Minenkommando Dänemark – German mine clearing in Denmark 1945-47

WW2 German Soldiers in DenmarkIn the last years of the German occupation of Denmark, nearly 1.500.000 antitank and antipersonnel mines were deployed, mostly along the coast or around German strong points inland. Compared with the number of mines deployed in other occupied countries in Europe, this amount is actually quite small, but for any region 1.500.000 hidden explosive devices are still a tremendous prospect to deal with.

Some months before the liberation of Denmark the Allies decided to make the Germans clear their own minefields before they left the soon to be liberated countries. This was decided for two main reasons, because the task of mine-clearing was too dangerous for personnel who did not have any experience with German mine types and the ways they were employed, and because due to the number of mines deployed, the task would have taken many years to complete if German engineers had not been assigned.

Thus a German engineer group named Minenkommando Dänemark was established by the Allies once the war was over to conduct all mine-clearing operations. The group worked under German command and Danish control. The uniforms worn by the Germans were mixed, all types of uniforms were used from 1940 to 1945 patterns, minus the swastika symbol which would have been removed and with the addition of a white armband with “Minenkommando Dänemark” in black text in a double row worn on the left arm. The Danish officers who controlled the group wore British uniforms with a red armband and the text “Dansk minekontrol” (Danish Mine Control) in yellow on the left arm. The entire group at Oksbøl consisted of 2,600 German engineers and three Pz.III Ausf N tanks and an SdKfz 141/2 from the former 233.Panzer-Division and Two 7.5 cm Stug III G tanks and an Sd Kfz 142/1 from the former Pz.Ersatz und Lehr Abt.400 (only one of the Stugs had armament). Alongside these vehicles, the group had a support unit of one SdKfz 251 Ausf D also from the 233.Panzer-Division and one SdKfz 9 “Famo” from the former Kriegsmarine. German vehicles used in these operations were all painted with the words “Minenkommando” on the front and back including on the tanks. A sign with the same text was put in the front window of all vehicles not carrying the normal painted text. Today one SdKfz 251 Ausf D from Minenkommando Dänemark is preserved at the Armory Museum in Copenhagen. This vehicle was used until 1950 in the Oksbøl area. One of the PzIII’s is also preserved at the same museum.

When the clearing of a minefield started the first thing done was to consult any available mine plans to find the marker poles left by the engineer groups who originally placed the minefield. Most of the minefields were mapped on highly detailed Mine Plans, sketches, or written down in reports by the Germans at the end of the war. Mine plans were designed so that one could easily see the placement of nearly every mine laid. In ordinary minefields, mines were placed in rows and in patterns, while in scattered minefields mines were mixed and scattered about somewhat randomly. These minefields were especially difficult to clear and some of them are still live and uncleared today,50+ years after WWII. In many of the minefields, especially along the coast, clearing operations were very difficult because of flooding and sand drifting.

After the mine plans were reviewed if available, the distance from the poles was measured in meters and by degrees to the corners of the field. When the outer lines of the minefield were located the mine plan was again reviewed to further identify single mines and their type. If mines were sticking up above the ground clearing was actually quite easy, but if mines were buried or under drifted sand or vegetation it was much more difficult. The technique basically consisted of a person getting on their knees or flat on their stomach and crawling along the ground with a mine probe (a 2-meter long steel rod) or a bayonet to “detect” for mines. Mine detectors were not that effective as most of the German mines were made of wood, concrete, plastic, or glass.

When a mine was located, the dirt around it was carefully removed. If the mine was considered to be safe to deactivate or remove fully it was done right away, otherwise, it was blown up in place. When a minefield was declared clear a control run was done against it using German troops or vehicles, depending on the type of field. When a pure anti-personnel minefield was declared clear German troops formed a line at the end of the now (hopefully) cleared minefield and they marched through it. This was a standing order to ensure that there were not any “forgotten” mines. If the field was a combined antitank and antipersonnel minefield, German tanks were used in a special pattern to ensure that the field was 100% clear. All vehicles used for this task were equipped with 2 or 3 special rollers towed behind to ensure that no mines escaped the control run. The rollers were first made of concrete but they broke apart easily and were therefore not fit for the task. Other rollers used were made of 35 cm long steel 40 cm wide tubes, each weighing 320 kg. The rolls were mounted in pairs or alone.

Clearing of antitank minefields was often hampered by the lack of spares to the worn-out German tanks supplied to the group by the British. Another encountered problem was that of inexperienced drivers trying to drive in sand dunes and flooded areas. The tanks often got stuck in the mud or simply dug themselves into the sand and had to be pulled out by other vehicles. During the antitank minefield control runs there were about 15 mine detonations with tanks were involved, and 2 with half-tracks. Normally the tanks only had their tracks and some of the road wheels blown off, but in case of the half-tracks both the drivers were killed and some of the passengers were seriously injured.

If a minefield could not be cleared fully or if there was any doubt that all the mines were fully removed, a one-meter high barbed wire fence was erected around the minefield. On the fence two meters apart was placed signs with a skull and the text “Livsfare miner“ (Danger mines – in Danish). The signs were white with text and skull in black the word “Livsfare” was in red. The signs measured 35×50 cm.

From May 11, 1945, until August 1945 Minenkommando Dänemark cleared 1.402.000 mines. The group lost 149 killed and had 165 seriously injured and 167 slightly injured during the operations. Three of the 52 Danish officers who supervised the group were also injured. Almost all of the German engineers who cleared the minefields were volunteers and the alternative would have been that inexperienced Danish and British personnel should have cleared the minefields instead. Should that have been the case, many more losses would have been experienced, and among them many civilians.