COMMANDERS AND LEADERS
SOVIET UNION: 14th Army Northern Fleet NORWAY: 3,000+ soldiers padding-left:0.25em">
20th Mountain Army
* 2nd Mountain Division * 6th Mountain Division
CASUALTIES AND LOSSES
SOVIET UNION: 6,084 killed or missing 15,149 wounded NORWAY: 10 killed 14 captured 1 corvette sunk 6 fishing vessels destroyed Unknown
Over 300 civilians died while evacuating Finnmark
* v * t * e
Nordic countries in
World War II
* Denmark in
World War II
* v * t * e
Norwegian Campaigns (1941–45)
* Claymore * Anklet * Archery * Musketoon * Oslo raid * Checkmate * Cartoon
* Attacks on Tirpitz
* Source * Tungsten * Mascot * Goodwood * Paravane * Obviate * Catechism
* Leader * Finnmark * Provident * 28 January 1945 * Black Friday * 9 February 1945 * Judgement * Doomsday
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 Kirkenes .
* 1 Background
* 2 Liberation
* 2.1 Recapture of Kirkenes * 2.2 Final Soviet Operations * 2.3 Deployment of Norwegian Forces
* 3 Aftermath * 4 Legacy * 5 Notes * 6 References * 7 External links
Finnmark, in red
Moscow Armistice between the
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
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
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 civilians from Finnmark and northern Troms were forcibly evacuated to southern Norway.
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- Kirkenes Offensive
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 Neiden river .
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
Colonel A.D. Dahl (left) in conversation with Peder Holt
(right), the interim Governor of Finnmark, in
On 25 October 1944, upon hearing that the Soviets were now entering
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. The first of several convoys arrived on 7 December, consisting of two Norwegian corvettes and three minesweepers (one corvette later struck a mine and sank).
Norwegian Rikspoliti (police troops)—who for two years had been
training secretly in
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. Reports from 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 evacuate.
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
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- Troms border.
The Germans in the rest of
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 ,
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
* ^ Statistics are from the entire Petsamo- Kirkenes operation .