I enlisted in the Waffen-SS as a volunteer in August 1942, and I was then 19 years old. I undertook my infantry training in Mitau/Estonia and I became the #1 gunner on a light machine gun.
by Kaare S.
In February 1943, 3o of us were sent to Hilverum/Holland to be trained as Panzerjäger (anti-tank troops). I was then made the #1 gunner on a 7.5 cm anti-tank cannon.
Afterwards I spent some time in Grafenwoehr and Graz as an assistant trainer and also went into a NCO training course. Then the SS Panzergrenadier Rgt. 23 „Norge” (Norwegian) was established and it was deployed for combat duty in Croatia. In November 1943 we left Croatia for Leningrad. That was a wholly frightful time filled with filth, cold and shelling. But nonetheless, that life had its good and bad sides both when not viewed from too dark a perspective. At the end of January 1944 my enlistment contract expired. I spent 14 days at home, then once again voluntarily signed up, this time for the duration of the war.
Next I went on a journey to Finland. After a short stopover in Oulu, I arrived in Karelia. After so long a time, it is not so simple to remember all of the names and places. In the spring we were stationed on the island of Pundum. From there we sent out scouting parties in all directions, and had for the most part, only limited losses. We found a number of remnants leftover from the „Winter War” between Finland and Russia, including a lost field kitchen that Russian soldiers had abandoned in the woods after the 4 or 6 horses that had pulled it had frozen to death. During this time our unit (SS-Skijäger Btl. „Norge” — attached to the 6th SS Mtn. Div. „Nord”) had Norwegian company commanders and troop leaders.
I volunteered for a mission to sabotage the railroad lines between Leningrad and Murmansk, although for some reason or another nothing came of this. During this time I attempted to gain admittance to a (officer’s) training course at Bad Toelz, but the [military] situation was so difficult that it was hard to get free for this. The Finns capitulated on 4 September 1944, and we had to promptly retreat from Finland. It was the German procedure not to leave anything behind, not even the rubbish!
I don’t know how far the bearest road was, but we marched for many days until we reached it. We went from lake to lake, which we crossed in our boats which we had to carry with us. It took 8-10 men to carry the boat, and 4 men to carry the motor.
Understandably, I remember one episode better than the others. After 2 or 3 days our substitute troop leader lost his map.
It was dark, but I remembered seeing something white along the way, so 1 volunteered to go back and find the map. As we began our search, we had just had a 7 hour march behind us, carrying machine guns, radio equipment and personal packs on our backs. After we found the map, we had another half-hour march still to make, then we heard Russian soldiers nearby. They were also not on the right course. After that we had the Russians close behind us until we reached Rovaniemi.
We often had to build temporary plank bridges ahead of us to accommodate the vehicles. Since there was only one car per company, and they had to be transported in sections, we all had to go by foot. Despite the difficulties, troop morale was good because we knew we were marching towards Norway. At last we reached the well-known bridge over the Kemijoki.
The stay in Rovaniemi was also unforgettable. The whole town was enveloped in flames and we were being shot at by the Finns. In this situation things got somewhat confused. My squad had to go back over the bridge to secure a bridgehead. After an hour we received orders to evacuate our positions and then the bridge would be destroyed. But once back over the bridge we received counter-orders: return back to your positions and hold them until the bridge is destroyed. Then we could cross over the river on our own (using another, minor bridge).
As with our first crossing over the bridge, my number 2 gunner and I first stopped at a field kitchen and filled two small bowls with pudding and sauce. Then we went back over the bridge. This was no simple matter since the bridge was covered with mines, shells and bombs all linked to a network of electrical wires strewn all over, so we had to wait until we had crossed over until we could eat our pudding. At 0300 hours the bridge was blown into the air only about 50 meters away from us.
After spending a few days in a school [house], the march continued. The first night we had scattered losses, although later on we lost hardly any men. We covered the first stretch of 60 km from Rovaniemi in hard rain. I had only felt boots so naturally was very uncomfortable. I got a pair of leather boots as soon after that as I could.
I must mention an episode in northern Finland. We spent 2 or 3 days on the Arctic Sea road and near to us was a field bakery. We had not been getting very much in the way of meals and the odour coming from the bakery was irresistible. I then gave myself the mission of liberating some bread. I lay in wait behind the storage tent and when the bakery boys came by carrying the bread on a long plank I sprang up and managed to hook my leg in at the right moment. That turned out to be quite a good bread feast!
We were still involved in maintaining the rearward security and continued to do so until we reached the Swedish frontier where the borders of three countries came together. From here we went to Narvik (Norway) in trucks provided by the Todt Organization [military construction service]. The march continued to Mosjoen. In the mountain passes we went through snowdrifts that were taller than us. From Mosjoen we went by ship to Drondheim and then to Mysen (south of Oslo) by rail. I then tried to go to Toelz for officer’s training but the end of the war intervened.
As thanks for my 2 ½ years of front service against the Bolsheviks, I was rewarded with 3 ½ years at forced labour.