Saturday, 23 July 2016

Ragnarok. A Wiking Story

What a great New Year's present, the opportunity to drive the Reds back and re-take Budapest to relieve our trapped comrades there. It should have been easy, we were only ninety kilometres away, with a full Russian army corps in our path after all.

It was January 1st, 1945, I had no idea if it was light or not, because it was snowing too hard to see anything except a blur of white through my vision slit. It was as if Fimbulvetr had finally come, heralding the start of Ragnarok and for Wiking, it had.

Our division was drawn up on the start line, with Totenkopf somewhere over to our left. We'd been in position for hours and I felt as if I was going to freeze to death if we didn't get moving soon.

I had only been with the division a week and Operation Konrad was to be my first experience of combat. At that moment of time, I was questioning why I had volunteered to join such madness, instead of staying in the safety of my parent's home in far away Denmark.

Finally, the signal came through and we moved off to the roar and Maybach engines, as our tanks and half-tracks went in search of the enemy. We didn't have long to wait, we ran right into the Red's 4th Guards Army just outside of Tata and with help from our brother division, we virtually annihilated them in a few short hours of bitter fighting.

Our advance continued, despite the best efforts of the Gods and Stalin and by January 4th we were only twenty eight kilometres from our goal. But we never managed to get any further than Bicske, as the Reds must have moved half of their army between us and Budapest.

We were eventually pulled back and ordered south to Esztergom, where we spearheaded Konrad 2 on the 7th January.  Once again, the weather was horrendous and we could barely see our hands in front of our faces as we tried to fight our way to the besieged city.

One of our grenadier regiments reached Pilisszenthereszt on the 12th and reported that they could see the spires of Budapest through the early morning mist. But once again, we were fated to be pulled back, this time because we didn't have enough supplies to maintain the momentum of our advance.

Our third push for Budapest began on the 20th January and we smashed a twenty four kilometre wide hole in the Russian lines, utterly destroying the 135th Rifle Corps in the process. But once again, Fate was against us and Konrad 3 ended on January 28th. Between Wiking and Totenkopf we had pointlessly lost over eight thousand good men and Budapest surrendered on 13th February, many of the men taken prisoner there destined to die a pain filled death in a Russian gulag.

From the failure of Konrad 3, we were ordered west to join the 6th SS Panzer Army at Lake Balaton. But we had lost so many men and so much of our equipment, that we could only play a supporting role in the offensive. Even so, we became involved in heavy fighting on the left flank of the push, as the Bolsheviks tried to out manoeuver Sepp's panzers.

Once again, the advance stalled due to lack of supplies and the Reds counter attacked on 15th March. They broke through our lines between us and the Totenkopf to our north and everything soon turned into total chaos. We had no idea where any of the other German forces were and were in serious danger of being cut off.

Fortunately for us, Hohenstaufen came to our rescue, managing to hold the Berhida Corridor open long enough for Gille to lead us to the relative safety of our own lines.

But our respite was short. On the 24th March, the Russians smashed through our positions and the division was forced to make a fighting withdrawal deeper into Czechoslovakia.

Nearly all of our vehicles were gone, either destroyed or simply out of fuel. We were running low on ammunition and our supplies of food were critically low as well. There was a lot of debate among us enlisted men about what we should do. Nobody wanted to be taken by the Reds, we all knew what would happen if we fell into their hands, but our options were limited to say the least.

On 7th May, commander Gille announced that he was going to seek terms of surrender from the Americans to our west. He told us that the American general Patton, wanted to carry the war to the Russians as soon as Germany surrendered and that maybe we would be able to join him in the final victory over Bolshevism.

But then survivors from the Totenkopf reached us with news that the remnants of their division had surrendered to the Americans, who had promptly executed 80 wounded men that were unable to walk and then begun marching the survivors towards the Russians to hand them over.

This caused a new wave of debate about the choices we faced, but in the end, we had no option, as our supplies were all gone and Gille led us into captivity at Fűrstenfeld in Austria on the 9th May 1945.

It was nearly two years later, before the Americans released me. Two years of interrogations and beatings about the conduct of Wiking during its role in Russia. Political brainwashing to tell me how my dream of a world free from the threat of Bolshevism was wrong and to convince me that I had unwittingly been a member of an illegal organisation.

I eventually returned to a Denmark that I didn't know and that didn't want to know me. My parents and their home were gone, victims of an allied bombing raid. I was a demon that nobody wanted to talk to, let alone employ.

My whole street had turned out to see me off when I left to fight the Russians. I had been a hero, guaranteed a seat amongst the Old Gods if I fell. Yet on my return, I wasn't even given a pension for having fought as a soldier in the service of the free world.

I eventually emigrated to an America gripped by fear of communism. I found a job in a German owned security company in a small town in New Mexico. Within a year I was married and am now the proud father of two strong sons who have been raised to never trust a Red.

Sometimes I meet other veterans from the division and we talk about old times over a beer. Then I wake up in cold sweats, screaming, as I relive the deaths of my comrades in my nightmares.

As with my other short stories about the Wiking division, the events that take place are loosely based on fact. However, the main character in Ragnarok is fictitious, as are the events pertaining to him at the end of the story.

The reference to American troops murdering prisoners from the Totenkopf Division is taken from

The Totenkopf division didn't want to be captured by the Soviets, so they attacked the American 11th Armoured Division. The Americans, who suffered heavy losses, were angered by this. When the Totenkopf surrendered (to the Americans) they were turned over to the Soviets at Linz in 1945. Those who were wounded or simply too exhausted to make it to Pregarten were executed by the Americans along the way. Some 80 men in all suffered this fate.

The murders are also referred to in the history book Totenkopf by Charles Trang.
Much is made about the part Soviet Russia played in the downfall of Germany and there is no doubt that there were many Russian heroes.  But it must be remembered that Russia would have fallen if it had not been for an English team breaking the enigma code and England supplying Russia with valuable information about the intentions of the Germans.

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