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. Earlier in the year, on Janu­ary 27, the German High Com­mand (Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht, OKW) had estab­lished a task force to orches­trate the invas­ion of neutral Den­mark and Norway after Adolf Hitler’s deci­sion to push Germany’s offen­sive against France and the Bene­lux coun­tries into late spring. Shortly after the OKW got down to busi­ness, two British Army divi­sions began formu­lating their own plans for operations in Norway.

Both Scandinavian countries had deficien­cies in men, organ­i­za­tion, train­ing, and modern equip­ment that pre­vented a cred­i­ble defense of their home­lands. Tiny Den­mark, a coun­try of 3.8 mil­lion people and no natural bar­riers to stymie German 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. The Danish govern­ment would con­tinue in office and King Chris­tian X would remain on his throne. The German mili­tary com­mander would take no part in the admin­is­tra­tion of the coun­try and the German gar­ri­son of around 200 men would be delib­er­ately kept low-key. 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 conceiv­ably 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.

The Germans would have preferred a solu­tion like that of Den­mark applied to Norway were it not for the con­duct of one Norwe­gian traitor, Vid­kun Quisling. As King Haa­kon VII and his govern­ment aban­doned the capi­tal, Oslo, for points north, Quisling, head of the Nasjonal Sam­ling polit­i­cal party took to the air­ways. Quis­ling claimed that the king’s govern­ment had lost the right to rule and that he and his party were filling the void, briefly as it happened, with the blessings of the invaders. Haa­kon refused to nego­ti­ate with the Germans so long as they insisted the treach­erous Quisling be named prime minister.

In mid-April a poorly led, re­active Anglo-French-Polish expe­di­tion­ary force landed in Norway to stiffen Norwe­gian defenses and evict the Germans. The fight went badly and the force began to with­draw at month’s end. The king, his family, and minis­ters went into exile late on June 7, 3 days before Norway capit­u­lated. Brave Norwe­gians had resisted Nazi aggres­sion for 2 months but the out­come was never in serious doubt. The nation’s 126 years of con­tin­uous peace was replaced by 5 years of enemy occu­pation assisted by 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: A Danish woman dismounts from her bicycle to watch a 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.

Operation Weseruebung: German troops landing in Norway, 1940Operation Weseruebung: Norwegian troops advance on German invaders

Left: Hitler resolved to invade Norway after the British Navy vio­lated Norwe­gian neu­trality in mid‑February 1940 to rescue cap­tive British sai­lors on the German prison ship Alt­mark, a 12,000-ton tanker. This touched off a diplo­matic crisis between Britain and Norway. (For fear of pro­voking Germany, Norwe­gian author­i­ties had turned a blind eye to the Alt­mark’s having vio­lated Norwe­gian neu­tral­ity in the first place.) The British rescue oper­a­tion resulted in 7 German sai­lors killed and 11 wounded. This photo shows German heavy cruiser Admiral Hip­per landing troops at Trond­heim in Central Norway in April 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 Junkers Ju‑52 air­craft to insert para­troopers and air­borne troops at crucial ports and air­ports, as well as supply iso­lated forces at Trond­heim and Narvik in Nort­hern Norway. Oper­a­tion Weser­uebung turned out to be the Wehr­macht’s only cam­paign that was planned, launched, and completed by the three services.

Right: Company 6, 11th Norwegian Infantry Regiment shoulders its skis and prepares to advance toward invading German airborne troops near Dombås, a village in Central Norway at the intersection of roads, rail, and river.

Operation Weseruebung: British navy sets German supply ships ablaze in Ofotfjord near Narvik, April 1940Operation Weseruebung: Dunkirk rehearsal as British defenders take up positions on Norway beach, May 1940

Left: German merchant ships, filled with supplies for their invading forces, burn in Ofot­fjord near Narvik, North­ern Norway, after the effort by the British Royal Navy and war­planes to clear the fjord of German vessels, April 1940.

Right: Reminiscent of a scene from the Dunkirk evac­u­a­tion on the English Chan­nel coast in North­western France (May 26 to June 4, 1940), British troops take up defen­sive posi­tions on a Norwe­gian beach most likely during Oper­a­tion Alpha­bet (June 4–8, 1940). Pre­viously, on May 25, Allied com­manders received the order to evac­u­ate their men from Norway. The French and British con­tin­gents of the Allied expe­di­tionary force were sorely needed on the Euro­pean con­ti­nent after Hitler had declared war on France and the Benelux countries on May 10, 1940.

Newsreel of the German Occupation of Denmark (English subtitles)

Continue Reading