined during 1940, but on January 12 of the next year, Quisling broadcast a speech over Norwegian radio asking for volunteers for the unit. Men started reporting for service in Regiment Nordland the next day.
On June 15, 1940, a sister regiment named Westland was ordered to begin forming. This was to incorporate Dutch and Flemish volunteers. During December 1940, Nordland, Westland, and the SS-VT Regiment Germania were assigned to together form a new division, one that became known eventually as Wiking.
Norwegians who volunteered for Nordland were gradually called up in groups. At least five groups were sent out of the country for training. While most of the men did end up in Nordland, some in the latter groups were instead diverted to Germania, Westland, or the other units raised for Wiking. Norwegians served in Wiking’s Artillerie Regiment, Flak Abteilung, and Aufklaerungs Abteilung, and probably elsewhere in the division.
Wiking advanced across Ukraine during the 1941 German invasion of the USSR. Nordland crossed the border into Ukraine on June 29 and took its first casualties two days later when I. Bataillon was shelled by the Soviets. The regiment was commanded by officers who would have a history of working with Norwegian volunteers. The regiment commander was the Austrian nobleman Fritz von Scholz. He was worshiped by his men much as Frederick the Great had been by his soldiers, so von Scholz was affectionately known by Frederick’s nickname of “Alten Fritz” (Old Fritz). Under him were I.Bataillon commander Harry Polewacz, II. Bataillon commander Arnold Stoffers, and III. Bataillon commander Walter Ploew. Polewacz was later succeeded by Hanns-Heinrich Lohmann, and Ploew succeeded by Albrecht Kruegel.
On August 18 of 1941, 294 Norwegians were counted in Wiking. On October 19, the number was 291. The “group 5” volunteers only reached the front in early December, so the total was higher by January 1942. Ultimately, by the spring of 1943, 800 Norwegians had passed through Wiking.
Nordland spent the winter of 1941-42 along the Mius River in eastern Ukraine. The casualties of the past months could not be made good at the time, so the fourth company of each battalion in the regiment was disbanded. Regiment commander Fritz von Scholz was awarded the Knight’s Cross for his men’s performance on January 18, 1942.
During July 1942, Wiking advanced to the southeast, reaching the Caucasus. During this campaign, the Finnish volunteer battalion became the new III./Nordland. The Norwegians in Nordland fought in the West Caucasus before transferring to fight in the East Caucasus. This offensive failed, and by January 1943 a new III./Nordland joined the regiment. Von Scholz transferred to take command of the 2. SS-Infanterie Brigade, and was succeeded by Wolfgang Joerchel.
Joerchel took over the regiment during the retreat from the Caucasus and Kuban regions. Wiking next helped contain the Soviet offensive towards the Dnieper, before taking part in von Manstein’s counteroffensive, the so-called “miracle on the Donetz.” By late March the fighting subsided. Nordland rested near Isjum, close to its positions from a year earlier.
In recognition of Nordland’s success, Fritz von Scholz, Harry Polewacz, Hanns-Heinrich Lohmann, Albrecht Kruegel, and Arnold Stoffers all won the German Cross in Gold.
Nordland held its final parade on April 20, 1943, at Moeglich, south of Kharkov. The regiment then turned over its remaining weapons to the other elements of Wiking. It reassembled at Grafenwoehr in Bavaria and officially disbanded. The Norwegians received two weeks of home leave, during which they were allowed to consider their future. All were encouraged to join the new Norwegian Panzergrenadier regiment that was to be formed, but many decided to leave the German service and remain in Norway. Those who chose to continue serving returned to Grafenwoehr in late May 1943, for the formation of SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment Norge.
In the meantime, many more Norwegians had fought on the opposite end of the Eastern Front. Their odyssey began on June 29, 1941, when Josef Terboven announced the creation of a Norwegian Legion to fight against the USSR. Quisling supported the effort and assumed that the unit would fight in Finland. Many Norwegian officers, at first almost 400, were eager to join the legion. A recruiting rally was held in Oslo on July 4 with the aid of the Finnish consul. The legion was to be a full regiment, and Quisling thought he had a German promise that it would form the core of anew Norwegian Army.
The legion became known simply as the Norwegian Legion: Den Norske Legion(DNL) in Norwegian or Legion Norwegen in German. The first battalion carried the title Viken, in honor of a traditional unit from the Oslo area. The second battalion was to be called Gula, and the third Frosta, but these were never formed.
Several thousand Norwegians volunteered for DNL. Those who were Hird members showed this by wearing a silver-on-black version of the St. Olaf’s Cross on their left sleeve (the Hird uniform used a gold-on-red version). As they arrived in Germany for training it became clear that the unit would be part of the German military and not part of a new Norwegian Army. This caused the head of the Oslo coordination office, Finn Hanibal Kjelstrup, to resign on December 1, 1941. DNL and Viken battalion commander Joergen Bakke proved unable to get along with the Germans or with his fellow countrymen. Bakke resigned on or about December 15.
By that time the world situation had changed. The USA was now at war with Germany and many of the Norwegian volunteers were well-disposed towards the Americans. The volunteers had only signed up on a six-month trial basis, and many of them left when their enlistment was up. Besides the entry of the USA into the war, the fact that DNL was to be part of the German military, and seemed unlikely to fight in Finland, influenced these men. DNL could only form a reinforced battalion for front service.
Norwegian officer Arthur Quist took command of DNL. The unit amounted to three infantry companies, a heavy weapons company, an antitank company, and a war reporters platoon. A replacement battalion was formed in Norway under later Knight’s Cross winner Heinrich Petersen. It later moved to its permanent home at Mitau, Latvia. There it was commanded by Erich Friedrich Dahm and his assistant Meino Dirks. These three officers were all Germans.
DNL arrived in the Leningrad sector in late February 1942 and assumed positions south of the city. It was under the jurisdiction of the 2.SS-Infanterie Brigade, which also included the Dutch and Flemish Legions and several Latvian Schuma battalions. At this time Quist was in command of the 1218 men of DNL. He was an NS member, but he refused to politicize the unit, despite the wishes of some of his subordinates. Under him was 1. Kompanie commander: Olaf Lindvig (a prominent member of the GSSN), later succeeded by the Germans Dieter Radbruch and Friedrich Ziegler; 2.Kompanie commander: Karsten Sveen (Norwegian); 3. Kompanie commander: Joergen Braset (Norwegian); 4. Schwere Kompanie commander: Ragnar Berg (a founding member of NS, then a founding member of the GSSN) succeeded byNjaal Reppen (both Norwegians); 14. Pak Kompanie: Finn Finson (Norwegian).
DNL suffered its first officer casualty on March 19 when Soviet artillery fire landed on the positions of 4. Kompanie. The III. Trupp bunker was hit, and commander Charles Westberg and three comrades were killed. Five other volunteers had already been killed in action up to this point. April 16 was a black day for the legion. Ragnar Berg led 18 men of his company in a raid on the Soviet positions during the night of April 15-16. The group was discovered, and Berg died along with seven others. Many of the survivors were wounded.
Two days later a major Soviet attack hit the Norwegians. It was repulsed in heavy combat. During May 1942 DNL was withdrawn to Konstantinovka to accept replacements. There it was visited by Quisling and Higher SS and Police Leader for Norway Wilhelm Rediess. DNL commander Arthur Quist was awarded the Iron Cross I as the first Norwegian overall.
DNL returned to the Leningrad sector during June 1942. On July 20 the 14.Pak Kompanie helped stop a Soviet penetration in the lines of a neighboring Latvian battalion. I. Zug NCO Arnfinn Vik distinguished himself in this engagement.
Jonas Lie raised the 1. Politie (Police) Kompanie from excess policemen. It joined DNL on the front line during September. Lie later served as deputy legion commander while Quist was away from the unit in early 1943. Numerous firefights caused continuous casualties for DNL through the autumn. On December 4 the Norwegians saw some of their toughest combat as 3. and 4. Kompanien counterattacked a Soviet penetration of the Legion Nederland’s lines. By the end of 1942, DNL had a strength of only 700 men.
During January 1943, Jonas Lie received the Iron Cross I, and Fritz von Scholz arrived to take command of 2. SS-Infanterie Brigade. The front remained quiet until the second week of February when the Second Battle of Lake Ladoga erupted. DNL had to withstand a strong breakout attempt from Leningrad. The main effort of the offensive was made to the east, south of Schluesselburg, as the Soviets attempted to capture Mga and destroy the German finger that extended to the shore of Lake Ladoga. The 14. Pak/DNL had been detached to support the Spanish 250. Infanterie (Blue) Division near Krasny Bor, and was heavily engaged in that sector. The anti-tank gunners were officially praised by von Scholz for their contribution to the successful defense.
By late February 1943, DNL regrouped behind the front lines in Krasnoje Selo. It held a traditional Norwegian ceremony to honor its 158 dead legionnaires. The 1. Politie Kompanie left for Norway on March 1. The rest of DNL followed several days later, traveling by way of Pskov, Riga, and Germany. Once back in Norway, the Norwegians received two weeks of home leave. In early May, DNL reassembled in Oslo and paraded at the Slotts Palace. The legion was dissolved, with the 1200 odd survivors encouraged to continue serving by volunteering for the new SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment Norge. Half of the members of DNL left the German service, with the rest assembling at Grafenwoehr during May. The history of Den Norske Legion, which was not part of the Norwegian armed forces, but was also not fully integrated into the Waffen-SS, was at an end.
Back in Norway, a rift was growing between the Germanske-SS Norge and Nasjonal Samling, even though virtually all of the members of the former belonged to the latter. NS was becoming increasingly anti-German, in reaction to what it saw as Germany abandoning National Socialist revolutionary ideas in favor of basic colonialism. The GSSN was also becoming suspicious of German intentions but believed that by renewing and strengthening Pan-Germanic National Socialism the problems could be overcome. Most GSSN members became convinced that Quisling and NS represented the same old political right. The newspaper of the GSSN, Germaneren (The Germanic), published increasingly harsh attacks on the NS leadership. The success of the paper reflected the growing popularity of the GSSN, as Germaneren subscriptions increased from 1156 in September 1942 to 9137 by the end of September 1944. Many more bi-weekly (by 1943, weekly) issues were sold on the street.
The leader of the sports section of the youth movement of NS, the NSUF, was the Danish-born Gust Jonassen. He was an avid skier, as were many of his young charges. The German 6. SS-Gebirgs Division Nord fighting in east-central Finland had a need for a specialist ski-unit for winter patrolling. This was met when Jonassen began organizing volunteers from the NSUF (who were generally also GSSN members) into a 120 man company. Jonassen attended a course at Bad Toelz while his men received military training.
In the late spring of 1943, the Norwegians joined Nord as SS-Skijaeger Kompanie Norge. Soon after, on May 26, Jonassen was killed when he stepped on a mine. During July 1943, the company left the front to reorganize as a battalion.
There was no shortage of volunteers for the expanded unit. Most Norwegians in the Waffen-SS preferred service in Finland, a brother Scandinavian nation, to fighting in faraway corners of the USSR. What united all Norwegian volunteers, whether purely NS members or also part of the GSSN, was the belief that the USSR and international Communism posed a grave threat to Norway and Europe. Norway and the USSR nearly shared a border above the arctic circle, and fighting in Finland was seen as helping to keep the Red Army out of Norway.
The additional personnel for new SS-Skijaeger Bataillon Norge came from new volunteers from the NSUF, from the transfer of Norwegians serving in the Luftwaffe, and from transfers from the forming SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment Norge. The unit had a staff company and three Jaeger companies, but no heavy weapons company.
The first commander of the battalion was the German holder of the German Cross in Gold, Richard Benner, but by April 1944 the Norwegian Frode Hallehad replaced him. The company commanders were: Stab Kompanie: Rolf Uglestad; 1. Kompanie: Sophus Kahrs; 2. Kompanie: Martin Skjefstad; 3.Kompanie: Fritz Grondt. All of these officers except Grondt were Norwegian. Kahrs was killed in action and replaced by the Norwegian Willi Amundsen, who transferred from Reg. Norge. Almost all of the platoon commanders were also Norwegians. Only a handful of Germans were found in the battalion. The unit spent the winter alongside the Nord Division.
In October 1943, it was joined by the 2. Politie Kompanie, which Egil Hoel raised from excess Norwegian policemen. The company stayed at the front for six months and distinguished itself during March 1944, when it repulsed a heavy Soviet assault. Hoel’s successor, Eistein Bech, was killed during this fighting. The next month the company returned to Norway.
By late June 1944, after over eight months of constant skirmishing, SS-Skijaeger Bataillon Norge was down to a strength of 300 men. 1.Kompanie was detached by this point and was temporarily away from the main body of the battalion. High ground was precious in Finnish Karelia, so 3. Kompanie set up positions on Kaprolat Hill, while 2. Kompanieentrenched on nearby Hasselmann Hill. Fritz Grondt had been wounded early in the month, so the Norwegian Axel Steen held the temporary leadership of 3.Kompanie.
On June 25 a large Soviet attack overran Kaprolat Hill. Steen was surrounded in the 3. Kompanie command bunker, and committed suicide the next day along with the Norwegian Standartenoberjunker Birger Ernst Jonsson. The company was nearly wiped out, with Norwegian Standartenoberjunker Kaare Boersting leading the survivors south to Hasselmann Hill.
The 2. Kompanie was assaulted the next day. Boersting died when his stick grenade detonated before he could release it. Hasselmann Hill was also overrun, and 2. Kompanie suffered heavily. The survivors fled and eventually reassembled. The two Norwegian companies had suffered 193 casualties. (Some sources state 135 casualties)
SS-Skijaeger Bataillon Norge then rested away from the lines. Transfers joined from Reg. Norge and 200 new volunteers from Norway reached the unit during August. Arnfinn Vik became commander of 1. Kompanie. Also that month, the 3. Politie Kompanie arrived from the home country, led by Aage Henry Berg. He was soon succeeded by Oscar Olsen Rustand. While the ski unit was full of politically active younger men, the police companies had older, more apolitical personnel. Berg recorded after the war that his company of 150 men included only two GSSN members.
On September 4, 1944, Finland capitulated to the Soviets and was soon at war with the Germans. The Norwegians joined the German retreat from Finland and spent three weeks in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lappland. They were present in the town on October 14 when Finnish commandos attacked. The Finns did not realize that the cars on the railroad track at the Rovaniemi depot were from an ammunition train of 20.Gebirgsarmee. The Finnish attack detonated the train, destroying much of the center of the town. The main field hospital of the Nord Division was destroyed in the explosion.
The Norwegians had been a rearguard, but they now rejoined the German retreat, reaching Narvik and their home country by December. The Norwegians were transferred to the Oslo area, where Frode Halle relinquished his command to rejoin the Hird. Egil Hoel succeeded him, as the SS-Skijaeger Bataillon Norge reformed into a security police battalion. It grew to six companies and was renamed SS-Ski Bataillon 506(mot.). Some of its companies skirmished with elements of the Norwegian resistance, including a pitched battle fought near Haglebu during April 1945.
The 3. Politie Kompanie disbanded in December 1944, but Oscar Rustand began organizing the 4. Politie Kompanie, based on his old unit, during April 1945. This too never saw action.
Back at Grafenwoehr during May 1943, the new SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment Norge was organized. It was to be the second infantry regiment of the Nordland Division, the successor of the Nordland Regiment. The negotiations between the Waffen-SS and the Danish government, for official approval of the SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment Danmark, dragged on into the summer. Reg. Norge, therefore, became the first infantry regiment. Its eventual title became SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 Norge, with the Danes forming Reg. 24. The parent division’s final title was 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier Divison Nordland.
Norwegians were found throughout the division, especially in SS-Panzer Artillerie Regiment 11 and SS-Panzer Abteilung 11 Hermann von Salza. Naturally, the greatest number were in Reg. Norge. By December 1943, 800 Norwegians were found in Reg. Norge. These came to the unit as follows:200 were new volunteers for DNL who were with the replacement battalion at Mitau in March 1943. They were automatically assigned to Reg. Norge, with most serving in III. Abteilung. 160 were new volunteers from the GSSN, who mainly ended up in Olaf Lindvig’s 1. Kompanie. 250 were former members of Reg. Nordland. 200 were veterans of DNL who agreed to continue serving, though half of these men transferred to the ski battalion or other units by the end of 1943. Finally, 100 men were new volunteers from Norway who enlisted during the second half of 1943. The existence of the ski battalion and the Reg. Norge was the major reason there were always more Danes than Norwegians in Div. Nordland.
It is believed that the 800 figure listed above does not include those Norwegians serving in other parts of Div. Nordland, and of course many additional Norwegians were on duty with other Waffen-SS units. Since 800 was far too few to form a complete regiment, the unit was filled out with German citizens and with Banat and Siebenburgen ethnic Germans. The exact breakdown for Reg. Norge is not known, but if it followed the trend of the rest of Div. Nordland, then Reichsdeutsche would have formed 25% of the manpower, with Volksdeutsche 35%, and Norwegians the remaining 40%.
The first commander of Reg. Norge was Wolfgang Joerchel, though he soon transferred to take command of the Dutch SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 48 General Seyffardt. By December 1943 Arnold Stoffers was the commander of Reg. Norge. Under him were: I. Bataillon commander Finn Finson, succeeded by German Knight’s Cross and German Cross in Gold holder Fritz Vogt on November 2, 1943; II. Bataillon commander Albrecht Kruegel; III. Bataillon commander: Hanns-Heinrich Lohmann. Many of the platoon leaders and several of the companyc ommanders were Norwegians.
At the end of August 1943, much of the III. (germanisches) SS-Panzerkorps deployed to Croatia. The corps included Div. Nordland and 4.SS-Panzergrenadier Brigade Nederland as its principal units. Its four infantry regiments, including Norge, were the main elements to serve in Croatia. There they finished their training by battling partisans near Zagreb (Agram). Reg. Norge suffered light, but not insignificant casualties during these operations, which lasted into November.
By early December 1943, the III.(germ.) SS-Panzerkorps, this time with all sub-units, redeployed to the northern part of the Eastern Front. The region was familiar to many of the Dutch and Norwegian volunteers from their days as members of their country’s legions. Nordland followed slightly later by Nederland, took over positions west of Leningrad along with the Soviet Oranienbaum Pocket. This was a beachhead leftover from the 1941-42 fighting, which had been considered a sideshow. By late 1943 it was expected that a major offensive would be launched from the pocket, and the elite SS corps were assigned to contain it. Its neighbors were two Luftwaffe Field Divisions.
The anticipated offensive broke on January 14, 1944. It struck mainly the positions of the Luftwaffe troops, who were quickly overmatched. Desperate counterattacks by elements of Nordland were unsuccessful, so III.(germ.) SS-Panzerkorps began to retreat to the southwest, with the Luga River line as their goal. Here it was hoped to re-establish the front line.
The Luga was reached by January 29. Most of Nordland retreated over the bridge at Jamburg. Norge helped to hold a bridgehead on the east bank of the Luga. Soviet units crossed the river on the 31st, and the bridgehead was soon under heavy attack. The Luga River was no longer defensible, so another retreat began, this time to the Narva River line. The Nordland units on the west bank of the Luga began to withdraw, and those on the east bank tried to reach the west side. I./Norge was largely destroyed in the confused fighting.
Nederland had reached the Luga farther north, at Keikino. It too retreated to the Narva, where it rejoined Nordland at Narva town in the first days of February. The Narva River formed the traditional boundary between Estonia and Russia. Nederland and Danmark held a bridgehead on the east bank of the Narva, across from Narva town. Norge occupied a long east-west front line in the swamps southwest of Narva. It faced a Soviet attempt to sever the supply route into Narva by striking to the rear of the bridgehead. The effort failed but left two bulges in Norge’s line. These became known as the Ostsack and the Westsack. Norge was unsuccessful in destroying them but did succeed in containing them by the end of February. The regiment left the Westsack zone on March 4 and consolidated farther east.
Reg. Norge now had a chance to reorganize. Most of the survivors of I.Bataillon was reassigned to II. and III. Bataillonen. A cadre of I.Bataillon went to Germany to reorganize. Fritz Vogt also returned to that country, he left on March 15 to begin his recovery from Typhus. Arnold Stoffers had been killed on February 25, personally leading an attack on the Westsack. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross on March 12, 1944, as were Albrecht Kruegel and Hanns-Heinrich Lohmann. The latter had been badly wounded during the retreat to the Narva and was replaced by Martin Guerz.
The Soviets then concentrated their efforts on destroying the Narva Bridgehead. Norge’s from remained fairly quiet, except for continued efforts to destroy the Westsack, which was finally eliminated in late March, after Norge, received armored support. Fritz Knoechlein arrived to take command of the regiment. He had been commanding a battalion of 16.SS-Panzergrenadier Division Reichsfuehrer-SS on the Anzio front. Kruegelleft Norge on April 10 to succeed the mortally wounded Hermenegild, Grafvon Westphalen as the commander of Reg. Danmark. He was replaced by German Cross in Gold holder Siegfried Scheibe.
During late July 1944, the III.(germ.) SS-Panzerkorps withdrew from its front around Narva to take up prepared positions 20 kilometers to the west. These were known as the Tannenberg Line. Norge assumed a place on the southern part of the line, in the general area of the former Westsack. The Soviets aggressively followed up the retreat, and fighting devolved upon three hills to the north of Norge’s lines. These hills, known as the Blue Mountains, ran from east to west and were known, in that order, as Orphanage Hill, Grenadier Hill, and Hill 69.9 (Love’s Hill).
Norge elements had to support the defense of these hills, and Soviet attacks came in as some units were still finishing their retreat. This caused massive confusion, and soon clumps of Dutchmen, Danes, Norwegians, Flemings, Estonians, and German Naval Infantry were intermingled and fighting together in mixed groups. The Flemish KG Langemarck was driven off of Orphanage Hill on July 27. The next day II./Norge commander Siegfried Scheibe organized a force from any men he could find and launched an unsuccessful counterattack. One of the main elements of this group was Norwegian officer Thomas Hvistendahl’s 5./Norge. Scheibe was badly wounded, as was Hvistendahl the next day.
Scheibe was replaced by the German Josef Bachmaier, who rallied the men on Grenadier Hill and led a successful defense against repeated Soviet attacks. Bachmaier was awarded the Knight’s Cross for this on August 23,1944. The Dutch Regiment General Seyffardt was destroyed during the retreat to the Tannenberg Line. Scheibe won the Knight’s Cross posthumously at the end of the war for his leadership of the reformed regiment during 1945.
Fighting continued along the Tannenberg line into mid-August. The Soviets then shifted their efforts to southeastern Estonia, while they also reached central Latvia. Keeping III.(germ.) SS-Panzerkorps in northeastern Estonia was no longer realistic, so on September 18, the corps began a rapid, carefully planned withdrawal to the southwest. By the morning of September 22 Nordland reached the Riga area. Here it provided a screen, as other German units set up a defense line across the base of the Kurland peninsula, west of Riga. During this fighting, on September 23, Peter Thomas Sandborg, the veteran officer from DNL, was killed in action commanding 11./Norge. The regiment’s defenses almost broke on the 26th, but Matin Guerz led his III. Bataillon headquarters staff in a decisive counterattack. He lost his life in the process and was awarded the Knight’s Cross on October 23, 1944.
After finishing its screening mission, III.(germ.) SS-Panzerkorps assumed the western portion of the Kurland defense line. Norge took over positions in front of the town of Preekuln. The regiment successfully defended its line during the 1st and 2nd Battles of Kurland during October 1944. It absorbed heavy casualties in the process. The most recent commander ofII./Norge was Richard Spoerle. He had earned the German Cross in Gold as a company commander in Reg. Nordland, and was awarded the Knight’s Cross on November 16, 1944, for his leadership during the second Kurland battle.
Norge was again heavily engaged during the 4th Battle of Kurland in late January and early February 1945. The regiment was then evacuated from Kurland with the rest of III.(germ.) SS-Panzerkorps. The corps reassembled in Pomerania during the second week of February. Fritz Knoechlein had also been awarded the Knight’s Cross on November 16, 1944. After arriving in Pomerania, he turned command of Norge over to German Cross in Gold holder Wilhelm Koerbel.
Norge next participated in the February 1945 Sonnenwende Offensive near Arneswalde. After this, it joined the German retreat towards Stettin and the Altdamm Bridgehead. A count in the autumn of 1944 indicated that 534 Norwegians were serving in Nordland. This number dropped during the following heavy fighting. By February 1945, only 100 Norwegians were left in the division, with at most 64 in Regiment Norge.
By late March 1945, Norge was in the Stettin-Altdamm area, along the Oder River north of Berlin. From there, Nordland gradually retreated towards Berlin. Richard Spoerle was killed in action on April 17 at Klosterberg-Straussberg east of Berlin. Lutz Hoffman succeeded Martin Guerz as the commander of III./Norge, and was awarded the Knight’s Cross on May 9, 1945, for his leadership during the spring of 1945. Another German, Willi Hund, was awarded the Knight’s Cross on April 20 as the commander of the remnants of 6. and 7./Norge. He had already earned the Honor Roll Clasp on December 17, 1944, as 7./Norge commander. Hund also held the Wound Badge in Gold, and accumulated 64 close combat days by the end of the war, though he never received the Close Combat Clasp in Gold. Walter Koerner had won the German Cross in Gold on April 28, 1944, as the commander of 8./Norge, and he was awarded the Knight’s Cross on May 11, 1945, as the adjutant of Norge. Koerner was also a German, as were all of the highly decorated members of the regiment.
The remnants of Norge fought in Belin in late April 1945. After Wilhelm Koerbel was badly wounded on the 24th, Rudolf Ternedde led the last elements of Norge and Danmark in a mixed battle group. Ternedde held the German Cross in Gold, the Honor Roll Clasp, and the Close Combat Clasp in Gold, the latter approved on April 23, 1945. The surviving Norwegian volunteers broke out of Berlin on May 2, and most succeeded in reaching American lines along the Elbe River. The history of SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 Norge had come to an inglorious end.
One more Norwegian unit did see action. This was the I./Reg. Norge, which began reforming during the summer of 1944. By September of that year, it had a strength of 600 Austrians, Volga-Deutsche, and Romanian Volksdeutsche, and a few Norwegians (estimated at no more than 40). Fritz Vogt retained command. The I./Danmark had suffered a similar fate and had been likewise rebuilt. By the autumn of 1944, the Germans were taking troops out of Kurland, not sending new ones in, so on November 16, the two battalions instead joined 5. SS-Panzer-Division Wiking in the “WetTriangle” north of Warsaw. This front had settled down after brutal combat, but on Christmas Day I./Norge faced a major Soviet attack. It was repulsed after the Norwegians suffered heavy casualties. The 19-year-old Norwegian 3. Kompanie platoon commander Karl Aagard Oestvig was killed during this fighting. His parents were both famous opera singers.
In early January 1945, I./Norge and Wiking redeployed to Hungary to attempt to relieve the siege of Budapest. I./Norge fought with Wiking’s armored group alongside Fritz Darges’ SS-Panzer Regiment 5 during Operation Konrad I. The Norwegians were with this group when it was surrounded at the Bicske fortress on January 6. They suffered heavy casualties again during the defense and successful breakout on January 12. Darges received the Knight’s Cross, and Fritz Vogt the Oakleaves to his Knight’s Cross for this fight.
I./Norge was so badly mauled in the following fighting during Konrad II and III that when it reorganized during February 1945 it could only form three weak companies. Vogt left to take command of SS-Panzeraufklaerungs Abteilung 5, and the remnants of I./Norge followed Wiking in its gradual retreat into Austria. The survivors surrendered to American forces with Wiking near Graz.
The Norwegian volunteers of the Waffen-SS had fought bravely on many fronts. Approximately 6000 served, and perhaps 1000 were killed in action. Veterans have identified 934 of the dead, at last count. Around 250 Norwegians served as Waffen-SS officers, with 150 of them graduating from courses at the SS-Junkerschulen. Most surviving volunteers escaped Soviet captivity at the end of the war. Regardless of whom accepted their surrender, most Norwegian POWs were returned to Norway by the end of 1948. There they had to stand trial as collaborators, and all received prison sentences, though these were not more than three years in most cases. The Norwegian volunteers fully proved themselves as members of the international Waffen-SS.
Postscript: The most highly decorated Norwegian Waffen-SS volunteer was Fredrik Jensen. He was wounded near Moscow in December 1941, as an enlisted man with 9./Der Fuehrer. After his recovery, he attended the 8.Shortened Wartime Course at Bad Toelz with several other Norwegians. Following his graduation, Jensen was assigned as a platoon commander in 7./Germania. With this unit, he received the Iron Cross II on April 20, 1943. He received the Iron Cross I soon after, on July 15 of the same year. By the summer of 1944, he commanded 7./Germania. Jensen was wounded on August 10 near Warsaw and evacuated to Norway to recover. There he was awarded the German Cross in Gold on December 8, 1944. So far as is known, Fredrik Jensen was the only Norwegian to receive this decoration.
A further 29 Norwegians have been identified as receiving the Iron Cross I. These men are, alphabetically:
1. Uscha. Inge Martin Bakken, with 5./Westland after Cherkassy (his photo is on page 206 of Panzergrenadiere der Panzerdivision Wiking im Bild).
Finally, it is rumored that Frode Halle received the award at one his assignments, but this is unconfirmed.
This history was based on unpublished information provided by several historians from Scandinavia, as well as published information from the following sources: