Operation Platinfuchs

platinum fox

'Platinfuchs' was a German offensive, known to the Finns as 'Platinakettu', within 'Silberfuchs' designed to take Murmansk on the USSR’s north coast from the area of Finland round Petsamo (29 June/21 September 1941).

With the launch of 'Barbarossa' on 22 June 1941, German units of General Eduard Dietl’s Gebirgskorps 'Norwegen', a component of Generaloberst Nikolaus von Falkenhorst’s Armee 'Norwegen', were sent to the east from the northern part of Norway for the 'Rentier' (i) occupation of Petsamo and its important nickel mines, which the Soviets had taken from Finland in the 'Talvisota' winter war of 1939/40 but handed back at the end of this conflict. In the Petsamo area the Germans joined Finnish forces poised on the border of Soviet territory. These divisions of the Gebirgskorps 'Norwegen' were, for the most part, high-quality mountain troops specially trained to operate in difficult terrain with poor and cold weather conditions, such as those prevalent to the north of the Arctic Circle.

As part of 'Barbarossa' the Finnish and German forces were to launch 'Silberfuchs' to take Murmansk after approaching on two axes: the first of these was the 'Platinfuchs' assault directly to the east from the Petsamo area, and the second was the 'Polarfuchs' (i) assault farther to the south from the area of Salla initially to the east against Kandalaksha on the Kola peninsula’s southern coast on the White Sea and then to the north against Murmansk, which was strategically vital to the USSR as the major ice-free port through which raw materials and supplies could be delivered for the Soviet war machine right through the year.

After the Petsamo area had been secured in 'Rentier' (i) as the necessary base area, 'Platinfuchs' was launched on 29 June by the Gebirgskorps 'Norwegen' comprising Generalleutnant Ernst Schlemmer’s 2nd Gebirgsdivision, Generalmajor Hans Kreysing’s 3rd Gebirgsdivision, and a Finnish element including the Erillinen Osasto P (Independent Detachment Petsamo), two battalions of the 14th Jalkaväkirykmentti (regiment), and the Ivalo Border Guard Battalion. The German and Finnish forces committed an initial 27,500 men against an unknown number of Soviet troops of the defence found by General Leytenant Valerian A. Frolov’s (from August 1941 General Major Roman I. Panin’s) 14th Army of General Leytenant Markian M. Popov’s North Front (from September 1941 General Polkovnik Frolov’s Karelia Front) with the 14th Division, 52nd Division and Polyarny Division as well as a number of unattached units and elements of Vitse Admiral Valentin P. Drozd’s (from 26 July 1040 Admiral Arseni G. Golovko’s) Northern Fleet. Frolov entrusted operational command of the defence to General Major Fyedor Sabinev.

The Gebirgskorps 'Norwegen' and the Ivalo Border Guard Battalion crossed the border and advanced east toward Murmansk. The initial advance was slow as, right from the operation’s start, the German formations and the Finnish unit encountered a host of problems not as a result of Soviet opposition but rather the rough terrain and very bad roads, compounded by a lack of proper maps, which meant that the advance proceeded largely 'blind'. The two German divisions advanced on different axes. In the south the 2nd Gebirgsdivision was able to penetrate the Soviet line in the Titovka river valley in one day after fierce fighting, and secured a bridgehead over the river. In the north the 3rd Gebirgsdivision also made good progress in the first hours to secure the neck of the Rybachy peninsula. Nevertheless, the offensive soon met heavy Soviet resistance, especially from units of the Northern Fleet.

After coping with a strong Soviet counterattack, the Germans resumed their eastward offensive toward the Litsa river but, with the element of surprise now lost, were able to establish only a small bridgehead on the eastern side of the river. After a determined Soviet counterattack on 7 July, Dietl requested reinforcement, but received only a motorised machine gun battalion from Norway.

On 10 July the Germans and Finns had to create a new plan after a copy of the offensive’s details had fallen into Soviet hands: the 2nd Gebirgsdivision now had to expand its bridgehead while the 3rd Gebirgsdivision had to advance in the south and establish another bridgehead. The renewed attack gained initial success, but after the Soviet forces had landed two battalions on the western side of Litsa bay, Dietl had to call a halt to the German drive.

Matters now became increasingly difficult for the Germans as their thinly stretched forces had to hold a front 35.5 miles (57 km) long between the Litsa river and the Rybachy peninsula. In the absence of the proper roads which would have allowed simple transport, the German logistic position deteriorated rapidly and the offensive stalled. Dietl again requested reinforcement and Adolf Hitler, after an early reluctance to comply, agreed to the transfer of Generalmajor Ferdinand Schörner’s 6th Gebirgsdivision to Dietl’s command. After more discussion, two Waffen-SS regiments were also assigned to the operation in August.

Dietl now made plans to renew the offensive during September, with the Waffen-SS regiments in the van, before the onset of the winter made combat all but impossible. However, the activities of British warships and Soviet warships and aircraft, which constantly attacked German shipping heading to the northern ports, hampered the arrival of the reinforcements and vital supplies: thus it was October before the 6th Gebirgsdivision arrived.

Nevertheless, on 8 September Dietl started the renewed offensive without the 6th Gebirgsdivision. The initial assault failed badly and the Waffen-SS regiments, which were untrained for Arctic warfare, suffered heavy losses. The Germans did manage to make some progress, but a Soviet counterattack then checked further advance. Constant attacks by Soviet submarines and British warships (the latter comprising two aircraft carriers, two cruisers and six destroyers) also sank numerous German ships and further worsened the German forces' already precarious supply situation. For this reason, on 13 September von Falkenhorst prohibited German shipping from proceeding into the area lying to the east of the North Cape.

Hitler again demanded that the offensive be continued, but Dietl made it clear that further advance was impossible because of his forces' dire supply situation and lack of the required strength. More Soviet reinforcements had meanwhile arrived in the area, and Dietl called off 'Platinfuchs' on 21 September after the Germans and Finns had lost some 10,300 men; the Soviet losses are not known.

Later it was decided to move the focus of the attack farther to the south, first to the area of General Hans Feige’s XXXVI Corps near Salla and later to the area of Kenraalimajuri Hjalmar Siilasvuo’s Finnish III Corps near Kiestinki. Thus 'Rentier' succeeded, but 'Platinfuchs' failed to effect any significant penetration into the USSR. In mid-October the 2nd Gebirgsdivision was withdrawn to Petsamo, and the 6th Gebirgsdivision replaced the 3rd Gebirgsdivision along the line of the Litsa river.

Though 'Platinfuchs' was small in terms of its scope and the numbers of men used on each side, it exerted a major impact on the course of the war on the Eastern Front, for during the 'Great Patriotic War' the USSR received about 25% of its Lend-Lease supplies through the northern ports of Murmansk and Arkhangyel’sk farther to the east on the other side of the White Sea, the other 75% being delivered across the Pacific to Siberian ports (50%) and through the Indian Ocean to ports in Iran (25%) for onward movement by road and rail to the southern USSR.