Germany Invades Norway Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The German invasion of Norway began with a successful surprise attack by land, sea, and air and challenged the traditional dominance of British sea power in Europe. It secured valuable resources for Germany for the remainder of the war, but at the expense of committing the Germans to maintaining an occupation force of 300,000 troops that would come to be needed elsewhere.

Summary of Event

Soon after the outbreak of World War II, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, commander in chief of the German navy, drew Adolf Hitler’s attention to the importance of Norway’s coast for Germany’s submarines, surface raiders, and blockade runners. He emphasized that an Allied capture of the ice-free port of Narvik in northern Norway would prevent Germany from importing vital Swedish iron ore. Hitler did not show much interest in Scandinavia until he received reports that Britain was in fact considering a descent on Norway, spurred on by Winston Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty. The Russo-Finnish War, Russo-Finnish War (1939-1940)[Russofinnish War] which began on November 30, 1939, also prompted Allied agitation for sending troops to Finland via Narvik and northern Sweden. [kw]Germany Invades Norway (Apr. 9, 1940) [kw]Invades Norway, Germany (Apr. 9, 1940) [kw]Norway, Germany Invades (Apr. 9, 1940) Germany;invasion of Norway Norway;German invasion World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];German invasion of Norway [g]Germany;Apr. 9, 1940: Germany Invades Norway[10160] [g]Norway;Apr. 9, 1940: Germany Invades Norway[10160] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 9, 1940: Germany Invades Norway[10160] [c]World War II;Apr. 9, 1940: Germany Invades Norway[10160] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Apr. 9, 1940: Germany Invades Norway[10160] Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;invasion of Norway Quisling, Vidkun Churchill, Winston [p]Churchill, Winston;German invasion of Norway Ruge, Otto Falkenhorst, Nikolaus von Haakon VII Hambro, Carl Joachim Chamberlain, Neville

German soldiers make their way up a snowy slope during the invasion of Norway.

(NARA)

On December 10, 1939, Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian nationalist with Nazi sympathies, came to Berlin to propose to Hitler a Norwegian coup d’état to forestall the British, and Hitler appointed a staff to study ways of intervening. When Churchill, on February 16, 1940, sent the destroyer Cossack into Norwegian territorial waters to rescue British prisoners from the supply ship Altmark, Hitler accelerated preparations for a German invasion, code-named Operation Weserubung Operation Weserubung (exercise on the Weser). A British cabinet decision on March 12 for landing troops at Narvik was reversed that same day by the end of the Russo-Finnish War, but Hitler decided not to risk further delay. Britain started mining Norway’s shipping channels on April 8, but by then German invasion forces were on their way—most of the navy, twelve hundred aircraft, and the vanguard of six reinforced army divisions under the capable command of General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst—moving toward an April 9 surprise dawn attack on Denmark and Norway.

Thus the Norwegian cabinet, after discussing British minelaying into the evening of April 8, had to reconvene in the early hours of April 9 to face reports of an approaching German threat. Norwegian mobilization orders were delayed and muddled. The army, short on rifles, artillery, and ammunition and without tanks, was also between drafts, with almost no men in barracks. Norway’s planes were obsolete, and most of the navy’s ships were museum pieces. Soldiers and civilians alike were surprised and confused, and the unexpected German dawn attack quickly seized most of its objectives—seaports and air fields at Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger, and Kristiansand.

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The most important opposition occurred at the narrows of the Oslofjord, where the fortress at Oskarsborg sank a German heavy cruiser (Blucher), damaged a pocket battleship (Lutzow), and delayed the invasion flotilla by more than twelve hours. This enabled King Haakon VII, the cabinet, and the Storting (parliament) to escape the German plan for their capture, taking a special train north at 7:23 a.m., followed by commandeered trucks carrying the nation’s gold reserves. Six German airborne companies seized Fornebu airport on the morning of April 9 and occupied Oslo that afternoon, followed the next day by reinforcements from Falkenhorst’s main army. The seizure of Oslo had the effect of isolating Norwegian troops in Ostfold, southern Norway, and Telemark from the Norwegian forces retreating northward.

On the evening of April 9, Storting president Carl Joachim Hambro persuaded that assembly to grant full emergency powers to the king and cabinet for the duration of the war. Ongoing attempts to capture the king or persuade him to name Nazi puppet Quisling prime minister failed, as did an air raid intended to kill the Norwegian leaders. By evening on April 9, however, the Germans held all the main ports and airfields, and by April 10 strong squadrons of fighters and bombers were already operating from them. The new commander in chief of Norway’s army, Otto Ruge, retreating northward, relied chiefly on help from Britain, whose Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain assured him, “We are coming as soon as possible, and in great strength.”

Indeed, on the morning of April 9, the British Home Fleet under Admiral Sir Charles Forbes was in a position to sail into Bergen after the Germans with a far superior naval force. Strong German air attacks on his fleet that afternoon, however, persuaded Forbes to abandon his planned attack. A British cabinet project for a naval attack on Trondheim was also canceled because of the threat of German air power. Instead, from April 14-17, Britain landed an Allied expedition in the region of Narvik and sent smaller contingents to the west coast ports of Andalsnes and Namsos in the hope of converging on Trondheim and linking up with Norwegians in the Gudbrandsdal. The Allied soldiers arrived too late, however, and were too few in number. Without armored vehicles, field artillery, or effective aircraft, the British were no match for the well-equipped and fast-moving Germans. Defeated in the Gudbrandsdal and Trondheim areas, the Allies on May 28 drove the isolated German garrison out of the port of Narvik, but by then defeat in France forced the Allies to abandon Norway. The Allied evacuation of June 5-8 carried the Norwegian king and political leaders to England as a government in exile, while General Ruge remained behind to surrender his troops on June 10.

Significance

In the Norway campaign, the Germans had and employed superior forces, took the offensive, and achieved surprise. The Luftwaffe (German air force) outmatched British naval power in ways that seemed to threaten the security of Britain itself. The Norway invasion also marked the first major combined operation of the three service branches, demonstrating the necessity for cooperation among air, land, and sea forces in future campaigns. Allied weaponry and methods were exposed in Norway as outmoded, and the Allied intelligence system ineffective.

The German capture of Norway had wartime consequences for both sides. Germany gained secure access to Sweden’s iron ore, Trondheim became an important German submarine base, and other air and naval bases in the far north were used for attacks on Allied ship convoys to Russia between 1941 and 1945. Britain, although beaten in the struggle for Norway, avoided significant losses while inflicting enough damage on the German navy to reduce its importance during the 1940 Battle of Britain. Another significant benefit for Great Britain was the fall of Chamberlain’s ineffectual administration, and its replacement by the national coalition government headed by Churchill.

The Norwegian population of less than three million could not be a major factor in the war, but their large merchant marine helped the Allies, and their example of continuing underground resistance was a moral asset and also tied down 300,000 German occupation troops until 1945, preventing those troops from participating on the fronts of the European theater. At the end of the war, King Haakon VII and the government returned to Oslo, Falkenhorst and Raeder went on trial as war criminals, and Vidkun Quisling was convicted of treason and shot. Germany;invasion of Norway Norway;German invasion World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];German invasion of Norway

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Churchill, Winston S. The Gathering Storm. Vol. 1 in The Second World War. London: Cassell, 1948. An indispensable account of the author’s role.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Derry, T. K. The Campaign in Norway. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1952. The official history of British army operations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gray, Edwyn. Hitler’s Battleships. London: Leo Cooper, 1992. Includes an account of German landing operations taken largely from Walther Hubatsch’s untranslated history of the 1940 Scandinavian wars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Høiback, Harald. Command and Control in Military Crisis: Devious Decisions. Portland, Oreg.: F. Cass, 2003. Case studies comparing the command and control systems employed in Norway in 1940 with those on the western front in World War I. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kersaudy, François. Norway, 1940. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Brief, balanced, broadly researched account that is also well translated. Includes the clearest account of Norwegian operations so far available in English.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kynoch, Joseph. Norway, 1940: The Forgotten Fiasco. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England: Airlife, 2002. Personal account of a British soldier’s experiences in the Norwegian invasion. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moulton, J. L. The Norwegian Campaign of 1940: A Study of Warfare in Three Dimensions. London: Eyre and Spottiswode, 1966. Analytic critique of the British campaign, with a few references to German and Norwegian sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ruge, Friedrich. Der Seekrieg. Annapolis, Md.: U.S. Naval Institute, 1957. Chapter 5 gives a decidedly German perspective on the campaign.

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