The Employment of the Fallschirmtruppe in Operation Weserübung IV

Men from FschJgRgt.1 at the airfield of Fornebu near Oslo, Norway, April 1940.

However the resupply drop had also alerted the Norwegians. In the afternoon they commenced another attack and for the first time a heavy gun was employed. The defenders of Lindsø were forced back to their ultimate positions. After another paratrooper was killed and some more had been wounded, the number of combat effectives was reduced to about forty. As a result the prisoners had to be guarded by the less seriously wounded men. There was also the problem of about 50 inhabitants from the farmsteads who were still present in the defended buildings.

At 1700 hrs a Norwegian officer under a flag of truce delivered a demand for surrender. When this was turned down again the commanding officer of the Norwegians let Oberleutnant Schmidt know that the Norwegians would from now on shell the position without regard for the prisoners and the civilians. During the negotiations a Norwegian medical doctor, who had arrived together with the officer, treated the most seriously wounded of both sides.

The shelling was maintained through the night of 18/19 April and in the morning the Norwegians, supported by artillery and mortars, attacked Lindsø from three sides. Yet again, ultimate success was denied to them. A new demand for surrender was again refused by Oberleutnant Schmidt, who gambled for time by the announcement that a German bombing attack was underway.

In the course of the renewed battle, a Ju 52 with resupply stores once more approached Lindsø. However, the aircraft was directed by the radio on the ground to turn away, as the ring of enemy around the position was considered too tight to allow for the recovery of dropped material.

After two more paratroopers were killed and three wounded by the increasingly precise fire of the enemy, their ammunition running out and a successful breakout considered impossible, Oberleutnant Schmidt, in agreement with his two platoon leaders, around noon decided to end the fight. After the remaining ammunition was used up, the radio and the weapons were destroyed and the position was handed over to the Norwegians at 1400 hrs.

The paratroopers at Lindsø were taken prisoners. Initially they were taken to Dombås, where they were also interrogated by British officers. In the evening the men who were considered fit for transport were brought to Åndalsnes. There they joined the previously captured paratroopers. During the transport to Åndalsnes, an Oberjäger and a private managed to escape, however they were caught by British soldiers and were later sent to Canada under British custody.

The 3 officers and 126 other ranks of reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 deemed fit for transport were then loaded on a trawler and brought to Kristiansund, an island about 60 km north of Åndalsnes. There they were confined in a school building under strong guard. When Kristiansund was completely destroyed by a German bombing attack on 28 April, the paratroopers were moved to a heavily guarded prison camp on the isle of Averøy, not far from the previous location. There one of the men was shot in the camp, without any reason, by a soldier of the guard from outside the camp. His was the twenty- fourth death since the start of the company’s commitment in the Dombås mission.

On 5 May a detachment of motorcycle infantry from Regiment General Göring reached Averøy and liberated their fellow soldiers. The paratroopers, who by this action had been saved from being shipped to Great Britain, were brought back to Oslo, where they arrived on 9 May. Still marked by the past combat and captivity they were ordered, quite incomprehensibly to them, to remain there. A few days earlier the seriously wounded of the company had arrived by means of a medical transport, but had immediately been moved to military hospitals in Germany. They had been taken care of by Norwegians in a medical installation in Alesund (about 80 km west of Åndalsnes) until the arrival of German troops.

Abteilung Walther was airlifted back to its home garrison at Stendal on 18 April, after Gruppe XXI had launched the offensive into central Norway and the operations against remaining Norwegian forces in north-eastern Norway.

Upon the return of Abteilung Walther to Stendal the employment of I./FschJgRgt.1 in the initial phase of Weserübung had officially been terminated. The 3rd and 4th companies of the battalion had accomplished their tasks as had been planned. Their commitment had been totally unexpected by the enemy. Therefore, almost no defensive measures had been prepared at their objectives. The losses in personnel of the staff and of 2nd and 3rd companies were replaced and all units which returned to Stendal were refitted as required. Immediately upon notice of the fate of reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 the rebuild of the company and the signals platoon was initiated.

The parachute assault foreseen for the 1st and 2nd companies of I./FschJgRgt.1 at Fornebu, would have been as successful as those of its sister units. However it had failed because of the weather or, to be more precise, due to lack of preparation in allowing the air transport to the objective independent of weather conditions.

To the same degree as Operation Weserübung as a whole, the successful employment of parachute troops had been a matter of achieving surprise as well as trust in the lack of appropriate preparations of the enemy for the defence and in his irresoluteness in waging war. With reference to Denmark, the risks for airborne actions had been rather low as relief forces of the Heer had already been close to the objectives at the time of their execution. These objectives could probably have been taken from the ground as well. Organized resistance by Danish troops or the interference of British air forces could, however, have threatened the quick success of the airborne operations against the airfields at Ålborg, the early utilization of which was necessary for initial air operations against Norway.

The seizure of the airfield at Stavanger-Sola by parachute assault had allowed for the unhindered air-landing of combat and service support troops, following close up with the initial units. These had been required for two highly important reasons:

  • The fast occupation of the seaport of Stavanger and its hinterland, as fast warships of the Navy for the transport of troops had not been available;
  • The build-up of the spacious airfield as a main base for the interdiction of the Luftwaffe against British and French naval forces operating in the sea regions along the coast of southern and central Norway, and as a stopover for short-range combat and transport aircraft destined to operate over and from Trondheim.

3./FschJgRgt.1 had accomplished its mission with relatively low losses as the enemy had not been prepared to counter a parachute assault. Nevertheless, by the high standard of their training and vigour these men had fully confirmed the confidence placed in them.

Fornebu, too, had been more of an example of incomplete and belated defensive preparations, in conjunction with a Norwegian lack of equipment for modern warfare, than of a well thought of contingency plan on the German side. A single unit the size of a battalion, equipped with adequate numbers of automatic weapons, fighting resolutely, could have defeated the improvised initial air-landing of German troops. Thereby, as the coup de main of German naval forces in the Oslo Fjord had failed, an extremely unfavourable situation for southern Norway could have developed for Gruppe XXI.

The parachute attack at Dombås was ordered by the OKW after the intention of the Allies to land troops on the coast of central Norway had been detected. This measure had to be regarded as expedient, as, under the prevailing circumstances, it was the only one promising to delay the anticipated (and then executed) thrust of Allied troops into central Norway and their uniting with Norwegian forces sufficiently long to allow for the interference of German divisions from Oslo. In the light of the OKW’s intention, the question needs to be answered as to why X.Flieger-Korps, upon receipt of the OKW directive, dated 14 April, had not moved the 3rd and 4th companies of I./FschJgRgt.1 to Norway for commitment in Dombås, thereby complying with number 3.(c) of the directive? One reason may have been that, by the time the directive was received and exploited, reinforced 1./FschJgRgt.1 had already been underway to Dombås or, possibly, had even jumped there. The principal reason for denying the commitment of these companies at Dombås, however, must be seen in the fact that about this time the start of the offensive in the west was ordered for 13 May. Every man was now required to accomplish the tasks planned for the parachute force in Holland. This was also true for the aircraft of I. and II./KG z.b.V.1. Moreover X.Flieger-Korps may have considered itself no more competent for the commitment of parachute forces in the Norwegian area of operations, as it had been placed under command of Luftflotte 5 which in the meantime had been generated in order to direct all air operations in Norway, in cooperation with the likewise formed Luftwaffe territorial command for Norway.

The reason why the Luftwaffe liaison staff with Gruppe XXI had bent its own order as to the number of parachute units to be committed at Dombås, has already been mentioned. That Generalmajor Süßmann had insisted on the execution of the operation on 14 April may have been based on additional information about the enemy and the operational intentions of Gruppe XXI which he may have brought along from Oslo. In view of the approaching darkness, he had obviously seen no more opportunity to meet the missing prerequisites for the undertaking and therefore had taken the risk to neglect them. His attitude, as the events had shown, had decisively contributed to the failure of the mission. On the other hand, the fact that all transport aircraft had managed to take off safely from Fornebu despite the inclement weather had spoken for the General, who had based his order to fly on his experience as commander of an aviation formation in his previous position.

The narrow time frame between the order to conduct a parachute attack at Dombås and its execution clearly indicates that the higher commands involved still lacked experience about the lead time which was required for operations of this kind. Generalleutnant Student, too, seems to have been ignorant about the importance of the prerequisites for successful airborne operations and even more so about the inevitable head-start in time for the technical and logistical preparations of such operations. This had become visible during the course of the prosecution against Generalmajor Süßmann, who was suspected of a dereliction of the duties of a superior after the operation at Dombås. When called up, Student, as an expert witness, had stated that mission and time pressure could make it necessary to conduct a parachute attack without prior complete intelligence-gathering, and reconnaissance of the drop zone.

The views of the staff of Fl.Div.7 differed from those of Student; they had raised a warning about the operational shortcomings during the commitment of parachute and air-landing troops in Norway, with a view on the future commitment of forces of this kind. Its secret report about the experiences of the employment in Scandinavia, dated 23 April 1940, had requested binding orders by the highest command involved and had stated verbatim that it was impossible to place the responsibility for the take-off of transport aircraft or its cancellation into the hands of individual commanders by phrases such as “according to the weather conditions.” In subsequent sections of this report the warnings were even more drastic, pointing out that the employment of parachute troops in unknown terrain without preceding reconnaissance would result in failure and in high losses. It had also requested that parachuting in the immediate vicinity of an enemy airfield had to be the exception.

As to what extent the commander of the parachute force and his superiors paid attention to these statements in future operations?!

The first performance of the German parachute force in its very own mode of employment during the initial phase of Operation Weserübung had shown that the aims intended for it had been achieved. All of them had been operational-level in nature. The Norwegian and Danish armed forces had been totally unprepared for the dimensions of the use of air power on the German side as well as for parachute attacks and air-landings of ground forces. After Weserübung, however, the secret about the parachute force, which had still been guarded during the campaign in Poland, was lifted with the exception of that of the glider. The principal opponents of Germany and the military commands of Holland and Belgium had been provided with the opportunity to take precautions against this kind of warfare. Whether this opportunity was used will also be examined later.

The actions of the paratroopers in Denmark, at Stavanger and around Oslo but also the dogged endurance of the still combat ready elements of 1./FschJgRgt.1 after the unfortunate start of the undertaking at Dombås, gave proof to the superior military commands, that the newly created troops had confidence in themselves to master the tasks presented. There had been no lack in resoluteness, ingenuity and will to fight among both, leaders and men. Therefore the high command could confidently look forward to more missions for the parachute force.

The risky employment of almost all of the surface craft of the German Navy and the airborne undertakings at Stavanger, Fornebu and Trondheim had resulted in the desired surprise success, but had not ended the fighting in Norway. Only after the lines of communication into central Norway had been opened against Norwegian and British troops, forcing the latter to hastily embark again, did the German command consider its gains in the Norwegian theatre of war safe up to Trondheim. However, the situation in northern Norway, where a task force of about 2,000 soldiers from the 3.Gebirgs-Div. under Generalmajor Dietl had been landed by ten destroyers at Narvik, remained critical. After successful actions by British naval forces against the German destroyers in the fjords at Narvik, the loss of most of the vessels with supplies and heavy weapons on the way to Narvik and the closure of the sea lanes around the Lofoten and Vesterålen islands by the British Home Fleet, Dietl stood isolated and inadequately supplied. Units of the Norwegian 6th Division moved toward Narvik from two sides through the mountainous terrain. Moreover, since 16 April strong Allied ground forces were landing at the port of Harstad, on the northern tip of the Hinnoya islands, about 60 km north-west of Narvik. Preliminary operations of both Norwegian and Allied troops aiming to retake Narvik and to eliminate Kräftegruppe Dietl were launched on 24 April. Allied warships entered the fjords and fired in support of the ground forces, thereby considerably hampering the movements of the defenders.

After 13 April Hitler saw the operation against Narvik as a failure and looked for possibilities to rescue Kräftegruppe Dietl. The resolute attitude of Generalmajor Jodl and the confidence displayed by Generalmajor Dietl, however, had won over Hitler’s fears, so that the operation had been carried on despite tremendous difficulties.

Since the end of April it had become possible to resupply Dietl from the air and to provide air support, although to a very limited extent due to the distance of more than 600 km between Trondheim and Narvik, the adverse weather, the air threat from the airfield at Bardufoss and from British carrier groups, which turned out to be most obstructive.

For relief operations on the ground, elements of 2.Gebirgs-Div., under Generalmajor Feurstein, were brought to Trondheim. However for the relief to become effective several weeks of waiting had to be reckoned with.

Of the air transport formations, only KGr z.b.V.107 and 108 remained in Norway, primarily for the support of the garrison at Narvik. KG z.b.V.1 and 2 were speedily refitted in Germany for the campaign in the west. Two of the special purpose air transport combat groups were returned to the training command of the Luftwaffe in order to again enlarge the training capacity for pilots and aircrews.

After his strongest doubts about Narvik had been dispersed, Hitler turned his attention fully back to Fall Gelb. British documents, dated early April 1940, which had been captured in Norway, were considered extremely useful for political action. They clearly laid open the planning of the Allies to occupy ports in Norway, to get ahead of similar German actions. These documents were now widely used for propaganda purposes and Ribbentrop, the German minister of foreign affairs, published a white paper in order to convince the German people and the world at large that the Allies were unwilling to respect the neutrality of smaller European countries. The deeper idea behind this step obviously had been to make the impending military actions against the Benelux states appear to be preventive measures upon their execution.

On 27 April Hitler disclosed his intentions to his personal entourage to begin Fall Gelb between 1 and 7 May. He passed the command of the Norwegian theatre of war entirely to Gruppe XXI, Luftflotte 5 and the Office for Naval Warfare. On 29 April he determined that the Luftwaffe had to be ready for Fall Gelb on 5 May. The following day he ordered that from the 4 May the Wehrmacht, as a whole, must be able to commence the attack on 24 hours’ notice.

The decisive factor for the beginning of the offensive in the west now became the weather. It remained unfavourable for the employment of the Luftwaffe, which was regarded as the key to success in the initial phase of Fall Gelb; consequently the date for the attack was moved back on a day-to-day basis. As the weather forecast was more favourable on 9 May, and Holland, because of serious warnings, had commenced with measures for civil defence, Hitler decided to fix the ultimate date for the attack as 10 May. Announced to the public as a visit to Oslo, on the evening of 9 May he and his personal staff travelled in his special train to the command post for the campaign in the west, which had been prepared near Münstereifel.

The attack forces of all three services of the Wehrmacht had, like in the preceding days, again received two code words for 10 May, one for the beginning of the attack and the other for its cancellation. Sturmabteilung Koch and the Luftlande-Korps stood ready at their jump-off airfields with the highest degree of readiness.

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