Norway’s Shame:
The SS Ski Battalion
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
April 2012

The U.S. Army's 99th Infantry Battalion’s war record was a source of pride to the Norwegian-American community, and at the end of the war it was present at the return of the exiled Norwegian royal court to Oslo. But Norway also provided volunteers to the other side. Like all European nations, Norway had a quasi-fascist political movement before the war, and when the Germans invaded and occupied the country in 1940, a minority of Norwegians greeted the move with pleasure. Possibly as many as 50,000 Norwegians served the Third Reich, most of them in the Waffen-SS.

Norwegian SS men on parade in Oslo.

Gust Jonassen, a former professor of physical education and the head of the sports section of the Nasjonal Samling (the Norwegian Nazi equivalent), proposed that Norway’s best skiers be recruited for duty alongside the Germans in the Arctic. Jonassen, a Dane who’d obtained Norwegian citizenship after marrying a Norwegian, had already volunteered for and served in the Waffen SS. But like many members of the sports federation, he preferred the more racist-leaning wing of the Norwegian SS to the nationalist views of the Nasjonal Samling. In the summer of 1942 he began recruiting a ski company for service alongside the 6th SS Mountain Division Nord, and found plenty of willing young men.

By September the recruits were transferred to Alsace for training. Few had military experience, but most were very good on skis. While infantry training progressed at several locations, officer candidates, including Jonassen, went through the SS officer school at Bad Tölz in southern Germany. Jonassen became its first commander.

The ski company went to Finland in the spring of 1943 and joined the SS Mountain Division, which assigned it to the divisional recon battalion. It began long-range ski patrols, and suffered a number of casualties in small actions including Jonassen who stepped on a mine in May and was replaced by Otto Andreas Holmen, a former Norwegian Royal Guard who had also attended the SS officer school.

Despite the losses, recruits continued to sign up, and in July the company left Finland for a furlough in Norway (despite claims of excellence made by veterans and apologists, performance could not have been very good to warrant withdrawal three months after entering the lines). In early fall the veterans went to Oulu, Finland, to expand the unit into a battalion. To improve its performance, Norwegians from 5th SS Panzer Grenadier Division “Viking” were transferred into the unit, and each platoon received a number of German SS troopers as well. A decorated German SS officer, Richard Benner, took command of the new battalion but three of the four company commanders were Norwegians.

Re-training continued through the rest of 1943, and the battalion re-entered the lines in January 1944. It engaged in patrols for several months, and in March became involved in heavy fighting against Soviet probing attacks. Apparently to improve battalion morale, a Norwegian commander, Frode Halle, was appointed in April. Halle came from the SS Norge regiment then serving on the Eastern Front.

On 25 June the brunt of the Soviet offensive in the Kestenga sector fell on the Norwegian battalion, serving as infantry now that the snow had melted away. The battalion suffered heavy casualties and spent several days surrounded, but was ultimately relieved and withdrew with the rest of the Nord division. The battalion does not appear to have been placed in the front lines after the June offensive, but when the Germans began their withdrawal from Finland in September the Norwegians were used to screen the movement and they skirmished several times with the Finnish 11th Division. They also burned down the Finnish town of Rovaniemi, managing to detonate an ammunition train and destroy the division’s main hospital.

The Norwegian volunteer unit then went to the Oslo area and became a security unit, calling its “elite” status further into question though most of its combat-experienced men had become casualties by the time the battalion crossed the border into Norway. In a confusing move, the ski battalion became the 506th Ski Battalion, while the Nord Division retained the 506th Panzer Grenadier Battalion and transferred a number of Norwegians from the ski battalion to the identically-numbered panzer grenadier unit. The ski battalion clashed with Norwegian resistance fighters in the mountains of southern Norway, including a large-scale battle in April, 1945. The panzer grenadier battalion went to the Western Front with the rest of the division, where it was destroyed by the Americans.

Just as we’ve done for the American battalion, we’ve provided a free download of the SS Norwegian battalion. While the claim has been made that the unit did not accompany Nord to Alsace because of a commitment not to deploy its men in the West, it appears that this low-quality unit simply was not worth the effort of transporting out of Norway. At a combat strength of 1 it’s probably over-rated, but the game system doesn’t allow us to go any lower. The battalion certainly could have been sent to Alsace.

If the variant is used, the battalion enters as a reinforcement along with the rest of the division (23 December). If this unit and the American Norwegian battalion are ever in adjacent hexes, the moving unit must immediately stop and engage its opposite number in combat during the upcoming combat phase (these Norwegians really, really hate each other). Other units may participate, but the phasing player’s Norwegian unit must be involved in an attack on the hex occupied by the other Norwegian unit.

Crush the evil Norwegians: order Alsace 1945 today.