169: Fight We Shall


As news of the German invasion spread, the Norwegian government tried to determine what was happening and what they should do about it.



Hello everyone and welcome to History of the Second World War Episode 169 - The Invasion of Norway Part 7 - Fight We Shall. Patreon Richard and Idris. One of the common themes of every major campaign of the Second World War, and really most wars, is that as soon as the campaign starts things gets confusing for both sides. But this confusion is often felt the most severely by the defending side of the campaign because they do not have any clear idea what is happening, what the goals of the attacker is, and what their general plan is. This was absolutely the case for the Norwegian leaders in the last hours of April 8th and the early hours of April 9th. It very rapidly became clear that they were being attacked by Germany, and that those attacks were spread around to various parts of Norway, but beyond those very simple facts information started getting fuzzy. What exactly were the Germans doing? What were their goals? Where were they going to attack next? All questions that could not be answered and so the Norwegian leaders had to make decisions and take actions based on guesses fueled at least partially by fear. During these events there are decisions that they would take that are easy to criticize, especially with the benefit of hindsight, but every criticism needs to take into account the situation in which the Norwegian leaders found themselves in the early hours of the invasion. It was very unclear exactly what was happening, they were getting confusing and often contradictory information from a wide variety of sources, and this made it virtually impossible to make a fully informed decision. Also, as with many of these German campaigns against much weaker neighbors, there is always the caveat that there was no real path towards a successful defense against a German invasion and so Norwegian actions should not be judged against the expectation of victory, but simply losing less badly.

At around 11:30 PM on April 8th the Norwegian Prime Minister Nygaardsvold was informed that warships had entered into Oslofjord. These initial reports were a bit unclear on which nation’s warships had entered the fjord, just at they were warships and they were not Norwegian. More reports of various ships around Norway trickled in and so the main government ministers all assembled themselves over the next two hours so that they could receive the information together and act on it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for historians and this very podcast, the meetings of the Norwegian ministers were not minuted over the next several hours and so the only record of the discussions comes from later recollections of the participants. These recollections were also impacted by the events that would follow, and the general confusion and disorientation present in any such situation. Nygaardsvold would later recall that “It was an ominous night. I understood we faced a war-game between the belligerents. It was not we, but the powers at war that would fight over Norway. We however, would pay the price.” Just before 2AM reports arrived that clearly German warships had entered into the waters around Bergen, and it was at this point that the King was consulted and the decision was made to begin actively reaching out to the British. Unfortunately the British ambassador to Norway, Cecil Dormer, knew nothing of events and was in fact woken up by the Norwegian call, although he quickly went into action and began trying to find out what was happening. At around 2:20AM he would send a message to London: “MOST IMMEDIATE. Norwegian Government stresses the need for strong and quick assistance before Germans establish firm footing on Norwegian soil. Please reply by 6 p.m. whether strong assistance can be (immediately) forthcoming.” However, it would be almost 11 hours before a response from the British government would arrive, with promises of support arriving just before 1PM. In the situation, that 11 hour delay was basically an eternity, and during that time the German attack would develop and in many areas would be completed and the Norwegian government would take many decisions and actions. As Nygaardsvold would say of the interactions with the British during the early hours of the invasion: “A call was made to the British minister to find out if he had any information from his government, but he was asleep and knew nothing. England slept.” A very reasonable step that would be expected of the Norwegian government would be that a general mobilization would be ordered as soon as it was clear that the Germans were attacking, even if it was not yet exactly clear what they were doing or what their plans were. However, the story of a Norwegian mobilization is remarkably complicated. In the opening hours of the crisis there would be a communication breakdown between the military and political leaders in Norway that would add a good amount of confusion to the mobilization process. The problems started with how the mobilization orders were communicated from the Defense Minister Ljungberg to General Laake. Ljungberg told the general that he wanted the 4 Brigades in southern Norway to be mobilized, very specifically just those troops. This of course meant that Norway would only partially mobilize the troops in Norway, the formations in northern Norway were not involved. And that is where the problem comes in, because in a partial mobilization scenario the mobilization would be communicated to the men that were mobilized through the mail by the mailing out of mobilization cards. Eventually more troops would be added to the mobilization order, but the method of notification never changed. Obviously that is not the fastest way to notify someone that their nation is under attack and probably about to be invaded. Most members of the government were not familiar with the exact mechanics of mobilization and were unaware that what had been communicated to the military, which resulted in a situation where most members of the civilian government did not think they needed to give a general and immediate mobilization order because they believed that it had already happened. In later investigations into the mobilization situation there were claims on both the civilian and military sides that they did not want to change the process because it would have caused too much confusion, but it is difficult to see how it would have caused more confusion than what actually occurred. Most of the government thought they had ordered a full and immediate mobilization, the military was trying to resist an invasion without the troops and resources it needed, and among the populace they just decided to take matters into their own hands. Over the course of April 9th and 10th, as news of events began to filter out all over Norway, reservists just started showing up at their mobilization centers. They knew their nation was under attack, and that when that happened they would be mobilized into the military, but then they weren’t. And of course while all of this was happening the Germans were rapidly consolidating their invasion zones and moving out of the time of greatest danger which was right after the landings had been completed.

As the night hours ticked by the Norwegian political leaders were still gathered together to work through and react to information as it arrived. Then at 4:30 the German Foreign minister, Curt Bräuer arrived to speak with the Norwegian Foreign Minister Koht. When the meeting began, Bräuer handed over a 19 page memorandum which was Germany’s official justification for its attack, invasion, and planned occupation of Norway. The most important reason was that Germany felt that it had to occupy parts of Norway because the British were about to do the same, and so it was essential for Germany’s ability to defend itself that Norway was denied to its enemies. It also contained information about what Germany planned to do after the invasion, with clear words that if Norway resisted then that resistance would be destroyed by the German military. But if instead of resisting the Norwegian government just agreed to German occupation, in that case Germany would only occupy the territory for the duration of the war, and of course it would treat all Norwegians very well, and of course the sovereignty of Norway would be respected. This was all of course just official posturing, Germany was going to occupy Norway, and just letting it happen would amount to Norway joining into the war with Germany. Koht listened to Bräuer outline the document, then stated that he had to talk tot he rest of the government before any official response could be given. Koht would later recall that when he left Bräuer: ‘I quoted to him the words of his own Führer: “a people who submissively give in to a violator, does not deserve to live.”’ I don’t know of any witnesses to this happening, but it would certainly make for a very good scene in a movie. When the information was then presented to the assembled Norwegian ministers their reaction was quick and unanimous, a rejection. Koht would deliver this rejection to Bräuer, stating that the war with Germany had already started. Bräuer would then return back to the German embassy to inform Berlin on the results of the conversation, sending the message: “Have presented the Foreign Minister at 05:20 German time with our demands in firm, insisting manner and explained the reasons for them as well as handed the memorandum to him. The minister withdrew for consultations with the government … After a few minutes he returned with the answer: We do not willingly give in; the war has already started.” With it being clear that Norway was now at war the Prime Minister called the President of the parliament, Hambro, to join the ministers so that they could ensure that all of the proper actions were taken to move Norway into a state of war. After Hambro arrived the decision was made to evacuate the government and the king out of Oslo, as it would certainly be a major target of the German invasion and there were not sufficient Norwegian troops to provide protection. The destination for the evacuation was Hamar, roughly 100 kilometers to the north of the capital. The King was then informed that the government was evacuating, and he agreed to meet them at the designated departure point with his family. At 7:23 the King, representatives of the government, and many other members of the Norwegian government apparatus boarded a train and would leave Oslo. Just to add more confusion to the whole mobilization problem, while they were on the platform members of the press were asking questions of various government ministers. This included Foreign Minister Koht, and as he was describing what was happening he said that there had been a general order to mobilize sent out. As mentioned just a moment ago, there had not been….but Koht did not know that and so over the next several hours there were many radio broadcasts made around Norway that quoted the foreign minister that a general mobilization had been ordered. This resulted in even more men arriving at their mobilization points, and finding out that it was not clear what was happening or what the status of the mobilization was. While this confusion was happening, and while the government was evacuating, there were actually a shockingly small number of German troops on the ground in southern Norway. There were serious German troop concentrations already ashore at Bergen, Trondheim, and Narvik, but elsewhere the invasion forces had experienced delays. In the areas around Oslo the only troops that were present were those that had at Fornebu, and there were only about 500 of them at 6AM. They had very few heavy weapons, they had very few supplies, and they were at their weakest point of the entire invasion, if the Norwegian military had been more prepared for the invasion they probably could have launched a successful counterattack. But of course that judgement is very heavily flavored with hindsight, it was quite unclear to the Norwegian leaders exactly where German troops were or their strength, and they did not know that the staunch defense of Oscarsborg and its surrounding fortifications had so greatly derailed the German invasion of Oslo.


Before moving on to the discussions that occurred at Hamar and the decisions made by the Norwegian political and military leaders on April 10th, we need to talk about a person I have not yet mentioned: Vidkun Quisling. I do not often quote from a dictionary on this podcast, but we have to start our conversation of Quisling with the definition of the word quisling, a word that is just Quisling’s last name so here it is from the Oxford English Dictionary “a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying their country.” I’m sure that you can see where this is going. In 1940 Quisling was a former reserve officer in the Norwegian Army, and had served as the Norwegian minister of war from 1931 to 1933. After his time as Minister of Defense he would form the National Unity party, a new political party which was very close to the German Nazi party in terms of ideology. Quisling was a collaborator, and a traitor, however his impact on events was greatly exaggerated during and immediately after the war. It was common at the time for Quisling to be put into the role of mastermind traitor, giving all of Norway’s military secrets to Germany so that they could prepare for the invasion. It was an easy way for the Norwegians, and the British, to explain why the defense of Norway would fail so completely. However, there is no evidence on the German side that there was any real information gained from Quisling, or that he was involved in the planning for the operation in anyway. Even without those pieces of evidence it is clear that the Germans were in the dark on so many areas of the Norwegian military, areas that Quisling would have had more information about if he had been asked. But what is true is that before the war Quisling had discussions with the German Nazi leaders, and then during the war those conversations continued, including Quisling meeting personally with Hitler. Quisling would also claim that the Norwegian government was close to entering into an agreement and possibly an alliance with Britain, which was absolutely not the case. Finally, Quisling would be named as the head of the government of Norway after the German invasion, making it clear that he had worked with the Germans and fully supported their actions. This relationship would be made official at about 7:30PM on April 9th when Quisling made a radio broadcast from Oslo. During the broadcast he would announce that he had formed a government and was now leading that government, followed by a call for all Norwegians to end all resistance to German actions. Along with these calls to end resistance were threats against any that continued to resist. The theory behind this radio message is that it would cause most Norwegians to lose their will to resist, and lose any attachment to the previous government. This is not what happened, and instead its main impact was to harden the resolve of many Norwegians, and remove any real possibility of negotiations. This was important because the possibility of a negotiated settlement had not ended when Bräuer’s original memorandum had been rejected. The Norwegian government reconvened at Hamar at around 6:30PM on April 9th, about an hour before Quisling’s broadcast. The topic of conversation was negotiations, with some members of the government rejecting the idea out of hand while others, like the Prime Minister felt that they had to continue to discuss negotiations even if they were unlikely to succeed. There were several members who believed that they simply could not stop trying to negotiate, and so the decision was made to try and meet with Bräuer again. Those that were against negotiations would not be successful in preventing them, but all in attendance agreed that it was the German position that would have to change from what was basically the ultimatum that Bräuer had given the government in the early hours of the invasion .A meeting was set for the next day, April 10th, with Bräuer being allowed to meeting the Norwegians near the small Norwegian village of Elverum at 3PM in the afternoon. The Norwegian parliament would also have a session just after 9PM, their last meeting for over 5 years. By the time that the meeting was held news of Quisling’s radio address had reached the government, which believe it or not the actual government and parliament of Norway were not fans of. At that meeting the President of the Parliament Hambro introduced a motion that would give the government full powers of authority, which Hambro felt was essential because it might be very difficult for the parliament to meet again as the invasion developed. The exact wording would allow the Prime Minister and his government to ‘attend to the interests of the nation and make those decisions deemed necessary … until such times as it is possible to convene formally again.’ The meeting would end just before 10:30PM and a radio address was written up to be delivered the next day informing the Norwegian people that the Government was given full control, a decision fully supported by the King. The next morning Bräuer would arrive at the negotiations, but in general the German position was not greatly changed, and so it was still unacceptable to the Norwegian leaders. After the unproductive conversations with Bräuer the King would meet with the government and deliver an important message, he was no fan of war, and deeply regretted the fact that continuing to resist would result in bloodshed. However, he also believed that he could not accept a government led by Quisling due to Quisling’s complete lack of public and parliamentary support. Therefore, he would not stop the government from either resisting or agreement to the German terms, it was up to them, but if they did accept the terms he would abdicate the throne. After information about the second round of negotiations was shared with the assembled ministers the decision was unanimous, they would once again reject the German demands, a decision that was sent by telephone to Bräuer who was making his way back to Oslo. Norway as at war.

With the government choosing the path of resistance, the stage was set for the Norwegian military to defend Norway as well as it could against the German invaders. The man put in charge of the defense was General Otto Ruge. Ruge had held the position of Chief of the General Staff from 1933 to 1938 and then had taken the position as Inspector General of the Infantry. The first problem that Ruge had to deal with was the absolute mess that was Norway’s mobilization situation. By the end of April 10th, another problem had been added onto the already confusing mobilization process, the Germans were in control of some of Norway’s largest population centers. National mobilization was always going to be a confusing process, and so much of making sure it went smoothly was ensuring that each man who was mobilized knew where to go when that mobilization occurred. That allowed for proper planning to occur around how many men would be arriving at each mobilization station, and then how those men could be concentrated with other groups for form pre-organized military units. All of that planning went out the window as soon as mobilization was ordered after the Germans were already on Norwegian soil. Suddenly there were large population centers where the normal mobilization process could not occur, and this was most common in the most important areas of Norway for that mobilization process to go smoothly, the cities. To the credit of many of the Norwegian men who were mobilized, they did their best to get out of the cities and find mobilization centers in nearby areas, but this just added to the confusion. Suddenly the intricate mobilization plan that would see men and units assembled in an orderly fashion turned to chaos. To add on to the problems, because mobilization was so haphazard, it was not always the right troops that were assembled at the right time. In the early days of the invasion the most needed troops were infantry, they needed men to man defensive lines to try and contain the German pockets of control, supply and logistic troops would be needed, but infantry was urgently needed. This resulted in just about any organized unit of soldiers being made into infantry units and sent to defensive positions, even if they were specialty units of other types. As attempts were being made to organize the soldiers, Ruge was putting together his defensive plan. He would immediately begin to establish defensive lines to try and use all available troops to slow the Germans down while mobilization and organization of other troops continued. From there he planned to do everything he could to slowly give ground, making sure that his army existed as long as possible and they held onto Norwegian territory as long as possible. This plan, of just holding on as long as possible, was based around the idea that French and British forces would be on their way, and when they arrived they would be able to help the Norwegians to begin driving back the Germans from the territory that they had captured. Unfortunately to Ruge, the response of the Western Allies was disappointing to put it mildly. But that tremendous disappointment was in the future, and over the course of the early days of the invasion the Norwegian military planned to resist as long as possible, with Ruge frequently saying “Fight we shall, and we must fight with what we have.”