04-Operation Weser Crossing

Operation Weser Crossing (Unternehmen Weserübung), the German invasion of Denmark and Norway in April 1940.

This photo of the ship Altmark is also an element of the collection from the grandfather of the author of these pages. However, since the ship had left the fjord in southern Norway a week after the incident and never returned to there, it’s only possible to speculate about its origin. Perhaps, to the German soldiers in Norway propaganda photographs were distributed, as the Altmark incident represented one of the most important propagandistic reasons for the invasion of Scandinavia.

The six-month hiatus known as the ‘Phony War’ lasted from September 1939 until April 1940, when Germany invaded Norway and Denmark. Early in 1940 Hitler turned his attention to Scandinavia, where he had a vested interest in Swedish iron ore imports that reached Germany via the Norwegian port of Narvik. Norway had a small Nazi Party, headed by Vidkun Quisling, that could be counted upon for fifth-column support.

February brought evidence that the Allies would resist a German incursion into Norway when the Altmark, carrying British prisoners, was boarded in Norwegian waters by a British party. Both sides began to make plans for a Northern confrontation.

On 9 April the Germans launched their invasion of Norway and Denmark (named Operation Weserübung = Weser Crossing), based on a bold strategy that called for naval landings at six points in Norway, supported by waves of paratroops. The naval escort for the Narvik landing suffered heavy losses, and the defenders of Oslo sank the cruiser Blücher and damaged the pocket battleship Lützow. Even so, the Germans seized vital airfields, which allowed them to reinforce their assault units and deploy their warplanes against the Royal Navy ships along the coast.

Map about the German invasion of Norway
Map about the German invasion of Norway and Allied counter-landings.

Denmark had already been overrun and posed no threat to German designs. Norwegian defense forces were weak, and the Germans captured numerous arms depots at the outset, leaving hastily mobilized reservists without any weapons.

Allied planning proved wholly inadequate to German professionalism and air superiority. Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik were all lost to the Germans, along with the country’s capital, Oslo.

Few Allied troops were trained for landing, and those who did get ashore were poorly supplied.
In May, British, French and Polish forces attempted to recapture two important cities, but their brief success at Narvik was offset by the bungled effort at Trondheim to the south. Troops in that area had to be evacuated within two weeks, and soon after Narvik was abandoned to the Germans when events in France drew off Allied troops.
Norway and Denmark would remain under German occupation throughout the war, and it seemed that Hitler’s Scandinavian triumph in Operation Weser Crossing was complete. However, German naval losses there would hamper plans for the invasion of Britain, and the occupation would tie up numerous German troops for the duration. The Allies were not much consoled by these reflections at the time. The Northern ‘Blitzkrieg’ had been a heavy blow to their morale, and the Germans had gained valuable Atlantic bases for subsequent operations.


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References and literature

Der 2. Weltkrieg (C. Bertelsmann Verlag)
Zweiter Weltkrieg in Bildern (Mathias Färber)
A World at Arms – A Global History of World War II (Gerhard L. Weinberg)
Der Grosse Atlas zum II. Weltkrieg (Peter Young)
Historical Atlas of World War Two – The Geography of Conflict (Ronald Story)
Seemacht – eine Seekriegsgeschichte von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (Elmar B. Potter, Admiral Chester W.Nimitz)
Flotten des 2. Weltkrieges (Antony Preston)

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