Thursday, 22 January 2015

January 2015-Kampen om Norge

Kampen om Norge


by Vega Forlag

"Antony Eden British Leader in peace and War"

L Mack Oxford University Press 1987.

Chapter V

Norway, Narvik and the Namsos Debate.

The Namsos debate is rightly known as one of the most important debates in Parliamentary history. 
It led to the fall of the Chamberlain Government, the transfer of Churchill from the Admiralty to the Ministry of Aircraft supply, and the rise of Antony Eden as the British Prime Minister. Such a debate needs some background. 

Churchill had been eager to block the import of iron ore from Sweden via Norway down the neutral Norwegian coast. He even proposed seizing the Norwegian port of Narvik in the countries North, and using it as a source of support for Finland, now struggling with the Soviets. Cabinet and the French thought this was too much, but the possibility of mining waters just outside the legal limits of the Norwegian coast was proposed. The most delicate negotiations were ongoing with the Norwegians. Naturally, Norway did not want to be dragged into war, but there was little pro German feeling.
HMS Cossack

Hitler too was shifting his gaze to the North. When HMS Cossack seized the KMS Altmark in Jossing Fjord in Feb.7.1940 and liberated nearly 300 Allied sailors, Hitler was sure that it was a sign of Norwegian compliance with the Allies. Norway vigorously protested this breach of neutrality, but in vain. Hitler decided to attack on Sunday April 9.This was a risky undertaking: an amphibious attack on a hostile shore by a small untried Navy. 
KMS Altmark

British intelligence informed the Norwegian government on 7th, as did an anti Nazi officer in the Kriegsmarine to a contact in the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin. The Norwegian Cabinet decided after lengthy discussion to put the Navy and Air Force on full alert at once, ask for allied help, and mobilize the Militia that made up most of the Army on Monday 10th.This would be done by mail, and the coastal batteries of the major cities were alerted by telegraph. The Royal Guard, the only long term professionals in Norway were put on a war footing. The Royal Navy, with French and Polish aid, searched in vain for the invading German Ships. Aerial and submarine searches were also fruitless. 

The German landings were made without a hitch, except in Oslo. There a warm reception from the Coastal batteries turned the Germans back to land south of Oslo at Kongsberg. At Kongsvinger, north east of Oslo German paratroopers landed to cut Oslo off from the Rest of the Country. In Stavanger Paratroops were supposed to seize the port and airfield, but there the Norwegian Air force found the fifty Transports and escorting fighters first. Twenty two Norwegian planes had been scraped together, fighters or medium bombers of mixed British French and Italian make. In the Parlance of the time the defenders "bounced' the Germans shooting down fifteen and damaging five. The Germans were not expecting any opposition in the air and the wild melee dispersed the paratroopers to the province of Egersund, many miles away from their intended drop zone. Numbers and experience told in the air-many of the Germans had served in the Condor Legion. Twelve of the Norwegians were shot down, with five more damaged. In Bergen the two old Coastal Defense Ships Norge and Eidsvoll met the German invasion force head on. Disregarding the French and British flags the Germans were Flying they fired on the German Destroyers, damaging one of them heavily and another slightly. But
with the backing of the modern German ships like the Heavy cruiser Blucher and pocket Battle ship Scharnhorst the battle could only end one way. The Eidsvoll blew up, and the Norge was turned into a flaming wreck, beaching itself to save the surviving crew. Bergen surrendered when the German commander threatened to level the city if the coastal batteries fired. At Egersund the diverted paratroopers made good use of their diversion to secure the telephone lines to Britain, thus cutting off Norway further from aid. 

Kristiansand, Bergen and Trondheim all fell to the Germans, in spite of the might of the Royal navy. French British and Polish forces landed at Namsos and Mosjeen in the centre of Norway. King Hakon gave a speech rallying his people to the defense of their Country, saying it was being defended on land and sea and air by Norwegian forces and strong Allies were on their way to help. The Royal Guards attacked the German paratroopers at Kongsvinger and defeated them, forcing some to seek internment in Sweden. Some Militia units armed themselves and attacked the Invaders. At Bergen a force going west was attacked and sent reeling back in defeat, with all other advance halted in the area. The German Paratroopers now supported by mountain troops advanced from Egersund and overcame the garrison at Stavenger. 
German Gebirgsjäger advancing.

A German force advanced to attack Oslo, all attacks were repelled by the gallant defenders. A German paratroop attack at Bjonfjell near Narvik failed, as Militia from Finmark lead by Col. Thorin destroyed them as they landed. Off Stanvinger the battleship HMS Resolution and aircraft Carrier Glorious were sunk without loss to the Germans. Allied forces with support from Norwegian Forces under Major General Sir Robert Greg-Heard took Trondheim after bitter fighting with losses on both sides. 

The Royal Family, the government and Gold reserves moved there as Oslo came under increasing pressure. German forces were now in the Oslo suburbs and the mountain troops were slowly but surely taking southern Norway. It was not all easy. "There seemed not to be an unblocked road, and unblown bridge or unbroken culvert in Southern and central Norway" 'complained Col. Gen. Nathan Von Falkenhorst in his memoirs "Northern Conflict".  
"Time and again Norwegian forces escaped our attacks as were baffled by blockages. Our engineers worked miracles, but there were never enough of these valuable troops." 

At Tynset south of Trondheim a Norwegian force was beaten. Air support for the Allies was provided
RAF Gladiators
by two RAF squadrons of Gladiators and one of Hurricanes. Several times these few planes foiled German air attacks.
Oslo finally fell with the defenders fighting till there was no ammunition. Off the Coast of Alesund the Germans lost the light cruiser Konigsberg, while the Royal Navy took the much heavier loss of the battleship Renown. At the Second battle of Stavenger both sides lost five destroyers. Trying to divert the Allies another Paratroop landing took place at Moi Ram. Once again Col. Thorins' Iron Regiment was successful in defeating the Paratroopers. 

German paratroop drop
Hitler was enraged that many sought sanctuary in Sweden rather than fighting to the death. The Germans made a daring landing at Gratangen north of Narvik and took the city. It was retaken by Norwegian forces, but fell again. This time the Invasion fleet did not escape the Allies. At Harstad the Germans lost the whole force: pocket Battleship Gneissenau the light cruisers Koln, Karlsruhe and six destroyers were sunk with the loss of one French destroyer. Fighting went on all around Trondheim, with the German numbers starting to tell. Narvik changed hands again, this time to Col. Thorins Iron regiment driving the Germans back. Now Allied forces on Land Sea and air headed south as War in the Low Countries reached a climax. Trondheim finally fell, and a successful Paratroop drop on a lightly held Narvik airport succeeded as German JU-52 transports flew in reinforcements as now they had control of the air. Dive bombers and Fighters harassed the Allies. Still, at Namsos the Allies defeated an armoured thrust with heavy German Casualties. 
Norwegian soldiers in Gudbrandsdal.

The King wanted to fight on and not leave while there was a single Norwegian battalion under arms. But there were only six battalions left and with the fall of both Narvik and Trondheim there would soon be no ammunition or other supplies. There now were more than twenty five German battalions in the country and the Luftwaffe ruled the skies. Sadly he made a last broadcast saying that Fighting Norway would carry on the battle across the seas. The Royal Guards and another Battalion were evacuated with the last three Allied battalions. The other battalions disbanded, some troops going to near by hills to carry on the fight, others to Sweden others to their homes. In Narvik Col Thorins force made its' own way North of Narvik, the Germans not so much pursuing as following at a careful distance. His force was evacuated from Tromso, on the 10th of May just a month after the Norwegian mobilization. Weeping Civilians watched silently as the last three allied battalions left Namsos. The Poles were philosophical. Their countries long history taught them patience. There would be other fields to fight the enemy. The French Foreign Legion battalion was full of Spanish Republicans. They were still full of fight, but near despair. Would Fascism never be beaten? But the British felt not only the bitterness of defeat, but also the burden of shame. "We promised these people we would defend them and now we are leaving them to the Hun." wrote one soldier. A staff officer said it more briefly and clearly. "For the First time in my life I am ashamed of being British. So say we all"

A General Greg- Herd wrote; "that if we had been given the support our government promised we would have won". 

So a gallant Ally went down to defeat regardless of French and British Promises. The Navy had been baffled and suffered significant losses to an inferior fleet, the troops had lacked air cover and there had been disagreements between Allies about how to win the war. 

Meanwhile in The Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France things were getting worse. The Dutch were over run and Queen Wilhelmina was captured by paratroops. The Stern old Lady refused to sign any surrender or armistice and dared the Germans too shoot her. Her daughter Julianna fled to Britain to carry on the fight as Regent with Dutch air and naval forces. King Leopold of the Belgians became the first monarch in Europe in centuries to be killed in battle when his staff car was strafed. He left behind a young son and a hopelessly divided Cabinet on whether to fight on or ask for terms. What was already being called the "Miracle of Calais" was going on with ten of thousands of allied soldiers being saved, but how long could the Panzers be staved off.? After a heroic fight Dunkirk fell - would Calais be next? This was the back ground when the Prime Minister was asked when would the House be given a report on the evacuation from Namsos? Tomorrow was the reply. So on the 12th of May the Namsos debate began.

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