EVACUATION OF FINNMARK & THE RE-ENTRY OF NORWEGIAN FORCES INTO NORWAY,
OCT 1944-MAY 1945.
After more than 3 years of war against the Soviet Union, -longer if you
include the winter war of 1939-40, the Finns were war weary and could see
the end in site for Germany. A way out was needed and after months of talks
and threats the Finns finally accepted the peace terms demanded by the
Soviets in Sept. 44. This called for, among other things, German troops
of the 20th Mountain Army to leave Finland by 15th Sept. or face internment
Initially the German plan was to retain the essential nickel mines around
Petsamo in the far North held by the 19th Mountain Corps under General
Ferdinand Jodl, but events led to Hitler ordering the entire 20th Mountain
Army out of Finland to take up new defensive positions around Lyngen
and Skibotn just to the North of Tromsoe, the operation was to be called
Northern light . This would be a huge logistical undertaking and General
Lothar Rendulic the German commander, who replaced General Eduard Dietl
who had been killed in an air crash, set about evacuating supplies by sea
through Petsamo and the Norwegian town of Kirkenes.
The soviets ‘invade’
At the begining of Oct. 1944 the 53,000 men of the 19th Mountain corps
were still some 45 miles inside Russia along the Litsa River and
the neck of the Rybachi peninsula. The plan was for them to reach Lakselv
some 160 miles West in Norway by 15th Nov.
On the 7th Oct. however the Soviet 14th Army and Northern fleet of some
133,500 men under Field Marshall Kirill Meretskov smashed into the weakest
point of the German line, the junction between the 2nd and 6th Mountain
troops from the marine infantry brigade land at Rybachi.
Naval Brigade was also landed to the West of Rybachi thereby outflanking
the Germans. Rendulic fearing an encirclement of his forces ordered the
19th Mountain Corps to fall back into Norway. With the Soviets hard on
their heels the Corps had reached Kirkenes by 20th Oct. OKW had ordered
Rendulic to hold the Soviets at bay whilst the vital supplies amounting
to some 135,000 tons could be shipped to safety. 5 days later when the
Germans withdrew they had only saved around 45,000 tons. Kirkenes was virtually
destroyed by the Germans before pulling out, the town was set on fire,
port installations and offices were blown up and only a few small houses
were left standing. This scene was to be repeated throughout Finnmark,
an area larger than Denmark, as the Germans were determined to leave nothing
of value to the Soviets, Hitler had told Rendulic to leave the area devoid
of people, shelter and supplies. Some 43,000 people complied with the order
to evacuate the region immediately or were forced to leave their homes,
but some stayed behind to await the departure of the Germans. In fact it
was estimated that between 23-25000 people were in East-Finnmark around
the end of Nov.
not too detailed map over Norther part of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Soviet
Union. Some of the places in the article are visible; Kirkenes, Vadsoe,
Petsamo and Alta. A more detailed map could be found here.
The Soviets persued the Germans over the following days, fighting occured
around the small settlements of Munkelv and Neiden to the West of Kirkenes
around 27th Oct. The 6th Mountain Division acting as rear-guard slowly
withdrew up the main road along the coast (riksvei 50, now called the E6)
as far as Tanafjord 70 miles N.W of Kirkenes which the Germans reached
by 6th Nov. here the last contact with Soviet troops occured at Seida on
the same date.
re-enter their homeland.
On the 25th Oct. 44 the order was given for a Norwegian force to set sail
for Murmansk from Britain to join the Soviet forces now entering Northern
Norway, it was to be called Force 138 and the the operation was called
Operation Crofter .
of Bergkompani 2 on board HMS Berwick on route to Murmansk.
Norwegian commander Oberst A. D. Dahl had under his command a military
mission for liason with the Soviets and to set up a civil administration,
Bergkompani 2 under Major S. Rongstad with 233 men, a naval area command
with 11 men and ‘area command Finmark’ with 12 men.
the left: Oberst Dahl talking to the people of Vadsø.
small force arrived in Murmansk on 6th Nov. and re-embarked onboard a Soviet
ship to Liinhammari in Finland, here they boarded trucks for the final
leg of their journey arriving back on Norwegian soil after over 4 years
on 10th Nov.
The Soviet commander LieutenantGeneral Sherbakov made it clear that he
wanted the Norwegian Bergkompani to take over the forward postitions as
soon as possible. Volunteers from the local population were hastily formed
into ‘guard company’s’ armed with Soviet weapons pending the arrival of
more troops from either Sweden or Britain. The first convoy arrived from
Britain on 7th Dec. and included 2 Norwegian corvettes (one of which was
later sunk by a mine) and 3 minesweepers.
It soon became obvious that reconnaissance patrols needed to be sent out
to discover what the Germans were up to and to find out if the local population
to the West had been evacuated or were still there. The reports came back
stating that the Germans were in the process of pulling back from Porsanger
but were laying mines and booby-traps along the way, a few people were
left here and there and many of the buildings were burnt down.
troops prepare a bridge over the river
near Karasjok for demolition.
This then was the situation as 1944 slipped into 1945, the new year
would see the Norwegian forces slowly taking back their battered Northernmost
province, helping the local population in the bitter arctic winter and
dealing with occasional German raids from the air,sea and land as well
as the ever present danger from mines. Reinforcments arrived from the Norwegian
Rikspoliti based in Sweden as well as convoys from Britain, a total of
1,442 people and 1,225 tons of material were flown in by Dakota from Kallax
in Sweden to Finnmark and by April the Norwegian forces stood at over 3,000
men. On 26th April the Norwegian command sent out a message that Finnmark
was now free and come the German capitulation on the 8th May 1945 the 1st
komp/Varanger battalion was postitioned along the Finnmark/Troms border
to the West of Alta.
All pictures are official
propaganda pictures, if anyone
owns the rights to these pictures,
please let me know, and I'll remove them immediately!