Free Corps Denmark (Danish: Frikorps Danmark) was a Danish volunteer free corps created by the The National Socialist Workers’ Party of Denmark (DNSAP) in cooperation with Germany, to fight the Soviet Union during the Second World War. On June 29, 1941, days after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the DNSAP’s newspaper Fædrelandet proclaimed the creation of the corps. Its formation was subsequently sanctioned by the democratically elected Danish government which authorized officers of the Danish Army to join the unit. The corps was disbanded in 1943. During the course of the war, approximately 6000 (about 8000 according to Oluf Krabbe 1903-1999) Danes joined the corps, including 77 officers of the Royal Danish Army.
Denmark had signed a treaty of nonaggression with Germany in 1939. Germany invoked this treaty on April 9, 1940, when it ordered the military occupation of Denmark under the guise of protecting the Danes from British invasion. Faced with potential German aerial bombing, King Christian X and the Danish government accepted “protection of the Reich” and permitted the “peaceful occupation” of the country in return for nominal political independence. The Danes began a policy of collaboration that included diplomatic and economic support of Germany. Cecil von Renthe-Fink, a German diplomat, was accredited to the Danish King and Cabinet as Reichsbevollmächtigter (“Imperial Plenipotentiary”) and charged with the duty of supervising Danish government.
At the outset of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Germany asked Denmark to form a military corps to fight with the Germans against the Soviets. On June 29, 1941, seven days after the invasion had begun, The National Socialist Workers’ Party of Denmark`s newspaper Fædrelandet (“The Fatherland”) proclaimed the creation of the Free Corps Denmark. Danish Foreign Minister Erik Scavenius entered into an agreement with the Reichsbevollmächtigter that officers and soldiers of the Danish Royal Army wishing to join this corps would be given leave and allowed to retain their rank. The Danish Cabinet issued an announcement stating that “Lieut. Colonel Christian Peder Kryssing, Chief of the 5th Artillery Regiment, Holbæk, has with the consent of the Royal Danish Government assumed command over Free Corps Denmark. Free Corps Denmark was one of “four national legions” established by the Waffen-SS in 1941. The original number of accepted recruits in 1941 was 1,164 men.
The role of the Danish government in forming the Free Corps Denmark is today disputed. Some authorities maintain that the Corps was unique among the legions of foreign volunteers fighting for Hitler in that it carried the official sanction of its home government. Others maintain that while the Danish government may have sanctioned formation of the Corps that it did not itself form the Corps.
C.P. Kryssing was dismissed in February 1942 for insufficient ideological adherence to National Socialism. He was transferred to the artillery where he actually ended his career as a general.
Christian Frederik von Schalburg
On May 8, 1942, the corps was ordered to the front line. The corps fought near Demyansk south of Lake Ilmen and Novgorod. During the night of June 2, Schalburg was killed. Hans Albert von Lettow-Vorbeck, his German replacement, was killed only a few days later. On July 11, 1942, Knud Børge Martinsen took command of the corps.
Knud Børge Martinsen
From August to October, the corps returned to Denmark, and it met much hostility from the civilian population. On November 13, 1942, the corps was deployed to Jelgava in Latvia. Originally, it was intended for anti-partisan activities, but it was then moved up to the front line. In December, the corps engaged in the Battle of Velikiye Luki in intense fighting, alongside the 1 SS Infantry Brigade.
In March, the corps was transferred to Grafenwöhr near Nuremberg in Germany. Then on June 6, 1943, the corps was disbanded. Most soldiers were transferred to “Regiment 24 Dänemark” in “Division Nordland“. Others joined groups such as the HIPO Corps or Schalburg Corps.
11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland
Regiment 24 Dänemark
In March the Nordland regiment left the division and became the core of the new 11th SS-Panzergrenadier-Division which was also named Nordland.
After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler sought to expand the Waffen-SS with foreign military volunteers for the “crusade against Bolshevism”. The enrolment 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 ethnic German Waffen-SS personnel. The SS Infantry Regiment Germania of the SS-Verfügungs-Division, which was formed mostly from ethnic 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 Wiking division was formed around three motorised infantry regiments: Germania, Westland, and Nordland; with the addition of the SS Artillery Regiment 5. 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 ready for combat. It was ordered east in mid-May, to take part with Army Group South’s advance into the 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. After training, 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 division since the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. In spring 1943 the Finns 2-year contract ended, and the Finnish battalion was withdrawn. During that same timeframe, the Wiking’s SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Nordland was removed to help form the core of the new 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland. They were replaced by the Estonian infantry battalion Narwa.
The 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland was a Waffen-SS division recruited from foreign populations. It saw action in the Independent State of Croatia and on the Eastern Front during World War II.
In February 1943, Hitler ordered the creation of an SS division which would be officered by foreign volunteers. In March 1943, the Wiking’s SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Nordland, a Scandinavian volunteer regiment, was separated from the Wiking Division and pulled out of the line to be used as the nucleus for the new division. The Nordland’s two Panzergrenadier regiments were also given titles that referenced the location where the majority of the regiment’s recruits were from, SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 Norge (Norway) and SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark (Denmark). Both regiments had addition men made up of conscripts from Hungary.
After its formation in Germany, the division was attached to the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps under the command of Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner and was moved to Croatia, where the SS Volunteer Legion Netherlands was attached to it. The division began combat operations against Yugoslav partisans in September 1943.
Nordland, along with the rest of III. (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps arrived at the front near Leningrad and was put into action against the Red Army attacks aimed at breaking the German encirclement of the city. The Red Army forced the Nordland to withdraw to Oranienbaum. On 14 January 1944, the Soviet Krasnoye Selo–Ropsha Offensive succeeded in collapsing the German front, forcing the Nordland to retreat and fight “rear-guard” actions back to the city of Narva in northeastern Estonia to a new defensive line.
From 27 July 1944, Nordland fought alongside the 20th SS Grenadier Division (1st Estonian) and elements of the Grossdeutschland Division In the Battle of Tannenberg Line. During these battles the commanders of the Norge and Danmark regiments were killed in action. While visiting the front line, Nordland Division’s commander, Gruppenführer Fritz von Scholz was caught in an artillery barrage and received a head wound. Scholz died on 28 July 1944. Thereafter, Brigadeführer Joachim Ziegler took over command of the Nordland Division. It retreated into what was known as the Courland Pocket. From late October to December 1944, the Nordland remained in the pocket; by early December the divisional strength was down to 9,000 men. In January 1945, the division was ordered to the Baltic port of Libau, where it was evacuated by sea.
Battle of Berlin
On 16 April, Nordland was ordered back into the line east of Berlin. Despite recent replenishment, the division was still grossly understrength. From 17 to 20 April, the division was involved in combat all along its front, and withdrew into the city. On 24 April, the main Soviet assault was towards the Treptow Park area, which the rest of the Pioneer battalion and the remaining Tiger tanks of Panzer battalion Hermann von Salza were defending. Obersturmbannführer Kausch led the few tanks and armoured vehicles in a counterattack and succeeded in temporarily halting the enemy advance. However, by midday, the 5th Shock Army was able to advance again.
Later in the evening of 24 April between 320 and 330 French troops from the 33rd Waffen-Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne arrived in Berlin after a long detour to avoid Soviet advance columns. On 25 April, Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg was appointed the commander of (Berlin) Defence Sector C which included the Nordland Division. Joachim Ziegler was relieved of his command of Nordland earlier the same day. The French Waffen-SS troops now known as Sturmbataillon “Charlemagne” was attached to the Nordland Division. The arrival of the French bolstered the Nordland Division whose “Norge” and “Danmark” Panzergrenadier regiments had been decimated in the fighting against the Soviet Red Army forces. They each roughly equalled a battalion.
By 26 April, with Neukölln heavily penetrated by Soviet combat groups, Krukenberg prepared fallback positions for Sector C troops around Hermannplatz. He moved his headquarters into the opera house. As the Nordland division fell back towards Hermannplatz the Charlemagne and one-hundred Hitler Youth attached to their group destroyed 14 Soviet tanks with Panzerfausts; one machine gun position by the Halensee bridge managed to hold up any Soviet advance in that area for 48 hours. The Nordland’s remaining armour, eight Tiger tanks and several assault guns, were ordered to take up positions in the Tiergarten, because although the two divisions of Weidling’s LVI Panzer Corps could slow the Soviet advance down, they could not stop it.
The Soviet forces advance into Berlin followed a pattern of massive shelling followed by assaults using house-clearing battle groups of about 80 men in each, with tank escorts and close artillery support. On 27 April, the remnants of Nordland were pushed back into the central government district (Zitadelle sector) in Defence sector Z. Krukenberg’s Nordland headquarters was a carriage in the Stadtmitte U-Bahn station. Thereafter, the troops in the government district were pushed back into the Reichstag and Reich Chancellery.
On 30 April, after receiving news of Hitler’s suicide, orders were issued that those who could do so were to break out. Prior to that Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke briefed all commanders that could be reached within the Zitadelle sector about the events as to Hitler’s death and the planned breakout. The break out from the Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker started at 2300 hours on 1 May. There were ten main groups that attempted to head northwest.
Fierce fighting continued all around, especially in the Weidendammer Bridge area. What was left of the Nordland Division under Krukenberg fought hard in that area but Soviet artillery and anti-tank guns were too strong. The Nordland’s last Tiger was knocked out attempting to cross the Weidendammer Bridge. Thereafter, several small groups reached the Americans at the Elbe‘s west bank, but most (including Mohnke’s group and men from Krukenberg’s group), did not break out. Krukenberg made it to Dahlem, where he hid out in an apartment for a week but then had to surrender.
On 2 May hostilities officially ended by order of Helmuth Weidling, Kommandant of the Defence Area Berlin and General of Artillery.
Berlin after the battle, May 2, 1945: A smashed armored personnel carrier Sd.Kfz 250 belonging to the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, also known as 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland, on Friedrichstrasse after fierce fighting.
Denmark in WWII