In 1939, after more than a hundred years of peace, Norway did not possess a large standing army and her government considered that effective national defense against a major power was impossible.
The Russian invasion of Finland in 1939 was a severe shock, and during the winter a sizable Norwegian force was established in northern Norway. After Russia signed an armistice with the Finns in March 1940, however, the force was disbanded.
When the Germans invaded on 8 April, the Norwegian Army was only partially mobilized and in the process of training new recruits. But despite these disadvantages, Norway put up a stubborn fight, and it was two months before the country was completely overrun and the British, French and Polish contingents evicted. The government finally capitulated on 9 June 1940.
Despite bitter fighting casualties had been light; the Norwegians lost just 1,335 killed and wounded. Small contingents of Norwegians managed to escape to England, while others crossed into Sweden.
King Haakon VII was Commander-in-Chief of a basically territorial army, which when fully mobilized, was to have had a strength of about 100,000 men. A small cadre of regular officers and NCO’s was responsible for running the Army and for the training of conscripts.
The country was divided into six Military Districts or Commands with their headquarters in Halden, Oslo, Kristiansand, Bergen, Trondheim and Harstad. Each Command was initially expected to field a brigade, later to be expanded to a division and garrison and ancillary troops.
An infantry division comprised a staff, two or three infantry regiments, and either a field artillery regiment, or a mountain artillery battalion.
The 2nd Infantry Division in Oslo included the Royal Guard and a cavalry regiment. The 5th and 6th infantry divisions had, in addition, a pioneer and flying battalion.
An infantry regiment had a strength of 3,750 men armed with Krag-Joergensen M1894 rifles. Some regiments had a bicycle company for reconnaissance duties, which in winter became a ski troop.
Norwegian Army Divisions:
|Infantry regiments||2-3 (each with 3,750 men)|
|Machine guns||264-396 (192-288 x light 6.5mm Madsen, 72-108 x heavy Colt-Browning M29)|
|Artillery||24-36 (16-24 x Kongsberg 120mm field howitzers, 12 x Ehrhardt 75mm M1901 field guns)|
|Anti-aircraft guns||? (Madsen 20mm heavy machine guns, Kongsberg 75mm M1932 anti-aircraft guns)|
Norwegian Air Force
By midday on 9 April 1940, the German armed forces had occupied nearly all the airfields and seaplane bases south of Narvik, and most of Norway’s semi-modem fighters (Gloster Gladiators) had been destroyed in the defense of Oslo on the opening day of the German invasion. Thereafter, the Air Force took little part in the fighting.
The Air Force was organized in three flights (one each of fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft) with a total of 76 aircraft and 940 men, and was intended to play a ground-support role.
On 8 April 1940, the day before the German invasion, 5,200 officers and men were serving in the Navy and its Air Service. Despite the fact that the bulk of the vessels of the Norwegian Navy were obsolete, they gave a good account of themselves, during the hostilities with Germany. Indeed, during the fighting most of them were put out of action or sunk.
There were initially 113 vessels, comprising:
2 small armored cruisers;
3 large Trygg class torpedo boats;
14 torpedo boats;
9 patrol boats;
49 vessels converted to patrol boats.
Only 13 of these made British ports after capitulation.
On 22 April 1940, while fighting was still in progress, the Norwegian Government decided to requisition the whole Norwegian merchant fleet still under its control. 1,000 ships (totaling 4,000,000 tons) manned by 30,000 seamen were saved for the Allied cause, and played an indispensable part in the Battle of the Atlantic.
In addition to the fleet there were coastal fortifications armed with guns of various calibers at Oscarborg, Oslofjord, Kristiansand, Bergen and Agdenes, which were manned by 308 officers and 2,095 other ranks.
The Norwegian Naval Air Service had been formed as early as 1915, and because of its small size necessarily played only a limited role in the war against Germany. Some Navy aircraft did, however, fly to northern Norway after the initial German attack, and they continued to operate from there until fighting ceased on 7 June 1940.
References and literature
The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
World War II – A Statistical Survey (John Ellis)