Narvik, Norway · April 29, 1940

Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, and Oslo, Norway’s capi­tal, succumbed to Ger­man in­vaders on April 9, 1940, the first day of Oper­a­tion Weser­uebung. Though planning for Weser­uebung had begun the pre­vious Decem­ber, Adolf Hitler did not order full speed ahead until Brit­ish war­ships entered the terri­torial waters of neu­tral Nor­way in Febru­ary 1940 and freed some 300 sai­lors who had been cap­tured by the Ger­man pocket battle­ship Admiral Graf Spee sev­eral weeks ear­lier. Hitler’s in­va­sion of Nor­way osten­sibly was to fore­stall the planned Anglo-French occu­pation of that coun­try. Indeed, Ger­man envoys to Copen­hagen and Oslo made the case that the Wehr­macht’s move was to pro­tect the neu­tral­ity of both Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries. (The occu­pation of Den­mark was based on geo­graphi­cal con­sid­er­ations: its loca­tion facili­tated greater air and naval control of the North and Baltic seas.)

In truth, the goal of the Ger­mans in Nor­way was to secure Nar­vik, the ice-free port and rail termi­nus for Swed­ish iron ore exports to Ger­many, at the moment vital to the Ger­man war effort. (In 1939, Germany imported 60 per­cent of its iron ore.) Great Brit­ain and France, the latter nation a month shy of being in­vaded herself, re­sponded to Oper­a­tion Weser­uebung with their own landings in Central Norway five days later. The initial engage­ment of Brit­ish and Ger­man forces on April 21 was the first ground action between the two nations since World War I and it did not bode well for the Allies. A week later Lon­don, with­out warning its Nor­we­gian com­rades-in-arms in ad­vance, ordered British forces to evacuate Central and Southern Norway.

On this date, April 29, 1940, Norwegian and French forces took the offen­sive on the north­ern front near Nar­vik. Though holding a strong nume­ri­cal advan­tage over the Germans in Norway, the Allies were none­the­less prompted to with­draw every­where from the country after Allied defeats in France in May and June 1940 and the hercu­lean cross-Channel rescue of most of the main British fighting force—the trapped British Exped­i­tionary Force—from the Dunkirk pocket, which made it impos­sible to send rein­force­ments. King Haa­kon VII and his govern­ment, having estab­lished them­selves tem­po­rarily in Tromsø in North­ern Norway, reluc­tantly went into exile in England hours before the last Allied troops embarked for home, leaving Nor­we­gian forces to capit­u­late to the in­vaders on June 10, 1940. (Other Euro­pean monarchs in English exile were Queen Wilhel­mina of the Nether­lands, Grand Duchess Char­lotte of Luxem­bourg, King George II of Greece, and King Peter II of Yugo­slavia.) After 62 days of fighting, Nor­way was con­signed to share the fate of Czecho­slo­vakia and Poland in 1938–1939 and now in 1940 with France as well as neutral Belgium, neutral Netherlands, and neutral Luxembourg.

Allied Campaign in Norway, April–June 1940

Battles of Narvik: Narvik during World War IIBattles of Narvik: Norwegian soldiers on Narvik front

Left: Narvik provided an ice-free harbor in the North­east Atlan­tic for iron ore trans­ported by rail from Sweden’s Kiruna ore mine. The unique geo­graphy of this part of North­ern Scan­di­na­via is pri­marily east–west, where­as the coun­tries of Norway and Sweden are primarily laid out longi­tu­di­nally, north–south. Thus, the iron ore mined in North­ern Sweden was more easily shipped from the Norwe­gian port of Narvik imme­di­ately to the west rather than traver­sing the long length of Sweden by rail, then ferry to Germany. Both Britain and Germany realized how impor­tant this ore was to the German war effort. Both com­bat­ant nations had an interest in denying this iron supply to the other, setting the stage now for a resump­tion of land battles following the German and Soviet inva­sions and annex­a­tions of Poland eight months earlier in 1939.

Right: The total number of Norwegian defenders during the Battles of Nar­vik (April 9 to June 8, 1940) was 8,000–10,000. French, British, and Polish forces in and around Nar­vik brought the total Allied force to 24,500 men. Facing them were 5,600 Ger­man soldiers, para­troopers, and ship­wreck sailors, the latter sur­vi­vors of a major naval battle off Narvik in April, when the Royal Navy sank 10 German destroyers.

Battles of Narvik: Norwegian Army field gunBattles of Narvik: Returning British troops

Left: The Battles of Narvik, which started with the German cap­ture of the vital rail ter­mi­nus and har­bor in Nor­way’s north at the start of Oper­a­tion Weser­uebung, pro­vided the Allies with their first major land victory in World War II on May 29, 1940.

Right: However, the successful German attack on France in May and June 1940 forced the Allied expe­di­tionary force to eva­cuate Norway, which these British sol­diers (minus the 6,000 who had been killed) did between June 4 and 8. Without Allied air and naval sup­port, Nor­we­gians at Nar­vik were forced to lay down their arms, which they did on June 10, 1940, the last Norwegian forces to surrender their country to the invaders.

Allied Siege of Narvik, Norway, Mid-April to Early June 1940