Chapter 2: Norway and the War: British and German Military Plans 
From the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany on 3rd September 1939 Norway had in several ways a special importance for both belligerents, over and above the pressure which each side naturally sought to exercise on all accessible neutral powers. The Norwegian coast provided the eastern limit of the main sea route from German ports to the Atlantic, and the control of that route was again, as in 1914–18, a cardinal factor in the British naval blockade. Within a fortnight after the outbreak of war the Government issued a declaration, made after consultation with the Chiefs of Staff, that a German attack upon Norway would meet with the same resistance as an attack on Great Britain. This was designed to encourage Norwegian cooperation with our blockade, which might have an important influence in two respects. Firstly, our naval measures, particularly those aimed against egress of enemy ships between Norway and the Shetlands, would be helped if the Norwegians gave a sympathetic interpretation to their rights as neutrals under international law. Secondly, there was the pressure to be exercised through negotiation of trade agreements, so as to maximise the usefulness of Norway’s economic resources to ourselves and minimise it to our enemies. By agreement dated 11th November 1939 the Norwegian Shippers’ Association chartered to Britain the largest and most modern vessels of the Norwegian merchant fleet, which more than offset the subsequent German-Norwegian trade agreement (23rd February 1940) providing for exports to Germany not in excess of those for the year 1938. This involved a hole in the British blockade, but Britain forbore to exercise any greater counter pressure upon Norwegian economic life than the restriction of British supplies to Norway to approximately the same level, i.e. that of 1937–38 (agreement of 11th March 1940).1
The general situation outlined above was complicated from the outset by two special considerations. One was the existence of the Leads, which enabled German ships to enter territorial waters at remote points well inside the Arctic Circle and travel under their protection almost as far as the entrance to the Skagerrak, where the
proximity of German air and submarine bases made the rest of the voyage comparatively safe from British interception. Logically, the matter might have been complicated further by the traditional Norwegian claim to a wider limit for territorial waters than was accorded by international custom elsewhere, but the Norwegian Government resolved at the outbreak of war not to claim privileges of neutrality beyond the three sea miles recognised by the other Powers. As it was, the course through the Leads gave virtually continuous protection to German shipping—a leakage through the blockade which was of constant concern to the Admiralty, although it only attracted public attention on special occasions, as when the German Atlantic liner Bremen slipped through from Murmansk, or when the boarding of the Altmark revealed a graver anomaly.2
The other consideration assumed an importance in the Allied counsels which it did not perhaps altogether deserve. It was believed from the outset of the war that Germany had two main economic weaknesses—her dependence on oil imports, with which it would be hard for the Allies to interfere with effectively, and her dependence upon imports of high grade iron ore, which came partly from central Sweden via the port of Oxelösund, but chiefly from deposits at Kiruna and Gällivare in North Sweden. This ore reached Germany by two main routes, from Swedish Lulea at the northern end of the Baltic and, especially during the months from December to April when Lulea was ice bound, from the alternative railhead at the ice free port of Narvik. The Chiefs of Staff when consulted about Norway had placed the iron ore supplies received via Narvik in the forefront of their argument that access to Norwegian resources was more important to Germany than to Britain. This opinion was supported by a statement emanating from the formerly prominent German industrialist Fritz Thyssen, who informed the French Government from his place of refuge in Switzerland of a momentous report which he had once made to the German authorities showing the Swedish iron ore to be all important.3 Thyssen credentials as an expert in this matter do not appear to have been officially examined, but in answer to an inquiry from the War Cabinet on 30th November the Ministry of Economic Warfare gave its authority to the view that, once deprived of its ore, Germany could not wage active war for a period exceeding twelve months. In 1938 Germany was believed to have imported 22 million tons of iron ore, 9.5 million tons of it coming from sources which the Allied blockade had since cut off and nine million tons from Sweden, the loss of which would therefore bring Germany down to a sixth of her pre-war importation.4
There were some unknown—or partly unknown—factors to be taken into account, including the importance of scrap iron to the German steelmakers, the domestic output of low grade ore, and the amount of stockpiling. But the high value of any stroke which would cut off the entire Swedish supply was evident to any inquirer, so long at least as he indulged in no speculation about the many and violent ways in which the Germans might react to it. The value of a stroke to cut off the supply through Narvik only, which was the most that we could make sure of at the moment, was obviously less. The Ministry of Economic Warfare estimated that this would produce a deficiency in German supplies of one million tons spread over the four winter months, which ‘would certainly mean acute industrial embarrassment’. A paper prepared by the Germany High Command in February, showing that the Germans counted on an extra million tons of Swedish ore in 1940 (and 10 million tons in all), gives reasons why the fulfilment of this programme was incompatible with a reduction from 2.5 million to one million tons of the share to be transported via Narvik, though there is evidence from Swedish sources that it might have been ‘technically possible’.5 While these figures support the general basis on which the Ministry of Economic Warfare was arguing, the German Naval Commander in Chief, Grand Admiral Raeder (for whose use they were compiled), did not apparently infer that the closure of the Narvik route would be catastrophic for Germany, even if ‘2,500,000-3,500,000 tons per year would be lost’.
To return to the position as seen by the Allies during the winter of 1939-40, it is clear that the existence of the route through the Leads and its use for an essential German war import gave the Allies strong reasons for putting Norway in the forefront of their strategical calculations. Within a month from the outbreak of war Mr Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, had pressed the Cabinet for leave to mine the Leads at some point north of Bergen, but at that time it was still possible to hope that our war trade agreements with the Scandinavian Powers might bring about a sweeping reduction in the export of Swedish iron to Germany. In November the Cabinet decided as a long term programme to reconstruct the Northern Barrage of antisubmarine mines across the North Sea, which would eventually make minelaying in the Leads necessary (as in 1918), and the Chiefs of Staff were instructed to report on the military factors which would be involved in stopping the iron ore traffic from Narvik. In December, both before and after a meeting of the Supreme War Council on the 19th, at which the Thyssen memorandum was produced by the French, Mr Churchill pressed again for the immediate mining of the Leads or the patrolling of the waters by the Royal Navy—whichever
alternative might involve less risk of an armed clash with the Norwegians in defence of their neutrality. By this time the same active mind had other more delicate schemes in view for bottling up Oxelösund and, when the spring came, Lulea as well. On 6th January this sequence of events culminated in an attempt to secure Norwegian and Swedish acceptance of our proposed entry into Norwegian territorial waters by diplomatic representations, which pointed to their notorious violations by German submarines torpedoing British ships there. But the Cabinet was still far from being persuaded to mine the Leads without more ado if permission were refused, as it quickly was.
Meanwhile the whole question of action in Scandinavia had been complicated by the unprovoked attack launched by Russia against Finland on 30th November. Its first effect was to align France and Britain with Sweden and Norway as eager supporters of the Finns, so far as voluntary effort and supplies of material were concerned. The Royal Air Force, for example, released nearly 150 from its scanty supply of aircraft for Finnish use. It was also believed that the threat of Russian aggression viewed with benevolence by Germany as the friend of Russia, would bring the Scandinavian countries to interpret their neutrality in a manner more favourable to our interests and almost to welcome our intervention. When the initial successes of the Finns caused the danger from Russia to momentarily recede, it was still hoped that the Scandinavian Powers would so interpret their obligations as members of the League of Nations as to allow Allied forces to cross their territories to help the Finns against acknowledged aggression. The result was a prolonged diplomatic wrangle. Both Norway and Sweden were genuinely desirous of helping the Finnish cause by all means short of their own implication in the war. But they consistently refused to court the fate of Poland, for whose defence the Western Powers seemed to have done absolutely nothing, by allowing Allied forces, even in the guise of ‘volunteers’ to cross their territory into Finland, either to preserve Finnish independence, or for their own protection against a hypothetical Russian (or German) advance directed to the Swedish ore fields or the warm water ports of northern Norway.
The Allies for their part, while sincere in protesting their desire to save Finland, certainly had other objects in view to which they gave less publicity—objects so important that the original scheme for a naval operation against the Narvik traffic was for the time being virtually abandoned lest it might prejudice the larger hope. The French wanted the establishment of a Scandinavian field of operations almost as an end in itself, and were prepared to run the risks of establishing a naval blockade against Russian supplies shipped to north Finland from Murmansk or of trying to wrest Petsamo, the Finnish Arctic port, from Russian hands rather than forgo the chance
to keep the main action of the war away from the Franco-German front. The plans, however, which the British sponsored were less widely open to criticism than the Petsamo project, which seemed to combine the maximum provocation to the Russians with the minimum of strategic advantage to ourselves. Accordingly, what was approved by the Supreme War Council at its first meeting of the year 1940 on 5th February was a British scheme, which contemplated the provision of two or more Allied brigades on the Finnish front, but laid its chief emphasis elsewhere. This was timed for action by mid-March.
On its way to rescue the Finns the main striking force was to land at Narvik and advance along the railway to Kiruna and Gällivare, the two centres of the North Swedish ore field, and on to the Baltic port of Lulea; it was hoped to establish the equivalent of two Allied brigades along this line before the latter part of April, when weather conditions would normally open the Baltic to German seaborne expeditions and also facilitate a German advance overland through Sweden. A second force of five British Territorial battalions was to occupy three ports in southern Norway, so as to provide us with bases for the general defence of Scandinavia (and an alternative route to Finland) and to deny those bases to the Germans. Trondheim (with Namsos) would be the principal Allied base, Bergen an important subsidiary base and the terminal point of our northern mine barrage; Stavanger, on the other hand, would probably not be occupied longer than was necessary to demolish the airfield, which is the nearest on the Continent to Scapa Flow. Two British divisions were held back from France for these immediate tasks. But the plan also provided for much larger forces, drawn from both French and British sources, to be passed through Trondheim for an eventual campaign in southern Sweden. The British would in the end put about 100,000 men in the field, the French perhaps 50,000. Forty destroyers would be needed for close escort duty, besides making the protection of the convoys the main preoccupation of the Home Fleet. The air component totalled six and a half squadrons of aircraft, including three of fighters and four squadrons of home based heavy bombers would also be employed. These are for that period of the war big figures, but not extravagantly so, if the Chiefs of Staff were right to call the scheme our ‘first and best chance of wresting the initiative and...shortening the war’.
On 16th February a new turn was given to the situation when the destroyer Cossack was sent to Jøssingfjord, south of Stavanger, in order that a boarding party might rescue 299 British merchant seamen incarcerated in the German auxiliary warship Altmark, to which they had been transferred from the pocket battleship Graf Spee before the latter was caught by the Royal Navy off the River Plate early in
December. The Norwegian Government complained bitterly of the infringement of territorial waters by our ships; the British Government found in this startling revelation of the misuse of these waters for German military purposes, which the Norwegians had shown themselves powerless to prevent, an additional justification for the long considered action against the Narvik iron ore traffic. It was very nearly touched off, but at the last moment postponed again in favour of the larger plan.
For this the French Prime Minister, M Daladier, desired une opération brusquée,6 but the British did not. The Chiefs of Staff canvassed the pro’s and con’s of rushing our ‘volunteers for Finland’ ashore at Narvik and perhaps the southern ports in the hope that Norwegian opinion might accept or even welcome a fait accompli. But it was not until the eleventh hour or later, namely at 6:30 p.m. on 12th March, three days after the Finns were known in London to be negotiating for terms with the Russians, that instructions to commanders for action along these lines received Cabinet approval—and even then the execution of our plans still presupposed some degree of acquiescence, at least on the part of the Norwegian and Swedish Governments. This had not been secured when the Finnish surrender, announced on the night of 12th/13th, put an end to the only argument which had any chance of persuading the Scandinavian Governments or peoples to hazard their neutrality.
On 14th March the British War Cabinet decided, with the reluctant assent of the French, that in the altered circumstances our plans would meet with positive resistance from Norway and Sweden and might drive them into the arms of Germany. The War Office stood down the three forces which had been got ready, and the 5th Scots Guards, a volunteer battalion of skiers trained at Chamonix, was actually disbanded. But a change of government in France, which brought M Reynaud into power on 21st March as the champion of a more aggressive policy, renewed the demand for action. It was now decided to start by solving the original problem of the passage of the iron ore south from Narvik by the original method, namely, the mining of the Leads so as to drive enemy shipping out of Norwegian territorial waters. This operation, christened ‘Wilfred’ by Mr Churchill as being ‘minor and innocent’7, nevertheless required some justification in the eyes of the world for the breach of neutral rights which it would undoubtedly involve. The Altmark episode having been allowed to fade into the past, a more formal procedure was now to be adopted. Norway and Sweden were to be warned that their conduct as neutrals worked out in practice to the advantage of Germany; that this was the more intolerable because Germany in
principle was the enemy of the independence and rights of small Powers, of which the Allies were the champions; and that in consequence the Allies reserved the right to take the appropriate action. This was to be followed by the laying of minefields in Norwegian waters, of which no previous warning would be given to the Norwegian Government. This in turn, it was supposed, might be followed by German counteraction against Norwegian territory; and this, by the acceptance by Norway of an Allied occupation of Narvik and the three southern ports, for which troops (but no aircraft ) would be held in readiness. Expectations about Sweden were less clear, but it was hoped that circumstances would enable the force landed at Narvik to reach the ore fields as the champions of Sweden against aggression, actual or hypothetical. Once established in the far north, we had a further scheme for blocking Lulea harbour with mines laid from the air
In detail, Operation Wilfred and the associated military Plan R.4 involved, firstly, the laying of two minefields, in the approaches to the Vestfjord, north of Bodo, so as to close the passage south from Narvik, and off Stadland (between Aalesund and Bergen), with the pretended laying of a third near Molde. This operation, though not previously announced to the Norwegian Government, entailed the double risk of Norwegian counteraction in defence of neutrality and of action by German warships which fortune or foresight might bring into the vicinity. The plan therefore involved as its second feature the disposition of units of the Home Fleet so as to protect the minelaying. There would be a small covering force to consist of one cruiser and two destroyers. Two other cruisers and three destroyers at Rosyth and—at longer notice—three more cruisers from Scapa were to be available as a striking force against any German sortie that might result. Thirdly, the plan provided for a military expedition to take immediate advantage of the somewhat vaguely defined moment when ‘the Germans set foot on Norwegian soil, or there is clear evidence that they intend to do so’. Narvik and its railway as far as the Swedish frontier formed the primary objective. To this port there was assigned a force of one infantry brigade with one light antiaircraft battery, of which the first battalion was to set sail in a transport escorted by two cruisers a few hours after the mines were laid. The forces to occupy Bergen and Trondheim and to raid Stavanger were on a smaller scale, totalling five battalions plus technical troops, but the timing of the operations would have sent them from their embarkation port on the same day as the Narvik expedition and, as the four battalions for Stavanger and Bergen were to be sent in cruisers, there was a reasonable supposition that they could forestall a German landing. The Trondheim battalion would reach the Norwegian coast two days later.
It was intended to make Narvik into a regular base, with local defence forces and fuel supplies. The Allied strength there was to be built up from French sources to a total of 18,000 men, and there was even the prospect of air support (one fighter squadron and one army cooperation flight) in the event of a move on Gällivare. The battalions at Bergen and Trondheim would be less fortunate. Not only were they left without any prospect of air support (though so much nearer the German bases), but on the ground they depended for their build-up upon the hope that the two battalions at Stavanger might succeed in rejoining them, if the latter were attacked by superior German forces, and the intended provision at a date unspecified of ‘such reinforcements as may prove necessary...in the face of German action’. Lastly, it should be noticed that each of these expeditions was to be ‘organised and equipped on as light a scale as possible’ and was envisaged as landing in a friendly port or at worst in the face of sporadic, temporary resistance from misguided Norwegians, not Germans—a limited scope which in the sequel was all too quickly forgotten or ignored.
The ideas which found expression in the German plan Weserübung can be traced back to controversies regarding German naval strategy in the First World War, in which the views of Admiral Wegener played a leading part. His book Die Seestrategie des Weltkrieges, published in 1929, was well known in naval circles in Britain and America, and even Norway, with its study of the implications of Germany’s geographical situation and its insistence that the main function of a navy is to open and maintain access to ocean trade routes. This had not been achieved by defending ‘the dead angle of a dead sea’ (the German North Sea ports languishing under the effects of a British blockade) and would not in the Admiral’s opinion have been achieved even if the German navy had successfully occupied the coast of Denmark.
The Norwegian position was certainly preferable. England could then no longer maintain the blockade line from the Shetlands to Norway but must withdraw approximately to the line of the Shetlands—the Faeroes—Iceland. But this line was a net with very wide meshes. The fresh wind from the ocean then already blew from afar into the stifling atmosphere of the hunger blockade. Moreover, this line was hard for England to defend: for in the first place it lay comparatively near to our bases; but above all, as the map shows, we should considerably outflank the English strategic position to the north.8
Although the pressure of the British naval blockade in the first winter
of the Second World War was far from reconstituting the hunger blockade of Admiral Wegener’s argument, his general theory at least prepared the way; it is even alleged that Hitler treated Wegener’s writings as his ‘naval bible’.9 Grand Admiral Raeder, the earliest advocate among German war leaders of aggression against Norway, first laid the matter before the Führer on 10th October 1939, when the latter promised consideration of his suggestion of ‘how important it would be for submarine warfare to obtain bases on the Norwegian coast, e.g. Trondheim, with the help of Russian pressure’. Almost two months later Raeder returned to the attack on a different score, pointing out that a German occupation of Norway was the only effective way of blocking the trade routes from Norway to England, because they started from so many scattered points on the Norwegian coast, and conversely, that a British occupation would endanger the control of the Baltic, on which German naval warfare essentially depended,
At this juncture the strategic was fortified by the political argument, when Vidkun Quisling, the leader of the tiny ‘National Union’ party in Norway was brought before Hitler by Raeder and Rosenberg, the expert on Nazism for export, as the leader of a promising national socialist movement which would facilitate a bloodless invasion of his country. This caused the operation, as conceived and authorised by Hitler, to be based at the outset on the two alternative hypotheses: that it might be carried out by peaceful methods, with German forces entering Norway at the invitation of a Norwegian Government, real or sham, or by an invasion without such pretext. In the end, German confidence in Quisling’s proposals was so small that he was not informed of the German military plans in time for him to take any advance measures of cooperation before the landings: the German military authorities let him into the secret at Copenhagen on 4th April, only five days before the invasion, when he furnished some mistaken intelligence about the gun defences of Narvik in return.10 Nevertheless, he has double importance in relation to Weserübung, because he held out the prospect of cooperation by treacherous Norwegians, which made the plan seem less foolhardy, and also because he directly influenced Hitler to favour such a plan by his allegations that British intervention in Norway was imminent. On the whole, it appears that Hitler himself regarded the occupation of Norway primarily as a preventive measure and that, although instructions to make a plan date from Hitler’s first meeting with Quisling on 14th December, the effective decision to implement it resulted from the Altmark episode of 16th February, which showed
that in certain circumstances Britain was ready to infringe Norwegian neutrality.11 Meanwhile Quisling’s accomplice, Hagelin, a Norwegian long resident in Berlin who was conveniently engaged in selling German antiaircraft guns and coal in Norway, was assiduous in providing reports of British military preparations arising out of the Finnish campaign.
A study for a possible operation against Norway and Denmark was accordingly authorised on 14th December: it was to be made by officers of the three services under the auspices of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (OKW). An order of 27th January 1940, signed by General Keitel, marks the transition from theoretical consideration of the project as ‘Study North’ to detailed preparation of Weserübung (Weser Exercise) by a planning staff which was to be the nucleus of a future operational staff. The Chief Planning Officer was Captain Krancke, who worked to a large extent under Hitler’s personal supervision, and from 21st February the project took final shape with the appointment of a commander. This was General von Falkenhorst, who had been suggested by Keitel; he had served as Chief of Staff to von der Goltz when the Germans intervened in Finland in 1918. Hitler’s order to complete arrangements for the execution of the plan was signed on 1st March and included a definition of its strategic aims. ‘This operation will prevent British encroachment in Scandinavia and the Baltic; further, it will guarantee our ore base in Sweden and give our navy and air force a wider start-line against Britain.’12 From this date the only matter still left for decision was the actual timing of the operation and its official pretext.
By this stage the plan used separate names for the two aggressions against Norway and against Denmark, the latter being designed chiefly to make the attack on Norway easier, but it will be convenient to use the term Weserübung throughout for the Norwegian operation, properly known as Weserübung Nord. The success of the plan must not blind us to the difficulties under which it laboured—difficulties arising from personal jealousies of both the Army and the Air Force (including Göring) against a plan sponsored by the Navy; difficulties arising from its superimposition upon the main plan for the attack in the west, which had been postponed from November to the spring; and difficulties arising from the naval odds. These weighed so heavily against Germany that Raeder himself at a conference with Hitler on 12th December entered the caveat that the German Navy could not yet ‘cope for any length of time’ with severe surface warfare off the Norwegian coast. Weserübung had therefore to be based essentially on secrecy, speed and deception—secrecy of preparation,
speed of execution, and deception as to the objective. In view of these considerations the number of troops to be employed was kept to a minimum and General von Falkenhorst was debarred from occupying certain minor ports, including Namsos and Aandalsnes. But the occupation of Oslo, the capital, Kristiansand on the south coast; Stavanger, Bergen, and Trondheim, the principal west coast ports; and Narvik in the north—which was considered to be the minimum for holding the country and excluding the British—was judged to require a force of six divisions. Therefore the essence of the plan was to find a means of conveying and landing the six divisions which would meet the requisite conditions, particularly those of secrecy and speed.
The plan was accordingly based in the first instance on finding an alternative for the orthodox method of transporting a military expedition overseas. Six divisions would normally have required more than half a million tons of transports protected by warships, constituting an armada which Germany could not in fact have mustered in full strength, and which would in any case have clearly advertised its intentions to the British and Norwegians long before it could have reached Norwegian waters at transport speed. Instead, the Germans decided to embark their first echelon of 8,850 men in warships; these would move fast and would not proclaim their destination, but would, of course, be seriously handicapped by their load in the event of a naval engagement. Moreover, this decision involved the use, for conveyance or protection, of the entire German fleet. But the warships could not carry the equipment, so by an elaborate and carefully timed series of operations slower moving merchant vessels were to go on ahead—one group of seven steamers figuring as normal traffic for Murmansk, others travelling singly and trusting to luck to escape investigation. Some would lie in Norwegian harbours as coal ships, awaiting der Tag; all were to be at their port of destination in the course of the first day. The equipment force, as we may call it, carried also a small additional provision of troops, but the first serious reinforcements were not due until the third and fifth days of the invasion. These would be directed to Oslo only and redistributed thence by land or air (or possibly by sea) as occasion served. Thus very small initial forces were expected to take their separate objectives by surprise; some equipment would quickly be made available and they were then to hold on pending reinforcement. There was to be an immediate turn round of the shipping used, and all warships—with the exception of two destroyers, which Hitler decided to retain for harbour defence at Trondheim—were to try to get home to German waters as quickly as possible, those from Bergen and farther south slipping back along the coast, those from the two northern ports attempting a combined breakthrough. It was however
assumed that in the Skagerrak area British countermeasures would not prevent the passage of reinforcements northwards continuing over a period of several weeks.
Finally, we may notice that the naval plan included elaborate arrangements for using, or rather abusing, the British flag, names of British warships, and communication in English so as momentarily to confuse the issue if the invaders were challenged at Norwegian harbours. For that moment of penetrating the harbour defences was foreseen as being in all probability the crisis of the whole expedition, the more so as the latest Intelligence reports from Norway suggested an increase of alertness on the part of the naval authorities. But with or without deception, the plan assumed, on much the same arguments as had brought Hitler triumphantly through Munich and other crises, that the Government of a peace-loving people would sooner let the moment for action pass than risk the charge of precipitating total war.
The 10th Air Corps at Hamburg was to support the attack on Norway and Denmark with a force of 1,212 aircraft (1,008 immediately serviceable). Rather more than one half of these were transports used by Germany’s civil airlines before the war, which would drop paratroops to seize the big airfield at Stavanger (Sola) and the main Oslo airfield of Fornebu and would subsequently be used to fly in airborne troops and the more urgent supplies. There would be a hundred fighters to deal with Norwegian air units, which it was hoped to catch on the ground, and later with the expected intervention of the Royal Air Force, and about four hundred long range bombers would be available to support the German landings from the sea and to engage British naval forces on their approach to Norwegian waters. They had also a more general task, to induce the submission of Government and people by the threat of devastation which their mere appearance in Norwegian skies would convey.
Gruppe XXI, the force placed at the disposal of von Falkenhorst had been formed by the army authorities under orders which specified the employment of first class troops. Of the six divisions, however, only one had been in action before, namely the 3rd Mountain Division, and its experience in Poland amounted to very little because it was not motorised and in that quick moving campaign usually arrived too late. General Dietl, who commanded it, was a personal friend of Hitler and a mountain expert—he had even attended winter manoeuvres in Norway before the war. It seems probable that these mountain troops with their special training and equipment, first embodied as a division under the same leader at Graz in 1938, were set aside for Narvik in the expectation of a spectacular success. The other five divisions received no special training or equipment, and for security reasons only their commanding
officers were given any advance information about the intended campaign.
The history of British and German planning for the eventuality of war in Norway makes two things clear. One is that the Germans enjoyed an enormous advantage because the carrying out of their plan did not depend upon Norwegian goodwill, whereas the Allied military advisers had considered and rejected in advance the idea of forcing an entry into Norway in the face of positive resistance by Government or people. But the advantage which the Germans enjoyed through their consistent disregard for neutral rights was liable to be cancelled out if Britain took the first step; and her control of the seas made it possible at any time by mining or similar action to deny to the Germans the use of territorial waters. The timing of operations in fact largely determined their immediate outcome.
The main considerations for both sides were the established facts of climate and weather, the general political situation, and what was known or guessed as to enemy intentions. Neither side would have chosen to fight in Norway under winter conditions; but the British had hoped originally to enter Norway with a sufficient margin of time for their forces to be in a position to defend Lulea by the second half of April, when the breakup of the ice in the northern part of the Baltic might make a German seaborne attack on that port possible.13 For the Germans, on the other hand, a limit was set by the period of generally low visibility, frequent storms, and long nights, needed to give the German ships a reasonable chance of reaching Trondheim and still more Narvik without interception. Politically, as we have seen, Allied hopes were for a long time tied up with the Finnish campaign, which might enable forces sent to defend Finland under the general auspices of the League Covenant to get a footing in Scandinavia. After the Finnish surrender, the Allies had to consider instead how to present their general argument, to the effect that the Norwegian interpretation of neutral rights conferred an unreasonable advantage upon Germany, in such a way as to conciliate American and other neutral opinion. As for Germany, Jodl’s diary describes Hitler on 13th March 1940 as ‘still looking for some justification’ for Weserübung,14, but as no new excuse was found during the succeeding month, it is probably more realistic to suppose that in its political aspect the important decision was that taken on 3rd March, when after a good many changes of plan the attack on Scandinavia was given precedence over the attack on the Low Countries.
The part played on either side by knowledge of enemy intentions is more difficult to determine, because the period of the so-called ‘phoney war’ was one in which Europe seethed with rumours of plans and counterplans, making it almost impossible for Governments to separate truth from fiction, still more to base action upon appreciation. Thus the British Foreign Office noted as early as 19th October 1939 an unsupported rumour of an impending partition of Scandinavia between Germany and Russia. Then on 8th January 1940 the Foreign Secretary inform the War Cabinet of a secret report, dated 29th December, that the Germans were ready to act in southern Scandinavia. On 3rd February, we find the War Cabinet examining a circumstantial report despatched by our military attaché from Stockholm on 20th January: a neutral colleague had explained to him in some detail plans to secure the Narvik–Lulea railway route and subsequently to occupy both southern Sweden and southern Norway, on which the Germans were said to me now actively engaged. On 26th March, the British Minister in Stockholm reported the concentration of German aircraft and shipping, possibly for the seizure of Norwegian airfields and ports, as information obtained from a Swedish officer which was, corroborated by other news of shipping massed at Kiel. On the 30th the French Admiral Darlan, desiring authority to requisition merchant ships so as to put the French expeditionary force for Norway at one week’s notice for embarkation, argued that ‘Recent information shows that Germany has collected the means for an expedition against the bases in South Norway, Stavanger, or Sweden: it is not unreasonable to imagine that she will react on the morrow of our diplomatic démarche or of the minelaying’.15 His letter, addressed to Daladier and General Gamelin, does not indicate the sources on which he relied in his appreciation, but reports of various kinds were by now fairly widespread; the possibility that they ‘might portend an invasion of Scandinavia’ was put, for instance, to the British Chiefs of Staff at their meeting on the morning of 3rd April. The final preparations for a large-scale expedition could not be wholly concealed from neutral eyes, and it has been suggested that Admiral Canaris, head of the German Intelligence Service, and other highly placed officers who opposed Hitler were deliberately indiscreet.16 The most circumstantial, and in retrospect the most interesting, report was one received through a neutral Minister in Copenhagen on 6th April, to the effect that a division conveyed in ten ships was due to land at Narvik on the night of the 8th. It was not for a moment believed that the Germans could anticipate us so far north; but by this time special arrangements had been worked out between the Cabinet and the
Chiefs of Staff to avoid any last-minute hitch in authorising our expeditions to sail at once, when the moment came, because the Germans might forestall us at Stavanger or possibly involve us in a race for Bergen or even Trondheim.
The Germans knew less of Allied plans; there was less to know. But, as we have seen, the fear that the other side might get their blow in first was strongly Hitler’s mind at least from the time of his interview with Quisling in December. It would not require much in the way of secret military intelligence to inflame his fears: even before the Altmark episode the speeches of the First Lord of the Admiralty implied that German misuse of Norwegian territorial waters would not be tolerated for ever, and the manoeuvres in which the Allies engaged in order to secure an official Finnish appeal for their help were precisely the kind of stratagem of which Hitler would be quick to detect the earliest traces. Thus on 30th December his naval conference was considering the ‘danger that volunteers from Britain, in disguise, will carry out an unobtrusive occupation of Norway’. As for specific operations, according to information which reached the British War Cabinet on 20th February, French officials in Stockholm were then talking openly of an expedition to Narvik, and a fortnight later the details of proposed arrangements for securing Norwegian ports seemed to be more or less public property in the same capital, which was notoriously honeycombed with German espionage. The German naval staff at this juncture had even listed the countermeasures, including invasion of South Norway, to be taken ‘on receipt of the first intelligence of any British landing in northern or Western Norway’—an event which up to the time of the Russo-Finnish peace treaty was considered imminent. But Admiral Raeder’s final forecast, given to the Führer on 26th March, was that Britain was more likely to strike first at Germany’s trade in neutral waters, in hopes of the German reaction which would occasion a British landing.
The German operation Weserübung was framed originally so as to be ready on 20th March. The British plan, accepted by the Supreme War Council on 28th March, was to come into effect with the minelaying on 5th April, as a sequel to the dispatch of justificatory Notes to the Scandinavian powers on 1st or 2nd April. This meant that the Germans would have got their blow in first and the world might never have heard of the mining operations; but the persistence of ice in the Baltic and the Great Belt caused a German postponement and it was not until 2nd April that Hitler, after reference to the period of moonless nights—the new moon was on 7th April—finally decided upon 9th April. This would have given the Allies are small margin of time after their minelaying, in which the West Coast of Norway could have been occupy with Norwegian agreement according to plan,
if—and it is a big ‘if’—the immediate German reaction had been sufficient to warrant, but insufficient to impede, our intervention. But at the meeting of the supreme war Council the decision to initiate the action in Norway had been linked, with the consent of the French Prime Minister, to the initiation of another action—the sowing of fluvial mines in order to disrupt traffic along the Rhine. The British authorities had long been pressing for this operation (which the French opposed as being likely to provoke German air attacks) and we believed that its novelty and boldness might distract American attention from the possible illegality of our intended action off the Norwegian coast. The French War Committee, under the influence of M Daladier, now in effect went back on the agreement, and this caused a three-day postponement of the Norway plan for fruitless expostulation. The Notes therefore were not delivered in Stockholm and Oslo until 7 p.m. on the 5th, by which time a newspaper agitation about our supposed intentions had developed in the two capitals; the actual minelaying was due to follow on the 8th.
Thus it came about that the naval forces are both sides were in motion simultaneously for the execution of their respective plans, some of the Germans having started from their more distant bases a little earlier. But the German plan provided for landing operations unconditionally at all points at 4:15 a.m. on 9th April, whereas the British plan provided for a succession of conditional landings, which would only take place if evidence of a suitably hostile German reaction to the minelaying were available immediately, and in that event would follow it out an interval ranging from one to four and a half days. Even then, the British landings were to be further conditioned by our ability, through diplomatic pressure at the centre and local liaison, to avoid serious and active resistance by the Norwegians. In point of fact, there would have been token resistance and consequent delays.