Operation Weserübung – Invasion of Denmark and Norway / Unternehmen Weserübung – Invasion von Dänemark und Norwegen

Operation Weserübung (German: [ˈveːsɐˌʔyːbʊŋ]) was the code name for Germany’s assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign. The name comes from the German for Operation Weser-Exercise (Unternehmen Weserübung), the Weser being a German river. In the early morning of 9 April 1940 (Wesertag; Weser Day), Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, ostensibly as a preventive maneuver against a planned, and openly discussed, Franco-British occupation of Norway. After the invasions, envoys of the Germans informed the governments of Denmark and Norway that the Wehrmacht had come to protect the countries’ neutrality against Franco-British aggression. Significant differences in geography, location, and climate between the two nations made the actual military operations very dissimilar. The invasion fleet’s nominal landing time—Weserzeit (Weser Time)—was set to 05:15.

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Political and Military Background

Starting in the spring of 1939, the British Admiralty began to view Scandinavia as a potential theatre of war in a future conflict with Germany. The British government was reluctant to engage in another land conflict on the continent that they believed would be a repetition of the First World War. Therefore, they began considering a blockade strategy in an attempt to weaken Germany indirectly. German industry was heavily dependent on the import of iron ore from the northern Swedish mining district, and much of this ore was shipped through the northern Norwegian port of Narvik during the winter months. Control of the Norwegian coast would also serve to tighten a blockade against Germany.

In October 1939, the chief of the German Kriegsmarine Grand Admiral Erich Raeder discussed with Adolf Hitler the danger posed by the risk of having potential British bases in Norway and the possibility of Germany seizing these bases before the United Kingdom could. The navy argued that possession of Norway would allow control of the nearby seas and serve as a staging base for future submarine operations against the United Kingdom. But at this time, the other branches of the Wehrmacht were not interested, and Hitler had just issued a directive stating that the main effort would be a land offensive through the Low Countries.

Toward the end of November, Winston Churchill, as a new member of the British War Cabinet, proposed the mining of Norwegian waters in Operation Wilfred. This would force the ore transports to travel through the open waters of the North Sea, where the Royal Navy could intercept them. Churchill assumed that Wilfred would provoke a German response in Norway. When that occurred, the Allies would implement Plan R 4 and occupy Norway. Though later implemented, Operation Wilfred was initially rejected by Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, due to fear of an adverse reaction among neutral nations such as the United States. After the start of the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland in November, this had changed the strategic situation, Churchill again proposed his mining scheme, but once more was denied.

In December, the United Kingdom and France began serious planning for sending aid to Finland. Their plan called for a force to land at Narvik in northern Norway, the main port for Swedish iron ore exports, and to take control of the Malmbanan railway line from Narvik to Luleå in Sweden on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia. Conveniently, this plan would also allow the Allied forces to occupy the Swedish iron ore mining district. The plan received the support of both Chamberlain and Halifax. They were counting on the cooperation of Norway, which would alleviate some of the legal issues, but stern warnings by Germany issued to both Norway and Sweden resulted in strongly negative reactions in both countries. Planning for the expedition continued, but the justification for it was removed when Finland sued for peace with the Soviet Union in March 1940.

Planning

Following a meeting with Vidkun Quisling from Norway on 14 December, Hitler turned his attention to Scandinavia. Convinced of the threat posed by the Allies to the iron ore supply, Hitler ordered Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Armed Forces High Command; OKW) to begin preliminary planning for an invasion of Norway. The preliminary plan was named Studie Nord and called for only one army division.

Between 14 and 19 January, the Kriegsmarine developed an expanded version of this plan. They decided upon two key factors: that surprise was essential to reduce the threat of Norwegian resistance and British intervention; the second to use faster German warships, rather than comparatively slow merchant ships, as troop transports. This would allow all targets to be occupied simultaneously, impossible if transport ships, which traveled only at slow speeds, were used. This new plan called for a full army corps, including a mountain division, an airborne division, a motorized rifle brigade, and two infantry divisions. The target objectives of this force were the Norwegian capital Oslo and nearby population centers, Bergen, Narvik, Tromsø, Trondheim, Kristiansand, and Stavanger. The plan also called for the rapid capture of the kings of Denmark and Norway in the hopes that would trigger a rapid surrender.

On 21 February 1940, command of the operation was given to General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst. He had fought in Finland during the First World War and was familiar with Arctic warfare. But he was to have command only of the ground forces, despite Hitler’s desire to have a unified command.

The final plan was code-named Operation Weserübung (Exercise on the Weser) on 27 January 1940. The ground forces would be the XXI Army Corps, including the 3rd Mountain Division and five infantry divisions, none of the latter having yet been tested in battle. The first echelon would consist of three divisions for the assault, with the remainder to follow in the next wave. Three companies of paratroopers would be used to seize airfields. The decision to also send the 2nd Mountain Division was made later.

Almost all U-boat operations in the Atlantic were to be stopped for the submarines to aid in the operation. Every available submarine—including some training boats—were used as part of Operation Hartmut in support of Weserübung.

Initially, the plan was to invade Norway and to gain control of Danish airfields by diplomatic means. But Hitler issued a new directive on 1 March that called for the invasion of both Norway and Denmark. This came at the insistence of the Luftwaffe to capture fighter bases and sites for air-warning stations. The XXXI Corps was formed for the invasion of Denmark, consisting of two infantry divisions and the 11th motorized brigade. The entire operation would be supported by the X Air Corps, consisting of some 1,000 aircraft of various types.

Preliminaries

 

 

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