5th SS Panzer Division Wiking

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5th SS Panzer Division Wiking
5. SS-Panzer-Division „Wiking“
5th SS Division Logo.png
Active 1941–1945
Allegiance  National Socialist Germany
Branch Flag Schutzstaffel.png Waffen-SS
Type Armoured
Size Division
Commanders
Notable
commanders
SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner
SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille
Insignia
Identification
symbol
SSWiking.png
Identification
symbol
Divisional insignia

The 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking was one of the elite Panzer divisions of the thirty eight Waffen SS divisions. It was recruited from foreign volunteers, from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, 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 division 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.

Name development

SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans-Jörg Hartmann with son Werner
  • Nordische Division (Nr. 5)
  • since 1 December 1940 – SS-Division (mot.) „Germania“
  • since 20 December 1940 – SS-Division (mot.) „Wiking“
  • since 9 November 1942 – SS-Panzergrenadier-Division „Wiking“
  • since 22 October 1943 – 5. SS-Panzer-Division „Wiking“

Manpower strength

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

Formation and training

Wiking soldiers deployed to Soviet Russia monitor the front in 1941. Parked in the background is a Sd.Kfz. 232 reconnaissance vehicle.
SS-Division Wiking III.jpg
A Panzer III from SS Wiking in the summer of 1942; the divisional insignia can be seen on the mudguard.
Volunteer from Finland Mikko Korpijaakko, 9. Kompanie/SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 10 „Westland“/5. SS-Panzer-Division „Wiking“

After the success of the Infanterie-Regiment (mot.) Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, SS-Verfügungstruppen-Division and the SS-Division Totenkopf during the early war campaigns in Poland and the West, it was decided to expand the number of Waffen SS divisions. Due to the influx of foreign volunteers, particularly from Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway, a decision was made to form a volunteer division of the Waffen SS under the command of German officers.

This unit, originally organised as the Nordische Division (Nr.5), was to be made up of Nordic volunteers mixed with ethnic German Waffen SS veterans. To this end, the SS Infantry Regiment Germania in the SS Verfügungstruppe Division was transferred in late 1940 and used as the cadre for a new division . In December 1940, the new SS motorised formation, was to be designated SS-Division (mot.) Germania. but during its formative period, the name was changed, to SS-Division (mot.) Wiking. in January 1941.

The division was formed around three motorised infantry regiments: Germania, formed mostly from ethnic Germans; Westland, consisting mainly of Dutch and Flemish volunteers; and Nordland, composed mostly of Danes, Swedes and Norwegians. Command of the newly formed division was given to Brigadeführer Felix Steiner, the former commander of the Verfügungstruppe SS Regiment Deutschland.

After formation the division was sent to Heuberg in Germany for training and by April 1941, SS Division Wiking was deemed ready for combat. It was ordered east in June 1941, to take part with Army Group South's advance into the Ukraine during Operation Barbarossa.

In June 1941 the Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS was formed from Finnish volunteers. After training, this unit was attached[citation needed] to the SS Regiment Nordland in January 1942. About 430 Finns who were veterans of the Winter War served within the SS Division Wiking division since the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. In spring 1943, the Finnish battalion was withdrawn and was replaced by the Estonian infantry battalion "Narwa".

Operation Barbarossa

A Finnish Waffen-SS volunteer of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking talking with a little girl in a village in Kurkijoki, Karelian Isthmus, Finland (now Russia) 10 June 1943
August Dieckmann awarding soldiers of the SS-Division Wiking

The division was not ready for combat until 29 June 1941, one week after the launch of the operation. During its first action, near Tarnopol in Galicia, Ukraine, the division acquitted itself well. In August, SS Division Wiking was ordered to establish a defensive perimeter around a bridgehead across the Dniepr River. Despite determined attacks by the Red Army, the division held the line. Against stiffening resistance, the division continued its advance towards Rostov-on-Don. It took part in the heavy fighting for Rostov before being ordered back to the Mius River line in November. During 1941, the Heer officers in charge of the deployment of the SS Division Wiking were sceptical of its fighting abilities and so were hesitant to commit it to any major actions. As the division proved itself again and again in combat, it began to earn the grudging respect of the Heer commanders.

After successfully holding the line over the winter of 1941–42, SS Division Wiking was ordered to retake Rostov-on-Don and advance into the Caucasus, securing the region's vital oilfields. 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 recaptured, and SS Division Wiking was advancing deep into the Caucasus.

The Caucasus

By late September 1942, SS Division Wiking was in a position to launch an assault to capture the vital city of Grozny. Working in cooperation with General der Panzertruppen Traugott Herr's 13th Panzer Division, a plan was arranged to capture the city. As they reached the Terek River, the Soviet defences solidified. Several obstacle belts had to be breached before the Georgian Road (along which American supplies were transported) could be reached. Realising the difficult situation, Felix Steiner divided his division into four columns, each with separate objectives, but all aimed at breaching the Soviet defences and opening a road to the Caspian Sea.

The SS Regiment Nordland was to attack along the Kurp River to Malgobek. The SS Panzer battalion Wiking, with elements of the SS Regiment Germania, was to breach the main line of defence and establish a bridgehead. The SS Regiment Westland was to capture the town of Sagopshin, and the division's engineer component, along with the rest of SS Regiment Germania was to advance along the Kurp.

The attack got underway on the night of 25-26 September 1942. SS Regiment Nordland's assault soon bogged down, as they realised that not only were they outnumbered by the Red Army, but the latter were also well entrenched in prepared positions. Within thirty minutes, almost half of the men of regiment had fallen. Despite this, they still captured the hill, and its commander Fritz von Scholz was awarded the Knight's Cross for his actions during the battle. The division finally captured Malgobek on 6 October, however the objective of seizing the capital and opening a road to the Caspian Sea was not achieved. The closest point to Grozny, Hill 701, was captured by the Finnish volunteers (III (finn.) Battalion SS Regiment Nordland. During this operation, SS Division Wiking lost over 1,500 men. Several combat units were reduced to only dozens of men, and as a veteran later wrote, "Casualties weren't counted any more, just men left alive."

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. It ended up arriving just in time to extricate the 13th Panzer Division from encirclement at Gisel, after which it took up defensive positions behind the Fiagdon river. The encirclement of the 6th Army at Stalingrad meant that the Caucasus was relegated to a secondary theatre, and when the attempt to relieve Stalingrad failed in the face of further Soviet advances, the entire Caucasian position itself began to come under threat. SS Division Wiking was one of the first formations to be withdrawn to bolster the retreating 4th Panzer Army, entraining from 24 December for transport to Remontnaya, arriving there on 31 December. The division fell back through Zimovniki, Proletarskaya (holding open the bridge over the Manych), Zelina and Yegorlykskaya towards Bataisk and Rostov, finally escaping through the Rostov gap on 4 February.

Battles for Kharkov - Panzergrenadier Division

In late-November 1942 the division was redesignated the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking.. By now the division had gained a reputation as an elite formation. In early 1943, the division was ordered to fall back to the Ukraine south of Kharkov, recently abandoned by Paul Hausser's II SS Panzer Corps, and now the scene of fierce fighting for its recapture.

Erich von Manstein, the new commander of Army Group South, threw 5 SS Wiking and the 11th Panzer-Division into action against the Soviet Mobile Group Popov, which was threatening to break through to the vital rail line. 5 SS Wiking had great difficulty dealing with the armour heavy Soviet formation. The Panzergrenadier regiments of 5 SS Wiking were exhausted and understrength from the fighting in the Caucasus, and the Panzer Battalion lacked sufficient armour to counter the Soviet force. Despite this, the division held off the Soviet assault, protecting the vital rail line and helping bring about the destruction of Mobile Group Popov. After the recapture of Kharkov, 5 SS Wiking was pulled out of combat to be refitted as a Panzergrenadier division.

Thanks to Heinrich Himmler's and Paul Hausser's efforts, it had been decided that all Waffen SS Panzergrenadier divisions were to have a regiment of Panzers, rather than only a battalion. This meant that the SS Panzergrenadier formations were full sized Panzer divisions in all but name. With the upgrade to Panzergrenadier status, the division received SdKfz 251 halftracks for one battalion of infantry and an additional panzer Battalion began forming on 28 February 1943. It would be over a year before the new battalion would receive its baptism of fire at Kovel.

During mid-1943, 5 SS Wiking underwent a major transformation. Steiner, now an Gruppenführer, was transferred to command of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps, currently forming in Croatia. His replacement was Herbert Otto Gille, who was to prove himself Steiner's equal. The remnants of the veteran SS Regiment Nordland, along with its commander Fritz von Scholz, were removed from the division and used as the nucleus of the new 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland. Also, the Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS was disbanded, as the agreed two years' service of the Finnish volunteers had expired.

In an attempt to offset the loss of the Finns and the Nordland regiment, the newly formed Estonian volunteer formation Estonian Volunteer Panzergrenadier Bataillon Narwa was attached to the division.

Kursk: battles on the Mius

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. The 5 SS Wiking was engaged against the forces near Kharkov, with the Estonians acquitting themselves well, destroying around 100 Soviet tanks over several days. When Citadel was canceled, the division was still involved in halting Soviet attacks.

Further to the south, on the Mius-Front, a major Soviet offensive, Operation Rumyantsev, threatened to break the German lines. 5 SS Wiking was joined by the 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf and 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Division Das Reich and sent to the Mius-Bogodukhov sector to halt the Soviet attacks. In subsequent fighting, the SS divisions defeated two Soviet tank armies (totaling over 1,000 tanks) and destroyed over 800 tanks. At no time did the SS divisions have any more than 50 panzers in working order. Despite horrific losses, the Soviets were able to take Kharkov on 23 August and began advancing towards the Dnieper. In October, the division was again pulled back out of the line, this time to be restructured as a panzer division, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking.

Korsun Pocket

To bolster the strength of the division, the Walloon volunteer unit 5th SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonien was attached to the division, under command of Leon Degrelle. They were the subject of ridicule from many Wiking veterans until they proved their worth in the fighting for a forest near Teklino, at the head of a salient into the Soviet lines. A second panzer Battalion was also ordered to begin formation in Germany.

While the 5 SS Wiking was engaged near Teklino, several Red Army tank formations had advanced along the side of the salient and succeeded in encircling the German forces of XLII and XI Army Corps near Korsun.During the battle of the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, 5 SS Wiking defended against Soviet attacks on the eastern side of the pocket. While General of Artillery Wilhelm Stemmermann, the overall commander of the pocket, moved his forces to the west in readiness for an attempt to breakout, 5 SS Wiking, along with the 5th SS Sturmbrigade were ordered to act as the rearguard.

After repulsing all Soviet attempts to break through near the town of Novaya-Buda, the 5 SS Wiking rearguard split up and began withdrawing one platoon at a time, under cover of darkness. Advancing through Hell's Gate, the 5 SS Wiking came under heavy fire. The division suffered heavy losses in men and materials during the carnage of the Korsun Pocket. Gille, the Divisional commander, had proven his loyalty to his men, fighting alongside them and remaining in action until all survivors had escaped. He was one of the last to cross the Gniloy Tikich River to safety. After the end of this battle, the 5th SS Sturmbrigade Wallonien brigade was withdrawn from the division.

Kovel encirclement

After a brief period of rest and refit, the 5 SS Wiking was sent to assist in the defence of Kovel, which was under threat from a strong Soviet force. Gille led his men 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 unit.

The unit was under the command of Obersturmführer Karl Nicolussi Leck, commander of the 8th Company, 2nd Battalion, SS Panzer Regiment 5 Wiking. Nicolussi Leck immediately launched an attack with five tanks. Soon after beginning the attack, he received a radio message from the besieged commander to halt his attack and withdraw. Leck ordered his radio operator to ignore the call, and continue with the attack. Risking court-martial, Nicolussi-Leck proceeded to fight his way though the Red Army encirclement, destroying several tanks in the process. His Panther tank was the first vehicle to break the encirclement, for his actions he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

After the relief force had established a corridor to the trapped forces, the withdrawal began. Unlike the previous encirclement at Korsun, the Wiking managed to escape with most of its equipment intact.

Warsaw battles

Warsaw Uprising insurgents inspect war trophies including an Ärmelstreifen with the Wiking name.
Captured German armoured fighting vehicle SdKfz 251 of the "Wiking" Division captured by the Polish insurgents.
Panther of the SS-Divison Wiking

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 annihilated the Red Army's 3rd Tank Corps. The advent of the Warsaw Uprising brought the Soviet offensive to a halt, and relative peace fell on the front line as in Warsaw Higher SS and Police Leader Erich von dem Bach Zelewski destroyed Warsaw with its civilians and Home Army.

The division remained in the Modlin area for the rest of the year, grouped with the 3 SS Totenkopf and the IV SS Panzer Corps. Gille was promoted to 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 would 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 mustering for a relief effort, codenamed Operation Konrad.

Budapest relief efforts

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. A heavy battle ensued, with the Wiking and the Totenkopf seeing many of the Red Army tanks destroyed. In three days, they had driven 45 kilometres over rugged terrain, over half the distance from their start point to Budapest. The Soviets maneuvered forces to block the advance, and they barely managed to halt the advance at Bicske, only 28 kilometres from Budapest. Gille pulled the Wiking out of the line and moved it to the south of Esztergom, near the Danube bend. The second relief attempt, to be known as Operation Konrad II, got under way on 7 January.

In atrocious conditions, the Wiking advanced southwards towards Budapest. By 12 January, the SS Panzergrenadier Regiment Westland had reached Pilisszentkereszt, barely 20 kilometres from Buda. That morning the panzergrenadiers spotted the church spires and turrets of the distinctive Budapest skyline poking through the morning fog. Despite its success, they had been overextended and were vulnerable to attack, unable to exploit its breakthrough and eventually ordered to pull back and regroup. Hitler was furious at the lack of progress, and called the operation 'utterly pointless'.

A third attempt, Operation Konrad III, launched in cooperation with the veteran III Panzer Corps, took place some 100 kilometres to the south. Launched on 20 January, this attack resulted in a 15-mile wide gap in the Soviet lines and the destruction of the 135th Rifle Corps. Despite initial success, the quick redeployment of more troops by the Soviets prevented a German breakthrough, turning back the operation by 28 January. By the end of January, the 5 SS Wiking and the 3 SS Totenkopf had suffered almost 8,000 casualties, including over 200 officers.

On 13 February, the besieged forces capitulated, and the badly mauled Wiking was ordered west to Lake Balaton, where Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army was preparing for another offensive.

Final battles

After the failure of Konrad III, the 5 SS Division Wiking began defensive operations, falling back into Czechoslovakia. West of Budapest in more defensive operations, moving into the area of Czechoslovakia. Gille's corps was too depleted to take part in Operation Frühlingserwachen near Lake Balaton, and instead remained as a support to the 6th SS Panzer Army during the beginning of the operation.

5 SS Division Wiking performed a holding operation on the left flank of the offensive, in the area between Velenczesee-Stuhlweissenberg. As Frühlingserwachen progressed, the division was heavily engaged in preventing Soviet efforts to outflank the advancing German forces. However, as the offensive stalled, the Soviets launched a major offensive, the Vienna Operation, on 15 March. Attacking the lines between the 3 SS Totenkopf, stationed to the north of 5 SS Wiking, and the Hungarian 2nd Armoured Division, contact was soon lost between these formations.

Acting quickly, Balck recommended moving the I SS Panzer Corps north to plug the gap and prevent the encirclement of the IV SS Panzer Corps. Despite this quick thinking, a Führer Order authorising this move was slow in coming, and when the divisions finally began moving, it was too late. On 22 March, the Soviet encirclement of the Totenkopf and Wiking was almost complete. Desperate, Balck threw the veteran 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen into the area to hold open the small corridor. In the battle to hold open the Berhida Corridor, the Hohenstaufen bled itself white, but Gille's corps managed to escape.

On 24 March, another Soviet attack threw the exhausted 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. The Wiking executed a fighting withdrawal into Czechoslovakia. By early May, they were within reach of the American forces, to whom the division officially surrendered near Fürstenfeld, Austria on 9 May.

Commanders

Orders of battle

Honouring the fallen
SS-Division Wiking IV.jpg

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-Abteilung "Wiking"
  • SS-Aufkärungs-Abteilung "Wiking"
  • SS-Sturmgeschütz-Batterie "Wiking"
  • SS-Flak-Abteilung "Wiking"
  • SS-Pionier-Battalion "Wiking"
  • SS-Nachrichten-Abteilung "Wiking"
  • SS-Feldersatz-Battalion "Wiking"
  • SS-Versorgungseinheiten "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-Abteilung 5
  • SS-Panzer-Nachrichten-Abteilung 5
  • SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 5
  • SS-Panzer-Pionier-Battalion 5
  • SS-Instandsetzungs-Abteilung 5
  • SS-Nachschub-Abteilung 5
  • SS-Wirtschafts-Battalion 5
  • SS-Sanitäts-Abteilung 5
  • SS-Feldlazarett 5
  • SS-Kriegsberichter-Zug 5
  • SS-Feldgendarmerie-Trupp 5
  • SS-Feldersatz-Battalion 5

Popular culture

5th SS Panzer Division Wiking appears in the Swedish vampire film Frostbite, where a sole survivior of a partly Swedish unit bring the vampiric curse to his homeland starting a series of events that eventually leads to the fall of Norrland.

External links