WIKING RUF Europäische Freiwilligen in der Waffen-SS
The european volunteers
Of all the foreign nationals who served the Third Reich, the Western Europeans were the best. They were the most enthusiastic, the most militarily effective and the most loyal. They formed the core of the Wiking Division, one of the best fighting units in the Waffen-SS, and indeed in the whole German Army.
A slow start
Before the outbreak of war, only a handful of fanatical Western European Nordic volunteers had offered themselves for service with the Allgemeine-SS.
In the main, these were devoutly anti-communist individuals who saw the "Red Menace" as a reality, i.e. as an ominous threat to their homelands and way of life. Few, if any, had made overtures to the other branches of the German military forces. By mid-1940, though, with Western Europe firmly in the grip of the Third Reich, the way was made clear for those with pro-Nazi beliefs to volunteer for service. In dribs and drabs, volunteers from West European countries presented themselves for entry into the ranks of the Waffen-SS.
Motives of the volunteers
The principles of such individuals fighting for Germany, whose countries had been devoured by the Reich's armed forces, were highly questionable. Service in the Waffen-SS appeared to compound their immorality. Two questions arise. First, why should these men desire military service within the German armed forces, let alone the SS with all its connotations of racial superiority? Second, why would the SS, or indeed any other branch of the German armed forces, recruit them? And, having done so, why would they trust them in battle? Surely these individuals could pose the threat of being a Trojan Horse? The simple answer to these questions is that the men were all volunteers, who for various reasons viewed service with the Waffen-SS as being desirable - or at least tolerable.
This being the case, they presented little threat of being unreliable in the field once they had been committed to battle. These men were desirable to the SS in turn because they were Aryan brothers, i.e. "racially pure" volunteers who would be a valuable part in the crusade against the "sub-humans" in the East.
From the SS standpoint, the administrative procedure to raise foreign volunteer legions had been perfected before the war, being a direct result of Himmler's goal of a pan-Germanic Europe. Himmler had decreed in 1938 that non-Germans of acceptable "Nordic" origins could join the Allgemeine-SS. It is important to highlight that, at this time, the distinction between the civilian "General" or Allgemeine-SS and the Special Purpose Troops or SS-Verfügungstruppe, which later became the Waffen-SS, did not exist.
Indigenous fascist parties
The occupied countries of Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium all had their own fascist parties, which in some cases modelled themselves on the German Nazi Party. Others took their inspiration from Rome (where Mussolini had ruled since 1922). Norway, the first to be overrun by the Nazis, also held the dubious distinction of spawning the most notorious of all collaborators, albeit not the most accomplished, Vidkun Quisling. Norway had only one collaborative political party of any significance, which Quisling founded in May 1933 - the Nasjonal Samling (NS), which means National Unity. The organization of the NS paralleled that of the German Nazi Party. The NS was small, though after the German invasion it grew to around 50,000 members. It described itself as a "deeply rooted Norwegian, national, spiritual and Christian movement". Curiously, it contained a large number of Freemasons (whom the Nazis believed were helping Jews achieve world domination). Immediately after the German invasion in April 1940 (which, contrary to popular belief at the time, the NS did not assist), Quisling attempted to take power by declaring himself prime minister. Hitler, incensed at this arrogance, ordered him to step down one week later and then named Josef Terboven as Reich Commissioner for Norway. Terboven disliked Quisling intensely, a feeling that was reciprocated. However, eventually Quisling was appointed "Minister President" of Norway by Hitler on 1 February 1942, becoming the only foreign leader ever to achieve such high office in a German-occupied country.
The Danmarks National Socialistiske Arbejder Parti
Denmark was overrun and occupied with virtually no resistance on the part of the Danes. Denmark had several pro-Nazi political parties because no one individual had emerged who could weld them all together. For this reason, entrusting political power to the Danish Nazis never seems to have been considered by the Germans. The Danmarks National Socialistiske Arbejder Parti (DNSAP - Denmark's National Socialist Workers' Party), founded in November 1930, was the largest of the Danish Nazi parties. At first the leadership comprised a three-man committee, but in 1933 the alcoholic Frits Clausen took over (he had joined the party in 1931). It was an extremely well-disciplined organization. For example, it was administered by its own corps of political leaders, and for protection it could call on its own stormtroopers, the Storm Afdelinger (SA).
The Nationaal Socialistische Beweging
The Germans invaded Holland on 10 May 1940, which surrendered after only four days, giving rise to widespread panic and confusion among the population. The Dutch, who are related both linguistically and racially to the Germans, were taken aback by the confrontation. Prior to World War II, Holland had some 52,000 German residents who lived and worked in the Netherlands. It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of imitation Nazi movements emerged during the 1930s. The largest was founded on 14 December 1931 by Anton Adriaan Mussert. It was called the Nationaal Socialistische Beweging (NSB - National Socialist Movement). It was a strictly nationalistic Dutch fascist movement, and proved ultimately to be the most successful.
On 18 May 1940, Arthur Seyss-Inquart became Reich Commissioner of the Netherlands, which was declared to be a Reich Commissariat. With complete control of the country's entire resources, which he exclusively directed towards the demands of the German war machine, Seyss-Inquart ruled authoritatively, answering only to Hitler. He generally followed the "carrot and stick" method of rule, though his rule was more stick than carrot. In March 1941, he had bestowed upon himself the power to administer summary justice, at least pertaining to dissension or suspected resistance. He levied swingeing fines, confiscating the property of all enemies of the Reich, including Jews, and instigated severe reprisals for acts of subversion and sabotage. He forced five million Dutch civilians to work for the Germans, and deported a total of 117,000 Jews to concentration camps.
Under these conditions, the main exponent of collaboration was the NSB, a party that was extremely well organized. The NSB was now to come to the fore, and on the tenth anniversary of its foundation was granted an exclusive political monopoly in the Netherlands by the Germans. All other parties were faced either with merger or disbandment. The NSB had its own stormtroopers, the Weer Afdeelingen (WA - Defence Section), but on 11 September 1940 it took a bold step by establishing its own SS within the party framework. J. Hendrik Feldmeyer, the former leader of the Mussert Garde, was the initiator of the plan; he had visions of it becoming the equivalent of the German Allgemeine-SS. It was at first simply known as the Nederlandsche SS, which was replaced by the more general term Germaansche SS en Nederland (or the Germanic SS in the Netherlands) on 1 November 1942. Until then it had been one of the paramilitary sub-formations of the NSB. Himmler gave orders that it was now to become part of a greater Germanic SS. Mussert's control was now marginalized, with an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler being taken by the Dutch SS men. Its membership, which stood nominally at 3727 (five regiments plus an SS police regiment), was constantly depleted by voluntary enlistment into the Waffen-SS. There were possibly up to a further 7000 Dutch volunteers in the Germanische Sturmbann, an SS formation raised from the large pool of Dutch and other Nordic workers in Germany.
Seven battalions were recruited from the industrial cities of Berlin, Brunswick, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Nuremberg and Stuttgart. In effect, the Germanische Sturmbann was never anything other than a recruiting agency for the Waffen-SS.
The Dutch NSKK
It would be wrong to state that all foreign volunteers were recruited into the more "glamourous" organizations within the SS. There were others formations that absorbed volunteers for the German war machine. These included the Nationalsozialisches Kraftfahrkorps (NSKK - National Socialist Motor Corps), Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD - National Labour Service) and the Kriegsmarine. The NSKK, for example, was almost as voracious in the recruitment of Dutchmen as the SS. The invasion of Russia in 1941 led to additional loads being placed on the already overstretched German military transport system, and so the occupation authorities were always searching for foreign drivers.The WA, the Dutch equivalent of the German SA, had its own transport arm - the Motor WA - which provided the usual source of drivers for service on the Eastern Front.
The Dutch drivers were passed through a unit called the Alarmdienst, which was created to provide the German forces in Holland with auxiliary transport. Its members were kitted out with Motor WA or other NSB uniforms. The service was rechristened the Transportactie on 12 January 1943, and thereafter its members sported German field-grey uniforms.
The army's Dutch drivers
The German Army also raised a small unit of Dutch civilian drivers, which was known initially as the Kraftfahrt Transport Dienst. This was mainly to help with work on military construction projects, and after April 1942 it was renamed the Kraftfahrzeugüberführungs Kommando (KUK). When the need arose, some KUK drivers had to be coerced to serve in the Soviet Union in German rear areas. Due to the partisan threat they were permitted to carry arms for their defence, being kitted out in ex-French Army uniforms.
In November 1943, the Higher SS and Police Chief in the Netherlands, Hans Albin Rauter, upon being informed that the NSKK was proving very successful in drawing into its ranks young Dutchmen, was forced to issue an order forbidding the NSKK from accepting anyone below the age of 30. Volunteers under the age of 30 were to be directed into the Waffen-SS instead.
The NSKK units
Most of the Dutch NSKK volunteers came under the jurisdiction of the Luftwaffe, with volunteers in the following formations: NSKK Gruppe Luftwaffe, NSKK Staffel WBN (Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Netherlands) and NSKK Todt/Speer. The Organization Todt was the construction formation of the Nazi Party, auxiliary to the Wehrmacht. It was named after its founder, Dr Fritz Todt, who was replaced by Albert Speer following Todt's death in 1942. It should not be confused with the Organization Speer, which was a separate body concerned with engineering. Like many similar agencies in Hitler's Reich, they competed with each other for power and resources.
Dutchmen in the RAD
The Dutch had a labour service of their own but also provided volunteers for the Reichs Arbeits Dienst (RAD). The number was small, possibly around 300, but was enough for an all-Dutch unit to be formed known as Gruppe Niederland. Dutchmen also graduated as RAD officers, such as those of the Oostkorp (East Corps) of the Niederland Arbeits Dienst (NAD - Dutch Labour Service). Gruppe Niederland saw active service between May and October 1942 on the Eastern Front, behind the German frontline. Normally, RAD personnel were unarmed, but due to partisan activities guards were permitted to carry rifles or pistols. For a nation with a distinguished maritime tradition, it is surprising that perhaps only about 1500 Dutchmen served in the Kriegsmarine. This may be because the first appeal was not made until May 1943, for naval volunteers in the 18-35 age group.
Service in Russia
In January 1942, NSKK Gruppe Luftwaffe was created under Luftwaffe General Wilhelm Wimmer in Brussels, which brought together under one command all Dutch, Flemish and Walloon NSKK members. The Dutch NSKK saw active service in Russia as the NSKK Regiment Niederland. Luftwaffe General Kraus reported to Hermann Göring on 6 August 1942: "We have thousands of Dutchmen in transport regiments in the East. Last week one such regiment was attacked. The Dutch took more than 1000 prisoner and were awarded 25 Iron Crosses." Scores of Dutch NSKK men fought and died at Stalingrad as part of the German Sixth Army in 1942-43. In October 1942, the NSKK Todt and the NSKK Speer were merged to become NSKK Transportgruppe Todt; then NSKK Gruppe Speer; and, finally, in 1944, Transportkorps Speer. The Transportkorps Speer and KUK were made part of the NSKK Staffel WBN in the autumn of 1943. Volunteers wore field-grey uniforms with NSKK rank and other insignia, and signed on for one year or for the duration of the war, whichever was shorter. It is conceivable that 8-9,000 Dutchmen served in the various branches of the NSKK in total during World War II.
Belgium was attacked by Germany on 10 May 1940, and in little more than two weeks was overrun and occupied. Before this happened, many "fifth column" suspects were arrested and transported by the Belgian police to northern France. The German incursion was rapid, causing widespread panic and confusion. This resulted in 22 of the "fifth columnists" being summarily executed at Abbeville on 20 May. Joris van Severen was among the victims, thus dealing Dinaso a mortal blow. No replacement of his standing could be found. And following the Nazi occupation, the party was deeply divided over how far it should cooperate with the Germans.
The Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond
The Vlaamsch Nationaal Verbond (VNV - Flemish National Union) emerged as the leading movement regarding collaboration with the Germans, and those wanting to court favours with the Germans had to do so within the framework of this party. Gustave de Clercq assumed the leadership of the party after several Flemish national parties came together in October 1933. In general terms, the party's political goals were not unlike those held by Dinaso, i.e. the creation of a Greater Netherlands embracing all those of Dutch/Flemish stock. The region was to encompass an area from French Flanders in the south to German Friesland in the north. The main difference between the VNV and Dinaso was over religion. The VNV was staunchly Catholic while van Severen was anti-clerical.
Probably the most important part of the VNV was the Dieische Militle (DM), the uniformed militia. It was formed by an amalgamation of the VNV's Grijze Werfbrigade (Grey Defence Brigade) and the DMO from the disbanded Dinaso.
Jef van de Wiele
In 1935, a harmless "cultural" body was founded that aimed for the promotion of better artistic contacts between Flanders and Germany. This small group styled itself the Duitschen-Vlaamsche Arbeidsgemeenschap (German-Flemish Working Community), which was abbreviated to Devlag, the Flemish word for "flag". However, the group's objective was but a smokescreen as its leader, Jef van de Wiele, held the grandiose view of himself as the Führer of a National Socialist Flanders under the benevolent protection of the Germans. This fanatical apostle of Adolf Hitler ensured that the wholesale incorporation of Flanders into the German Reich became Devlag's aim. On 11 May 1941, the German occupation authorities issued an edict stating "all authorized political parties in Flanders must merge with the VNV or face dissolution". The reference to "authorized" meant collaborationist parties, so in effect all pro-Nazi factions in Belgium were now under one umbrella. An exception, which allowed Devlag to escape the net, was made for "cultural" bodies. Although before the war it was only on the fringe of politics, it was now to drop its "cultural" camouflage and emerge as a serious rival to - and even an enemy of - the VNV.
September 1940 witnessed the creation of the equivalent of the German Allgemeine-SS in the city of Antwerp. The founding fathers were two pro-German Flemings, Ward Herman and René Lagrou. They began by enrolling 130 supporters into the "New Order", and by November 1941 the ranks had swollen to 1580 members with a further 4000 "sponsoring members". The corps was originally titled Algemeene Schutscharen Vlaanderen but was more commonly known as the Vlaamsche SS or the SS-Vlaanderen. In September 1941, it reached regimental strength and was then known as 1. SS-Standarte Flandern. In October 1942, with Himmler's policy of bringing all non-German General SS formations together, it became the Germaansche SS in Vlaanderen or Germanic SS in Flanders. Devlag maintained a close relationship with the Flemish SS, and Devlag leader Jef van de Wiele held an honorary commission in its ranks. Both were openly pro-Nazi, advocating much greater German control in Flanders. The VNV's cautious attitude was thus very much at odds with the policy of the Flemish SS.
The NSKK in Belgium
Soon after the occupation of Belgium, the Germans began recruitment, which was fairly successful for the NSKK. The age limits were set at 18 to 45 years. The physical standards for volunteers were lower than those required for the legion or for the Waffen-SS. Recruits could also sign on for a specified period of service, the minimum being 12 months. German sources of the time note 2500 Flemings recruited in 1941, and a further 1500 the following year. The whole of the DM/DMO was virtually absorbed into the NSKK as the NSKK Transportbrigade Flandern. Flemish volunteers were allowed to wear a shield on the left upper arm with the black lion of Flanders on a yellow background within a black frame. Later, in July 1943, the Flemish NSKK volunteers combined with Walloon, Dutch and French NSKK volunteers to form the NSKK Transportgruppe Luftwaffe. Like many other German formations, this went under a variety of designations: NSKK Regiment Luftwaffe, NSKK Transportregiment Luftwaffe, NSKK Gruppe Luftwaffe and NSKK Motorgruppe Luftwaffe.
Recruitment of civilian workers in Flanders had begun practically with the start of the occupation, and if German sources are to be believed it was highly successful. In the autumn of 1941, recruiting started for the defence forces of the Organization Todt (OT) in the so-called Schutzkommando. The OT Schutzkommando took on 4-5000 Flemings to protect its property and doubtless also to keep watch over their compatriots, though service could be in any part of occupied Europe.
A recruiting office was opened in Antwerp (later moved to Brussels) for the Kriegsmarine to recruit Flemings in July 1943. Volunteers had to be between 17 and 45 years of age, and had to sign on for either a period of two years or for the duration of the war. However, as in other occupied countries, private enlistment had certainly taken place before this authorized date. All recruits, whether former members of the Belgian Navy or not, had to go through a 12-week period of training. In November 1943, it was announced that 300 Flemings had enlisted. In all, there may have been about 500 Flemings in the Kriegsmarine, seeing service usually in either E-Boats or U-boats. Although German naval regulations allowed foreign volunteers to wear a shield in their national colours, there is no evidence that any Fleming wore such an emblem in the German Navy.
Freiwilligen Standarte Nordwest
Dutch and Flemish males between the ages of 18 and 25 were encouraged to volunteer in the Standarte Westland, which had been established by the SS in May 1940. Recruiting did not get under way until that autumn, though, when the volunteers were told they were being trained "for police duties" in their respective homelands. The regiment was up to full strength in a matter of weeks due to the large numbers of volunteers who presented themselves for service. Westland was incorporated into the Waffen-SS during the winter of 1940-41. Himmler was encouraged by his success in finding Dutch and Flemish volunteers to raise a second volunteer regiment on 3 April 1941, to be known as the Freiwilligen Standarte Nordwest. It was for young men from Flanders, Holland and also Denmark. But Nordwest shrank to such an extent that it was no longer able to carry on as a regiment, due to the fact that the Flemings, Dutch and Danes were being drawn off into ethnic legions of their own. It was therefore disbanded on 21 September 1941.
The Flemish Legion
The formation of a Flemish Legion, open to men between the ages of 17 and 40, was then announced. In September 1941, it was officially christened the Freiwilligen Legion Flandern, having previously been known variously as the Verbond Flandern, Landesverband Flandern and Bataillon Flandern. Ex-regular soldiers, especially officers and NCOs, were particularly sought after. Those below the age of 23 could sign on for a specified period, the minimum being 12 months, while for other candidates enlistment had to be "for the duration". The unit was sent to the front at Leningrad in November 1941, having been deemed ready for active service, as part of the 2nd SS Motorized Infantry Brigade. It was pulled out of the line after six months' active service at the front in June 1942 after suffering heavy casualties, returning in August 1942. In May 1943, the unit was renamed the 6th SS-Sturmbrigade Langemarck (6th SS Volunteer Assault Brigade Langemarck). The honorary title Langemarck had been conferred on the SS Infantry Regiment Langemarck of the Das Reich Division on 20 April 1942. This regiment now became the cadre around which the Flemish brigade was to be constructed. Throughout Belgium, the SS had by this time no fewer than 23 recruiting offices, but there were still insufficient numbers of volunteers coming forward, and it was only by adding a Finnish SS battalion that the brigade could be brought up to the required strength.
The Walloons transfer to the Waffen-SS
Walloon volunteers who came from Léon Degrelle's Rexist movement were grouped by the German military administration in the 373rd Infantry Battalion and assigned to the army. They fought in this army unit in the Eastern campaign; then, in 1943, an agreement was reached between the supreme command of the Wehrmacht, the head of the General Staff of the army and the Reichsführer-SS that the Walloons should be assigned to the Waffen-SS on 1 June 1943. The Legion Wallonie was then converted into the SS-Sturmbrigade Wallonien. In July 1944, it was reorganized and enlarged to become the 28th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Wallonien.
The division's commander, Léon Degrelle, was the archetypal Nazi foreign volunteer. He spent most of the war on the Russian Front with his legion of Walloon volunteers. In January 1944, the Walloons were cut off in the Cherkassy Pocket, 2000 men out of 56,000 German troops trapped. Degrelle and his men cut their way through Soviet lines to reach safety, though 1300 of them died doing so. Following a period of rest in Germany, the brigade was posted back to Russia, this time to the north at Narva in April 1944. Degrelle and his Walloons put up an heroic defence against heavy odds in the subsequent Battle of Narva, his leadership being so exemplary that he was awarded the Oakleaves to his Knight's Cross by Hitler personally in August 1944. The Führer had earlier remarked to him: "If I had a son I would want him to be like you."
Léon Degrelle As stated above, in Wallonie the Germans discovered a far more dependable and charismatic collaborator than could be found elsewhere in Flanders: Léon Degrelle. In 1935, he founded a political movement called Christus Rex, popularly known as the Rexist Party. Its fortunes, however, were in steep decline in the months immediately preceding World War II, but the German conquest and occupation provided the catalyst for its revival. The only authorized political party in Wallonie was declared to be the Rexists in May 1941. Rexism was a "one-man show", unlike the VNV, and enjoyed a much narrower base of popular support in Wallonie than the VNV did in Flanders. Rex had its own stormtroopers known as the Formation de Combat.
Among the people of Wallonie, recruitment into the NSKK was a much more attractive proposition than service with the legion. Manpower sources were Rex and another Flemish party, Amisdu Grande Reich Allemand (AGRA - Friends of the Great German Reich), which was founded in 1941 and escaped suppression by claiming it was a non-political party (though the fact that it was the most outspokenly pro-German party in Wallonie probably had more to do with its continued existence). Both parties were rewarded for their efforts by being granted the right to wear their respective party emblems on the NSKK uniform. The NSKK absorbed most of the Brigade Vollante Rex, which became known as NSKK Rex. After merging in July 1943, NSKK Rex and NSKK AGRA formed part of the larger NSKK Motor Group Luftwaffe, and was then known simply as NSKK Wallonie. The minimum period of engagement was for 12 months, but, like their Flemish compatriots, many found themselves eventually drafted into the Waffen-SS. Possibly about 6000 Walloons served in the NSKK.
Degrelles escapes the death sentence
In December 1944, Degrelle and his men were in the Rhine area, the "division" having a strength of 3000 men. Meanwhile, the Belgian Government, having been reinstated by the Allies, sentenced Degrelle to death in absentia. Between January and May 1945, he and his men were again fighting the Russians, this time on German soil. Following the fall of Germany, Degrelle escaped to Spain where he lived until 1994. Asked if he had any regrets about the war, his reply was: "Only that we lost!"
Degrelle was perhaps an exception among the volunteers who staffed the legions, but there is no doubt that the first draft of West European volunteers who fought for the Germans in Russia did so with great enthusiasm, and needed little encouragement to take part in the anti-Bolshevik crusade. The casualties the legions suffered in Russia in late 1941 and early 1942 is perhaps testimony to the old adage that enthusiasm does not compensate for proper training. However, the figures also indicate the level of commitment and bravery displayed by the foreign legions fighting their ideological foe: Legion Niederlande - 80 percent losses; Freikorps Danmark - 78 percent losses; and Legion Norwegen - 50 percent losses. Such enthusiasm would be a defining factor among the West European foreign volunteers fighting for the Third Reich for the rest of the war.
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