167: Denmark, Kristiansand, Sola, and Trondheim


The German invasion would begin with disconnected attacks which forced individual units in several areas to make critical decisions.



Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Second World War Episode 167 - The Invasion of Norway Part 5 - Denmark, Kristiansand, Sola, and Trondheim. This week a bit thank you goes out to Steve and Philip for the donations and to Michael, Henrik, Eric, Ryan, Lee, and Steven for choosing to support the podcast by becoming members, you can find out more over at historyofthesecondworldwar.com/members. German troops would begin their invasion of Denmark and Norway early in the morning of April 9th 1940. Across both nations defending forces would be woken up and forced to answer the German aggression in generally quite desperate circumstances. In Norway in particular the geography of the nation became very important. Wars at times turn on decisions made by individuals very close to the fighting, and during a surprise invasion the impact of relatively junior officers can have a major impact on the course of the campaign. This was then exacerbated by the nature of the fighting in Norway, with multiple small and disconnected German landings that put a tremendous amount of pressure on the local commanders to make the right choices, or to at least make the only choices available to them to meet the German attacks. They were not always successful, and in fact the Norwegian efforts would mostly end in failure, but the resistance encountered came as a shock to the German invaders, and in some areas the attacks would be far more costly than planned. This episode will give an overview of Norwegian defense forces, and then dive into 4 specific areas that would be under attack on April 9th: Denmark, Kristiansand, Sola, and Trondheim. Over the next several episodes the podcast will cover the othauder areas of the invasion, all of which have to be covered separately due to the isolated nature of each action.

Smaller nations were always at a huge disadvantage when it came to their armed forces, particularly when they were confronted by an aggressive neighbor. And as is so often the case in modern warfare, the problem was really one of money. Throughout the interwar years the Norwegian military had declined in strength due to a lack of funds. Overall defense spending would fall to just 9 million in 1935 and while it would increase in the years that follow the Norwegians would run into the same problems of other nations that were trying to rearm at this time: a lack of things to buy. The vast majority of the military hardware used by Norwegian forces were imported from abroad, particularly Britain and France, but these purchases became far more difficult as they struggled to meet their own rearmament goals. This resulted in a situation where the Norwegians found it difficult to even spend the money that they had, which meant that when the war started they had millions in funds on hand with little to spend it on. When it came to organization, the Army was split into six zones, with each zone being designated for a division of troops. In theory, if the army was fully mobilized there would be around 120,000 troops, but some of that number would be men that were barely trained and equipped, and it would be very challenging to support them all in the field. The Norwegian Army Air corps was able to field 62 aircraft, but only 19 of that number were of modern types with 9 British Gladiator fighters, 4 Italian bombers, and 6 German He-115 torpedo bombers. The Norwegian Navy would also play a very important role in the fighting that would occur during the German invasion, and it was divided into three different zones of defense. The most heavily armored ships were two quite old coastal defense ships, but these two ships were built all the way back in 1900. Many of the other ships of the navy were built before the First World War, which limited their general strength and utility against the very modern German ships that they would be facing. The bulk of the more modern strength of the navy would be found in its destroyers and torpedo boats. 4 of the destroyers were very recently built, with the Sleipner class first entering service in 1936 and with 2 additional destroyers of the class still under construction. Overall, the Norwegian Navy was capable of launching operations, but they were handicapped by how many areas of Norway they needed to protect from invasion, which spread their already thin resources in a way that made any concentration of force impossible.

While Norway was the ultimate target of the German operations, a critical part of that plan was to quick capture of Denmark and the airfields at Alborg. The invasion of Denmark would begin just after 5AM on April 9th 1940. The leaders of Denmark were in a rough spot when information about a possible German invasion began to trickle into Danish Army intelligence. The Danish military was in no way capable of real resistance against a German invasion, the numbers just were not their and so the government decided to not deploy or mobilize the military. The theory was that it was important not to do anything to provoke German aggression, a decision that did not prevent the German invasion but did prevent any action from the Danish military until less than an hour before the first German troops crossed the border. This meant that all that the Germans encountered at the border were some frontier guards, not that much different than in peacetime, and it was only later that elements of the Jutland Division of the Army would come into action. By that time other German units were also coming into action with 96 airborne troops dropping on some bridges and a troops of the 198th Infantry division executed amphibious landings to capture some of the bridges that connected Jutland and Zealand. Just minutes after the first troops crossed the border, German units were already in Copenhagen thanks to another marine landing. The auxiliary minelayer Hansestadt Danzig was used as a troopship to move units into the harbor of Copenhagen, landing them at a pier on the north end of the city, allowing the German troops on board to quickly go ashore and move to take control of the city. There were some opportunities for Danish defenders to fire on the German ship, as there were forts guarding the entrances to the harbor, but given the general confusion of the situation the defenders were not sure what to do and therefore decided not to engage with the ships as they were making their final approach. One of the key targets for those troops in Copenhagen was the Citadel which was quickly captured from its 70 man garrison, then the troops moved on to the Palace where the Danish king was captured. The real prize of the entire invasion, the airfields at Alborg, would be captured by German paratroopers who were dropped at 7AM, with a fleet of 53 transport aircraft following immediately after to deliver a battalion of infantry troops which fully secured the airfields for use during the operations against Norway.


The Norwegian target which was closest to Alborg was the southern port of Kristiansand. The port was theoretically protected by a series of defenses that would have presented a serious challenge to the German invaders, but there were many problems. Like other areas of the Norwegian military the fixed defenses for Kristiansand had been victims of budget cuts during the 1920s which left them in very poor repair by the mid 1930s, at that time there was an effort to push money into them to bring them back into action, but there was not enough time for major changes to be made. The main threat to any naval invasion was the fort at Odderøya which had 4 24-cm howitzers, 2 21-cm guns and 6 15-cm guns, although range would be a serious problem due to design decisions that had been made which limited the guns to only covering the fjord itself, they could not really fire out into the open sea, which limited how quickly they could engage enemy vessels. The guns were also heavily undermanned on the night of the invasion, due to a lack of any kind of mobilization order in the days before the invasion. News of something happening did arrive just after midnight, with the first shots having been fired at German ships as they approached Oslo, an event that will be covered in a future episode. This alerted the 25 officers and 150 men in the fort that they needed to be on high alert, then at around 2AM a signal was received that unknown ships had been sighted approaching Bergen, making it clear that something was happening beyond the confines of Oslo. After this second signal was received the alarm was sounded and a few minutes later all batteries were made ready with live ammunition loaded into the guns. This put them in much better position to fire warning shorts at German ships when they were sighted a few hours later, and with no reaction to those shots Oberstløytnant Fosby ordered the guns to begin firing at the German ships at 5:32AM. The German ships that they spotted and that they then fired at were the ships of Task Force 4, led by the light cruiser Karlsruhe along with 2 torpedo boats, a depot ship, and seven S-boats. The plan was for this collection of ships to land the infantry troops that were on board just after 4AM local time, but thick fog had forced a delay. Just after 5AM they would finally turn to make their way towards their destination, which would take them past the Norwegian fortifications, from which they did not expect real determined resistance. The warning shots were not necessarily unexpected, and they were not heeded when they fell well ahead of the Karlsruhe, which was the first ship in the German procession. When the Norwegian guns began firing at the Karlsruhe the results were quite shocking, with several shells exploding on or near the superstructure, showering it with shrapnel and causing a good amount of damage. The German ship would return fire, but only one of its turrets was in position to fire. It rapidly became clear that the volume of Norwegian fire was reaching a point where the Karlruhe could not continue forward without risking serious damage, which would put the 1,000 infantry soldiers in danger, along with the large collection of staff officers that were supposed to take command of all German soldiers in Southern Norway. Due to these concerns, and just a general concern about continued damage, the captain of the Karlsruhe would turn around and abort the mission temporarily while the Luftwaffe was called in to bomb the Norwegian fort. When the bombers arrived the result looked devastating, at least from the Karlsruhe, as there were large explosions and a tremendous plume of smoke. However, only one battery of guns would be inoperable at this point, and while the aerial bombardment looked impressive the actual results were quite lackluster. Thinking that the problem had been solved, the Karlsruhe once again turned to make its way back up the fjord. Once again, as soon as it came within range the Norwegian guns began to fire, and then this time both German and Norwegian fire was more accurate, with the German ship rapidly sustaining multiple hits while the gunners on the Karlsruhe were also able to land several high explosive shells within the perimeter of the fort. The damage caused by the Norwegian guns was once again very concerning for the captain of the Karlsruhe, and at 6:23 he once again chose to turn back due to concerns that the ship was going to sustain damage that would threaten the mission. What the Germans could not know at this time was that the Norwegian guns and their gunners were rapidly reaching the end of their abilities to continue. The Norwegian guns were old, and while they still packed a punch that age was beginning to show due to the rate of fire that was being asked of them. As the firing continued more guns were going down not to German shells but to simple mechanical failings, breaches were locking shut, mechanisms were breaking, anything that could go wrong was going wrong for the guns. There were efforts by the Norwegian gunners to keep them going, with Gunsmith Bekken deserving special mention for all of the work that he did throughout the morning moving from gun to gun as they broke down. But there was nothing that could truly keep the guns firing forever, and by the time that the Karlsruhe turned back for the second time the howitzer battery was down to only one gun due to mechanical failures and casualties suffered from German fire. The defenders were given a respite from action for nearly 3 hours after the Karlsruhe retreated at 6:23, giving them time to tend to the wounded, work on the guns, repair some telephone cables, and also get some food. There would be one final attempt to force their way into the the harbour, and this would begin at 10:30 after a breeze had started up which had pushed away more of the fog. This time when the German ships began to make their way forward, inside of the Norwegian fort, as the guns readied to once again fire a report was made that the ships were streaming the French tricolor. Slightly confused, but not wanting to fire on any friendly warships, the order was passed throughout the guns to cease fire. It would only be when the ships were past the Norwegian ports and out of the range of most of the guns that the report was countered by sightings of the German naval flag onboard the ships. Unfortunately for the Norwegian defenders, after doing so much work throughout the morning they were undone by a faulty report, because it is clear that the Germans were not flying the French flag, as they did not have any on board. They did have British flags, with their being some discussion before the invasion that they should be used to spread confusion, but no French flags were present. After the war there was much discussion about this incident, especially when it became clear that it was not a French flag. One theory is that the Norwegians sited the German naval signal for H, which uses the same three colors as the French flag, but with the colors reversed. Regardless of why the mistake was made, at 10:50AM the Karlsruhe dropped anchor in Kristiansand and by the middle of the afternoon the city was firmly in German hands.

While Kristiansand was the Norwegian target that was furthest to the south, Sola, near Stavanger would be one of the furthest west. The airfields at Sola were important because they were the closest airfields to Britain, and were actually closer to Scapa Flow than they were to Germany. This made it very likely that they would be a target for a British attack as soon as news of the German actions became known, and if they could capture the airfields it would be very difficult for German shipping to move out of the North Sea, cutting off all of the German units further north. This priority meant that Sola would be the site of one of the German airborne operations, with German paratroopers scheduled to jump into the field to secure it for a follow on airlift. The airfields were protected by 800 men of the the Jaeger battalion of the 2nd Norwegian Infantry Regiment, who had been moved into the area only a week before. These men were generally lacking in any real heavy weapons, having only 9 machine guns, only 3 of which had the proper mountings that allowed them to be used in an anti-aircraft capacity. There were a few fixed defenses set up around the airfield, but there were more that were still under construction. Sola was also the base for several Norwegian bombers, and on the morning of the 9th they would be ordered to prepare to move east as soon as possible. This meant that they were in the process of taking off when 8 German bombers appeared and began their attack on the airfields, dropping bombs and then executing low level strafing attacks on anything that looked threatening. A few minutes later Bf-110s would also make a strafing attack on the airfield to silence any remaining resistance in preparation for the airborne drop. 134 German paratroopers would make the jump, but many of them would jump right into the firing arc of one of of the few remaining Norwegian machine guns. This gun, manned by Ragnar Johansen was set up in the only completed bunker in the area, and its fire would pin down many of the paratroopers. One of the challenges faced by German paratroopers is that they did not carry their weapons with them on the jump, instead having only a pistol and a knife due to the expected hard landing. Their weapons were then dropped in cases at the same time that they themselves exited the aircraft. This created a situation where the German troops were relatively helpless for as long as it took to find their weapons and retrieve them, which became far more difficult when there was a Norwegian machine gun blazing away right above their heads. However, one machine gun cannot stop an entire airborne landing, and as soon as some of the paratroopers landed outside of Johansen’s firing arc they were able to get their weapons and silence all remaining Norwegian resistance. Soon after the end of Norwegian resistance several dozen Ju-52 transport aircraft arrived to deliver more German troops and by early in the afternoon there were 2000 German soldiers at Sola, along with ground crew for the aircraft, anti-aircraft guns in case of British attack, communications equipment and 9,000 liters of aviation fuel. Most of the paratroopers that had originally jumped onto the airfield were then loaded back up in some of the transports for a ride back to Germany, having spent only a few hours in Norway.

Further north from Sola was another German target, Trondheim. This Norwegian port was the focus of the German Task Force 2, made up of the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and 4 destroyers. The German ships would be off the coast of Trondheim by the middle of the afternoon on April 8th, and the Hipper would launch a floatplane to do some reconnaissance of the approaches to the city. Just before 2AM on the 9th they turned into the Leads, after crossing over into Norwegian territory just before midnight. As they entered the approaches to Trondheim the German ships were blacked out because they knew they were entering into the danger zone. There was the possibility of real danger, just like the Karlsruhe had experienced at Kristiansand, with three forts having been built to protect the approaches into the fjord. The problem was that the forts were old, and just like other fortifications around Norway they had been partially mothballed during the interwar years to save on funds. On the night in question, when they were needed most there were only 350 men spread between the three forts, and that included a good number of non-combat personnel. This was due to the fact that none of the defensive troops in or around Trondheim had been mobilized, or even put on a higher level of alert. Orders to begin mobilization had been distributed, but this would be done through the mailing of special cards in the mail, and at the same time that the German ships were steaming up the fjord those cards were sitting in the post offices of Trondheim waiting to be delivered. For this and other reasons, even when orders went out for the forts on the southern side of the approaches to be manned there was not a lot of urgency in complying with the order, which meant that it simply was not completed in time. Some of the Norwegian guns did eventually fire at the German ships, but well after they were past the point of greatest danger, with the Hipper using its searchlights to blind the gunners, making it more difficult to achieve any hits. The Germans hips would not receive any damage on their way into Trondheim, where they would drop anchor after 4AM and began putting troops ashore. The city would be captured with any real resistance being encountered, a lucky series of events that would extend to the capture of the nearby airfield the next day. Overall, it was one of the smoothest of all of the German operations. Next episode the podcast will shift its focus to the largest city attacked by the Germans during the invasion, and the capital of Norway: Oslo.