France Norway 1940:
The first engagements on land between the British Army and German Army occurred in Norway in April 1940. The campaign was a result of confusion at the highest echelons of the U.K. civilian and military leadership. The exponent of the British involvement in Norway was Winston CHURCHILL, then First Lord of the Admiralty.
On 16 February 1940, H.M.S. Cossack went into Norwegian waters to board the German ship, Altmark, to rescue two-hundred and ninety-nine British merchant seamen.
The first action of the Norwegian campaign was at sea. H.M.S. Glowworm, sighted the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. H.M.S. Glowworm engaged the Hipper, eventually ramming the larger vessel. H.M.S. Glowworm sunk soon afterwards, taking most of her crew with her. See video (right).
The German landed on 9 April. The main towns were seized quickly by German troops, but the German Navy suffered several significant losses to both Norwegian and British naval activity. The British responded to the German invasion of Norway with offensive naval actions. On 10 April 1940, an action took place that is now known as the First Battle of Narvik. On 13 April, the Royal Navy re-entered the fiords at Narvik to sink the remaining German destroyers.
The Chiefs of Staff decided to capture Trondheim through a pincer movement from north and south. The northern pincer was to be Maurice Force landing at Namsos; with the southern pincer being Sickle Force based in Aandalsnes.
Initial landings at Namsos were made at dusk on 14 April. By the late evening of 17 April, Maurice Force was ashore. By the evening of 21 April, the 146 Brigade was strung out along the road to Steinkjer and Namdalseid. Engagements with German troops started at about 7.45 am in the vicinity of a village called Vist, with the enemy attacking the flanks of the brigade.
British troops started landing at Aandalsnes on 17 April 1940. Having landed successfully on 18 April, the men moved rapidly inland towards Kvam. Sickle Force secured Dombass, placing it in a position to turn north towards Trondhiem. They were then ordered to proceed onto Lillehamer. The brigade then fought a series of rearguard actions back to Dombass.
Reinforcements began landing at Aandalsnes during the evening of 23 April. The 15 Infantry Brigade moved forward to a position at Kvam. Here a battle was fought on Thursday 25 April 1940 and the next day. Even though the British fought tenaciously, they were forced to withdraw. Other actions were fought at Kjorem and a village called Otta.
The Evacuation of Sickle Force and Maurice Force
The original plan for a two pronged advance to capture Trondheim was now redundant. The Royal Navy cruiser H.M.S. Glasgow put into Molde to embark King Haakon and the Crown Prince of Norway. The Royal Navy arrived at Aandalnes on the 30 April and embarked the British troops.
By 2.00 am, the quay was deserted and Sickle Force was no more.
The evacuation of Maurice Force took place overnight 2 to 3 May 1940. The Norwegian Army south of Trondheim surrendered on 3 May, with those to the north surrendering on 4 May.
The repercussions of the failure of the campaign in Central Norway reverberated widely. It led to a contentious debate in Parliament that resulted in the Prime Minister, Neville CHAMERLAIN, resigning. Winston CHURCHILL was then asked to form a National Government.
Narvik was one of the key objectives of the British involvement in Norway. The first force planned for Narvik was codenamed ‘Avonmouth’. The French government committed some troops and Polish units under their command. The first troops arrived on 15 April.
It was decided to send British forces to Mo to block the road towards Narvik. For this purpose, Scissors Force was formed. It comprised five of the independent companies recently formed in the United Kingdom. Then, on 10 May 1940, the German invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium and France changed matters with Norway relegated to a sideshow in terms of strategic matters. On the same day, German forces landed at Hemnesberget, about fifteen miles from Mo. No.1 Company fought a determined battle against the German troops, but they could not hold the quayside and fell back.
The position at Mo was determined by two related events. On 14 May, the Irish Guards embarked aboard the Polish troopship Chrobry to be carried to Bodo. En-route, it was attacked by German aircraft. Although only a few men died in that attack, it decapitated the command structure of the battalion as the commanding officer and several key officers were killed. The battalion was taken back to Harstad to rest and reorganise.
On the evening of 17 May, this incident was compounded when H.M.S. Effingham ran aground about twelve miles from Bodo. She was carrying The South Wales Borderers and the brigade headquarters. The ship was evacuated, with the men being returned to Harstad.
This left the Scots Guards at Stein vulnerable to the attack that started on 17 May. The Germans steadily gained ground, leading the British troops withdrawing. The Scots Guards fought two other delaying actions. After they were forced, a strong defensive position was created at Pothus on the River Saltdal. The British outpost positions first encountered German troops at about 08.00 am on 25 May. The battle continued through to 26 May, but once again the British were forced to retreat.
French and Polish troops landed near Narvik on 13 May. The two landings met some opposition but they succeeded in making the first opposed landing by Allied troops during the Second World War. The final assault took place overnight 27 to 28 May. The French were established on shore by 04.00 am. They made steady progress. It became clear the Germans were withdrawing towards Sweden. At about 5.00 pm on 28 May, the French allowed the Norwegians to be the first troops to enter Narvik. They secured the town later that evening.
The decision to evacuate Norway had been taken even before Narvik had been captured, however, the boost of an Allied victory was judged to too important to miss. The Norwegians found this decision difficult, but the British and French now had other considerations.
The British troops were evacuated by warships and local ‘puffers’ from Bodo back to Harstad on 29 May. The main evacuation from Narvik and Harstad commenced on 2 June 1940 in a major operation undertaken by the Royal Navy. The last to leave boarded H.M.S. Southampton at about 09.00 am on 8 June.
The greatest loss was that of the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, H.M.S. Acasta and H.M.S. Ardent. They were sighted by the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst, which shelled them from fifteen miles away. The two destroyed tried in vain to protect the carrier, all three being sunk by gunfire, but not before the Acasta hit the Scharnhorst with a torpedo. 1,515 men were lost, there only being 32 survivors picked up by Norwegian ships over the next few days. See: www.glarac.co.uk
So ended the Norwegian campaign.