Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate)

A Norwegian-American Unit formed during World War II.

One of the reasons I enjoy studying and writing about WWII is that during that time the concept of "special operations" was really taking root. There are a lot of interesting stories in the histories of these types of military units. Quite a few units were conceived on paper, or actually formed and began training, to fulfill specific missions or operate in a particular theater or environment. Units like the 1st Special Service Force, Darby's Rangers, Merrill's Marauders, etc, easily come to mind. Even the airborne was initially conceived as a small unit, special operations force, according to General William Yarborough. (The general made that statement in an oral history interview that I used as a reference while researching the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion.)

99th Infantry Battalion Patch
Another of these unique units conceived during the early days of the Second World War was the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate). This particular unit was made up of Norwegian Americans, originally destined to conduct military operations in Norway. The Army put out the call for native Norwegian speakers, and many immigrant and sons of immigrants answered the call. All of these volunteers were either American citizens or had applied for citizenship. The soldiers started out training with the Devil's Brigade and went through a fair amount of mountain and winter warfare training. It could be argued that the 99th Battalion was the best winter warfare trained unit in the United States Army during WWII. Unfortunately, the operations in Norway were scrubbed and the 99th Infantry Battalion's mission was given to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). About 100 members of the unit joined the OSS for that mission. The remainder of the 99th Infantry Battalion went on to fight in Europe during the Normandy Campaign, the Battle of the Bulge, and through to the end of the war. The "Norwegian Avengers" ended their war as occupation troops in Norway, helping to process the surrender of over a hundred thousand German soldiers before the unit was returned to the United States for deactivation.
The 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) in Norway. 

I found the story of these Scandinavian immigrant soldiers to be really captivating. So much so that I wrote an article for Military Vet Shop on the unit: "A Summary History of the 99th Infantry Battalion." I hope you'll give it a read and share it with others, as this unique unit deserves recognition and remembrance.

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