HITLER ORDERS CONQUEST OF DENMARK, NORWAY

Berlin, Germany April 9, 1940

On this date in 1940 German land, sea, air, and spe­cial­ized forces ad­vanced over­land into Den­mark and attacked vari­ous points along Nor­way’s coast from the air and sea. Both Scandi­na­vian coun­tries had defi­cien­cies in men, organ­i­za­tion, train­ing, and mod­ern equip­ment that pre­vented a cred­i­ble defense. Tiny Denmark, with 3.8 mil­lion people, fell within hours. A cir­cu­lar in the capi­tal, Copen­hagen, that day an­nounced that the coun­try was now under Ger­man “pro­tec­tion” against “Brit­ish attack.” The Ger­man am­bas­sador to Den­mark swore a sol­emn oath that Ger­many did not wish to inter­fere in Den­mark’s inter­nal affairs and would re­spect her in­teg­rity and in­de­pend­ence after the war. Luck­i­ly, two-thirds of the Dan­ish naval force (240 ships and 6,500 men) were out­side terri­torial waters on the day of the inva­sion, allowing the ma­jor­ity of Dan­ish ships to es­cape to Allied harbors and begin sailing under Allied flags.

As for Norway, with a population of 3 mil­lion, that coun­try took no pre­cau­tions to meet a po­ten­tial Ger­man threat, being fix­ated in­stead on a series of Brit­ish vio­la­tions of its terri­to­rial waters in March and early April. The West­ern Allies (British, French, Polish, and Norwe­gian), despite plenty of warn­ings of troop build­up and em­bar­ka­tions along Ger­many’s North Sea and Bal­tic coasts, followed by sight­ings of siz­able Ger­man naval units steaming north at high speed, could have pre­vented the loss of Nor­way to the Nazi blitz­krieg had they fully or par­tially mobi­lized between April 5 and 9, mined har­bors, fully manned coastal de­fenses, pro­vided ade­quate in­fan­try pro­tec­tion for Nor­we­gian air­fields, and aban­doned the no­tion that the Kriegs­marine was cowed by the Royal Navy. Instead, the Norwe­gian govern­ment appeared para­lyzed, its 13,000-strong army and 5,200 naval person­nel unable to mount a truly effec­tive defense against less than 20,000 of the enemy.

Against a back­drop of the Allies’ ill-pre­pared, poorly equipped, and badly led re­active land force, Nor­way bravely re­sisted Nazi ag­gres­sion for roughly two months, though the out­come was never in doubt after Ger­many es­tab­lished air bases in the coun­try that more than com­pen­sated for the vastly supe­rior Brit­ish Navy off­shore. Norway’s 126 years of con­tin­uous peace ended, replaced by five years of enemy oc­cu­pation with the help of 40,000 Norwegian collaborators, or “Quislings.”





Operation Weseruebung, Germany’s Conquest of Denmark and Norway, April 1940

Danish troops, April 9, 1940 German radio armored car, April 1940

Left: Danish troops on the morning of the Ger­man in­va­sion, code­named Oper­a­tion Weser­uebung, April 9, 1940. Hours later two of the squad’s seven men had fallen to Ger­man bullets. They were two out of 16 Dan­ish sol­diers who died in the in­va­sion. Ger­man troop losses were min­i­mal in Den­mark (203 killed or wounded) and Nor­way (5,296 killed or wounded). Not so for the Kriegs­marine. The Royal Navy suc­ceeded in crippling the Ger­man Navy as a fighting force, sinking thirteen destroyers. (Nearly half of Ger­man losses in Nor­way were at sea.) From May 1940 on­ward, the Kriegs­marine was reduced to a fleet of sub­marines, which enjoyed mounting successes up to mid-1943, plus a hand­ful of heavy warships that were used as commerce raiders.

Right: Three-man, four-wheel-drive German radio armored car moving north through Viborg, Central Jutland (Denmark), April 12, 1940. The car was part of a motorized recon­nais­sance bat­tal­ion under the orders of a division commander. The recon­nais­sance bat­tal­ion generally con­sisted of two armored car com­panies, each with six heavy armored cars and 18 light armored cars. Rounding out the bat­tal­ion was one motor­cycle rifle com­pany, one anti­tank platoon, and one engineering (“pioneer”) platoon, all three of them sharing machine guns, light mortars, and two 75mm howitzers.

German troops landing in Norway, 1940 German troops driving in Oslo, May 1940

Left: German heavy cruiser Admiral Hip­per landing troops in Norway, 1940. The as­sault on Den­mark and Nor­way repre­sented the first joint land-air-and-sea cam­paign in the his­tory of war­fare. It turned out to be the Wehr­macht’s only cam­paign that was planned, launched, and completed by the three services.

Right: German troops in Oslo, May 1940. In the back­ground is the Vic­toria Ter­ras­se, which later became Gestapo head­quarters. The com­plex held the inter­ro­ga­tion cen­ter for all pri­soners in Oslo, and the place became synonymous with torture and abuse.

Newsreel of the German Occupation of Denmark (English subtitles)


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