The Norwegian Campaign, 1940: Operation Weserubung

Why did the Norwegian campaign take place?

The first thing to say is that Hitler in principle had little interest in the Scandinavian sphere and that it was the English who thought to intervene in Norway in order to block the shipment of Swedish iron that in the winter months when the Baltic Sea was freed up was made through the Norwegian port of Narvik.

It was Admiral Raeder who first made Hitler see Norway's importance as a base for submarines and to avoid a British blockade similar to that suffered in World War I, but the fact that convinced him is the assault in February 1940 by the British of the transport ship Altmark returning to Germany , for which the Royal Navy violated Norwegian waters.

Before this Hitler ordered the OKW (Supreme Command of the Wermacht) to quickly organize the invasion of Norway, before it was occupied by the Allies. The plan being designed would be known as Weserubung.

What did Operation Weserubung consist of?

It will consist of making 6 simultaneous landings along the Norwegian coast to quickly get hold of major Norwegian cities (such as Oslo, Bergen or Trondheim) and even Narvik beyond the Arctic Circle, thinking that Norwegians would not resist worthy of such a name. This is to be added to the occupation of Denmark, as control of Jutland airfields was required for aircraft to reach Norway.

For this landing of about 9,000 h0mbres only warships would be used to ensure speed in the operation, which meant employing the vast majority of the Kriegsmarine's surface fleet which was a great risk as royal Navy forces in the North Sea were much more powerful.

The Lutfwaffe would also play a relevant role as more than 1,100 aircraft would be used for half of them transports, whose first mission would be to relocate several paratrooper companies that had the mission of taking over several airfields in the vicinity of Oslo or Stavanger.

From 3 April, the first ships began to depart from German ports. Although the Allied intelligence services detected numerous movements of German ships, they failed to understand what their target was (although the 8th a Polish submarine sank a German transport recognizing the survivors heading to Bergen), with Admiral Forbes of the Home Fleet thinking that the German surface fleet sought to leave the North Sea, losing the possibility of preventing landings on the northernmost targets such as Narvik or Trondheim.

As a result, the cities of Narvik and Trondheim were able to occupy the cities of Narvik and Trondheim without combat. However not everywhere was this the case because in Bergen and especially in Oslo the gunners of some coastal batteries opened fire on German ships causing serious damage to several of them and sinking the heavy cruiser Blucher in the Oslo ria, delaying the occupation of the Norwegian capital which was only taken by troops taken by air after occupying the Fornebau airfield a few kilometers from Oslo. However, this delay allowed the Norwegian government and king to withdraw from Oslo and call for resistance to the people.

How did the Allies react?

The German invasion altered British plans that were designed for peaceful landings after being called by the Norwegians, so in the following days various options were raised to expel the Germans from Norway. Since german bombers managed to move British ships away from nearby Bergen on the 10th, two were the targets indicated, Trondheim and Narvik, with the Germans being from those very isolated areas

In front of Trondheim after an amphibious assault directly against the city was repelled because of the fear of batteries protecting the city, two landings were eligible for two landings north and south of the city, in the small towns of Namsos and Andalness, very small towns with bad ports. The British performance was quite poor, with neither transport, artillery nor the right equipment nor clothing.

Namsos' force would be blocked within a few days of landing and being attacked by German aviation so it was quickly decided to re-land.

Worse still, it was for the force landed in Andalness that instead of heading towards Trondheim he had to move south to support the Norwegian forces of General Ruge commander-in-chief of the army, who were withdrawing from the Oslo area, harassed by German forces. In the town of Tretten they had the first major clash between British and Germans of the war being practically destroyed a British brigade, and the rest of the troops had to be re-landed, with the fighting going on to concentrate on the fight for Narvik.

How were the fighting in Narvik?

The occupation of Narvik located at the bottom of a long fjord was very easy for mountain hunters of the 3rd Division of Mountain Hunters led by General Dietl. However, things would soon be twisted as the next day the force of 10 destroyers that had led them to Narvik would be attacked by surprise by a British destroyer squadron, in a battle in which the leaders of both squadrons would die and being completely destroyed in another attack on 13 April.

Being totally isolated, General Dietl did not harbor much hope of resisting. However, the over-prudence of the British and the divergences of judgment between the head of the naval forces (Admiral Gort) and terrestrial forces (Mackesy) led them to abandon the idea of a direct attack, disembarking forces far from both the north and south, although they did not actually attempt to advance until the arrival of reinforcements sent by the French (with a demi-brigade of Alpine hunters and a brigade of Poles , led by General Bethouart) and the Norwegians did not start a slow advance towards Narvik in the mountain hunters made good use of their preparation for mountain warfare, to carry out delay actions by gradually ceding ground.

The situation would only be accelerated with the arrival of the 13th Demi-brigade of the Foreign Legion (being an important part of its former Spanish Republican members) who will carry out on 13 May an amphibious attack on the town of Bjervik (the first in World War II) that debaratotes the entire German defensive system north of Narvik.

The final assault on Narvik would be delayed until 27 May when French forces go across the fjord north of Narvik, while Poles attacked from the south. Although the attack was successful, he failed to capture the bulk of German forces who retreated to the Swedish border where Dietl sought to establish his last defensive line before becoming interned in Sweden.

However, the final defeat would not occur because of the deastrous character that was taking place for the Allies the situation on the western front where the offensive against Belgium, Holland and France had been launched on the 10th, having already taken over the fence of the Allied armies in Belgium, so it was chosen to quickly abandon Narvik, quickly withdrawing the more than 25,000 troops employed in the area. This retreat would result in the tragedy of the sinking of the aircraft carrier Glorious by heavy cruisers Gneissenau and Scharnhost.

Why did the Germans win?

It was a combination of Virtues of the Germans and defects of the Allies and a dose of luck.

  • Thus the Germans operation Wesserubung was a complex plan, which required the use of a large number of land and air transports that had to arrive at the right time. They actually took a big risk as the Royal Navy came very close to intercepting good part of the German transports on its route. But in this case fortune helped the bold.

  • The Lutfwaffe's performance to keep the Royal Navy off the Norwegian coast was also of great importance, taking advantage of the superiority of its aircraft over naval aviation.

  • In addition, once German ground forces landed (although it can only be considered front row by Dietl mountaineers) they stood out for their use of combined weapons and their greater flexibility and mobility far superior to that of the British as demonstrated in the fighting in central Norway.

  • For their part, the Allies did almost everything wrong. Thus, at the intelligence level despite the numerous indications received, they did not understand that displacement

  • German ships were heading to Norway when they could easily have intercepted them at sea.

  • Intervention plans were very slow and were based on a peaceful landing in Norway so they had to be abandoned. There was a lack of coordination between the French and the British and within the British between the different services.

  • There were numerous last-minute changes, leading to logistical chaos, so many units did not have the right means for a terrain of as extreme weather as northern Norway. Add to that that the Germans were able to quickly move several divisions while the Allies had only a few brigades available.

What were the consequences of this campaign?

  • The Norwegian campaign was not very expensive in terms of human lives. The Germans had about 1,300 killed in combat and 2,400 missing at sea. The Allies would lose some 2,500 soldiers in combat and a similar number at sea (especially with the sinking of glorious) to which another 1,350 Norwegians would join.

  • However, it would be very expensive for the German Kriegsmarine that would lose 3 cruisers and 10 destroyers, leaving most of the remaining large ships of surface also damaged (such as the Hipper, Scharnhost and Gneissenau), so that after the surprising victory over France the attempted invasion of England had to rest on the possibility that the Luftwaffe of Goering would destroy the RAF.

  • Norway would remain occupied until the German surrender in May 1945 (except for the northern province of Finmmark, liberated by the Russians in November 1944, with Von Falkenhorst taking command of the armed forces in the country, while the Reich Commissioner, the tough Terboven took care of the civilian administration, while Quisling was formally made Minister President in February 1942 but without real power.

  • To protect the many Norwegian coasts Hitler employed almost half a million men, making a great effort to increase the defenses of the Norwegian coasts, which were much better off with those of the French coasts. At the time of surrender there were still 300,000 German soldiers in Norway.

  • Finally, a key consequence of this campaign was Chamberlain's resignation from criticism of the conduct of the Norwegian campaign, which brought Churchill to power just as the allied debacle occurred in Belgium and France. Without the Norwegian campaign it would be Chamberlain who would have had to deal with defeat and may not have had the will to continue fighting the victorious Germans.

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