The Vikings of World War II

The 99th Batallion (Separate) comprised Norwegian citizens and Americans of Norwegian descent

Photo courtesy of 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) WWII  Educational Foundation

Photo courtesy of 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) WWII Educational Foundation

Erik Brun
99th Battalion Educational Foundation

Dennis Hagen
10th Mountain Division Resource Center

What did Granddad do in World War II? Well, there was a day and there was a place that over a thousand sons of the fjord came to the aid of their countries, the land of their Birth and the land of their new life. They came from the docks of New York and San Francisco, they came from farms and mills of the Midwest and they came to the 99th battalion at Camp Ripley or Ft. Snelling, Minnesota and finally Camp Hale, Colorado.

Activated August 15, 1942 at Camp Ripley, Minn., the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) was the culmination of over six months of debate and discussion as the first of four foreign ethnic Battalions for Europe under the War Department’s “Foreign Legions” initiative. As a Separate Battalion, it included an additional 76 medical, administrative and logistics personnel that would normally be provided by its regimental headquarters. The battalion of 929 was to be manned with Norwegian citizens living in the United States and American citizens of Norwegian ancestry.

Captain Harold Hansen was given the job of forming the battalion. Tough Norwegian merchant sailors, stranded when German troops occupied Norway joined Midwestern American farm boys in what they hoped would be a crusade to liberate their homeland. Many Battalion men were older than the average American soldier. A few reported for training at 40 years of age.

Of the hundred Independent Infantry Battalions originally formed in the U.S. Army during World War II, only two saw extensive combat service as Separate Battalions; the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) and the Japanese-American 100th Battalion (Nisei), later part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Photo courtesy of 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) WWII Educational Foundation

Photo courtesy of 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) WWII Educational Foundation

On December 17, 1942 the Battalion moved to Camp Hale, Colo. to share the rigors of mountain and winter warfare training alongside the men of the 10th Mountain Division. President Roosevelt reviewed the Battalion and its sister “Foreign Legion” unit the 122nd Infantry Battalion (Sep) (Greek) at Camp Carson on Easter Sunday 1943.

As the battalion completed its rigorous mountain warfare training in the summer of 1943, the unit offered a ready pool of well-trained and disciplined soldiers with Norwegian fluency. The Office of Strategic Services recruited over seventy members of its planned Norwegian Operational Groups from the battalion. The Operational Groups went on to jump into France behind enemy lines and Norway in the OSS Mission “Rype” under the Norwegian Section (NORSO) of the OSS special operations forces.

Although the men of the 99th sought action in Norway, operational plans were eventually scrapped as the unit moved forward. On August 24, 1943, the Viking Battalion departed Camp Hale by train for Camp Shanks, New York on the first leg of a journey that landed the Norwegians in England. By October of 1943, the battalion was assigned to the new Rankin/Apostle Plans for the occupation of Norway, with Presidential approval.

Unlike their 10th Mountain Division counterparts, the men of the 99th never made it to the mountains. While the 10th Mountain Division fought through the mountains of Italy, the 99th fought through the lowlands of France, Holland, and Belgium, and then on into Germany.

The Norwegian Battalion landed at Normandy’s Omaha Beach two weeks after the D-Day invasion and remained active in combat all the way through to the Third Reich’s demise. As a Separate Battalion, the 99th was employed wherever needed, which meant it was attached to many different units throughout the war. Much like orphans, the Norwegians considered themselves “Homeless Waifs.”

During the Battle of the Bulge, Lt. Col. Hansen’s Battalion was the only combat unit directly under 1st Army’s control. The 99th led Task Force Hansen to strategic crossroads at Malmedy, Belgium to hold critical defensive positions in the face of SS Panzer units. Following 30 days on the line, the 99th was rotated out to join the newly formed 474th Infantry Regiment in Normandy.

The new regiment was created as the American combat element for future Norwegian Operations, the plans that the 99th had been detailed to for over a year. The Regiment was completed by combining the 99th battalion, replacements, and 1,700 former members of the First Special Service Force (or “Devil’s Brigade”). The Force had already been reinforced by over 400 Rangers who survived the battle of Cisterna, at Anzio, in the spring of ‘44.

In early April 1945, assigned to Patton’s 3rd Army Headquarters, the 474th was tasked to assist the famous “Monuments Men,” as the Regiment’s 99th Battalion led one of the two heavily guarded convoys escorting over 484 tons of Nazi gold and 30 truckloads of priceless art treasures from the Kaiseroda salt mine in Merkers, Germany, to the Reichsbank in Frankfurt. The total value of the items transported was estimated to be $18.5 billion in gold alone.

As hostilities ended in Europe, the regiment was employed to assist in the smooth transition from occupied Norway. On May 29, the 99th finally loaded onto Landing Ship Tanks and deployed to Oslo, Norway. They were the largest unit of the U.S.’s Task Force A for Operation Nightlight. The Battalion arrived in Oslo in time to serve as the Honor Guard to King Haakon VII, upon his return from exile. The Battalion assisted in disarming some 350,000 German occupation troops, and the repatriation of 100,000 POWs and slave laborers. The Soldiers returned to the U.S. in October 1945 and the unit was deactivated at Camp Miles Standish, Mass.

Photo courtesy of 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) WWII  Educational Foundation

Photo courtesy of 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) WWII Educational Foundation

The 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) earned five battle stars: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe. And During 101 days in combat, the Battalion suffered the loss of 54 men killed, and 207 wounded. Fifteen Battalion members received the Silver Star, and 20 men were awarded the Bronze Star.

If you think you have a Viking in your family, we would love to meet you. We would be happy to check the roster.

This article originally appeared in the June 6, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.