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Chapter 15: The Campaign In Retrospect [1]

Germany’s strategic gains resulting from the occupation of Norway form no integral part of this campaign history; three main points only need be noted here. First and foremost there was the acquisition of naval and air bases flanking the British Isles. This added to the apparent danger of invasion and, long after that danger had receded, it complicated the problems of home defence and, most serious of all, weakened our control of the northern approaches to the Atlantic. Henceforth the route through and alongside the Norwegian Leads was carefully protected by German air power with the help of the development of coastal fortifications and other naval defences. At the same time the enemy’s chances of raiding our commerce by a break-out with heavy ships into the open sea were very considerably increased; in particular, the North Norway fjords provided the bases for deadly attacks by aircraft, submarines, and surface ships against our Murmansk convoys in 1942. Submarines, which did not require the shelter of the Leads, also ranged freely from the elaborately constructed pens at Trondheim and Bergen.

The exploitation of the Norwegian economy in comparison proved to be of secondary importance. The mercantile marine which was the chief source of wealth had never been within Hitler’s reach; the Norwegian Government requisitioned it by decrees of 22nd April and 18th May, which gave plenary powers to a Shipping Mission in London, but the private owners would have been most unlikely in any case to withdraw many ships from profitable Allied service. The time taken to reopen the bitterly contested iron-ore route proved, however, to be nearer six months than the twelve on which we had calculated. The first shipment was in January 1941 and, according to the Swedish iron company’s records, altogether some 600,000 tons of ore left Narvik for Germany that year, rising to a rate of 1,800,000 tons per annum in the early months of 1943, after which exports fell off again until the end of the war.1 [2] Norway provided Germany with some iron ore of native origin, scarce metals like molybdenum and titanium, ferro-alloys, aluminium (from imported materials), and her timber, wood-pulp, and fish, the last of these being wanted for glycerine and vitamin A as well as for its general value as food.[3] Heavy water was another Norwegian product of possibly crucial importance. But it is difficult to say how much of all this might have accrued to

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the Germans if Norwegian neutrality had never been assailed, and it is certain that the gains were to some minor extent offset by the need to provide Norway with a minimum of foodstuffs from German controlled stocks elsewhere.

The result of the campaign meant in the third place an access of prestige to Germany in the eyes of neutrals, whose policy in practice was likely to be affected less by detestation of Germany’s flagrant act of aggression than by admiration of her military skill and power of organisation and by fear that the Allies would show themselves unable to save a new victim from a like fate. This applied particularly to Sweden and Finland, which were now isolated from the West. But the campaign in the Low Countries and France provided similar arguments on a far larger scale and, with the entry of Italy into the war, German prestige was in any case rapidly approaching its zenith.

In the generally unpropitious situation in which we found ourselves at the close of the Norwegian campaign, some emphasis was laid upon the allegedly large German losses. The House of Commons, or instance, was frequently reminded that ‘if we had losses, the Germans had far heavier losses in warships, in planes, in transport, and in men’.2 To take first the loss of men, the casualties incurred by our own forces on land were small—1,869 British, and about 530 French and Polish, officers and men in the two months’ fighting in Central and North Norway. The Norwegians do not compute separately the losses they incurred in joint operations with us but, not counting prisoners, their casualties in the entire campaign numbered 1,335. The official casualty list of the German General Staff, on the other hand, gives a figure of 5,296, including losses sustained in passage to Norway. Making allowance for naval and air force casualties, the former at least being larger on our own side, we must conclude that the total losses of the enemy in terms of human life were not significantly larger than they had inflicted, and were certainly small in relation to the results which the Germans achieved; even the campaign in the Balkans, involving no sea passage, cost them as much.[4]

As regards material, the losses in military equipment on our side were necessarily much larger—in the absence, that is, of major battles—because our forces were three times evacuated, and each time under threat of air attack. Moreover, nearly all our equipment for Norway was taken from stocks which could otherwise have been used for our forces in France and the Middle East, where they were badly needed, or for home defence. The Germans, who lost much less, could at this stage in the war spare it far more easily. Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to the losses of the respective air forces,

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though our special handicap in this case was not the evacuations but the need to improvise airfields. One of the two RAF squadrons which operated in Norway lost all its aircraft and equipment in the Lesjaskog venture; three Hurricanes were destroyed at the Skaanland airfield, which was never brought into use; and the operations at Bardufoss, in which the Hurricanes and the re-equipped Gladiator squadron each lost eight aircraft during a fortnight’s operations, were also seriously impeded through lack of airfield facilities. The British also incurred some loss in attacks on German-held airfields in South Norway from British bases. The losses of the Luftwaffe amounted to 242, of which one-third were transport aircraft:[5] this, though a far larger total, represents a smaller proportion of the number committed in Norway.

It is only in relation to her naval forces that Germany may be said to have incurred any disproportionate loss. The British Navy suffered one major casualty in the sinking of the Glorious. The cruiser Effingham was wrecked and the anti-aircraft cruiser Curlew sunk by bombing; three other cruisers were damaged. There was a reduction in destroyer strength by seven sinkings and eight cases of damage which we could very ill afford. We also lost one sloop, four submarines, and many smaller craft. The French and Poles lost one destroyer and one submarine each, and the French cruiser Emile Bertin was hit off Namsos. But the German loss was far more significant. Operation Juno resulted in the torpedoing of Gneisenau as well as Scharnhorst, and the loss in cruisers and destroyers was such that at the end of June Germany’s naval forces in these categories were reduced to a total of one 8-inch cruiser, two light cruisers, and four destroyers. There was also a loss of merchant shipping which Hitler noted as an additional problem in relation to Operation SEALION. Mr Churchill in his book emphasises the point that the German Navy, by reason of the Norwegian operations, was ‘no factor in the supreme issue of the invasion of Britain’.3 We may also notice that the Germans had no surface craft available to help in the attack on the Low Countries in May or to hinder the evacuation from Dunkirk; conversely, our increased margin of superiority enabled us in the nick of time to reconstitute the Mediterranean fleet.4 A German naval historian corroborates this, and points out that their ‘very heavy losses were never made up’.5

In assessing Germany’s losses through the Norway campaign, one is tempted also to include what the five years’ occupation cost in man-power subsequently. Whether the military effort required to defend the long northern bastion of ‘Fortress Europe’ was worth

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while for the profits derived from its possession it is hard to say. Certainly a huge garrison was locked up in Norway during the later years of the war as a result of the obvious geographical factors favouring an Allied counter-attack and the less obvious war of nerves, by which we convinced Hitler at least that we were coming there. The Norwegians point also to the cost of police measures directed against the obdurate spirit of resistance in the people themselves, a spirit which had its roots in proud memories of the campaign: had not Norway held out twice as long as Poland, and, at Narvik, achieved Hitler’s first defeat? If so, then we may fairly claim a share in the credit, since Norwegian resistance in April 1940 would scarcely have begun without Allied promises, and it would certainly not have continued without their partial fulfilment.

The scale of the Norwegian campaign, as compared with the later events of the war, was in any case extremely small. The profit and loss account therefore requires above all an estimate of the lessons taught and learnt for the later stages of a war in which combined operations were destined to play a dominant part. Indeed, those lessons may not be wholly irrelevant to the consideration of defence policy at large: for one high authority, reflecting on the events of 1939-45, makes the generalisation that it is the early campaigns of a war which, though quantitatively insignificant, provide ‘the difficult problems...the practical problems which we and every democratic nation have to solve’.6

At the first impact the German campaign in Norway appeared to owe everything to surprise, where a less bold project would probably have been quickly scotched, and fortune continued to favour the bold. No German ship of war met superior surface forces on the high seas in the journey out or home, though the margin of time and space was often very narrow,7 and out of four sporadic contacts8 which were made by sea or air during the most critical period, from dawn to dawn of 8th/9th April, two positively helped us to misconstrue the general scope and shape of the German activities. It is true that audacity could not have sprung the surprise it did, had it not been allied to a ruthlessness which never shrank from shedding innocent blood. But a whole series of events, ever since the murder of Dollfuss nearly six years before, made it difficult to argue that the breaches of international law and contempt for human rights which the invasion of Denmark and Norway involved were too monstrous to be anticipated. Moreover, the development of the campaign showed that it had in

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fact been prepared over a considerable period of time and with the utmost thoroughness.

Therefore one obvious lesson was that deficiencies in our Intelligence work, including appreciation of intelligence, had cost us very dear.[6] In general, it seems remarkable that, when forming the Allied plans of action for Scandinavia, we had not studied with more sense of reality the possibility that the Germans might forestall us there. The idea was indeed entertained as an intellectual hypothesis, but all our plans were based broadly upon the supposition that we should be making the first move and not the first countermove, a grave oversight which a more thorough examination of enemy intentions might have remedied. More particularly, the information about German ships and ports which accumulated during the first week of April,9 though consistent with various alternative plans, might well have been so interpreted by us as to avoid the surprise at Narvik—to say nothing of the indication given by the sinking of the Rio de Janeiro 16 hours before the moment of invasion, which the Germans thought capable of giving the whole show away. Not only so, but the information about Norway available for our own use[7] when the Germans were once inside the country was hopelessly inferior to the information which the Germans had collected for their invasion. Our leaders and their troops were again and again handicapped by their ignorance of climatic and geographical peculiarities, by the lack of detailed knowledge of harbours, landing grounds, and storage facilities, and even by ignorance of the general qualities and prejudices of the Norwegian people.

It is true that our total expenditure on intelligence purposes was normally small, and that the Scandinavian countries—in spite of their importance for us during the First World War—took a low place in our list of priorities for such expenditure. Allowance must also be made for the fact that in 1939-40 the Allies stood everywhere on the defensive, whereas in war the side which has the initiative can usually to a large extent keep its opponent guessing—a phenomenon which the Germans in their turn were to experience at the time of the Allied landings in North Africa, Sicily, and France. Nevertheless the special importance which Norway had assumed in the strategy of the Second World War since the invasion of Finland, more than four months before the events of 9th April, makes it very difficult to understand the lack of comprehensive and precise intelligence and the failure in evaluating what intelligence there was.

Intelligence might have enabled us to foresee much of what the enemy were going to attempt in Norway; but no degree of foresight

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could at that time have prevented us from suffering the full effects of German air superiority. This was the most obvious lesson of the campaign—or in a sense no lesson at all, since the Air Staff, knowing the insignificant size of the air support which would be available for any Scandinavian expedition, had correctly appreciated in advance the peril to which our lines of communication would inevitably be exposed. An Air Ministry historian is even able to say, ‘It is very rare in war that dangers that have been anticipated correspond so exactly to the dangers that eventuate’.[8] But this is not the whole story. Pre-war discussions as to the possibly paramount importance of air power in given conditions had been regarded generally as inconclusive, and in the first winter of the war the fact that there were no serious air raids on British or French soil tended to drive into the background doctrines which the Polish campaign had largely vindicated. Moreover, since for the time being we had no option but to fight our enemy at a disadvantage however serious, there was a natural tendency to make light of it: hence perhaps a general optimism in our planning, which was not necessarily due to want of knowledge or imagination among the planners. This may also help to explain the excessive hopes which were based on the efficacy of anti-aircraft guns, ashore and afloat, and some exaggerated estimates of what our own small bomber force could achieve against enemy-occupied airfields. The Secretary of State for Air said in the House of Commons on 8th May that ‘Strong air power must be met by stronger air power10—a truism, but one which by implication summed up the lesson of our discomfiture in the preceding month by land and sea.

As regards the Navy, this lesson, which had never clearly emerged before the war, was now increasingly realised, though it remained well hidden from the public gaze; the importance of the aircraft carrier waxed accordingly. Meanwhile, the striking-power of land-based bombers operating off south-west Norway, their efficiency once tested in the approaches to that coast, caused the Admiralty to decide that our heavy units should not be risked in the Skagerrak, much less in the Kattegat. Hence the ability of the Germans to reinforce their troops through Oslo, on which their securing of the hinterland of South and Central Norway chiefly depended—torpedo attacks by our submarines and all forms of mine-laying taken together accounted for only 1.57 per cent. of German sea reinforcements between 10th April and 13th May. It was the same threat from German air power, effective against smaller ships in the narrow waters of the Leads and fjords, which prevented our naval superiority from exercising its accustomed influence on the operations along the Norwegian coastline in the later stages of the campaign. The enemy retained considerable

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freedom to ferry troops in local boats and steamers;[9] our own forces had to be moved chiefly by destroyer and even so were in constant danger of attack.

The close support which German aircraft gave to their army, and the constant pressure which they exerted against ours, were clearly shown in almost every phase of the campaign. They influenced the battle by reconnaissance activities, by bombing and machine-gunning, and even by the mere threat of their presence; our lines of communication were at their mercy; and they put two of our bases virtually out of action. A more novel employment of aircraft was their use to drop paratroops, though this was done only on a small scale in Norway; to land reinforcements on captured or improvised landing grounds or by seaplane on the fjords; and especially to supply food and munitions to troops in forward areas, notably the garrison of Narvik. Our reply to all this was largely ineffective. Our home-based bombers were too few to neutralise those enemy-occupied airfields in Norway and Denmark which were accessible to us.11 We could not have spared an adequate fighter force to give ‘cover’ to our interests, even if the German seizure of every usable airfield had not confronted us with the problem of improvising airfields in the face of the enemy, which we were unable to solve except in the far north, where distance gave us some respite. The Fleet Air Arm was not designed to fill the gap: trained to operate with and for the fleet, their fighters slower than German bombers, the naval air squadrons were essaying a new (though important) role in their inshore operations along the Norwegian coast. Finally, there was the shortage of antiaircraft artillery, which had to be supplemented both at Namsos and Aandalsnes by ships’ guns and was still incomplete in the north after two months; even if there had been much more of it and a larger proportion had been heavy guns, the rate of loss inflicted on the enemy would scarcely have exceeded what he could at this time readily accept.

If the German achievement of surprise and the demonstration of the paramount importance of air superiority constitute two outstanding features of the Norwegian campaign, a third may be summed up as the comparative slowness and vacillation which appeared, to characterise the British reaction to the German enterprise. We suffered under a great handicap. What has already been pointed out in connection with our Intelligence deficiencies applies to almost everything else: because the Germans then possessed the freedom of initiative, which we had as yet no means of wresting from them, we could be—and again and again were—forced into situations where confusion,

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hasty planning, and unsatisfactory improvisation became inevitable.[10] Nevertheless, the study of the origins of the campaign, showing that in this instance at least the Germans struck where we had long considered striking, must to some extent confirm the view so widely expressed at the time, that our reaction to the stroke was weaker than it need have been. It was the belief held by the public that our actions in Norway had been muddled and hesitant which provided the immediate occasion for the transfer of supreme responsibility from Chamberlain to Churchill. In the famous debate of 7th May the charge took many forms; but they may be summed up in the expression used by the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr C. R. Attlee), who said that the Government had lacked ‘a settled plan for the vital objective’.12 It is, however, more important for the present purpose to notice that commanders’ opinions confirm this.

The two generals who fought in Central Norway make the same complaint that the operations they were respectively called upon to conduct had not been properly planned. Both maintained that background information was lacking and that the immediate situation was not correctly appreciated. The older commander, who writes witheringly that ‘plans as such were concocted from hour to hour’,[11] implies in his report that the lessons learnt in Gallipoli, Salonika and Mesopotamia might have been applied to reduce the mistakes made in the emergency of April 1940. The younger, then a recent Commandant of the Staff College, points to a fundamental mistake in planning, in that a proper appreciation from available information or a preliminary reconnaissance would have shown that three infantry brigades could in no case be maintained through the port of Aandalsnes. He claims, in effect, that realistic planning was not attempted because of a basic assumption ‘that what the General Staff consider to be politically or operationally desirable is administratively possible’.[12] The argument that more foresight could reasonably have been expected was also applied in the controversy about the proposed naval attack on Trondheim. The details of an unopposed landing there and, much more definitely, at Narvik had been under consideration, as we have seen, for several months. The problems of a contested landing at either port were of course very different; but it is at least arguable that a reasonable degree of foresight should have rendered the adjustment of our plans to meet the new situation both prompter and more efficient. Whether the ‘hammer’ blow at Trondheim would have succeeded, if it had been done quickly, is matter for conjecture;13 the effect of issuing incompatible instructions to two not wholly compatible commanders for Narvik unfortunately is not.14

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Confusion also marked the conduct of the campaign at lower levels. Weaknesses in the staff work among junior officers, for most of whom this was the first test of their organising capacity, may explain some of the troubles which were experienced in the unloading of ships, establishment of bases, and distribution of material. It is significant that General Paget urges the importance in ‘a military gamble’[13] of having headquarters units which had not been subjected to recent change, so as to make hurried team work possible. In fact, the build-up of our forces in France had not left us with any surplus of administrative experience. But in any case administrators on the spot were at the mercy of decisions taken far above their heads, which all too frequently seemed to make light of such considerations as completeness of training and equipment, or the tactical loading of transports: they had no control over the kaleidoscopic changes of plan.[14] It was the Government which kept on varying the objective, with little regard to the havoc wrought at all lower levels, from the joint Planning Sub-Committee, called upon to furnish new data and work out new conclusions almost every day, through all the ramifications of staff called upon to switch men and material from one destination to another, down to the man on the quay at Harstad, Namsos, or Aandalsnes grappling with unexpected arrivals (and non-arrivals), often under air attack.

Criticism may well be directed towards the system of command.[15] There was, as we have seen,15 much intervention by the Military Co-ordination Committee (and even by the War Cabinet) with the detailed conduct of the operations, intervention which was often disconcertingly sudden and sometimes seemingly impulsive. Apart from the interplay of personalities, this was encouraged by the close daily—and even hourly—contact with the execution of the military plans which arose from the fact that the Chiefs of Staff, who were in attendance at both the Committee and the Cabinet, were themselves in immediate control of what was being done in the field. Had the Scandinavian venture been entrusted at the outset to a single Supreme Commander or (more probably) to Commanders-in-Chief from the three Services, functioning through a Combined Headquarters, the situation would have been different. The collection of information, the preliminary appreciations and planning, and the administrative preparations would have been the direct concern of a single integrated staff-work done under the compelling knowledge that the responsibility for the success of the resulting action was also theirs; hence a much stronger resistance to changes of objective and consequential diversions of forces. Not only so, but the instructions for all three Services would have passed through the Combined Headquarters,

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where inconsistencies of aim and even incompatibilities of persons might have been noticed and adjusted; and the fact that operations were being conducted at a stage farther away from Ministers would have encouraged the restriction of their intervention to its proper field of grand strategy.

But if we ask why arrangements which became habitual later in the war were not made for Norway, the answer lies partly in the peculiar nature of the campaign for which the headquarters would have been preparing. It was to be a contingent and (as the Services hoped) very limited operation, of uncertain geographical scope, with no obvious location for a headquarters outside this country—the sort of venture to which it might have seemed improvident, in January or even in March 1940, to sidetrack any part of our very scanty supply of trained staff officers.[16] The most significant reason, however, is the fact that combined operations were then ‘a no man’s land’.16 The Inter-Service Training and Development Centre, which was formed in 1938—when the Japanese already had landing craft in hundreds, as was seen at Tientsin—had been closed as superfluous during the first months of the war, in spite of its plea that the possibility of combined operations could not be ruled out, at least as regards Norway and Greece. The entry into Scandinavia was thought of as the concern of the Army, to which the Navy contributed mainly a service of convoy protection and the Royal Air Force a token support which it could ill afford to spare. That in the sequel this proved to be the first campaign in European history requiring the full combination of all three Services took us by surprise.

After the fall of France the logic of events brought the study of combined operations inevitably to the fore, and the lesson that our system of command must be one which would contribute to the closest integration of effort throughout the Services was duly learnt—perhaps it was the most important lesson learnt in Norway. For the Norwegian campaign, small as it was, provided the first major clash of arms involving British forces since 1918. It therefore served as a testing-ground, in which all the elements of command, from the Chiefs of Staff organisation downwards, were given a trial run, revealing some inevitable weaknesses in a blueprint for the conduct of war drawn under peace-time limitations.

The campaign also posed another, special problem of command which was left undetermined, in the frequency of ad hoc interventions by the Admiralty in the conduct of the naval operations. As the appropriate volume of this History clearly shows,17 the Admiralty was in duty bound to intervene occasionally in the dispositions made by Commanders-in-Chief, when intelligence newly received in London

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rendered the policy and plans with which the fleet had sailed suddenly inapplicable and time or facilities were lacking for the intelligence to be appraised by the commander for himself. Moreover, whenever the flagship was preserving wireless silence for security reasons it would be impossible for a sudden change of orders to be signalled to the units composing the fleet except from the Admiralty. But at the start of the Norwegian campaign such Admiralty intervention took place no less than four times in four days—to modify the directions for the cruiser sweep on the fateful night of 8th/9th April, to cancel the attack on Bergen next morning, to allow Captain Warburton-Lee’s destroyers to proceed without reinforcement to Narvik, and to specify the cruiser Penelope for the second Narvik venture.18 In none of these instances does post-war information suggest that the Admiralty’s orders produced results demonstrably better than would have been achieved by the independent actions of their commanders at sea, having the weather and much else under their immediate eye, and the very fact of intervention was bound to be in some measure disconcerting and even vexatious. In the case of the Bergen attack the First Sea Lord thought the risk to our cruisers excessive, and Mr Churchill, whose role in Admiralty affairs as First Lord went some distance beyond that of the conventional political head, says that he concurred and cancelled it. His own retrospective judgement, however, is that ‘the Admiralty kept too close a control upon the Commander-in-Chief and ... we should have confined ourselves to sending him information’.19 What is true of the projected attack on Bergen, which might have altered the shape (though not the outcome) of the campaign, may not be wholly untrue of the other interventions.

Criticism of the way in which our forces were handled was often combined with criticism of their strength. In the Central Norway campaign the build-up never approached completion, so that the Norwegian complaint that the help we were sending them was inadequate refers logically only to the speed of its arrival. In North Norway General Auchinleck requested a scale of reinforcement which was denied him, although he put the general proposition that ‘In every campaign there is a certain minimum of force which must be provided in fairness to the responsible commander and to the troops under him’. But this was after 10th May, when our inability to spare aircraft, artillery, or ships could be easily explained by reference to our needs nearer home than Narvik. Fundamentally the same answer,

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that from our small resources we could not send to Norway what was urgently needed elsewhere, applies as regards quantity throughout the campaign. As for the general scale of our operations in Norway, even before the main German assault in the west began, the lesson is of course the unpalatable one that our policies needed to be, but were not, strictly commensurate with the weakness of our armed forces and the gradualness of their expansion. The political history of the preceding six or seven years sufficiently explains the contrast between the German forces and our own. General Auchinleck’s final report closes a long list of their advantages with the words: ‘The enemy’s thoroughness and foresight in providing everything required for fighting were extraordinary’.20

Nevertheless, the extent of our deficiencies in material must be included among the lessons of the campaign. At sea it was clear that the number of destroyers available could never be equal to the emergency demands on their services for protection and patrol. But in addition they were required to ferry troops and their equipment and to help maintain communications. This was partly because conditions in the fjords made the use of large vessels from our merchant navy, such as the converted luxury liners of the Namsos expedition, unsafe even if they were available; trawlers, again, fell an easy prey to German bombs; and there were, for much the same reason, difficulties in maintaining in use a steady supply of the small Norwegian fishing boats popularly known as ‘Puffers’. This involved us in friction with the local inhabitants (about working during air raids) as well as serious delays and inefficiency, which could have been avoided if we had had an inland water transport organisation running suitable craft of our own provision, ‘including fast motor boats for intercommunication and control, together with trained crews’.21 [17] Still greater importance attaches to the chronic shortage in the Narvik area of landing craft. This impeded the Bjerkvik attack and helped to cause the postponement of the final assault on Narvik, since motor landing craft were our only means of getting heavy anti-aircraft artillery ashore elsewhere in the area. Neither ALCs nor MLCs had been used for war in Europe before, but special tank carriers had been suggested in 1917 and actually planned in connection with the Zeebrugge raid. The key part which such craft played in the combined operations of later years seems to argue that their importance in a mechanical age might have been better foreseen.

In comparison with the enemy our land forces were almost entirely lacking in armour and artillery, and were frequently inferior in scale of automatic weapons; but however disastrous the consequences, there was no new lesson in this, since there were still some deficiencies

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of equipment in the B.E.F. in France after eight months throughout which it had had first claim on the slowly expanding output of our war industries.22 There was also a lack of mobility which handicapped us throughout the campaign—in marked contrast to our enemies, whose advance seemed never to be seriously impeded either by natural conditions or by our efforts to destroy bridges and roads as we retreated. Our 3-ton War Department lorries proved unmanoeuvrable on the narrow roads of the Romsdal and Gudbrandsdal;[18] the 146th Brigade at Namsos, issued with three kitbags of clothing per man, but not issued with the vehicles to convey them, are described as ‘mechanised to immobility’;[19] the Guards on their first arrival in the Arctic north found it impossible to operate without skis or snowshoes and the skill to use them. Other subjects of serious complaint were the deficiencies in signalling equipment and the chronic scarcity of maps,[20] which hampered the activities both of the Army and of the Royal Air Force.

The campaign, though so small, was not without some influence upon our ideas of military training, which General Paget as Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, was destined later to reshape. In the first place it must be conceded that, apart from the single battalion of experienced skiers, which was prematurely disbanded after the Finnish peace (12th March 1940), our troops were inevitably at a disadvantage, so far as training was concerned, when matched against the two German-Austrian Mountain Divisions. Field Service Regulations contained a section on Mountain Warfare, derived from experience on the North West Frontier, but the very different problem of operating at a high altitude (or in high latitudes) in snow was nowhere considered. The lesson was learned, in the sense that plans for a second Norwegian campaign envisaged the employment of forces properly trained in snow and winter warfare.[21] Then there was the question of the effects of air bombing upon morale of troops, which up to that time had been much discussed but little experienced. The casualties from. air action were far less than had been expected, though repeated and unchallenged air attacks were found to interfere seriously with the efficiency of those who worked under exposed conditions, as at the bases in Central Norway or by the briefly-held airstrip on Lake Lesjaskog. But a much wider problem was posed by General Auchinleck’s report on Operations in Northern Norway, which was printed for the War Cabinet in March 1941. From his experience of less than a month, he concluded that the morale of British troops under his command had often been lower than that of other troops working under comparable conditions. While emphasising the effects of inferiority of equipment and, above all, of the absence of adequate

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air support, the General (who had only recently returned from a long term of service in India) concluded that our existing methods of training lacked realism and did not do enough to inculcate habits of self-reliance.[22] This judgement is weighty, though it is not of course to be applied with equal force to every phase of the campaign in the far north, much less transferred to Central Norway, where the later stages in the long retreat from the Gudbrandsdal were seen to bear ample testimony to ‘the endurance, discipline and fighting quality of the troops engaged’.23

Lastly, we may notice that General Massy’s report, which pleads for the establishment of a reserve force approximating to an army corps, ready ‘to act swiftly and decisively at any point overseas’,24 states four essential requirements for effective campaigning, each of which was fulfilled in the later years of the war. There must be time to train in amphibious operations; a suitable training area must be set apart; there must be a proper provision of landing craft; and there must be a thorough study of air co-operation, particularly with both a fighter and bomber component. In other words, the weakness of our reaction to the German coup in April 1940 is the measure of our failure to prepare for action by applying to the age of mechanised and aerial warfare that technique of combined operations, which British sea power had in former wars established as a world-ranging instrument of conquest.

One remaining point of interest in the operations is the light they shed upon inter-Allied relations. Relations with the French and with the Polish contingent worked on the whole very smoothly. An interesting example in the medical sphere was the adoption of an international code already in use by the Foreign Legion to label casualties, so that treatment need never be delayed by language difficulties. There was inadequate provision for interpreters to the French at Namsos, where General Carton de Wiart considered that they were needed at the rate of one per battalion because French troops were frequently placed under British command, but the fact that our General was virtually bilingual prevented the possibility of serious misunderstanding at the top. In the Narvik campaign no serious friction arose in the execution of military operations either before or after their delegation to the French commander. At a higher level, however, Anglo-French relations showed some signs of the strain which is liable to occur when the forces of any sovereign Power fight a disappointing and unsuccessful campaign under alien command. The fact that these operations had been assigned in advance

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to British management was accepted by the French Cabinet with a rather bad grace at the outset, when they seemed anxious to make a scapegoat of Gamelin for our failure in the course de vitesse.25 The French Government continued to be very critical of what they called the rhythm of our conduct of the campaign, by which they meant that the administrative plan should somehow have been stretched so as to speed up reinforcement, and General Gamelin eventually made clear his preference for an independent French command over the French contingent. The success with which the Allied Military Committee in London handled thorny questions of transporting and allocating French troops suggests that a widening of its functions might have helped to prevent friction.[23]

The main problem, however, was that of our relations with the Norwegians, in whose native land we were fighting—a consideration to which they were so sensitive that General Fleischer formally protested against the inclusion of his forces under the heading ‘The Allies’. Both the expeditions to Central Norway suffered from a lack of organised liaison. The liaison officer sent out to Namsos was not retained by the Force Commander; relations with the Norwegian forces under Colonel Getz suffered accordingly. General Paget in his report recommended that in future special attention should be paid to the provision of organised liaison in advance of disembarkation, designed to penetrate throughout both fighting and administrative units; the want of such liaison in his opinion had affected not only security but the availability of every kind of local resource in men or material, right down to telephones and lorries.[24]

But in the peculiar circumstances of the Norwegian campaign, there was need for effective liaison in a much wider sense. The general cordiality of Anglo-Norwegian relations must not blind us to the fact that they were, at the outset of the campaign, inevitably clouded. The plans with which General Mackesy was sent to the North still owed something of their outlook to the earlier plans, in which we had envisaged that a British force might be crossing Norwegian territory on its way to Finland (via the orefields) with the acquiescence rather than the support of the Norwegians. This in turn derived some of its justification, or explanation, from our resentment at the way in which the Norwegian authorities, like those of other small neutral Powers, had shown themselves to be influenced more by fear of German ruthlessness than by recognition of the principles of international justice for which we were fighting. They wished us well, but not too loudly, and interpreted even well-meant advice that they should look to their defences as an attempt to drag them into the war. True that from 9th April onwards the Norwegians were actively resisting

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a German invasion, but the initial success of that invasion was erroneously believed by us to be mainly due to the strength of Major Quisling’s pro-German faction. Conversely, the Norwegian attitude to Britain was one of some reserve founded on the supposition, to which the Altmark incident seemed to them to lend colour, that we had for a long time been manoeuvring them towards participation in the war. The minelaying of course confirmed this attitude, though the German invasion followed it too quickly for it to take full effect. Reserve developed naturally into indignation when General Ruge and others found that the landing of our troops on Norwegian soil, which they believed us to have been covertly planning for so long, was slow and disorganised. The shortcomings of their own forces might be conspicuous, but their morale was not helped by an apparent lack of sympathy and even suspicion on our part.[25] Their Commander-in-Chief goes so far as to say that an Allied and a Norwegian account of the campaign will never agree, and points to the misunderstandings which occurred between us at all levels—about security, about political objectives, about support in the field, on technical and administrative matters, and in the relations of the rank and file. ‘It always takes time’, adds General Ruge in extenuation, ‘to get to know each other’s good points as well’.26 But the fact that only twelve months later the joint Planners believed Norway to be the most fertile ground for subversive operations in the whole of German-occupied Europe,[26] argues the feasibility in 1940 of some more effective appeal for the co-operation of the Norwegian people. So far from achieving this, we had not even achieved a unification of military command.27

Our forces in the Namsos area noted the existence of a further problem, namely the control of the civil population in the forward area, though the evacuation from Central Norway intervened before the problem became serious. In the north, liaison arrangements were extended, towards the end, from the appointment of military liaison officers to the provision of a liaison officer accredited to the civil government authorities at Tromsö. But General Auchinleck, who found the situation on his arrival ‘Gilbertian’[27] and considered that there were some thousands of the population who ought to be moved out of forward zones for their own safety as well as ours, put the case for a regular civil affairs organisation in the following propositions.[28] The Norwegian civil authorities were by our standards unorganised and unrealistic. They imposed no restrictions upon civilian movements or civilian communications, thus unconsciously facilitating enemy intelligence work or sabotage. And thirdly, there were no civil resources to meet the difficulty of providing for civilian needs,

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ranging from food and light to sanitation and hospitals, if the base at Harstad were to suffer sustained air attack such as had laid our other Norwegian bases in ruins. A scheme to meet any such emergency was devised for the North Africa landings two and a half years later.

It is easy to be wise after the event. The Norwegian campaign was in many respects a novelty. None of the parallels adduced for it, not even the Gallipoli venture, was at all satisfactory. Hitler, as we now know, saw a useful precedent in von der Goltz’s operations in Finland in 19 18; the parallel activities of the British Army at Murmansk and Archangel were not apparently brought into account by us, although the Chief of the Imperial General Staff had commanded in them. As General Carton de Wiart concludes, this was ‘a campaign for which the book does not cater’.

Moreover, we could at no stage consider the campaign in isolation. At the very outset our naval operations were governed more by the need to prevent German heavy units from breaking out into the Atlantic than by fear for the safety of Norwegian ports. The employment of bomber and fighter squadrons of the RAF was always conditioned by the known inadequacy of the provision made, not only for the task of army co-operation in France, but for the needs of home defence. The air defence of Great Britain was not, in fact, tested seriously until the Norwegian campaign was over, but it was always the principal preoccupation of the Air Ministry. The employment of troops in Norway was, indeed, defended at the time on the uncertain ground that it caused a disproportionate diversion of German troops from the western front; but, although General Gamelin favoured such distractions, the western front was the main consideration throughout. Having regard to the immediate sequel, there was much wisdom in the warning Mr Chamberlain gave on 7th May, when he urged that because of the situation in Norway we must not be ‘tempted into such a dispersal of our forces as might suit the purposes of the enemy’.28

In the third place we were not, at this stage in the war, free to work out any campaign without consideration for the position of neutrals. The supposed susceptibilities of American opinion helped to enforce the strict regard for international law which largely enabled the Germans to ‘beat us to the draw’. The possibility that Russia might make her action in Poland a precedent for a share-out of North Norway added one more uncertainty to our actions at Narvik. The fear (which is now believed to have been exaggerated) that any new shock to our prestige might precipitate Italian intervention in the

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war made us hesitate to risk a battleship at Trondheim. Above all, there was the not unreasonable supposition that Germany was only awaiting a suitable moment to infringe the neutrality of Sweden, which might bring us new resources of manpower or the Germans a new route of supply; Swedish resistance was an uncertain quantity.

In the long run, we could not have defended Norway, though a better knowledge of Norwegian conditions and a more realistic approach to the problems involved might have made our piecemeal intervention there into something more coherent and in the short run more effective. But given the political situation Of 1939-40 British intervention in some form was inevitable; and given the paucity of our then resources in men and arms, a more or less calamitous issue from it was likewise inevitable. Fortunately for civilisation, the events of 1940 were not final, and this same northern fastness, where the Germans seemed to have established themselves in triumphant security, was to be freed again five years later without a blow struck, as a consequence of overwhelming Allied victories elsewhere. So well were the lessons learnt, both of this small, ill-starred campaign and of a whole triennium of reverses—as it will be the more grateful task of later volumes in this History to show.