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, 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)