All about 5th SS Panzer Division “WIKING”…
|5th SS Panzer Division Wiking|
|Active||1941 – 1945|
|Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner
Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille
Oberführer Eduard Deisenhofer
Standartenführer Johannes Mühlenkamp
Oberführer Karl Ullrich
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 Scandinavia, 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 divisionand served on the Eastern Front during World War II. It surrendered in May 1945 to the advancing American forces in Austria.
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 Polandand 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, andNorway, a decision was made to form a volunteer division of the Waffen SS under the command of German officers.
Formation and training…
This unit, originally organized 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 motorized 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; andNordland, comprised mostly of Danes, Swedes and Norwegians. Command of the newly formed division was given to Brigadeführer Felix Steiner, the former commander of theVerfügungstruppe 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 formation was attached to the SS Regiment Nordland in January 1942, further bolstering the divisions strength. 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 replaced by an Estonian one.
The division was not ready for combat until 29 June 1941, seven days after the launch of the operation. During its first action, near Tarnopol inGalicia, 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 Riverline in November. During 1941, the Heer officers in charge of the deployment of the SS Division Wiking were skeptical 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 theCaucasus, securing the region’s vital oilfields. This attack was known as Operation Maus, and formed a part of Army Group South’s offensiveCase 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.
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 13.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 realized 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 Crossfor 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 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 the13th Panzer Division from encirclement at Gisel, after which it took up defensive positions behind the Fiagdon river. The encirclement of the6.Armee at Stalingrad meant that the Caucasus was relegated to a secondary theater, 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-Panzerkorps, 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 inCroatia. 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-SSwas 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. 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.
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 XLIIand 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 Stemmerman, 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.
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 II.Battalion, SS Panzer Regiment 5 Wiking, newly equipped with Panther Tanks, along with the III.Battalion, SS Panzergrenadier Regiment Germania, newly 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 8.Company, II.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. Nicolussi 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, they managed to escape with most of their equipment intact.
In late August 1944, the division was ordered back to Modlin on the Vistula River line near Warsawwhere it was to join the newly formed Army Group Vistula. Fighting alongside the Luftwaffe’sFallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring, the division annihilated the Red Army 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 Zelewskidestroyed 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 Division Totenkopf as 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 9th SS Mountain Corps, defending Budapest were encircled and the IV.SS-Panzer Corps was ordered south to join Hermann Balck’s6th 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 5 SS Division Wiking was committed to action on 1 January 1945, fighting alongside the 3 SS Division Totenkopf. Near Tata, the advance columns of 5 SS Division Wiking attacked the Fourth Guards Tank Army. A heavy battle ensued, with the 5 SS Division Wiking and the 3 SS Division Totenkopf destroying many of the Red Armies tanks. In three days their panzer spearheads had driven 45 kilometers over rugged terrain, over half the distance from the 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 5 SS Division 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 5 SS Division Wiking advanced southwards towards Budapest. By 12 January, the SS Panzergrenadier Regiment Westland had reached Pilisszentkereszt, barely 20 kilometers 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 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.Panzerkorps took place 100 kilometers to the south. This attack resulted in a 15 mile gap in the Soviet lines and the destruction of the 135th Rifle Corps. Only the quick redeployment of more troops by the Russians prevented a German breakthrough. By the end of January the 5 SS Division Wiking and 3 SS Division Totenkopf had suffered almost 8,000 casualties, including over 200 officers.
At the beginning of February, the besieged forces capitulated, and the 5 SS Division Wiking was ordered west to Lake Balaton where Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich’s 6th SS Panzer Army was preparing for another offensive.
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 preventing Soviet efforts to outflank the advancing German forces.
As the offensive stalled, the Soviets launched a major offensive, the Vienna Operation, on 15 March. Attacking the border between the 3 SS Division Totenkopf, stationed to the north of 5 SS Division 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 3 SS Division Totenkopf and 5 SS Division 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 neighboring I.SS Panzer Corps and any semblance of an organised line of defence was gone. The 5 SS Division 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.
Members of the division’s bakery column, led by Obersturmführer Braunnagel and Untersturmführer Kochalty, assisted Einsatzgruppe A in rounding up Ukrainian Jews. 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 implicated. Between 50 and 60 Jews were killed in this manner, as a part of the larger Einsatzgruppe operation which resulted in over 700 murders.
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 the 5 SS Division Wikingin her work The Death Marches of Hungarian Jews Through Austria in the Spring of 1945
On March 28 1945 eighty Jews from evacuation column, though fit for the journey, had been shot by three members of the Waffen SS division ;;Wiking and five military policemen. On April 4, twenty members of another column that left Graz tried to escape near Eggenfeld, not far from Gratkorn. Soldiers from the 5 SS Division Wiking that were temporarily stationed there apprehended them in the forest near Mt. Eggenfeld and then herded them in a gully, where they were shot. On April 7 and 11, 1945 members of the division executed another eighteen escaped prisoners. 5 SS Division Wiking war crimes have not been confirmed, mostly because they were not proven guilty in the Nuremberg trials.
The notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, served with the SS Division Wiking during its early campaigns. According to all accounts, he performed the normal duties of a combat medic, even being awarded the Iron Cross for saving two wounded men from a tank. After being wounded, Mengele was deemed unfit for combat and was absorbed into the SS Nazi concentration camp system, where he gained his infamy. Mengele was very proud of his Waffen SS service and his front-line decorations. As the true horrors of the concentration camp system came to light, his former comrades attempted to have his name removed from the division’s roll of veterans.
- SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner (1 December 1940 – 1 May 1943)
- SS-Gruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille (1 May 1943 – 6 August 1944)
- SS-Standartenführer Eduard Deisenhofer (6 August 1944 – 12 August 1944)
- SS-Standartenführer Johannes Mühlenkamp (12 August 1944 – 9 October 1944)
- SS-Oberführer Karl Ullrich (9 October 1944 – 5 May 1945)
Orders of battle…
SS-Panzergrenadier Division Wiking, February 1943…
- SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Germania
- SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Nordland (Withdrawn late 1943)
- SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Westland
- Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS (Withdrawn 1943)
- SS-Panzer Battalion “Wiking”
- SS-Artillery Regiment “Wiking”
- SS-Panzerjäger Battalion “Wiking”
- SS-Aufkärungs-Battalion “Wiking”
- SS-Sturmgeschütz-Battery “Wiking”
- SS-Flak Battalion “Wiking”
- SS-Pionier-Battalion “Wiking”
- SS-Signals Battalion “Wiking”
- SS-Reserve Battalion “Wiking”
- SS-Versorgungseinheiten “Wiking”
5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking, April 1944…
- SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 9 Germania
- SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 10 Westland
- SS-Panzer Regiment 5
- SS-Panzer Artillery Regiment 5
- SS-Volunteer Panzergrenadier Battalion Narwa (Withdrawn 1944)
- SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonien (Withdrawn 1944)
- SS-Panzerjäger-Battalion 5
- SS-Sturmgeschutz-Battalion 5
- SS-Flak-Battalion 5
- SS-Werfer-Battalion 5
- SS-Panzer-Signals Battalion 5
- SS-Panzer-Reconnaissance Battalion 5
- SS-Panzer-Pionier-Battalion 5
- SS-Dina 5
- SS-Supply Battalion 5
- SS-Wirtschafts-Battalion 5
- SS-Medical Battalion 5
- SS-Field Hospital 5
- SS-War Reporter Platoon 5
- SS-Feldgendarmerie-Troop 5
- SS-Reserve Battalion 5