Chapter XI
The Northern Theater

Cobelligerents and Brothers-in-Arms

The military objectives of the German-Finnish cobelligerency in 1941 were to interdict the Murmansk (Kirov) Railroad and to secure overland contact between the German and Finnish forces. For Germany, or rather for Hitler both objectives served psychological and political ends more than they did strategic necessities. The first would demonstrate to the British and Americans, as well as to the Soviet Union, the futility of outside aid or intervention. The second would confirm German hegemony in the Baltic and Scandinavian areas. Neither of those effects would have been in any doubt if operations against the Soviet main forces went as planned.

The OKH, for its part, was primarily concerned with employing the light but good Finnish Army as an adjunct to Army Group North.1 The drive to the Murmansk Railroad, which was to be conducted by the German Army of Norway as a second assignment, indeed almost a summer exercise, Halder dismissed as a mere "expedition." To Finland, Hitler's objectives offered the opportunity to regain all of the territory ceded to the Soviet Union after the Winter War of 1939-1940; nevertheless, for Finland, also, the real decision hinged entirely on the outcome of the contest between the German and Soviet main forces.

The 1941 campaign ended without either of Hitler's objectives being attained. In the summer, the Army of Norway, under Generaloberst Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, had staged a trio of attacks out of northern Finland toward the Murmansk Railroad: one by a German corps along the Arctic coast from the vicinity of Pechenga toward Murmansk; another, 150 miles to the south, by a German corps via Salla, 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle, toward Kandalaksha on the railroad; and the third by an attached Finnish corps, south of the Arctic Circle, toward Loukhi also on the railroad. (Map 16.) The first had stalled completely the last week of September on the Zapadnaya Litsa River 40 miles west of Murmansk. The other two Hitler ordered stopped in the second week of October when it appeared that the drive on Moscow would end the war before either could be completed.2 The Finnish Army had pushed southeast along the Isthmuses of Karelia and Olonets. After reaching the pre-1940 border on the Isthmus of Karelia and at the Svir River east of Lake Ladoga in the first week of September, the army had stopped, considering


Map 16
Northern Theater
Winter 1942

its contribution made, and had waited for Army Group North to complete the junction from the south.

The OKW would have preferred a combined command for the front in Finland and had expected to offer it to Marshal Mannerheim, commander in chief of the Finnish Army, but the Finns had insisted on what they called a brotherhood-in-arms that kept the commands separate except for the token attachment of Finnish III Corps to Army of Norway for the attack toward Loukhi and the German 163d Infantry Division to the Finnish Army as Mannerheim's reserve.3 As the summer campaign drew to a close, the Finnish conception of the brotherhood-in-arms changed markedly. On 25 September, Mannerheim refused a request from the OKW to resume the advances on the Isthmus of Karelia and the Svir River stating that Finland could not afford to maintain 16 percent of its population in military service, as it had been doing, and his next task would, therefore, have to be to reorganize the army by reducing the divisions to brigades and returning the released men to civilian employment.4 Shortly afterward he asked to have German troops take over the III Corps positions so that the corps could be returned to him for the reorganization. In mid-November, Kenraalimajuri ("Major General") H. Siilasvuo, the III Corps commander, after having agreed with Falkenhorst


that a late season breakthrough to Loukhi might succeed, suddenly cancelled the operation, saying only that he was "not in a position" to continue it.5

Pressures on Finland

The Finns' successes in the field raised troubles for them in other respects. In late September and early October the British and United States governments had both warned them against invading Soviet territory. On 27 October the United States had demanded that Finland cease all offensive operations, adding ". . . should material of war sent from the United States to Soviet territory in the north by way of the Arctic Ocean be attacked on route either presumably or even allegedly from territory under Finnish control in the present state of opinion in the United States such an incident must be expected to bring about an instant crisis in relations between Finland and the United States."6

On the other hand, Finland was having difficulty keeping what political distance it had between itself and Germany. In October, the Germans, irked by the Finnish contacts with the West, pointedly invited Finland to join the Anti-Comintern Pact, which was due for renewal the following month. The pact was not a military alliance, but it was regarded worldwide as the cornerstone of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis. At the same time, Finland was finding itself forced to ask Germany for 150,000 tons of grain to tide its population over the winter and for 100 to 150 locomotives and 4,000 to 8,000 railroad cars to keep its transportation system running. The Finnish railroads, which had a low hauling capacity to start with, had deteriorated rapidly after the war broke out and were on the verge of a complete collapse. Since the Army of Norway also depended on the railroads, the OKW promised some locomotives and cars, but it was less forthcoming on the request for grain. On 25 November, Finnish Foreign Minister Rolf Witting signed the Anti-Comintern Pact in Berlin under the spotlight of as much publicity as the German Foreign Ministry could arrange. Two weeks later, Britain declared war, and on 19 December, Germany agreed to supply Finland with 70,000 tons of grain before the end of February 1942 and a total of 260,000 tons before the next harvest.7

Command and Deployment

At the turn of the year, Falkenhorst returned to Norway, and the Army of Norway forces in Finland became Army of Lapland, under General der Gebirgstruppe Eduard Dietl. Falkenhorst, whether deservedly or not, had been tagged as a hard-luck general by the 1941 campaign, and his abrasive personality did not make him the best man to deal with the Finns when relations were delicate. Dietl,


who had commanded the attack toward Murmansk, had not been much more lucky in Finland, but he had been the hero of the 1940 campaign in Norway. He was also one of the few generals whom Hitler liked and trusted. In creating the Army of Lapland, the OKW also saw an opportunity to tie Mannerheim more closely to German interests by offering him the supreme command in Finland. Mannerheim stated in his memoirs that in the winter of 1941-1942, such an offer was made to him, and he refused it.8 Dietl's first task, with active operations by both sides having stopped six weeks before he took command, was to regroup Army of Lapland and return the attached Finnish units to Mannerheim.

In the far north, Dietl's former command, Mountain Corps Norway, passed to Generalleutnant Ferdinand Schoerner. He had two mountain divisions and two infantry regiments, a ten-mile front on the Zapadnaya Litsa River, and a four-mile front across the neck of the Rybachiy Peninsula, which had been bypassed during the summer's advance. He stationed one division, 6th Mountain, in the river line; a regiment, the 288th Infantry, on the peninsula; and held the 2d Mountain Division and 193d Infantry Regiment in reserve at Pechenga. Schoerner was known by his troops--as he would be by the whole German Army before the war was over--as a ruthlessly determined general. Told that the Arctic winter's darkness and cold were affecting morale, he issued the order: "Arktis ist nicht." ("The Arctic does not exist.")

The XXXVI Mountain Corps held a line on the Verman River forty miles east of Salla and sixty miles short of its 1941 objective, Kandalaksha. The corps was a mountain corps by courtesy only. It consisted of one infantry division, the 169th, plus one infantry and one mountain regiment. General der Infanterie Karl. F. Weisenberger had taken command of the corps in November 1941 after the drive to Kandalaksha had failed.

Finnish III Corps had two fronts: one twenty-five miles west of Loukhi held by the SS Division "Nord" and Finnish Division J, the other held by the Finnish 3d Division eight miles west of Ukhta. The two were separated by forty miles of lake and forest. The Division "Nord" was composed of two SS "death's-head" regiments that were trained as police and concentration camp guards not as combat units. Division J had been created in the summer by dividing the 3d Division. Since the SS Division "Nord" had performed erratically during the summer, it was to be returned to Germany and replaced by another SS division when one became available. One regiment departed in December, leaving the division with an actual strength of three infantry and two motorized machine gun battalions.

Mannerheim's reorganization of the Finnish Army was less thoroughgoing than he had planned. During the winter he furloughed 100,000 older men and men with essential civilian occupations, but the conversion of divisions to brigades proceeded slowly, and he finally abandoned this effort in May 1942, after he had converted two divisions. The III Corps stayed with Army



of Lapland through the winter because Mannerheim retained an interest for a time in an operation against the Murmansk Railroad and because Army of Lapland did not have any troops with which to take over the corps' front. The German 5th and 7th Mountain Divisions, originally earmarked as reinforcements for XXXVI Mountain Corps, could have done so, but only one regiment arrived before ice closed the Finnish Baltic ports.9

A Thrust to Belomorsk

On 25 September, at the same time as he refused to carry farther the Finnish offensives on the Svir and the Isthmus of Karelia, Mannerheim presented a proposal to the OKW for a winter offensive to be directed against Belomorsk, the Soviet port on the White Sea at which the Murmansk Railroad branched southward toward Leningrad and southeastward via Obozerskaya toward Moscow. He thought that after Leningrad had fallen he would be able to spare eight or nine brigades for such an operation and that the German and Finnish advances toward Kandalaksha and Loukhi could be continued at the same time.10 Hitler and the OKW took up Mannerheim's proposal immediately. It was more than welcome at Fuehrer Headquarters as a chance for a fresh start for the then nearly moribund operations against the Murmansk Railroad, and Hitler promptly designated the 5th and 7th Mountain Divisions as reinforcements for the thrust to Kandalaksha. He also elevated XXXVI Corps to the status of a mountain corps.

During the late fall, after the Germans and Finns had stopped everywhere else, part of the Finnish Army kept on the move through Eastern Karelia reaching Rugozero, sixty miles west of Belomorsk, in early December. Army Group North, meanwhile, had been stopped for more than two months around Leningrad and was stalled at Tikhvin. To the last of several OKW communications on the projected winter operation, Mannerheim replied on 4 December that he regarded the cutting of the Murmansk Railroad as extremely important; but, he pointed out, his proposal in September had been predicated on the


assumption that Leningrad would fall and contact would be established on the Svir in a few weeks. Since then the condition of his troops had deteriorated and the war had created internal troubles for Finland. The attack on Kandalaksha, he thought, would have to begin on 1 March at the latest, and he added, somewhat bleakly, that Finnish troops would begin the drive to Belomorsk at the same time, "if the situation in any way permits."11

On 14 December, following a staff conference at Finnish Army Headquarters, Mannerheim and Falkenhorst met at Falkenhorst's headquarters in Rovaniemi. By then, because of the railroad situation, which he described as catastrophic, Mannerheim was taking a dim view of the Kandalaksha operation--so dim, according to Falkenhorst, that he was unwilling to risk involving Finnish troops in it. On the other hand, he maintained that the British declaration of war on Finland and the United States' entry into the war had given the Murmansk Railroad greatly increased significance, and it would have to be cut. He believed Belomorsk was the key point and proposed converging attacks from the west and southwest by combined German and Finnish forces. The OKW promptly accepted the change in the operation and offered him the 7th Mountain Division, then still expected to arrive in Finland during the winter.12

Before long, however, as the Soviet winter offensive developed, Mannerheim's determination flagged again. On 20 January, General der Infanterie Waldemar Erfurth, chief of the OKW liaison staff at Finnish Army Headquarters, reported that the question of a Belomorsk operation was completely up in the air and Mannerheim would not make a positive decision unless the situation on the German front, particularly around Leningrad, improved. Erfurth could only recommend that all possible means of persuasion be brought to bear on Mannerheim. The other Finnish officers he thought were less pessimistic, but none of them had any influence.13 In response, Field Marshal Keitel, chief of the OKW, wrote to Mannerheim, telling him that the Russians were wearing themselves out in their attacks and before spring would have exhausted their reserves. "This," he told the marshal, "can be expected also to help your intended operation in the direction of Sorokka [Belomorsk]."14

In the first week of February, Dietl, who was by then commanding the Army of Lapland, also discussed the Belomorsk operation with Mannerheim. During the conversation, Mannerheim avoided a direct refusal to involve his forces, repeatedly stating that things would be different if the Germans were to take Leningrad, but he left no doubt that in the existing situation he would not stage a winter offensive. Erfurth, who reported on the conference to the OKW, concluded that, in addition to his negative assessment of the war, Mannerheim was influenced


by Finnish domestic politics. He and Risto Ryti, the president of Finland, had for months promised the people that the end was in sight and only another small effort would be needed. An offensive against Belomorsk would far exceed what the Finnish government had led the population to expect. Above all, Erfurth stated, Mannerheim would not undertake such an operation if it were possible that he might suffer a setback.15

On 3 February, Mannerheim answered Keitel's letter, saying that, if the war did not take a favorable turn soon, he doubted whether he would be able to make troops available for a winter operation against Belomorsk, but he would not give up the idea.16 In Erfurth's opinion, "a favorable turn" meant that Leningrad would have to be taken before Mannerheim would undertake another offensive. He needed the fall of Leningrad, Erfurth added, to make troops available and for the sake of morale at home; moreover, as inquiries from the Finnish chief of staff revealed, he recently had become worried that the German 1942 offensive would be concentrated in the Ukraine and the northern sector of the Eastern Front would be left to languish. As far as Mannerheim's keeping the Belomorsk operation in mind was concerned, Erfurth believed it was merely intended to give his letter a courteous tone and could not be taken as a commitment either for the present or the future.17

The Soviet Spring Offensive

Initially, the Leningrad Military District, which became North Front at the outbreak of the war, was responsible for the Finnish-Soviet frontier. It had Twenty-third Army between the Gulf of Finland and the north shore of Lake Ladoga, Seventh Army north of the lake, and Fourteenth Army in the Murmansk-Kandalaksha area. On 23 August 1941, North Front became Leningrad Front and soon thereafter lost direct contact with its original armies except for Twenty-third Army, which held the line across the Isthmus of Karelia north of Leningrad. Subsequently, Seventh Army became an independent army, and on 1 September, Karelian Front was activated, under General Leytenant V. A. Frolov, to take over the 550-mile sector from Lake Onega north to the Arctic coast west of Murmansk.18

Karelian Front did not figure in the Soviet general offensive, but neither was it out of the Stavka's eye, particularly not in the late winter as the likelihood grew to a certainty that the Germans would be able to mount a second summer campaign. Frolov was given orders in early April 1942 to attack along the line from the Zapadnaya Litsa River to Kestenga and to drive the enemy back to the Finnish border. Winter lingers long in the northern latitudes, and the Karelian Front operations, therefore, took on the appearance of a postscript to the general offensive. They evolved, in fact, from the Soviet strategy for the coming spring and summer.19


Map 17
The Kestenga-Loukhi Sector
April-May 1942

The Buildup

Karelian Front's deployment had remained static through the winter. Headquarters, Fourteenth Army, kept two divisions, two brigades, three border regiments, and two machine gun battalions standing against Mountain Corps Norway along the Zapadnaya Litsa River. Frolov kept the command on the approaches to Kandalaksha and Loukhi under his own headquarters. During the winter, he had two divisions, a border regiment, and two ski battalions on the Verman River line opposite XXXVI Mountain Corps and two divisions, two brigades, a border regiment, and three ski battalions facing Finnish III Corps.20

In the first two weeks of April, the picture changed suddenly--and, for Army of Lapland, disconcertingly. A guards division and two ski brigades joined the Fourteenth Army force on the Zapadnaya Litsa; Headquarters, Twenty-sixth Army moved in opposite the III Corps main force west of Kestenga, bringing with it two new divisions; and the ski battalions in the lines opposing XXXVI Mountain Corps and III Corps were raised to brigade strength. The buildup was diminutive by the standards of the main front but enormous for the Far North. It was possible for the Russians only because they had the Murmansk Railroad but impossible for the Germans and Finns to match.

On 13 April, III Corps canceled a small attack it was about to start when air reconnaissance reported over 700 cars in the Loukhi railroad yards, but


the weather thereafter was so bad that the only new Soviet units identified were the two ski brigades in the Mountain Corps Norway sector. Considering how late the season was, the tempo of the final Soviet deployment was, in fact, somewhat sluggish, and when the third week in April had passed and nothing had happened, it looked to Dietl as if the Russians had concluded that they could not outrace the oncoming thaw.21 He was wrong, at least to the extent of having failed to appreciate the Soviet determination to seize the initiative and to exploit the fading winter by getting in one more blow.

Double Strikes

On the morning of 23 April, 23d Guards Division and 8th Ski Brigade hit the thinly held III Corps left flank east of Kestenga. Frontal attacks on the center and right pinned the corps tight between Verkhneye Chernoye Lake and Top Lake. In two days the III Corps left flank cracked. By then enough was known about the extent of the Soviet buildup to make it apparent that the least to be expected was an effort to smash the corps front and drive it west of Kestenga. Dietl had in reserve one tank battalion, equipped with obsolete Panzer Is (armed with two 30-caliber machine guns), and a company of the Brandenburg Regiment (specialists for sabotage operations behind the enemy lines). These he threw in along with the entire XXXVI Mountain Corps reserve, one infantry battalion. The III Corps brought up one battalion from the Ukhta sector. German Fifth Air Force, which was under orders to concentrate on the Allied Arctic shipping and the Murmansk Railroad except in crises, began shifting its fighters and dive-bombers from Banak and Kirkenes in northern Norway to Kemi behind the III Corps front. (Map 17.)

On the 27th, Fourteenth Army hit the 6th Mountain Division line, on the Zapadnaya Litsa, on the right with 10th Guards Division and on the left with 14th Rifle Division. During the night, 12th Naval Brigade, coming by sea, landed on the west shore of Zapadnaya Litsa Bay and began to push behind the German line. The landing was a complete surprise to Mountain Corps Norway, and it could have been devastating had it been made in greater strength. As it was, 6th Mountain Division had time to overcome the shock when, two days later, the worst snowstorm of the winter stopped everything for several days.22 (Map 18.)

By 1 May, the Soviet spearheads were standing due north of Kestenga. Dietl then asked Mannerheim for the Finnish 12th Brigade (formerly the 6th Division) to reinforce III Corps. Mannerheim, unwilling to involve the brigade in what might develop into a long, drawn-out fight, refused but offered instead to give Dietl the 163d Infantry Division, which was still attached to the Finnish Army, and to take over the Ukhta sector after a German corps arrived to relieve III Corps. The offer did not promise any immediate help, but Dietl decided to accept, since, in the long run, he would gain a division



and be freed of responsibility for the Ukhta sector.23

In the first week of May, seeking a showdown, Twenty-sixth Army put in two new units, 186th Rifle Division and 80th Rifle Brigade, against the III Corps left flank. Dietl brought two more battalions from XXXVI Mountain Corps, and III Corps brought one from Ukhta. By also taking 2 battalions out of his right flank, Siilasvuo managed to oppose the 2 Soviet divisions and 2 brigades with 9 battalions. Whether they would be enough was highly questionable from the first, and on 3 May when the 8th Ski Brigade and a regiment of the 186th Rifle Division swept wide to the west and south to cut the III Corps supply road west of Kestenga, Siilasvuo wanted to evacuate Kestenga and withdraw to a line in the narrows between Pya Lake and Top Lake. Dietl, believing a retreat would entail too great a loss of men and supplies, ordered Siilasvuo to hold even if he should be cut off.

The Fade-out

On the 5th, the ski brigade and the rifle regiment came within two miles of the road west of Kestenga and had advance parties out almost to the road, but in the swamps northwest of the town the main bodies lost momentum. In another two days, the Germans and Finns were able to encircle the two Soviet units and virtually wipe them out.


Map 18
The Zapadnaya Litsa Front
27 April-14 May 1942

The 8th Ski Brigade, according to prisoners' accounts, was reduced to between three and four hundred men, approximately a tenth of its original strength.

Elsewhere, too, Twenty-sixth Army's drive was coming apart, and on the 6th, Dietl and Siilasvuo concluded that the crisis had passed. The defense had been successful, largely because of a failure by Twenty-.sixth Army to employ its vastly superior numbers effectively. It had dissipated its strength in uncoordinated attacks by single divisions, with the result that 186th Rifle Division and 23d Guards Division were reduced to between 30 and 40 percent of their original strengths. The 80th Rifle Brigade fared almost as badly, and the 8th Ski Brigade was nearly destroyed. At the end, the Soviet politruks were often no longer able to drive their men into battle. On the 7th, certain that Twenty-sixth Army could not launch another thrust without fresh units, Dietl decided to counterattack.24


The fighting on the Zapadnaya Litsa front never reached a crisis like that in the III Corps sector, but the Germans, Hitler in particular, believed the situation there to be the more serious because of the supposed danger of a United States-British landing on the Arctic coast. Since late December 1941, when a British cruiser and destroyer force staged a raid on the Lofoten Islands off northern Norway, Hitler had been expecting a British and American attempt to seize a foothold somewhere between Narvik and Pechenga, along the northern sea route.

On 9 May, Dietl and Schoerner decided to stake everything on a quick decision. They ordered 2d Mountain Division to the front and stripped the coastal defenses between Tana Fiord and Pechenga Bay. But before the last reserves were in the line, the battle shifted. On the 14th, 12th Naval Brigade, its overwater supply line under constant dive-bomber harassment, gave up its beachhead on the Zapadnaya Litsa Bay. Thereafter Fourteenth Army, although it had brought in another division during the past week, also stopped the attack on the south flank. On the 15th, Mountain Corps Norway regained its original positions along the whole front.

North of Kestenga a thaw delayed the III Corps counterattack until 15 May. Meanwhile the Russians, characteristically, had thrown up elaborate field fortifications. When a flanking attack by three Finnish regiments became bogged down in impassible ground, the Germans had to resort to a succession of frontal assaults that finally broke the line on 21 May. With that, the Soviet resistance collapsed, and III Corps was almost back in its


original front when, on the 23d, contrary to his orders from Dietl, Siilasvuo stopped the advance.25

The last week and a half of the fighting north of Kestenga had seen a recurrence of constraint in the cooperation between the German and Finnish commands. Army of Lapland noted on 23 May, "In the course of the recent weeks the army has received the growing impression that the Commanding General, III Corps, either on his own initiative or on instructions from higher Finnish authorities, is avoiding all decisions that could involve Finnish troops in serious fighting."26 The German liaison officer with III Corps reported that the German troops had


made all the heavy attacks since 15 May, and Army of Lapland recorded that Siilasvuo had repeatedly issued orders on his own authority that he knew the army would not automatically approve, the last of those being the order to break off the operation.

Although III Corps had not regained the best defensive positions at several points, Dietl decided to let Siilasvuo's order stand, particularly since he saw a danger that otherwise the Finns would pull out entirely and leave the German troops stranded. On the 23d, he attempted to limit Siilasvuo's authority with regard to withdrawing troops from the line; but on the following day, disregarding that, Siilasvuo pulled all the Finnish troops out of the German sector of the front and demanded that within three days the Germans return all horses and wagons borrowed from the Finns. The last action would have left the German troops without supplies, and Dietl had to appeal to Siilasvuo in the name of "brotherhood-in-arms" not to leave the Germans in a hopeless position.27

Although the Finnish liaison officer with Army of Lapland assured him that the Finnish Army Command was not putting pressure on Siilasvuo to spare his Finnish troops or to get them out quickly, Dietl ordered the German units made independent of Finnish support as fast as possible and asked the OKW to speed up shipment of the 7th Mountain Division. The headquarters and two regiments of the latter, however, were by then tied down in the fighting on the Army Group North front. On 1 June, the XVIII Mountain Corps headquarters' staff arrived, and Dietl proposed having it take over the Kestenga sector at the middle of the month, but Siilasvuo refused to relinquish command there unless the majority of the Finnish troops were out by then. On the 18th Mannerheim finally agreed to an exchange at the end of the month, provided somewhat less than half of the Finnish troops were returned to him. On that basis, XVIII Mountain Corps took command at Kestenga on 3 July. One Finnish regiment remained in the corps area until mid-September, when it was relieved by the last elements of 7th Mountain Division.28

The battles east of Kestenga and on the Zapadnaya Litsa were defensive victories for the Germans and the Finns--but ones which could not be exploited, and so they brought small profit. The III Corps claimed to have counted 15,000 Soviet dead and maintained that Soviet losses behind the lines from artillery fire and aerial bombardment also were high. One of Twenty-sixth Army's reinforcements, the 85th Independent Brigade, for instance, was smashed by dive-bombers before it could get to the front. Mountain Corps Norway claimed 8,000 Soviet dead. The total German and Finnish casualties were 5,500 in the III Corps sector and 3,200 on the Zapadnaya Litsa.29

Neither of the major Soviet war histories says anything about the Kestenga offensive. With regard to the Zapadnaya Litsa operation, the History of the Second World War says only that it was "without results."30 The History of the Great Patriotic War says the operation


failed but "tied up enemy forces, disrupted his planned offensive [sic], and forced him to assume the defensive on the Murmansk axis." It adds, "For a long time, the situation on the northern sector of the Soviet-German front remained stable."31

The Arctic Convoys

The German Buildup

In mid-August 1941, the British had begun sending single merchant ships (and one small convoy) loaded with military equipment to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. The first larger convoy, numbered PQ-1, sailed from Hvalfjord, Iceland, on 29 September. (Henceforth, until November 1942, convoys were given "PQ" numbers outbound and "QP" numbers homebound.)32 The Germans, unwilling to divert effort from profitable targets elsewhere, did not respond until 20 December, when two aircraft attacked PQ-6.33

During the winter of 1941-1942, Hitler's preoccupation with possible British (and American) landings put the German Navy in position to do something about the Arctic convoys. In late December, Hitler told Keitel and Admiral Raeder, the commander in chief of the navy, "If the British go about things properly, they will attack northern Norway at several points. In an all-out offensive by their fleet and ground troops, they will try to displace us there, take Narvik, if possible, and thus exert pressure on Sweden and Finland." He then gave Raeder an order to have "each and every vessel" of the navy stationed in Norway, including the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, all three of which were docked at Brest and would have to break through the English Channel to get to Norway.34

The German Navy, taking advantage of the cover afforded by the long winter nights, began transferring its heavy ships to Norway in January 1942. The battleship Tirpitz, first to go, docked in Trondheim on the 16th. The Tirpitz was the navy's most formidable ship. With a displacement of 42,000 tons and eight fifteen-inch guns in its main batteries, it was a match for any vessel afloat. The navy had been planning to move the Tirpitz to Norway since November 1941, for the effect it would have of tying down heavy British ships. In that sense, the move was an immediate success. Churchill, in January 1942, believed that if the Tirpitz could be removed from the scene, the world naval situation would be changed and the Allies could regain naval supremacy in the Pacific.35 In the second week of February, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen broke through the English Channel, reaching Germany on the 13th. The two battleships had been damaged by mines and had to be held in Germany for repairs. The Prinz Eugen (14,000 tons, eight-inch guns) proceeded to Norway together with the pocket battleship


Scheer (11,000 tons, eleven-inch guns) and docked at Trondheim on 23 February, but Prinz Eugen's rudder was blown off by a torpedo while en route, and the ship had to return to Germany. By late February, the navy also had eight destroyers and twelve submarines based in Norway. In his "each and every vessel" order, Hitler had originally included the whole German submarine fleet, but he had later been impressed by reports of submarine successes off the U.S. coast and had decided to leave the main submarine force there.36

Meanwhile, the German Navy had recognized the target potential of the convoys, but, as of late February, it had only six submarines deployed against them. The other six were being kept on patrol off Norway, and the Naval Staff could not bring itself to allow the surface ships to burn precious fuel oil on what would be long, and perhaps fruitless, sorties. Convoy PQ-7, which made the voyage north in January 1942, lost one merchant ship out of eleven. The first convoy in which an American merchant ship made the run, PQ-8, had one ship damaged by a torpedo and a destroyer sunk. In February, three PQ convoys (9, 10, and 11) got through without being sighted.37

German Fifth Air Force, which was responsible for air operations in Norway and Finland, might also have operated against the convoys. It had 60 twin-engine bombers, 30 Stukas, 30 single-engine fighters, and 15 naval floatplane torpedo-bombers. However, the Fifth Air Force commander, Generaloberst Hans-Juergen Stumpff, believed the darkness of the arctic winter made air operations against ships at sea unprofitable, and, from his headquarters in Kemi, Finland, he directed his main effort against the port of Murmansk and the railroad. For a time in early 1942, Stumpff employed geologists in an attempt to locate spots along the railroad where bombing might set off landslides and bury stretches of the track. The Germans had recently acquired some costly knowledge about arctic geology. In late September 1941, a Soviet bomber, striking at Army of Norway's only bridge across the Pechenga River, had dropped a load of bombs that missed the bridge but by their concussion had caved in both banks of the river, completely burying the bridge and damming the river. The site of the collapse was in an area in which glacial drift (sand and gravel) had been laid down over a substratum of oceanic sediment. The latter, having never dried out, remained extremely unstable; and whenever it was cut, as by a river, it sustained its own weight and the drift overburden only in a highly precarious sort of equilibrium. Similar conditions were known to exist throughout northern Finland and the Kola Peninsula, but although they tried a number of times, the Germans did not succeed in exploiting these geologic factors in their attacks on the Murmansk Railroad.38

"Tirpitz" and PQ-12

By early March, the Naval Staff had



come to think that the mere presence of the Tirpitz at Trondheim would not fully achieve the desired effect of tying down enemy forces, and it therefore ordered the battleship to make a strike against the PQ-12 convoy, which was then at sea northeast of Iceland. The Tirpitz and five destroyers put out on 6 March. After failing to find the convoy in three days' cruising, they were ordered back to port on the 9th. The sortie had been a halfhearted enterprise from the start because the Naval Staff had qualms about risking a battleship in an action against merchant ships. Raeder concluded that anticonvoy operations were too dangerous for heavy ships without air cover, and he doubted whether they were justified in view of the ships' main task, defense against landings.39 The Tirpitz operation did have one result: the steel allotment for building a German aircraft carrier, the Graf Zeppelin, was increased, but the carrier could not be completed before late 1943.

The Tirpitz's abortive attempt on PQ-12 may, perhaps, have had one other result. On 14 March, Hitler issued the first order for intensive anticonvoy operations. Stating that the convoys could be used both to sustain Soviet resistance and as a device for a surprise landing on the Norwegian or Finnish coasts, he ordered the sea traffic on the northern route, "which so far has hardly been touched," to be interdicted. He was more than right on one


score. By then, twelve PQ convoys had reached Soviet ports with a loss of only 1 ship out of 103 merchant vessels and 1 British destroyer.40 Hitler's order directed the navy to increase its submarine commitment and the air force to strengthen its long-range reconnaissance, bomber, and torpedo-bomber forces. The air force, henceforth, was to keep Murmansk under constant bombardment, reconnoiter the sea area between Bear Island and the Murman Coast, and operate against convoys and enemy warships.41

When he received the Hitler order, Stumpff also suggested occupying Spitzbergen, which was being held by a small force of Norwegians. He pointed out that Fifth Air Force could use the airfield there to attack the convoys from two sides. Army of Norway believed a battalion would be enough to take and hold the island, but the OKW believed the occupation would tie up too much naval and air strength in the defense without offering sufficient compensatory advantages since, during most of the year, pack ice forced convoys to pass within 300 miles of the German air bases in Norway anyway. On 22 March, Hitler shelved Stumpff's proposal for the time being.42

In April, convoys PQ-13 and PQ-14 sailed, but bad weather and the spring thaw, which temporarily rendered the northern airfields unusable, kept nearly all of Fifth Air Force's planes grounded. The PQ-14 convoy ran into pack ice north of Iceland and sixteen of its twenty-four ships turned back. One of the eight that went on was sunk by a submarine. Convoy PQ-13, with nineteen ships, fared poorly and provided a preview of worse to come. After the convoy was scattered by a heavy storm on 24 April, German planes picked off two stragglers, and three German destroyers sank another--at an eventual cost of one of their own number. Submarines sank two more ships. The Germans also lost a submarine, and the British had a destroyer and a cruiser badly damaged, the latter by one of its own torpedoes. One of three Soviet destroyers that joined the escort off northern Norway was damaged. In gales and snow squalls, the action was haphazard on both sides. Neither the German ships nor planes could determine the size of the convoy or the makeup of the escort; consequently, the Naval Staff declined to risk its heavier ships.43

By late April, the buildup Hitler had ordered was taking effect. The heavy cruiser Hipper, sister ship to the Prinz Eugen, and the pocket battleship Luetzow had arrived in Norway. The navy also had 20 submarines stationed in Norway, 8 for defense and 12 for use against the convoys; and the Luftwaffe had brought in a dozen newly converted HE-111 torpedo-bombers. On 3 May, 9 of the torpedo-bombers, on their first mission, attacked PQ-15 and sank 3 ships.44


On 21 May PQ-16 sailed. It was the largest convoy yet, 35 merchant ships, and, with 4 cruisers and 3 destroyers (joined in the north by 3 Soviet destroyers), the most heavily protected. By then, the lengthening days were making submarine operations, except against single, unescorted ships, too dangerous, but for the bombers, the best season was just beginning. On 27 May, 100 twin-engine JU-88 bombers and 8 of the HE-111s attacked PQ-16 and sank 4 ships. The attack showed that high-level dive-bombing combined with torpedo-plane strikes from just above the waterline could dissipate and confuse a convoy's antiaircraft defense. In four days under almost around-the-clock attack, PQ-16 lost 8 ships and had several others so badly damaged that they reached port barely afloat.45 The war in the Arctic had moved out to sea.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (X) * Next Chapter (XII)


1. For the preinvasion plans see Ziemke, Northern Theater, pp. 113-36.

2. Der Fuehrer und Oberste Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht, WFSt, Abt. L (I Op), Nr. 441096/41, Weisung 37, 10.10.41, AOK 20 19070/3 file.

3. OKW, WFSt, Abt. L, Nr. 44594/41, Vorschlag fuer die Vorbereitung der Besprechungen ueber Beteiligung Finnlands am Unternehmen "BARBAROSSA," 28.4.41, OKW/1938 file; Mannerheim, Erinnerungen, p. 450.

4. Verbindungsstab Nord, Ia Nr. 84/41, Oberbefehlshaber der finnischen Wehrmacht an Herrn Generalfeldmarschall Keitel, 25.9.41, AOK 20 20844/2 file.

5. Generalkommando III A.K., N. 652/III/3.b., an Herrn Oberbefehlshaber der Armee Norwegen, 19.11.41, AOK 20 20844/2 file.

6. William L. Langer and S. Everett Gleason, The Undeclared War, 1940-1941 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953), p. 831.

7. Der Chef des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht, WFSt, Abt. L (I Op.), Nr. 441979/41, an Se. Exzellenz Generalfeldmarshall Freiherr von Mannerheim, 21.11.41, H 22/227; Dir. Ha. Pot., Aufzeichnung, No. 226, 19.12.41, Serial 1260, U.S. Department of State, German Foreign Ministry Records.

8. General der infanterie a.D. Waldemar Erfurth, Comments on Part II of Ziemke, Northern Theater, 6 May 1956, CMH files; Mannerheim, Erinnerungen, p. 472.

9. Ibid., p. 470.

10. Verbindungsstab Nord, Ia Nr. 84/41, Oberbefehlshaber der finnischen Wehrmacht an Herrn Generalfeldmarschall Keitel, 25.9.41, AOK 20 20844/2 file.

11. Oberbefehlshaber der finnischen Wehrmacht an Herrn Generalfeldmarshall Keitel, 4.12.41, H 22/227 file.

12. Verbindungsstab Nord, Ia, an OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt., 15.12.41, H 22/227 file.

13. Verbindungsstab Nord, Ia Nr. 13/41, nachr. OKH, Chef des GenStdH, 20.1.41, H 22/227 file.

14. Der Chef des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht, Nr. 55208/42, an den Oberbefehlshaber der finnischen Wehrmacht, 26.1.42, H 22/227 file.

15. Verbindungsstab Nord, Ia Nr. 20/42, an OKW, WFSt, Abt. L, 2.2.42, H 22/227 file.

16. Verbindungsstab Nord, Ia Nr. 24/42, an OKH, GenStdH, Op. Abt., 3.2.41, H 22/227 file.

17. Verbindungsstab Nord, Ia Nr. 25142, an OKH, Op. Abt., 9.2.42, H 22/227 file.

18. See IVMV, vol. IV, maps 2 and 5.

19. Ibid., vol. V, p. 115. See pp. 238-40.

20. AOK 20, Ic Taetigkeitsbericht fuer die Zeit vom 1.4-31.12.42, 6.3.42, AOK 20 27252/19 file.

21. AOK Lappland, Ia Nr. 1750/42, Zusaminenfassender Bericht ueber die Abwehrkaempfe der Armee Lappland vom 24.4-23.5.42, AOK 20 27252/7 file.

22. Gen. Kdo. Geb.-Korps Norwegen, Ia Nr. 965/42, Bericht urber die Abwehrkaempfe des Gebirgskorps gegen die russische Umfassungoperation vom 27.4.-16.5.42, AOK 20 27252/6 file.

23. AOK Lappland, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Nr. 2, 1 and 4 May 42, AOK 20 27252/1 file.

24. AOK Lappland, Ia Nr. 1750/42, Zusammenfassender Bericht ueber die Abwehrkaempfe der Armee Lappland vom 24.4-23.5.42, AOK 20 27252/7 file.

25. A0K Lappland, Ia Kriegstagebuch, Band I, Nr. 2, 15-23 May 42, AOK 20 27252/1 file.

26. Ibid., 23 May 42.

27. Ibid., 23-25 May 42.

28. Ziemke, Northern Theater, p. 228.

29. Ibid.

30. IVMV, vol. V, p. 141.

31. IVOVSS, vol. II, p. 468.

32. See S. W. Roskill, The War at Sea, 1939-1945 (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1954), vol. I, p. 492 and Samuel Eliot Morison, The Battle of the Atlantic, September 1939-May 1943 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1947), p. 160.

33. IVMV, vol. IV, p. 334.

34. Fuehrer Conferences on Matters Dealing With the German Navy, 1941 (Washington D.C.: Office of Naval Intelligence, 1947), vol. II, p. 94.

35. Ibid., p. 55; Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), p. 112.

36. War Diary, German Naval Staff, Operations Division, Part A (Washington: Office of Naval Intelligence, 1948), vol. 29, pp. 207, 217, 228.

37. Roskill, War at Sea, vol. II, p. 119; Morison, Battle of the Atlantic, p. 160.

38. British Air Ministry Pamphlet 248, p. 113. See Ziemke, Northern Theater, p. 236n.

39. Naval War Diary, vol. 31, pp. 20, 53, 56, 75, 81, 85.

40. David Irving, The Destruction of Convoy PQ-17 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968), p. 2.

41. OKW, WFSt, Op. (M) Nr. 55493/42, 14.3.42, OKW 119 file.

42. OKW, WFSt, Op. Nr. 55518/42, Vortragsnotiz, 13.3.42; OKW, WFSt, Op. (M) Nr. 55537/42, Betr: Spitzbergen, 22.3.42, OKW 119 file.

43. Roskill, War at Sea, vol. II, pp. 124-27; Morison, Battle of the Atlantic, p. 166; IVMV, vol. IV, p. 335; Naval War Diary, vol. 32, pp. 13-18.

44. Generalmajor a. D. Hans-Detlev Herhudt von Rohden, Die Kampffuehrung der Luftflotte 5 in Norwegen, 1942, von Rohden 4376-408 file. See also Roskill, War at Sea, vol. II, p. 129.

45. Roskill, War at Sea, vol. II, pp. 130-32; Rohden, Die Kampffuehrung, Rohden 4376-408 file.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation