The German Invasion of Norway, April 1940

Geirr H. Haarr, The German Invasion of Norway, April 1940, Naval Institute Press, 2009. 474 pp., illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, name index.

Review by Timothy J. Demy
U.S. Naval War College

On April 9, 1940, forces of the German Kriegsmarine, Luftwaffe, and Wehrmacht commenced Operation Weserübung, the invasion and occupation of neutral Norway in order to protect the Scandinavian ore resources and also deny them to Britain . This combined naval, amphibious, and airborne invasion surprised Norwegian and Allied forces, whose leaders did not believe Hitler would attempt a full-scale invasion and occupation. The German move signaled the last days of the “Phoney War” that had begun in September 1939 with the invasion of Poland . The Norwegian invasion also inaugurated novel activities such as combined land, air, and sea operations and the use of paratroopers. From a naval and air perspective, the first successful dive-bomber attack (a British Blackburn B-24 Skua) to sink an enemy ship (German cruiser Königsberg in Bergen harbor) also occurred during the campaign.

Focusing primarily on the naval operations, The German Invasion of Norway , April 1940, provides readers with an exceptionally detailed and well-documented volume. Drawing from Norwegian, German, and British primary sources and archives as well as numerous secondary sources, readers are given a balanced and thorough account of the naval aspect of the invasion. The book provides a highly readable and a compelling narrative of the German invasion and failure to repulse it.

The first third of the volume is devoted to the German rationale for and planning of the invasion. It was amazing to read that when Hitler told General der Inafanterie Nicoulaus von Falkenhorst that he was responsible for the planning the operation and occupation, von Falkenhorst went across the street to a bookshop and purchased a Baedeker’s travel guide to Norway in order to orient himself to the country and begin his planning. Interesting to readers in this section are the political miscalculations of the Norwegians, Germans, and British with regard to the intentions of all parties involved. Haarr does a good job showing the tensions among the Kriegsmarine, Luftwaffe, and Wehrmacht, and in noting Grossadmiral Erich Raeder’s concern that the German Navy not be shortchanged in the allocation of resources. It was Raeder who initially pushed the concept of a Scandinavian campaign. In the greater war strategies of the belligerents, no one initially envisaged a full-scale occupation (although Churchill had considered the idea earlier, giving rise to the ethical issue of “supreme emergency” wherein ethical norms of war may, under some circumstances, be abandoned) although both Germany and Britain began planning operations in early 1940. Also significant in this section for students of strategy is the recounting of the breakdown of the civil-military relations between the Norwegian government and military leadership wherein each assumed the other knew of the ill-equipped condition of the Norwegian military forces and the lack of cooperation between the forces as well as a void in contingency planning. Norwegian political miscommunication, hesitation, and an atrophied military hastened the German victory.

The latter two thirds of the work studies the major areas of operation (Oslofjord; Kristiansand —Arendal, Stavanger —Egersund, Bergen , Trondheim , and Narvik), interspersed with narrative of the political and military responses during the conflict. The volume does a superb job of recounting the naval operations on all sides and tracking naval vessels and units. The work is naval centric and students of the air and ground aspects of the operation will wish for an equally detailed book even though the author discusses these aspects. Haarr largely ends the story of the invasion with the events of the second day, April 10th, giving only slight attention to ground and air actions that followed. The author rightly concludes that although the campaign was a minor one compared to the rest of the war in Europe, it forever changed the history of the people of Norway .

Although previous works have discussed the German campaign in Norway and Denmark , what has been missing is an exceptional work from the Norwegian perspective. This volume fills that void. The author not only shows how the operation was viewed by the Norwegians, Germans, and British, but also the Dane, Swedes, and French. Detailed appendices and numerous black and white photographs significantly enhance the volume, as do charts of operational areas. A fuller index would have beneficial, as would an overall map of Norway at the front of the book to orient readers to the area and to the smaller regional maps within the book. The work is especially beneficial for readers limited to English. The book fills a needed void in naval studies of the Second World War and naval historians and enthusiasts will not be disappointed.

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