Bornholm Landing Operation

The 'Bornholm Landing Operation' was the Soviet amphibious seizure of the German-occupied Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea (9 May 1945).

Bornholm is the most easterly part of Denmark, and lies between the northern coast of Germany and southern tip of Sweden. The island was occupied by the Germans on 10 April 1940 after their success in 'Weserubung Süd', and served as a look-out post and listening station as it was seen as part of the Eastern Front. The island’s central location in the Baltic Sea meant that it was an important natural 'fortress' between Germany and Sweden, effectively keeping Allied submarines and light surface forces away from the main part of the Baltic Sea, which was much used for naval training and, from June 1941, operations against the USSR. Several concrete coastal installations and long-range coastal artillery batteries were constructed. None of these was ever used, however, and only a single test shot was fired during the occupation.

On 22 August 1943 a V-1 flying bomb crashed on Bornholm during a test, as suggested by the fact that its warhead was a dummy made of concrete. The crashed vehicle was photographed or sketched by the senior Danish naval officer on the island, and was the first sight British intelligence had of Germany’s aspirations to develop flying bombs.

When he heard of the German capitulation to Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery on 5 May, Kapitän zur See Gerhard von Kamptz, the island’s commandant, accepted that it was now the forces of the island’s Danish resistance movement, under the leadership of the regional commander, Lieutenant A. H. Jørgensen, which would henceforward be responsible for the maintenance of peace and order, but maintained that he still had orders to defend the island against any Soviet attack. von Kamptz refused to surrender the island to the Soviets as he had been instructed to surrender only to the Western Allies, and sent several telegrams to Copenhagen, the Danish capital, requesting that at least one British officer be sent to Bornholm to accept the island’s surrender, but nothing happened.

In the meantime, von Kamptz kept the sea routes open for Germans to escape from occupied Soviet territories. As the Germans withdrew to the west in the face of the Soviet onslaught from the east, a large number of German troops and displaced people remained isolated in Kurland and northern Germany, and their obvious escape route was the sea, in which Bornholm was an obvious waypoint. On 6 May, General Rolf Wuthmann, until 20 April the commander of the IX Corps fighting against the Soviet forces' 'Zemland Offensive Operation', arrived with a grenadier regiment of some 800 men, after being tasked with the defence of the island as the Germans escaped from the mainland. Early on 7 May, von Kamptz met with Danish officials: the latter saw that the Germans were ready to fight, but urged surrender.

When von Kamptz failed to provide the written capitulation demanded by them, the Soviets bombed the island in an undertaking which destroyed more than 800 civilian houses in Rønne and Nexø, and seriously damaged about 3,000 more, on 7 and 8 May. The population had been warned of the imminent bombings, and the towns had been evacuated, but 10 local people were killed. Men of the German garrison, now numbering between 16,000 and 20,000 men, were also killed and wounded. Some of them were conscripts from the occupied Baltic states fighting in German ranks against the Soviets.

During the Soviet bombing of the two main towns on 7/8 May, Danish radio was not allowed to broadcast the news because it was believed that this would spoil the liberation festivities in Denmark. On 9 May Soviet troops landed at Rønne from the sea, and the German garrison surrendered without offering any resistance.

This was the last operation undertaken by the Soviets against the Germans in World War II.

Soviet occupation forces remained on the island until 5 April 1946 before departing when, as part of the post-war division of spheres of interest between he USSR and the Western Allies, Denmark was deemed to be aligned with the Western states, and in return the Baltic states were to be kept in the Soviet sphere of influence.