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 her 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. The Germans by then were in posses­sion of the best Nor­we­gian air­fields, so when the British belatedly landed the enemy was ideally posi­tioned to strafe their supply bases, air­strips, and unpro­tected columns. 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. 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 herself.

Allied Campaign in Norway, April–June 1940

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

Left: Narvik provided an ice-free harbor in the North Atlan­tic for iron ore trans­ported by rail from Sweden’s Kiruna ore mine. Both sides in the war had an interest in denying this iron supply to the other, setting the stage for a resump­tion of large-scale land battles following the German and Soviet inva­sions and annexations of Poland eight months earlier.

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 gun Battles of Narvik: Returning British troops, early June 1940

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.

Rare Color Film: Allied Battles of Narvik, Late April and May 1940