Berlin, Germany · June 8, 1940

In an operation remarkable for its precision and bold­ness, Germany launched Opera­tion Weser­uebung, the invasion of Norway on April 9, 1940, seized its capital, Oslo, and captured the impor­tant port of Narvik in Northern Nor­way. Nar­vik boasted an ice-free harbor during the long Scan­di­na­vian winters, and it was the rail termi­nus for any­where from a tenth to a fifth of Ger­many’s iron ore imports in the late 1930s, chiefly from the Kiruna mining district in northern­most Sweden. (Iron ore was criti­cal for war­time pro­duc­tion of steel, but two Swed­ish iron ore ports, Luleå and Oxelö­sund, nearest the Kiruna mining district were ice-bound in winter.)

In late April 1940 retreating Ger­man soldiers, under pres­sure from British, French, Polish, and Nor­we­gian forces, began a system­atic and thorough destruc­tion of  Narvik’s harbor facil­ities to deny Swedish iron ore to their enemy. The next month, May, the British intended to reoccupy the port and com­plete its destruction as cover for evacu­ating British troops from the Nor­we­gian theater of war—their services were needed closer to home—as well as to boost Allied morale in wake of the near dis­aster suffered by the British Expedi­tionary Force at Dun­kirk on the north­western coast of France and the impending collapse of their French ally, the events all occasioned by German aggres­sion against France and the Low Countries begun on May 10, 1940.

The early-June evacu­ation of Nar­vik, hatched in decep­tion as trust between Great Britain and her Norwe­gian ally sank to new lows, had shattering con­seq­uences for the Royal Navy. On this date, June 8, 1940, in the Nor­we­gian Sea, German sister battle­cruisers Scharn­horst and Gneise­nau, built for speed, inter­cepted the British air­craft carrier HMS Glorious, along with escort destroyers Acasta and Ardent, and suc­ceeded in sinking all three vessels with the loss of over 1,500 British sea­men. Sur­vivors num­bered 40, including one each from Acasta and Ardent. The German battle­cruisers, having been damaged in the engage­ment, broke off the sea­borne opera­tion, which allowed 20,000 troops in a later convoy to leave Norway and reach the safety of England. Remark­ably, the Royal Navy did not learn of the cala­mity to their three war­ships until it was announced on German radio. Two days after the triple sinking, on June 10, 1940, the last Norwegian forces in Norway surrendered, abandoned by their Allies. It would be one month shy of five years before Norwegians extracted themselves from their oppressor’s tyranny.

Norway, June 1940: Allied Disasters on Land and Sea

Map of Norway and Denmark, April 1941

Above: Map of Norway and Denmark showing the German landing sites during the initial phase of Operation Weser­uebung (Unter­nehmen Weser­übung), April 1941. The Norwegian port of Narvik is near the top of the map. The Swedish iron ore mining district of Kiruna is directly east of Narvik (past the right edge of the map).

HMS "Glorious"Rescued troops arrive in Scotland

Left: A World War I light battlecruiser, the HMS Glorious was converted to an air­craft carrier in the late 1920s. While evacu­ating British air­craft from the Narvik area in Norway in June 1940, the carrier (one of four in the Royal Navy) was sunk with the loss of over 1,200 lives by the German battle­cruisers Scharn­horst and Gneisenau in the Norwe­gian Sea. Incred­ibly, the Glorious had no air­borne patrols flying over­head, no air­craft on its deck ready for a quick response to the two attacking German war­ships, and no look­out in its crow’s nest in conditions of maximum visibility.

Right: Operation Alphabet was the evacuation of British, French, and Polish troops from Nar­vik. It was in recognition of the success of Germany’s Operation Weser­uebung, which began on April 9, 1940, and signaled the end of the Allied campaign in Norway. The evac­u­a­tion was completed by June 8, the day the HMS Glorious and her two destroyer escorts were sunk.

The German Invasions of Norway, Denmark, France, and the Low Countries, April–May 1940