On April 9, 1940, Germany suddenly attacked Denmark and Norway - thereby fulfilling the plans of the British command, which was trying to provoke Berlin into such an attack. But then everything did not go according to plan: Germany won, the allies lost. However, it was not only the Germans who won this battle. Paradoxically, it also interfered with the Anglo-French plans to attack the USSR in 1940, which radically changed the course and outcome of the entire world war. Let's try to figure out the details.
On the morning of April 9, 1940 - exactly 81 years ago - German ships suddenly landed soldiers in Norway. On the same day, the Wehrmacht occupied Denmark. If there were no battles in it, then the war in Norway dragged on until June 1940 - the moment of the defeat of France. The whole operation was named "Weserubung".
The paradox of the German attack was that on April 10, 1940, British troops of 11 battalions were also to land in Norway. They were only one day late: the Germans, not knowing about the plans of the enemy, accidentally outstripped him by 24 hours. Why did Britain and Germany, the two major powers of that era, need to seize an openly provincial Scandinavian country, which at that time did not have its own supply of basic resources?
As we will show below, in fact - not why. But neither the British nor the Germans could understand this in time, because their generals and admirals were preparing for the Second World War, as if it were the First.
But this is not the strangest thing about what happened. Much more amusing: the British and French not only wanted to seize Norway, but also hoped to use its territory as one of the springboards for a future war with the USSR. London and Paris planned to start it in the summer of 1940. If Hitler had delayed his attack on Norway and France (he would have just sat there and done nothing for the entire 1940), he would most likely have won World War II. Simply because the Anglo-French coalition, living in the fictional world of Soviet weakness, would have attacked the most powerful land power of the era - thereby making its military alliance with Germany inevitable.
Fortunately, Hitler was impatient enough to spare Stalin from participating in World War II on his side. But first things first.
How Berlin decided he needed to take over Norway
Before the Second World War, German admirals thought that they would have to fight in it like in the First - mainly battleships and cruisers. In 1914-1918, the German navy did not fight very successfully. The real reasons for this were the mistakes of the German admirals of those years. But the majority of German sailors chose not to notice this and sought justification for their defeats in the so-called "objective factors". One of them was the "disadvantageous location of the bases of the German fleet." Grand Admiral Raeder, the head of the Third Reich's fleet, argued quite seriously that if he had bases in Norway, the British would not be able to block the raids of his cruising ships on the Atlantic.
Of course, this was not a very well-founded opinion. By the beginning of World War II, aircraft carriers were already present on the seas - funds that made dashing raids on the Atlantic, such as those that the German Bismarck undertook in 1941, unrealistic.Even a single ancient British biplane could damage - and slow down - a large German ship so that the British managed to intercept it with a group of their ships.
But Raeder was like the admirals of the American fleet before Pearl Harbor: he did not understand that a new era had already begun in the war at sea, the time of the domination of dive bombers and torpedo bombers. From this he really really wanted to capture Norway.
Of course, with such arguments Hitler could not be convinced. However, Raeder did not accidentally grow up to the admiral: he knew how to manage the superiors. Therefore, on October 10, 1939, he announced to the head of the Reich his desire to seize Norway with a formally more rational justification. Like, if the British do this, they can easily put pressure on Sweden (or occupy it) in order to block the export of iron ore to Germany. Anyway, they will get access to the Baltic, where, in theory, they will be able to land troops. Hitler considered such fears to be rational, and since then the general consent of the Reich leadership to the capture of Norway was fully ensured.
Ultimately, however, the capture of Norway worked against Germany's resource endowment. The fact is that then in Norway there were no visible oil reserves, so the supply of energy resources during the German occupation fell on Berlin. In addition, a significant contingent of troops had to be kept there, which had to be supported. As a result, before the capture of Norway by Germany, Germany exported more from this state than imported there. But after the occupation, it turned out exactly the opposite.
Needless to say, Norway did not help the Germans much in the Atlantic war either: French bases were much more useful.
But why did the British need Norway?
With the Germans, everything is clear: we have a typical case when the trust of the head of state in the opinion of experts leads to wrong decisions. Why did the British plan the landing in Norway (plan R4)?
They had two reasons: the desire to strangle Germany with a trade blockade (as in the First World War) and the accompanying desire to profit from the Norwegian fleet. Oddly enough, at that time he was the fourth in the world (after the UK, USA and Japan). Most importantly, most of it already consisted of motor ships - faster than the steamers, which were the majority in the English merchant fleet. Due to the speed, the ships of that era could sail outside the convoys: German submarines simply could not catch up with them.
Britain from the very beginning of the war was under pressure from German submarines, which sank its merchant ships. To acquire in such conditions the fourth fleet of the world - and even more modern than our own - is not a bad idea.
But the basic, first reason for London's preparations for an attack on Norway did not stand up to the slightest criticism. The fact is that the ore came from Sweden, and in the summer it was transported through Swedish ports. The flow of ore through the Norwegian ports never significantly exceeded even one million tons per year - and the total volume of ore imports Germany needed was nine million tons.
Finally, the very concept of a naval blockade of the German state under the conditions of World War II is outdated. During the interwar period, the Germans actively mastered new forms of war - using large mobile tank formations. The presence of such ideas allowed them to completely turn the nature of the war on land. If in the First World War France held back the Germans for four years, then in the Second World War it could not even be a year. After the capture of France, with its huge mining of iron ore and coal, supplies from Sweden or Norway ceased to be of serious importance at all.
The British were unable to understand this: their analysis of German military capabilities completely missed that the Germans now outnumber them on land by two heads. The reasons for the omission are simple. British generals were not mentally mobile enough to appreciate the revolutionary role of tank formations in the war.Therefore, all their military planning was based on the false idea of "repeating the First World War" - to hold the front in France, simultaneously crushing the Germans with a naval blockade. An idea that is absolutely unrealistic and morally outdated, like most of the main ideas of the British land army.
Invasion: how two elephants in the same china shop missed each other
The beginning of hostilities during the "Veserubunga" should be considered April 7-8 - a day or two before the official start of the operation. The fact is that in order to reach Norway, German transports and their accompanying ships had to cover at least 600 kilometers, and in some cases even thousands. This meant that they had to leave noticeably in advance.
On the face of it, the very idea of bringing amphibious troops across the North Sea - dominated by the British - is a gamble and suicide. By the way, many British admirals thought about this. From the point of view of the German admirals, the situation was different. Due to surprise, the first echelon of their ships had to reach Norway before the British intercepted it. Well, when the British fleet appeared in this area, nothing threatened the landing. Joint attacks by German submarines previously deployed in this area, together with dive bombers, were supposed to stop the British from sinking large German warships.
This was a sensible plan, if not for one circumstance: the English fleet was already in the very areas through which on April 7-8 the German naval forces had to pass with the landing party on board.
In theory, one contact with German ships was enough for the British to deploy their cruisers against the transports of the Third Reich and drown its soldiers while still at sea. In this case, the Weserubung would have simply fallen off at the very beginning: the German ships accompanying the first and main landing echelon were no match for the British in the same area. There were no battleships or battle cruisers among them.
On the morning of April 8, such a fatal contact even occurred: the British destroyer Gloworm came across the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper in the Trondheims Fjord area. Despite the excellent training of the German artillerymen, who smashed the radio room, just before the hit, the British notified their Admiral Forbes about the enemy forces. But there was no sense: he decided that the Germans were not landing in Norway, but were trying to break into the Atlantic to drown British convoys. The very idea of a large-scale Nazi landing in Norway simply did not occur to him. Therefore, the British ships close to its territorial waters did not turn around in search of German transports and did not affect the landing. "Glovorm" died in an unequal battle, having even managed to ram the enemy's cruiser (however, only damaging it).
British intelligence officer Patrick Beasley later wrote that the reason for such a mistake was the fixation of the British naval command on their own preconceived ideas: the Admiralty was constantly thinking about the possible breakthrough of German cruisers into the Atlantic, and only through this prism saw the whole situation. In addition, the British "measured the Germans at their own yardstick": they knew that they were preparing a strike in France, and therefore considered excluded an extremely risky side operation in Norway. The inability to imagine German risk tolerance and the measured adventurism of an amphibious assault operation at sea controlled by the enemy are bad features.
Obviously, the British once again lacked the ability to perceive the enemy as an equal to themselves (especially since, to be honest, the Germans were more likely to be superior to them in terms of combat capability in this operation, rather than being equal). It is impossible to explain to anything else that they, having dominance at sea and specific signals about German ships as early as April 8, slept through literally everything.
In theory, the British inability to see them as equals gave the Germans the opportunity to end the war in Norway with almost lightning speed.After all, the Norwegian land army at the time of the invasion numbered 15, 5 thousand people, and if the Germans could win the war quickly, then it would not have been possible to mobilize one hundred thousand "list" reservists into it. Surrender, inevitable with the rapid capture of Oslo, would mean a quick and bloodless victory.
The problem turned out to be that German operational planning at its very top was, to put it mildly, abhorrent. The commander of the operation, von Falkenhorst, described his acquaintance with the Norwegian theater of operations as follows:
“I went out and bought a Baedeker travel guide [the popular travel guide of those years] for travel just to figure out what Norway was. I had not the slightest idea about this country … Then I went to my hotel room and began to study the country by Bedeker. At five o'clock in the evening I again went to the Fuehrer."
But the truly epic level of preparation was manifested not only in this. The Germans were not aware of the fact that the British planned to capture Norway literally a day after the German landing. Therefore, they did not even suspect about the danger from the British fleet already deployed in this area.
The key blow of the German invasion was to quickly take Oslo - with the capture of the royal family and parliament, which would lead to the elimination of resistance and the surrender of the Norwegian army.
However, this key operation went very badly. The German heavy cruiser "Blucher" was sent into battle without any worthy information about the enemy's coastal defenses. Therefore, his captain did not know that there was a torpedo battery on the bank of the fjord leading to Oslo. The attack began at 4.15 am, and she was simply not visible. Initially, the ship received a couple of dozen shells from the coastal batteries, but quickly slipped past their firing zone. But after a couple of torpedoes to the port side, he sank.
Unaware of the coastal torpedo battery, the Germans mistook the torpedo explosions for mine explosions - as if Oslo, who was not expecting an attack, could plant mines on its naval approaches in peacetime. As a result, instead of suppressing the resistance of the coastal batteries and landing, the Germans hesitated for a long time, giving time for the king and parliament to evacuate.
This scene immediately thwarted the possibility of a quick end to the war. Rather monotonous small battles stretched for one or another settlement. Of course, the Norwegian infantry could not resist the Germans: they were poorly trained and tactically could not be compared with the enemy.
Yes, the local soldiers (even before the call-up) fired better than the average German infantryman, but their command staff had no idea about tactics. Ultimately, in a series of small battles, the Norwegians were driven back and taken from them city after city. In fact, all they were capable of was to heroically resist, without hope of great success.
English reaction: complete misunderstanding of the changed nature of war
On the afternoon of April 9, the British military committee drew an incredible conclusion from the German landing in Norway: now that the neutrality of Norway has ceased to exist, the position of Great Britain has improved. It was assumed that thanks to the supremacy at sea, the supply of the German landing would be cut, and the British units would defeat the Germans, who did not have ammunition and reinforcements, in a couple of weeks.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Already in the second half of the same day, the Germans launched air raids on the forces of Admiral Forbes on the high seas. The British lost one destroyer, a number of ships were damaged - and this despite the fact that Ju.87, the only full-fledged dive bombers of the Germans, this time could not even find the target, and all the damage was caused by the "half-diving" Ju.88 and non-diving He.111 … "Suddenly" it turned out that in 1940 aviation was quite a threat to large surface ships.
Of course, the Germans were also not without losses.At remote northern Narvik, a thousand kilometers from German airfields, the British fleet melted 10 of their destroyers - half of the total then available to the Third Reich. But this did not affect the combat effectiveness of the landing: he was already all on the shore.
Although it must be admitted that the German planners, who decided to land troops there, were completely wrong. It made no sense to take Narvik: there was no airfield nearby, where it was possible to transfer German attack aircraft.
And without this, it was unrealistic to cover the destroyers. After all, Narvik was hundreds of kilometers from Oslo, where the airfield was, and where the Germans were able to place their bombers. A sensible planner would not have planned a landing in Narvik at all: it could have been captured and moved overland without risking defenselessness from attacks by the British fleet.
The British tried to land a number of assault forces in Norway - farther from its southern part, where there were airfields, from where the Germans could use dive bombers. But with the land assault, everything did not work out very well either. For a start, the British intelligence did not have any general information about Norway either.
Donald McLachlan of British Navy Intelligence later wrote: “The lack of even basic information was simply catastrophic. The officers who … were part of the British Expeditionary Forces had no more information than was contained in Baedeker's 1912 edition [the same tourist guide as the Germans - N.S.]. Any information led them to surprise: the depth of the snow cover, the size of the fjords, the lack of roads, the location and size of the piers. This failure in our preparation turned into a real scandal."
The British did not act very successfully on land either, following the lead of the Norwegian command, which demanded to defend the southern part of Norway. As a result, they did not manage to crush the German landing forces in the center and north of the country, or return it to the south.
A key part of the struggle for Norway was the attempt by the British fleet to sink German ships with reinforcements and supplies. During this entire operation, the Germans sent 472 transports with a tonnage of two million tons to Norwegian ports - transporting 108 thousand people and a lot of military equipment. If we remember that the first echelon of the landing of the Germans was less than 11 thousand people, it is obvious that without the supply of reinforcements and supplies, they would not have been able to capture Norway.
How did this become possible, despite the dominance of the British fleet at sea? Quite simply: there was no domination. After the appearance of noticeable numbers of dive bombers - albeit of limited dive-ability, like the German Ju.88 - it finally became possible to hit ships with bombs. At this, the era of domination of the sea by large non-aircraft-carrying ships, in the main, ended.
Therefore, it was only in theory for Admiral Forbes and others it was enough to block the supply routes from Germany by battleships, cruisers and destroyers. In reality, constant losses from German air strikes kept the British fleet at a respectful distance from the main communications of the Germans.
The failure of British and German submarines
The main work against them was carried out by British submarines - and four of them, plus one Polish, were eventually sunk by the anti-submarine forces of the Germans.
Quite frankly, the British submariners did not really excel. Yes, they sank 21 ships, with a couple of thousand soldiers (the rest were rescued by neighboring German ships, fortunately they were led in convoys). But this is a miserable couple of percent of the German reinforcements, and five boats for such a result is a high price. The reasons for the low productivity of the British - in the inability to use submarines in groups, which made it easier for them to fight the convoys. It is worth recalling here that in the German open literature of the 1930s, the details of such group tactics were fully described - but the enlightened navigators were again let down by the inability to consider the enemy equal.They did not even try to use the German tactics of "wolf packs", which doomed their submarines to low performance.
However, their German colleagues in the Norwegian operation showed themselves even worse. The thing is that torpedoes for German submarines in peacetime were never properly debugged. Therefore, during the Norwegian campaign, they were used more than a hundred times, but when they hit the target, one exploded. Admiral Doenitz tore and threw, but there was little sense: it was not even possible to understand why this was happening. The wildest versions began to be put forward, such as the inhomogeneity of the Earth's magnetic field and the like.
The truth was revealed only in 1942. It turned out that at the training grounds, the submarines fired torpedoes after a short stay under water. And off the coast of Norway, the boats were under water for a long time. No one knew about this, but during a long stay at depth, German torpedoes increased the pressure in the equalizing chamber. As a result, after launching the torpedo, the depth was incorrectly determined and therefore sank deeper than necessary. Instead of striking the enemy, they passed deep under his ships, unable to cause harm.
Typical reports of the commanders of German boats, as Admiral Doenitz rightly noted later, “Were truly blatant:
On April 10, in the evening, three destroyers torpedoed. No explosions were observed. ‘U-25’.
12.30. They fired a volley of three torpedoes at the Cumberland-class cruiser. Past. One torpedo failed to explode.
21.15. They fired a volley of three torpedoes at the cruiser York. All exploded prematurely. ‘U-48’.
14.40. Westfjord, torpedo failure in attack on Worspite and two destroyers. ‘U-48’.
We fired two torpedoes on transport. Didn't explode. ‘U-65’”.
The battleship "Worspite" was attacked by German submarines four times in that operation - but what good was it if their torpedoes did not work? Of course, many submarine commanders stopped firing altogether, seeing targets - an explosion not at the target unmasked them and forced the British to attack. The best German submariner, returning to the port, honestly told Admiral Doenitz that "he can hardly continue to fight with a toy gun." By the way, during these senseless attacks, the Germans lost four submarines.
Needless to say, the torpedo history drastically reduced the ability of the Germans to somehow control the British fleet. Until June 10, the end of the fighting in Norway, the main burden of this task lay on the shoulders of the German aviation.
We will not describe the epic battles for the house of the Trondheim forester, but for those who like such stories we will recommend this book. Our format is not so dimensionless, so let's go straight to the result of the black comedy of errors described above.
Results-1: how the battle ended in the opinion of his contemporaries
On the part of the Allies, about 110 thousand soldiers visited Norway, on the part of the Germans - 122 thousand. The allies lost 6, 6 thousand, the Germans - 5, 3 thousand people. The Kriegsmarines lost one heavy, two light cruisers and 10 destroyers. The allied fleet - mainly from the strikes of German aviation - one aircraft carrier, two cruisers and nine destroyers.
From a strategic point of view, as we have already indicated above, the capture of Norway gave nothing to the Germans. After the capture of France, they had enough iron ore, and they had to bring more to Norway than to export from there. Again, the need to keep a third of a million soldiers in this area throughout the war deprived the Germans of the opportunity to use them on more urgent fronts - such as the Eastern.
Two months of fighting with small losses showed the main thing: the era when the surface non-airborne fleet dominated the sea was completely over. Aviation was a key factor in supremacy at sea, and that is why the Germans were able to supply landings 600-1600 kilometers from their ports without any problems.
It would seem that this experience should have come in handy for Hitler after the defeat of France. As you know, then the Ju.87 raids forced the British to pull their warships as far as Scotland.They could not block the German landing near London from there, and if they tried to cut off the supply of the German landing in England, they would be drowned in parts.
In practice, however, Hitler chose to overlook this lesson. As he later noted in conversations with contemporaries, the very idea of landing in Britain was unpleasant to him. He could crush the British empire, but who would benefit from it? From his point of view, the one who had a stronger fleet, that is, the United States, and not at all Germany. Hitler did not want to strengthen a foreign state, so the experience of the Norwegian landing was not useful to him.
Results-2: what the operation "Veserubung" really was
In the winter of 1939-1940, the USSR carried out an extremely unsuccessful offensive in Finland. Its goal was to turn Finland into a socialist country, headed by the Kuusinen government, which was created on Soviet territory at the beginning of the war. In the orders, the Soviet troops were tasked with reaching the Gulf of Bothnia (that is, going through Finland through and through). However, the planning of the operation was disgusting, local peculiarities were not taken into account, which is why it was possible to reach only Vyborg.
Looking at this, the British and French, like the USSR before the war, did not understand the local difficulties of the Finnish theater, were convinced that Moscow had an army that was practically incapable of combat. At the same time, they knew that the USSR was carrying through itself a lot of transit cargo for Germany. As part of the same strategy of strangling Berlin with a blockade, the Anglo-French command planned to attack the USSR.
It was planned that this will happen in the summer of 1940. Among the first steps, it was planned to seize a number of ports of the USSR and burn Baku, from where Moscow received the bulk of its oil, by bombing raids. The plans were completely utopian, since the Allies allocated incredibly little forces for this. However, London and Paris, as ridiculous as it may sound today, considered the Russians militarily inferior, which is why they considered their actions to be quite reasonable.
It was within the framework of the same strategy that the British planned to land troops in Norway on April 10, 1940. If Hitler had not succumbed to Raeder's persuasion, this would have happened. Moreover: if Hitler had not attacked France in May 1940, but would have decided to wait until, for example, August, the British and French would most likely get involved in a war with the USSR, forcing him to become an ally of Germany.
In this case, the history of the Second World War would take on a very gloomy outline. It is clear that by defeating France, Hitler, in alliance with Moscow, would deprive Britain of its colonies in the Old World and either compel peace or remove the possibility of active operations on the continent. It is not obvious enough that in such conditions the United States would be drawn into a war with Germany. As a result, the Nazi regime would have been mothballed for at least decades, and given its excellent economic dynamics in peacetime and its high technological level, it could have survived to this day - along the way, committing monstrous crimes against a number of peoples.
Perhaps the fact that this did not happen is the main strategic outcome of the 1940 Norwegian campaign. And the entire military campaign in the West in the same year. And this is a very good result: because of him, the history of mankind has become noticeably brighter.