The 1940 Norway Campaign
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Quisling (noun) - Someone who collaborates with an enemy occupying force.
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In the early months of the Second World War, Germany and Britain soon recognised Norway’s unique strategic importance. Control of Norway would free the way to the North Atlantic, access to the Baltic Sea and German coast from the south and the Arctic Ocean and the approaches to the Soviet Union from the far north. The British Government were acutely aware of the German munition industry’s dependence on Swedish iron ore, much of which was transported through Narvik and the Norwegian Leads.
The Pacifist Norwegian Government declared Norway neutral and Hitler was not interested in mounting an offensive in the North until 14 December, 1939 when he gave an audience to Vidkun Quisling, the leader of Nasjonal Samling (National Union), a small Norwegian party. He alleged with complete assurance that the Soviet Union would soon attack Norway and that independent British intervention was imminent. Hitler ordered an investigation, Studie Nord, in which Admiral Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine recommended landings along the Norwegian coast, from Oslo to Tromsø. He considered Norway invaluable in his plans for the 'Siege of Great Britain'.
Meanwhile, the British Government were considering various means of preventing the transport of iron ore, including plans to mine the Leads, the sea corridor between Norway's offshore islands and the mainland down which the German merchant ships sailed. The 1939 Russo-Finnish war gave the Allies the opportunity to send troops to Scandinavia to support the defence of Finland.
On February 16, 1940 an RAF observation plane sighted the German supply ship Altmark in Norwegian territorial waters. Believing she was carrying Allied prisoners, Churchill sent a flotilla of destroyers commanded by Captain Philip Vian to intercept her in the Jøssingfjord. The destroyer Cossack approached and her men boarded the Altmark and freed the 299 captive merchant seamen on board. This incident convinced Hitler that the Allies had plans to strike in Scandinavia, and he appointed Lieutenant-General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst to command the planned conquest of Norway and Denmark code named Operation Weserűbung. D-day was to be 20 March, but was later put back to 9 April.
The signing of the Finno-Soviet Peace treaty ended Allied plans for intervention on Finland’s behalf. Following the bombing of Scapa Flow, the British War Cabinet's attention shifted from Scandinavia though it took the decision to mine the Leads and to land troops in response to German aggression, believing there would be time to reach the major Norwegian ports before the Germans in this event.
On 26 February, 1940 the attack plan was drawn up from Studie Nord Hitler's invasion forces comprised of two corps: for Norway XXI Corps with two mountain divisions and five infantry divisions; and for Denmark XXXI Corps with two divisions, the 170th and 198th. This included landing 2,000 men at Narvik, 1,700 at Trondheim, 1,300 at Bergen and more troops at Kristiansand and Egersund. 163rd Division, the general staff of the expedition and other staff deemed necessary (the Gestapo) were to head for Oslo. They would be supported by all available warships and 41 troop transports; and by the Luftwaffe with 290 bombers, 40 stukas and 100 fighters.
Hitler decided to implement Weserübung as soon as possible in order to prevent any British aggression in Scandinavia, secure Naval and air bases for use against Britain and to safeguard iron ore imports. A surprise attack was considered vital for the success of Weserűbung but most of the troops and their supplies had to be transported by sea so the plan relied on a lightning attack on vital locations using no more than 9,000 assault troops in the spearhead.
As Hitler’s forces embarked, the British ships also set sail for Scandinavia.
The German attack started on 9 April 1940. Denmark surrendered within hours. The German assault troops landed at the principal Norwegian ports of Kritiansand, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim, Narvik and Oslo. Two Norwegian coastal defence vessels were blown out of the water at Narvik; at Trondheim, the heavy cruiser Hipper and four cruisers forced the fjord entrance; at Bergen the cruiser Königsberg was damaged but landed ample troops to capture the town; and in the Oslofjord, Rear-Admiral Oskar Kummetz's force came under heavy fire, and Blűcher, Germany's most modern cruiser, was sunk while the pocket battleship Lűtzow was damaged and had to pull out. Half the force intended to take Oslo were lost, but paratroops completed the invasion.
At Narvik, the German 3rd Mountain Division disembarked successfully from ten destroyers, but its equipment and supplies did not arrive along with one of two tankers intended for refuelling the destroyers. These had been delayed in Vestfjord, leading to Narvik, and were diccovered there on 10 April by Captain B A W Warburton Lee, in command of the British 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, sweeping into the fjord. In the resulting battle, Warburton-Lee was killed and half the German destroyers were disabled or destroyed. The other half were destroyed three days later when another Royal Navy flotilla entered, led by the battleship Warspite.
German garrisons were soon established in most of Norway’s cities. The Allies had failed to prevent the landings though some success was achieved at sea. The battle cruiser Renown damaged the German battlecruiser Gneisenau on 9 April; a British submarine sank the light cruiser Karlsruhe; and Kőnigsberg was damaged at Bergen and later destroyed by Naval aircraft.
Oslo was in chaos. German paratroopers had occupied all strategic points, the city suffered heavy air attack and her Government, King Haaken and her citizens were evacuating. In the evening of 9 April, Hitler accepted Quisling's offer to govern Norway.
At Narvik, the invasion force could not have withstood an immediate Allied assault, action favoured by Allied naval commander, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cork and Orrery. The land commander, Major-General P J Mackesy, disagreed with this course of action because the harbour was strongly fortified with machine-gun posts. Mackesy wanted to occupy unoccupied positions on the approaches to Narvik and remain there until the snow melted. The two commanders could not agree and the Germans gained by the delay.
The Norwegian commander-in-chief, General Otto Ruge, attempted to retain the vast areas of Norway not occupied by the Germans, and to regain the land taken by the Germans. He did not think he could hold out until Allied reinforcements arrived, and decided to hold on to as much of the open country around Oslo as he could. He felt the Allied troops, unaccustomed to mountain warfare, may be more successful on this terrain, but the Germans quickly brought in reinforcements and equipment and Ruge's forces were threatened at too many points and by mid-April, he could no longer defend the region of Oslo, and retreated to the south of Lillehammer where he waited for Allied reinforcements and tried to prevent the Germans in the south linking up with those at Trondheim.
The Allies now felt the keys to the campaign were Trondheim, the main link between the north and south of the country and Narvik the port from which the Swedish iron ore was shipped. Operation Hammer consisted of a frontal attack on Trondheim from the sea and for two subsidiary landings - one at Namsos, 130 km to the north of Trondheim, and another at Andalsnes, 240km to the south. Major-General A Carton de Wiart commanded the Nasmos force, the 146th Brigade and a demi-brigade of French Chasseurs Alpins. Brigadier H de R Morgan led the Andalsnes landing with the 148th Brigade. Both landings were successful, but the British chiefs-of-staff decided to cancel the Operation since they did not wish to put the fleet at risk. Instead, a pincer movement was to close in on Trondheim from Andalsnes and Nasmos, and the troops already landed would receive reinforcements.
By this time the Germans had also received reinforcements. The Luftwaffe had complete air supremacy and the Allies were subjected to continual air attack. In Namsos the troops were particularly vulnerable and they advanced to Verdal. Here, the Germans sent a stronger force to attack on 21 April, and the Allies withdrew in heavy snow. De Wiart’s force was evacuated on 3 May under heavy air attack.
Morgan and his 148th Brigade had hastened from Andalsnes to Lillehammer and joined up with General Ruge. On 24 April, Major-General B T C Paget and the 15 Brigade also arrived and Paget assumed command. They faced the Germans in a series of battles with great bravery and determination. On 1 May, the Allies were evacuated from Andalsnes.
Forces withdrew from the Trondheim area - the Inter-Allied Supreme War Council had decided on 26 April to concentrate on Narvik, much to the disappointment of the Norwegians.
The superiority of the Germans was becoming clear. The Allies failed at Trondheim; and at Narvik an improvised force of 6,000 Germans held 20,000 Allied troops at bay.
Lieutenant-General Claude Auchinleck took command of the Narvik operation and built up his force with the troops withdrawn from central Norway although some British soldiers were left to notify Auchinleck of any German attempts to advance overland from Trondheim.
Further reinforcements included General Marie Emile Béthouart's 1st Chassuer (light) Division, two battalions of the French Foreign Legion, four Polish battalions and 3,500 Norwegians.
The German commander at Narvik, Lieutenant-General Eduard Dietl had 10 German battalions ready in defence. Dietl and Béthouart were both experts at mountain warfare.
At midnight on 27 May, Béthouart led a force, supported by a bombardment from the Royal Navy, in an assault southwards across Rombaksfjord. At the same time, two Polish battalions attacked to the east from the south bank of the fjord. By late afternoon, the German garrison retreated inland and Béthouart's forces reached the outskirts of Narvik. He then stood aside to let the Norwegian 6th Division enter the town.
On 7 June, the Germans entered Narvik to find the Allies had gone and the port destroyed. Between 4 and 8 June, the Allies had evacuated secretly in four convoys mainly due to the worsening situation in France.
The German warships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Hipper were at sea and on 8 June, they sank a British tanker and armed trawler. Then they hit the troopship Orama. Later, the British aircraft carrier Glorious was spotted and Scharnhorst and Gneisenau destroyed her and sank the destroyer Ardent. But another destroyer, Acasta, launched a torpedo which severely damaged Scharnhorst.
This was the last action of the Norwegian campaign. On 10 June, General Ruge signed the treaty of capitulation for the Norwegian Army. The Germans lost more than five thousand men; Britain, France and Poland some two thousand and Norway lost 1,335.
Although Allied action did not achieve its objective in stopping the transport of iron ore to Germany, or in recapturing Norway, the German losses suffered during the action at sea ultimately resulted in there being too few ships for the proposed invasion of England.
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