German withdrawal into Festung Norwegen
Commanders and leaders
Arne Dagfin Dahl
3,000+ soldiers & police troops
Various auxiliary vessels
20th Mountain Army
2nd Mountain Division
6th Mountain Division
Casualties and losses
1 corvette sunk
6 fishing vessels destroyed
Over 300 civilians died while evacuating Finnmark
Nordic countries in World War II
Military history of
Finland during World War II
Denmark in World War II
Sweden in World War II
German invasion of Denmark (1940)
Norway in World War II
Occupation of Norway
Occupation of the Faroe Islands
Invasion of Iceland
Occupation of Iceland
Greenland in World War II
Iceland in World War II
Transit of German troops through
Finland and Sweden
Lofoten Islands campaign
Raids on Spitsbergen
German battleship Tirpitz
Norwegian heavy water sabotage
Swedish iron-ore mining during World War II
Operation Silver Fox
Kirkenes and Petsamo
Liberation of Finnmark
Danish resistance movement
Rescue of the Danish Jews
Norwegian resistance movement
Nazi concentration camps in Norway
Norwegian Campaigns (1941–45)
Attacks on Tirpitz
28 January 1945
9 February 1945
The Liberation of
Finnmark was a military operation, lasting from 23
October 1944 until 26 April 1945, in which Soviet and Norwegian forces
wrestled away control of Finnmark, the northernmost county of Norway,
from Germany. It started with a major Soviet offensive that liberated
2.1 Recapture of Kirkenes
2.2 Final Soviet Operations
2.3 Deployment of Norwegian Forces
8 External links
Finnmark, in red
After the occupation of Norway, the Norwegian government-in-exile
established a military mission in
Moscow under the leadership of
Colonel Arne Dagfin Dahl. Anticipating the end of World War II, the
United States, the United Kingdom, and the
Soviet Union signed an
agreement with the Norwegians on 17 March 1944 concerning the
administration of Norwegian territory should it be occupied by one of
the other three parties. The agreement stipulated that military
authorities would have ultimate control over civil administration
pending as long as conflict persisted.
Moscow Armistice between the
Soviet Union and
Finland on 4
September 1944, the Petsamo region, still largely occupied by the
Germans, was ceded to the Soviet Union, and the Finnish government
agreed to remove the remaining German forces from their own territory
by 15 September (leading to the Lapland War). During the retreat of
the German 20th Mountain Army, called Operation Birke, the decision
was made by the German Armed Forces Command to withdraw completely
Finland in Operation Nordlicht. While the
Germans prepared for this operation, the Soviets decided to seize the
offensive initiative on the Karelian Front.
Stavka decided to move against the German forces in the Arctic in
late 1944. The operation was to be undertaken jointly by the Karelian
Front under the command of General
Kirill Meretskov and the Northern
Fleet under Admiral Arseniy Golovko. The main operations were to be
conducted by the 14th Army, which had been in the Arctic since the
beginning of the war. Spearheading the offensive would be the 10th
Guards Division, led by Lieutenant General Vladimir Shcherbakov.
Soviet Air Forces
Soviet Air Forces had been attacking German positions in Finnmark
since at least that February. Hammerfest was first attacked on 14
February. On 23 August, they bombed the town of Vadsø, which had been
sheltering around 2,000 German soldiers. Hammerfest was bombed a
second time on 29 August. Heavily damaged, what remained of the
settlements would be almost entirely destroyed during the German
withdrawal in following months.
Soviet preparations, which had lasted for two months, had not gone
unnoticed by the Germans. The highly capable General Lothar Rendulic,
who served as both head of the 20th Mountain Army and overall theater
commander, was well aware of the threat posed by the upcoming
offensive. Prior to the start of the Soviet drive, the defending
Germans had been ordered to abandon Petsamo on 15 October, and
Kirkenes by the beginning of November. To stall the Soviets, the
Germans enacted a scorched earth policy and began to sabotage local
infrastructure and destroy villages in the vicinity. Thousands of
Finnmark and northern
Troms were forcibly evacuated to
southern Norway. Between 43,000 and 45,000 Norwegian
civilians were forced out of Finnmark. Rendulic claimed to have
successfully evicted all but 200 Norwegians which he promised he would
handle. In reality, between 20,000 and 25,000 civilians avoided
relocation, including 10,000 residents of
Kirkenes and the Varanger
Peninsula who could not be moved due to logistical constraints and
8,500 Lap nomads who were exempt from the removal policy.
The Soviets attacked on 7 October. They captured Petsamo on 15
October, but due to supply problems, then had to halt the offensive
for three days. Resuming on the 18th, they advanced down the
Petsamo-Tarnet road, reaching the Norwegian border on the evening of
19 October. From here the Soviets would continue towards Kirkenes.
Recapture of Kirkenes
See also: Petsamo-
The fight for
Kirkenes started on October 23 as the Soviet 14th Rifle
Division beat off a series of counter-attacks from Tarnet to Kirkenes
as they pursued the retreating Germans from Finland. That night,
the 45th Rifle Division crossed the Jar Fjord, leaving their tanks and
rocket launchers with the 14th Rifle Division. Further south, the 10th
Guards Motor Rifle Division crossed over a pontoon bridge at Holmfoss,
accompanied by KV tanks and self-propelled artillery.
On 24 October the 45th Rifle Division met little resistance as it
advanced to the edge of Bøkfjord, just across from Kirkenes. The 14th
Rifle Division had more trouble at Elvenes, where the Germans
destroyed the local bridge to prevent them from crossing the fjord.
Two companies were able to cross the fjord further south, where the
gap was only 150–200 meters wide. The 10th Guards Division had
advanced within 10 kilometers south of Kirkenes, securing the iron ore
mines where many civilians were sheltering. The 28th Rifle Regiment
was detached from the Guards division to cut off a potential German
escape around the Langfjord, as the forces originally assigned with
this task were low on supplies. Soviet air reconnaissance noticed
German columns withdrawing from
Kirkenes towards Neiden. Fires and
explosions were seen in the town itself, as the withdrawing Germans
had set the town ablaze as part of a scorched earth campaign. The 10th
Guards Division reached the southern outskirts of the town by 03:00 25
October and engaged the withdrawing Germans.
Kirkenes left burning by the Germans
The Soviet forces at Elvenes attempted once again to cross the
Bøkfjord at around 05:00. The Germans withstood the assault for about
an hour before being forced to retreat by direct attack and heavy
artillery bombardment. Using amphibious
Lend-Lease vehicles and
makeshift rafts, the majority of the Soviet corps were able to cross
the river by 09:00. From there they headed to the southeastern
outskirts of Kirkenes.
Supported by tanks and artillery, the 10th, 65th, and 14th Rifle
Divisions cleared out the last of the German rearguard from Kirkenes
by midday 25 October.
Final Soviet Operations
On 26 October the 10th Rifle Division captured a German airfield 15
kilometers west of Kirkenes. The 28th Rifle Regiment arrived at
Highway 50 in Munkelv that morning, only to find German units were
still retreating through the area. Fighting ensued, and the Soviets
summarily blocked off the road, forcing the Germans to evacuate to the
north where they were extracted by boat. By evening, the entirety of
the Munkelv area was secured and the Soviets were pushing up the
The German rearguard had hastily prepared a defense in Neiden on a
ridge line. With the help of local fisherman, the Soviets were able to
cross the river on 27 October and capture the ridge. Fighting was
fierce, and the Germans managed to burn every building in the village,
save for the local church, before withdrawing.
Faced with rugged terrain and increasingly cold temperatures, the 14th
Army forces in the area were ordered to halt their advance and assume
a defensive posture. Only a reconnaissance force from the 114th
Rifle Division continued west. It went 116 kilometers northwest of
Neiden before halting on 13 November in Tana.
Deployment of Norwegian Forces
Arne Dagfin Dahl
Arne Dagfin Dahl (left) in conversation with Peder Holt
(right), the interim Governor of Finnmark, in Vadsø, in late 1944
On 25 October 1944, upon hearing that the Soviets were now entering
Northern Norway, the British ordered the immediate deployment of
Norwegian forces to the area to assist. The Norwegians assembled under
Colonel Dahl, with a military mission (for liaison with the Soviets
and to reestablish civil administration in Norway), the 231 strong
"Bergkompani 2" (2nd Mountain Company) under Major S. Rongstad, an
area naval command with 11 men, and an "Area Command Finnmark" with 12
men. Marked Force 138 by the British, the Norwegians embarked on HMS
Berwick as part of Operation Crofter, arriving in
Murmansk on 6
November. From there, they took a Soviet ship to Liinakhamari,
boarding trucks that finally got them to
Finnmark on 10 November.
Colonel Dahl headquartered his mission in Bjørnevatn.
Free Norwegian Forces march through
Bjørnevatn in November 1944.
The Soviet commander at the front, Lieutenant General Shcherbakov,
wished for the Norwegians to be deployed to the front lines as soon as
possible. Too small to cover the front themselves, the Norwegians
enlisted local volunteers, putting them into hastily formed "guard
companies" armed with Soviet weaponry, pending the arrival of
reinforcements from Britain. Approximately 1,500 men from the Kirkenes
area were recruited. On 29 November Norwegian corvettes Eglantine
and Tønsberg Castle and three minesweepers were dispatched from Loch
Ewe as part of Convoy JW 62 with 2,000 tons of supplies to assist the
Norwegian forces in Finnmark. They reached Kola Inlet without incident
on 7 December. One of the minesweepers later struck a mine and
Norwegian Rikspoliti (police troops)—who for two years had been
training secretly in Sweden—began arriving on 12 January 1945.
Overall 1,442 men and 1,225 tons of material would be flown in from
Sweden to Finnmark. By April 1945, there would be over
3,000 Norwegian soldiers in Northern Norway.
One of the first undertakings of the Norwegian force was
reconnaissance at the front lines. This was to monitor German troop
movements and to investigate the whereabouts of the local population.
Porsanger showed that the Germans were in the process of
withdrawing, but were busy laying mines and torching buildings. Few
civilians were left.
Norwegian officers examine skis left behind by retreating German
troops in Finnmark
During this time some locals who had been hiding in the area began to
return to their destroyed settlements. In Gamvik, about 300 civilians
who had avoided evacuation built temporary shacks out of wreckage to
shelter in. On 19 December 1944, German
E-boats deployed landing
parties to destroy the town a second time. Some townspeople managed to
arm themselves and hold off the Germans long enough for the bulk of
the population to escape. 17 people were captured and forced to
The Norwegian troops sent rescue parties under Colonel Gunnar Johnson
to assist civilians left stranded in scorched western Finnmark. By
Christmas 1944, nearly 900 people had been successfully evacuated to
liberated territory. In January 1945 he began making plans for a
rescue operation on the island of Sørøya. On 15 February, in the
only direct military action undertaken by the Western Allies (other
than Norway) during the campaign, one Canadian and three British
destroyers rescued 502 men, women, and children from the
By 1945 a group of Norwegian militiamen began operating on the island,
ambushing German patrols while trying to avoid destruction. Various
skirmishes and raids between February and March result in the deaths
of six militiamen, and the capture of 14 more. Six fishing vessels
employed by the militia were destroyed in a German air attack. Several
Germans were also killed on the island.
Elsewhere the Norwegians assisted the locals and dealt with the
occasional German raid. Bergkompani 2 lost four men while retaking
Finnmark. On 26 April 1945 the Norwegians declared
Finnmark to be
free. By the time of the German general surrender in Europe on May 8,
the 1st Varanger battalion was poised on the Finnmark-
The Germans in the rest of
Norway capitulated on 8 May, bringing a
definite end to the conflict.
Nearly 2,900 Soviet soldiers died in
Norway during the conflict.
The civilian population was the group most affected by the campaign.
The Germans, in pursuance of their scorched earth strategy, destroyed
thousands of houses, barns, sheds, and businesses, along with much of
Finnmark's infrastructure. Almost all of Kirkenes, Hammerfest,
Hasvik, Vardø, Skarsvåg, Tufjord, Karmoyvaer, Gjesvær,
Nordvågen, and Neiden were burnt to the ground. About 2/3 of the
Vadsø were destroyed. Berlevåg, Mehamn, and Gamvik were
entirely razed. Approximately 50,000 people fled or were
forced to evacuate to the south by the Germans. It is estimated that
over 300 civilians died due to exposure and other causes during this
exodus. Another 25,000 who chose to stay sheltered in improvised huts,
caves, and mines. A single tunnel near
Bjørnevatn held 3,000
people. Parts of
Troms were also evacuated and burned, in
expectation of a continuation of the Allied offensive from the north.
Even after hostilities had ceased, many civilians couldn't return to
their towns until the Allies cleared away leftover German munitions.
The destruction of linguistic communities in
Finnmark also had
profound effect after the war. As the reconstruction efforts in the
region were mostly the responsibility of Norsk-speaking officials, the
Sami languages in the coastal communities dramatically
decreased in the postwar era.
Dinner party in the Norwegian town of
Kirkenes in July 1945. At the
rear from right: Colonel Dahl, Prince Olav, and Commander of Soviet
Norway Lieutenant General Shcherbakov.
In July, the Norwegians hosted a dinner with the Soviets in Kirkenes
to celebrate their victory. Among those in attendance were Norwegian
Crown Prince Olav, Oberst Dahl, and Lieutenant General Shcherbakov.
As the Norwegians began to restore their own administration throughout
their country, fears grew that the Soviets would refuse to leave.
These concerns turned out to be unfounded, however, as the last of the
Soviets pulled out by 25 September 1945.
On 25 October 2014
Norway celebrated the 70th anniversary of the
liberation in Kirkenes. Among those present for the ceremony were King
Harald, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Norwegian Foreign
Minister Børge Brende, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
^ a b Voksø 1984 "Polititropper til Finnmark" p. 492
^ "Tidsperiode Dahl". Tysklandsbrigaden - Veteranforeining for Voss og
Omland (in Norwegian). Retrieved 31 December 2009.
^ a b Dagsavisen Nettavisen Oslo, "Fikk medalje 70 år etter krigen,"
Hanne Mauno. (in Norwegian)
^ a b c Norske tenåringssoldater kjempet mot tyskerne nrk.no
^ a b c d e Simon Orchard, "THE EVACUATION OF FINNMARK & THE
RE-ENTRY OF NORWEGIAN FORCES INTO NORWAY, OCT 1944-MAY 1945."
^ a b c d "
Finnmark Celebrates Liberation from Nazi Occupation with
Help of Russians," The Nordic Page.
^ a b c Lunde 2011, p. 370.
^ a b
Vadsø (in Norwegian)
^ James F. Gebhardt "The Petsamo-
Kirkenes Operation: Soviet
Breakthrough and Pursuit in the Arctic, October 1944" pp. 75-83
^ a b c d e James F. Gebhardt "The Petsamo-
Kirkenes Operation: Soviet
Breakthrough and Pursuit in the Arctic, October 1944" pp. 65-75
^ a b c Hunt, Vincent. Fire and Ice: The Nazis' Scorched Earth
Campaign in Norway
^ Norwegian National Archive
File Reference : NTB war archive in
the National Archives (RA / PA -1209 / U / Uj / L0214 )
^ Mann 2012, p. 186.
^ a b WORLD WAR II AND THE POST-WAR PERIOD
^ Mann 2012, p. 190.
^ Norwegian Encyclopedia. Hasvik
^ Den Glemte Krigen (in Norwegian)
^ Braunmüller, Höder & Kühl 2014, p. 186.
^ Petterson. "Scorching and liberation of Finnmark, a short
introduction" Barents Observer.
Braunmüller, Kurt; Höder, Steffen; Kühl, Karoline, eds. (2014).
Stability and Divergence in Language Contact: Factors and Mechanisms
(reprint ed.). John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Lunde, Hendrik (2011). Finland's War of Choice: The Troubled
German-Finnish Coalition in World War II. Casemate.
Mann, Chris (2012). British Policy and Strategy Towards Norway,
1941-45 (illustrated ed.). Palgrave Macmillan.
Kirkenes Operation: Soviet Breakthrough and Pursuit