Following the collapse of Poland, Germany and the Western Allies sought a secondary front. For the Allies, in particular the French, it was based on a desire to avoid repeating the trench warfare of the Great War, which had occurred along the Franco-German border. For the Germans, most of the military high command did not believe that it had the resources to launch an assault on France so soon. Unfortunately for Norway, it was an area that each side viewed as a prime location to strike the other.
Norway, though neutral, was considered strategically important by both sides for two main reasons. First was the importance of the port of Nervi, from which large quantities of Swedish iron ore, on which Germany depended, were exported; this route was especially important during the winter months when the Baltic Sea was frozen over. Narvik became of greater significance to the British when it became apparent that Project Catherine, a plan to gain control of the Baltic Sea, would not be practical. Second, the ports in Norway could serve as a hole in the blockade of Germany, allowing access to the Atlantic Ocean.
Norway was also of symbolic significance to the völkisch aspirations of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, for the country was considered by many dedicated Nazis to be the birthplace of the so-called Nordic-Aryan race.
Control of Norway was crucially important to Germany’s ability to use its sea power effectively against the Allies, particularly Britain. While Norway was neutral, unoccupied by either of the fighting powers, there was no threat. But the weakness of the Norwegian coastal defenses, and the inability of her field army to resist effectively a determined invasion by a stronger power were clear. Admiral Erich Raeder had pointed out several times in 1939 the potential danger to Germany of Britain seizing the initiative and launching its own invasion in Scandinavia – if the powerful Royal Navy had bases at Bergen, Narvik and Trondheim, the North Sea would be virtually closed to Germany, and the Kriegsmarine would be at risk even in the Baltic.
When the Soviet Union attacked Finland on 30 November 1939, the Allies found themselves aligned with Norway and Sweden in support of Finland against the much larger aggressor.
This presented an opportunity to the Allies who, while genuinely sympathetic to Finland, also saw an opportunity to use the pretence of sending troop support to additionally occupy ore fields in Sweden and ports in Norway. The initially planned two divisions had the potential to grow to approximately 150,000 Allied troops fighting a large campaign in central Sweden.
This movement caused the Germans concern. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had placed Finland within the Soviet sphere of interest, and the Germans therefore claimed neutrality in the conflict. This policy caused a rise in anti-German sentiment throughout Scandinavia, since it was commonly believed that the Germans were allied with the Soviets. Fears began to crop up in German high command that Norway and Sweden would then allow Allied troop movement to aid Finland.
Such deployments never occurred though, because Norway and Sweden, wary after witnessing the “Western betrayal” of Poland when it was invaded in September, did not want to risk their neutrality and be seen as involved in the war by allowing foreign troop movement through their borders. With the Moscow Peace Treaty on 12 March 1940, any such plan by the Allies was dropped.
Vidkun Quisling and Initial German Investigation
It was originally thought by German high command that having Norway remain neutral was in its interest. As long as the Allies did not enter Norwegian waters, there would be safe passage for merchant vessels traveling along the Norwegian coast to ship the ore that Germany was importing.
Großadmiral Erich Raeder, however, argued for an invasion. He believed that the Norwegian ports offered the best facilities for German U-boats for use in a siege of the United Kingdom, and that there was a possibility of the Allies landing in Scandinavia.
On 11 December 1939, Hitler and Raeder met with Vidkun Quisling, a pro-Nazi former defense minister from Norway. Quisling reportedly told them that the threat of a British invasion of Norway was large, and that the Norwegian government would secretly support German occupation (the latter was untrue). He also informed them that he was in a position to ensure maximum cooperation with German forces, including a relaxation of the country’s coastal guard and making military bases available. Three days later, Hitler ordered Oberkommando der Wehrmacht to begin investigating possible invasion plans of Norway.
During a second meeting with Quisling on 18 December, Hitler reiterated his desire to keep Norway neutral but indicated that should Allied forces extend the war to Scandinavia, he would counter appropriately. Suspicions arose that Quisling had overstated his strength for self-gain, and further plans for collaboration with him were dropped.
On 14 February 1940, the German naval tanker Altmark, carrying 303 British prisoners of war, was permitted to travel through Norwegian waters under the pretence that its voyage was commercial and that no prisoners were aboard. When a group of British destroyers appeared on 16 February, Altmark sought refuge in a Norwegian fjord. HMS Cossack entered the fjord and attacked the Altmark, boarding it, killing seven German soldiers and liberating the prisoners. While this violation of their neutrality by both Germany and Britain angered the Norwegians, it also led to debate on both sides.
The Allies saw this as a sign of Norway’s inability to prevent misuse of its territory and nearly undertook a plan, proposed shortly after the fall of Poland by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, to mine the area. It was only postponed in the hope that Norway might still agree to permit Allied troop movement to aid Finland.
For the Germans, the Altmark Incident showed that Norway was incapable of maintaining its neutrality and that the British were not in any compliance with Norwegian neutrality. Hitler ordered the development of invasion plans to be brought forward. He did so to obtain assurance against Churchill’s already existing plans to draw the Norwegians into the war and take control over the important harbor of Narvik. By 21 February, General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst was placed in charge of planning the invasion and in command of the land-based forces.
With the end of the Winter War, the Allies determined that any occupation of Norway or Sweden would likely do more harm than good, possibly driving the neutral countries into alliance with Germany. However, the new French prime minister, Paul Reynaud, took a more aggressive stance than his predecessor and wanted some form of action taken against Germany. Churchill was a strong agitator for attacking and occupying Norway, because he wanted the battles and fighting moved away from Britain and France to avoid devastation of their territory, as in the last war. He saw the way into Germany from the north.
It was agreed to utilize Churchill’s naval mining plan, Operation Wilfred, designed to remove the sanctuary of the Leads and force transport ships into international waters where the Royal Navy could engage and destroy them. Accompanying this would be Plan R 4, an operation where, upon almost certain German counteraction to Operation Wilfred, the Allies would then proceed to occupy Trondheim and Bergen, and destroy the Sola airfield.
The Allies disagreed over the additional Operation Royal Marine, where mines would also be placed in the Rhine River. While the British supported this operation, the French were against it, since they also depended on the Rhine and feared German reprisals on French soil. Because of this delay, Operation Wilfred, originally scheduled for 5 April, was delayed until 8 April when the British agreed to perform the Norwegian operations separately from those on the continent.
Already in low-priority planning for considerable time, Operation Weserübung found a new sense of urgency after the Altmark Incident. The main goals of the invasion were to secure the ports and ore fields, with Narvik as a priority, and to establish firm control over the country to prevent collaboration with the Allies. It was to be presented as an armed protection of Norway’s neutrality.
One of the subjects of some internal debate by the German military planners was the need to occupy Denmark as part of the greater plan. Denmark was considered vital because its location facilitated greater air and naval control of the area. While some wanted to simply pressure Denmark to acquiesce, it was eventually determined that it would be safer for the operation if Denmark were captured by force.
Another matter that caused additional rework of the plan was Fall Gelb, the proposed invasion of northern France and the Low Countries, which would require the bulk of German forces. Because some forces were needed for both invasions, Weserübung could not occur at the same time as Gelb, and because the nights were shortening as spring approached, which were vital cover for the naval forces, it therefore had to be sooner. Eventually, 9 April was decided to be the day of the invasion (Wesertag), and 04:15 (Norwegian time) would be the hour of the landings (Weserzeit).
In Norway, the plan called for the capture of six primary targets by amphibious landings: Oslo, Kristiansand, Egersund, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. Additionally, supporting paratroops (Fallschirmjäger) were to capture other key locations such as airfields at Fornebu outside of Oslo and Sola outside of Stavanger as well as Oscarborg fortress in the Oslofjord. The plan was designed to quickly overwhelm the Norwegian defenders and occupy these vital areas before any form of organized resistance could be mounted. The following forces were thus organized:
- Gruppe 1: Ten destroyers to Narvik
- Gruppe 2: The heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and four destroyers to Trondheim
- Gruppe 3: The light cruisers Köln and Königsberg, with several smaller support vessels to Bergen
- Gruppe 4: The light cruiser Karlsruhe and several smaller support vessels to Kristiansand
- Gruppe 5: The heavy cruisers Blücher and Lützow, the light cruiser Emden and several smaller support vessels to Oslo
- Gruppe 6: Four minesweepers to Egersund
Additionally, the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau would escort Gruppe 1 and Gruppe 2 as they traveled together, and there would also be several echelons of tankers carrying additional troops, fuel and military equipment.
Against Denmark, two motorized brigades would be used to capture bridges and troops; the Luftwaffe would be sent to capture Copenhagen; and paratroops would be used to capture the airfields in the north. While there were also several groups organized for this invasion, none of them contained any large ships.
It was hoped that Germany could avoid armed confrontation with the native populations in both regions, and German troops were instructed only to fire if fired upon.
The German invasion first started on 3 April 1940, when supply vessels began to head out in advance of the main force. The Allies initiated their plans on the following day, with sixteen Allied submarines ordered to the Skagerrak and Kattegat to serve as a screen and advance warning for a German response to Operation Wilfred, which was launched the following day when Admiral William Whitworth in HMS Renown set out from Scapa Flow for the Vestfjords with twelve destroyers.
On 7 April, bad weather began to develop in the region, blanketing the area with a thick fog and causing rough seas making travel difficult. Renown’s force soon got caught in a heavy snowstorm, and HMS Glowworm, one of the destroyer escorts, had to drop out of formation to search for a man swept overboard. However, the weather aided the Germans, providing a screen for their forces, and in the early morning they sent out Gruppe 1 and Gruppe 2, who had the largest distance to travel.
Though the weather did make reconnaissance difficult, the two German groups were discovered 170 kilometers (105 mi) south of the Naze (the southernmost part of Norway) slightly after 08:00 by RAF patrols and reported as one cruiser and six destroyers. A trailing squad of bombers sent out to attack the German ships found them 125 kilometers (78 mi) farther north than they had been before. No damage was done during the attack, but the German groups strength was reassessed as being one battlecruiser, two cruisers and ten destroyers. Because of a strict enforcement of radio silence, the bombers were not able to report this until 17:30.
On learning of the German movement, the Admiralty came to the conclusion that the Germans were attempting to break the blockade that the Allies had placed on Germany and use their fleet to disrupt Atlantic trade routes. Admiral Sir Charles Forbes, Commander-in-Chief of the British Home Fleet, was notified of this and set out to intercept them at 20:15.
With both sides unaware of the magnitude of the situation, they proceeded as planned. The Renown arrived at the Vestfjords late that night and maintained position near the entrance while the minelaying destroyers proceeded to their task. Meanwhile, the Germans launched the remainder of their invasion force. The first direct contact between the two sides occurred the next morning without either side’s intention.
The Glowworm, on its way to rejoin the Renown, happened to come up behind the Z 11 Bernd von Arnim and then the Z 18 Hans Lüdemann in the heavy fog around 08:00 on 8 April. Immediately a skirmish broke out and the German destroyers fled, signaling for help. The request was soon answered by the Admiral Hipper, which quickly crippled the Glowworm. Being too damaged to outrun the larger German ship, the Glowworm proceeded to ram it instead. Significant damage was done to Hipper’s starboard, and Glowworm was destroyed by a close range salvo immediately afterwards. During its fight Glowworm had broken radio silence and informed the Admiralty of her situation. She was not able to complete her transmission though, and all the Admiralty knew was that the Glowworm had been confronted by a large German ship, shots were fired, and contact with the destroyer could not be re-established. In response, the Admiralty ordered the Renown and its single destroyer escort (the other two had gone to friendly ports for fuel) to abandon its post at the Vestfjords and head to the Glowworm’s last known location. At 10:45, the remaining eight destroyers of the minelaying force were ordered to join as well.
At noon, the Polish submarine Orzeł confronted and sank the German troop transport ship Rio de Janeiro in the Skagerrak. In the wreckage it discovered uniformed German soldiers and various military supplies. Though the Orzeł reported the incident to the Admiralty, they were too concerned by the situation with the Glowworm and the presumed German breakout to give it much thought and did not pass the information along. Many of the German soldiers from the wreck were rescued by Norwegian fishing boats and on interrogation disclosed that they were assigned to protect Bergen from the Allies. This information was passed on to Oslo where the Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget, dismissed it as ignorance on the part of the German soldiers and did not set about any defensive measures other than to alert the coastal guard.
At 14:00, Admiralty received word that aerial reconnaissance had located a group of German ships a considerable distance west-northwest of Trondheim, bearing west. This reinforced the notion that the Germans were indeed intending a break out, and the Home Fleet changed direction from northeast to northwest to again try to intercept. Additionally, Churchill cancelled Plan R 4 and ordered the four cruisers carrying the soldiers and their supplies to disembark their cargo and join the Home Fleet. In actuality, the German ships, Gruppe 2, were only performing delaying circling maneuvers in order to approach their destination of Trondheim at the designated time.
That night, after learning of numerous sightings of German ships south of Norway, Charles Forbes began to doubt the validity of the break out idea, and he ordered the Home Fleet to head south to the Skagerrak. He also ordered HMS Repulse, along with another cruiser and a few destroyers, to head north and join the Renown.
At 23:00, as Forbes was just learning of the incident with the Orzeł, Gruppe 5 was approached by the Norwegian patrol vessel Pol III at the entrance to the Oslofjord. The Pol III quickly sent an alarm to the costal batteries on Rauøy (Rauøy island) and opened fire on the torpedo boat Albatros with its single gun shortly before colliding with it. The Albatros and two of its companions responded with anti-aircraft fire, killing its captain and setting the ship on fire. Gruppe 5 continued into the Oslofjord and cleared the outer batteries without incident. Several of the smaller German ships then broke off in order to capture the bypassed fortifications along with Horten. This activity did not go unnoticed, and soon reports had reached Oslo, leading to a midnight session of the Storting. At this meeting, the assembly issued orders for a partial mobilization (to be delivered by post) and a statement that British and French ships were not to be fired upon.
At about this time, further north, the Renown was heading back to Vestfjord after reaching the Glowworm’s last known location and not finding anything. Heavy seas had caused Whitworth to sail more north than normal and had separated him from his destroyers when he encountered the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The Renown engaged the two battlecruisers and during the short battle Gneisenau had its fire-control system damaged, causing it and Scharnhorst to flee north. Renown attempted to pursue, but by 04:00 it lost sight of them in the poor weather.
In the Ofotfjord leading to Narvik, the ten German destroyers of Gruppe 1 made their approach. With the Renown and her escorts earlier diverted to investigate the Glowworm incident, no British ships stood in their way, and they entered the area unopposed. By the time they had reached the inner area near Narvik, most of the destroyers had peeled off from the main formation to capture the outer batteries of the Ofotfjord, leaving only three to contend with the two old Norwegian coastal battleships standing guard, Eidsvold and Norge. Though antiquated, the two coastal defense ships were quite capable of taking on the much more lightly armed and armored destroyers. After a quick parlance with the captain of the Eidsvold, the German ships opened fire pre-emptively on the coastal defense ship, sinking it after hitting it with three torpedoes. Norge entered into the fray shortly after and began to fire on the destroyers, but her marksmen were inexperienced and she did not hit the Germans ships before being sunk by a salvo of torpedoes from the German destroyers.
At Trondheim, Gruppe 2 also faced only minor resistance to their landings. In the Trondheimsfjord, the Admiral Hipper engaged the defensive batteries while its destroyers sped past them at 25 knots (46 km/h). A well placed shot by the Hipper severed the power cables for the searchlights and rendered the guns ineffective. Only one destroyer received a hit during the landing.
At Bergen, the defensive fortifications put up stiffer resistance to Gruppe 3’s approach and the light cruiser Königsberg and the artillery training ship Bremse were damaged, the former seriously. The lack of working lights reduced the effectiveness of the guns though, and the landing ships were able to dock without much opposition. The fortifications were surrendered soon after, when Luftwaffe units arrived.
The fortifications at Kristiansand put up an even more resolute fight, twice repulsing the landing and damaging the Karlsruhe, nearly running the cruiser aground. Confusion soon sprung up though when the Norwegians received the order not to fire on British and French ships and the Germans began to use Norwegian codes they had captured at Horten. The Germans used this opportunity to quickly reach the harbor and unload their troops, capturing the town by 11:00.
Gruppe 5 encountered the most serious resistance at the inner defensive fortifications of the Oslofjord, and here Hitler put the greatest emphasis on the need for success since the capital was the prized target. Oscarborg fortress, the last defense before the capital, found itself under attack by paratroopers who had been landed to capture the fortress only hours before the arrival of Gruppe 5. Taking the facility by surprise, German soldiers were able to bring most of the fortress under their command in short order. The straits secured, Gruppe 5 pressed on to Oslo where the King, Parliament, and the national treasury were captured before they had chance to escape.
Fornebu was originally supposed to be secured by paratroops an hour before the first troops were flown in, but the initial force became lost in the fog and did not arrive. Regardless, the airfield was not heavily defended and the German soldiers who did arrive captured it promptly. The Norwegian Fighter Wing based on Fornebu resisted with their Gloster Gladiator bi-plane fighters until ammunition ran out and then flew off to whatever secondary airfields available. The ground personnel of the Fighter Wing soon ran out of ammunition for their anti aircraft machine guns as well, in the general confusion and stress to make the fighters ready for action no one had the presence of mind or the time to issue small-arms ammunition for the personal weapons of the ground personnel. Resistance at Fornebu came to an end. Norwegian attempts to mount a counter-attack were half-hearted and effectively came to nothing.
For Gruppe 6 at Egersund and the paratroops at Stavanger, there was no significant opposition and they quickly captured their targets.
Capture of Denmark
The Wehrmacht crossed the Danish border around 04:15 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 the Aalborg airport. Simultaneously, an ultimatum was presented by the German ambassador to King Christian X. Reports describing the German plans had been submitted to the government a few days earlier but were ignored. The Danish army was small, ill-prepared and used obsolete equipment but resisted in several parts of the country; most importantly, the Royal Guards located at Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, and forces in the vicinity of Haderslev in South Jutland. By 06:00, the small Danish Air Force had been taken out and more than 30 German bombers were threatening to drop their bombs over Copenhagen. King Christian X, having consulted with Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning, Foreign Minister P. Munch and the commanders of the army and the navy, decided to capitulate, believing that further resistance would only result in a useless loss of Danish lives. The Danish public was taken completely by surprise by the occupation, and was instructed by the government to cooperate with the German authorities. Germany’s occupation of Denmark was completed on 10 April 1939.
An important part of the Danish commercial navy escaped the occupation, as Arnold Peter Møller, President of the Mærsk shipping company, on 8 April instructed his 36 ships on the high seas to move to Allied or neutral ports if at all possible.
In a pre-emptive move to prevent a German invasion, on 12 April 1940 British forces occupied the Faroe Islands, then a Danish amt (county).
Soon after this, the German landings at Trondheim, Bergen, and Stavanger, as well as the skirmishes in the Oslofjords became known. Not willing to disperse too thinly due to the unknown location of the two German battlecruisers, the Home Fleet chose to focus on nearby Bergen and dispatched an attack force. RAF reconnaissance soon reported stronger opposition than anticipated, and this, along with the possibility that the Germans might be controlling the shore defenses, caused them to recall the force and instead use the aircraft carrier HMS Furious to launch torpedo bombers at the enemy ships. The attack never commenced though, as Luftwaffe bombers launched an assault of their own against the Home Fleet first. This attack sank the destroyer HMS Gurkha and then forced the Home Fleet to withdraw north when their anti-aircraft measures proved ineffective. This German air superiority in the area led the British to decide that all southern regions had to be left to submarines and the RAF, while surface vessels would concentrate on the north.
In addition to the German landings in south and central Norway, the Admiralty was also informed via press reports that a single German destroyer was in Narvik. In response to this they ordered the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, mostly consisting of ships previously serving as escort destroyers for Operation Wilfred, to engage. This flotilla, under the command of Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee, had already detached from the Renown during its pursuit of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, being ordered to guard the entrance to the Vestfjord. At 16:00 on 9 April, the flotilla sent an officer ashore at Tranøy fifty miles west of Narvik and learned from the locals that the German force was 4–6 destroyers and a submarine. Warburton-Lee sent these findings back to the Admiralty, concluding with his intention to attack the next day at “dawn, high water”, which would give him the element of surprise and protection against any mines. This decision was approved by the Admiralty in a telegram that night.
Early the following morning, Warburton-Lee led his flagship, HMS Hardy, and four other destroyers into the Ofotfjord. At 04:30, he arrived at Narvik harbor and entered along with HMS Hunter and HMS Havock, leaving HMS Hotspur and HMS Hostile to guard the entrance and watch the shore batteries. The fog and snow were extremely heavy, allowing Warburton-Lee’s force to approach undetected. When they arrived at the harbor itself they found five German destroyers and opened fire, starting the First Battle of Narvik. Warburton-Lee’s ships made three passes on the enemy ships, being joined after the first by Hotspur and Hostile, and sank two of the destroyers, and disabled one more before U-boats ambushed and sank three of their number with only two British destroyers escaping. The German commander, Commodore Friedrich Bonte, lost his life when his flagship Wilhelm Heidkamp was sunk.
At 06:00, the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla was making their way back to the entrance of the Vestfjord when from the Herjangsfjord behind them three German destroyers emerged, commanded by Commander Erich Bey, and a few minutes later two more arrived in front of them, surrounding what remained of Warburton-Lee’s force. The Hardy was the first ship to be hit and was quickly taken out of action, beached by one of her officers after she was crippled. Hunter was the next ship put out of commission, coming to a dead halt in the water after several hits. Continued German fire eventually sent the British destroyer sinking beneath the waves.
Shortly after the First Battle of Narvik, two more German ships were sunk by British forces. A long range attack by Fleet Air Arm from their base at Hatston in the Orkney Islands was made against Bergen and destroyed the disabled German light cruiser Königsberg; recorded as the first major warship sunk by aircraft. Additionally, the submarine HMS Truant sank the light cruiser Karlsruhe on the night of 9 April shortly after it had left Kristiansand. The next day, 10 April, the Furious and the battleship HMS Warspite joined the Home Fleet and another air attack was made against Trondheim in hopes of sinking the Admiral Hipper. Admiral Hipper, however, had already managed to escape through the watch set up outside of the port and was on her way back to Germany when the attack was launched; none of the remaining German destroyers or support ships were hit in the assault. Ironically, Warspite found itself under attack by German U-boats and sunk before it could escape. Better luck was had in the south when HMS Spearfish severely damaged the heavy cruiser Lützow at midnight on 11 April, putting the German ship out of commission for a year.
With it becoming more evident the German fleet had slipped out of Norwegian waters, Home Fleet continued north to Narvik in the hopes of catching the remaining destroyers. En route the ships suffered further harassment from German bombers, forcing them to divert course west away from the shoreline. By 12 April, they were in range of Narvik and an aerial attack on Narvik from Furious was attempted, but the results were disappointing.
The Royal Navy considered it imperative, for morale and strategic purposes, to defeat the Germans in Narvik, so Vice Admiral William Whitworth was sent with nine destroyers; four Tribal class (HMS Bedouin, Cossack, Punjabi, Eskimo) and five others (HMS Kimberley, Hero, Icarus, Forester and Foxhound), accompanied by aircraft from the aircraft carrier HMS Furious.
On the morning of 13 April, Whitworth’s force entered the Vestfjord, thus starting the Second Battle of Narvik. Whitworth suffered a critical mauling by both the German Destroyers and U-boats whose torpedoes sunk four of his destroyers forcing him to withdraw. It was a lucky strike for the German ships which were low on fuel and ammunition.
The German invasions achieved their goal of simultaneous assault and caught the Norwegian forces off guard, a situation not aided by the Norwegian Governments’ order for only a partial mobilization. With the government now fugitive, Vidkun Quisling used the opportunity to take control of a radio broadcasting station and announce a coup, with himself as the new Prime Minister of Norway. His first official act was to cancel the mobilization order.
That evening, 10 April 1940, the Norwegian Government conceded to all German demands, King Haakon VII abdicating before their doing so, thus ending the brief war between Norway and Germany.
When the nature of the German invasion became apparent to the British military, it began to make preparations for a counter-attack. Dissension amongst the various branches was strong though, as the British Army wanted to assault Trondheim in Central Norway while Churchill insisted on reclaiming Narvik. It was decided to send troops to both locations as a compromise.
Campaign in Central Norway
The original plans for the campaign in Central Norway called for a three pronged attack against Trondheim by Allied forces. It was called Operation Hammer, and would land Allied troops at Namsos to the north (Mauriceforce), Åndalsnes to the south (Sickleforce), and around Trondheim itself (Hammerforce). This plan was quickly changed though, as it was felt that a direct assault on Trondheim would be far too risky and therefore only the northern and southern forces would be used.
To block the expected allied landings the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht ordered a company of Fallschirmjägers occupied the railway junction of Dombås in the upper part of the Gudbrandsdal valley.
On 17 April, Mauriceforce, comprised primarily of the British 146th Infantry Brigade and commanded by Major General Adrian Carton de Wiart made their initial landings at Namsos. During the trip the force had been transferred to destroyers instead of bulky transport ships due to the narrow waters of the fjord leading to Namsos; in the confusion of the transfer a great deal of their supplies and even the brigade commander were misplaced. Another great problem for Mauriceforce was the lack of air support, something of which the Luftwaffe took full advantage. Shortly after General de Wiart moved his forces out of Namsos, German bombers arrived and destroyed it, leaving de Wiart without a base. Regardless, he moved 80 miles (130 km) inland to Steinkjer. Constant aerial harassment prevented any kind of offensive from taking place though, and on 21 April Mauriceforce was attacked by the German 181st Division from Trondheim. De Wiart was forced to fall back from these assaults, leaving Steinkjer for the Germans.
Sickleforce, consisting primarily of the British 148th Infantry Brigade and commanded by Major General Bernard Paget, landed at Åndalsnes on 18 April. From Åndalsnes, the British force traveled to the village of Dombås, with the intention of then traveling north to Trondheim, when Paget discovered the Germans were traveling up the valleys threatening to both cut off supplies and leave Sickleforce surrounded. In response, Paget diverted his force south to Lillehammer. They did not stay long though, as the 148th Brigade was soon attacked by Pellengahr’s forces and forced to withdraw. As they retreated through the Tretten Valley, the 148th again came under attack and were effectively eliminated as a fighting unit. By this time, the British 15th Infantry Brigade had landed in Åndalsnes and had started to move south to relieve the 148th. The British encountered the pursuing German forces at Kvam, a village between Tretten and Dombås, and were pushed back to Kjorem, where they weathered further heavy assault.
By 28 April, with both groups checked by the Germans, it was decided to withdraw all Allied forces from Central Norway. Sickleforce, with the help of General Ruge, managed to return to Åndalsnes and escape by 2 May at 02:00, only a few hours before the German 196th Division captured the port. Mauriceforce, their convoys delayed by thick fog, were evacuated on 3 May, though two of their rescue ships, the French destroyer Bison and the British destroyer Afridi were sunk by Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers and 5 transports were sunk by U-boats.
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.
Campaign in Northern Norway
One of the first problems faced by the Allies was the fact that the command was not unified, or even truly organized. Naval forces in the area were led by Admiral of the Fleet William Boyle, 12th Earl of Cork who had been ordered to rid the area of the Germans as soon as possible. In contrast, the commander of the ground forces, Major General Pierse Mackesy, was ordered not to land his forces in any area strongly held by the Germans and to avoid damaging populated areas. The two met on 15 April to determine the best course of action. Boyle argued for an immediate assault on Narvik and Mackesy countered that such a move would lead to the decimation of his attacking troops. Boyle eventually conceded to Mackesy’s viewpoint.
Mackesy’s force, codenamed Rupertforce, consisted of the 24th Guards Brigade as well as French and Polish units. The main force began landing at Harstad, a small town on the island of Hinnøya, on 15 April, but because of confusion, bad weather, inadequate facilities, untactically packed transports and constant attacks by German bombers, unloading took well over a week to complete.
After the Allied failure in Central Norway, more preparation was given to the northern forces, including two squadrons of carrier-transported fighters operating from Bardufoss Air Station, one of them consisting of Hurricanes, the other of Gloster Gladiators.
By 28 May, 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. Operation Alphabet, the general Allied retreat from Norway, had been approved on 24 May and by 8 June all Allied troops had been evacuated. The Germans had launched Operation Juno to relieve pressure on the Narvik garrison and, after discovering the evacuation, shifted the mission to a hunt and sunk two British destroyers and the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious.
The operation as planned was a decisive success for Germany. Both Denmark and Norway were occupied with relatively light casualties: 3,800 Germans killed and 1,600 wounded. Surprise was almost complete, particularly in Denmark. The Luftwaffe lost about 100 aircraft or roughly 10% of the force committed.
At sea the invasion proved punishing for the Royal Navy losing one aircraft carrier, seven cruisers, eighteen destroyers, five transports and a submarine.
The French navy lost one large destroyer during the campaign, and the Royal Norwegian Navy lost 1 destroyer, 2 coastal defense ships and 3 submarines were scuttled.
For the Kriegsmarine the campaign led to losses including the sinking of one of its two heavy cruisers, two of its six light cruisers, 2 destroyers and one U-boat.