(Danish: "Free Corps Denmark" - probably formed by analogy with the German Freikorps, "volunteer or mercenary unit")
Danish military volunteer unit, fighting on the Nazi side in World War II. Frikorps Danmark was formed in 1941, and disbanded in 1943.
At the time of the German occupation of Denmark (April 9, 1940), there were already approximately 600 Danish volunteers (mostly Danish Nazis) enlisted in the German forces, mostly in the Waffen-SS. The occupation did not immediately alter this number in any significant way.
In February 1941, however, the Danish collaborationist government, under pressure from Germany, lifted the former legal bans on foreign recruitment in Denmark. Shortly thereafter, Germany undertook Operation Barbarossa, opening the Eastern Front, and active recruitment to the Waffen-SS auxiliary Regiment Nordland was undertaken in the form of adverts in Fædrelandet1, the Danish Nazi Party magazine.
In July 1941, the Danish government2 permitted the formation of an entirely Danish volunteer regiment "to fight bolshevism". Under the command of Oberstløjtnant3 C.P. Kryssing, the new force was established on July 4, 1941, under the name Frikorps Danmark. The regiment was to be led by Danish officers and NCOs. Recuritment offices were established all over the country, and enlisted men in the Danish Army are given permission to seek indefinite leave of absence to join the corps.
By July 20, 1941, 600 recruits were ready for basic training in Langenhorn, near Hamburg, Germany. On August 5, 1941, they were sworn in:
"I swear before God this holy oath, that in the fight against bolshevism I will give the German Wehrmacht's supreme commander Adolf Hitler unconditional allegiance, and that as a brave soldier, I will at any time be ready to offer my life for this oath."4
On September 15, 1941, Frikorps Danmark was transferred to Posen5, where they were quartered in the Treskow camp, a former nunnery. In November 1941, following a dispute with some of the more hard-line Nazis in the officer corps of the unit, C.P. Kryssing accepted transfer to an artillery regiment under the Waffen-SS, and was replaced first by Knud Børge Martinsen (temporarily), and in early 1942 by SS-Hauptsturmführer Christian Frederik von Schalburg.
The new commander, von Schalburg, was a Russian-born Nazi hardliner with a Danish father, a veteran of the war in Finland, 1939-1940. He held numerous commendations, including the German Iron Cross and several Swedish and Finnish medals.
On May 8, 1942, Frikorps Danmark was called to active duty. The full corps (34 officers, 75 sub-officers, 109 NCOs and 781 enlisted men) was flown into Demyansk, to relieve the German forces surrounded there.6
Over the next few weeks, Frikorps Danmark received heavy casualties. First to die was Orla Jensen of 2nd Company, who stepped on a mine. C.F. von Schalburg himself was killed stepping on a mine, on June 2, 1942, during an attack on a Soviet position. Upon his death, K.B. Martinsen once more became acting regimental commander.
After 3 weeks of active duty, Frikorps Danmark had lost 92 members - all of whom are buried in the cemetery at Biakowo.
On June 9, 1942, a new commander, SS-Obersturmbannführer von Lettow-Vorbech, arrived to take command. The rank and file were displeased with having to be commanded by a German, having preferred a Danish commander, but the point was moot, since von Lettow-Vorbech was killed immediately thereafter. By this time, the unit was involved in one of the bloodiest battles of its history, the Battle of Bolshoi Dubovitsy, and von Lettow-Vorbech was not the only casualty. In a single day, 75 members of the unit were killed. Once more, K.B. Martinsen became acting regimental commander.
By August 5, 1942, only 299 soldiers remained with the corps. The rest were either dead, transferred, or too wounded to serve. It was with some relief that the corps received orders to leave Demyansk.
From September 8, 1942, to October 13, 1942, the officers and men of Frikorps Danmark were on leave in Copenhagen. During their stay, they were feasted by the Danish Nazis, and reviled by the general populace. During their four weeks of leave, Danish police recorded 246 instances of disorderly conduct, violent behaviour, etc., involving them.
On December 5, 1942, Frikorps Danmark found itself back in Russia - this time in the dead of Russia's harsh winter. Committed to the front line near Newel, they were told to prepare for an expected Russian push. On December 24, 1942, the push came. Not facing ordinary Soviet units, but crack troops of the NKVD, Frikorps Danmark briefly fell back, under heavy casualties, but nevertheless managed to retake their position.
Shortly thereafter, they were transferred further north, to defend the railway line between Newel and Velikiye Luki. In early February 1943, they suffered heavy casualties in a major Soviet attack.
In mid-February 1943, K.B.Martinsen left for Berlin, leaving Hauptsturmführer Neergaard-Jacobsen in command.7
By March 1943, not much was left of the unit. Casualties during the winter had been horrifying, and the flow of recruits was drying up, as the pro-Nazis in Denmark no longer believe in German victory. On March 26, 1943, Frikorps Danmark left the Eastern Front by train, for Grafenwöhr in Germany. On May 20, 1943, Frikorps Danmark was officially dissolved, with a parade in Grafenwöhr, and most of the remaining men were transferred to the newly-formed Regiment 24 Dänemark. Many of them fought on to the bitter end, in 1945.
After the war:
- C.P. Kryssing was sentenced to 8 years in prison. After an appeal, this was reduced to 4 years.
- K.B. Martinsen was sentenced to death and executed - though he was only convicted for his activities in "Schalburg-Korpset".
- All staff officers of the unit received 4-5 years in prison, each.
- Other officers received 3 years in prison, each.
- NCOs and enlisted men received on average 2 years in prison, each.
1 Not to be confused with the by-then defunct 19th century Danish newspaper of the same name.
2 Under pressure, it is claimed after the war.
4 "Jeg sværger ved Gud denne hellige ed, at jeg i kampen mod bolsjevismen vil yde den tyske værnemagts øverstkommanderende Adolf Hitler ubetinget lydighed og som tapper soldat til enhver tid vil være rede til at sætte mit liv ind for denne ed."
5 Present-day Poznan, in Poland.
6 I had originally listed this as possibly being the first airborne landing of troops into a war zone, but Albert Herring reminded me of the German attack on Crete in 1941 which involved air landings (of the 5th Mountain Division) on Maleme airfield in the middle of the fighting, May 21, 1941.
7 Martinsen went on from Berlin to Denmark, where he was to form the Danish SS group "Schalburg-Korpset", which was later to become notorious for its terroristic behaviour towards the Danish civilian population.
I am a Dane, and this is not a part of my national history that I am terribly proud of - my own family was in the Danish resistance, and it is safe to say that I would have been so, too, had I been alive at the time. Despite my distaste for the subject, I have tried to be objective in this narrative.