Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of neutral Denmark and Norway, took place between April 9 and June 10, 1940. Katherine Quinlan-Flatter, journalist and historian, shares her research into how German newspapers during the Second World War reported the Norwegian campaign in 1940.
From the German perspective, Operation Weserübung was referred to as “the military measures for the protection of the neutrality of Denmark and Norway”. Britain was concerned that Scandinavia could become a theatre of war, and thus decided to enforce naval blockades to weaken German industry, which was dependent on the import of iron from the north Swedish mining district, shipped through the port of Narvik.
On the early morning of 9 April 1940, Germany occupied Denmark and invaded Norway, ostensibly as a preventive measure against the French-British occupation of Norway. Germany informed both countries in a memorandum that it had come to protect Scandinavian neutrality against Allied aggression. Under the command of General of the Infantry Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, German forces took on armed defence, and laid extensive mine barriers to protect operations.
Marine Forces were under General Admiral Saalwächter and Admiral Carls, while the Luftwaffe was under the command of General Geißler and the motorised troops and tanks under General Kaupisch. While Denmark quickly capitulated, there was heavy resistance in Norway.
Germany’s memo explained that England was violating international law in the sovereign territories of Denmark and Norway. England’s goals appeared to be to cut Germany off from its supply of iron ore by occupying Narvik, and to set up a new front in Scandinavia, in order to attack Germany from the north. Germany wanted to prevent Scandinavia from being abused as a battlefield, it claimed, and urged Norway to cooperate, offering to provide sufficient military strength to protect strategically important positions.
Emphasising that the territorial integrity and political independence of Norway would not be infringed, Germany asked the Norwegian people to ensure that the smooth advance of the German troops was enabled.
In Norway, the towns of Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger, Oslo, Arendal, Egersund and Kristiansund were now all in German hands. The Navy had secured operations, transport and landings, from Oslo to Narvik and broken initial resistance, while the Luftwaffe had attacked English naval forces and transport ships and destroyed almost all of them.
Germany had expected the Norwegian government to surrender – instead it decamped inland. Vidkun Quisling, head of the fascist Nasjonal Samling, wanted a coup, although this was not Germany’s preferred option. However, he was told that if he succeeded, he would have Hitler’s support.
Quisling proclaimed a new government with himself as Prime Minister on the evening of April 9, and recognised by Hitler. King Haakon, however, rejected the German demand to appoint Quisling as head of this government, meaning that Quisling had no popular support. As a consequence, Hitler set up his own governing commission, offering Quisling a position in this regime. Together with German administrator, Josef Terboven, Quisling served as Prime Minister until the end of the war.
By April 11, all was quiet in Oslo and the Norwegian authorities there were cooperating with the Germans. The army declared willingness to participate in air defence and Norwegian flak fired against Allied planes. At Narvik, English forces tried to penetrate the port, leading to four English destroyers attacked or sunk. The English government, however, seemed reluctant to admit the failures at sea.
In what was known as the Second Battle of Narvik – the First Battle of Narvik having taken place on April 9 – the English carried out air raids against Narvik, Stavanger and Bergen on April 13. Despite English naval troops blocking the entrance to the port, there was peace in Narvik by mid-April, and no attempts were made by the English to land there, although they made small landings at Namsos and Harstad.
By April 17, German troops had occupied the iron ore railway line near Narvik, taken Kongsvinger and were advancing. Heavy combat ensued at sea with German water planes, as well as between English naval forces and the Luftwaffe. However, English forces managed to also land at Andalsnes on April 18, and at Namsos, which the Germans bombed heavily.
The taking of Narvik by the Germans had not been easy. It lies 1200 kilometres from the Norwegian front in a region north of the Arctic Circle. Conditions had been further complicated by the polar night and heavy resistance by the Norwegians. But the coastal territory between Trondheim and Oslo was now secured and Narvik occupied by German troops.
By April 21, German and Norwegian troops were defending the fortress of Trondheim against English troops, and on April 22, English ships were bombed and the landed troops robbed of all operational resources. While the English continued to heavily shell the city of Narvik and the port, Germans advanced via Lillehammer. They took the strategically important town of Steinkjer at the outermost north-east coast of Trondheim Fjord, where combat now ceased. Everywhere north of Oslo, the Germans had now broken resistance.
In essence, the English naval forces were fighting against the Luftwaffe, as the German fleet had been heavily hit. It seemed that London, however, did not have proper communication with the troops in Norway and thus no comprehensive overview of the situation.
Ultimately, the Luftwaffe was successfully preventing landings from taking place, while destroying fortifications, railways junctions and supply stores. German land forces cleared the territory around Bergen of Norwegian troops, while the ports occupied by the Allies were bombed and planes destroyed on an airfield near their bases at Andalsnes.
The battle in the north reached its third phase on April 26, with the Germans systematically reaching every goal. While the English and Norwegian troops had almost no food or ammunition left, German troops still commanded good supplies. In fact, Reuters reported on April 27 that the English had begun retreating.
The destructive impression that the news of England’s retreat would have in England and the world was not underestimated by the English government, who explained that England’s difficulty was gathering heavy material such as artillery, tanks and flak at the coastal points, which were controlled by the Luftwaffe – and this control was the main advantage secured by Germany.
In fact, three factors had been decisive for the Germans: their air superiority, successful strategic tactics in the Trondheim sector and the speed with which they advanced.
By May 2, German troops reached Andalsnes where they hoisted the German Reich war flag. The English cleared this area, leaving large amounts of supplies, and on May 4, the German press reported that the English were fleeing in panic, leaving their material, vehicles and wounded behind. The failure of the English troops led to an extraordinary loss of prestige for the Allies.
In general, there was outrage in Norway and the Norwegian soldiers felt abandoned by the English comrades with whom they had fought. Although combat still continued at outposts in Narvik, the Norwegians called for a ceasefire in Namsos and Andalsnes. The commander of the Norwegian troops in Trondheim reported bitterly that the Allies left Namsos without warning.
In the far north, the Allies continued to fight Germany over the control of the port of Narvik, from which they succeeded in driving out the Germans on May 28. However, due to the deteriorating situation in Europe, they then withdrew completely and Germany recaptured Narvik on June 9. The Norwegian army capitulated finally on June 10.
Look out for a forthcoming accompanying blog post, which will look at the British landings in central Norway in April and May 1940.