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5th SS Panzer Division Wiking
Active 1941 - 1945
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen-SS
Type Armoured
Size Division
Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner
Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille
Oberführer Eduard Deisenhofer
Standartenführer Johannes Mühlenkamp
Oberführer Karl Ullrich
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 in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, 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 formation 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.

Formation and training

After the success of the Infanterie-Regiment (mot.) "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler", SS-Verfügungstruppen-Division "Das Reich" 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, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium, a decision was made to form a volunteer division of the Waffen SS under the command of German officers.[1]

This formation, 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 nucleus of a new division .[2] In December 1940, the new SS motorised formation, was to be designated SS-Division (mot.) "Germania", but after its formative period, the name was changed, to SS-Division (mot.) "Wiking". in January 1941.[3]

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, Norwegians and Swedes.[2] Command of the newly formed division was given to Brigadeführer Felix Steiner,[4] 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, (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[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 replaced by the Estonian infantry battalion "Narwa".

Operation Barbarossa

Wiking soldiers deployed to Soviet Russia observe the front in 1941. In the background is a Sd.Kfz. 232 reconnaissance vehicle.

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 captured, and SS Division "Wiking" was advancing deep into the Caucasus.[5][page needed]

The Caucasus

A Panzer III from SS "Wiking" in the summer of 1942; the divisional insignia can be seen on the tank's mudguard

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 "Germania", was to advance along the Kurp.

The attack got underway on the night of 25–26 September 1942. "Nordland"'s assault soon bogged down, as the soldiers 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 the regiment had fallen. Despite this, they still captured the hill; its commander, Fritz von Scholz, was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron 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 Volunteer Battalion of the Waffen-SS "Nordland". During this operation, "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 brought a halt to all further notions of advance in the Caucasus, and "Wiking" was obliged to take over the positions of the 23rd Panzer Division, allowing the latter to be transferred by rail to Kotelnikovo to participate in the relief of Stalingrad. When that operation faltered in turn in the face of further Soviet advances against the Italian 8th Army on the middle Don, the Caucasian position itself began to come under threat. One notion proposed by Erich von Manstein, the commander of Army Group South, was to release the 16th Motorised Infantry Division from the Elista sector to add strength to another attempt towards Stalingrad, "Wiking" entrained on 24 December, its front being shortened to make this possible; however, by the time it arrived on 31 December, it was forced to plug the gap made by the destruction of the Romanian corps on LVII Panzer Korps’ right flank on the 26th, and assist in a fighting retreat towards Rostov to cover the inevitable (but much-resisted by Adolf Hitler) withdrawal of Army Group A from the Caucasus. The division fell back through Zimovniki, the Kuberle, 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

A captured motorbike with "SS Wiking" insignia - Ukraine front

In late-November 1942 the division was redesignated the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking.[6] By now the division had gained a reputation as an elite formation. In early 1943, it was ordered to fall back to the Ukraine south of Kharkov, recently abandoned by Obergruppenführer 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; in addition, 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 Reichführer-SS 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 came 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 a Gruppenführer, was transferred to command 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 ended.

In an attempt to offset the loss of the Finns and the Nordland regiment, the newly formed Estonian volunteer unit Estonian Volunteer Panzergrenadier Bataillon "Narwa" was attached to the division.[6]

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 Red Army tanks over several days. When Citadel was cancelled, the division was still involved in halting Soviet attacks.

Further to the south, on the Mius-Front, a major Red Army offensive, Operation Rumyantsev, threatened to break the German lines. 5 SS "Wiking" was joined by the 3rd SS "Totenkopf" Panzer Division and the 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), destroying over 800 of them. 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". [6]

Korsun Pocket

To bolster the strength of the division, the Walloon volunteer unit 5th SS-Sturmbrigade "Wallonien" was attached to the division, under the command of Leon Degrelle. It was the subject of ridicule by 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 forming 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 der Artillerie 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 under cover of darkness, one platoon at a time. Advancing through "Hell's Gate", the "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 formation.

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 assault, 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 through the Red Army encirclement, destroying several tanks in the process. His Panther was the first vehicle to break the encirclement; for his actions he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.[7]

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 armband with the "Wiking" name

Captured German armoured fighting vehicle SdKfz 251 of the "Wiking" Division captured by the Polish insurgents

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 the 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 the 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, the two formations had driven 45 kilometres over rugged terrain, over half the distance from their start point to Budapest. The Soviets manoeuvred forces to block the advance, and they barely managed to halt the Germans 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 south 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 the operation's success, it 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 Oberstgruppenführer '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 west of Budapest and moving into Czechoslovakia. Gille's corps was too depleted to take part in Operation Frulingserwachen 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-Székesfehérvár. As Frühlingserwachen progressed, the division was heavily engaged in preventing Soviet efforts at outflanking the advancing German forces. However, as the offensive stalled, the Red Army launched a major offensive, the Vienna Operation, on 15 March. Attacking the lines between the 3 SS "Totenkopf", stationed to the north of the "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 exit. 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 further into Czechoslovakia. By early May, it was within reach of the American forces, to whom the division officially surrendered near Fürstenfeld, Austria on 9 May.[6]

War crimes

Members of the division's bakery column, led by Obersturmführer Braunnagel and Untersturmführer Kochalty, assisted Einsatzgruppe A in rounding up Ukrainian Jews.[when?] 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 involved. Between 50 and 60 Jews were killed in this manner, as a part of the larger Einsatzgruppe operation which resulted in over 700 murders.[8]

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 "Wiking" in her work The Death Marches of Hungarian Jews Through Austria in the Spring of 1945.[9]

On 28 March 1945, 80 Jews from an evacuation column, although fit for the journey, were shot by three members of the Waffen SS division "Wiking" and five military policemen. On 4 April, 20 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 into a gully, where they were shot. On 7–11 April 1945, members of the division executed another eighteen escaped prisoners.[9]

Josef Mengele

Josef Mengele in 1956. This picture was taken by a police photographer in Buenos Aires for Josef Mengele's Argentine identification document

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 himself, Mengele was deemed unfit for combat and was absorbed into the SS Nazi concentration camp system, where he gained his infamous reputation. 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.[10][page needed]


Orders of battle

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 (anti-tank) - Abteilung "Wiking"
  • SS-Aufklärungs-(reconnaissance) - Abteilung "Wiking"
  • SS-Sturmgeschütz (assault gun) - Batterie "Wiking"
  • SS-Flak (anti-aircraft) - Abteilung "Wiking"
  • SS-Pionier (assault pioneer) - Batallion "Wiking"
  • SS-Nachrichten (military intelligence) - Abteilung "Wiking"
  • SS-Feldersatz (replacement) - Batallion "Wiking"
  • SS-Versorgungseinheiten (supply unit) - "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- (mortar) - Abteilung 5
  • SS-Panzer-Nachrichten - Abteilung 5
  • SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs - Abteilung 5
  • SS-Panzer-Pionier - Batallion 5
  • SS-Instandsetzungs (repair) - Abteilung 5
  • SS-Nachschub (supply) - Abteilung 5
  • SS-Wirtschafts-Batallion 5
  • SS-Sanitäts (field medical) - Abteilung 5
  • SS-Feldlazarett (field hospital) 5
  • SS-Kriegsberichter-Zug 5
  • SS-Feldgendarmerie-Trupp (military police unit) 5
  • SS-Feldersatz-Battalion (replacement) 5

Manpower strength

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

See also


  1. Ripley, p 51
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ripley, p 52
  3. Stein, p 107
  4. Ripley, p 53
  5. Tigre
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Wendel
  7. Kurowski pp.398-400
  8. Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust page 63 Richard Rhodes Vintage; Reprint edition (Aug 12 2003)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lappin
  10. Clifton

External links

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