|5th SS Panzer Division Wiking|
The 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking (German: 5. SS-Panzerdivision Wiking) or SS Division Wiking was an infantry and later an armoured division among the thirty-eight Waffen-SS divisions of Nazi Germany. It was recruited from foreign volunteers in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, the Netherlands and Belgium under the command of German officers. During World War II, the division served on the Eastern Front. It surrendered in May 1945 to the American forces in Austria.
After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, sought to expand the Waffen-SS with foreign military volunteers for the Nazi "crusade against Bolshevism". The enrollment began in April 1940 with the creation of two regiments: the Waffen-SS Regiment Nordland (for Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish volunteers), and the Waffen-SS Regiment Westland (for Dutch and Flemish volunteers).
The Nordic formation, originally organised as the Nordische Division (Nr. 5), was to be made up of Nordic volunteers mixed with German Waffen-SS personnel. The SS Infantry Regiment Germania of the SS-Verfügungs-Division, which was formed mostly from Germans, was transferred to help form the nucleus of a new division in late 1940. In December 1940, the new SS motorised formation was to be designated as SS-Division Germania, but after its formative period, the name was changed, to SS Division Wiking in January 1941. The division was formed around three motorised infantry regiments: Germania, Westland, and Nordland; with the addition of an artillery regiment. Command of the newly formed division was given to Felix Steiner, the former commander of the Verfügungstruppe SS Regiment Deutschland.
After formation, the division was sent to Heuberg in Germany for training; by April 1941, it was ready for combat. The division was ordered east in mid-May, to take part with Army Group South's advance into Ukraine during Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. In June 1941, the Finnish Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS was formed from volunteers from that country. This unit was attached to the SS Regiment Nordland of the division. About 430 Finns who fought in the Winter War served within the SS Division Wiking since the beginning of Barbarossa. In spring 1943, the Finns' 2-year contract ended, and the Finnish battalion was withdrawn. During that same timeframe, the Regiment Nordland was removed to help form the core of the new SS Division Nordland. They were replaced by the Estonian Battalion Narwa.
The division took part in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, advancing through Galicia, today's Ukraine. In August the division fought for the bridgehead across the Dnieper River. Later, the division took part in the heavy fighting for Rostov-on-Don before retreating to the Mius River line in November. In the summer of 1942, the unit took part in Army Group South's offensive Case Blue, aimed at capturing Stalingrad and the Baku oilfields. In late September 1942, Wiking participated in the operation aimed to capture the city of Grozny, alongside the 13th Panzer Division. The division captured Malgobek on 6 October, but the objective of seizing Grozny and opening a road to the Caspian Sea was not achieved. The division took part in the attempt to seize Ordzhonikidze. The Soviet Operation Uranus, the encirclement of the 6th Army at Stalingrad, brought any further advances to a halt and later necessitated a retreat from the Caucasus.
After Operation Winter Storm, the failed attempt to relieve the 6th Army, Erich von Manstein, the commander of Army Group South, proposed another attempt towards Stalingrad. To that end, Wiking entrained on 24 December; however, by the time it arrived on 31 December, it was forced to cover the withdrawal of Army Group A from the Caucasus towards Rostov-on-Don. The division escaped through the Rostov gap on 4 February.
In early 1943, the division fell back to Ukraine south of Kharkov, recently abandoned by the II SS Panzer Corps commanded by Paul Hausser. In the remaining weeks of February, the Corps, including Wiking, engaged Mobile Group Popov, the major Soviet armoured force named after Markian Popov during the Third Battle of Kharkov. As the post-Stalingrad Soviet offensive exhausted itself, Manstein was able to stabilize the front.
In 1943, Herbert Gille was appointed to command the division. The SS Regiment Nordland, along with its commander Fritz von Scholz, were removed from the division and used as the nucleus for the new SS Division Nordland. The Finnish Volunteer Battalion was also withdrawn and they were replaced by the Estonian Battalion Narwa.
In the summer of 1943, the division, along with the 23rd Panzer Division, formed the reserve for Manstein's Army Group in Operation Citadel. Immediately following the German failure in the Battle of Kursk, the Red Army launched two counter-offensives, Operation Kutuzov and Operation Rumyantsev. Wiking, together with the SS Divisions Totenkopf and Das Reich, was sent to the Mius-Bogodukhov sector. The Soviets took Kharkov on 23 August and began advancing towards the Dnieper.
In October the division was pulled out to a quiet sector of the line just as the Dnieper–Carpathian Offensive overtook Army Group South. In the aftermath of the fall of Kiev in late December 1943, the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts of the Red Army encircled several German divisions during the Battle of the Korsun–Cherkassy Pocket in January 1944. Over 60,000 soldiers, including the Wiking division, were trapped along the Dnieper River. Roughly half of German forces broke out of the encirclement. Similar to other formations in the pocket, Wiking suffered heavy casualties and lost nearly all of its heavy equipment.
On 13 February 1945, the division was ordered west to Lake Balaton, where Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army was preparing Operation Spring Awakening, an offensive at Lake Balaton. Gille's remained as a support to the 6th SS Panzer Army during the beginning of the operation. Dietrich's army made "good progress" at first, but as they drew near the Danube, the combination of the muddy terrain and strong Soviet resistance ground them to a halt. The division performed a holding operation on the left flank of the offensive, in the area between Lake Velence-Székesfehérvár. As the operation progressed, the division was engaged in preventing Soviet efforts at outflanking the advancing German forces. On 16 March, the Soviets forces counterattacked in overwhelming strength causing the Germans to be driven back to their starting positions. On 24 March, another Soviet attack threw the 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. Wiking withdrew into Czechoslovakia. The division surrendered to the American forces near Fürstenfeld, Austria on 9 May.
Following the shooting death of Hilmar Wäckerle, one of the division's officers, in the city of Lviv, Jews in the area were rounded up by members of the division's logistics units led by Obersturmführer Braunnagel and Untersturmführer Kochalty. A gauntlet was then formed by two rows of soldiers. Most of these soldiers were from the Wiking's logistics units, but some were members of the German 1st Mountain Division. The Jews were then forced to run down this path while being struck by rifle butts and bayonets. At the end of this path stood a number of SS and army officers who shot the Jews as soon as they entered a bomb crater being used as a mass grave. About 50 or 60 Jews were killed in this manner.
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 Wiking in her work The Death Marches of Hungarian Jews Through Austria in the Spring of 1945.
On 28 March 1945, 80 Jews from an evacuation column, although fit for the journey, were shot by three members of Wiking and five military policemen. On 4 April, 20 members of another column that left Graz tried to escape near the town of Eggenfeld, not far from Gratkorn. Troops from the division stationed there apprehended them in the forest near Mt. Eggenfeld and then herded them into a gully, where they were shot. On 7–11 April 1945, members of the division executed another eighteen escaped prisoners.
In 2013 the NRK quoted "the first Norwegian [to publicly admit] that he participated in war crimes and extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe" during World War II, former soldier of the division, Olav Tuff, who admitted: "In one instance in Ukraine during the autumn of 1941, civilians were herded like cattle—into a church. Shortly afterwards soldiers from my unit started to pour gasoline onto the church and somewhere between 200 and 300 humans were burned inside [the church]. I was assigned as guard, and no one came out." The 2014 Norwegian book Morfar, Hitler og jeg (Grandfather, Hitler and I) quotes the diary of a division soldier from 1941 to 1943: "and then we cleaned a Jew hole".
|No.||Portrait||Commander||Took office||Left office||Time in office|
|1 December 1940||1 May 1943||2 years, 151 days|
|1 May 1943||6 August 1944||1 year, 97 days|
|6 August 1944||12 August 1944||6 days|
|12 August 1944||9 October 1944||58 days|
|9 October 1944||5 May 1945||208 days|
The organisation structure of this SS formation was as follows:
|Designation (English)||Designation (German)|