Operation Weserubung: The Invasions of Denmark and Norway

During the “Phony War” between the Western Allies and Germany in 1939 and early 1940, both sides eyed Norway as a potential area of operations. The Allies wanted to cut off Germany’s supply of Swedish iron ore that was shipped thru the Norwegian port of Narvik, and ship arms and supplies to Finland who was at war with Germany’s de facto ally, the Soviet Union. (Finland surrendered in March before the plan came to fruition) Germany wanted to use Norway’s fjords for U-boat bases, and use airfields on the Norwegian Sea to secure the iron ore shipments. In early April 1940, both sides struck near simultaneously but where Allied operations (and the Norwegian response) were characterized by confusion and timidity, the German attack was characterized by decisiveness and audacity.

In the early hours of 9 April, 1940, two hundred German transport planes approached the various Scandinavian coasts. Each of the distinctive three engine Ju-52s carried a “stick” of 18 German Fallshirmjaeger (paratroopers) and a canister containing their weapons and ammunition (The Germans jumped unarmed and retrieved their weapons on the ground). The lightly armed paratroopers had to hold out against a possible overwhelming Allied response before any help could arrive by troops carried by the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) The fallshimjaegers’ vital mission was to seize five airfields that constituted the all-important initial objectives for the first contested airborne operation in history: Operation Weserubung.

Operation Weserubung was the German codename for the invasions of Norway and Denmark. It was a complicated and flawed, but tenaciously executed joint, interagency, and multinational (well, two anyway) surprise attack that had little reason to succeed, and every reason to fail. It required independent simultaneous successful actions against a series of linear unsupportive but logistically connected objectives. The plan required airborne troops to seize airfields for future Luftwaffe dominance of the sky. Simultaneously and underneath the nose of the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, the Kriegsmarine landed troop at five spread out target cities along the Norwegian Atlantic coast. Due to troop transport shortages, the ground troops available were woefully understrength for the tasks assigned to them. A serious failure at any point would have caused the failure of the entire operation. However, German diplomatic and informational efforts more than made up for the troop shortfall.

During the military attack, the German Foreign Ministry convincingly continued to negotiate with the Norwegians and prevented a timely full mobilization. Additionally Norwegian fascists under Vidkun Quisling sabotaged any response and assisted from within their socialist cousins from the south. Fortunately for the Germans, individual initiative from their junior officers mitigated any temporary Allied successes, and most importantly, Allied indecisiveness assured German victory.

The Allied invasion fleet was actually off of Narvik on 9 April but was recalled to Scotland in order to not offend the Norwegians, despite reports of German planes and ships nearby. It was turned around and sent back five days later. Unfortunately for the Norwegians, this five day delay meant any Allied assistance arrived long after they could be used to attack the vulnerable German enclaves in the southern portion of the country. Through dishonest and duplicitous negotiations, the Nazi Foreign Ministry prevented a full mobilization of the Norwegian Army. The Norwegian delgation continued to negotiate in good faith for days, all the way up until Gestapo agents arrested them. Furthermore, the Quislings in the government, particularly the bureaucracy, prevented the partial mobilization from being carried out efficiently. Instead of two days, it took a week for the Norwegian Army to mobilize. By then it was too late and air landed German troops poured into the country through the secured airfields.

The only Allied successes in the first few days were at sea. On the night of 9 April, five British destroyers attacked and scattered the German’s Narvik invasion force, whose ships were then hunted down and sunk by a larger task force centered on the battleship HMS Warspite. In the south, the Oslo Invasion Force but halted by Norwegian cannon protecting the entrance to the fjord, which allowed time for the Norwegian royal family, the parliament, and the treasury to escape capture. But the captain in charge of the German embassy’s security, on his own initiative, commandeered a few Norwegian Army trucks and a company of German paratroopers, and chased the Norwegian decision makers out of the country, which further delayed Norway’s response to the German invasion.

90% of German objectives were seized within 24 hours, if tenuously. Denmark fell in six hours. But even with the German’s amazing initial successes, the British, French, Polish and Norwegian troops resisted and even advanced over the next two months, especially around Narvik. It took the fall of France in June and the impending invasion of Britain for the Allies to evacuate their troops and finally surrender Norway.

The only positive outcome for the Allies was the near total annihilation of all of Germany’s destroyers and troop transports in the two months of battles against the Allied navies in the North and Norwegian Seas. Their loss forced Germany to require total control of the air over the English Channel to compensate for the lack of escorts for the slow invasion barges destined for Operation Sealion, the invasion of Great Britain.

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