In the early Spring of 1940, several Totenkopfstandarten comprised of military age men were transferred for garrison duty to Norway following the invasion and annexation by Germany. One such formation would come to be known as SS-Kampfgruppe „Nord" - or 'Combat Group North.' Initially a motorized SS-Infantry Regiment, they were deployed to the Finnish Lappland prior to Operation Barbarossa as part of the German XXXVI Corps under AOK Norwegen. In July 1941 Kampfgruppe „Nord" took part in 'Operation Silberfuchs' with the Wehrmacht 169th Division and the Finnish 6th Division. Lacking any combat experience, but being the only motorized unit on the front, the soldiers of Nord were thrown into combat, under-manned, under-trained, and under-armed, to receive a baptism of fire against well-trained Soviet forces at Salla. Battalions got lost and lacked cohesion. Poorly placed bombardments of artillery started fires that filled the forests with dense smoke. Undetected enemy emplacements ambushed and held up advances. At one point, rumors spread that Soviet tanks had broken through their lines which led to a rout, causing nearly the entire regiment to fall back in retreat. Salla fell within a weeks time; the offensive came to a close on July 8th, 1941.
"The division's artillery had fired just once and never in coordination with the infantry. Similarly, infantry leaders had never worked in concert with artillery. The antitank gunners had never fired their weapons, nor had the antiaircraft gunners." - Wolf Zoepf 'Seven Days in January'
Having suffered greatly in their first campaign, Nord became the only SS unit ever to be commanded by non-German personnel. The division was split up, and the elements sent to various Finnish units. They refit with new Waffen SS recruits, mountain infantry equipment and training to better suit their fighting on the Karelian Isthmus. In September 1942 the division was renamed as the SS Gebirgs-Division „Nord" (SS Mountain Division "North") making them the first Waffen SS Mountain Division. Refitting to divisional strength bolstered their formation and skill greatly. The two primary regiments of the division were Regiment 11 „Reinhard Heydrich” and Regiment 12 „Michael Gaißmair.” They both saw the majority of their combat in mosquito infested swamps and freezing forests of the Finnish Lappland. Training with and falling under Finnish command, SS Gebirgsdivision „Nord” was one of the more unique units in the German military during WWII. In spite of a disastrous start that shamed the entire division for over a year, by 1942 they had proved themselves as an experienced, well trained fighting force with one of the most successful combat records in the German Wehrmacht. In October 1943, all Waffen SS divisions were numbered according to formation dates, and with that Nord finally became the 6th SS Gebirgs-Division „Nord” - The title they would hold until the end of the war.
By early 1944 the Finns knew the tide of war was changing for Germany in their country. Realizing the tide was turning, Finland silently went into talks with the Russians and settled on an armistice agreement that set stipulations in it's articles that would put the Lappland Army in an impossible withdrawal time frame. The soviets were taking advantage of a situation to demoralize the German military. In September of 1944 they signed the agreement and the following weeks events proved to be unimaginable and surreal stab in the back for the German units who had spent nearly 5 years fighting along side the Finns. The Soviets continued pressure the Finns to take direct action in the removal of the German forces in Finland. The 'Waffenbruderschaft' they shared during many years of combat was forcefully turned around on them. 'Operation Birke' was an all time low for the Lappland Army with men of Rgt. 11 & 12 pulling rear guard for the entire retrograde of the German forces. A brutal and exhausting 1,600 km fighting retreat through Finland on foot along the Swedish border (which they could not cross), they finally reached ports of northern Norway and were shipped back to their war-ravaged homeland. They arrived in Denmark in December of 1944 where they were briefly refit with new equipment and young replacements but there was to be no Christmas leave for Nord. The lead elements of the division arrived on foot in Zweibrucken on the 29th and settled the night of the 30th. The following evening the division was immediately thrust back into action for 'Operation Nordwind' as the new year passed them by.
'Operation Nordwind' was Germany's final offensive designed to break through the lines of the US 7th Army in the Upper Vosges mountains to open up the way for Panzer and Panzergrenadier Divisions to move into the Alsatian Plain. The 6th SS were at the spearhead of this operation. Before the rest of the division had arrived, two battalions from Rgt. 12 - Kampfgruppe 'Schreiber' moved out under cover of dark, traversing the mountain paths and in the early morning hours of January 1st started their push into the town of Wingen. The initial attack came as a complete surprise, managing to take 300 prisoners, multiple vehicles and secured the town within days. Through the week, it became clear that without communication, reinforcement, or the panzer support they were promised, they would be forced into a brutal defense against heavy bombardment from American artillery, armor, and reinforced infantry regiments. Putting up a dogged defense and inflicted heavy casualties on the inexperienced US forces for a week straight, they were utterly depleted and pulled out of the town on the 7th day of January to fight delaying actions through the mountains. On 16 January, once again using 'motti' style tactics learned in Finland, Regiment 11 moved into action counter-attacking and surrounded six companies of the American 157th Infantry Regiment. Completely cut off and under direct fire, the Americans were forced to surrender three days later, losing 482 men and 26 officers to German captivity . These were the last successes the division saw.
Nord held their ground... attacking and defending through the following week before finally being overwhelmed by reinforced American counterattacks. Ultimately Nordwind would prove to be a failure for the Germans, suffering heavy casualties and failing to establish a bridgehead over the Moder river - There was just not enough manpower to reenforce the heoric final push. The operation came to an end on the 25th of January, 1945. The division remained on the Western front after the offensive; fighting the Americans around Bitche, Trier and Koblenz on the Moselle River in March before going into reserve in late April. By this point, with Germany's military structure crumbling, the division had lost near all of its heavy weapons and 75% of its men and was grossly under-strength. Germany capitulated in early May 1945 and the remaining survivors of „Nord" surrendered to the Americans in Austria.
From formation to capitulation the men of „Nord" experienced:
1,214 days of combat against the Soviet Army on the Finnish-Soviet Front.
23 days of combat against their former brothers-in-arms, the Finnish Army.
92 days of combat against the US Army on the Western Front.
„Nord" was one of the last full divisions fighting on the Western Front in 1945. Receiving praise from their combatants on both fronts, they left behind a clean record of combat and a history of experience that led them to be a well respected, hard fighting Mountain Divison.
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