Eismeerfront, Arctic Front, German Mountain Corps Combat Operations Norway to capture Murmansk, 1941
An examination of the attack on the Soviet Union using the above map shows how the assault on the Murmansk railway line from Rovaniemi to Salla along the existing railway line to Kandalakscha ensured the attack reached to within 5km of the vital Murmansk railway line. The assault from Petsamo to Poljarnoje failed at the Litsa river with supply problems limiting the objective of capturing Murmansk. Defeat followed.
In 1941 a modern army fought in an isolated, naturally inhospitable region along the northern coast of Scandinavia, the first time this territory had witnessed military operations conducted by large formations. North Norway was fought over for much of World War 2. General of Mountain Troops Eduard Dietl commanded Germany's Mountain Corps, composed of 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions, the mountain corps advanced from occupied North Norway, assembled in the Petsamo Corridor in North Finland and invaded Soviet territory to seize Murmansk, they did not succeed. This account is from Wllhelm Hess, quartermaster of Mountain Corps Norway, drawing upon his personal experiences of conditions on the Arctic Front, the environment, sequence of events and how the terrain, supply situation and the war at sea impacted combat operations.
Just before Christmas 1940, General Dietl was informed of the planned attack on the Soviet Union, summer 1941. It was clear the Mountain Corps Norway was due to be assigned a most important role with the prime objective Murmansk.
Preparations for the invasion of northern Soviet Union including reading Russlands Griff um Nordeuropa, by Vitalis Padenburg and of course the experience of the Finns during the 1939-40 Finno-Soviet Winter War. the Finns destroyed all shelters by fire, thereby denying shelter to Soviet forces in northern Finland, the Russians suffered 22,000 cases of frostbite within the 2 divisions that advanced on Petsamo and Nautsi. German forces had to consider 4 problems, firstly the terrain, the Kola peninsula was terra incognito. The terrain was covered in snow until the beginning of the operation, preventing reconnaissance flights from mapping the terrain. There was no road that led from the Finnish side of the border. Tactical problems were dominated by the Rybachy Peninsula, which was feared as a flanking position against the German planned advance on Murmansk. The advance in this desolate area would be very difficult. Close co-operation with Finnish forces was essential.
Four sea transport operations to bring troops forward for assembly were required. Several motorised movements overland were again required for assembling the German Mountain Corps in North Finland. The relationship between German plans and Finnish political situation was crucial to the impending invasion of the Soviet Union.
Operational planning, the occupation of the Petsamo area was without tactical difficulty, although preparations were made with limited room for traffic, political entanglements and the need for secrecy. Russian forces included the Soviet 14th Rifle Division and the 52nd Rifle Division, the German advance on Murmansk could not be by surprise. A German advance on a wide front against Motovsky, Zapadnaya Litsa, and Rybachy Peninsula would probe for a weak point and ten apply greatest effort against it. Following the cessation of the Soviet-Finnish Winter War, Germany and Finland worked closely in combat operations. By May 1941, German troops would need to proceed through Finnish territory in an advance from North Norway against Murmansk. Finns would not be neutral in the event of a German Soviet war. The assembly zone for marching into Petsamo was along the National Road 50 southeast of Kirkenes, the 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions assembled southeast of Petsamo and Luostari respectively.
The three assaults on the Litsa River were bloody, brutal and hand to hand with Russian artillery taking its toll in the rocky, marshy cratered terrain. The Russians delivered supplies by truck, the Germans by sea from the Fatherland thoroughly hazardous with British Navy interdicting the sea supply route. 100,000 German and Finnish troops fought side by side with 35% casualties which coupled with supply problems and the early onset of winter in August/September ensured cessation of hostilities. Since June 29, 1941 2,211, fallen including 68 officers; 7,854 wounded, including 202 officers; 425 missing including 10 officers. Casualties were unsustainable and combined with the blockade at sea required the cessation of the operations of the mountain corps in the direction of Murmansk.
This report sourced from Quartermaster Wilhelm Hess ensured a highly personal first hand report, written in German in the 1950s and sourced by US Armed Forces who fully expected to fight the Red Army during the 40 year Cold war.
Source: Arctic Front, The Advance of Mountain Corps Norway on Murmansk, 1941. Wilhelm Hess, Casemate, 2021