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.”

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

Danish troops, April 9, 1940German 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. (Nearly half of Ger­man losses in Nor­way were at sea.) From May 1940 on­wards, the Kriegs­marine was reduced to a fleet of sub­marines and a hand­ful of heavy war­ships that were used as commerce raiders.

Right: German radio armored car moving north through Vi­borg, cen­tral Jut­land (Den­mark), April 12, 1940.

German troops landing in Norway, 1940German 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)