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Germany Invades Norway: 1940: A Mistake?

German troops take up combat position in Trondheim


Norway was strategically and economically important to both Germany and the Allies. Control of its coastline could either help Britain to strengthen its blockade, or provide Germany with suitable bases for its navy. It was also a vital outlet for Swedish iron ore, an essential part of Germany's war economy. Hitler decided to pre-empt an Allied move and on 1 March 1940 ordered the seizure of Norway and in the process, Denmark. German troops invaded Norway by sea and air on 9 April 1940. They seized key locations and the Luftwaffe took control of the air. Unable to prevent the invasion, the Royal Navy nevertheless inflicted significant losses upon the German surface fleet. British, French and Polish units were sent to assist the Norwegians but their efforts were uncoordinated and poorly planned. They failed to dislodge the Germans, and withdrawal followed. The last units left Narvik in June 1940.

Sweden's crucial role supplying Nazi Germany iron ore and military facilities. Especially notorious for their support to the Nazis were Wallenberg family, SEB bank and SKF factory. The Swedish government was responsible for the most iron ore that Nazis received. Kiruna-Gällivare ore fields in Northern Sweden were all important to Nazi Germany. These heavy deliveries of iron ore and military facilities from Sweden to Nazi Germany lengthened WW II.



The German invasion of Norway was a dramatically daring military operation. The decision to embark on the venture was made by Adolf Hitler as Chief of State and also (since December 1938) as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the German Reich. He arrived at it over a period of six months during which the proposal was debated at length in the highest echelons of the German Armed Forces. Hitler's own attitude shifted during that time from lukewarmness verging on indifference to determination. Since the war the decision has been both praised and condemned; here it is presented as an example of decision-making in a developing situation.

Even though the occupation of Norway had no significant effect on the outcome of the war, it established a milestone in the history of warfare by demonstrating the effective reach of modern military forces. Although lacking the resources to capitalize on it, the Germans had made a move of potential value to them in the development of a global strategy. It confronted the United States as well as Great Britain with a strategic threat. It brought Germany, theoretically at least, into a position to strike outward from the mainland of Europe toward Iceland, Greenland, and possibly the North American continent. 


German soldiers (above) disembarking in Norway on April 9, 1940. They used a variety of warships and civilian vessels and achieved almost total surprise.


The question whether or not the German conquest of Norway was strategically beneficial to German aims is often misunderstood. The benefits to Germany were largely three fold, and it is these three reasons that often blind people when evaluating the strategic implications of the invasion.

Firstly, the securing or iron-ore from northern Sweden was an obvious gain, as was the acquisition of Norwegian docks and fjords to base German surface warships and u-boats. Thirdly, with the Germans planning on attacking the Soviet Union, any future convoy (material) assistance by the British to the Soviets would face the prospect of a costly naval route patrolled by German warships.

However, the far less obvious results of the invasion ultimately highlighted why the German invasion was a strategic blunder.

The immediate cost of the invasion was the loss of almost 6000 troops and 200 aircraft. Added to this was 3 cruisers, 10 destroyers and 6 submarines, plus a further 3 cruisers and 2 Battleships out of service for periods up to 12 months. With the losses the Germans would suffer in other campaigns, the losses in Norway may seem fairly un-important, but as pointed out earlier, it was the less obvious implications that would cost the Germans so dearly.

Firstly, Norway would require garrisoning, up to the end of the war in 1945. For the duration of the conflict, 12 Divisions were tied up in Norway, even though they never saw serious action.

Secondly, by attacking a neutral country, Hitler further antagonised other neutral powers such as the US. Furthermore, with the conquest of Denmark occurring alongside that of Norway, the British were free to take over Iceland and Greenland, which provided the allies with key air bases to defend the convoys in the North Atlantic.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the Norwegian campaign was a disaster of sorts for the Kriegsmarine as it lost 16 months in its prosecution of tonnage warfare. In 1939 Norway possessed the 4th largest merchant navy in the world. With the German invasion and conquest of Norway, 4,600,000 tons of Norwegian shipping sailed into British ports. Sinking of allied shipping by u-boats did not exceed this figure until December 1941.

So for the acquisition and securing of iron-ore from Northern Sweden the Kriegsmarine lost 16 months prosecution of tonnage warfare. The acquisition of docks whereby u-boats could operate from was fairly unimportant when France surrendered only a few months later, providing the Germans with bases along the Atlantic coast. The German presence in Norwegian waters to disrupt shipping to Russia was again, fairly un-important. Especially when you consider at this time, the Germans had little faith that the Soviets would survive their initial attack. Once Britain and the Soviet Union allied, material loans by the British and US had little real significance on the Eastern front, and in any case, those shipments, which had an impact, did so because they made it into Russian ports. Therefore, the German invasion of Norway was a strategic error. Hitler wished to act strong, but by doing so he served up a disaster for the Kriegsmarine.


Germans occupy a Norwegian airfield

German troops disembark at Oslo

German air power, in the shape of Fiegerkorps X. This unit contained about 400 bombers, whose crews had been specially trained in maritime operations

Top German army officers arrive in Oslo

A German soldier standing guard outside the Telegraph headquarters in Oslo, April 1940 - shortly after the German invasion of Norway on April 9, 1940. The occupying forces also took over the national radio (NRK) and broadcast their invasion of Norway and requested the 'cooperation' of the king, parliament and the Norwegian people. 


Germans enter Narvik

German soldiers take a breather in Norway

Vidkun Quisling inspects the Norwegian legion

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