Hitler Takes Denmark and Norway
As the smoke cleared over a vanquished Poland, an uneasy calm settled on Europe. Great Britain and France were both engaged in a sea war with Germany (an ongoing conflict that became known as the Battle of the Atlantic), but there was no war on land — at least for a while.
Hitler next turned Germany's military might against Norway and Denmark. The reason was simple: Germany needed to safeguard important iron ore shipments arriving mostly from neutral Sweden and to give its navy a safe passage through Norwegian coastal waters into the North Atlantic. Taking the Scandinavian peninsula would also provide Germany with much-needed food and other goods that were in short supply as a result of the British-French blockade of German ports.
The invasion of Norway and Denmark was placed in the hands of the German navy. Naval forces were to land along the Norwegian coast on April 9, 1940, while airborne units were dropped on Norway and Denmark to capture essential airfields.
Norway, which tried to remain neutral during Hitler's grab for land, learned of the planned invasion a day before it was to occur when Norwegians in Kristiansund picked up 122 survivors from a German transport that had been torpedoed by a Polish submarine. The captured Germans admitted that they were part of a planned invasion force, but, incredibly, the Norwegian cabinet did nothing to set up defenses.
Others, however, were doing what they could to halt Germany's aggression. Great Britain defied international law by laying mines in Norwegian waters to slow the iron ore trade between Germany and Norway. It was initially believed that when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway on April 9, it was in response to this British mining of Norwegian waters. However, the attack had been planned for two months.
Once again, the blitzkrieg offense proved devastatingly effective. It took Germany just four hours to invade and conquer Denmark. German troops marched across the Danish border early on the morning of April 9, overwhelming the surprised Danes into surrendering. At the same time, German troops emerged from cargo ships in Norwegian ports, and aircraft dropped German paratroopers onto Norwegian airfields. Simultaneously, German destroyers, protected by thick fog, moved up Norway's main fjords to unload additional troops and provide artillery support to the assault.
Caught somewhat by surprise, the Norwegians fought with all they had, assisted by British troops and planes, but the German army was far too powerful. Despite their heroic efforts, the Norwegian soldiers never really had a chance.
The accompanying sea battle, however, went a little differently. The first German losses were at the hands of Norwegian defenders at Oslo Fjord, who opened fire from coastal defense batteries at close range. On the first morning of the sea war, the heavy cruiser Blücher was sunk with the loss of several hundred troops and civilians who were to act as occupation officials. Two other coastal defense ships managed to damage another German cruiser, and gunners at Oslo Fjord took out a German torpedo boat.
Germany's use of paratroopers during the 1940 blitzkrieg invasion of Norway was the first ever in war. The largest mass drop of the war was Operation Varsity on March 24, 1945. In that remarkable effort, 1,285 transports and 2,290 gliders were used to lift more than 9,300 U.S. paratroopers and 4,976 British troops across the Rhine. Bombers followed, dropping supplies.
British destroyer guns and British naval aircraft flying from the Orkney Islands also managed to inflict heavy damage on the invading German forces, sinking a light cruiser and ten destroyers. The battleships Scharn-horst and Gneisenau were also damaged during the battle, which continued into June. British and French naval losses included the sinking of several destroyers and the aircraft carrier Glorious.
By late May, the British and French troops had established strong positions near Narvik (Norway), but the military collapse the Allies were facing in northern France and the Low Countries forced them to abandon the Norwegian campaign. During the first week of June, the Allies were able to evacuate 27,000 people with almost no losses, as well as King Haakon and the officials who would quickly establish Norway's government in exile.
It took two months, but Norway and Denmark now belonged to Hitler. However, the conquest had a downside for Germany. More than 300,000 troops had to be stationed in Norway, which kept them far from battle, and their presence did little to quell seething anti-German resistance.