The Employment of the Fallschirmtruppe in Operation Weserübung III

Part of the airfield at Fornebu, near Oslo, during the ongoing invasion of Norway by the Wehrmacht. At this time it was used as a stop-over base for transport aircraft, delivering troops and supplies to the northern part of the country, where fighting was continuing.

The command of Gruppe XXI was now aware of the threat to the garrison at Trondheim. For the time being the town could only be reinforced and resupplied from the air and possibly by submarine because of the appearance of strong British and French naval forces along the coast of central and northern Norway and of the resulting closure of the land lines of communication. Therefore it ordered 163.Inf.Div. to advance along the Gudbrandsdal via Lillehammer to Dombås and from there along the Romsdal Valley to Åndalsnes. Simultaneously 196.Inf.Div. was to advance along the Østerdal Valley east of the Gudbrandsdal and then through the Glomma Valley directly toward Trondheim. It was intended to crush the Norwegian troops in central Norway to prevent Allied forces from establishing themselves there and to open the land lines of communication to Trondheim. The employment of parachute forces with the aim of at least delaying the advance of Allied troops into central Norway and their union with the Norwegians, had obviously been part of the plan which in its principal feature was developed by the OKW.

Apparently, upon agreement of all parties participating in the conference on 14 April in the morning, 1./FschJgRgt.1 and the signals platoon of I./FschJgRgt.1 were designated to conduct the parachute operation at Dombås, altogether 4 officers and 173 other ranks.

This allocation had constituted not only a divergence from the directive of the OKW, which, in its operation order 3.(c), had stated that Dombås was to be seized and held by all available parachute troops. It had also deviated from the operation order of Gruppe XXI, which had foreseen the employment of both companies of I./FschJgRgt.1.

Regarding the operational environment, two serious restrictions had spoken against the execution of the mission still on 14 April:

Firstly there were extremely unfavourable weather conditions. Dense fog came down to less than 100m over the Fornebu airfield and at times icy sleet rained down. Additionally, for the flight route from Fornebu to Dombås, the weather service reported that the mountains were shrouded in low cloud and that there was a risk of icing-up of aircraft in heights over 1,000m. Secondly there was still a total lack of information about the situation in the operation area around Dombås.

Therefore at 1300 hrs Oberst Knaus decided that the following requirements had to be fulfilled by aerial reconnaissance prior to the execution of the mission:

There was to be a clear picture about the weather conditions over and in the area of operation, the location of suitable drop zones was to be noted and the options for the enemy to interfere with the operation needed to be recorded

None of these requirements, however, would be met. At 1430 hrs Oberstleutnant Drews reported to Oberst Knaus that the reconnaissance aircraft was unable to take off because of the weather. At 1500 hrs Generalmajor Süßmann appeared at the airfield. He introduced himself as the chief-of-staff of General der Flieger Kitzinger, the designated territorial commander of the Luftwaffe for Norway, who had arrived with his staff in Oslo just a few hours earlier.

Generalmajor Süßmann took over command for the execution of the parachute mission after the liaison staff had been disbanded on short notice. He exerted considerable pressure on the commanders of the aviation elements, who had been hesitant to execute their missions because of the weather conditions and the lack of ground intelligence from the operation area. Eventually they had to comply with Süßmann’s order for immediate take-off, lest that they were accused of insubordination. No objections against the immediate execution of the mission had been brought forward by Oberleutnant Schmidt. Hauptmann Walther took no further part in the decision making process that afternoon.

The paratroopers of 1./FschJgRgt.1 and the signals platoon arrived at the airfield at 1630 hrs. Only marginally instructed about the mission by the platoon leaders, who lacked appropriate maps of the operation area, and with Oberstleutnant Drews now pressing for take off in view of the approaching darkness, the paratroopers mounted the 15 Ju 52. The aircraft took off in flights of three aircraft in the sequence, command section and heavy weapons platoon – signals platoon – 3rd, 2nd, 1st Platoon between 1700 and 1730 hrs.

The first two flights flew in cloud using instruments only. In the airspace over Lillehammer one of the Ju 52s, which carried men of the signals platoon, was shot down by Norwegian anti-aircraft weapons but managed to conduct an emergency landing. All passengers and crew survived. In the ensuing firefight with investigating Norwegian infantry the dispatcher was killed. The other soldiers, some of them wounded or injured, were taken prisoner.

At about 1830 hrs the Ju 52 of Oberstleutnant Drews descended from the cloud cover over Dombås. As the aircraft received fire from this direction, Oberleutnant Schmidt and his command section were dropped about 8 km south of the town. Advancing toward Dombås in terrain covered in deep snow the section was engaged by a Norwegian outpost. Oberleutnant Schmidt was seriously wounded and an Oberjäger was slightly wounded. The men now withdrew again to the South, carrying the company commander along. At some distance from Dombås an all-round defence position was set up in the snow. The original arrangements, to lay out signal panels and to fire very lights as identification for the other aircraft, were not carried out.

The two other Ju 52 of the first flight, with a heavy weapons platoon aboard, lost contact with the leading aircraft. They dropped their passengers about 25 km east of Dombås close to the hamlet of Lora along the railway and road leading to Åndalsnes. The platoon leader, Feldwebel Uhlig, ordered the occupation of Lora and placed outposts around the hamlet. At 2100 hrs the machine gun outpost at the eastern entrance to Lora was engaged in a firefight with a Norwegian reconnaissance patrol. Their leader succeeded in driving off the Norwegians but one of his soldiers was killed. As the platoon’s position had now been detected by the enemy and was too exposed, Uhlig decided to withdraw to a farmstead away from the road and set up there for the defence.

The two Ju 52s which carried 24 soldiers of the signals platoon, among them the platoon leader, Oberleutnant Gerhold, dropped their passengers just below the peak of an almost 1,600m high mountain which was about 10 km east of Dombås. With great efforts in the deep snow on the slope and in an upcoming snow storm, the men managed to assemble and to recover their equipment. As everybody was exhausted and orienteering was impossible in the darkness, Oberleutnant Gerhold ordered the building of snow caves for the men to spend the night in.

After the two aircraft which carried members of 1st Platoon had crossed the Dovre-Fjlell mountains, the 23 paratroopers, among them their platoon leader, Leutnant Becker, jumped into the basin of Dombås, close to a railway. In the snow storm seven of the soldiers were dragged over the ground by their parachutes, causing some of them to be seriously injured. As a result the assembly of men took considerable time. Moreover, some of the weapon containers remained undiscovered due to the drifting snow. As adequate maps were unavailable, it was only after searching some huts close to the railway, that the location of the drop zone could eventually be found. It was at Fostua, which lay about 10 km east of Dombås. Due to the inclement weather and the bad condition of some of his men, Leutnant Becker decided to spend the night in the available huts. The missing squad of 1st Platoon jumped south east of Dombås. After they had recovered their weapon containers, the 12 men started moving in order to establish contact with other elements of the company.

The two rear flights of Ju 52s, with the 2nd Platoon led by Leutnant Mößinger and the 3rd Platoon under Feldwebel Bobrowski, had approached Dombås, in low level flight, along the railway from Oslo. Over Hamar the aircraft which carried 2nd Platoon received heavy anti-aircraft fire which slightly wounded the platoon leader.

Two of the Ju 52s, with Leutnant Mößinger and 23 paratroopers of the 2nd Platoon aboard, dropped their passengers about 2 km south of Dombås. Only some of their weapon containers could be found. As they advanced in the direction of Dombås, the platoon came up against a column of Norwegian soldiers about 400m in front of the town. In the ensuing fight one paratrooper was killed. An Oberjäger who was missing after the encounter had been captured by the Norwegians. The platoon disengaged and on its way south established contact with the command section. Led by Leutnant Mößinger, both sub-units in the darkness continued the withdrawal to the farmstead at Hagevoll, about 3 km south of Dombås, located by the road leading to Dovre. There they set up an all-round defence.

The missing squad of 2nd Platoon, a Feldwebel and 11 other ranks, conducted an emergency jump about one kilometre southeast of Dombås, when their Ju 52 began to go down after it was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The pilot and the observer of the aircraft were killed in the resulting crash, the other two members of the crew were injured. The squad which had escaped the crash by its emergency jump was completely on its own. Its men tried in vain to recover their weapon containers from the wreck of the Ju 52.

The last flight, with the 3rd Platoon aboard, dropped the paratroopers of two aircraft and five of the third, on a hill about 5 km east of Dombås. Their assembly in the deep snow took quite some time and was very strenuous. Moreover, some of the weapon containers remained lost. Advancing toward Dombås, Bobrowski’s men came up against superior numbers of Norwegian soldiers approaching from the town. After a short fire-fight they managed to disengage, but one paratrooper was killed and an Oberjäger was recorded missing. A reconnaissance patrol was now dispatched in order to avoid being surprised again and to establish contact with the balance of the company. After some time the patrol met a few men from 2nd Platoon, returning from a demolition mission at the railway north of Dombås. These guided the 3rd Platoon to the farmstead at Hagevoll.

The missing paratroopers from the third aircraft, a Feldwebel and 6 other ranks, had jumped too soon right over Dombås and were attacked while landing. During their desperate resistance with only pistols and hand grenades, the Feldwebel and one man were killed, and two other paratroopers were wounded. All five survivors of the firefight were subsequently captured.

By nightfall of 14 April the reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 was split up into five isolated groups over an area of 30 by 15 km. Of the 15 Ju 52s which had flown the unit to its operation area two had been shot down. Three others, including the aircraft of the group commander, had been forced to conduct emergency landings on the way back. Three Ju 52s had reached the airfield at Trondheim-Stjørdal, which was by now in German hands. The remaining seven aircraft, some of them damaged, made it back to Fornebu.

The Norwegian troops around Dombås had arrived prior to the German parachute undertaking. They were by now fully alerted and combat ready to a high degree. Reports about German paratroopers had quite certainly also been sent to the military command in Dombås by inhabitants of the settlements around this town, as the telephone net had still been operational. This enabled it to direct counter-measures quickly and effectively.

Early in the morning of 15 April the leaders and men of reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 set out to accomplish their mission, despite the unfortunate start of the undertaking. Dombås was still to be the primary objective.

The 12 paratroopers of 2nd Platoon, who had managed to jump from the falling aircraft 12 km south-east of Dombås and were armed only with pistols and hand grenades, were confronted at first light by vastly superior Norwegian troops. After a short engagement they were forced to surrender.

Leaving the injured soldiers behind in one of the huts, 1st Platoon moved out from Fokstua at about 0500 hrs. On the railway the paratroopers discovered four small drays which they rode on the track toward Dombås. As there had been no contact with enemy forces up to now, they were unaware of the presence of Norwegian troops in considerable strength in and around the town. Accordingly they were far from cautious on the ride. About 2 km north of Dombås the paratroopers unexpectedly took fire from both sides of the track. From the drays, which had collided with each other, they returned fire but were, from the very first moment of the ambush, in a hopeless situation. Increasingly surrounded by the Norwegians, Leutnant Becker ordered his men to give up the fight and to surrender. Shortly afterwards the Norwegians also took prisoner the injured paratroopers left behind at Fokstua.

In the early morning, after only a little rest in the snow caves at an altitude of almost 1,500m, the signals platoon moved out in the direction of the sound of some explosions, coming from an eastward direction. The platoon was joined by the squad of 1st Platoon, which had been dropped, isolated south-west of Dombås but had reached the location of the signals platoon. The troops were heavily burdened with the communication equipment and so moved downhill in the deep snow with great difficulty. Turning northward, they reached a few huts after several hours of marching. Stopping for a rest and totally exhausted, they observed a column of Norwegian trucks halting on the road from Dombås to Åndalsnes about 5 km away. During the further move, the Feldwebel, who was reconnoitring some distance ahead, was nowhere to be found. Nevertheless the platoon struggled along until at 1800 hrs. Still about 1.5 km south of the hamlet at Bølia and 3 km away from the road leading to Åndalsnes, it was fired at by machine guns. When these stopped firing, an Oberjäger of the 1st Platoon and Norwegian soldiers approached under a flag of truce. The Oberjäger reported that he was to demand the surrender of the platoon, as it was surrounded by Norwegian ski-troops. After a Norwegian officer declared that the paratroopers would remain in Norwegian custody and not be turned over to the British, Oberleutnant Gerhold ordered his men to destroy their radios and weapons and give themselves up.

The elements of 1./FschJgRgt.1 assembled in the farmstead at Hagevoll on the morning of 15 April totalled 2 officers and 61 other ranks. Oberleutnant Schmidt, who was unable to move and was being taken care of by a medical Oberjäger in the farm’s cow-shed, decided to stay at the present location for the time being. From here, the railway tracks were to be demolished. The telephone lines and the circuits in the vicinity of the farm were to be destroyed. Oberleutnant Schmidt ceded tactical command to the two platoon leaders.

Around the farmstead, field positions were built. The road through Hagevoll was barred in both directions. The demolition of the railway immediately north-east of Hagevoll was successful. However, it remained impossible to establish communications with Oslo from the radio which had been taken along by the HQ section. Therefore the paratroopers wrote into the snow in large letters ‘Munition! Verpflegung! Wir halten aus!’ [‘Ammunition! Food! We hold out!’] for friendly aircraft to see. Nevertheless very little time remained to prepare for the defence at Hagevoll. On 15 April, at about 1100 hrs, Norwegian soldiers on skis and in snow-camouflage clothing appeared in front of the farmstead. As they were just a reconnaissance party they were easily driven off but the position of the paratroopers had now been detected. Around noon a single Ju 52 appeared over Hagevoll. It was heavily fired at from the surrounding terrain as it dropped containers with ammunition. As these came down without parachutes they became badly dented on impact with the ground, so that most of the ammunition was unusable.

At about 1300 hrs the Norwegians again advanced toward Hagevoll, this time in trucks along the road from Dovre. After the Norwegian recognized the situation at Hagevoll, they dismounted and continued the advance on foot. From their forward positions, the paratroopers opened fire at close range. The Norwegian captain in charge and six of his men were killed. All others, about 30 soldiers, some of them wounded, were taken prisoner by the paratroopers rushing forward.

At about 1700 hrs, the defenders of Hagevoll defeated another attack by the Norwegians, this time supported by heavy machine guns and mortars. After a reconnaissance patrol had reported the arrival of a trainload of troops from Åndalsnes in Dombås, a demolition party was sent out at 2200 hrs in order to block the railway west of Dombås. The party returned around midnight with nothing achieved. It reported that Hagevoll was completely encircled by Norwegian troops.

During the night of 15/16 April the positions held by the paratroopers were under continuous fire from the surrounding terrain. At dawn another demolition party moved out against the railway west of Dombås and a small reconnaissance patrol was tasked with gaining a picture of the situation in the area near the town. Both teams failed to return (it was later discovered that one of the soldiers of the demolition party had been killed and both teams had been captured).

During a counter-thrust of paratroopers against closely advancing Norwegians, on the morning of 16 April, more prisoners were taken, increasing their overall number to almost forty. Shortly thereafter some motor cars, which were approaching on the road from Dombås, were ambushed by fire from an outpost of the paratroopers. Leaving behind the dead, the wounded and the vehicles, the survivors fled. A shock troop, led by Leutnant Mößinger, which investigated the vehicles, discovered that one of them was filled with bundles of money totalling around two millions of Norwegian Crowns. More important for the shock troop, however, were the rucksacks full of food which had been left behind – the nourishment of the defenders and their prisoners had become a problem. In addition the medical treatment of the many wounded became increasingly difficult, as, against the principle, no medical officer had been assigned to the company’s HQ section and the medical Oberjäger, though accomplishing his tasks to the best of his ability, was clearly overcharged.

At about 1400 hrs the Norwegian troops attacked again. This time they also employed light artillery. Hagevoll now became untenable and the commanders of the paratroopers agreed to move to another position after nightfall. In order to outlast the time until then, and to keep the surrounding enemy busy, one of the Norwegian prisoners was sent to their commanding officer with a demand for surrender. After a short while, however, a captured parachute Feldwebel appeared at Hagevoll, with a demand from the local Norwegian commander to give up further resistance. The latter’s announcement, to have all captured paratroopers shot if his demand was not accepted, was regarded as an empty threat. The request therefore was refused by Oberleutnant Schmidt.

When the bombardment of Hagevoll, which had commenced at 2100 hrs, was interrupted, the evacuation of the position began at 2230 hrs. The wounded and the prisoners were transported in captured vehicles along the road to the south. About 1 km away the point group of the paratroopers came up against a road block south of the hamlet of Arnkleiv, from which it received machine gun and rifle fire. In a lightning action the barricade was stormed and about 20 Norwegians were taken prisoner. A short distance to the south, the company settled down for the night in some buildings along the road, protected by strong security elements. The rearguard, which was using the captured Norwegian machine guns, soon caught up with the rest of the company. During the various engagements in the course of 16 April, two more paratroopers had been killed and four wounded, among them, for the second time, Leutnant Mößinger.

On this day the commitment of the heavy weapons platoon came to an end. It had left its billets in the early hours of 16 April and had moved along the valley of a brook south of the railway in the direction toward Dombås. After a march of 13 km, for which the 21 soldiers, loaded with heavy machine guns, anti-tank rifles and ammunition cases, had spent six hours in deep snow before being surrounded by Norwegian ski-patrols. As it was impossible to set up firing positions for the two heavy machine guns and resistance consisted of just four rifles, Feldwebel Uhlig decided to surrender his platoon at 1500 hrs after the men had made their weapons unusable.

In the early morning hours of 17 April the paratroopers around Oberleutnant Schmidt and their prisoners continued their movement and set up a new position about 3 km to the east in the farmsteads at Lindsø. From here the railway and the road which led from Dombås to Dovre could be dominated by fire. The railway close to the new position was once more blown up. Outposts did manage to capture some Norwegian soldiers who attempted to bypass Lindsø in a northward direction, among them a staff officer.

Soon the enemy was moving forward against this new position. During fire-fights with patrols a paratrooper was killed, another was wounded, as were several of the prisoners. The defenders also ran out of field dressing material. During the night of 17/18 April a Norwegian shock troop was warded off, similarly an attack by stronger forces at first light on 18 April.

At around 1100 hrs a Ju 52 appeared over the contested area. Probably attracted by the very-lights of the paratroopers, it dropped a container with machine gun ammunition, warm clothing, rations and medical material. Also dropped was information about the frequency by which radio communication with the aircraft could be established from the ground. Fortunately, this method worked. Now the crew of the Ju 52 could be informed about the situation at Lindsø and was asked about the arrival of relief forces. After the question by the crew about landing sites for aircraft with infantry aboard was answered in the negative from the ground, it bid farewell, announcing that relief by ground forces could be expected in one or two days.

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