Norway and Denmark 1940


To learn more about naval mines, please click on the above image.

Norway, though neutral, was considered strategically important for both sides for two main reasons. First was the importance of the port of Narvik, from which large quantities of Swedish iron ore (on which Germany depended) were exported. Secondly, control of Norway was considered to be crucially important to Germany's ability to use its sea power effectively against the Allies, particularly Britain.

The Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland in late 1939 / early 1940 and the British raid on the German supply vessel Altmark, whilst in Norwegian waters, fuelled further tensions in the region. Both the Allies and the Germans stepped up plans for aggressive action to further their war aims. The Allied plan was to mine Norwegian waters to stop iron ore shipments from Narvik and provoke Germany into attacking Norway, where it could be defeated by the Royal Navy. Minelaying began on the 8th April 1940.

The German plan, Operation Weserübung was more ambitious. The plan called for the capture of six primary targets by amphibious landings: Oslo, Kristiansand, Egersund, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. Additionally, supporting paratroopers were to capture other key locations such as airfields at Fornebu outside Oslo and Sola outside Stavanger. The plan was designed to quickly overwhelm the Norwegian defenders and occupy these vital areas before any form of organized resistance could be mounted. Denmark was also to be captured by force to obtain the use of bases there to support the invasion of Norway. German forces set sail on the 7th April 1940.

A Junkers 52 drops German paratrooper reinforcements near Bjoernefjell on the Narvik front.

Norwegian defences in Narvik fjord were quickly overcome, as were those at Trondheim, Egersund and Stavanger. At Bergen and Kristiansand, the defensive fortifications put up stiffer resistance and the light cruisers Königsberg and Karlsruhe were badly damaged (later both destroyed by British air and submarine attack respectively). The most serious resistance came from the inner defensive forts at Oslofjord. The cruiser Blücher, leading a group of troop transports, approached the forts, assuming that they could take them by surprise, as had been the case with those in the outer fjord. It was not until the cruiser was at point-blank range that Oscarsborg Fortress opened fire, connecting with every shot. Within a matter of minutes, Blücher was crippled and burning heavily. The damaged cruiser was sunk by a salvo of antiquated, 40-year-old torpedoes launched from land-based torpedo tubes. She carried much of the administrative personnel intended both for the occupation of Norway and also for the headquarters of the army division assigned to seize Oslo. The invasion force was forced to withdraw and unload its forces 12 miles to the south. However, airborne troops flown into Fornebu Airfield, had managed to occupy Oslo within 12 hours.

German cruiser Blucher sunk in Oslofjord 9th April, 1940.

The German Wehrmacht crossed the Danish border at around 05:15 on 9 April. In a coordinated operation, German troops disembarked at the docks of Langelinie in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, and began occupying the city. German paratroops also captured Aalborg Airport. By 08:43am, Denmark had capitulated.

The British immediately sent strong naval forces to Norway, although German air power restricted their surface operations to the north of the country. The 2nd Destroyer Flotilla (consisting of His Majesty's Ships Hardy, Hunter, Havock, Hotspur and Hostile), led by Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee, attacked German destroyers and supply ships in Narvik fjord early on the morning of the 10th April. They sank two German destroyers, severely damaged a third and sank seven tankers and supply ships. However, exiting the fjord, the flotilla was ambushed by five more German destroyers; Hardy and Hunter were sunk and Hotspur badly damaged.

During the First Battle of Narvik, HMS Hunter entered the Ofotfjord and promptly sank the German destroyer Z22 'Anton Schmitt' with torpedoes and gunfire. Upon exiting the fjord, she was intercepted by five German destroyers and badly damaged, capsized with the loss of 112 of her crew.

First Battle of Narvik 10th April, 1940 – Wrecked German shipping in the inner fjord.

On the morning of 13 April, another strong British force entered the Vestfjord and clashed with German destroyers and a submarine, thus starting the Second Battle of Narvik. The German ships were running low on fuel and ammunition and were gradually pushed back to the harbour and trapped. All were either sunk or scuttled by their crews.

Allied warships shell German defensive strong points in Bjervic Fjord 15th April 1940.

Norwegian units fought delaying actions against the Germans advancing northwards from Oslo to link up with the invasion forces at Trondheim, but resistance was broken when German tanks and Stuka dive bombers began to appear in significant numbers, as the Norwegians lacked any effective anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons. The Allies landed troops at Andalsnes and Namsos (in order to assault Trondheim in central Norway) and Narvik in the north. Admiral Lord Cork was in overall command of the Allied operations. However, the Allied forces were poorly equipped, lacking effective air support, anti-aircraft defences, heavy artillery and the basic winter equipment required to operate in the conditions. Once they ran into strong, well-equipped German forces and the German Luftwaffe they were forced to withdraw. On 30 April the Germans advancing from Oslo and Trondheim linked up and by the 2nd May, the Allies were forced to evacuate Andalsnes and Namsos. The failure of the central campaign is considered one of the direct causes of the Norway Debate, which resulted in the resignation of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the appointment of Winston Churchill to the office.

French Chasseurs Alpin on the quayside in France awaiting transportation to Norway in April 1940.

Allied forces were also deployed in the north of Norway to recapture Narvik. After the Allied failure in central Norway, more preparation was given to the northern forces. Air cover was provided by two squadrons of carrier-transported fighters operating from Bardufoss Air Station, the re-equipped No. 263 Squadron RAF with Gloster Gladiators and No. 46 Squadron RAF with Hawker Hurricanes.

Gloster Gladiator cutaway drawing.

On 28 May, two French and one Norwegian battalions attacked and recaptured Narvik from the Germans. To the south of the city, Polish troops advanced eastwards along the Beisfjord. Other Norwegian troops were pushing the Germans back towards the Swedish border near Bjørnfjell. However, the German invasion of France and the Low Countries had immensely altered the overall situation of the war and the importance of Norway was considerably lessened.

After the Battle of Narvik – The harbour basin at Narvik as seen in May, 1940.

Shortly after the Allied recapture of Narvik, the city was bombed and heavily damaged by the Luftwaffe. German forces were also moving swiftly northwards through Nordland to relieve their besieged units. On the way, they captured the airfields at Værnes, Hattfjelldal and Bodø, control of which gave the Luftwaffe a decisive tactical advantage in the air war over northern Norway. By 8 June, after destroying rail lines and port facilities, all Allied troops had been evacuated from the Narvik area. The Germans, after discovering the evacuation, began to harry the retreating naval forces from both sea and air. Two British destroyers and the aircraft carrier Glorious were lost. Before the British warships were sunk, however, the destroyer Acasta torpedoed and damaged Scharnhorst. Shortly after the encounter the British submarine HMS Clyde intercepted the German ships and torpedoed Gneisenau, causing severe damage. The Norwegian forces on the mainland finally capitulated to the Germans on 10 June 1940.

Norwegian civilians evacuate their homes and attempt to save their belongings following a German air raid in May, 1940.

The official German casualties for the Norwegian Campaign totalled 5,296. Of these 1,317 were killed on land, while 2,375 were lost at sea; 1,604 were listed as wounded. The German casualties at sea were particularly heavy, with the loss of a heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, ten destroyers and six U-boats. In transport ships and merchant vessels, the Germans lost 21 ships at 111,700 tons; around 10% of what they had available at the time. Official German sources give the number of German aircraft lost during the Norwegian Campaign as 90.

German troops takeover a Norwegian coastal battery in April, 1940.

The Norwegian and Allied casualties of the Norwegian Campaign totalled around 6,602. The British lost 1,869 killed, wounded and missing on land and approximately 2,500 at sea, while the French and Polish lost 533 killed, wounded and missing. On the Norwegian side there were around 1,700 casualties, of whom 860 were killed. Some 400 Norwegian civilians were also killed, mostly in German bombing raids. On the naval side, the Royal Norwegian Navy, fielding 121 mostly outdated ships was virtually wiped out during the campaign. The British lost one aircraft carrier, two cruisers, seven destroyers and a submarine, but with their much larger fleet could absorb the losses to a considerably greater degree than Germany. The French Navy lost the destroyer Bison and a submarine during the campaign, and a cruiser severely damaged. The exiled Polish Navy lost the destroyer Grom and the submarine Orzeł. The combined total loss of merchants ships and transports for the Allies and Norwegians was around 70. The British lost 112 aircraft during the campaign; the Norwegians lost all their aircraft except a small number that were successfully evacuated to the United Kingdom or flown to neutral Finland.

French Foreign Legion troops evacuated to Britain display a Nazi flag captured at Narvik.

Norway: Defence Participation Medal 1940-45. Awarded to Norwegian and Allied military and civilians who resisted the German invasion of 9 April 1940, who served in the Norwegian armed forces or the Merchant Marine during the war or who were active in Norway in the winter of 1944-1945 and to Allied personnel who took part in the liberation of Norway.

For information about HMS Glorious click here.

To view the uniform of The Chassuer Alpin, click here.

For our German artefacts click here.

For the Gloster Gladiator MkII click here.

To read about the Danish Madsen LMG,  click here.

For Denmark's war click here.

Evening Standard newspaper from 9th April 1940. The headline story that Denmark and Norway had been invaded.

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