By Simon Orchard

   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 as POW’s.
  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’ Norway.

   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 Divisions. 


Soviet troops from the marine infantry brigade land at Rybachi.
A Soviet 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.

A 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.
Norwegian troops 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 . 

Men of Bergkompani 2 on board HMS Berwick on route to Murmansk.
The 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.
To the left: Oberst Dahl talking to the people of Vadsø.

The 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.


German troops prepare a bridge over the river 
Anar 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.

Simon Orchard

Tromsø, July 1999

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