Clockwise from top: German forces advancing near Bagn in Valdres · Norwegian artillery in action near Narvik · King Haakon VII of Norway and his son Crown Prince Olav during a German air raid on Molde · German Gebirgsjäger troops near Narvik · German bombing of the Norwegian coastal fortress Oscarsborg.
The German pre-dawn attacks in southern and central Norway must be viewed as an unparalleled success. By the end of the day on April 9, all major Norwegian population centers and ports were in German hands. The success did not come without losses but these were judged acceptable by the Germans. About 1,500 men in the invasion force perished by April 10 and the material losses to the German Navy were considerable. These losses point to the high risks the Germans were willing to assume and to the fact that the invasion could have been a costly affair if the Norwegians had heeded the many warnings received during the week leading up to the attack.
The Germans were correct in their assumption that the Norwegian Navy posed no serious obstacle, even to the lighter units of the invasion force. They also assumed that the coastal fortresses were no serious obstacles because they had only a caretaker, or small complement, present for duty. This underestimation caused considerable losses to the ships in the task forces.
The manning of the coastal forts was inadequate and the minefields covering the approaches to the main harbors were not laid. Only about 30% of authorized strength was present for duty and some of the personnel had not served since 1918. A number of gun batteries were therefore not manned and some guns had not fired a live round since the 1890s. The failure to provide infantry protection led to the quick capture of the forts and the Germans hastily prepared them to contest expected British attacks. While a full discussion of the landings is outside the scope of this book, a short summary of the landing operations is in order.
Task Force 5 entered Oslofjord shortly before midnight on April 8. The Germans were able to pass the outer line of forts without sustaining damage because of heavy fog and Norwegian adherence to neutrality procedures, which called for firing warning shots. The TF approached the inner line of forts (Oscarborg) at slow speed (12 knots) with the flagship, the heavy cruiser Blücher, in the lead, followed by the heavy cruiser Lützow and the light cruiser Emden. The Germans hoped to pass the fort without receiving fire and to capture the capital and the Norwegian Government by surprise.
With Colonel Birger Eriksen in command, the Norwegian fort opened a devastating fire on Blücher at a range of only 1,800 meters as dawn was breaking. Blücher, which had been commissioned only seven months earlier and was the most modern of the large units in the German Navy, sustained numerous hits from heavy caliber shells and torpedoes. Within a short time, the ship capsized and sank with the loss of about 1,000 soldiers and sailors. The German naval and land component commanders passed temporarily into Norwegian captivity. The shore batteries then shifted their fires to the other major German units, and the heavy cruiser Lützow sustained substantial damage before the task force withdrew. This action disrupted the German timetable and allowed the Norwegian government and royal family to leave the capital. After withdrawing outside the range of the Norwegian guns, the Germans landed troops on the east side of the fjord, and the unprotected Oscarborg surrendered at 0900 hours on April 10.
German plans called for the capture of Fornebu Airport outside Oslo by parachute troops followed by air-landing two infantry battalions. The parachute drop was aborted due to heavy fog. The seven operational Norwegian Gladiators took to the air and engaged the German aircraft in a spirited fight. They were able to destroy five German aircraft before they exhausted their fuel and ammunition. Three of the Norwegian aircraft were destroyed while the remaining four landed on lakes in the country’s interior. The German fighters that were to provide cover for the parachute operation ran out of fuel and had to land at Fornebu despite the fact that the airfield had not been secured. The transport aircraft, which had now arrived on the scene, saw the fighters land and followed suit. Two German aircraft were destroyed and five severely damaged by fire from the three Norwegian machinegun positions on the airfield. Despite losses, the Germans quickly overcame the defenders. The transports brought in about 900 troops and these were dispatched towards Oslo. The virtually defenseless capital was surrendered at 1400 hours.
Task Force 5 also had the mission of capturing the main Norwegian naval base at the nearby town of Horten. There were only two operational Norwegian warships, one minelayer and one minesweeper, in the harbor and 40% of their crews were on shore leave. These two ships put up a determined fight, sinking one German minesweeper and damaging a torpedo boat. Another minesweeper sank later because of damage it sustained. In a daring operation, a force of about 50 Germans managed to capture the naval district headquarters and this led to the surrender of Horten and the ships in its harbor. Over the next week, the outer forts, which were increasingly cut off from friendly forces as the Germans advanced along both sides of the fjord, were captured or surrendered. In the process, the Germans lost one torpedo boat.
Lützow was the only ship in TF 5 that returned to Germany immediately after the landing. She was hit by a torpedo from the British submarine Spearfish while in international waters, and towed home for repair. She was out of commission for about a year.
The towns of Arendal and Egersund, both terminals for overseas cables were captured without resistance by company-size German forces. The attack on the city of Kristiansand was repelled twice by its forts despite heavy shelling and air bombardment. The Norwegians believed that Allied assistance was on its way and a German signal flag was misread as the French tricolor during the third attack. The Germans were able to slip into the harbor and they quickly captured the city, forts, and naval units. The German light cruiser Karlsruhe was sunk by a British submarine on its return to Germany during the night of April The city of Stavanger, with its important airfield at Sola, was to be captured by parachute troops. Only two platoons of Norwegian troops were on the airfield at the time of the attack and it was captured quickly, although the paratroopers suffered a number of killed and wounded. Two battalions of German infantry arrived in transports in the course of the day. A Norwegian destroyer was able to sink one of the German supply ships before it was itself destroyed by German aircraft. Another Norwegian destroyer captured a second German supply ship but it was scuttled by its crew as the Norwegian warship tried to bring it to England. A large number of German bombers, fighters, and reconnaissance aircraft had arrived at Sola already by April 9. Their presence became a decisive factor in British naval operations off the Norwegian coast. The Norwegian forces abandoned the city of Stavanger and withdrew into the interior to complete their mobilization.
Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, was securely in German hands by the end of April 9 but not without losses. The Norwegian torpedo battery was not activated but the guns at the two inner forts caused considerable damage to the German artillery training ship Bremse. The light cruiser Königsberg was so severely damaged that it was not seaworthy. Fifteen British aircraft attacked Bergen after dawn on April 10 and two bombs hit Köningsberg, which was abandoned.
Unlike the task forces destined for Oslo and Bergen, TF 2 approached the mouth of Trondheimfjord at high speed and in tight formation. The strong searchlights from the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper blinded the Norwegian gunners and the ships were able to pass the forts without sustaining any damage. The city, army depots, and the naval headquarters were captured by the Germans without resistance. The forts were captured later in the day after some sharp fighting. Værnes Airfield, 22 miles east of Trondheim was captured without resistance on April 10. The loss of this important facility had a significant effect on subsequent Norwegian and Allied operations since its possession extended the reach of the Luftwaffe by several hundred miles.