Formation   Structure

SS-Freiwilligen Legion 'Niederlande' (Dutch volunteer legion)

The Dutch volunteer legion was formated a few weeks after the German attack on the Soviet Union (June 22nd, 1941) commenced. The hatred for the Soviet-Russian communist political system was stronger than ever among the Dutch national-socialists and fascists, and now that the 'civilised Germans' were fighting against the 'barbaric and godless communists', more and more Dutchmen were prepared to assist in the military campaign to 'save' Europe from the 'barbaric hordes from the east'. Especially the NSB (Nationaal Socialistische Beweging = National Socialist Movement) believed that Dutch efforts would be rewarded with a powerful position in post-war Europe.

On June the 28th 1941, just six days after the beginning of Operation 'Barbarossa' Arnold Meijer - the leader of the Nationaal Front - launched a spectacular idea: the Dutch should raise a volunteer legion in order to assist the German forces against the Red Army and bolsjevism. Even though the idea was not a NSB initiative, the organisation supported the formation of a Dutch volunteer legion, and NSB leader Anton Mussert considered it to be the forerunner of a new Dutch army. The German occupier reacted positively to this idea as well, as the independent formation of a volunteer legion was very interesting to the Nazis from a propagandist point of view. This way they could show the world that Germanic Europe was not only behind their cause, but that it was even prepared to fight alongside them. They did everything in their power to support it, but in order to keep the outside world thinking this was a solely Dutch initiative this all happened behind closed doors.

Arnold Meijer now had his doubts, as he suspected the German SS of secretly taking over the whole initiative. Since Meijer and his Nationaal Front were not exactly SS minded, they wanted the legion to be a Dutch-only initiative. Once the Germans intervened Meijer lost interest and pulled out, and from that moment on the formation of the Dutch legion became an NSB initiative. Anton Mussert and his movement were prepared to continue the formation of the legion, and on July the 11th 1941 the NSB called up its members to join.

Meanwhile the Germans appointed the former Dutch general H.A. Seyffardt as the commander of the legion and gave permission to all the legionnaires to wear national insignias on the uniform. The 'prinsevlag' (an orange-white-blue flag) appeared on the sleeve of the uniform and the 'wolfsangel' was worn on the collar instead of the traditional Sig-runes. The oath the soldiers were required to swear was not only on the führer, but on the 'prinsevlag' as well. The Germans hoped to lure Dutch recruits with all these nationalistic symbols, and a 'Lied der Legioen' ('song of the legion') was even written to create a distinctly 'Dutch' atmosphere. Indeed, many of the volunteers thought that they had signed up for a Dutch national combat unit that would assist the German forces in Soviet-Russia so the German plan had succeeded.

Sleeveshield of the Dutch legion. (Source:Soldbuch)

Next to the concept of an 'all-Dutch' legion, German propaganda emphasised the idea of 'a crusade against bolsjewism' to recruit volunteers. Those who joined were ignorant of what they had actually signed up for at the moment itself, as the legion did not become an official Waffen-SS combat unit until 1943. However, Berlin had decided that the Waffen-SS was to be responsible for all 'Aryan-Nordic' volunteers long before the plans of raising a Dutch volunteer legion became a reality. Although several hundreds of Dutch men served in the Kriegsmarine, Luftwaffe or Wehrmacht, the greatest number were sent to the Waffen-SS. The recruiting of volunteers in occupied Germanic countries like the Netherlands was the sole business of the SS and they claimed the Dutch volunteers in order to expand Himmler's Germanic elite corps.

It was the Waffen-SS that co-ordinated the recruiting of volunteers in the Netherlands. Himmler's organisation arranged the military and political training and appointed the commanding officers as well. The legion became a Waffen-SS unit on the organisational level, but as it was too small to be able to operate independent of the German forces, it was made part of a German SS-Brigade. The role of the Waffen-SS remained a 'secret' for a long time because the SS feared that it would hinder recruiting, as not every Dutch volunteer wanted to serve in the already notorious Waffen-SS.

The Germans were not able to hide the true identity of the legion from the Dutch commander Seyffardt, however. Although this aged general was an advocate of the 'crusade against bolsjevism', he refused to support the true nazi-ideology. When he discovered that his unit would become a Waffen-SS legion, he objected, but the Germans and the SS ignored his complaints. The truth of the matter was that Seyffardt had simply been appointed to lure more Dutch volunteers and never gained any real power. Anton Mussert - the leader of the NSB - also complained about the SS-influence on the legion, but all kinds of technical arguments brought forward by the Germans were enough to silence him.

Although the legion was now in fact a Waffen-SS formation, it was not a true Waffen-SS unit such as 'Wiking' or 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler', as the training and the examination both differed in quality from those of the crack units. The legion lacked the typical SS order and discipline and the reason for this was the recruits themselves. The unit consisted of a strange mixture of political idealists, adventurers, and even criminals. It was therefore no surprise that the Waffen-SS training personnel faced numerous troubles (theft !, fights etc.) with these recruits. As a result, the relationship between the German 'Ausbilders' (trainers) and the Dutch volunteers was a bad one from the beginning, and the training of non-German volunteers was most certainly not considered to be an honourable task.

A Legionnairs helmet in wintercamouflage. Photo: Elite Forces of the Third Reich.

The Truppenübungsplatz in Arys (East-Prussia, nowadays Poland) was used as the main training location for the Dutch legionnaires. After they finished their training and education, the men were send via Danzig (Gdansk), Libau (Liepaja) and Pleskau to the Heeresgruppe Nord. This army group was ordered to conquer the city of Leningrad (St. Petersburg), which was a main centre of vital industry (10% of total Soviet-Russian production in 1940) as well as infrastructure such as railways. The German high command was therefore very interested in capturing this city, but Leningrad, despite being almost completely surrounded by the Germans and Finns, managed to withstand the numerous attacks.

Selo-Gora, a village close to Leningrad, was the destination of the legion, as the German 90.Infantry Regiment of the 20th Infantry Division (mot.) stationed there was to be replaced by the Dutch volunteers. The legion, commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Arved Theuermann, saw action in January 1942 at the Wolchov-front. In the region between the cities Tschudovo and Novgorod the legionnaires had to defend the western bank of the river Wolchov. The Red Army was trying to establish a bridgehead on the western bank and the Dutch volunteers, supported on the flanks by the 20th Infantry Division (mot.) and the 254th Infantry Division, were ordered to stop this on their first day at the front. The reality of war became clear on this day as the first casualties were registered when a Dutch column was ambushed on the way to the village of Gusi and six soldiers lost their lives.

Another major task given to the legion was keeping the important roads around Pjatilipy and Gorenka free of Red Army units. This wooded area was very difficult to operate in, as many Red Army bunkers in the forests had to be destroyed by the Dutch volunteers. More than once this led to man-to-man fights in which the Dutch experienced the horrors of war in full. Besides destroying enemy bunkers the volunteers had to build bunkers for themselves as well. The bunker-building was a desperately needed measure since the Red Army launched artillery bombardments on the Dutch lines on an almost daily basis. Another unpleasant experience was the surprise attacks launched by partisans (armed resistance groups) near Gorenka. The legionnaires had no mercy for any partisans they caught, as they were considered 'terrorists' and therefore got executed after they were interrogated. Nevertheless, the Dutch volunteers were rewarded in the first weeks after their arrival. The legion were mentioned on the Wehrmachtsbericht (radio broadcast of the German Army) for succeeding in destroying some Red Army bunkers.

The 'Wolfsangel', the NSB symbol that was worn on the collar instead of the Sig-runes by a part of the men.

In February 1942 the new commander SS-Brigadeführer Klingemann and his soldiers were visited by the NSB-leader Anton Mussert. But apart from that joyful occasion, February would turn out to be a month of casualties as the Red Army launched a huge infantry attack on the Dutch lines on the 10th of that month. Even though the Soviet-Russian infantrymen were slaughtered in the attack and the legion managed to repel the waves of Red soldiers, they lost dozens of soldiers in the process. The following attacks in February showed the same picture, and despite the fact that the legionnaires managed to defeat the Red Army soldiers, morale became very low. This changed only slightly when a number of legionnaires were awarded the Iron Cross first or second class at the end of the month.

By the end of March thaw had set in and this was accompanied by a dramatic increase of the number of hostile encounters with the Red Army. The conditions at the front got worse and worse as the trenches flooded with thaw water, and where there was no water there was mud. The legion had to defend themselves against the Red Army attacks in these conditions as the Soviet-Russians once again tried to storm the Dutch. The 1220th Regiment of the 366th Division and the 1002 Regiment of the elite 305th Siberian Division did not succeed, however. On the 6th of April the Red Airforce attacked the legionnaires, and when the planes finally disappeared 500 Soviet-Russian infantrymen showed up. In the end, the Red Army attack was repelled, but again, not without heavy losses.

In the summer of 1942 the Dutch were finally able to participate in an offensive themselves. The third Battalion assisted in destroying a large elite Red Army force near the Fuhovga lake. The Dutch captured large quantities of weapons, ammunition and other supplies, and made 3.500 Soviet-Russian soldiers, including the well known general Vlassov, prisoners of war. In July 1942 the legion, now part of the 2.SS-Infanterie Brigade commanded by Klingemann, was transferred from the Wolchov-front to the Leningrad-front. The legionnaires now had to take part in the siege of the city of Leningrad. The high number of casualties had reduced the legion to approximately 1000 combat ready soldiers and 400 nco's and officers, but they had some time to recover since the rest of July went by relatively quietly. The new commander, SS-Obersturmbannführer Josef Fitzthum, wisely used the quiet time to exercise the legion. In reward of the successful operations of the past months, the legion again received a number of Iron Crosses (18 EK I, 158 EK II).

Leningradfront, December 1942, Legion Niederlande.

The quiet times came to an end at the end of July. The legion, together with the 6th Infantry Division and the SS-Polizei Division in the 18th Arm Corps L, now had to take part in operation 'Nordlicht'. This offensive, which was to start at the 14th of 1942, would be the final blow to the defenders of the city of Leningrad and on July the 29th the legionnaires were sent north by train. The legion was not well prepared, and a supply shortage combined with a surprise attack near Krasnoje-Selo caused morale to drop. 'Nordlicht' failed completely as only thirteen German divisions could be used in the offensive. Besides, the Red Army had known of the offensive, enabling them to launch a counteroffensive on time.

The Dutch legion was deployed against the Soviet-Russian counteroffensive south of Leningrad in the battle known as the first Ladoga battle, which ended only at the end of 1942 when the Red offensive got stuck in the German defence. In January 1943 a Luftwaffe Felddivision (an infantry division of the German airforce) arrived to assist, making the Dutch responsible for the defence of a smaller part of the front. At the same time the legion regrouped within the 2.SS-Infanteriebrigade, which was now commanded by SS-Brigadeführer Friedrich Scholz. On January the 12th the second Ladoga battle started, as the Red Army tried to penetrate the German lines with attacks from tanks and self-propelled guns. Together with Legion Norwegen (the Norwegian volunteer legion) the Dutch legion managed to destroy a large number of Soviet-Russian armoured vehicles and the 75mm. anti-tank guns of both legions proved to be very important in the defence. After the battle, the Dutch legionnaire Gerardus Mooyman was awarded with the Knightscross on February the 26th 1943 for managing to destroy thirteen Soviet-Russian T-34 and KV I tanks.

In April 1943 the legion was pulled out of the Leningrad-front and reformed into an independent operating SS-Freiwilligen-Panzer-Grenadier-Brigade 'Nederland'.

1942, the Wolchov front: a Dutch patrol spots enemy forces. (photo: Bundesarchiv Koblenz)

Sources: (read literatuur for title specifications) Pierik, Van Leningrad tot Berlijn; In 't Veld, de SS en Nederland; Hausser, Waffen-SS im Einsatz; Steiner, Die Freiwilligen; Armando, De SS'ersVerrips, Mannen die niet deugden De Jong, Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog; Vincx en Schotanius, Nederlandse vrijwilligers in Europese krijgsdienst; Zondergeld,Een kleine troep; Havenaar, Mussert; Meyers, Mussert, een politiek leven; Van der Zee, Voor Führer, volk en vaderland.

  Text: EM © 2000 - 2004    Translations by: FvB © 2003
  The nazi symbols on this site have no political or ideological purpose. The author has no intention to express or promote national-socialistic ideas.