The Freikorps Danmark

Freikorps Danmark was one of the many European formations that volunteered to fight for the Germans on the Eastern Front. It suffered heavy looses in the savage fighting and only about half of the voulenteers returned home again.

by Russ Folsom

The term “Freikorps Danmark” is actually a hybrid of the German [Freikorps/Free Corps], and the Danish national name – Danmark. The Danes themselves called it “Frikorps Danmark”. The name was a hearking back to the Danish volunteer “Frikorps” expeditionary force that fought on the side of the White Russians against the Soviets in the Russian Civil War post-1917 in the Baltic States.

It differed from the other anti-communist volunteer legions which fought for Germany during the Second World War on the Eastern Front in two basic ways:

a) It was officially sanctioned by the Danish Government, and volunteers from the standing Danish armed forces were officially allowed to complete their military service in this unit. Career soldiers were promised an equivalent rank.

b) It was not sponsored by a home grown Nazi or Fascist political party, but was an official body sponsored by the Danish Government (unlike the “Legion Norwegen” sponsored by Vidkun Quisling’s “Nasjonal Samlung”, or Belgium’s “Legion Wallonien” sponsored by Leon Degrelle’s Walloon “Rexist” nationalist party. )

Danish SS recruiting poster "For Denmark! Against Bolchevism"
Danish SS recruiting poster “For Denmark! Against Bolchevism”

(The Government of Finland also sponsored a volunteer force, albeit in a bit more “unofficial ” and roundabout way – they dispatched “1000 war-industry workers” to Germany in February 1941. This first draft, and later more Finnish “Jagers” would come to be known as the “Finnisches Freiwilligen Bataillon der Waffen-SS.” They fought as the 3rd Battalion in the NORDLAND Rgt. of the 5.SS-Panzer Grenadier Division WIKING from February 1942 until their disbandment in June,1943. )

On April 20, 1941 it was announced in both Norway and Denmark that a regiment of Scandinavian volunteers called the NORDLAND was currently being recruited for service in the German Armed Forces. Suitable volunteers between the ages of 17 to 23 from Denmark and Norway were encouraged to sign on for a minimum of two years, and in so doing, recieve joint German citizenship (with all rights and privileges of a “Reichsdeutsch.”). Some 200 Danes initially volunteered.

The “Freikorps Danmark” was announced on June 28, 1941, and was open to men between the ages of 17 and 35. The initial draft of some 480 men, most still in Danish Army uniform, left for Hamburg on July 19, where they formed the 1st Battalion of the new Freikorps, and were fitted with new Waffen-SS uniforms and gear.

On 10 August the 2nd Battalion was formed from more recruits, of which some 100 were Danes extracted from the fledgling NORDLAND Regiment. By the end of 1941 the Freikorps had a strength of some 1,164 men. The members of the Freikorps wore standard Waffen-SS kit, with distinguishing cuff-band worn on their lower left tunic sleeve which said “FREIKORPS DANMARK”, and a national-shield just above this title of the Danish national colors, red with superimposed white cross. SS flashes were worn on all ranks collar tabs.

The first commander of the Freikorps, Von Schalbourg with the cap
The first commander of the Freikorps, Von Schalbourg with the cap

The first commanding officer of the Freikorps was a Danish Artillery officer, Lt.Col. P.C Kryssing. For some reason, Himmler disliked and distrusted Kryssing, and in February 1942 he appointed Count Christian Frederik von Schalburg, a Danish aristocrat of Baltic-German origin, who at the time was serving as a Sturmbannfuhrer in the WIKING Division in Russia.

In May 1942, the Freikorps was sent to Heeresgruppe NORD and attached to the 3.SS-Totenkopf Division. It took part in the savage Demjansk actions, where on June 2nd, von Schalburg was killed. The next CO of the Freikorps was Hans-Albert von Lettow-Vorbeck, who had hardly even taken over command when he was killed on

June 11, 1942. He was succeeded by Knud Borge Martinsen. The Freikorps was returned to Denmark in September of 1943, having suffered 121 killed. It returned to the Eastern Front in October 1942, but was finally withdrawn in April of 1943. In May it was officially disbanded.

At this point, the Regiment “NORDLAND” (made mostly of Scandinavians) was pulled from the 5.SS-Wiking Division OB ranks to be the cadre for the formation of a new division – the 11.SS-Freiwillige Panzer-Grenadier Division NORDLAND. The combat hardened Danes who had survived the “Freikorps”, were for the most part unceremoniously merged into the ranks of the Nordland regiment to form SS-Pz.Gren. Regt. 24 “Danmark” (danisches Nr.1). The Danes in fact made up only 40% of it’s strength. The rest consisted of Germans and Volksdeutsche from Romania. In December of 1943, the Regiment consisted of 193 NCO’s and 1,123 soldiers.

The 24.SS-Pz.Gren.Rgt. “Danmark” fought long and hard at the so-called “battle of the European SS” at Narwa from April to late August in 1944. There it proved itself to be a reliable and battleworthy formation. After the battle on September 15,1944, there were 33 officers, 162 NCO’s, and 1,191 men left, totalling 1,386. After escape from Courland at Libau, and a further refit in March 1945, the Danes, and the rest of NORDLAND perished on the Oder and in Berlin in April 1945 (the I. Battalion of SS-Pz.Gren Rgt.24 was attached to 5.SS-Pz.Division WIKING at wars end, and perished somewhere near Vienna on the SE Ostfront.)

Members of the “Freikorps Danmark” who weren’t pressed into the NORDLAND were also to be found in the Kriegsmarine – there is photographic evidence of a KM recruit with the “Freikorps Danmark” cuff title on his uniform. Other former members, inlcuding the last CO Martinsen, formed what amounted to a para-military “Germanic SS” formation called The “Schalburg Korps”, named in honour of their fallen leader.

It is estimated that 3900 Danes gave their lives in German Service. Most of the surviving soldiers were sentenced to long prison terms when they returned home after the war.

Of those Danes that fell into Russian captivity the last one returned home in 1955.

Further reading

FOREIGN LEGIONS OF THE THIRD REICH (vol.1) by David Littlejohn
Uniforms, Org. and History of the Waffen-SS (vol.3) by R.J.Bender