Norwegian-Americans during World War II

Several weeks ago I received an email from a Norwegian writer who is doing research on an unusual unit of the United States Army in World War II, one with which I wasn’t familiar. The unit was the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), popularly known as the “Norwegian Avengers.” Native Norwegians and Americans who could speak Norwegian fluently were recruited for a possible invasion of German-occupied Norway. The following description is from the website of the 99th Infantry Battalion Educational Foundation:

Shoulder patch of the 99th Infantry battalion

The 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) was activated at Camp Ripley, Minnesota on August 15, 1942 as per written instructions by the War Department.  This unique elite unit was to consist only of Norwegians and Americans with direct Norwegian descent.  Soldiers picked out for this elite unit had to have a working knowledge of the Norwegian language and preferably already knowing how to ski.

The unit was set up for a possible invasion and liberation of Norway, but saw combat action in France, Belgium and Germany before becoming the 99th Battalion of the 474th Infantry Regiment (Separate) and being sent to Norway in June 1945 to disarm the German occupational force.

The 99th Infantry Battalion was organized at Camp Ripley in Minnesota, but did most of its  training at Camp Hale, Colorado. The battalion spent the winter of 1943-44 there along with the 10th Mountain Division of the US Army training in ski operations and winter survival skills. The photo at the top of this post is from Camp Hale.

The writer who contacted me is Anthoni Pisani and he has already published one book on the 99th, “The Canal Drive: The 99th Infantry battalion and the liberation of Belgian Limburg”. His first email to me was this:

Hi, I am a Norwegian writer currently working on a book about the Norwegian-American 99th Infantry Battalion in WWII. I am trying to locate relatives of Arnold Andvik, as he was a member of this unit. Are you related to him? I am hoping to find photographs, letters and other documents that could help tell the story of these men. Best regards, Antoni Pisani, (Author of “The Canal Drive: The 99th Infantry battalion and the liberation of Belgian Limburg) Lillesand, Norway

The man to whom Mr. Pisani refers was Arnold Olai Andvik, my father’s first cousin. Arnold was the half-brother of  Odd Bjarne Andvik, a relative about whom I’ve written in previous posts. Arnold was born in the United States, but moved to Norway at the age of 2. His father bought his family’s farm from a sibling and decided his future might be brighter in Norway than America. Very shortly after that transaction, however, his wife died from tuberculosis and he had a couple of unforeseen financial losses with the farm. He remarried and had another child (Odd Bjarne), but within 5 years, he decided to return to the United States.

Arnold and his siblings grew up in a household where Norwegian was regularly spoken, so it’s not a surprise that when it came time to join the war effort, he would have been attracted to the unique recruiting requirements of the 99th Infantry battalion. He married in the fall of 1941 and enlisted in the Army in the spring of 1943, the same year that my father enlisted.

After I received Mr. Pisani’s message, I responded that I had no information about Arnold Andvik, but I had contact information for Brian Andvik, one of his sons, so I would pass his message along.

In a second message that both Brian and I received, Mr. Pisani stated the following:

On December 5, 1944 – a few weeks prior to the “Battle of the Bulge” I find his name listed in the HQ Company morning report. His MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) was changed from 368 (Personnel Clerk) to 275 (Classification specialist). My guess is that he was working as an assistant for Lt. Wallace Knutsen – the battalion S1 (Personnel officer).I also find him in Nyquist’s archive (see attached) – and I have a short story told by HK Hansen (A Company clerk) about an incident in Valenciennes in France.

The 99th landed on Omaha Beach two weeks after the Allied invasion of France in June of 1944 in the operation known as D-Day. They marched through France and into Belgium and arrived in the area near Bastogne in early December. They fought  in the Battle of the Bulge, although they weren’t involved in the siege of Bastogne. Their finest hour was repulsing a German attack at a roadblock near the town of Malmedy, Belgium.

A 2.5 ton “Jimmy” truck from the HQ of the 99th battalion during European operations.

If you’ve seen the movie “The Monuments Men” or read the book “The Rape of Europa”, you’re familiar with the systematic theft of many of the cultural artifacts of the countries of France, Italy, Belgium, Poland and Czechoslovakia by the German army. They stole as much art as they could find from museums and privates homes, and hid it in underground facilities in Germany, usually in mineral mines. In the spring of 1945, an international consortium of art experts were tasked by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with finding it.

The potassium mine at Merkers in Germany ultimately divulged one of the most astonishing discoveries of the war. There the Monuments Men found the entire gold bullion reserves of the German Third Reich. This included not only the gold reserves of Germany, but the stolen gold from other European central banks. Wikipedia tells us what came next:

Between April 15–18, 1945, the 474th Infantry Regiment, including the 99th Infantry Battalion, was responsible for the transportation of Nazi treasures found in the Merkers mine. The convoy, named “Task Force Hansen,” transported 3,762 bags of currency, 8,307 gold bars, 3,326 bags of gold coins, and numerous bags of silver, platinum, jewelry and art treasures to a safe place in the Frankfurt area.

The convoy was named “Task Force Hansen” because the commanding officer of the 99th Infantry Battalion was Lt. Colonel Harold D. Hansen.

WWII ended in Europe on May 8, 1945. The end of the war allowed the Norwegian monarch, King Haakon VII, to return to Norwegian soil after more than six years in exile in England. This repatriation became the context for the next mission of the 99th Battalion, the Norwegian Avengers.

After the war, King Haakon VII made the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) his honorary guards.  The Battalion stayed in Oslo area together with the other two battalions of the 474th Infantry Regiment until October 1945 when they went back to the United States.

Arnold Andvik mustered out of the United States Army in the fall of 1945 upon the return of the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) to the United States.

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II this year, I feel a personal debt of gratitude for the good work of the Norwegian Avengers. Thank you cousin Arnold!

2 thoughts on “Norwegian-Americans during World War II

  1. This was my dad’s unit! He recalled someone came through asking for anyone of Norwegian heritage to join (the thought being they would have some sort of genetic predisposition for tolerating cold and snow). Although 100% Swedish, he thought “Close enough” and signed up.

    1. That’s amazing. I didn’t know that was possible until I saw a film about the 99th which said that there were Finns in the outfit. I guess there were Swedes as well!

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