Operation Weserubung | World War II

Operation Weserubung | World War II

Overview

Action Weserübung was Germany's Second World War attack on Denmark and Norway and the Norwegian Campaign's first operation. Germany captured Denmark and invaded Norway early on April 9, 1940 (Wesertag, "Weser Day"), ostensibly as a preventive measure against a planned and widely publicized French-British annexation of Norway known as Plan R 4. (Actually developed as a repercussion to any German aggression against Norway). After the Germans occupied Denmark (and ordered the Danish military to stand down because Denmark had not declared war on Germany), German envoys notified the governments of Denmark and Norway that the Wehrmacht had arrived to safeguard the countries' neutrality against Franco-British invasion. However, the military operations were highly different because of the significant contrasts between the two countries' geography, location, and climate. Weserzeit was set to 05:15 for the invasion fleet's nominal landing time.

Political and Military background

Beginning in 1939, the British Admiralty began to consider Scandinavia as a possible battleground in a future war with Germany. The British government was apprehensive about engaging in another land fight on the continent, fearing a repeat of the First World War. As a result, it began to develop a blockade strategy to undermine Germany indirectly. Iron ore from the northern Swedish mining sector was extensively relied upon by German industry. Much of this ore was delivered through the north of the Norwegian port of Narvik during the winter months. Thus, control of the Norwegian coast would help to tighten Germany's embargo.

Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, the head of the German Kriegsmarine, met with Adolf Hitler in October 1939 to examine the threat posed by future British facilities in Norway and the likelihood of Germany acquiring these sites before the UK. The navy argued that gaining control of Norway would command the surrounding seas and act as a staging ground for submarine operations against the UK. Other branches of the Wehrmacht, on the other hand, were uninterested at the time, and Hitler had just issued an order indicating that the main endeavour would be a ground invasion through the Low Countries.

Winston Churchill, a new member of the British War Cabinet, proposed that Norwegian mining waters be included in Operation Wilfred before November. It would force the ore transporters to pass through open North Sea waters, where the Royal Navy could intercept them.

Churchill reasoned that Wilfred would trigger a German response in Norway, and the Allies would launch Plan R 4 and seize Norway. Although it was subsequently adopted, Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax initially rejected Operation Wilfred because of fear of an adverse reaction from neutral nations such as the United States. However, after the outbreak of the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland in November altered the strategic situation, Churchill suggested his mining idea once more, but it was again rejected.

The United Kingdom and France began significant planning for aid to Finland in December. Their plan was for a force to land in Narvik, Norway, the primary port for Swedish iron ore exports, and seize control of the Malmbanan railway line, which runs from Narvik to Lule, Sweden on the Gulf of Bothnia's western side. That would also allow the Allies to occupy the Swedish iron ore mining sector, which was convenient. Chamberlain and Halifax were both in favour of the plan. They had hoped that Norway's cooperation would alleviate some of the legal concerns, but Germany's severe warnings to both Norway and Sweden elicited significant negative responses in both countries. The countries still planned the expedition, but the basis for it was gone when Finland sued the Soviet Union for peace in March 1940.

Planning

On December 14, Hitler met with Vidkun Quisling of Norway and shifted his attention to Scandinavia. After becoming convinced that the Allies posed a threat to the iron ore supply, Hitler ordered the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Armed Forces High Command; OKW) to begin preliminary planning for an invasion of Norway. Studie Nord was the initial plan's name, and it only called for one army division. The Kriegsmarine devised an expanded version of this concept between 14 and 19 January. They settled on two main factors: the need for surprise in reducing the prospect of Norwegian resistance (and British intervention); and the employment of quicker German battleships as troop carriers rather than slower merchant ships. In addition, it would allow all targets to be occupied simultaneously, which would be impossible if only slow-moving delivery ships were deployed. A whole army corps, including a mountain division, an airborne division, a motorized rifle brigade, and two infantry divisions, was proposed under the revised plan. The force's targets were Oslo, Norway's capital, and population centers such as Bergen, Narvik, Tromsø, Trondheim, Kristiansand, and Stavanger. The plan also planned for the quick capture of Denmark's and Norway's kings in the hopes of prompting an immediate capitulation.

General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst was appointed command of the operation on February 21, 1940. He had served in Finland during WWI and was familiar with Arctic warfare, but despite Hitler's desire for a unified command, he was solely to lead the ground forces. On January 27, 1940, the completed plan was code-named Operation Weserübung. The XXI Army Corps would be in charge of the ground troops, including the 3rd Mountain Division and five infantry divisions, none tested in combat. The assault would begin with three divisions, with the remaining divisions arriving in the next wave. It would utilize three companies of paratroopers to seize airfields. Later, the decision was taken to send the 2nd Mountain Division as well. Almost all Atlantic U-boat activities were to be halted for the submarines to assist in the operation. Operation Hartmut, which supported Weserübung, deployed every available submarine, including some training boats.

Initially, the aim was to invade Norway and use diplomatic tactics to obtain control of Danish airfields. On March 1, however, Hitler issued a new command ordering the invasion of both Norway and Denmark. The Luftwaffe insisted on capturing fighter bases and locations for air-warning stations. Therefore which was done. For the charge of Denmark, the XXXI Corps was formed, consisting of two infantry divisions and the 11th motorized brigade. The X Air Corps, which consists of over 1,000 aircraft of various types, would assist in the whole operation.

Preliminaries

The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Cossack boarded the German supply ship Altmark in Norwegian waters in February, thus breaking Norwegian neutrality and liberating British prisoners of war. Hitler interpreted this response to the German violation of Norwegian neutrality as a clear indication that the Allies were willing to violate Norwegian neutrality. As a result, he grew even more determined to the invasion. Just as the Winter War concluded, the United Kingdom decided to send an expeditionary force to Norway on March 12. The expeditionary force began boarding on March 13, but it was recalled with the end of the Winter War, and it cancelled the operation. Instead, the British cabinet decided to proceed with the mining operation in Norwegian waters, followed by troop landings. On April 3, the first German ships set off for the invasion. The Royal Navy force, led by the battlecruiser HMS Renown, left Scapa Flow two days later to mine Norwegian seas as part of the long-planned Operation Wilfred. On April 8, the minefields were planted in the Vestfjorden early in the morning. The destroyer HMS Glowworm, dispatched on April 7 to hunt for a man lost overboard, was lost in battle to the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and two destroyers belonging to the German invasion fleet. The German assault began on April 9, and it immediately put plan R 4 into action.

Invasion of Denmark

Denmark was strategically important to Germany as a staging area for operations in Norway. It was also considered a country that would have to fall at some time, given its status as a tiny nation bordering Germany. In addition, Denmark's strategic location on the Baltic Sea made it essential to control naval and shipping access to major German and Soviet ports. The German envoy to Denmark, Cecil von Renthe-Fink, called Danish Foreign Minister Peter Munch at 04:00 on April 9, 1940, demanded a meeting. Renthe-Fink announced that German forces would take Denmark to protect the country from a Franco-British attack when they met 20 minutes later. The German ambassador requested an immediate end to Danish opposition and contact between Danish authorities and German armed forces. If it did not meet the demands, the Luftwaffe threatened to bomb Copenhagen, the Danish capital.

The initial German advances had already been made when the German requests were transmitted, with men landing by ferry at Gedser at 03:55 and marching north. In addition, German Fallschirmjäger (paratrooper) battalions had landed unopposed at Aalborg and conquered two airfields, the Storstrøm Bridge and the stronghold of Masnedø, the latter being the world's first recorded paratrooper attack.

A reinforced battalion of German foot soldiers from the 308th Regiment landed in Copenhagen port at 04:20 local time aboard the minelayer Hansestadt Danzig, rapidly capturing the Danish garrison at the Citadel without resistance. The Germans marched from the harbour to Amalienborg Palace to apprehend the Danish royal family. It had notified the King's Royal Guard and other reinforcements were on their way to the palace when the invasion forces arrived at the King's dwelling. The first German attack on Amalienborg was thwarted, giving Christian X and his ministers time to speak with General Prior, the Danish Army's commander. Several Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17 aircraft blasted over the city, dropping leaflets bearing OPROP in Danish/Norwegian.

Two German Messerschmitt Bf 110 squadrons assaulted Værløse airfield on Zealand at 05:25, strafing the Danish Army Air Service and neutralizing it. Despite anti-aircraft fire from Denmark, German fighters destroyed ten Danish planes and severely damaged another fourteen, thus wiping out half of the Army Air Service.

Faced with the imminent threat of the Luftwaffe assaulting Copenhagen's civilian population, King Christian and the entire Danish administration capitulated at 06:00 in exchange for domestic political independence. Only General Prior was in favour of fighting on.

The invasion of Denmark lasted fewer than six hours, making it the Germans' shortest military operation of the war. Moreover, the quick Danish capitulation resulted in a remarkably mild occupation of Denmark, notably until the summer of 1943, and a postponement of the arrest and deportation of Danish Jews until practically all of them had been warned and were on their way to neutral Sweden for refuge. In the end, 477 Danish Jews were exiled, with 70 of them dying, out of a total population of Jews and half-Jews in Denmark of just over 8,000 before the war.

Invasion of Norway

Order of Battle

The military headquarters for the invasion was the Hotel Esplanade in Hamburg, where gave orders to the aviation units engaging in the attack, among others. Norway was essential to Germany for two reasons: as a base for naval units, especially U-boats, aimed at Allied shipping in the North Atlantic and to secure iron ore imports from Sweden through the port of Narvik. The long northern coastline provided an ideal location for launching U-boat attacks on British shipping in the North Atlantic. In addition, Germany was reliant on iron ore from Sweden and was concerned, rightly, that the Allies would try to sabotage those supplies, which originated 90% of the time in Narvik. The invasion of Norway was entrusted to General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst's XXI Army Corps, which was made up of the following principal units:

  • 69th Infantry Division
  • 163rd Infantry Division
  • 181st Infantry Division
  • 196th Infantry Division
  • 214th Infantry Division
  • 3rd Mountain Division

The initial invasion force was transported by Kriegsmarine ships in several groups:

  • As far as Narvik is concerned, the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, as well as ten destroyers carrying 2,000 Gebirgsjäger (mountain soldiers) under the command of General Eduard Dietl, will provide cover
  • The Admiral Hipper, a heavy cruiser, and four destroyers will sail to Trondheim with 1,700 men
  • The light cruisers Köln and Königsberg, as well as the artillery training ship Bremse, the Schnellbootmothership Karl Peters, two torpedo boats, and five motor torpedo boats, will sail to Bergen with 1,900 troops.
  • The light cruiser Karlsruhe, three torpedo boats, seven motor torpedo boats, and the Schnellbootmothership (Schnellbootbegleitschiff) Tsingtau to Kristiansand and Arendal with 1,100 men
  • The heavy cruisers Blücher, Lützow, and Emden and three torpedo boats and eight minesweepers will sail to Oslo with 2,000 men.
  • Four minesweepers with 150 troops to Egersund

The Course of Actions

On April 8, the German troopship MS Rio de Janeiro was sunk off the coast of Lillesand by the Polish submarine Orze, which was part of the Royal Navy's 2nd Submarine Flotilla. The word of the sinking, on the other hand, arrived at the appropriate levels of officialdom in Oslo far too late to do much more than issue a little last-minute alarm. The Norwegian patrol vessel Pol III sighted Kampfgruppe 5 late in the evening of April 8, 1940. The Pol III was attacked, and her captain, Leif Welding-Olsen, was the first Norwegian killed in combat during the invasion. The German ships then sailed up the Oslofjord, passing through the Drøbak Narrows, on their way to the Norwegian capital.

The gunners at Oscarsborg Fortress opened fire on the leading ship, Blücher, which spotlights had lighted at about 04:15 on April 9. Two stronghold cannons were 48-year-old German-made Krupp guns of 280 mm (11 in) calibre (nicknamed Moses and Aron). The critically wounded ship sank within two hours, unable to manoeuvre in the narrow fjord due to several artillery and torpedo blow, with a heavy loss of life of 600–1,000 troops. The threat posed by the stronghold (combined with the mistaken idea that mines were to blame for the sinking) caused the rest of the naval invasion group to be delayed long enough for the Royal Family, Cabinet, and members of Parliament, as well as the national treasury, to be evacuated. While travelling north by special train, the court encountered the Battle of Midtskogen and bombs at Elverum and Nybergsund. Norway never legally surrendered to the Germans since the Germans never captured the Norwegian King and his rightful government, making the Quisling regime illegal. As a result, the Norwegian government-in-exile in London remained an Allied nation during the war.

At 7:06 p.m., five Norwegian fighter jets were dispatched to engage a wave of 70-80 enemy planes. German airborne forces landed at Fornebu Airport in Oslo, Kjevik Airport in Kristiansand, and Sola Air Station in Sola, the first opposing paratrooper attack in history; ironically, Reinhard Heydrich was among the Luftwaffe pilots landing at Kjevik. Another first was Vidkun Quisling's radio-effected coup d'etat on April 9 at 7.30 p.m. After sinking the German cargo ship MS Roda, the Norwegian destroyer Æger was attacked and sunk by 10 Junkers Ju 88 bombers outside Stavanger around 8.30 p.m. Roda was transporting anti-aircraft equipment and ammunition for the invading German army in secret. Within 24 hours, Bergen, Stavanger, Egersund, Kristiansand, Arendal, Horten, Trondheim, and Narvik had been attacked and occupied. At Narvik, the Norwegian armoured coastal defence ships Norge and Eidsvold provided futile resistance. Both ships were torpedoed and sank, with a large number of people killed. On April 9, the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine fought the First Battle of Narvik. The Germans took Narvik and landed 2,000 mountain soldiers. However, a British naval counter-offensive spearheaded by the upgraded battleship HMS Warspite and a squadron of destroyers sank all 10 German destroyers over many days after running out of fuel and ammunition.

German bombing damaged the towns of Nybergsund, Elverum, Åndalsnes, Molde, Kristiansund N, Steinkjer, Namsos, Bodø, and Narvik; some were tactically bombarded, while others were terror-bombed. With superior equipment, the leading German land campaign advanced northward from Oslo; Before surrendering, Norwegian soldiers with turn-of-the-century weapons and some British and French troops were held against the invaders; this was the first land battle between the British Army and the Wehrmacht in World War II. On April 13, the Royal Navy beat the Kriegsmarine in the Second Naval Battle of Narvik. Norwegian and Allied forces led by General Carl Gustav Fleischer gained the first significant tactical success over the Wehrmacht in WWII in ground combat at Narvik. After that, at Gratangen, German forces defeated Norwegian soldiers. On April 29, the King and his government departed Molde for Tromsø, and on May 1, the Allies evacuated Åndalsnes. Southern Norway's resistance came to an end at that point.

Hegra Fortress resisted German attacks until May 5, and like Narvik, it was important for Allied propaganda. On June 7, King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, and the Cabinet Nygaardsvold sailed from Tromsø to represent Norway in exile aboard the British warship HMS Devonshire. Five years later, the KingKing would return to Oslo on that exact date. After being denied refuge in her own Sweden, Crown Princess Märtha and her children fled Petsamo, Finland, to live in exile in exile in the United States. Torstein Eliot Berg Grythe, a Norwegian choir director, later founded Sølvguttene ("The Silver Boys"). For three years, it used the choir to promote antisemitism and the Aryan race, and once Grythe was released from the Grini internment camp in 1943, that reformed it. On June 10 in 1940, two months after Wesertag, the Norwegian army in mainland Norway surrendered. As a result, Norway was the occupied country that had survived the most extended German invasion before falling. Despite the main Norwegian forces surrendering, the Royal Norwegian Navy and other armed units continued to fight the Germans overseas and at home until the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945.

In the far north, Norwegian, French, and Polish troops fought the Germans to control the Norwegian port of Narvik, which was critical for the year-round shipment of Swedish iron ore. They were backed up by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force (RAF). As a result, the Germans were forced out of Narvik on May 28. Still, the deteriorating situation on the European continent prompted the Allied troops to evacuate in Operation Alphabet, and the Germans recovered Narvik on June 9, which inhabitants had abandoned due to severe Luftwaffe bombardment.

Encircling of Sweden and Finland

There was no strategic purpose for Operation Weserübung to entail a military assault on neutral Sweden. The Third Reich ringed Sweden from the north, west, and south by controlling Norway, the Danish straits, and most Baltic Sea coastlines. The Soviet Union, the successor to Sweden's and Finland's archenemy, Russia, was on cordial terms with Hitler via the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. In an ambulance unit, a small group of Finnish volunteers assisted the Norwegian army against the Germans.

The Kriegsmarine was crucial to Swedish and Finnish trade, and Germany exerted pressure on neutral Sweden to allow the transportation of military products and personnel on leave. It achieved an agreement on June 18, 1940. Soldiers were not to be armed and were not to participate in unit movements. Between August 20, 1943, and August 20, 1944, a total of 2.14 million German soldiers and over 100,000 German military railway wagons traversed Sweden. Finland agreed to allow the Wehrmacht entry to its territory on August 19, 1940, and Finland signed the agreement on September 22. Initially intended to transport troops and military equipment to and from northernmost Norway, it soon expanded to include minor sites along the transit road, eventually developing in preparation for Operation Barbarossa.

Nuremberg Trials

The German defence in the Nuremberg trials in 1946 argued that Germany was "compelled to attack Norway by the necessity to avoid an Allied invasion and that her action was, therefore, preemptive" because of the 1941 Anglo-Soviet invasion Iran and the 1940 German invasion of Norway. Plan R 4 and its predecessors were to be invoked by the German defence. However, a memo from Admiral Raeder to Alfred Rosenberg dated October 3 1939, revealed that Germany had considered invasion plans as early as October 3 1939. The memo's subject was "gaining bases in Norway." "Can bases be won by military force against Norway's wishes if it is impossible to do so without fighting?" Raeder had asked from the outset. Norway was crucial to Germany as a shipping route for iron ore from Sweden, which the UK cut off. One British strategy was to pass into Norway and occupy Swedish cities. On March 12, the Allies ordered an invasion, and the Germans intercepted radio traffic, establishing a March 14 for preparations. However, the Allies' ambitions were thwarted when Finland declared peace.

Two diary entries by Alfred Jodl, dated March 13 and 14, indicated that Hitler was not only aware of the Allied plan at a high level but was also considering putting Weserübung into action. According to the first, "The Führer has not yet given the order for the 'Weser Exercise.' He's still on the lookout for an excuse. The second said, "The Führer has not yet chosen what explanation to offer for the Weser Exercise," says the second. German preparations were not completed until April 2 1940, and the Naval Operational Order for Weserübung was issued on April 4 1940. Wilfred and Plan R 4 were the new Allied plans. The objective was to set mines in Norwegian waters to prompt a German response. If Germany showed signs of acting, UK soldiers would take Narvik, Trondheim, and Bergen and launch a raid on Stavanger to destroy the Sola airfield. "The mines were not buried until the morning of April 8, by which time the German ships had advanced up the Norwegian coast," according to the report. The International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg concluded that no Allied invasion was imminent and hence rejected Germany's claim that it had the right to attack Norway.

Last updated: 2022-January-09
Tags: History World War II
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