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 motorized 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.
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Formation and Training
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 enrollment 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 organized 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 motorized 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 division was formed around three motorized infantry regiments: Germania, Westland, and Nordland; with the addition of an artillery regiment. 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; by April 1941, it was ready for combat. The division was ordered east in mid-May, to take part with Army Group South’s advance into 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 since the beginning of Barbarossa. In spring 1943, the Finns’ 2-year contract ended, and the Finnish battalion was withdrawn. During that same timeframe, the Regiment Nordland was removed to help form the core of the new SS Division Nordland. They were replaced by the Estonian infantry battalion Narwa.
Invasion of the Soviet Union
The division took part in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, advancing through Galicia, today’s Ukraine. In August the division fought for the bridgehead across the Dniepr River. Later, the division took part in the heavy fighting for Rostov-on-Don before retreating to the Mius River line in November. In the summer of 1942, the unit took part Army Group South’s offensive Case Blue, aimed at capturing Stalingrad and the Baku oilfields. In late September 1942, Wiking participated in the operation aimed to capture the city of Grozny, alongside the 13th Panzer Division. The division captured Malgobek on 6 October, but the objective of seizing Grozny and opening a road to the Caspian Sea was not achieved. The division took part in the attempt to seize Ordzhonikidze. The Soviet Operation Uranus, the encirclement of the 6th Army at Stalingrad, brought any further advances in the Caucasus to a halt.
After Operation Winter Storm, the failed attempt to relieve the 6th Army, Erich von Manstein, the commander of Army Group South, proposed another attempt towards Stalingrad. To that end, Wiking entrained on 24 December; however, by the time it arrived on 31 December, it was forced to cover the withdrawal of Army Group A from the Caucasus towards Rostov. The division escaped through the Rostov gap on 4 February.1943–1945In early 1943, the division fell back to Ukraine south of Kharkov, recently abandoned by the II SS Panzer Corps commanded by Paul Hausser. In the remaining weeks of February, the Corps, including Wiking, engaged Mobile Group Popov, the major Soviet armored force named after Markian Popov during the Third Battle of Kharkov. The losses of Popov’s Group halted the Soviet offensive which followed the Battle of Stalingrad and stabilized Manstein’s front.
In 1943, Herbert Gille was appointed to command the division. The SS Regiment Nordland, along with its commander Fritz von Scholz, were removed from the division and used as the nucleus for the new SS Division Nordland. The Finnish Volunteer Battalion was also withdrawn and they were replaced by the Estonian infantry battalion Narwa.In the summer of 1943, along with the 23rd Panzer Division, formed the reserve force for Manstein’s Army Group for Operation Citadel. Immediately following the German failure in the Battle of Kursk, the Red Army launched counter-offensives, Operation Kutuzov and Operation Rumyantsev. Wiking, together with SS Divisions Totenkopf and Das Reich, was sent to the Mius-Bogodukhov sector. The Soviets took Kharkov on 23 August and began advancing towards the Dnieper. In October, the division was pulled out of the line.
On 13 February 1945, the division was ordered west to Lake Balaton, where Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich’s 6th SS Panzer Army was preparing Operation Spring Awakening, an offensive at Lake Balaton. Gille’s remained as a support to the 6th SS Panzer Army during the beginning of the operation. Dietrich’s army made good progress at first, but as they drew near the Danube, the combination of the muddy terrain and strong Soviet resistance ground them to a halt. The division performed a holding operation on the left flank of the offensive, in the area between Lake Velence-Székesfehérvár. As the operation progressed, the division was engaged in preventing Soviet efforts at outflanking the advancing German forces. On 16 March, the Soviets forces counterattacked in overwhelming strength causing the Germans to be driven back to their starting positions. On 24 March, another Soviet attack threw the IV SS Panzer Corps back towards Vienna; all contact was lost with the neighboring I SS Panzer Corps, and any resemblance of an organized line of defense was gone. After the failure of the operation, Wiking retreated into Czechoslovakia. The division surrendered to the American forces near Fürstenfeld, Austria on 9 May
The notorious Dr. Josef Mengele served with the SS Division Wiking during its early campaigns. He served as a combat medic and was 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 Nazi concentration camp system. Mengele was proud of his Waffen-SS service and his front-line decorations. As the horrors of his crimes came to light, former personnel of the division attempted to have his name removed from its rolls.
- SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner – 1 December 1940 – 1 May 1943.
- SS-Gruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille – 1 May 1943 – 6 August 1944.
- SS-Standartenführer Eduard Deisenhofer – 6 August 1944 – 12 August 1944.
- SS-Standartenführer Johannes Mühlenkamp – 12 August 1944 – 9 October 1944.
- SS-Oberführer Karl Ullrich – 9 October 1944 – 5 May 1945.
The main organizational structure of this SS formation was as follows:
- SS-Panzergrenadierregiment 9 “Germania”
- SS-Panzergrenadierregiment 10 “Westland”
- SS-Panzerregiment 5
- SS-Panzerartillerieregiment 5