"European Volunteers,Join to Fight Bolshevism!"
Germany headed a stong movement in Europe to actively campaign (politically and through warfare) against the ideals of Bolshevist Communism. This culminated in 1941, when the German armed forces were pitted against the very home of Bolshevism, Soviet Russia. Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a "New and Free Europe", free of the threat of Communism. National Socialism was seen by many in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and other eastern European and Balkan countries as the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life, despite the true underlying totalitarian (and quite twisted, in most cases) nature of the movement.
Initially established in May 1940 as SS Division (motorisierte) Germania, the title was altered only days later to SS Division (motorisierte) Wiking, being formed around a core of Reichdeutsche personnel fron the Germania Regiment, who had been transferred wholesale from the SS-Verfügungsdivision. To this core was added the two existing Germanic volunteer regiments Nordland and Westland.
The first truly international division of the Waffen-SS, it numbered Germans (the majority), Dutch, Danes, Norwegians, Finns, Walloons, and Flemings among its personnel, together with a smattering of Volkdeutsche from the Balkans. The division first went into action in the southern sector of the Eastern Front, as far as possible from their countrymen fighting in the volunteer legions around Leningrad. It took part in the drive through th Caucausus and quickly earned itself a reputation for efficiency and dependability under fire.
In late 1942, it was formed as a panzergrenadier division and played an important role in the ill-fated German armoured offensive at Kursk in July 1943. Although it suffered heavy losses, it achieved an excellent reputation, even earning the grudging respect of the Soviets in several battle reports for its pugnacious fighting spirit (Soviet commanders were always concerned to learn that thier troops were facing the soldier of the Wiking Division).
In October 1943 the division was reformed yet again, and emerged as a fully fledged panzer division. The significance of this should not be under estimated. Considering the disdain shown for many of the foreign volunteer units by their German masters, the fact that a predominantly 'foriegn' division should be accorded panzer division status and equipped with the latest tanks was a tribute to the regard in which it was held.
The 'Wikinger' were fast attaining an elite status to equal the best of the original Waffen-SS divisions. In February 1944, Wiking took part in the furious fighting around Cherkassy and suffered heavy losses, though its morale and espirit de corps remained high. Withdrawn into Poland, it took part in the defensive battles around Warsaw in the autumn of 1944 before moving south to assist in the attempt to relieve Budapest.
When this failed the division was withdrawn into Austria, where it fought in the final battles to defend Vienna in 1945. The qualities of the Wiking Division as a combat unit are ably testified to by the number of Knights Crosses of the Iron Cross awarded to its soldiers.
A total of 54 such gallantry awards were made, a figure surpassed only by the 73 of the Das Reich Division. The division was first commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner, one of the finest and most highly decorated soldiers of the Waffen-SS, who went on to command III Panzer Corps and the 11th Panzer Army.
Steiner was followed by SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille, who was awarded the Swords, Oakleaves and Diamonds to the Knight's Cross for both his own, and his division's achievements in battle.
The third commander was SS-Standartenführer Johannes M¸hlenkamp, who had already been awarded the Knight's Cross as commander of the division's panzer regiment, and was subsequently awarded the Oakleaves in recognition of his distinguished leadership of the division as a whole.
Karl Ullrich, SS-Standartenführer and former Totenkopf Pioniere commander, was the last to command Wiking; he kept the divsion a formidible and equally high-moralled fighting force to the last. To the end the men of the division fought like tigers.
In defeat they retained their pride in having given service above and beyond the call of duty, and to this day the phenomenal espirit de corps engendered within this elite division lives on through a thriving veterans organisation.
The Wiking Division was without a doubt the finest of all the SS volunteer formations, and indeed of of the best units in the entire German armed forces.