Breakout through Hell’s Gate (Korsun-Cherkassy Kessel)

SS-Unterscharführer Gerhard Fischer
Knight's Cross Holder SS-Unterscharführer Gerhard Fischer, Zugführer of 3.Kompanie/SS-Panzerjäger-Abteilung 5 (5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking), wearing the crusher cap with his assault gun uniform. He was awarded the Knight's Cross for his actions when the Wiking spearheaded the last desperate breakout of Korsun-Cherkassy on February 16 1944. Forming up in two columns they flocked into two parallel ravines in the surrounding countryside, and where the two ravines met, the troops emerged into open country and headed out towards Lysianka. There, disaster struck as the Soviet troops, under General Konev, were waiting. Soon after 06:00 the slaughter began. Soviet tanks drove into the German columns crushing hundreds under their tracks. Fleeing troops were confronted by units of Cossack cavalry and hands were lopped off of those who approached with their arms raised in surrender. There was no time to take Prisoners of War and the carnage continued till it was all over. In the short space of three hours, over 19,000 German soldiers lay dead or was taken prisoner. Platoon commander Gerhard Fischer is born on November 12 1922 in Zwickau and is still alive in 2011. Image: Private collection.

ϟϟ-Oberscharführer der Waffen-SS Olsson (Kamenets-Podolsky pocket)

Sven-Erik Olsson as SS-Unterscharführer
Tigers after the outbreak from Hube's Pocket
Sven-Erik Olsson was born in Pärnu in Estonia and belonged to the Swedish ethnic minority, the so-called Coastal Swedes. He volunteered for the SS as early as in November 1939, the first Swedish citizen to do so. He experienced his first battles in September 1940 in the Battle of the Netherlands. Olsson fought on the Eastern front at Tarnopol in Galizien in March 1944 when Generaloberst Hans-Valentin Hube's 1.Panzer Army was to break out from the Kamenets-Podolsky toward Tarnopol, where relief forces led by SS-Obergruppenführer Paul Hausser's II.SS-Panzerkorps were to meet them. The Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket, also known as Hube's Pocket, is still studied in military academies today as an example of how to avoid annihilation when forces are trapped in a pocket. Sven-Erik Olsson was promoted to SS-Oberscharführer in May 1944 and served as a personal signaler for SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Harmel, Commander of 10.SS-Panzer Division Frundsberg. He took part in the fighting in Normandy where he was injured during the German breakout from the Falaise pocket in August 1944 but soon returned to his unit. He continued fighting in Pommerania, Stettin-Altdamm, Stargard and Raum Cottbus before ending the war at Komotau where he destroyed his SPW after an attempt to reach Dresden failed. According to Division Commander Heinz Harmel, Sven-Erik Olsson was awarded the German Cross in Gold on April 20 1945 while serving as commander of an communications tank of the Frundsberg division. At the time Olsson handled the communications for the divisional HQ which enabled the division to escape total destruction by the Soviets and eventually break out of the Spremberg pocket. He was taken prisoner by the Americans and relocated to Sweden in 1947. Sven-Erik Olsson died aged 62 on March 7 1985 of a heart attack during a skiing vacation in Arosa in Switzerland. Awards among others: German Cross in Gold, Iron Cross First and Second Class, Close Combat Clasp in Bronze and Infantry Assault Badge in Silver. Credit: the authors Patrick Agte and Richard Landwehr. Left image: the Swedish SS Volunteer Sven-Erik Olsson. Public domain. Right image: Panzer VI 'Tigers after the successful break-out from Hube's moving Pocket. The photo is taken in the area of Tarnopol in Galizien on April 22 1944 by PK-Kriegsberichter Valtingojer. Commons: Bundesarchiv.

5.ϟϟ-Panzerdivision „Wiking“ transferred out of Ukraine

Panzerkampfwagen Panther n°823 of 5.SS-Pz.Div. Wiking
5.SS-Panzerdivision Wiking
After the 5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking had escaped the Cherkassy pocket, its remaining forces were transferred out of the Ukraine and assembled in Poland. On March 13 1944, the hopes of home leave after three years at the front were shattered. The entry on that date in the log read: Leave only for the Germanic volunteers and the wounded. Everything thus pointed toward commitment of the depleted division. On March 16 1944 the Soviets brought Wiking back into the battle again, although in the process of regrouping, the Wiking was sent to assist in the defence of Kovel in Eastern Poland. New weapons, above all heavy weapons, vehicles and manpower replacements had not yet arrived. SS-Gruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille led his men towards Kovel and began setting up a defensive perimeter, which was soon encircled by the Soviet Red Army. SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment Germania´s transport train were fired on by the Soviets and the train halted. Germania immedeiately attacked the enemy forces in order to reopen the rail line and enable the transport to continue. In the meantime, the transport train of Westland also closed up. On March 29 1944 the 4.Panzer-Armee was pressing for speed and ordered an immediate attack with the forces available at the time. The first unit to arrive Kovel was Wiking´s SS-Panzer-Regiment 5. Top image: Wiking Panther n°823 covers the progression of the panzergrenadiers in the spring of 1944. It was coated in Zimmerit and had received one of the wide array of different three colour camouflage patterns adopted by the Wiking Division. Commons: Bundesarchive. Bottom image: Panther of 5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking in the spring of 1944. Commons: Bundesarchive.

3.ϟϟ-Panzerdivision „Totenkopf“

3.SS-Panzerdivision Totenkopf
After the relief attempts towards Cherkassy were 3.SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf and the 1.Panzer-Division attacked towards the city of Korsun, attempting to secure a crossing across the Gniloy-Tilkich river, the Totenkopf fell back behind the Southern Bug River. Totenkopf immediately began taking up new defensive positions west of Ivanovka in the second week of March 1944. After another two weeks of fierce fighting in the forward defense lines, alongside Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland, the Axis lines again fell back, withdrawing to the Dniestr on the Romanian border near Iaşi. Image: A young SS-Unterscharführer and an SS-Untersturmführer of 3.SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf break for a meal beside the wreck of a Soviet T-34. This nice details picture is taken somewhere in Bessarabia in April 1944. Commons: Bundesarchiv.

3.ϟϟ-Panzerdivision „Totenkopf“ and Second Battle of Târgu Frumos

3.SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf
Unidentified SS-Untersturmführer of Totenkopf
In the first week of April 1944, the 3.SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf received replacements and new equipment, including Panther tanks. In the second week of April 1944, Totenkopf took part in fighting against a heavy Soviet Army attacks towards Second Battle of Târgu Frumos were elements of the divison, together with elements of the elite Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland, managed to halt an armoured assault by the Red Army. The assault was carried out by approximately 500 tanks. Credit: Wikipedia. Top clip: a Totenkopf SS-Panzergrenadier carefully inspects a knocked out T-34 in 1944. Footage from Die Deutsche Wochenschau. Fair use. Bottom image: an unidentified SS-Untersturmführer of 3.SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf in conversations with an Offizier of the Heer somewhere in Bessarabia in April 1944. One source identifies the Oberleutnant who is wearing a Sturmartillerie jacket as a member of the 228.Sturmgeschütz Brigade. This brigade served alongside Totenkopf in Bessarabia in the spring of 1944. The Wehrmacht soldiers regarded the Waffen-SS men as thoroughly reliable comrades. Respect born of shared frontline experiences. The unknown SS-Untersturmführer wears an early vertical Totenkopf collar tab. Commons: Bundesarchiv.

The Roman Catholic Church and Vatican

Der Kölner Dom 1945
The Roman Catholic Church and Vatican is credited with helping, networking and organising the escape of thousands of Waffen-SS men in post-war Europe. The Vatican, through its Refugee Commission, provided members of both the Waffen-SS and infamous war criminals of the Allgemeine-SS with false identity papers, according to many various sources. These escape routes mainly led toward havens in Franco's Spain, South America or United States. Other so-called ratlines were running through Scandinavia and West-Europe. Research shows that Britain and Canada alone inadvertently took in around 8,000 former Waffen-SS members in 1947, according to Assistant Professor of History Gerald Steinacher.
The United States also recruited many Waffen-SS veterans, often with an assist from high Vatican officials. The Vatican's help was based on a hoped-for revival of European Christianity and dread of the Soviet Union. The Vatican has consistently refused to comment and has kept its archive closed to the public. Image: A German Mark V Panther in front of the ancient Cologne Cathedral on March 6 1945. Public domain.

The occupation of the Baltic states refers to the military occupation of the three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the Soviet Union in 1940 followed by their forcible illegal incorporation into the Soviet Republics. The European Waffen-SS volunteers rushed to join the the defense of Estonia, Kurland and Western Latvia in 1944.

Swedish commander of Pz AAII Nordland interviewed in Narva
After having been conquered by the Danes, the Livonian Knights, the Teutonic Knights of Germany, the Poles, the Swedes and the Russians, the Baltic States declared themselves independent republics in 1918. 
Estnisches SS-Freiwilligen Bataillon „Narwa“
In August 1940, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was illegally annexed by the Soviet Union as Soviet Socialist Republics. State administrators were liquidated and replaced by Soviet cadres. The repressions followed with mass deportations carried out by the Soviets. Many of the country's political and intellectual leaders were killed or deported to remote areas of the USSR by the Soviet authorities in 1940 – 1941. Repressive actions were also taken against thousands of ordinary people. When the German Operation Barbarossa started against the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of Balts were forcibly drafted into the Red Army. Political prisoners who could not be evacuated were murdered by the NKVD. The German Wehrmacht were perceived by most Balts as liberators from the USSR and its repression, and hopes were raised for the restoration of independence. The initial enthusiasm that accompanied the liberation from Soviet occupation quickly waned as the Baltics became part of the German-occupied Reichskommissariat Ostland. After World War II mass deportations were concluded in the Baltic countries by the Soviet Union and the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to the Baltic states continued and soon the ethnic Baltic population had fallen to 62  68%. More than 10% of the entire adult Baltic population was deported or sent to Soviet labor camps. Half of the deported perished, the other half were not allowed to return until the early 1960s. Credit: Wikipedia. Top image: the summer of 1944 saw the battle of the European Waffen-SS on the Narva Front in Estonia. Here, nationals from among others Denmark, Estonia, Flanders, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden and Wallonia shared the trenches and fought shoulder-to-shoulder to throw the Soviets back off Orphanage Hill and Grenadier Hill. Image shows the Swede SS-Untersturmführer Hans-Gösta Pehrsson being interviewed in early 1944 by a Norwegian SS-Kriegsberichter in Mummasaare in Estonia, known as Bunkerstrasse. National Archives of Norway. Fair use. Bottom image: captured Soviet T-34-76 operated by the Estonians. Public domain.

III.(germanische) ϟϟ-Panzerkorps and other foreign SS formations

An unidentified Estnische SS Volunteer
SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner
After the encirclement was broken at the front near Leningrad, 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland, along with the rest of III (Germanic) SS-Panzerkorpsfought it's way back to the city of Narva in Estonia where a new line of defence was being organised. The former Wiking commander SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner's SS-Panzer-Korps, principally made up of Scandinavians and Dutch, comprising the 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland and the 4.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Brigade Nederland, played a leading role during the Battle of Narva and the Battle of Tannenberg Line. Operating within the same sector (Sinimäe/Blue Hills) were the 15. and 19.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS, both Latvian volunteer divisions, the Estonian 20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS, the Flemish volunteers of 6.SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Langemark and SS-Standartenführer Leon Degrelle's Walloons in the 5.SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Wallonien. Left image: a formal studio portrait of the holder of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords SS-Obergruppenführer and commanding general of III. (germanische) SS-Panzerkorps. Photo probably taken during the award of the Swords on August 10 1944. The Heinrich Hoffmann Photo Archive. Fair use. Right image: a young Estonian Waffen-SS Grenadier with the rank of SS-Rottenführer. Public domain.

The European ϟϟ (Battle of Narva)

III. (germanische) SS-Panzerkorps
Several Western scholars refer The Battle of Narva (February 2 – August 10 1944) to as the Battle of the European SS because the majority of the defenders were European Waffen-SS volunteers. Joining the Scandinavian and Dutch Nordland were formations from all over Europe. The SS Panzer Corps consisted of 24 volunteer battalions from Denmark, East Prussia, Flanders, Holland, Norway and Wallonia as well as the local Estonian conscripts motivated to resist the looming Soviet re-occupation. Altogether, the defenders of the Narva River line amounted to 50,000 men. Against them, the Soviets threw 200,000 men of Marshall Leonid A. Govorov's Leningrad Front. Stalin was personally interested in taking Estonia, viewing it as a precondition of forcing Finland out of the war. The Soviet operation were exhausted by the III (Germanic) SS-Panzerkorps in ferocious battles. The first Soviet Narva Offensive was halted on February 20 1944. Image: an unidentified SS volunteer of III.SS-Panzerkorps during the Battle of Narva in February 1944. Commons: Bundesarchiv.

20.Waffen-Grenadierdivision der ϟϟ

Eesti relvagrenaderide SS-diviis
Although many Balts were recruited into the German Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS the majority did so only in 1944 when the threat of a new invasion by the Soviet Red Army had become imminent. 20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (Eesti relvagrenaderide SS-diviis) was an Estonian unit of Waffen-SS established in 1944. Seeing the Third Reich as the salvation of an independent Baltic, these sons of Estonia joined the ideological crusade against Stalin’s communists regime. After some brutal fighting against the Soviets
20.Waffen-Grenadierdivision der SS
in 1944, these Estonians managed to force the Bolsheviks back to the east bank of the Narva River. Images: Young Estonian volunteers of the 20.Waffen-Grenadierdivision der SS recieve food packages from local women at a trainstation in 1944. They are wearing the distinctive SS Autumn Oak Leaf camouflage parkas designed to be reversible, providing camouflage for two seasons. Distribution was limited to the Waffen-SS, ostensibly because of a patent. The camouflage patterns were designed by Johann Georg Otto Schick, a Munich art professor and then the director of the German camouflage research unit. Public domain.

20.Waffen-Grenadierdivision der ϟϟ

Eesti relvagrenaderide SS-diviis
The Soviet air force conducted an air raid, leveling the historic town of Narva on March 6 1944. Soviet air assaults against civilians in Estonian towns were a part of the offensive, aimed at forcing the Estonians away from supporting the German side. Nevertheless, the European SS volunteers succeeded in holding the western bank of the Narva River throughout the spring of 1944. Hundreds of thousands Balts took refuge from the Soviet army by fleeing to Germany and Sweden. For the next fifty years the people of Estonia would pay
Estnische Nr.1
for their complicity with the Reich, a debt paid by their inclusion in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. 
In all three countries, Baltic partisans, known colloquially as the Forest Brothers, Latvian national partisans, and Lithuanian partisans (1944-1953), waged unsuccessful guerrilla warfare against the Soviet occupation for the next eight years in a bid to regain their nations' independence. Images: Estonian SS volunteers getting ready to be sent to the northern parts of the Eastern Front to fight off the Soviets. Public domain.

Tragedy of the Faithful „Nordland“

Abandoned Kübelwagen SS-209 314
On April 16 1945, 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland was ordered into the line east of Berlin. During this time, a 300 man unit of French Waffen-SS volunteers of 33.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne and a company of Spanish Waffen-SS men (Spanische-Freiwilligen Kompanie der SS 101) under command of Hauptsturmführer der SS Miguel Ezquerra (1903 – 1984) were attached to the division. The Dutch and Scandinavian Nordland was involved in constant combat all along it´s front, pushing the division back into the city itself. By April 22 1945, it had been pushed back to the Tiergarten in
An unidentified fallen SS-Untersturmführer
the centre of Berlin. The remains of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 Norge and SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 24 Danmark, found themselves defending the bridges across the Spree. After a spirited but futile defense, the remnants of Nordland were pushed back into the Government District. Meanwhile, the main Soviet assault was towards the Treptow Park area, where the rest of the few remaining Panzers of SS-Panzer-Abteilung 11 Hermann von Salza were defending. SS-Obersturmbannführer Kausch led the few Panzers and armoured vehicles in a counter attack and succeeded in halting the enemy advance, at the cost of his last vehicles. By April 26 1945, the defenders of the government district had been pushed back into the Reichstag itself, and were causing heavy casualties to the advancing Soviets. Top image: An abandoned SS Kübelwagen. Unknown location. Bottom image: An unidentified fallen SS-Untersturmführer at Friedrichstraße in Berlin in May 1945. Public domain.

The Backbone – Maschinengewehr 42 (Battle of Narva)

42 Gunner taking aim
The backbone of the German infantry taking aim with an MG42 (Maschinengewehr 42). The MG42 has a proven record of reliability, durability, simplicity, and ease of operation, but is most notable for being able to produce a stunning volume of suppressive fire. The MG 42 has one of the highest average rates of fire of any single-barreled man-portable machine gun, between 1,200 and 1,500 rpm, resulting in a distinctive muzzle report. The quality of design and workmanship meant long and extremely precise manufacturing processes, and eventually five factories were doing nothing but turn out MG34s/MG42s as hard as they could. This, the finest general-purpose machine-gun ever produced, is still in service with the German Bundeswehr in only slightly modified form as the 7.62 mm MG 3. Commons: Bundesarchiv.

Casualties and losses in the Battle of Narva

III. (germanische) SS-Panzerkorps
German casualties during the Battle of Narva, including a number of West-European volunteers and local Estonian conscripts, is estimated at 14,000 dead or missing and 54,000 wounded. As the Soviet forces were constantly reinforced, the casualties of the battle were 150,000 – 200,000 wounded and dead Soviet troops. Soviet losses in the offensive at Estonia are estimated to 480,000 overall casualties (the number of Soviet casualties can only be estimated indirectly). According to the German War Graves Association, 35,000 German soldiers were killed on Estonian territory, and a further 10,000 or so prisoners of war subsequently died in forced-labour camps. A large number of graves are unmarked or were obliterated by the Soviet regime. The bitterly-fought battles waged on Estonian territory are today remembered by many partly restored military cemeteries. Image: battle fatigued SS-Grenadiers in the ferocious battles of Narwa in 1944. Credit: Estonica. Commons: Bundesarchiv.

ϟϟ-Panzer-Abteilung 11 „Hermann von Salza“

Norwegian SS volunteers Per Kjølner and Thomas Hvistendahl
Norwegian volunteers SS-Untersturmführer Per Kjølner and SS-Untersturmführer Thomas Hvistendahl in Narva in 1944. They both served in the 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland's Panzer-Abteilung 11 Hermann von Salza. Kjølner first served in SS-Infanterie-Regiment Germania of SS-Division Wiking. After graduating from Bad Tölz in 1943, he became platoon leader in Hermann von Salza and received the Iron Cross First Class and the Close Combat Clasp in Bronze for his actions in the Battle of Narva. After World War II, Kjølner was tried by Olso Byrett and sentenced to 5 years in prison for treason. He later took over as director of the family company in Norway. Per Kjølner is born in 1921 and is still alive in 2012. Fair use. 

ϟϟ-Untersturmführer und Kriegsberichter der Waffen-SS Kreuger

SS-Untersturmführer Hans-Caspar Kreuger
Photo shows the Swedish SS-Untersturmführer and Kriegsberichter Hans-Caspar Kreuger with his driver in Narva after the Soviet bombing raid of March 1944. Kreuger's Pan-European articles and writings frequently appeared in the Scandinavian press and was widely published in newspapers throughout Europe. According to various accounts Kreuger was fluent in 6 languages (Swedish, German, English, French, Spanish and Russian). He volunteered in the Russo-Finnish Winter War and enlisted with the Waffen-SS in July 1941 (he was also a member of the Allgemeine-SS). After graduating from the SS-Junkerschule at Bad Tölz Kreuger served with 5.SS-Panzer-Division Wiking. He participated in the break-out of Korsun-Cherkassy after denying orders to leave with the last plane out of the pocket. Following the bloody break-out in February 1944 Kreuger joined the SS-Kriegsberichter-Zug 11 of the 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland in the Narva bridgehead. According to various unconfirmed sources, Kreuger then served with the French Sturmbataillon (33.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Charlemagne) in April 1945 during its struggle in the Battle for BerlinSS-Untersturmführer Hans-Caspar Kreuger survived the war and with the help of a U.S. Army Captain he was able to leave captivity and immigrate to Argentina with four other Scandinavian Waffen-SS comrades. He later returned frequently to Europe to attend Waffen-SS veteran's reunions. Hans-Caspar Kreuger died aged 74 on November 15 1977 in a car accident at an un-monitored railroad crossing in Buenos Aires. Image: Courtesy of Joakim Munter.

ϟϟ-Hauptsturmführer der Waffen-SS Pehrsson

 Hans-Gösta Pehrsson as SS-Untersturmführer 
Swedish SS-Untersturmführer Hans-Gösta Pehrsson became Commander of the armored SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 11 of 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland during the battles of the Baltics. He was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer on June 21 1944 and led his company through the retreat from the Courland to Stettin (Pomerania) and on to Berlin. One of his fellow soldiers remembered SS-Obersturmführer Hans-Gösta Pehrsson this way: The place was called Trekni. Pehrsson received an order for the 3rd company directly from SS-Brigadeführer Joachim Ziegler: Attack! Conquer one strategically important point and keep it until the last men are alive!' [October 16 to 19 1944] After the attack, once we had driven the enemies away from the upland and occupied their bunkers, only a few men from Pehrsson's company had remained. It was terrible bloodshed, one-on-one. The Russians knew what was at stake and tried to use all possible means to reconquer the upland. For four days we tried to stay strong and beat off the enemy's attacks. On the fifth day we had to retreat. Pehrsson's command point was about 100 meters behind the bunker line. I'll never forget the moment he saw us. He yelled: Cowards, go back!, and then he led his MG to attack and we followed him. We surprised the Russians, who were certain of their win, with 12 men. Russians had not seen it coming and we managed to capture more than 100 Russians. Pehrsson was promoted SS-Hauptsturmführer and became deputy commander and Ic (intelligence section) of Nordlands HQ´s staff in April 1945. He was captured by the Soviets during the final Battle of Berlin, but managed to escape and returned back to Sweden in the summer of 1945. Hans-Gösta Pehrsson ended the war having been awarded a row of decorations; Iron Cross 1st Class, Close Combat Clasp in Silver, Ehrenblatt des Deutschen Heeres (a total of only 4.556 Honour Roll Clasp of the Army were awarded during the whole war), Panzer Assault Badge 25, Infantry Assault Badge and Wound Badge in Silver. Image: the Swede SS-Untersturmführer Pehrsson. National Archives of Norway.

ϟϟ-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 11 „Schwedenzug/Schwedenkompanie“

SS-Untersturmführer Pehrsson and fellow officers
Six Swedish officers in the Waffen-SS at the Narva front in the spring of 1944. From left to right: SS-Untersturmführer Gösta Borg who served with 5.Wiking and 11.Nordland between 1941 and 1945. Ukraine in 1941, Breslau and Bad Tölz in 1943-1944, Ost Preußen, Viborg, Narva, Warszawa and the Ardennes in 1944. He returned to Sweden in 1945. SS-Untersturmführer Hans-Caspar Kreuger who served with 5.Wiking and 11.Nordland between 1942 and 1945. Klagenfurt and Bad Tölz in 1943 and 1944. Ukraine in 1943, Narva in 1944 and Berlin in 1945. Exiled in Argentina after the war. SS-Untersturmführer Hans-Gösta Pehrsson, later promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer, who served with Freikorps Danmark and 11.Nordland between 1941 and 1945. Novgorod in 1941-1942, Leningrad in 1942, Bad Tölz in 1943, Narva, Estonia and Latvia in 1944 and Pomerania and Berlin in 1945. He returned to Sweden 1945. SS-Untersturmführer Gunnar Eklöf who served with 5.Wiking, 11.Nordland and 17.Götz von Berlichingen between 1941 and 1945. Bad Tölz and Croatia in 1943, Narva and Dünaburg in 1944 and Berlin in 1945. He returned to Sweden in 1945. SS-Obersturmführer Carl Ferdinand Stodenberg Svensson who served with 5.Wiking, 11.Nordland and 12.Hitlerjugend between 1941 and 1945. Bad Tölz in 1942, Leningrad in 1943, in the Balkans, Normandie, Arnhem and Narva in 1944 and on the Rhine front 1945 before he returned to Sweden in 1945. SS-Untersturmführer Carl-Johannes Thorkell Tillmann who served with 11.Nordland and 12.Hitlerjugend between 1942 and 1944. Sennheim and Bad Tölz in 1943. Narva and Normandie in 1944. Killed in action on June 26 1944 in Normandie. Behind the camera is SS-Untersturmführer Rune Ahlgren who served with 11.Nordland between 1943 and 1944. Bad Tölz. Narva and Latvia in 1944. Killed in action on October 30 1944 at Preekuln in Latvia as SS-Obersturmführer and platoon commander in Nordland. Courtesy of Joakim Munter.

ϟϟ-Oberscharführer der Waffen-SS Wallin

SS-Unterscharführer Erik Wallin
Erik Wallin, born in 1921 in Stockholm, Sweden, fought in the Swedish Volunteer Corps 1939 – 1940 and in the Swedish Volunteer Battalion 1941 – 1942 following the Soviet invasion of Finland. He was awarded several times. When Erik Wallin returned to Sweden he served in the Swedish army at LV7 in Luleå for a year until he joined the Waffen-SS in January 1943. At first he was stationed with the multi-national SS-Division Wiking but later transferred to 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland where he served as a platoon commander in SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 11. From the fierce fighting in Narva SS-Unterscharführer Wallin continued in the Reconnaissance battalion of the Nordland division all the way to the central government district in Defence sectore Zitadelle of Berlin as described in the book 'Twilight of the Gods'. The book is edited by another Swede, the Leibstandarte SS Kriegsberichter Thorolf Hillblad who is still alive in 2011. Erik Wallin was promoted to SS-Oberscharführer in 1945. He died aged 76 in 1997 during a Waffen-SS reunion in Berlin. Awards: Iron Cross Second Class, Close Combat Clasp in Silver, Panzer Assault Badge 25, Wound Badge, Finnish Frihetsmedaljen Second Class (Medal of Liberty), Finnish Coastal Artillery Cross and the Lapland Cross for the Continuation War - awarded members serving in the Finnish-German Army Corps. Image: SS-Unterscharführer Erik Wallin. Courtesy of Joakim Munter.

11.ϟϟ-Freiwilliegen-Panzergrenadierdivision „Nordland“

SS-Sturmmann Svend Larsen
11.SS-Frw.Pz.Gren.Div. Nordland
Danish SS-Sturmmann Svend Arne Larsen born in 1921 volunteered for the Waffen-SS in 1941. He served with the Danish SS volunteer free corps Freikorps Danmark in the Demyansk Pocket in 1942 and were transferred to SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 24 Danmark of 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland in 1944. Svend Larsen was awarded the Infantry Assault Badge and the Wound Badge in Silver. As an active veteran he received the Veterans decorations Ulrichsberg Ehrenzeichen in Gold and in 1999, a medal from the Estonian Association of Freedom Fighters. Svend Arne Larsen died aged 88 on March 22 2008 in Jutland in Denmark. Here's a link to an interview from 1994 with among others Waffen-SS volunteer Svend Larsen for Danish TV2 (without English subtitles). Right image: SS-Sturmmann Svend Larsen during his stay at the SS-Lazerett Trauenstein in Bavaria in 1944. Public domain. Left image: an unidentified Norwegian SS-Rottenführer of the Nordland Divison. They both wear the Nordland Sunwheel Collartab. Courtesy of P. Wallendal. Fair use.

ϟϟ-Untersturmführer der Waffen-SS Rasmussen

SS-Untersturmführer Ellef Rasmussen
Danish SS-Untersturmführer Ellef Henry Rasmussen joined Waffen-SS in 1940 and served in SS-Infanterie-Regiment Nordland of the Wiking Division before attending the 3.Lehrgang for Germanic officer candidates at Junkerschule Bad Tölz. In 1943 he was assigned to the newly formed 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland. In the final phase of the war Ellef Rasmussen become the commander of II./SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 24 Danmark. He took part in many important campaigns and battles: Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union; Operation Edelweiß, the advance into the Caucasus; Battle of Narva and Battle of Berlin. After World War II, Ellef Rasmussen spent two years in prison on treason convictions, despite having had permission to serve in the Waffen-SS granted by the Danish government and the king during the war. Ellef Rasmussen's war memories are written by Danish historian Peter Møller Hansen: Troskab - Dansk SS-frivillig E.H. Rasmussens erindringer 1940-45. Image: SS-Untersturmführer Ellef Rasmussen photographed outside his command post in Narva 1944 by the Swedish SS-Untersturmführer Hans-Caspar Kreuger. Ellef Henry Rasmussen died aged 93 on January 1 2016. Fair use.

The Last Knights of Flanders (The Blue Hills)

27.SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadierdivision Langemarck
Swedish SS-Kriegsberichters interviewing a SS-Volunteer in Narva
The 27.SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division Langemarck was engaged in very heavy combat against the Soviets and the men of Flandern defeated major Soviet attacks alongside men of 2.SS-Panzer-Division Das Reich, 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland, 28.SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division Wallonien and several German formations during World War II. An example of the fighting spirit and tenacity of the Flemish volunteers can be seen by the actions of the Panzerjäger SS-Sturmmann Remi Schrijnen later promoted SS-Unterscharführer in 6.SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Langemarck. When forces of the Soviet Leningrad Front began their assaults on the Blue Hills (Sinimägede lahing) near Narva between July 26 and August 12 1944 the Battle Group of the other Belgian formation 5.SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Wallonien, personally led by SS-Standartenführer Léon Degrelle, and elements of Waffen-Grenadier-Regiment der SS 45 Estland of 20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS were sent up to Orphanage Hill to bolster the defence. The men of Sturmbrigade Langemarck and Wallonien, the Dutch 4.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Brigade Nederland and SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 Norge of the Nordland Division and Regiment 45 Estland saw extremely heavy fighting on the gentle slopes of Orphanage Hill. During these attacks, Remi Schrijnen single handedly knocked out over a dozen Soviet tanks while wounded and cut off from his unit. Over a 48 hours period, Schrijnen personally halted several Soviet tank attacks which threatened to encircle the Langemarck and the Estonian SS men fighting alongside them. Schrijnen was found unconscious and close to death the following day. He is also one of only a handful of privates to have received the Ritterkreuz des Eisern Kreuz (Knight's Cross). After World War II, Schrijnen returned to Belgium, was arrested, tried and received the death penalty. This was commuted to life-long imprisonment. He was released in 1950 on condition of good behaviour. However, he participated in so called "amnesty marches" (claiming amnesty for those who had fought on the Eastern front). He was arrested again and held in prison for almost two years. In 1962 Schrijnen emigrated to the Federal Republic of Germany and took German nationality. Credit: Remy Schrijnen; The Last Knights of Flanders. Top image: Flemings of Waffen-SS are loading a MG34. Fair use. Bottom image: the Swedish Waffen-SS war correspondents SS-Untersturmführer Gösta Borg and SS-Obersturmführer Carl Svensson from the Nordland interviewing an SS-Rottenführer from one of the many SS volunteer units recruited across Europe. Photo taken in the outskirts of Narva in 1944. Fair use.

Withdrawal from Estonia

SS-Unterscharführer Markus Ledin
Markus Ledin and some Estonian Coastal Swedes
Swedish SS-Unterscharführer Markus Ledin volunteered for the Waffen-SS in 1942 and served with the Wiking Division before joining the Nordland's SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 11 (Panzergruppe Saalbach). During the retreat from Estonia in September 1944, Ledin was cut off behind enemy lines together with two other Swedes (SS-Unterscharführers Sven Alm and Ingemar Somberg) when their SPW broke down. They camouflaged their half-track and managed to repair it and travelled westward. They reached the village Noarootsi near Haapsalu at the Estonian coast after three nights through enemy territory. In their haste they run into some 15 Soviet soldiers who were busy looting and murdering the local inhabitants of the village (the Soviets made it a policy to loot and rape civilians in Soviet occupied territories). The Swedes surprised the Red Comrades. After the attack, some civilians began to kill the still surviving, but wounded Soviets in revenge. These civilians then followed the Swedes in a fishing boat leaving Estonia on September 25 1944. When they reached the Finnish coast, they were all arrested by the Finnish Army (Finland was at this point no longer in war with the Soviet Union). SS-Unterscharführer Ledin and Alm had served in the Swedish Volunteer Corps during the Russo-Finnish Winter War (1939 – 1940) and showed their Finnish medals to their captures, who then released them. This Waffen-SS trio then continued their journey back home to Sweden. What became of the civilians is unclear. Top image: SS-Unterscharführer Markus Ledin on the Eastern Front. Date and location unclear. Courtesy of Wittenborn. Bottom image: the deserter Markus Ledin is seen here on the boat deck leaving his comrades behind when the war seemed to be lost. PD. Source: SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung 11: The Swedish SS-platoon in the Battles for the Baltics, Pomerania and Berlin 1943-45.

Withdrawal from Narva

Pz AAII Nordland
The Nordland Division's manpower strength was 11,749 men in June 1944 and on July 23 1944, SS-Obergruppenführer Steiner ordered a withdrawal to the Tannenberg Line, a prepared position 16 km to the west. The Dutch SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 48 General Seyffardt and the brigade's artillery component was to provide a rearguard for the retreating troops. The Soviet Marshal Govorov launched the Narva Offensive on the German lines on July 24 1944, and in the afternoon, the Nederland's
11.SS-Frw.Pz.Gren.Div.Nordland
Artillery battalion started withdrawing across the Narva bridge. The Dutchmen got involved in heavy fighting but managed to hold the Soviets while the last of the Waffen-SS volunteers got across the river. The Nordland's Pioneer Battalion blew up the bridge. However, due to a colossal mistake by its officers, the General Seyffardt regiment would not survive the withdrawal. With the exception of the General Seyffardt, the withdrawal had been a success, and Steiner's men began to dig in on the Tannenberg Line, in preparation of the next Soviet attacks. 4.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Brigade Nederland had lost one of its two regiments, and many valuable veterans were lost forever. Top image: Swedish SS-Untersturmführer and Zugführer Gunnar Eklöf and a volunteer of the Nordland Division in the summer of 1944 in Estonia. SS-Untersturmführer Gunnar Eklöf joined the Waffen-SS in 1941 and was posted to SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 11 in 1944. He survived WWII and returned to Sweden in the summer of 1945. Public domain. Bottom image: An unidentified Dutch SS-Untersturmführer of the Nordland Division in 1944. Photo: SS-Kriegsberichter Eisner. US National Archives and Records Administration. Fair use.

Unternehmen Aster – the abandonment of the Estonian territory

Pz AAII Nordland
SS-Untersturmführer Balstad
The III (Germanic) SS-Panzerkorps had bled itself white defending the Tannenberg Line in Estonia. The headquarters of the Army Group North pulled it back into Latvia in September 1944 to defend the capital Riga. The Soviet forces launched a ferocious attack on Riga in September 1944, but the German and the European volunteer units held their positions. Riga was finally taken by the Soviets on October 13 1944 and Army Group North was driven into what was known as the Kurland or Courland Pocket, where it remained isolated until the end of the war in Europe. From late October to December 1944, the 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland fought fierce defensive battles in the pocket. The Nordland Division's manpower strength was about 9,000 officers and men in December 1944. In January 1945, the division was ordered to the Baltic port of Libau, where it was shipped out of the pocket to Pomerania and assigned to SS-Obergruppenführer Steiner's SS-Panzer-Armeeoberkommando 11 (11th SS-Panzer Army), which was now forming in anticipation of the defence of Berlin. Right image: Swedish Volunteers in SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 11 of the Nordland Division SS-Rottenführer Karl-Olof Holm and SS-Unterscharführer Erik Wallin in Dünaburg (Daugavpils) in Latvia. The 24 year old Holm were caught by the German Feldgendarmerie trying to desert the Courland Pocket. He was probably executed or died in a Penal Battalion in Latvia in 1944. Public domain. Left image: Norwegian SS-Untersturmführer Johan Petter Balstad served with SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 Norge of the Nordland Division. Balstad wears the Iron Cross First Class, the Wound Badge and no less than three Single-Handed Tank Destruction Badges on his right arm. He single-handedly destroyed three Soviet T-34 tanks in the autumn of 1944. Johan Petter Balstad died aged 61 on June 18 1985 in Oslo, Norway. Public domain.

III.(germanische) ϟϟ-Panzerkorps (Battle of Tannenberg Line)

SS-Obersturmführer Helmut Scholz
11.SS-Frw.Pz.Gren.Div.Nordland
The Tannenberg Line at Narva Front anchored on three strategic hills. Running west to east, these were known as Hill 69.9, Grenadier Hill and Orphanage Hill. From July 27 1944, 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division Nordland fought alongside 20.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (Estonian), 5.SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Wallonien (Walloon), 6.SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Langemarck (Flemish), 4.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Brigade Nederland (Dutch) and Kampfgruppe Strachwitz from the Großdeutschland Division to keep control of Orphanage Hill. Despite the death of the Nordland Division's commander, SS-Gruppenführer Fritz von Scholz killed in action and the subsequent deaths of the commanders of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 Norge and 24 Danmark, the division helped to grimly hold onto the Orphanage Hill and destroyed 113 Soviet tanks on July 27 – 29 1944. Of the 136,830 Soviets initiating the Narva Offensive in July, a few thousand had survived. The Soviet tank regiments had been demolished. The delay of the Soviet advance allowed over 25,000 Estonians and 3,700 Swedes to flee to neutral Sweden. The total number of Estonian Swedes who left during the war was some 8,000. Left image: a formal studio portrait of the Wiking veteran SS-Obersturmführer Helmut Scholz. He was awarded the Knight's Cross on June 4 1944 while defending the Narva Bridgehead as company commander in SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 49 de Ruyter of the Nederland Brigade and the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross on September 21 1944 for his Battalion's actions when fighting their way back from the Tannenberg Line. Helmut Scholz died aged 77 on November 12 1997 in Herne in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Commons Bundesarchiv. Right image: a member of the 4th Company of SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 11 hand over information to a motorcycle courier from the half-track in July 1944. Note the sun wheel, a pre-Christian Nordic symbol adopted by the Nordland Division. Fair use.

Latviešu leģions (1st and 2nd Latvian)

Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS
19.Lettische SS-Freiwilligen-Division (lettische Nr. 2)
The 15.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS, together with the 19.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS formed the Latvian Legion. During the second half of 1944, the 15th Latvian Waffen-SS Division was in training near Danzig. In January 1945 the division consisted of about 15,000 soldiers fighting near Danzig before retreating to Pomerania. By early April 1945, the division was reduced to 8,000 men and about 1,000 were sent by sea to replenish Army Group North in the Courland Pocket. On April 11 1945, the division was told about plans to transfer the entire division to Courland. Understanding that being sent to Courland would mean eventually having to surrender to the Soviets, the rest of the 15th Latvian SS Division decided to surrender to the Western Allies instead, disobeying German orders. The 19.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS continued to fight in Latvia. In October 1944, Soviet advances in Lithuania cut off it and other European units in the Courland Pocket from the rest of the German forces. It was a part of the six battles between Soviet and German armies in the Courland Pocket in 1944 and 1945. Together with other units in the Courland Pocket, the 19th Latvian Waffen-SS Division surrendered to the Soviets at the end of the war on May 9 1945. Subsequently almost 50,000 Latvian soldiers became Soviet prisoners of war, interred in filtration or Gulag camps. Some of the several tens of thousand Latvians who has worn the Waffen-SS uniform continued fighting the Soviets as Forest BrothersThe conflict between the Soviets and the Forest Brothers lasted over a decade and cost at least 50,000 lives. Top mage: the Latvian Waffen-SS Volunteer Legion in a parade in Riga on Latvian Independence Day, according to various sources, the 15th Latvian SS Division. Bottom image: Regimental commander of the 19th Latvian SS Division Voldemārs Veiss funeral in Riga. Legion-Obersturmbannführer Voldemārs Veiss was the first Latvian to receive the Knight's Cross. He died on April 17 1944 from wounds he had suffered from an artillery shell-splinter. Photo by Kriegsberichter Lothar Foltinek. Credit: Wikipedia. Commons:Bundesarchiv.