Operation Silver Fox (German language:Silberfuchs) was a joint German–Finnish military operation plan during World War II, though it was mainly operated and engaged by Germans. Its main goal was the capture of the key Soviet port at Murmansk through attacks from Finnish and Norwegian territory.
The operation had to be three staged. Operation Reindeer (Rentier) was the initial attack by German forces from Norway to secure the area around Petsamo. The follow-up operations, Operation Platinum Fox (Platinfuchs) from the north by Army Norway (AOK Norwegen) and Operation Arctic Fox (Polarfuchs) by XXXVI Mountain Corps together with units from the Finnish III Corps, aimed to capture the vital port of Murmansk afterwards. The operation was unsuccessful and Murmansk continued to operate throughout the war.
Planning and preparationEdit
Following the occupation of Norway in July 1940, Germany had planned to occupy the Petsamo nickel mines in an operation code-named Reindeer (Rentier) in case of a new Finnish-Soviet war. Germany had possessed supply and troop transfer rights through Northern Finland since September 1940.
In January 1941, German officer Erich Buschenhagen was ordered to Finland to discuss the possibility of a Finnish-German cooperative effort against the Soviet Union with the Finnish leadership.
In late February, Buschenhagen was authorised to negotiate a combined offensive effort. Taking advantage of the co-belligerent pact, plans were made for German forces from the German Army 'Norway' to begin moving into Finnish territory. These operations, codenamed Blue Fox 1 and Blue Fox 2 (Blaufuchs I and Blaufuchs II) began in June 1941. Five German divisions and various attached elements (Including two 'special purpose' Panzer units) were moved into position in Northern Finland, joining the Finnish forces, currently being mobilised under the guise of border exercises.
The Finns and Germans agreed on a two-pronged, three-phase offensive. The first action, Operation Reindeer, was to be the occupation of the Petsamo region by the two Alpine Infantry divisions of Generaloberst Eduard Dietl's German Alpine Corps Norway (Gebirgskorps Norwegen). This would move the Alpine Corps from the Norwegian territory around Kirkenes into position to attack towards Murmansk.
The second and third stages were to be launched in unison. The northern assault, codenamed Operation Platinum Fox (Platinfuchs) called for Norwegen, assisted by the Finnish Ivalo Border Guard Battalion to strike east from Petsamo, attacking towards the Barents Sea port of Murmansk along the coast. These would be opposed by the two divisions of the Soviet 14th Army, the 14th and 52nd Rifle Divisions. The objective of Platinum Fox was to capture Murmansk, and to tie down Russian troops, keeping them from the southern operations near Leningrad.
The southern assault, codenamed Operation Arctic Fox (Polarfuchs), by the German XXXVI Corps under General of Cavalry Hans Feige, was to attack eastwards from the Kuusamo region along the line Salla-Urinsalmo. This force was composed of two German divisions, 169th and SS Nord, and the Finnish 6th Division, with two special purpose Panzer units attached. These would be opposed by the Soviet 122nd Rifle Division. This operation was aimed at the capture of the town of Kandalaksha, by the White Sea in the Karelia region, tying down troops from the Soviet Northern Front, who would otherwise be sent to defend against Platinum Fox, and to cut Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula from the rest of the Soviet Union in the process.
These actions would be followed by Finnish operations, including the offensives of the Finnish army around Lake Ladoga and through the Karelian Isthmus, and later into East Karelia, as part of their Continuation War.
The arrival of German troops for the attack of the Soviet Union begun 7 June 1941 when the German 6th SS Mountain Division Nord in Norway crossed the border on 7 June. Two more German divisions were shipped from Southern Norway and Stettin. The troops were transported by train to Rovaniemi. The 40,600 German troops started to advance eastwards to Salla on 18 June. The Luftwaffe landed its air divisions in Rovaniemi, Luonetjärvi and Utti.
The first phase, Rentier, was launched on 22 June 1941, to coincide with the launch of Operation Barbarossa. The two divisions of Mountain Corps Norwegen, the 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions, moved out from Kirkenes and began deploying in the Finnish held area around Petsamo. The operation was successful, the appearance of a German corps on their border coming as a surprise to the Russians. Dietl's troops reformed and prepared for the launch of Platinfuchs. In the south, the units of Feige's XXXVI Corps prepared for their attack. On 25 June 1941, Finland entered the war, leaving the way clear for Silver Fox to commence.
On June 29 in the North, Dietl's attack, Platinfuchs, got underway, with the two Soviet divisions of the 14th Army opposing his force. As the Germans slowly advanced, the Russians reinforced their front, adding another division and several naval infantry units from Murmansk itself. The Russians were now heavily entrenched and outnumbered their attackers. Constant attacks by British and Soviet naval forces on German shipping also made the supply situation for the Germans very difficult. On 22 September, after repeated attempts to advance past the Litsa river, the offensive was broken off. The Germans lost about 10,300 men during Platinum Fox. The front line soon settled down as the Germans halted offensive operations and dug in. For the remainder of the war, the northern front was to remain relatively stable until the Soviet offensive of 1944, with only small scale ski patrol skirmishes.
Parallel to Platinum Fox Polarfuchs started on 1 July. The German XXXVI Mountain Corps, consisting of a regular German division, a Finnish division, an SS battle group called Nord as well as a small tank unit, started together with the Finnish 3rd Division from the Finnish III Corps an offensive towards Salla. The goal of the offensive was to capture Salla and then to proceed in direction of Kandalaksha to cut the railway to Murmansk. The XXXVI Corps was ill-suited for arctic warfare and performed poorly, making only slow progress. The Finnish units performed far better and made some good advance, before they had to stop because of an overstretched front. After the capture of Salla the advance on Kandalaksha slowed and stopped, with the troops of Feige's Corps digging in. Soon the front stagnated, just as it had in the north, combat being reduced to skirmishing and patrol actions. Finally, the operation was halted in mid-November.
The failure of Silberfuchs was to have a lasting effect on the course of the war. While the rest of the Soviet lines had collapsed in 1941, the forces of Roman Panin's Northern Front had held, causing casualties of up to 15% on the German attackers.
German failure can be attributed to a number of factors: the terrain, which hindered the advance, and led to an over-dependence on roads for mobility; second, a lack of proper intelligence preparation which led to faulty assumptions; third, a long and tenuous line of communication; fourth, supply problems caused by bad roads and British-Soviet attacks on German shipping; and finally, determined resistance from the Soviets, which made the necessary breakthrough impossible, and the stagnation of the front inevitable.
The port of Murmansk remained in Russian hands throughout the war, and around a quarter of all Lend Lease material was received through this port, and the port of Arkhangelsk. The supplies coming through this port helped the Soviets quickly recover from the disasters of 1941.
The war in the north dragged on until May 1945. In September 1944, the Finns sued for peace and the German retreat through Lapland began. In October 1944, the Red Army conducted the Petsamo-Kirkenes Operation, and achieved a decisive victory over the German forces in the Arctic.