The Norwegian Campaign was a military campaign that was fought in Norway during the Second World War between the Allies and Germany, after the latter’s invasion of the country. In April 1940, the United Kingdom and France came to Norway’s aid with an expeditionary force. Despite moderate success, Germany’s invasion of France the following June compelled the Allies to withdraw and the Norwegian government to seek exile in London. The campaign subsequently ended with the occupation of Norway by Germany. The conflict occurred between 9 April and 10 June 1940, making Norway the nation that withstood a German invasion for the longest period of time, aside from the Soviet Union.
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Hitler Strikes North
Whatever doubts still remained of the terrifying efficiency of the German war machine after the Polish campaign, were soon dispelled by its feat of arms in Scandinavia. Norway and Denmark, both pacifist and dedicated to neutrality, had done absolutely nothing to provoke aggression – but their geographical position was such as to excite the imaginations of both Axis and Allied leaders. Though belatedly, the rest of the world was made to realise that no nation, no matter how innocent, was safe from conflict.
Two things brought war to Scandinavia: Norway’s geographical position, involving her coastline inevitably in the strategy of the North Sea, and Sweden’s iron ore.
The British Isles, lying like a gigantic breakwater across the western exits of the North Sea, bar the German ports in the south-eastern angle of that sea from the Atlantic. A navy weaker than the British one might be effective against Britain’s sensitive sea communications if its ships could reach the wide areas of the Atlantic – but from German ports they could do so only at the risk of being brought to battle.
In 1939 Germany imported about 10,000,000 tons of iron ore from Sweden; of this about 1,000,000 tons came from central Sweden and the remainder from Gällivare in the far north. From Gällivare ore railways run to the Baltic, and to Narvik on the western coast of Norway. Narvik is the better port and, being ice-free, the only one for winter shipments from January to April. In peacetime more ore went to Germany through Narvik than through Luleå, but with a little capital expenditure Luleå could have been made capable of shipping the full 9,000,000 tons during the eight months it was open. So long as Norway was neutral and the Allies respected her neutrality, German warships and blockade runners could use the Inner Leads to reach the wide spaces of the Norwegian Sea to try for the Atlantic, and German ore ships might come and go from Narvik safe from any blockade.
Most of this was, of course, realised in Berlin, Oslo, and London in September 1939, but the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow seemed to dominate the North Sea, and Raeder [Erich Johann Albert Raeder 1876-1960 Wikipedia] believed that on balance Norwegian neutrality offered greater advantages to Germany than would the seizure of Norwegian bases. The Norwegians believed that the Germans could not invade them in the face of British sea power, and that the British would not; while the British Chiefs-of-Staff – even as late as March 1940, as the Germans mounted their invasion – held that a German invasion of Norway’s western sea-board was impracticable.
In February 1940 the Altmark [German Tanker Altmark Wikipedia], a supply ship for the pocket-battleship Graf Spee [German Cruiser Admiral Graf Spee Wikipedia], which had been scuttled in the River Plate, was returning to Germany through the Leads with a large number of British seamen, prisoners taken from ships sunk by the Graf Spee. As a naval auxiliary she claimed freedom from search when challenged by the Norwegians off Trondheim and, later, off Bergen. Allowed after some delay to proceed unsearched, she was intercepted on February 16 near Jösenfjord on the southern coast of Norway by the British cruiser Arethusa [HMS Arethusa Wikipedia] and the 4th Destroyer Flotilla under Captain Vian [Admiral of the Fleet Sir Philip Louis Vian GCB KBE DSO 1894-1968 Wikipedia]. Two small Norwegian warships escorting her insisted that the British must not interfere with her while she was in neutral waters, and the Altmark took refuge in Jösenfjord.
Three hours later Vian, acting on direct orders from Churchill at the Admiralty, approached the Altmark to board her, having first offered the Norwegians the option of escorting her back to Bergen for further searching. By then it was dark. As the destroyer Cossack [HMS Cossack Wikipedia], with Vian aboard, came alongside her much larger opponent, the Altmark attempted to ram her, but went aground in the fjord. British seamen leapt on board the Altmark and seized her bridge at pistol point. Others went for the prisoners and were fired upon by German guards, who then fled across the ice. Eight Germans were shot or drowned and 299 British prisoners transferred to the Cossack. The Altmark was left to extricate herself from the ice and continue her voyage to Germany.
On February 19 Hitler ordered planning for Weserübung (‘Exercise Weser’) [Operation Weserübung wikipedia], the code name for the invasion of Norway, to be speeded up. Two days later a corps commander, General von Falkenhurst [Nikolaus von Falkenhurst 1885 – 1968 wikipedia], and his staff were put in charge of the operation. Germany’s need for airfields close to Norway and to the sea crossings from Germany sealed Denmark’s fate, for Falkenhurst modified the plan to include the occupation of Denmark and the forcible seizure of the Aalborg airfields at the northern end of the Jutland peninsula. On March 1 Hitler issued his formal directive for the invasions, over-riding heated objections from the army and air staffs, and insisting that all preparations should be pushed ahead energetically.
Norway, similar in area to the British Isles, had in 1940 a population of about 3,000,000. Land communications, although improving slowly, were limited, most of the main ones fanning out from Oslo. The older seaborne communications were circumferential, by the Leads and the fjords running inland from them, and much of the population centred about the coastal cities.
In Weserübung Nord, the occupation of Norway, the Germans planned to seize Oslo, the coastal cities, and Narvik in the far north by coups de main, and then thrust out from Oslo to link up by land, finally establishing air and land communication with Narvik. The coups at Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, and Kristiansand would be made initially by troops in warships, that at Stavanger by parachute assault and air landing at the vital Sola airfield. Oslo, the linchpin of the plan, would be taken by assault from both sea and air. In the hope that the Norwegians would submit to the inevitable, German forces were ordered not to fire unless fired upon but, if resisted, to carry through the attack with full force. In all, six divisions would be employed in Norway with strong air support. About 10,000 men from three divisions would make the initial coups.
In Weserübung Süd, the occupation of Denmark, two motorised brigade groups would force the Danish frontier and drive on north up the Jutland peninsula for the Aalborg airfields, which would be seized in advance by a parachute platoon and an air-landed battalion. Other groups would land on the Danish islands, secure the bridges connecting them to the mainland, and drive across Sjӕlland Islands for Copenhagen. At Copenhagen itself, the old battleship Schleswig-Holstein [SMS Schleswig-Holstein wikipedia] would force the harbour entrance and land an infantry battalion, while the Luftwaffe overhead threatened the city and destroyed the aircraft on the military airfield. In all, two divisions and an independent brigade group would be used.
When the Finnish peace was announced, Hitler and Raeder hesitated, then decided to go ahead in spite of it. On April 2 Hitler gave the executive order, setting the invasions for the early hours of April 9. The next day German merchant ships carrying troops and supplies began to leave German ports unescorted, and Early on April 7 the first warships sailed with the troops for the initial landings.
Meanwhile in London, Churchill had at last persuaded Chamberlain to permit mining the Leads. Warning notes were handed to Norway and Sweden on April 5, the same day that the mining forces sailed. The operations mounted in Britain were, however, very different in scale and intent from Weserübung. While the Home Fleet remained in Scapa Flow, eight destroyers were to lay a minefield in Vestfjorden on the approach to Ofotfjord and Narvik. A minelayer escorted by four destroyers was to lay another field in the Leads between Trondheim and Bergen, and two more destroyers were to mark a dummy field near Trondheim. Later, the battle-cruiser Renown [HMS Renown wikipedia] with a screen of of four destroyers was sent to reinforce the Vestfjorden force. Four battalions of the 146th [146th Infantry Brigade wikipedia] and 148th [148th Infantry Brigade wikipedia] Infantry Brigades embarked in cruisers at Rosyth, a battalion each of the 24th Guards [24th Infantry Brigade wikipedia] and the 146th Infantry Brigades embarked in transports in the Clyde; the rest of the 24th Guards Brigade was held in readiness. All troops embarked were to remain in British ports until indications of German action against Norway seemed to justify their dispatch.
Raeder was well aware of the risks he ran in sending his ships to land troops in the west and north, but he counted on the unexpectedness of his attack to take both British and Norwegians off their guard. He insisted, however, that the warships return immediately they had landed the troops, so that they would not be caught when the British fleet appeared off the Norwegian coast.
On April 7 British aircraft found and later bombed, without effect, German warships steaming north in company. Group 1 of this force comprised the battle-cruisers Gneisenau [German Battleship Gneisenau wikipedia] and Scharnhorst [German Battleship Scharnhorst wikipedia], escorting ten destroyers carrying a regiment of the III Mountain Division [3rd Mountain Division wikipedia] to Narvik; Group 2 was the cruiser Hipper [German Cruiser Hipper wikipedia] and four destroyers with two battalions of another regiment of the division, bound for Trondheim. Although the sighting report reached the Admiralty and Sir Charles Forbes [Charles Forbes 1880 – 1960 wikipedia], Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, the more detailed and accurate report of the single squadron which found and bombed the German ships was not received until the returning aircraft landed. Then, on the evening of April 7, the Home Fleet sailed from Scapa Flow for the Norwegian coast to intercept the Germans.
On the night of the 7th a gale arose and swept the Norwegian Sea for the whole of the 8th and the early hours of the 9th. Meeting it during the night of the 7th, the German destroyers of Groups 1 and 2, driving on to keep station on the big ships, were damaged and thrown into disorder. On the morning of the 8th one of them sighted an unknown destroyer, which fired two salvoes at her before disappearing into the murk. A little later another German destroyer, the Bernd von Arnim [German Destroyer Z11 Bernd von Arnim wikipedia], sighted the stranger, which turned to pursue her. It was the British destroyer Glowworm [HMS Glowworm wikipedia] – one of the Renown’s [HMS Renown wikipedia] screen – which had parted company in search of a man washed overboard. Then the two destroyers, exchanging gunfire in the storm, met the Hipper coming back to aid the Germans. For a moment both mistook her for British: then she opened fire, hitting the Glowworm with her first salvo.
The Glowworm made smoke and appeared to turn away: the Hipper followed her into the smoke. But Lieutenant-Commander Roope [Gerard Broadmead Roope 1905 – 1940 wikipedia], in command of the Glowworm, had decided to ram, and as the Hipper came through the smoke cloud she saw the Glowworm at close range on her starboard bow. Now the Hipper too decided to ram, fearing torpedoes, but she answered her helm slowly, and the Glowworm’s bow struck her side, tearing away 120 feet of armour. Then the Glowworm passed astern, on fire and sinking. There was an explosion and she disappeared. The Hipper stopped to pick up oil-covered survivors, but Roope, as he was being hauled on board, fell back into the sea exhausted, and was lost. Later, when the story became known in Britain, he was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Vice-Admiral Sir Max Horton [Max Kennedy Horton 1883 – 1951 wikipedia], commanding British submarines, and noted for his intuition of German intentions, had on his own initiative sent all available submarines to lie off German ports and sea routes to Norway. They saw many cargo ships, northward-bound, pass before their periscopes, but because their orders were to torpedo only warships and ships recognisable as troop transports, they had to let them go. Then, on April 8, the Polish submarine Orzel [ORP Orzel wikipedia] torpedoed and sank the Rio de Janeiro [MS Rio de Janeiro wikipedia]. A hundred or so survivors picked up by Norwegian fishing boats turned out to be German soldiers who said that they were on their way to save Bergen from the British, thus confirming earlier reports received in London and Oslo of German troop movements and embarkations.
The Home Fleet was late in leaving Scapa Flow, and by now the German Groups 1 and 2 were well to its north. At 0400 hours on the 8th Forbes, with two battleships and several cruisers, was 120 miles south-west of the entrance to Trondheimsfjord [Trondheimsfjord wikipedia], with other British cruisers farther south 70 or 80 miles off the coast at Bergen. The Renown was about to join the destroyers laying mines in Vestfjorden [Vestfjorden wikipedia], 500 miles to the north Forbes, and the battle-cruiser Repulse [HMS Repulse wikipedia]and the cruiser Penelope [HMS Penelope wikipedia], sent ahead by Forbes on the Glowworm’s enemy reports, were between the two.
Of the Germans, Group 1 was now some 200 miles north-east of Forbes, and Group 2 about 100 miles away from him, waiting to enter Trondheimsfjord. Farther south Group 3, the light cruisers Köln [German Cruiser Köln wikipedia] and Königsberg [German Cruiser Königsberg wikipedia] with two naval auxiliaries and some torpedo boats, was about to enter the fjords leading to Bergen. Group 4, the light cruiser Karlsruhe [German Cruiser Karlsruhe wikipedia] with torpedo boats bound for Kristiansand, and Group 5, the cruisers Blücher [German Cruiser Blücher wikipedia] and Emden [German Cruiser Emden wikipedia], the pocket-battleship Lützow [German Cruiser Deutschland wikipedia], and light craft for Oslo, were off the Danish coast steaming north.
A British flying boat found and reported the Hipper, but she happened to be on a westerly course, and Forbes, failing to realise that she was bound for Norway, turned north-west and missed her. Then at 2000 hours on the 8th, after further reports had reached him, Forbes began to realise the Germans’ intentions and turned south, ordering the Repulse and Penelope to continue north and join the Renown. Thus in the early hours of the 9th, as the German ships entered the fjords and approached the cities, the Home Fleet was steaming south about 60 miles off the coast, while in the far north the Renown and her destroyers battled with the full force of the gale.
The Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, having sent their destroyers into Vestfjorden for Narvik, broke north-west. Early that morning they met and were chased by the Renown. The Gneisenau suffered minor damage before the Germans could shake off their pursuer, but in withdrawing they failed to take the chance to sink the isolated, older, and more lightly armoured British battle-cruiser.
Early in the morning of April 9th the ten weather-beaten German destroyers of Group 1 steamed up Ofotfjord for Narvik. Off the port they sighted, between snow squalls, the 40 year old Norwegian coastal defence vessel Eidsvoll [HNoMS Eidsvoll wikipedia], which fired a warning shot. Commodore Bonte [Freidrich Bonte (1896-1940) wikipedia], in the Wilhelm Heidekamp [German Destroyer Z21 Wilhelm Heidekamp wikipedia], with General Dietl [Eduard Dietl (1890-1944) wikipedia] commanding the III Mountain Division, lowered a boat and sent an officer to the Norwegian ship. He explained to Captain Willoch [Odd Isaachsen Willoch (1885-1940) wikipedia] of the Eidsvoll that the Germans came as friends to protect the Norwegians from the British, and demanded that the Eidsvoll’s guns and engines should be put out of action. Willoch refused, and as the German boat returned to the destroyer he began to train his guns on the Germans. A moment later the explosion of three German torpedoes ripped his ship apart. Eight of the crew of 182 were saved.
Three other German destroyers had already crossed the fjord to Bjerkvik on the north shore for their soldiers to seize the nearby Norwegian army depot. Now Bonte took three others into Narvik. As the soldiers jumped ashore on the quay, the Eidsvoll’s sister ship, the Norge [HNoMS Norge wikipedia], opened fire. Although the harbour was full of merchant ships and icing hampered the Germans in directing their torpedo tubes, soon two torpedoes struck the Norge and she capsized and sank. Half her crew was saved from the icy waters of the fjord.
Dietl was soon ashore, demanding to see the garrison commander. Confused, and half expecting the strangers to be British, the Norwegian soldiers had not fired. Colonel Sundlo [Konrad Sundlo (1881-1965) wikipedia], the garrison commander, warned Dietl that he would resist and would open fire in half an hour. Dietl pleaded with him to avoid what he claimed would be utterly useless bloodshed, and the old colonel lost his nerve and surrendered the port. (Though Sundlo was later charged with having betrayed the port to the enemy, a post-war court-martial exonerated him.) Then Dietl and Bonte, their small force isolated in the northern snows and short of heavy weapons and ammunition, had to prepare to meet the superior Allied forces they knew would be approaching.
Off Trondheim the Hipper exchanged shots with the batteries guarding the narrow fjord entrance, as she led her destroyers past them at 25 knots and then landed her troops at the defenceless city. At Bergen the defence batteries were slow to open fire and suffered from misfires and jams, but they did manage to damage the Königsberg and the naval auxiliary Bremse [German Training Ship Bremse wikipedia] before German soldiers landed and took the city. At Stavanger the air assault on Sola went through with hardly a hitch, and soon the city was in German hands. At Kristiansand the batteries were at first effective in holding off the German ships approaching in a sea fog, but they then mistook the returning Germans for French, and the Germans took the city.
So far as Denmark was concerned, the country had fallen with hardly a shot, and German aircraft began to operate from the Alborg airfields. In Copenhagen the King ordered resistance to cease, and his country to pass quietly under the German yoke.
Ironically, it was the vital Oslo attack, reinforced by assault from both sea and air, that came nearest to failure. In the morning twilight of the 9th the new German heavy cruiser Blücher, carrying Vice-Admiral Kummetz [Oskar Kummetz (1891-1980) wikipedia] and General Engelbrecht [Erwin Engelbrecht (1891-1964) wikipedia] of the 163rd Infantry Division [163rd Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)wikipedia] with 1,000 of his soldiers, was sunk in the Drøbak Narrows, two thirds of the way up Oslofjord [Oslofjord wikipedia], by the guns and torpedoes of Oscarsborg fortress [Oscarsborg fortress wikipedia], and the ships following her forced to turn back, and the airlift was recalled to land at Aalborg. One troop carrying formation, however, disregarded the recall and landed at Fornebu, the Oslo airport, and although some of its aircraft were destroyed by Norwegian fire, the remaining troops seized the airfield. The recalled aircraft then refuelled at Aalborg and came on to Oslo, while others were diverted there from Stavanger. By the afternoon the airlift was back on schedule, and the Germans marched into the city.
Major-General Moulton, J. L
taken from History of the Second World War
[Phoebus Publishing Ltd in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum]
Resistance: The Early Days ~ Norway
In spite of Quisling, the population reacted as one body. The presence of King Haakon and his government in London, plus the continuation of the fight by 85% of the fleet and by small units of the army and air force, favoured this attitude.
At the end of 1940 a nucleus of clandestine organization was formed by military personnel under General Ruge. Called Milorg [Milorg wikipedia] (‘military organisation’), this body set itself a long-term programme to create a secret army but to avoid any action that might jeopardize its intervention at H-hour. This caused mutual distrust with the SOE, which, following their short-term programme, started sabotage and raids with their agents in June 1940. Milorg, moreover, disapproved of the commando raid on the Lofoten Isles in March 1941, which was followed by fierce German reprisals.
Thus co-operation with SOE did not occur before 1943, although during the first period of the war liaison with the outside was relatively easy because of the long Norwegian coastline. There was in fact very soon an almost regular service – given the name ‘The Shetland-Bus’ – between the Shetland Isles and Norway.
Dr Jean-Lèon Charles
taken from History of the Second World War
[Phoebus Publishing Ltd in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum]
The Norwegian View
Norway was unprepared for war in 1940. The nation had enjoyed well over a century of peace and the government was confident that a policy of pacifism and neutrality would see them through. But neither Germany nor Britain was prepared to respect neutrality.
The morning was foggy, the sea very calm and oily. Then suddenly the people of the little town of Lillesand near the southern corner of Norway were startled by the roaring thunder of an explosion out to sea. The thunder was followed by the shrill, long-drawn whistle of a ship’s siren. Women came out into the street, wringing their hands in anxiety over sons and husbands out fishing. The time was 11.50 am, April 8, 1940.
Nothing more was heard from the sea until three fishing vessels glided into the harbour with the familiar honk-honk of their heavy-oil motors. Their decks were crowded with men – some dead, some wounded. And, to the onlookers’ surprise, some carried arms and wore military uniforms. The head of the local police took control. He arranged for the wounded to be taken to hospital, and the unwounded to be given warm clothing and food. But he also started to interrogate them, and soon found out that they were on their way to Bergen ‘to protect Norway against English invaders’. This was quickly and correctly reported to both military and civil authorities in Oslo.
What had really happened was that the German troop transport Rio de Janeiro [MS Rio de Janeiro Wikipedia] had been torpedoed off Lillesand by the Polish submarine Orzel [ORP Orzel Wikipedia]. The Rio de Janeiro had been due to arrive at her destination, Bergen, on April 9 before 4.15 am, as were all ships participating in Hitler’s Weserübung [Operation Weserübung Wikipedia] the attack on Norway.
On April 8, however, the Norwegian government received information which overshadowed the sinking of the Rio de Janeiro: the British navy had laid mines in Norwegian territorial waters to stop the German iron-ore ships from Narvik. This act, the government reckoned, could be expected to provoke a violent reaction from Hitler – especially since the British had violated Norwegian neutrality a few weeks earlier by attacking the German supply-ship Altmark in Jösenfjord.
taken from History of the Second World War
[Phoebus Publishing Ltd in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum]