The Employment of the Fallschirmtruppe in Operation Weserübung I

A mass jump from a Ju 52. The photo clearly shows how the outer canvas bag is pulled off by the ripcord.

During the increasing political tensions in Central Europe and after the outbreak of armed conflict around them, the Scandinavian states of Norway, Denmark and Sweden had attended to a policy of strict neutrality, as in the First World War. This neutrality was much to the liking of Hitler and the OKW, as it had made the sea-lanes along the Norwegian coast safe for unarmed German ships1 and had shut off the Baltic Sea for British and French naval forces. But in September 1939 Churchill, at that time First Lord of the British Admiralty, had forwarded deliberations to the governments of the Western Allies and their general staffs to cut Germany off from Swedish iron ore stocks and from the nickel mines at Petsamo in Finland, both of which were vital for the German war industry. However, his proposals were not accepted by the Chamberlain government because they could only be achieved by violating the neutrality of the Scandinavian states. Nevertheless, Churchill doggedly pursued his aims. In a memorandum dated 16 December 1939, he stressed the need to temporarily lift the validity of the principles of the League of Nations during the struggle against Germany, and in particular the violation of the Scandinavian states’ neutrality by the Allies. The British cabinet again turned down any military action in Scandinavia, but did instruct its chiefs of staff to develop contingency plans for a potential occupation of Norway.

In Germany Großadmiral Raeder, commander-in-chief of the Navy, for the first time laid down his opinions in writing. He argued that for naval-strategic reasons the coast of Norway must not come under the control of the enemy and therefore any such attempt by the Allies must be forestalled. His concerns that Great Britain could quickly interrupt German imports from Norwegian/Swedish territory and seal off the German Navy’s access into the Atlantic Ocean had not been shared by Hitler or by the high commands of the Wehrmacht. Apparently upon request by Raeder the Navy Directorate for Naval Warfare [Seekriegsleitung] had commenced to examine whether bases for the Navy could be established in Denmark and Norway.

Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Finland on 30 November 1939, the OKW had concluded that the Western allies could use military support for Finland as pretence to occupy the Norwegian port of Narvik and the Swedish ore deposits.

To a small degree as a result of his conversations with the Norwegian politician, Quisling, on 16 and 18 December 19393 but mainly on the insistence of Raeder, Hitler had ordered the development of a study to examine options for military actions against the Western powers regarding Norway. After it had become known that, on 6 January 1940, the British had tried to gain the approval of Norway and Sweden for the operation of British naval forces within Norwegian territorial waters in January 1940, the study had been passed to the high commands of the Wehrmacht services. The OKH and the OKL, who were fully occupied with the planning for the campaign in the west, paid little attention to the study, yet the OKM had looked at it in more detail and arrived at two important conclusions:

1)Surprise would have to be a prerequisite for success of the operations in Norway:

2)Elements of the initial occupation forces of the Heer would have to be transported to their objectives by fast warships.

On 23 January Hitler ordered the withdrawal of the study and tasked the OKW with the supervision of all future planning. This planning was to be conducted under the code name Weserübung. On 5 February the planning staff for Weserübung was formed and consisted of representatives of all three services of the Wehrmacht under direction of Kapitän zur See Krancke.

  • For the development of the operation plan speed had become necessary for the following reasons:
  • On 29 January the Finish Marshal Mannerheim urgently had asked the Western allies for military intervention and had received a positive reply.

With the attack against the German tender Altmark on 16 February the British high command had indicated that it was willing to close the sea lanes along the coast of Norway for German merchant ships even under violation of this country’s neutrality.

In spite of the difficulties in planning an operation which involved all three services of the Wehrmacht for the first time, Krancke’s staff succeeded in solving this task within three weeks. The plan would involve the simultaneous landing of troops in Oslo, Kristiansand, Årendal, Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim, which were considered the economic hubs of Norway and the home to the majority of the country’s population. The plan was, as such, bipartite as it was built upon the chance to get hold of these hubs without resistance from the Norwegian armed forces. This, however, would mean convincing the Norwegian government beforehand of the preventative nature of the occupation. The task force organization had planned for the assignment of five parachute battalions of Fl.Div.7 as part of the first wave of troops. Within the first three days 22.(LL)Inf.Div. was to follow by airlift.

The commanding general of XXI.Armee-Korps, General der Infanterie von Falkenhorst, was designated commander-in-chief for Operation Weserübung upon proposal by Generalmajor Jodl. Von Falkenhorst had accepted the assignment and already on 22 February had approved Krancke’s work.

Concerning Denmark, Krancke had assumed that the bases required at the northern tip of Jutland could be obtained by diplomatic pressure, or by the threat of military actions. Von Falkenhorst’s study group which was called together in Berlin on 26 February, however, had assessed the inherent risk as too high. Therefore on 28 February General von Falkenhorst submitted a draft plan to the chief of the OKW, which pre-empted the military occupation of Denmark as well.

Prior to further planning, however, a solution had to be found to avoid complications regarding the prioritization of resources for the forces assigned to Fall Gelb and to Weserübung.

The problem was particularly relevant for the aviation formations of the Luftwaffe and the parachute and air-landing troops, which altogether had already been assigned to the campaign in the west. A proposal by Generalmajor Jodl, approved by Hitler on 28 February, had solved these issues and from thereon had formed the basis for all on-going preparations. Jodl suggested preparing both operations in such a manner that they could be conducted independent from each other.

In the light of the tasks for the parachute and air-landing forces at the beginning of the campaign in the west, the OKW had also recommended the use of just four parachute companies in Weserübung and to retain a single regiment of 22.(LL)Inf.Div. as reserves. On 29 February Hitler had approved von Falkenhorst’s plan, after the changes suggested by the OKW had been integrated. On 1 March he had enacted the directive for case Weserübung. Although the forces assigned for the undertaking were strong enough to enforce the occupation of both Norway and Denmark, the basic aim was still for the “peaceful occupation of both countries in order to safeguard their neutrality with arms.”

Denmark and Norway were to be occupied simultaneously by Weserübung Süd and Weserübung Nord. General von Falkenhorst was placed directly subordinate to Hitler.

The uncertainty for planning this operation, related to the sequence of undertakings in the West and Scandinavia, for which the provision of forces had burdened the OKL, was to some extent reduced when, on 3 March, Hitler declared that Weserübung was to take place first. Nevertheless Hitler pointed out that the period of time between both attacks had to be minimal so as to prevent counter-attacks by the enemy. As Weserübung was to be called a preventive measure, its execution prior to the campaign in the West would also remove the risk of the Western allies using the violation of Holland’s neutrality as a reason to occupy Narvik.

The objections that were raised against Weserübung by the Heer and the Luftwaffe, whose commanders-in-chief had almost completely been left out of the planning process, had been ignored by Hitler. Instead he pointed at the shortly anticipated intervention of the Western powers in Finland and in this context requested the operational readiness of all Weserübung forces by 13 March for their potential employment in Norway around 17 March.

The original operational command of the formations of the Luftwaffe by the chief command for Weserübung, which was designated as Gruppe XXI, had been omitted after vehement protests by Göring. Instead they were placed under the command of X.Flieger-Korps, which was provided by Luftflotte 2 for the operations in Denmark and Norway. Thereby the intention to generate a joint command structure for the first time had failed.

On 5 March Operation Order No. 1 for the occupation of Norway was published by Gruppe XXI. Section 9a stated that the Luftwaffe, who had been assigned on the basis of cooperation [auf Zusammenarbeit angewiesen], was to assume responsibility for the air transport of paratroopers to Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger and Bergen as well as for parachuting at these locations.

The order did not contain a date for the start of operations. For the Navy the original plan had remained unchanged, as a result, its larger warships continued to be committed to Weserübung. Their participation in Fall Gelb had been excluded in the eventuality that the latter, as planned, would commence shortly after the venture in Scandinavia.

The start of armistice negotiations between the Soviet Union and Finland on 12 March had surprised both the Allied and the German governments. In reaction the Western powers attempted a last minute change of events in northern Europe in order to bring to bear their intentions against Germany.

A telephone conversation between the Finish ambassador in Paris and his Minister of Foreign Affairs on 12 March was picked up by Göring’s signal reconnaissance, combined with intelligence gathered by the signal reconnaissance of the Seekriegsleitung, left no doubt as to the advanced state of preparations of the Western powers for the occupation of ports in middle and northern Norway.

The peace treaty signed on 13 March between the Soviet Union and Finland deprived the Western allies of a pretence for the deployment of troops in Scandinavia. For the German side too, the reason for military action in Norway had lost its urgency. Nevertheless Hitler remained convinced that his plan was the necessary course of action and insisted on the implementation of Weserübung. This was an assumption which proved to be correct as the British did not abandon their plan to interrupt German imports from Sweden. The command relations, and thus the bounds of competence between the services of the Wehrmacht had principally been settled in a directive dated 14 March. The decision that the commanding general of X.Flieger-Korps, General der Flieger Geissler (HQ in Hamburg), was to be in command of all air operations during Weserübung was also obligatory. This also included the transportation of troops and material by air.

The command of the operations of the Wehrmacht in Denmark was delegated to General der Flieger Kaupisch. It was directly subordinate to Gruppe XXI.

Due to the geographical situation of the countries to be occupied, and because of the need for surprise, the air transport forces allocated had to be considerable in strength. In order to prevent a reduction of the air transport formations appropriated for the operations in the West, combat groups for special purposes were formed – Kampfgruppen z.b.V. – KGr z.b.V. 101–107. Each of these was made up of a staff and four squadrons with 53 Ju 52; they were formed of personnel and aircraft from the aviation schools which were run by the chief of training of the Luftwaffe. Additionally KGr z.b.V.108 was formed with long-range aircraft including Ju 90, Fw 200 and G 38. All of these combat groups as well as I. and II./KG z.b.V.1, were placed for employment under the command of an ‘air transport ground chief’ [Lufttransportchef Land]. Those aircraft which were suitable for landing on water (the He 59, some Ju 52 and the sea planes of the Navy) were concentrated in three groups under an ‘air transport chief sea’. Both of the newly created air transport chiefs were made directly subordinate for employment in Weserübung under X.Flieger-Korps. The KG z.b.V.1 (Oberstleutnant Morzik) and the still-forming KG z.b.V.2 (Oberst Conrad) remained organic to Fl.Div.7.

The operation Order No. 1 of Gruppe XXI for the occupation of Denmark was published on 20 March. Its section 3.(a) stated that the airfields and the Lagerak crossings at Ålborg had to be seized at the earliest possible time by paratroopers and by the air-landed III./InfRgt.159. In Section 8.(cc) it was stated that for this mission the air transport units for III./InfRgt.159 and the parachute company were to be subordinate to X.Flieger-Korps.

On the same day X.Flieger-Korps also published its operation order for the initial phase of Weserübung. In Section 5.(d) it requested that the paratroopers must secure the airfields at Oslo-Fornebu, Stavanger and Ålborg prior to the landing of troops by transport aircraft. As a result X.Flieger-Korps altered Operation Order No. 1 of Gruppe XXI in such that the parachute assaults at Bergen and Kristiansand were abandoned. This measure became a necessity as a result of a shortage of parachute units and had probably been coordinated in advance with Gruppe XXI.

Hitler remained hesitant to fix a date for Weserübung. He intended to justify the launch of military actions in Norway and Denmark as being enforced by the enemy, thereby hoping to avoid being accused as a usurper by world opinion. On 26 March he was urged again by Großadmiral Raeder to get ahead of the Western powers by immediately occupying Norway. Raeder had reasoned that dark nights were mandatory for the operations of his naval forces due to the overwhelming strength of the enemy’s fleets. In view of the meteorological conditions in the northern part of Norway, and the adjoining sea, he believed that 7 April was the latest possible date for naval transport operations under cover of darkness.

Hitler received the report stating the preparations for Weserübung were complete on 1 April. So, after one more conference with Göring, Keitel, Raeder and von Falkenhorst, he finally ordered the occupation of Norway and Denmark to begin on 9 April (‘Weser day’) at 0515 hrs (‘Weser time’). Fast merchant ships with heavy materials and logistic goods had left the jump-off ports heading for Norway on 3 April. At midnight on 6 April the warships, most of them with troops aboard, set sail.

In spite of the still valid intelligence regarding the preparations of the British navy for actions directed toward northern Norway, the German side remained convinced that it could steal a march upon the enemy. Because of this positive assessment precautions for the case of Allied landings ahead of friendly forces had not been laid down in any of the directives and operation orders for Weserübung.

However, there is no doubt that Raeder was fully aware of the risk posed to his warships for the return to home stations after the landing of troops at the ports of central and northern Norway. At about this time he had to anticipate the appearance of the vastly superior British Home Fleet in the sea region close to the Norwegian coast.

On 8 April several groups of British destroyers, covered by a task force around the battle cruiser Renown, arrived for mining operations in the West Fjord between the Lofoten islands, the Norwegian mainland and the sea region south of it. The movements of German warships, which were reported by British reconnaissance aircraft in the Skagerrak toward Norway, were initially assessed by the British Admiralty as an attempted breakthrough of the Shetland-Norway passage into the Atlantic Ocean.

On 6 April the first battalion of FschJgRgt.1, under Hauptmann Walther was released from its assignment to Fl.Div.7 and was placed under command of X.Flieger-Korps. The order to achieve full combat readiness within four hours indicated that it was to be used for parachute operations at short notice. The battalion was alerted on 8 April 0500 hrs while at its peacetime garrison of Stendal. At 0930 hrs the Ju 52 of II./KG z.b.V.1 with the men of I./FschJgRgt.1 aboard took off from Stendal-Borstel to their designated jump-off airfields in three groupings:

  • Staff, 1st Company (Oberleutnant Schmidt), and 2nd Company (Oberleutnant Groetschke) to Schleswig;
  • 3rd Company (Oberleutnant von Brandis) to Ütersen;
  • 4th Company (Hauptmann Gericke) to Ütersen.

Upon arrival the units received their missions:

  • I./FschJgRgt.1, less two companies, were to be dropped over the Oslo-Fornebu airfield to seize it for the air-landing of follow-on troops of the Heer;
  • 3rd Company was to seize the airfield at Stavanger-Sola by parachute assault and keep it open for the air-landing of follow-on forces;
  • 4th Company, less one platoon, was to be dropped on the island of Masnedǿ, which it was to seize and retain undamaged until the arrival of Heer forces the Storstrǿmmen Bridge which connects, via Masnedǿ, the two large islands Falster and Seeland. The remaining platoon of the company was to seize the important airfields Ǻlborg-East and Ǻlborg-West by parachute assault and to defend them alongside the air-landed infantry battalion until relief ground forces arrived.

Each of the groupings was to be accompanied by some heavy fighters – Me 110 from I./ZG 76 – for protection during parachuting and for close air support during the assault.

On 9 April the German military actions for the occupation of Denmark and Norway were initiated according to the operation orders. Yet, for the troops on the way to their objectives, the attitude of the Danish and Norwegian armed forces remained unknown.

As a result of unfavourable weather conditions the 9 Ju 52 of 8./KG z.b.V.1 arrived over Masnedø around 20 minutes behind schedule. There, close to the Storstrømmen bridge, they dropped 4./FschJgRgt.1, less one platoon, at 0635 hrs. A part of the parachute force came down close to the coastal fort which covered the southern approaches to Masnedø and was equipped with 8 heavy guns and a searchlight battery. Without picking up their main individual arms from the weapon containers these paratroopers immediately entered the fort and captured the two Danish naval soldiers and a civilian forestry official who were present there.

On confiscated bicycles a few of the paratroopers rode onto the bridge in a southerly direction and captured the astounded soldier who was guarding the bridge. While they examined the bridge for explosive charges they met the advance party of reinforced III./InfRgt.305. This battalion was approaching from Gjedser at the southern tip of Falster, to where it had been ferried over from Warnemünde.

In the meantime another parachute platoon had moved over the bridge in a northerly direction and entered the small town of Vordingborg at the northern bank of the Storstrømmen. There it took possession of the railway station and the post office. Steamers and boats attempting to flee from the town’s harbour were stopped with a few shots in the front of their bows. The small garrison of Vordingborg, the staff of 5th Infantry Regiment and soldiers from the still assembling 19th Infantry Battalion, mostly recruits, surrendered without resistance, but not before the regimental commander had reported the landing of German parachute forces on Masnedø by telephone to the Danish high command in Copenhagen.

Later in the morning Hauptmann Gericke’s troops were relieved by ground forces. They were brought to Gjedser on confiscated vehicles and ferried over to Warnemünde. There transport aircraft were already waiting, to carry the paratroopers back to Stendal. The mission had been accomplished without losses.

The third platoon of 4./FschJgRgt.1, which was dropped from the remaining 3 Ju 52 of 8./KG z.b.V.1 on 9 April at 0700 hrs near Ålborg, seized the two airfields as well as the bridge across the Limfjorden to the northern tip of Jutland without losses. Shortly afterward the first group of /KG z.b.V.1 landed II./InfRgt.159 on the airfields Ålborg-East and Ålborg-West. From the south, 11.Schützen-Brigade Mot., which was formed specifically for the relief of the parachute and air-landing forces at Ålborg, was approaching. Fortunately for the air transport of troops to the Ålborg area the order of the Danish high command, early in the morning of 9 April, to move all combat aircraft of the Army from Copenhagen-Vaerloese to Ålborg could no longer be executed after of an air-raid by I./ZG 1, against Vaerloese at 0545 hrs.

Late in the morning of 9 April, the forward elements of 11.Schützen-Brigade reached Ålborg. During its advance through the western part of Jutland the brigade had quickly overcome the little resistance the Danish forces offered.

Around noon the airfields at Ålborg were operational for use by the Luftwaffe against Norway. By 10 April they were also protected against possible British air attacks by an anti-aircraft detachment. The platoon of 4./FschJgRgt.1 left the Ålborg area by train on 9 April to return to its home garrison.

King Christian X of Denmark had already directed his armed forces on 9 April at 0720 hrs to cease all further resistance, after the citadel of Copenhagen had been occupied by a reinforced battalion of InfRgt.308 without a shot being fired. As the Danish government had so quickly bent to the German demands the losses in personnel on both sides were only light. 4./FschJgRgt.1, the only parachute unit involved in Weserübung Süd, had not been forced to prove its value in combat.

For the first phase of Weserübung Nord, the 7./KG z.b.V.1, with 3./FschJgRgt.1 aboard, took off from Stade on 9 April at 0530 hrs in dense fog for the airfield at Stavanger-Sola 590 km away. A Ju 52 with specific long-range radios, designated a ‘signals Ju’ [Nachrichten-Ju], was also assigned to the squadron. The transport aircraft with the company’s 8th squad aboard was held back due to technical difficulties. The Ju 52 with the 3rd squad was forced to conduct an emergency landing in Denmark and was as a result separated from the squadron. Finally the aircraft carrying 9th squad returned to Schleswig because of dense fog.

Following closely behind the two escorting Me 110 fighters which strafed the airfield with their machine guns, the air transport squadron, approaching from the east, dropped the parachute infantry company from 70m height at 0845 hrs. The sequence of the parachuting was command section – heavy weapons platoon – first to third platoon, the latter just with the platoon command, and one squad.

The preceding air raid had been rather ineffective but had alerted the defenders of the airfield, and the paratroopers came under machine gun fire during their descent from two bunkers which had not been detected beforehand; one at the eastern edge of the airfield and the other at its south-eastern edge. Nevertheless the 7th squad succeeded in quickly neutralizing the heavy machine gun emplacement at the south-eastern edge of the airfield where it captured eight Norwegian soldiers. Covered by the fire of two machine guns which were directed by the leader of third platoon, who had hurt himself on landing, the squad-leader and one of his men subsequently assaulted a nearby house and took an officer and 24 soldiers as prisoners.

The 1st Platoon, which came down on the runway, attacked, under fire, the airfield HQ. During its advance the platoon was erroneously strafed by one of the Me 110s, whereby one paratrooper was killed and five others were wounded. After seizing three machine gun positions and capturing the deputy commandant of the airfield, the platoon took possession of the departure building.

The 5th squad came down directly in front of the bunker at the eastern edge of the airfield and two men were killed and three wounded by fire from its defenders. The remainder of this squad, and some men of the 4th squad, under the command of the squad-leader of the 5th squad, attacked the bunker with hand grenades and pistols. This was because there had been no time to pick up their main arms from the weapon containers. Nevertheless they quickly overcame the resistance of the bunker crew.

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