This was a German advance to the east from the northern part of occupied Norway by General Eduard Dietl’s Gebirgskorps ‘Norwegen’ of Generaloberst Nikolaus von Falkenhorst’s Armee ‘Norwegen’ to secure Petsamo in northern Finland from any likelihood of Soviet seizure and also to prepare the way for a drive on Murmansk (22 June 1941).
This area had been taken by the 104th Division of General Leytenant Valerian I. Frolov’s 14th Army, against the defence of the Finnish 104th Independent Cover Company, during the ‘Talvisota’ winter war and, being the location of nickel mines believed to be vital to Germany’s war economy, was therefore a major factor in German strategic thinking. The planning of ‘Rentier’ (i) started on 13 August 1940, not long after the completion of the ‘Weserübung’ seizure of Norway, and was finalised in October of the same year on the basis of the use of the two divisions of the Gebirgskorps ‘Norwegen’ to occupy Petsamo and so prevent any Soviet capture of the strategically important mines of the area.
The Soviet defence of this sector was entrusted to two divisions of Frolov’s 14th Army within General Leytenant Markian M. Popov’s North Front (ex-Leningrad Military District).
The operation was in fact launched as the most northerly component of ‘Barbarossa’ on 22 June 1941 and proceeded without incident. With a total of some 27,500 men, Generalleutnant Ernst Schlemmer’s 2nd Gebirgsdivision occupied the area around Liinakhamari and Generalleutnant Hans Kreysing’s 3rd Gebirgsdivision occupied Luostari.
The subsequent ‘Platinfuchs’ offensive, undertaken in parallel with the ‘Polarfuchs’ (i) offensive farther to the south, achieved an advance of only 15 miles (24 km) before being halted on the Litsa river by Frolov’s army, which had been bolstered by an extemporised division made up of sailors and conscripted civilians.