On June 10th, 1940 a lesser known chapter of World War II came to a successful end for the Germans: Operation Weserübung or the invasion of two Scandinavian countries. Denmark was attacked without previous warning despite the bilateral non-aggression pact signed by both nations on May 31st, 1939, and capitulated on the same day, April 9th. In struggles that lasted around four hours, less than 50 soldiers were killed in total.
In contrast, it took Germany 62 days to conquer the whole of Norway. That made it the occupied country that resisted a German invasion for the longest time before surrendering. While 1,700 Norwegian soldiers died, the Allies suffered 4,900 casualties among British, French and Polish. The Germans lost 1,300 man and 2,300 went missing:
Also on April 9th, 1940 a joint operation by the German army, navy and air force began with landings at Oslo, Bergen, Kristiansand, Trondheim and Narvik. By putting up a sharp fight in the Oslo Fjord and sinking the German cruiser Blücher, Norwegian defenders delayed the conquest of the capital by half a day and allowed the Royal Family, the cabinet and most of the 150 members of Parliament to escape. Except at Narvik in the north, the remaining disembarkations met only minimal resistance.
There, on April 13th, British destroyers sank German vessels that, while screening landing forces, couldn’t reach the open sea anymore. Other German ships, having exhausted their fuel and ammunition, were beached by their commanders. The German navy lost half of its destroyers, a blow from which it never recovered.
On May 13th, being cut off from the rest of the country, short of food and ammunition, their mobility hampered by adverse climatic conditions, the Germans planned to give up the city. Though after some reinforcements arrived the next day, they were able to hold it until May 28th before retreating to the surroundings.
On June 8th, 1940, the Allies secretly evacuated their troops from the area. The Norwegian military was ordered to cease resistance and demobilize the next day. On June 10th, the Norwegians signed an armistice that gave Germany total control of Norway.
A combination of quickness, surprise and boldness enabled the speedy Germans to baffle the confused British and hapless Norwegians by transporting troops directly to objectives located along the Norwegian coast along 1,200 miles of coastline. This stunning success was based on four factors.
First, good intelligence; second, well-applied strength; third, blunt defiance of the mighty Royal Navy; fourth, ill-equipped and poorly organized Norwegians. Some local units would eventually fight well, but at the beginning Norwegian opposition was sporadic and ineffective. Besides that, both the large scale use of warships as assault troop transports and the strategic movement of large troop formations by air were innovations that brought decisive advantages.
The true strategic significance of Unternehmen Weserübung remains in dispute. It secured Germany’s northern flank until the end of the war and also provided bases: first for attacks against Britain and later Allied Arctic convoys to Murmansk, a Russian port at the Barents Sea.
Sweden was forced to remain neutral and guaranteed access to Swedish iron ore from Kiruna, which supplied German war industries and traveled overland to Narvik. Germany was enabled to later support Finland in its war efforts against the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1944.
On the other hand, German surface shipping was reduced by 50% in just one day and became too weak to carry out a cross-Channel invasion. Subsequent military operations launched against Britain were therefore relative ineffective. In 1945, stationed soldiers numbered about 400,000, compared to an indigenous population of barely three million. Norway’s defense tied down more forces than its strategic usefulness merited.
In any case, the Germans didn’t have much choice. Operation Wilfred, the mining of Norwegian waters, was partly carried out on April 8th. Plan R 4 was the code name for the British invasion of Norway and Sweden in April 1940. Only the sudden German invasion of France on May 10th, 1940 forced the Allies to entirely pull out of Norway in an effort to avoid total disaster on the Western Front.
While German forces in Denmark surrendered on May 5th, 1945, those in Norway announced on May 7th that they would lay down their arms. On May 8th, the Germans surrendered in Oslo to an Allied military mission. The Norwegian Royal Family returned to Norway on June 7th, 1945 exactly five years after they had been evacuated to the United Kingdom.