Formation   Structure   Combat histroy

The history of SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Brigade/Division 'Nederland'

The 4.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Brigade 'Nederland' saw action for the first time in September 1943. Before this, the Brigade was established and trained in Sonneberg Thüringen. The new volunteer unit even got its own fieldhospital: SS-Feldlazarett Freiwilligen Legion 'Nederland' (from february 1944: SS-Lazarett 'Niederländische Ambulanz'). The former Dutch legionnaires, strengthened with new recruits from the Netherlands and Rumania (so-called 'Volksdeutschen') together formed the new SS-Brigade, part of the III. SS-Panzerkorps that was transferred to Croatia in September 1943. In the vicinity of the towns Oroslavje and Donja Stubica the volunteers were trained again in combat tactics, while in the meantime also being used to guard railways and fight local partisan units. This war on its own was characterised by a high level of cruelty as both parties very often killed their prisoners. The German forces regarded the partisans as francs-tireurs, which meant that there would be no mercy for them. 'Nederland' also committed comparable war-crimes. As a Dutch volunteer declared after the war:

'When those partisans were caught ... they could look forward to be hanging from the highest tree' (Translated from Dutch ; Armando, De SS'ers, 435.)

In Croatia 1500 Dutch volunteers from SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 'Wiking' were added to the Brigade. Apparently recruiting problems had risen again. The Brigade, commanded by SS-Oberführer (from 20-4-1944 SS-Brigadeführer) Jürgen Wagner, consisted of two Regiments that both counted three Batallions: SS-Freiwilligen Pz.Gren.Rgt.1 'General Seyffardt' (later: 45. and 48.'General Seyffardt' (Niederländisches Nr. 1)) and SS-Freiwilligen Pz.Gren.Rgt.2 'De Ruyter' (later: 49.'de Ruyter' (Niederländisches Nr. 2)). On Christmas day 1943 the Brigade, still not fully trained, supplied, and armed, was sent to the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. Within the III.(Germanischen)SS-Panzer-Korps, commanded by Felix Steiner, the Brigade 'Nederland' would be deployed on the Leningrad-front once again.

Exercise

The Red Army was very close to a breakthrough, so every bit of support in the German lines was welcomed. From January 1944 on in the vicinity of Oranienbaum (Lomonosov) the Red Army tried to push the Germans back in order to end the siege of Leningrad. The Brigade 'Nederland' got deployed in this area. Together with 11.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 'Nordland', 4.SS-Polizei Panzer-Grenadier-Division and some Luftwaffe-Felddvisionen the Brigade had to offer resistance to a large Red Army attack on January the 14th 1944. The brunt of the attack was aimed at the weaker Luftwaffe-Felddivisionen, and the Soviet-Russian offensive soon proved to be a major success: the Red Army had achieved a connection between the Oranienbaumpocket and Leningrad. The Brigade now had to pull back to the western banks of the rivers Luga and Narva in order to prevent an encirclement, but despite the defeat of the German forces, the Brigade was honoured in a Tagesbefehl by Felix Steiner, commander of the III.SS-Panzer-Korps:

'Ich spreche der Kampfgruppe Rühle, SS-Pz.Gren.D. 'Nederland' meine ganz besondere Anerkennung für die verzüglichen Leistungen am heutige Tage aus. Ich bin stolz darauf, eine solche Truppe im Germanischen Korps zu haben'.

(translation) 'I want to express my very special appreciation for the great performance of the Kampfgruppe Rühle, SS-Pz.Gren.D. 'Nederland' today. I am proud to have such troops in the Germanischen Korps.'

Now that the Oranienbaumpocket was conquered by the Red Army, preparations were made to launch a number of new offensives. The Brigade 'Nederland' dug itself in on the Luga and the Narva Stellung. In order to stabilise the front, the German high command established 'Armeegruppe Narwa' (which was an 'Abteilung' of the 18.Armee). This temporary army group consisted of: Brigade 'Nederland', 'Nordland', the Estonian 20.SS-Freiwilligen-Grenadier-Division, the 227.Infanteriedivision, the 170.Infanterieidivision, the 214.Infanteriedivision, and parts of the 58.Infanteriedivision. The 'Dutch' SS-Brigade soon suffered from supply shortages since the main supply roads such as the bridge across the Narva were either blocked or closed, while the number of Red Army attacks on the Dutch lines increased at the same time. On March the 8th, two Red Army armoured Regiments stormed the Dutch lines. This time the SS-men repelled the attack but suffered many losses in the process. This situation continued until April 1944, and between January the 1st 1944 and April the 13th 1944 the Brigade lost (killed in action, missing in action, or wounded): 87 officers, 502 nco's, and 3139 soldiers. The SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Brigade 'Nederland' now counted 6.305 (originally 9.342) combat-ready men.

Dutch volunteers during a break.

In March 1944 the Brigade was responsible for the defence of a very important section of the front. If the Red Army managed to establish a bridgehead north of the Peipus Lake, the whole Heeresgruppe Nord (Armygroup North) was in danger, so on the 23rd of march Hitler ordered that the city Narva had to be defended like a 'Festung' (fortress) from then on. Everybody knew what this order meant: defending the city to the last man. By March 1944 the Narva-front had stabilised. The supplies were up to the required level again, and the artillery and anti-tank guns could now be fully used. The volunteers, on Felix Steiners advice, dug new lines and strengthened their positions during the time the Red Army did not attack the Brigade.

During the summer of 1944 the Red Army overwhelmed the German Heeresgruppe Mitte (Armygroup Centre). The central front collapsed, causing great danger to Heeresgruppe Nord (Armygroup North) as an entire army group was now threatened to be encircled. On June the 12th 1944, at the time that Heeresgruppe Mitte was desperately defending itself against the much stronger Red Army, the Soviet-Russian high command launched an offensive against the Narva 'Festung'. Red Army units of the 191.Infantry Division and the 172.punitive Battalion managed to break through but were soon stopped by counterattacks from 'Nederland' and 'Nordland'. The SS-men kept the 'Festung' in German hands, but they had paid a high price. Both SS units suffered greatly by the Red Army attacks while no reinforcements were available. The 24.Regiment 'Danmark', a 'Nordland' unit temporarily under command of the Brigade 'Nederland', was hit especially hard by the Soviet-Russian offensive.

After the Red Army offensive was stopped by the German forces, the Brigade had to dig itself in again. Heinrich Himmler ordered the construction of new bunker complexes in the 'Festung' Narva and the Brigade was joined by the Artillerie Regiment 54 (fieldhowitsers and Vierling-Flaks: the notorious four-barrel AA-gun). On the other hand, a number of 'Nederland' Sturmgeschützen, remarkably, were assigned to the 11.SS-Fr.Pz.Gr.-Division 'Nordland'. Only two 'Panther' tanks and ten Sturmgeschützen remained under command of the Brigade and on the whole the Brigade 'Nederland' became weaker by all these measures. Nevertheless, Steiner again complimented the SS-men for their successful defensive actions in Narva:

'Die vortreffliche Haltung der Truppe und die sichere Führung des Kommandeurs der Brigade 'Nederland' verdient die uneingeschränkte Anerkennung. Ich spreche beiden für die bisher tapfere Haltung meinen Dank aus.'

(translation)'The fantastic attitude of the troops and the self-assured leadership of the commanders of Brigade 'Nederland' deserve unlimited recognition. I thank both for the brave attitude they have displayed so far.'

In the meantime, the Red Army was close to the encirclement of Heeresgruppe Nord, and a successful offensive in the north would trap thousands of soldiers, including the Brigade. While the Red Army launched its next attack on Narva on July the 24th, plans were made to withdraw 'Nederland' back to the Tannenbergstellung. Five days later the Brigade 'Nederland' was quietly leaving the 'Festung' Narva. The 48.Regiment 'General Seyffardt' was ordered to cover the withdrawal of the rest of the SS-Brigade. 'General Seyffardt' would withdraw as soon as every other unit had left Narva. Outide Narva the Regiment should meet with the rest of the Brigade, but 'General Seyffardt' would never see the Brigade again due to a colossal mistake by its officers. While the Brigade was waiting for the unlucky Regiment outside Narva, 48.Rgt.'General Seyffardt' went another way which had not been prearranged. They were discovered by the Red Airforce, leading to a complete massacre. Almost the complete Regiment 'General Seyffardt' was destroyed in the wooded and marshy area of Narva. Attacks from both the ground and the air wiped out most of the SS-volunteers and the surviving SS-men were hunted down for days in the marshes. Only a few men under command of SS-Untersturmführer Nieuwendijk-Hoek reached the Tannenbergstellung. The Brigade had lost one of the two Infantry Regiments and the 48.Regiment 'General Seyffardt' was going to have to be rebuilt in Schlochau.

In the meantime, an event that is still shocking to many people had taken place. On July the 20th 1944 the German officer Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to kill the führer. When the news arrived at the front people were shocked. Not only the Germans but also the Dutch volunteers were disgusted by the murder attempt and the Dutch SS-men Kooijmans and Elshout wrote a letter directly to Hitler. The führer received support and sympathy on behalf of the entire Brigade 'Nederland'. Apparently the nazi-ideology and the morale of the Dutch soldiers had not suffered from the war yet. The following days of August went by in relative quiet. Behind the Tannenbergstellung, the surviving parts of 'Nederland' were still recovering from the big blow at Narwa. The recovery, unfortunately, was hindered constantly by fuel and ammunition shortages so the Brigade remained vulnerable.

Click to enlarge

It was Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler himself who praised the fighting spirit of the Brigade in a letter that was received with great joy on August the 24th 1944. The young SS-Rottenführer Derk Elsko Bruins (1.SS Panzerjäger-Abteilung 54) was awarded a prestigious medal after destroying a high number of Soviet-Russian tanks. 'Nederland' saw action again in September 1944 after it was strengthened by a Walloon Battalion and the 1st Company of Regiment 47. The Brigade was ordered to defend the town of Pernau, which was a very important area strategically. Apart from the Red Army, the Brigade now also feared actions from their Estonian fellow soldiers. The Estonian volunteers wanted to defend their own country against the Red Army, of course, but now that the German armed forces were pulling back closer and closer to Germany itself, the Estonians were no longer prepared to follow the Brigade. The multinational thought had disappeared and the Commander of the Brigade, Wagner, even kept a Company in reserve to act against the Estonians if necessary, but apart from a few shooting incidents the Brigade was spared from internal war.

Halfway September 1944 the front could collapse at any moment. The Red Army was attacking Riga, and the whole Heeresgruppe was in great danger. The commanders therefore asked permission to withdraw and leave Estonia. Even Hitler realised that there was no choice and on September the 23rd 1944 he ordered the troops to head for Kurland (in Lithuania). 'Nederland', weakened by a high number of casualties, arrived on October the 14th and were ordered to immediately dig in again. The Brigade had only fought for a few days around Gumi-Wolmar, but lost a large number of soldiers due to the heavy Red Army attacks. The situation in the new region, the Kurland, was looking dismal. Although the frontlines were now shorter and therefore more defensible, the Red Army kept coming. Very briefly after the arrival of 'Nederland' in the Kurland the first attacking Soviet-Russian columns were spotted. Together with 'Nordland' and the 126.Infantry Division the Brigade was able to repel the attack. They had prevented the Red Army from conquering the city of Libau, which was very important from an infrastructural point of view. The first Kurland battle had ended, and hundreds of Red Army soldiers had died in their attempt to take the Dutch lines.

The marshy and wooded Kurland region proved to be very suitable for partisan actions. It was therefore no surprise that the Dutch SS-men were confronted with this kind of guerrilla-warfare. After a number of raids and sabotage actions committed by groups of partisans, commander Wagner took drastic measures. The deaths of some SS-men were avenged on the orders of Wagner by shooting a (unknown) number of civilians. These kind of barbaric murders only had a temporary effect on the partisan actions, however STAVKA, the Red Army high command, launched a second Kurland-offensive on October the 27th. The Waffen-SS Division 'Nordland' and the X.Armycorps had an especially rough time. 'Nederland' was stationed just outside the area in which the main Soviet-Russian attack was taking place and the second Battalion of the Regiment 'De Ruyter' was hit very hard by two frontal infantry attacks. Halfway November the Red offensive had lost its power, however, and the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS forces could recover as the front was stabilising. The time away from combat was used to dig new trenches and bunkers in the 'Krimhildestellung' (mainly at night because of the ever active Red Airforce).

The third attempt to destroy the German forces in the Kurland started on December the 21st 1944. Libau and Frauenburg were the main targets. This third Kurland battle began as usual, with a huge artillery barrage on the German lines. After that, the Red Infantry appeared before the trenches of the Waffen-SS-volunteers. Four days later, the offensive had already failed. 'Nederland' saw very little action and therefore did not lose many soldiers and equipment. Until January the 24th 1945 the Brigade was 'left alone' by the Red Army. During the fourth Kurland battle only the 49.Regiment 'De Ruyter' and the 54.Artillerie Regiment were put into battle within the 218 ID.

The Kurland would only fall into Soviet-Russian hands when the Germans surrendered in May 1945. In the meantime, STAVKA was gathering troops on the eastern bank of the river Weichsel. The plan was to push through at once, all the way to the river Oder. A very remarkable fact was that the Red Army did nothing at all to support the Polish resistance in Warsaw. The Red Army simply stood by and watched as the Germans were dealing with the uprising.

On January the 26th 1945 Wagner received new orders. The III.SS-Korps including the Brigade was now stationed at the Weichsel-front, but three days after the orders arrived, the entire Brigade embarked in the harbour of Libau. Their destination was Swinemünde-Stettin, where they arrived at February the 5th. In the meantime the Red Army had once again broken through and was now only a hundred kilometres from Berlin. On the 10th of February 1945 the Brigade received the status of a Division. The new name was: 23.SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Division 'Nederland' although the unit only counted a thousand combatants. Nevertheless 'Nederland', together with the other SS-Divisions 'Nordland', 'Wallonien' and 'Langemarck', were responsible for the defence of the Oder-front between de towns of Stettin and Neustadt. It was in this area that the last battles with the Red Army took place.

In March 1945 Division 'Nederland was strengthened with Kampfgruppe Rehder that would form the I.Battalion of the 49.Regiment 'De Ruyter'. After an attack at Arnswalde had failed, it was necessary to dig in once again. In April 1945 'Nederland' was split up. The 48.Regiment 'General Seyffardt' headed south while the 49.Regiment 'De Ruyter' stayed where it was. On April the 16th two Soviet-Russian fronts (army groups) attacked simultaneously and broke through on the 25th. The 49.Regiment was forced to withdraw to the west, north of Berlin. On May the 3rd 1945, near the village of Parchim, the SS-unit was attacked by Red Army tanks. At the same time the SS-men heard tanks driving from the west. These soon proved to be American tank units. After the last Soviet-Russian tank was destroyed, the SS-men of the 49.Regiment surrendered to the US Army as they wanted to stay out of Soviet-Russian hands. The men were gathered in the prison camp Kraak.

Part of the 28.Regiment was fighting in the Kampfgruppe Vieweger of the 15.Waffengrenadierdivision der SS. This unit was almost entirely destroyed by the Red Army near Hammerstein, and the Thirteen soldiers that were captured were executed. A few others were more lucky as they surrendered to the western allies within Korpsgruppe Tettau.

Summary
Date Korps Armee Heeresgruppe Region
9.43 - - - Croatia
12.43 III. SS 18. Heeresgruppe Nord Oranienbaumkessel
2.44 III. SS Armeegruppe Narwa Heeresgruppe Nord Narwa
8.44 III. SS 18. Heeresgruppe Nord Estonia/Kurland
1.45 III. SS 18. Heeresgruppe Kurland Kurland, Libau
2.45 III. SS 3. Pz.Armee Heeresgruppe Weichsel Stettin-Neustadt
3.45 III. SS 3. Pz. Armee Heeresgruppe Weichsel Pommern
4.45 - 3. Pz. Armee Heeresgruppe Weichsel Pommern

Sources: (read literatuur title specifications) Pierik, Van Leningrad tot Berlijn; In 't Veld, de SS en Nederland; Hausser, Waffen-SS im Einsatz; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen; Armando, De SS'ers; Verrips, Mannen die niet deugden; De Jong, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog; Vincx en Schotanius, Nederlandse vrijwilligers in Europese krijgsdienst; Van der Zee, Voor Führer, volk en vaderland.



  Text: EM © 2000 - 2004    Translations by: FvB © 2003
  The nazi symbols on this site have no political or ideological purpose. The author has no intention to express or promote national-socialistic ideas.