Finnish Waffen-SS -volunteers 1941-1943

The relations between Finland and Germany began to warm up again after the Winter War in 1940. Military and political co-operation started, and Finland allowed eg. transportation of German troops through Finnish territory to northern Norway. On March 10, 1941, the idea of recruiting a Finnish battalion to the German army was presented by the German authorities. The Finnish government gave its consent to the project on 14 April 1941.

Recruiting of volunteers began in the spring of 1941. Since Finland was impartial at the time, recruiting was to be carried out in secret. Recruiting was handled through a Helsinki-based Engineer Office, Ratas, under the supervision of ministerial councilor Esko Rieki and police authorities. In different parts of Finland, there were provincial recruiters that were looking for suitable volunteers and delivered them to Helsinki to be examined by German doctors. Those recruited were screened carefully, aiming for a proper but non-political military unit. Eventually, 1197 volunteers who were selected were shipped to Germany in five batches during May-June 1941.

When recruiting the battalion, the Finns expressed the wish that it could nurture the traditions of the Royal Prussian Jaeger Battalion 27 (WW 1), after all they were recruited in the way of second-generation jaegers, among others several sons of original Finnish WW 1 jaegers were in the unit. In addition, the battalion was hoped to join the ranks of the German field army, the Wehrmacht. However, within the Wehrmacht already served a battalion, formed by the Germans, who cherished the traditions of the Royal Prussian Jaeger Battalion 27. Moreover, the integration of the Finnish Battalion into the Wehrmacht was not possible because all the soldiers recruited as volunteers in the German army were joined to the Waffen SS in accordance with the practice of that era. That was the case with the Finns as well.

In Germany, Finnish volunteers were divided into two groups. After attacking the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Germany had already gained about 400 men from the Finnish-Soviet Winter War. After a short training period, they were divided into small groups mainly within the Wiking Division’s Nordland, Westland and Germania Regiments, departing to the eastern front. During the summer and autumn of 1941, these Finnish “Men of the Division” took part in battles on the southern part of the German eastern front. When the winter came, the fighting calmed down and the position lines were established along the Mius River in Ukraine.

The majority of the volunteers, about 800 men, were assembled into a Finnish training battalion called “SS-FREIWILLIGEN BATAILLON NORDOST”. The battalion was formally established on June 15, 1941 and commanded by SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Hans Collani. Finally, on 13 September 1941, the battalion was named ’FINNISCHES FREIWILLIGEN BATAILLON DER WAFFEN-SS’. This Finnish unit ”The Battalion Boys” received basic training in Vienna and Stralsund, as well as combat training in the Gross-Born Training Center in East Pomerania. The military oath was sworn on October 15, 1941, in Gross-Born, where the battalion was handed over their own flag shipped from Finland.

The transfer of the Finnish Battalion to the German East Front began in early December 1941. After arriving at the Wiking Division’s winter positions on the River Mius Ukraine in January 1942, the battalion was joined as the Fourth Battalion to the SS Regiment Nordland formed by European Volunteers. The battalion also brought together Finnish volunteers who had previously served in the Wiking Division at the beginning of the German East War. In spring 1942, the Finnish Battalion was named the 3rd Battalion of the Nordland Regiment (III/Nordland).

After a stationary phase, equipment replenishment and further training, the Finnish Battalion moved in July 1942 to seven hundred kilometers east of the West Caucasus, where it took part in battles in the Maikop oil fields. Mid-August, the Finnish Battalion as part of the Wiking Division were transferred to the East Caucasus. Here, the Finnish Battalion participated in breakthrough attempts to take over the Baku oil fields. The battalion excelled in the East Caucasus region in so-called Terek river bend ’s heavy battles, but the losses were also great.

In the summer of 1942, as a result of repatriations and increased losses, the German authorities asked Finland to send 300 more men to the battalion. The Finns accepted the request by sending 201 men to Germany in the autumn of 1942. The men were recruited directly from the combat units. After a short training session in Germany, the group was sent to the East Caucasus, where it arrived in early December 1942. The replacements quickly took their place in the battalion with fierce battles, joining tightly into the ever-decreasing Finnish unit.

The withdrawal of the German army from the East Caucasus began at the turn of the year 1942–1943, and the Finnish Battalion also left the Caucasus mountains gradually towards the West. The battalion went to attack for the last time in February 1943 in Ukraine. After that, the fighting was mainly defensive against the pursuing enemy until April 1943.

When the spring of 1943 came, the two-year contract period of the Finns came to an end and the preparation of the battalion’s withdrawal began. The transfer of the battalion to the rear began on April 11, 1943 and the battalion was released from the Wiking Division on 24 April 1943. The transfer back to Germany took place between 29 April and 7 May 1943. After a holiday in the Ruhpolding Alpine Village, in the Bavarian countryside, the battalion was transferred by train through Europe to Tallinn, and then to Hanko in Finland by ferry, arriving on 1 June 1943. After the return-home -parade in Hanko 2 June, the men were transferred to Tampere where official homecoming celebration took place on 3 June. After that, the men received a month’s holiday at home. Afterwards, the men were gathered in Hanko, where the battalion was suspended on July 11, 1943. After the abolition of the SS battalion, the men were transferred to the ranks of the Finnish Army, where they continued their fight.

Altogether 256 Finnish SS volunteers fell on the eastern front of Germany and later on the Finnish front 113, bringing the total losses to 369 men.

According to the characterization of Professor Mauno Jokipii, the writer of the history of the Finnish Volunteer Battalion, “The Finnish Waffen-SS Battalion was in the final stages of its war from August 1942 to April 1943 one of the most fierce Finnish striking-forces ever formed; effective, hard and resolute even in desperate situations. Another commentary that describes the Finns well is the statement by SS-Hauptsturmführer, Captain Jouko Itälä, who served in the Finnish Battalion: “They were well known among the troops that fought through vast Ukrainian; odd men – the Finns, they are not afraid of the Russians and of the darkness, yet they are unable to stand still in attention when ordered. The knife and the devil had helped them through every struggle even abroad.