Men of the 11th SS Panzer-Grenadier Division Nordland during the Battle of Narva on 11 February 1944.
SS-Brigadeführer Fritz von Scholz (December 9, 1896 – July 28, 1944), commander of 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division “Nordland” awards the Knight’s Cross to Gerardus Mooyman
SS-Brigadeführer Fritz von Scholz, as commander of 11. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division “Nordland”, 1944. Von Scholz commanded the division during the ensuing retreat to Narva and during the battles for the Narva bridgehead. During this campaign he worked under his old commander, SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner, now in command of the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps, the Nordland’s parent formation.
During the intense combat for the Narva, von Scholz’s leadership had a strong impact on the spirit of his men. His jovial, caring attitude towards his troops resulted in him being granted the affectionate nickname Papa Scholz. Scholz was frequently at the front line, visiting his men and ensuring that they were as comfortable as possible. The Nordland together with the rest of Steiner’s corps, held the line against overwhelming odds for nearly five months. For his actions, von Scholz was awarded the Oakleaves to the Knight’s Cross on 12 March 1944, as well as the Finnish Order of the Cross of Liberty (2nd class) with Swords. On 20 April 1944, von Scholz was promoted to Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS.
In late July, the launch of the Soviet Operation Bagration and the impending collapse of Army Group Centre meant that Steiner’s corps had to fall back to secondary positions behind the Narva River. On 27 July, while visiting the front line on Lastekodumägi (Orphanage Hill), von Scholz was caught in an artillery barrage and struck in the head by a shell splinter. Despite the best efforts of the medics and field hospital staff, von Scholz died on 28 July 1944. He was posthumously awarded the Swords to the Knight’s Cross on 8 August 1944.
The Waffen-SS were swift to start work on building a ‘Nordland’ unit for Scandinavian volunteers, and when Himmler appointed Felix Steiner to the task he was able to extract the Germania Regiment from the Reich Division as a cadre. In January 1941 the Norwegian traitor Vidkun Quisling made a public appeal for 3,000 volunteers to ‘join in the war of freedom and independence against English world despotism’. Quisling had been awarded the CBE by the British in the 1920s for assistance in Bolshevik Russia; he was known as an intellectual but political fumbler. Rejected by the Norwegian communists following his return to that country he ranged himself with the new ideas of National Socialism, becoming a great admirer of Hitler with whom he had several meetings before his country was invaded. Appointed head of a puppet government, he was replaced as ineffectual by Hitler within days, but, as the Fuehrer put it, was ‘held in reserve’.
The first age limits for the new Norwegian unit was put at 25 to 40, this soon being lowered to 17. One of the first volunteers was Jonas Lie, a policeman who now formed the Norges SS and was posted to the Balkans in the Spring of 1941 to gain some military experience.
But it was, as in other occupied countries, the German invasion of Russia which provided the impetus for the foreign volunteer movement. One week after this momentous battle began the Germans announced the founding of the ‘Norske Legion’, the fact that it was a Waffen-SS organization was kept hidden. Those joining were mostly from the national socialist ‘Hird’ who were the equivalent of Hitler’s brownshirts (so-called ‘storm-troopers); others were from the Norges SS. The first group of volunteers numbering 300 men departed for Germany on 29 July 1941; a further 700 followed in mid-August, being joined in Hamburg by 62 Norwegians who had been resident in Berlin. By then Himmler had named the unit ‘Volunteer Legion Norway’.
Following the raising of Norwegian police and labour companies by the Germans, two more units comprising such personnel were organized into Waffen-SS troops under the now-Major Lie and after training sent to join the Norwegian Legion outside Leningrad.
The Norwegian Legion was withdrawn from Russia for rest and refurbishment in March 1943. Himmler planned to amalgamate the 600 to 700 men of the unit with the Nordland Regiment of SS Wiking to create a new division. By then his notions on SS purity were fast eroding, he was forced to make good the loss to Wiking by inserting an Estonian battalion, while to complete his new division he proposed using Dutchmen. Surprisingly, these volunteers from Holland objected to mixing in a Norwegian-Danish division, and so vociferous were their arguments that Hitler was obliged to intervene, allowing them to remain independent. This left Himmler in a dilemma, for his proposed division was short of one regiment, in truth only comprising two battalion-size units since dissolving of Legion-SS Grenadier Regiments Nr 1 Danmark and Nr 2 Norge. His solution was to fill up with a unit of racial Germans (Volksdeutsche), mostly from Hungary, and in common with current practice a suitable name for the new division was sought. Having versed himself in all aspects of Norse mythology and heroism, Himmler decided on the title ‘Varagian’, this referring to Nordic warriors who had penetrated east and south-eastern Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries. But once again Himmler was overruled by his Fuehrer and the new unit became simply 11th SS Panzer-Grenadier Division Nordland.
Norwegians had, in common with Danes and Swedes, volunteered to fight in the Russo-Finnish war of 1939; Norwegian ski troops joined the 6th SS Mountain Division on the Eastern Front in October 1942, this Norge unit remaining on the Finnish front until that country made peace with the USSR in September 1944, when the Norwegian skiers returned home.
The Nordland division with its Norwegian component was one of several SS divisions which tried to stem the Russian steam-roller in the Baltic States in 1944, twice being forced to evacuate by sea before ending its days in Berlin.
Army Group North
`Nordland’ and the rest of III SS-Panzerkorps were sent north to Leningrad in January 1944, to help contain the eminent Soviet breakout. Barely had the `Nordland’ men dug in around the city before the Communists exploded through the beleaguered German siege force. Not even the stalwart Scandinavians could stem the tide as the `Nordland’ Division was forced to fight a 20- mile rearguard action to Oraniebaum. This was followed a week later by a harried withdrawal 65-miles farther west to the Baltic Sea port of Narva, on the Estonian coast. Army Group North had setup defensive positions on the Narva River to halt the Russian advance and reorganize for a counter offensive.
Known to some as the “Battle of the European SS”, the Battle of Narva saw combatants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Estonia struggle to repel the vengeful Soviets. Several river and lake crossings were attempted by the attackers only to be thwarted, most notably an amphibious landing force at Merekule destroyed by `Nordland’ forces in February 1944. A testament to the skill and tenacity of the SS men, and `Nordland’ in particular, is that it took 200,000 Soviets five months to displace 50,000 defenders.
Having retreated to the Tannenberg Line, `Nordland’ soldiers took up already established positions on Orphanage Hill, 15 miles west of Narva in July 1944. Here the Division’s luck begins to run out; SS-Gruppenfuhrer Scholz and the commanders of both Panzergrenadier regiments were killed in combat on 29 July. In spite of these crushing losses the `Nordland’ troops persevered, destroying over 100 Soviet tanks on that same fateful day. Despite the staunch defence of the Tannenberg Line, a summer evacuation to Latvia was ordered for the Division.
Barely a month after arriving to defend the Latvian capital of Riga, the city fell to the Soviets and another evacuation was carried out. This time the Division was sent to the Kurland Pocket to buy time for retreating German forces. Fall and early winter 1944 found the division fighting numerous holding actions in the Kurland Pocket as other German formations were sent by sea to northern Germany. At last, in January 1945, `Nordland’ was withdrawn to Libau and shipped to Stettin in Pomerania.