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, a coun­try of 3.8 mil­lion people and no natural bar­riers to stymie invaders, fell within hours. The very real threat of the Luft­waffe merci­lessly bombing the Danish capi­tal, Copen­hagen, as German air­craft had bombed Warsaw, Poland, the previous Septem­ber caused govern­ment leaders to capit­u­late. A cir­cu­lar in Copen­hagen that day an­nounced that Den­mark was now under German “pro­tec­tion” against “British attack.” The German am­bas­sador to Copen­hagen 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 for the Danish Navy, two-thirds of its 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

Operation Weseruebung: Danish troops, April 9, 1940Operation Weseruebung: German armored radio 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 between 16 and 100 Dan­ish sol­diers who died in the in­va­sion (the figures are hotly con­tested). 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, sinking 13 destroyers. (Nearly half of German losses in Norway were at sea.) From May 1940 on­ward, the Kriegs­marine was reduced to a fleet of sub­marines, which enjoyed mounting suc­ces­ses up to mid-1943, plus a hand­ful of heavy warships that were used as commerce raiders.

Right: Three-man, four-wheel-drive German armored radio car, with its over­head circular system of aerials, moving north through Viborg, Central Jutland (Denmark), April 12, 1940. The radio car was part of a motorized recon­nais­sance bat­tal­ion under the orders of a divi­sion commander. The recon­nais­sance bat­tal­ion generally con­sisted of two armored car com­panies, each with six heavy armored cars and 18 light armored cars. Rounding out the bat­tal­ion was one motor­cycle rifle com­pany, one anti­tank platoon, and one engineering (“pioneer”) platoon, all three of them sharing machine guns, light mortars, and two 75mm howitzers.

Operation Weseruebung: German troops landing in Norway, 1940Operation Weseruebung: German 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. For its part, the Luft­waffe used 500 trans­port planes to insert para­troopers and air landing troops at crucial ports and air­ports, as well as supply iso­lated forces at Trond­heim and Narvik in Norway. Oper­a­tion Weser­uebung 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)

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