1000 years ago, Vikings from the Nordic region swept the whole Europe, their intrepid battle efficiency took an enormous psychological toll on European people. The Viking Age has long gone, but the descendants of Vikings inherited the doughtiness of their ancestors. Even in the brutal WWII, the army of descendants of Vikings remained a powerful force which played a major role in the war. There were units of Viking descendants in military forces of both the Third Reich and the United States.
5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking”
The “Wiking” Division is recognized as one of ace units in the Waffen-SS. This division was founded in December of 1940 on the basis of the SS Infantry Regiment “Germania”, which was mainly composed of volunteers from the occupied countries. It was initially named the “Germania” Division. In the January of 1941, it was renamed the “Wiking” Division with the incorporation of another two regiments: the “Nordland” Regiment of 294 Norwegian volunteers and the “Westland” Regiment of 216 Danish volunteers, as well as the “Nordest” Battalion composed of volunteers from the Netherlands and Finland. The first commander of the “Wiking” Division was SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner. In the October of 1943, “Wiking” Division was renamed the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking” and became a Panzer division of the Waffen-SS.
There were totally 55 receivers of the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes in this division, seconded only to the 2nd SS Division Das Reich (69 receivers). In the four-year bloody battle on the Eastern Front, the “Wiking” Division was one of the most frightening enemy units to the Soviet Red Army. Red Army commanders often urged for reinforcements when they learned that the German unit opposite them was the “Wiking” Division. In Soviet battlefield reports, the “Wiking” Division was alleged to be completely eliminated for three times; but in fact the “Wiking” Division repeatedly inflicted heavy losses on Red Army even when they were in retreat. In addition, the “Wiking” Division was the earliest “foreign legion” in the Waffen-SS, two thirds of its soldiers were foreigners. Division commander Felix Steiner did a great job to bind soldiers with different birthplaces, languages and customs together and forge them into a strong and tough unit.
The “Wiking” Division once advanced to the Caucasus region, it was one of the Nazi German units which had reached the limit of German advance. They also fought the Battle of Kursk, and maintained a stalemate with Red Army outside Warsaw till the January of 1945. After the downfall of Nazi Germany, the last commander of “Wiking” Division Karl Ullrich repealed the oaths of foreign soldiers, allowing them to seek their own fortunes. Most soldiers of “Wiking” Division went westwards and surrendered to the US forces, they were treated well in the POW camp in Bavaria, Germany. In the September of 1945, the POW camp in Bavaria was closed down, the surviving soldiers of “Wiking” Division finally returned to their homes.
11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division “Nordland”
The 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division “Nordland”, usually called the “Nordland’ Division (July of 1943 – May of 1945) for short, was a Waffen-SS unit of Nazi Germany during the WWII. It was composed of Scandinavians and overseas Germans. After the basic training, this division was sent to Croatia to fight partisans and was formally upgraded to a panzergrenadier division. It was also a sibling unit of “Wiking” division.
In the February of 1943, Reichsführer-SS Himmler named this unit of foreigners as “Waräger” – the name of a Byzantine Varangian Guard from Norway. But Hitler found this name too obscure. He thought that this well-experienced unit should be permanently reserved, therefore he named this division “Nordland”. In the spring of the same year, “Nordland” Division was formed in Upper Franconia, Southern Germany. Its core combat unit was composed of veterans from SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 23 Norge (Norway) and SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 24 Danmark (Denmark), and all the soldiers were overseas Germans. On May 1st, SS-Gruppenführer Fritz von Scholz, the former commander of SS Regiment Nordland under the “Wiking” Division, was appointed commander of this division. Most of the soldiers of “Nordland” Division were killed in action or taken prisoners during the Battle of Berlin, only very few of them surrendered to the Allied Forces in Elbe region.
Insignia of “Nordland” Division and “Wiking” Division
The insignias of “Nordland” Division and “Wiking” Division are roughly the same. The insignia of “Nordland” Division is a shield missing its top left corner while that of “Wiking” Division is a shield missing its top right corner. In addition, there is a circle outside the Swastika in the insignia of “Nordland” Division. The two divisions shared similar insignias, because when the “Nordland” Division was founded, the Waffen-SS planned to form a panzer army, the SS 3rd Panzer Army “Germania”, on the basis of “Nordland” Division and its sibling unit “Wiking” Division.
The 99th Infantry Battalion (United States)
The 99th Infantry Battalion (separate) was a battalion of Norwegian-speaking soldiers in the US Army. Created in July 1942 at Camp Ripley, Minnesota, the battalion originally consisted of 1,001 soldiers. The battalion was attached to the First Army; however, it was labeled “Separate” because it was not attached to a specific regiment.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Department of War considered how the military could use foreigners and bilingual, first-generation immigrants from German-occupied areas to assist the war effort. The initial assessment concluded that it would be “un-American” to train foreign troops on US soil. After a time, the Department of War decided to set up special units of US citizens from certain ethnic groups for operations in countries occupied by the Axis powers.
The following five battalions, established in 1942, were organized based on ethnic groups:
1st Filipino Infantry Battalion: Filipino (the nucleus of later 1st and 2nd Filipino infantry regiments)
99th Infantry Battalion (separate): Norwegian
100th Infantry Battalion (separate): Japanese
101st Infantry Battalion (separate): Austrian (dissolved in 1943 before active service)
122nd Infantry Battalion (separate): Greek
In Norwegian historiography, the men of the 99th Infantry Battalion are often referred to as Norwegian Americans. This is only partially correct; the original intention was to transfer voluntary “Norwegian nationals” from existing armies. These people were foreigners who had begun the immigration process, which was a condition of enlistment. The battalion was allowed to contain only United States citizens who spoke Norwegian.
Military exploits of the 99th Infantry Battalion (separate)
In the evening of June 22, 1944, the 99th Infantry Battalion landed Omaha beach, then it fought the last engagement of the Battle of Cherbourg. As a “separate” battalion, it was not attached to any regiment, but it would be assigned to different formations as required. From the September, this battalion was deployed in Belgium. During the Christmas of 1944, this battalion participated in the Battle of Bulge.
The battalion participated in the following campaigns:
Normandy: June 22, 1944 – July 24, 1944
Northern France: June 25, 1944 – September 14, 1944
Rhineland (Würzlen–Aachen): September 15, 1944 – December 16, 1944
Ardennes–Alsace: December 17, 1944 – January 18, 1945
Central Europe: April 4, 1945 – May 11, 1945
The 99th Infantry Battalion spent 101 days in combat. The casualties suffered were 52 killed in combat, 207 wounded and six missing in action. These 207 men were wounded multiple times, several 5 times thus the 207 received 305 Purple Hearts.
The following individual decorations and medals were awarded to members of the 99th Infantry Battalion:
15 Silver Stars
20 Bronze Stars
305 Purple Hearts
763 Good Conduct Medals
814 Combat Infantry badges
The Dissolution of the 99th Infantry Battalion
Following the end of military operation in Europe, the 99th Infantry Battalion was ordered to assist in the transition of Norway from occupation. On May 29th, the 99th Battalion boarded tank landing ships and was deployed to Oslo, Norway. They were the largest US unit in the operation task force. After the battalion arrived in Oslo, they served as the honor guards of King Haakon VII of Norway when he returned from exile. The battalion also assisted in disarming the German occupation army of about 350,000 men and repatriating 100,000 POWs and labors. The men of 99th battalion returned to United States in the October of 1945, and stationed at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts.